Coming soon... Thornbridge Julius

The beer wot I brewed. Well, the beer I weighted out hops for and then watched the brewer Matt Clark do all the hard work. And then watched my mate Ian Harrison clean out a mash tun. Whilst I drank a Thornbridge/Dark Star collaborative brew...

Julius is a citrus-inspired Summer Ale, full of Thornbridge grown herbs including Tahitian Lime Leaves, Lemon Balm, Lemongrass, Mint and Coriander seeds. Light and lemony on the nose with a hint of spice and honey. Biscuit characters dominate the mouth, with a hint of ginger and a soft mouthfeel. The finish is lightly bitter, a little dry and wonderfully thirst quenching.

Funnily enough, an exhaustive review wil feature here in the very near future ;-)


Amarillo: Show me the way

What I know about Amarillo; 14th largest city in Texas and one-time helium capital of the world, Neil Sedaka wrote about the way to it and Virgil Gamache Farms have the registered trademark for the hop variety.

So let's concentrate on the latter. Described as 'super Cascade', the hop has a high oil content and lends citric notes tending towards grapefruit / orange whilst having a high enough alpha acid content to allow a clean bittering touch. I've collected a few Amarillo-based beers from three different countries in the last few months, so a lazy Sunday seemed an ideal time for a side-by-side tasting.

Stone Levitation is a US amber ale dry-hopped with Amarillo. Most of the Stone brews I've sampled so far have had heavyweight ABVs; Levitation lands almost featherlight at 4.4%. The aroma's hard hitting, though, breakfast juice citrics riven with hop oil. Just a waft of spicy biscuits in there too. Steady carbonation leads to a soft mouthfeel and thick lacing. As the light chestnut body warms, those hops start to feel sticky in the mouth. I'd like to try a pint of it, just to see if I become inured to the hoppiness. And then try another pint. And then another....

Back over to Blighty for a CAMRA award-winner. Crouch Vale Amarillo is cold filtered in bottles to try and capture the fresh hop feel of the cask version. It certainly has a cleaner flavour than Levitation, almost perfumed in its complexity. There's subtle honey on a sweet edge frayed by fruit, some drying orange, preserved peach, perhaps even lychee? A thinner body with little carbonation, this still carries a reasonable biscuityness that segues into slight sweetness.

Ten days ago, I'd never tried a beer by Dutch brewers De Molen. Thanks to the RateBeer European Summer Gathering I've now tried several from the bottle and even one on cask (in Huddersfield. Yes, really). Their Amarillo is another one that's been dry-hopped but has none of the Levitation's harsh edges. Instead there was a pervading sweetness; beneath lay yeasty peaches with pine and grapefruits holding back a soft caramel maltwash. At 9.2% it was remarkable for the sheer pleasure with which it hid its ABV and concentrated on delivering solid flavours. I rarely come across a bottle of this weight that offers such easy drinking - I'm glad that such accessibility and sustained flavour has been a hallmark of all the De Molen beers that I've tried.

Three beers, one hop, no cheesy puns about the song lyrics. Amarillo is a great hop variety that allows brewers plenty of space for experimentation; I'll be looking out for more examples on my travels.

I bought all three bottles from Beers Of Europe; the Stone and De Molen are stocked in limited quantity, so I'd order quickly if you fancy trying them.


All White On The Night

It's been a warm afternoon to be slumped in front of the TV watching motorsport. A few beers were needed, so I raided the boxes for a handful of wheaty ones.

First up, a Belgian wit from a brewery new to me. Daas have been on the scene since 2001 and produce bottle-conditioned, organic-certified beers. The Witte poured pale yellow with an instantly disappearing head and didn't have too much in the way of clove aromas leaping out the glass. But the creeping carbonation made for a lively mouthfeel, plenty of baked lemon flavour came to the fore with a prickle of toasted spice in the background. The only complaint was the fizz made it a sipping drink rather than a quencher.

Into hefe territory for the next one. From the Maisels stable, Bayreuther Bio-Weisse is also organic, I'm guessing. Most of the German I know was learned from Commando comics which, oddly, never featured extended narrative on the merits of organic brewing. Anyoldhow, the Bayreuther was fairly anonymous... thick gold body with a collapsing head, sweet and grassy aromas, mild esters and a slightly short sweet finish. Quaffable, but only because it was thin bodied and under-malted.

A favourite to finish off with. Three great things about Schneider Weiss; the off-amber body holds a well-stacked head, the aroma is chock full of fresh-baked spiced biscuits and it actually carries off a wheaty-banana flavour. And I swear blind there's a little bit of powdery chocolate lurking in there. Yummy stuff.

The sun buggered off behind a cloud, Button made a balls-up in Q3, To52land did as well as he could have and Wiggo kept fighting. Mixed fortunes in the armchair sport, mixed enjoyment from the beers. And that's the way the crumble cookies.

Thanks to for the beerage.


RBESG - those photos

There is a site called Rate Beer. They have Gatherings. One is in Europe.

This year's RBESG was in Sheffield - and Huddersfield and Manchester. Hit The North!

Before the verbiage, here's some photies of random beer action.


Norfolk & Beer: Royal Norfolk Show

When I'm on holiday, doing nothing is not an option. I'm not suited to the beach-bum, poolside lounging lifestyle. Mainly because I don't like sand between my toes, that I can get sunburnt under a full moon and the last time I relaxed on a beach, a Greenpeace team tried to refloat me. I need something to do... and beer to drink. So one of the highlights of my recent holiday was a day at the Royal Norfolk Show. Pom-pom headed chickens, HUGE combine harvesters and beer tents. What a combination!

I'd never been to an agricultural show of this size (4500+ animals and 600+ trade stands on a 375 acre site). That's plenty to get around and certainly helps to build up a thirst, especially on one of the hottest days of the year. Good job that there was plenty of beer on offer, then.

First stop was at the Woodforde's bar. Sundew was pleasant enough, though three quid and over for a pint seemed steep given the footfall they were likely to achieve. The Food Hall was bristling with stands including a healthy selection of brewers. I had samples from Wolf, Elgoods and Norfolk Square along with a half of Tipples Elm Hill Gold which was very impressive - plenty of smooth hops in there. The irrepressible Denis Gwatkin was there too, so it have been rude not to have a chat whist enjoying some of his Farmhouse Perry. He was having a good show, though the poor perry harvest last year had severely restricted the range of perrys he could offer.

But the standout bar, opposite the 'village green', was Humpty Dumpty's. With at least eleven casks of their own beers (all in perfect condition) along with tinnies for the macro mob, it was a popular place to be. The shade and through breeze was very welcome, as punters watched the ballestra and shimmy on offer over on the green as fencers and dancers strutted their stuff. Little Sharpie, Golden Gorse and Lemon & Ginger were all excellent quenchers. It was good to meet up with the guys and girls here; if it hadn't been for their Twitter updates I might not have known about the show.

Next year's Royal Norfolk Show will be at the Showground on the outskirts of Norwich between 30th June and 1st July. I'm gutted that I won't be there; if you visit, sink a beer of five for me!


Norfolk & Beer: bottle shopping

It's great to holiday somewhere and enjoy the locally brewed beers. Almost as good is to find a bottle retailer so you can bring some of those tastes back with you. Fortunately, Norfolk was blessed with some of the finest outlets I've found.

By far the largest (in fact the largest in the UK) is Beers of Europe, just outside Kings Lynn. It's a huge warehouse, natch, with a comprehensive selection of beers, wines and spirits from around the world. Their range of Norfolk beers is impressive with most (if not all) of the county's brewers represented. A good range of Belgian and German stuff too, often with matching glassware. You can buy whole cases of a particular beer at a discount or fill your trolley with individual bottles, which will be securely boxed up for you at the checkout. And with beers from far-flung parts (Vietnam, Brazil, Belarus) alongside rarer continental and US imports (De Molen, Cantillon, Stone) it's well worth the visit. If you're not passing through North Norfolk, you can buy online for reasonably-priced next day courier delivery.

At the other end of the scale, there's The Real Ale Shop on Branthill Farm just outside Wells-Next-The-Sea. They specialise in beers brewed with barley grown on the farm; some bottles even give a grid reference of the appropriate field! With a range of beers from the likes of Elveden, Fox, Humpty Dumpty, Woodforde’s and Grain, there's certainly plenty of choice and quality. Their passion for local brewing is reflected in their Drinks Retailing award as Independent Beer Retailer of the Year for 2009, complementing their CAMRA Online Retailer award in 2008.

When it comes to cider and perry, a visit to Whin Hill is a must. Their shop is located handily in a public car park near to the seafront in Wells, where you can try samples, treat yourself to a pint in the courtyard (as they're fully licensed) or pick up bottles to take away. They have a standard range of still and sparkling ciders and perrys as well as occasional single variety specials such as the delectable pink-blushed Browns. It's a superbly civilised shop, the staff are always happy to have a chat and it's a pleasure to go say hello to Fred again.

A couple of honourable mentions. The Walsingham Farms Shop in Little Walsingham offers a compact but perfectly formed range, including Whin Hill Cider and beers from the likes of Yetmans, Why Not and Wissey Valley (including their Walsingham Bitter and Walsingham Spice). If you're staying in self-catering accommodation nearby, you'll want to take advantage of the sumptuous range of meats, pies and cheeses.

As our visit co-incided with the Royal Norfolk Show, there was plenty of opportunity there to meet a number of brewers to sample and buy their products. This year, the food hall featured the likes of Tipples, Norfolk Square and the irrepressible Denis Gwatkin to name a few. More about the show tomorrow.

Needless to say, the car's back axle was put under some strain with the amount of bottles I brought back. I'll be posting a Norfolk special of 'Bottled Up' in the near future.


Norfolk & Beer: Those Pubs Of The Day

Before I forget and get carried away with Ratebeer Euro Summer gathering articles, there's a few things left to write about my Norfolk trip. Plenty of pubs were visited; only a couple were genuinely disappointing, a few were missed out on due to their reduced opening hours. But there were some absolute gems; here's the best of the best from each day.

Sunday - The Bull, Walsingham - OK, they still don't serve hoppy beer, it's still pricey, it still gets ram-packed with pilgrims but... there's something about dropping off your luggage, arriving here for opening time and sitting outside in the sun with a pint of Aspalls. That's when I know the holiday has truely begun.

Monday - The Jolly Sailors, Brancaster Staithe - no hoppy beers (again) but a decent pint of their own brew (Brancaster Best). Rooms to suit all needs - cosy bar, TV room, dining area, conservatory, large beer garden - and the tastiest whitebait I've had in ages

Tuesday - a dead heat between the Victoria, Holkham and the Three Horseshoes, Warham. The former had an almost-colonial feel in the lounge bar and a great beer selection (Wolf, Dark Star, Adnams, Woodfordes). The latter was an eighteenth-century gem crammed full of knick-knacks and bar games (Norfolk Twister, anyone?), beers served on gravity, proper cider from Whin Hill and the best chicken suet pudding I've ever tasted.

Wednesday - The George, Dereham. On the edge of the town, the George was an ideal spot for a long lunch. Smart-looking hotel bar with no pretentions, hearty snacks, top quality Grain Summertime and some of the least-miserable bar staff I've met.

Thursday - Ugly Bug Inn, Colton. Tucked away down lanes that seem destined to end in a cowshed. With a comfy bar and dining room overlooking the gardens, this was a treasure of a pub to find after a long hot day at the Norfolk Show. The beers were of cracking quality; excellent Beeston Worth The Wait and Humpty Dumpty Reedcutter. Wonderfully engaging landlord who was happy chatting about the beers and the Royal Norfolk show, brought over the specials board over for us to peruse and found the time to say goodbye when we left. The food was superlative; huge portion sizes (Bec's fish pie could have fed her three times over) and my seafood salad had a great combo that included fresh Lowestoft smoked salmon and Cromer crab. The samphire that had arrived in fresh that day was some of the best I've tasted.

Friday - Kings Head, Norwich. A stripped bare boozer redolent of some Castle Rock pubs I know. There's a small room faceing the main road with a larger one to the rear, both served by a central bar stocked exclusively with East Anglian beer and cider. Proper no-nonsense boozer that should be an essential stop off point on any Norwich crawl.

Saturday - The Plough Inn, Horbling - tucked away in a village not too far from the A52, this is just the kind of pub I hope to find for a weekend lunch. Quiet bar and the snuggest snug I've seen. Just the one cask ale (Adnams Explorer) but I'd rather they served one in decent nick than four dodgy ones. Excellent food - my half-pounder burger certainly felt weighty - so the bacon, cheese and curly fries with it made for a substantial lunch. Landlady Karen was cheery and helpful. it was an ideal pub to break up the journey home and I hope it's not another year before I return.

Pub of the week? Almost impossible to call; each of them had many of those qualities that'd I look for in my perfect pub. But the Ugly Bug is a place I could see myself returning to over and over again - particularly as it offers accommodation as well. It had that rare combination of well-kept beer, superb fresh food and genuine bonhomie. If I close my eyes tightly, I can still taste the samphire....


Why I'm Proud of Pubs

Having spent five hours in the garden molesting hedges and dodging fox shit, I was ready for a beer, so...

I went to the pub (Royal Oak, Ockbrook)
and had a great pint of cask beer (Brewdog Zeitgeist)
and a Stilton cob (brown bread, natch)
and bantered with the landlord over prices
and hummed along to a cheesy song on the radio
and deconstructed England's cricket tactics with a fellow toper
and thought, sod the lawnmowing, I'll have another pint
and drank more Brewdog whilst reading the paper
and finished off the Suduko
and almost finished the crossword
and stopped for another pint
and had twenty minutes of sitting and thinking and drinking
and then got a bus home before the rain came

And that's why I'm Proud of Pubs


Couple Of Slags

It's Sunday. Fairly warm. I've been working up a sweat in the garden. Freshly showered, there's only one thing on my mind for satiating my desires. And there they are, chilling in the kitchen. A couple of Slags.

I'm not fussy this afternoon. Dripping wet with a bit of body will do me fine. And these are fine - a bit bubblegum around the edges but they go down easily. Quite sweet, actually.

They were procured for me in the back of a white van by Phil from Who, if HM Customs read this, will probably get a flashlight shoved up his back passage the next time he rolls through Dover. Sorry, Phil.

Slag is, indeed, a pale lager from Belgium's Brouwerij Slaghmuylder. I'll be honest, the tacky-chewy saccharine tang doesn't do much for me. Far more impressive was Klug, a crisp German pils. And I'm about to try a tin of Cristal. Sadly, beermerchants don't seem to import Binky, Sod or Plop. Yet.


Thornbridge garden party

Last Sunday saw me digging out my least-crumpled summer jacket, hoping that last season's strawberry stains didn't still show. I was off to Thornbridge Hall for their annual charity garden party and a few choice beers from the brewery bar.

The Hall itself is interesting architecturally, with alterations, reversals and restorations contributed by successive owners. There's a keen balance of old and new; spectacular stained glass in the wood-panelled stairway, a minimalist indoor swimming pool that looked cool in every sense of the world. What's really great about Thornbridge is that the current owners, Jim and Emma Harrison, are keen to show that it's a family home and not a museum. There's a widescreen TV on the wall in one room, a Wii Fit board sitting under the coffee table.

And I could have spent hours gazing into the stained glass. There's some outstanding examples, including an exquisite window by William Morris & Edward Burne-Jones. But I was here for the beer as well. Both the bar by the lawn and the one at the brewery were busy, the weather staying warm and topers lining up for something cool and refreshing. They weren't disappointed. One of Thornbridge's very first brews made a reappearance; Craven Silk has a soft, light body with just a hint of elderflower to lift the palate. Seaforth was an interesting take on IPA, purposely brewed with English ingredients resulting in a darker, dryer feel than the brewer's own Jaipur. Given that most English 'IPA' is as weak as dishwater and half as tasty, Seaforth was rather brooding and edgy. Hoppy without being resinous, offering an assertive balance rather than bitter aggression.

It was fun to take a wander around the extensive gardens at Thornbridge with a pint in hand and take in the sights. Families were chilling out on the terrace, a gaggle of teenage girls were making goggle-eyes at the band, green-fingered visitors (my Dad and sister included) were noseying through the greenhouses. There was something around every corner, including the supremely athletic women's Cotswold Morris team, Pecsaetan, and writer Pete Brown who was sampling beers with his wife Liz.

It all made for a relaxed and beery Sunday afternoon, one I'd thoroughly recommend you try next year if you can.


Not The Derby Beer Festival

Unchuffed by the selection and prices at the Derby CAMRA festival, I thought I'd trawl round a few of the city's choicer pubs to see what they had to offer.

Brunswick - 12 beers, tried Westerham British Bulldog, a sparklingly well-balanced bitter

Alex - 8 beers, tried Holden Midsummer Witch, sweet malts aren't really my thing sadly

Smithfield - 8 beers, tried Abbeydale Belfry, chock full of tangy hops and cool toffee notes

Royal Standard - 8 beers (some pumps were dry), tried Derby Hop Til You Drop, flatter than a very flat thing with some hops leaking out

Silk Mill - 8+ beers (didn't count properly), tried Harviestoun Schehallion and Thornbridge Kipling, both in good nick, the latter being 40p cheaper here than at the festival.

Flowerpot - 30 beers... so many it was tricky to read the board. Tried Lymestone Ein Stein, lots of fresh hay and fat pears.

So that's seventy-odd beers, most in decent condition, plenty of variety, plenty of ticker-tastic stuff and local favourites. And keenly priced, too.

Yet.... with grinding inevitability, I ended up in the fest. £1.80 was just worth paying for half a Fullers Vintage Ale. £1.60 was still too pricy for Kipling but I couldn't resist (and I was also buying it for a fellow Tweeter who'd never tried it before).

Verdict? The pubs win on range, quality and price. - the Flowerpot alone is worth travelling to Derby for. It's a real shame that the festival this year for me is just an average barstop rather than an exciting centrepiece of a grander Derby crawl.


The problem with Derby Beer Festival

Let's start with the positives. Derby CAMRA beer festival is held in a large, air conditioned venue. The beers are almost always in great condition. Plenty of people drink there so there's a good atmosphere and brisk beer turnover. It's my hometown festival so I can get to it every night (for free, as a member) if I wish. But...

this year, the beer range is decidley average and the prices somewhat steep. The main bar has a clutch of festival specials and a whole heap of 'brewery bars'; as much as I like Fullers, Adnams, Marstons etc. I like to try something at a fest that I can't get in a dozen or so pubs around the city. Having a mere 18 breweries represented in the main hall seems paltry.

The Darwin Suite traditionally seems to offer an interesting range of brewers and beers, albeit only twenty at a time. But this year's list seems to revisit over-familiar fayre, with a few notable expections such as beers from Outstanding. Yet, one third of the beers on that bar last night were from one brewery... Everards being the sponsor of that bar.

And these beers don't come cheap. Breech the 5% ABV mark and prices start to rise above £3 a pint - and if you're drinking thirds, wer'e taling in the region of £1.20 for a 5-6% beer. That's the equivalent of £3.60 a pint. Yes, I know beers ain't cheap, axe the tax etc. But this is CAMRA. Where's the bargaining power? Where's the relationship with LocAle producers to secure regular AND special beers at a competitive price?

Thankfully I'm a CAMRA member. So last night I didn't have to pay four quid to get in. Friday night, pay seven quid entry to drink lots of regional beer? It's cheaper to go to the pub - and I can't remember the last time I wrote that.

It's not all moan, moan, moan though. There's still drink to be had from a great range of producers (both established and new), in a range of styles and at £1.20 a half it's much cheaper than beer of a similar ABV - the cider and perry bars at Derby have always offered quality stuff at competitive prices. If you want to find me at the fest, you know where I'll be...


Wishlist #2; Co-operative Brewplants

Rather than brew every day on a small plant, it may make logistical and financial sense to have one brewday on a larger plant. To then have the time for deliveries, collections, marketing etc as the weekly brew took one day rather than three or four.

But the smaller brewer can't afford the larger plant; can't afford the cost of set-up and running, can't afford to brew at the larger plant's capacity because they haven't built up enough of a market for the product.

So how about co-operative brewplants? Brewers pay a fee to use it, though they make savings due to the economy of scale at the larger plant. That fee pays for operating costs and someone to oversee the operation. Brewers could maintain their own smaller plants for experimental beers. Homebrewers could have access to commercial standard kit.

If it allows a bunch of brewers to produce beer of higher volume and greater consistency - and let them get out of the brewhouse and run their business better too - it could be a real winner.


Wishlist #1; Proper Keg Bitter

Keg bitter. There's a reason why brewers brew it, pubs stock it and punters drink it. Reliability. Cask beer can be shagged up at every turn; on too long/tapped too early in the pub, poorly stored by the distributor, infected when it left the brewer. Keg gives a drinker the confidence that their beer will taste the same every time they have it, regardless of where they buy it.

A shame, then, that most keg bitter tastes of wet cardboard. What a great opportunity going begging - a ready-made market who (hopefully) wouldn't be scared off by a slightly tastier pint than the usual smoothflow dross. A quality keg bitter from a successful cask brewer could be an entry-point into the rest of their portfolio for non-cask drinkers. I'd rather walk into a pub I don't know and have the choice of quality-keg than only potentially-dodgy casks.


Norfolk and beer: North Norfolk Coast

With the sun blistering, my wife driving and my wallet ready for emptying, last week saw the Reluctant Scooper hit the A149 for a North Norfolk coast road topering session.

First stop, Sheringham. And coastal fog had shrouded this particular extension of God's waiting room. Hordes of cardigan-clad wrinklies were hauling their zimmers up to the sea wall only to be greeted by the kind of pea-souper that many hadn't experienced since the war. Possibly the Crimean. But we still went for our morning constitutional along the prom, if only to build up an appetite for an ice cream (by the renowned Norfolk creamy Ronaldo; thankfully it doesn't dribble fantastically before falling out the cone for no apparant reason).

In the end, I plumped for a crab sandwich instead, (crab flavoured ice cream... wonder why you never see that?) which was wolfed down whilst waiting for a pub to open. The Windham Arms had been recommended to us by a few people and also features in CAMRA's Good Beer Guide and so it would have made a great start to a beery day. Except... revised opening times meant it was firmly shut at 11am and we'd have to be on the road when it opened at noon.

Westward, then. Last year we discovered the Ship at Weybourne, a few miles along from Sheringham. With its recently refurbished bar, huge servings of whitebait and some damn fine Humpty Dumpty beer, it was one of our standout pubs of the week. It's still a smart looking pub, but sadly something's gone awry. It was quiet (literally) for an hour, with just off-duty staff gabbing at the bar. My first beer - Grain Oak - did have a hop edge but that was soon blunted by a flabby feel of a beer slighly too warm and flat. Buffy's Terrier wasn't in great condition either. And although the menu ran on and on, it was the same eight items in a baguette/on a spud. When the music went on and the tattooed over-fifties turned up, we decided it was time to push onward.

Lunch became something ad hoc and al fresco. Approaching Cley-next-the-Sea, we decided to stop off at Picnic Fayre. This is a corking deli that we'd found via the supplier page of Bray's pork pies and were delighted to pick up one of their Old Spot specials. A fat slice of chicken and five-herb flan along with a lamb and apricot pie made for a pastry-mongous lunch. We weaved our way along the main road between gaps in parked cars - navigating narrow roads with no pavements is a challenge for a wheelchair user and escort - and pitched up close to Cley windmill to enjoy our feast.

More beer was needed. Instead of joining the sunseekers outside the George Hotel, we decided to move on down the coast. It had been a few years since we visited the Red Lion at Stiffkey and loved the mix of salty old seadogs and Chelsea weekend warriors - both wore chunky jumpers, just that some were Army & Navy and others were Armani. But we were foiled; the pub was open, but the car park was now further up the hill than we remembered it to be. We'd have made it down to the pub but would have really struggled to get the chair back up again. A real shame - with no on-street parking at pub level, we had to keep moving on.

Another recommendation that had been made was the Lord Nelson in Burnham Thorpe. Genuinely historic pub (Lord Nelson's local), Good Beer Guide listed... sounded great. The Guide listed it as open all day, too. But not anymore.... here's the problem with a guidebook that's already months out of date when it's published. The change to opening hours isn't listed on CAMRA's site either - I assume they're relying on the local branch to forward such changes. Yes, we should have checked the pub's website or gave them a ring.

Shit or bust, then. The Jolly Sailors at Brancaster Staithe was as far as we could roam before heading back to Walsingham. It had a good write-up in the Good Beer Guide and was listed as open all day, but we've been there before. So choruses of hallelujahs erupted in the car park when we could see it was clearly open. And, what a find it was. A whole heap of rooms, comfy lounges and tiled bars were served by a bar at the front of the building. Towards the back, a conservatory set out for dining backed out to a sizable beer garden. We sat outside, a pint of Brancaster Best not satiating my hop need but at least it was in good nick. As we were out for a meal somewhere else that night, I tried really hard not to give in and order some whitebait. But failed gloriously - I'd barely had time to get back to my seat from ordering before a plate of flash-fried silvery fish appeared with a hunk of bread, chunk of lemon and pot of tartare sauce. Absolutely ruddy gorgeous - I'll be back next year for more. And one of their stone-baked pizzas...

A serendipitous day. If the pubs we'd known hadn't been of middling quality / shut / not too accessible, we wouldn't have kept going onto Brancaster and so wouldn't have ended the trip sitting in the sun enjoying some of the best whitebait I've tasted. And an important Norfolk & beer lesson learned - check those opening times before you go!


Toper Talk: The Rules Of Hop Club

This has been rolling round my head since a drunken tweet about it a couple of weeks back.

#1 You do not talk about Hop Club.
#2 You DO NOT talk/blog/tweet/SMS about Hop Club.
#3 If someone says "no more hops", requires malt or goes limp, their drink is over
#4 Only two guys to a bottle
#5 One bottle at a time.
#6 No pens, no pads, no PDAs
#7 Drinking will go on as long as they have to.
#8 If this is your first night at Hop Club, you HAVE to drink a Double IPA.

Coming soon to a room upstairs in a pub near you???


Open the box

Back from holiday to find a beer box lurking under my desk. send me the occasional selection box and this eclectic mix promises to liven up this summer's thirsty Thursdays.

Some, ahem, 'interesting' lagers in there from around the world, so it looks like I'll have a frozen pizza night at some point in the near future. The Bayreuther Bio-Weisse looks interesting. The Punks; well, I've something special planned for them. The Keizers will get shoved into a cobwebbed corner to be enjoyed at Christmas. As for the Mega Blend Geuze - There Will Be Indigestion.

This week, I'll mostly be having a gaggle of Slags. Appalling puns will be mandatory. You have been warned.


Norfolk & Beer: playing catch-up

Let's be honest, it's been too damn hot to blog. Norfolk was blessed with occasional internet connectivity and tons of good beer, so I was busy sampling the latter whilst not giving a fig about the former. All the beery details will be revealed through the week, including;

- why cider is ten times better than beer as a lunchtime drink
- why some microbrewers in the county are missing a trick when it comes to selling bottles
- how fresh beer and fresh food, both local, is an ideal combination
- how reduced opening hours restrict topering at lunchtime

But I can find the time to write a few words now about beer and cider buying. Norfolk is well catered for with outlets ranging from the brewer's doorstep to the largest store in Britain. From places such as Walsingham Farms Shop, the Real Ale Shop, Whin Hill Cider, the Norfolk Show and Beers of Europe, I've picked up several dozen bottles in the last week. They range from local microbrewers through to US and continental fayre. Here's what I'm hoping the highlights will be:

An eclectic selection of Norfolk ales including some light fruity numbers from Humpty Dumpty and a couple of IPAs by Grain and Fox.

These two will be winging their way to Sheffield in acouple of weeks for the European Summer Gathering. Artic Ale from Elvenden is a recreation of a Samuel Allsop beer brewed for sailors undertaking artic expeditions in the ninteenth century (there's a useful potted history here and an article by Roger Protz on his blog). Wagtail's Black Beauty Coffee Porter uses Kenyan coffee beans to add another dimension to an already-tasty beer.

We may be just out of a heatwave, but I'm always on the lookout for those bottles with which I'll while away the winter evenings. These two should be good; Brewdog's Paradox Islay I've had a few times already, so I'm already looking forward to tasting it alongside Harviestoun's legendary Ola Dubh.

And these just looked like fun; the Crouch Vale Amarillo I've had several times before on cask, so I'll be interested to see if it maintains that hop intensity once bottle. As for the De Molen, it's not a brewery I'm familiar with but I'm always prepared to take a punt on something new. I just need to find a few more Amarillo-heavy beers for a proper hop-off one weekend.

So, there you go. I'm off for a quick kip before I raid the fridge for a few US beers; it is Independence Day, after all...