About Me

My photo
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, 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.

MFDF: Day Two

Saturday saw the second Manchester Whisky Festival take place at the Castlefield Rooms. After stories of last year’s binging leaked out, it was no surprise that this was a sell out. Who was going to miss out on the chance of (possible, but tricky) five hour’s (one more than last year!) drink all you want whisky?

There was, perhaps, a surprising mix of punters. Yes the white middle classes were well represented and the beer festival stereotypes were also there. But word had obviously got round; as the student presence showed-they know a chance to get off their head when they see it. And there were women. Old ones, young ones, potential nooky of all shapes and sizes, in fact.

But enough of this sociological discourse. What of the whiskies? It was interesting to try the full range of English whiskies from the St Georges Distillery in Norfolk. Both peated and unpeated versions had potential, but at 3 years old they were very green in whisky terms.

The Bangalore based Amrut Fusion has recently been hailed as the third finest whisky in the world, scoring a very impressive 97/100 in the Whisky Bible. It’s certainly complex, but very heavy. I didn’t get any of the “seductive gentleness”, only a feeling I’d been hit in the throat by a large whisky butt.

The Dutch distilled Millstone whisky was receiving a lot of attention and I (finally) was able to get a sample. It tasted rather like Glenfiddich but with a bit more bite. However, probably the best on offer was either the 41.8% Teaninich 1973 or the 46% Glen Mhor 1982. Whist not detecting the supposed white chocolate aroma in the latter, the pear and melon flavours mingled well with the peaty finish.

Despite suffering a high casualty rate, punters are already eager to see what next year’s event brings.