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)

13 July 2008

Brunswick Brewery Bang On with Brown

During a foray to Derby Beer Festival on Wednesday (seperate blog entry to follow) I had the opportunity of visiting the Brunswick Inn - a delightful pub and home to the micro brewery of the same name.

One of the things that really stood out for me here was a special beer they had on offer; brewed by themselves, I've not come across it before and doubt that I will ever find it again, but it boasts one of those classic pump clips that you never forget...

I don't think I really need to add anything to this - the clip says it all; once again, it's so nice to see a brewery with a sense of humour who don't mind getting a bit political.

If anybody else has come across similar ridiculing clips we'd love to hear from you - send us any pics etc to the YCC email address...


11 July 2008

Queen Victoria Blues & Booze Weekender

Next weekend (Thursday 17th - Sunday 20th July) sees the second Blues & Booze festival at Leicester’s Queen Victoria pub, situated on Southampton Street just five minutes walk from the train station.

The event will feature a fine line-up of local bands and an excellent selection of 30 Real Ales all sourced from microbreweries, with a strong Scottish showing including some of the tiny island micros.

All of the beers should be tapped and ready to go by 11am on the Thursday, with 18 beers on stillage and the remainder being dispensed from handpumps on the bar or directly from the cask in the cellar.

At the time of writing the beer list is as follows:

  • KINVER - CRYSTAL, 4.5%
  • OYSTER - EASD' ALE, 3.8%

There will be at least 2 more ales in addition to ths list, however details of these are yet to be confirmed.

Having visited their first bash earlier this year I can vouch for the quality and condition of the beers, and would highly recommend this festival to any serious ale fan – it’s going to be a cracker and I hope to see you there…


9 July 2008


As a rule, I avoid bad pubs. Sometimes I will even go as far as to miss a social event if I know that I will dislike the venue. A major determining factor for me is whether there will be anything that I will consider drinking.

Social drinking in Britain has become an expensive pastime, exacerbated in the last six months by the rising cost of raw ingredients and by "Shy Teeter" Darling's indefensible ale tax. I resent shelling out over £3 for a substandard pint, regardless of where I am or who I'm with. As such, I stick rigidly to what I consider to be the very best pubs where I'm virtually guaranteed to enjoy myself and get perceived value for money.

This coming Saturday, a chum from my days at Leicester Uni has arranged an old boys' meet-up at Waxy O' Connor's in London's Piccadilly Circus. My heart sank when I read the emailed itinerary. I have only ever walked through the place before and I wasn't tempted to stop. It's looks about as "plastic paddy" as they come and (for those who have successfully avoided it to date) even has a huge synthetic tree in the middle of the pub. From what I can gather, they sell nothing resembling ale or good beer so I'm stuck in that most unpleasant of dilemmas over which nitro keg option to select as the lesser of all evils. If I drink wine or spirits I'll end up on my arse like all the other disillusioned fools who favour these sorts of places.

As I pondered my options another message arrived in my inbox. It would seem that Charles Foster's 10 Reasons to Drink Real Ale has been doing the rounds for some time now and this wasn't the first time I had been sent it. As a whole the article is rather smug and twatty, as you might expect. Although, some of the points do ring true. I particularly like the following comparison:

"Many a drinker has been put off real ale drinking after a visit to a pub which doesn't understand real ale. But to go back to keg beer is like opting for a lifetime of necrophilia because of one nasty experience with a living human being."
At least if I go with the lowest possible expectations I can't be disappointed. For one night only, bring on the corpses...


*Nitrophilia is defined as a love of nitrogen.

8 July 2008

Shock Less Monster?

Came across this little gem in L.a.S.T Orders (the Lichfield, Sutton & Tamworth branch publication), and thought it was worth sharing…

“Much justified criticism has been directed at Chancellor Alistair Darling’s budget decision to raise beer tax, with a nominal 4p a pint turning out at 20p or so by the time everybody’s had their go.

Here at Last Orders we prefer to let the last word go to Burton Bridge, who awarded big Al their Gold Medal beer for May – see the accompanying description.

Mind you, we reckon there’s a printing mistake – surely the Bridge Boys intended the second word of the beer name to be Teater?”

Indeed; my initial thoughts when I clapped eyes on the beer for the first time were pretty much the same - Nice one BB for taking the Michael, but did you really have to pull the punch?!

The description accompanying the Shy Teaser clip reads:

"May 1933 was the start of the most prolific Nessy spotting season, 28 sightings towards the end of 1934, but since then very little, in spite of some extensive sonar and submersible surveys.

Our illustration is of a more recent sighting, probably of the next generation, which looked like a performing seal crossed with a snake in the grass, resulting in a creature with over-inflated humps and a poor sense of direction."

You have to admit though, it's a pretty accurate summary all things considered...

For those unfamiliar with the range, Burton Bridge Gold Medal Ales are produced monthly in recognition of some of the 'greats' of history.


3 July 2008

Seeking Out the Ales in Lager Land

Last Friday, in a moment of what I can only assume was passing madness, I decided to make a long overdue journey along the length of the Narborough Road and Braunstone Gate, Leicester, to see whether any of the bars along the route are quietly selling real ale…

The Narborough Road area is very much the social hub for students from the DeMonfort University, and has a prolific spread of trendy bars catering to the young and the cool; it also has a reputation as something of an ale desert (with the exception of the Black Horse, reviewed in my “Leicester Missions” entry, and the Pump & Tap – more on that later).

I kicked off with a visit to Loaf Bar & Restaurant, a pleasant venue with bar upstairs and restaurant downstairs, situated on the corner of Braunstone Gate and Western Boulevard.

The focus here is primarily on food and cocktails – though the wine list is pretty decent too. The bar has a solitary handpump dispensing Marston’s Pedigree, which I sampled and found to be in pretty good condition, though I suspect they may have lost their hop filter given the bits of hop flower floating around in my half!

Upon enquiring I was informed that the Pedigree is their permanent ale, which is a bit of a shame but perhaps not surprising – it makes sense for them to go with something they know will sell consistently and that most people will recognise … mind you, at £2.80 a pint it’s not somewhere I’d be keen to drink unless I happened to be out for a meal.

This is a pleasant little place, with a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. The decor is pleasant and suits the ambience of the place – it’s easy to see why it’s so popular.

It had been my intention to move on from here to the George Mason, a two-tiered bar and restaurant next door to Loaf with a reputation for decent, contemporary live music, however since losing their chef the place has been closed for the last week or so.

This place started selling real ale from 2 handpumps in October last year – originally dispensing Grainstore Cooking and Timothy Taylor Landlord, however peering through the barred doors revealed only one handpump with a pump clip, and that sadly turned out to be Hardy & Hanson (GK) Best Bitter.

I will be popping in here the next time I’m down the Narb’ and will reserve judgement until then…

With the George Mason out of the picture I decided to cross the road and see what the O Bar had to offer.

This 2 storey pub, part of the small Orange Tree chain (pubs in Leicester, Loughborough and Nottingham), is another with a strong cocktail focus – however they also offer a selection of the more commercial draught continental beers (Becks Vier, Starapromen, Leffe etc) plus a draught
kriek (Belle Vue), one real cider and one guest ale, both of which are on rotation.

On my visit the ale option was Caledonian Deuchars IPA, and although the dispense was a little warm the beer itself was on good form, nice and clear and served without a sparkler – something of a rarity in this part of town!

The pub itself is open plan on the ground floor, with comfortable seating and the kind of décor that the younger, student set seem to go for. Upstairs are the (rather nice) toilet facilities and more comfortable seating. The upper floor is divided into two rooms with the usual sofas, seats and tables that have become de rigeur for places like this.

The pub has Happy Hour prices on their cocktails every day from open ‘til 8pm, and if that’s not enough to get the students tanked up they can apply for a free loyalty card which extends this pricing strategy to cover all hours of business – so nice to see another place doing its bit to encourage responsible drinking eh?!

From the O bar I decided it was time to move off the Braunstone Gate and venture further up the Narborough, into the territory which I had always regarded as a real ale wasteland.

As it stands, “wasteland” is perhaps a little strong – there are actually a couple of places up here offering options for the ale drinker, but don’t expect anything too exciting and be prepared to run away if necessary...

First on the list was the Nine Bar, perhaps the dodgiest name for a pub that I’ve come across in a long time. Situated on the Narborough Road itself, this place used to have a slightly dubious reputation, although I believe that things have been turned around somewhat.

The building comprises a ground floor bar with seating area looking on to the street, decorated with urban art by local artists – plenty of graffiti and ghetto influence here – with the bar done out quite strikingly in a matt silver, a theme followed on the swan neck clips; no instant brand recognition here, you actually have to look and read.

As with most of the bars in this area there are some of the “trendier” common lagers available (Becks, Kronenbourg and San Miguel) plus a range of cocktails and selected continental bottled beers.

There is also an underground area accessible from the bar via stairs. This houses pool tables and plays host to dj’s and the like at weekends. Outside is a cordoned area with covered seating for the smoking community.

Sadly the only ale on offer here is Pedigree again, and this is a permanent fixture. I sampled a swift half, dispensed through a sparkler, and found the condition to be average and a little warm.

At £2.60 a pint this place is a fair bit cheaper than Loaf, but the beer condition isn’t as good and the surroundings are somewhat less conducive to a pleasant drinking session. Of the two I know where I’d sooner be.

Leaving Nine Bar I made my way up to the outermost pub on my itinerary, the Huntsman, situated a fair way up the Narborough.

Part of the Trust Inns chain, this managed house is a very traditional boozer frequented primarily by the more rough and ready lager drinking blokes in the area – think petty criminals and tattoos basically. The pub sits on a slight rise, set back from the road. This gives it a similar aspect to the Bates Motel in Psycho – only somewhat more menacing...

The décor is very sparse and a little tired; I don’t think there’s been a refurbishment here in a long time. The interior layout hasn’t been messed around with anywhere near as much as so many other pubs – if it wasn’t such a rough place there’d be massive potential here. Naturally there’s a pool table, darts, gambling machines and Sky Sports, plus the usual commercial lager options – everything that the typical drinker in here could possibly want!

It’s certainly not somewhere I’d feel comfortable drinking in the evening, or over a weekend - it’s easy to imagine the icy silence that would descend on the place if I walked in on a busy night; we’ve all seen those classic moments in the western movies – however fortunately this was the middle of a Friday afternoon and, although there was a contingent of loud and rather unsavoury looking types drinking here, they were all sat outside while I had gone with the indoor option.

Although this really isn’t my kind of drinking establishment the bar man proved a very friendly, chatty individual and I had a very pleasant conversation with him.

Beer options were limited to Tetley Bitter and Theakston’s Mild, both of which are from keg rather than cask. Despite my strong reservations on the keg ale subject, I nevertheless sampled the Theakston’s and found it drinkable enough – for all it’s faults, this pub does at least keep clean lines.

Finishing my beer I decided it was time to head back down and finish my roaming with a visit to the Pump & Tap, situated just off Braunstone Gate on Duns Lane.

This is a pleasant little place, set on its own and backing onto the arches of the Great Central Railway. The pub is split into 2 rooms which run parallel to one another, with a small, central bar serving both sides.

Refurbished a couple of years ago, the interior décor is tasteful and quite modern, with flat screen tv’s showing sports as required or pleasant screen savers (tropical fish for example). The ubiquitous sofas make an appearance here too.

To the rear is a well sized beer garden, partially set beneath the arches, which ensures you can stay dry even in the rain. The beer garden is laid out on wooden decking, with a large fish tank containing gold fish set in the middle. Suspended from the ceiling of the arch is brewing equipment – a nice touch.

As with the other pubs in the area, the range here is not overly exciting and sourced from the bigger breweries. Four handpumps are available, with three “core” beers and a rotating guest. On my visit I found the core range (Greene King IPA and Abbot plus St. Austell Tribute) with the guest taking the form of Deuchars IPA.

Faced with this uninspiring selection I opted for the St. Austell, which I found to be in reasonable condition albeit rather on the warm side. Prices were again a little on the high side at £2.60, although a large glass of pepsi (best part of a pint) set me back a mere £1.35.

The Pump enjoys a very strong following amongst the more mature live music fans, both for the music nights that it hosts itself and as a pre-gig venue for events at the Music Café across the road.

Sadly the future of the pub, and the railway bridge behind it, are under serious threat due to planned demolition and redevelopment. Despite an ongoing petition it appears pretty much a certainty that the pub will soon close.

Finishing my beer I shouldered my rucksack and set off for home, reflecting on my findings during the course of the afternoon.

It had certainly been an interesting little foray, and reasonably productive; one thing is for certain though: there may be a couple of places on and around the Narborough Road dispensing real ales but, frankly, if you’re either a serious ale fan or a scooper there’s nothing to tempt you. Why bother wasting your money on overpriced, mass produced commercial rubbish when we have so many truly fine ale houses within the city centre?


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