Showing posts from September, 2010

More Cheese, Gromit?

It’s not just cask beer that has been given a boost this week. There’s also good news for cheese makers just as we celebrate British Cheese Week. Sales are up and the export market for Britain’s greatest cultural achievement (outside of beer, naturally) continues to grow.

The main driving force behind this growth would, at first glance, appear unusual. But the figures speak for themselves: Exports to Germany totalled £392 million in the first half of this year, compared with £326 million for the same period in 2009.

The reason for this growth has been attributed to the growing interest amongst consumers for local produce and thereby countries that have a history of producing certain food.

Germany does not have a large cheese making tradition and has long imported cheese from France, Switzerland and the Netherlands. However, their taste for Cheddar and blue cheeses has led them to swap allegiances.

The growing interest in local produce may also explain why countries, such as France an…

Peak District Pubs

We could tell we were in Derbyshire. No sign of the landmarks that we identify with Lancashire. Not a steaming cesspit, open cast mine or black pudding in sight. Picture box cottages and lots of green rolling hills.  First stop for refreshment was the Millstone Inn at Hathersage. No time for dithering, it’s a question of getting the first one down your neck and settling yourself for the rest of the day. Bradfield Blonde, at £3 a pint, was the top pick here.
 The Red Lion at Litton is a quaint, multi-roomed, village local that nestles on the green. Some people were tempted to tuck into the excellent food on offer, but having been prepped by a Spoons breakfast; I could concentrate on the issue at hand: beer. Blue Monkey BG Sips, despite nearing the end of the barrel, was tasty and the top pick here.
A long five minutes drive (it was actually four) took us to an old friend-the Three Stags’ Heads at Wardlow Mires. This is a CAMRA purist’s fantasy pub. It’s 300 years old with two small r…

Cheese Of The Month

This month's wiiner must be Tunworth Soft Cheese which was donated by the kind folk at Forman & Field. Produced by Hampshire Cheeses; Tunworth is a legend amongst British cheeses.

Some three years ago two friends, Julie Cheyney and Stacey Hedges spotted a gap in the British cheese portfolio and set about conquering the cheese world. Their version of the French Camembert soon set tongues tingling and they were rewarded by being crowned Supreme Champion at the 2006 British Cheese Awards.

Tunworth is a handcrafted soft cheese, made using unpasteurised cow’s milk from a herd of local Ayrshires and traditional rennet. It has a thin (edible) wrinkly rind and a lovely, healthy aroma.

It’s soft and creamy (and very sticky!) with a strong, rich flavour, but a surprisingly smooth texture. It’s very moreish and fully deserves the accolades. You can really taste the time and attention that has been lavished on this king of cheeses.

Nothing To Wine About

Yet more fun was to be had at the Tesco Wine Fair held at Manchester Central. A large queue had already formed before the doors opened at 11am. It was truly heart warming to see so many people prepared to get trollied before noon.

The organisers were perhaps a little too cautious on ensuring small measures but it’s fair to say we still got our money’s worth. Although, shockingly, I did see some disgusting incidents with people actually spitting wine out. Don’t you just hate amateurs?

Highlights: Tim Adams Protégé Riesling 2008 a light, dry Riesling from the Clare Valley. Jackstone Ranch Pinot Grigio 2009 was a dry but not too fruity Californian example of the style.

France failed to deliver with both Maurel Vedeaux Grenache Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (too thin) and La Chasse Unoaked Chardonnay 2009. Whilst Montes Alpha Chardonnay 2008 showed that even Chile can get it wrong with far too much oak in this for it to be palatable.

Best: Yali Wetlands Sauvignon Blanc 2009

Worst: Pink Elephant R…

One More Weekend

Meanwhile I also found time to show some Northern country bumpkins round the mean streets of London. After marvelling at the candle-less lighting and carriages driven without the aid of oxen, it was time to see what the local taverns and ale houses had to offer.
Now we all know Londonistan is strange. A queer place full of, er, funny people. In the civilised parts of Britain, the weekend is the time that most people unwind and hit the sauce. Londoners, being mostly idle and frankly a little backwards, seem to drink in the week and do nowt at weekends.
The result is that a lot of half decent boozers are closed at the weekend. This is a shame as we all know London needs all the good pubs it can muster. Still a dash round on the Friday nailed a few and left us free on Saturday to make excursions further afield.
Somewhat surprisingly, temperature wasn’t generally an issue, although condition was a different matter. Some otherwise excellent pubs, such as the Greenwich Union-Darkstar Hophead-…

On The Road Again

A diversionary crawl of Manchester was initiated recently by Tandleman. Basically he held me at gunpoint and forced me round some of the local hostelries. Why? Because he is like that. It’s just a trauma I will have to learn to live with.

First stop was Microbar in the Arndale. This GBG bar still suffers from problems with choice and temperature of its cask offerings but at least it does now have a fridge for the bottled beers. I played safe and went for Phoenix’s kegged but unpasteurised Lager Bier which certainly is a cut above the competition.

Something of a leisurely meander then took place: Odd bar (top marks for barmaid), 57 Thomas St (handpumps & sparkler, please), Common, City, Crown & Kettle, Bar Fringe, Smithfield, Angel, before a few for the road in the Marble Arch.

First we take Manchester, then we take Middleton...

It Won't Be Long

The spectre of minimum pricing for alcohol in England edged a little closer this week. For whilst, as RedNev points out, the government are concentrating their own efforts on banning below cost sales, they appear set to give local authorities the power to set a minimum price.

The mechanism for this lies in government plans to enable councils to enact local bylaws without permission, as is current required, from central government. Home Office minister James Brokenshire said: I’m sceptical about applying minimum pricing nationally. It’s about local communities. If local circumstances point in that direction, that’s something local authorities might wish to explore.”

With some local authorities in Greater Manchester already chomping at the bit to curtail drinker’s rights, things are looking partiuclarly bleak locally.

Nor does it seem that we can expect much help from the legal fraternity. Many opponents have been comforted by the belief that the concept was clearly illegal under Europe…

Smokey Blues Away

Science is coming to the rescue of this year’s famous Munich Oktoberfest. This year it celebrates its double centenary, but organisers are worried about the effects of the smoking ban that will be applied for the first time.
Organisers claim that without the usual stench of cigarette smoke to hide it, festival goers will have their senses assailed by the unpleasant pong of gallons of stale beer that has been spilt on the floor. And with 60% of visitors likely to be under 35 non-smokers, they fear they will not take kindly to this aroma.
The solution? A special odour killing bacteria called Elbomex that will be poured on to the floorboards of the Hofbräu and other festival tents. The company that produces it claims that it is useful in eliminating smells caused by cesspits and compost heaps and will be effective in combating the stale beer smells
Is this the future of beer festivals over here in goold old Blighty?

Town Without Pity

There has been much hoo-ha in the last 24 hours over Lymington, the Hampshire town that is “too posh for Argos” and its latest decision to prevent Wetherspoons opening a pub there. It’s been featured on the BBC and sparked a lively debate in the Independent.

Indeed, the Indy was so impressed that it welcomed the decision as some sort of stand against “chain store Britain”. Which it clearly isn’t. It’s simple snobbery. The excuses: it would spoil the character of the town, ruin other pub’s business and create drunken disorder.

Firstly Lymington isn’t some chocolate box village. It’s got a population of 14,000-big enough, one would have thought. to sustain a JDW. And it may not have an Argos, but it’s got Tesco in the High St, a 99p shop etc. One begins to wonder if it’s simply old-fashioned Puritanism and a dislike of pubs?

But no, they are worried about their existing pubs. Ah, quaint Free Houses catering for local demand. Not quite. A quick check reveals that many are owned by the li…

Smells Like Teen Cheese Spirit

Appenzeller is an unpasteurised, semi-hard, cow’s milk cheese that gets its name from the northeast region of Switzerland, close to the border with Lichtenstein. It has a documented history of some 700 years and each dairy has its own variation on the classic recipe.
Like our own Stinking Bishop, it is cured with cider to give the rind a beautiful aroma that will tickle your olfactory system. Yes, basically it pongs. A lot. This was a “Festive” or “Extra” variety so was particularly fruity after a year’s ageing.

It will smell your fridge out but as this cheesehound consumed it all in one sitting, this wasn’t really a problem. It has a nutty, tangy taste that lies on the tongue and delights the tastebuds, leading to a very satisfying finish.


Pizza suitability: Eat it all before I could try, but due to its texture, probably not ideal.

Working On A Building Of Love

These photos demonstrate that work is underway at the planned Irwell Works Brewery in Ramsbottom. What with this and Radcliffe brewers Brightside beginning to test brew, Bury’s plans to become the brewing capital of Britain are well underway.

Fools Rush In

It’s never been more important for the pub industry to stick together and speak with one voice, even if this means facing up to some unpalatable truths. It’s also important that they don’t alienate potential allies as they need all the friends they can get.
So it was disappointing to hear William Lees-Jones, Chief Executive of local brewer JW Lees, claim that “MPs don’t really know what they’re talking about”. Now one’s natural inclination may be to agree immediately, but what exactly has got Mr Lees-Jones so riled?

The use of restrictive covenants. Yes, he was actually trying to defend the indefensible. This practice of pub owners selling a pub but preventing its reuse as a public house has long been discredited and is blatantly anti-competitive. Even the evil twins of publand-Enterprise and Punch-have recognised this and pledged not to use them.

However, according to Lees-Jones:” MPs don’t realise that we have a situation of over-supply, so it doesn’t matter what we get for that pub…


These notices offering “free” booze were all the rage at one time. Clubs and bars in particular were fond of this gimmick and it proved very popular with students. Critics weren't so keen and accused venues of encouraging binge-drinking.
Due to their dubious legal nature and a prohibitionist wind blowing in, they’ve become increasingly rare in the pub trade. So well done to our very own Wyldes for taking us back to the 90s.

Money's Too Tight To Mention

In a move likely to gladden the heart of RedNev, MPs are to pay more for their booze from today. In a move set to cut £500,000 from the £6.1M annual food and drink bill, prices have risen across the board. Becks has gone up 70p to £2.90 while a pint of Stella will set you back an extra 65p at £3.05.
Those who like a drop of Bitter will also have to pay more for the privilege-35p in their case. However, the rises are not just confined to alcohol. The cost of a cup of tea has already jumped 35p to 60p a cup and coffee from 40p to 75p.

The new prices for meals have yet to be decided, but will bring them in line with “high street pub chains like Wetherspoons”, according to officials. Presently a beef dinner sets MPs back £3.90 and a chicken and mushroom pie £2.95.

One senior MP has already blasted the rises as “way higher than they need to be” and “totally unjust”. So after Band Aid, Tsunami Aid and the like, can we expect Bob Geldof to ride to the rescue with MP Aid?

Horse Walks Into A Pub

Have you heard the one about the horse that goes into a pub? Councillors in Kent did when they were presented with evidence that showed horses were being ridden into the Cross Keys pub in Erith.

Apparently more than 100 travellers descended on the pub on August 15 and according to police licensing officer PC Eddy Boston, five of them simply rode their horses through the front doors in a bid to get a drink.

He showed Bexley Council's licensing sub-committee footage of an earlier incident at the pub and claimed that it was now a 'regular occurrence'. He also said that there were reports the travellers had been causing chaos on the roads outside the pub by racing ponies and traps along the High Street.

One local described the scene: 'One moment you're sitting down having a pint and bag of nuts and then some horses come in through the door with gypsies sat on top of them. It was one of the oddest moments of my life, I have to admit and I had to check someone hadn't…

Scots Wha Hae

The battle to screw drinkers north of the border gathers pace aplenty. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s Health Minister has proposed a 45p minimum price per alcohol unit. Looking suitably miserable-if anyone needs a drink she does-she claimed the measure was needed to stop Scots “drinking themselves into an early grave”.

The 45p limit is higher than expected and, sensibly, opposition parties have vowed to reject the proposal. Labour have argued the measure would result in a £140 million windfall for major supermarkets chains, while the drinks industry claimed it would unfairly target the poorest families.

Under her proposals, a two-litre bottle of Tesco cider would jump from £1.32 to £3.78, whilst the price of a bottle of Asda’s own label vodka would rise from £7.97 to £11.81. However, although the price of major branded lagers such as Stella Artois, Carlsberg and Tennent’s would also rise, albeit by very little, the overwhelming majority of branded drinks are already sold for more than t…

Mouldy Old Dough

Here’s something that could catch on with drinkers who haven’t got the time to stop for food, but want a lining on their stomach: Deep fried beer.
Texas chef and booze aficionado Mark Zable has spent three years creating the snack and achieves the end result by putting beer inside dough and dunking it in hot oil for 20 seconds.
When diners bite into the pretzel-like dough, it mixes with the beer to give what is claimed to be a very delicious taste sensation. Zable explained: "Nobody has been able to fry a liquid before. It tastes like you took a bite of hot pretzel dough and then took a drink of beer."
Mr Zable currently uses Guinness in the ravioli type pasta, but has said he will continue to experiment and may switch to paler ale. Due to the alcoholic content of the dish, the Texas Alcoholic Commission has said that people will need to be aged 21 to buy it.

This could prove problematic for beer geeks though-what do you drink with beer food?

So Much Better

In a shameless act of political hand-wringing, Local Government minister Grant Shapps has called on Labour to apologise for “the net closure of 3,500 pubs”. This follows publication of official government statistics that show the net number of pubs on the Rating List dropped 3,530 from 1997 to 2009.

Mr Shapps claims that Labour’s policy of continual tax rises and a failure to tackle cheap supermarket booze contributed to this decline: “Labour must apologise for the harm they did to community pubs across the country.”
Now the last government may not have been the pub’s best friend, but he starts to lose the plot when he claims “They only people they helped were the yobs who benefited from the 24 hour licensing laws which fuelled a surge in alcohol-fuelled violence in our high streets.” Really? A very strange reaction to the one of the most liberating pieces of legislation ever passed.

So what does this champion of pubs have up his sleeve? Shapps said the Coalition would help pubs by b…

Half The Man

So Tony Blair turned to man’s best friend in his hour of crisis. Yes, folks, it’s true. The great man has revealed that he hit the booze pretty hard to help him cope with the pressures at 10 Downing Street. Some evenings he would have a G&T AND a half bottle of wine with his dinner!
This actually explains a lot: If he thought that constituted heavy drinking, then no wonder that he thought two old tanks and a load of nuts constituted weapons of mass destruction.