Cream Coloured Pony's Crisp Apple Strudel IPA

The opening gambit. Before you can bore the arse out of someone with tales regaled of obscure limited edition bottlings enjoyed in rustic courtyards, they ask you:

"So, then. What's your favourite beer?"

To which you are duty-bound to answer:

"Ah! I don't have one favourite. It all depends on so many variables, of seasons and mood, of company or solitude, of desire and necessity. For instance, I recently sat in a rustic courtyard with a vertical of a dozen obscure limited edition bottlings..."


You know what your favorite beer is. You know the one you'd claw through walls to reach. If you're about to meet your maker, your future mother-in-law or the firing squad, you know which beer you'd want in hand.

It's just that few beery people dare to admit it. Why? Fear of offending someone?

Screw that. I have a favourite beer.

I can drink it in the depths of a deep midwinter. I can drink it at the height of a roaring summer. I can drink it from the bottle, from the fridge. I can drink it from a glass, from the shelf, in all its pomp.

I can drink it alone, with friends, among enemies, in a tub full of strippers, in a pub full of sadsacks.

I have drunk it at the best of times, at the worst of times. And I will continue to do so.


... Orval.


Let's get ready to roil!

This summer, I plan to go for a pint or three at the Queen’s Arms in Corton Denham, Somerset. Because I can't recall ever having drunk in Somerset before. There may have been a rugby club trip to Taunton in my polytechnic days. But back then, counties and countries all blurred into one long kebab & flatulence-riddled hangover.

And I want to drink Moor beer. And I really want to drink it unfined. And I want to see if it's a hard knock to sell the stuff.

Maybe UK drinkers accept hefeweizen because they've been told that cloudy is to style. But cloudy cask = fault. Too difficult to persuade cask drinkers that it could be otherwise? Well, if drinkers of the 'nation's favourite' can be taught to accept the fault - I'm sorry, defining feature -of DMS then surely the cask-drinking minority can be persuaded that turbid cask can be flavoursome?

Perhaps the answer lies in appropriate glassware. Or not, as the case may be. I can understand how licensees are loathe to serve turbid cask, lest it be seen as an indictment of their general cellar quality. If they serve you hefe it's likely to be in a branded vase-like glass that positively screams "It's OK! It's supposed to be cloudy! It's foreign muck!"

Given that there are so few UK cask brewers who release unfined beer, perhaps they ought to also supply suitable vessels for its consumption. Something that enhances the flavour and doesn't offend others' sensibilities. Traditional beer, traditional tankard. Or in this case, nano-keg and old-skool leather.


My Funny Valentine

"My Funny Valentine
Sweet Colin Valentine
You make me smile with my heart
Your looks are laughable, unphotographable
Yet you're my favorite work of art

Why do bloggers take you to task?
Do they not know that you love cask?
In its conditioned glory you bask
You're so smart!
Don't change a thing for me
Not if you care for me
Stay, Colin Valentine
Each day is Valentine's Day".

There's been a fair amount of t'internet kerfuffle about comments made by Colin Valentine, CAMRA head honcho, about bloggers calling for craft beer/keg recognition.

Yes, he spits out the word 'keg' as if he expects his audience to then stone him.
Yes, he'd probably sooner drink the syphilitic piss of the last leper in hell than drink 'craft keg'.
Yes, he's getting the craft keg/craft beer distinction wrapped round his neck.


I don't want the National Chairman of CAMRA to recant his whole belief system before his AGM.

I want him to defend the divine right of cask to be the automatic choice at the right hand of every level-headed drinker. Defend it with all the passion, dedication and misinformation that noisome bloggers do when they herald the arrival of The Best Beer In The World Ever Until That 'Rare Keg' Release Next Week.

I love how he uses the phrase 'bloggerati'. Isn't that a compliment?

I like how he's clearly pissed off with Tim Webb for not being One Of Us.
(The day Tim Webb doesn't piss people off is the day I know he's stopped writing. More power to his, er, word processor).

And I'd love it if everyone could accept this:

Good beer is where you find it. As to what you find it in: that borders upon the immaterial.

If someone can find within a CAMRA policy document anything that prohibits the promotion of unfiltered, unpasturised KeyKeg, please let me know.

If someone, bloggerati or not, honestly believes that CAMRA ought to embrace brewery-conditioned beer served with CO2, please let me know.

In the meantime, I'm off to listen to My Funny Valentine. I haven't embedded a video. I haven't added a link. Sometime I prefer Chet Baker. Sometimes I prefer Miles Davis. Sometimes I prefer Hue And Cry. Sometimes I prefer the People's Front of Judea. Sometimes I prefer the Judean People's Front.

Even though the latter are just free-form acid-jazz splitters.

* edited 30th May to restore the missing opening paragraph, just in case you had no idea what's going on...


Everybody's changing

"Leeds CAMRA chairman, John Rowe said: “The taste that they replicate at the brewery down in Northampton will not be the same as the Tetley’s that has been brewed up in Leeds for the past 189 years".

Source: Morning Advertiser

I think he's right. And I think Jim Robertson, production director of Wells and Young's, was right too when he commented on his brewery's move from London to Bedford:

“There are always part-time experts who harp on about provenance and say that you can’t move a beer and make it the same elsewhere. They are simply wrong. There are places where it is more difficult to make it as well but it’s an insult to my team of brewers to say they can’t do it".

I have no doubt that a brewer can shift production and recreate a recipe. Water chemistry, fermentation geometry, it's all in the maths. And I understand completely how it can never taste the same again for some drinkers.

Because taste is about more than biochemistry. It's inextricably linked to memory, environment, suggestion.

I'll acknowledge that recipes do change over time. So does personal perception of flavour. I'd be disappointed and amazed if they didn't.


FABPOW! Buxton Black Rocks & Heinz Alphabetti

Once upon a time, in a blog not too far away, Mark Dredge came up with the term FABPOW when writing about his food and beer pairing of the week. So it must be time for me to shamelessly appropriate - I mean, pay homage - to the term.

For this pairing, you will need:

- one bottle of Buxton Black Rocks
- two tins of Heinz Alphabetti
- four slices of bread (Warburton's Crusty preferable)

Warm Alphabetti. Toast two slices of bread. Pour Alphabetti onto toast. Pour Black Rocks into pint glass.


Then, if you have far too much time on your hands, open the other tin of Alphabetti into a dish whilst toasting the other two slices of bread. Sort letters. Think about how good the food and beer pairing was. And say it with spaghetti-on-toast;

Calculate the total scores for looks, aroma and taste:

Find one-word to summarise

And be honest with how you feel about the term Black IPA:

Buxton Black Rocks is a great beer. Huge grapefruit nose, a kind of Black Jack chew flavour - in fact, if you're of a certain generation, try to remember what is what like to chew a Black Jack and a Fruit Salad at the same time. That gets you close to what's going on with Black Rocks. No roasty, big fruity. Is it a Thornbridge Raven-beater? For sure. Dude.


A CAMRA confession

I've never attended a branch meeting.

Having had a quick Google, my back-of-a-virtual-envelope calculations suggest that 98% of most branch members are of the same ilk.¹

Which gets me wondering - how many of CAMRA's 120,000+ members are in it for the money? I joined up so that I could get free entry to various CAMRA festivals. And nowadays there are pubs offering decent discounts on cask ale for card-carrying members (20p off a pint isn't to be sniffed at). And then there's the Wetherspoons vouchers.

As a regular festival-goer and pub-drinker, I'm getting a good deal out of CAMRA. But are they getting a good deal out of me?

Can CAMRA do more to attract support at branch level? Or are they destined to be funded by a silent majority that may neither know nor care about actually campaigning at all?

¹ Calculated from attendance and membership figures given by several CAMRA branches in the minutes of meetings made available to the public.


Drinking with Jarmo

It's not every day that I get an email from a Finnish stranger asking if I'd like to meet up for a beer. But that's what can happen when you're a member of The London crew have a fine tradition of looking after visitors to their city - I've been on the receiving end of their epic hospitality. To be honest, they would attend the opening of an envelope if there was a beer involved and a chance to meet up with someone passing through. Fewer ratebeerian tourists escape up to the shires, though, so it was a pleasure to welcome someone and show them around the town.

And Jarmo Makkonen wasn't mucking around. He'd already been in the UK for six days and covered Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle, York and Leeds. After days in Derby, Birmingham and Sheffield he was off to Liverpool, Chester, Manchester and the Trans-Pennine Rail Ale Trail. I'm sometimes nervy when I meet ratebeer bods that I don't know; some can be hardcore geek, one hand welded to a smartphone and the other dispatching sips of beer before spouting forth on all manner of arcane tasting gobbledegook. I knew Jarmo and I were going to get along when he bought a half, took a photo of the pumpclip so he knew later what he bought and then started drinking.

His emphasis for the trip was as much about people and place as it was cask beer. The latter was crucially important - he's a cask fan and is madly disappointed with the general standard of real ale in his hometown of Tampere. But his trip was also about finding good pubs and meeting people. I showed him the beery sights of Derby and Sheffield and we talked almost non-stop; why Sheffield has so many pale and hoppy beers, how legal restrictions stifle beer in Finland, how placenames in England sometimes seem to have too many syllables. He educated me on the finer points of how written and spoken Finnish differ. I explained how Henderson's Relish makes fried onions even tastier.

Two things really impressed me about Jarmo. He's undertaking a trip that most British beer fans would never contemplate taking - two weeks, eleven cities, dozens of pubs, a wide range of cask beer. He's going to see some of the finest pubs and bars and drink some of the finest beer in the UK. Would you think of taking that Round Britain trip?

And it wasn't all beer, beer, beer. Food was important - though he said he was getting a bit sick of fish & chips. He made time for sightseeing. He drank soda water or Red Bull when he went out late-night drinking - he wanted to party as well, not just drink geek beer. And when we were in Sheffield, he wanted to take the time to visit Hillsborough. Not the Hotel, as I first thought, but the ground. As a Liverpool supporter, he wanted to visit the memorial at Sheffield Wednesday's ground to the Hillsborough disaster and pay his respects.

Most of my beery days out in the UK revolve around a tight schedule of George-Best-best-session-rate drinking. If I were planning two weeks away in a foreign country, I would barely rota in time to sleep. Drinking with Jarmo has made me think differently.


For Twitter drinkers

Go get a beer and then please do the following:

- think about where the beer came from. What do you know of the brewery, its history, the people behind the process?

- think not about aroma and flavour in comparative terms but how they meld together. Staccato? Segue?

- think about viscosity, carbonation, how the beer feels from your gums down to your throat. What do you feel? How does that feeling change as you continue to drink?

- think about the people you're drinking with (or not), the place where you're drinking, the time, the day, your mood, the weather and how all of these things affect your feelings towards the beer.

And then keep those thoughts to yourself for a while.

Try silent counsel for a change. Leave your smartphone alone. Enjoy the moment.

Reflect. Then Tweet.

Let's improve the signal-to-noise ratio for beer on Twitter.

1 - Yes, I've already started toning the down the volume of my random "I'm drinking this" tweets.

2 - the picture at the top of the article is from an excellent blog by Brian James Kirk, tech journalist and designer, who's well worth a read if you're even tangentially linked to hack writing in any way.


Big papery things tied up with string

In the summer issue of CAMRA's magazine 'Beer', Andrew Pring chooses ten books that "no self-respecting beer lover's shelves should be without". Here's nine random recommendations of my own.

Cellarmanship - Patrick O'Neill

I'm the bugger that likes to ask questions. This slim volume is packed full of answers when it comes to the science and engineering of how to store, keep and serve cask ale. Clean line-drawn illustrations, cogent text, keen observations borne of experience. If you drink cask ale and you want to understand fully how it ought to be served, this book is essential.

Widely available. CAMRA members can buy at a discount via the CAMRA shop.

Merry-Go-Down - Rab Noolas.

Difficult to resist any book that's subtitled "A Gallery of Gorgeous Drunkards in Literature from Genesis to Joyce. Collected for the Use, Interest, Illumination and Delectation of Serious Topers". A collection of prose, poetry and lyrics all intimately concerned with drinking and drunks. "We are entirely unconcerned with morality", writes 'Rab Noolas' - pseudonym of the composer Peter Warlock - in the Preface. I'll drink to that.

You should be able to pick up a 1970's reprint for about a fiver from the likes of Amazon or ebay.

The Brewer's Tale - Frank Priestley

From the laboratory at Tennant Brothers in Sheffield to becoming a master brewer at Castle Eden, County Durham, this is a genial autobiography of a man who had brewed through a time of huge upheaval in the industry. When you've read the excellent 'The British Brewing Industry 1830-1980', turn to books like this that put the brewer's flesh and blood onto the bones of statistics.

Widely available online.

Beer Is Proof God Loves Us - Charles Bamforth

Biography, philosophy, travelogue. Reflection, conjecture, anecdote. Religion, science, politics. Beer, beer, beer. Bamforth's book is a darting needle through beer's rich tapestry. And it has an appendix almost as long as the main text itself, for reasons that are readily apparent. And it contains this quote: "... may I tolerate those folks who like their beers smothered in hoppiness just as I would hope they tolerate the skill devoted by the big brewers to making bland lagers so consistently well".

Widely available online.

Real Ale Walks In Norfolk - Warren Wordsworth (ed).

Frankly, I could have picked any of many walks + beer books. But this one is beautifully presented, has hand-drawn maps, clear photos of pubs, just enough interesting history and it's got sensible walks around Norwich in it. If you haven't been to Norwich, go. Go now. A splendid city with a great variety of pubs.

Widely available online.

Good Beer Guide Belgium - Tim Webb

One of the most keenly-observed travel books I've ever read. The last time I was in Belgium, if I didn't have a beer in my hand I had my head in this book. Sensible layout, definitive content. And the advertising blurb on the inner back cover is clearly the work of an erudite genius who ought to be commissioned immediately to write a whole range of work rather than getting pissed and writing this trite tripe for his blog.

Widely available. CAMRA members can buy at a discount via the CAMRA shop.

Beer: Tap Into The Art And Science of Brewing - Charles Bamforth

The most accessible book about brewery science that I know of. And that's all you need to know.

Widely available online.

Brewing / A History of Beer and Brewing, Ian Hornsey

For when you need to know just a little more about anything to do with brewing history or science. Superlative books that, one day, I'll actually own copies of rather than just borrowing dog-eared copies from mates and libraries.

Available from the Royal Chemistry Society online shop. And they would make an ideal surprise gift for the favourite beer blogger in your life...

And may I suggest trying your local library for some of these titles? Here in Derbyshire we get to reserve stuff over the tinterweb for free. You are all members of your local library, aren't you? You do take advantage of the service that a sliver of your council tax goes towards? Here's hoping...


Drinking With The Judean People's Front

Is it a porter or a stout?

Is it cask or keg?

Is it bottled conditioned or filtered?

Is it LocAle or imported?

Is it Goldings or Galena?

Is it whole cone or pellet hop?

Is it all malt or with adjunct?

Is it micro or macro?

Is it to-style or new-wave?

Is it barrel-fresh or barrel-aged?

Is it bright as a button or opaquely hazy?

Is it handpump or electric pump?

Is it traditional or modern?

Is it what I always drink? Is it what I've always been searching for?

The next time you find yourself asking one of these questions, stop.

Ask yourself: is it good beer?

The answer to that question is the answer that matters.


When You Drink Beer

Sometimes in monochrome

Sometimes in colour

You go to pubs and drink with people like this

And this

And this

And this

And you see a brewery grow from this

to this

And you have game-changing days like this

And attend events like this

And go to beer festivals like this

where you meet tickers like this

and this

and after sessions like this

you may need urinals like this

and you may regret looking like this

and giving your camera to someone else like this

And you end up doing this

When you drink beer


Drinke and Welcome

"It is called Merry-goe-downe, for it slides downe merrily; It is fragrant to the sent; It is most pleasing to the taste.; The flowring and mantling of it (like chequer worke) with the Verdant smiling of it, it is delightefull to the sight, it is Touching or Feeling to the Braine and Heart; and (to please the senses all) it provokes men to singing and mirth, which is contenting to the Hearing...

...It sets an Edge upon Logick and Rhetorick; It is a friend to the Muses; It inspires the poore Poet, that cannot compasse the price of Canarie or Gascoigne; It mounts the Musitian above Eela; It makes the Balladmaker Rime beyond Reason; It is a Repairer of a decaide Colour in the face; It puts Eloquence into the Oratour; It will make the Philosopher talke profoundly, the Scholar learnedly. and the Lawyer acute and feelingly...

... in Conclusion, it is such a nourisher of Mankinde, that if my Mouth were as bigge as Bishopgate, my Pen as long as a Maypole, and my Inke a flowing spring, or a standing fishpond, yet I could not with my Mouth, Pen or Inke, speake or write the true worth and worthiness of Ale."

Excerpt, "Drinke and Welcome", John Taylor, 1637


Twenty breweries: Whim

Some might say that online presence is vital for microbrewers. That without a website, Twitter account and Facebook page a brewer is missing out on sales opportunities and marketing potential. And I'm sure some brewers would hear those words, shake their heads and then get back to their business of brewing beer for a sustainable market.

Jo Allsop doesn't need web-based shenanigans to sell his beer. If you go looking for Whim Brewery online, you'd be lucky to find even his phone number. The truth is, his beer sells well in the pubs close to the Hartington-based brewery in Derbyshire's Peak District as well as throughout the county. My local, the Royal Oak in Ockbrook, will clear a barrel of their IPA or Bitter so quickly that there's hardly time to change the pump clip.

Good beer is where you find it. And you don't always need the tinterweb to tell you where that is. (Apart from now, if you've never heard of them before. Irony, indeed).

Why try? Well-made, well balanced, full of flavour. Lets the ales do the talking.

What to look for? Hartington Bitter and Black Christmas (which I've managed to drink in July at the brewery-owned Wilkes Head in Leek).

Where to buy? As well as the Wilkes, Whim beers appear at the Charles Cotton (Hartington) and are regulars at the Flowerpot and Smithfield in Derby.


Twenty breweries: Thornbridge

Regular readers know I'm a huge fan of Thornbridge. I've brewed beers with them. I go out drinking with them. They send me samples. I've supportive of all they do. I write about them often.


It's this simple: I still get a buzz when they release a new beer. Do other brewers make me feel the same way? Well, I can count the number of them on the fingers of one hand.

The owner, Jim Harrison, knows what he wants. Head Brewer, Stefano Cossi, knows how to brew it. The whole team know how to deliver the results.

There are three reasons why Jaipur is a world-champion beer. Why styles old and new are executed with thrilling precision. Why I would choose a Thornbridge beer over any other cask in the world.

Innovation. Passion. Knowledge.

You can taste it in every Thornbridge pint.

Why try? They're the best beers brewed in England.

What to look for? Jaipur. Kipling. Brock. And, if you're oh-so-lucky, Bracia.

Where to buy? Plenty of places across the country but rarely better than drinking it the Sheffield Tap, The Bear in Alderwasley, Packhorse Inn in Little Longstone or Greystones in Sheffield. And myBrewerytap have a range of bottles on sale too.


Twenty breweries: Steel City

Gazza Prescott and Dave Szwejkowski of Steel City Brewing can be objectionable, arrogant, opinionated and bloody-minded. That's why I like them; that's why I like their beers.

With a clear idea on what to brew - hoppy as hell - they could have stuck to homebrew bucket-action in a garage. Instead, they operate as a 'cuckoo' brewery, using other brewplants to produce mainly light, hoppy beers in what they call a 'Mid-Atlantic' style. As they have strong opinions about beer - US hops, good; crystal malt, bad - it's good to see them walking the walk and not just loudmouthing the talk.

The results may be divisive but at least they're never boring. As they have full-time jobs, beer production is sporadic but that adds to the thrill of the chase for beer tickers and lovers of humulus lupulus alike.

Just do us a favour, guys. Brew something really hoppy. You know you want to ;-)

Why try? They know what hops can do and they aren't afraid to use them

What to look for? They don't have regular brews: check their website for details

Where to buy? Most likely to be found in Sheffield (Wellington, Rutland), Worcester (Dragon) and, er, Horsley Woodhouse and Kilburn in Derbyshire (Old
Oak and Hunter's Arms)


Twenty breweries: Pictish

The Kelham Island Tavern is famed for its choice of rotating guest ales, their names chalked up on a blackboard to the left of the bar. I never look at it. I never need to. Because the KIT has a regular beer which, if the other Sheffield pubs served it, I would drink in every man jack of them. Brewer's Gold. By Pictish.

Words seem woefully inadequate when trying to explain just how much I love this beer. Which, for a beer writer, is rather a cop-out. But its strength and depth and breadth is more than just a sum of its liquid bread and flighty hop mouthfeel. It's my contented exhalation, a sense of normalcy restored, the bittersweet memory held for the rest of the topering day. For me the beer is inextricably linked to the KIT - I've never drank it anywhere else - and it's become my flavour-track to both beery gatherings of sweaty topers and solitary musings over half-completed crosswords.

But there's more to Pictish than Brewer's Gold. Indeed, they brew a whole heap of single-hopped lovelies which just seem to be more.... complete than other brewer's fayre. The last I drank, Motueka at Sheffield's Sheaf View, was... satisfying. As in, three pints worth of satisfaction. And what's not to love about the brewer saying the single-hopped beers get brewed as and when he feels like it? And that he can't be bothered to write almost identical tasting notes, so he just uses the phrase "A pale, very hoppy beer brewed using [insert name] hops"?

Few beers make an award-winning pub's beer selection an afterthought. That's the power of Pictish at the KIT.

Why try? Seemingly effortless balance, allowing the hops to shine rather than dazzle clumsily

What to look for? Brewer's Gold. Any of the single-hop series.

Where to buy? Apart from Brewers's Gold at the Kelham Island Tavern in Sheffield - and get your hands off, it's mine - Pictish distribute widely throughout Lancashire, Manchester and West Yorkshire.


Twenty breweries: Oakham

Palates change. When I tasted my first pint by Oakham, I wrote that it was "massively hopped - pulls your lips back over your head, a bit too frantic for me". Nowadays, Oakham on the bar is my guarantee of a refreshingly-hopped beer.

What I love about Oakham - apart from their superlative beer - is that they just get on and do stuff that other brewers would crow about and muck up. Collaborative brews (with Newby Wyke and Green Jack), barrel-aging (such as Oblivion or Atilla), and pioneering hop brews(Citra).

I was guilty of sidelining Oakham beers during my scooping years. Now, I drink it out of choice wherever I find it. There are plenty of pubs around Notts and Derbyshire that have Bishop's Farewell and/or JHB as regular beers. And I am more than happy to drink long and deep.

Why try? Hops used judiciously, not afraid to oomph the ABV if it carries the flavour better

What to look for? JHB and Bishop's Farewell. The best cask Citra in the UK. And dark beers like Black Hole Porter. And the full-bodied Atilla or Tranquility.

Where to buy? All over the East Midlands and Cambridgeshire. But best at their own pubs such as the splendid Barton's Arms in Aston. Well worth the trip to Peterborough to drink at Charters Bar, a converted Dutch barge, and their Brewery Tap with its glass-fronted brewkit.


Twenty breweries: Moor

I love to drink beer in the county where it's brewed. I love to find a pub near the brewery and enjoy their beer on its home territory. And so here's a brewer I've sampled in Manchester and Sheffield but never in their Somerset homeland. Not odd, though, given that I've never been to Somerset.

My introduction to Moor Brewing came though odd casks at CAMRA festivals and found them all to be, well, average brown British bittery beers. The brewer fell off my radar until a few years ago when I picked up a few of their bottles from beermerchants; the branding grabbed my attention as it was so much bolder, more confident - as were the beers. Step forward Justin Hawke, a new broom brewing up stuff that brought more than a little of his native West Coast USA flavour to the West Country.

Tracking down casks of Moor up here in the Midlands is tricky; a real shame as I've still got a taste for some of their sessionable beers. I've also got a taste for their 9% JJJ IPA but that results in a short, messy session. There's only one thing for it - I need to find me a Somerset pub and drink Moor beer all the live-long day. Sounds like an ideal summer weekend to me. I wonder if there's Moor beer on the bar at Somerset Cricket Club?

Why try? Classic styles re-invigorated; contemporary styles mastered.

What to look for? Quaffers on cask like Revival and Peat Porter; sippers in the bottle such as JJJ IPA and Old Freddie Walker.

Where to buy? Errr, Somerset is your best bet. If anyone can recommend somewhere there, please let me know. Meanwhile, you can always buy bottles from beermerchants.


Twenty breweries: Marble

Perhaps it's a Manchester thing. What you see is what you get. No airs, graces, pretentions. Marble take the guesswork out of buying beer: Manchester Bitter. Stouter Stout. Chocolate. Ginger. Pint.

Brewing began in a back room of the Grade-2 listed Marble Arch pub in 1998; increased demand led to a second plant opening up underneath the nearby railway arches in 2009. Along the way, successive brewers have found inspiration to brew beyond the ordinary English fayre. Chocolate Dubbel, Decandence Kriek and Special Barley Wine are all indicators of Marble's experimental edge.

Why try? They don't re-invent beer; they strip it down to its bare bones and rebuild it. When some styles have all too often gone awry with malt changes and odd hopping, Marble get back to basics and brew assertive beer really well.

What to look for? Either the eminantly sessionable 3.9 or Pint. If you're in Marble Arch and they are serving Dobber, try it without the sparkler. You won't get punched in the face for suggesting it. Honest.

Where to buy? Marble Arch, 73 Rochdale Road - possibly the finest brewery tap I've ever visited. Marble's bar at 57 Thomas Street also stocks cask. Bottles can be bought online from myBrewerytap.


The Session #51: Blessed Are The Cheesemakers

Let's make this clear at the get-go. Jay Brooks' idea for this 'cheese-off' Session is a great one - everyone buys the same three cheeses and pairs them with different beers. Though as I couldn't get hold of the particular cheeses (US ones, natch) it made my participation in the Session seem moot. Ah, what the hell - I bought broadly similar styles to those suggested by Jay - soft goat's, aged Cheddar and a blue - and gave it a bash anyway.

Pairing #1: Fivemiletown Cooneen and Saison Cazeau.

A goat's cheese that doesn't taste of the farmyard, a saison that doesn't taste of the farmyard. There's a pairing full of win. Cooneen is delicate almost to the point of anonymity but it's all in the texture - the right side of creamy, still an eat-with-your-fingers cheese rather than one that ends up spread into the wallpaper. Cazeau has a smear of lemon, slight spice. The kind of saison that if you found it at a ramshackle bar halfway round a long yet lazy bike ride, you'd need a taxi to get you back to where you started. On a warm day, it's a beer you stop for. And keep stopping.

Pairing #2: Lincolnshire Poacher and Adnams Innovation

Cards on the table. Lincolnshire Poacher is my favourite hard cheese. It's a little bit nutty, a little bit sweet with a texture that's just-so. Two words describe it best: Lincolnshire Poacher. No point in describing it in terms of other cheeses. It is what it is. Adnams Innovation is one those IPAs that just keeps on giving; pungent wet earth, back-of-the-cupboard spices, sour-sweet citrics that haven't decided which way to fall. But when you cannonball the two - wowser. One eggs the other on, pummeling your taste buds before the other has finished with them. I've always had thicker, maltier beers with Poacher before - never again.

Pairing #3: Long Clawson Stilton with Brewdog Tactical Nuclear Penguin & Sink The Bismarck

My intention was to open up a sensible barley wine that had the balls to take on a full-flavoured Stilton. But I really didn't fancy a whole bottle of the ones I had. But lurking in the fridge, I had two pipettes. Looking like dodgy urine samples, they were actually the slightest snifters of two Brewdog heavyweights. Neither were great, to be honest. Tactical Nuclear Penguin had sherry-cardboard riven all the way through, Sink The Bismarck had an unusually satisfying sugar hit before an odd hop and ethanol burn. Thankfully, neither detracted from the Long Clawson - just creamy enough, just enough bite, a lingering sharpness.

Clear winner for me was the Lincolnshire Poacher with Adnams Innovation. More aged cheddery-stuff with IPA-esque beers will certainly be on my summer picnic agenda.


Twenty breweries: Little Ale Cart

How many times do you hear brewers being criticised for all their beer tasting the same? Is that really criticism at all? Or is it an indication of consistency?

It's quite possible that the Little Ale Cart brewery, a one-barrel plant shoehorned into the back of the Wellington pub in Sheffield, do brew some dark beers. It's possible that pixies ballet dance along the bar as well. Never mind the conjecture, let's establish the facts: the names on the clips seemingly change every day but the story stays the same; pale beer, well-hopped, well brewed.

In a city that's awash with great beer in general and pale ale in particular, it takes something special to recommend one pub and its wares. Others try to vary their line-up; Little Ale Cart sticks with the knitting and delivers definitive pale and hoppy beer over and over again.

Why try? If you like pale and hoppy, they brew superlative pale and hoppy. Like you need reminding.

What to look for? Whatever the pale, hoppy ones are called when you visit. Probably some kind of locomotive.

Where to buy? The Wellington, Henry Street, Shalesmoor, Sheffield. Next to the Shalesmoor tram stop. Beer brewed on the premises.


What I Did On My Holidays

With eleven days off work, I thought about getting out to enjoy a beer or three. Here's what I ended up doing:

Went to a small pub festival and drank excellent guests (Whim Armadillo, Dark Star APA) and some of Amber Ales' finest (Black IPA, Saison).

Drank IPA whilst reading about the history of IPA.

Sought out a pub that had been highly recommended to me - the Five Lamps in Derby - with great atmosphere, great Buxton beer and stupendously good wild boar sausages.

Visited Thornbridge and Buxton breweries to chew the fat with the brewers. Swapped gossip and discovered the wonder of ATP bioluminescence.

Took the long and winding Penistone line to Huddersfield so I could drink in the Grove: beers from Stone, Mikkeller, Brewdog, Cantillon, De Molen and more.

Literally lent a hand to the Marble brewery in Manchester and caged nearly seven hundred bottles of beer with them. And then enjoyed the beery delights on offer around the city at Marble Arch, 57 Thomas Street, Common and Port Street Beer House.

Wandered over to my local in the next village for their beer fest; Thornbridge beers, crusty pork pies and too much sun for my pasty skin.

Had a lazy walk along a lazy river and then sat high in the stands watching Derbyshire smear Sussex all around the Racecourse ground. And drank cold cans of Brewdog Punk IPA.

Drank up some of the last pints at my local's festival, made beer cocktails and opened up some random international bottles from Moa, Braufactum, Kiuchi and Deschutes.

... and all in the company of friends old and new.

Why did I do it?

Because I love beery places. I love beery people.

Because I love beer.


Open It! All Around The World...

As regular readers of this deranged stream-of-consciousness will know, I don't hold much store in keeping beer back. Yes, I do age some bottles. Yes, most of those taste better for it. But the trap of buying great beer only to save it for a great occasion is one that's coated in infection, cardboard and general disappointment. I've seen grown men weep at the taste of Westvleteren that, rather than being The Finest Beer Known To Humanity, tuned out to be the ass-water of a diarrhoetic camel.

In short, Drink 'Em Like You Stole Them.

Or in this case, drink 'em like you paid not-a-lot for them-and-you-were-so-bejazzled-you-can't-really-remember-what-you-bought-and-forgot-where-you-put-them-after-so-you-may-as-well-drink-them-now-you've-found-them.

From the most random takeaway-bottle-bar in the world, the Brewing International Industry Awards in Burton, I bring you (in no more than three words):

Moa Pale Ale (New Zealand). Clean, lemon, schmemley.

BraufactuM Progusta
(Germany). Herbal, caramel, Stoppemfromfloppen

Kiuchi Hitachino Nest Nipponia (Japan). Moudlyorange. NOT coconut.

Deschutes Jubel 2010 (USA). Nuts. Sugar. Contrafibularities.

Well, that was fun. More fun than catching your vitals in moving gears, less fun than landing jam-side up in a bucket of jam-coated strippers. But that's beer, people. Never boring, never predictable, always beer...

Tonight's ramblings were brought to you by the letters D and P.


Beer Cocktails: Maggiore Maurizio

One of my culinary regrets is that I've still never eaten at Rowley's. It's just at the wrong end of Derbyshire for us, we think of lunching there but leave it too late. So I've never made it either to one of their Thornbridge evenings; each course cooked with and served with Thornbridge beers. I know, I'm so amateurish at times...

One thing I have tried, however, is a recipe concocted by their general manager, Alistair Myers. As part of their 2009 Thornbridge evening, he mixed up a Jaipur mojito which I enthusiastically set about ham-fistedly recreating. When I saw Thornbridge's Simon Webster tweeting from this year's event, I was eager to find out what cocktail was on offer. Reader, there was none. And so a challenge was born.

First thoughts were for something dark: rum, spices, the natural sweet honey of Bracia. Or maybe really souring up a Saint Petersberg with lemon and cherry. But the weather on the last few days has made me dreamy for crushed ice and citrics. So, an aromatic cocktail where I could replace soda water for something. Easy. Had to be gin, had to be punchy. Had to be with Thornbridge Italia.

I'm been unsure about the beer before. But because I found it so aromatic and herbal, that's why I turned to it first when thinking cocktails. It begins to mirror gin. And there are few finer gin cocktails than a Major Bailey.

To be honest, it's a cocktail to make when you can't be arsed to make cocktails. Ice and mint leaves into a shaker. Bruise up the mint. Add a smidgen of lime juice, same with lemon juice, pinch of sugar and a shitload of gin. Shake and strain into a tall glass full of crushed ice. Top with soda water if you're feeling weak or top with more liquor if you're feeling in a WTF mood.

So, it's as simple as falling off a pub bench to promote the Major to its logical conclusion: make the cocktail, pour into a taller glass, top off with beer. Thornbridge Italia does the job handsomely, in-built aromatics and citrics play with the cocktail's herbal bitterness.

Beer is wonderful. For anyone who's still struggling with just how broad the range of flavours and aromas can be, don't think beer = water + malt + hops + y That's like saying food = grain + spice. For anyone who's struggling with the idea of using beer in drinks or in food, think: beer doesn't have to be the final destination. Even if the brewer didn't foresee a stop beyond what arrived in the bottle.

For some people, mixing beers is anathema. Putting beer in food is poncey. Putting beer with spirits gets the pub burned down. The sun's out: kick loose, fart about, get it wrong, get it wrong again. When you get it right, you'll treasure the moment. It's only beer and herbs and spirits. It could all go wrong. And it can all go deliciously right.

This one's for thornbridgesi and is named in honour of the Birrifico Italiano brewer, Maurizio Folli, who came over to brew Italia with the Thornbridge mob. Recipe on request. I'm available as a cocktail shaker for quintuplet's christenings, 99th birthdays and big fat gipsy's bar-mitzvahs.


The Death of a Beer Festival

For years, I was at the head of the queue. Spare government-stamped, half-pint-lined glass. Notes with target beers highlighted in different colours according to new brewery / new beer status. Last-minute gen on no-shows and no-drops scribbled as marginalia.

And then I tuned in, dropped out, stopped giving two shits about beer festivals and really enjoyed myself.

The last day of the fest was for losers. If you wanted the beers, you moved hell and high water to be there at the start. Last days were random; all the good beers supped, the slow-sellers and late-replacements littering the stillage.

What the last day is really about, what a festival in its death throes actually delivers, is a challenge. Bust the fest out. Take down those last straggling casks. And, just maybe, find a beer that surprises you along the way.

My local, the Royal Oak at Ockbrook, has been running a fest since half-past nine on Friday morning. Full cooked breakfasts, royal wedding coverage and 30+ beers. The pale and hoppy ones sold out quickly. The Thornbridge duo, Chiron and Colorado Red, sold fast despite their >5% abv. The Three Cats cider, first of this year's batch, sold out by 2pm on Friday.

So, what's going to be left by Bank Holiday Monday? Not a lot. Derby Brewing's 'I Do' sludged its way to an end. Cottage 'Celebration' held on valiantly for another half hour. Last cask standing was Slater's 'Roy Ale' - a brewery I've never been fussed with but this offered a fair old fruity snatch.

And like that, it was gone. Glasses moved up into the loft until the autumn festival. The stillage deconstructed to make way for the next event in the function room. Still plenty of good beer on the bar, though, to take outside and watch lumpy butterflies fall into walls. Rooster's Leghorn - good. Falstaff John Dillinger, first mild of May for me, even better.

I can understand how some people get annoyed on the last day of a fest. When they've travelled far. When the beer they expected to be on has gone. But, let's be honest. These people are arseholes. There are no guarantees in life. At a beerfest, hope for well-kept beer and revel in it when you get it. The Butcombe Stout may have busted out, but that last cask which you didn't give a first glance to may just be suprisingly good.


Twenty breweries: Kernel

I've only met Evin O'Riordain of The Kernel Brewery once. I didn't ask him if he started out with a master plan like this:

Open brewery on London. Buck the trend by bottling most of the output. Have said bottles sold in the best beer bars and retail stores across the capital. Brew classic styles with a contemporary twist. Win the hearts of beer enthusiasts, win awards at industry competitions. All within eighteen months of opening.

But that's what he's done. And, in the process, he's become one of the drivers behind the revolution of the capital's beer scene. Keen to collaborate, eager to innovate, passionate about re-invention of classics. Kernel aren't so much ripping up the rule book, they're writing their own.

Why try? Perfectly bottled live beer in styles that have a depth and breadth of flavour.

What to look for? IPAs such as S.C.C.A.N.S or their award-winning Export Stout

Where to buy? Direct from the brewery or from various bars/shops in London as mentioned here