The Scoopies 2010

It's the end-of-year random-beery seldom-cheery awards that literally one man and his dog have been waiting for. Except the man isn't too bothered now and has sodded off to the pub. And the dog isn't allowed in the pub as it's a filthy shitting trip hazard.

It's The Scoopies 2010. Ta-da.

Most Pointless Beer Discussion - Black IPA. Discuss.

It's Cascadian Dark. It's new. It's old. It's hoppy porter. It's not porter. Dehusking, debasing, debating... I'm sure there's a cogent answer to the question 'So, what the blink *is* Black IPA?" ; I'm just not too sure I can be bothered to find it. And for the all the wasted hours I've spent arguing about it this year, I'm truly sad.

Bloke You Most Want To Lend You £20 For A Taxi - Kelly Ryan
Of course, the finer moments I spent with the Kiwi Tigger this year were, of course, talking about alpha-acid nuances whilst surrounded by the shiny-shiny of Thornbridge Riverside brewery. Honest. But the funniest moments were always at the Coach & Horses, Dronfield, with random beers shared between random beery people. And having just spent half an hour telling him why Black IPA was shit and his ideas for keg expansion were even worse, he still stumped up twenty quid for me when I missed the last bus home. He even called the taxi for me. Top fella.

The 'How Long Have We Been In This Pub?' Award - Churchill Arms, Kensington, Laaandun.

To be fair, I'm quite partial to a drop of keg Fullers London Porter. And to people watching. And to Thai food. Put all three together and the day just evaporates. And so it came to pass at the Churchill Arms. When you take a bar packed with tweed-wearing Irishman, clueless tourists, fashionistas, a Thai restaurant with the walls covered in butterflies, some of the best beer that the capital can muster and then cram it all into the same building, you're not even close in describing how wonderfully mad the Churchill Arms is. We managed a five-hour session this year. In fact, having partaken in lunch, we almost stopped for tea too.

The 'What Time Is My Train?' Award for Best Bar Near A Railway Station - Sheffield Tap.

I used to have a feature on here called Ales Near Rail which had a random selection of decent pubs and bars within a five minute stagger from a railway station. The Sheffield Tap would feature highly if I ever get around to rewriting that feature; it holds the royal flush of Thornbridge cask beers, international keg beers, superlative bottled beers, attractive architecture and actually being on the platform (1b. Where you catch the train to Adwick).

And there have been times this year when I only made it as far as the Tap before pouring myself back onto a train. I blame Yan Pilkington for that. He kept tweeting me with what beers were on. Sometimes, it was true.

My post about the Tap also happens to win the Most Often Read Post On This Website If You Believe Google Analytics award. Though as I have no idea who picks up this guff via RSS, Facebook etc I have no definitive way of knowing. Or caring.

Whilst I'm on an analytical vibe, let's have the Top Referral Source To My Site Of Readers Who Really Ought To Know Better award - Are You Taking The Pith? by Zak Avery. Thanks to Zak for actually including me on his blogroll. And apologies to all those referralettes who may have been expecting some learned discourse about beer.

Or maybe not. Because here's the Googlefail Awards for the Thirteen Most Obscure Search Terms that resulted in a visit to my site:

- a recent picture of phil lowry a micro brewer in england
- asda merry hill complaints
- english brewer pornstar
- dirty shitting grannies
- copulating draught horses
- oversized playmobil
- oxygenated terpenes
- is wickwar brewery beer crap
- reluctant orgasm
- reluctant scooper twat
- slags in newark
- stourport severn siders marching jazz band facebook
- trashy blonde first time old cock

So, many thanks to all you desperate perverts out there. And to Phil Lowry for Googling himself as per usual. By the way, Phil, you look like this. Congrats for fitting into an Orval glass, btw:

Which leads neatly into the My Worst Beery Photo Taken When Drunk award.

It obviously meant a lot to me at the time. Having almost finished it.

And so a segue into My Best Beer Photo of 2010. Very stiff competition, but it has to be a warehouse-full of Orval. I'm nursing a semi just thinking about it:

And that brings me sweetly onto my Beery Moment of 2010. I'd rather not choose one, to be honest, for the same reasons I'm loathe to pick a beer/brewer of the year for questionnaires like Golden Pint. But I'm a firm believer that the equation beer+location+time+company can equal serendipity. So the commercial director of Orval hands you a bottle of his beer straight off the bottling line. Before noon. And you gulp it down in one. And his face is a picture. And you wear a dirty fat grin on yours for the rest of the day. I have always had many, many reasons to love Orval. Since visiting this year, I have many, many, many reasons more.

Whilst on the continent, let's cover the Best Beer-And-Food Moment Without Really Paying Too Much Attention To The Beer award. Tied in first place; Brasserie de l'Abbaye du Cateau (serving Vivat Blonde) for their plate of barely-cooked kidneys in juniper sauce and, er, somewhere in the middle of Chimay that served the finest, freshest salad I've ever eaten alongside pike escabeche with lashings of Chimay Blue.

Just The Most Fun On The Tinternet That Doesn't Involve Gonzo Porn award goes to Stuart Howe for Real Brewing At The Sharp End. The Flavour Compound of the Week was inspirational. His writing about Orval (and that of ATJ) shamed me into not writing much about it myself as I could add nothing. But 52 Brews was revolutionary; someone who was prepared to put his balls out there and just brew stuff for the reason of - just because. And write about it with humour, detail, perception, irreverence.

(and as my wife and father both read this: I have no idea what gonzo porn is. It's just a phrase that the cool kids taught me. Don't Google it. Pleeeaase).

Best Website Printed In Ink And Tied Up With String award goes to Amber, Gold & Black by Martyn Cornell. I've underlined passages, pasted in extras, added marginalia, disagreed with parts and sought out his sources. Books should make you think; reading should not be a passive experience. Amber, Gold & Black reminded me that beer writing ought to be always thought-provoking and contentious.

And the most coveted Beery Person Of The Year goes to... Mrs Scoop. For every day and night trip in the Little Blue Beer Taxi, for her patience whilst I talked pish at the bar with a brewer, for agreeing to a holiday that involved staying with a brewer and then staying in a pub, for being gentle with me when my train was late coz I was too merry to be on the right platform at the right time... but mainly for being game and trying every bottled beer at home that I've opened this year, for having a great palate that could pick out subtle flavours (even when she hated them), for being a perry-head and for being mad enough to cope with ten years of marriage to me:

Lots of thank-you's to fit in. So many, so apologies for omissions: Stephen and Leslie at Humpty Dumpty for their generous hospitality this summer, Kelly and Cat for unmissable, unforgettable times at the Coach, a clutch of brewers (Marble Dom, Hopshackle Nigel, Crown Stuart, Brew Company Pete, Brewdog James), a landlordlady or two (Yan at the Tap, Liz at the Quin, Rog at the Smithy, Gray at the Brunnie), generous beery people (Beermerchants, myBrewerytap, Daas, Williams, St Austell, Dunham Massey), the Twissup and Ratebeer crews, Kristy 'Sweet Cheeks' McCready, Alex Buchanan and the rest of the raggle-taggle Thornbridge mob, Beer Advocate for publishing my first paid-for article, my stylist, my Indo-Welsh accent coach for all my racially-inappropriate jokes of indeterminate accent. And Rebecca (Mrs Scoop) again. Coz she's worth it :-)

That was the beery year that was. Now, let's go get pissed and do it all again tomorrow...


Golden Pint Awards 2010

Whilst I wait for my antiquated camera phone to spew pixels onto my laptop in eager anticipation of The Scoopies tonight.... here's my Golden Pint winners.

Best UK Draught Beer - Thornbridge Jaipur. Often copied, Never equalled

Best UK Bottled Beer - Brewdog Punk IPA. Even when it tastes of pish.

Best Overseas Draught Beer - Bernard lager. All of it. Especially the unfiltered one.

Best Overseas Bottled Beer - Odell Cutthroat Porter. Sumptuous. And balanced.

Best Pumpclip or Label - Marble Pint. It's Ronseal.

Pub/Bar of the Year - Sheffield Tap. A great reason for missing yet another train.

Beer Festival of the Year - Nottingham CAMRA - best beer selection and condition of any UK festival.

Supermarket of the Year - Asda. It sells Punk IPA. It's 20 minutes from my door.

Independent Retailer of the Year - too many to mention.

Online Retailer of the Year - ditto.

Best Beer Book or Magazine - Amber, Gold & Black

Best Beer Blog or Website - You'll have to wait for the Scoopies later on.

Best Beer Twitterer - Me. Obviously. Although @cgarviereg is ever-amusing

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year - Pizza and beer. Simples

In 2011 I’d Most Like To - Turn Off The PC, Go Out And Do Something Less Boring Instead

Open Category: Pointless Internet Beer Debate Of The Year - Cask or Keg. Or was it over the meaning of Black IPA? Or was it the efficacy of CAMRA?

The Scoopies are coming. I just have to go and drink a bottle of Goose Island Bourbon County.



On Boxing Day

There are five fields between me and the best pub in the next village. It's a walk I've covered in sandy sandals and snow-capped boots. It's been a saunter with friends and a slow solo stumble in the dark after a half-too-many. On Boxing Day, it's something else.

Today the ground is as hard as pig-iron and just as unforgiving on weary ankles. The frost still holds hard in these parts. Where Derbyshire slopes down into the Trent Valley, the horizon segues to a smudged line of milky emulsion. Denuded trees and electricity pylons throw shapes in sharp relief.

Across the fields, from all angles, hats bobble. Thirsty topers from other villages are making the same pilgrimage. Some plough onward to the main road; those who aren't once-a-year-drinkers know where to find the twitchel that takes you straight to the pub car park.

And there, a miniature steam rally is in full swing. Hot oil spurts. A fairground organ plays the Birdie Song rather than a Brandenburg Concerto. Faces rouged by cold or expensive make-up huddle ever closer to an open brazier.

In the pub, I'd be lucky to notice a regular. The Jocasta and Tarquin brigade are out in full-force, all Hermès scarves and braying brogues. But the queue at the bar parts and treasures are discovered.

Dark Star ThornStar is everyone's favourite oxymoronic beer 'style', a Black IPA. A Hoppy Porter. A call-it-what-you-will; I'll call it for what it is; ruddy tasty.

When that cask bust, its replacement was Whim Black Christmas. Which I've been drinking deeply for several weeks now as it makes its festive rounds around Derby. But it's never quite as good as when it's fresh-on, drank in the fingers-freezing cold.

As the aroma of roast pork mixed with burnt diesel, I decided to make a move. Beer-injected pork belly was waiting for me at home. And so I bid Jocasta and Tarquin farewell, wondering why they don't usually choose to come drink in the pub. But, secretly, glad that they don't.


Beery Advent Calendar #24

It's just gone 3pm. Nine Lessons & Carols is playing on the radio. My wife is at church; I'm wrapping her presents. And typing at the same time. Who said men can't multi-task?

Today's beer is Marble Utility Special 2010. Yes, it's well hopped. But there's a liquid quality to the malt, a light caramel that licks and sticks. The hops weave around it. It's fascinatingly balanced, practically gyroscopic in the way that flavours counterpoint and swing around each other.

Today's picture: my Christmas reading pile:

Today's gift: a little more Marble Madness.

I'm off now for some long-awaited downtime. The Scoopies will put in an appearance on New Year's Eve. Have a peaceful Christmas.


Beery Advent Calendar #23

Glutinous snot, backache and generally-not-fancying-a-beer have conspired against a good run of beery Advent entries this year. Never mind, eh.

Tonight's was a belter, though. Beowulf are one of those brewers that knock out dependable beers until they go dark - then they brew beers that are simply sublime.

Finn's Hall Porter and Dragon Smoke Stout are two of the finest dark cask beers in England. Strong Mild may be one of the best bottled English beers I've tried this year. Massive body, vineous notes, hedgerow fruit, a boozy burn... 7.4% of burning plummy goodness. Fantastic.

Tonight's gift: the second half of Marillion's finest nerdy folklore-rock moment

Tonight's picture: I've had gluey crap in most of these body parts this week. It ruins the life of a beer drinker. Well, it ruins you if you actually want to taste and appreciate beer:


SIBA judging at the Nottingham Beer Festival

The December / January issue of Nottingham CAMRA's magazine, 'Nottingham Drinker', is out and features a piece by me about the trials and tribulations of SIBA judging. I've reproduced the whole article below, including the last few lines that seem to have got lost in publication.

You can download the magazine in PDF format here.


I know what you’re thinking. Beer judges have a charmed life. All sat round a table, having a good gossip, drinking free beer that’s brought over to you. Then noshing a free launch before enjoying more free beer. How hard can that be? Well, this year I was given an opportunity to find out. And it’s not all just drink, drink, drink…

Many CAMRA festivals choose a champion beer, perhaps by public vote or a tasting panel. Nottingham is a little different in that it hosts the Midlands round of a national competition for brewers who are members of the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA). Beers are judged in eight categories, the winners of each then being judged against each other to choose a Supreme Champion.

So, who is it that gets to decide? A wide range of beery people. Brewers, publicans, technicians, retailers, writers… all sharing a love of great cask beer. Yes, there’s banter around the table with certain characters unafraid to give trenchant opinions. But the winners aren’t decided by round-table waffle; each judge awards marks in secret on a numeric scale against characteristics such as aroma, appearance and flavour. And remember, the judges don’t know the beer’s name or the brewer, they’re just referred to by a number.

Of course, with hundreds of beers entered into the competition you don’t get to judge every single one. Beers in each category are divided up between groups of judges so being able to arrive at a concise judgement from a small sample is key. After all, with perhaps 9 - 12 beers for your consideration, you’re not going to be taking your time over a half-pint of each. The glasses of water and plates of crackers provided as palate-cleansers aren’t an affectation, either - they’re a necessity. As a judge, you need to give each beer an equal chance to impress.

I was happy to have been allocated the categories that I wanted to judge. Both showed me just how challenging this judging malarkey can be. Speciality beer was rather a catch-all – it could be the use of adjuncts such as oats or wheat or a flavouring such as fruit or spice – but the beer needed to be appealing first and foremost. A poorly-brewed beer with a ton of spice dumped into it is still a bad beer.

The other category I judged, the milds, proved to be a real eye-opener with a huge range of colours (light gold to bruise-black) and flavours (lactic sourness to roast and hops). This variety provoked a healthy discussion around the table – should the mild ‘style’ be prescriptive or should we embrace the wide range of interpretations?

With the final forms submitted, the judges could go and buy a beer for themselves. To be honest, not knowing which beers you’d just judged was almost annoying. When you’ve sampled a couple of excellent beers, you want to go and, ahem, try a larger sample. But there’s a great feeling when, once the results were announced, I bought a category-winning beer and realised not only was it one that I judged but it was the one I liked the best.

If you fancy an afternoon of thinking whilst drinking, try and get involved in beer judging. It may give you a wider insight into the substance behind a beer style. And it’ll certainly give you plenty to argue about later on in the day!


Beery Advent Calendar #19

Feeling slightly more chipper today.

A few beers around Derby helped; highlights included Whim Black Christmas in the Flowerpot, Beowulf Finn's Hall Porter in the Old Silk Mill and Railway Porter in the Brunswick.

The pubs had highlights, too: coal fires, wood fires, huge cleavage, conversations about kitchen knives, frosty terraces, the smell of shit, the smell of fresh paint, the smell of teenage desperation.

And tonight I've been catching up on those bottles; Stuart Howe's Citric Tripel (hugely fresh, oily, herbal); Anchor Humming Ale (grapefruit-riven joy) and Sierra Nevada Tumbler (not as robust as I hoped for).

Tonight's gift: one of many reasons why AP McCoy deserved to win Sports Personality of the Year

Tonight's picture: some tiles. They may be in the Barton's Arms, Aston.


Beery Advent Calendar #18

Still ill


Beery Advent Calendar #17

Reluctant Scooper is unwell.

I'll post again tomorrow.


Beery Advent Calendar #16

A day of bizarre hard drive mapping errors, an office that turned hysterical every time more than four flakes of snow landed on the car park, an overly-sore knuckle and the realisation that a drum of Cat 5 cable can often save the day.

Which left me in need of a beer.

Tonight's beer: Hoppin' Frog B.O.R.I.S The Crusher. Flat as a fart, coffee-wash and dark cherry. Some heat, much oatmeal softness. Is nice. Worth me spending ten quid on it? Yeah. It's great to have a full-flavoured imperial stout that doesn't taste like an over-heated alcoholic train-wreck.

Tonight's gift: Anyone remember The Kids In The Hall? Anyone? Just me? Meh... I Crush You!

Tonight's picture: something you'll never see again:


Beery Advent Calendar #15

A day late as last night I was enjoying the hospitality of my local global brewing colossus, Molson Coors. Steve Wellington, White Shield's Master Brewer, has been given a million-pond shiny-shiny brewhouse for Christmas and, by gum, he looked chuffed to little mint balls.

Tonight's beer: alongside dessert we were served Celebration Shield, an 8% estery beer that was like White Shield tuned up to eleven. I hear it will be on sale eventually. I'd be keen on stashing a few away to see how they mature.

Tonight's gift: Steve brewing up on the old faithful

Tonight's picture: a surprise appearance by @HardKnottSooty at last night's bash. White Shield seemed to be his tipple of choice:


Beery Advent Calendar #14

Sometimes, it seems a shame to open up a bottle.

After a day of good beer; Thornbridge Merrie, Dark Star Over The Moon, Brew Company Winter Warrior, Thornbridge Jaipur, Crown Brooklyn Heights, Matuska Black Rocket.

Orval. But, strictly speaking, someone else opened that.

Mikkeller Jackie Brown. OK, I opened that. Get over it.

There was better, lurking in my 'sun room', henceforward known at this time of year as the 'perfect place to condition beer in the winter' room.

Tonight's bottle: award winner of the worst label and best-ever introduction of vanilla into an imperial stout: Evil Twin Soft Dookie.

Tonight's gift: Our Man Gav's column in the York Press

Tonight's picture: My Evil Twin: by far the best rock band you've never heard of. Memories of Rock City, Nottingham. Love/Hate, snakebite & black: welcome to my early Nineties


Beery Advent Calendar #13

A few definitions for you.

Serendipity -finding a shop that sells a huge range of English bottled beers where you least expect it (White Dragon, Burton-upon-Trent).

Expectation - the thought of tasting a smoked maple porter matured in a Laphroaig cask.

Disappointment - what you feel when you end up drinking a zero-conditioned, TCP-in-a-wrong-way, lemony-sour mess of a beer. That was, it appears, to be three months its best-before date.

Tonight's beer was Smoked Maple Porter from North Cotswold. And it was clearly beer gone bad. Which is a crying shame, because it seemed a great idea.

Tonight's gift: Know your enemy

Tonight's picture: beers I'd rather be drinking tonight


Beery Advent Calendar #12

Another day of not-Christmas-shopping. And my heart smitten by one beer only.

Probably the best head of any bottled beer I ever pour; brilliant-white with serried ranks of pin-head bubbles.

An amber warmth that's either a defiant sunset or a glowing coal.

Bitterness, brightness, effortless.

Today's bottle: my very best friend. Orval.

Today's gift: Stuart Howe on Orval. I've not read a better series of posts this year. Or, indeed, in any other year.

Today's picture: my next Orval order


Beery Advent Calendar #11

Stepping off the train at Burton, there's a whiff of the subcontinent about the town. Sadly, it's not the sweet hoppy aroma of IPA-in-the-making but of curry. Which is a bugger for two reasons; it makes me hungry for lamb bhuna at eleven o'clock in the morning and it makes me thirsty for Jaipur. Fortunately, that latter is a commodity that Beer Town can offer up within minutes of arriving there - if you know where to look.

A day of not-Christmas-shopping with another thirsty toper, Chris McBride, showed that Burton may be a pencil-thin shadow of the brewing colossus it once was but good beer is where you find it. Starting at the Cooper's Tavern; it's been a brewer's house, brewery tap and bottle store in its time. It serves Bass straight from the cask. It often sells Jaipur and it did today. And as Alex Ferguson has never said; "Jaipur! Bloody hell!". And for some inexplicable reason, Chris and I were drawn to rocking the treadle of a Singer sewing machine now converted into a bar table...

Over at the Burton Bridge Inn there was a beer and food pairing that ought to make Mark Dredge weep; Damson Porter, bacon & black pudding sandwich. I'd say more about the place, but that pairing says it all.

And then there was The Brewery Tap. We came here to try one beer in particular - Carling Extra Cold. It's always special to drink a beer at the place where it's brewed and... er, let's try that one again. We went there to try one beer in particular - cask White Shield. It's always special to drink a beer at the place where it's brewed and White Shield was dazzlingly fruity-fresh.

Today's bottle: whilst we were there, we surreptitiously opened up a Bass 200. Brewed for their bicentenary celebrations in 1977, this was my early Christmas present from Chris. And for a capped beer over thirty years old, it was still chock full of condition. I even wrenched a tendon or two trying to get the bottle open. The taste? Just like sherried cola. C-o-l-a cola.

Today's gift: Michael Jackson on White Shield.

Today's picture: Spot the Bass bottle

Cheers to Stoph for a cracking day out and letting me share in that bottle of 200.


Beery Advent Calendar #10

It's been a long day. A really, really long day. Packed full of eyestrain and Jaipur.

If you're one of my colleagues reading this, I didn't spend the day on Wikipedia learning about the Japanese Imperial Navy, Bridget Riley and Yeman.

The several pints of Jaipur tonight were fun. Even if my colleagues caved in and resorted eventually to being lager-drinking lily-livered arse-wipes. Except for the boss-man; as a fellow Stella-drinker, I salute you.

Feeling oxymoronic, I thought I ought to crack open a bottle of Beer Here Black Cat. I cannot begin to express my ambivalence about a beer described by others as a "black IPA". But I will express my surprise and delight about a beer that features 'chokolade' and 'New Zealandsk Nelson Sauvin'.

And my regrets: too herbal, not enough chocolate. It's actually hard work. It seems to work against itself. To be true, it borders upon the unpleasant. There's a bitter Rubicon in beers and it shouldn't appear on this one's flavour horizon; sadly it arrives too soon. Inserting citrics into beer is easy; knowing when to stop is paramount. This was one step beyond.

Today's gift: C'etait un rendezvous. And about time.

Today's picture: Bridget.


Beery Advent Calendar #9

I've been sat here for twenty minutes trying to nail today's Advent entry.

Something along the lines of world-class beer being brewed in London. About a brewer who can turn his hand to a range of styles both historic and contemporary. About beers that are winning critical acclaim, the attention of beer geeks and the undying love of drinkers who stumble across the bottles.

Meanwhile, I've done sod-all except savour every last drop of a mango-laden, citric-licked IPA whose name, SCANS - Simcoe, Citra, Apollo, Nelson Sauvin - is basically hop porn. And it's the best bottled IPA I've tried this year. And I wish I'd bought a case of it.

And now I'm going to open my last bottle.

Today's beer is IPA SCANS by The Kernel whose beers can be bought all around the Sarf and also online at beermerchants (where I bought mine).

Today's gift: a great article on British hop development by Dr Peter Darby

Today's picture: for no other reason than the fact that Peter McKee is cooler than cool:


Beery Advent Calendar #8

Now then.

The loose idea behind this series - yes, dear toper, there is an idea - was to pull random bottles from the Big Beer Grotto (the garage) and go bleh bleh meh about them.

So there's no room here to talk about today's great cask beers (Dark Star Green Hop IPA, Milton Augustus, Thornbridge Merrie).

Nor the opportunity to discuss keg (Crown Brooklyn Heights, Schneider Aventinus, Stone Ruination).

Here's to a case of bottled beers that I've had sat in the cellar of the Hillsborough Hotel, Sheffield, for Quite Some Time Indeed. To a beer that was Best Before this April but still tastes fine and dandy. One that offers you up two lumps; coffee-malt, strained hops.

Mikkeller Jackie Brown.

Drank it on the train home back from Sheffield tonight. Drinking it now. Good stuff.

If you happen to be in Sheffield next Tuesday, I'll bung you a bottle. First come, first served etc.

Tonight's gift: Why Don't You Just Go Out And Turn Off The Interweb, Go Out And Brew Something Less Boring Instead?

Tonight's picture: Hendo! Hendo! HENDO!


Beery Advent Calendar #7

I'm partial to a ginger beer. I mean a beer brewed with ginger, not a barely-fermented over sweet bottle of incessantly-marketed mush. And the stronger the ginger is, the more I like it. When it starts to feel like I've swallowed a grater, I know the brewer's got it right for me.

And part of the attraction of a potent ginger beer for me is in its blending potential. Bring together the raggedy not-hop bite of ginger and the brooding malts of a stout and the results can be satisfying. Mix the likes of the Marbles Ginger and Chocolate and you have a world-quality dessert in a glass. So a nuclear-strength ginger beer (with a solid stout on standby) was a shoo-in for an Advent appearance.

Expect for the fact that I've ended up with something far more refined. Derby-based wholefood shop Sound Bites has a small but perfectly formed selection of organic bottles and I often pop in to buy Mrs Scoop some Dunkerton's cider. This weekend a Pitfield beer caught my eye - labelled as 'Sound Bites Christmas Ginger Beer' I'm imagining it's a customised name of the ginger beer featured on cask at this year's Pig's Ear festival.

It had a very hazy pour - partly my heavy hand, partly a chilly bottle, partly the nature of the beer - and a slim disappearing head. So far, so meh. Clear gingery aroma, mind, and plenty in the flavour although there's no fire. Instead, there's a lemon-meringue sweetness, a little of that earthy spice itch on the roof of my palate but nothing earth-shattering.

The sips got me thinking - thin. Not enough body. Half a glass changed my mind; 5% abv seems effortless, flavours are uncontroversial.... actually quite drinkable. But even so... this is supposed to be a Christmas beer, so I'm looking for bolder flavours, rougher edges. Pitfield have inadvertently brewed a great summer ginger beer, six months too late/early.

Pitfield beers can be ordered from their website and bought at several shops. And it seems they appear at farmer's markets too.

Tonight's gift: Lashings of Ginger Beer. Because, until now, I haven't really given radical feminist burlesque much of a mention.

Tonight's picture: the mere mention of the word 'ginger' means I have to steal something from b3ta. If you're a b3tan, you'll know why. If you've never welcomed b3ta into your life before, go get some. But if you don't like it, it weren't me that sent you there. Right?

(pic by drbroon on the b3ta board)


Beery Advent Calendar #6

UK bottled 'Christmas' beers all to often follow a weary formula. Take an average bitter, swamp it with old spices, give it a daft name and cheesy label, don't worry about proper carbonation and conditioning because it'll either be drank before the Queen's Speech or shoved in the back of a cupboard. So when a brewer actually makes an effort to brew something tasty and interesting, they deserve applauding.

Tonight's advent beer is Christmas Crack from Humpty Dumpty. I've been drinking it for about ten minutes yet I still can't quite nail down why it works so well. It's got some weight behind it - 7% abv - but it doesn't taste boozy. There's plenty of clean caramel and a touch of chocolate but it's never chewy. A thread of resinous hops pricks its way across the palate but in needlepoint, not clumsy running-stitch.

Now I've nailed it. Everything about the beer is turned up a notch - big flavours, full mouthfeel and so on - and everything is complimentary. The result is an effortlessly easy-drinking beer that goes to show a Christmas beer doesn't have to be wishy-washy spicy. It just has to be tasty...

And the label? I think it's actually quite funny. But only just...

If you're able to get over to Reedham in the Norfolk Broads this weekend, you'll have the chance to try it on cask. Humpty Dumpty have an open weekend on December 11th and 12th between noon and five, with plenty of other draught beers to try as well as their bottles to buy. All the details can be found on their website.

Tonight's gift: why all pinball fans owe a debt of gratitude to Humpty Dumpty

Tonight's picture: Reedham in the winter. I'd love to see the snow down there, although Mrs Scoop probably wouldn't fancy driving across the icy Broads.


Beery advent calendar #5 and Open It!

I've been trying not to get carried away with cask today. Mostly because I wanted to crack a few choice bottles in support of Moggie and The Dredgster's Open It! weekend. So I've restricted myself to single pints of Whim Black Christmas (coffee-dipped liqorice), Oakham Citra (tropical cat's piss) and Brunswick Black Sabbath (all the hedgerow, including the woody roots).

And now I get to Open It. First up was a dodgy hand-written label job from Stuart Howe at Sharp's. His 52 brew experiments have on occasion been as mad as a hatful of jelly and I enjoyed a rather rumbustious lunch this summer inflicting some of them on my friends. But there were a couple of bottles that I stashed away for a rainy day, including the Dark Saison.

It didn't rain today, but the snow on the roof melted fairly quickly so that's close enough. I'd like to tell you how un-nervingly exciting it was to enjoy a crispy aromatic beer that defied appearances. Instead, I shall borrow a favoured phrase of a beer-loving mate; it was "shit-the-bed" good.

Next was Alvinne Kerasus Bourgogne Barrel Oak Aged. On our mad dash across Belgium in his Big Blue Beer Taxi, Phil Lowry and I had just enough time before missing our ferry to stop off at De Struise. I crammed random beers into a case, one of which was this big beast. And, by Gum, I'm glad I did. A size-nine Doctor Marten stamp in cherry; echoes of almond and cinnamon, a velvet vinous wave that coats your throat and won't let go.

And then there was De Molen Kopi Loewak. Very very very very black. Fairly-fairly hoppy. Everso-incredibly coffee. For all you beer nerds out there, think Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast on caffeine-addled steroids. Hugely carbonated. In-your-face stuff. It's like being the desperate teenage exchange student meeting the last hooker at the docks, the one with hairy hands and an Adam's Apple like the time ball at the Royal Observatory. You know it's gonna cost you, you know it's gonna hurt you, but you've come this far and there's no turning back. A brutal experience. I'll be sore, yet contented, in the morning.

Tonight's gift: a recipe for the kind of dessert that I love but Mrs Scoop hates.

Tonight's picture: one of those shifty coffee-bean shitting things. It was dead when the picture was taken. No record exists to tell whether it was barbequed or grilled


Beery Advent Calendar #4

It's been a strange day. Domestic niggles (broken lock, bathroom door falling off, leaking gutter), transport shenanigans (broken buses, traffic snarls), random frustrations (too many books, not enough shelves, wrong batteries, broken lamps). Still cold outside but enjoyed a summery chicken-basil-lemon bake. Still knackered but enjoying typing this rot onto the tinternet.

Tonight's beer: Thornbridge Saint Petersburg Islay Whisky Reserve. Brewed in 10.2% but it may have, ahem, varied a little since bottling in 2006. Still some condition to be coaxed out of it, enough salty smoke that you can smell the glass from the other side of the room (yes, I've just tried), there's still plenty of Islay spirit that refuses to be diluted, a mocha echo that clings to the edges of your gums. A resolute beer that's maybe close to being the best that it can ever taste. I've opened a bottle every year since 2007; this is my last.

I remember the day I bought the beers. I'd seen mention on Scoopgen about St P being whisky-aged; semi-legally, maybe. I knew I had to have some. The trip was my first to the brewery; my wife and I stopped at the Monsal Head Hotel for lunch, got lost on the way to Thornbridge and had to phone them for directions. I remember leaving my chequebook behind and having to backtrack. I remember cradling twelve bottles of beer all the way home. Looking back, it'd been a fun, beery day.

The next day, my Mum had a stroke. The day after, she died.

There are a million and one things that remind me of my Mum. Tonight, it's this last bottle of St P Islay.

Today's gift: a gift for others. Please.

Today's picture: a place that my Mum loved. But would probably have loved even more if there had been a tea room near the car park :-)


Beer buying on the tinterweb; a toper's guide

Christmas. Tis the season to be jolly. And buy beer. Here's a round-up of the choicest beery offerings from my favourite online sellers.

Beermerchants have a panoply of mixed cases on offer. Their Belgian Beer Lover's case features solid stuff such as Palm, Chimay Rouge and Brugse Zot. A luxury case offers delights such as Boon Marriage Parfait, La Chouffe and Orval. And the Berry Christmas case has fruit-forward beers including Boon Framboise, Fruli Strawberry and Rodenbach Grand Cru.

They also have a rather nifty Chimay presentation tin that crams in a bottle each of red, white and blue plus a glass. And because it's in a tin, it's easy to wrap. Result!

If you're looking to treat yourself, the Connoisseurs case offers some of the finest rare UK brews like Moor Fusion, Kernel Imperial Stout and Hardknott Infra Red alongside "best of the best" of world beers such as Lost Abbey's Gift of the Magi. And there's always their ever-impressive range of rare beers from Denmark and the United States - bear in mind that some of those American brews can't even be bought in some states over there so to have them on sale in the UK is a real coup.

The guys at myBrewerytap have a great mixed case with plenty of dark beers for these cold days. Highlights for me include Dark Star Espresso (one of my favourites), Fyne Ales Highlander and a brace of dark lagers from Freedom and Brewdog. You can 'supersize' the case and add a myBrewerytap T-shirt for a fiver extra. Or why not treat someone to the full enchilada and treat them to the "52-week Beer Club" subscription?

There's also plenty of beery goodness from Manchester brewers Marble. Alongside a mixed case of their regular beers, myBrewerytap have also secured limited stocks of two specials, a US-styled IPA and a stout, both in 75cl bottles with cork closures.

Beers Of Europe have their usual range of specially selected cases, along with a Christmas mix including the likes of Hoggleys Frosty Ferret, Batemans Rosey Nosey and Shepherd Neame Christmas Ale. They have lots of other goodies on their gargantuan shelves - some that caught my eye include the Adnams Handcrafted Ales range and some superb De Molen beers such as Rasputin.

And there's a couple of great-looking gift packs over at Ales By Mail. One's from Meantime including what for me are two of the best large bottled beers on sale in the UK right now - London Porter and IPA - along with two stemmed Meantime glasses. A great way to drink in the New Year!

The other is from Moor, featuring a branded glass, T-shirt and a 660ml bottle of beer - and you get to choose which colour t-shirt and which bottle of beer from the impressive Moor range..

And Ales By Mail are obviously full of Christmas spirit already as they've offered up one of those Moor packs as a festive prize. Just head over to their Facebook page, 'like' it and let them know which beers you'd like to be drinking this Christmas. I'm sure they'll find some way of choosing a worthy winner!

Obvious disclaimer - I'm a grateful recipient of occasional free beer from beermerchants and myBrewerytap. I also like to buy beer from them - yes, Blogger Actually Buys Beer Shocker.


Beery Advent Calendar #3

Short and sweet tonight: just posted my contribution to The Sesssion and have been enjoying a Chimay White. Three years old, found in an old beermerchants box that I used as a conservatory table. Hops had dropped off and left a more dessert-wine feel to the beer. Is nice.

Today's gift: a piece by Roger Protz on how Chimay has changed Or hasn't changed.

Today's picture: any old excuse for a motorsport pic. Chimay's roads are actually part of a racing circuit that still plays host to the likes of VW Beetle racing. I'd chew through leather to ride shotgun in a Bug around Chimay...


The Session #46, An Unexpected Discovery

This month's Session, the first-Friday-of-the-month beer blogging get-together, is hosted by Burgers and Brews on the topic of "an unexpected discovery". Which really got me thinking.

Many of my great beer experiences are meticulously planned. Twitter and Facebook alert me to the launch of rare beers. Pub crawls are researched on the web and driven by public transport timetables. Events, lunches, festivals are all attended with a clear idea of what awaits. So when I make an unexpected beery discovery it tends to be a real blindsider.

And this year, it was Chimay. Sounds odd? Well, it's not like I was discovering their beers for the first time, but 2010 has brought me a number of Chimay revelations. It's romantic to think of the beer being brewed by a couple of monks in a back room at the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Scourmont, but the reality is somewhat different. I got to visit the abbey this year and was taken aback by the size of the enterprise, moreso by the tankers that take the beer down the road to a huge purpose-built bottling facility. Yet it's not really surprising - after all, the brewery produces almost three million gallons a beer a year.

And I knew nothing of Auberge de Poteaupré. The brewery's own hotel and restaurant, it was the perfect place to enjoy the beers, sat out in the sun with corks popping and plates of cheese to nibble on.

And I never knew aged Chimay Blue could be so complex. Sure, you hope for a particular depth of flavour in a vintage Trappist beer but this was something else - the kind of complexity that you'd associate with a great sherry.

And it was a pleasant surprise to go to bars and find Chimay was the house beer. Not surprising in the town, perhaps, but it's difficult to imagine an eight or nine percent beer being the first choice tipple here in the UK. At L'eau Blanche, the bar near my hotel in Lompret, tables by the river ordered trays of Chimay White. In town, the Armes de Chimay saw rows of outdoor diners enjoying Chimay Blue. To be sat outside at 9pm, eating the freshest salad I've had in twenty years, helping myself to more than my fair share of pike escabeche was amazing enough - to realise that thirty-plus people were all drinking Chimay Blue and havign a good time was a revelation. Opposite tables didn't remain strangers for long. No-one was drunk. Everyone was relaxed. The beer was important but it was only one component; time, place, culture, attitude all complemented one and other.

And as I sit down to write this tonight, I had one more unexpected discovery. Haviing just moved house, I found an old box that ended up being used as an impromptu table in the old conservatory. Inside the box - a bottle of Chimay White that's been sat in there for three years. I'm drinking it now, thinking of good times this summer and realising that sometimes the biggest names in the beer business can still proffer an unexpected discovery.


Beery Advent Calendar #2

December often sees me in a porter-ish mood. Because my local brewpub, the Brunswick, is likely to put on their Railway Porter. And I usually make a couple of trips to Birmingham which tend to involve a pint or three of London Porter at Fuller's northern outpost, Old Joint Stock. And I've just been reading about porter in Martyn Cornell's excellent book on beer styles, Amber Gold and Black.

So a bottle of porter ought to put in an early appearance on the advent calendar. And so it goes. I'd never had a beer from US brewers Founders before - if they're all as good as this, I'm going to become a fanboy. Their Porter doesn't so much tick the boxes as strike through them with a flourish. Enough sweet caramel and vanilla, shots across the mocha roasted malt, plenty of hops swing by to deliver an ever-drying finish.

One of those porters that I've loved out a bottle and would probably go crazy-ape for on tap. Very sessionable, albeit in a messy-pish-talking-session kind of style. Thanks to beermerchants for the bottle; it's available with several others from the Founders range here.

Today's gift: a fantastic piece by Martyn Cornell about porter on his Zythophile website. The beer engine picture is worth following the link for alone.

Today's picture: a salutary lesson to never leave your camera with a Californian at a winter beer festival.


Beery Advent Calendar #1

I once ran a '12 beers of Christmas' feature where I treated myself to some of the choicest bottles sat in my beer cupboard. In fact, I enjoyed it so much I thought I'd do it all over again. After all, what could be better than enjoying a dozen great beers?

Well, how about enjoying twenty-four of them? From now until JC's birthday, I'm treating myself everyday to a beer. And there'll be a gift and a dinky picture every day too.

Today's beer is unusual in bottle. Exposed by Thornbridge appeared on cask back in January and has been bottled as part of their experimental 'Alchemy' series. It's a dry stout infused with pink peppercorns and aged on strawberry pulp. And it almost works; a good glass swill brings pepper to the fore. There's a certain earthy flavour imparted by the Bramling Cross and woody strawberry. For me, a fuller mouthfeel and less astringency would have made a good beer great.

Today's gift: continuing the strawberry vibe, here's a slightly-annoying game to play.

Today's picture: it has to be a festive cat. Just this once...

Thanks to Thornbridge for the beer,


An infection, a reflection, a beer

Let's establish the facts:

Moved house. Contracted a chest infection. Been out-of-this-world-knackered for days. Recovered enough today to fill a skip with the flotsam from my cultural ebb and flow. Now particularly knackered, but in a pleasantly-tired way rather than a my-body-is-eating-itself way.

So there's been neither time nor inclination to write about beer.Let's change that.

I could write about this time last Saturday; a handful of brewers, a table full of beers and a fair few backslaps and man-hugs as we said goodbye to Kelly 'Tigger' Ryan from Thornbridge. But you don't want to know about Bracia, Thornbridge lager and home-made gueuze, do you?

You do? Sorry. Ain't gonna happen.

Here's what's happening this Saturday. I stink. Six hours dipping into a skip and introducing a lump hammer to recalcitrant furniture does that to a man. When I'd finished, I knew just what to do.

I didn't want harsh citric hops. I didn't want treacle-caramel malt.

I. Just. Wanted. A. Beer.

So here I am, with a six-pack of diddy Stella bottles and that aaaaaaah moment.

As in - aaaaaaah, beer. Not ooooh! Triple-dubbel-cranberry-hefe!

Just. Aaaaaaah. Beer.

A cold one. Something to glug. To knock the froth off. To scratch that itch halfway down by dusty throat.

Why Stella? It's the first beer I ever bought from the off-license. It's a beer I know I can buy from my local off-license today.  It's the beer I've been drinking at one certain bar for over sixteen years.

It's because I rather like it.


About Meantime

Much of my early-days beer shopping was at Sainsburys. Which meant two things: heaps of hit-and-miss Wychwood and the better-than-average Meantime lager-types in the Taste The Difference range. I don't shop there too often anymore so it was a treat this week not only to find Meantime's London Porter and IPA in 75cl bottles but also on sale at a quid off.

The Porter - well hopped, bitter coffee, chewy chocolate fruits - perfectly complemented a Pieminister pie with creamy mash. And the IPA - smooth, dusty hops with a lemon edge - has lasted me through a gargantuan portion of haddock & chips tonight and is still going strong.

Bottles of this size are a mild indulgence for an individual toper. The glass topped up slowly but often, an exposure to hops and malts sustained, nuances shifting as your palate is with and without food. And so I got to thinking - here's a bottle that deserves a place on a dinner table, to be shared. A couple of glasses of IPA to go with your main course, perhaps. A couple more of some kind of stout to accompany a chocolate pudding. Or an oyster starter. Not a single beer for each person; a range of beers to be enjoyed by all at the table.

So it's encouraging to find, after extensive research five minutes Googling that these Meantime bottles do appear on menus. Not just at the brewer's own restaurant but in London gastro establishments and some great country pubs too. I'd like to see more bottled beers of this quality and size on menus - allows the beer drinkers to enjoy a couple of styles with their meal and, perhaps, provide an entry-point tipple for any non-beer drinkers around the table.


In this pub...

... there's an etched window in a light oak door. The dried-blood coloured floor tiles pave a way from russet benches to the dark panelled bar. Five handpulls stand proud. Above, nine glass tankards hang southward.

To one side, black boards describe the beers on offer. There must therefore be eight more in the other bar, plus continental draughts. More boards announce food available; cobs and crisps only on this side.

My eyes scout around the room. Posters for brewers both familiar and long forgotten: Woodfordes, Hook Norton, Holt, Lloyds, Simspons, Vallances, Fremlins. Mirrors: Adnams, Bass, one that's massive (Worthington's).

Late autumn afternoon light refracts through stained glass. No other customer has disturbed the bar for over ninety minutes. One poster resonates - "Beer - the best long drink in the world!"

Outside, very close outside, trains stop or don't stop. Pints of porter have warmed me. The next train that stops is the one that spirits me away from what is possibly the best mid-afternoon pub in the world.


If you listen to one podcast this week...

The Brewing Network should need no introduction. Because, you're a beer lover. So you listen to it all the time, right?

Their Sunday Session is the perfect mix of frat-level ass-hattery and stupendously useful home-brew technical knowledge. Interviewees have included Brit-based brewers such as Kelly Ryan from Thornbridge, James Watt from Brewdog and Justin Hawke from Moor. But last week's podcast was something other-worldly; it featured Dr. Charles Bamforth of University of California, Davis (and Special Professor of Brewing Science at the University of Nottingham) who has to be one of the most engaging and charismatic characters I've ever had the pleasure of listening to.

All I'll say is this; if you love beer, go listen to Charlie. You'll love it even more after and will certainly learn a thing or four. The opening of the show is great, too, as host Justin Crossley gives a sparky American's perspective on English cask beer. And three guesses as to which ubiquitous English beer bod gets a namecheck early on...


Kelly 'Tigger' Ryan

One of those brewer guys but like no other. The first time I spent a brewday with Kelly, he bounced around from mashtun to laboratory to hop store and back again. His enthusiasm for both the art and science of brewing is legendary.

He's off to New Zealand, leaving a Tigger-shaped hole in the English brewing industry.

For all the beers we've shared, for all the banter exchanged, here's to you, Kel.

And if if you want to know why he's really called Tigger, with apologies to A A Milne but no apologies for length, read on....

Jim woke up suddenly in the middle of the night and listened. Then he got out of bed, and lit his candle, and stumped across the room to see if anybody was trying to get into his hop-cupboard, and they weren't, so he stumped back again, blew out his candle, and got into bed. Then he heard the noise again.

"GiddayGiddayGidday!," said Whatever-it-was, and Jim found that he wasn't asleep after all.

"What can it be?" he thought. He got out of bed and opened his front door.

"I'm Jim," said Jim.

"I'm Tigger," said Kelly.

"Oh!" said Jim, for he had never seen a brewer like this before. " Do Thornbridge know about you?"

"Of course they do," said Tigger.

"Well," said Jim, "it's the middle of the night, which is a good time for going to sleep. And tomorrow morning we'll have some honey for breakfast. Do Tiggers like to brew with honey?"

"They like to brew with everything," said Tigger cheerfully.

"Then if they like going to sleep on the floor, I'll go back to bed," said Jim, "and we'll brew things in the morning. Good night." And he got back into bed and went fast asleep.

When he awoke in the morning, the first thing he saw was Tigger, in his gummies, sitting in front of the mash tun. Covered in honey. Tigger had been brewing with it.

Jim suggested that he could try some hopcorns.

"Thank you, Jim," said Tigger, "because hopcorns is really what Tiggers like best."

So after breakfast they went round to see Farmer Farham, and Jim explained as they went that Farmer Farham was a Very Busy Man who didn't like bouncing, and asked Tigger not to be too Bouncy
just at first.

And Tigger, who had been hiding behind the copper and jumping out on Jim's shadow when it wasn't looking, said that Tiggers were only bouncy before breakfast, and that as soon as they had had a few hopcorns they became Quiet and Refined. So by-and-by they knocked at the door of Farmer Farham’s house.

"Hallo, Jim," said Farmer Farham.

"Hallo, Farmer Farham. This is Tigger. He likes hopcorns," said Jim,
"so that's what we've come for." Farmer Farham pushed a bowl of hopcorns towards Tigger, and said, "Help yourself!"

But Tigger said nothing because his mouth was full of hopcorns....

After a long munching noise he said:


Farmer Farham, who was rather glad that Tiggers like hopcorns, said,
"What about caraway?"

"Caraway," said Tigger, "is what Tiggers like best."

"Then lets go along and see Gardener de Wynter," said Farmer Farham.

So the three of them went; and after they had walked and walked and walked, they came to the part of the estate where Gardener de Wynter was.

"Hallo, Gardener de Wynter!" said Jim. "This is Tigger."

"What is?" said Gardener de Wynter.

"This," explained Jim and Farmer Farham together, and Tigger
smiled his happiest smile and said nothing.

Gardener de Wynter led the way to the most caraway-looking patch of
caraway that ever was, and waved a glove at it.

"A little patch I was keeping for my birthday," he said; " but, after all, what are birthdays? Here to-day and gone to-morrow. Help yourself, Tigger."

Tigger thanked him and he took a large mouthful, and he gave a large

"Good on ya, mate!" said Tigger.

Jim called to Tigger.

"Come along and we'll go and see Stef. He's sure to have lots more breakfast for you."

Jim was thinking of a poem. And when he had thought of it he began:

What shall we do with our bouncy Tigger?
If he brews with everything our brewhouse should be bigger.
He loves to use honey and hopcorns and caraway
Because of how aromas, flavours and tastes overlay
And all the good things which a brewer needs
Like quality malt and Tahitian lime leaves

At last they came in sight of Stef's house. Tigger rushed up to him.

"Oh, there you are, Tigger!" said Stef. "I knew you'd be somewhere."

"I've been finding things," said Tigger importantly. "I've found a Jim and a Farmer Farham and an Gardener de Wynter, but I can't find any proper breakfast."

"Don't you know what Tiggers like?" asked Jim.

"I expect if I thought very hard I should," said Stef, "but I thought Tigger knew."

"I do," said Tigger. "Everything there is in the brewing world
like honey and hopcorns and - what were those crunchy things


"Yes, and those."

"Oh, well then," said Jim, "Stef can give you some breakfast."

So they went into Stef's house, and there on the table was a pint of Fermented Extract of Malt.

Tigger came closer, and he leant over the back of Stef's chair, and suddenly he put out his tongue, and took one large golollop. The pint of Fermented Extract of Malt had gone.

Tigger looked up at the ceiling, and closed his eyes, and his tongue went round and round his chops, in case he had left any outside, and a peaceful smile came over his face as he said…

"So that's what Tiggers like best!"


Mud between your cleats

There's a certain something about November.

Looking out of my office window, I've been watching trees on the turn. Burnished golds and russet reds replace the green swathe. And my mind is set on one thing.

Boot time. A good Sunday yomp. Mud between the cleats, leaves stuck in your hair. And a good, malty beer at a country pub as a reward.

After a morning spent ankle-deep in the mud it was good to stop off at a cracking pub near where I live, The Royal Oak at Ockbrook, kick off the boots and introduce a vague aroma of cowshit to the bar. Sat back outside in the bright sun and cool breeze, with a coco-choc-full pint of Derventio Barbarian, I remember just how much I enjoy getting out into the countryside. And just how great the first sip of that first pint tastes.


The Session: Wheat Beers

Those folks over at are hosting this month's Session, the beer-blogging monthly get-together, which this time around is all about the wonderful world of wheat beers.

So, here's Four Less-Than-Obvious Observations About Wheat in Beer.

I say wheat beer. You say…. Weiss? Weizen? Wit?

It’d be easy to pour a bottle of the cloudy stuff into a vase-shaped glass and ruminate on all things hefe, but let’s give it up for the wider world of wheat in beer.

#1 – Wheat in beer is (almost) everywhere

And for good reasons. When you think of an archetypal weiss, the head stands out – literally. Wheat is rich in glycoprotein, molecules of which are both attracted to water (hydrophilic) and repulsed by it (hydrophobic). These nest together, create pockets of C02, forming bubbles and – ta-da! – a head on the beer. Which is why many brews include a small proportion of wheat in their mash.

#2 – Lambic is a wheat beer

OK, not as high a proportion as weizens, but wheat makes up around 30% of a lambic’s grain bill. Turbidity, head retention, high levels of dextrins helping young lambics taste smoother than their funkier, older siblings… that’s the unmalted wheat at work.

#3 – Britain brews some damn fine wheat beers

They’re not quite like any other. Which is fine and dandy by me; if I want a classy bottled hefeweizen I’d buy a German bottle. There’s a certain something about an English cask ale that’s been given the wheat treatment. Oakham White Dwarf has a smooth lemon edge to it and makes for a corking summertime pint. Castle Rock Snowhite is more floral and, as a winter release, is a welcome palate rester when the bar is full of malty-toffee beers.

I get to drink those two fairly often. Wish I could say the same for Green Jack Orange Wheat with its deft marmalade touch and itching Citra notes. And then there’s Lovibond’s Gold Reserve Wheat Wine: brewer Jeff Rosenmeier took his premium wheat beer (Henley Gold), ramped up the wheat and balanced the flavour out with local honey to produce what was voted the world’s best honey beer at the 2009 World Beer Awards.

#4 – Britain held the first International Gluten-Free Beer Festival

So, glycoproteins helps make a wheat beer all fluffy and wonderful. Albeit not so wonderful at all if you’re allergic to them. They’re the building blocks of gluten, which is also found in barley, so severely restricting the beer-drinking of those who are gluten-intolerant. There have been a number of gluten-free beers entering the market in recent years and back in 2006 there was the first international festival to feature them. Held in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, it featured over a dozen gluten-free beers in bottles, cans and on draught from all around the world. Today, UK brewer Green’s have developed a range of beers made with de-glutenised malt –including pilsners, dubbels and triples – to challenge the assumption that gluten-free beer is boring in both style and execution.

And one of the judges at that festival was Nick Wheat. Seriously. I couldn’t make it up.


Raising a glass to Spyke

Last month, I spent a couple of beery, cheery days at the ever-excellent Nottingham CAMRA beer festival. After a busy session as a SIBA judge and a day of random beers, I decided that I ought to write an article all about it. And I thought I'd try to persuade Nottingham CAMRA to publish it in their multi-colour, multi-award-winning branch magazine, Nottingham Drinker.

I tried to catch up with its editor, Pete 'Spyke' Golding, at various times during the festival. A quick hello was as far as I got; the crowds got deeper and my chance of a convincing pitch diminished. And as much as I wanted to talk about my article idea, I also wanted to thank him in person for his work as editor on what's possibly the best free beer magazine I've ever read. Never mind, I thought. There's always another time.

Spyke died last week.

It's his funeral tomorrow. I can't be there, but I'll wearing my most colourful tie when I raise a pint to him.


Questions and answers

Who suggests to me the beers that I drink? 
Well, I'm more receptive to suggestion now than I ever was. It's been a wave; when I was a newbie to beer I listened to anyone who shouted loud enough. When I thought I knew what I was doing, I'd ignore most people and go with what I knew. Now, I'm broadminded - letting folks on Twitter and Facebook decide which beers I should drink whilst at the Nottingham Beer Festival this year was a real eye-opener. I tried beers by brewers to whom I wouldn't normally give a second glance.

Who do I ignore? Why?
Any beer or brewer that makes just too much noise. When half a dozen bloggers regurgitate the same press release, when the Facebook album is loved by people I know cannot have tried the new beer, I steer clear.

Where don’t I go to drink beer? Why?
I'd become rather beer-snobbish. To the extent of not visiting High Street, national chain bars lest they offered nothing of quality and passion. To the extent of not visiting some of my local pubs, where I've eaten and drank for ten years, because the cask offering was unlikely to be a show-stopping dry-hopped bonanza. Then I realised how I'd been missing out on a great, fresh pint of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale at All Bar One. How a well-kept Pedigree or Bass can be flinty and sulphourous and pretty damn good with fish & chips.

What styles do I avoid? Why?
It's repetition of style that I'm avoiding now. There were times at beer festivals, desperate to scoop new breweries, when I would drink nothing but brown best bitter. Because that's invariably what debut brewers brewed. And most were average but some were tasty. Step forward six years and the lists are now chock full of pale, pale ales. And many of them are tasty... put it this way: I like Metallica. I think the track 'Master Of Puppets' is one of the most kick-ass tracks of all time. But I couldn't listen to the intro over and over and over again. The chords may begin to bore me. I'd know what to expect. I'd be satiated, but not quite as excited. But after I've been away and listened to a stack of Mahler, the DAH! DAH-DAAH-DAHHH!! of 'Puppets' sounds claw-your-face-off fresh.

How does method of dispense make a difference? Why?
The difference is everything and nothing. Nothing beats the flavour, aroma and mouthfeel that you get from a pint of hoppy pale cask ale that's been poured from gravity, allowing the gentle flavours to linger longer throughout the glass.. Except for a pint of nutty, toffee cask ale handpulled through a sparkler, giving a creamy head that helps the flavours stick. Or.. a pint of kegged unfiltered lager which stays cool and crisp and refreshing. Or... a bottle of carefully conditioned ale that's developed a level of complexity that even sherry dare not dream of. The only difference that dispense makes is when beer drinkers get too hung-up about it and miss out on great opportunities.

When did I last drink my‘epiphany’ beer, the one that proved to you that beer can be not-sucky? Why?
About three weeks ago. Why? Because it's gorgeous. Because no other beer looks so damn tasty in its own branded glass. Because when I drink it, I'm transported back to Brugge and the bar of the Oude Burg hotel and I remember what it was like to be on the cusp of discovering a world of beer which, until that moment, I had been blissfully ignorant of. And so I'll be having another bottle of Duvel this weekend. You've gotta love non-sucky beer.



Confessions and questions

My name is Simon and I am a Reluctant Scooper.

In the past four weeks, I have:

- drank nothing but imported bottled lager in a pub offering 12+ tip-top quality cask beers

- drank nothing but imported keg beer in a bar offering 8+ tip-top quality cask beers

- drank nothing but the same cask beer in a pub offering 15+ other tip-top quality cask beers

- drank supermarket beer at home rather than trek out to new bar openings and beer launches

- drank random cask beers suggested to me by folks on Twitter and Facebook whilst at a festival

The point? It’s easy to get hung up about method of dispense, about the shock of the new, about surfing the zeitgeist.

Ask yourself some questions.

Who suggests to you the beers that you drink? Who do you ignore? Why?

Where don’t you go to drink beer? Why?

What styles do you avoid? Why?

How does method of dispense make a difference? Why?

When did you last drink your ‘epiphany’ beer, the one that proved to you that beer can be not-sucky? Why?

I’ll answer my own questions tomorrow.


Let's Do The Timewarp Again

Reluctant Scooper is back. With a jump to the left and a step to the right.

There's going to be brews news, reviews and interviews. More irreverence and topering about. And, for starters, spot the pattern;

1) Cains Double Bock, 2) Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, 3) Augustiner Edelstoff.

1) Brunswick Father Mike's, 2) Budvar, 3) Westmalle Dubbel.

1) Thornbridge Kipling, 2) Thornbridge Kipling, 3) Thornbridge Kipling.

A clue? Some of the 2's could also be 3's. Some of the 3's could also be 2's. Some of the 1's could also be 3's. As, indeed, Kipling proves.

A prize for getting it right, I hear you say? I'll stand you a pint.


Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Part 3

An afternoon spent skulking around pubs reveals these immutable truths:

- old men will argue how Bass / Landlord used to taste better until they drop down dead.

- there are few finer food and beer combos than a pint of Thornbridge Jaipur and a doorstep chip butty

- every rainy day is made brighter by the unexpected introduction of ska to the jukebox

- local brewers often reveal themselves to be opinionated cocks when they talk to customers without realising what that customer may actually know about beer

- there are fewer finer topering experiences in an English pub than enjoying a real ale, served by a real character, who draws a real fire and then pulls up a real solid wooden chair for you to sit in.

- when the leaves are starting to fall from the trees, it's time to unleash those fat, sticky, malty beers. Hops for summer; malts for winter.

Pubs drank in today: 3

Pints drank: 7 (Sarah Hughes Dark Rich Ruby * 1, Thornbridge Jaipur *3, Brunswick Father Mike's Dark Rich Ruby * 3)

Number of different beers on offer in those pubs: 30

Potential scoops on offer: 9

Scoops drank: 0

Reluctant Scooping score: max


Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Part 2

I'm still being grumpy in the corner but there's life in the old Scoop yet.

I'm enjoying doing what I used to do pre t'interweb days - drinking beer for the fun of it rather than drinking beer and writing/Tweeting about it. But there's plenty of news, reviews and interviews lined up for November. Thanks for all your comments, both here and elsewhere.

Being grumpy in the corner is a sojournment, not a retirement :-)


Where Nobody Knows Your Name

There's a great feeling about drinking in a city where no-one stops you and asks your opinion about beer.

To sit in the corner, by the bar billiards, enjoying a great pint and realising - that's why I got into this scene in in the first place.

It's time for me to be that grumpy guy in the corner again. The one who sips on his pint, incompletes the crossword and doesn't really mind. In the place you wanna go. Where nobody knows your name.


Tigger and Spoons

As I’m in a slightly-tinkerish mood this morning, I couldn’t resist blogging about a blog that blogs about another blog even if blogging about blogging is dangerously close to joining in on the scene that celebrates itself by narcissistic blog linking.*

The Tigger of Thornbridge, Kelly Ryan, writes today that he’s one of the contributors to the J D Wetherspoon Real Ale Festival blog. Alongside James Watt (Brewdog’s Head Of Stuff) and David Grant (Managing Director of Moorhouses) Kelly will be sharing his words of wisdom with the JDW readership.

Like the fest itself, I think the blogs are a great idea. There’s every chance that drinkers may experience their real ale epiphany at a Spoons fest – finding the beer that finally convinces them that there’s a whole new world beyond the bland. If it also then spurs them into exploring the fest website, reading the guest blogs and finding a wider world of incisive, interesting beer writing on the tinternet – that’d be fantastic.

Here’s hoping that the JDW fest blog will also include some guest posts from the international brewers and maybe even from a Spoons manager on the challenges they face.

* Kelly: that’s seven mentions of ‘blog’ in one sentence. In your face, sucker!


You've gotta pick a bottle or two

I chimed into a recent Beer Advocate forum thread about where to buy bottled beer in the UK; it really got me thinking.

Buying good bottled beer in the UK is just getting better and better.

Supermarket shelves are no longer stuffed with boring brown crud. I can buy Brewdog Punk IPA on my way to work via Asda. Sainsbury's have a solid range and go out on a limb with some of their annual beer challenge selections. Tesco have Flying Dog. Waitrose stock the wares of 80+ British brewers between their stores. Booths is a beer retailing legend. Co-op have their excellent Freeminer range. Marks and Spencer have own-label beers brewed by major UK names.

Mail order gives the shopper a chance to buy the finest (and sometimes rarest) of UK, continental and world beers. Beers Of Europe have a jaw-dropping range of European beers plus US oddities. Beermerchants are at the pointy end of market stimulation - how about stuff from Viven or US brewers such as Lost Abbey and Founders that can't even be bought in the majority of US states? Then there's, specialising in helping UK microbrewers get to market through their merchant services whilst also branching out into rare Italian and US beers.

Direct sales from the brewers themselves can be a bargain and a revelation. Bulk shipments of your favourites; first dibs on the rarities. I'm thinking about the likes of Brewdog online plus a host of brewers with shops in sheds, outhouses and brewhouses: Humpty Dumpty, Amber Ales, Old Chimneys, Nutbrook, Hopshackle.

Independent off-licenses excite; for the chance to chew the fat with someone and pick up a recommendation, for the oddity brews, for the joy of finding local beer in a local shop. I've found many and loved them all; the likes of Liquid Treasure (Belper), Red Zebra (Derby), Archer Road Beer Stop (Sheffield), The Offie (Leicester), Utobeer (London). And there's still many with a great rep that I've yet to seek out - Beer Ritz in Leeds, Stirchley Wines in Birmingham, Bacchanalia in Cambridge, Kris Wines in London.

The more I think, the more I recollect; a good mixed selection from Ales By Mail, Kernel beers at Sourced in St. Pancras, Marches Little Beer Shoppe in Ludlow. And I forgot farmer's markets - like Amber Ales at Belper, cask beer poured into two-pint carryouts. And the Original Farmers Market Shop in Bakewell where I once bought ***** and ******* after even the brewer had sold out of it (I'd tell you the names of the beers but then I'd have to kill you).

Let's be clear here. This is not a marketing roll call. Yes, I've written about some of those outfits; I've carried out paid work for some, some have sent me free beer. I just want people to realise that there is a HUGE amount of great bottled beer sat out there. Some of it you'll need to drive down grassy lanes to find during the three hours when the brewery shop is open. Some of it will be in a shop in a town where perhaps you least expect to find it. Some of it will be just round the aisle from Blossom Hill and not necessarily on your eye-line. Lots of it is only a few tinterweb clicks away.

But.. if you want it, if you want to travel across the country or just get a courier to ship it to you... great beer is out there. You've just gotta go get it.


Why Chez Moeder Lambic Fontainas Wouldn't Work In Britain

I've never seen Brussels in the daylight. Indeed, all I have ever seen of the Belgian capital is a budget hotel at the end of a runway and the inside of two bars. One of them was the newer of the two Chez Moeder Lambic bars, the one at Fontainas. And I loved it.


After a long day going continental in Phil Lowry's blue beer-taxi. I was ready for a beer. A bite to eat. Scenery that didn't involve more flat, grey Belgian landscape. Some chilled music. Dropping of the mental gears. And Chez Moeder Lambic Fontainas delivered it all in spades.

Two rows of benches, plenty of light wood, a well-lit bar sparking with hanging glassware, forty-plus beer taps, serried ranks of refrigerators. An eclectic eighties power-rock compilation playing in the background. Attentive but not obsequious service.

It was getting late-ish, probably gone 10pm. It was a Monday night but the bar still attracted a laid-back crowd. Paper menus on the tables listed the draught beers on offer. Hand-pumped lambic. A delectable saison from Jandrain-Jandrenouille. The food platter was straight-forward and packed with flavour - salami, sticky cheese, properly salty butter, honest brown bread.

Sat chatting to Phil, I realised that this was the Brussels combo that I'd dreamed of; great beers and snack food in a friendly, relaxed bar where you could have a cogent conversation. But I also knew in my beery heart-of-hearts that this was a sad moment; I knew that I'm unlikely to get to this place more than once in a blue moon and that the Moeder Lambic approach could never, ever work in the UK.

The thought of wandering into a London bar, nevermind one in the Midlands, late on a Monday night and being able to enjoy small glasses of quality beer and knockout nom is a crazy thought. Somehow, a rack of pale blonde cask beers and a few cubes of cheese in a bowl isn't quite the same.

I'd experienced the kind of continental beer culture that the UK can't recreate merely with a few stainless steel chairs and a late license. I'd love to be proved wrong, but I don't think a Moeder Lambic-esque bar would work even in London. Not enough customer interest, too much commercial pressure to knock out big-name pints alongside the artisinal beers.

It's a shame. But it's made me want to go back to Brussels and find more bars that wouldn't work in the UK.