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Monday 31 March 2014

5th Bexhill Beer Festival 4-6 April 2014

The 5th Bexhill Beer Festival is to be held at The Albatross Club (Royal Air Force Association), 15 Marina Arcade, Bexhill-on-Sea TN40 1JS, at the end of this week, with free admission to all of legal age!  

Friday 4th April, 11am - 11pm 
Saturday 5th April, 11am - 11pm 
Sunday 6th April, 11am - 7pm.

All real ales will be £3 a pint; £1.50 a half-pint; £1 a third-pint... Planned ales: 

5 Towns Niamh's Nemesis 'IPA' 
Big Hand First Hand 
Dancing Duck 22 
Dark Star Seville 'Spanish Orange Bitter' 
Deeply Vale Breakfast Stout 
Dervento Cleopatra 'Pale Apricot' 
Flipside Russian Rouble 
Hand Drawn Monkey What would Jephers Do? 
Heavy Industry 77 'Big Amber IPA' 
Hopstar Lush 'Copper' 
Kirkstall Pale 
Red Willow Headless 
Rooster's Londinium 'Coffee Porter' 
Sonnet 43 Brown Ale 

Also, bottled 'craft' beers from Tiny Rebel Brewery at £3.50, including Fubar, Urban IPA and Hadouken, and 3 real ciders at £3 a pint; £1.50 a half; £1 a third-pint.

Great ales, excellent value, and good company too! 

Saturday 29 March 2014

300th BLOG!

300th blog, so what do I write about? Obvious really... I love pale and hoppy ales, I've been hither and thither recently, and even discussed beers from over The Pond, but have had some crackin' ales since my last blog about beers in the UK, so where better to start than looking at the 4 excellent ales served from The Tower bar in the photograph immediately below, and then discussing them?!? 

With my love of hops, The Tower, 251 London Road, St Leonards, Hastings TN37 6NB, produced a masterpiece with this choice of 4 hoppy ales, and I've seen Louisa, and the new barmaid, Sheena, regularly too, I can't complain! This particular day and I was really stumped what to drink, but had to start with my  new favourite, Burning Sky's 3.5% Plateau, brimming with hops, with a lovely refreshing aroma, dry grapefruit taste, dry and very bitter, quality! There were also the 2, very well reported on by me already, Dark Star ales, American Pale Ale (APA, 4.7%) and its big brother, the hoppy revelation that is Revelation (5.7%). But there was a new one for me too, Red Willow Mirthless 'Pale Ale', 3.9%, with a fresh citrus aroma, a wee bit 'malty' flavour not detected in the others, not so dry, but still quite bitter... What a choice for me!

Oh yes! And I've also recently had Dark Star's Art of Darkness (3.5%) and Hophead (3.8%), both oozing hop flavours and reported on regularly too; the 'classic' that is Hop Back Summer Lightning (5%), which amazingly seems 'old hat' these days hop-wise; another local brewer keeping the hops 'ultra', Franklins Citra IPA (5.5%); and a wee bit darker amber bitter, Hogs Back HBB or Hogs Back Bitter (3.7%) with a hint of 'peach' in the flavour, and dry and bitter, great stuff, Louisa, cheers!     

At the First In Last Out (FILO), High Street, Hastings 'old town' TN34 3EY, there was the usual array of their own FILO ales, including the hoppy threesome, varying in their styles, Gold (4.8%), Churches Pale Ale (4.2%) and Crofters (3.8%), and more about the FILO ales coming up in the near future... But there was also an ale from Yorkshire, possibly the birthplace of pale and hoppy ales, ie Roosters Cogburn, nice cowboy pun! The Cogburn is a "Robust Pale Ale", according to the pumpclip, and I have to concur, it is a pale bitter, indeed, 4.3%, with a fair amount of body, quite dry and hoppy, I gave it a smiley face in my notes; cheers to Adam (and not forgetting Mike - Bigg Senior - and Tony, the brewer, manager, etc etc) !   

... and what of the Dolphin, Rock-a-Nore, Hastings 'old town' TN34 3DW, the local CAMRA reigning Pub of the Year? OK, many will be aware I have the nickname 'Hophead' here, because I do enjoy drinking one  of their regular 3 ales, the Dark Star Hophead (3.8%), and just how many times have I reported on and analysed Hophead? But they also have 3 quest ales at a time, which is soon to rise to 4 guest ales, so will be 7 ales in total... So what other hoppy ales have I had here recently? 

There has been the ultra-reliable Stonehenge Danish Dynamite (5%), pale and full flavoured, reported on a-plenty; local brewer 1648's Gold Angel, another 5% pale golden ale with a biscuit aroma, plenty of body, slight roasted malt flavour, quite dry and bitter; West Berkshire's Full Circle (4.5%), a pale golden bitter, dry and pretty good, indeed; and Kent brewer Pig & Porter's Penhuist Pale Ale (4.5%), a deep amber colour, with a fruity aroma and a hint of peach in the flavour, drying out into a very nice bitter, cheers Mark & family! 

Well, that was the 300th blog, hope you enjoyed it as much as I did, cheers!     

Tuesday 25 March 2014

American beer, yes, really...

So, why have I, a great exponent of cask-conditioned ales, written a blog on beers from the USA? Well, it started in 1998, when I visited Chicago because I was delivering a paper to a social scientist conference out there, and I went to Goose Island for an afternoon. Goose Island was a brewpub, which I believe is now owned by one of the biggie brewers, but happy to get feedback on this and Goose Island. 

Anyway, I'd had a bit of local info from a mate who was married to a lass from nearby, Illinois or suchlike, and I was very happy with the results. Excellent real ales brewed on the premises, and all types of English styles: IPA, Extra Special Bitter, Porter, Stout, Best Bitter, they had the lot, and very nice they were too. The only error I made there was to order 'chips' with my burger ("How would you like your burger?" was a surprise question too) and being given crisps, oh well, a learning process... I also found out you could get their beers bottle-conditioned, I'm sure one was called 'Honkers' that I had back at the hotel where I was staying, although another learning experience for me, they DO like their beers cold out there, the Honkers was dragged out of a sink full of icy water! Goose Island do still exist, see their website (site).

Secondly, a friend of mine, Anne, who's first wedding, at Wandsworth Town Hall I was a witness at many years ago, now lives in Florida, and she sent Ken Wells' Travels with Barley to me as a present last year. Interesting read, and, although I haven't been able to grab hold of any of the 'extreme' beers mentioned therein, eg Dogfish World Wide Stout, weighing in at a hefty 23.6%, nor the same brewer's 120 Minute IPA, packed with hops, and a meagre 18%, I did manage to find the 4 following weaker beers, available at my local Morrisons.   

You'll notice that these are mostly IPA style, or APAs (American Pale Ales), which was not such a hardship for me, the first of which was the bottle-conditioned, and extremely well known, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (5.6%). I thought that this may not be that good, being as it was a bit 'run of the norm' for American beers, but it was bottle-conditioned, so... Magnum and Perle hops are used in the brewing process, and it is finished with Cascade, so promising, and it definitely had the citrus fruit you would expect, I got grapefruit, and have seen another reviewer say tangerine, whatever, it had very very nice flavour and bitterness too, what a pleasantly surprising start! More at the brewers website, if you want to research further (site).  

OK, I was getting into this now, I do love research, and moved onto my second choice, Steven Point (site) being the brewer, and their IPA this time, which is actally brewed for the UK market, that's how popular some of these beers are becoming! This is also 5.6%, and uses Magnum and Perle hops too, and dry hopped with Cascade, so I'm guessing they're competing directly with the Sierra Nevada... Indeed, I had already made a note of cascade hops used before checking, so that hop's flavour definitely came through, a wee bit apple in the flavour, hint of sweetness, and a bitterness coming from the grapefruit flavour provided by the cascade hops. Not bad at all, I wrote "goodish" in my notes, but not as much to my liking as the Sierra Nevada...   

My penultimate beer was another IPA, this time brewed by Shipyard Brewing Company (site) and 5.8%. The Shipyard version is a single hop variety, and even has a subtitle Fuggles IPA, and yes, you've guessed, fuggles are the hops of choice for this ale. I've seen quite a few reviews of this beer saying "traditional English style", oh dear, what a shame, though I didn't catch the grapefruit taste others did. Maybe I know the fuggles hop a bit too well, but I did pick up a fruitiness, apple and plum though for me! Another not too bad beer, but my IPA, or APA, of choice in this tiny sample has to be the Sierra Nevada, I thank you...  

I finished off my American beer venture with the Shipyard Blue Fin Stout, amazingly, being sold off cheaply at Morrisons for just £1 a bottle, many thanks to Morrisons as I bought a bottle on 3 or 4 separate visits! So, a very different style of beer, and, the fact I went back for more says a lot about it, and not just the price. The Blue Fin Stout is described as a "classic Irish Stout" and has an array of hops used in the brewing process, Warrior, Cascade, Tettnang and Goldings, though, excepting 'Black IPAs", as discussed in a recent blog, I have trouble spotting the hops in darker beers. This was very enjoyable, though, with a subtle malt and caramel flavour, and a nice dry roasted barley finish, 'twas a bit like a traditional stout, indeed. 

So, I say "thank you" to the Yanks and their growing influence in the world of brewing, particularly to their willingness to chuck in loadsa hops, cheers m'dears!    

PS. Michael Jackson, the "Beer Hunter", was a better known exponent of different styles of beer, and he did like his American travels too. I was given a free bottle of the 'Extra Special' Fullers ESB he brewed for the American market, and it was pretty good, but he did like his favourite ale, the merely 3.5% Chiswick Bitter brewed at Fullers in nearby Chiswick. His last evening on earth was spent drinking Chiswick Bitter at his local pub, the Andover Arms in Hammersmith, whilst I was relief manager there... R.I.P. Michael Jackson (1942-2007). 

Tuesday 18 March 2014

Brighton... Well, Lewes actually...

I suppose, if going to a football match at Brighton's (newish still) Falmer Stadium you have a choice or two... you can drink at the ground, and they do have real ale there, one of the few grounds that do! Or, you can drink in Brighton or Lewes, for me, the choice is obviously Lewes, and for anyone coming by train from the London direction probably best for them as well. The match ticket gives you free travel down from Haywards Heath, and you reach Lewes before you get to the ground, let alone Brighton, and it is closer to Falmer than Brighton, just, and all 3 pubs mentioned here are in CAMRA's 2014 Good Beer Guide... 

Anyway, I met up with quite a few people I hadn't seen for a while, some of whom were already alcoholically challenged before I arrived. I started at the best pub in Lewes, I came to decide that evening, the Snowdrop Inn in South Street. It doesn't take long to get around the pubs in Lewes, as it's not really that big, and, as you can see from the photograph above, this pub is below a cliff, because this is where the sea used to come up to here in years gone by, at least that's what I tell people, but it did used to be a major port on the River Ouse, and has a well recorded history from Saxon times, through to the Norman invasion and the erection of Lewes Castle, Tudor times and Anne of Cleaves House, and a hero of mine lived here, Thomas Paine, and much much more, definitely somewhere to visit and enjoy.   

6 ales are served by handpump at the Snowdrop Inn and a 4.8% real cider too, Cornish Orchards on this day. Dark Star American Pale Ale (APA, 4.7%) and Harveys Sussex Best (4%) are 2 regular ales, and there is now always at least one ale from Burning Sky Brewery, but today there were 2, so a treat for me, the Aurora (5.6%) and the Plateau (3.5%), and a crafty keg beer from them too; more regarding Burning Sky below. So, 4 ales from East Sussex and 2 from the Manchester brewery, another old favourite haunt of mine up there, Marble Arch, and their Pint (3.9%), a pale dry session bitter, I think I've written about before, and Chocolate Marble, which I definitely haven't tried before, a 5.5% slightly sweet stout with a balance of chocolate and coffee malt flavours, and very nice indeed!  

From the Snowdrop, I rushed away from the rather lovely barmaid, sadly, towards The Gardeners Arms, around the corner and down a wee bit in Cliffe High Street, as I'd received a phone call that people were arriving... now, they'd all been drinking in Brighton beforehand, and I felt remarkably sober! Things did get a wee bit confusing from here, and I forgot to take any notes. We had a good chat here, between each other (Paul, the Robbo brothers, Kieran and Graham, and Darrel and Jim) and with locals too, but I have no idea what I drank there, it didn't stand out, but I had been drinking Plateau back at the Snowdrop, and that is rather excellent. Anyway, I had a pint of something not too hoppy here; most of the ales were less exciting than the hoppy delights offered at the previous pub...   

Darrel and Jim popped off to a pub nearer to the station to meet up with another mate called Paul, and the remaining four of us dropped into the Lewes Arms, a Fullers pub in Mount Place, well, 3 of us did, we lost the other somehow until inside the ground at half time! I've written about this pub before, a decent Fullers pub that sells at least 2 guest ales usually, though I do remember Graham buying me a pint of Gales HSB (4.8%), though I thought he'd bought it for his brother. I nearly started an argument, but very gently, of course, thinking I was being ignored by the barmaid, sorry luv! Anyway, we went to the match next, got beaten, and I had to wait ages to catch a train back from Falmer, not very well organised at all... 

I did, though, manage to get back to Lewes in time for a couple more pints at the Snowdrop Inn, thankfully, the best pints of ale I had drunk for ages, the first, Plateau, went down in minutes, the second, I took my time over to enjoy the lovely flavours of, the also excellent Aurora, both reported on by me very recently. I had a good chat with Alec the bar manager too, though the lovely barmaid didn't work 'til this late, sadly. The Burning Sky ales are packed with hops, and served in quality straight glasses with the pub name on one side and the brewery name on the other (I love the glasses if anyone wants to know what to get me for my birthday!). 

For information, the head brewer at Burning Sky is Mark Tranter, formerly of Dark Star, and this brewery looks to be the foreseeable future of hoppy ales in East Sussex, you read it here! See their website too (site), good luck to them, cheers! 

Sunday 16 March 2014

Part II - Return to the Bricklayers and saved by Naked Ladies again...

On the Monday, I walked into London, mainly along the Thames Path, my prime target being The Old Bell in Fleet Street, a very old haunt of mine from my youth...

The Old Bell was built in 1670 by Sir Christopher Wren to provide accommodation for, and to refresh the workers who were rebuilding the 'wedding cake tier' St Bride's Church, behind the pub, following its damage in the Great Fire of London in 1666. The lad behind the bar seemed to think the pub had been owned by Nicholsons since the 19th century, though I'd be surprised if it was a Nicholsons pub when I used to drink in here in my late teens and early 20s, when the only real ale it sold was Worthington E, an excellent ale of its time! The Old Bell has to be visited if in the area, and on this visit, I enjoyed drinking the Ilkley Mary Jane (3.5%), very pale, dry and bitter, all the way from West Yorkshire, and very refreshing after walking for 3 hours!   

I then had a bit of a wander around the City of London and crossed back to the south of the Thames via London Bridge, heading for Borough Market and The Rake, which I was a bit disappointed with this day, though I had a good chat with a QPR fan there, Donald, cheers! The 3 ales were Brains Farmer Walloon (4.5%), discussed in my previous blog; Great Orme Celtica, also 4.5%, a 'blonde' ale, which was quite bitter and pale, and wasn't too bad actually, very drinkable... But I was very disappointed with the Windsor & Eton Zinzan's Drop, a 4% "All Black Bitter", which had a strange aroma, dark with roasted barley, but, well, let's just say that the flavour wasn't to my taste...  

So a long walk back to Putney, and I felt a little disappointed with the day so far, so had to pop back into The Bricklayers Arms yet again, for my last ales before leaving London the next morning... Naked Ladies, eh? You just can't beat them, and they certainly came up trumps again, together with 2 other good Twickenham ales! Grandstand (3.8%) is a nice golden fruity bitter with a dry aftertaste; Spring Ale (4.4%) is the palest of the 3, nice and dry, and something else I meant to report, but cannot read my writing sadly; and the excellent Naked Ladies (4.4%) which continues to impress, a lovely pale golden bitter, a fruity flavour including peach, with a nice dry finish. All 3 were excellent ales from Twickenham Fine Ales, cheers! 

I will write more about The Old Bell at some time, in a blog or 2 I want to write about pubs of my youth, good and bad... Cheers again!!  

Friday 14 March 2014

Part I - A long weekend, starting at The Bricklayers Arms...

Started on Friday at The Bricklayers Arms in Putney, sorry, but when I'm in SW15, I just have to go there, simples... 

Sara (may end with an 'h', in fact, probably does, apologies if I've spelt it incorrectly) behind the bar, which is quite usual, and very pleasant, and regular faces including John this side of the bar. A few ales were available from the Surrey brewer, Pilgrim, from whom I cannot remember having one of their ales before: Moild, a 3.8% dark mild, apparently they speak that way; Progress, a 4% copper coloured 'Best Bitter'; Surrey Pale Ale, a 3.7% pale ale, obviously, but lacking a wee bit of flavour and body; and Weald Ale, a 3.6% pale golden ale, slightly malty with a dry finish, not bad.    

Other ales at The Bricklayers included, from Wiltshire, Keystone Bedrock Bitter (3.6%), another pale bitter that ran off before I could sample it; also from Wiltshire, Plain Ales Inndulgence, which I'm sure I've had before, a 'ruby porter', 5.2% and a lovely deep red colour, with a roasted barley aroma and taste, very nice; and more local, Twickenham Grandstand, to be discussed in Part II of this blog...  

Over the weekend I mostly watched rugby, but also, on the Saturday, I had a fair old West London walk to Barnes, Surrey bank of the Thames, and Chiswick and Hammersmith on the Middlesex side. Of course, when in W6! The Dove, by the Thames in Hammersmith is an excellent Fullers pub, great history and very close by Kelmscott House, the late 19th century residence of one of my heroes, William Morris; it would have been nice to share a few drinks with him and to discuss arts and crafts and politics. It's a Fullers pub I've been to many times, but Matt, the ex-manager now, has recently taken off to Africa with his wife, so awaiting a new manager. 

Of course, Fullers/Gales ales are sold here from their 4 handpumps. The ales are always in good condition here, and, should you find Fullers beers not to your taste, this is one of the Fullers houses you really should go to and try a pint of Fullers at before turning your head away from them. There was Gales HSB (4.8%); the excellent full-flavoured Fullers ESB (5.5%), one of my favourite darker ales; London Pride (4.1%), pretty much the Fullers beer that everyone has heard of, which, when sampled at somewhere that sells it quickly and knows how to look after their ale, like here, this is very good too; Chiswick Bitter, only 3.5%, and difficult to find, quite rare, in fact. Dry hopped and a lovely session bitter, incidentally, Chiswick was the favourite tipple of the local beer writer, Michael Jackson R.I.P. (not the singer and Fulham fan).  

Still in W6, I also visited the excellent The Duchess of Cambridge, on Goldhawk Road, near to Stamford Brook, and had a good chat with Simon, the landlord. The Duchess allows 50p reductions per pint on its real ales, most of which are usually served by gravity direct from casks behind the bar, to CAMRA members, thank you very much, also to teachers and NHS workers, and ticket holders for the nearby QPR Football Club on match days too, I do believe! I finished with a pint of the Windsor & Eton Conqueror Black IPA (5%), which I do believe I've discussed very recently, anyway, this is dark, yet hoppy, with a slight smokey flavour, and just £3.10 a pint with my discount, cheers Simon! 

Other ales included, from Wales, Brains Farmer Walloon (4.5%), a 'Saison' type version of a Belgian style, I got the Belgian, just, not bad... There were also 3 ales from the Nottinghamshire brewer, Milestone, 2 rugby directed, ie English Rose (4.5%), pale amber coloured and very nice, and Welsh Dragons (4%), paler with a slightly more malty flavour, not bad, and the darker Olde English Ale (4.9%). Sorry, but I forgot to make any other notes!

Cheers for now, look out for Part II! 

Sunday 9 March 2014

Something old, something new...

But nowt borrowed or blue, I think...

First, at the Albatross Club (RAFA) in Bexhill on Sea, the reigning local and regional CAMRA Club of the Year, where I had a, now becoming, old favourite, Crouch Vale, and you get very few poor ales from this Essex brewery, Yakima Gold (4.2%), pale, dry and bitter, and not one of the particularly fruity pale bitters on the market, this is a genuine pale bitter, lovely stuff indeed! The Albatross also, on my last visit, had 3 other local ales I have reported on before: Rother Valley RWB, a 4.4% "ruby wheat beer"; Isfield Toad in the Ale (4.8%), a medium coloured ale that was a typical hue of bitters in the past; plus the wonderful Dark Star Revelation (5.7%), though, surprisingly, I did not try that here, preferring to stay on the Yakima Gold, which says a lot about that ale, and not just to do with strength! 

However, Dark Star Revelation, and American Pale Ale (APA, 4.7%) have both been enjoyed by me at the recent addition to the CAMRA Good Beer Guide, The Tower in London Road, Hastings St Leonards, another fine purveyor of my favourite type of ales. The APA was dry, grapefruity, bitter and lovely, actually, and the Revelation was, as ever, packed with hops, Liberty, Centennial, Citra and Cascade, excellent! 

Also available has been fellow East Sussex brewer 1648 Signature (the signature being Cromwell's), a very pale 4.4% bitter with a slight biscuity malt in the flavour. In addition, of course, the ubiquitous Cornish brewer Sharp's Doom Bar (4%), why is it everywhere? Something to do with their sponsoring televised football, I do believe... The beer? Well, it's a medium coloured bitter, which most people will say, including the Cornish, by the way, that it doesn't taste like it used to (though my theory is that we're now spoilt by so many very hoppy ales being brewed, that our tastebuds have been altered significantly, consequently causing false memories). Oh yes, and the Dark Star collaboration with the West Yorkshire Saltaire Brewery, Bock (5.6%) was soon to come on, surprisingly a darker ale than one would expect from these two excellent brewers of pale and hoppy ales!

Meanwhile, back at the reigning local CAMRA Pub of the Year, the Dolphin, at Rock-a-Nore, Hastings 'old town', and a few new ales for me. This, the Salisbury Sarum IPA (4.3%), a very pale dry bitter, with a surprising hint of smoked malt in the aftertaste; the local Kings Poacher's Moon (4.1%), their 'flagship' best bitter; and all the way from the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, Bespoke The King's Shilling (4.2%), a dark brown ale with a nutty flavour. In addition, the Dolphin's 3 regular ales are Harveys Sussex Best (4%), Youngs Special (4.5%) and the crackin' Dark Star Hophead (3.8%), all well reported on before.

Cheers for now!