Opinion and rants

Remember when…

Remember when you could get a pint for less than three quid? Remember when pubs used to smell interesting? Remember when you could order a drink without being stuck behind people waiting for Gin cocktails? Remember when everywhere shut at 11pm? Remember when pubs closed in the afternoons? Remember when this place was heaving every lunchtime? Remember when I could drink six pints without needing a piss? Remember when she used to be in here with me every night? Remember when the police were called? Remember when this place got shut down?

No?

Just me then?

I’ll have a lucky dip for tonight too….and some green Rizla.

Ta mate.

Advertisements
Standard
Opinion and rants

The Session #133 – Planet Thanet

Margate

As a child growing up in the Isle of Thanet, Kent (not an actual Isle) my exposure to the pub was mostly a relatively humdrum experience, usually for a family occasion, or maybe a meal, even a new year’s eve visit. The odd trip up to my Dad’s local to watch him play for his Pool team, was about as exciting as pubs got for me during my early teens. Even as I got slightly older, and started paying for my own drinks the venues were quite run of the mill – we would go wherever would serve us, given that we were 16 or 17 at the time. Even during my student years in Leeds, the pubs were still just wallpaper in a occasionally visited room of my life, and the beer was of even less significance. Gradually, as I became more interested in beer and pubs, this changed. As did the places I visited – on visits back to Margate the difference was clearer, less good beer was available there and I could count the number of places worth visiting on one finger.

As a native turned occasional visitor, there’s no doubt I was missing somewhere that would have been a cut above the rest, but generally Thanet’s pubs were either owned by the local family operator or a national PubCo and were much the same. Friday and Saturday nights were busy everywhere, of course, but it was generally the same places and faces. Nowadays, this is far from the case. Having just spent a week in Margate and it’s wider locale I’ve been to less than a third of the places I would usually have liked to visit. Whilst the micropub revolution is still alive and kicking, there’s plenty of ‘regular’ sized pubs and bars that are worth visiting as well.

the-ravensgate-arms

Originally resurrected in 2014 by the now defunct Late Knights Brewery, the Ravensgate Arms was forcibly shut when it had its licence revoked last year due to allegations of opening after hours and breaches of the licence conditions, a decision that mystified many. The consensus opinion seemed to be that the management had been enjoying themselves a bit too much, and the authorities took a dim view of a few incidents by throwing the book at them. Luckily, Eddie Gadd, of the Ramsgate Brewery, joined forces with the original manager of the pub from 2014, to take over, reopening late last year. The pub not only has a great range of keg and cask beer, but a lively atmosphere and that ‘proper pub’ feel. If you’re into visiting a place with that ‘backstreet boozer’ feel, Gadd’s beers and guests can also be found at the Montefiore Arms, a short stroll away.

Now nestled away on an industrial estate, Eddie Gadd and his team have been operating The Ramsgate Brewery since 2002 when they operated on an old Firkin brewpub kit down in Ramsgate Harbour. Whilst the brewery may mainly have a reputation for making excellent traditional ales using Kentish hops, they also produce bretted pales, tripels, sour beers and much more besides. Tours are operated on Saturdays, and there’s an on-site shop offering packaged and draught beer to take away. Ramsgate Brewery alumni are spread far and wide across the UK these days, and Gadd’s have been influential in the current new wave of breweries, even if Eddie himself regards some of the surrounding culture with healthy cynicism.

Despite the name, the Bottleshop in Margate is primarily a bar – the owners being the Bottleshop importers/wholesalers, originating from Canterbury but now with their main sites in East London and Bermondsey. As they themselves have discussed, the decision to open a bar here was a bold one – but which seems to have paid off. Certainly, other than the Ravensgate there isn’t as good a beer selection elsewhere in Thanet, and their position, straddling Margate Old Town and the Seafront is a prime location for tourists and locals. Modern, sleek, but welcoming, this is a must-visit.

From the modern to the old, of sorts, The Old Cottage Pub has been undergoing a long, painstaking process of redevelopment and is scheduled to open this year. The building dates back from 1650 and the owners have taken every possible step to restore the building’s features, as well as install an on-site microbrewery. Their facebook page has been sporadically updated, including a 18 month period of silence, but I am assured that progress is being made. If you’re at a loose end, you can see their appearance on Homes Under the Hammer here. If historical pubs interest you it’s worth checking out the Northern Belle, a short walk from here, which has been operating since 1680. Also of significance is the UK’s largest branch of Wetherspoons at the Royal Victoria Pavilion in Ramsgate, a Grade II listed building – grand, opulent, and sympathetically restored. Ultimately it is still a ‘spoons though.

yard_of_ale_smj_800px

Much has been written about the relatively short history of Micropubs, and with Kent being the epicentre of the explosion its unsurprising to learn that Thanet is chock full of them. Amongst the crowd, there are a few that are particularly noteworthy – The Yard of Ale was a CAMRA national pub of the year finalist in 2015, and is based in the yard of a Funeral Directors’, The Fez is located on Margate high street and is eccentrically furnished with all sorts of tat and treasures, and The Four Candles in St Peter’s bills itself as the smallest brewpub in Britain – producing its own bottles and casks in the basement. It might disappoint the micropub purists, but The Tap Room in Cliftonville and the Lifeboat in Margate Old Town also now sell Keg. The horror!

My feelings towards the Isle have and haven’t changed, in terms of liveability its infinitely preferable now than when I was younger but its hard to tell if my ageing has been the main factor, or if the diversification of the area into a more lively, if still edgy place is more appealing. Certainly, it wasn’t an outwardly appealing place in my youth, but with the influx of new blood parts of it are markedly attractive – but thankfully still not in a shiny, polished way. There’s still a huge disparity between the inhabitants, with some very deprived communities and resentment of the DFLs (down from London) from the older, more backwards-focused residents, but ultimately the injection of culture and life over the last five or so years is vital and welcomed, especially for those looking for good beer

Standard
Opinion and rants

The Session #123 – Do you even blog, Bro?


For this month’s The Session, Josh from Beer Simple is asking us to ponder whether the Internet has been a help or a hindrance to craft beer. 

For the most part attitudes to online interaction have changed significantly from when I was a teen and online activities were only just becoming part of everyday life. Telling someone you’d met a friend/partner online back then would have attracted suspicion and concern for your wellbeing, and online discussion of even the least niche of topics would have you marked as an anti-social nerd. Now, blogging and vlogging is actively seen as a desirable thing to participate in, especially by marketeers.

Their emphasis on individual expression of opinion as ‘authentic’ has created a new way of obtaining cultural capital – maybe your opinion *does* matter – and consequently to participate in these activities and have your ideas acknowledged has become aspirational in itself.  The beer community isn’t separate from this – I’ve met people who feel the need to blog in order to have their opinions validated, or to be acknowledged that they are ‘into’ beer. Conversely, I’ve talked to people who devote their time to discussing beer online who have a ‘do you even blog, bro?’ attitude. 

Whilst I don’t think that craft beer blogging is subject to the level of falsity of paid-for content that other, less niche interest sites are, the desire to be recognised as knowledgeable coupled with the thrill of being ‘liked’ online can also be seen as compromising to the quality and diversity of beer – e.g ‘Blogger X says this beer is great, and that more Brewers should be doing something similar, and they have loads of followers – should I say the same?’ ‘As a beer lover, all these people are saying this is great, I should probably try it.’ ‘I brewed this IPA and these reviews are creating a buzz for this beer, I’ll make something similar soon, with a twist!’ 

Sometimes, of course, good beer is good beer, and there are loads of great bloggers, podcasters and vloggers out there who are objective and distinctive.  I don’t mean to be critical of anyone on a personal level, especially considering I don’t blog that often – spare time being the main factor but also because I don’t want to be retreading other people’s praise, and neither do I have the guts or desire to criticise other people’s hard work. Being overtly scathing  isn’t always necessary, but healthy self-awareness and constructive critical thinking of trends and fads within beer is, even if you don’t write about it overtly. Whenever there is a chorus of praise for something, I also try and think about those who aren’t singing at all. 

The internet has given me a plethora of information – on styles, on breweries, on individual beers – as well as the ability to chat and make friends with people I’d never have ended up meeting without it, so I’ve got a lot to be grateful for. But, like most things, sometimes there’s a tendency to get swept along by the positives, to a point where the downsides get overlooked – and sometimes the internet acts solely as a cheerleader for beery causes or ideals, when a degree of detachment would be more appropriate.

Standard
Opinion and rants

The Session #121 – Bock

This month’s Session is hosted by Jon Abernathy of The Brew Site who has nominated Bock as the topic of discussion;

‘The month of March heralds the start of spring, and March 20 is even National Bock Beer Day. So Bockbiers seemed like a natural fit for the month!

Don’t feel constrained to simply write a review of a Bock beer, though I’m certainly interested to read any reviews that come it. Some other ideas to consider:

  • Dig into into the history of the style—their ties to Einbeck, the differences in the development of Bocks and Doppelbocks, and so on.
  • Do any of your local breweries brew a Bock-styled beer? Seek it out and write about it.
  • Alternatively, interview your local brewer who brewed that beer; get their take on the style and why/how they brewed it the way they did.
  • Have you ever attended Bockfest in Cincinnati, Ohio? It just so happens to take place the first weekend of March—write a review for The Session!
  • There are already the styles of traditional Bock, Doppelbock, Maibock, Eisbock, Weizenbock (and Helles Bock and Dunkles Bock in the BJCP) guidelines. Just for fun, invent a new style of Bock and describe it.
  • Have you homebrewed a Bock or similar style? Tell us about it, and anything you learned brewing this lager style at home.
  • Bock puns!’

To be honest, i’m finding it hard to resist the final suggestion, but my pun gun has long been retired and i’ve tried to commit myself to writing something other than a straightforward review for this month’s post. Here goes, can’t bock out of it now….dammit.

My first thought when I saw the topic for this month was about as far removed from ‘craft’ beer as it is possible to get. My mind wandered back to 2005, when I was definitely not ‘into’ beer – pretty much every purchase I made would have been at the supermarket, and one such trudge through the aisles turned up something new, and to me at the time, exciting – Artois Bock.

beer_49038

In 2005, Stella Artois was ubiquitous in the UK, far from being ‘reassuringly expensive’ it was seemingly in every pub, bar and chain swill house in the country. The attempts at marketing itself as a luxury, heritage brand had given way to the image of smashed Brits consuming it by the bucket load. As Pete Brown, who had played a large part in ensuring the success of original campaign to position Stella Artois as a quality, premium product in a sea of 4%-ish pale lager, wrote in 2008, Artois Bock had a far more authentic claim to the storied history that was being written for Stella, but the powers that be failed to recognise this and rested on their laurels, delaying the launch by 6 years.

By the time of its eventual release in 2005, the Stella brand had been tainted and recycled into a byword for Saturday night thuggery. It seemed like whenever an incident of drunken disorder was reported, the suggestion was made that it was fuelled by this particular ‘strong’ lager, even though there were plenty of other similar products on the market. Concern from alcohol bodies and the press about binge drinking was a familiar theme, and even at launch InBev were fighting off accusations that the introduction of a 6.2% ABV beer into the UK market was irresponsible.

Looking back at the concern and debate around Stella as a whole, and the launch of Artois Bock in particular, it seems odd, if not laughable when compared to what is readily available in many beer bars up and down the country in 2017. However, there is a peculiarly British obsession with ABV, and Stella’s original strength of 5.2% would have seen it fall firmly into the category of ‘loopy juice’. To launch a new style at this time, at a higher strength, from such a mainstream brand, with a reputation like Stella’s was going to overshadow any marketing, no matter how good the product. Even if it was a bold move by InBev, and actually one that tried to introduce new ideas to their existing market, it seemed a last roll of the dice in trying to position the overall brand as worthy. 

Unfortunately for InBev, it seems from the available apocryphal evidence that the product was also a bit crappy. My own memories of the beer are almost useless – i didn’t really know what it was, I preferred the Peeterman Artois (a wheat-based lager with coriander that was quickly dumbed down even further), and of course, it was 6.2%! I couldn’t have drunk more than a few bottles of that! Loopy juice isnt it?

12 years on, and while I still look in on the Bock family from time to time (Paulaner Salvator currently being sipped), it’s never really taken a place on the podium of styles I really savour. I certainly cannot argue that the stalled curate’s egg of a large macro trying to introduce a minority style into the mass market put me off persisting with Bocks – i just think I prefer my bread in solid rather than liquid form.

 

Standard
Reviews and events

The Session 120: Brown Beer


For this month’s Session topic, Joe Tindall who writes at The Fatal Glass of Beer has nominated a tricky subject to blog about. I say tricky, because in the discourse of modern beer ‘Brown’ has become a inexplicably maligned descriptor, and brown ale as a style is often overlooked or derided.

Brown is what your parents drank. Brown is dull and lifeless. Brown is  unfashionable, and comes in clear bottles, from brands that no longer exist as independent entities, so passé that they’ve become a joke even amongst the communities that they sprouted from. However, Brown ales are also flavourful, rich, moreish, and despite the negatives, are still one of the most satisfying styles around, even more so when brewed with care and creativity.

My original intention for this post was to find a couple of the classics, and drink them side by side with some newer examples. I quickly realised that it would be a pointless task, mainly because the likes of Newcastle Brown and Mann’s have been reduced to pointlessness by a indifferent beer market and the financial pressures of supermarket discounting.

Also, as most contemporary brown ales available are jazzed up and trend-driven, a comparison would be uneven. So instead of digging up the time capsule and finding nothing but a mouldy newspaper and a badly spelled letter, I picked up two bottles that I thought would be at distant ends of the modern Brown ale scale.


Blackjack Brewery are one of Manchester’s new wave of railway arch Brewers, nestled up in the Green Quarter on the edge of the city centre. The River is a Farmhouse Brown that is billed as ‘far from ‘brown’ as it gets’. There is certainly a extreme funk in the air as I pop the cap, and a small gush of foam – the yeast in the bottle has certainly been working away – but the liveliness still sprays out a nutty aroma that screams brown ale.

To taste, I’m getting a lot of banana esters and also a sweet toasty cocoa. The yeasty, brett-like funk gives it an edge that seems a little strange, almost distracting at first, but as a counterpoint it works. I would have liked a bit more spice, perhaps, but it’s a good concept and pretty well executed too.


Odyssey Brew Co are a new, but increasingly lauded brewery hidden away in deep countryside between Hereford and Worcester. They’ve attracted a lot of attention for their range of aggressively flavoursome beer, and this imperial oatmeal stout fits in with that ethos.

My bottle is full of vanilla, coffee and chocolate, and is thick, with a sharp boozy finish – almost akin to a bourbon aged stout. However there is also that characteristic brownness underneath, with lots of sticky caramel and a gentle bitterness. My only criticism would be that on the finish the vanilla slightly overpowers the other flavours.

To be honest, my previous Odyssey experiences didn’t leave me reeling with excitement, but this beer shows why they’ve got a lot of praise. A real hefty pudding of a beer.

With these two beers, and others I’ve tried recently – North Brewing Co’s Bulkhead and Magic Rock’s The Stooge, both excellent from cask – there is clearly life in the style amongst UK brewers, even if the parameters of the style are being ever more stretched. 

Standard
Fridge Favourites, Reviews and events

A Pirate Life for me

David at Bier Huis in Ossett, near Wakefield stocks a wide range of great beer, mostly from the UK but with decent picks from Europe and the USA, and when I pop in I often find something I havent seen or heard of before. 

Upon my last visit I was intrigued to see a selection of beers from Pirate Life Brewing. Australian beer is a rare thing to see in the U.K outside of the usual macro suspects, and so I picked up one each of the cans on offer for an evening’s entertainment. 

The Throwback Session IPA was the first to be popped, and it poured as expected – light, golden and clear. There was a crisp, underwhelming aroma but with a sweet lemony hint. Befitting it’s name the finish was quite like a light session bitter rather than a pale, but the flavours were easy going and fruity, and the Simcoe shone through in a lightly savoury aftertaste. A thoroughly smashable easy drinker, and not quite what I expected from an Aussie brewery (I know, prejudiced stereotyping here) – I could imagine this being drunk by the pint from a  cellar cool cask.

The Pale also took my tastebuds by surprise. The aluminium cracked, the contents unleashed a big foamy whoosh into my glass, and there was a musky, piney, peppery aromatic flood. There wasnt much fruit on the nose, but lots of syrupy pineapple, and sticky malt on the tongue. Bitter and fresh, it certainly didn’t taste like it had been affected by the beer miles from Adelaide to West Yorkshite. Strongly resinous and sweet, I’d describe the Pale as Torpedo-esque, oily and thick. One to try and try again.

Following the Pale I had great expectations for the IPA. A slightly hazy amber in the glass, this is more of a typically west coast IPA, with Centennial to the fore on the aroma. On the tongue I got sherbet orange and lime, a lot less bitter than the pale, but still sweetly citric. More so than the pale, there was a now commonplace savoury aftertaste where I’d like to find a more pronounced bitterness. Not quite what I want, but I appreciate it for being more than a box ticker, and I’ll be trying this again.

I left the IIPA until the next day, as at 8.8% and 500ml, I didn’t think I would be giving it a fair trial after the other three. Similar to the Pale in colour, perhaps a shade or two darker, it was dialled up to eleven on the dank and juicy scale. There’s lots of passion fruit and mango, but with the pungent bitterness to cut through. An Double IPA that pays as much attention to the use of malt as the hops, this is thick and full but a different kind of prospect to the current run juice-like IPAs. Although I didn’t notice it at the time of purchase, due to chatting about beer, this certainly wasn’t cheap but it definitely was memorable, and given the distance travelled, volume of the can and level of quality provided it was justified. 

Many times, I’ve gone off plan and bought something exotic or unusual and been disappointed, but Pirate Life have created two good and two great beers that I’m pleased I stuck my cash on the line for. 

Standard
Reviews and events

#12BeersofXmas – Day 9 – Holy Oak

After a few days of eeking out a share each of a 330ml bottle, we’re back in big bottle country tonight, and the beer that I am most looking forward to of this year’s selection.

Gigantic brew out of Portland, Oregon and had their fourth birthday earlier this year, they prepared to mark the occasion by flying Magic Rock’s Nick Ziegler out in advance to brew Holy Oak – a barrel-aged kettle sour designed to mimic a whiskey sour cocktail. The collaboration must have gone well as Gigantic made the return trip to brew Special Relationship – a Manhattan cocktail-style aged beer – earlier this year.

I didn’t get round to tasting Holy Oak when it was originally released, and I also thought that I’d missed out on a bottle due to my own inaction. Luckily, Becky noted my interest and picked a bottle up, which has been sitting in our kitchen waiting for the right moment. Which is now.

A satisfying hiss accompanied the popping of the cap, which is usually a good sign, and the beer poured with a thick dense foam. The aroma is obviously max bourbon, but also sweet citrus. The sourness of the beer is pronounced but it balances the oaky bourbon by providing a sugary, tangy hit on the aftertaste. Which isn’t to say that it is overly sweet – it’s designed to ape a Whisky Sour and does so to a tee.

Even the mouthfeel is spot on – slight hints of a thick creamyness, which I would expect from egg yolk in the cocktail – and it isn’t  light, throwaway like a lot of kettle soured beers are. It’s one of those beers that demonstrates it’s creator’s methods with extra layers. I’m very impressed, not only with the end result, but also with the level of thought that must have gone into the process. I think Becky is also pretty happy with this one.

‘It used to be that when Gareth had a sour he would ask me to try it then sit tittering at the expression of disgust on my face. Now however I know if the style of beer I’m trying is a sour that it’s pretty certain I’ll love it and this is no exception. Again another boozy number on the nose and the whiskey taste definitely comes through. Not sure I could drink more that one glass of this one as it feels really strong and is certainly hitting the spot tonight. I best stop now though or I’ll have a ‘Gigantic’ hangover again tomorrow.’

It’s fair to say I’ve certainly not been disappointed with Holy Oak, I’m a bit sceptical of beers that seem to be aping a different drink, but the success of both this and Special Relationship have shown that amazing results can be achieved.

Standard