Wednesday, 19 December 2012

2012 Review

2011 was an awful year.  Most of it was spent expecting redundancy but it never quite happened.  I approached 2012 in a positive frame of mind determined to change things myself.  The year began promisingly as one person in our company did prove he could organise a piss-up in a brewery.  The Hogs Back Brewery tour was organised for late January and it was an excellent evening spent sampling their delightful ales.  The tour guide kept our glasses full as we walked around this small brewery nestled at the foot of the North Downs in Surrey.  Also on the site is an excellent beer shop where you can buy the Hogs Back beers alongside a great selection of bottled beers from all round the world. 

In February life took a massive turn for the better.  My services were required by a client in Stratford-on-Avon for three months and having previously spent many enjoyable work assignments with this company it provided me with the opportunity to revisit some favourite pubs as well as temporarily removing the threat of redundancy.  It also enabled me to book my brewing experience at nearby Sadlers Ales, a 50th birthday present that I was looking forward to immensely.  This was definitely my highlight of the year.

Since March I have explored Warwickshire and the surrounding counties quite extensively as my three month assignment got extended again and again.  I managed several visits to my old local in Loughborough, The Swan In The Rushes, alongside the re-opening of The Old Pack Horse under a new name (The Organ Grinder) owned by Nottingham's micro Blue Monkey

At the end of March I attended the CAMRA AGM in Torquay.  This was my first AGM since 1992 (I was living in Norwich when it was last held there) and along with my friend Martin, we sampled some lovely beers from this region.  My favourite was the delightful Topsail (4.0% ABV) from Bays Brewery.  This beer was my first Gold Medal beer of the year.  As for the pubs of Torquay, the Hole In The Wall was a gem, hidden away but very close to the bustling seafront.                

In Warwickshire I discovered several wonderful breweries for the first time.  The Weatheroak Brewery (Studley) and their wonderful brewery tap, The Victoria Works.  The Slaughterhouse Brewery (Warwick) and their micro brewpub, The Wild BoarChurch End Brewery (Ridge Lane) and Wood Farm Brewery (Willey) and their superb brewery taps with panoramic views of their brewery from the bar.  Then there are the beers from the Warwickshire Beer Co and Byatts Brewery in addition to an old favourite UBU from Purity Ales

In Stratford-on-Avon itself The Bear at the Swan's Nest and The Golden Bee have kept me happy with their ever-changing guest ales all of which have been served in perfect condition without exception.  The West End was a pub I discovered with a good range of beers too.  Warwick has also given me a good selection of pubs with the Old Fourpenny Shop Hotel, The Oak Tavern and the previously mentioned Wild Boar standing out for their excellence.  Between these two towns the Boars Head in Hampton Lucy has maintained its appeal from previous visits.  Further afield I discovered the excellent Clarendon Arms in Kenilworth.

In addition to pubs, I always get excited when I discover a specialist beer shop and Cotteridge Wines in the suburbs of Birmingham, was a fantastic find.  The choice of bottled beers that they have available is simply staggering and it has given me a lovely beer selection to be enjoyed over Christmas.  In addition to that the guys running this business are brimming with enthusiasm and extremely friendly.       

In May a friend suggested I begin a blog to write about my passion for beer.  What an excellent idea I thought and with one eye on the future I also decided to acquaint myself with Twitter and I began to write.  I never expected more than a handful of people to read my reviews and opinions but with nearly a thousand views it has certainly exceeded my expectations and I thank everyone who has read an article for their interest.  Likewise, I never thought I would get more than a few Twitter followers so to exceed a hundred has been fantastic.  So now I'm hooked on these new mediums for expressing my love of beer and pubs and this will surely continue.

Autumn began with my very first 'Meet The Brewer' event.  The local Shakespeare CAMRA branch, in conjunction with The Golden Bee in Stratford-on-Avon, arranged for the fabulous brewers from Sadlers Ales to come and talk about the brewing process and their wonderful beers.  They gave an interesting presentation and the pub put on an excellent evening.  The local CAMRA members welcomed me and I hope to meet up with them for a social event in the new year if it is at all possible.
I fully expect beer to take a massive leap into my working life once redundancy hits (as I fully expect it to) so this assignment and free time in the evenings has given me the opportunity to make new contacts and make plans.  Starting my own microbrewery would certainly be an adventure and next year I would love to attend a 3 day Brewlab course if I can fit it in.  A specialist beer shop has been something I have thought about for a few years and the south coast certainly has room for one.  Then there is the micropub revolution.  Next year I aim to study a mix of  businesses and continue my planning.  All ideas welcome !!

So yes it has been a great year.  I am determined to keep my positivity high in 2013 despite my current work assignment only taking me to the end of January.  I will continue to drink as many different ales as I can find in a variety of pubs both old and new.  I will continue to write about my love of beer and in particular my love of cask conditioned ale served in a pint glass in a pub.  I hope to finally get more involved with CAMRA and my local branch when I leave Warwickshire and I hope to work at a CAMRA beer festival for the first time.  Then there is the CAMRA AGM at Norwich which I really hope I can get to.  So goodbye 2012 and a big hello to 2013.

Happy drinking.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Gold Medal Beers

The announcement of CAMRA's Champion Beer of Britain at the Great British Beer Festival is always exciting.  The choice has often surprised me and I often wonder how meaningful it really is.  It's obviously a very prestigious award as the winner will see their sales soar.  At the end of the day though it is the opinion of a few distinguished panelists and personal taste must play a large part.  In the early days I felt the award was often 'political'.  How else can you explain Batemans XXXB winning in 1986 during their battle for independence.  This beer is quite magnificent and deserves all accolades but amazingly it has never won since.   Some of the stranger victors have been Caledonian Deuchars IPA (2002), a very ordinary beer, and Ind Coope Burton Ale (1990), a decent pint but nothing to compare with many beers available at that time. 

So what is the current process for choosing a winner?  I received an email last week to join in the voting process.  Looking at the first category, Milds, I was presented with a list of 26 milds.  I have sampled 82 different beers in pubs since September 1st and quite a few of these were milds but I have not tried any of those listed.  So how do they get on this list?  I am probably an anomaly in that I am presented with a list of beers for my region but I do most of my drinking elsewhere due to my work.   Church End Gravediggers is a superb mild and it would get my vote but it was not one of the choices available to me.  Do people vote for beers they have never tasted?  I couldn't do that.  It was a similar story for most of the other categories so my voice will not be heard this year.

So the Champion Beer of Britain is obviously a difficult competition to win and it must be biased towards the more commonly available beers as these will be tried by more members over the year.  So can the huge number of beers now available ever be compared against one another?  Local festivals often have a beer of the festival and this is an award that is probably fairer as all beers will be often sell out and therefore be tried by an equal number of paying customers.  Beers with a strong local following may have an advantage but this is not guaranteed as many drinkers will steer clear of their favourites and try something new.     

So how do I judge my beers?  As I've said before, I always try and sample something new and some of these will turn out to be disappointing but others will turn out to be excellent.  Some beers can be disappointing due to the way it has been kept but once I sample something that is exceptional it will be awarded a Gold Medal.  Perhaps this is what should be adopted by the GBBF.  Choosing one champion ale seems arbitrary but to award medals for all those available depending on the quality will make the award more meaningful.  If there are 10 amazing beers then give 10 gold medals.  Simple.

So to conclude, out of the 82 different pints of beer I have tried in the past 3 months here is my list of Gold Medal winners.  To be awarded a Gold Medal the beer must be exceptional and must have been served in perfect condition.  I have tried some beers in the past 3 months that have been awarded Gold Medal status previously but on the occasion I tried them this time it did not live up to previous standards.

Byatts Coventry Bitter (3.8% ABV)
Church End Gravediggers Ale (3.8% ABV)
Dorset Brewing Company Durdle Door (5.0% ABV)
Hawkshead Brewery Cumbrian Five Hop (5.0% ABV)
Hobsons Best Bitter (3.8% ABV)
Lees Moonraker (6.5% ABV)
Oakham Ales JHB (3.8% ABV)
Ossett Hop Monster (5.0% ABV)
Otter Brewery Otter Ale (4.5% ABV)
Sadlers JPA (3.8% ABV)
Sadlers Mud City Stout (6.6% ABV)
Slaughterhouse Starboard Porter (4.8% ABV)
Weatheroak Brewery Victoria Works (4.3% ABV)
This is the start of a regular feature and every three months I will be listing my latest winners.  Obviously, I highly recommend you trying any of the above if you get the chance.

Happy drinking.