Saturday, 31 December 2016

12 Beers of Xmas #12 - Imperial Stout Special Edition (Cloudwater)

OK it is nearly midnight so this will be quick.  Cloudwater of Manchester are the best brewery in the UK at the moment.  No debate here.  This bottle just confirms that fact.  And to think I have two more of their imperial stout editions that I am hibernating for next Christmas and beyond just makes me incredibly happy.  It is only just over two years since I was sat in the Marble Arch, Manchester with Jim Cullen (aka BeersManchester) when we were joined briefly by Al and Emma.  Al was telling us about the imminent launch of a new brewery that was going to specialise in seasonal beers.  Sounded great and it really has been fantastic.  This year I have had plenty of Cloudwater and I want more and more.          

This is everything I was hoping for from every imperial stout in my #12BeersofXmas this year.  To be honest though this is only one of two that has actually delivered.  Great body with a lovely pop when I opened the bottle.  Easily drinkable and so smooth you could skate on it.  What an absolutely perfect way to bring in the new year.  

Happy new year to everyone reading this.  Let 2017 bring even more joy from Cloudwater.


12 Beers of Xmas #11 - Mooi & Meedogenloos (de Molen)

My second substitution of my #12BeersOfXmas and another trip into continental Europe.  Holland to be precise.  Brouwerij de Molen began brewing in 2004 in a windmill called De Arkhuif, a building dating back to 1697, situated in the town of Bodegraven.  They have had joint beer projects with Mikkeller and de Struisse as well as taking part in recreating historic recipes.  Their success required another building which was acquired in 2012 a short distance from the mill which increased their capacity per batch to 2500l.  In 2010 they were rated in the top ten of RateBeers "Best Brewers in the World".  Quite some feat.  Cotteridge Wines stock a wide range of their products and I have loved every one if them.

Earlier this year I tried a bourbon aged version of this beer and both myself and my wife fell in love with it.  So much so that I awarded it my favourite foreign bottled beer of 2016.  However, this one I prefer if I am being honest.  It has four malts (pils, caramel, chocolate and roasted), two hops (Chinook and Saaz) and a top fermenting yeast.  It is like a barley wine in many respects with plenty of rich fruit cake flavours and the chocolate and roasted malt character shine through too.  It is silky smooth and so drinkable.  A really fabulous beer.  I will be buying more of this in 2017.


Thursday, 29 December 2016

12 Beers of Xmas #10 - Sadako (Weird Beard)

Weird Beard from London are so loved that two northern beer bloggers I know voted them best overseas brewer this year!!!  High praise indeed.  I absolutely love their beers, especially on cask when you can find them, as indeed I did on more than one occasion at the Craven Arms, Birmingham this year.  They surely need no more introduction to any of my readers out there.  A quick history though in case you have been asleep since 2013 when they began brewing.  They have expanded regularly since then with two new 20-barrel fermenters to go with their six 10-barrel ones.  That means plenty of Weird Beard for people like me who love everything they brew.  Yet another massive thank you to Cotteridge Wines for pushing their beers onto me.    

This particular beer came in a 660ml bottle with a wax seal.  At 9.5% ABV it is a potent imperial stout brewed with 10 different malts along with honey, molasses, oats and fresh coffee beans making it a dark, rich experience.  That's what it says on the bottle at least.  Which is pretty accurate as you would expect.  The coffee notes are strong and give a long, dry lingering finish.  There is sweetness from the molasses too and overall it is yet another superb intoxicating brew from WB.  I love it!


12 Beers of Xmas #9 - #500 (Nogne O)

My need for hops has been quenched.  Phew.  Nogne O (my keyboard doesn't have the right character but there should be a line through the 'O') is Norway's leading producer of craft beer and, here's a thing, the only producer of sake in Europe.  Their name means "naked island".  Their story goes back to 2002 when Gunnar Wiig and Kjetil Jikiun decided to found a new brewery.  They love Maris Otter UK malt and the big C US hops (Cascade, Centennial, Chinook and Colombus).  In 2003 they produced a mere 300hl and in 2015 it was a much more impressive 20,000 hl.  In 2013 the brewery was acquired by Hansa Borg Bryggerier, a family owned group of regional brewers and Nogne O continue to grow at their base in Grimstad. I have loved many of their beers and Cotteridge Wines always stock a good selection from them.

This beer is big on numbers.  It is a celebration of their 500th brew so it must have been initially brewed some time ago because on my same shop I also picked up their #1000 which may be kept for next Christmas.  This particular beer though was batch #1357 and it was bottled in January 2015.  So what are the other numbers I hear you ask.  Five malts, 100 IBUs, 5 Hops and 10% ABV.  Quite something.  It has a bit of a creamy feel to it with butterscotch notes in the base and the hops permeate through above this malty base for what is actually a highly drinkable balanced beer.  It really is quite lovely.


Wednesday, 28 December 2016

12 Beers of Xmas #8 - Barrel Aged Even More Jesus VIII (Siren Craft w/ Evil Twin)

This beer is a late substitution for my planned beer #8.  Same brewery (Siren Craft) but this is a small bottle and due to having to catch up following an illness-induced dry day yesterday I thought this would be a better option.  It was a particularly attractive beer though which I picked up at Cotteridge Wines last week so it was always a possible replacement.  I seem to have been loving Siren beers for ages now but they are relatively new having been born in 2012.  In 2014 they won best new brewery in England by and this particular beer is highly regarded with a rating of over 4.3 on Untappd.  This beer is a collaboration with Denmark's highly rated gypsy brewer Evil Twin, a brewer with offices in both New York and Copenhagen.

This beer is brewed with heaps of muscovado sugar and English liquorice root.  It is an 11.4% ABV stout that has been aged in hazelnut liqueur barrels and this is by far the best imperial stout I have tasted for many a long year.  It is silky smooth with noticeable notes of both hazelnut and liquorice as you would expect from the description.  For me this is absolute perfection in a glass and I am so glad it is one of my '12 Beers'.


Monday, 26 December 2016

12 Beers of Xmas #7 - Oak Aged Silverback (Blue Monkey)

Today we head to the East Midlands for a massive beer from those cheeky primates at Blue Monkey, a brewery established in 2008.  They are now based in Giltbrook where they produce up to 20,000 pints a beer each week with such great names such as BG Sips, Ape Ale, Funky Gibbon and the fabulous 99 Red Baboons.  They also have four pubs, all of which are called the Organ Grinder, and one of these is in my home town of Loughborough.  I have to thank my work colleague, Martin Hamer, for this particular beer.  He lives a short hop from the brewery and when he told me about this one he kindly offered to pick one up for me.    

This is the strongest beer I have ever tasted coming in at 13% ABV.  It also comes in a full 1 litre bottle.  The Blue Monkey guys brew an imperial stout called Silverback, the name for an adult male gorilla.  This beer comes in slightly lower on the ABV scale but after storing it in oak casks it has obviously crept up a bit.  Coming on the back of the bourbon aged imperial stout from yesterday it will make an interesting comparison.  Flavour-wise I prefer this one.  It is beautiful with everything you expect from an imperial stout.  My wife found it too strong with the texture of engine oil and wasn't very keen but my main complaint was it was totally flat.  Very little condition to it.  The Durham beer from yesterday had the right amount of carbonation and body but I wasn't totally enamoured with the bourbon notes.  This beer has no body but decent flavours.  I am still yet to find the perfect imperial stout this Christmas then but I will keep looking.


Sunday, 25 December 2016

12 Beers Of Xmas #6 - Imperious (Durham Brewery)

It's a special beer from Durham Brewery so it must be Christmas Day.  There is no need for debate here.  When it comes to bottled beer Durham Brewery are number one.  They have been brewing these crackers since 1994 and I have loved them for many years.  They are not afraid to go high when it comes to ABV and they are not afraid to try many different beer styles too.  Bedes Chalice (9.0% ABV) is the best Belgian Tripel you will see outside of Belgium, Benedictus (8.4% ABV) is a stunning strong golden ale, Temptation (10.0% ABV) is a stunning Russian Stout and their White Stout (7.2% ABV) is a pale stout beer of a kind that was brewed 200 years ago.  My particular favourite was Redemption, an old ale that also exceeded the 10% ABV mark, but which is sadly no longer available.  And another thing, these lovely beers do not come in those poncey 330ml bottles either.  All in 500ml bottles so you have plenty of beer to enjoy!!    

I have to thank Cotteridge Wines for getting this limited edition special for me.  Imperious is an imperial stout, one which has been oak aged in whisky casks, and it clocks in at a whopping 11.6% ABV.  The detachable label says it has been aged in whisky hogsheads to impart oak and vanilla flavours.  There are actually strong bourbon notes and I am not a whisky lover so it doesn't attain top marks which I always give Temptation, their regular Russian stout.  It does however have great character, plenty of body and a silky smooth texture.  One that was supped slowly and the 750ml bottle lasted me all afternoon.  A really pleasing beer for this special day.


Saturday, 24 December 2016

12 Beers Of Xmas #5 - Christmas Ale (Harveys)

Harveys of Lewes is the oldest independent brewery in Sussex.  The business was started by John Harvey and his name lives on with the John Harvey Tavern pub across from the brewery.  The Harvey family acquired their current site in 1838 at a cost of £3100.  Today there is an eighth generation family member still working at the brewery.  They brew some fabulous dark ales with their winter Old Ale particularly worth finding each year.  It is on the back of my love for this beer and some other bottled delights that have come my way in the past from them that I had to include this bottle of Christmas Ale.  Traditionally my Christmas Eve selection has to have a picture of santa on the label too and it fits the bill there also.  It should be noted further that this beer is a recipient of Finland's Olutseura Olviretki award no less.  This is because it 'excellently' fulfills "The Christmas Beer Regulation of the Seven Brothers" described in Aleksis Kivi's novel 'Seven Brothers'.  So there you go.

Untappd has this down as a barley wine - not my idea of one.  It is very warming and flavours like you would get from a lightly spiced fruit cake but there is a flavour in the aftertaste that doesn't sit right and yet again my wife agrees.  Beer #2, the barley wine from Ballards, was much better for our taste buds.  It does have plenty of character and complexity and it is not overly sweet which is a plus point.  A pleasant enough concoction for Christmas but I wouldn't rush for a second.


Friday, 23 December 2016

12 Beers of Xmas #4 - 2014 Imperial Export Strength Stout (Dark Star)

For my fourth beer I am back in West Sussex.  Dark Star have been a leading light in my home county for many years and they are still expanding today with the opening of two new bars in 2016.  The Anchor Tap in Horsham opened in Spring 2016 and the Lockhart Tavern, Haywards Heath opened last month.  For some reason I forgot all about the Anchor Tap when I was compiling my Golden Pints so this has been amended as this bar is well worth a visit with a full range of Dark Star beers on cask and a tremendous keg selection from the very best breweries around.  They have certainly come a long way from when they began brewing in the cellar of the Evening Star, Brighton in 1994.  

At 10.5% ABV this impy stout has plenty of punch.  It was brewed in 2014 so it has had plenty of time to mature.  Flavour-wise it is nearly spot on.  Slightly on the sweet side although my wife found it too bitter.  I actually prefer even more bitterness but that's just me.  A lack of condition though is what lets it down for me and stops it from reaching the dizzy heights.  Actually I'm concentrating on the negatives far too much here because it is pretty gorgeous but I'm just trying to explain why it falls short of top marks.  Plenty more beers to come though and I'm sure one or two will be total perfection.


12 Beers of Xmas #3 - Imperial Raspberry Stout (Thornbridge)

There is not much to be said about Thornbridge that readers here will not already know.  Thornbridge began brewing within the grounds of Thornbridge Hall, Derbyshire in 2005.  Their success was such they moved into a new state-of-the-art brewery in nearby Bakewell in 2009.  However, the original Hall brewery is still in use too.  Anyway, their beers are fantastic as you probably know but this particular beer is a collaboration with St Eriks Bryggeri, a Swedish craft brewer on the outskirts of Stockholm.  St Eriks seem to be more famous for creating the worlds most expensive crisp than they do for their beer though although the beer I am sure is pretty good.  Anyway, if you want a little bit of Sweden then this is a perfect drink as it is considerably cheaper than the crisps which are £46 for five of them.  That is five crisps, not five boxes.  I am sure they are 'craft' crisps though and worth every penny.  

I have tried cranberries in stout (gorgeous), oats, liquorice, coffee and oysters of course, some with excessive chocolate, vanilla, strawberries and other interesting flavours I've obviously forgotten.  It is rare for me not to enjoy a stout whatever people chuck in it.  This is the first raspberry stout I've had though.  Thornbridge St Petersburg was a 5* beer for me a couple of years ago in my 12 Beers Of Xmas.  This one doesn't achieve those heights for me though.  The raspberry comes through clearly in the aroma.  Not so much in the flavour though but it is sweet and I do prefer much more bitterness in a stout.  My wife loved it and we were both in agreement about the silky smoothness to the mouthfeel.  It drinks nothing like its' 10% ABV strength.  Don't get me wrong though because I do think it is a mighty fine beer.  Just not as good as this fantastic style of beer often attains for me.

This is the first of eight imperial stouts in my 12 Beers of Xmas so it will be interesting to see where it sits alongside the others come the end of this impy-stout-fest.


Thursday, 22 December 2016

12 Beers of Xmas #2 - Pagoda Power (Ballards Brewery)

Ballards Brewery have been around now for many years having produced their first pint in 1980.  It has been operating from the Old Sawmill in the village of Nyewood in the shadow of the South Downs since 1988.  Their beers have had national success culminating in the gold award in the strong Bitter category in CAMRA's Champion Beer of Britain 1999 for Nyewood Gold (5.0% ABV) which is still brewed today.  A fine beer it is too.

Pagoda Power is part of their Bounder series which originated back in 1986 when they brewed an 8.6% ABV beer to celebrate the 900th anniversary of the Domesday Book.  In 1989 they decided to brew another special with the original gravity matching the year and a competition was run to choose a name.  The winner was 'Old Bounder'.  This also saw the start of the annual Ballard's Beer Walk held on the first Sunday in December where they launch the latest in the 'Bounder' series.  The beer labels for this series have all been done by John Cousen, a local graphic designer and cartoonist.  I believe all of these specials have been in the style of a barley wine and Pagoda Power was the beer lanched last year (2015).  I have purchased the 2016 beer (Split) which is being kept for next Christmas although I was fortunate to have a pint of the cask version on the walk earlier this month at the fabulous GBG-listed pub, the Three Horseshoes in neighbouring Elsted, which has the finest pub garden you will find anywhere. 

Yum we both prefer this one to beer #1.  This is a proper barley wine and sadly you don't find enough beers like this any more.  We both enjoyed the Split on cask earlier this month but this has aged well and is much more rounded.  They really must be left at least a year.  Lots of vinous fruit flavours come with the aging process and for that I am truly thankful.  Rich and warming but there is nothing heavy about it.  Slips down really easily and I have never been disappointed by any of these 'bounder' beers.


12 Beers of Xmas #1 - Hanseatic Porter (Little Earth Project)

I picked up this lovely little bottle after it grabbed my attention at Cotteridge Wines.  They tweeted a picture of it, I read Hanseatic porter 10% and quickly tweeted back 'Save me one please'.  Shopping can be really easy at times.  I knew absolutely nothing about the brewery though but a 10% porter is all it takes to grab my attention.  Little Earth Project is an odd little brewery it seems, specialising in historic, farmhouse and sour beers.  They are located in deepest Suffolk and they haven't been brewing long.  They try to use organically farmed ingredients from the local area in many of their beers and the brewery is powered by local wood and the sun.  All very eco-friendly.   

This particular beer is supposed to be a modern interpretation of the type of porter consumed in the Baltic during the 18th and 19th centuries.  I've still got my cold so aroma is a bit non-existent to me.  My wife thought it tasted of dandelion and burdock.  I know what she means but it's got more complexity than that.  There is a sharp sweet tang to it which bites initially before you get the hedgerow fruity notes to coming in.  There is a sweet finish and I also detected the slight woody notes too (it is barrel-aged).  It is hard to believe this is 10%.  Not really the type of porter I prefer but it's a decent enough beer to start my '12 beers'.     

Kal and Jaz at Cotteridge Wines think the Little Earth Project beers are extremely interesting and are trying to push them and on my last two visits they have thrown in a bottle for me to try in addition to this one.  They remain unopened for the time being but I'm sure it won't be long before I get to try them too.  I also like what they are trying to do.


Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Golden Pints 2016

Well what a year 2016 turned out to be.  It was a bit of a mixed bag for me and very little time was found for writing about beer.  There was less drinking at home and more drinking in pubs which is how it should be so I did manage to consume (at least) my usual amount of fine ale so it is time to award my Golden Pints.  Thanks to having the facility to download my Untappd check-ins now I can tell you I have made 897 so far this year and 31 different beers were awarded top marks.  This will (hopefully) help me narrow my choices down and speed up the writing of this post.

It was a year in which I re-discovered Birmingham but this was tinged with sadness following the departure of Chris and Sharon from the Craven Arms.  Birmingham's loss has been York's gain so if you are ever in York then head to the Woolpack. 

As always, each winner is accompanied by a little explanation as well as some close seconds listed where applicable so cue the drum roll ........  

Best UK Cask Beer

Mud City Stout - Sadlers Ales (6.6% ABV)

This is always the most difficult category for me and yet again this proved to be the case.  I had a few pints of Mud City recently at The Bear Freehouse in Stratford-upon-Avon and it was as good as I remembered it to be from when I was first introduced to this beer a few years ago. 

As usual, there were some very close seconds within this category and these were, in no particular order, Autumn Range - Smoked Porter (Cloudwater), Yakima IPA (Great Heck), Pi (XT), Grave Digger's Ale (Church End), Breakfast Stout (Arbor) and Black Oktober (Vibrant Forest).

Best UK Keg Beer

Baby Wheel - Siren Craft (7.1% ABV)

Many more keg beers were consumed this year.  This one was an IPA full of English hops which I thought was really fab when I made my first visit to Brewdog, Brighton.  Marble's Damage Plan was a very close second.  

Best UK Bottled Beer

Imperial Red IPA Special Edition - Vibrant Forest (9.7% ABV)

Plenty of choice in this category as usual.  This particular beer I bought from the brewery quite cheap when I was presenting them with the Yapton Beerex Beer of the Festival 2016.  I just wish I had bought more than the one.  A potent, intoxicating, hoppy monster of a beer.  Durham's Bede's Chalice (9.0% ABV), Siren's Tidal Wave (10.0% ABV) and Irreversible (8.5% ABV) from Twisted Barrel come a very close second.  

Best UK Canned Beer

Imperial Lord Smog Almighty - Beavertown (11.0% ABV)

Not had as many cans this year as I thought I might but that is simply because I have consumed less beer at home and I never make long train journeys.  Beavertown, king of the cans, won this category last year and this year they win it again with this beer which was simply stunning. 

Best Overseas Draught Beer

Christian Bale Ale (4.6% ABV) - Dry & Bitter Brewing Company (Denmark)

No trips abroad this year so very little to choose from in this category.  However, this citrusy session pale that was on tap at the Craven Arms was very pleasing.

Best Overseas Bottled Beer

Mooi & Meedogenloos (Bourbon Barrel-Aged) (11.2% ABV) - Brouwerij de Molen (Holland)

An absolutely amazing beer found at Cotteridge Wines during #BadgeQuest2016.  I need to find this one again as my wife also fell in love with it. 

Best Overseas Canned Beer

Mosiac Black IPA (8.0% ABV) - Mikkeller (Denmark)

Limited choice in this category but this beer was very smooth and just about perfect. 

Best Collaboration Brew

Three's Company - Cloudwater (with Magic Rock & JW Lees) (8.3% ABV)

This was a bottle I had at the Needle & Pin micropub in Loughborough.  A Cloudwater / Magic Rock collab with JW Lees yeast I believe.  A beautiful beer.

Best Overall Beer

Something Something Dark Side (9.2% ABV) by Weird Beard

I am not 100% sure if this was cask or keg (update from the man who knows - I have been reliably informed it was cask) because the Craven Arms did some cracking beers from WB on cask this year.  However, this imperial stout was so good it would probably have won whichever category it fell into so I can make it my best overall beer.

Best Branding


They win once again for the distinctive artwork on their cans.   Magic Rock come a close second.

Best Pumpclip


Still the best for me.  It is always a joy to see a Downlands beer with the distinctive South Downs signpost.  The beers are also first class and this year I have particularly enjoyed their Bramber (4.5% ABV), CAM-RAA 2015 (6.4% ABV) and NZ Red (4.3% ABV).  

Best Label

Durham Brewery

No change in this category either.  A classic design and I know the beer inside the bottle will be an absolute joy.  Thanks to more visits to Cotteridge Wines this year I have enjoyed more of their beer this year and, once again, I have a special one lined up for Christmas Day as part of my '12 Beers of Xmas'.

Best UK Brewery


Fortunately, my first visit of 2016 to the Craven Arms in Birmingham came a few days after a Cloudwater Meet The Brewer event.  This enabled me to try a good selection of their fantastic beers on cask.  Then there is the fabulous DIPA series which are always worth seeking out.  Everything I have tried from them gets a high rating.  Definitely top of the Premier League for me.

Best Overseas Brewery
There is a massive range of their beer available at Cotteridge Wines.  I have never been let down by any of them and often I have been elated (see best overseas foreign beer category).

Best New Brewery Opening 2016

I got to try some beer from Elusive quite soon after they began brewing earlier this year thanks to the Craven Arms in Birmingham and they followed this up with a Meet The Brewer where I got to try a full range of their beer as well as getting to chat with owner / brewer Andy Parker.  Every beer from them is first class.       

Pub/Bar of the Year
This pub is everything you wish for in a micropub.  Great beer, excellent owners and fantastic regulars.  It has been my weekday 'local' since May and is by far and away the best pub in a town dominated by Greene King.  The Brooksteed Alehouse, Worthing and the Craven Arms, Birmingham both come a close second.  The Brooksteed Alehouse would have won if I had not been sent away to work and the Craven Arms would have won if Chris and Sharon had not been forced away.  

Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2016

Anchor Tap, Horsham

The history of this bar goes back to 1898.  After closing it has been a shoe shop and a coffee shop before Dark Star acquired it and re-opened it as a bar.  With six casks (mainly from Dark Star) and ten keg lines featuring the best craft breweries around the UK this is a beer destination in a town that needed some new life for the beer connoisseur.

Beer Festival of the Year

Birmingham Beer Bash

One of only two beer festivals I attended in 2016.  However, excellent beer choices and a great venue for this one made it an easy winner.  Southern Fail ensured I could not get to the GBBF.  Yapton Beerex, my local CAMRA festival, was discounted as I was not attending it as a customer.  However, as I will be organising it in 2017 (May 12th-14th) it will obviously be the best beer festival next year!  

Supermarket of the Year

Marks & Spencer

Not really shopped for much supermarket beer this year but Marks & Spencer continue to have an interesting selection.    

Independent Retailer of the Year

Cotteridge Wines, Birmingham

Winner for the fourth year running and, thanks to now working within a short drive once again, it has become the only place I buy beer from to consume at home.  They also have a great little bar at their shop too now so it has just got better with each visit.  There are other places in Birmingham that I need to check out though.  This is on my 2017 'to do' list.

Online Retailer of the Year


I have bought very little beer online in 2016 but I have been a sporadic subscriber to the monthly offering from Beer52 which always seems to have an interesting beer or two along with an excellent magazine.

Best Beer Book or Magazine

'Ferment' from Beer52

Not really read any beer books this year.  Stephen King takes up all my spare reading time.  However, this winner is the magazine that comes with the box of beer from Beer52.  Always has some excellent articles from the best beer writers around.   

Best Beer Blog or Website


It has been THE toughest year for Jim (aka Beers Manchester) summed up within this particular poignant post.  The most genuine guy you could ever meet.  Other blogs I particularly enjoy reading come from Pub Procrastinator (@Deeekos), Pub Curmudgeon (@oldmudgie) and Rach - Look At Brew (@lookatbrew). 

Best Beer App

Winner for a fourth successive year.  Keeps track of everything I drink.  I'd be lost without it.  I like collecting badges too of course !!

Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitter

I have not been using Twitter a great deal this year.  So difficult finding the time.  However, due to their 'Big Beery Night' and '12 Beers of Xmas' on top of those excellent podcasts etc etc this is an easy award to make.  Steve represents all that is wonderful about the friendly world of beer in the great digiverse.

Best Brewery Website / Social Media

Another local brewery that deserves a big mention for consistently producing excellent beer.  They relaunched their website in 2016 and it comes with a quote from me.  Looking forward to brewing a special beer with them for Yapton Beerex.  

That brings 2016 to a close.  Work has taken up far too much of my travel time but it has meant I have got to know Birmingham a little bit better.  The first few months of 2017 will be taken up with organising a beer festival (yes yet another plug !!!) so if you can make it down to my little corner of West Sussex in May I'd be really pleased to see you.     

Happy Christmas and New Year to you all.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Twelve Beers of Xmas 2016

Here we go again.  The 12 Beers of Xmas is now in its 4th year and it is a chance for beer lovers everywhere to choose a dozen beers for Christmas and drink one each day beginning on December 20th and thereby ending on New Years Eve.  For me, the Christmas period is a time for indulging in some of my favourite beer styles.  Imperial stouts, imperial IPAs and barley wines are particularly sought after for my list and that usually means ABVs in excess of 10% too.  This year I have really indulged with six imperial stouts.

If the 12 Beers of Xmas is all new to you then it really is easy to take part.  Buy a dozen beers and drink them is all there is to it.  Add your comments on the Beer O'Clock Show website and/or follow it on Twitter with the hashtag #12BeersofXmas.  If you are a blogger then you can also write a review of each beer too so we can all imagine the finer points of the beers you are enjoying.  

My selections have been made but there may be one or two late substitutions as I am planning on a visit this week to the Birmingham beer mecca, Cotteridge Wines.  Last year I found some absolutely cracking beers from all over the world.  This year I am staying closer to home with only two beers from abroad (and these are the two that might be substituted) as well as three beers from my home county of Sussex but I don't think I will see any reduction in quality.  I certainly hope not.  Due to working away I won't be opening my first beer until Thursday December 22nd.  The second beer will also be opened on this day and beers three and four will be opened on December 23rd by which time I will have caught up with everyone.  That's the plan.  So with no further ado here is my lineup for this year (as it currently stands).

Thursday December 22nd

Hanseatic Porter - Little Earth Project (10.0% ABV)
Pagoda Power - Ballards Brewery (8.5% ABV)

Friday December 23rd

Imperial Raspberry Stout - Thornbridge / St Eriks Bryggeri (10.0% ABV)
2014 Imperial Export Strength Stout - Dark Star (10.5% ABV)

Christmas Eve

Christmas Ale - Harveys (7.5% ABV)

Christmas Day

Imperious Oak Aged Imperial Stout - Durham Brewery (11.6% ABV)

Boxing Day

Oak Aged Silverback - Blue Monkey (13.0% ABV)

Tuesday December 27th

Odyssey 006 - Siren Craft (10.5% ABV)

Wednesday December 28th

Imperial India Pale Ale (#500) - Nogne O (10.0% ABV)

Thursday December 29th

Sadako Imperial Stout - Weird Beard (9.5% ABV)

Friday December 30th

Berlin Passionfruit Berliner Weisse - Oersoep Microbrewery (3.5% ABV)

New Year's Eve

Imperial Stout - Cloudwater (11.2% ABV)

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Craven Arms, Birmingham

Destination pubs.  Many cities are lucky enough to have one.  Bristol has the Barley Mow, Norwich has the Fat Cat, Portsmouth has the Hole In The Wall, Brighton has the Evening Star, Manchester has the Marble Arch and Birmingham HAD the Craven Arms.  There are many others too I'm sure but I'm just listing pubs I know well here.  To me a destination pub is your first port of call when you go somewhere.  It is a pub you know will have a fantastic range of beer in a relaxing environment.  A modern range of beers too.  Most cities have some excellent pubs but these pubs go above and beyond the excellent.

This brings me back to the Craven Arms.  I was fortunate to be working in Stratford-upon-Avon when Chris and Sharon Sherratt took this pub on back in early 2013 and I reviewed it here.  Well worth the arduous train ride into Birmingham.  When I was sent back to Stratford this year the train times to Birmingham were more convenient and the Craven Arms has become a weekly trip.  It even got a second review from me here.

During one of these visits I got to know Tim Rowe who had plans for some Meet The Brewer events at the Craven and I was lucky enough to see the pub host James Kemp from Marble and Andy Parker from Elusive.  That's the thing about the Craven.  Only the best is good enough on their bar.  Well there is one exception to this I guess and therein lies the problem.  The Craven Arms is owned by Black Country Ales and three handpumps here have always been wasted on their efforts.  Despite this though there was a constantly changing range of cask and evil keg for the beer aficionado to enjoy in this wonderful pub.  
So what do Black Country Ales do?  They make it impossible for Chris and Sharon to continue.  I don't know the full story but it seems BCA want to bring it in line with their other pubs by offering a range of exceedingly average (cheap?) beers.  If you want to see an example of this in action then visit their flagship pub in Birmingham, The Wellington.  A massive list of cask ales from which you will struggle to find one that stands out from the crowd.  Quality not quantity is what the beer lover wants Black Country Ales !!  Chris and Sharon left last week and most of their excellent staff have since left too and this evening I visited the pub and could not bring myself to stay for more than a pint.  Birmingham's one and only destination pub has been wiped off the map and I am extremely pissed off about it. 

So all you beer lovers out there looking for places to drink in Birmingham please strike this from your list.  It's a hard climb up Gough Street to this pub and you really should save yourself all that effort and avoid it.  If you like bland, boring beer than it might be the place for you because it is still a fabulous building but I'm sure BCA will do their worst with it.  I will probably pay it a visit in a few months to see how it has changed.  In the meantime I really hope Chris and Sharon get the pub they deserve.  They have a lot of friends and followers who will be beating a path to their door on opening night.  In the meantime, I will try and find a new pub to frequent in this fine city.  I am told it might not be an easy task though.



Thursday, 3 November 2016

Meet The Elusive Brewer

Another Meet the Brewer event at the fabulous Craven Arms, Birmingham was held on Monday evening.  The star of the show was Andy Parker, brewer and owner of Elusive Brewing based in Finchampstead, Berkshire.  They are close enough to Siren Craft, that they can smell each others hops and it sounds like they have been a great help to Andy too along the way.  In fact they have done many collaborations prior to Andy getting his own brewery operational, particularly with Siren's 'Dinner For' series of beers.
It seems that Andy's fame and stature was already legendary when Elusive began.  It is hard to believe he only began home brewing in 2012 and within two years he had been crowned National Homebrew Champion netting himself a £5000 prize.  Since then he has made numerous collaborations notably with Weird Beard and Siren before embarking on his own brewery, a 6 bbl set-up which produced beer number one in April.  He says he is risk averse and it was his wife who gave him the kick up the butt to give up the day-job.  And, of course, the thing he misses most about his job is the salary!!!  The brewery is now a true family affair with his recently-retired parents helping out.

Many questions were asked and one which always comes up at any MTB is where did the name come from.  Andy is into gaming and he wanted his gaming tag to be Elusive.  As is often the way with these things the name he wanted was already taken.  In the end he looked at words for Elusive in foreign languages.  His gaming tag became tabamatu which is Elusive in Estonian.  That also became his Twitter id so when he was seeking a name for his brewery it had to be Elusive (Tabamatu wouldn't have worked quite so well I think).

The bar at the Craven Arms was loaded with Elusive beers.  The first one I tried was Level Up (Level 3: Colombus & T'n'T) - 5.0% ABV.  I love good hoppy reds and this is one of them.  This was the beer which won him the National Homebrew Champion crown (albeit with different hops).  Andy was keen to point out that he is keen on marrying malt and hops in a way which provides excellent balance and that is certainly the case because the flavours of both shine through in all of his beers. 

The second beer I tried was Carve'n Yams (5.2% ABV).  The name was a clever play on the name of the pub of course as this was the only cask of this beer available anywhere and, although it is a pumpkin beer, I particularly enjoyed this one.  It was a pumpkin porter with a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg but ultimately it was a smooth porter full of flavour and character.

There were three evil keg beers alongside the six casks and it was time I dabbled in one of those.  Spectres' Lair was a fabulous 4.9% ABV APA with lovely grapefruit notes coming through.  That was it for the evil keg though for the night as far as I was concerned.  The next beer was a full pint of Brimful of Masha (7.2% ABV), a beer that was only available on cask here tonight.  This is a beer that has appeared in all the Brewdog bars recently in keg and Andy told me how different it was here tonight.  I absolutely loved it.  My favourite beer of the evening.  It is another American red ale and it had so many flavours combining to give a beer of perfect balance.

My final beer was Ultrahops Vienna (4.8% ABV).  This was a pale ale that I should really have had earlier in the evening because it was a beer with plenty of lighter tones but the quality still shone through.  It is rare to go through such a range of beers from a brewery that is still so new but that was the reality of the evening I experienced here.  Every beer was superb and I cannot wait to see what gems Andy will come up with in the future (something special for Yapton Beerex hopefully !!)

Thank you once again to Chris and Sharon, the wonderful hosts at the Craven Arms, along with Tim Rowe, the events organiser for this wonderful pub.  Sadly I cannot make the next event (Lost & Grounded on Monday November 7th) but I will definitely be along later in the week to sample some of their beers if any are left.  I know that Tim is only interested in inviting quality brewers to these events so the beer will definitely be first class. 


Monday, 31 October 2016

Big Beery Night 2016

I have long been a vocal critic of big charities trying to encourage people to stop drinking with campaigns such as Dryanuary, Stoptober, etc.  Last year a group of beer fans led by those awesome guys at the Beer O'Clock Show decided to do the opposite.  Big Beery Night was launched and nearly £4000 was raised for Macmillan Cancer Support.  The idea was that for one night drinkers were encouraged to donate the cost of the beers they drink to charity.  Obviously, the more you drink, the more you donate.  

This year I lost my mum to cancer and I'm sure most people have lost a loved one to this dreadful disease at some point in their lives.  It is therefore a cause I am keen to support and, although I don't normally need much encouragement to have a beer or two, it is good to know I will be doing it for a good cause.  Click on the link here to get the full details of what is happening this year and join in if you wish.  

There are a few ways in which you can join in this year.  You can stick to donating the cost of what you drink on the night or you can organise your own event with your drinking buddies.  One thing I will be taking part in this year is #BadgeQuest2016 and my preparations have already begun.  The social media drinking app, Untappd, awards badges for drinking.  Badges are categorised across beer style and venues along with some special badges throughout the year for meeting certain criteria.  The idea of #BadgeQuest is to donate a £1 for every badge you receive on Untappd from November 1st - November 13th.  I am taking this seriously because I want to donate as much money as possible to this worthy cause.  For the past couple of days I have been trying to avoid winning any badges and I have been looking at which beers I will need to consume to get as many badges as possible once the competition starts.  Last year the winning haul was a monumental 45 badges.  Without causing massive harm to my liver I don't think  I can compete with that but I am confident I can manage 30.  A bold prediction indeed as this number would have put me second in the table last year.  If I hit this target I will double my donation so please give me plenty of encouragement.  I have been studying the criteria for Untappd badges for a few days now and I have a few beers already lined up.  A trip to Cotteridge Wines in Birmingham will be made later this week when I will have a very specific shopping list.  

The competition starts tomorrow and in the meantime I have a Meet The Brewer event at the Craven Arms in Birmingham tonight.  I think I have planned it so that I will get no badges tonight but I will put myself within touching distance of two or three for when it all kicks off tomorrow.  Coincidentally, the brewer in question is Andy Parker of Elusive who just happens to be the winner of #BadgeQuest from last year.

Anyway, I think there may be a blog post or two from this to let you know what I have been drinking and the badges won along the way.  


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 - and Saturdays ( -  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   

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