The Last Bottle Of Thornbridge Bracia

I remember buying Bracia from the brewery. Drinking it at the brewery.

I remember my first taste; the overwhelming sensation of a honeyed nuttiness that I'd never known before.

I remember buying cases of it from the farmers' shop in Bakewell.

I remember giving bottles to people, so eager to try the beer, so pleased to finally experience it.

I remember drinking it with pasta, with beef stew, with ice cream, with friends.

I remember my first bottle.

I remember finding battered boxes wrapped in gaffer tape, bottles I didn't know I still had.

I remember when I thought I was drinking my last bottle.

Tonight, I am.

The last of that first batch. A beer borne of Stefano Cossi's insight and Thornbridge's nous.

I try to shy away from hyperbole, but... it's been a privilege to drink a unique beer that is world-class.  

All I can do now is remember. But, hellfire, what a memory it is.


Non-Existent Beer Buzzwords #94

'blue sky drinking' - having a beer outdoors where fresh air can lead to fresh thoughts.

'drinking outside the box' - not settling for the usual pick & mix selection from the wholesalers

'run it up the cellar steps and see who salutes it' - presenting a new beer to your fellow topers to garner their opinion

'picking the low hanging fruit' - settling for a Mongozo on a hot day

'don't bring me problems, bring me solutions' - of myrcene

'Craft Beer 2.0' - Like Craft Beer but with even more pointless video clips. And +1s in the G+ tumbleweed

The next time I cascade availability intelligence about resource deliverables and you want to become an active contributor in a shared experiential brainstorming session, we'll pre-prepare and go forward together to touch base about it offline.


Beer blogging about brands. Why?

Just how influential are beer blogs in Google search? Here's a wholly unscientific experiment.

I just Googled the brand names of five lagers to see what links make the first results page.

A major UK brand of lager achieves an even split (5-5) between links to the brewer and to retailers.

A major international brand of lager has three brewery links, two retailers, two beer rating sites, a Wiki page, a blog and a video review.

A regional UK lager counts four retailer links, two to the brewery, two to bloggers and one each to a beer rating site and their web designers.

A local, dare I say craft, brewer garners three links each to bars and what I'll call 'beer directories' (simple listing sites of brewer, beer and ABV). The brewer themselves gets a link as does a blogger, a video reviewer, and a news site.

Bloggers make twenty percent of the links at best. None in the top five.

These are my results. Your mileage may vary.

For the record, the fifth brand was Pilsner Urquell. They recently sponsored part of the European Beer Bloggers Conference. The first mention of that event in a Google search for 'Pilsner Urquell UK' appears on page four. I don't normally read that far down the results. How about you?

Is a beer blogger's influence over-estimated? Mainly by bloggers themselves?

Or are Google rankings not part of the brand's engagement metric?

If not, what do brands hope to gain by engaging bloggers?

I'm not sure what to make of this. I've got questions but my bag of answers is threadbare. Let me know if you have any insights.



Dave Wickett died today.

It's hard to describe in short sentences just how influential he was to English brewing. I could fill this blog post with tales of how this academic, publican, brewery owner, entrepreneur and Blades fan quietly revolutionised the beer scene in Sheffield.

He was a can-do character. Sheffield stands testament to both his direct intervention and his near-invisible guiding hand. Beyond the city there are bars and breweries, academic courses and exchange schemes, here in the UK and over in the US, that are all part of his legacy. Because he encouraged others to do likewise.

Dave Wickett died today. But his spirit lives on. Not only through pub brick and brewery stainless, but in so many people who took on new challenges and broke boundaries because of how he inspired them.

RIP DW. My next beer's raised to you.


A Ghost Ship in Southwold Bay

I've never sat inside at the Lord Nelson in Southwold. As a pub in a cul-de-sac by the sea, it feels right to be stood outside in the ebbing light as the rising tide tickles the beach beneath. A bloke will lose his footing on the kerb and spill bitter down his all-too-new fishermen's jumper, one that's only ever been close to the tilapia fillets at Waitrose. Someone's cousin will discover that pashmina isn't as warm as she thought. The chink of empty glasses on window ledges and pavements counterpoints the braying conversations.

Standing outside there last summer with Adnams' head brewer, Fergus Fitzgerald, we enjoyed a pint or two of what was then a seasonal special.  Ghost Ship had something about it that I just couldn't put my finger on at the time. Something greater than its ingredients. I'll let Fergus tell you about those:

My scribbled tasting notes from the next day had one word underlined: moreish. Yes, it used the hop du jour - Citra - but the aroma wasn't like snogging a bowl of fruit salad. Yes, there was rye crystal and Caramalt but they didn't stick sweetly in your clack. It really was moreish: it was a beer that stopped my inner geek from over-analysing and wanting to pester its brewer about fermentation statistics and... just have another one. To enjoy the balance.

Balance. Seen by some vociferous beer enthusiasts as A Bad Thing. By the ones who mistake balance for blandness. Well, I'm not sure I could spend all night excoriating my tastebuds with hop-bombs or coating them into a malty slumber. Whereas I'd have happily stood in the street for much longer, sipping on a pint that was just-so.

So I was sad to leave Southwold and that beer behind. It was brewed for a few more months more, but I never saw it again. Until now. Ghost Ship has been added to Adnams' permanent portfolio on cask and in bottle, one of which I've just been enjoying courtesy of the brewery. Out of the bottle, to be fair, I found it akin to a panoramic postcard; something that looked lovely and reminded you of a wonderful holiday experience but still lacked a certain dimension.

Maybe it's hard to recapture the spirit of alfresco drinking on a Southwold summer night when I'm sat in front of a laptop on a wet and windy May day, waiting for the bubbles to settle. Maybe I ought to pick up some of the minicasks, pull on some chunky knitwear and share the beer with my neighbours.

Maybe I've just worked out what I can contribute to the Jubilee street party...

Adnams beers can be bought online from their store, Cellar & Kitchen. And the video below is from the beer's recent relaunch. The building being projected onto is the brewery - and I've got to say, for a regional brewer this is stunning marketing.


Three ways to enjoy Nottingham

1) Go to a beer festival and drink the same beer four times

Yes, I used to plan festival attendance as if it were a campaign. Highlighted beer lists, a ranked order of imbibation, pencil, bottle of water, pencil sharpener, spare halfpint glass, spare pencil. Then I became reluctant. Nowadays, I'm louche to the point of insouciance. The Organ Grinder in Nottingham had a stack of beers on for the elongated weekend; I went, without a clue of what to do when I got there.

"What have you got worth drinking amongst this muck?", I enquired of the ever-patient Chris Sherratt. He poured me Sunlander by Stonehouse Brewery, so riven with passion-fruity goodness from a Galaxy hop addition that I had to drink it another three times. Just to be sure it was as gob-smackingly gorgeous as I first thought. It was. I was glad.

2) Sit at the back, attempt the crossword and people-watch

Hipsters play Guess Who ("Does the person wear glasses with no glass in them? Do they wear purple leggings? Is their name Tarquin?"). Couples aged fifty-something go from bemused to keg-curious to second-round-satiated within twenty minutes. Lads with wide teeth and hungover egos may or may not be off to the station to catch or not catch their train, depending on many factors but in particular whether one of them does or doesn't remember to pick his jacket up.

I'm installed on a long table at the back of Brewdog Nottingham with a pint of Punk IPA, another half-scrawled crossword and a wandering eye. The glint in the hipster's eye suggests he wants more this afternoon than a game of CSI: Cartoonface with the sylph-like lady in the Laura Ashley dress who smells of Refreshers. The couples are now eagerly sampling singled hopped IPAs, when they came in and were asked what they usually drink, one said, "um.... bitter?". The Man With The Unfeasibly Large Teeth forgets his jacket then comes back to pick it up. I drank more Punk and struggle with "Light ale brewed at that place inside (8)".

3) Watch the football

You walk into this pub and you're at the bar. Well, you're behind the bloke and his dog who are stood at the bar. His dog nuzzles me in a way that suggests that it's only a slight chemical imbalance away from attempting to detach my gentleman vegetables. Other blokes, with or without unstable dogs, clutter the bar around both sides. I break out my Grobbelaar spaghetti legs to duck and dart around the pumpclips before ordering a pint of Whim Arbor Light.

As the second half has just started, I'm fairly sure that no-one is sat at the only empty table and I can sit there without being stared down. Particularly by the double-denim clad rat-tail next to me. Who may or may not have Lov and Hat tattooed on knuckles. Who may or may not have lost fingers to an industrial injury or a bet that went too far. Any which way, she's happy to let me sit down.

Manchester City exhibit brooding confidence. Newcastle United exemplify nervy optimism. Thirty-ish drinkers of varying ages, genders, waistlines and medication requirements spend forty-five minutes sucking teeth, waving at the screen dismissively, uttering oaths and downing tip-top ale. Yaya Toure scores the kind of goal that marks out champions from also-rans. Mancini is on his feet. "Sit down, teaboy!", gruffs the salt-and-pepper haired curmudgeon on the far side of the bar. The final whistle blows. Pints are drained. Rounds are bought. Man U are on next. I tiptoe past a now-sleeping dog, knowing where I'll be watching Sunday matches next season.


The Session 63: The Beer Moment

This month's Session on the topic of 'The Beer Moment' is hosted by Pete Brown.

Doesn't matter what beer, where I am, when I'm drinking, why I want one, how I'm feeling, who I'm with; the first time I pull that glass away from my lips and let a beer past my teeth and I... stop thinking so much. And then start thinking about something else.

It's this:

You know how to have a beer moment, don't you, reader? You just put your lips together and swallow.


In the town where I was born

The venue where I saw The Stone Roses for the first time has certainly changed. Back in the day, Byron House was home to your typical sweaty-polytechnic-student union. Today, it's all more open plan. As in, a pile of rubble being ridden by a JCB. Students of Nottingham Trent University are looking forward to a new, improved union building. I bet they won't stand for sticky snakebite on the dancefloor anymore.

Cities evolve. Show me a city without a crane on its skyline and I'll show you a city that lacks ambition. I was back in Nottingham to visit two places in particular, ones that have been instrumental to my upbringing. One of those was just around the corner from where Byron House once stood. That place had changed, too, although I don't remember anything of it from the first time around.

On Peel Street stood the Nottingham Women's Hospital, better known to locals by the name of the street it stood on. Like thousands of others from the city and its suburbs, I was born here. New generations are now hatched down at the Queen's Medical Centre; Peel Street closed in 1981. Part of the site was cleared and, fronting the street, there's now a pub. The Gooseberry Bush.

It's a comfortable and comforting place. Low ceilinged but still feeling airy thanks to skylights and picture windows, there's a warmth to the wood around the bar. Throughout the long room, knots of people find their own space to enjoy a late breakfast or an early drink. It's by far and away the best Wetherspoons I've visited, more like a hotel bar than a bargain beer hall. I supped my Thornbridge Jaipur slowly and tried not to think too hard about waters breaking.

Rather than hotfoot it to the next planned pub, I fancied a bimble about. Through the Arboretum, with its rescue bird aviary and the cannons captured from Sebastopol. To the Lincolnshire Poacher, ensconced in a corner with a quiet pint of Adnams Lighthouse before the lunchtime rush. Shopping for a spork. Lunching at the Kean's Head with a sublime goat's cheese, Nottingham asparagus and Parma ham turnover. Afternooning in Brewdog for the likes of Stone Oaked Arrogant Bastard, which I may have described on Twitter as "a big fat spicy jockstrap of a beer".

Eventually, I ended up in a cave. Just as I'd intended. Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem may or may not be the oldest pub in the world, the beer range may or may not be exciting, the tourist quotient may or may not be high (clue: it's always high). But... I love it. I love the cool sandstone walls in the bar. I love people watching as old boys vie with hipsters for space at the bar. I love the babble of overlapping languages; the almond-eyed Spanish girls drinking pints of bitter, the Americans playing cards and declaring one beer to taste of ass, the Hungarian doctor melding technology by Googling places on his iPhone and then inking details onto a glossy paper map.

It's where I came to skulk as a sixthformer after buying a clutch of vinyl from Selectadisc. To play Ring The Bull with random beery people. To fit in a sneaky lunchtime pint when I worked at an office down the road. And it's where my maternal grandparents met. I often sit by the front door and try to picture a lady with a cold and a man who offered to buy her a medicinal whisky. How chance encounters set the roots of a new family tree.

On Twitter that day; someone said "Nottingham, City Of Surprises! The Castle isn't a castle, The Park isn't a park, The Forest isn't a forest, The Meadows aren't meadows". I'll tell you what, though. Even when they used to be hospitals or factories or caves, Nottingham's pubs are most definitely pubs to love.