Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Meet the Brewer - Marble

All roads and train tracks led to Birmingham last night for those who appreciate the excellence of Marble beers.  Birmingham's top real ale pub, the Craven Arms, were throwing another 'Meet the Brewer' event and the star of the show this time was James Kemp, head brewer at Manchester's finest.  I love these type of events and I had this one in my diary since it was announced. 

Things took an unexpected turn which made it even better.  A former work colleague of mine, John Goodsell, has recently begun getting involved with North Sussex CAMRA doing their social media stuff.  Through this involvement we got back in touch with each other via Facebook but apart from a brief chat at a GBBF quite a few years ago we hadn't seen each other for 25 years - until last night.  He put out a comment on Facebook to say he was in Birmingham for the evening and asking for recommendations.  He did not take any persuading to join me at the Craven when I told him it was a Marble Meet the Brewer. 

The bar was loaded with Marble beers.  Six cask, six keg and a sprinkling of bottled beers.  A few of these were the same beer so it was possible to compare and contrast the two methods of dispense.  I didn't double up though as there were plenty of beers I wanted to try.  I began on the first line of three casks beers shown below. 

The first was Built to Fall (5.6% ABV).  This APA was delicious with a full citrus hit.  I had time to drink this one and fill my glass with the Howgate & Kemp (6.4% ABV) before things began.  This beer turned out to be my favourite one of the evening with a real hit of pineapple from the New Zealand hops. 

Whilst supping I was enjoying listening to Black Sabbath's 'Into The Void' when suddenly the volume went up and the lights went out.  This sudden upping in the volume did not last long as the sound was soon extinguished and the lights came back on.  Tim Rowe, the organiser of these events, stood up and introduced James.  James gave us a brief history of his brewing career before joining Marble at the end of last year.  Born in the UK, a move to New Zealand, learning the art of home-brewing and picking up a strange accent, coming back to the UK and working at Thornbridge, Buxton and Fullers.  Then getting the call from Marble to take on the role of head brewer.

It was then time to try more beer.  I went for the Earl Grey IPA next (6.8% ABV).  I had tried this once in the Marble Arch a couple of years ago but this tasted much better than I remembered it.  I am not a tea drinker and to be honest I did not notice any earl grey flavours in there unlike other 'tea' beers I have tried.  It was just the kind of big bold IPA that I love.

By now John had arrived and he was catching up quickly with pints whereas I was on halves.  Next up for me was my first keg beer of the evening, Skiffie Worlds (5.0% ABV), yet another IPA.  Marble love brewing IPAs.  This one lacked the flavour of the others so I followed this up with the Lagonda IPA (5.0% ABV), one of my favourite Marble beers, and this was in perfect condition.  As good as I remember it.

Whilst all this drinking was going on me and John were catching up on the last 25 years.  Working in IT and drinking good beer seems to go hand-in-hand.  It certainly does for us.  In the meantime James was circulating with Tim and it was good to chat with them when they got to us.  John had missed the earlier talk so I introduced him and we had a good chat about Harveys and old ales, a beer style popular in Sussex and one which James is keen to brew based on the fabulous Gales Prize Old Ale which we all have fond memories of. 

Marble celebrate their 21st birthday next year and many new beers are planned but it was refreshing to hear that Marble have no intention of expanding.  They are happy being the size they are and world domination is not part of the plan.  Also not part of the plan though is Dobber.  This beer has been consigned to the history books it seems.  I will mourn its loss.

The evening then took another unexpected turn.  Tim had a 10-year old bottle of a Marble imperial stout called Decadence and he got some sample glasses for us and offered it round.  This was sensational with a capital "S".  A definite advert for aging beers.  I just can't seem to keep mine long enough though.  Lots of chocolatey notes and a great boozy character to it.

After that my last train was calling me but there was time for yet another superb APA, Damage Plan (7.1% ABV).  This is another beer that I have tried before and it didn't disappoint.  

I would like to thank Tim for organising these events, the Craven Arms for hosting them (and for being the best real ale pub I have ever been in) and to James for his engaging manner and brewing expertise.  Finally to John for joining me and hopefully it won't be quite so long before we meet up again.  Next month's Elusive meet the brewer perhaps?


Sunday, 7 August 2016

Vibrant Forest

It may be on an industrial estate but getting to Vibrant Forest you realise how close it is to the gorgeous New Forest National Park.  Within a mile of the brewery you are swerving round cyclists, slowing down for free-running ponies and driving over cattle grids.  Not what you need if you are heading to a brewery to present them with an award.  It's a good job I know the area and so allowed myself plenty of time.  The journey was a little slow but the scenery is quite fabulous.

The Vibrant Forest story begins in 2011 with Kev Robinson brewing in his garage at home near to Southampton on a 1-barrel plant.  Three years later saw them expand to this 10-barrel plant on an industrial estate on the outskirts of Lymington, a beautiful part of Hampshire.  In a week which saw established Hampshire brewer, Oakleaf, going into adminstration it was great to visit a brewery that is thriving and deservedly so.  

It is just over a year since I first tried a beer from Vibrant Forest.  This was a superbly bitter golden ale, Flying Saucer (4.3% ABV).  Since then I have enjoyed much of their range including the stunning Imperial Stout, Black Oktober (9.0% ABV) and their fabulous IPA, Kaleidoscope (6.5% ABV). 

The reason for visiting was to present Kev with the Yapton Beerex Beer of the Festival, an award they also won last year.  The winning beer this time around was Salted Liquorice (5.0% ABV), a sweet stout that is exactly what it says with strong liquorice notes and a subtle saltiness.  Looking around the impressive brewery bar they already have 13 certificates proudly displayed.  Yesterday they added two more because the Southampton CAMRA branch were also there to present them with an award for their Oat & Coffee Stout (5.7% ABV).  They certainly know how to do dark beers but, as we saw yesterday, they know all about hops too.       

Yesterday I got to sample another beer from their Radicale range.  Belgian Zuur (3.5% ABV), a lovely sour that many were enjoying.  Ridiculously refreshing on such a lovely sunny day.  The Vienna Rye Ale (3.7% ABV) was a beautifully balanced beer with plenty of flavour from the rye but a refreshing character from the Chinook hop.  Finally, the Wheatwave (4.8% ABV) was another excellent refreshing beer and a great example of a Hefeweizen.  These three beers showcased how diverse and experimental Kev is as he holds nothing back.  Each beer is well crafted and delicious.     

Kevin (left) receiving the second of two awards yesterday

A selection of Western Sussex CAMRA members enjoying the beer 
This was my first visit to Vibrant Forest and hopefully it won't be my last.  The brewery bar is open on Fridays (noon - 6.00.pm) and Saturdays (11.00.am - 3.00.pm).  I want to shout out to all beer lovers about this brewery because their beers really are first class.  'We won't tolerate dull or boring' it says on their website.  How very true. If Vibrant Forest were based in London you would get beer writers going all gooey eyed over them.  However, if you want to try their beers you will now find them all along the south coast across to Brighton and they also make regular trips to Bristol.         

My little bit of Vibrant Forest will continue with a bottle of their Imperial Red IPA (9.7% ABV) that I took away yesterday.  I cannot wait to try that one.


Thursday, 7 July 2016

Tilt, Birmingham - A Crafty Place

When I pop into Birmingham I generally go to the best places I've discovered so far and rarely try anywhere new.  When I was in the Craven Arms last week a bar called Tilt was recommended to me so last night I decided to check it out.  I had gone into Brewdog for a quick drink and a bite to eat and I felt like a bit more 'craft' was needed.  I wasn't disappointed.

It's only a short hop from New Street.  Head up Corporation Street and then sneak down Warwick Passage and you're there.  It's an odd wedge-shaped building at the entrance to an old arcade.  A bit like a ,micropub but without the casks of beer.  Some communal bench tables at one end and smaller, more individual ones scattered about elsewhere.  Plenty of space which I like.

The bar area is tiny.  There's one small counter with a couple of fine looking cakes at one end.  That's the thing about this place.  It's also a coffee shop and on the wall opposite the bar the wall has three rows of neatly arranged clipboards.  The top row has the eight beers (six were on last night).  The middle row is dedicated to coffee and on the bottom row I saw a tea menu.  Not being a tea or coffee drinker I reluctantly studied the beer list.    

Every beer sounded incredibly tempting.  Breweries on show tonight were Beavertown, Kernel and Brew By Numbers from London,  Thornbridge from Derbyshire.  Vocation from West Yorkshire and Electric Bear from Bath.  The latter was a brewery I had never seen before so naturally I started with that one.  This was a 9.5% ABV Doppelbock called Heisenberg's Double Decoction and what an amazing beer it was.  Massive complex malt flavours but packed with hops too.  Citrusy orange notes and a big boozy sweetness to the finish.  I can't wait to try more from this brewery.    

Whilst consuming my first drink I chatted to the young guy serving.  He told me they had been open less than a year and had plans for the top floor eventually.  He was very enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the beers and was happy for me to take a few photos.  What you don't see though when you first enter is the room to the back which is packed with pinball machines all in full working order and ready to be played.  There was also a Pac-Man lurking in there too.  Downstairs there was another area with more pinballs.  This place has bags of character and whilst I am not a pinball wizard I was tempted.  Next time for sure.     

I had time for one more drink before heading back to Moor Street station.  Looking at the beer lists I wanted all of them but the Bloody Obnoxious, a bloody orange DIPA won the day.  Beavertown's Bloody 'Ell was one of my favourite beers of 2015 and this is a supercharged version coming in at 9.1% ABV.  Priced at £5 for a half it had better be good.  Needless to say, I wasn't disappointed.  A stunning beer.    

If you love 'craft' beer you won't be disappointed with Tilt I'm sure.  I will certainly be adding it to my list of places to go on my regular trips into Birmingham.  This bar is actually handy for all three Birmingham stations so perfect for someone with time to kill while waiting for a connection although you may stay longer than you intend.


Thursday, 9 June 2016

Norwich City of Ale 2016

The subtitle for this post could indeed be 'a cautionary tale'.  When planning a two-day beer trip don't overdo it on the first day.  We'll come to that later.  Norwich is a fine city in many ways but for pubs it is exceptional.  This is mainly a pictorial post which will help to keep me focussed as well as cutting out unnecessary waffle.  I began last Thursday morning before opening time for many of the pubs it seemed, as noon seems to be the time when most of them open their doors even when there are lots of thirsty visitors searching for early refreshment.  It was nice to go for a wander though past familiar landmarks from the times I have spent working in Norwich.       

The Unthank Arms was my local for about 6 months when I was staying during the week at the nearby Arlington Hotel (now called the George) in the early 1990s.  I think the Unthank is still owned by the same people as it was back then judging by the notes from the festival programme.  From the outside it looks the same as it did then that's for sure.  No time to stop for a beer just yet though as it wasn't even 11.00.am.   

Passing the Reindeer, a brewpub during my time in Norwich, a sign of the current owners was in evidence with Elgoods delivering some beer.  I came across the Reindeer after trying to find evidence of the former Adnams pub behind in the area of flats.  I think it has gone and I cannot remember the name of it either.  

Micawbers was a cracking pub where I used to drink copious amounts of Tanglefoot.  Let's hope it doesn't sell that kind of crap now.  I will hopefully find out later.

Not much reason to enter the old Pottergate Tavern.  What was a great city centre dive is now a coffee shop and the tremendous fish & chip shop opposite holds more appeal. 

Finally, a pub that is open and part of the City of Ale trail.  The smallest pub in Norwich, The Vine also does great Thai food I am told.  It always was a pleasant city centre pub for a quick pint.      

There was a decent selection of Norfolk ales so a couple of halves got me started.  The Panther Red (4.1% ABV) beat the disappointing Norfolk Hop Bean IPA (5.0% ABV) by quite a stretch.


The Rumsey Wells was the St Andrews Tavern in the early 1990s.  It was a superb pub with a very colourful interior and one of my favourites.  I think it was always part-owned by Adnams but it now appears to be solely theirs.  There was no time to stop for a beer as I was heading out of town.  The plan was to do some of the far-flung pubs during the day as more walking means less drinking.     

The St Andrews Brewhouse has opened since my last visit to Norwich in 2013.  I was due to meet up with friend and blogger, Nate Southwood, here later so no need to pop in just yet. 

One of my favourite pubs in Norwich.  The Ribs of Beef will be visited later.

Another pub to visit tomorrow.  Not one I am familar with to be honest but the programme hints at a vast beer selection.

Time for another beer then.  This is my first visit to the Fat Cat Tap but I think I went in this pub once when it called The Wherry.  Fat Cat brewed the City of Ale festival beer, a 4.5% golden ale called Kitty of Ale.  It would have been rude not to try this one and it was indeed a nice complex beer, slightly floral with tropical fruit notes.  I also went out of county to try a Centennial Pale from Almasty, from near Newcastle.  The hoppy visiting ale won this one but only just.     

As with the original Fat Cat, the Tap is full of brewing memorabilia. 

That's where the Pottergate Tavern sign went to then! 

Staying out of town, the Whalebone is a pub I have never been in although it was here during my years in Norwich.  It looked very appealing judging by the smart exterior.    

And a lovely interior.

The Moon Gazer Red (4.0% ABV) was a fine accompaniment to a superb sausage roll.  A red ale that was my favourite beer of the day so far.  It more than made up for the disappointment of their Hop Bean IPA earlier.

The pub dog wanted my sausage roll.  No chance.

Still out of town and this is what I love about Norwich.  Even in the quiet backstreets you can come across some amazing pubs.  This one, the Duke of Wellington, I have never even been past before never mind stepped inside.

The beer board allows for up to 31 beers to be available at any one time.  Only 18 were available today which was really poor I suppose.  Seriously though, a fabulous locals pub with an amazing choice of beers and my half of Humpty Dumpty Sunrise (4.2% ABV) seemed a bit pathetic really but with places to go I could consume no more.  The beer was great with plenty of complexity from what was essentially a dry citrusy bitter.  

The White Lion was an excellent Tap & Spile pub in the 1990s and after a period of closure it has been revived by Cambridgeshire brewer, Milton.  A brewery I am not familiar with but they had five or six of their beers available so I tried a couple of them.  The Cyclops (5.3% ABV) was dry, fruity and hoppy but the best of the two was the Nero (5.0% ABV), a lovely smooth stout.  

Always good to see a bar billiards table.

A lovely interior.  They have maintained plenty of character in this two-bar pub.    

When I first visited the Fat Cat in the late 1990s it was love at first sip.  It was definitely my favourite pub ever at that time and it really hasn't changed at all I am delighted to say.


It still has a fantastic range of beers, including some of their own of course.  They had not branched out into brewing when I first came here.  This was my local for a couple of months in the late 1990s and it wasn't long enough.  I stayed fairly local with my beer choice.  The Metropolis (3.9% ABV) from Colchester was a decent golden ale but the Black Pig (4.2% ABV) from Old Cannon was a fruity mild not really to my taste.  Having said that I am sure it is still the best brewery in Bury St Edmunds. 

A fabulous interior with nooks and crannies and interesting breweriana at every turn.

Multi-award winning.


Sadly, the Norwich pub scene is also diminishing and it was no surprise to see former pubs converted into 'Esco Express' supermarkets.  This one was called the Dial House I think.  Not one I ever went in though (and never will now thanks to Tesco). 

I made it back to the Reindeer then.  This brewpub was the Norwich equivalent of the Firkin pubs when it opened up and I have spent many a fine evening in here.  It was run by the late Wolfe Witham, who went on and founded the Wolf Brewery in 1995.   

It still has a fine interior with a great range of beers.  The Brass Castle Session (3.5% ABV) was ok but the best beer was the local Bullards No.5 Red Best Bitter (4.0% ABV) which was a well balanced red ale.    

Near to the Reindeer we have another building that is no longer a pub.  I think I went in this one once which I think was called the Barn.  I won't now be able to pay it a second visit.

Arriving at Micawbers again there was time to pop in for a quick half of Humpty Dumpty Swallowtail (4.0% ABV).  I thought it was a forgettable golden ale but I was probably just in need of a break.  Talking of forgettable golden ales, I was glad to see that H&W Tanglefoot was nowhere to be seen.   

So that concludes phase one.  There was time to find and check-in to the Travelodge before heading out to the St Andrews Brewhouse to meet Nate.  To be honest if I'd fallen asleep I might have stayed sleeping for hours and day two might have been better but that's life.  

It was great to see Nate again and for anyone who doesn't know him you really must read his excellent blog.  Click here for some Booze, Beats & Bites.  We met at the St Andrews Brewhouse and I ordered my City of Ale programme offer of free three thirds (try saying that when you're pissed).  I tried the Cork Cutters IPA (4.3% ABV), the Tombland Porter (4.8% ABV) and the Brewhouse Black IPA (8.1% ABV).  The first was forgettable, the second was fruity and a little sour and the third was magnificent.  Best beer of the day by far.  

The pub is a modern beer bar with craft keg taps and cans.  Scrubbed wooden floors and bare brick in abundance.  Very appealing and from their website I learned you can be a brewer for the day here.  I should probably have signed up for that on day two of my visit.  Next time perhaps.   

Nate had a plan for me to complete one of the seven City of Ale pub trails so we moved on to the Wild Man.  This used to be a Tolly Cobbold pub that I rarely went into back in the day but it is still a smart city centre pub.  The beer choice must have been quite poor though because I had a half of Moorhouse's White Witch, a bog standard 3.9% ABV blonde ale.

Next up was the Sir Garnet.  This pub I enjoyed on my last City of Ale three years ago and they were serving the fabulous Lacons Encore (3.8% ABV).  Lacons were launching back then and I have not seen their beers available anywhere since then.  Encore is a superb hoppy session bitter.   

At the next pub, the Coach & Horses, Nate's lovely young lady, Sam, served us.  It is a pub I am not too familiar with yet it is a lovely traditional pub, more like a country pub than one normally found in a city centre.  New Norwich brewer, Boudicca, was on offer so I went for that one.  Golden Torc (4.3% ABV) was a decent golden ale but things were now beginning to get a bit hazy shall we say.    

The next pub was a quick one in Micawbers for Nate to get his ale trail stamp before going to the Plough, a pub owned by the local Grain brewery.  I seem to remember it was a lovely pub with plenty of smart wooden tables and the beer, their 4.8% ABV Rye Pale Ale, was delightful. 

The rest of the evening sort of got pieced together next day.  I remember going back to the St Andrews Brewhouse to pick up my completed Ale Trail pin badge and deciding I had better go back to the hotel.  However, looking on Untappd I had checked in beers at both the Mash Tun & Gin Palace and the Rumsey Wells.  A quick message to Nate confirmed to me that we did go into these pubs so I must apologise to him for whatever I did or said in these places.  Hopefully nothing embarrassing.  

Day two had not started too well then but I was convinced I'd be feeling better once I'd had something to eat.  Two bacon rolls were consumed during a trip to the Glasshouse, one of four Wetherspoons in Norwich, although I didn't have any beer.  I was really not feeling like drinking for some reason.

It was a short trip to the Ribs from the Glasshouse and I ordered a half of Spiral Stout (4.6% ABV) from Boudicca.  It initially tasted like poison but by the end it was actually a very nice stout indeed but my tastebuds just weren't appreciating it.  Still not wanting to drink I decided to go for a wander and take some pictures of some old haunts along with one or two new places.

Not even the prospect of some evil keg could entice me to drink.

The former Edith Cavell now appears to be just Cavells.


At one time this was about the only place you could get real ale in Norwich.

Another former Adnams pub.

Used to be La Rouen and sits at the top of Rouen Road where I lived in a flat which was a bit noisy in the early 1990s due to the constant drilling and digging for the foundations of what became the Castle Mall opposite.

Another former Adnams pub on Ber Street.  This one was called the Horse & Dray and it was a fabulous local I often went in.  The nearby Thorn Tavern has also disappeared.

This Indian Restaurant was once called the New Inn.  

The former Cricketers opposite the old New Inn is looking very sad.

This was one of my favourite pubs.  For a while it became a Woodforde's pub called Billy Bluelight's I think but I'm glad to see it is looking well looked after and back to its former name.

The King's Arms, opposite the Freemasons, always looked a bit tatty but it is still an excellent pub.

Once I reached the Rose, one of my favourite pubs in Norwich, and still having no inclination to drink any more beer, I decided to head to the station and get an early train home.  There were a few pubs I missed out on this time but you always need a reason to go back.  Some pubs may have gone but Norwich still has an abundance of great places to drink.  City of Ale is a fabulous event and it is somewhere that should be on your list of places to go.  

Cheers, Glenn