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.

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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.

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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

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#12BeersofXmas – Day 6 – Surt Til


I’m not really that bothered about getting boozed up on Christmas Day – far too much to do, games to be assembled, and massive amounts of food to be eaten. Things have died down a bit now though, so I’ve popped my second beer of the day.

Completing a hat-trick of To Øl selections is Surt Til, a sour table beer, designed to be a liquid equivalent of the pickled vegetables served alongside a Danish christmas dinner. As the blurb says, why eat your vegetables when you can take a drink? I’m inclined to agree.

The pour is lively, less ice man, more ice cream man, but the carbonation is just right. There are some salty notes and a bit of funk, but also a bit of a soapy, thin finish, which is not entirely unexpected for a table beer. The sourness is fleeting but crisp, with some typically savoury hints from the Mosaic.

Overall, this is a satisfying beer but not as moreish as Sur Yule. This was another of Becky’s choices for the lineup, and as she’s done most of the hard work today I’ve given her the majority of the bottle.

‘The only downside to doing the cooking is I sip all the booze I can get my hands on whilst chopping and stirring so I’m feeling a bit pickled! That being said I am once again regretting sharing my lovely To Øl beer with Gareth. Of the two I thought I would like the Sur Yule the best but this is divine. I love an easy drinker and this is incredibly quaffable. No flavours standing out it’s just clean and crisp and even (trying to make my contribution festive!). I could drink this all day long – I’m looking forward to getting my hands on more To Øl goodies in 2017!’

Hope you’ve all had a good day, and that you’ve got a fun evening planned.

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#12BeersofXmas – Day 3 – Bearded Lady Grand Marnier


Day three and the Pettmans have shifted to Kent, back in town for the bulk of Christmas. I’ve bought a box o’booze and today’s selection has been momentarily chilling on the rear window sill.

Recently re-brewed, this can of Magic Rock Brewing’s Bearded Lady Grand Marnier edition has been in the can for about ten months (I think) and I’m looking forward to seeing if the chocolate orange character remains, or if this has altered.

Becky is definitely not a fan of Stout, although she has found the occasional palatable example, and still happily persists at trying anything I open. Not sure if tonight’s beer will make a breakthrough or not – on opening I get aromas of orange as expected, although the initial taste is more liquorice. The texture is thick and luxuriant, velvety smooth but interrupted on the finish with some warm boozy vapours. There’s touches of vanilla to smooth the flow from glass to gullet, and while it drinks like a 10.5%er, I’m finding it hard to sip rather than slurp. Eminently drinkable. Has it made a positive impression on she who shall not be stouted?

‘Another attempt for me to find a stout I want to take on a second date….It started with a sniff (there’s a song in there somewhere) and I thought I was going to love this one. The chocolatey orange aromas made me think this was going to  be right up my street. But alas when I had a taste it made me pull my ‘stout face’ (again I can try to find an appropriate gif). It’s probably the least offensive of the stouts I’ve tried but still not for me. I shall persist on my stout mission (impossible)’.

Is stout one of those things people either ‘get’ or not? I suppose that could be said about the majority of beer I drink. Even as a fan, I think most stout, especially the stronger end of the register, is something that has very limited appeal to casual beer drinkers. I don’t really fetishise the Impys but this is an excellent beer and something that was the potential to win over the indifferent, but not tonight.

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Opinion and rants

Golden Pints 2016

Golden Pints Logo
As I raised glasses of beer to my lips in 2016, there was a chance the taste would be adulterated by the steady stream of bitterness spewing forth from my reaction to the year’s events. As we step tentatively towards another year, here’s hoping the following beers don’t cark it/get watered down following a takeover/withdrawn from the market following a referendum.

Best UK Cask Beer – for the second year running my consumption of Cask beer has been low, in part due to the proflieration of keg across Leeds, in part due to a lack of places consistently serving it well. Magic Rock’s Common Grounds stands out as a memorable pint, even if it wasn’t that widely available on cask.

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Best UK Keg Beer – Marble have cranked and revamped their output this year, and their Heavy Metal series was full of delights. The few pints of Your Betrayal I had at their Thomas Street bar in Manchester were near-revelatory. More and more great Lager followed later in the year, but I kept coming back to this one as a quality marker.

Best UK Bottled Beer – Tzatziki Sour by Mad Hatter never ceases to amaze and confuse. A modern classic for me, and one of those beers where I love watching people’s initial reaction. Runners up go to Thornbridge’s barrel aged releases, Love Amongst the Ruins being another favourite.

 
Best UK Canned Beer – Northern Monk’s collaborative Trilogy of Hops, Malt and Yeast produced three great beers, but Hops was pretty much as perfect an IPA as I could wish for. Occasionally, it seems like a beer has been brewed to match your exact taste, and Hops ticked all the boxes for me.

 
Best Overseas Draught – Narrowly missing out on best overseas bottle, 8-Wired’s Hopwired IPA was a showcase of NZ brewing and a dank, deep dip into a whirlpool of hops.

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Best Overseas Bottled Beer – Thanks to generous fellow bottleshare attendees, I was lucky enough to try two Bottles from Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, both of which were outstanding. Their Peche n’ Brett was one of my favourite beers of the year, and i NEED more.

 

Best Overseas Canned Beer – Almost by default I’m choosing Cigar City’s Jai Alai, as I didnt have an awful lot of overseas cans, but what a beer it is. Truly a great example of what US breweries can produce, and still one example of the sort of standard our brewers should be looking to emulate. To Øl’s cans were also wondrous, especially Sur Amarillo.

 
Best Collaboration Brew – Probably one on many people’s list – Magic Rock/Cloudwater/Lees’ Three’s Company – again, another example of everything I look for in a DIPA. The rebrewed Big Dipper (sans Lees) is also tasting brilliant.

 
Best Overall Beer – Your Betrayal wins outright for me, it was, and is, a true beer crush. Although, Lost and Grounded’s Running with Sceptres would have been another corner in the love triangle of UK lager had it made an earlier appearance in the year.

 
Best Branding – Its hard to look past Cloudwater and their ever changing, yet consistently wonderful labels.

 
Best Pump Clip – Elusive’s Plan-B tickled me, a moment of lightness in the Brexit madness.

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Best Bottle/Can Label – Northern Monk’s patrons series has produced excellent artwork and an insight into the process behind their creation, with my favourite being the 3.01 Attack on the Bounty – release the kraken!

 
Best UK Brewery – Too many to really narrow it down to one – I drink more beer from Yorkshire breweries than anywhere else, and i’d have to pick a side between Northern Monk and Magic Rock.

 
Best Overseas Brewery – Both Becky and I have been investing heavily this year in the delights of To Øl, and in particular their large cans – Sur Amarillo being my absolute favourite. Cant wait to get stuck into their Christmas beers shortly.

 
Best New Brewery Opening 2016 – The owners of North Bar took a brave step by opening their own Brewery this year, and created a range of beers that certainly weren’t out of place amongst more established greats on the taps of their outlets. Transmission IPA was an immediate hit, and even outshone Cannonball in the eyes of some. Add an excellent Pale, Kolsch and Kettle Sour to the mix, combine it with a relaxed environment and you’ve got a great afternoon in store at their tap room.

 
Best Pub/Bar of the Year – I’m staying close to home and picking the Kirkstall Bridge, not only because they’ve got a decent selection of beers on, but also because they’ve bounced back so well from the dramatic flood of last Christmas. Rammed during the summer months, inside and out, this is a truly pleasant place to drink especially after a long walk along the canal.

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Best New Pub/Bar of the Year – I’m going back to my home town for this one and nominating The Tap Room in Cliftonville, Margate. A friendly welcome goes a long way, and Phil and co at the Tap Room are certainly miles ahead of much more established places on that front. Great selection of beer, and well served – miles better than the usual flat micropub gravity pour that I’m used to on visits back home. With the opening of the Bottleshop’s first all out bar, other new Micros, and the change in direction for the Lifeboat, Margate has a varied beer scene to accompany its rebirth. Go for a visit!

 
Beer Festival of the Year – Leeds International wins again, maybe i’m being locally loyal, but they’ve got the lead on organisation and atmosphere over the other large craft festivals.

 
Supermarket of the Year – A few months ago, i’d have said Morrisons, but Tesco have pipped them to it, decent compact range of Beer at a good price. Still nowhere near as good as an indy shop, but its great for when i’m pushed for time.

 
Independent Retailer of the Year – I find this category the most difficult to choose a winner, being spolit with tons of great shops run by lovely people in Leeds. I’m going to go for Raynville Superstore this year, just for the sheer enthusiasm and gusto with which Jonny has vested into building up his range and knowledge of his products.

 
Online Retailer of the Year – My best online experience this year has been with Brewdog’s online shop. It may or not be relevant that this was my only online beer purchase this year.

 
Best Beer Book or Magazine – I dont often pick up many examples for this category, but Hop and Barley’s periodicals are always well presented and interesting when I do.

 

Best Beer Blog or Website – Even though they deserve it, I’m not going to nominate Boak and Bailey this year, but instead I’ll go for Pete McKerry’s Brew Geekery – tells me stuff about the local scene (London) and he writes in a down to earth, consistent style that I like.

 
Simon Johnson award for Best Beer Twitterer – My favourite tweeters range from the ranty, to the educational and to the all rounders, but i’d go for Tom of #craftbeerhour fame for his efforts at bringing producer and drinker together on a Tuesday night, which keeps going from strength to strength.

 
Best Brewery Website/Social Media – Magic Rock have got this category sown up, although to be fair i’m mainly awarding it for the tweets for Magic Rock Tap – regular tap lists, information well in advance about upcoming events, quick responses and a bit of wit.

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Reviews and events

Well lit

October was a busy month across West Yorkshire (and beyond) for beery events. Tap takeovers, beer launches, and tap room social events all activated the FOMO (fear of missing out) sensors, but with a visit to this year’s IndyManBeerCon on the cards too, i had to ration my outings.

One event that I really didn’t want to miss was a rare opportunity to taste a selection of beers from Cigar City Brewing of Tampa, Florida. Whilst I’d tried the odd third here and there over the years, the lure of Jai Alai IPA and the much vaunted Hunahpu Imperial Stout on tap is a rare enough occurrence to bring out the squeaky voiced nerd on my shoulder telling me to go along.

The reason for the timing of the event was seemingly that Magic Rock had invited brewmaster Wayne Wambles over for a collaborative brew, and he had very kindly arranged for a fresh pallet of kegs and cans to be flown in. Fresh beer is always a good way to seal a cross-atlantic friendship. Mr Wambles was there to offer a few words on the beers on offer, and also to sing the praises of traditional British brewing – their Brown Ale is a homage to those of the UK, Cask beer can’t be beaten, Fish and Chips is the ideal accompaniment to good ale.

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Wayne Wambles addressing his audience

Aside from gracious comments about your hosts, the best way for a guest to leave a good impression is to provide a thoughtful gift. The first of these that i tried was the much-vaunted Jai-Alai IPA. Described by Wayne as pitching up somewhere between the West-Coast and New England/Vermont/East Coast IPA, it does indeed provide identifiable elements of both – a huge aroma, stereo pineyness, hazy but not definitely not turbid, but also dank and pillowy to taste, juicy on the finish and without a cutting bitterness.

The Maduro brown ale was my next choice, and whilst Wayne discussed about how british brown ales influenced the recipe for this beer, its clear that there’s plenty of local flavour. Initially, i thought that it was crisp but traditional, and perhaps even a bit pedestrian, but the further down the glass i went, extra depths were revealed – chocolate roastiness, hints of espresso and, obviously, cigar smoke. As a standalone beer, its good, if not jaw-dropping, but pair this with a roast beef, ribs, or rich dark ganache and you’ve got a pairing of pure joy.

The only Cigar City Beer i didn’t get excited about was Ligero – a black lager whose name is a reference to a part of the tobacco leaf that gives cigars a spicy flavour. As you may have  guessed, the smoky, spiciness was reflected in the flavour of the beer – Wayne explained that he was inspired by German Schwartzbiers, and while the smoke was certainly not overpowering, it was enough for me – perhaps the contrasting sweetness of the Maduro and Jai-Alai meant my palate suffered slightly. One I’d like to give another go in a different place and time.

Having heard about the feverish demand amongst US devotees, the promise of a taste of the 2016 Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout intrigued me to say the least. Brewed once a year, the ingredients include cacao nibs, cinnamon and ancho and pasilla peppers. Personally, the inclusion of chillies in a beer is usually an instant turn-off, having drunk my way through a series of underwhelming or plain disgusting chilli beers i wasn’t expecting to enjoy Hunahpu stout as much as i did. Brewmaster Wayne discussed the beer in terms of its relation to a chocolatey Molé sauce, and the sensation of drinking this thick stout, full of dark chocolate and sweet, piquant chilli was revelatory. Ultimately, the strength of the beer was its fine balance – sweet yet warming, rich but not chewy. It was a shame that the keg kicked shortly after I finished my third, as I would have drink more of this. A lot more.


As well as the keg delights, I also picked up weeks-old cans of Jai Alai, Maduro and also Invasion pale ale to take home, which was, like Maduro, seemingly inspired by UK equivalents – dry, tantalisingly bitter, and gently aromatic . Currently, I understand that it is unlikely that there will be a wider distribution of Cigar City’s offerings in the UK, but if you see them, have a chomp.

 

 

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12 Beers of Xmas – To Øl – Mine is bigger than yours

Stuffed. Eaten loads. Including about 5 slices of chocolate mousse pudding cake thing. Dropped off and startled awake by my laughter slapping my legs and laughing at me…not sure if a large glass of Barley Wine is the best idea.

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But it is Christmas so off I go, cap popped! The glass fills, and the increasingly opaque mahogany beer kicks out a sweet aroma. It may just be the leftovers but it smells like Christmas Cake and Grand Marnier. A lightly carbonated mouthfeel, it’s smooth and strangely creamy and belies the 12.5% abv. That familiar fruity flavour is present but also cocoa and a slight smokiness. Absolutely no alcohol burn, which you’d expect from seasoned cuckooers like To Øl.

So, halfway through and not a disappointing #12BeersofXmas yet. My favourite so far is probably the De Molen Amarillo, although tonight’s selection is pushing it close. Might be changing up the remaining choices when I return to Leeds tomorrow after a very productive visit to the Bottle Shop Canterbury.

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12 Days of Xmas – Brouwerij Girardin – Gueuze (White Label)

It’s Christmas Eve! The street is quiet, we have returned from the Pub and put the bubba to bed. Something light and fizzy will set the evening off and luckily I have a Girardin Gueuze chilling outside under the clear night sky.

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This is the White Label version, so Oude Gueuze but filtered, resulting in a sufficiently tart but not overly complex sourness. The aroma is marmalade and sherbet with a passion fruit bite. This is a great Gueuze to incorporate into a session and I’d recommend it, but for a more serious sour profile I would get a Boon mariage parfait or something from Cantillon.

I hope your Christmas Day goes well, and that this lottery ticket was a winner…

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