Tuesday 28 July 2009

Breweries With Visitor Centres And Shops

Greetings my gracious readers,

A nice friendly microbrewery of my acquaintance is moving to bigger premises and upgrading from 5BBL to something bigger. The new premises has room for a visitor centre-cum-shop.

What my friends would like to know is: what works? They would like to get an idea of what facilities they should install and what attractions to offer.

Could you provide me with the names of any small breweries that already offer this sort of thing so they can have a look?


Monday 27 July 2009

Undoing All The Good Work

For all the good people kindly raising appreciation of beer there'll be some other bugger being paid to lower expectations and encourage the consumption of utter rubbish. Here's one.

And A Good Night Was Had By All

After twenty or so years away I don’t know many people in my hometown of Barrow-in-Furness. One Barrovian I do know is TV’s Dave “Hairy Biker” Myers. Of course he’s a food geek in a big way but he’s also partial to beer, and lots of it, especially if it’s Belgian. I originally knew Dave as a customer when I worked for Utobeer at Borough Market. We had one of those “I know your accent” moments while he was buying some bottles of Kwak. I later interviewed Dave and his telly partner Simon King for Beers of the World.

I bumped into Dave at the weekend in the town centre and our chat drifted gradually to an almost telepathic “fancy the pub tonight?” meeting of minds. The pub in question was the Prince of Wales at Foxfield, ticker paradise, beer geek nirvana.

On the train on the way up we talked about Westvleterens. Dave hadn’t had them. I had. After a couple of pints to warm up our palates we started to browse the bottle list. I asked the barman if the list was up to date. “Er, not quite. It’s a bit obscure, you might not have heard of it. We’ve got some bottles of Westvleteren 8.” Crikey, we thought, this is an opportunity not to be missed.

Although, as a bar-owner, I’d stocked the full range of Trappist beers I’d never got round to doing a side-by-side comparison of Rocheforts and Westvleterens. I’ve long had a suspicion that Rocheforts are better and that Westvleterens, although utterly excellent beer, play a trick on the minds of drinkers by their rarity and cult status.

We all sampled the Westvletern 8 first ­– yup, we all confirmed, brilliant beer. The Rochefort 8 was opened, poured and passed around. Blimey! The fruit! The hop character! The malt! The finish! Rochefort had comprehensively trounced the Westvleteren. First round knock-out. The tasters: me; Dave Myers; Dave’s partner Lil; Lil’s son Serg and friend Ben Steel (big Rochefort fan) agreed unanimously ­– victory to Rochefort! I suppose, on reflection, a busy, bustling pub with lots of background distraction isn’t the place to studiously taste legendarily complex beers: the subtleties of WV may have fared better in quiet surroundings. Nonetheless the margin of victory was large.

We went on to enjoy several more beers and miss the last train back to Barrow (10.15pm). Dave Bailey had turned up and kindly offered to go 40 or so miles out of his way in his monster truck to get us home. Telly Dave and Lil invited us in for nibbles and a coffee. We tucked into an array of sublime smoked salmon, duck and chicken from the smokery at Haverigg Prison (you’ll be hearing about this in future). Forgetting the cuppa we sampled beers from Brewpub Dave’s very promising trial-bottling of his new beers. A “Red IPA” would seem to be a stunner but at 1.30am after a cracking night in the pub tastebuds were jaded. The drink moved on. Lil – who is Romanian ­– insisted we try a shot of the 60% abv plum spirit “Palinca”. It had turned into one of those nights. The kind of night you should have grown out of by the age of 25. It was brilliant.

[In the bleary cold light of the following day I found I'd left a note to myself: it said "Swinefever Ratzenberger". Go figure.]

Friday 24 July 2009

Pig Ignorant?

I don’t generally post beer reviews on this blog. I can’t be bothered. Had ratebeer been around in the mid to late nineties when my appetite for new beer experiences was at its most voracious I think I may well have become an uber ratebeer nerd, not a ticker mind you, flavour was always the big thing for me, not the list. Although I’d been introduced to good beer in my teens it was until my late twenties that I became a fully-fledged beer geek – buying beer books, traipsing around obscure beer shops and planning jaunts around local beer availability.

Anyway, I’ve started this post with a digression. What I really wanted to talk about was ongoing, all-consuming quest to understand the psychology, economics, anthropology, sociology and a whole host of other ologies – pertaining to beer: who drinks what, where they do it and why they do it. At this point I'd like to work in a gag about "what makes people tick" but I'm not sure how.

And so it was when I had a week in Egypt back in April. After a couple of days on the tourist trail I realised I was rarely weeing, and when I did it was almost like passing honey (OK, too much information). I was very dehydrated. I was turning into a human prune. 35C and 12% humidity had got to me. Mad dogs looked on in admiration.

I got to thinking about alcohol’s role in desert societies. Islam – often described as “the religion of the desert” ­– prohibits the consumption of alcohol. Also, alcohol is a diuretic: it makes you wee more than you put in at the other end. Water is scarce in the desert (that’s what defines it as desert of course). Could there be a link between Islam’s prohibition and alcohol being a diuretic?

I’m a life-long atheist (I even had to leave cubs because I refused to go to church parade). Nonetheless I’m utterly fascinated by the phenomena of religions – in the same way I’m a-CAMRA-ist but fascinated by it. I think a lot about things like this.

Islam and Judaism share a prohibition on the consumption of pig meat. This isn’t coincidence. For a large part of human history, any many parts of the world pigs have been hosts to fluke (I’m more than willing to be corrected on this). Getting fluke from eating infected meat is not a good idea. Simply attempting to spread the word (“psst, don’t eat pig, pass it on”) to hungry, illiterate peasants wasn’t good enough. “How do we make the message more forceful?” thought some enterprising Rabbis and Imams. “I know!” they chorused “we’ll call it a commandment from god or the teaching of a prophet or summat.” “Yes that’s it – if you eat pig, god won’t be happy with you and he may arrange something nasty for you in the afterlife. That’ll do the trick.”

And so it came to pass that the prohibition on pig consumption gained its status as religious dogma. Being religion though, rationality is discouraged. Fluke has long been eliminated in most of the world so Middle-Easterners can now tuck into pork with impunity. They don’t. The rule has stuck. Religion’s like that.

So, back to Egypt. I had a thought. Could Islam’s prohibition on alcohol have occurred in the same way – leaders wondering how to deter people from drinking booze in order to prevent dehydration and preserve water supplies? I reckon so. I’m not sure how Judaism escaped the same prohibition though. Perhaps it was because of early migration into Europe where there was lots of water.

I’ll leave you to ponder. I’m off to the pub.

Saturday 11 July 2009

Greene King pub disappoints – shock.

My local pub is a Greene King pub. I don't go anywhere near it. It's horrible. It has all the unique charm of a branch of McDonalds. It is very popular with the Daily Mail-reading hordes that populate the area I have the misfortune to call home (for the time being.)

Yesterday my friend rang: "I'm watching the test match on the big screen in the Strawberry – you coming?"

Cricket is the only sport I watch and I'm furious that it now belongs to Murdoch. I'm not remotely tempted to fork out for Sky – so, on the whole, I don't get to see Test Matches.

So, against my better judgement, I trundled round to the 'Berry. Mark was several pints in and rain was threatening to stop play. I don't particularly enjoy afternoon beer so I ordered a diet coke. It came in a nice branded glass with three large ice cubes. Unfortunately it only reached just over half way up the glass. I've consumed enough bottles of beer in my time to be able to make a good estimate of volumes of liquid. I got about 220ml of Diet Coke. I'm not certain but I think it may even have been a metered dispense. How much did they charge? £1.45. That's about £3.70 for a pint of post-mix.

That's nowhere near the £3/half that is charged in a notoriously awful pub that estate agents go to after work in my old stomping ground in South London: even so, I was mightily pissed off.

Wednesday 1 July 2009

Lovely Lager

I love lager.

I hate to hear ill-informed anti-lager rants from real ale jihadists. For a beer drinker to disregard all lager as rubbish is like a wine drinker dismissing all white wine as rubbish. Sure Blue Nun is crap, but that doesn't make all white wine crap. Sure Fosters et al are the Blue Nuns of the beer world, but they don't make all lager crap. When I hear any variation on the phrase "the war against lager", I think "this person doesn't actually care about beer."

Anyway, yesterday was hot. Last night my living room was 25c which is quite remarkable given that it spends ten months of the year at about 12-15c spurning the efforts of my central heating and gas fire to get it above 17c for any sustained period. So, last night I needed cold lager. I don't keep a huge cellar of exotic beer, in fact, lager is the only style I check I have emergency supplies of.

And so it was last night. First I opened a bottle of Staroslav from the Czech Republic. I wolfed it down without contemplative pauses a la Ice Cold in Alex. Not the most sophisticated lager I've ever had; a little too sharp in flavour and lacking complexity; but still hugely preferable to UK mass-market alternatives.

I then opened a bottle of Český Pivovar I had picked up in ASDA earlier. A whole different kettle of, er, malt and hops. Soft malt flavour reminded of the stuff inside Crunchie Bars I can't remember the name of. The Saaz hop character was beautifully integrated and a delight to behold. Thirst-quenching over and done with, I allowed Český Pivovar to caress my tongue and envelope me.

Lager inferior to ale? Nah, it's all just beer - some good, some bad.

BTW - You don't have to go to specialist beer shops for either of these beers, they're in national supermarkets. The Český Pivovar is in ASDA and Booths; Staroslav in Tesco and ALDI.