Thursday, 31 January 2013

More gold medal beers

Tonight I went to my first micropub, Little Chester Ale House in Derby.  A long drive for a pint but well worth it.  My next blog post will be about Little Chesters and micropubs in general but the beer I chose tonight was the latest recipient of my gold medal awards.  It is a couple of months since my first post regarding gold medal beers and I've drunk quite a few more since then.

Great Heck Brewing Company's Dr Rudi (3.8% ABV) was one of the clearest gold medal winners so far.  The barman very kindly invited me to sample it first and I was instantly hooked.  It looked very pale and inviting in the glass and I could smell the hops.  It went down incredibly smoothly and left a lovely bitter aftertaste.  The clarity and taste of this fine beer is obviously due to the brewer but it must also be an indication on how Little Chester look after their beers.  This was my first ever beer from the North Yorkshire brewer and hopefully I will find it again on my travels.

So what other beers have I tried recently that will receive the gold medal award?  There aren't as many as in my first post so perhaps I'm becoming harder to please or I've just been unlucky.  To remind you of my criteria, it must have been a pint served in a pub, so that excludes many of the fine bottled beers I have had over the new year period.  Taste is obviously the key factor.  However, the condition in which it is served is also a major factor too.  I have had one or two beers that I know have been gold medal recipients in the past but did not live up to expectations this time around due to being served in less than perfect form.  So, the latest winners are

American Pale Ale 4.8% ABV (Firefly Brewing, Worcester).  A delightful hoppy brew served in perfect condition as to be expected as it was brewed on the premises.

Old Henry 5.2% ABV (Hobsons, Shropshire).  A lovely rich ruby ale served in The Bear at the Swan's Nest, Stratford-on-Avon.

Shakespeare's County 3.4% ABV (Warwickshire Brewing Co, Cubbington, Warwickshire).  A low strength well balanced beer that was surprisingly tasty.

Hoppy Helper 4.0% ABV (Wibblers Brewery, Essex).  Bursting with hops and citrus flavours.

Of the gold medal recipients from my first post, Mud City Stout 6.6% ABV (Sadlers Ales, West Midlands) wins again.  I have not got to try a second pint from the other winners.  It is quite rare at  the moment for me to try the same beer twice.  In the past 4 months I have tried 103 different beers from 73 different breweries and I have only had a second pint of five of these beers.  By 'eck though, if I see Great Heck on the bar again I will be straight in there.

Until next time, keep smiling and happy drinking.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Leamington Spa Pub Crawl

I had been planning on visiting Leamington for a few weeks and I finally decided to visit on one of the coldest nights of the year so far.  I was hoping it would make the pubs more inviting if my face was frozen when I entered.  It's not a bad theory actually.  One of my favourite pub crawls of all time was when I organised a walk around Norwich with snow falling and with two feet of snow already accumulated.

From the station I walked north until I reached Regent Street.  The first thing you notice in Leamington is how the roads are nicely laid out in a grid so a quick look at the map before setting off was all I needed (or so I thought).  Regent Street was off to the left and right but a quick look to my left and The Woodland Tavern was in sight.  It is very much a traditional street-corner local with a bar and separate lounge.  It is a regular outlet for Slaughterhouse Beers so I chose a pint of Saddleback (3.8% ABV).  A delightful pale session bitter that started off the evening nicely.  The alternatives were another Slaughterhouse beer (Boar D'Eau) and Hobgoblin.  I sat in the lively bar where there was a group playing darts which is always good to see.  There was also a selection of newspapers to read as well as the local CAMRA publication where I discovered the local branch was also having a Leamington pub crawl this evening which was finishing where I was starting from.  A shame I did not know about this in advance.    

Time was short due to train timetable changes in December which brought the last train back to Stratford-on_Avon forward to before so it was quickly off to pub number two.  It was back to the main road and I was sure I couldn't miss it with Clarendon Avenue supposedly off to the right.  However, I found Clarendon Place and Clarendon Square but I went too far and had to backtrack to find it.  It didn't take me long, once I had retraced my steps, to come across the White Horse.  At first glance it looked like a tidy modern pub but after walking past the 'white horse' standing guard at the entrance to a large covered courtyard it was apparent that this pub is massive.  The cavernous bar had plenty of sofas and other seating options.  At the bar I chose a pint of Pride of Oxford from Oxfordshire Ales.  This was a brewery I was not familiar with and at 4.2% ABV the beer was a delightful pale golden well balanced bitter with plenty of citrus flavours as well as a bitter finish.  The other choices were Doom Bar and UBU.  Upon leaving I noticed the pub also consisted of two very nice snugs to the front so for those who do not like sitting in a large cavernous lounge there was the option to get more cosy.  Overall a lovely pub if you don't mind the fact that it is a pub of Wetherspoon proportions.  However, it does have much more character and personality than your average 'Spoons.

From here it was back down towards town on a parallel road to the one I came up.  Upon reaching Regent Street I turned back to the right towards the first pub but before I went as far as the Woodland Tavern I came across Murphy's Bar.  It looked totally out of place in a street full of shops and the place was empty except for a few old drunken guys falling of their bar stools.  I chose the only real ale available, my second pint of Saddleback Bitter of the evening, and sat at the table in the window looking out into the street.  From where I sat the loud colourful language of the drunks was still overpowering but it was not a problem as time was running short and I had a train to catch.  This pub deserves much better clientele though.  The pint was a mere £2.20 (80p cheaper than the Woodland Tavern a few hundred yards away) and the bar was full of interesting artefacts as well as a good supply of reading material. 

After leaving Murphy's Bar I retraced my steps and then turned right back in the direction of the station.  It was doubtful whether I had enough time for a final stop and by the time I reached the two Wetherspoon pubs I knew I probably didn't so I headed back to the station.  However, I had got to visit three very different pubs, each with their own distinctive appeal, and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to this picturesque town. 

Happy drinking.                  

Monday, 14 January 2013

Pete Brown - Hops and Glory

I read lots in the vain hope that it will improve my writing but being an analytical IT consultant writing nevers seems to come easy (this review will take me hours to write).  Travel books are a particular favourite of mine and beer is my passion and here comes a book that combines the two.  Surely a perfect combination.  The synopsis seemed simple.  Brew a traditional IPA and take it to India via the traditional route and once there open it and drink it.  However, the more simple a task seems, the more complicated it can become. 

My first concern about this book was whether the story behind the history of IPA would dominate ahead of the actual journey.  However, the mix was just about right.  The journey is the main theme but when things are going smoothly he adds some historical background to the adventure.  The story behind how the mad idea originated was detailed and amusing and I was immediately hooked by the complexity of the planning process.  Taking a keg of beer to India is not something I have considered but it is much more complicated than I could ever have imagined.   

The first part of the journey involved the canals.  The author's attempts at this form of transport soon had me in stitches and from the time he became intimately acquainted with the temperature of the water I couldn't put the book down.  I do get jealous when I read a book by someone who makes the art of writing seem so simple.  It is apparent to me that the author is a natural writer as the story has such an easy flow.  It wasn't simply a case of moving from A to B to C where I did this and that.  There are plenty of personal anecdotes and historical background mixed in with the journey and it kept me entertained from first to last.     

Obviously the author is the integral part of this story but the real stars were Barry, Kevin and Jeff.  Barry became an early casualty and I was wondering how the hell the story could progress following his sad demise.    How can you replace the irreplaceable?  Enter Jeff.  This guy must be totally trusting and have an amazing thirst for adventure.  I'm sure hearing the story behind Jeff's trip to Brazil with Kevin could provide enough material for a whole new book but that's one tale we never get to read about.

For me, a travel book must draw me in and make it easy for me to imagine what it must be like to be there and experience what the author is experiencing.  On this front it scores big time.  I may not want to have experienced the sea journey from Brazil to India via Iran (in fact having read about it I can say for certain I wouldn't) but I got a pretty good idea of what it must have been like.  You would also think that once he was on the ship to India it would be plain sailing but there were plenty of trials and tribulations still to come.  Would he finally reach his goal and open the keg of IPA?  Would there be a welcome party or would he sit on his own whilst drinking it?  Would it even be drinkable?  For answers to those questions I recommend you buy yourself a copy of this wonderful story.  It has plenty of heartbreak, highs and lows and, most importantly, humour.  My wife was constantly asking me what I was laughing at.  The final answer to this question was 'an Indian with a wind problem'.  Oh what horrors.
So I have discovered a new author and it's going to cost me.  The Amazon gift vouchers I received for Christmas will be spent on more Pete Brown adventures and I look forward to reading them.


Thursday, 10 January 2013

Firefly Brewery / Pub, Worcester

My first discovery of the year is the Firefly pub in Worcester.  I have not been to Worcester during my adult life so I have no idea whereabouts it is in relation to anywhere else in the city as I just followed my satnav instructions.  However, it is apparently in a regenerated part of the city and the pub itself is housed in a delightful Georgian building. 

The first unusual feature of the pub is a solid glass front door that is reached up a twisty stone staircase edged with iron railings.  Entering the bar you have to adjust your eyes to the darkness.  The fairy lights covering the ceiling and adorning the deer's head above the fireplace do little to add much light but it has a nice atmosphere.  Down a few steps to the left of the bar is an equally gloomy snug with more sofas and comfortable seating. 

The brewery is a small 0.5 barrel plant and there were 5 house beers available.  The chocolate stout (5.0% ABV) was tempting as was the Simcoe IPA (6.0% ABV) but I decided to try the American Pale Ale (4.8% ABV).  It was a lovely golden colour, had an inviting citrus aroma and the flavour was bursting with hops with a very pleasant bitter aftertaste. 

In addition to their own beers there was an interesting selection of craft beers on tap.  Two Brewdog beers (a Christmas beer and 5am Saint), Dobber from Manchester's Marble Brewery and a beer from the Derbyshire brewer Thornbridge.  I am yet to sample beers from these modern 'craft' brewers and if I wasn't driving I would love to have tried them all.  In addition to these British craft beers there was the lovely Sierra Nevada Pale Ale from California available.  For cider drinkers there were two selections to choose from.

Taking my pint I retired to the snug as the tables were all taken in the bar.  Early on a Thursday evening this has to be a good sign.  A local CAMRA publication was available which I picked up for a read but the dim light in the snug made this difficult.  Beyond the snug was a door to a partially covered garden.  Above the main bar is an upstairs bar that opens at weekends and occasionally during the week for live music.

Overall, this pub is a delight.  An interesting range of craft beers in addition to their own excellent range offers plenty of choice for the beer drinker.  There is also a selection for cider lovers.  There is a choice of rooms in which to sit and the only negative point would be the lack of light all round.   A corner to sit and read without straining my eyes would have been nice.