About Me

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Manchester, United Kingdom
Tyson is a beer hound and cheese addict living in the beery metropolis paradise known as Manchester
If the people are buying tears, I'll be rich someday, Ma

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

The Only Way Is Up

What goes up most come down is a common enough expression. But it seems successive Chancellors don’t believe that applies to beer duty. Having read the furore that Stonch’s missive somehow sparked off (forget brothels, IPA strength is where the real arguments lie), it got me thinking about beer. No surprise there, I hear you say. Specifically, beer strength historically, and the impact of government duty on the pricing of beer. Which, after a recent conversation, led me to pose the interesting question-when was the last time beer duty actually went down? And no, I don’t know the answer.

We are so conditioned to accept that governments want their piece of flesh that each yearly rise is met with but a shrug of the shoulders. Except for this year, when our complacency was rewarded by Mr Darling’s exercise in urine extraction. His exercise in daylight robbery without violence was very cheeky indeed, considering we actually needed a cut in duty. I have kindly pointed this out to him, but so far he hasn’t blessed me with his thoughts on the matter. Anyway, no one seems to recall when it was last reduced-hence the acceptance I suppose. But this wasn’t always the case and there’s no reason why it should be now.

The problem has been growing worse since 1979 as the taxation burden has fallen more and more on indirect taxes. It’s neither big nor clever, and yet Norman Lamont actually seemed inordinately proud of the fact. Does no one sit O-level Economics anymore? Anyway, the best budget that I can personally recall was under NL’s successor, Kenny Clarke in 1995. Unbelievably, he froze beer duty, and slashed 4% off spirits. Those were the days! I do remember my father being particularly disgusted with Denis Healey for putting spirits up by 64p in 1975, and the following year he really put the screws on by adding VAT to duty.

As with licensing, the two World Wars seem to have adversely affected government attitudes to beer duty. Beer strength gradually reduced and prices increased while duty reductions became less and less common. I intend to illustrate this point with some local knowledge and perhaps contrast this with the national scene at the time. However, my little jaunt to Ireland has left me detoxed, dehydrated, and desperate for a drink. So, for now, adieu…

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Tyson is on Holiday

Friday Night, Saturday Morning

What idiot suggested an early start on Saturday, then? Ok, it was me-again. Note to self-must allow twelve hours between sessions. Well it seemed like a good idea at the time. Get in the New Oxford for opening time and (1) secure good seats for the footie and (2) gazump the scoopers. For there was a beer festival on and they would be out in force. I was going to say scoop the scoopers, but apparently that’s a board game popularised by Tandleman. Anyway, a diversion was made to Aldi for a litre of uber cheap orange juice and an equally cheap Ploughman’s. Who says I don’t know how to push the boat out?

Safely ensconced, it was time to get down to the serious business of drinking. All new beers to me and a couple of new breweries as well. George Wright’s Mild (4%) was dark and well balanced, but I found the Spring Ale (4%) a tad disappointing. It lacked the crisp hops I expect with light beers produced by this fine brewery. Digfield March Hare (4.7%) was also light and had a hint of fruit-not too bad considering its strength. Morton Merry Mount (3.8%) was ok, if undistinguished. Ditto for Hoggleys New Brewery Bitter (3.6%). Glentworth Sky Pilot (4.4%) was golden and had that dryness that marks out their beers. A good little brewery, even if their beers do all tend to taste the same. The match was now on, but as the Proclaimers sing “the day was bright and sunny, but the game I won’t relay.” Locally, Bazens Bridie’s Special (4.1%) went head to head with Greenfield’s 60 (4.2%) with Bazens being a clear winner. The Greenfield, despite being light, still had that malt imbalance that plagues a lot of their beers.

A surprise was Swaton Kiss Goodnight (4.5%) which the landlord admitted to having had to check in the cellar. The reason being, that the pumpclip gives the definite impression that that the beer will be dark. Instead it’s a nice light bitter. Not bad, but again nothing to write home about. It was still much better than Allgates St George the Great (4.1%) which, like most of their output, was disappointing. Thin and lacking any character, it had all the hallmarks of a beer rushed out to cash in on England’s patriot saint. Tigertops Bitter On (3.6%) was yet another bland beer. The same couldn’t be said for Brown Cow Indulgence (4.6%). The vanilla notes hit you straight away and there was no mistaking that this was a complex brew. Overall it was like drinking vanilla ice cream with some hops thrown in. Very interesting indeed. Strangely, apparently they also produced the worst beer of the festival-Simpson & Simpson Wyandotte Pale. This 4.2% was truly shocking. The stench of diacetyl was puke inducing and there was no way anyone could actually manage to drink it.

Having exhausted the Ox, we decided to call in at the Smithfield before getting the tram. More new beers, and again more disappointment. Both the Milestone St Georges Legend (4%) and the Swaton Three Degrees (4.7%) were homebrewish and lacked any zest. Back in Bury and the newly reopened Trackside provided an excellent selection. Skinners Cornish Blonde (5%) was a refreshing wheat beer, but with Marble’s Janine’s One (3.9%) the beer of the day was a no contest.

An interesting day out, but once again most of the new micros failed to dazzle. A lot of adequate beers, but for real quality there was no beating old favourites.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Friday Night

So a nice, quiet, night in before another early start on Saturday. Oh no, not on your nellie. A message from Eddie, the young, eager, legal, beagle. Could I join him for a discussion on Black Forest fauna? I pleaded, I begged, but to no avail. Apparently I have to go out-it’s the law.

With the Trackside closed for refurbishment, the only possible starting point was the Peel. Having managed to avoid the dump for a week, I was naturally perturbed and worried about paying it a visit. I girded my loins and sent a silent prayer to Allāh al-ab for something decent to drink. And it looked like my prayer had been answered. On the bar were Bank Top Orient Line (4.2%) and Outlaw Boneshaker IPA (5%) both of which are good beers. The Boneshaker was in top form with pungent tangerine and grapefruit flavours making it very moreish. However, wary of its strength we were alternating it with the lemony Orient Line until that ran out. Unwilling to commit to a night on Boneshaker (the sun was just setting), we moved on. It was a real eye opener to see who actually drinks in there Fri teatime. From what we saw, it appears to be most of Bury’s scrotes. In fact, there were so many lowlifes knocking about that I thought it must be some sort of convention.

Whilst Eddie was obtaining some drinking vouchers, I popped into the Clarence to relieve some bladder pressure. Despite the booming music and it being Fri night, there were only five, very sad, punters. Amazing, considering its location in the centre of Bury. However, this was nothing compared to the bar opposite. Recently this has changed names more often than Don Ricardo changes his underpants. It’s currently calling itself Cocoa Lounge or something suchlike. Under the suspicious eye of the two suited gorillas on the door, I managed to capture the hive of activity inside. Or rather the lack of it. The place was practically empty. Surely a first for Bury, as the weekend crowd are hardly the most discerning customers. For Eddie and me, it was a taxi ride up to the Lamb on Tottington Road. Apparently this is a big local seller of George Wright beers. Blonde Moment (4%) was excellent and we squeezed two in before hitting the Help Me Thro where we enjoyed some very pleasant Wainwrights. From there it was just a hop and a skip to the Dusty Miller for some Moorhouses.

A midnight stroll took us back into town where Eddie persuaded me to accompany him to Pizza Pioneer. Fully pizzad up, I bid Eddie auf wiedersehen, and headed home and into the arms of Morpheus.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Take Another Little Piece Of My Heart

The lights have gone out for the last time at my local. For the last couple of years the Good Samaritan has provided quality liquid nourishment to locals and visitors alike. Now the door is firmly shut, curtains are drawn, and everything is up for sale. How has such a successful pub come to such an ignominious end? As usual there are several reasons that have conspired together forcing Roger, the landlord, to walk away. Was it the smoking ban? The global credit crunch? The real reasons seem to be more mundane, which makes it worse, as you can’t help but think it shouldn’t have come to this.

Undoubtedly the biggest villains in this saga are Enterprise. We know that pubcos simply don’t have the same vested interest in pubs that existed in the days when most pubs were brewery owned. We know that they simply see pubs as part of their property portfolio. Only good for raising capital which is then staked on market gambles. Still, the ineptitude and indifference which Enterprise has showered upon the Good Sam over the years is staggering. Here was a struggling pub with many social and financial problems that has been single-handedly turned round. It use to struggle to sell 3 firkins of mediocre beer. Under Roger’s stewardship it was regularly selling 30+ firkins. It use to have a clientele who openly smoked cannabis and operated an illegal bookmaking scheme. Roger threw the pool table out and built up a cross section of regulars. His reward? Ever escalating rents, intransigency, and obfuscation. Beer festivals? Not a good idea. You’d like to sell foreign beer? Sorry we don’t sell them and, no, you can’t buy them from anyone else.

Even the old arrangement that repairs and maintenance were down to the owner has vanished. Get the cellar steps repaired at your own expense. Wiring-your responsibility. New window-your responsibility. Of course you can have a smoking shelter-buy it for £10000 from us and we’ll add it to your rent. And of course since you’re actually selling more beer, we’ll have to charge you more for it. Kafka couldn’t have made it up. Add to this a 6 fold increase in business rates in one year and it becomes clear why Roger has walked away. If you’re working 15 hours a day and coming out with less than working on a checkout, you’d be crazy to carry on. I never thought I’d ever say this, but some things are more important than pubs and beer. Quality of life and family stability have to come first. It’s just terrible that people are forced into these positions in the first place.

So what the future holds for the Sam, I do not know. Left empty for any length of time, pubs usually end up as arson practice. What this says for the local boozer, I know not either. On a personal note, I’d like to publicly thank Roger (and Debbie), for everything and wish them all the best for the future.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Ramsbottom Ruminations

A few days ago I received a phone call asking if I minded my name being passed on in connection with a new business venture. Apparently, an upmarket beer bar was planning to open in Ramsbottom and would I mind giving some advice. All those years of sleeping in doorways, on park benches, just to selflessly test real ale. I knew one day they’d pay off. Someone wants to hear my views on beer, pubs and such like. And they’re willing to pay for the privilege. Let’s be honest. I would have probably done it for free, but hallelujah there is a God!

Actually, if poor old Beadle hadn’t popped his clogs, I might have been half suspecting a setup. It sounded too good to be true. But yesterday the call came and an informal meeting was arranged. My choice (quelle surprise) was a good pub. Hence my evening in the Hare & Hounds. Quite clever, I thought, as not only am I guaranteed a good session, but I can use the pub as a benchmark. I was a bit worried at first, as one wants to make a good impression, and it’s one thing to be a armchair philosopher, but we are talking someone’s livelihood here. Anyway, it turned out Rick, my benefactor, liked a scoop as well. More of this as it nears fruition, but if everything works out, Ramsbottom will get a very significant addition to the drinking/dining scene.

Being a philanthropist, I had suggested some people might happen to be passing. However, surprisingly few people fancied a free session on a Tues night-fearing a Weds morning backlash? And some actually had things to do. If it had been me, I would have been round quicker than you can say “Tibet is a province of China.” Anyway, those of us present enjoyed a varied selection. Outlaw Wild Mule (3.9%) was as good as usual. New brewery to me-Concrete Cow, had Watling Gold (4.5%) which despite being light, had a smoked malt aftertaste. Fyfe Niblick (4.2%) was also light, and pleasant enough, if unexciting. Abbeydale Brimstone (3.9%) was much more like it, with a very noticeable bitterness. However, the find of the night was Black Country Thomas Guest Cobblers (4.4%) which was light, and had the wheat beer bubblegum effect tempered by pleasing bitterness.

A good night out and, despite my fears, when I got home, I had remembered to record the Sandy Denny Story.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Pillocks in Preston

Seems like the Old Bill are at it again. Not long ago Tandleman was highlighting the nutters in blue and their attempts to force us to drink out of plastic glasses. And more recently there was a conveniently favourable poll for lowering the drink drive limit. Now we have this story www.lep.co.uk/news/39Smoking-ban-fuels-domestic-violence39.4000024.jp reported in all the press.

My first thought was what a load of rubbish. Well, actually it was where’s the question mark, but you get the point. The police are (quite rightly, perhaps) always telling people to keep their noses out of police matters, and yet they feel compelled to constantly talk bollocks about the licensed trade. Presumably because they arrest a lot of drunks, they feel qualified to do so. I think a comparable example is the armchair football fan who is always, somehow, a world authority on tactics. Well, they do watch a lot of football.

There are many, many, things wrong with this article, but lets just take it at face value, for now. Firstly, there is not one piece of research that equates the smoking ban with long term loss of trade. That the licensed trade is suffering is undeniable, but there are many factors at play here, as any educated drinker can tell you. To my mind, the most important is the entrenched government attitude. A lot of drinkers complain to me about the shocking discrepancy between on trade and off trade prices. There was a general shift towards home drinking before the smoking ban and Mr Darling’s policies won’t exactly change that, will they?

So what are we left with? Guys getting tanked up at home and beating up their partners. So alcohol is to blame. Hold on, what does someone who actually knows what they talking about say. Valerie Wise, Director of Preston Women’s Refuge says, “Domestic violence is a deliberate act and so can't be excused by having a drop too much to drink." Exactly. This reminds me of a case in Bury some years ago when a lad was charged with assault after smashing a pool cue over someone’s head. His mitigation? He’d had six pints of Holts Bitter. No, sorry, the guy was a dickhead beforehand. Drinking six pints won’t alter that fact.

These morons are wife-beaters. That is who they are. And it’s got sod all to do with the smoking ban.

Next week: how the smoking ban caused an increase in alien abductions...

Monday, 21 April 2008

You wouldn't think it was possible but...

Fosters and Kronenbourg have just got even better. And it’s all down to widgets. They’re back. It’s official. I heard an advert promoting them this morning and a quick check in Asda confirmed their presence. In fact, they’ve been back for two weeks-where have I been to miss all the excitement?

Of course, they don’t actually want to call them widgets, as they’re old hat and everyone knows they are pants. Hence we have Fosters with in-can scuba, and Kronenbourg 1664 with Dynamo Systeme. The marketing team really excelled themselves with that brainstorming exercise. Apparently, there are fewer bubbles, and they are smaller, resulting in a smoother taste. I think that means even less taste. Which, if true, is some achievement considering the products in question. And the consumer will only be expected to pay an extra 50-80p per 4 pack for this privilege. A bargain! Seriously, I can see the numptys who buy these falling for this latest swiz. Only one thing puzzles me. You are reminded to serve these cans extra cold to get the full effect of the widgets. Surely lager drinkers put their cans in the fridge and serve them as cold as possible already? I’ve never met a lagerboy complaining his can was too cold and could it be warmed up please.

I was going to illustrate this article with a picture of the aforementioned products, but I think we already see too much of them. So just use your imagination.

"Roses are red, and violets are blue
Primroses pale on a velvet green hue
Warm summer days by cool waterfalls
Like the music we hear.
Those things we'll always hold dear
Like an old fashioned waltz."

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Medical matters in Manchester

Its days like this-when I have to be in Manchester for 10:30 am, that I DO think I may be getting too old for this game. What bright spark suggested such an early start? Ok, it was me. But that was when I was contemplating a quiet night and more than four hours sleep. Anyway, in the interest of science, I met up with Archimedes and Pythagoras at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry to view the Body Worlds 4. This is the controversial anatomical exhibition by Gunther von Hagens, who, I’m fairly certain, isn’t a full shilling. However, the exhibition is very interesting and educational, if not for the faint hearted. Apparently they are still accepting body donations, so if you fancy having your testicles mounted under glass, it’s not too late.

But, back to important matters-beer. All that education had made us thirsty, and I was in need of hair of the dog anyway. So it was a quick stop at Cask on Liverpool Road for a bit of Helles. Then, it was across the road to the Deansgate. This was once a Vaux pub called the Crown, and latterly was an “oirish” boozer, before reinventing itself as a posh watering hole. Early on it only had basic offerings; the likes of Theakstons and Directors. That wasn’t too appealing when faced with top whack prices. We’re talking £3-3.40 a pint here. However, nowadays the range is much better and can be a pleasant, if expensive, stop off.

I had Robinsons Old Stockport (3.5%) which, when on form, is a little belter. And today my luck was in, as it was in excellent condition. Forget Old Tom, this is the real jewel in Robinsons crown. For the technocrats out there, it has 26 units of colour and 24 units of bitterness. However, the real secret to its appeal (despite its low vol), is that it is dry hopped with Goldings. This, together with the Halcyon and Pipkin malts, produces a beautiful balance of malt and hops with a bitter-sweet finish that is very moreish. I could have happily stayed on that all afternoon. However, we moved onto the nearby Knott Bar for some lunch. Or more factually breakfast. Beer wise my first choice was Howard Town’s Dragons Nest (4.4%) which was disappointing. There was a cloying sweet malt taste which robbed it of any real appeal. My second choice was Pictish Admiral (4.5%) which was golden with lemon notes and some good hop aroma. Not the best Pictish I’ve ever had, but still very enjoyable, as all their beers tend to be.

With the WHB now keeping up the rear, we headed for the Britons Protection. My pint of Robinsons Dizzy Blonde (3.8%) was the end of the barrel and was obviously tired, sadly lacking any real zing. Over at the Paramount on Oxford Road, there was a nice selection of beers, all in very good nick. However, the Phoenix Spotland Gold (4.1%) was so crisp and bitter that plans to move elsewhere were shelved and we got stuck into that. After gorging on that delight it was back to Bury, where I headed for Wetherspoons (yet again) for an appointment with Saltaire Amarillo Gold. This 4.4% wheat beer was full of citrus fruit flavours and proved quite refreshing. Just time for a finale at the TS, and Saltaire Blackberry Cascade (4.8%). Which, as the name suggests, is a blend of Cascade (and Centennial) hops infused with blackberries. A very interesting end to a very enjoyable day out. Well not quite the end, as Pizza Pioneer once more produced a Parmesan infused culinary delight that sustained me until the boxing started.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Copper Dragon's last hurrah

A few warm up pints of Oakham White Dwarf (4.3%) at the TS to get me in the mood. This is an old favourite of mine: a wheat beer, with beautiful fruit tones and a great dry finish. Then it was round to the Good Samaritan. The very last firkin of Copper Dragon Golden Pippin was on and we had to see it out in style. So began a titanic struggle between a man and his beer. No quarter was asked or given. I knew it would only be a matter of time, but who’d have guessed it would hold out till 2.30am? Sometimes I think I'm getting too old for this game…

Friday, 18 April 2008

curry no favour

Okay, yes it was Wetherspoons again. The WHB had organised an impromptu Thursday night drink and the Curry Club seemed a good basis to build it upon. After all, even though the festival was over, the pub must have replenished its stocks. It couldn’t be as disappointing as last night, surely?

First signs were hopeful. Several new beers had replaced the blank pumps of yesterday. Hold one though, Old Bear Black Maria isn’t actually on- but hey, they only have 2 “coming soon” signs. Never mind, Old Bear Goldilocks (4.5%) will serve as a pre curry drink. Whilst acceptable, there wasn’t any real sign of the four hops it is apparently brewed with. Oh, and it was hazy-a situation we were about to become more familiar with. Having found the vegetable curry less than satisfying last time, my only option was the Kerala Fish dish. This proved disappointing with the mild sauce unable to balance out the strong fish taste. Not much better was the insipid Pedigree that came with it. In desperation I turned to Shepherd Neame’s Early Bird (4.3%) only to receive yet another hazy pint. Isn’t Cask Marque wonderful? Turns out the only thing approaching form was Jennings Snecklifter (4.1%), or is it just that dark beer hides its faults better? Anyway, good to see the Troughside back to its best.

Over at the Trackside, we faced a reduced beer choice as they gear up for their refit. Strangely it was much busier than usual for a Thursday evening. This turned out to be due to a stag party than were getting ready for a jaunt to Dublin and a day at the races. Facers Splendid (4.3%) is usually a safe bet, but not tonight. There was an absence of fruit that you could normally expect, and instead a distinct burnt malt aftertaste lingered. The WHB and I ploughed gamely on before calling it a day.

So, a distinct lack of luck on the beer front tonight. It left me wishing perhaps I should have been going to Dublin for the weekend.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

never can say goodbye

My name is Tyson and I’m a Wetherspoons addict. Well, that’s what it seems like at the moment. In my defence, I know it’s only a temporary condition, brought on by my local suddenly having something worth drinking. And people will insist on visiting it. As was the case last night. My evangelicalism of Stones IPA came back to bite me as it was suggested we make a night of it there. Curses, I must share my beloved Stones with outsiders.

Nazi Dean was drinking it when we arrived and he recommended we drink six pints of it each. Judging by the state of him, he already had. So, we settled in and even Stones virgins like the Stomach were impressed with it. But all good things must come to an end, and so it proved in this case. A few pints in and it ran out. At least it was crystal clear to the end this time. But what to do now? It was too early to respectably go home. And I could still manage a couple more. Never mind, there’s plenty on. Or is there…?

“A pint of Young’s, please.”
“Ok. Sorry that appears to have gone as well.”
“Ok, a pint of Sunchaser then.””Sure. Oh that appears to have gone.”
“So, how many of your 6 beers can I actually purchase?”
“Er, one-I think.”

So it was I ended up with Saltaire Fruit of the World (4.2%) which was, indeed, very fruity with a spicy finish. Interesting, but not sure I could manage much of it, so once more we found ourselves Trackside bound. Hop Back Spring Zing proved my first impression of it was correct-too much burnt malt in the finish to be palatable. Everards Sly Fox (4%) provided the taste challenge that was needed at this time of night. Although it’s brewed with Willamette hops and is light in colour, it’s a ginger beer by any other name. Officially, it’s got just a hint of ginger in it, but all I can say is that it must be a pretty big hint. Whilst not in the Marble Ginger league, it will definitely appeal to those who like that taste.

A mixed evening, really. Best beer was first which isn’t usually good, but it did kick start the evening and a few laughs were had.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

dear deidre

And so, there I was, looking for some elusive quiet time, when an unexpected message wings its way to me. G.I.Joe wants to meet up. What’s occurring? I ask this in my best Barry accent as G.I.Joe is an infrequent drinking companion these days. The sort who tends to only get in touch when at a loose end, or in need of some sort of favour Still, amiable, intelligent, company-there’s not many drinkers you can chat to about the Ludendorff Offensive. He was last seen being hauled up before the local beak for slapping his neighbour in their long running boundary dispute. And I wanted to see where he was up to now. So that’s why I gave up on finding world peace and headed down the pub.

His battlefield of choice was Wyldes, the Holts pub in the centre of Bury. Not bad for a first stop, as if you must have Holts, I find it’s best to get it out of the way first. It’s very difficult to go back to it after having anything really decent. At least they serve it cool here, as warm Holts really is hard to stomach. The place was still quiet, as it tends to be on weekdays-lunchtime excepted. It’s interesting to note the differing clientele from Spoons next door. It’s not posh-Holts are cheap places by most standards, but there’s a better vibe and service is better than next door. Unfortunately, the beer can let it down. And so it proved today. The Mild was (yet again) under par, but at least the Bitter was drinkable. G.I.Joe will drink most things put in front of him, so he got stuck in. Turns out though, he does share my amazement at the fact that people actually drink Holts lager.

So a few pints were sunk as an aperitivo and then we moved next door, me more in hope rather than expectation. But, sweet mother of Mary, what was this on the bar? Could it possibly be Stones IPA? Apparently so, they had a second barrel lurking in the cellar and had decided to put it on. A hot flush seized me and I quickly purchased two pints. G.I.Joe was somewhat taken aback “Bloody Hell, what’s this you’ve got me?” After quickly explaining, although leaving out the strength (no need to spook him), we settled in for the night.

And the wondrous Stones soon had him crying (metaphorically, naturally) on my shoulder. Seems there’s been a bit of a domestic with ‘er indoors. She thought they should share more; tell me what you’re thinking. You can tell me anything etc. Oh, how cruel the fair sex can be. Has the woman never seen A Few Good Men. You can’t handle the truth! Anyway, being a simple soul (i.e. a man), he took her at her word. The gallon of beer he’d had beforehand was possibly a contributory factor. Now I’m no Marjorie Proops, or even Dear Deidre, but I think I know where he went wrong. When she proposed this sharing exercise, she probably didn’t envisage him suggesting a threesome with their neighbour. Not the one he slapped, obviously, but the girl on the other side. Now, to be fair, I’ve seen his neighbour and he’s not wrong, but I can see his missus point of view. Anyway the only solution I could suggest for this faux pas (as with most problems), was more beer. Drink until you need to grip the handrail with both hands to get to the toilet. Which, with Stones, comes sooner rather than later.

This sad tale of domestic misunderstanding brought to mind the words of those great poets-Charlie and Craig Reid.

Dear Deidre can you tell me
Where I'm going wrong
I'm following your advice
but my wife's still gone
She left me for my girlfriend
The four faced cows
We had three in a bed
But there's only two now

Don’t say you haven’t been warned…

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

cheese of the week: dolcelatte

Now everyone (well one person, to be precise) is always saying I don’t mention cheese enough. I do in my other blog, but perhaps it’s time to rectify that here. So, let’s start with Dolcelatte.

This great Italian cheese is a creamy blue and is made from cow's milk. It has a sweet taste as the name suggests. Dolcelatte means "sweet milk.” It’s very soft and melts in the mouth like ice-cream. It was created by the Galbani Company who are famous for cheese making. The method of production is very similar to Gorgonzola, except that Dolcelatte is made from the curd of only one milking. It’s not a cheese for faint hearted weight watchers-100g contains about 366 calories. Affinage takes two to three months and the fat content is an artery busting 50 per cent. Similar cheeses include for example Dolceverde and Torta Gaudenzio. Quite rightly, it is one of the Italian cheeses that carry a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) under EU regulations.

I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to incorporate this cheese in my bread-making. However, used sparingly, it is a great pizza topping. I usually try and pick mine up half price at Tesco. People buy precise portions at the Deli counter and the odd amounts leftover are usually heavily discounted. I bought 210g for 90p yesterday which I intend to split between snacks and a pasta bake.

Monday, 14 April 2008

West Lancs Wander

Now say what you like about Camra, but it does give people a (semi) legitimate excuse to get bevvied up. It’s all down to our esoteric interest in the art of brewing, don’t you know. So Saturday for me meant a little trip round West Lancashire. Not for the lovely landscape, historic towns and fine architecture, but for, hopefully, some decent pubs. Most of the connoisseur drunks were out: Jan & Dean, Archimedes, Pythagoras and the WHB. Not to mention, Eddie, the eager, legal, beagle, Seasider, and Galadriel. Recently returned from the Fatherland, Tandleman was in attendance and we mustn’t (as if), forget the Wallsend Wonder

Without the aid of a safety net, or indeed notes, this is what I recall. They weren’t ready for us at the Derby Arms at Aughhton, meaning a wait for some of the plebs, but not a problem for the lucky few at the front of the coach. I went for Derwent Parsons Pledge (4%) which had a hint of fruit and was pleasant enough. Tetley Mild (3.3%) was even better with a dry, bitter, malty palate.

The next stop was one of the best-the Dolphin at Longton. I’ve been here a couple of times now and enjoyed it thoroughly. Hidden away at the start of the Ribble Way, at the end of a winding country lane, it’s a local’s pub. I can only imagine their surprise at 20+ thirsty drinkers bursting in. Anyway, the beer didn’t disappoint and some people decided to eat here. And, in some cases, feed the very friendly pub cat. I enjoyed all the beer here, including Slater's Top Totty(4%), which was golden and crisp on the palate.

The official lunch stop was the village of Croston which is situated by the River Yarrow, between Southport and Chorley. A lot of cask pubs here, but today they proved somewhat disappointing. The GBG listed Wheatsheaf was completely empty-never a good sign for a Saturday lunchtime. Particularly for a pub that sells itself on its dining. Perhaps part of the reason was the price of some dishes, which were quite eye-watering. Another reason may be the beer quality, with the Taylors Landlord having that lovely butterscotch flavour that we all associate with it.

My polite request for something else was met with “it smells ok.” A pit stop at the Lord Nelson revealed some below par Moorhouses Premier and a distinct lack of food, despite their advertising otherwise. The Black Horse having always been dodgy when visited, didn't disappoint, so it was straight to the other GBG pub: the Grapes. This is a smart little multi-roomer and although the beer range was reduced from previous visits, luckily quality was ok. Their food proved better value and of better quality than elsewhere as well. The 3 cheese Ploughman’s provided a good wedge of cheese and bread, with minimum interference from any salad.

Chorley centre saw us first calling in at the Malt & Hops. This is now a Beartown pub, selling their wares and some guest beers. Both Kodiak Gold (4%) and Harley(4.1%) were pale, but undistinguished. Then up to Cowling Brow and the Prince of Wales. This is a traditional mult-roomer, with a well-stoaked coal fire in the snug, where the landlord’s interest in jazz is clear to see. I tried Jennings Cumberland (4%) and the tart Wychwood Fiddlers Elbow (4.5%).

Finally we called it a day at the Spinners in Adlington. Luckily, being the last stop, the choice (as usual), was excellent and hop lovers weren’t disappointed. I started with an old friend-Durham Magus (3.8%) which has an interesting mix of Czech and American hops. The resulting golden ale has delicate citrus notes and a pleasing bitter/sweet tangy taste. However, that had to give way to York Decade (4.1%) which has to be the best beer, by far, that they brew. Just time for a toilet dash and then it was home time.

Back in Bury, everyone seemed keen to get to the Trackside, but it appears only for a pee. I was the only one actually having a drink. So there I was, alone and abandoned, unloved and unwanted, with only Saltaire Apricot (4.2%) for company. It’s enough to drive a beerhound to drink. Luckily John Barleycorn was there to comfort me until I could finally find solace in the arms of a loving garlic-chilli pizza.

Note: Tandleman isn't camera shy, he was merely demonstrating the ancient martial art of drunk fu.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

room at the inn?

Interesting that the national media (www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=558639&in_page_id=1770) have just picked up on this little nugget, despite the pub having being open since December. Business isn’t exactly booming and I’m not surprised. Call me old fashioned, but a pub without alcohol isn’t actually a pub in my eyes. And this one doesn’t even have a TV. Now some bloggers might appreciate that, but it does make for a very quiet night. Hold on, there’s snooker-like snooker halls have. Hold on there’s a prayer room-er, bit like a mosque has, actually. It’s obviously more of a community centre, which is fine, but why dress it up a pub? Even the name “The Halal Inn” sounds more like a kebab shop than a public house. Sadly, I think the concept of a chain of these places is pure pie in the sky. The owners say they have spotted a gap in the market, but that’s what all the losers on Dragons Den say. Sometimes there is a very simple reason for a gap in the market-there’s just no demand for a product.

This inn isn’t that far away from me, so I just might pay it a visit. Then again, perhaps not. As the song says “there's nothing so lonesome, so morbid or drear. Than to stand in a bar of a pub with no beer.”

Friday, 11 April 2008

farewell is a lonely sound

Definitely felt the effects of last night’s binge. Years of commando like training in pubs up and down the land, and a litre of Tropicana before bed ensured a surprisingly clear head. However, I could still feel the alcohol behind my eyes and a breathalyser would probably have given an interesting result. So, just a quiet night in to recover and a chance to spend some quality time with Boris Akunin. Alas, it was not to be, and Mr Akunin must wait for another time.

Of course it was young Eddie, the eager, legal, beagle’s fault. Would I join him for a Bucks Fizz and a discussion on 1930’s German agricultural policy. I pleaded and begged, but to no avail. You can’t fight fate, and it was obvious that Stone’s Double IPA and I were meant to be together. So it was I found myself stood at the bar of the Peel in somewhat of a shocked state. With the Spoons festival finishing very shortly, someone had twigged they had better actually put some beers on. So they banged on everything they had. There can be no other explanation for being faced with six beers in this place. Apart from my precious, there was Tokyo Black and the Ecaussinnes Cookie Beer for fans of the exotic. The cookie beer is truly disappointing. According to the tasting notes, “it really does taste like cookies.” Only if cookies taste like a not very good 5 % Belgium beer, it does!

Anyway, Eddie was sticking to one third measures of Stone’s, Tokyo Black, and Caledonian Chocolate Drop. Unlike the cookie crap, the 3.8% Chocolate Drop really did do what it said on the tin. Made with 100% organic chocolate, it delivered a delicate malt-caramel taste, which was very pleasing. Now this practice of 3 third rounds might be ok for eager, legal, beagles, but frankly I see it as very fishy behaviour indeed. Honestly, you may as well be wearing a Gay Pride vest. Everyone knows real men (and women) drink pints. However, after a pint of acetaldehyde flavoured Wadworth Horizon (4%), I saw some sense in his strategy.

It was quite a novel experience to be stood drinking at the bar. Normally I don’t approve of people standing at the bar in Spoons, as it just blocks other drinkers. However, we were stood at the side and it didn’t get busy till much later. Anyway, Eddie was quite right to veto my suggestion for a seat. The young lass serving us was bright and efficient-obviously new to the Spoons circuit. She was also Kylie Minogue sized with knockers you could rest your glass on. Alas, her disappearance was an ominous sign. Eddie was joining me on the Stones, but all that came out was a glass of undrinkable mud. Farewell then my love. There will always be a corner of a dirty table (no 58) that will remind me of the good times we had together. Bereft and broken hearted, we headed for the Trackside. Here we sampled Wickwar Cotswold Way and amused ourselves by bluetoothing Johnny Cash ringtones. Just time for a switch to Copper Dragon 1816 (4.1%) before the cruel mistress of time bid us leave once more.

Unfortunately not possessing a picture of the dark haired vixen of last night, this illustration of culinary delight available at the Trackside will have to suffice. Very Northern. What is Jamie Oliver’s stance on hot or cold spam?

Thursday, 10 April 2008

stone in love with you

Déjà vu all over again. Back in the Sam to watch the footie and sample the odd beer or three. Phoenix Arizona (4.1%) was fresh on, but perhaps a tad green as it lacked its usual clout. No mind, the Bargee was still excellent, but wait, what’s this? No chance of another as it’s all gone. Not 24 hrs on and already drunk. What greedy swines some people can be. Anyway, no time for tears as Bowland Patriot (4%) soon took its place. A nice golden ale, with pleasing crisp bitterness. A pint of Golden Pippin and a chat with the landlord? Well, if you insist. But this is not a one stop shopping spree, so it’s off we go on a wing a prayer to the bright lights of Bury.

The Railside was pretty quiet, but hey, I’m only here for the beer. Having said that, Joe Stalin did make an appearance and we exchanged views and news. Wickwar Cotswold Way (4.2%) was amber coloured and delivered a traditional Bitter finish. Not too shabby at all. Howard Town Dinting Arches (4.5%) was much different than I remembered it. Much more wheat beer like. I’m not sure it’s supposed to taste like that, but I quite liked it. Robinson’s Unicorn (4.2) tasted like Robinson’s, and the Hop Back Entire Stout (4.5%) was entirely stouty.

A tip off that it may be worth while visiting the Troughside proved accurate. There facing me, at last, was Stone’s California Double IPA (7%) which I had given up hope of seeing this close to home. A paranoid fear gripped me-what if everybody was drinking it and there wouldn’t be much left for me? No, it’s alright, the 4 scrotes next to me were drinking Guinness (£1.69 a pint) and arguing over who’s tasted best. Still, time’s pressing, so I doubled up anyway. Now kids, it’s not big or clever to drink 2 pints of this in 30 mins, but what can I say-I’m a slave to the hop. The following two pints were drunk at a more leisurely pace, before the bell of doom signalled home time. Can’t remember much about the journey home, I suspect I was on autopilot. However, this morning everything seemed in order, even the wrapper for the fish & chips I must have acquired had been properly disposed of.

All in all, not a bad night’s sortie.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

bringing it all back home

Civilisation, and away from the fug of London! Too much to summarise here but, when not being chased by Dixon of Dock Green, I did manage a couple of pints in places both old and new. Even found Zeitgeist, despite their directions. Took a ride out to the Florence on Stonch’s nod, and my, that’s a bit ooh la la, isn’t it? Not a whippet post in site. Apart from the usual Spoons, I also looked up the Wenlock and the Betsey Trotswood. The Betsey being of nostalgic value as it was one of the first London pubs visited by Tandleman and I. Now it’s apparently home to some famous blogger or other.

So arriving back in Manchester with the morning beers wearing thin, I managed to squeeze a couple of Hall & Woodhouse Hopping Hares in. This 4.5% golden ale was pleasantly refreshing and apparently brewed with Super Styrian hops, which are new to me. It was also cool and at £1.19 was already making London a dim memory. However, I had to crack on. A quick drop off home, and then it’s hello Bury. Or technically, Ramsbottom, as I was back in the welcoming arms of the Good Samaritan. Nowadays a guy can’t even have a drink in his local without some Camra types holding a meeting there. Chaired by the legendary Tandleman, it faced tough competition from the football for everyone’s full attention. Beer wise I enjoyed Little Valley Midgley Mild (3.8%), which was a dark brown Mild and was surprisingly bitter for this style. I also sampled several pints of Elland Bargee (3.8%) which was very good, before finishing on the ever dependable Golden Pippin. Alas for young Eddie, the eager, legal, beagle, the excitement proved too much and he missed his last tram home. I blame his father for setting such a poor example. Rolan Bolan was still in the pub when we left. Honestly, parents these days…

It's always tempting to stay for one more at the Good Sam. The picture shows one customer who perhaps stayed just a little too long.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Crawling in chorley

What a lovely bright day. How to spend it-watching Jeremy Kyle and Loose Women? Or go on a little expedition? Having passed through Chorley recently, I was struck by the number of GBG entries close to the station. Chorley is a market town in Lancashire, mainly famous now for the cakes named after it. Despite having only half the population of Bury, it seems to boast an impressive level of town centre cask. So, it was a bus to Bolton and then a train to Chorley.

However, first stop was Adlington as, if you catch the hourly stopping train, you can alight here before continuing your journey. A very short walk takes you to the Spinners. Here, sat at the bar, chatting to the convivial, knowledgeable, landlord, I managed two pints of excellent Taylors Landlord before continuing my journey. The array of pumpclips on display testifies to the amount of cask this pub actually sells. As well as several 18’s of Warsteiner-well nobody’s perfect. Once in Chorley, it proved more difficult than it should have been to find the Swan With Two Necks. It does help if streets actually have names on them. The Swan is at the bottom of a steep road and is an impressively large boozer. Apparently once a doctors surgery, it boasts a large downstairs bar area, and a separate dance area (with bar) and is decorated in the contemporary modern style. It’s a free house that sells a number of Moorhouses beers and a guest beer. Upstairs there are plans for a continental bar, and a roof terrace. I also got to try Eiken Artois which Tandleman had warned us about. It’s inoffensive and you can detect the oak, but somehow I doubt I will be knocking much of it back. Most interestingly, our host turned out to be none other than Nick Hogan; the controversial licensee who allowed smoking in his pub in Bolton and was subsequently fined for it. Can’t say I agree with him on that topic, but he did have some interesting things to say about the licensed trade. Not surprisingly, with his recent history, his wife is actually the licensee here.

Next stop was the local JDW-the Sir Henry Tate. This was a modern affair with seating on two levels. Smarter (where isn’t), than Bury, the service was also markedly better. With my £2.99 microwaved fish & chips I tried Shepherd Neame Early Bird (4.3%), and Harviestoun Old Engine Oil (4.5%). The former was pleasant enough with some fruit to it, whilst Engine Oil was rich with roast and chocolate. The Malt & Hops is a Beartown brewery pub located on Friday St. There were 7 beers on-a mix of their own and guests. I chose Kodiak Gold (4%) which was straw coloured and wasn’t as quenching as I remember. To be fair, this might have been because it was a bit too warm, which always spoils a beer.

The Potters Arms is a free house serving Black Sheep, 3B’s and “always serving Moorhouses Premier.” Not today it wasn’t, so I had to settle for Black Sheep, albeit at a pocket pleasing £1.85. Have to say although the beer was fine, I didn’t really care for the layout and décor. Last stop proved to be the Prince of Wales. This is a great multi roomed boozer with real fires and a good selection of well kept ales. The atypical Camra pub, one might say. As daylight disappeared over the yardarm, locals filtered in and conversations were struck up. Extra marks here for oversized glasses and the friendly, very efficient, landlord. One pint of Castle Rock Harvest Pale (3.8%) proved so refreshing it led to another. Two pints led to another one, just for the road, mind you. Which led to one more toasting the landlord. And another one for Nelson Mandela? Reality finally dawned and a quick dash to the station was required. Well, more of a drunken forage round (and under), the dark, rain soaked, streets of Chorley before finding the pesky thing. A soothing, first class, ride back to Bolton and then a dash to get the bus back to Bury. All this adventure was rewarded with a Biryani at the Jewel in the Crown. Being now 0040, the only place to get a pint was the Robert Peel. However, this was only offering Wainwrights so time was called, and homeward bound it was.

A nice little day out; with quite a variety in terms of styles of pubs

Friday, 4 April 2008

A day out

A nice little day out on the highways and byways of Lancashire. From isolated, comfy, country pubs, to industrial town centre boozers, there’s a great variety in this county. Highlights included: the first stop at the Derby Arms in Aughton. This is a cosy, welcoming, free house that seems to do a good trade in food. Hanby’s All Seasons (4.2%) was light and undemanding, but where were the Cascade hops that it’s allegedly brewed with?

The Dolphin at Longton is an excellent, two roomed, country lane boozer, that was understandably quiet mid afternoon. A smart, long, bar dominates the main room, and offers a choice of 5 ales. Having tried it recently at the brewery, I was curious to give George Wright Blonde Moment (4%) another try. Interestingly, it proved even better than the sample at the brewery. Here it was fully matured, and was very perfumery. I found it very quenching even without the usual hop bite I would normally associate with their beers. Another winner, methinks.

The Original Farmers Arms at Eccleston is well renowned for its food, and anywhere were you get proper tartar sauce gets my vote. Unfortunately, Titanic Steerage (3.5%) was very poor. The aroma gave nothing away, but burnt malt soon came to the fore, followed by a metallic astringency that was very unpleasant. Having paid for it, I struggled gamely with it for half a pint, before admitting defeat. Also disappointing was the last stop at the Spinners at Adlington. A good choice of beers, but I fear I made the wrong decision-again. Plumping straight for Hop Back Spring Zing (4.2%) on the basis it would have some bite; I was to be confounded again. This was a reasonable pint, but was slightly too malty for this style, and lacked the crispness I was expecting.

This is just a brief summary of some of the pubs in West Lancashire. There is an all dayer coming up shortly, after which a more thorough report (I hope), will be forthcoming.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

a night at the dogs

A quick tour round led us to the Hare & Hounds in Holcombe Brook. Like the Good Sam, it was busy for a Wednesday night. 3 English Teams in the Champions League Quarter Finals, exclusive to Sky, was obviously paying dividends. Rather cleverly, I thought, we managed to secure seats with a view of the action, but out of the way of the main scrum. There was a somewhat apprehensive atmosphere, as most of the supporters were cheering on Liverpool, who were playing away. However, this changed with the security of the away goal, and there was plenty of good banter.

Beer wise, it was what’s called a Steve Davis night-pale and interesting. Not being a ticker I’m happy to settle for proven quality over quantity. And all the old friends tried proved to be winners yet again. Bank Top (4%) Flat Cap is an easy starter, but I went for the hops from the start. George Wright Pipedream (4.3%) was excellent as always, and Outlaw Boneshaker (5%) certainly made the most of its New Zealand hops. It delivered a lovely, grapefruit, citrus hop taste, that belied its strength. I have to admit I struggled to detect the passion fruit that is supposedly present though. I did try one new beer-George Wright Last Orders. This was 4.7% and seemed to lack the hop bite I associate with their beers. With all these excellent beers on, it would have been rude to move on, so yet again we held on till defeated by the bell. Ask not for whom etc…

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Trackside to the rescue yet again

Not long home when a message from Eddie, the eager, legal, beagle. Could I meet him for a Marguerite and a discussion on post war German army uniforms? Luckily, the football was on terrestrial and not a Sky bandit affair, meaning even Wetherspoons would be showing it. So, putting my plans for bath scrubbing on hold, I set off, marvelling at how light it is now at teatime. I had barely got to the door when Don Ricardo phoned-was his beer radar that good? Two days into his holiday and he’d already had enough of babysitting and the like. So, we set off, wondering what festival delights the Robert Peel would provide.

The answer was, sadly, none. It had relapsed back into its stereotype. Pumpclips turned round, and still peddling the mainstream dross of Greene King. Phoenix Black Bee was on, but this is one the few Phoenix beers I don’t like, so what were the alternatives? It was a bit early for Westons Conquest Scrumpy, leaving only one choice. White Horse Wayland Smithy (4.4%) The first thing to note was that it’s a darkish beer, but definitely not red as described. Secondly, it was quite bitter, but not fruity (again as described), and I couldn’t understand why they had brewed it with Cascade hops. I’m yet to be impressed with this brewery. Not fancying any more of that, we made tracks for the Trackside.

Several reasonable beers on in the TS, thank God. The Elgoods was pale, but was too soft on the palate and lacked hop appeal. Vale (usually quite good I find), Wychert Ale (3.9%) was interesting. Amber in colour, it has an undertone of toffee and nut, with a bittersweet citrus finish. Not too bad at all. However, I was saving myself for York Decade (4.1%) which I had heard very good things about. And I’m glad to report it didn’t disappoint. A golden beer, it has a very moreish combination of fruit and hops. Comparisons were made to Bitter & Twisted and although different beers, I can see the resemblance. We stuck on this beauty for the rest of the evening, even after the Manx Minx had summoned Eddie to her side.

Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee. And sure enough, last orders were soon peeling. Do barstaff really have homes to get to? Having only had breakfast to sustain me all day, I made a late night diversion to Fungry to enjoy some Oriental cuisine. A bad start, but beer (and football) wise, things turned out well.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Goodbye S&N

And so it ends-not with a bang, but a whimper. Yesterday S&N shareholders voted overwhelmingly to accept a £7.8 billion bid from Heineken and Carlsberg. Well, they would, wouldn’t they? Heineken now control all those brands we all love so much: Fosters, John Smiths and Strongbow. Ha, as far as I’m concerned, they are welcome to them. I’ll shed no tears for S&N, just as I shed none for Whitbread when that disappeared up its own rear. The thing that really annoyed me was the comments of S&N chairman Sir Paddy Pratswick-sorry, Sir Brian Stewart. After seeing 259 years (not all of them bad), of brewing come to an end, he said “while there is sadness at the passing of two centuries of brewing history, the prevalent emotion today is pride.” Eh? Pride in what? Pride in overseeing S&N’s dismantlement and getting a fat payout, I presume. Pass the sick bucket, please.