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 myBrewerytap.com, 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.


Uniform pricing

I've been to a festival today that was unusual in several respects.

It was held in a private member's club, although the festival was open to the public.

It served forty-plus cask beers in tip-top condition, half a dozen on handpull from the member's bar and the rest on perfectly-cool stillage.

It sold the most attractive cheese and onion cob that I've seen in a long while.

And every beer cost £1.25 a half. From Theakston's Mild at 3.5% on gravity to Fuller's Golden Pride at 8.5%.

How many festivals do you know with uniform beer pricing?


I Am A Craft Beer Drinker: part 94

With all the current kerfuffle about the validity and impact of the I Am A Craft Beer Drinker video, let’s throw this into the mix.

How about a video with a simple, inspirational message, delivered by random drinkers in random bars, with no branded glassware/pumps/taps/mirrors impinging. Hell, I’ll even give you the script:

“This is my pint. There are many others like it, but this one is mine. My pint is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me, my pint is useless. Without my pint, I am useless.

I must drink my pint true. I must drink smarter than my enemy, who is trying to vomit on me. I must drink up before he vomits on me. I will.

Before Lupulus I swear this creed: my pint and myself are defenders of our craft, we are the masters of our enemy, we are the saviours of hops and malt. So be it, until there is no enemy, but good ale.


I’m no movie director (as my Youtube channel shows) but if anyone want to take on the challenge, be my guest.

- I've been itching to spoof Full Metal Jacket for ages. Serendipity is a wonderful thing.


I have just had a beer epiphany

And I'm slightly scared. And slightly excited. And I may have just had a tangential sex wee.

I'd tell you all about about it. With pictures and hyperlinks and shit.

But: you know what?

Silence is golden


The Session #43: Welcoming The New Kids

 This month's host of The Session, The Beer Babe, has challenged us all to blog on this topic:

"Seek out a new brewery and think about ways in which they could be welcomed into the existing beer community. How does their beer compare to the craft beer scene in your area? Are they doing anything in a new/exciting way? What advice, as a beer consumer, would you give to these new breweries?"

A new brewery? Hmmmmm. Where to look?

My own doorstep is the obvious place.

Derbyshire is a cradle of microbrewing in the UK. We have some time-served brewpubs (John Thompson, Brunswick), some up-and-coming micros (Spire, Ashover, Amber). The occasional small-guy-done-good (Thornbridge). And I don't know if it's the water, an innate desire or our love for good ale but the county just keeps on inspiring brewers.

We have a million people here, most in the city of Derby with the rest spread over the county of a  thousand square miles. Mind you, they are chicken-feed statistics compared to every United State. Yet this year we've seen four microbrewers open up, giving us thirty working brewpubs and brewers. And today I've been enjoying the beers from one of the newest on the block.

Raw Brewery have been in business for just over three months. But they're already making a great impression on the local beer scene and beyond. From their place in Staveley - already home to Townes and Spire breweries - they're knocking out beers that are punching way above their weight.  It's only today that I managed to drink their beers and, boy, was it worth it. Grey Goose IPA bucks the trend of senseless over-hopping and settles for deep fruit, married with solid malt. The blindsider was Dark Peak Stout; one of those beers that you fall in love with because of its commensurate restraint.  Just licorice enough, just ashen enough, just dark-chocolate-with-fruity-berry-notes enough.

Enough for Dark Peak to win the overall silver medal at the Peterborough Beer Festival, one of the largest cask festivals in the UK. And it was best beer in the New Brewery category too. Grey Goose was second in that category. Not bad for a newbie brewer :-)

So, to answer Carla's call:

- how could they be welcomed? No introduction required; already established as a regular beer in key pubs through North Derbyshire. And joining the Derbyshire Brewers Collective shows their dedication to collaboration.

- How do they compare? Very well. Derbyshire brewers set the bar high and Raw are another startup who don't flop beneath it.

- New and exciting? To be honest, what Raw do is not new. And that's what makes it exciting. Old skool IPA and stout, tasty and restrained, full of body and full of flavour. No bells and whistles or mad bastard hops. Just really drinkable beer. Isn't that why we pick the glass up in the first place?

-What advice can I give? Keep on keeping on. Few brewers hit the ground running in this fashion.

For those lucky people within reach of Derby, five Raw beers are on sale at the Smithfield as part of their festival. Although knowing the crowd they get, who drink like bastards, there may not be too much left by the time you reads this. Sorry. At least I shared the gen :-)

To find out more about Raw Brewery, check out their website, Facebook and Twitter pages