The Scoopies 2009

I've had literally some enquiries as to whether I'd be getting hopelessly drunk on New Year's Eve and presenting a vast number of meaningless awards. Ladeez en jayneteelmen - I give you, The Scoopies 2009

The Cheshire Cat Award for Most Contented Beer Moment

- sat on a pallet outside Thornbridge Hall brewery with Ian Harrison of pubsandbeer, enjoying a ham cob and a pint after enjoying a morning's brewing

Unfeasibly Good Pub of the Year award (sponsored by the Fat Cock Inn, Little Dribbling)

- The Bear Inn, Alderwasley, Derbyshire. Miles from a main road, dominoes by the fire in the bar, top quality food, nooks and crannies, beer garden overlooking Crich Stand, Thornbridge Jaipur - ticks all the boxes

The 'Maybe We Can Turn Back The Hands Of Time" award for best new Best Bitter

- not awarded due to lack of entries

The 'New Technology Baffles Pissed Old Hack' award for Most Entertaining #techfail of the year

- Me trying to blog live about Brewdog 5AM Saint at the Harlequin, Sheffield, via a steam-driven mobile phone. Proof positive that this toper can't drink and think at the same time.

The Death Of Conversation Award for Most Flagrant Misuse of Technology in a Beer Context

- myself and Dave 'Unpronounceable' Szwejkowski, sat in the Kelham Island Tavern, bitching about drinkers sat four feet away from us... by Facebook status updates.

The "I'm Not Pished, Ossifer" Award for Most Entertaining Pratfall

- Me, after only a couple of pints of BrewDog Paradox Smokehead, Derby CAMRA Winter Festival. I went to lean against a pillar; sadly, it was a poster. Fortunately, the beer escaped unharmed.

The Best At-Seat Service on an English Rail Route

- er, me again. For serving myself Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA on the way back from the GBBF. When the steward asked, "Would you care for a coffee, Sir, or are you happy with your beer?" I told him that I was *very* happy with my beer

The "Fucking Students" Award for Most Annoying Soap-Dodgers With Fat Mouths Ruining A Good Pub

- the slow drinkers in the University Arms, Sheffield. Yes, I know it's practically on campus, but FFS. Go drink shite in a union bar. I don't want to hear such tripe as "There are three things I look for in a woman...." btw - I'm imagining those things are desperation, solvency and a predilection for Rohypnol

The 'Are You Looking At My Moobs?" Award for Best Mistaken Identity Incident

- the bloke in the yellow shirt at the Platform 4 urninals, Sheffield Station, who mistook me for the actor Kevin Kennedy (Norman 'Curly' Watts of Coronation Street fame).

The 'Thank My Lucky Stars For A Transcontinental Retailer On My Doorstep' Award for Best Supermarket Beer

- Asda, for selling BrewDog Punk IPA. Often on offer. So I was able to buy it on the way to work, shove it in the fridge and then be able to enjoy it on the way home. I mean, when I got home. Honest, officer.

The Hey Nonny Nonny Award for Unexpectedly Good Morris Dancing At A Beer Event

- Pecsaetan Morris at the Thornbridge Hall Garden Party

The Life of Brian "Yes, Yes, We Are All Individuals" Award

Anyone who runs a beer blog based solely around regurgitated press releases and commenting on other blogs. Thinking is so important, Baldrick.

The 'Suspiciously Traditional Categories That Almost Match Up To The Golden Pint Awards But Fall Short Because I Can't be Arsed To Write That Much Anymore' Awards

Beer Festival of the Year: Beer, Blues and BBQ at the Coach & Horses, Dronfield. For many reasons, but mainly for Thornbridge/Epic Halcyon. And barbecued fish on a stick.

Online Retailer of the Year: - yes, they are proud suppliers of free beer to this site but I have yet to find another online retailer with such depth and breadth of stock, keen pricing and superb customer service.

Best Beer Book: Good Beer Guide Belgium. The finest vicarious beer journey of the year

Best Beer Blog: Martyn Cornell's Zythophile

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year: A carry-out of cask Thornbridge Jaipur enjoyed with fish and chips from Carlo's Catch, Spondon.

Pork Pie of the year: Lanes of Leicester for the second year in a row. Not the fattest, crustiest or meatiest pie of the year, but by far and away the most moreish

Most Interesting Brewery: Hopshackle. Nigel is brewing up a quiet revolution; historic styles delivered with passion. And the 2008 Restoration is ageing supremely; another year and I reckon it'll be Trappist-beating.

Best Bottled/Cask Beer: Not telling. There's been too many where the combination of beer, place and people elevated the malt and hops onto a higher plane.

But because I'm a generous old soak, honourable mentions must go to Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel, Russian River Pliny the Elder and BrewDog Hardcore (bottle); Brunswick Black Sabbath, Marble Dobber, Captain Lawrence Captain’s Reserve Imperial IPA and Thornbridge Jaipur (cask)

Well, as the head gardener said to the confused bulb-holding apprentice, that's shallot. 2009 was a blast; great beers found and enjoyed with great friends old and new. 2010 has a lot to offer and some important changes here at Reluctant Scooper - keep your eyes peeled over the weekend for more gory details.

Unitl then, dear topers - drink them like you stole them. TTFN.




Their beers are often talked about by beer geeks in hushed tones; reverential, almost forming an incantation.

It's often called Westy, an unfortunate result of social inadequate's txt spk and those who can't be arsed to learn how to pronounce it.

Buying it seems to be a cross between spy novel and performance art worthy of Camden's finest; call an answering machine, leave your car registration, meet a monk at an allotted time by a gap in a wall.

If you're lucky/fortunate/well-connected, friends bring bottles over to you. If you're desperate/geeky/misguided, you pay a fortune to import a bottle (that may not even be the real deal. Ebayers beware).

I am glad to have generous friends.

So, here are beers that - surely - cannot possibly be as ball-bustingly great as the hype make them out to be. Even though still ranks the '12' as the Best Beer In The World.

My verdict?

The '8' is full of tart plums. The '12' is almost too complex for its own good. The Blond stole the show - plenty of pears and cloves and a feisty peppery-biscuit finish.

Best beers in the world? Not today. Perhaps it's because I refuse to believe the hype. Perhaps I'm rewarded for that. Perhaps I've just tasted great beer and enjoyed it; not revelled in it, not gone all misty-doe-eyed over it - just enjoyed it. Perhaps that's all you're meant to do. After all.... it's only beer.


Brewdog How To Disappear Completely

Newark; CAMRA Festival, May 2009.

New Brewdog; I am assaulted by hops, in a tent.

Then, I leave for the Lincoln CAMRA fest

"In a little while I'll be gone / The moment's already passed
Yeah it's gone / And I'm not here This isn't happening"

Lincoln; CAMRA Festival, May 2009.

I am sludged by brown beer, in a drill hall.

"This isn't happening / I'm not here / I'm not here"

Derby; my dining room table, December 2009.

Bottles bludgeon old wounds.

Strobe lights and blown speakers? Almost.

Opening the bottle and squatting three feet away, still there's a hop relentless assault. Reminds me initially of Nanny State. Make those memories go away...

No apologies to be found. No quarter asked. No quarter given. Relentless pine, discordant bitterness. Daft grapefruit. Yet - once you've puckered up, buttercup, those hops seep into your soul and you're grateful for the transfer.

It may yet be overdrawn in the hop account, though BrewDog didn't forget to settle the malt bill. Self-redeeming. Just.


The lyrics came from something Michael Stipe said to me. I rang him and said, "I cannot cope with this." And he said, "Pull the shutters down and keep saying, 'I'm not here, this is not happening'".

Thom Yorke


...Within the first couple bars of “How to Disappear Completely,” I knew I was in deep shit...

...There’s a specific satisfaction when a sad song comes on amid your own heartbreak... does take me back to the hotel room in Samoa: cool linoleum under my feet, a glass of sickly-sweet liquor on the nightstand, and the inescapable awareness that I had lost something huge...

Dan Clem

(from the ever-excellent McSweeney's)


... it just completely messes you up.

The idea came from a conversation with Scott from Hamilton's Tavern (killer beer bar in San Diego). He suggested a 4.5% session double IPA. We just made the concept a little crazier, a little more BrewDog.

James Watt

Brewdog blog


“The hoppiest beer?” Garrett asked. “It’s a fairly idiotic pursuit, like a chef saying, ‘This is the saltiest dish.’ Anyone can toss hops in a pot, but can you make it beautiful?”

New York Times


I fear that hops will always break my heart. Tease my palate. Dance on my grave. Rarely be lost.

(and Never Be Found)


The Best Pint You'll Probably Never Taste

The charred black body belies an ember glow at the glass's base; cinder-red suppressed by the very weight of beer above.

A creamy hide head, shotgun-peppered, slips into misty constellations that shift with every sip.

Escaping, an aroma of burnt cream and fresh ash, akin to roasting marshmallows too close to a bonfire; your poker-full burning just before the knees of your jeans become uncomfortably warm.

First lick, a lactic tang tempered by fruits souring in the hedge. You feel your lips retreat across your teeth before puckering enough into the second wave of recalcitrant berries.

This is a beer born just down the corridor from where I'm drinking it. To me, it's a unique moment... every time I drink it. But beer like this must be brewed all over the world.

In a tap-heavy west-coast USA bar, it's a passing seasonal soon to be nudged out by the proprietor's Next Great Thang. In an away-from-the-motorways Belgian town, it's a single barrel served on gravity, still brewed only because somebody's grandmother insists. In a broken-neon Tokyo side-street, it's a rare cask that perplexes and delights with equal measure.

In the pointy end of an English brewpub, where there are neither customers nor a fire in the grate, where passing traffic and gobshites hollering into mobile phones provide the only soundtrack, I find myself lost in a beer that within a few precious weeks will be gone, another moment lost like tears in the rain. Ephemeral, enhanced by time and place, kicking and screaming all the way down your throat.

I've just enjoyed the Best Pint You'll Probably Never Taste.

But, do you know what's really, honestly, truly, achingly great about Good Beer?


today, tomorrow, you stand every chance of drinking a beer just as good.

If you don't go topering out and about, you'll never know.

You owe it to yourself to go and find it.


A picture tells a thousand words

Have a peaceful Christmas, topers everywhere


Strong Ale along the Derwent

A long morning of pushing a broom around the driveway, shifting leaf mulch and wet moss, builds up my appetite for beer. So I fancied the ninety minute troll up the River Derwent to call by at two Derby brewpubs in search of strong ale.

The Brunswick is a given in the hunt for strong ale in winter. Usually, I'd be slavvering over a pint of Black Sabbath, unfeasibly ABV'd at 6.66%, black as a black thing that's been stuffed full of damsons and twigs and liqorice and sourness (in a good way). But this is Rambo season; Rambo being an old Everards recipe resurged at this brewpub into a deep, viscous, fruity brew. Truth be told, the first few sips were difficult, perhaps as I'd worked up a thirst and satiating it with strong ale wasn't the keenest move.

Like one of Victoria Wood's flapjack, you just need to work it around your mouth a bit. The turning fruit and itching malt works better as the beer warms. To be honest, sitting in the parlour where the only sound was the head of my pint popping and forming has been one of my finest beer moments this year.

Upriver for a palate cleanser. There's one downside to the Smithfield in Derby - when the river's running high, the pub stinks. But there's nearly always a dog in the bar that's mad as a box of frogs, great tunes on the perpetually self-selecting jukebox and at least six handpulls full of light, hoppy beer. It's unusual for me to not be drinking Whim or Oakham in here - when the alternative is BrewDog Punk IPA, perhaps I can be forgiven. Full of fat fresh fruit salad flavours. Dang tasty.

Last stop was the Flowerpot. Often tricky drinking here on a Sunday; being a popular music venue, fans may have given the beers a hammering the night before. The upside is availability of their own brews; five of theirs on today including their winter ofering, Zymosis. Vaguely golden, bitter pine to the fore, lurking alcohol with licks of old pineapple steeped in gone-off glue. More drinkable than Rambo, deceptive with its strength. In cinematic terms, it's Jason Bourne by comparison - subtle, understated.

Back home with a smile on my face and a Three Counties jacket potato to look forward to - Double Gloucester cheese, Worcestershire sauce and Herefordshire perry. Nom cubed. And a glass or four of BrewDog Zephyr to chase it down - but that'll be another story...


Down by the (Thornbridge) Riverside

One of this year's more notable beery happenings has been the opening of a new brewery for Thornbridge. From a compact and bijou setup in a disused stonemason's shed on the Thornbridge estate, the brewers now get to play in a custom-built facility just down the road in Bakewell. Sorting through some of my photos from this year, I found a few that show how the new brewhouse has developed.

Back in July, en route to the Hall for a brewday, Kelly Ryan gave us a sneak preview of the work in progress. The sheer step change from the plant at the Hall to this massively complex setup seemed audacious.

September saw the official opening. The place certainly looked good all scrubbed up - not that unmarked floors were expected to last. Looking down on the fermenters from the "crow's nest" where the brewing would be controlled, I had a gut feeling that Stefano and Kelly were finally getting the setup they'd dreamt about.

I've since been back to help out brewing a batch of Jaipur - as you sit in the control room above the mash tun and copper there's a constant background rattle of machines grinding into life, accompanied by hissing steam, the click-clack of switchgear and the all-too-often alarm as the computerised process demands attention at a critical stage of the brew.

It's all rather different from brewing on 'Old Faithful' back at the Hall:

As there's a little less for a brewer's mate to do nowadays, I caught up with some technical reading and indulged in some industrial photography. Shooting the orange glow of back-lit wort, tubs of hops and spacecraft-like vessels kept me busy.

There are more photos of Thornbridge old and new here along with some from the official opening.


Review: Good Beer Guide Belgium

The first time I went to Brugge I took a piece of card with me, on which were scribbled the names of ten beers that the tourist guides told me I should try. Those beers changed my life. The next time I go back to Belgium, I'm taking something more substantial... and it could be life changing all over again.

For nearly two decades, Tim Webb has been compiling the Good Beer Guide Belgium (GBGB) for CAMRA. Now in its sixth edition, it's widely regarded as an indispensable book for even the most casual of Belgian beer lovers. I'd have liked to put GBGB to a fit and proper test - a weekend away in Belgium with venues and beer choices shaped by the guide. That'll have to wait until next year; for now I'd suffice with a few random Belgian bottles and a steaming plate of moules frites. There's a chapter about food... I wonder what Tim Webb thinks of this classic dish?

"The cartoon version of Belgian cuisine has it that the national dish is mussels and chips..". Whoops. Still, later on in the excellent chapter, he mentions that mussels go well with an amber ale so I was forced to open up a bottle of PALM Speciale. And it was indeed a worthy pairing, the first time I'd tried the beer and found it to be clean malted and very sessionable.

Back to the book. Given that Tim Webb has produced a guide to over a thousand beers and six hundred places to drink them in, it still reads like a personable travel guide rather than a beer almanac. The book splits roughly into thirds - a detailed listing of specialist beer bars by province, an alphabetical overview of the breweries with their regular commercial beers and a heap of advice and guidance on beer styles, Belgian brewing and travel. The bar and brewery reviews are concise, pithy and not without a dose of dry humour. For some, the occasionally world-weary sarcasm may wear thin quickly, but Tim's approach makes GBGB a travelogue experience rather than a dry encyclopaedic tome.

There's also a selection of introductory articles that take a fresh look at contemporary Belgian beer issues, by the likes of brewer Frank Boon and historian Ron Pattinson. This approach, along with Tim's masterful handling of style discussion and an excellent chapter on the "art and science of creating beer" make the GBGB stand out as a truly entertaining and informative book. It's well illustrated, clearly set out, compact enough for travelling with yet still comprehensive enough to be of use.

If you're planning a trip to Belgium and want to end up drinking somewhere that doesn't just offer buckets of Jupiler, this is the book for you.

Thanks to for the review copy and a few beers to get me in a Belgique mood. They've put together a classy mixed case of Belgian beer (including the likes of Chimay, Orval and Rochefort) along with a glass and a copy of the Good Beer Guide Belgium. That'd be a great Christmas present for someone beery in your life - or even to yourself. Go on, you're worth it!


Thornbridge Jaipur: new definitions

(c.2005, traditional Derbyshire)

1. the state of merry contentment following imbibation of Jaipur IPA: "He was so Jaipured, he missed his stop and ended up in the depot".

2. the state of a cask when emptied of its last pint of Jaipur: "All gone, lads! You've drank it all in three hours! That cask's Jaipured!".

(c.2008, Horse & Groom, Derby)

delicateness of constitution the morning after an evening of over-exuberant imbibation of Jaipur IPA: "Five pints and a kebab? No wonder he looks Jaipoorly this morning"

(unknown provenace)

making one's way to a public house for the imbibation of Jaipur: "Anyone else fancy Jaipootling up to the Coach & Horses?"

(c.2007, South Yorkshire)

a search for Jaipur involving several pubs: "I'm off Jaipuring round Sheffield on Saturday". May involve an element of 'Jaipur twitching', where Jaipurers hunt for the Jaipur varieties known as Common Cask, Lesser Spotted 330ml and the very rare Greater Bottled Conditioned.


Units: they don't always add up

I recently enjoyed a long afternoon-into-evening drinking session with my colleagues. OK, it started off as our departmental Christmas meal (and, yes, I know it's only just turned December) and then turned into a moderately-sized pub crawl. There were bottles of Leffe on the table with the meal, lagers whilst playing pool and pints of dark, viscous real ale as the evening wore on. The next morning, I felt shocking. Some bastard have given me a stinker of a cold, complete with sandpapered-throat and on-fire sinuses. The booze hadn't bothered me at all.... which in turn was worrying. The volume imbibed had been fairly immoderate, to be sure. And it contained probably more alcohol units than are supposed to be good for me.

Health campaigners and the UK Government have put an increasing emphasis on alcohol units as part of their awareness raising campaigns recently. Advice from the NHS suggests that men should drink no more than between three and four units per day, each unit being equal to 8g (or 10 ml) of pure alcohol. Over eight units in a day - i.e. twice the recommended intake - is classed as binge drinking. Well, I drank four 330ml bottles of 6% beer over a period of three hours at the restaurant; apparently I was a binge drinker before we got to the first pub.

In the good old days, I seem to remember that binge drinking was when you had all of your 21 unit weekly allowance in one fell swoop. That advice changed from a weekly to a daily allowance back in 1995 as a way of persuading drinkers not to 'stockpile' their 'allowance' and then get tanked up in just one evening. In doing so, it created a recommended unit range for the first time, actually increasing the maximum number of weekly units (between 21 and 28 for men , 15 to 21 for women). Why did the government increase the recommended maximum number of weekly alcohol units by 33%? Perhaps it was recognition that the original 1987 figures were flawed.

Those limits were set out in 'A Great and Growing Evil: The Medical Consequences of Alcohol Abuse', a report by the Royal College of Physicians whose title references their submission in 1726 to the House of Commons on the same topic. Richard Smith, former editor of the British Medical Journal and member of the working party that produced the report, said the limits were borne of “a feeling that you had to say something”. However, a lack of detailed data meant it was impossible to say what was safe and what wasn't. “Those limits were really plucked out of the air," admitted Mr Smith. "They were not based on any firm evidence at all. It was a sort of intelligent guess by a committee.”

In the years that followed, unit-related research increased. In 1993 a study of 12000 middle-aged, male doctors by team at the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford found that the lowest mortality rates were among those drinking between 20 and 30 units of alcohol each week. The level of drinking that produced the same risk of death as that faced by a teetotaller was 63 units a week. Within two years of this study, others had been published showing that moderate alcohol consumption gave some protection against heart disease and premature death.

The limits seemed to be confounded further by the WHO’s International Guide for Monitoring Alcohol Consumption and Related Harm, published in 2001. This set out drinking ranges that qualified people as being at low, medium or high-risk of chronic alcohol-related harm. For men, less than 35 weekly units was low-risk, 36-52.5 was medium-risk and above 53 was high-risk. Women were low-risk below 17.5 units, medium between 18 and 35 and high above 36. Note, however, that page 52 of the report makes it explicit that those levels were not intended "to be applied in advice for Low Risk drinking advice to the public".

There's plenty of debate to be had about what may be an appropriate number of alcohol units per day/week. But such debate will be rendered pointless without informed insight as to how many units there are in your tipple of choice. Only 3% of alcoholic bottles/cans have full labels showing alcohol content and units, according to the Public Accounts Committee. That's down to a voluntary code; there's no such code for non-bottled alcohol. The NHS Units website has a host of calculators and guidelines. But I'll be using a table that I lashed together (at the top of this story) that takes into account the wildly differing alcohol strengths and draught/bottle sizes that I encounter.

In the meantime, I'll be acting on two pieces of what seem to be eminently-sensible advice; ensuring I have two alcohol-free days in a week and no longer consuming alcohol close to bedtime. This reluctant scooper isn't getting any younger and it's starting to show.

The NHS Units website:

Local Alcohol Profiles for England:

Drinkaware (with interesting stuff about alcohol and sleep)


The Brewing Network

I stumbled across The Brewing Network last year when Kelly Ryan of Thornbridge was interviewed for their Sunday show. It's a series of US-based internet radio shows, based around a homebrewing topic or an interview with a beer bod. Beer geeks talking to other beer geeks about beer sounds like the kind of show that makes you want to set fire to yourself before running off the top of a tall building, but these guys are really something else. If there's a line to be crossed, they'll weave back and forth over it until you can't find the line. If there's gas to be passed, it's on the mic. If there are opinions to flaunt, they'll flaunt them. And occasionally they talk about beer.

The Sunday Show has the kind of guests that you want to kick back with, share a beer and hear their stories. A couple of weeks ago, the mighty Jay Brooks of the Brookston Beer Bulletin was on the show; it was great to hear the backstory of such a great beer writer. Kelly was interviewed last year, as were BrewDog. And, of course, there's the barely contained zoo that is the regular brewcasters in the studio, ably whipped into shape by the host, Justin Crossley.

When I first heard the show, I thought "Who the hell are these arseholes? When are they going to talk about beer?". Thirty minutes later, I was laughing so hard that I was chewing snot. Because the Brewing Network is all about the beer. And beer is all about having a good time.

Justin said on a recent show that bloggers can't be listening to the show because no-one was writing about it. Well, Justin, there you go. Big up to a show that brews strong and drinks them like they stole them.

The Brewing Network shows can be downloaded as podcasts. I'd start with the Sunday Session for the full-fat flavour; the recent Jay Brooks show is a goodie, Kelly staves off sleep in the Thornbridge show and snot may come out of your nose when you listen to the Not Talking About Beer Hour in the Beer and Chocolate podcast.

And, they've got a Facebook page and can be found over on Twitter too.

I've kicked in my couple of bucks a month as a Private First Class of the BN Army - if you like what your hear, go support them. Beer and co-ax cable don't grow on tree, you know.


BrewDogging; The Ones That Got Away

The idea was to try one Brewdog beer every day throughout November. Ah, the best laid plans of mice & men & reluctant scoopers. Some days yielded several (such as a Saturday lunch at the Rake bar), others saw me otherwise engaged or unavoidably detained away from the cellar.

So I'm left with a few Brewdog beers that I've yet to write about. My first thought was to drink them all last Sunday, but even my iron constitution flipped at the idea. That means at sometime in the future I'll add the write-ups for;

- Storm (the Islay IPA one)
- Tokyo and Tokyo* (the oak chipped/jasmine and cranberry stout and the one with an asterisk)
- Zephyr (the one with the pretty label)

That'll be 28 beers. It'd be cool to share those four above with someone. So, if you have an unusual Paradox and a bottle of Tactical Nuclear Penguin and you fancy the mother of all Brewdog tastings, you know what to do...


BrewDogging #24; Nanny State

Let's keep this simple. Brewdog said; "Will we legitimately go down as having invented the Imperial Mild genre in the beer splattered pages of brewing history?"


They will go down in history as the inventors of a hop tea masquerading as a beer.

Words fail me when it comes to describe this beer. Which makes for a shit review. Apologies. Suffice to say, it's just relentless hops. Let's say you enjoy a hoppy beer. This is like tasting your favourite hoppy beer. Then having a sackful of hop cones thrust down your throat, up your nose and into your soul. You will sweat hops the next morning. You could gargle charcoal but still taste the hops.

Of course, there's a whole backstory to this beer. Their point is well made. Shame the beer didn't follow suit.


BrewDogging #23; The Physics

The equation is actually simpler than as suggested on the bottle. Take just enough hops, add to crystal malted wort and let it all lay back and relax. Robust orange body, scant white head, nibbly biscuit base, keen hop edge, clean yet odd mix of hedgerow and salad bowl fruits, dry finish. I could drink this all morning/lunchtime/afternoon/evening long. Not a session beer but sessionable. And proof positive that Brewdog do know how to brew a balanced beer that can appeal to the masses.