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Tyson is an underpaid writer, beer anarchist and cheese addict living in the North West of England.
If the people are buying tears, I'll be rich someday, Ma

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Breakfast Beer Tasting: Stevens Point Belgian White

Ok it’s over the pond we go for this morning’s breakfast accompaniment. Stevens Point are in Wisconsin-rather them than me-and I’m quite a fan of their IPA, so was looking forward to this. It’s 5.4% and is a miserly 15 on the IBU scale; about what you’d expect from this style of beer. Ingredients wise, it has Hallertau and Saaz hops, a Belgian yeast strain and is flavoured with Curacao orange peel and coriander.

It poured hazy yellow with reasonable carbonation and a medium sized fluffy white head that didn’t hang around. The aroma was a little bready with some orange and herb in the background. Body wise it was light on the palate, hiding the alcohol well, with a gentle mix of bread, orange and a faint spiciness. Typical of the style, if understated. The finish was more of the same with a gentle fade out.

Tyson says: Acceptable but unremarkable. 

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Down Memory Lane: A Visit To The Clarence

The Clarence situated on the corner of Silver Street in Bury is the last surviving pub of that once proud street. Nowadays it boasts a rather less than stellar collection of part-time bars and wannabe pubs. But back in the day, the pubs were bold statements of intent from ambitious breweries. The Clarence, juxtaposed with the busy thoroughfare of Bolton Street, was an impressive multi-floored public house with guest rooms that gave panoramic views right up to Holcombe Hill. By the time I got to frequent it in the late 1970s, its glory days-like all the old-timers-were over but it still remained impressive. There were less travelling salesmen than there used to be but it still offered cheap B&B and still boasted a modified version of its original multi-roomed layout. This made it popular with under-age drinkers who could purchase their drinks and scuttle into an unobserved corner. I remember being fascinated as it had by then a rarity: an upstairs room with bar. I think this was the original billiards room. My brother in law was a very keen snooker and pool player and when he moved in there, it hosted many a snooker match. 

(Clarence 1977)

It was also unusual in that it was a Vaux pub. The Sunderland brewer had a small number of pubs in the Bury area but their beers never really suited the local palate and I can’t claim to have been a fan. After the implosion at Vaux, Whitbread bought their estate and Boddingtons arrived at the Clarence. By now it was a single open-plan entity and with each new owner, it deteriorated along with its customer base and real ale. There was a little hiatus with the restoration of the original fireplace and a flirtation with Taylors Landlord, but even calling it the Duke of Clarence couldn’t ultimately stop the rot. Why all this nostalgia? Well because, against all odds, it’s coming back. Bigger and better than ever. Owner Lee Hollinworth is really bringing something special to Bury and last week I got to have a peek inside. Darren Turpin, he of the mighty Greater Manchester Ale News, has written an excellent summary of the visit here. I’d just like to add my thanks to Lee, Craig, Brian and Lisa for the opportunity and to remind people to put the opening night of Friday 3rd October in their diaries. It looks like the Clarence is ready to shine again.

Breakfast Beer Tasting: Barney's Good Ordinary Pale Ale

Today we are off to Scotland for our breakfast trick or treat. We try to escape their imperial yoke but the Scots continue to taunt us by sending their beer over here. Haven’t we suffered enough with Deuchars? Anyway Barney’s promises to be different and is brewed on the original Summerhall brewery site in Edinburgh. It’s a 330ml bottle-conditioned 3.8%.

It poured a hazy dark gold/amber with reasonable carbonation and a large white head. The aroma is sweet malt, a tang of orange and a little yeasty. It’s light-perhaps a little too thin-on the palate with a little lemon and caramel malt coming to the fore. The finish is medium dry with a little grainy residue.

Tyson says: Ambitious title but not quite hitting the mark. 

Monday, 18 August 2014

Breakfast Beer Tasting: Fourpure Pils

A potentially interesting breakfast treat this morning with this can, yes can, of Fourpure Pils. Fourpure are one of the leading exponents of the now famous Bermondsey Mile and their beers, rightly in my view, are considered some of the best in London. As an up and coming brewery of note, it’s not surprising that they have decided to enter the canned market as its clearly the future for their kind of product. But is it any good?

It’s a 330ml can and is 4.7%. It’s brewed with Hallertauer and Saaz hops and is fermented, unsurprisingly, with a Bavarain yeast. It tips the scales at 35 International Bitterness Units, so not that far off Holts Bitter level. It poured a lovely clear golden colour with excellent soft carbonation and a large long-lasting head. The aroma was light breaded malt and a little hay.

It has a recommended serving temperature of 6’C and at that, it really has a clean and crisp refreshing bite. Let it warm up and you get even more of the mellow malt and slightly grassy hop notes. It’s got a lot more bitterness than you’d expect and any vanilla notes are well hidden. The finish is pleasingly dry and you are automatically guzzling another mouthful before you know it. Fans of Jever will like this.

Tyson says: Excellent. Welcome to the future. 

Sunday, 17 August 2014

To London Once More We Rode

Another day, another tour round London. This time craft was definitely off the agenda. Why? Well because we were escorting Uncle Albert round. Now as he reaches for the defibrillator when prices reach £2 a pint and the only craft he thinks is in arts & craft, it was always going to be a more traditional crawl. First stop was the Royal Oak on Tabard St. This classic Victorian street corner boozer is of course Harvey’s only outlet in London and worth a visit on that basis alone. Next up was a visit to see how the other half live in Belgravia. The Grenadier should need no introduction: once the local of the Duke of Wellington, it has hosted celebrities such as Madonna and now Uncle Albert. Although smelling salts were needed when he saw the price of a pint of Landlord.
(First of many)

(The Grenadiers latest recruit)

Blackfriars station has had some £600M spent on it and very nice it looks too. Just as impressive is the Blackfriars pub which boasts some interesting Art Noveua designs. It’s amazing to think that such a splendid pub was set to be demolished in the 1960s and only intervention by the likes of John Betjeman saved it. And talking of historic pubs, just round the corner on Fleet St is the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. Rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666, this is a behemoth of a pub with a warren of rooms and cellars. Past patrons have included Dr Johnson and Charles Dickens and it reminded Uncle Albert of what pubs were like when he was a lad. The price of the Sam Smiths didn’t hurt, either.

(This pub is nearly as old as me)
(Look what I've bought)
From the historically large to the historically small. The Seven Stars on Carey St is a beautifully quirky establishment that dates back to 1606. Its close proximity to the Royal Courts of Justice ensures a steady stream of legal types celebrating or commiserating cases.  Legendary landlady Roxy Beaujolais keeps a regal eye on proceedings and those of you with longer memories will remember her once equally famous cat: Tom Paine. The Harp in Covent Garden is another rightly famous drinking institution that won CAMRA’s national Pub of the Year award in 2011. One turned into two etc., in there but we still managed to squeeze in the Euston Tap and managed some beer for the train home as well. A job well done said Uncle Albert. 

Meanwhile Elsewhere In London

The Craft Beer Co have big plans to conquer the world one postcode at a time. Their latest outlet situated at the corner of High Holborn and Endell Street seems designed to bring quality beer to the thirsty patrons of theatre land. The famous Shaftesbury Theatre is close by but then again, so is the Cuban Embassy and I’ve heard those lads like a drop or two of craft beer as well. Either way, it’s in a great spot for a mini-crawl encompassing the Holborn Whippet and the Cross Keys. Inside it’s what you’d expect: lots of nice wood, mirrors and shiny taps. It’s very small (location, location, location) basically just one narrow corridor of a pub with a larger lounge area downstairs. No surprises that the beer selection is excellent with a dazzling draught choice and a carefully chosen bottled range. Definitely worth a visit but perhaps not on a Saturday night.
(What is Craft like?)
(This is what Craft is like)

(Plenty of choice)
(Seats for hipsters)

(Harrild & Son)
(Smart place)
 Also excellent is the new Brewdog at Shepherd’s Bush. It claims to have the largest craft beer selection in the country and with 40 on tap, it could well be right. BD bars seem to improve with each opening and this one, along with the usual exposed brickwork and corrugated stone, comes with more than the usual quota of comfy seating. Seems even hipsters like a seat. Or is that just a London thing? Service here was very good with a very engaging and knowledgeable barmaid. Which brings us onto Harrild & Sons on Farringdon Street. This is a new pub from the folk behind the Well & Bucket in Bethnal Green and gets its inspiration from the site being once the premises of Robert Harrild; a famous Fleet St printing press manufacturer. A smart place that ticks some of the boxes but although the staff were very helpful they seemed to lack (as yet) the knowledge to go with your craft pint. 

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Judging At The GBBF

The Great British Beer Festival at Olympia in London is CAMRA’s flagship event and is a massive undertaking by any measure. With nearly 60,000 visitors expected on site to help shift the some 900 beers, ciders and perries of offer, it naturally generates a lot of publicity. At the focus of all this activity is the announcement of the Champion Beer of Britain. This prestigious award not only generates publicity for the campaign but gives a visible boost to the winning brewery. Just ask some of the previous winners. Sometimes the award can appear baffling and often leads to head scratching in some quarters. For example, the award going to strong dark beers for the last two years led to mutterings about what CAMRA was playing at. The process is, theoretically at least, quite simple albeit little understood even by CAMRA members. A perceived lack of transparency coupled with a rather laboured category system has lent the process an aura of mystery. But that was to change this year.

(Enjoying themselves while all the hard work goes on upstairs)
Yes, thanks to the folk at Lettherebebeer, yours truly was invited to be a judge. Obviously they wanted to bring a touch of professionalism to the proceedings. So I duly turned up on the Tuesday to do my civic duty. Being the consummate professional, I had of course abstained from alcohol for weeks beforehand. Ok, I may have had a few in the Euston Tap the night before. Or several even. Well they did have a Czech beer tap takeover. Don’t worry about it, Tyson, I hear you say. Anyone would have done the same. Thanks, I appreciate that. I had, however, abstained from spicy foods and cleaned my teeth. So my palate was fresh even if my body was a little tired. I was to be judging on one of the semi-final panels and looking at the bigwigs and celebrities milling around, I realised I’d have to be at the top of my game. Luckily, of course, I always am.

Basically CAMRA has a number of categories for all beer types: Bitters, Speciality Beers, and Porters etc. Now some of these are plainly nonsensical; the Golden Ales category springs to mind as a category so vague you could drive a Russian aid convoy through it. CAMRA, it has to be said, are well aware of the shortcomings. However you can only work within the structure you have and so the beers that have arrived at GBBF through various channels compete in their selected category. The qualifying rounds see the best of each category selected and these eventually get to compete against each other in the semi-finals. These split all the categories into two groups and I was placed on the panel that was judging Porters, Stouts, Strong Milds, Barley Wines, Speciality Beers and…Golden Ales.

There were seven of us on the panel including our chairman, Phil. He’d been swapped at the last minute with Roger Protz. Obviously Protzy had sized me up and realised he’d met his match. Being the only first-timer I was a little nervous but my fellow judges were great and Phil was an excellent chair who kept nudging us along nicely. The idea is that you rate the 6 (unknown) beers out of 10 for appearance, aroma, taste and aftertaste. You’re also presented with a copy of the CAMRA guidelines for beer styles to refer to. These actually came into play when the barley wine entry was judged to be more of an American IPA than a genuine barley wine. Technical analysis was on hand from Steve, the guy behind well-renowned American brewery Bear Republic and Deborah who was a Dr of Beerology. Well she has a Doctorate in Brewing Science, but If I were her, I’d put ‘Dr of Beerology’ on my business card. She certainly knew her C2H5OH from her C3H7OH, anyway.
(The aftermath of all the judges' hard work)
Eventually all the beers had been sampled with rough scoring and notes taken. Then it was time to revisit any that warranted a second look and then put in your final scores for the chair to collect. The sheets are then whisked away for processing and the winners go into the final. I’d say that three of our selection were discounted fairly early on and it emerged afterwards that everyone had boiled it down to two. The eventual winner-Oakham Citra-was the almost unanimous choice; with only one person putting it second. And that was that. Just time for a bit of schmoosing and then a lot of drinking. Well, beer judging is very thirsty work.

My thanks to my fellow judges and to Anne and Abbie for looking after me.