30 May 2008

Wishing on a Dark Star

The fortunate ones amongst us (Jnr, Jimbo and I) are rabidly salivating at the prospect of a tour of the Dark Star Brewery tomorrow. Incredibly, none of us have ever been on a proper brewery tour before and with Dark Star being one of our all-time favourites, a fun-filled boozy day is assured. Following the tour, we will be leaving our mark on the Stand Up Inn in nearby Lindfield.

We will be sure to report back on Sunday, hopefully bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.


29 May 2008

Sticking it to The Man

I had to laugh when I saw this post on Beer Buzz today. It seems that, not content with outlawing any suggestion that alcohol is affiliated with good health, sexual prowess, wealth or success, it is now also forbidden to use any wit or humour in promoting booze.

Federal US alcohol regulators, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, have ordered the Mount Shasta Brewing Co. in Weed, California to stop using the tag line "Try Legal Weed" on their bottle caps, as this could be "misleading" to consumers. A full report can be found here on the Fox News website. For the brewery's own take on the whole saga click here.

Unfortunately we can't just pass this off as an "only in America" oddity. This follows hot on the heels of BrewDog's recent spat with the Portman Group, reported last week by Stonch and A Swift One. In an attempt at censorship that Mary Whitehouse herself would be proud of, the do-gooder group took exception to the Aberdeenshire micro's unusually aggressive promotion strategy, complaining that phrases such as "Twisted Merciless Stout" used to describe their 8% Rip Tide associates its consumption with antisocial behaviour. Madness.

I really hope we don't end up going down the tobacco route of obscene health warnings and social exclusion. I don't fancy seeing a picture of a bloated liver or jaundiced old soak next to the beer description on every label.


Things to do in Newark on a green and hazy night – Part 2

Following our mopping up fest session in the afternoon, on the Saturday night things were a little less frenetic – our time of departure was largely dictated by the rapid disappearance of the ales from the stillages, so we had more time and clearer heads with which to take in the evenings watering holes.

We started off with the Fox & Crown on Appletongate, a Castle Rock tied house highly regarded within the local area for its beer quality. Although it offers up to ten ales on handpull we found the selection limited to a handful of Castle Rock’s own brews and a couple of guests on our visit – perhaps something to do with the beer festival.

I won’t go in to too much detail on the interior of the pub; it’s an odd layout, open plan but with distinct and separate sections; the décor is a little grubby but the atmosphere is pleasant. Although we stayed for only two fairly swift halves the customers seemed nice enough and the staff proved both friendly and helpful.

We sampled both the Harvest Pale and Black Gold from Castle Rock, and found the condition to be acceptable although the mild was a little tired.

For further information you can find a Newark CAMRA review of the pub here.

Moving on from the Fox, our next port of call was The Vine Hotel, a pleasant back street boozer situated on Barnbygate.

Although fairly basic in terms of fixtures and fittings, this Springhead pub is held in high regard by the local real ale community. Comprising a large, L-shaped bar area with lounge to the rear, and offering up to five real ales on handpull (one of which is usually a micro guest) this traditional, ale-orientated establishment seems very pleasant – although as with the Fox it was very quiet thanks to the festival.

We sampled Springhead’s Roaring Meg and Leveller, both of which were found to be in decent condition, and I took the opportunity to chat with Ella the barmaid about the pub. She informed me that live music is a regular feature in the Vine, that they hold occasional beer festivals and regularly host meetings of the Newark CAMRA branch.

The pub also benefits from a large courtyard to the rear – ideal for those of us who still like to poison our lungs!

Although it does take a little bit of finding I would heartily recommend this place to anybody out for a day on the ale in Newark – be aware though, this is a drinking pub so perhaps not the best place for small kids or the easily offended!

Upon leaving the Vine we made our way to the Castle – probably Newark’s best kept secret and not at all what we were expecting!

From the outside this unassuming pub looks normal enough; a three story town house on Castlegate, virtually opposite the ruins of Newark castle. Step inside though and everything becomes ever so slightly odd…

The first thing that you’ll notice is the lurid pink décor; there’s more than a hint of the Moloko bar from Clockwork Orange here. The next things to catch the attention are the church pew type seats which can be found to the rear of the pub. It’s certainly an odd combination, but it works well and adds a quirky charm to the place.

Part of the Lancashire-based Yard Glass Pub Co, this small and cosy pub offers a selection of up to six real ales on handpull, with the focus on beers from the Archers range.

During our stay we sampled the Strong Dark Mild and Sir Nigel Gresey, both from Archers, along with Banks & Taylor Two Brewers Bitter; all were found to be in excellent condition and were easily the best kept ales of the night.

On our visit the bar was being manned by a very friendly and knowledgeable manager who knew his ale and was able to give us plenty of background information on the pub. We were surprised to learn that, although it looks old, the pub has in fact only been there for a few years!

The Castle also holds regular live jazz nights and has the world’s smallest beer garden / smoking space to the rear – it really has to be seen to be believed. It should be noted that an over 25’s policy is in place, though not rigorously enforced.

All in all it proved to be a very successful evening; all three pubs on our itinerary were well worth stopping by, and I will certainly make a point of revisiting them on my next trip to Newark.

I'll finish with a big thank you to Ella at the Vine - cheers for the beer tokens, much appreciated!


28 May 2008

Things to do in Newark on a green and hazy night – Part 1

As you’ll be aware from Dubbel Buffle, our recent two day jaunt to the Newark Beer Festival was marred somewhat by the condition of many of the beers on offer; fortunately however, we were ensconced in a town with a healthy selection of interesting pubs offering a varied selection of real ale for us to finish off with each night.

In the course of two nights we managed to take in four of these establishments, each of which offered their own little quirks…

The first night saw us hit the Rutland Arms Hotel, a decision heavily weighted by the fact that this was also our accomodation!

I rather liked the place; it’s a 16th century Grade II listed coaching inn, replete with courtyard to the rear (now an outdoor seating and off road parking area) and stables converted to a games room with pool table. Inside there’s an unusual medley of old features and more modern “improvements” – the rather unsightly bar being a case in point.

A Marston’s tied house, we were expecting little excitement from the ale selection; we’d ascertained that 3 handpulled cask ales were available – Pedigree, Mansfield Bitter and a guest, also from the Marston’s portfolio. To our very pleasant surprise we found that the guest was Okells Dr Okells IPA, and that the condition was very good.

It transpired that actually Friday night is, yes, Karaoke Night and, galvanised by a couple of pints of the Okells and inspired by the vocal talents of the locals, Dubbel and I delivered (perhaps a slightly over generous term) a somewhat ludicrous and very drunken rendition of Ebeneezer Goode.

The local crowd were a colourful bunch, with a real spread of ages - all very genuine, down to earth and certainly up for a laugh ... probably a good thing really!

We somehow finished the evening with myself behind the bar pulling the final round and demonstrating to disbelieving bar staff that a full and creamy head can be achieved without a sparkler.

All in all the Rutland is a decent, unpretentious establishment which offers real ale enthusiasts visiting Newark an affordable place to stay with a (very good) cooked breakfast in the morning, at least one ale worth sampling and friendly, easygoing staff and punters; the team there have our respect and gratitude.

Part 2 will follow tomorrow…


26 May 2008

Newark Beer Festival - So many beers, so little conditioning time...

Unlucky for some, and sadly so it proved to be for us at CAMRA's 13th Newark Beer Festival last weekend.

We were long overdue a meet up at a big beer festival. Having settled on late May, we had narrowed our choice of festival venue down to three of the best: Cambridge, Northampton and Newark. We had never been to Newark before and having been most impressed by the preview on their website, opted to book a room above a local pub and venture forth into unknown Nottinghamshire. With the fest falling on a bank holiday weekend, this would also give us the added bonus of an additional day's recovery time - should it be needed.

The festival site was located opposite the imposing Newark Castle on the banks of the River Trent, with adjoining marquees inside a fenced off perimeter. Over 160 ales were scheduled to be on sale over the three days, with a healthy number of new breweries having been sought out and offered the opportunity to showcase their beers to appreciative festival punters. Some 35 ales were to be kept back until the Saturday, until space could be freed up on the crowded stillages.

We arrived excitedly at lunchtime on the opening day (I having left my membership card in London and unable to blag my way out of handing over the £4.50 entrance fee -- balls) and managed to home in on a few early winners. Those particularly worthy of note included Concrete Cow Black Monk; the hugely impressive Brampton Brewery's Mild; the equally noteworthy Red Squirrel London Porter; and the beer of the festival, Malt B's Smarties Night Porter, which sold out within 6 hours of opening.

Disappointingly, our enjoyment of these fine brews proved to be the exception to the hazy green norm. As the weather turned so did our fortune. An unforgivable number of the beers were simply not ready, served murky and astringent. The worst were unfit for consumption. No fault can be attributed to the ever-dedicated team of volunteer staff, with the traditional evaporative cooling method employed and constantly adhered to. It would seem that the organisers simply did not allow enough time for the casks to settle before the doors opened. I find it difficult to believe that this was the fault of the much-regarded Cellarman; more likely to be due to the time the council allowed CAMRA to commandeer Riverside Park for conditioning or unforeseen logistical problems with wholesalers. The majority of the dodgy casks were in no better nick the following day and if anything, in general, the beers held until the Saturday were even less palatable. If the quality of those that were flogged to the public were anything to go by, I dread to think of the state of those deemed not saleable.

Fortunately for Newark CAMRA, our observations did not seem to result in any loss in atmosphere nor turnover. The live entertainment was excellent and by 8pm Saturday just a handful of beers remained on sale and there were smiles all round. We ended the evening in the cracking Castle pub just over the river, which Pan-C will blog more about shortly. However, our sour festival experience is likely to turn us off a repeat visit next May.

Dubbel B

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