The First Geuze of Spring

Truth be told, the lawns don't seem to need that much mowing.

But that first cut is the deepest. Raking out the moss and leaf crap. Running down that stubborn stuff with the Flymo. Seemingly endless trips to the recycle bin with yet another bucket of cuttings.

Gardeners have a word for it. Bastard.

Yet, when it's done... the foldy chair comes out the garage and a chilled bottle and fluted glass come out the fridge. To sit back, relax and enjoy the First Geuze Of Spring.

Somewhere on the rear lawn, there's the caged cork from a Boon Oude Geuze Mariage Parfait 2005. Somewhere, in the back of a stable, a lemon got stabbed and dragged through an apple-ridden hay bale before out-funking James Brown. And ending up in this bottle.

The sun's dipping below the fence. Time to head inside and savour the last drops. There's a tuft of grass lurking due North-North-East.

Gardeners have a word for it...

huge thanks to Martin Ridge for the Boon.


Michael Jackson: a toast

On the several shelves of beer books in my study, one stands out. It's a different shape to its neighbours. It sits almost awkwardly amongst the others. But it's well-thumbed with page corners turned, marginalia scrawled.

Michael Jackson's Great Beer Guide was my first beery book. Red dots in the top corner of pages indicate the beers I've tried; Adnams Broadside in a pub down the road, Jever Pils from the father-in-law's stash, Tripel Karmeleit after my first boozy Belgium stag trip. And it got me thinking about the idea of beer style, not simply gold (Tennents), black (Guinness) or brown (Newcastle).

Did Jackson invent the concept of beer styles? I believe he did more than that. He helped shape the syntax of how brewers could express themselves and how they could be interpreted by others.

In some cases, that interpretation has become too prescriptive. And somewhere along the way, many have forgotten that style isn't borne overnight. Style is classic. Fashion is contemporary.

Michael Jackson said "understanding beer starts with understanding style".

On what would have been his seventieth birthday today, I'll raise a glass to understanding. One beer at a time.



A lost pint on Canary Island

I enjoy staring out of windows. Particularly in pubs. Staring out the window gives a drinker a contemplative mein; staring at the wall worries the staff, staring at the staff can get you barred.

There's many pub windows I love to stare out from. Here's one of them:

It's at the Exeter Arms in Derby. Outside is the ring road and Darwin Place, an inelegant loop to take eastbound traffic down to the A52. Just down the road there's a bus depot and a car park. So there's fun to be had watching all manner of clueless / arrogant / misguided drivers swap lanes at random and without indication. Whilst you're ensconced away from it all. With a pint.

But today my stare was drawn to the building you can barely see: on the left, in the middle, just above the parked cars. Because I'd just been there. Here it is:

The Peacock used to be one of those Marston's pubs that was renowned for a great pint of Pedigree. The Ped's still there but there's now much more; run by Roger and Penny, formerly of the now-closed Smithfield, they've brought over their love of hoppy beers and no-nonsense food. So I enjoyed a couple of pints - a ruggedly brambly-citric Cluster Bomb from Whim and the gooseberry-ish Scarlet Macaw by Oakham.

And then I fancied a trip to the Exeter. Which you can see from the front door of the Peacock:

It's the redbrick building behind the red car. So I wandered down into the underpass, below the A52, and round past several car parks and slots of wasteground. And here's the other side of that window:

It's the bay on the right in the rather carbuncled white extension.

So there I was, sat with a pint of the excellent Dark Drake by Dancing Duck. Beautifully smooth as an oatmeal stout should be. Staring out the window towards the pub I'd just been in. Past car parks and slip roads and dual carriageways and underpasses.  And thought: I wonder what the area used to be like? Before the walk between the two pubs was shaped by the demands of the car?

I looked into it. And not so long ago, the walk was shaped by the demands of the canal barge.

Derby used to have a canal running through it. In from the east, close to where I live now, spurring off to serve various industries before crossing the River Derwent and heading south to Swarkestone. And that canal shaped the area between these two pubs. Let's take a walk through history.

From the Exeter Arms - which brewed its own beer - I could have made my way down Exeter Street. At the junction with Derwent Row, opposite the Long Bridge over the Derwent, there was a pub. The White Bear brewed its own beer too, served in brown and white striped mugs. I might have had landlord William Beckett tell me about the three hundred people he's said to have saved from drowning in the canal and river.

Turning off Derwent Row into Erasmus Street, the canal now behind the houses to my left, I'd pass by where William Hazlewood made pickles and jams in a shed on his way to building a convenience food empire. I'd certainly stop at the Hare and Hounds for a pint. Carrying on up the street, the canal turns right and I'd cross it on Pegg's Bridge before walking up Nottingham Road to the Peacock. Maybe I'd look back over the canal basin and that knot of housing and industry on what they called Canary Island, over and away to the Exeter Arms.

The canal and bridges have gone. Erasmus Street too. An area of foundries and coalyards, of budding entrepreneurs and time-served licensees, all cleared for an imperfect ring road.

So the next time I stare out of the window at the Exeter Arms, I'll see more than seething motorists. And every time I see another slip road or shopping centre, I'll wonder what was there before. And the tales that the now-flattened pubs could tell.


5% and very bitter

"I have no further changes to make to the duty rates set out by my predecessor".

And with those words the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osbourne, managed to avoid announcing that alcohol duty would actually rise by 2% plus inflation.

Those rates were first set by Alistair Darling in the Labour government in 2008 and then extended by him in 2010 to run until 2015. The Coalition seem loathe to hit the escalator's emergency stop, though. Indeed, why should they? If figures show that, since 2008, beer consumption has fallen but beer duty revenue has increased, why lose a revenue stream?

Today there will be many calls to scrap the beer duty escalator. Many such calls have been made before. All the way back to 2008.

An e-petition campaigning for the removal of the beer duty escalator has gathered momentum through the day.

You may wish to sign it.

If you do, please do this as well:

Think of three things you could do to actively campaign against the escalator.

Do those things. Or at least get the wheels in motion.

Then sign the petition.

Don't be an armchair warrior. An angry blogger with a spittle-flecked screen.

Don't rely on another 83,000 people signing a petition that may or may not spark a debate that may or may not turn out the way you want it to (hint: the Coalition kept the tax that Labour introduced. Do the maths).

Do something.

A number of people have told me that signing the e-petiton is better than doing nothing.

What's best is doing something.



I'm almost ready to have the fingers clicked and be back in the blogging room.

I want to say how much I love Marks & Spencer for their attributable beers and how damn fine their Southwold Winter IPA is (brewed by Adnams, natch).

I want to review a couple of books that I've actually enjoyed reading cover to cover, rather than just doing the speed-read thing. And how beer writing could be about to have its seismic shift.

I want to chuck my twopennethworth into the ring on the duty escalator, the inefficacy of e-petitions and the over-estimation of beer blogging's influence.

I want to talk about the sheer beery fun that is the General Havelock in Ilkeston, Derbyshire. The reasons why I only stop for chocolate brownies at the Rutland, Sheffield. Why drinking Bitburger in the Kean's Head and Broadway Cafe Bar in Nottingham have been some of the best beery moments of my recent weeks.

I want to post that picture of how I segmented the beer market into a Venn diagram-of-sorts that may or may not have resembled a cock and balls.

So, consider this a kickstart. Or a marker. A line in the sand to be clodded across. Before I forget again.

Although I've been trying to think about beer, the word 'kickstart' reminds me of two things:

Oh, and Dougie Lampkin.

Yeah, that's three things. So sue me.


The Session #61: Local? Schmocal!

The question this Session is: What makes local beer better?

Let's start with defining local beer. Here in the English Midlands.

Locally brewed? Fair enough. But what if the malt comes from Germany and the hops come from New Zealand?

Locally available? OK. But what about if it's brewed in London? Aberdeen? Japan?

Locally better? Well, what if local tradition is a taste you can't stand?

Local is a marketing label which is abstract at best and downright misleading at worst.

The greatest trick local beer ever pulled is convincing the drinker that it ever existed.

Thanks to this Session host, Matt Robinson at Hoosier Beer Geek.


Brewdog Nottingham: bark or bite?

Last week, Brewdog Nottingham opened. I ought to write about it. And not just because they gave me free beer and cheese. So, here goes:


Broad Street, Nottingham. Which is a five-minute stagger from the Lace Market tram stop. Or a fifteen-ish minute stagger from Victoria Bus Station (time depends on whether you pop to John Lewis for a pee on the way). And next door to the Broadway Cinema which has free wifi, bigger toilets and cheaper lager. In case you need to satiate your desires in those directions.


Understated urban warehouse cool. Exposed brick. Surprise mirror. Those lights that look that those lights in an old IKEA catalogue that you nearly bought for your living room until you remembered that you don't live in a Manhattan studio loft. In 1986. Tables and stools that purposely annoy the middle-aged. Some walls covered in recycled school-gym laminate, complete with basketball lines and teenage knee-graze bloodstains.


Bar. The Smallest Toilets In The World Ever. Jenga.


The freshest Brewdog draft I've ever tasted: , Blitz, 77 Lager, Punk, 5AM, Hardcore. Paradox Jura at 15%. Guest kegs were decent; three visits took in the likes of Mikkeller, Hitachino Nest, Stone, Cigar City. Bottles were excellent; Port, Cantillon, Ballast Point, The Kernel. It costs - practically £4 for a pint of 77 Lager, £3 for 2/3rds of Punk, maybe £5 for a third of import / strong Brewdog.

But, ask yourself this question. Do you want to drink 15% Paradox? Fresh-as-you-fancy Ballast Point? Japanese keg? I do. And I'm happy to pay that price to drink them practically on my doorstep in a fun venue.


Platters of cheese & meat. You can't believe how happy I am to see this approach taking off. So-so meat but the cheeses - including decent Stilton and Brie - are nibble-mongous. And I hear they've started stocking Mrs Kings pork pies too.

Knitted Merkin:

Worn with pride. By...

One of the Brewdog squirrels

Chris Sherratt, the man who made CAMRA's Derby Winter Festival 2012 
the best damn beer festival I've been to

And some random waitress at Hooters:

But not the Beer Beauty:


Parts of an old school literally meets new school brewing. Can be loud and brash. Which, I believe, is the idea.

Thanks to the bar scamps for feeding and watering me on press night and to the usual Twitter suspects for Technology Corner shenanigans. Special thanks to @alcofrolicchap and @brewdogbecca for the photos.