Friday, 29 January 2016

Meet The Brewer - Hop Art

I love Meet The Brewer events when they are done properly.  The Kings Arms in Arundel is a pub I had never been to before this week but it is one I will definitely be going back to.  On the last Wednesday of every month they invite a brewery to come along and tell their regulars a little bit about themselves.  They bring four of their beers along and a half pint of each is given and this highly entertaining and informative evening costs a fiver.  An absolute bargain considering there also seems to be an endless supply of sausages to enjoy once the beer has been sampled. 

The Kings Arms, tucked slightly away from the town centre, is a proper pub.  Four beers were available on handpump and I had a pint of Cottage Full Steam Ahead (4.2% ABV) to warm myself up for the main event.  I've only been to one or two pubs in Arundel but I cannot imagine any of them can beat this place to be honest.  It is one of the friendliest pubs I have been in.

The Meet The Brewer was held in their cosy lounge bar area.  I arrived much later than planned after standing around on Barnham train station for a hour thanks to Southern Fail.  I am plagued by train problems on my nights out and this time it was worse than usual.  A few of my friends from my CAMRA branch joined me even though the pub is not in our area after I spread the word about the event and they were there when I arrived.

I was immediately recognised by Erik from Hop Art.  I know Erik because he worked for the same IT company as me.  He was offered redundancy in 2014 and this gave him the opportunity to follow his dream.  The Hop Art story actually began many years ago though when Erik and Tony became friends.  Their careers took them down separate paths but they always had a joint interest in beer and a desire to one day start their own brewery.  After trying out various beer recipes on a very small scale for friends and family they were ready to scale up and their first production brew was in February last year.  Their brewery is located in the village of Bentley, Hampshire near to Farnham in Surrey.  The 10bbl plant was custom designed to their requirements and next time I am in the area I will be sure to pop in for a visit. 

So what about the beers we got to try I hear you all shout.  The first was their Hoppy Blonde, a 4.3% ABV pale ale.  For all their beers the Admiral hop is their main bittering hop and this one also has Simcoe and Citra.  There is another one in there too but I've lost the piece of paper I wrote my notes on so I'm relying on my hazy memory.  It is a lovely beer with a good citrussy hit from the Citra hop which is always welcome in my beer glass.  

The Golden IPA (4.5% ABV) came next.  Similar hops to the first one I think except the Citra makes way for the UK Cascade variety.  They had to reduce the ABV of this beer for local tastes but in bottles it is 5.2% ABV and I will no doubt prefer that one.  However, this is still an excellent beer with a rounded fruity hoppy character.  Much more complex actually than the Hoppy Blonde and I thought it tasted quite rich considering the lowered ABV,  Very difficult to say which one I preferred to be honest.

For the third beer we got to try their red ale, Red Cap (4.4% ABV).  The Bramling Cross hop is used in this one and whilst it is a decent beer it wasn't quite to my taste so much.  It is quite sweet and fruity but when it comes to red ales now I like hoppy ones.  Blackcurrant came through as the main flavour for me with this one.  As one of my friends quite rightly said though, if this beer was available alongside some of the popular national brands you would choose this one because it is still a beer that challenges the taste buds.

For our final beer we up the strength and take a peak at Erik's Belgian roots.  Hoppist (6.1% ABV)  is their interpretation of a Belgian dubbel using the Rochefort yeast I think if my memory serves me right.  This is a lovely warming beer and we have put an order in for our beer festival in May as it impressed a few of our members on a recent pub visit when they got to try it.  It impressed me tonight with plenty of complexity with notes of rich dark fruits and toffee.  

To round off the evening there was a quick quiz to check that everyone had been listening and my attentiveness paid off as I won a bottle of the lovely Hoppist to take away with me.  It was a really fabulous evening and I will be taking note of future Meet The Brewer events at this superb pub.  It is a great way of showcasing a different brewery each month so a big well done to the team at the Kings Arms.  

Finally, thank you to Erik and Tony from Hop Art for taking the time to drive down from Hampshire with their ales for us to enjoy.  I no longer see Erik in the office every day but I'm sure our paths will continue to cross in the great world of beer.


Wednesday, 20 January 2016

GBG Selection

January is a busy month for active CAMRA members.  It's been a strange start to the year for me personally as I had to stop drinking for a week and I also vowed to not drink at home during the month so I could do all my drinking in pubs.  That is what January is about for me.  The Good Beer Guide selection meeting is in the middle of February so I try and get to as many pubs as I can on our list of potential inclusions for the upcoming guide.  Last night I went to Chichester with the intention of popping into four pubs, three of which are on our long list.  The long list is a list of pubs which includes all of the entries from the last guide along with pubs we feel should be given a chance for the next.  These will then be selected from by all members who attend the selection meeting in February.

I'm sure many CAMRA branches do things differently.  Some branches take into account entries made into the National Beer Scoring System (NBSS).  Having printed off the scores submitted for pubs in our area I can say with certainty that this is statistically meaningless.  Many pubs haven't had a single submission made in the past 12 months and of those that have, the number of entries is so few as to make it so open to manipulation by certain individuals who may want to promote a certain pub.  That is why we don't use it in our branch.

My first pub of the evening was The Bell Inn, a pub to the north of Chichester on the main road out of town heading for Midhurst.  It is the closest pub to the acclaimed Chichester Festival Theatre and it was in the 2015 Good Beer Guide but failed to make the cut last year.  It is a lovely pub with a cosy interior ideal for a cold evening like I expereienced last night.  The woodburner was giving off a warming glow and it is the sort of pub that you can settle down in for the evening.  The beer selection last night was poor though.  Youngs London Gold, Marstons New World Pale Ale or King Poachers Moon were the choices.  The first of these is an avoid at all costs so I tried a half of the others.  Now sit down for a minute because I am going to praise Marston's, something I can't remember doing for many years.  The New World Pale Ale (3.8% ABV) was a delightful beer with plenty of hop character and a lovely dry bitter finish.  It was helped by the fact that it was served in perfect condition.  The same could not be said for the Poachers Moon (4.1% ABV).  This was lifeless and devoid of anything in the way of hops.  It is hard to judge the condition when it could be down to the beer and King Beers are notoriously bland in my opinion.      

The second pub on my agenda was closed.  This obviously means it was difficult to judge so it won't be getting my vote this year although it did not get it last year either so it probably hasn't lost out really.  The sign on the door said the 'unexpected' closure was temporary and it would be opening next day.  It wasn't the only pub closed last night either.  Both Trents and the Globe Inn were shut with scaffolding up suggesting it was time for refurbishing these pubs.    

The next pub was not on our long list but it has recently been refurbished so I thought I'd check it out to see what was on offer.  One look was all that was needed and I left immediately.  A choice of three Greene King beers or a house beer brewed by Cottage was what the Old Cross was offering.  I would have tried a half of the house beer but it was 'coming soon'.  The interior has been done out to resemble many modern town centre pubs where food is the principle raison d'etre.  

I decided to move on to the Belle Isle.  This cafe/bar/restaurant was a new entry in the 2016 GBG and it has been too long since I was last in here.  They had a winter beer from Sharp's that I was keen to avoid but I was more than happy to try the other offerings.  The Roosters Yankee (4.3% ABV) was similar to the Marston's New World but very slightly better.  This was followed by a trip to the dark side with a Triple fff Winter Oatmeal Stout (4.4% ABV).  Coffee and choccy notes in equal measure here and a nice bitter roasted malt character in the finish.  A great stout from a brewery I always appreciate.  I ended the evening with a pint of Tiny Rebel Cwtch (4.6% ABV), the Champion Beer of Britain 2015.  This hoppy American red was my favourite beer of the evening.  Really fresh with a great hoppy aroma.

The evening really summed up my problem with the pubs of Chichester.  Those pubs selling great beer are not ideal when it comes to spending a cosy evening in a quiet relaxing environment.  The Bell Inn ticks that box but the beer doesn't hit the spot.  The Belle Isle has great beer but I wouldn't want to spend long in there drinking unless I was eating too.  The Chichester Inn is probably the only pub that ticks both boxes for me.  This just happens to be the venue for our selection meeting next month though so I will have some good beer to drink in a proper pub-like environment whilst contemplating which pubs to vote for.  If you want to know which pubs we select then you will have to buy the Good Beer Guide 2017 when it comes out in September.



Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Tryanuary in Bosham

Try something new in January they say.  What a fab idea.  The puritans feel we should abstain from alcohol for a month and it seems they are trying to come up with some catchy slogan every month nowadays to encourage people to be miserable.  Dryanuary is just the start.  Personally I'd much rather try and drink January dry because brewers, who are not the wealthiest of individuals, cannot afford to stop brewing for a month and publicans, who are probably earning less than the minimum wage in many cases, certainly can't afford to close their pub and jet off to sunnier climes.  So to combat the puritanical voices Tryanuary was launched last year and pubs and brewers embraced it as did many beer drinkers.  This year it will, I'm sure, be embraced by many more.

Combining Tryanuary with my plan for 2016 to drink more in pubs and less at home I ventured out last night to the unique village of Bosham, the old part of which is nestled on the banks of a tidal inlet of Chichester Harbour.  Yes it is tidal so parking on Shore Road with high tide approaching will prove to be a bad move as you will come back to a very wet car.  The village actually dates back to Roman times and is mentioned in the Bayeux Tapestry with a meeting between Harold and Edward the Confessor in 1064 at the church.  

The first pub I visited was Anchor Bleu, not far at all from the aforementioned church.  It is a 2km walk from Bosham railway station which is located inland in what the locals call New Bosham to distinguish itself from Old Bosham.  The main difference between 'Old' and 'New' are the house prices.  You enter the pub via the High Street but it has a terrace at the back overlooking the picturesque harbour.  This is my first visit to this pub but it has always been very popular with visitors and it has a good local following too and there were a fair number of people in there for a dark, chilly, January evening.  Low ceilings, a real fire, a mix of flagstone and wooden floors all make for a cosy warm atmosphere.  The regular beers are Ringwood Forty Niner (4.9% ABV), Otter Ale (4.5% ABV) and Pots Bitter (3.8% ABV) from Hampshire micro Flowerpots.  The guest was Woodfordes Wherry (3.8% ABV) which is always a pleasure to see in these parts.  I tried this and the Otter Ale and both were pleasant easy drinking bitters, especially the Wherry.  

I left the Anchor Bleu and retraced my steps to the station popping in the two pubs I had passed earlier.  The Berkeley Arms is still in the old part of Bosham about half way back and it is a former Gales house now owned by Fullers.  This is a Cask Marque pub so I was able to tick this off on my Cask Marque pub trail after searching out the certificate with the code to scan.  I tried the Gales Seafarers (3.8% ABV) for the first time as well as my old favourite, HSB (4.8% ABV).  London Pride was also available.  The Seafarers was perfectly drinkable but the HSB was superior despite not being on the very best form.  The pub is very pleasant and minimalist.  The bar area to the right as you enter had plenty of wood.  Floors, painted wall panels, benches and tables, low chairs and high chairs.  This pub was very quiet last night which made for a somewhat stark atmosphere.  The pub is usually visited by a pizza van on Tuesday evenings though which I'm sure is very popular.  Warmth is provided by two open log fires.  The garden at the front is very pretty in summer and everything about the pub is neat and tidy and generally immaculate.  

The final pub, the White Swan, is a former 18th century coaching inn situated on the main A259 coastal road on the roundabout a couple of hundred yards from the railway station.  This pub was closed for a while a couple of years ago but it is now a smart pub with modern yet comfortable decor with a good local following as was evident last night.  There is an old bread oven in the restaurant which makes a nice feature.  It is not operational but the pub does make its own bread elsewhere (in the kitchen I assume).  The bar area has the feel of a village local with a good area for darts tucked away to the right.  Round to your left you come into a relaxing lounge area before encountering a large dining area.  I was looking forward to trying one of their guest ales, Castle Rock Red Riding Hood, a 4.3% ABV American red.  It smelled off and one taste confirmed the worst.  Instead I had a very pleasant pint of Dark Star Hophead (3.8% ABV).  The other choices were Hopback Summer Lightning and Island Yachtsmans Ale, a beer from the Isle of Wight.  The only complaint about this pub is having to answer a quiz question to enter the correct toilet.  Am I a cob or a pen?  I made my guess and a peek round the door showed I had made the right choice.  Phew.  There was a warning on the cistern above the urinals for customers to settle their tabs by the end of January.  A very generous pub indeed offering credit.  Hopefully they will collect everything they are owed.   

The pubs of Bosham all proved to be well worth a visit so a good start to Tryanuary and 2016.  I will endeavour to visit a few more new pubs this month although a minor operation in the middle of the month may mean taking a week off.  So everyone please go out and support your local pubs this month and every month.  You know it makes sense.