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

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Christmas Eve Breakfast Beer Tasting: Weird Beard Saison

It’s Christmas Eve and so why not kick off this very traditional day with a very traditional drink? Well, traditional if you’re from Belgium or France, perhaps. But it is made by one of our own brewing upstarts, so it is as English as apple pie. It’s actually part of the Weird Beard single hop series which gives them a chance to play around with various styles using, you guessed it, a single hop. In this case; Nelson Sauvin.
It’s 500ml and bottle-conditioned. Now it’s styled as a Farmhouse Saison which I always think of as weaker, but in fact a lot of them are stronger: this one is 5.6%. It was very lively and poured golden with a large off-white head. The aroma was spiced yeast, honey and a little mango. Taste wise it delivered a good Saison kick of floral spice and some tart fruit flavours that led to a medium/fruity dry finish.

Tyson says: Does what it set out to. Recommended for the Saison fans.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Breakfast Beer Tasting: Beavertown Smog Rocket

After last night’s party excesses; no more reindeer hats, please, it’s time to steady the ship. London’s Beavertown have made an impact on the micro-brewing scene and won over a new legion of fans with their meet the brewer night at PSBH. With their Gamma Ray being one of the beery highlights of the year, it’s time to shake off the cobwebs with Smog Rocket, their smoked Porter.
This is a 330ml bottle-conditioned little number and weighs in at 5.4%. It poured very dark brown with good carbonation and settled down to have a medium tan head. The aroma was very pungent: lots of dark chocolate, damsons, a strong burst of roast malt and most definitely a healthy dose of peatiness. The beer itself was quite heavy and felt nearer 7% than 5%.

Taste wise there was a little spice and some hops, but mainly all of the aroma but in spades. It felt like chain smoking had been encapsulated in a beer with the finish leaving an unpleasant half-lit cigarette tang in the back of the throat. Any balance had been lost along the way and subtlety, always best with these ventures, had gone out of the window. Which is a shame as it did make the beer hard to enjoy.

Tyson says: Whilst not in the same league as rauchbiers, this is heading that way and remains an acquired taste.  

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Golden Pints (Live)

Well it’s that time of year again when the great and not-so-good dish out the awards for the year’s best offerings. In something of a pilot experiment I’m doing mine whilst out drinking as (a) everything, except driving, is better that way and (b) it’s a good excuse for any memory lapses. So before I spill another drop of my Hawkshead, I proudly present...

Best UK Cask Beer: Oakham Citra. An easy choice as I’m using the simple criteria of what I’ve supped the most of and enjoyed the most.

Honourable mentions must go to Allgates, Arbor, Buxton, Hawkshead, Magic Rock and Summer Wine who continue to set the standard. Also as one-offs, the Wetherspoons American beers have produced some crackers: Stone Supremely Self Conscious Ale and Devils Backbone Eight Point IPA were outstanding.

Best UK Keg: Ooh, this is tough. Either Summer Wine and their Devil Loves series or Summer Wine Diablo. Or maybe Beavertown Gamma Ray. Or possibly the Harbour Pale Ale series. Christ, if I know.

Best UK Bottle/Can: Wild Beer Madness IPA. Honourable mention for the Arbor single hop series.

Best American Draught Beer: Lagunitas IPA. Honourable mentions for Rogue and Stone.

Best American Bottled/Canned: Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale. For the same reasons as best UK beer.

Best European Draught: Toccalmatto Rehop. See reason above.

Best Collaboration Beer: Allgates Quaker House Stout. Possibly the greatest collaboration beer ever.

Best Overall Beer: Right, I’ve tried counting them all but I’m stalled at about 102 so I’m going for Oakham Citra.

Best Branding, Pump Clip or Label: Crikey, who pays attention to those? I like the new Allgates pumpclips and I like the Partizan bottle labels. Moving on...

Best UK Brewery: Cor another difficult category. All the above are in with a shout as are Mallinsons. Allgates come close for the name I look for on the pumps but for producing Curious, NZ Curious and Salty Kiss, I’m going for Magic Rock. If I sober up tomorrow and realise I’ve dropped an obvious clanger, i will change it. Or maybe not.

Best American Brewery: Left Hand? No. San Diego Brewing? No. A tie between Oskar Blues and Stone.

Best European Brewery: Toccalmatto.

Best New Brewery Opening: Blimey Crikey. Another tough call. I’m going for Burning Sky with an honourable mention for Five Points.

Pub/Bar of the Year: An easy one this. The Grove in Huddersfield. Upped its game again this year and now boasts a brilliant selection of keg and cask beers at affordable prices in a cracking pub environment. A special mention has to go to my Manchester local: the Port Street Beer House where most of my money is piddled away.

Best New Pub/Bar: Locally, it’s a tie between Pie & Ale and the Font in Chorlton.

Beer Festival of the Year: IMBC or the St Georges Hall Beer Festival in Liverpool.

Supermarket of the Year: Booths

Independent Retailer of the Year: The Liquor Shop in Whitefield

Online Retailer of the Year: Ales By Mail/Beermerchants

Best Beer Book or Magazine: For the Love of Hops by Stan Hieronymus

Best Beer Blog or Website: Well I hate to disagree with Boak & Bailey, but blogging isn’t what it was. That’s nothing unusual and true of many fields in life. That’s not to say that there isn’t a lot of good stuff out there; because there is, but an infusion of new blood can’t disguise the trend as I see it. Having said that, I really rate Total Ales and Beer Battered. Of course, B&B themselves continue to turn out exquisite posts and locally BeersManchester is the man with his finger on the pulse. But, ultimately, Jeff Alworth at Beervana is the one I look to for benchmarks.

Right that’s as much as I can be bothered writing. It’s slowed my drinking down so much that people have been coming over and asking me if I’m alright. So, Merry Christmas and in the words of the late, great, Dave Allen, may your God go with you.

Breakfast Beer Tasting: Thwaites Big Ben

Hot on the heels of local brewery Ramsbottom Craft yesterday, today we see us move just up the road to Lancashire proper. Daniel Thwaites should need no introduction-well I’m not going to give them one-as they’ve been a presence on the brewing scene since before even Big Brother started. They’ve stepped up to the plate in recent times to meet the challenge of the emerging craft beer scene and have produced some excellent specials on their in-house micro-brewery. This beer is part of their Crafty Dan range and aims to carve a place for them in the lucrative take home market.
It’s a craft sized 330ml and is a 5.8% Brown Ale. The packaging is excellent and the label tells you all you need to know: the hops (Fuggles, Goldings, Challenger, Citra, Chinook, Summit), the malt (Pale Ale & Crystal), the brewer (John Williams) and even the recipe (LBA14, in case you were wondering). It poured lighter, more ruby, than a true Brown Ale: to be expected with the malts involved. There was good carbonation which settled to give a small beige head. On the nose there were toffee and Demerara sugar notes and a tang of vinous fruit.

The body is quite light given its strength and delivers plenty of flavour. There’s plum and raisins (or is it just because it’s Christmas?) but no roast to speak of. This is a traditional, if souped-up, Brown Ale and not a New World interpretation of one. The English hops come to the fore here with caramel and a slight earthiness but the American hops work their magic in the background to give a satisfying, fruit-led, dry finish. A masterclass in how not to let Crystal malt ruin the party.

Tyson says: Complex and satisfying. This is easy drinking for its strength and delivers on its promise.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Breakfast Beer Tasting: Ramsbottom Craft Lanky Stout

Dark nights. Dark days, in fact. No, I’m not talking about the state of the country but, as usual, beer. Yes, with winter nights drawing in, the taste buds have had been trying a few more than usual from the dark side.  And so to this morning’s little offering. No help from Santa required It’s a 500ml, bottle-conditioned, ‘White Label’ pressing and promises to be a “Lancashire Stout with New Zealand hops.” Sounds fun.
It poured nice and dark with only a little light passing through. That’s always a good sign as too many so-called Stouts are transparent. This had good carbonation and settled to having a small tan head. The aroma was a balance of roast, dark chocolate and some dried fruit. It was medium bodied and had a smooth, almost silky texture. Roast flavours came through but were matched by presumably the NZ hops to give a dry, slight fruity finish. Tasty and easy to drink.

Tyson says: A well-balanced and accomplished Stout with a twist.

Monday, 16 December 2013


York is one of the top destinations for real ale in the country and has a fantastic array of old and new boozers to keep you entertained. Just when you think they couldn’t fit anymore in, they do. As it doesn’t take much to get me drinking there, the opening of 2 new outlets was reason enough. Throw in a Jolly Boys outing and the day was set for merriment and profligate consumption.
The obvious place to start and finish a crawl is the Station Tap. Handily located at the, erm, station, this former tearoom is now a real ale Mecca with no less than 18 handpumps. Frankly it’s tempting to stay there all day, but then that wouldn’t be a crawl would it? We had to show some of the old geezers the Minster Inn with its multi-roomed layout to remind them of their youth. This is a classic pub where it’s all about the ambience rather than the beer; which is sadly just Marstons.
Another classic is the Blue Bell which no trip to York is complete without a visit to. Don’t bother looking in the GBG, though, as CAMRA have had a falling out with the landlord over his admission policies. Ignore all that and get yourself a seat in the splendid Edwardian interior. The beer range, which was quite pedestrian, has actually improved since my last visit and the pub really is a must see. You can safely ignore (spoiler alert) the ‘private party’ sign on the door unless you are the boozed up racegoers or hen parties that the pub is trying to keep out.
Fans of the olde-worlde will also appreciate the Snickleway Inn which is a 15th century building that once served as the Royalists powder magazine store. From that we come bang up to date with two newcomers. The Duke of York is a former estate agents that has been converted to a two-storey pub by the Leeds Brewery. Even more impressive is The Hop, Ossett’s new venture. Not only does it serve some excellent beer, it offers excellent wood-fired pizzas as well. My favourite of the day.
Out on the edges, but handily close together are the Waggon & Horses and the Rook & Gaskill. The Waggon offers a more traditional, wood-lined interior whilst the Rook takes a more modern approach but both have something to offer the discerning drinker. Of course there are plenty more to choose from and on another day we could have easily chosen another handful. York, it seems, is still hard to beat for a good day out.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Breakfast Beer Tasting: Ramsbottom Craft Fuggly Do

It’s Christmas. Or so the continuous cacophony of Yuletide tunes that have assaulted my eardrums in Tesco for months, tells me. Time to check Santa’s sack and drink some mediocre Christmas themed brown beers?  Bah humbug. I think not. Let’s carry on as usual seeking justice, liberty and fine ale. And as I’m off today, I thought I’d start by a dip in the beer randomiser. That’s the big box under the stairs, in case you were wondering.
And that brings us to Fuggly Do. A “white label” beer. What’s that, I hear you echo. Well a white label record is a test pressing and something of a rarity that is prized by collectors. Matt at Ramsbottom Craft seems to have brought this philosophy to beer and describes this series as when a “batch is so small that printing labels is too costly to consider.” So, a bit of a collector’s item. Perhaps it is Christmas. But will it be Christmas cheer or Christmas fail?

It’s a 500ml bottle-conditioned 4.2% beer. It poured very lively and settled down to an appealing hazy gold with a large white head. The aroma was surprising: more Belgian yeast than I was expecting. But the flavour makes it clear what this beer is all about. It’s a classic Fuggles infused English Pale Ale. There are strong notes of earthy toffee and a bit of a digestive biscuit bite. The finish is mildly dry and overall it’s a pleasantly satisfying drink.

Tyson says: Not a bad way to start the day.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Local News

It’s nice to have a bit of positive local news to report. And while both the town centre Wetherspoons continue to dip in form; there’s a new kid, or should that be monkey, in town. The Monkey House Brewery Inc is situated on Silver St and brings a welcome cask outlet not only to the Silver St crawl but to the town centre generally. This one-roomed bar has something of the Belgian brown bar about it and while it is a work in progress, the early signs are promising. Three handpumps adorn the bar and all three, including the house beer, are from the Marstons stable. However, it is free of tie and this may well change in the future. The manager is very keen and so is the pricing. £2 a pint during the week had even Uncle Albert singing its praises. One to watch.
Meanwhile the refurbishment of the Greene King estate continues its roll-out. The Wellington on Bolton Road has been done and the good news is that part of the makeovers seems to be an expansion of the guest beer policy. Black Sheep Golden Sheep has been spotted on in there. Now perhaps not the most exciting beer, but it has been greeted with open arms by desperate locals who are tired of Greene King mediocrity. In the town centre, the Knowsley has become the “Knowsley”. This apparently fits in with modern parlance as in “Are we going Knowsley tonight?” but I find it rather silly, it has to be said.
However, the pub interior has had a nice clean and paint job and the toilets have been seen to. Most importantly the beer range has seen a boost with no less than the full Greene King range accompanied by guest beers. Somewhat surprisingly, so far this has been Hornbeam and their White Swan and Top Hop have been a welcome alternative to the dreaded GK offerings. Not that GK are giving up without a fight. They have set up a pilot ‘craft’ brewery and the Knowsley recently had the first of these beers on sale. When the laughter had died down, the tasting began. What a horrible mess. Just as if someone had blended all the other GK beers. I think I’ll stick to the guests.

The Knowsley refit cost a reputed £160,000. On the other end of the scale, could a £1000 makeover see an upturn in the fortunes of the Elizabethan? The landlord, Wayne Welch, of this Ribble Drive pub certainly hopes so. It’s fair to say that in the past the Lizzie has had something of a reputation. As one review put it: “Horrible pub, avoid unless you are a chav, slag, drug dealer/addict. If your one of those then its right up your shit infested alley. Everyone else try somewhere else.” But since taking over in August, Mr Welch has redecorated, refurbished the car park, installed CCTV cameras as well as building a smoking shelter. As he says: “Don’t judge us on the past, judge us on what’s happening now.” Why not take a look for yourself?

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Turn That TV Off Now

Do not watch this advert. It will warp your mind. You will lose all grounding in reality and enter some alternative reality.

So say the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) anyway. The advert, part of the Let There Be Beer campaign, funded by the Coalition of UK Brewers, was found guilty on four counts of breaching the ASA's code.. That the ad implied alcohol could contribute to an individual’s popularity, that drinking alcohol was a key component of social success, for portraying alcohol as indispensable and that drinking could overcome problems. Not convinced? Watch it again. You can clearly see that that alcohol accounts for the lad’s confidence when meeting his girlfriend’s father. And alcohol is blatantly behind the office worker’s relaxed attitude to a mountain of work. Imagine the damage that could be done if office workers throughout the land aped this approach.
Now the Coalition of UK Brewers, which represents the ad’s creators AB InBev, Carlsberg UK, Heineken UK, Miller Brands and Molson Coors, claimed that the advert was meant to be an “exaggerated interpretation of the real world”. It also claimed that the scenes attempted to identify situations where beer might be a “credible alternative’ to other drinks. But thanks to the complaint by the snappily-titled Alcohol Concern Youth Alcohol Advertising Council, the ASA saw through this smokescreen and banned this evil, mind-bending, propaganda. And while some might accuse the ASA themselves of living in some alternative reality, I bet that the thousands of people who didn’t complain are secretly pleased.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Is The Reinheitsgebot A World Treasure?

A few eyebrows were raised on the news that the German Brewers Union have submitted a bid to have the Bavarian purity law designated a UNESCO world cultural treasure. Probably because when one thinks of UNESCO and heritage, images such as Stonehenge tend to come to mind. However, UNESCO expanded its remit in 2008 to include things such as customs and traditions. And this is where the purity law, the so-called Reinheitsgebot, comes in.

According to the statue, first enacted in 1516, only water, barley and hops are to be used in brewing. The president of the Brewers Union, Hans-Georg Eils, said: “It is thanks to the beer purity law that Germany, up until today, is unchallenged as a beer nation. It guarantees purity, quality and salubriousness.” Of course this is nonsense as the purity law actually allows for (perhaps understandably) yeast as well as things such as wheat malt, cane sugar and no longer allows the use of unmalted barley.

The measure probably had more to do with controlling what the peasants did with their malted grains than with any concerns about beer quality. And it certainly doesn’t work as a modern quality control. But this hasn’t of course stopped the Reinheitsgebot being marketed for all its worth; and the Brewers Union bid has backing from experts at the University of Bayreuth and the Technical University in Munich.

With each bid taking up to two years, the hope is that the award will be in place in time for the 500th anniversary of the law’s creation. This not might be plain sailing, though; as a bid in 2011 was rejected and other German states are also bidding. North Rhine-Westphalia’s applications, for example, were Beethoven, who was born in Bonn, and traditional shooting clubs (Schutzverein).

If the bid is accepted, then the Reinheitsgebot will join an exclusive club containing such luminaries as the Argentine tango, the French gastronomic meal and, erm, Turkey’s Kirkpinar oil-wrestling festival.

Friday, 29 November 2013

And The Winner Is

Congratulations to Kaserei Champignon who have emerged victorious at the World Cheese Awards. In an amazing feat their entry, Montagnolo Affiné, a creamy blue cheese, not only scooped first place but second as well. It had been entered into two different classes and when judges re-judged, tasted and voted the final 15 Super Golds, the cheese came both first and second. Now Germany isn’t usually classed as being in the premier league of cheese making; so this award is very significant.

John Farrand, MD of the Guild of Fine Food, organiser of the competition, said: “After 25 years of the World Cheese Awards this is the first time that a cheese made in Germany has won the top honour.  Our judges were united in their praise for the Montagnolo Affiné with one judge describing the cheese as ‘visually beautiful with a soft blue grey bloom and melt in the mouth, velvety flavour’.  This is a very worthy winner from an accomplished cheesemaker.”
David Gremmels of Rogue Creamery in the USA, one of the final judges, described the Montagnolo Affiné as “a brilliant blue”. “You get a sweet, creamy flavour, a medium spiciness from the blueing, and the rind melts beautifully into the paste.” Louis Aird of Canada’s Saputo Dairy Products said it was a blue for people who don’t think they like blue cheeses. “We are blue cheese producers ourselves, and I would love to be able to make a blue like this. As soon as I put it in my mouth I thought, ‘Wow, this is a champion’.’’
The cheese beat two English Stiltons that also made it into the final 15.  To reinforce just how tough the competition is, third place this year went to a Le Gruyère AOP Premier Cru from Cremo Von Muhlenen, which was just one point behind Montagnolo Affiné in the final voting. Now Le Gruyère AOP is the only cheese to have topped the World Cheese Awards on three occasions. So the winner must be some cheese and I look forward to trying some

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Mild No More?

In a riposte to yesterday’s bad news cheese story, it was good to read recently that sales of quality cheese are up while the dreaded “mild” variety is seeing a slump in popularity. Yes craft cheese, just like craft beer, seems to be winning over a new generation of fans. Mild cheddar, that polythene-wrapped monstrosity of rubbery-blandness, has long been the cheese of choice for the casual buyer. But figures from Mintel show that it has seen a 6% fall in sales over the last year. It now accounts for just £161m of the total £2.6bn cheese market. Over the same period, sales of extra mature have risen an impressive 12% (hooray) while blue (14%) and continental (10%) have also seen impressive rises.

So what lies behind this switch of allegiance? It seems that customers are simply seeking more flavour. Just as Mexican is tipped to become the nation’s top cuisine of choice, cheese buyers are also becoming more adventurous. Fewer than one in five of those questioned by researchers said a mild flavour was important. Shoppers were found to be more daring when buying cheese than just about any other product and Mintel also found that a strong/mature flavour beat even price as the most important factor. John Spencer, of the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company, explained it thus: “People want less quantity, but more quality and taste. It's not about filling bellies; it's about enjoying what they eat.”

Of course there are plenty of proper cheddar or cheddar-style cheeses around. Tickler can be found on the supermarket shelves and has a lovely nutty tang. Other ones to watch out for are Keen's Cheddar, Wookey Hole cave-aged (one of my favourites), Quickes Vintage and West Country Farmhouse from Barber's. These are all top-draw cheeses that can be found in discerning restaurants throughout the country and deserve-and hopefully will-to be on the discerning cheeseboards of the populace. Morrisons has responded to this demand by stocking a wider choice of British cheese while Tesco says sales of French cheeses such as Chaource, Comté and Langres have risen by 350%, 180% and 160% respectively.

But if you are a fan of the plastic-fantastic mild and shudder at the thought of craft cheese, do not despair. One of the best and well-known of its kind is Joseph Heller who are based neat Nantwich in Cheshire. Their mild is aged for around three months and even though they have seen a drop in sales, they don’t believe the end is nigh for mild just yet. They have been sending it to the Caribbean, where it is used in macaroni pies, and to restaurants in the Middle East. They also expect sales to develop in China. Manager David Wells said: “Children like it and lots of people like it for things like grating on a baked potato, where it creates a lovely creamy texture," he says. "There will always be a demand for mild cheese too."
My point is a simple one. Whatever your cheese of choice: relax and enjoy it.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

EU Takes A Bite Out Of Cheese Awards

Today marks the start of the World Cheese Awards. Held annually as part of the BBC Good Food Show at the NEC, it’s a true box of delights for the dedicated cheese lover. Over 1000 square metres of display encompasses nearly 3000 entries, 79% of which are from outside the UK.  Make no mistake, when they say it’s the biggest in the world; that’s no lie. And with 80,000 consumers expected to try a nibble or two, everything was looking rosy. But no, there looks to be a fly in the curd that threatens not only this year’s event but future ones as well.

The underlying cause, according to the organisers, is a new Brussels directive. They have appealed to the Food Standards Agency to help overturn the EU ruling that prevents Japan, South Africa and several countries from South America, including Brazil, importing cheese to compete in this year’s Olympics of cheese. But the real problem may simply be DEFRA, which is following the strict letter of the law of the EU directive. The directive follows recent concerns about animal health and the safe handling of milk. Which seems rather stupid given the universal failure to tackle the horsemeat scandal.

Bob Farrand, chairman of the World Cheese Awards, said: “This is extremely sad for several hundred artisan cheese makers around the world. The World Cheese Awards is their global event but these EU regulations are preventing them from entering. Many small rural businesses benefit enormously from winning at the Awards and this country benefits from much needed overseas revenue.  It shows yet again the total inflexibility of people in offices in Brussels.”

Warming to his theme, he went on to say: “For more than a decade we have applied for, and have been granted, permission by DEFRA to import artisan cheeses from outside the EU and we have a strong track record of following the correct procedures, including incinerating (what a waste!) all the cheeses after the event. As an organisation we are immensely supportive of British farming and would never entertain any action that placed it at risk.”
Kilimanjaro Cheese from South Africa, which won Silver at last year’s World Cheese Awards but has not been able to enter this year’s awards
Clearly he is not a happy chappy and who can blame him? According to Mr Farrand: “The ruling prohibits entry of cheeses from Japan into the EU and yet last June I judged at the Mondiale du Fromage in France and tasted several Japanese cheeses. Clearly other countries don’t kowtow to Brussels in quite the same way we do. It means we’ll have to think seriously about taking the World Cheese Awards abroad in future.”
Hopefully common sense will prevail. If red tape did cause this event to be moved out of the UK; that would be an injustice to cheese aficionados everywhere

*This gives me the second opportunity to use the label 'cheese Nazis'

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Those Were The Days

Mass Observation was a social research organisation founded in 1937 to record the minutiae of daily life in Britain. Its army of around 500 volunteers kept diaries, answered questionnaires and, somewhat controversially by today’s standards, recorded people’s behaviour and conversation in and out of work. A bit like the NSA, really. This went on until the 1950s when it was discontinued and then restarted in 1981. Although methodologically dubious: its surveyors were hardly representative of the populace as a whole, it does offer some fascinating insights.  Its archive resides with the University of Sussex and it has recently moved to a custom-built, climate-controlled centre called The Keep.

To commemorate this move, several snippets were made available to the press. One immediately caught my attention. In 1938 one of the questions they wanted the answer to, for reasons lost in time, was what was the average supping time for a pint? One could only imagine that this was at the behest of a 1930’s Tyson the Beerhound. The result showed that in November in Brighton, the average per-half-pint was 7.3 minutes. Altogether pub surveys were conducted in Bolton, Blackpool and Brighton and it will probably come as no surprise to learn that Tuesday evening saw the slowest drinking; while Friday evening saw the quickest.

Sadly the modern Mass Observation is conducted by email and, as yet,  I have not been invited to give my opinion on any of my specialist fields: beer, cheese, pizza and curry.

Monday, 11 November 2013


Cologne: so good they named it twice. Köln, as the Germans insist on calling it, is a bustling city. Still scarred from the effects of WW11-the rebuild seems never ending-it boasts a famous cathedral and, no doubt, some other cultural highlights. However, the important question is, as always, is it worth visiting? That means, of course, what’s it like for a drink? The good news is that it scores well in that regard. Yes, I like Köln. If Dusseldorf is the older, steady brother, then Köln is its slightly rebellious younger sibling. Of the two, I’d prefer to be having a nightcap in Köln rather than facing another Alt in Dusseldorf.
The Torture Chamber
Not so tortuous inside
The drink of choice in Köln is Kölsch which just happens to be the name of the local dialect. At one time Köln could boast the most breweries of any city in Germany. But although the brands live on, most of the breweries have closed. The remaining brewers each produce a Kölsch subtly different from their rivals and, as in Dusseldorf, everyone will have their favourite. Also like Dusseldorf, the beer comes in annoyingly small measures. Don’t be fooled into thinking that these Stange (pole) glasses are some quirky historical throwback. The old photos showing whole litres being necked demonstrate otherwise. Bizarrely some people actually claim that 0.1L glasses are the correct vessel for Kölsch. Frightening.
Can I have a bigger measure?
Now you're talking
We certainly had the weather for our exploration of Köln. The sun shone down and warmed our pale North England skin and gave us an unexpected chance of al fresco drinking. However, as we spent most of our time cloistered in pubs, don’t expect to see any sunbathing photos on this blog. The obvious place to start is the famous Früh am Dom. This, the main outlet of Früh, is enormous. Look up cavernous in the dictionary and you will find it listed there. A sprawling, multi-levelled affair, you won’t be waiting long before a Köbe (waiter) comes along with his tray of Kölsch. Good luck if you’re looking for someone in here as most likely you won’t get a phone signal, either.

I think it's autumn
Right who's paying for this lot?
Another must visit place is Sion. The beer may come from the Kuppers plant but the pub, modern by Köln standards, is well worth a visit. Leaded glass and gleaming tiles give it a smart, polished look. Malzmühle is a great pub, lovingly recreated from wartime ruins and is an authentic Kölsch brewpub. The beer, however, leans very heavily on the malty side and is the least appealing in the city. Unlike Päffgen which is light and bitter and very refreshing. This is not to be confused with a breakaway part of the family, Pfaffen, which has a nice pub of its own in the Heumarkt.
The Kaiser 1913
The Kaiser 2013
Midnight and the beer's still flowing
Another fine boozer is Peters Brauhaus. Not only can they claim to be one of the genuine Kölsch brewers, the pub itself is a splendid mix of panelling and leaded glass. For a contrast, try the Schreckenskammer. The ‘Horror Chamber’ was destroyed in 1943 and took 17 years to reopen. Situated opposite the Ursula church, it’s very traditional in style and even boasts sawdust on the floor. The Kölsch here is actually brewed at Dom and a visit to their tap proved interesting. The place was deserted when we arrived and yet the bartender was reluctant to let us sit anywhere. After explaining we were only having a quick drink he begrudgingly waved us to a table. After which sitting at, he immediately rushed over and ushered us to an identical deserted table.
2 German CAMRA members
There are plenty to go at in the city centre, but with the integrated transport system being what it is, you really should check the outskirts out. Sünner have a great cellar brewery tap and unusually offer a Hefeweizen as well. For the summer months there is also an appealing beer garden. We tried to get into Töller to sample some Kölsch, but not being diners we were refused seats. Even out pleas to drink stood outside fell on deaf ears with the barman very honestly, if nothing else, telling us they only allow locals to do that. Then there was Brauhaus Reissdorf with the lovely Fräulein who captured Eddie, the eager legal beagle's heart and Gaffel to name but a few. And no trip to Köln is complete without a visit to Papa Joes, if only to watch Schultz and Dooley, the two automatons, in action.

If you haven’t been to Köln, then you need to go and if you have been, you need to go again.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Ratinger & Wuppertal

Saw this and thought of you
Let's go in here
And what about here
Nice and dry
As above
Ratingen is a town located just 7.5 miles to the northeast of Dusseldorf. Fun fact of the day: it’s twinned with Cramlington, Northumberland. But its main appeal lies in two areas; one is that having suffered very little wartime damage, it retains a number of interesting old buildings. The second is that it’s a virtual microcosm of the Dusseldorf beer scene, with several of the breweries having pubs here. As always, Ron Pattinson has been there first and you can read his review here. One amendment to note is that the Diebels am Markt now appears to be a Lowenbrau outlet but is still worth a visit. There is the Ratinger Brauhaus but common consensus was that the Schlüssel Brauereiausschank "Zu den drei Königen" was the best. This is a smart, well run establishment where you can sit at the bar and chat with the very amiable Serbian barman.
Welcome to Wuppertal
Fancy a swim?
I like it
Wuppertal. So good they named it once. To be fair, it’s surrounded by greenery. However, the city itself looks quite dismal and seems to have the architecture of 1970s Albania. It wears its chemical-industrial roots on its sleeve. After all, this is the place that gave the world Aspirin and heroin. These days it’s more famous for its suspension railway, the Schwebebahn: as ridden by Michael Portillo. Unfortunately on the rainy day I went, it was kaput and closed. Perhaps it should twin with the Metrolink? Never mind, you know what the Germans say, Wuppertal is not a one-horse town. Actually that is exactly what they do say. All the action seems to take place at the Wuppertaler Bräuhaus. This is an interesting building that is a converted swimming pool. You can try their unfiltered Helles, a Dunkel or (bottled) Pils. And then get the hell out of there.

Sunday, 3 November 2013


Dusseldorf is the capital of North-Rhine Westphalia and a major industrial and financial centre. It’s also, apparently, the fashion hub of Germany. But for our purposes, its real fame lies with its beer. Ok it’s just one beer-no claim to be the craft beer capital of Europe here-Alt. But avoid the malt gloop clones and stick with the quality stuff and a glass or two isn’t the worst way to pass time. And there are certainly some decent pubs in which to drink it. Indeed, the Alstadt in Dusseldorf lays claim to be one mighty pub crawl, albeit not all of them great ones.

German vertical drinking
Yes, I will have another, thanks
We certainly covered all the bases on our weekend in the Fatherland. A good starting point is any one of the four Dusseldorf brewers still producing a distinctive Alt. Ueriga is a very famous one and their brewery tap is well known and not just because Auf Wiedersehen Pet used the back room for filming. It’s what you’d expect from a German boozer; think olde-world Sam Smith charm with plenty of character. And characters. I’m actually more of a fan of their pub than their beer and that pleasure was only increased by the discovery that the smoking ban has finally reached this neck of the woods. A very welcome move that even the locals who had been opposed to it, admitted had not affected trade.
Honest advertising
This looks nice
This doesn't
The other three Alt breweries also have pubs that are well worth a visit. The best in terms of beer, I found, was Schumacher. Not only is their ordinary alt rather pleasingly bitter, I was lucky enough to come across their anniversary beer: 1838. This 5% marvel was hoppy in the traditional IPA style and its eminently drinkable quality made it the best beer in town for my palate. Schlüssel and Füchschen, the other two Dusseldorf Alt specialists of course need trying and everyone will have their favourite. However, you may need to pick your drinking spot carefully during busy times: I gave up waiting to be served outside Schlüssel and waiting for your bill can be another pain.
A typical German enjoying his Alt

There were two other oddities of note. Brauerei Kürzer is the new upstart on the block when it comes to Alt brewing. The interior, promisingly modern at first glance, reveals itself to be rather plain post-industrial chic on closer inspection. I arrived here after the main party had already decided to leave on a customer relations-or rather lack of-point but a taste of the beer was enough for me: poor, with a malt gloop undercurrent. Much better was Schalander which is the worth the trek out of town for. This was comfortably modern with a great downstairs snug-like room. By German standards they serve an unusually large selection of different beers. Recommended.

Dusseldorf is a great place to drink in. But if you get tired of short measures of Alt, which you may well do, you can always sit back and watch the football with 500ml of Jever in the Irish bar.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Another Brewery For Bury

It’s a well-known fact that Bury is the brewing capital of the UK. The air is heavy with malt and hops as out mighty breweries work tirelessly to quench the thirst of the working man. You might think the last thing we need is another brewery, but you’d be wrong. After all, you can’t have too many breweries. So, in a move that can only cement Bury’s reputation, Silver St Brewing Co have launched their first beer. Based in the so-to-be-opened Clarence pub on (wait for it) Silver St; this is labelled 001 and tells you that it's a light ale.. It’s made with NZ hops and is a pale 4% beer that has a good, dry, bitter finish. Very promising, I have to say. Look out for their beers at the upcoming Bury Beer Festival.  

Tuesday, 15 October 2013


Beer festivals. You either love ‘em or you’re a bit weird. I mean they are the only legal thing that you can do without feeling guilty that you should be in the pub. Ok maybe one of two things. But back to IndyManBeerCon. This beer festival, that had its premier last year, was back. Back in the splendour of the Victorian Baths, but bigger and better. Yes, it wasn’t just their abbreviation that had been upgraded. The whole festival had been supersized. But bigger isn’t necessarily better; so how did it fare?

The basic setup was the same as last year. Entry was by advance ticket only and once inside tokens, equivalent to 50p and £1, were purchased in batches of £10. This year, however, the festival had expanded to take in Thurs-Sun sessions with a varying rota of beers for each day. To accommodate this, more use of the Baths was made with bars in Rooms 1-3 and Magic Rock holding court in the Turkish Bath room. I thought this an excellent layout with the live music, which was pretty good from what I heard, confined to room 3.
What else do you need to know? Well the food was excellent: plenty of quality choices but with Chaat Cart in attendance, there could only be one winner. One welcome addition was the introduction of draught Italian beer this year. There’s some cracking stuff being produced over there and they even had the sublime Toccalmatto on cask. Respect! Of course this was all dispended in dinky third glasses that were very nice. But, judging by the broken glass trail on Friday night, perhaps a little too delicate for some people to get home safely.
There was more beer, better beer than last year. More seating, erm, better seating than last year. Disabled access was better. I think you’re getting the picture. In summary, if you weren’t there, you missed a treat. I was going to tell you which was my favourite session but then you might turn up and spoil it next time, Ok that’s enough rambling, I hear the crowd roar. What about the beer? Without further ado, then, out of the 35 beers I had or, more precisely, can recall having, these stood out:
  • Toccalmatto Ambrosia Complex and tasty floral-elderflower, jasmine-and spiced citrusy wheat beer from Bruno and co.
  • Hawkshead Great White This wheat beer put even Toccalmatto in the shade. Crisp and punchy lemon flavours made this a great refresher. One of the beers of the festival.
  • Mikkeller It’s Alive Barrel Aged Chardonnay Mango Well this had the barrel-aged brettheads swooning but it was basically rubbish. Leather yes, but no mango.
  • Thornbridge Otters Tears This was a collaboration with the IndyManBeerCon team in memory of Simon Johnson. A beautifully balanced IPA that was very drinkable.
  • Buxton Dry Hopped Gold My beer of the festival. A sublime fruit driven hop kick that just demanded you come back for more.
  • Redchurch Shoreditch Blonde Disappointing blonde ale that comes across as a lager hybrid. The Belgian yeast is not helped by the sweet malt backbone.
  • Toccalmatto Zona Cessarini Their classic IPA on nandpump? Say no more.
  • Beavertown Black Betty Aged I think this is a black IPA aged in bourbon barrels-the brewer did tell me-I may be wrong. Either way, it was rich and vinous but I think I prefer the normal version.
  • Brodies Citra At 3.1% this is the best low strength beer out there. Does what it says on the tin and without the alcohol.
  • Brodies London Sour Apricot The programme said Mandarin but we got Apricot instead. Nice if you like having the enamel stripped off your teeth. Yes, no doubt someone thought it was the beer of the festival but they’d be wrong. It was bloody awful.
  • To Øl Fuck Art This is Advertising Another duffer. Heavy on the alcohol, well it is 11.3% but little going for it, otherwise.
  • Weird Beard Hoppy American Wheat I was sceptical of this but it did deliver the best of both styles. Drinkable for 5.5% as well.
Y:all come back now, y'hear...

Update: Anyone with unwanted tokens can donate them to the Victoria Baths restoration project by posting them or delivering them in person to Port Street Beer House