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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Opinion and rants

The Session #133 Announcement – Hometown Glories

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For this month’s edition of the Session, the proposed subject is ‘Hometown Glories’. Take this and run with it how you wish, but when thinking about possible subjects I had in mind an imminent visit to the place I spent my formative years and blogging about it’s highlights and wider beer scene. Possible starting points could be –

  •  Describing the types of bars/pubs you have in your home town, how popular are they? Has craft beer culture made much of a splash?
  • Are there any well-known breweries? Is there a particular beer or style that is synonymous with your home town
  • History of the town and how that can be reflected in its drinking culture
  • Tales of your youth, early drinking stories
  • Ruminations on what once was and what is now? Have you moved away and been pleasantly surprised or disappointed on return visits?

My visit over the next week is going to hopefully inspire me, and it’s a great excuse to visit a few old haunts and new venues. If you’re less enamoured with your hometown, or even if you left and never returned, feel free to respond anyway – maybe you’re an adopted native of somewhere better. My home town is no longer my home, so if you’d like to write about the place you feel most at home in relation to beer, that would be welcomed too.

I’m hoping this will spark a wide range of topics within the wider theme, and I look forward to reading your responses. Tag me in on Twitter – @barrelagedleeds – or comment below with a link if you prefer, by or on Friday the 2nd March.

Happy blogging!

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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.

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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. 

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Opinion and rants

Session #113 – Mass Observation 

I’m in a pub in the centre of Leeds, it’s full with a post-work/pre-party crowd and we’ve been lucky to get a seat in a side room.

Pretty much everyone is drinking, except for a few children, who are mostly hitting each other with balloon animals. The kids are cackling with laughter and their, admittedly hilarious, parents.

There’s a range of macro lagers, a few handpumps with decent if traditional micro choices, and Lagunitas, Freedom and Adnams keg beers on. There is a lot of people drinking from branded Peroni glasses, but a lot of freshly sparkled pints and a lot of people sharing bottles of wine.

Good choices of food on the menu, but in my side room there is only the family eating, egg and chips, cheesy chips and chippy chip chips. There is also a couple of people with crisps, which I think they brought themselves. My wife is almost apoplectic that there are no pork scratchings.

Most people are Chatting, playing with the kids, hardly anyone on their phones, except for us. Weirdos.

Conversation is mainly about a local event, which we’re going to shortly, Brexit, Work, their drinks, training dogs, and the pros and cons of online grocery shopping.

I wouldn’t hesitate to describe this pub as traditional, in the best way – lots of glass partitions, cornicing, tiled flooring, thick, fancy wooden tables, but also with more modern twists. Our room is also decorated with a number of prints of film posters, but the arty alternatives, not the ones actually used for promotion.

In the room I’m in there is one TV but it is turned off, suspect it’s just used for Rugby/Football matches.

There are real flowers in small vases on the table, nothing too unusual, nice light fittings, press button bells on the walls for service – I’ve tried it, no one came

Just one smoker outside, no vapers that I can see. No darts or pool table, but I know there is a wide range of board games in the other room, which are no doubt in use.

People here are dressed well, one is a dead ringer for Blossom (remember that?), conversation is loud but not raucous, there is background music at a present but not listenable volume. I think tomorrow never knows by the Beatles has just finished.

Our first glasses have just been collected, although mine had a small amount of a beer that I was saving, as it’s far better than what I’m currently drinking.

All I can smell now is delicious chips. Hungry beyond belief.

This is a pub with a mixed crowd, a wide range of beer, people actually talking to each other and a lot to look at and admire. An old Tetley’s house, there’s a faint whiff of former glories – as there should be given it’s proximity to the now-obliterated brewery. As we leave we walk through the site en route to our next destination. Just the two buildings remain, a office for what’s left of Carlsberg’s Leeds operations, and the iconic Art Deco brewery headquarters, now an art gallery funded by Carlsberg, possibly from guilt.

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