Showing posts from September, 2009

Well I Never

I’ve been asked what I think of the recent survey of Pizza restaurant chains. Or the report of the bleeding obvious, as I like to call it. The Which Good Food Guide sampled margheritas from the country’s six largest chains and then rated them for taste, quality and restaurant experience. Pizza Express came top with 30.5 out of 45, whilst Pizza Hut came bottom with 11/45. Apparently they serve the smallest, fattest and crappest. So, they've officially concluded that Pizza Hut are shite. I could have saved them a lot of time and money, if they'd only asked.

Next week: dog bites man.

Here We Go

At the start of a very busy weekend, Thursday saw the start of the latest beer festival at the Hare & Hounds in Holcombe Brook. This is the biggest pub festival in the world and with 276 beers to come through the pumps, one of the UK’s biggest cask operations.

Some 38 beers were on offer and the first job was to try some new ones. Battledown Natural Selection was golden and slightly spicy. Beartown Peach Melba was like a cask version of Timermans Peche and proved so tasty that I had to return to it later on. Whilst both Acorns-Northdown Blonde and Summer Pale were old friends who delivered what was expected of them.
Another new one with Shugborough Mi Lady’d Fancy which was golden and easy going for 4.6%, if a tad sweet. Blythe Ridware Pale was similar in palate but without the sweet finish. Next up were two I was keen to try properly. Whitehaven Ennerdale Blonde and Ennerdale Bitter. Whilst the Blonde won universal praise for being a well balanced and moreish, I also was impressed …

Here We Go (Again)

But of course there is no rest for the wicked. Like the fourth emergency service, a good beerhound is always on call. So it was, that the very next day, I found myself at the legendary Septemburyfest, organised by our very own Eddie, the eager legal beagle. The great thing about this shindig is that you comfort yourself that your drinking is altruistic. It’s not for your benefit but done to swell the coffers of charity.

It’s definitely quality, not quantity, here as Eddie had selected guaranteed bankers. It really was a glut of riches and it will come as no surprise that the likes of Brewdog Trashy Blonde, Pictish Cluster and Mallinsons Octagon Tower were all very tasty. And Lakeland Gold was in such good form that some amateurs actually found it too fruity and hoppy to cope with. My favourite though was Meantime London Pale Ale. Eddie commented that the cask was literally full of hops and it certainly translated to the tongue-a very satisfying pint, indeed.

However, despite strong prot…

A Spoonful Of Beer Will Help The Medicine Go Down

All lovers of the grape or the grain know their wondrous abilities. Above and beyond the joyous taste, comes a whole load of miraculous powers: improved dexterity, making us more attractive and, of course, making Frank Skinner seem funny. Now, however, it seems that medical science is finally waking up to the possible benefits of a spoonful of booze.

Yes, in a comprehensive American study, people with alcohol in their bloodstream were found to suffer less severe brain trauma and have a reduced risk of dying. The study followed 38,000 patients over a five year period and demonstrated that some 38% had less trauma and spent less time on a ventilator. Furthermore, the death rate amongst imbibers was only 7.7% as compared to 9.7% in the non-drinking group.
Writing in the Archives of Surgery, Los Angeles based Trauma Surgeon, Dr Ali Salim, has speculated that the alcohol may reduce the inflammatory response of the body to injury. This raises the “intriguing possibility” that administering it…

A Brewhouse For Bolton

Greater Manchester’s newest brewery is up and running. Well, nearly. The Cheetham Arms on Blackburn Road in Bolton has had a £120,000 makeover and been rebranded as the Brewhouse. As part of the makeover, an onsite brewery has been installed by the indefatigable Porter Brewing Co who apparently now account for 3 out of every 10 new start-ups. This can be viewed through a glass partition.

The new owners are local pubco Welcome Taverns, who have leased the pub from Enterprise Inns who, it will come as no surprise, didn’t have a clue as to what to do with the pub. Welcome was formed in 2006 and they hope to build their estate up to 20 by revamping bottom-end freeholds, all within a ten miles radius of Bolton. Currently they own three other pubs, all of which now serve real ale and quality food. One of these is the nearby, similar sounding, Chetham Arms which with 6 beers on is worth a visit anyway.
The plan for the Brewhouse was for Bank Top founder John Feeney to supervise training and th…

Chin Chin Cher-ee

Saturday saw us have a little canter out to the Old Hall at Whitehough, near Chinley in scenic Derbyshire. The Old Hall is a “proper pub” dating back to Elizabethan times. Originally licensed as the Red Cow Inn, it eventually became one with the adjacent Old Hall to form the current premises.

A pleasant walk from Chinley train station brought us to the pub and its beer festival. Sadly, not all the advertised beers were on, but it was a major plus to find all those that were, being served via calibrated handpulls into lined glasses. None of that gravity nonsense. And all the beers I tried were in good condition, proving once again that pub festivals are the best.
Arriving for some pre midday drinking also gave us a chance to bag a table in the beer garden. There we could wile away the afternoon untroubled by anything but one of creation’s most annoying beasts: the wasp. We came to the conclusion that it was the WHB’s Obsession For Men that was driving them crazy.
Beer wise, the Phoenix …

Roll Up Roll Up

Beer festivals tend to be like buses-no, not full of bearded, smelly drunks, although they can be...but they do tend to come in batches. September is a busy month locally and with a shortage later in the year, you have to grab the action while you can.

First up is one organised by our very own Eddie, the eager, legal beagle. Yes, it’s the legendary Septemburyfest. It’s at a great venue and all proceeds go to local charities, so why not pop along and enjoy some very good beers. You may even get to meet Eddie-he will be the one wearing a black open-fronted black gown, a horsehair wig and be guzzling from a hip flask. By the way, it’s nothing to do with being a solicitor: he just likes to dress like that at weekends.

That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore

There’s nothing worse than a convert for telling people how wonderful their life is and how woeful everyone else’s is. Now it’s comedian Frank Skinner’s turn to wear the zealot’s hat. Frank stopped drinking back in 1986 after waking up in his own vomi-good for him-but he seems to think that everyone else should follow suit.

Mr Skinner has come out strongly in favour of the BMA’s recommendation to ban booze advertising and wants the government to usher in more prohibition measures. For, apparently, people who drink are merely indulging in an “alcohol-induced charade” and need it to appear entertaining. On the other hand, as one journo has wryly pointed out, we actually need it to make some comedians appear more entertaining.
Obviously what this smacks of is “I’ve had my fun and who cares about yours?" His attitude has been likened to that of Van Morrison, another ex-boozer turned miserable old fart. We shouldn’t be surprised as they’re all at it. Politicians who once loved to smoke…

Keith Floyd

Hot on the heels of last night’s excellent Keith Meets Keith on C4, in which actor Keith Allen went in search of Keith Floyd, comes the news that the legendary bon viveur has died aged 65. Of course, he needs no introduction to lovers of good food and drink and his groundbreaking shows of the 1980s could teach many of today’s so-called celebrity chefs a thing or two.

Marco Pierre White has paid this fulsome tribute: “Keith was intellectual, he was intelligent, and he was articulate - he used words which everybody could understand. He was very special. The thing which is very sad is a little piece of Britain today died which will never be replaced. He was a beautiful man."

Let's Go Round Again (Maybe We'll Turn Back The Hands Of Time)

Sad news today with the announcement that the Angel, just off Rochdale Road in Manchester’s N/4, has closed its doors for good. Having once been the beating heart of the N/4 as the Beer House, the pub was derelict before reinventing itself as a top food destination under famous local chef Robert Owen-Brown.

Whilst the beer selection wasn’t always to my palate, it was great to see the place supporting local breweries and taking cask (and other beer) seriously. And it was a reminder of the days when the trio of the Beer House,Pot of Beer and Marble Arch ruled supreme.
Now whilst no one doubts Robert’s culinary qualities, it has to be said that perhaps the business side isn’t his strongest forte. Indeed, people have remarked that his various openings and closings are beginning to take on somewhat of a carousel feel. Perhaps that is why in his new venture, he will be restricted to doing what he does best-cooking.
The good news is that this will mean a boost for the Mark Addy where he will ta…

Ice Cream Or Beer. But Never Both

Saturday saw more of the same. Eddie, the eager, legal beagle insisted on exercising his rights under the Human Rights Act 1998. Apparently, this means he can force you to go out and drink at anytime he sees fit. Even if you have repeats of 2004 Top Gear to watch.

Anyhow, on our travels we came across the perfect example of what and what not to do with beer. Two very different taste experiences sharing the same bar space-the Hare & Hounds at Holcombe Brook. As we stood perusing the 10 beers on offer, we were offered some advice and a taster from a punter sat close by. We were subsequently grateful for his intervention.

Turns out he was supping a pint of Art Brew i (as in ice cream) Beer. Now it’s only 4% and colour coded a no 1, so I too may have made his mistake-trying it without a taster. After all, how bad could it be? Well their website describes it as “a vanilla golden ale that balances out strong sweet vanilla flavours with some equally fragrant and punchy hops.”

Except it does…

Free Nelson Mandela Sauvin

"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways."

These words were whispered in my presence by Eddie, the eager, legal beagle late on Friday night as we sat in quiet contemplation. But first, dear reader, let us go back first to a more innocent age. Let us go back to where it all began some hours earlier.
Eddie was recovering from his latest back, sack and crack wax-apparently it’s now compulsory before you are allowed to visit Ellan Vannin. Needing the anaesthetic healing properties of alcohol, he proposed some imbibing. I had reached page two of À la recherche du temps perdu so was naturally reluctant, but who can argue with an agent of the law?
A bus strike meant that Manchester was the only viable appealing option, so off we eagerly trod. First stop was the English Lounge, busy with the early Friday crowd, and an appointment with some Adnams. The Unicorn on Church St delivered some Golden Pippin in much better condition than my last visit and the Bank delivered up some decent

Don't Mention The War

Watch out, the Germans are coming. Having failed with Operation Sealion, they have come up with a cunning alternate plan to conquer this sceptred isle. And it all revolves around the mighty Jaffa Cake. For German company Bahlsen are hoping to sink their British opponents, McVities, with an oblong Jaffa Cake. Yes, oblong. Does their fiendishness know no bounds?

Apparently, some 75% of Brits prefer their snacks to be four-sided. And Bahlsen are hoping to capitalise on that fact. Throwing the gauntlet down, they claimed that the new snack was easier to pack and that the orange filling would be evenly spread out. This would mean the end for the “orange blob” at the centre and reduce dryness at the edges, thereby increasing flavour.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the foreign pretender has lain claim to culturally superiority. Their spokesman said: “So many wonders of the world are already oblong from Stonehenge to David Coulthard's chin.” Outrageous. We may be in the EU together but we don’t…

Life After City Lights

So farewell then, Keith Waterhouse. One of the true greats. Wordsmith and drinker par excellence. Not forgetting his contribution to one of TV’s finest shows-Worzel Gummidge. The thing about Waterhouse was his sheer consistency. Most artists will sooner or later see the quality of their output diminish or at least fluctuate. Not Waterhouse. From Billy Liar to Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell, and beyond, his work never dipped. Truly remarkable.

A man after my own heart, he valued lunch so much he wrote a book about it and listed it as his hobby in Who’s Who. He considered it quite obscene to be sober in the afternoon. In later years he would pop over the road to O’Neill’s for a liquid lunch of eight glasses of Pinot Grigio. Always glasses, never bottles, as he hated the commitment that went with ordering a bottle. Quite right.
One of my favourite stories about him concerns an assistant (who later sued for unfair dismissal) and his lunchtime demands. She claimed that he expected her to deliver …

Stockport Supping

Saturday saw a motley bunch chasing Stopwatch Sid up and down the hills of Stockport. A pre noon start meant Calvert’s Court. Not one of JD Wetherspoons better conversions, architecturally, in my view but as someone famously said: it’s all about the beer. And the beer was good-Bateman’s Combine Harvest and the moreish York Guzzler. A number of shadowy Camra types were seen gleefully producing discount vouchers to further enhance their visit.

Having nicely warmed up, it was round to the Arden Arms. This has long been a landmark pub of Stockport and one of my own favourites. I usually try to avoid it at “tourist” times-Sat lunchtime etc but we did manage to acquire some seats and settled down for some well kept Robinsons Unicorn and a sandwich.
Next stop was the Railway at Portwood. This used to be owned by Dave Porter (now of Outstanding Brewery) but is now a Pennine Ale pub. Bearing in mind my recent experience of their beer, I played safe with a couple of (excellent) Pictish Brewers G…

Watch The Birdie

The golfing world has been split over the arrival of Eye Candy Caddies on the scene. Some have welcomed them as a breath of fresh air, whilst several golf clubs have already banned them for threatening to bring the game into disrepute. Now it’s true that the girls golfing credentials don’t appear to be their greatest asset but they have apparently all been on a caddy training course and know what “fore” means. That’s good enough for me.

Sarah Stacey, Managing Director of Eye Candy, claims the objectors are simply “discriminating against beautiful people”. I know the problem all too well, believe you me. Anyway, I think people are missing a trick with this one-I’d be hiring one of the golfing lovelies for my opponent, if I was them. After all, what better way to keep their eyes off the green than by to distract them with golfing totty.

The Sun Keeps Shining

Good news with the report that the classic Sun Inn at Leintwardine, famously run for many years by Flossie Lane, has been saved from the developers wrecking ball. It appears that a local consortium of regulars and admirers have got together and raised sufficient funds to meet the asking price and thereby prevent it going to auction. Having been there myself, I think this is a great move and hopefully will ensure the future of one of Britain’s most unspoilt and unique pubs.

Water On Glass

A long Bank Holiday break is the perfect time to catch up with those things you never get round to-like finishing War & Peace. But no, the WHB had other plans for my time and so a rare midweek drink in Manchester was on the cards.

Most places were quiet, with people taking an extended break, but surprisingly, unlike us, not choosing to spend their leisure time in the pub. How bizarre. First shelter from the pouring rain was the English Lounge with some good Copper Dragon and a rare appearance from Adnams. However, all the talk was of the new Kebabish Express next door. It’s ruffled a few feathers by offering a curry, chips or naan and a drink for £4. Not to mention panini for £2.
Ducking across the road to the Micro Bar in the Arndale, we found them in some disarray. Two beers had gone and they were busy disentangling the lines. Not easily deterred, we enjoyed a couple of pints of Kuppers Kolsch and people watched as we waited for the rain to ease.
With no sign of any let up, we eve…

The Perfect Ploughman's

In what could just possibly be the most important social survey of the 21st century, West Country Farmhouse Cheesemakers are conducting a ploughman’s census. Pop along to Ploughmanograph and register your vote as to what constitutes the perfect ploughman’s and, if you’re already had it, you can nominate the pub or cafe that produced it.

This is a serious sociological exercise conducted by people who obviously know their subject-note the absence of pork pies, ham and other bastardised ingredients amongst the possible choices.
*The picture is a perfect illustration of what DOESN'T constitute the perfect ploughman's.

Lush Life

Bank Holidays are the perfect opportunity for family daytrips or simply sitting at home with your feet up watching The Great Escape. Or attending The World Gravy Wrestling Championships-as I was invited to. That would have probably made for an interesting, quirky blog post. However, after the excesses of a day’s drinking and a Sunday night spent at Outstanding Brewery, I decided to pass on the opportunity.

But they say there is no rest for the wicked and so it proved as a summons from the WHB brought me and Archimedes once more to the Trackside. I’d tried Buffy’s Bitter earlier in the week and been unimpressed. Trying Buffy’s Polly’s Folly did little to change my mind. This is supposed to be a mixture of “hoppiness, citrus fruit and malt” and have a “lively (?), satisfying feel.” In fact it tasted of burnt malt and no hops.
Prospect Silver Tally was only 3.7% but bland. Bowland Pheasant Plucker (winner of the most misquoted beer of the year award) was even weaker at 3.6%. This was nice…