The de-louting of lager?

I looked up at the TV last night only because someone was murdering 'A Wondrous Place'.

For about thirty seconds, the moodily-lit advert ran through a gamut of slo-mo clichés. Aftershave, perhaps? Teeth whitening? Haemorrhoid cream? Nope; Carling.

Gone are the matey larks of previous campaigns This re-branding seems to be aiming for Mr Metrosexual. Hard on its heels is the announcement that Molson Coors are dropping sponsorship of the Football League Cup after what seems an eternity (fourteen years is a long time in football. Especially for Nottingham Forest).

Meanwhile, Carslberg are doing what Carslberg do best; viral campaigning. The Belgium Bikers video is spreading like chlamydia during fresher's week.

Heineken already have the prancing-man commercial to persuade us that lager is A Lot More Sophisticated Than Wot You Thought. An advert, incidentally, that was the subject of a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority. The complainant being Molson Coors. Who had previously been the subject of another complaint over a Carling advert. The complainant being Heineken. I look forward to both beverages being served in black pots / kettles in the near future.

Even Foster's have toned down the Ozzy banter of late. And featured Holly Vallance in their adverts. Good call?

In their own, very different, ways the message seems to be:

Lager isn't scary any more.

But can even the might of global brewers and fancy ad campaigns divorce the words lager and lout from the common lexicon of beer? My hunch is we'll have to suffer more than a few moody adverts with piss-poor cover versions in the not-too distant future.

I hope the cartoonist Gareth Plumb doesn't mind the reproduction of his lout.


Let's buvons a bière: Dans la vallée de Ambre

An English brewer hosts a festival at their brewery tap. With German Oktoberfest and French micro-brewed beers. A spare Sunday afternoon. Should I go?

Ja, mon petit choufleur.

Pete Hounsell at Amber Ales has established a reputation for beers out of the ordinary. Inspiration and experimentation have led him to brew the likes of Jasmine IPA, a full-on saison and the multi-award-winning Chocolate Orange Stout. And he employs the same passion in tracking down beers out of the ordinary for his festivals.

Now, don't get me wrong. His own beers were standouts. Imperial IPA is the style on a short leash; plenty of bite, plenty of depth, no over-exuberant late hopping, enough alcohol to warm you. Double Chocolate Stout had heaps of earthy cocoa, roasty rather than sickly. The continental bottles, however, took the afternoon to another dimension.

I have a weakness for German bottled beers. Lets be clear, here: I've never been to Germany as a 'beer tourist' so I have no idea what quality German draft beer tastes like. But I love lots of the bottles I've tried. Two of my favourites were on sale here, the clean-and-crisp Augustiner Edelstoff and the feisty-bitter Schneider Hopfen-Weiss. Which I would have happily drank all day if it wasn't for Brasserie Thiriez.

The brewer is based in Esquelbecq, a village so far into Northern France that it's almost in the North Sea. It's also just over the border from Belgium, which clearly influences Thiriez's beers. The amber and blonde are solid stuff, the latter winning me over with its initial sweetness tempered well by citric bitterness into a drying finish.

Even better was Etoile Du Nord, originally a collaboration beer with John Davidson of Swale Brewery. Riddled with Bramling Cross, it could be described as a hoppy saison or a Belgian IPA. I don't give a monkey's chuff; I'll call it the best bitterish slighly spiced bottle beer I've had this year. Only 4.5%, it's the kind of beer that if it were made by a progressive English / US micro, geeks would be wetting their pants. Instead of which, it seems to be France's best-kept beery secret.

And that's before we get to their Vieille Brune. I could easily wax lyrical about this, but here's the summary: perfectly balanced sour ale. All the right notes in the right order. I'm not used to beers blindsiding me but this had me done stone cold. 

Maybe the trick is to think not of Northern France but West Flanders Plus A Bit. Whichever way, Brassiere Thiriez are making some of the most exciting beer to come out of almost-Belgium. And being able to try them on a soggy day in Derbyshire's Amber Valley is all down to the foresight of an English publican who understands the value of great beer. I'll raise a glass to that. Si danke schon, bonjour!


Reluctant Scooping: Nottingham

Reluctant Scooping has two rules:

#1 - if you walk into a pub and find a beer you love, you must drink a pint of it.
#2 - if you walk into a pub, don't find a beer you love, you must drink a half of something new.
#3 - if you walk into a pub table, it hurts. And you're probably drunk. And there is no rule #3.

So, half-a-dozen-ish Notingham pubs were lined up. A couple of willing wingmen recruited. And mayhem ensued.

Trent Bridge Inn

Cask beers on offer: 10
Potential scoops: 2
Actual scoops: 1 (Nottingham Trent Bridge Inn Ale, halfpint, cask)

It's been a long long time since I last drank at the TBI. From being a cubby-holed, slightly-shabby and rather smelly pub, Wetherspoons have transformed it into somewhere smart and comfy. Still has a few nooks and crannies, plus a large room at the back with a big TV. Tons of cricket memorabilia adorn the walls, alongside some impressive paintings commissioned especially for the pub. Their house beer from Nottingham Brewery, TBI Ale, was pleasant enough although a bit on the brown sticky side for my taste. And here's the Trent:


Cask beers on offer: 8
Potential scoops: 2
Actual scoops: 0
Favourites drank: 1 (Thornbridge Jaipur, pint, cask).

You walk through the door and walk into the bar. You sit in what looks like your Gran's living room, circa 1976. Customers appear to have arrived from an Alan Bennett monologue. And the beer is... stunning. Perfect quality. The best pint of Jaipur I've drank for some time - and last week I was drinking it in Thornbridge's own pubs. The other two topers with me today - Alcofrolic Jock and Rich from Brewsters - both drank Jaipur too. Nods and knowing grunts were passed. It was so good that afterwards, Jock went outside to have sex with his bike:

Cask beers on offer: 5
Potential scoops: 2
Actual scoops: 1 (Castle Rock Spyke Golding's Ale, halfpint, cask).

I've always had a soft spot for the Kean's Head. Mainly for their super food, especially the homemade scotch eggs. There's a fridge-full of solid hoppy bottles (Flying Dog etc) but I plumped for another LocAle. It was massively malty. So much so that I was picking the bits out of my teeth all the way to the next pub.

Cask beers on offer: 10
Potential scoops:4
Actual scoops: 0
Favourites drank: 1 (Castle Rock Harvest Pale, pint, cask).

The brewery tap for Castle Rock, the VAT now has a visitor's centre and a rather shiny new seating area. Some of the aforementioned Spyke Golding's is being aged in whisky casks which could be seen through a viewing window into the brewery itself. And then there was Harvest Pale; I still love the beer, although my palate has changed and - possibly - so has the recipe. Thing is, I wouldn't want to drink it anywhere else, not even in another Castle Rock pub.

Cask beers on offer: 6
Potential scoops: 0
Actual scoops: 0
Favourites drank: 1 (Nottingham Rock Mild, pint, cask).

Full of tourists clogging up the bar, ordering the wrong food and drinking tea. Tea. Sheesh. But I love the Trip. I've sat here watching moisture glistening the silica within the sandstone; you really are drinking in a cave. There's been quiet mid-afternoon pints and raucous party pints. And I suppose I owe my existence to this pub; it's where my mother's parents met. Today, the Rock Mild was sublime.

Cask beers on offer: 8
Potential scoops: 0
Actual scoops: 0
Favourites drank: 1 (Oakham JHB, halfpint, cask)

The Sal is an old pub, some say it's older than the Trip. It sits on top of an extensive cave network. It has a ghost. But, much more importantly, it rocks. When we were there, the jukebox was blasting out one of Lars Ulrich's unfeasibly-accurate double bass rolls. Gentlemen in leather jackets with denim cutoffs debate the precarious state of the Greek economy. And the Oakham JHB did what Oakham JHB was born to do - blow away any other pale hoppy beer on the bar.

And here's a picture of Robin Hood wearing the Ginger Merkin:

Cask beers on offer: 5
Potential scoops: 4
Actual scoops: 1 (Brewster's Hophead, pint, cask).
And some Paulaner.

Wow. Only an A-board outside to suggest there's a bar here. Inside: scattered furniture, slender columns support an arcade. Plenty of beers to choose from, Brewster's Hophead was one of the best session beers I've had all year - and I'm not saying that because the brewer bought me a pint. The food looked good, the mix of diners and lounge lizards all seemed to be enjoying themselves. I'll be coming back here.

Organ Grinder

Cask beers on offer: some
Potential scoops: a couple
Actual scoops: er, none. I think.
Actual beers drank. Blue Monkey 99 Red Baboons, pint, cask. Duvel, halfpint, keg. Brooklyn Lager, several pints, keg.

Busy pub, rightly so. Knockout quality Blue Monkey beers, interesting keg choices. We sat outside in the roof garden - garden, in this case, meaning "trestle tables" - where the smell of burning garlic from the takeaway next door kept us hungry. I do remember snorting hop snuff off the table. I remember Rich looking like a right tit when wearing the merkin. I remember us all drinking Brooklyn lager as the sun went down.

All in all - a bit odd, to tell you the truth. Nothing like the range of beers I expected and very little in the way of foreign muck until late in the day. But the TBI is somewhere I'd be happy to take breakfast at again, the King William IV had quality beer, Malt Cross was a revelation and Organ Grinder is worth the jaunt uphill.

Thanks to Rich and Jock for an entertaining day and to Nottingham CAMRA's Steve Westby and Ray Kirby for useful gen.

The next venue for Reluctant Scooping will be... ah, you decide. I've been to Derby, Sheffield, Birmingham,  Leicester and Nottingham. If your city has a good half-dozen pubs and bars that offer eclectic beers, give me a shout and I'll come scooping with you. But be warned; the ginger merkin is always invited too...


CAMRA: Downfall

There's a ton of Downfall re-dubs out there, but this one made me fall off my chair laughing. Seriously. I just can't believe it hasn't been done before.

Somewhere, deep in a bunker beneath St Albans...

Whoever you are, Anonymous Drinker, the drinks are on me. As long as it's a foaming flagon of something Fuggley...


When you're a Jet

When you're a Jet,
You're a Jet all the way
From your first barrel-aged stout
To your last IPA.

When you're a Jet,
If the shit hits the fan,
You got bloggers around,
You're a Twittering man!

You're never alone,
You're never disconnected!
You're home on your own:
When your opinion needs media,
Well stacked with feeds, you are!

Then you are set
With a capital J,
Which you'll never forget
Till they cart you away.
When you're a Jet,
You stay a Jet!

Not that I'm narked, obviously. But the weekend warriors who buy a crate of beer, run a blog and then think they know it all are getting really quite tiresome.

To the mouth today who insisted on shouting to the rest of the pub about beer history; why wheat beer is,  like, really cool but no-one buys it; and how Thornbridge have gone to shit just because they own a few pubs... it's cool to be a Jet.

But if you knew the moves, you'd be a Shark.


Beer: An Incomplete A-Z

So, I've started another blog. Somewhere to blather on about all the other stuff that interests me.

What's the first thing that appears there?

A section about beer. Obviously.

Because there's a project I've wanted to keep separate from Reluctant Scooper. I'm just starting to take the history and science of beer seriously, as in academically so. I don't actually want to be a brewer - and you can quote me on that  - but I do want to know more. I've got half a mind on research, another degree etc and half on actually understanding what the hell is going on inside the shiny shiny stainless.

To those ends, I'm pursuing several threads. Membership of the Brewery History Society, Working on PhD proposals. Working towards the Fundamentals Of Brewing qualification. Spending time on brewdays talking about proper brewing stuff rather than just moping around and waiting for samples.

Because learning ought to be fun (© me, sometime during my over-enthusiastic trainer days, 1996-ish) I thought I'd start by hacking together an A-Z of scientific & historical brewing terms. But what would be more fun would be, rather than just Google it, if I were to ask brewers and historians for their input. And ask you, Joe blog-reading Public, what terms you'd like defining.

So, thinking caps on. Then toddle over to my sparkly new place and leave me ideas of what to look up. If you're a historian / brewer / over-opinionated git, I'd love you to get involved with helping me out. Drop me a line, leave a comment, send me a postcard etc.

PS - if any illustrators / cartoonists etc would like to have a crack at designing some alphabetical-type pieces for me, I'll pay you in beer. And T-shirt reproduction rights.


Through a glass: Straffe Hendrik

I try not to keep hold of many beer glasses. When I moved house last year, boxes of them went to charity, to ebay and to the skip. Cupboard space at the new gaff was at a premium. So the ones that made the move were the happy few that had some technical or emotional significance.

So I thought I'd photograph them, with a beer. Reconnect with why they're more to me than just another vessel. I bought a soft light tent, some spotlamps, dug out the tripod. And you know what?

Photographing glassware is a bastard.

First time I tried, I spent ninety minutes collecting blurry snaps and then spent another three hours drinking a fridge-full of beers. Not exactly dedication to the cause.

This time, it was point, shoot and hope.

Hideous picture, I know. But there's a beauty within.

Straffe Hendrik blonde was my first ever Belgian beer. In Bruges. It was the house beer at the hotel I stayed in, it was happy hour and I struggled with the idea of beer in a funny shaped-and-sized glass. But, three days later, it had become the beer that tuned my palate into a whole new world and the first beer glass I ever bought.

Since that day in 2005, most Belgian beers I've drank at home have been in this glass. Nothing, though, is ever quite the same as that Straffe 6; indeed, the beer in it tonight is Straffe 9. It's a rather sticky tripel, dried cut grass clashes with tired bubblegum. Just the merest smear of warm glue.

I'm hoping the photos will improve - if anyone has hints and tips on glassware pics, please let me know. As for the beer - maybe it's like caching up with your first love only to find she's now heavier-set, stronger in character but slightly bittersweet.

Thanks to beermerchants for the bottle.


Book review: Green Men & White Swans

Summer holidays when I was a lad meant the long haul down to Devon in the back of a Ford Escort. Annoying my sister kept be busy until Birmingham (and toast at Frankley services). The I-Spy Book Of The Motorway occupied me down the M5 to junction 31. And then it was time for a game of pub sign cricket. Spot a pub sign, score runs for every leg mentioned. The Cock Inn? Two runs. The Fox? Four runs. No legs? No runs. Arms or legs instead? You're out.

And that's where my interest in pub names first started. Nowadays, when I'm sat outside having a pint, I'm prone to wandering why there's a ubiquity of Royal Oak's, who was Sir John Borlase Warren or what a Bucket of Blood has to do with beer. There's now a book newly out in paperback that answers some of those questions.

Only some, mind you; that's because 'Green Men & White Swans' has a focus on folklore names. Author Jacqueline Simpson is a longstanding member of the Folklore Society and finds the "most fascinating" names to be those drawn directly from British lore. The result is an A-Z of over four hundred pub names with succinct and insightful explanations of their origins.Whether its the commonplace (Red Lion) or the unique (Flitch of Bacon) Simpson delves into legend, ballad and song to illuminate the sometimes not-so-obvious background.

Clear typeset is interspersed with etchings related to the subjects rather than illustrations of the signs themselves, giving greater clarity to the prose. Several mini-essays flesh out the story of particular themes, such as "Puzzling Pairs". The index includes placenames too so you can find unusual examples within a particular location.

It proves to be a great book to dip in and out of, especially at the pub. I now know more about Royal Oak Day and may suggest the celebration to the landlord of my local. Two pubs I'd previously visited  - The Case Is Altered and The Quiet Woman - are included and have descriptions that fit in perfectly with my earlier research. As for the Bucket of Blood - well, I get the feeling that the decapitation of a revenueman in a Cornish smuggler's inn may be a tale that just keeps getting taller.

It's one of those books that never fails to amuse and amaze. What's more, not only do I now know how the Seven Sisters pub got its name, but I know where I can score fourteen runs if I ever get to play pub sign cricket down south.

Green Men & White Swans is published by Arrow and can be bought from

If the style of the cover illustration seems beery familiar, it's because it's by the illustrator Chris Wormell who produced the 'Beer From The Coast' series for Adnams.

And if you really want to lose yourself in the history of pub signs, you can download 'History Of Signboards', the 1907 revision by Larwood and Hotten, from


Immovable pubco, irresistible BISC

The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee (BISC) tenth report on pub companies makes for pretty grim reading. There's a litany of intransigence surrounding pubco reform and their Code of Practice - "inability to deliver meaningful reform", "unable to enforce adherence", "this latest attempt at reform has failed". But it's just as grim to imagine that the pubcos were going to roll over and let BISC tickle their bellies.

If I were a lessee, feeling shafted by pubco tactics, I'd want to see everything changing.

If I were a pubco boss, with a property portfolio to manage and make an investment return on, I'd want everything to stay the same.

The report concludes that Government should now consult on a mandatory, enforceable code of practice for pubcos and their dealings with their lessees. Expect that one to run and run for a few more years yet.

Truth is, there's no such thing as immovable object and an irresistible force. Pubcos will, eventually, submit to a system of (I'm guessing) self-regulation that satisfies Government. BISC, or whoever takes on their mantle the next time the political landscape changes, will agree to a compromise.

After all, an immovable object would have to have infinite inertia. Which would then collapse under its own gravity and create a black hole. I know some people have suggested that it would be a fine way for Ted Tuppen to go, but even he can't alter the laws of physics. Surely?

One more thing. The report calls for "all existing lessees and all new lessees should be offered a free of tie lease with an open market rent review based on RICS guidance." What about those pubs operated by The Independent Family Brewers of Britain? The beer tie is integral to their business model. Who's got the stomach to argue that long-standing, family-run, family-investment-led breweries ought to be put as risk of closure by wider reform?

Difficult questions. I expect there will many more years of intransigent answers to come.


Porter: what you ought to know

The back room of the Gardeners Arms, Oxford, March 2008. A bunch of ratebeerians are doing what they do best; talking about beer. Specifically, the difference between stout and porter. It's not just young turks mouthing off; the debate was well-reasoned and informative, as is often the case when you have the encyclopaedic knowledge of Chris Owen and Steve Pereira in the room. I knew a little about the subject but learned much that day by keeping my ears open and my mouth shut.

Fast forward three-ish years and I'm now starting to take ever more of an interest into the dropped stitches in beer's rich tapestry. I've started to read 'The Brewing Industry In England 1700 - 1830' by Peter Mathias which invariably draws me into a lunchtime of Googling for the source documents that he references. Particularly as the book opens with the introduction of porter, described by Mathias as "an invention exactly equivalent in its own industry to coke-smelted iron". He acknowledges that the facts surrounding porter's birth are scant and derived mainly from the same source. Which immediately made me want to go digging.

What I found really opened my eyes, not just to the sheer determination of beer historians to unearth the facts from the historical mire but moreso about the clear, cogent and open way they go about it.

It all started with this piece by Martyn Cornell, examining in detail the source of porter history. And then his follow-up article after Dr James Sumner brought more evidence to Martyn's attention. Which led me to reading Dr. Sumner's journal article on how he sees porter as a 'retrospective invention'. And then back to Martyn again. And off to Ron Pattinson, courtesy of one of the blog's comments.

There's total transparency by Martyn in the first piece, with corrections scored-through and remaining visible. Respect between writers in acknowledging differing points of view. Genuinely useful comments by contributors who add detailed background knowledge and original thought into the mix.

I've leaned more about the history of porter - and the determination of beer historians - in the last couple of hours than I've leaned in the last three years. If you haven't already, do go and read those articles for yourself.

I get the feeling that, as I'm now compelled to follow up footnotes and source documents for the sheer brilliance of history that lies beneath, it's going to take me a long time to read Mathias' book. I'm looking forward to every lunchtime of it, no matter how long it takes.


Unlikely Moments In Beervertising

Confession time: I do some work in beer advertising and PR. And when I first read this comic strip, I wet myself slightly.

Needless to say, I will be using the line "...this tastes like the inside of a Clydesdale's majestic arsehole" in a review soon.

And I don't know who's going to use the middle-bottom picture first: someone anti-Carling or someone anti-keg.

And I'm still sniggering about typing the phrase "middle bottom".

Now go and read Big Fat Whale, the ever-excellent site of illustrator Brian McFadden. And laugh yo' ass off.


Good beer. Nothing more, nothing less

 I've been kicking around an idea that, over the last few weeks, has turned into a treatise on beer. I won't bore you with the full enchilada here, but the executive summary is uncannily identical to something I tweeted last month:

"... people who respect beer are the finest people you'll know. Beer is brewed to be enjoyed. When we lose sight of that, we lose beer's soul".

And I think that's a fitting way to celebrate my 500th post here at Reluctant Scooper. I'm off now to celebrate with a beer. Doesn't matter what it's called, who brewed it, what the style is, how it's dispensed.

Just as long as it's good beer, enjoyed.


A Thornbridge trio in Steel City

I have a problem with drinking in Sheffield. Well, several problems. It used to be straightforward; wander upriver, have a Kelham Island-ish crawl and catch a tram back. Then I kept finding other great pubs. Then even more great pubs opened. And then the Sheffield Tap opened and presented me with the opportunity of drinking in Sheffield for eight hours without leaving the railway station. An opportunity that I've availed myself of several times.

So nowadays I try to hit up a couple of choicer establishments rather than whore myself around the ticking circuit. With a new Thornbridge pub just opened up in town, I came up with a cunning plan; go drink in other Thornbridge pubs as well as the new one. Frankly, that's the kind of genius move that makes Albert Einstein look like a straw-haired buffoon.

Early doors, Sheffield Tap. Possibly my favourite early doors drinking establishment. Every cask beer pulled through and sat in a glass by its handpull. Later, a whiff of Brasso as the staff polish up the fittings. The occasional splurgle of the coffee machine. A bar slowly coming to life. Time to read the paper and savour the first pint of the day; Thornbridge Seaforth. If Jaipur is vaguely metropolitan in flavour and outlook, Seaforth is a hairy-arsed sailor. Uncompromising, bluff, bold. You can almost taste the home-made tattoos.

Then, a bus. Just over the road from the Tap is the Interchange - it's like a bus station, only without the casual threat of random violence. The first bay you come to has a Walkley-bound service that drops you off seven minutes later at the top of Commonside. From where, it's only seconds to The Hallamshire House. Such trips are the stuff of topers' dreams.

I'm the first punter through the doors. The floors are drying out from a good mopping, painters are touching up the borders and plumbers fiddle with, well, whatever plumbers are paid to fiddle with. Thornbridge have spent a six-figure sum on the refurb and it shows. Two small rooms at the front are chock-full of gilted picture frames, ornate fireplaces and copper-topped tables. Past the corridor bar, a larger room at the rear has a more contemporary feel; etched windows, bright stained glass with pumpclip echoes in them.

And then there's one of the most extraordinary rooms I've ever seen in a pub. Conker-coloured leather benches. Large windows break up deep stained wall panelling. Bold wallpaper segues to zebra-print. On a lamp. That lights a full-sized snooker table. Honest. Look:

A steady stream of inquisitive customers kept coming in for a nosearound. An old regular grumbled about the place "moving upmarket" when he found there was no longer any Gold Label. He could have tried a bottle of Chimay White, though: the fridges hold a small but perfectly formed selection of classy Belgians and a full set of Thornbridge bottles. Jaipur is amongst the usual suspects on cask, the likes of Chiron is on keykeg. Both were in cracking form. There's no food, but plans for pork pies are in the offing.

Licensees Becky Stuart and Tom Ashfield have hit the ground running, although the clincher will be when the place is stuffed to the gunwales with locals. Having previously managed another Thornbridge community-led pub, the Greystones, I'm sure they're up for the challenge. Speaking of which, their old gaff was next on my list. As it would happen, the bus stop back into town just happened to have an offie next to it, selling a cracking range of beers. But blink and you'd miss it. I can't even remember its name...

Out to the west of the city this time, up another of Sheffield's seven hills. The Greystones has a totally different vibe to the Hallamshire; roomy, airy, slightly chilled, an attitude on the right side of cool. It's become a much-fancied venue in a short space of time with an eclectic mix of local artists and international stars. I've yet to come here for a gig - I must get a ticket for Wilko Johnson - but I'm often here for the beer. Thornbridge are showcased magnificently here in cask, keg and bottle.

Chiron may just be the best keg beer in the UK at the moment, a carbonic bite honing the hop edge of Chinook and Cascade. Not too sure about Browne, a brown ale (d'oh!) hopped with the new high-alpha Australian hop, Stella. I like a brown ale to be somewhat more robust. And then there was Alchemy XVI. Another in their experimental beers series. A dry-hopped barley wine. 9.4%. Bitter orange and boozy warmth. Outstanding.

Three very different places to go drinking. Each has its own identity, serves its own community. But one thing is constant - excellent Thornbridge beer. The next time you're in Steel City, why not get out to the 'burbs? There's plenty of beer out there to reward your effort.


Wet, fresh and green

I've only had a few green/wet-hopped beers. Some have been feisty and fresh in a "recently-mown-lawn-around-a-herb-garden" kind of way. Others have been unsuprisingly vegetal. With the possible exception of Thornbridge Halcyon, I've yet to find one that I'd go back to time and time again.

Maybe this year things will be different. I need to seek out a few, particularly any that involve wild hops such as Forager by Mayfields.

If you know of any excellent green-hopped beers in your neck of the woods, let mw know. I'm not averse to travelling if it means I track down a tasty green-hopped beer in its all-too-short season.

And for those of you who think green-hopping is a modern craze...

"Some use hops without drying in Brewing, even green as they are gathered, but by good Fortune there are very few who are so wise and fond of this Opinion, That the Fire exhales the fine Parts of the Hops; but where such are used, one ought to have at least half as many hops of the undried Sort as of the others".

From The Riches Of A Hop-Garden Explain'd, 1729, although the author (Robert Bradley) was quoting someone from a hundred years previous. The book is a treasure trove of hop lore; I'll be dipping into it and sharing more excerpts through the coming weeks.

Photo c/o The Mad Penguin at Flickr


Profanity Stout: A f*****g b*****d of a beer

So, Williams Brothers Brewing have two entries in the Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt. You know the score, there, surely; sixteen beers new the store are pitted against each other with two 'winners' given a six-month listing starting just before Christmas. To be honest, I'm not too fussed about Caesar Augustus, their lager/IPA hybrid; I'd prefer it to be one or the other. Let me tell you, then, about their Profanity Stout.

It actually makes you say ****.

An aroma that's a heady mix of pith, milky chocolate and Parma Violets? **** yeah!

Flavours that dance between singed liquorice, cold coffee and sticky citrics? **** me!

No alcohol burn, no ruined toast notes. Just an honest-to-goodness ******* great beer.

This was developed by two students, Peter and Craig, from the world-renowned brewing couse at Heriot Watt University. Well, **** me, you've well and truely graduated with full ******* honours, lads.

As I almost said in the title, it's a fitting bombard of a beer. Or something like that.

And with my cap firmly doffed in the direction of the Fawlty Towers opening titles, I give you what Williams Brothers may have called the beer if they wanted to play with anagrams. And didn't actually have to sell the stuff on Sainsbury's shelves.


The 50lb challenge: September update

Four weeks into the diet and I've learned several things:

- You can have a weekend breakfast that doesn't have to include bacon
- You can still enjoy a beer festival or two whilst dieting. Just cut down on the pork pies.
- Not drinking for several days makes the palate grow fonder
- Long country walks are good. Spending two hours at the pub afterwards drinking the calories back on isn't so good.

The net result - eight pounds shed, eight quid in the jar on the mantle. I'm happy with that.

Next waypoint - another eight pounds before the Nottingham CAMRA festival in mid-October.

Thanks again for all the messages of support and donation pledges; if I haven't replied to you personally, I apologise.

Now, where did I put that bag of satsumas...


Whither Wetherspoons?

Imagine. You're the boss of a pub chain. Recent times have seen a ragged economy, heavy snowfall and the odd riot. Your competitors seem to be surviving via a heady mix of asset disposal and snake-oil. But you've opened another fifty pubs in the year just gone. And like-for-like sales increased overall, even for the bar. Your pre-tax profits fell back to 2009 levels but it's still your second highest pre-tax profit ever. Made off total sales in excess of a billion pounds.

Do you sleep soundly in your bed? Safe in the knowledge that, in the face of sustained economic uncertainty, you're posting good figures, creating jobs and raising a million quid for charity in the process?

Well, if you're name's Tim Martin you'd be railing about taxation instead.

"The biggest danger to the pub industry is the tax disparity between supermarkets and pubs", said the J D Wetherspoons chairman at the weekend release of the chain's preliminary full-year results. Calling this a "serious and unsustainable competitive advantage" he criticised high excise rates (60% of Wetherspoon's tax bill being excise-related) and pointed to how VAT reductions in France and Ireland  have generated jobs and taxes.

And so that's another reason why I like Tim Martin. Rather than sitting back and taking the plaudits for keeping Spoons on a more-than-even keel in these trying times, he's still pushing for equitable treatment of the on-trade. Of all the chains, I believe Wetherspoons stands to benefit the most from these straitened times with their drinks & meals promotions. I get the feeling that they could do so much more; more bars, more offers, more jobs created... and that's just what Tim Martin wants too, if he didn't have one arm tied behind his back by onerous taxation.

I don't expect Punch to be so rambunctious when their results are announced next month.

Over at The Motley Fool, Tony Luckett notes that "pubs are pubs, not property companies, and should be run as such". Tim Martin seems to be proof positive of that approach. More power to his elbow.


Review: The CAMRA Guide to London's Best Beer Pubs & Bars

Despite the over-burdened bookshop shelves that argue the contrary, London hasn't deserved a great guide to its pubs and bars. Compared to other capitals it seemed to have lost its beery way; lots of grand old boozers and a few smart joints but no sense of cohesion, no sense of scene, almost a lack of pride. Larger brewers and pubcos had the lockdown - or so it seemed.

But the last few years has seen a radical change. Entrepreneurs and chains alike have realised that drinkers value great places to drink beer. And brewers - including that once-endangered species, London brewers -  have realised that those drinkers are demanding great beer. With old pubs revitalised, new bars trailblazing and London brewers springing up under railway arches and in pub yards, the time has arrived for a guide that can combine traditional information with contemporary styling.

And as if by magic, here it is. Des de Moor had the unenviable task of visiting over 250 of the capital's finest beery establishments to compile The CAMRA Guide to London's Best Beer Pubs & Bars.Why unenviable? Well, that's a lot of pubs to cover. It's not as if he could stop in each one for a serious session.  I caught up with him over a swift drink at Gunmakers to have a chat about the Guide and how London is in the throes of a beer revolution.

As he sets out in the book's introduction, the capital had become "the new city of beer". Once-dead-end pubs have been turned into thriving craft beer outlets. Major chains such as Nicholson's and Wetherspoons have brought great ale to some of London's most historic pubs. An ever-increasing number of microbrewers are carving their niche into neighbourhoods that are receptive to small batch, high-quality beers. High rents and low economic certainty are still a challenge to publicans and brewers but there's a real sense that London is beyond the tipping point. A new breed are finding their way; the genie is out of the bottle and the hops can't be stopped.

Road-testing the Guide started at Gunmakers and continued over the next three days at a wide range of places, from the beer geekery of the Rake via the very different brewery taps of Kernel and Brodies to the grandeur of the City. The layout is fantastically clear and concise, getting across essential info such as postcode and phone number whilst still finding space for Twiiter and Facebook details. The place descriptions worked well, just the right mix of history and detail, with the 'insider tip' adding a dash of colour to the write-ups. Nearby Tube stations are noted too but as Des pointed out to me it's quicker to walk between many of them.

The area maps are clear but perhaps too much so - they don't work too well in helping a newbie navigate between pubs (no road names) and there's no indication of what an adjacent map area is. I found myself using Google Maps and the postcodes from the Guide to help me get around.

My real bugbear with a printed Guide is that it's out-of-date even before it's printed. At least Des has met the update challenge; his site has a PDF of additions and corrections that he aims to produce quarterly. That greatly improves the longevity of the book and is an approach that I feel CAMRA ought to adopt to their other guides.

The introductory essays about London as a beer city are informative and an easy read, not the often-dreary filler that other guides rehash. With a handy background to the capital's breweries and a genuinely useful appendix that lists places to drink by themes such as landmarks or transport terminals, the Guide packs in plenty of useful ancillary information.

With London's stock in the international beer world on the up, this is an indispensable guide to the capital's best beer venues.

The CAMRA Guide to London's Best Beer Pubs & Bars can be bought from Amazon. CAMRA members may prefer to bolster the campaigning coffers by purchasing it instead from the CAMRA shop.

Thanks to CAMRA for the review copy.


Derbyshire Brewers Collective Festival

Let's try mobile blogging again and see if it actually deigns to publish.

The Derbyshire Brewers Collective are an association of breweries based in the county. Ranging from the might of Thornbridge to the just-started Black Iris, they've come together to put on a beer festival that showcases the best beers that Derbyshire has to offer.

The Darwin Suite of the Assembly Rooms is bristling with handpulls - and a couple of Thornbridge fonts - with Derbyshire cider on offer too. You didn't know Derbyshire has cider makers? Hang your heads in shame.

It's shaping up to be a great fest. The brewers are running their own sections, which isn't something I've seen in the UK too often. It's certainly great to enjoy a beer and chew the fat with the brewer at the same time.

The festival runs today (Friday) and Saturday in afternoon and evening sessions, £3 / £5 on the door respectively. If you want to try Derbyshire beer at its best, served by the brewers themselves, it's a golden opportunity.


The Session 55: Label, Coaster and Cap Art

September already? Sheesh. Time for another Session beer blog Friday, hosted this month by Curtis Taylor at HopHeadSaid on the subject of label, coaster and cap art.

You may think I ought to be more interested in beer arty. I work in marketing, after all. Truth be told, I'm firmly in the camp of stuff-art-drink-beer-and-carry-on. Usually.

I was tempted to pearoast a previous Session post as an Orval label and Chimay cork-cap comes pretty damn close to design perfection for me. But there are three beery things worth a big-up.

Saison Dupont is my summer fridge beer. It's just.... right. Satiating. Post-lawnmowing, pre-BBQ, mid-lounging-around-going-sweet-FA. And the cork cap is simply superb; bold design, distinctive colour combo. And it's got a hop on it. Job done. There's always a few of these knocking around my kitchen (and my garden, my garage, all points between). I'd go so far to say that the Saison Dupont cap is an overlooked design classic.

Beermat collecting really isn't my bag. But I've usually got one tucked inside the pocket of my Tilley LT5. Because I have other odds and sods in there like spare cash and a bottle opener. And a beermat keeps it all flat and out of the way. This one is a Thornbridge beermat; usually brewers' mission statements are a steaming pile of spent grain but these guys live by these words. For which, thirsty topers are most grateful.

And last, but my no means first, there's beer labels. Where the only ones to get me mildly excited of late have been those by Kernel. As this picture stolen from Pete Favelle shows, the killer thing about Kernel labels is they're anti-design. Plain brown paper, identical layout. Why do I love them? They let the beer do the talking. They give you a style and an ABV. Let's be honest; that's all you need.

It's just struck me. Looking back on these three... straightforward, bold, clean design.

Keeping It Simple, Stupid. But still standing out. I'll drink to that.


Around Peterborough Beer Festival in ten beers and one perry

Bit late with this one. Let's rip through the write-up; six reasons to be cheerful about Peterborough Beer Festival, ten beers reviewed in three words each, four questions I quizzed CAMRA about and one declaration.

Reasons to be cheerful:

1) It didn't rain on Thursday. If it has rained previously, there was no Somme-like gloop pervading the tents.
2) Beer quality was spot-on.
3) Beer range was spot-on.
4) There was Northamptonshire skittles, dodgems and a caricaturist. None of which I got to experience coz I was too busy drinking (see points 2 and 3 above).
5) Grasmere Farm knock out a very generous hog roast.
6) AlcofrolicChap and Lupulucy are fun people to share beer and banter with.

The beers:

1) Summer Wine, Resistance Mild - Kevin loved it
2) Adnams, Ghost Ship - Smooth citric drinking
3) Arbor, Oyster Stout - Tangy roast chocolate
4) Blue Ball, The Smoker - Smoked Fruit & Nut
5) Fuller's, Brewer's Reserve No. 3 - Figgy vanilla whisky
6) Fyne Ales, Sublime Stout - Seriously easy drinking
7) Hopshackle, Lonestar TPA - Hoppy? Definitely maybe.
8) Northcote, Jiggle Juice - A tangerine dream
9) Summer Wine, 7 C's of Rye - Bittersweet bittery bitterness
10) Thornbridge, Geminus - O.M.G.

And Oliver's Perry. The lodestone of any half-decent cider & perry bar.

The questions:

1) Plans to introduce a third-pint glass / measure? - raised by a number of punters and is to be discussed at the festival 'wash-up' meeting in October.

2) Bottles bought to be taken away from the foreign bar had to be collected from the CAMRA membership stand - why not over the counter like GBBF? -process seemed convoluted, trying to discourage people from walking around with bottles.

Here's hoping for a third-pint measure in 2012; other CAMRA fests with cash bars manage this well. As for the bottle takeaway... I'm not sure. I can't see many being dumb enough to buy takeaway beer and the wander round swigging from the bottle. As all onsite bottled beer was poured into your glass, there were no bottles knocking around and you'd stand out like a sore thumb if you were necking one. Maybe the takeaway could be bagged, taped-up duty-free style and then handed over?

As for discouraging people wandering around with bottles, several thousand punters were wandering around with glasses... unless they were polycarbonate???

I didn't ask about the lack of seating because, er, I got one. My advice for seating at tented  fests? If you want one, get there early or take your own - I saw several Nottingham CAMRA members with camping chairs (they learn from experience).

All in all, probably the best Peterborough CAMRA festival I've been to. Numbers may have been down on last year - maybe not surprising in our straitened times when non-CAMRA members had to shell out nine quid entry, although the three quid glass rebate may have gone un-noticed by many.

Still, there were 26,000 punters who drank 97,452 pints of beer, 13280 pints of cider, 10,755 bottles and 6,500 glasses of wine. As this picture shows, one bearded Kevin seemed to enjoy himself...