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

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Live From Spoons

Christmas Day is full of traditions. The Queen’s Message, Deal or No Deal: Scrooge or Santa, and, of course, a surge in domestic violence. Following in those footsteps is my legendary, eagerly awaited, live Spoons blog.

This year, as always, it comes from the resplendent Robert Peel. Which is full, as always, at this time of year with the unwashed, the unwanted and the old school drunk. It’s slightly busier than last year. But then Trackside Mick said he’d been in the Knowlsey (the only other pub open) had a pint and spewed up-that’s Greene King for you.

The conversations range from the likelihood of Man Utd winning the league (high) to the likelihood of getting a Christmas snog from the barmaid (highly unlikely) and the drinks of choice are Wobbly Bob, Robert Peel IPA and Black Market.

Cheers and please remember that pubs aren’t just for Christmas.

Merry Christmas

And so to my, by now, traditional Christmas greeting. Somehow, more than ever, it seems appropriate this year, but, hey, let’s not get too political. Yes, 2010 may have been a shit year and Santa may have got the sack, but let’s try and be positive and look forward to 2011. It just might not be as bad as you think.

So dear readers, Happy Christmas to one and all. In the words of John Lennon, I hope you have fun. The near and the dear ones. The old and the young. Except, of course, for Aso Mohammed Ibrahim. He can roast his chestnuts on the fiery coals of Hell as far as I’m concerned. Hopefully shortly.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Breakfast Beer: Nanny State

Today’s breakfast beer is Brewdog Nanny State. This is the original version of their Imperial Mild. It may only tip the scales at 1.1% ABV, but it packs a (theoretical) punch of some 225 IBUs. That’s International Bitterness Units for the uninitiated. With Holts Bitter coming in around the 40 IBU mark, that’s some serious bitterness.

Initially it didn’t seem too bad. The russet colouring seemed to actually complement the washed out brown of the Oatabix. The aroma was more of a stench really, but the strong vegetated hop notes didn’t seem to bother my hangover too much. What was a problem was the taste.

There was a one dimensional bitterness that marked it out as a gimmick beer. I could have handled the extreme bitterness, but the sheer wateriness of it made it seem like a glass of hop tea rather than beer. It wasn’t doing anything for me and frankly the Oatabix was lost in translation.

Like a true professional-you won’t get pissed on it anyway-I threw it down my neck. But this, although at first appearance it may seem ideal, is not a breakfast beer.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

BABPOW: Oatabix & Brewdog Punk Monk

Ok, it’s awhile since I did any beer and food matching so, in an attempt to also catch up with some beer reviews, I decided to initiate this first review in, hopefully, an occasional series.

Now with all respect to the great & the good, when they try beer matching, they invariably try different foods in an attempt to perfectly complement the beer. This can be a little hit and miss and doesn’t strike me as good methodology.

For my purposes, I need a benchmark. Something that will not only allow me to evaluate the beer, but offer an opportunity to possibly find the ultimate food and beer pairing. Now this would mean eating the same dish-and nothing too racy-each time. Possibly a little dull and impractical to do that at various times of the day.

With this in mind, I have decided to go with a breakfast and beer theme: BABPOW. The universal nature of this meal seems ideal and the timing will not impinge on the rest of the day. Plus it gives me a perfect excuse for having a beer early in the morning. Having briefly considered Weetabix, I have decided that the oatiness of Oatabix is the perfect benchmark food. Plus I usually have that for breakfast anyway.

The first beer to face the Oatabix challenge is Brewdog Punk Monk. This is basically Punk IPA with Belgium yeast thrown in for good measure. There’s no ABV, but I believe it’s 6%. It looks golden like Punk and has a similar aroma but seems fruitier. It pours well and the taste confirms the impression of the aroma. Pineapple & gooseberry, yes, but definitely less bitter, more fruit and more rounded than the Punk, I’d say.

So a complex, but enjoyable, breakfast beer that slips down easy. The light oat texture of the Oatabix mingled well with it and took the edge of the finish to produce a satisfying, if short, finish.

Fruit, hops and oats for breakfast. Healthy and tasty. Recommended.

No Booze Shortage At Westminster

Good news. There’s no need to worry about how the severe weather may affect the booze supply at the Palace of Westminster. According to information released under the Freedom of Information Act, the government and their select chosen ones have a stockpile of bottles to tuck into.

Yes, when they said we’re all in it together, they obviously weren’t referring to the mountain of booze that they have access to. It seems Whitehall is awash with the stuff. Some 36,000 bottles of wine and spirits, some worth £3,000 each, are included in the £2M valuation.

Of course theses bottles aren’t available to all and sundry. Apparently each bottle comes with instructions as to how and to whom it should be served. All bottles are graded, with A1 being reserved only for VIPs and C grade being the stuff that is served at receptions. Good to see standards haven’t slipped under our new ConDem masters.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Phoenix Nights

Tony Allen of Phoenix Brewery in Heywood has been brewing fine ales of various hues for over 25 years now. In that time the North West has been quietly carving out a reputation for itself as a producer of hoppy beers. Of which, Tony has more than his fair share. Although it should be stressed that Phoenix isn’t a one trick pony and does brew some excellent dark beers as well.

That being the case, an opportunity to sample at source is a prized invite and explains a sell out crowd for Tuesday’s Christmas bash. The great, the good and even Tandleman were all there. There was a choice of three beers: Hopsack, Snowbound and Christmas Kiss. The first two didn’t survive the night’s festivities, but an 18 of Kiss proved just beyond ever our capability to finish off in the permitted time.

So thanks to Tony & Mel for hosting the event and for putting up with all of those other drunks. And if you get the chance, try some Phoenix beers. You know it makes sense.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

The Bartons Arms

The Bartons Arms in Birmingham is renowned for its opulent, turn of the century, decor and for being home to some fine Oakham beer. What few customers may be aware of are the many rooms upstairs and the extensive cellar that lies beneath their feet.

Of course the pub itself is a large Grade 11 listed masterpiece. Built in 1901 for the princely sum of £12,000, it was intended to be the flagship of the Mitchell & Butler estate. Serving the Aston Hippodrome, it could boast guests of the quality of Laurel & Hardy, Caruso and a certain Mr Charlie Chaplin.

But times change and the Bartons was in a sorry state by the time it was rescued by Oakham Ales in 2002. I’ve visited many times since then, but have never had the pleasure of a guided tour until recently.

Under the direction of the very amiable and very knowledgeable General Manager, John Wilson, I had the opportunity to view the upstairs and the aforementioned cellar. The upper level was interesting with its boardroom and dance room, but it was below ground that really captured the imagination.

The cellar is huge and runs the entire length of the building. In fact it’s even larger than that, but the rest is now closed off. Allegedly there is a tunnel that used to run from the cellar of the original pub that was on the site and the nearby Aston Hall.

Certainly having a cellar of that size makes life easier in many ways. And the Bartons does need a good cellar as it gets through an impressive amount of beer. Nearly 100 gallons of JHB alone per week. Then there are the other Oakham ales, guest beers, cider and a surprisingly large amount of lager as well.

If you get the chance, I’d definitely recommend a look round. Don’t forget to admire the Minton-Hollins tiles and ask about the staircase that’s insured for £2M.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Beer Of The Week: Darkstar Thornstar

Darkstar/Thornbridge Thornstar is 4.7% and was sampled in the Sheffield Tap. On paper, a marriage made in heaven. Two great breweries joined in holy unison. But how many marriages have foundered on the rocky shores of relationships. Ok enough already with the marriage metaphors, what was this like?

I’m informed it’s one of these new fangled Cascadian Dark Ales or a Black IPA as they're known in the cheap seats. Well it was certainly black, but seemed to lack the classic IPA hop aroma. This had a pungent earthy, agricultural, nose that wasn’t particularly appealing on first sniff. 

The taste was chewy with a little roast malt, some sour fruit and a little hop kick followed by a short, slightly sour, finish. Not great. Quite underwhelming really. Which is somewhat of a surprise as a passing beer guru told me that it contains 6 varieties of New Zealand hops.

It's been compared to Thornbridge Raven and whilst not that bad, definitely more one for the beer geeks rather than the masses. Basically one to sip while you discuss the merits of German malts rather than neck and go back for another.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

More Cheese, Gromit?

Yet another welcome donation to the cheese cupboard. Many thanks and please keep ‘em rolling in folks. At this time of year, more than ever, it’s important that poor cheesehounds are given the sustenance they need.

This is the Wallace & Gromit “Crackers about Cheese” gift set. It contains a truckle of finest Yorkshire Wensleydale (naturally), a jar of caramelised onion chutney called “Middle Aged Spread” and a packet of oatcakes.

It all looks very tasty. I was saving it for nearer Christmas, but seeing that someone has emptied the rest of the cheese cupboard, I fear its time has come.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Another One Bites The Dust

The New Inn on Walmersley Road, Bury has shut and will be reopening as a nursery.

It’s a roadside boozer that is surrounded by plenty of potential custom, but it has been ill-served over the years and after a very long lean period, the closure comes as no real surprise. You have to go back to the late 70s/early 80s to find its heyday.

The 1979 GBG detailed the pub (then the Walmersley Arms) as selling Wilsons Mild & Bitter and described it as “Large emporium set back from main road. L shaped lounge, pool table in vault”.

Of course this comes only 3.5 years after the smoking ban came into force. Coincidence? You decide.

Pubs Look Back To The Past To Save Their Future

In these tough trading times, more than ever, it seems, pubs need to diversify if they want to survive. That’s the thinking behind the White Hart Inn in Spilsby Lincolnshire deciding to bring the joys of the cinema to pub goers.

The pub, which is a 35 minute drive from the nearest cinema in Skegness, is thought to be the first granted a licence to show films coming to the end of their general release, but crucially before they are released on DVD.

Licensee Angela Morgan-Knight explained: “We have a really big function room with a 9ft screen and projector and we can have 100 people in there.” There are plans for a Sunday matinee incorporating meal deals and family tickets. There is some irony here as many pubs are in a similar situation to cinemas when they reached their low point and could do worse than look at how cinemas adapted to bounce back.

Of course pubs have a long history of incorporating technology to attract punters. Currently 3D is leading the chase, but before that we had satellite TV and before that, good old vanilla television. And going back even further, there was the miracle that was radio.

Yes back in the 1920s, when the BBC was still the British Broadcasting Company, pubs up and down the land were rushing to install the latest “wireless entertainment”. The picture shows locals in the Lion & Lamb in Hoxton enjoying a broadcast from Marconi House.

However, as benign as it may seem to us, the installation of radio in public houses did not pass without controversy. The debate centred on the question as to whether, legally, a wireless set was an instrument for the reproduction of music by purely mechanical means.

This led to a somewhat confusing licensing situation. In many areas, licensees were encouraged to apply for music licences as the wireless was seen in keeping with the mood for reform and improvement of the public house. However, in some areas, music licenses were opposed by teetotallers on the grounds that children might be attracted to the novelty.

Of course, as usual, London had to go its own way. Applying licensees here were told that it was the opinion of the licensing justices that such issues lay beyond their scope. Thereby neatly sidestepping having to rule on whether a licence was required or not and saving themselves a lot of subsequent work. Crafty sods those Londoners.

A Christmas Appeal: Stephen Neary

Many injustices, both large and small, go uncorrected of every hour of every day. Perhaps this Christmas we can help to right the balance sheet. Perhaps by moving a stone, we can help move a boulder.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

November's Beer Of The Month: Hardknott Light Cascade

Sampled in the Grove in Huddersfield, so naturally in top condition. I’ve been wanting to try this much discussed 3.4% for awhile and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Now a lot of beer geeks/brewers go ga-ga for stronger beers, but you can hide a multitude of sins in stronger brews, but the truth will out at this strength.

Yes, it’s in the tiddlers like this that the true mettle of a brewer lies. How to pack in plenty of flavour without the weight of alcohol? And on that basis, this passed with flying colours. A well-hopped thirst quencher that builds to the kind of dry finish that demands you have another. So I did.

Runner Up Beer Of The Month: Yates Garlic Beer

This one does what it says on the tin: It’s not hoppy, malty, sweet or dry, nor full of chocolate or spices. It’s got a strong garlic aroma, tastes of garlic and has a strong garlic aftertaste. It’s liquid garlic. Not recommended for vampires or anyone expecting a goodnight snog.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Christmas Cheese: Epoisses de Bourgogne

Noddy Holder is blasting away, so it must be Christmas. Or very nearly. And naturally, one’s thoughts turn to cheese. Will M&S be repeating their Stilton offer this year? What exactly should be going on that Xmas Day cheeseboard? And how to avoid making a faux pas by matching the right cheese with the correct condiment.

It’s also a good time of year to treat oneself to a premier league cheese. Well anytime is a good time for that, but Christmas does lend a certain legitimacy to the idea. With that in mind, I humbly recommend Epoisses for your delectation and delight.

Epoisses de Bourgogne is a French Appellation d’origine controlee (AOC) cheese, which means that it can only be made in and around Epoisses. It’s an unpasteurised cow’s cheese that gets its distinctiveness from being washed in Marc de Bourgogne.

Marc de Bourgogne is a French spirit made from pressing the skins, pulp, and seeds that are left over after wine grapes are processed into wine. This produces a very harsh, fiery, pomace brandy that is either (a) wonderfully potent or (b) very rough homebrew, depending on your viewpoint.

Either way, the resulting cheese is an aromatic world beater much beloved by Napoleon. The Petit Caporal certainly knew his onions when it came to cheeses: The buttery complexion gives way to a spicy white truffle experience that sets the taste buds alight. A culinary delight that needs to be tried and one of the very few (bit of controversy here) cheeses that are too good for pizza.

A note of caution though. This is a seriously pongy cheese. It’s actually recommended keeping it out of the house. You pay £32 for a kilogram of the stuff and they advise you to put it in a shed? But it’s not rated the world’s second smelliest cheese and banned from public transport in France for nothing. It scores a nose twitching 10 on the Richter scale of smelly cheese.

Smell it, love it and have a very cheesy Christmas.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Best Explanation Of The Irish Bail Out Overheard In A Wetherspoons

Bloke 1: “I can’t believe we’re bailing Ireland out. It’s unbelievable.”
Bloke 2: “Ireland?”
Bloke 1: “Yeah, have you not seen we’re lending them £7bn. What for, that’s what I want to know?"
Bloke 2: “To be fair, the Irish have always had the best songs. “I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen”, now that’s a good ‘un.”
Bloke 1: “Aye I never thought of that.”

Monday, 22 November 2010

Bury Beer Festival

The lights have been dimmed and the suppings all over. Yes, Bury Beer Festival 2010 has come to an end. Around 100 beers from a wide variety of breweries have been on offer at the Met on Market St over this last weekend. Oh and not forgetting some cider and perry.

The CAMRA bar at the festival was manned by some familiar looking faces, whilst the beer was a mix of old favourites and new friends. Marble Bitter stood alongside Mallinsons Hcmf//ale which was what you would expect from Mallinsons-light, fruity and hop edged. Their Chocolate Stout was even better.

Meanwhile Crown Brewery’s Stannington Stout also proved pleasing with its mix of espresso and bitter chocolate. Their 5.1% Sam Berry IPA, described as a “dark IPA”, did puzzle some as it wasn’t actually dark.

The undoubted hop monster, hiding like the elephant in the room, was Steel City’s Nightmare on Henry St which, with 8kg of Amarillo & Cascade etc in it, certainly packed a punch.

Swiftly passing over the Leyden bar (as most people did), the main talking point was Irwell Works Brewery. Barely going a week, Bury’s latest brewery had three beers on offer. The most popular of these was Copper Plate (3.8%) which was a traditional Bitter (i.e. actually bitter) made up of five hops. They also had Pilot Pale (4%) and Steam Plate (4.3%) on offer.

Such a selection attracted punters and the glitterati from far and near. Not least the leader of the Stockport Massive, John Clarke. Although I am legally obliged to point out this was only because he made a wrong turning whilst out buying food for his pet carcajou. He is not, has never been and will never be, associated with any form of ticking. Oh no.

So, apart from the din on Saturday night: Blues does not have to make your ears ring, a successful festival. From the punters side, anyway.

London Round Up

But one pub does not London make. So, despite the obvious temptation to do so, one cannot live solely on the succulent nourishment of the Euston Tap. Well they don’t open till 4pm on a Sunday for a start.

On the plus side: Top of the pile is the Rake; maintaining its high standards. Excellent Oakham JHB (welcome back); an interesting draught beer choice and an outdoor; covered, heated area. What’s not to like? Oh and thanks for the warning that Flying Dog Double Dog Double Pale Ale (practice saying that pissed) was £4.75 a half. Well it is 11.5%.

The Bree Louise, for the second visit in a row, excelled with some very good beers. I was particularly taken with the Redemption Pale Ale (3.8%), which has a long bitter finish that really dries the back of the throat. The Market Porter and the Wheatsheaf, both in Borough, also did well.

Brodie’s Amarilla at the Old Coffee House was refreshing and well conditioned, scoring higher than the under par Dark Star Hophead in the usually reliable Harp. A first, and probably last, visit to the Moon on the Mall showed this GBG Wetherspoons to be decidedly average. Dark and gloomy, it can’t do veggie burgers because “it hasn’t got the right equipment”.

There’s no need to go through the rest of the list of mediocrity, let’s cut to the name and shame part. Step forward the George on Borough High Street. Yes it’s a tourist trap. Yes Charles Dickens was a customer. But neither of these justifies £3.50 for a pint of flat Greene King brown slop.

Even worse, taking into account its reputation, was the £3.75 a pint charged at the Brew Wharf. Hop ‘Em High was the worse of the two beers on offer. This supposed India Pale Ale was not so much flat and murky as terminal. If ever a beer needed CPR, this was it. Ok, the place was quiet, but that’s no excuse for quality of this low standard. Consider yourself on the naughty step.

So overall, with a few notable exceptions, London once again performed reasonably well. But although things might be considered to be getting better vis-a-vie temperature, there is still a lamentable lack of sparkler use, something which needs to be addressed if our capital is really serious about beer quality. Because someone told me the Olympics are coming...

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Euston Tap: The Shocking Truth

Well what a week. Pete Brown tried his best to stir up a storm (hint: next time try smoking ban/sparklers), but ultimately failed to win me a fiver. In the blue corner Tandleman got in touch with his feminine side and came over all “tired and emotional” and made some very funny comments which he, rather sadly, later retracted.

Meanwhile down amongst the plebeians, there was drinking to be done. This involved a much anticipated visit to the Euston Tap. Well more than one, actually. These things can’t be rushed.

So everyone has heard about the Euston Tap. Everyone has heard that it’s outside Euston station, is tiny and has only one, yes one, toilet. But is it any good? Well the shock news is that...yes it is. It’s excellent actually.

A small downstairs bar area is complemented by a comfortable little room upstairs. This is navigated via a splendid spiral staircase which, like Everest, is no problem going up pissed, but requires caution on the descent. A beer carrier (that’s not the nickname for the barman) is handily available to facilitate carrying several pints up there.

A very impressive range of draught beers are served a la American style from the back wall taps. The 8 cask options include Thornbridge/Marble and guests. All were in excellent condition and the Wild Swan at £2.70 was a snip. Kegged Kipling and Timmerman’s Peche also hit the spot.

The fridges contain an Aladdin’s cave of bottled beery delights. On my visits, this included beers from Australia’s Little Creatures, Dogfish and the Left Handed Brewing Company.

So an unqualified success and a bar fit to grace the great cities of the world. Even Manchester. But the best bit? They do 26" pizzas. Respect.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Cheese-Preference or Dogma?

"Is that blue or white Stilton?"

This was the first question I got asked when I mentioned on Twitter that I had just purchased some for my supper. And when I replied it was blue, there was a supplemental question: “Is that pure Stilton or with raisins etc?”

These questions are of course of no interest to most cheese eaters, but they are paramount to a certain small section of cheese lovers. And it got me thinking-what if it had been white Stilton with raisins? Or mango? Would that have been so wrong?

Caerphilly, Lancashire, Brie; they all have their admirers, but has personal preference given way to dogma? For me it’s whether the cheese is good or bad. I’ve no problem with Stilton & raisins. Or even Stilton with mango & ginger..

However, the mere mention of extraneous food stuffs in cheese sends Crackers-members of CRAC, the Campaign for Real Authentic Cheese, into a stupor. And don't even mention pasteurisation. Their forums are full of debate over whether Stilton is even technically real. Or is it a mere shadow of “real” cheeses such as Roquefort?

Common sense says it's about the cheese. If I give you a cheese that doesn't fit with your definition of cheese, but is generally regarded as a flavourful, quality cheese, you could:

Eat it and say, "Amazing - it's not about real or keg- it's just about the taste of the cheese."
Eat it, and perhaps say something like, "Wow, I still prefer real cheese generally, but I'll admit there are some pretty damn good cheeses that are pasteurised and contain extraneous food stuffs."
Say, "If it's not real cheese I refuse to eat it. It must be rubbish."

Most people would say option 1, whilst most Crackers would probably go for option 2. However, I have met people who live by option 3. These are the kind of people who are hung up with methods of dispense. What packaging does it come in? Is it shrink-wrapped or cloth bound?

The point is we are all on the same side. We all love cheese. But If CRAC insists on sticking to its outdated manifesto, I fear it risks being marginalised in years to come. If it wants to survive, it needs to modernise and take a good look at the cheese counter in the local supermarket.

Perhaps a step in the direction of being more inclusive would be if it changed its name to the Campaign for the Revitalization of Artisan Cheese. Sadly, with CRAC members unable to even agree on the use of rennet, I fear this will remain a pipe dream.

I've tried to outline the argument in reasonable terms, understand CRAC’s position and specify why I think it's wrong. I'd be hugely grateful if you wanted to respond in kind.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Goodbye Kelly Ryan

So it’s goodbye to Kelly Ryan, brewer extraordinaire at Thornbridge. He’s heading back to New Zealand and will no doubt be commencing his brewing adventures in the land of the Hobbit. Frankly they need him. The land of the long white cloud produces some excellent wine, but, despite having some damn fine hops, their beery output isn’t great.

This will no doubt change for the better when Kelly gets a grip of matters over there. In fact, John Key, their PM had better watch out, as I foresee a Thornbridge inspired takeover of this corner of the empire. It should be a piece of cake after helping to craft beers such as Jaipur, St Petersburg and Kipling. Ah, Kipling. Of course there was also Lord Marples, but, hey, no one’s perfect...

Saturday, 6 November 2010

SIBA Northern: First Night Review

Last week saw the SIBA Great Northern Beer Festival at the Palace Hotel in Manchester. The first thing to say is that my impressions are only based on the opening night. I believe things got better and a venture of this size, making its debut, was always bound to have a few teething problems.

So what was it like? Well, the setup was great. 56 handpulls complete with sparkler, naturally, were sat atop the bar. The gimmick of a fresh glass each time was fine, although some old-timers were heard grumbling about it. It did cause a little confusion amongst some of the staff and there had to be the odd reminder that a half pint glass isn’t the same as a pint glass, despite being worth the same deposit.

Slightly surprising was the number of beers that weren’t quite up to scratch. Particularly affected seemed to be the lighter session beers, whilst the darker, stronger, ales seemed more robust. Attendances were disappointing due to poor publicity and some people were put off by the admission prices. However, these are all issues that can and, I believe, are being addressed.

Beer of the session: Iikley Lotus IPA which did do what it said on the tin. And it was worth the entrance fee alone to see Tandleman looking splendorous in his “gay pink” staff uniform. Of course it was really “cerise”. Or so they told him...

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Are Spoons Feeling the Squeeze?

Wetherspoons have built up a very successful business model and a reputation for prospering in hard times. However, a number of subtle hints have appeared that suggest that every bargain boozer’s favourite pubco may be feeling the pinch.

First came the repricing of their guest ales. This has seen them remove the one-price-for-all charge and introduce different bands according to strength. A necessary measure, it was felt, to try and redress some of the lost revenue. Of course this is already common in other pubs, but was apparently opposed by some managers who were afraid of losing sales.

More recently came the revelation that despite selling some 400,000 breakfast each week, it wasn’t actually making much from them. Some analysts felt they had simply priced them too low. Makes a change for a pubco, I suppose.

Now two further changes are coming into force without too much publicity. One is that many of their pubs are abandoning their 7am opening and will now be opening at 8am instead. Seems that most people just weren’t ready for a pub visit that early in the morning.

By the way: My suggestion of raising revenue by selling booze to these early risers was deemed “impractical”. Note “impractical”, not "uneconomic”.

The second change is removing the option of the guest ale as part of the meal deals. This means reverting back to the days of old when you had to negotiate with the bar staff for that privilege. Which means even if you are willing to pay more, it’s pot luck whether the person can be bothered or indeed knows how to do it.

This is somewhat of a personal regret, as I was part of the campaign that got it changed it in the first place and my letter on the issue appeared in Wetherspoons News. Sadly the discrepancy between the likes of Ruddles and something decent has grown too large for them to ignore.

However, it’s not all bad news. As one idea is consigned to history, another one comes to fruition. Yes, the dream of a large veggie breakfast has finally become reality with the arrival of their new menu last week. But there’s more-cheese & tomato toasties as well!

If only they had tried my 7am boozing plan...

Monday, 25 October 2010

Hare & Hounds Festival Highlights

The dust has settled and the tables cleared. Yes, the latest Hare & Hounds beer festival has come to an end. After 10 days and some 170 beers (plus assorted ciders and perrys) all served the correct way: i.e. through sparklered handpump, it’s time to tally up.

There was the usual cluster of favourites and go-to beers. Castle Rock Harvest Pale, Allgates Motueka and all of the Pictish offerings were eagerly consumed. Not to mention Brewdog Trashy Blonde. But there were plenty of new delights to be had as well.

Ashover’s Hydro owed more than a nod to Marble Pint, but nothing wrong with that. Coastal from Redruth in Cornwall also surprised many with its light (3.7%) but citrus packed Hop Monster. Also very moreish was the Cambridge brewpub (White Hart) Ufford’s Green Bullet. Meanwhile Blue Monkey consolidated their reputation with the well balanced, but bitter finishing, Guerrilla Stout.

Of course not every brewery shone. Burton Bridge Knot Brown Ale at 4.7% was heavy and cloying. Toad went for comedic value with Da Vinci Toad & Frog Spawn Massacre but the TCP flavoured Blonde on Blonde was far from funny. And Wincle’s, allegedly, Light Mild-Bad Bill was far too woody to be enjoyable..

Brewery of the festival: Brew Company. This Sheffield outfit scored top marks for Brewer’s Gold, St Petrus Stout, Summit IPA, Pacific Jade and the well-named Hop Monster. Honorary mention for Liverpool Organic whose Liverpool Pale, Simcoe and the very drinkable 6.5% Shipwreck IPA all hit the mark.

What of the dreaded Brewdog Paradox? This 10% chewy beast was much discussed but treated cautiously by most. Apart from the famous individual who tried to neck it in one and duly fell off his crutches...

Good to see the “Dogs” doing so well. Apart from yet another successful festival, it’s once more made it to the final of the Publican’s Cask Ale Pub of the Year. It was also featured in the Daily Telegraph last Saturday.

Oh and fans of Mallinsons (and who isn’t?) can now hopefully look forward to seeing more of their beers on the bar. And I’ll drink to that.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Mallinsons Brewery Visit

Mallinsons Brewery can be considered amongst the top rank of UK microbrewers. I was going to say amongst the up and coming, but as they have actually been brewing for 2.5 years, I think it’s fair to say that they have arrived.

Sir Tandleman has already covered the basic logistics of the trip, so I will just summarise. An eager group of CAMRA freeloaders descended on a converted garage in Lindley, Huddersfield, and proceeded to drink the place dry.

Tara, the brewster, entertained us with her simple, but effective, brewing philosophy-no brown beer, lots of hops etc. Meanwhile the hordes of CAMRA wildebeest hungrily eyed up the first lone, vulnerable, cask offering. For the geeks-this was Dominator, a 3.9% very hoppy beer brewed with Centennial and Simcoe hops and lager malt.

A perfect example of the evolutionary directive: it really was dog eat dog and survival of the fittest. Picture the scene-thirsty imbibers shuffling ever closer to the firkin; no one willing to break from the group until one imbiber breaks ranks. Strangely, Tandleman always seemed to be at the forefront of this cask dash.

Sickened by the sight of such feral behaviour, I took myself off to the bottle store where Elaine, Tara’s partner, showed off their impressive collection. Indeed, so impressed was I by their hospitality (vegetarian buffet, tick), that I couldn’t bring myself to pinch any. Or even a branded glass, unlike some...

An excellent visit to an excellent brewery.

Beer Style: Does It Matter?


Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Booze=Brains mc2

I knew there was a reason why I drank. It’s ‘cos I’m very intelligent. Yes. Really. Honestly. It’s a scientific fact. Or a hypothesis anyway. That is just the same in my book.

It goes like this: The Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis (hereafter “The Hypothesis”) suggests that less intelligent individuals have greater difficulty than more intelligent people with comprehending and dealing with evolutionarily novel entities and situations that did not exist in the ancestral environment.

Basically, thickies have trouble in dealing with new ideas and situations. Conversely, evolutionary psychology in the form of the Hypothesis would suggest that more intelligent people are better able to deal with new ideas and situations.

So applied to our personal tastes and values, this all means that more intelligent individuals are more likely than less intelligent individuals to acquire and espouse evolutionarily novel preferences and values.

This is where booze comes in.

Alcohol is evolutionary novel. The fermentation of alcohol for human consumption simply didn’t exist in Fred Flintstone’s day. It only arrived, in its present form, with the onset of agriculture some 10,000 years ago. So according to the Hypothesis, more intelligent people will drink more than less intelligent people.

I know what you’re thinking-yeah ok, but have you got a graph that demonstrates this, Tyson?

Since you asked. The following graph shows the association between childhood intelligence (grouped into five “cognitive classes”: “very dull” – IQ < 75; “dull” – 75 < IQ < 90; “normal” – 90 < IQ < 110; “bright” – 110 < IQ < 125; “very bright” – IQ > 125) and the latent factor for the frequency of alcohol consumption.

This data come from the National Child Development Study (NCDS) here in the UK and clearly shows a link between brainy brats and their likely future consumption of grog. The link is also present in US studies.

What’s impressive about this research is that it takes into account not only income and education, but childhood social class and parents’ education as well.

This suggests that it is not because more intelligent people occupy higher-paying, more important jobs that require them to socialize that they drink more. It appears to be their intelligence itself, rather than correlates of intelligence, that inclines them to drink more.

Hold on, I know what you’re thinking now. If they’re so bleeding brainy, why do they binge drink and get drunk when it has few, if any, potentially positive aspects?

Simple: The Hypothesis does not predict that more intelligent individuals are more likely to engage in healthy and beneficial behaviour. Oh no, it simply predicts that more intelligent individuals are more likely to engage in evolutionarily novel behaviour.

So there you go. We drink because we are intelligent. Fact.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Sheffield & The Kipling Test

It was Friday night and I was offered a bit of this or a bit of the other. Being a beerhound, I chose the other: A chauffeured trip over to Sheffield; the valley of beers.

After a dark and winding, somewhat mysterious, drive through the Snake Pass, we reached our first destination. The Crickets is hidden away down Penny Lane and is apparently close to the very posh end of South Yorkshire. Yes, apparently they do have one.

Presumably that’s what influenced Thornbridge to lease the pub from Enterprise. Despite its isolated location it had the potential to attract punters by offering a good food led operation. They’ve certainly gone for it in a big way-and I don’t just mean the A3 menus-with a very interesting selection and from what we could see, nicely presented.

The pub itself is posh. Stone floors, big sturdy furniture, candlelit tables, that sort of thing. But I liked it. After all, I can do posh occasionally; sometimes I even have a paper napkin with my black pudding.

The staff were attentive, if rather surprised to find people there just for the drinks. Ah, the drinks. A row of Thornbridge handpumps adorn the bar. The house beer is a rebadged version of Wild Swan and very tasty it was too. In fact all the beer was served cool and in top condition. On the face of it, a very impressive operation.

Two things, though: The landlord came over and offered us a, very generous, sample of Lord Marples. Despite its excellent condition, it merely reinforced my conclusion that this is a sweet brown beer with little, if anything, to redeem itself.

And then there was the alleged Ploughman’s. £10 for cheese, roast ham AND a Huntsman pie, apple and crackling salad? That is not a Ploughman’s, but pretentious crap and frankly an insult to humanity’s intelligence. Pay a visit to the March Arch, see how it's done and get it sorted.

Once the shock of the Ploughman’s had died off and the smelling salts had done their stuff, it was time to move on. A very unusual place next-the Archer Road Beer Stop. This is a quaint off licence, reminiscent of Open All Hours, that sells a wide range of bottled beers and has real ale on handpumps. Although, sadly, not for consumption on the premises.

The White Lion is a classic multi-roomed boozer with several rooms spreading off from the original tiled corridor. Although there have been some alterations, many parts are still Grade II listed and it is noted for its original Gilmour windows with their unusual spelling of “Windsor”.

Last stop had to be the Sheffield Tap which is situated adjacent to the railway station. This has been generating some very good press and is much loved by the beer blogging fraternity. It’s not hard to see why. They offer the full range of Thornbridge beers, the likes of Brewdog on the fonts and an impressive bottled selection. But of course what everyone asks me is whether it lives up to the hype?

Just my tuppence worth: It seemed smaller than I had visualised. This is probably due to seeing it mainly pictured empty. I don’t know if they clear the place when the likes of Pete Brown visit, but there’s little room to manoeuvre on a Friday night. However, it’s not a crime to be busy and there was a good mix of customers.

Seeing that Kipling was on both cask and keg, the Kipling test had to be done. Was it really true that some Thornbridge beers are better kegged? Of course I’m led to believe that this is not your bog-standard keg (heaven forbid!) but something called Keykeg, if you want to be technical.

This superkeg delivered a more rounded, fruitier, version of Kipling than the cask. It was certainly palatable enough. The cask version however was aesthetically more pleasing with much longer head retention and a more robust aroma. The clincher was the taste; the cask simply had more punch to it. So, on this showing, it’s 1-0 to cask.

A note on quality. The cask beers were a tad warm for my liking and not quite as good as at the Crickets. Could a possible explanation lie in the absence of sparklers? Yes, to out amazement (and somewhat disgust) there were no sparklers on any of the beers.

I’ve been told that this is because on a Friday & Saturday they are “too busy to serve through sparklers”. A rather worrying admission it has to be said. If you care enough about beer to have sparklers, then they should be used all the time. It may not be easy, but it is perfectly possible. Another visit here is called for, perhaps when it’s less busy.

So three new pubs for me and an off licence. Seems Sheffield truly still is the valley of beers.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

The Princess & The Grog

A hilarious rib tickling tale ripped from the pages of the fourth estate.

Princess Eugenie (daughter of Andy & Fergie, apparently) is studying English and the History of Art at Newcastle University. Now, like all students, it appears she likes a drink. And, like most people, she chose to buy her grog from her local Tesco.

This is where it gets hilarious. The cashier at the store in Jesmond thought she looked younger than her 20 years and demanded proof of ID. But when she flashed her student card, according to the Daily Mirror, “the man immediately spotted who she was and squirmed with embarrassment”.

Not only that, but apparently “Other shoppers in the Tesco at Jesmond, Newcastle, struggled to hide their amusement at the gaffe.” One explained: "It was funny. Obviously everyone else in the queue knew exactly who Eugenie was.”

Hilarious? Not really. I wouldn’t have recognised her either. Dare I suggest that she may not be quite as famous as some at the Mirror would seem to believe?

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Manchester Food & Drink Festival Finale

Manchester’s Food & Drink Festival came to a festival-like conclusion over the weekend. For once the weather gods smiled down on their chosen people and allowed sunshine to reign over Albert Square, thereby giving visitors a rare opportunity to indulge in some al fresco imbibing.

Stockport’s very own family-brewer Robinsons were in charge of the Pavilion Bar which was used to showcase no less than 12 of their beers. This ranged from the delightful Old Stockport through to the rare-on-handpump Ginger Tom and the sickly Chocolate Tom. I tried the festival special-Manchester Icon-and found it tasted suspiciously like...Robinsons.

There were also a number of Old Tom foodstuffs available for the inquisitive foody. Everything from pies to ice cream, not forgetting Old Tom cheese and Old Tom chutney which mysteriously found their way home with me. Hollands pies were also available for the less discerning, although to be fair, they did receive several positive comments. Were they using ringers?

A walk round the MFDF Fine Foods Village in St Ann’s Square proved very pleasant, if rather costly. Sean Wilson (he of Coronation St fame) was on hand to promote his Saddleworth Cheese Company. This produces some really terrific cheeses, including Muldoons Picnic (a local term given to a room of screaming kids) which is a very tasty crumbly Lancashire.

However, he’s not the only artisan cheese maker in town and I also picked up some delightful Tomato & Basil cheese. Instant pizza as someone commented; it had the appearance of salami and was wonderfully spicy. It made only a brief appearance in the Tyson fridge before being paired off with a cheeky Ciney Blonde.

All that cheese was making me hungry, so a lunch stop was in order. Where else but the MFDF finalist (and eventual winner, congrats) the Marble Arch? And what else but to try but their cheese selection?

You get to choose 4, 9 or 12 cheeses from a list that includes the likes of Stinking Bishop, Cotswold Brie etc. It comes served with plenty of proper bread, butter and cheese biscuits. No extraneous apples, pork pies or side salad here. Accompanied by the delightfully hoppy W90 and the mellow tones of The Boss in the background, it was a top-drawer performance from the MA.

Saturday saw the return of the MFDF wine event, this year labelled the “Big Indie Wine Fest”. Like the whisky festival, it had a new home-the People’s History Museum in Spinningfields. Some debate raged over whether last year’s venue was better but this didn’t stop the usual suspects enjoying themselves. Even Mr Chorlton Chambers made an appearance.

Drinks sampled ranged from the heavy hitting Spanish 14% red Old Vines Garnacha 2009 (caramel and spices) to the light and gooseberry rich NZ Fern Bay Sauvignon Blanc. And several more, naturally, in between. There was also beer available for when you were wined out. Cerveza Quilmes is Argentina’s best selling beer. Blond and thin, it proves they should stick to making wine.

The post festival party was held at the Mark Addy. Yet another MFDF winner: Best Newcomer. The food was good, except for the mushy peas not being mushy, but what’s the deal with the beer? Nice to see real cider on the bar, but we were faced with a choice of four decidedly dull beers. Not even Taylors Landlord which, according to their website, they always have on. Not good enough at £3 a pint.

They did have the shock winner of the MFDF “Best beer brewed in Greater Manchester” award. Boggart (yes, them) Cascade. This was probably the best of the available beers, but is it really the best in Greater Manchester? Answers on a beer mat. The Addy also needs to raise its bottled beer game. Bud and Peroni? At £3.50 a pop? Get it sorted lads.

The post post-festival drinks in Bury are best glossed over. Warm and soapy Bitter & Twisted in Automatic was hardly a portentous beginning and the TCP edged Orchard Pigs cider in the Trackside was enough to put you off the stuff for life. Still there was always Titanic Wreckage to soothe the furrowed brow.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Winners & Losers

The Good Pub Guide 2011 has excluded 381 pubs from this year’s edition after a flood of complaints. It claims that the number of dissatisfied pub customers has risen from 3/10 to 4/10 since publication of last year's guide.

Staff shortages and surly landlords were the most common complaints. Other complaints included: a smelly roaming dog, grubby surroundings, overpowering TVs, piped music, poor choice of beers and food not up to standard.

This beggars the question-are pubs really getting worse or are just more people complaining? However, it’s not all bad news and some pubs were singled out for particular praise. The Tempest Arms at Elslack, Yorkshire, was named as the overall 2011 Pub of the Year, whilst the famous Watermill at Ings picked up the gong for best beer pub.

There’s an interesting comparison with the GBG: The Church Inn at Saddleworth is praised for brewing its own beers and selling them for £1.70 a pint. No mention of quality. On that basis the pages should be packed with Wetherspoons pub as they sell a wider range of beers for not much more. Oh and as for the GBG, that has wisely been ignoring the Church for several years now.

Monday, 4 October 2010

MFDF: Day One

This weekend gone was the start of Manchester Food & Drink Festival. As the title suggests, this is a celebration of the delights of local food and drink. But it’s just not black pudding and tripe. Oh no, there’s fancy chocolate and stuff like that. And cheese, but more of that later.

Friday afternoon saw the launch of our very own Oktoberfest in Albert Square. I’m not sure if it was raining in Munich, but it certainly was tipping down in Manchester. Luckily there was Kaiserdom Pils, Helles, Dunkel and Hefe-Weissbier to calm our nerves.

Just to add to the German experience, there was a genuine Oompah band playing gallantly away. And plastic glasses. Yes plastic. Which you had to pay a deposit for. Despite not being allowed outside of the festival bar. The original idea of serving beer in seidels was apparently vetoed by the local bobbies who obviously see all Mancunians as Frank Gallagher types.

There was also a selection of local real ales to try. Unfortunately they weren’t helped much by being served gravity style and some having been delivered only the day before. Despite these restrictions, the Tatton Brewery beers stood out from the crowd and I was pleased to meet the brewer, Geoff, and have a quick chat. They combine a traditional approach and look to their beers with plenty of hop bitterness in the finish. One to keep an eye on.