23 December 2008

Dog has its Day

In a quite astonishing U-turn, self-appointed industry watchdog The Portman Group have abandoned their 8-month crusade against BrewDog's witty labelling.

Understandably, managing director and BBC Three star James Watt is pretty pleased with the outcome.
"It is a victory for common sense, the intelligence of the consumer, small independent producers and freedom of speech; it is a victory that BrewDog had to fight tooth and nail for. We refused to roll-over and be bullied into changing our packaging by what is basically a cartel funded by our larger competitors. We were determined and stood our ground to keep our dream and our business alive...

"We feel our victory, and the fact we were determined to stand our ground sends a strong message out about BrewDog to the rest of the sleepy, stuffy and mediocre UK brewing industry. If the result means that the Portman Group does not unjustifiably bully another independent producer then all the effort was worthwhile."
A full retort can be found here on the brewers' own blog.
Merry Christmas guys!
  • For the sake of balanced reporting, Portman's press release can be found here though, be warned, it doesn't make for anywhere near as good reading.

19 December 2008

Thornbridge Take it Down South

Following hot on the heels of December's hugely successful Meet the Brewer session with the boys from BrewDog, LoveBeer@Borough are pleased to welcome the legends from Thornbridge to the capital on Saturday 17th January.

You can read up on LoveBeer co-owner Melissa Cole's recent brewing experience at Thornbridge Hall here on her excellent blog Taking the beard out of beer! Here's hoping that a cask or two of her 3.8% abv creation Heron finds it's way to The Rake next month for our scrupulation. Another lucky soul to step into the brewer's shoes for the day was one of our favourite beer writers the Reluctant Scooper, who also posted a typically excellent report on his own site. We're very jealous of you both.

Thornbridge, much like BrewDog, are one of the UK's most respected, pioneering and multi-award-winning microbreweries and it's great to see a cask outlet for their wares in London. If you are yet to sample the delights of the likes of Jaipur IPA, Kipling, and St. Petersburg Imperial Russian Stout be sure to get yourself down to borough market. Tickets can be purchased in advance from behind the bar at The Rake or from those friendly guys at Utobeer.

20 November 2008

London Porter Cask Stockists

If, like me, you're very keen to wrap your lips around the "World's Finest Porter" this winter, you may wish to check out the list of 2008 cask stockists found on the Fuller's website.

The list comprises 90 Fuller's houses located across the South of England - but you may need to get in quick. London Porter is officially the seasonal ale for November, soon to be replaced by the blackberry-tinged Jack Frost as December's designated monthly. I've just contacted my local stockist and they are on their last cask of Porter which may or may not last through a busy lunchtime and into this evening. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

If anyone spots London Porter in any other pubs not featured in the list, or any that continue to stock it beyond November, please provide details in a comment below.


18 November 2008

Where My Dogs At

BrewDog fans' ears will prick up with the news that The Rake, "London's smallest specialist beer bar" will be hosting a special cask week dedicated to the UK's finest boundary-busting brewery.

The week will coincide with the Pigs Ear Beer Festival and will run from Monday 1st to Saturday 6th December inclusive. A comprehensive lineup of beers from the Scottish micro can be expected, including the premiere of the fruits of their latest experiment, a 10% Raspberry Imperial Stout.

Lovebeer are also hosting a couple of Meet The Brewer sessions above The Rake on Saturday 29th November to whet the appitite for the week ahead.

I would urge any open-minded beer lover who is unfamiliar with the likes of Punk IPA, Hop Rocker lager and the Paradox series of whisky-infused imperial stouts to pop along during the week. And for those fortunate enough to be familiar with them, there's bound to be something new that will wow your tastebuds and spoil your enjoyment of 'ordinary' beer forever!


  • The Rake is located at 14 Winchester Walk, SE1 9AG, on the edge of Borough Market, just around the corner from the Market Porter and is run by the guys behind Utobeer.

  • The Meet The Brewer sessions are ticketed events. Interested parties should contact Lovebeer on 020 7378 9461.

16 November 2008

Bull Brewery Showcase №2 - Marble

Following on swiftly from the impressive lineup of Kelham Island beers last month, those nice people at The Bull have put together an equally enviable range from everyone's favourite Mancunian brewer, Marble.

After persuading them to hunt down a barrel each of Pint and Ginger (with the added bonus of JP Best) for their Handpicked Beer Festival back in early October, we are very pleased that they have felt compelled to return for more. I have never seen these beers in any pub in this corner of the country and this is testament to the lengths that licencees Garrett and Lynne are prepared to go in order to establish The Bull as the leading alehouse in the area.

The six Marble casks on the rack from Thursday 4th through to Sunday 7th December will be:
  • Pint 3.8%
  • Ginger 4.3%
  • JP Best 4.3%
  • Manchester Bitter 4.3%
  • Porter 4.5%
  • Lagonda 5.0%
The Marble website seems to be pretty unidimensional and with ratebeer currently out of action too it would be a struggle for me to provide much background on the latter three of these beers. However, I was impressed during my visit to the Marble Arch this time last year, adoptive Manc Tandleman has long been a firm supporter and I look forward in particular to trying the rarely seen dark Porter and the Lagonda, which I understand is in the style of a traditional dry IPA.


9 November 2008

Swan & Vaults Fest - Update

Further to my recent post on the forthcoming joint effort between the Swan & Rushes and the Vaults, Leicester, I can now confirm a few more details for you all...

The event will be taking place over the second weekend in December - presumably running Friday 12th - Sunday 14th, with around 60 english real ales to be offered between the two pubs.

As expected, the Swan will also be stocking a selection of kegged belgian beers, with strong christmas brews a key feature.

Confirmed Swan beer highlights currently include a barrel of aged Jack-Ham (Oakham / Green Jack) co-brew Worthog (13.5%) from the original brew run for last years Peterborough fest, plus Oakham's Exterminator - a new 7.9% IPA and one of only 14 barrels brewed.

For those with a lighter palate CBOB Altons Pride (4.6%) from Triple FFF will also be on offer at the Swan, as will a selection of other well known popular brews - hopefully something to suit every taste and keep scoopers and "ordinary" drinkers alike happy.

For the tickers in our midst the Swan is also aiming to offer festival specials from Bells and Atomic breweries, while the Vaults will doubtless boast a wealth of one off brews - we'd expect nothing less!

I'll be seeing Paul at the Vaults at some point over the next couple of days and will see what further gen I can persuade him to decant.

As soon as I know more, so will you!


4 November 2008

Something to Tickle Your Fancy

Sometimes you have to do a double take, and that was certainly the case at a recent quiz night at the Swan & Rushes, Leicester.

The Thursday night Swan quiz is popular with regulars, locals and students alike – mentally challenging, with good natured rivalry between the regular teams ensuring a cracking atmosphere and the added bonus of hot food laid on for the players (usually spicy and pasta based, with a meat and vegetarian option).

This particular night was busier than usual, and amongst the new faces was one which I instantly recognised – none other than the star of Big Brother 4 and Brainiac, the one and only Jon Tickle!

Needless to say, in the spirit of ale blogging I felt it essential to collar the poor chap, introduce myself and ask for a chance to snap his picture by the bar. Being the thoroughly nice guy that he is, he was happy to oblige and the result can be seen above.

Those familiar with “The Tickle” will know his reputation as a man of considerable wit and intellect; imagine my surprise (and, yes, mirth) when his team duly came sailing home in last place…!!!

Nothing like a sniff of minor celebrity eh?!


3 November 2008

Swanning into the Vaults this December...

Just thought I'd take a few minutes out of my hectic daily schedule to share this little nugget of information with you all...

Following a prolonged session on the aged Hawes Buckler the other week, Leicester's two finest real ale landlords have decided to team up for what should prove to be a beer extravaganza of epic proportions - a festival staged simultaneously between the Vaults and the Swan & Rushes.

Many of you will already doubtless be familiar with the Vaults and its licensee Paul Summers, a man whose dedication to micro brewed ales is legendary - a fact reflected in the high regard the Vaults is held in by many of the Scoopergen crew.

Paul's regular beer festivals attract tickers like few others, invariably guaranteeing as they do a plethora of solid winners to satiate even the most obsessive of the Panda Pop Posse.

December though will see a new and exciting twist as this doyenne of english ale teams up with Swan & Rushes landlord and belgian beer afficionado Grant Cook to present something truly special.

Although details are few and far between at the moment (they're still being hammered out by the two landlords) the current plan seems to be somewhere in the region of 50 real ales in the Vaults and a selection of strong belgian beers from the keg over in the Swan - which will include christmas beers, tripels and the like.

Having attended many fests at both pubs in the past and always found them to be exemplary, I can only anticipate that this team effort will a real cracker - and that there will be a lot of very drunken people wandering around by end of it.

More information (such as dates and beer lists) will be posted as they become available; in the meantime, just keep December free eh?!


28 October 2008

Buckling in Pursuit of Oblivion

Every once in a while something comes along that really blows your mind – the birth of a child, that big win on the lottery, or, in my case, a beer of such potency, complexity and provenance that it sweeps away all preconceptions and expectations, leaving you glassy eyed and reeling from the sheer magnitude of the thing.

Granted, it’s not something that happens very often; indeed, this is the first (and probably only) time that I’ve experienced this with an alcoholic beverage, but it’s something which I suspect will stay with me for as long as my faculties are functional.

My story begins some two months ago in, as is so often the case with these things, the pub - the particular pub in question being that much favoured haunt of mine, the Swan & Rushes, Leicester.

During the course of a conversation one evening, licensee Grant Cook casually dropped in the matter of a couple of rather special nine gallon casks which had been promised to him by those nice chaps over at Oakham Ales.

Naturally my ears pricked up – Grant has a very good relationship with the Oakham team, and the promise of something new from them is always to be savoured; on this occasion however “something new” was not quite the order of the day…

With mounting excitement I listened as the story unfolded: the brewery had cleared out their cellar, and as it transpired they had a few barrels squirreled away from a couple of first brews.

The ales in question, Oblivion (5.7%) and Hawse Buckler (5.6%), had been quietly maturing in the cask for a little over one year and three years respectively – until now.

My appetite suitably whetted, I waited for the arrival of the barrels at the pub, my mind feverishly contemplating the potential of these most rare scoops until, at long last I heard the words I’d been so eagerly anticipating:

“They’re Here”

First to come on to the bar was the Oblivion, a beer which I know very well and am always partial to. What emerged from the barrel however was a very different beast to the brew which I have supped so many times; this was the sort of beer that sidles up, coshes you and nicks your wallet.

A deep, dark, reddish copper in colour with a thick, dark cream head, the beer offered up a powerful aroma of ripe fruits and malt which carried the thinly veiled threat of a serious headache if not handled carefully.

Taking a deep, fulsome pull on my pint the first thing to hit me was the incredible amount of fruit on the palate, complemented by a rich and spicy maltiness. This was followed up by a gloriously dry, bitter hop finish that seemed almost to suck the moisture from my cheeks – doubtless due to the late addition of dry hops.

I had expected a sharply alcoholic hit, but what I experienced was a warming glow akin to what I would normally associate with a sherry – a delicious sensation which brought an immediate smile to my lips. The mouthfeel meanwhile, full and thick, complemented the palate perfectly.

I could compare this with some of the stronger American IPA’s, but that wouldn’t do it justice – the year in the cask had given this brew the time to develop into something of stunning dimensions, a true prince among beers. The ABV will remain a complete unknown, although I would have said at least 7.5%

Unsurprisingly, the nine gallons went within twenty four hours and, a few days later, it was time for the real star of the show. If the Oblivion was a prince among beers then now it was time to hail the king...

On Thursday night the Hawse Buckler (again, a beer I know well in its younger guise) came on to the pump, and I duly prepared to taste the first half – common sense and the strength of the Oblivion were enough to ensure that I initially approached this with extreme caution, albeit short lived.

The first thing that struck me was the colour: never before have I seen a beer so utterly black, the kind of black you normally only find in the deepest caves or on the ocean floor. The head, thick and tight, was a rick coffee hue and clung to the glass with a viscosity unlike any I’ve seen in a beer before, forming spider web patterns on the side of the glass as I drank.

The aroma, deeply roasted with hints of liquorice, coffee and cinder toffee, seemed to physically crawl into the nostrils, a thick fug of delicious promise that sent my olfactory system into overload and drew an appreciative gasp from my lips.

The first mouthful was a revelation, a rhapsody of sultry, roasted tones with a rounded, mellow fruitfulness and delightful notes of coffee, burnt toffee and caramel, that liquorice again and hints of tanned leather. A moderately dry finish with a slightly hoppy edge completed the palate perfectly, while the thick, chewy mouthfeel was a sheer joy.

After a couple of pints on the Thursday night the Beer Monster arrived in Leicester to join me on Friday afternoon. Naturally we made our way down to the pub in order that she too might savour this dark ambrosia and, with gay abandon, we set down to some serious quaffing.

Four pints later and we were well and truly banjaxed; an attempt at bar billiards turned into a master class in how to avoid potting balls, communication became increasingly difficult and at just seven in the evening (the HB had run out by six) we decided it was time to head back home and have some food. The food never happened - we were unconscious by seven thirty.

God only knows what strength the beer had developed into; certainly we were far more hammered after those four pints than we normally are after a full day of serious ticking at a festival, but being a fan of the strong, dark brews I’d have to say somewhere near or above the 10% mark.

Returning to the Swan the following day was like entering a field hospital for the shell shocked. Around the pub wandered the casualties of the night before – the few, the band of brothers who had shared in the black ritual that had taken place.

Everyone it seems had been hit by the Hawes in much the same way, becoming incredibly drunk without realising they were doing so – the true danger of such a beer. So easy to consume and moreish, it had seduced us with its scent and gorgeous body, only to rob us of our sensibility and coordination.

The words of one victim sum it up perfectly:

“I woke up on the sofa with me trousers round me bloomin’ ankles and me bloomin’ shoes on!”

Enough said, methinks.


27 October 2008

Bull Brewery Showcase №1 - Kelham Island

This Thursday 30th October marks the start of what should prove a very popular monthly brewery showcase at the Bull in Horton Kirby, Kent.

Each month the pub aims to procure six highly sought-after and rare-to-the-area ales from one of Britain's best and most innovative microbreweries. The brewery's casks will be dispensed by gravity from a stillage and will be in addition to the pub's staple 5 or 6 ever changing ales behind the bar.

This month they're kicking off with the mighty Kelham Island of Sheffield. We're lucky if we get the occasional Pale Rider popping up in Kent and London but this weekend, in addition to regular brews Easy Rider and Pride of Sheffield, there will be no less than four specials:
  • Harvest Gold 3.8%

  • Conquistador 5.7% - Peruvian dark ale

  • Grande Pale 6.6% - billed as Pale Rider on steroids

and what has to be the pick of the draw:

The showcase runs from Thursday through until Sunday evening and there's even live music on Friday night.

Just try and keep us away!


21 October 2008

Bladdered (again) @ the Bull

This October finally saw the arrival of the long-awaited Bull Handpicked ’08 beer festival. Dubbel, Jnr and I had excitedly been anticipating the event since landlord, Garrett, first approached us on a random regular Friday evening visit, enquiring as to where our real ale allegiances lay and which of this year’s brews had most impressed us. We rapidly reeled of a list of faves from notable British breweries including Thornbridge, Marble, BrewDog, and Beowolf.

The Bull is definitely my favourite watering hole. I was first introduced to the place in April this year and from my very first visit I’ve always felt warm and welcome in its homely and comfortable atmosphere. This really is a pub you can walk into and leave feeling content. As soon as you open the door the staff and the regulars will welcome you with open arms to their locals’ paradise. Landlady Lynne’s food never fails to impress me: generous portions, locally sourced ingredients, seasonal options, BBQ’s, hog roasts, fine home made crumbles - you name it - and if there isn’t anything on the menu that takes your fancy, Lynne is only too happy to go out of her way to be flexible with other options.

The Sunday roast this week again left me spellbound. Naturally, I had to select the largest option on the menu - a bit of everything! - beef, lamb, pork (and crackling of course). The home made roast potatoes were perfect with lightly cooked cauliflower, carrots, cabbage, stuffing, and a huge Yorkshire pudding. Mmmm.

Garrett is amazing in his knowledge and enthusiasm for breweries and beer sampling. He’s so positive in his ongoing aim of sourcing some of the best beers in the country and he never seems to forget any of them! Not withstanding his cellar skills, which are clearly exceptional based on the constant stream of crystal clear beer pulled from the pumps. If you were inclined to check the temperature you could guarantee every pint would be virtually spot on 13.5 degrees. The two proud owners together with the rest of their team provide the perfect concoction for our Ultimate Pub.

Anyhow, I digress. Back to the festival…

We were invited to a preview “tasting” session on the Thursday night. In actuality this was just a chance to get the beers flowing nice and early - I think the hosts were too excited! The first night was supposed to be a light one. If only my head felt the same way as I navigated my way to work on the Friday morning knowing only too well that it would only be a few hours before we could continue working through the select 20 or so beers.

Friday was definitely ‘a good effort’ and I woke up with my face stuck to the sofa on the Saturday morning but still eager to get back to the pub for midday to ensure we had maximum time for quaffing all day. Thank heavens I backed out of the originally proposed 20 pint challenge! We all left at the appropriate time. A finishing Dark Star Imperial Stout put pay to everyone’s plans for a late night. Officially 10.5% (although the consensus around the pub was that it was probably a fair bit stronger - 14% at a guess). YCC associate Rapid confirmed its soporific qualities after deciding that 4pm was the perfect time for a pint of it. Fortunately he’d perked up admirably well come darkness.

After much wallowing and some deliberation we opted to give the Sunday a miss. None of us felt it wise to tackle another day and what a shame! We missed Lynne’s hog roast which looked fantastic as it was being prepped the night before.

In terms of the ale selection Beowulf Dragonsmoke Stout (4.7%) was one of my favourite beers of the weekend; a full-on smoky dry-roasted stout with a rich bitter palate and a hint of chocolate which tingles the tongue. Their Dark Raven (4.5%) tradional mild with a heavy yet smooth and hugely fruity body was also a treat. Sadly we missed the Finns Hall Porter as it was stoically kept in reserve until the Sunday buffle*.

This was our first encounter with BrewDog Hype (4.1%), a beer which can only be described as BIG. A warm gold colour, the nose is full of a spectrum of fruit, malts and hops, the flavour is one of the richest, fullest beers I’ve ever had. Not one to be drunk all day! With some pints the palate adjusts as you work your way through and the overall taste sensation weakens – this just doesn’t and was one of the first beers to run dry. Punk IPA (6%) came runner up in the Beer of the Festival public vote and is a legendary beer for us. Each of our stashes are full of the stuff following Tesco’s recent giveaway introductory offer of 99p a bottle. However, straight from the cask it’s a different animal: a monstrously sweet, yet refreshing and tangy IPA in keeping with the rest of the impressive BrewDog range. We pray they don’t become too big and lose their way.

Dark Star Festival Best (4.5%) was a festival special literally consisting of 50% Festival and 50% Best Bitter. I was unsure about this one. Although a big fan of Festival, the Best is the only ale in the entire range I’m not sure I enjoy. Having recently tinkered with the recipe, it has improved but it still lacks the usual Dark Star wow factor. The two mixed together seemed to separate again on the palate, possibly because I was already familiar with the two ingredients. On the other hand, the Imperial Stout was worthy of celebration alone. This rich, gloopy, treacley Russian Imperial Stout is absolutely to die for and probably my personal Beer of the Festival - certainly the one that commands the most respect.

Other beers that really impressed were the eminently drinkable Marble Pint (3.9%) which was first to sell out despite its worrying sparkling yellow-green hue and another huge-hopper JP Best (4.3%). But a special mention must go to Thornbridge, whose Katipo (5.4%, pronounced Kar-ti-Paw) porter was dark but not too heavy and chocked full of peaty, ripe fruit flavour which we absolutely loved. However, the Beer of the Festival was rightly awarded to Jaipur IPA (5.9%) a modern-day classic and possibly the best IPA currently in production in the country with spice and a host of fruits offset by a rasping dry finish, it really was in world-beating nick.

Overall the festival was wonderful and an all-round great success. Garrett and Lynne have since revealed that they are planning to put their acquired stillage to good use with a monthly brewery showcase weekend. The first of which will hopefully be BrewDog in November. (Keep an eye on the blog for further updates) Brilliant news, and great to see that the hard work put into the festival hasn’t kerbed their enthusiasm!


*Buffle, v - best defined by Two Hats of Goldie Lookin' Chain: "I dunno if you've heard of buffling but it's to shy away from something, "You coming out for a drink? You coming out tonight?" "No, I'm buffling". Or you get in a fight "Aaaah, no buffling, no buffling."

13 October 2008

Regina est Mortuus

There can be few things sadder than watching the steady decline and ultimate passing of a real ale pub, but alas I must now report the closure of the Queen Victoria in Leicester.

What started out as a highly promising new venture began to disintegrate into a shambles, with beer range and quality deteriorating rapidly, increasingly unsavoury clientele beginning to frequent the place and general maintenance going to pot.

It seems that within a couple of days of their last Bogtrotter beer festival (3rd – 5th October) the bailiffs had been in and the place is now boarded up.

The jungle drums here in Leicester indicate that the closure was due to unpaid debts; certainly we here at Ale Affinity have received enquiries from persons within the brewing industry wishing to contact the proprietor.

The Queen Vic had the potential to be a true gem of a pub; the proximity to the train station and the soon to open Curve theatre made it an ideal location, and the intention of delivering quality micro brewed ales should have made it a real winner.

Sadly however something went badly awry, and over a period of perhaps three months a multitude of issues began to rear their ugly heads.

The result was never really in doubt once the rot set in, but somehow I kept holding out hopes of a turn for the better.

Now it only remains to be seen whether anyone will take on the pub and commit to the expenditure required to make it truly viable – a complete cellar overhaul, full renovation of the living quarters upstairs and significant structural work throughout the building.

For now at least, it seems the Queen is dead.


11 October 2008

Bladdered @ the Brunswick

As many of you will doubtless be aware, last week (1st - 4th) saw the Brunswick Inn host its annual beer festival and, due to a change to our original plans, the Beer Monster and I had the pleasure of taking a trip over for the Friday session.

Arriving at around 1pm, we found the pub already packed out with an eclectic mix of families, scoopers, students and lunchtime drinkers; after a quick foray through the main bar area we swiftly established that seating was going to be at something of a premium and ensconced ourselves in the separate lounge area to the right of the front entrance.

We had been expecting to find around 30 beers available as this seems to be pretty much the norm nowadays, however we were in for real treat – fifty ales were on offer, and the selection was quite impressive with beers from (amongst others) Brown Cow, Old Bear, Goose Eye, Tigertops and Burton Old Cottage; for those who are interested there’s a full beer list on Natasha Moorfield’s site.

Needless to say, the pair of us were pretty soon drooling at the prospect of the quaffathon ahead and wasted no time in getting the first couple of halves in, kicking off with Phantom Mild from Tigertops and Oh Bullox from Brunswick’s own selection; the condition of the beers was excellent and pretty much reflected the standard across the board, although we did encounter a couple of slightly hazy brews later in the day.

Given that we were in Derby for the day it seemed something of a crime to restrict ourselves to just one pub and, accordingly, after getting our drinking legs nicely screwed on and putting away sixteen halves between us we decided it was time to take a bit of a mission and hit our other chosen destination, the delightful Flower Pot pub, home of Headless brewery.
I fell in love with the ‘Pot on my first drinking visit to Derby, and once again I found myself bowled over by the fine range of ales that were on – fifteen if memory serves me correctly, with the bulk of these being guests rather than Headless brews. As a first time visitor the Beer Monster found herself suitably impressed by the place; there’s been some criticism from certain corners over the slightly higher beer prices charged by the pub, however the beer selection is invariably excellent, the condition usually very good and the pub has a charming ambience, all of which more than make up for the slight premium in my opinion.

Our all too brief visit allowed us to sample nine ales from seven breweries, including the Flower Pot Special brewed by Burton Bridge alongside offerings from Full Mash, Salamander, Holland, Whim, Black Hole and Headless themselves.

With time ticking on it was back up to the Brunswick to grab a final half each and some food. Fortunately the pub had laid on a barbecue out back and were offering a choice of hotdogs or burgers at reasonable prices, so we opted to chow down with the burger option, topped with baked beans – a new taste sensation on me (I’d never have thought to put the beans on the burger, in the bun, but it works an absolute treat!)

Having finished lining our stomachs it was time for the short stroll back up to the station and the Friday night party train back to Leicester, with the pair of us feeling decidedly well oiled and very satisfied with the outcome of the day.
We’re already looking forward to the next Brunswick bash, which will be taking place around the same time next year – it’s a shame they only do one per annum, but I guess the waiting ultimately makes the reward all the sweeter…


6 October 2008

Strong as a Bull

Sometimes it's a closely-fought wrestling bout in your mind: do you divulge and promote your undisputed favourite tucked away treasure of a pub to the world? After all, an unpretentious, warm and friendly, classic village pub like this deserves to prosper and be a source of pleasure to as many worthy souls as possible.

Or do you try your hardest to keep it a secret; your own personal, relatively quiet refuge away from the unpleasant realities of big city life? There aren't many places where you feel so truly welcomed and smugly satisfied.

As more and more of Britain's much beloved pubs continue to wither towards terminal closure, there are the odd few that have sprouted new life and are keeping the freehouse tradition alive.

Since we imposed ourselves (as out-of-town regulars) on The Bull in Horton Kirby early this year, we have witnessed a very good pub grow to become truly great. In the last 10 months, we have seen Licencees Garrett and Lynne:
  • introduce real ciders and perries and acclaimed American and Continental bottled beers in addition to the excellent ever-changing cask ales from microbreweries nationwide

  • arrange pub outings to the Dark Star brewery and Chappel beer festival

  • host numerous beer festivals, parties and live music evenings

  • launch a website and Facebook group, keeping regulars up to date with developments and upcoming events

  • serve up a treat of fine, locally-sourced homecooked food (including special steak and fish nights, lamb and hogroasts and barbeques galore)

  • justly pick up the local CAMRA Pub of the Year award, a title dominated by the Cock Inn at Luddesdowne for the past 3 years

There's even a cracking view of the Darenth Valley from the peaceful back garden and the rarity of an adorable pub dog, Chloe, completes the homely, familiar feel of the place. We have never left without a beaming smile on our faces and count our lucky stars that we have a place of this standard within reasonable distance (about a 25 mile round trip from home down the A20).

Happily, far from resulting in complacency, the Pub of the Year status seems only to have spurred the owners on to achieve greater things. A sixth handpump is waiting to be installed on the bar and there is sometimes an extra ale available on gravity. The keg beers have been refined with Stella and John Smiths ousted in favour of imported Löwenbräu and Dark Star Natural Blonde lager. Garrett even has plans to commence brewing on site in the New Year.

This weekend The Bull is hosting its Handpicked '08 Beer Festival, sourcing beers from the corners of the country that you simply do not find in Kentish pubs. There are also a couple of exclusives, including a seldom seen cask of Dark Star Imperial Stout at 10.5% ABV and a festival special also from the Sussex micro. As self-professed aficionados we were given the opportunity to assist in the selection of the ales - so if you don't like the look of these then you've got us to blame!

Beowulf Dark Raven (4.5)
Beowulf Dragonsmoke Stout (4.7)
Beowulf Finns Hall Porter (4.7)
BrewDog Hype (4.1)
BrewDog Punk IPA (6.0)
Brewster Hophead (3.6)
Brewster Hop-a-doodle-doo (4.3)
Dark Star Hophead (3.6)
Dark Star Festival Special (4.5)
Dark Star Imperial Stout (10.5)
Marble Pint (3.9)
Marble JP Best (4.3)
Marble Ginger Marble (4.5)
Newby Wyke Sidewinder (3.8)
Newby Wyke Riverside Special Bitter (4.8)
Purity Pure Gold (3.8)
Purity Pure UBU (4.7)
Thornbridge Lord Marples (4.0)
Thornbridge Katipo (5.4)
Thornbridge Jaipur IPA (5.9)

As well as this impressive beer list, there will be a further 5 ciders and perries, a barbeque, live music, birds of prey display and another mouthwatering hogroast on the Sunday. The atmosphere is sure to be terrific and attendance is strongly advised.

The festival runs from Friday through to Sunday and the nearest train station is Farningham Road on the London Victoria line. I imagine we'll be there more often than not, so do come and say hello if you spot us.


9 September 2008

Croydon’s Main Drag

Like any normal person, I wouldn’t ordinarily travel to Croydon by choice. As far as I’m concerned its stereotyped image of an ugly concrete ghetto with a stabbing waiting for you around every street corner is a fair one. The town centre on a Friday night is a microcosm for everything that is wrong with Britain today – both the environment and the scary youth who populate it.

But I do like a good stand up comedian, and so couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see Jimmy Carr let loose his twisted thoughts on South London.

With tickets for the world-famous Fairfield Halls booked (the seamless architecture from concrete theatre to attached concrete NCP car park is a sight to behold) all that remained was for Jnr and I to seek out a decent boozer in the immediate vicinity in which to sink a few before showtime. After perusing the beer guides and B.I.T.E. it seemed our options were limited to the usual dreary Fullers/Youngs London offerings, two Wetherspoons and a Lloyds No.1. Tremendous.

Then I happened upon the existence of a previously unknown pub, the Green Dragon. Located on the High Street, formally belonging to the Hogshead chain, to the untrained eye this looks like any other town centre drinking barn. Spread across two floors with high ceilings, pool tables (pl.), a dartboard, flashing gambling machines and the obligatory government health warning posters, there are a series of awkwardly-arranged tables, some with booths and dividers. Upstairs is a ‘stage’ area complete with high-octane rig and yet more posters advertising the recurrent ‘Psychobilly Experimental Prog Madness’ events. Whatever floats your boat.

It was early evening when we arrived and the clientele was a mixture of office and retail types of all ages winding down after another tough working week. Almost all were drinking the much maligned mainstream lagers and bottled fruit-based fizz. However, a quick perusal of the bar confirmed that the choice of venue had been a good one. Dark Star Hophead and Festival sat temptingly alongside a beer from Ironbridge. In addition was a Hogs Back branded stillage built into the wall behind the bar, offering HOP and Summer Ale on gravity.

The Summer Ale was, as you can see in the photo, sat at a rather ‘obtuse’ angle and did not have much life left in it, although the HOP was pleasant and well presented. I understand that they’ve been known to sell A Over T in this form (if ever there was a beer to get you in the right frame of mind for some comedy) but, alas, not to be on this occasion.

Unsurprisingly, however, the Dark Star beers were the ones that shone brightest. I go out of my way to have the opportunity to consume the fantastic Hophead on a regular basis and its zesty light bitterness and munificent late cascade hopping didn’t disappoint here. The Festival is an altogether different beast, dark and rich with more than a hint of smooth plain chocolate in the prolonged malt-laden finish.

We were so impressed that we returned after the show for further lubrication before braving the arduous bus journey home. By 11pm the place had switched and was now catering to something of a niche market. A DJ loudly spun rock vinyl records interspersed with occasional hip-hop from a central perch and the punters were noticeably younger and grubbier, with the odd inebriated townie thrown in for good measure. Not your average scene in a pub with such an admirable selection of ‘old man ale’ but nonetheless refreshingly different.

Suffice to say, Jimmy was riotously funny and really involved the crowd, who didn’t seem to take exception at all to his constant jibing at their beloved hometown. And if I find myself thirsty in Croydon again - God forbid - I wouldn’t hesitate to make the Green Dragon my first (and in all likelihood only) port of call.


Soggy Celebrations in Peterborough

For the last few weeks both the Beer Monster and I had been eagerly anticipating the autumn beer festival at the delightful Coalheavers Arms, Peterborough (September 4th – 6th).

Having discovered the pub early this year and attended their Easter festival a couple of weeks later, I already had a fair idea of what to expect – great beer in excellent condition, warm and friendly service, plus some of the finest grub it’s been my good fortune to sample at any festival.

Although the event had started on Thursday evening we were sadly unable to make it over until the Friday morning due to work commitments (boo, hiss), and arrived at the pub shortly after 1pm having first lined our stomachs with a McSpoons breakfast (something of a fiasco, but that’s another story).

We arrived to find the pub quite quiet, although the fact that a couple of beers had already sold out gave a fair indication that there had been a roaring trade the night before; after greeting licensee Tom Beran we took our seats in a corner of the pub and, having effectively set up camp with note books, pens, packs of mini Smarties and ornaments (!) spread out on the table before us, set down to the serious business of drinking.

Once again, Tom had pulled out all the stops to offer a diverse range of ales with a number of beers I’d not encountered before. Milton, who own the pub, had provided a couple of specials in the form of Asterix and Obelix, along with their Five Hop, brewed by Coalies volunteers for the Peterborough festival, but these were by no means the only winners on offer with Green Tye (website under construction), Tring and Nethergate all supplying quality scoops, plus new seasonal brew Autumn Equinox from the mighty Dark Star.

A complete list of beers, plus tasting notes can be found here.

Despite some truly foul weather Tom nevertheless braved the elements to man the cooking station in the beer garden, serving up his stunning Beer ‘n’ Beef burgers (with fiery homemade chilli sauce) and a cracking chilli con carne on the Friday night, while Saturday evening saw the burgers complemented by one of the finest curries it has ever been my pleasure to eat.

A fully trained chef, the guy is an absolute kitchen god – for those who don’t believe me, try his recipes yourself; you can find them here, and although the chicken curry hasn’t been posted as yet I have no doubt it’ll be up within the next few days....

All in all another superb effort; my heartfelt thanks to the team at the Coalheavers – they pulled off another cracker.

On a personal note, Friday also saw me record my 1,000th scoop (a hell of a lot more beers have been consumed, but alas many went without recording the gen); for those who are interested, the attached video is the landmark beer going down the hatch…


29 August 2008

Decent Exposure

Earlier this week, London’s Metro newspaper reported on a new interactive, independent event called Beer Exposed, which will run from Thursday 25th through to Saturday 27th September at the Business Design Centre in Islington.

The website promises that the event will bring together beers and brewers from all over the world to create a unique experience designed to expose you and your friends to the incredible diversity of tastes and flavours that beer can offer.”

Seemingly far more structured than GBBF’s mass piss-up in a warehouse, the half-day sessions include various Beer Walks and Talks with industry experts such as Roger Protz and Garrett Oliver. We’re looking forward to Zak Avery’s “Extreme Beer” Walk during the Friday evening session.

A wide array of British ale breweries will be represented, including the likes of Otley, Thornbridge, Harviestoun, BrewDog (who will be launching a new beer) and, of course, Greene King. Craft brewers from around the world, such as Blue Moon, Moosehead, Flying Dog and Asahi are also in attendance. However, the exhibition is not just limited to ale, with various quasi-national lager producers making up the numbers and organisations like CAMRA, Cask Marque and the Drink Aware Trust occupying stalls too.

As far as we’re concerned, London can’t have too many well-publicised beer events and the notion of allowing non-enthusiasts to distinguish intricate craft beers directly alongside more mainstream lagers is a clever one. We wish the organisers every success.


  • The sessions run from 5pm to 9pm Thursday, Friday and Saturday and midday to 4pm on Friday and Saturday. Admission is £14 in advance and £17 on the door but a discount of two tickets for £20 can be obtained by quoting METRO when booking online. The Beer Walks and Talks are extra; full details can be found on the website.

17 August 2008

Bank Holiday Festivities

August Bank Holiday weekend is always a busy time for beer festivals; the extra day's midsummer trade is an irresistable excuse for landlords and ladies up and down the country to have a good old fashioned knees-up. In case you are yet to decide where you'll be spending the weekend drinking, here are a few events that have hit the YCC radar:

If the GBBF is Britain's #1 beer festival (in terms of sheer number of beers) then the Peterborough Beer Festival is not far behind at #2. Not strictly a bank holiday festival, the event kicks off on Tuesday and runs through until Saturday 23rd. The beer list has been announced and looks very impressive indeed. I counted 22 festival specials, plus of particular note, no fewer than five from the excellent BrewDog range - including what is possibly a festival premier of cask Speedball and another as yet unnamed beer of unknown strength.

Pan-C and the Beer Monster will be scooping the place out on the opening day and will report back here with their impressions. If you are planning on heading down, do note that the festival has irregular opening hours (Tuesday trade session 3:30-5:30pm, open to public from 5:30 and shut between 2:30 and 5:30 on Wednesday and Friday afternoon).

A little further west down the A47, tooth-rot fans will be flocking to the Swan & Rushes in Leicester for their Cider & Cheese Festival. 16 ciders and perries and 16 cheeses sourced from a wide range of suppliers from the west of England, plus 9 ales, including what is tipped to be the last surviving cask of Oakham Warthog in existance. A pokey 13% when it was first unleashed a year ago at Peterborough, it has been maturing away quietly in the cellar and it's anyone's guess how potent it is now. A warm atmosphere and like-minded beer (and cider) lovers are assured and on Saturday 23rd, Two Gentlemen Play the Pops will entertain the punters in their flatcaps and tweed - an act that must be seen to be appreciated!

Closer to the capital and The Bull in Horton Kirby (nr. Brands Hatch), Kent is also marking the occasion with live music in the garden (weather permitting) from rock and blues guitarist Roger Betts on Saturday 23rd and Matt Brooks on Monday 25th. Throughout the weekend, the landord promises to treat us to a selection of his own personal favourite ales, with the likes of Dark Star Hophead, Champion Beer of Britain 2008 Triple fff Alton's Pride, RCH Pitchfork and Red Squirrel Springfield IPA all featuring. There will even be a semi-gynormous hogroast on the Monday.

The Bull is a mile's stroll from Farningham Road station (trains direct from Victoria every 30 mins) along the river through the picturesque Darenth Valley and is well worth a look.


12 August 2008

Cherry Bomb for GBG Stalwart

The front page of this month’s What’s Brewing glumly reports that the Cherry Tree Inn in Tintern, Gwent, South Wales has closed. It is especially heart-wrenching that this particular one of 57 community pubs throughout Britain currently closing month on month has ceased trading. The Cherry Tree is one of a select club of ten in Britain (and unique to Wales) to have made it into every edition of CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide since its inception in 1974.

The pub is situated in idyllic surroundings, oddly sat atop the local Post Office / convenience store but is about half a mile behind the A466 main road and the iconic 12th Century Tintern Abbey and as such suffers from a lack of passing trade. Sadly, the owners have seen fit to call it a day and move on to another hostelry in a far more prominent location in the shadow of the Abbey.

The final straw, according to former landlord Steve Pocock, was down to what can only be described as complete idiocy on the part of the local council in forcing him to remove a modest A-frame sign from the main road, which informed tourists of the pub’s existence. Clearly the trickle of GBG-carrying conscientious drinkers was not enough to supplement the local trade and, having been shut since May, yet another national gem is in danger of being lost permanently.

What a disgrace! At a time when Britain’s best and most revered public houses need more support than ever, the local authorities have hammered a nail into the coffin of this splendid 300-year-old alehouse.

Pan-C and I were fortunate enough to pay a visit last summer, thanks to our friends choosing to hold their wedding reception at the nearby Anchor Hotel (ironically the new home of the Cherry’s former tenants). Stone steps led us up to an attractive roof terrace and the entrance to the inn where we were confronted with a small, pointed hardwood bar, a choice of several ales and cider dispensed by gravity direct from the cask and a warm smile from the chatty barmaid. Sat outside in the tranquil Welsh countryside, for me it was a real epiphany moment – probably as close as I have come to pub utopia.

Although now it seems I may never be able to return. Word has it the Post Office and village shop are also under threat of closure and that a planning application for change of use is in the pipeline. One can only hope that some fervent campaigning by the local Gwent Branch backed heavily by CAMRA HQ will entice a saviour to step in; or else a part of Tintern’s history will be lost forever.


9 August 2008

Trading Places at GBBF‘08

Tuesday was our first return to the Great British Beer Festival since its maiden year at Earls Court in 2006. We opted to attend the Peterborough bash as an alternative last year, primarily put off GBBF by the unpleasant overcrowding we were made to endure.

We might well have shunned it again this year had we not been able to procure tickets* for the opening trade session. We recall bouncing around trade day ‘06 virtually with the place to ourselves, with the venue filling steadily over the course of Wednesday, culminating in the horror of an impenetrable wall of bodies blocking the bars and 20-minute queues for the gents on the Thursday evening. So, following a tactical Builder’s Breakfast at Benjy’s on Earls Court Road, we were a little alarmed to roll up at 11:55am to find the entry queue snaking around the outside of the building.

Twenty minutes later though, we were inside, glass in hand, seated nice and close to the BSF bar and mapping out our first moves. I shoehorned in a couple of milds from the Bar Nouveaux (including the delicious Brampton Mild, which must have been terribly unlucky not to have made it into a medal position in its category) before surrendering to the lure of the US casks.

We stayed on the American beers for the majority of the afternoon and were lucky enough to have the opportunity to sample all three of the beers subsequently announced as the Top American Cask Beers at the festival. I particularly enjoyed both the overall winner, Lost Abbey Angel’s Share, a sweet, phenolic, oak-aged superweight at a daunting 12.5% and third place Cambridge House IPA, a big and bashy, fruity yet raspingly dry yankee IPA – a comparative session ale at merely 6.5%. The surprise Champion Beer of Britain winner, Triple fff Alton’s Pride was not available for sale at the time the announcement was made but we had already secured a sample of both the second and third place ales before the hype began. Protzy has the full list of winners.

We didn’t get on with the entire line-up from the USA, as Pan-C’s face will tell you here after a sip of a particularly pokey, heftily-hopped bottled brew! Some creamy stilton and chilli-infused cheddar from the Truckle Cheese Co. refreshed the palate nicely and the tasty springbok burgers provided some much needed sustenance later on.

After a few hours in the YCC wilderness, I eventually spotted fellow blogger and mentor maieb at a nearby table surrounded by fellow ratebeerians. As pleasant a chap as you could hope to meet, he kindly tolerated me interrupting his circle of experts at varying degrees of inebriation with my nuggets of probably useless information throughout the day. He introduced me to an equally friendly and chirpy Irish fellow, who turned out to be the Beer Nut. Pan-C and I also barged in on a conversation they were having with Tandleman, the Godfather of the beer blogosphere, who seemed more than happy perched behind the German section of the BSF bar. Low and behold, even Stonch appeared briefly and we exchanged pleasantries to complete the love-in. (I believe it may be Tandleman who holds the photographic evidence)

We have these occasional social interactions to thank for not slipping into total beer oblivion, as I surely would have done had I continued to drink such lethal beers during the time casually spent nattering. With the evening upon us, I eventually turned away from the foreign stuff and found myself seeking out some of the stronger British ales available. The Wickwar Station Porter (6.1%) and the manificent Durham Brewery’s Bede’s Chalice (9%) were well worth navigating the room for and I was still able to try samples of Pan-C and Jnr’s Belgian and German third pint nips.

We eventually headed home at about 10pm after a final raid on the world bottled beer fridge. I have some Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout and Sri Lankan Lion Stout set aside for another day. All in all we had a grand day out at the GBBF. The venue was bustling but not packed and there were only ever short wait times at each of the bars. Best of all I awoke the following day without a deathly hangover!

I wouldn’t have wanted to do battle with the masses on a Thursday or Friday evening again – perhaps the festival is something of a victim of its own success – but we are certainly keen to repeat our trade day exploits next year.


*Many thanks to Garrett & Lynne of The Bull in Horton Kirby, who were sadly unable to make it to Earls Court but kindly passed on their tickets to us. We were proud to represent their award-winning pub on the day. Thanks also to Grant at the Swan & Rushes for securing Pan-C's ticket and to all of the organisers and volunteers who make GBBF possible.

YCC's Lament

First and foremost, apologies for the lack of action on the site over the past few weeks. It's been a busy time for all of us for various reasons and it's all too easy to allow the blogging to go by the wayside.

We were given a well-deserved, stern ticking off by some of our contemporaries at the GBBF this week and have been prodded by other readers to get our act together. This in itself is encouraging; proof that people have been keeping an eye on the site and that our statcounter isn't lying to us.

So here is a pledge (I hesitate to 'promise') to be more forthcoming and regular in our ale-fuelled musings. We owe you reports on at least three beer festivals and numerous pub outings, which should keep us plenty busy for the time being. For your part, please do leave us your thoughts and comments. We love to hear whether our collective perspectives are shared or even if they're well off the mark!

Yours sheepishly,


15 July 2008

And All That Beer & Jazz

The first ever CAMRA Greenwich Beer & Jazz Festival kicks off at noon on Wednesday in the impressive setting of the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College on the banks of the Thames.

Running through until Sunday evening, a wide array of jazz musicians will perform alongside a pretty decent (if not scooptastic) lineup of ale.

Inspired partly by maeib's recent voluntary antics and partly out of guilt, I will be working the first two days of the fest. This will be my first time on the other side of a festival bar and I felt it was about time I broke my duck. The event replaces the 15-year-old Catford Beer Festival which, due to the spiraling cost of hiring out the Broadway Theatre, has been under increasing threat for some time. Apparently the final nail in the coffin this year was a lack of volunteers - a shameful state of affairs for what is the biggest CAMRA branch in London. So in an attempt to redeem my inactivity of years past and in fond memory of Catford, I shall be throwing myself into the spirit of things.

That's if they let me in. The staff are made up strictly of CAMRA members only and I have had some trouble with the renewal of my membership. Despite paying in May and chasing it up on two further occasions I have yet to receive my new card. I have had to pay the full whack entry fee at two other festivals in that time and now face the possibility of being turned away from offering my services at my local branch's big day. I hope common sense will prevail.

I also hope that this new venture is a success. There is certainly a much slicker feel than with Catford but the entry fee could prove a stumbling block. It's as much as £15 (inc. £2.50 booking fee when purchased online) to get in after 5pm, only £1 less for CAMRA members. 'Bargain' hunters should aim to arrive before 5pm when the entry price is almost halved.

That may well be too much for struggling quaffers to justify - even if they do happen to appreciate jazz music, which many probably don't. I suspect, therefore, that this will be a festival for the ale novice and that's fine by me.

Welcome to flavour country.


What's Up, Bud?

So, InBev have bought out Anheuser-Busch eh? Well, well, well…

This makes InBev (to be rechristened Anheuser-Busch InBev in the wake of the deal) one of the 5 largest consumer product companies in the world, with a global beer volume of 460 million hectolitres per annum – equivalent to a staggering 80,950,800,000 pints.

Although the move was opposed by Anheuser-Busch CEO August Busch IV he was ultimately left with little choice in the matter; the family hold only 4% of the company share total, and were facing the possibility of legal action by other shareholders had they continued to resist the buyout.

In the end it took $52 billion (£26.1 billion) to secure the deal, equivalent to a share price of $70. August Busch IV will now sit on the board of directors with InBev, and Budweiser will be developed into what InBev are calling “a global flagship brand”.

So what does all this mean for the UK? Well, as far as I can see very little in real terms; it will certainly significantly strengthen InBev’s already powerful presence over here (their existing brands include Hoegarden, Leffe, Boddingtons, Bass, Murphys, Tennents and Skol), and we can probably expect even more damned Budweiser and Stella marketing, but for the lager drinkers it’ll be business as usual given the prevalence of these two core brands within the market already, and for the Real Ale community, well, it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference really – we won’t drink the stuff regardless of who owns it.

The USA on the other hand is a different matter; the land of Capitalism may smile upon hostile takeovers and mercenary mercantile manipulations when they’re being perpetrated by Good Ole’ Yankee companies, but they don’t seem to like it when the boot’s on the other foot. Already there are businesses refusing to stock any of the Budweiser range in protest at what is seen as filthy foreign conduct.

Ultimately though this is simply one more chapter in the continuing sad story of brand amalgamation and corrosion of identity within the world beer market; the only way to beat the system and ensure you can enjoy a beer with a character and identity all of its own is to keep on drinking real ale and be thankful for craft brewers who are too small to be of interest to the corporate sharks – after all, there’s always a chance that someone like InBev might decide to gobble up Greene King!


  • InBev, based in Leuven, Belgium, traces its origins back to 1366. Today’s company, created through the merger of Interbrew, of Belgium, and AmBev, of Brazil, has more than 200 brands, including Stella Artois, Beck’s, Leffe, Hoegaarden, Skol, Quilmes and Jupiler. The Euronext-listed group employs 89,000 people in 30 countries across the Americas, Europe and Asia-Pacific.

  • Anheuser-Busch (AB) started life in 1860 when Eberhard Anheuser acquired the Bavarian brewery in St Louis, Missouri. His son-in-law Adolphus Busch, a German immigrant, joined the business in 1864. It is America’s biggest brewer, with 48.5 per cent of the market. Budweiser and Bud Light are the world’s biggest beer brands. It also owns stakes in Modelo, the Mexican brewer, and Tsingtao, the Chinese beer-maker.

(SOURCE: The Times, Tuesday July 15th, 2008)

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