Friday, 25 October 2013

Crap pubs

Last week there was an article in The Guardian titled '10 things that bad boozers get wrong'.  I'm not going to discuss this article particularly but it did put into motion a chain of events that saw me going in to my nearest pub today.  Following on from this article fellow blogger Nate Southwood published a 'Pub Experiment' post.  The whole idea of this article was to ask fellow bloggers to find a really awful pub to visit and then write about it.  There is certainly no shortage of awful pubs around Bognor Regis but I thought I would at least choose a pub that a) was very local to me and b) I knew very little about due to nobody ever suggesting it as a decent pub to visit.  

The Ship Inn at Aldwick looks pleasant enough.  However, in the past two years it has changed hands so many times that it has probably been closed more often than it has been open.  This begs the question as to why nobody can make a living from it?  The simple answer is probably because of the fact that it is owned by Enterprise Inns.  So who are the new people trying to make a go of this delightful pub and what changes are they making?  Read on.       

The sign they have plastered on the wall of the pub in such a professional manner suggests Andy, Mel and Alfie are the new licensees.  The paw print by the name of Alfie may also suggest that the latter is actually a cute little dog.  The previous incumbents decided to take the place upmarket and they were responsible for the 'Pub & Dining' sign but I am yet to find anyone who ventured in there to eat.  I also never saw one iota of local advertising and they lasted only a few months before the pub was closed for a further few months.  It has now been open for over a month and once again, apart from this sign, there has been no local advertising and no change in the outer appearance of the pub to suggest what sort of clientele they are aiming for.  Enterprise Inns were asking £35,000 pa rent for this establishment.  Read the advertisement here.  I cannot imagine how anyone is expected to make enough money to pay this amount from a pub that has no recent history of any regular custom.  A pub that has failed under several different identities.  A pub that is taken on by people with no marketing or advertising budget.  Surely Enterprise Inns should be helping couples launch themselves.  Surely they should be offering them help in trying to revive a 'dead pub'.  If only they cared.  Anyway, let's see what you get for paying £35,000 pa to this caring helpful company.         

The pub has two bars.  Entering from the car park you enter into a public bar with pool table and dartboard.  The pool table looks fairly new and the dartboard is well used.  Probably from a former publican throwing darts at a picture of Ted Tuppen.  The decor is similar in the 'dining room' shown below.  As you can see it is a very lively pub on a Friday lunchtime.  The guy who served me (Andy?) did inform me that the Brains Reverend James was a darker beer than the Morlands Golden Hen whilst I struggled to decide which of these two available beers to try.  I chose the latter and I must say it was a very pleasant pint, very well kept and it had a nice crisp bitterness to it.  I retired to a window seat and took in the surroundings and an elderly couple soon entered for a drink so I was no longer alone.  It was at this point that I met Alfie.  This cute little dog was actually a massive boxer type dog and Bruiser would have been a better name.  Why they think it is a good idea to let this huge dog stroll around the bar whilst customers are drinking and eating I will never know.  He would certainly be useful at closing time if they ever have the problem of clearing out drinkers who are taking their time drinking up.                  

So what else does this pub have to warrant this ridiculous rent?  Well, there is a family garden at the back which is cordoned off and has a lovely stretch of stagnant water that is fenced off too.  There is also a function room at the back of the pub which could bring in extra revenue.  Peering round I could not see any actual grass in the garden but it is a decent sized area that could be used in the Summer months and I'm sure that is the plan if they are still here by then.  

I really wish Andy and Mel luck in turning around the fortunes of the Ship Inn at Aldwick but I fear they will go the same way as the previous tenants.  I see no evidence as to the direction they are going to take with the pub.  The 'Pub & Dining' sign has been retained but there is a total lack of diners.  The selection of beers is uninspiring so it will not attract the real ale drinkers and being Enterprise-owned their hands are probably tied anyway.  The outward appearance has not changed at all and there is nothing at all to draw in the locals or those driving past.  

I am not sure I have answered the call of Nate Southwood with this visit.  If this constant stream of failures at the Ship Inn continues then Enterprise Inns will probably end up closing it down and selling it on to developers.  Does that make it a crap pub and should efforts be made to save it?  It is in a residential area distinctly lacking in pubs and it should be a thriving local serving the community.  In years past it was a very popular pub but it is a prime example of what pubcos are doing all over the country.  The more popular the pub, the higher the rent goes and eventually it reaches an unsustainable level.  The 'crap pubs' article highlights things that pubs do that they should not be doing and Nate wonders whether these pubs are worth saving.  If a pub is crap it is invariably down to the people who own the bricks and mortar.  In the case of the Ship Inn it is all down to Enterprise Inns.  If someone cannot run their pub properly they should sell it to someone who can and every effort should be made to save these pubs.  We certainly do not need another Tesco Express in Aldwick.    


Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Wetherspoons October Real Ale Festival 2013

I always enjoy a Wetherspoons Beer Festival.   With their increasing use of collaborations from foreign brewers visiting these shores to brew festival specials you are always guaranteed to try some interesting beers.  This festival is described as 'United States meets United Kingdom' with ten American craft brewers producing beers as part of an ongoing theme which began in August with Wetherspoons inviting selected American brewers to produce a beer at a UK brewery every month through to February 2014.  

For this festival I am not working away from home and therefore I am not spending every night in the pub and so I have taken advantage of the third pint samples to enable me to review as many beers as possible.  This post covers the first nine beers I have been able to find in my two local Wetherspoons, both of which I had not visited for a few years.    

The Hatters Inn in Bognor Regis was my first port of call.  I had heard it is much improved in recent times and I can confirm this to be the case.  There are cosy seating areas down the side, an open floor space with both high tables and low, all spaced apart with plenty of room.  Above all it is neatly kept with clean floors and tables.  In terms of service the staff are friendly and happy to serve you (yes I know this should be expected in a pub but it is not always the case in a Wetherspoons).            

My second session was at the Dolphin and Anchor in Chichester.  This is the complete opposite of the Hatters and is probably the worst Wetyherspoons I have ever been in.  It is a truly awful pub.  As soon as you enter the place all you see is a square room packed with tables far too close together.  I was visiting with my wife and we could not sit at the table properly because someone was sitting behind us and there was no room so I had to squat on a stool.  The whole place was untidy with lots of tables full of debris from finished meals that had not been cleared away.  Service came with a glum face and overall it was a very unpleasant experience.  Never again.         

The pubs are definitely a mixed bag then so what about the beers?  Time to get tasting.

Thwaites Half Nelson (4.4% ABV)

I've said recently that I have a soft spot for Thwaites and they have been producing some excellent beers from their 'craft' plant.  This pale golden beer is brewed with both American (Cascade, Chinook and Mount Hood) and New Zealand (Nelson Sauvin) hops.  There was an initial hit of superb citrus notes with plenty of grapefruit and lemon flavours.  It was extremely refreshing with a lovely smooth bitter finish.  This is an excellent start and it gets a score of 9/10.               

Terrapin Tree Hugger (5.0% ABV)

This is my first American collaboration.  The brewer from Terrapin Brewery, based in Athens Georgia, visited Shepherd Neame to recreate this copper coloured beer which is brewed in the style of a German Alt Bier.  The malty base to this beer was very pleasant with strong caramel notes coming through along with a distinctive peppery spiciness.  All of this gave way to a dry bitter finish.  I liked this beer a lot and I gave it a rating of 8/10.

Fat Head's Sunshine Daydream (5.0% ABV)

Fat Head's Brewery is based in Cleveland, Ohio and their brewer visited Batemans Brewery to recreate this golden coloured beer.  Sunshine Daydream is a complex beer with sweet tropical fruit flavours prominent initially.  This sweetness continues before giving way to a dry earthy bitter finish.  It is not an easy beer to drink but it has plenty of interesting flavours which I did enjoy and I gave it a score of 7/10.  This brought my first tasting session to a close.          

Everards Pumpkin Ale (3.8% ABV)

My wife joined me for this second session and it began with this Everards beer which had a nice rich ruby colour.  It had plenty of flavour for a sub 4% beer and it did surprise me a little.  I'm not a fan of Everards particularly but this beer had a nice combination of flavours.  There was some smokiness, a little spiciness as well as some lighter lemony notes in there too.  The finish was a little dry and bitter and I gave it a score of 7/10.  My wife enjoyed it too and it turned out to be our favourite one of the three..

Caledonian Poltergeist Porter (4.0% ABV)

This Caledonian beer is described as full-bodied but I found it to be well named as it had no body at all to speak of.  It was quite smoky with some nutty and coffee notes coming through but it was not particularly pleasant.  I'm a big fan of porters so this was disappointing and my wife was yet again in full agreement with me.  I am probably being a little generous in giving it a score of 4/10.  

Woodforde's Bure Gold (4.3% ABV)

I am a big fan of Woodforde's beers.  For me, they produce one of the best ever winter ales with their Norfolk Nog and I love their Headcracker too.  I am not a fan of mid-strength golden bitters though and this is a bit bog standard really.  It is a crisp, smooth, refreshing, well balanced, golden bitter but for me it is too well balanced.  There was a citrussy bitter finish to it but not powerful enough for me.  However, if you like that kind of beer then you will love this.  I give it a score of 6/10.  My wife found it to be a bit bland and lacking flavour.    

Cambridge Brewing Sgt Pepper (4.2% ABV)

The third tasting session begins with another US collaboration with the brewer of the Cambridge Brewing Company from Massachusetts visiting Everards to recreate this medal-winning beer at the World Beer Cup of 2012.  I tried a Belgian Tripel from this brewer on my recent visit to the States which I hated and this beer, which again uses a Belgian yeast, has a similar sourness.  However, this sourness quickly disappeared to be replaced by a massive spicy hit from the peppercorns which completely dominated after the first sip and became stronger and stronger.  I was glad I only had a third pint as I could not have finished a pint of this beer.  Score 2/10.      

Ninkasi Cream Ale (4.5% ABV)

Now this beer is seriously good.  My fourth US collaboration comes from the brewer of Ninkasi Brewery based in the state of Oregon.  He visited the Caledonian Brewery in Scotland to recreated this award winning beer.  I had to have a good gulp to eliminate the peppery taste still in my mouth from the previous beer but my second taste was excellent.  This pale coloured beer had a lovely refreshing fruity hoppiness to it with a fabulous crisp bitter finish.  There are some rich fruits in there like mango and there is a little bit of grassiness to it too.  Overall it is incredibly smooth giving that creamy texture in the mouth.  This beer is as good as the Half Nelson and it scores the same with me with a rating of 9/10.        

Batemans Hazelnut Brownie (6.3% ABV)

Batemans have been very experimental of late.  In the Sainsburys Great British Beer Hunt 2013, which they won, I enjoyed one of their entries whilst not really appreciating their winning beer.  For this particular festival they have produced a beer that is extremely rich and sweet.  Both the aroma and the flavour is totally reminiscent of a Starbucks hazelnut hot chocolate (which I love).  In a beer I am not totally convinced.  All the flavours are sweet with only a faint trace of bitter coffee notes coming through in the aftertaste.  It is certainly potent though and I awarded it a score of 6/10.  Perhaps I need to try it again on a cold winter evening.

Three interesting sessions have produced the usual assortment of hits and misses that I usually get at a Wetherspoons festival.  Watch this space for some more sampling.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

A Minor Rant

Yes this is a bit of a rant.  Unusual for me but it pissed me off enough to write about it and I wonder what other people think.  Last night was our CAMRA social.  OK we are not the best bunch at getting to the pub before and last night we were later than normal and we arrived at the Anglesey Arms in Halnaker at about for our first pint of the evening.  This was good timing as it coincided with England knocking in the second goal against Poland and I could look forward to a World Cup summer next year.  

After a quick pint we headed to our final pub of the evening, the George Inn at Eartham.  We visited this pub a few months ago and we had a good chat with the landlord and we were impressed with the beer selection and quality sufficiently to take another look for possible inclusion in next years Good Beer Guide.  In we trudged to be met by a barmaid who told us she was cashing up as it had been a quiet evening but she would however serve us up to  By now it was ten past the hour so there was just time for a quick pint (or two very quick pints).  So here's my rant.

Surely in these tough times, when pubs are closing all over the place, would it be a good idea to NOT turn away a group of thirsty drinkers?  Looking at the website for the George Inn it is clear that the closing time is with no mention that it might close earlier if they feel like an early night.  Yes it is a lovely pub and yes the beer quality is good with an interesting and varied selection but this is no bloody good if the pub is shut when you want a drink.       

OK rant over.  On the plus side the two pints I had at the George were superb although swiftly downing a pint of Kissingate Six Crows at a hefty 6.6% ABV was not ideal as it was a beer to savour at a relaxed leisurely pace.  This intensely black stout had an immediate hit of bitter coffee but this bitterness seemed to reduce the more I drank.  There was a beautifully subtle sweetness in the aftertaste along with some nice smoky notes.  Overall it was a truly lovely stout.  

The pint I had prior to the Kissingate was Downlands Conker (4.4% ABV).  This beer was a delight although it was consumed far too quickly.  I was expecting this autumnal ale to be conker coloured but it was actually quite pale although it did have a lovely malty base to it.  It was an enjoyably interesting beer but my apologies as I did not do it justice.  My mind was on the clock and ensuring I could try the Six Crows which everyone was raving about.   

So a far from relaxed evening of drinking.  A message to pubs out there - open when you say you are going to be open.  It's good business practice and it can turn a quiet evening into a profitable one. 


Monday, 14 October 2013

Sainsburys Great British Beer Hunt - the final six

This was to be the final five as I found fifteen of the twenty entries when I visited my local Sainsburys but in a subsequent visit I found a second entry from Williams Brothers.  I have already found a 10/10 beer so will any of these final selections match up to the Windermere Pale from Hawkshead and force me to choose one over the other?  This final chapter begins in the North East before heading into Scotland and Northern Ireland so here goes.

1.  Swedish Blonde - Maxim (4.2% ABV)

I cannot say I have been a particular fan of the Maxim beers I have tried in the past but both this and the American Pride sound like they could be my kind of beer.  It certainly looked appealing with it's light straw colour and the aroma was a pleasing fruity hoppiness.  In the taste there were some initial sweet fruit flavours but a bit of a harsh bitterness kicked in with some earthy and some grapefruit notes.  The finish was dry.  My wife described it as 'twangy' and I really have no idea what that means but it wasn't as smooth as I like even though the flavours weren't too unpleasant.  Score 7/10.    

2.  American Pride - Maxim (5.2% ABV)

Following on from the Swedish Blonde, would the American Pride fair any better?  It was more golden in colour as I'd expect from an American IPA and it gave off a fantastic fruity aroma.  The taste was hoppy and fruity but again it wasn't particularly smooth.  It actually tasted a bit like a fruit soda.  The bitterness was quite crisp in the finish which was pleasant and overall it was ok.  I probably slightly preferred the Swedish Blonde so this one gets a score of 6/10.

3.  Gonny No Brew That - Williams Bros (3.8% ABV)

I now cross the border into Scotland.  I have had some dreadful beers from Scotland in the past but others I have loved and very few fall in the middle.  This is my first taste of beer from this particular Scottish micro and it certainly has an interesting name.  The slogan on the bottle says 'micro brewed for maximum flavour' which is a bit meaningless when you think about it but it certainly is packed with flavour for such a low strength beer.  There is a strong citrussy aroma from this light golden beer and there are very distinct grassy notes as well as some lemony notes too.  The dry bitter finish is delightful and this beer scores highly with me but not quite reaching the peak.  Score 9/10.      

4.  Wayfarer IPA - Orkney (4.4% ABV)

I now head to the outer reaches of the Scottish islands with a trip to Orkney.  I was so keen to try this beer that I forgot to take a picture of it.  Oops.  I have had some lovely beers from this brewery but they have all tended to be dark and malty so a pale IPA is something different from them.  This beer is made with cascade and amarillo hops along with crystal and wheat malt.  It was golden in colour and the aroma was citrussy but not too strong.  There were definite lemony and earthy notes which gave a subtle bitterness and I found the aftertaste to be slightly sweet.  Overall it was a very pleasant IPA albeit without the intense bitterness that I particularly like.  Score 8/10.      

5. Barney's Brew - Hildens (5.0% ABV)

Heading across the water to Northern Ireland now for an interesting beer. It is described as a Belfast bap wheat beer and it comes spiced with cardamom, coriander and black pepper.  It has a very pleasant light golden colour but the aroma is hideous.  Something like a ridiculously spiced marmalade is the best description I can come up with.  The initial taste is unpleasant and I wasn't convinced I'd be finishing this one.  My wife thought it tasted ok and after a second sip from myself I handed it back.  'Are you sure?' I asked.  Her second taste was less favourable and no more was requested.  I persevered however and it did improve.  It was sour and spicy in equal measure and the finish was pleasantly dry.  There was lots of coriander in the aftertaste and it was aromatic throughout.  Coriander was really the dominant spice and after getting used to the sourness it was just about drinkable.  I normally hate spiced beers and they usually end up down the sink so the fact that I finished this one probably means it was a great effort at trying something different.  I won't however be rushing to buy any more.  Score 4/10.  

6.  Hipsway - Williams Bros (5.0% ABV)

I thought my tasting was going to end on the sour note above but a second trip to Sainsburys produced a second effort from Williams Brothers.  Hipsway is a somewhat hoppy lager with a pleasant golden colour and a nice citrussy aroma.  It was incredibly smooth and was initially a little sweet before giving way to a delightful bitter earthy finish.  It was described as being cold conditioned over a bed of cone hops and strawberries and there was a very slight strawberry sweetness in there which was actually very pleasant.  This was a much better way to end my tasting.  Score 8/10.   

That completes my round-up of this year's Sainsburys Great British Beer Hunt 2013 and I do have a clear winner but there are four beers that are tied for second place which I have attempted to differentiate between to come up with a definitive top five so here goes.

                                       1st           Windermere Pale - Hawkshead
                                       2nd          Gonny No Brew That - Williams Brothers
                                       3rd           Infra Red - Hardknott
                                       4th           Crafty Dan - Thwaites
                                       5th           No. 6 Porter - Harbour

Overall I was very impressed with the quality of entries selected and I am sure someone will tell me I really missed out with the four I did not get around to trying.  Next year I will be quicker on the uptake.

Friday, 11 October 2013

My Local - Inglenook Hotel, Pagham

It has been said that I live in a beer desert.  My nearest pub (an Enterprise Inn) is about a mile away in Aldwick and it has been closed more often than not over the past couple of years due to a succession of managers coming and going.  Just over a mile away in the opposite direction there is Pagham, a coastal village which is now really part of the urban sprawl spreading out from Bognor Regis.  Pagham amazingly has five pubs and the closest of those to my house is the Inglenook Hotel.    

The Inglenook describes itself as a hotel and restaurant but the bar area very much has the feel of a village local.  You can enter through the hotel reception but there is a separate entrance to the bar with old Bass signs either side of the door.  The building itself is extremely pretty dating back to the 16th century.  Inside there are a couple of small bar areas for drinkers.  Both of these are very appealing with large fireplaces, beams and nooks and crannies for a little peace and quiet.   

Now let me backtrack a little as to why I had to check this pub out.  After all, I have been here for a Christmas meal in recent years and it is not exactly a pub that is unknown to me.  The food is superb and at the time the beer selection was ok with Ringwood Old Thumper, Young's Special and Fullers London Pride.  However, word had got out that they had recently introduced a guest beer policy.  My local CAMRA branch were sufficiently interested to shortlist them for the next Good Beer Guide and we will be visiting the pub for a social in a couple of weeks.  So why did I have such an urgency to try them out prior to this visit?  Well, a link on Facebook captured my imagination as they were advertising their current guest ales as Sadlers Red IPA (5.7% ABV) and Marble Dobber (5.9% ABV).  I added a comment to say I had to come in and have some Sadlers (my favourite beer from my favourite brewery).  Next morning I woke up to a reply on Facebook to say it had all been consumed the night before.  What a disaster.  Wiping away the tears I thought it was still worth going in to try the Marble Dobber.  I was yet to try anything from this highly acclaimed Manchester brewer so at lunchtime I set off for a walk with high expectations.

The row of handpumps that greeted me was a lovely sight.  One side of the bar had their usual ales of Young's Special and London Pride.  The other side had the ones below.  The new guest beer policy is obviously being controlled by someone who knows their beers.  The Sadlers Red IPA had been replaced by the magnificent Thornbridge Jaipur but I had come to try the Marble so the Jaipur would have to wait for another day.      

I must say the Dobber was in magnificent condition and was not too dissimilar to Jaipur.  I was told that all of the IPAs were very popular with the locals and with this sort of quality available to them it is easy to see why.  Dobber was a lovely straw coloured beer with a fantastic citrussy hoppy aroma.  The taste was a little grassy with some floral and lemony notes before it gave way to a long gentle bitter finish.  It is a stunning beer.
So I now consider myself to have a local pub.  I have tried the other pubs in the village over the past couple of years and whilst they are ok they do not come close to what is on offer at the Inglenook and they do not have such a pleasant environment in which to enjoy the beers too.  I requested Sadlers Mud City Stout and they quickly responded to say it has been added to their list.  That is another thing I like about this place.  They are keen to respond to requests from their customers via social media as well as keeping them informed of what beers are available along with what is 'coming soon'.  It is always good to have a reason to go for a walk and the Inglenook is the perfect excuse for a stroll.

Happy drinking.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Sainsburys Great British Beer Hunt - East - North West

My second batch of five beers from the Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt takes me across to Lincolnshire before heading into the North West.  Since my last review the winners have been announced and this batch being appraised includes the overall winner.

With 9/10 being the top score from my first batch it did not take me long to find a beer equal to this.  I will obviously have to decide on an overall favourite at the end where beers get the same score but I will worry about that at the end.  

1.  Infra Red - Hardknott (6.2% ABV)

This is my first taste of beer from this Cumbrian brewer although I have only heard good reports so out of all my selected bottles this is the one I was looking forward to the most.  It is definitely a delightfully challenging beer.  It has a lovely dark copper hue to it and it certainly smells hoppy (cascade and centennial hops are used).  Initially the taste is quite malty like a barley wine but then some spicy earthy hops kick in and blends beautifully with the malty base.  A little marmalade comes through before it gives a lovely dry bitter finish.  It is a beer that takes a little time to adjust to perhaps but once you have it is very rewarding.  It is obviously not a session beer but one to savour at your leisure.  Quite beautiful and I awarded it a joint top score of 9/10.

2.  Black Pepper Ale - Bateman's (5.1% ABV)

I have always held Bateman's beers in high regard since my early drinking days.  Black Pepper ale comes with a little sachet of pepper and this gives me my first dilemna.  I do not like seasoning my food with pepper so sprinkling some into a pint of beer does not sound like an awesome idea to me.  However, I decided to try the beer without any additions initially.  It has a lovely chestnut colour to it, as with most Batemans beers, along with a pleasant malty base.  There was a very nice spicy bite to it I felt which I liked.  Time for the pepper now.  After risking half the sachet I gave it a sip and it tasted no different at all.  In went the rest and the same thing.  No difference.  Most of the pepper was clinging to the sides of the glass though and my final gulp did give a somewhat concentrated blast.  My wife would not taste the beer once the pepper was in as she said it was 'all wrong'.  I just think it is a bit of a gimmick that offers nothing at all to what is actually a pretty good beer.  Score 7/10.                  

3.  Windermere Pale - Hawkshead (4.0% ABV)

I now head back to Cumbria for this hoppy little treat from the Lakeland brewer, Hawkshead.  My only experience of their beer to date has been the awesome Five Hop (5.0% ABV) which won my top rating last year.  This very pale offering is brewed with a couple of British hops with a good amount of the lovely Citra hop thrown in.  The aroma was superb with the citrussy notes very much to the fore.  This carried through into the flavour although the citrussy notes were combined with grassy and earthy notes too.  This resulted in a beer that has an intense bitterness with a long dry finish and a tingly bitter aftertaste.  I absolutely loved it from start to finish and it is definitely my favourite beer so far.  A crate of this would make me a very happy man.  Score 10/10.               

4.  B Bock - Bateman's (6.0% ABV)

So this is it.  The winner of this years Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt.  Described as a Bavarian Bock I did not know what to expect as I very rarely drink German beers so I have nothing to compare it to in terms of beer style.  However, I cannot say I enjoyed this beer so perhaps bocks are just not for me.  It had a nice deep chestnut colour to it but there was very little aroma from it.  I instantly found it to be too sweet and quite syrupy with distinct cherry notes.  Black forest gateau instantly sprang to mind.  There was definitely a complexity of flavours evident but each one was sweet making the overall flavour far too sweet for my taste which is reflected in my score of 5/10.  My wife went 'Ughhhh' so I guess it was two votes against.

The fact that this beer won is probably due to the fact that Bateman's are a respected national brewer and many people would naturally gravitate towards them.  That's my theory.  What would be more interesting would be to sell the beers for a few weeks before seeing how well they then sell.  I know many people who bought a single bottle of each beer and by the time they have all been tried they are no longer available.  This is one beer I would not purchase a second time.                      

5.  Crafty Dan - Thwaites (6.0% ABV)

I have a soft spot for Thwaites beers.  My wife's late father was a Blackburn lad and, despite having moved to the South coast many years previously, offered me a Thwaites beer when I first met him.  You can take the man out of Blackburn but you obviously can't take Blackburn out of the man!!  This rich golden coloured beer has a lovely fruity, citrussy aroma promising great things to come.  The taste is richer with a more rounded fruitiness to it along with the expected citrus notes.  The hops are American (Amarillo), New Zealand (Pacific Gem) and British (Fuggles) and they combine beautifully to give a beer with an interesting complexity.  There was some floral notes, a little spiciness and a little earthiness in addition to the mellow rounded fruit flavours.    Throughout there was a lovely gentle bitterness which lasted into the finish.  My wife is perhaps a little biased when it comes to Thwaites so I let her sample it before I informed her of the brewery and it was a hit with both of us.  Score 9/10.          

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Good Beer Guide 2014

Having been a CAMRA member for nearly thirty years and never getting involved with meetings and all that stuff until this year I am only just beginning to realise all the things the local branches need to do.  With the launch of the Good Beer Guide this month one of these tasks is to drop off a Good Beer Guide pack to all licensees of the listed pubs.  The 22 pubs in the Western Sussex area were shared out among members a couple of weeks ago and I picked up three to drop off.  This of course gives me the opportunity to visit three GBG pubs for a pint and I chose a couple of pubs I have never been to along with an old favourite.

Ship Inn, Itchenor

The Ship Inn at Itchenor is a superb pub in an adorable village on the banks of one of the many channels of Chichester Harbour.  There is a lovely walk around the harbour from here and it makes a perfect stop at the end of it.  There is plenty of seating along the front of the pub and although it adjoins the road it is hardly busy as 200yds further on you reach the harbour and have to turn around.

From the car park you enter through a side door into the starboard bar.  It has the expected nautical attire inside but it is not overdone.  The starboard bar has lots of wood.  Wooden floor, chunky wooden tables and a bar area with wooden panelling.  Off to the right is the door that leads into a carpeted dining area.  The pub has an excellent reputation for food (especially seafood) and the times I have eaten here I have not been disappointed.  The dining room is bright and spacious in contrast to the darker bar area.  

The beer selection is very local.  They serve three regular beers from Ballards (Best Bitter), Arundel (Castle Bitter) and WJ King (Horsham Best).  These three West Sussex ales are in addition to a guest ale and today this came from the excellent Langham Brewery which I visited last week (read about it here).  I cannot resist the Hip Hop (4.0% ABV) so I requested a pint after handing over my GBG pack.  It was the first pint drawn from a fresh barrel and it was in lovely condition.  My mouth was tingling with the fresh hoppy zing.

The White Horse Inn, Rogate

The last two pubs are close to each other and are both Harveys pubs.  Harveys is a popular family brewer based in the East Sussex county town of Lewes, a few miles to the east of Brighton.  Their beers are popular across West Sussex too and since the demise of King & Barnes they are the largest brewer left in this area.

The White Horse in located on the A272 which meanders through the village of Rogate between the towns of Midhurst and Petersfield.  It has all the characteristics of a classic village local with lots of wooden beams, large fireplace, stone floors and a friendly rustic feel.  My wife used to work nearby and it was popular for food at lunchtimes.  Whilst it does not have a large garden at the back it does adjoin the local playing field with a large childrens play area.

Only two beers were on offer when I arrived although three is the norm.  The choice was the Sussex Bitter or the IPA.  I was driving so I chose the 3.5% ABV IPA.  It has a pleasant bitterness to it and is probably hopped with the classic English varieties as it is quite a traditional bitter.  There is some fruitiness to it along with some earthy notes from the hops and it is balanced with a little caramel from the malt.  The finish was nicely dry and bitter.          

The Swan Inn, Midhurst

My final delivery was to the Swan Inn at Midhurst.  Midhurst is a lovely town that is distinctly lacking when it comes to pubs.  There used to be a couple of Gales pub in the centre that have disappeared.  Two large hotels dominate the town now which is popular with the polo playing fraternity in the summer months and it also benefits from the close proximity to Goodwood and the South Downs National Park.  

The Swan Inn is located away from the busy High Street and it is a pub I have driven past on hundreds of occasions to and from work but this was my first visit inside.  The pub has two distinct levels as it is set on a slope.  The lower bar can be entered via a door at each end and it is a small tidy public bar with dartboard and TV for Sky Sports.  Steps to the side of the serving area take you up to the upper bar which is a little larger with lots of nooks and crannies and some comfortable seating areas along with a small area set aside for dining.  It has a modern feel to it all round and it is a pub I instantly liked.      

I liked the pub even more when I saw what was available to drink.  This was the first day of the Old Ale (4.3% ABV).  When I lived in Horsham the launch of the King and Barnes Old Ale around this time of year was eagerly anticipated and the Harveys Old is held in similar high esteem.  Black in colour with lots of malt thrown into the mix it has plenty of chocolate, coffee, liquorice and burnt toast flavours mixing together to create a superb, relatively low strength, winter beer.  I love it and I shall be looking out for more of it over the coming months.

The Good Beer Guide is the only pub guide worth buying in my opinion.  I do not know how every CAMRA branch operates but in Western Sussex there is extensive research carried out via branch socials and personal visits throughout the year.  Once a shortlist of possible new entrants has been established the time between now and Christmas will be spent visiting the shortlisted pubs along with the currently listed ones before voting on the GBG 2015 entries in January.  It's a really hard task visiting pubs and drinking beer but somebody has to do it!

Happy drinking.