Twenty breweries: Blue Monkey

Nottingham CAMRA have seen some sights at their festivals, but few have had the same impact as a monkey.

In a corner of the main tent in 2008, Blue Monkey Brewing launched their debut beer and thirsty punters lapped it up. That beer, a 3.6% session bitter called Original, had taken brewer John Hickling over twenty test brews to perfect. He was rewarded with over 1,200 pints of it being sold during the three-day festival.

A year later John launched his first dark beer, Guerrilla Stout, which promptly won the Champion Beer award at the SIBA Midlands competition. Blue Monkey brews have since been sold in over a hundred pubs throughout Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. The brewery expanded into new premises in 2010 to meet the ever-growing demand for its beer.

Why try? John and the team brew well balanced, moreish beer.

What to look for? The pale and hoppy BG Sips or the surprisingly-light-bodied Guerrilla Stout.

Where to buy? Blue Monkey concentrate their sales in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Look for their distinctive pump clips which feature a blue chimpanzee (chimps look funnier than monkeys so we'll let them off).


Twenty breweries: Amber Ales

Some brewers are relentless. Opening the brewery on a Saturday so customers can buy pints or pins or barrels to take away. Running a stall at their local farmer's market to put their beer into the hands of people who appreciate quality local produce. Looking for innovative pub schemes that develop the local market for their brews. Brewing using jasmine, orange, cherry... not for the shock, not for the hype but for the thrill.

Down in Derbyshire's Amber Valley, Pete Hounsell and his team have been keen to push themselves and the local beer scene further forward. Amber Ales established a great reputation at their brewery tap, The Talbot Taphouse, in Ripley and have since gone on to achieve national acclaim. Their Chocolate Orange Stout won the coveted CAMRA Champion Speciality Beer of Britain award in 2010 and their 'experiment-ales' such as Jasmine IPA and Almond Dark prove that Amber aren't ready to rest on their laurels.

Whether it's taking on a pub, brewing adventurous beer or hosting an IPA festival, Amber seem to relish the challenge.

Why try? Their refusal to compromise. Unusual brews but still with a keen balance.

What to look for? Barnes Wallace bitter, Imperial IPA and Chocolate Orange Stout.

Where to buy? Bottles and draught at the brewery or at their pub (the Talbot Taphouse) in Ripley, Derbyshire.


Twenty breweries: Adnams

When I first began drinking cask ale, it was Beer From The Coast at a pub that's almost as far away from the sea as you can be in Great Britain. I've still never asked why the Carpenter's Arms in Dale Abbey, Derbyshire, serves Adnams beer from Suffolk but I'm grateful that it does.

A pint of Broadside became my regular Sunday mid-country-walk tipple. When holidaying in Norfolk, their Bitter became a go-to beer wherever I went. And whereas some regional brewers seem content with recipes from days of yore, Adnams experiment continuously with style and re-interpretation. After all, they didn't name a beer 'Innovation' for nothing.

Rightly proud of their environmental policies, adventurous with their specials, reliable with their regulars, Adnams are a fresh breeze in a regional brewing scene that is too often shoegazing in sepia.

Why try? Balanced core beers and interesting specials

What to look for? Broadside, Explorer and bottles such as Innovation and Spindrift.

Where to buy? Adnams pubs throughout East Anglia and beyond. Bottles can be bought direct from their own website.


Twenty breweries: introduction

Back in January, the question was asked on Scoopgen as to what the members' favourite twenty UK breweries of the moment were. It's often more difficult than you think to compile such a list; half-a-dozen may be obvious but how do you decide between the rest?

I've revisited my original list from back then with the added proviso that I'd only pick breweries from whom I've drank at least five different beers. Strength in depth, you see.

So, as an exercise in filling up this site with waffle whilst I'm elsewhere doing other stuff - er, I mean as a concise and informative way of profiling my currrent favourite UK breweries - the gory details will start to appear here from tomorrow. Some will be all-too-familiar-but-worthy, some will (hopefully) make you think twice as to why I've included them and some will - possibly - blindside you completely.

Note to sceptics - it's not definitive, it's not a Top 20, it's not sponsored. It's a list of UK brewers from whom, if I organised a beer festival tomorrow, I'd place my orders from.

The pic is of Andrea Pausler - then at Thornbridge, now at Birreria Amarcord - with a dirty big grin on his face as he chucks bucketfuls of hops it to a brew. Don't you just love a happy brewer!


Through a glass, reflectively

I've just finished reading "Beer Is Proof That God Loves Us" by Dr. Charles Bamforth. In turns it's part autobiography, part brewing history, part meditation and then more besides.

Of the dozen-ish books on beer that I've read this year, it's the first one that's really made me stop and think. And re-read. And think again.

And I've plenty more time for thought now - I'm off for a milk-thistle break. For the next few weeks, a series of articles will appear here about the twenty breweries that have been tickling my fancy for some time. Normal topering service will be resumed after Easter.

There's been much talk on the beer blogs recently about the need for more positivism, pride and open-mindness. I'll leave you for now with this quote from Charles Bamforth;

"... whether it is food or any other manifestation of this earthly existence, the beliefs, passions, and indeed, choices are endless. And who is to say what is good or bad? Let us be mindful here. Let us respect and be tolerant of each other's opinions. And surely it should be this way with beer?"


Reluctant Scooping: Birmingham

You ought to know the drill by now. For newbies, the gory details are here and here.

I managed to miss out Leicester last month although it was promised; Must Try Harder and it's pencilled back in for next month. Or May. Honest.

Anyoldhow, the prospect of a few interesting brews around Brum dragged me westward today.

The Old Contemptibles

Cask beers on offer:6
Potential scoops: 1
Keg beers on offer: 8
Potential scoops: 0
Actual scoops: 1 (Cropton/North Peak Vicious IPA, pint, cask)

The last time I was here, I was inducted into the unofficial Martin Miller's Gin Appreciation Society. Today, early doors, I'm here for the beer. I'd heard on ratebeer of this odd American/Yorkshire wheat IPA hybrid so I mucked in early doors to see what the fuss was. And it was... worth fussing about. I'm still not sure how a brewpub from Traverse City, Michigan have ended up brewing at Cropton for an English pub chain but I ain't complaining. Just wheaty enough to soften the palate, plenty of hops to keep it zingy all the way down. And bonus points to the pub for actually having some ex-soldiers in there as regulars. Build it, name it and they will drink...

Old Joint Stock

Cask beers on offer:8 (I think)
Potential scoops: 1
Keg beers on offer: 8 (-ish)
Potential scoops:1
Favourites drank: 1 (Fuller's London Porter, keg, two pints)

The seasonal cask offering, Front Row, was on alongside some LocAle guests. And there was a promoted foreign-muck thing that I paid no attention to. Because I only drink London Porter here. No point in doing anything else but. Kegged London Porter is too good to not drink. Anytime of the year. Never mind matching with food or mood. It goes with whatever it damn well wants to. Sat in the plate-glass window overlooking the cathedral, my pint glowed blood red at the base, tasted the right side of licorice and demandedthat I buy a second one. The added bonus of a live, cool, jazz trio made a great pub with a great crowd drinking great beer even, er, greater. Sorry, I just ran out of adjectives.

Note to self - sign on door says no League football shirts to be worn inside. Must buy a Sheffield FC shirt and visit again.


Cask beers on offer:16
Potential scoops:5
Keg beers on offer: didn't look
Actual scoops: 1 (Hopshackle Hibernator, half-pint, cask)

I always tell myself I won't go back here. Nothing personal - Nigel does a sterling job. It's just that my mad ticking days are over, the range isn't that esoteric anymore and the Welly has a reputation for being pricey. I'd call £1.90 for half a Hopshackle Hibernator (5.8%) taking the piss, even for a city pub. Still, I bought it. Scoopers return to rare beers like dogs return to vomit. Tasty beer, well kept, to be honest.


Cask beers on offer:loads
Potential scoops: all of them
Keg beers on offer: Barbar. Erdinger. Some others.
Actual scoops: 1 (Church End Jasmine, cask, one pint)

Drawing towards the arse-end of a Church End festival, there were still in the region of twenty beers left on. Jasmine seemed to offer the path of least resistance. It was inoffensive enough, if a tad warm from an unjacketed cask on stillage. But it's not all about the beer here; half an hour spent watching hurling with the sound down and the jukebox on is an experience that money can't buy. Especially as a bunch of shovel-handed lads appear to be making up the rules to a new ball game whilst Joe Jackson sings "I Should Have Known Better".


Scoops: 3
Favourites: 1
Verdict: Not Very Reluctant Scooping.
Beer of the day: Fuller's London Porter. Well, actually, it was the bottle of Adnam's Winter IPA that I bought from Marks and Sparks and drank on the train home. Wish I'd bought two of them...

The pic is of Birmingham Cathedral from inside the Old Joint Stock. One of the finest views out of a pub window that I know of.


The Session #49: A Regular Beer

Thornbridge Jaipur at the Coach & Horses, Dronfield; twenty Imperial fluid ounces of relaxation alongside a burger and the Saturday papers.

Adnams Broadside at the Carpenter's Arms, Dale Abbey; my walking boots steaming, my cockles warmed by the fire, my palate satiated by big fat chewy malts.

Stella Artois at Morley Hayes golf club; crisp, quenching, my not-playing-golf-but-just-sitting-in-the-clubhouse-lazing-around choice for over fifteen years.

Bernard unfiltered pilsner at the Sheffield Tap; when coming straight from standing on a hot, cramped train there's nothing better than a cold pils followed quickly by another one.

Pictish Brewer's Gold at the Kelham Island Tavern; never mind the tick, feel the quality.

Woodforde's Wherry straight from the cask at the Three Horseshoes, Warham. Sublimely balanced, helping me drop down the mental gears at the start of every North Norfolk holiday.

Augustiner Edelstoff from the bottle at the Ship & Mitre, Liverpool. I know it's in the fridge, waiting.

Harvey's Best at the Royal Oak, Southwark. Because it's the best damn-tastiest bitter I know of.

Marble Dobber at Marble Arch, Manchester. The first beer I ever drank there and would be happy it were the only one I ever drank there again.

Fuller's London Porter on keg at the Old Joint Stock, Birmingham. The seasons change, the view through the plate-glass windows moves from suits in overcoats to strappy-backed crop-topped students but the malts remain the same.

Bass at the Cooper's Tavern, Burton-upon-Trent. Nothing salves a tired mind than twenty minutes spent with a sulphurous brew and some idle rocking of a treadle on a table that once housed a Singer sewing machine,

Brewdog Punk IPA in my fridge. White Feather in the Brunswick brewpub. Whim Hartington IPA in the Smithfield, Derby. The list goes on.

I spent several years chasing the rate, looking for the beer I hadn't had before. I've spent longer enjoying the beers I love in the places where I first fell in love with them.

Some day, I may find a bar serving a barrel-aged double imperial gooseberry hefeweizen that keeps me coming back for more. Until that day, I have my regular beers in sometimes-irregularly-visited places. As long as they are still standing and still serving, I'm still drinking there.

Props to Stan at Appellation Beer for hosting this month's Session and for being all all-round splendid chap. Blogs *should* make you think. Thinking is so important. Right, Baldrick?