Dog's Legs, Goat's Head

"I think it's closed".

We're in a picturesque village, the kind where gabled cottages nestle beneath a tall church spire. A babbling brook runs through, taking with it most of the mobile phone signal. The side door to the only pub is stubbornly shut. Mrs Scoop looks at me.

"No, really, it's closed," I say. "I'll check round the other side".

Curtains in the rooms facing the road are drawn firmly, even though it's now past noon. Yellowing paper stuck to the inside of the glazed front door carries apologies for the lack of credit card facilities. And no food 'til further notice. That door is locked too.

In hindsight, the huge "To Let" sign hanging off the side of the building should have been a give-away.

The idea is to meet up with friends at a dog-friendly pub. This is - was - a dog friendly pub according to a website they'd consulted. Fortunately, they knew of another pub in the next village. With phone signals steady just long enough to swap texts, the rendezvous is re-arranged.

Ten minutes later, we're in an even-more picturesque village. Solid Georgian brick. Neatly trimmed privet. St George flag flying from the church tower. And a statuesque, timber-framed pub that was most certainly open.

Walking into the bar of The Goat's Head in Abbots Bromley, I drop down through my mental gears. There's something just-so about it; eclectic seating on the right side of comfy, music assertively in the background, a floor almost evenly uneven whose boards show the scuffs of customers long since passed.

Pump clips adorn the walls, whole sets from those brewers clearly favoured by the owners. On the bar, there's reliable bitter immaculately kept. St Austell Tribute couldn't be finer balanced if it were shod in ballet shoes. Timothy Taylor Landlord is in fine form for an exiled Tyke. And the local beer is Marston's Pedigree, whose red-bricked tower brewery is only ten miles away eastwards.

Our friends master their sat-nav and arrive. Their dog, an English pointer, enjoys bounding off the walls and tables and anything else it can find. Old boys read the newspaper at the bar and drink Stella out of chalices. When our food arrives, the table groans a little. Chips are as thick as your thumb. Proper pie, made in a tray in the kitchen from scratch. Service is motherly; "clean plates....good! Now, what are you having for dessert?"

We clearly have the mien of pudding eaters. One portion of sticky toffee pudding and warm toffee sauce later - all home-made, of course - and I'm firmly into Mr Creosote territory. Although I do manage a Drambuie. Which is almost inexplicably the right thing to do: the last drops knocked into my pint, honey and malts and toffee and citrics caress each other in sybaritic fashion.

The bar is filling with locals as we drink up. A framed page on the wall explains the Horn Dance and how Dick Turpin stayed here after stealing Black Bess from the horsefair at nearby Rugeley. There's adverts for their St George's Day quiz with fish and chips served out of newspaper, for a beer festival over the Diamond Jubilee weekend. Everything about the place is effortlessly English.

Our friends are wondering why they didn't phone the first pub to make sure they were actually open. I'm really glad that they didn't.


Not Sunday Lunch

Somewhere near here, a Gran has dropped her glasses in the gravy. Kids are arguing about ice cream. Mum thinks the pork is too fatty. Dad really wants to go home & have a kip before the F1 highlights come on.

I don't do Sunday lunch, so I rarely do Sunday lunch pubs. A pint or two, perhaps a bag of ready salted. Banter at the bar; crossword in a quiet corner.

On the week's cusp; reflect on what's gone on before, prepare for what's about to let slip and create havoc.

A moreishly-hopped Amber Ales Dambusters in Derby's Alexandra. The inky liqoriceness of Father Mike's, up the pointy end of the Brunswick next door. Conversation or not. But no roasts required.


What's it all about? Ah, feck it (beforehand) (9,6)

Sat in a pub, wanting quiet time, you have to adopt a strategy.

Initially, I poured Anheuser (3)

The thousand-yard stare makes punters jumpy. Twitching on Twitter is too geeky.

Burt changes with a holiday in the sun? (3,5)

A sharpened pencil and folded paper helps.

Takes lane by weir, tottering (6,4)

Because, if in doubt, you can just scrawl some bollocks in the corner of The Times

In the trub, it terminates? Please, Klaus! (6)



The aroma of hops pervading the air the instant when the brewer opens the mylar bag.

The dull clang of unattached pipework hitting the painted floor. The satisfying snap of valves twisted and fixed into position. The deep-set rumble of hot liquids forcing their way between tanks.

The sweet steam belching from the mash tun as you pull out another spade-load of spent malt.

The feel of said spent malt between your fingers. Ditto for sticky whole cone Simcoe.

The strained ggrruuuuh of an incontinent pump.

The silent, nodded approval as a beer is sipped and passed around the table.

The chatter about final gravities, chased invoices, upcoming festivals, pallet packaging.

Brewers do this every day. For barflys like me, it's a privilege to sit in the corner sometimes.

To make that connection between the beer in your glass and the process - part art, part science: part craft, part industry; part predicable, part curveball - that conjures it there in the first place.

Thanks to the Magic Rock brew crew for a splendid day out. They're off to Norway's first craft beer festival at Haand Brewery and are taking their intensely great imperial stout Bourbon Barrel Bearded Lady with them. Some of it will be around on keg in the UK. My advice? Drink it like you stole it if you find it. 


For the love of Stella

It's not a dirty secret. It's not incompatible with my love of other beers. It's not an attempt at being 'post-ironic'.

It's what I drink when I'm at Morley Hayes golf club. Somewhere that I've eating burgers, drinking lagers and not playing golf at for almost twenty years.

It's what I associate with a place where I come to relax, celebrate & commiserate. Where I've attended business meetings and family greetings. Weddings and wakes.

The menu has changed along with my hopes, ambitions and waistline. But Stella has been my constant companion.

It may not be the beer for you. But you won't think anything less of me for declaring my love of it. Will you?

"If you label me, you negate me".


Back of the net

There's a long version and a short version.

The long version has been binned.

The short version goes: be under threat of redundancy for fifteen months, try to carry on being my ebullient beery self and almost succeed, flirt with the idea of working in the beer industry but get mixed messages, finally be made redundant last Thursday night, get a job offer a little later that same night.

Which is why I'm spending today doing three things:

- reading up on the illustrious history of my new employer, Derby County Football Club
- having a couple of lagers
- planning an onslaught of blog posts, both here and at my mostly-non-beery blog

I'll be catching up on all the stuff I've been meaning to write about and trying to kickstart some (hopefully) exciting projects. Over the next two weeks, I'll try to get around to a few pubs and breweries for, ahem, networking opportunities with occasional cellar work / mash tun digging as required.

Rumours that my new role is as Derby's mascot, Rammie (pictured above) are unsubstantiated. Although if I get the offer to dress up in my lunch hour and at weekends, who knows...


The Session #62: What Drives Beer Bloggers?

When I wor a lad, when television was sometimes black & white, when petrol cost less than a pound Sterling for an Imperial gallon, when cross-country running over the clay pits was still an option for afternoon games rather than certifiable child abuse, I knew this much.

I wanted to write.

My junior school was what is now called 'progressive'. Which is shorthand for what happens when idealistic Oxbridge graduates take on the 'challenge' of a soon-to-be-ex-mining-town new school and decide that Beatles songs sang in the round and maths taught using Cuisinaire rods would take us to places that academia could only dream of.

Well, they were right there. It took me to to a prefab classroom at North Staffordshire Polytechnic.

But in the meantime, they let me write. Lots.

One day, we had to write a short story of no more than a hundred words. I wrote a chapter. And a synopsis for the rest of the novel.

And they let me carry on. Once a week, for two terms, until I'd spilt myself and a huge dash of Ian Fleming / Alistair MacLean inspiration over my jotter.

At the same time, we also had a weekly newspaper to prepare.


The idea was that you brought in newspapers from home, took the key stories, summarised them on pieces of lined A5, cut & pasted in bits of the paper for photos etc and presented a four-page newspaper.

My first copy ran to sixteen pages. When I was told it was cheating to cut and paste crosswords and cartoons in, I designed my own crosswords instead. And got Chris Markham to draw cartoons that I'd then narrate.

And so it goes.

The sixth form magazine - my first editorial post - which I fucked up to such a degree that I am eternally grateful that there was no such thing as the Internet to record it. The great thing about bander copy is that it burned quickly.

The poetry magazines - oh, my, the poetry. Because wearing a pastel yellow cardigan and a paisley yellow shirt was nothing without un-rhyming a shit ton of teenage angst into a fifth-rate magazine driven by whoever you were forced to study for English A level.

The fanzines. The days of sniffing glue as you cut and pasted. The mornings when you sent postcards to bands with interview questions and they posted it back to you with crayon answers. The afternoons when you bunked off to go to Selectadisc to meet a band, only to find the lead singer was fucked up on brandy somewhere else. As a teenage muso, this was infuriating. Later in life, you realised this behaviour was laudatory.

And now; this. Blogging. Where me and every other arsehole can pass an opinion.

Where so many say so little to so few followers.

So why do I write about beer?

I used to kid myself that it was all about the Reithian values of being able to educate, inform and entertain.

Probably I do. In parts. But that's after-effect, not intention.

It has its roots in sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse, political purpose.

But writing for me is a baser need than all that jazz.

I write for me. For no-one else.

What drives me is the occasional compunction to spill stuff out my head and put it to bed somewhere. Sometimes, it's here.

You really want to know why it's here?

Reader, it's not for you. It's for me.

I have to write, when I need to write. If you read it, it's a bonus. If you comment... I'm sorry, I really don't care.

All I know is that I spill my occasionally splenetic frenetic heart out here. It's not in hope that you get a warm fuzzy feeling from it. It's for my release.

Anyone who wants a refund, please queue by the back door.

Something drives me. Sometimes it's beer. Sometimes it's architecture or pottery or archery or orchids or recalcitrant trout or Roger McGough.

Most times it's the beating of a heart that sounds like a fucked clock. A ticking that forgets to tock.

*I* drive me. Over the cliff singing ho-de-doo-dah-dey. I play to the wings. If you happen to be sat in the stalls and take in the full enchilada, bully for you.

1) Today's Session was brought to you by Brewpublic. Cheers and beers to them for actually making me stop and think about a Session blog.

2 What literally drives me is the Little Blue Beer Taxi, driven by Mrs Scoop. Actually, it's what picks me up when I fuck up and get lost some place. The Little Blue Beer Taxi is about to become the Little Mars Red Beer Taxi. We'll need a better name than that. Thinking caps on...


Heineken: refreshing the parts that even 007 can't reach

Plenty of harrumphing going on at the moment as it's reported that James Bond will be drinking Heineken in Skyfall, the next instalment of the interminable franchise.

Lest we forget:

- Product placement has been ever present in the world of Bond, both books and films.
- Heineken have been involved with the Bond franchise for fifteen years.
- Bond does actually drink beer in the novels.

Let's take those one at a time.

It may not have been an explicit tactic of Ian Fleming to use the name of luxury goods in his novels for the purposes of marketing placement or financial reward. He may have just been following the lead of Dennis Wheatley in that regard. Fleming certainly followed Wheatley's work in many ways. But product placement has been ever-present in the Bond movie adaptations and franchised scripts. It makes money for the film company. Films cost money to make. Simple maths.

Placement seems to have grown at a pace during the Pierce Brosnan / Daniel Craig era. Heineken have been involved in five films so far and have great plans for Skyfall, including Craig's direct involvement. As Alexis Nasard, Chief Commercial Officer of Heineken says so eloquently; "We are confident our activation plan will ignite the conversation with our consumers and film viewers".

But Bond and beer? That can't be right?


I had vague memories of Bond drinking beer on the odd occasion; thankfully, someone has already documented the where-and-what's. Step forward Jay Brooks, who wrote about this back in 2006 when there was a similar kerfuffle over the reports of Bond to drink Heineken in Casino Royale.

- Miller High Life in Saratoga, Diamonds Are Forever
- Löwenbräu in Geneva, Goldfinger
- Red Stripe in Jamaica, The Man With The Golden Gun
- Franziskaner (four steins, no less) in Munich, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

So Bond is not only a beer drinker but also a lager drinker.

Would he be a Heineken drinker, though? It seems that he prefers to drink something local/regional to wherever he is at the time. But Heineken is a global brand and Bond is a global player.

Frankly if I'd spent the day killing double agents by the most circuitous method possible followed by a bout of athletic shagging, I'd rather reach for a lager than a Martini.

And as far as I know, the rumours that previous films are to be re-made with a beery angle are false. So there will be no Double Diamonds Are Forever, The Man With The Golden Ale nor For Your IPAs Only...


Parish Notices

Not my usual style, perhaps, but I wanted to mention several events and happenings.

First up, a beer festival at a pub over the Easter holiday. OK, there's slightly more to it. Amber Ales are holding a Derbyshire Dozen festival at their pub, the Talbot Taphouse. The lineup features new brews such as Ginger Blond (with fresh root ginger), Damson Porter (with locally grown fruit), Honey Rye, Breakfast Stout (with espresso) and a Braggot (50/50 honey and barley, matured in cask for a year). Plus a bunch of collaboration brews and new beers from other brewers in the county. Starts at noon on Good Friday. If you snooze, you lose...

Advance warning now of a summer festival. The General Havelock in Ilkeston is practically an all-year-round festival anyway with anything up to forty beers and ciders available some weekends. But between the first and fifth of June, there will be over a hundred casks on offer along with the promise of keg beer that isn't the usual smooth, if you see what I mean...

Next, three cheers for one of my favourite breweries. Thornbridge have come a long way since the days of a brewkit shoehorned into an outbuilding at the Hall. They've been developing steadily as a pub operator as well in venues such as the renowned Coach & Horses in Dronfield and the arts bar DAda in Sheffield city centre. Another two places have now been added to the estate; the Stag on Psalter Lane and the Beauchief Hotel in conjunction with their sister company, Brewkitchen. Further investment in communities and their pubs - and I for one want to be first in the queue if they announce a grand beer & food banquet to be held in the Beauchief's ballroom. And in recognition of their achievements so far, Thornbridge were awarded the Best Pub Operating Microbrewer at the 2012 Publican Awards

And one last observation. Over the weekend, CAMRA's Tom Stainer did a sterling job by tweeting progress of the AGM to all those followers who didn't fancy a weekend in Torquay. Where even the shop windows are bifocal. So I note that Motion 15 was carried. Said motion stated:  "This Conference believes that CAMRA policy should recognise that “Craft Beer” is beer with a distinctive flavour brewed by artisans". When a consumer group of 100,000+ members passes a definition of the seemingly undefinable, has the tag of 'craft beer' finally come of age? Or is this a crafty reverse ferret?

More hand-crafted aromatic leaf infusion, Vicar?