Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Beer O'Clock Show Brighton Crawl 2015

Well what a fabulous day it was.  All the ingredients were there for an excellent day of beer by the seaside (I think we glimpsed the sea once).  The sun was shining when I eventually arrived.  It may only be a short journey along the south coast for me but the 45 minute journey was extended due to train issues so I ended up having to change trains at both Littlehampton and Worthing.  It was therefore noon by the time I met up with my mate Ian who had come down from London and we had a very short stroll to the first pub, The Evening Star.  The original home of the Dark Star brewery is THE pub in Brighton to start any pub crawl.  It was immediately evident that there was a large contingent there for this event organised by local girl Maria in conjunction with Steve and Mark, the Beer O'Clock Show guys.  There were a few people I knew from Twitter who it was good to meet up with for the first time (Ruth, Rach and Justin particularly) as well as making new friends too.  Beer always brings people together and this event was certainly doing just that.                  
The start point
Upon arrival Steve guided me to the bacon sandwiches that had been organised for us which were more than welcome and I ordered my first pint, a wheat beer from New Bristol called Strawberry Moon (4.6% ABV).  I had a sampler of this beer first and it was suitably refreshing to start with although it wasn't universally loved by our group.  Despite the name it wasn't infused with strawberries much to my relief and it had a distinctly muddy appearance.  It didn't taste too bad though as far as I was concerned although perhaps a half would have been enough.

There was only time for a pint at the Evening Star before we moved on due to my late arrival but we were planning on finishing here too so there would be time for more later.  The second pub on the list was the Brighton Beer Dispensary which meant walking past the Craft Beer Co.  I have hoped to go in here quite a few times but it has never worked out and I perfectly understood the reasons for not including it today so yet again I failed to make it inside this pub.   

I will go in here one day

These first pubs were the same two I took fellow blogger Jim (@BeersManchester) to a month or so ago which he so eloquently wrote about here.  Everybody loves these two pubs.  Indeed, the Brighton Beer Dispensary is probably my favourite pub in Brighton at the moment and I think it was enjoyed by all on Saturday.  It is a joint venture between Late Knights brewery of SE London and the local Brighton Bier Company.  In fact this crawl had been organised so brilliantly as it was showcasing many of the finest breweries in Brighton and the immediate area.  I have never had a bad beer from Brighton Bier Company but, being from Sussex, I left the local stuff to the others and tried new beers from further afield.

Pub No.2
By mid afternoon the pub was full of our crowd and it was a perfect opportunity for a group photo.  I think Steve could have stayed here all day as he was particularly loving this pub and the local Brighton Bier Company beers as well as trying their light/dark challenge?  The dark was quickly worked out but the light (a lovely refreshing saison) was taking a bit longer.  We still don't know what it was.  I was enjoying the Weird Beard Saison 14 (5.4% ABV) particularly which was much more amber in colour than the mystery beer with superb orange notes.  A brewery I love.  I also enjoyed a dark beer too, a New Porter (4.4% ABV) from north-east brewer Truefitt.  The Arbor Dynamo Pale Ale (4.8% ABV) took the award for the duff beer of the day - flat, lifeless and totally uninspiring.  At least I'd only ordered a half.                    

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A fine bunch of beery folk
The remaining three pubs were all pubs I had never been to before so I was more than looking forward to them.  Pub number three, the North Laine, is a brewpub, being the home of the Laine Brewery.  Not only is the pub one I had never been to, it was also my first taste of beer from this brewery.  I went for the IPA (5.4% ABV) which was ok but nothing special.  

Pub no.3
The pub itself is cavernous with the brewery tanks visible behind the long bar.  There were three long bench tables reserved for us here and we took full advantage.  There was a good atmosphere in here with good conversation going on all around from our group.  Definitely a pub I would return to and try a few more beers from their range.  

Tanks lined up behind the bar in this brewpub
We had had a decent hike to the last couple of pubs but it was just a short hop to the next one.  The North Laine area of Brighton has a high concentration of excellent pubs.  The Great Eastern is a great street-corner boozer at the bottom of Trafalgar Street that leads uphill back to the station.  They had a couple of beers from one of the best current West Sussex brewers (Downlands) and in fact their head brewer Widdi turned up before we moved on.  I went for their Bramber (4.5% ABV), a delightful golden American amber beer, which is one of their range I had not yet sampled.  Others were keen to try the sweet Honey Porter (5.0% ABV).      

Pub no.4

The final pub on the journey, the Prince Albert, was a short distance away up Trafalgar Street and it was showcasing the beers from another of Sussex's finest, Burning Sky.  Both the Aurora (5.6% ABV) and Plateau (3.5% ABV) I love but the Devil's Rest (7.0% ABV) I was yet to try so that is what I went for.  Much darker in colour than the other two, quite a deep amber, it also has none of the light citrussy notes of the others but it is still a very robust and highly drinkable IPA using Simcoe and Centennial hops.  I think I would choose the Aurora next time though which for me is hard to beat.  The pub is situated on quite a steep slope with the outside seating on the pavement at the front looking like they could slide away.  Inside, this impressive Victorian building has a number of rooms with traditional decor in keeping with the age of the building.  An excellent pub.  

Pub no.5
So that was it.  There was time for a quick pint of Bristol Beer Factory Independence (4.6% ABV) back at the Evening Star where we picked up our T-shirts which were kindly provided by Dark Star who sponsored the event.  I should probably feel guilty at not having consumed any of their beer today but I more than make up for it at other times.  The whole day was superbly organised by Maria (thanks for the Brewdog badge - looking forward to Brighton Brewdog opening soon!!) and judging by the conversations going on I think everybody had a great time.  I met plenty of new beery friends and there were others I would have liked to have chatted to more as is always the way.  It was also great to catch up with those awesome Beer O'Clock Show guys, Steve and Mark (thanks for the bottle!!).  I am sure this will not be the last event they organise that I will be attending.         

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Friday, 26 June 2015

Treat Night

I am constantly looking for new beers to try.  You could argue I've become a bit of a ticker as when I started to write about beer I began a quest  to complete a journey around the breweries of the UK by trying a pint of beer from each (at a pub or beer festival).  I am convinced this is going to be an impossible task but it won't stop me trying.  After year one I had completed over 10% of the breweries and after year two I had reached over 20%.  When the Good Beer Guide came out last year the number fell to nearer 18% and that is of course the problem.  The number of breweries is expanding all the time as others fall by the way side.  My total is now at about 26% so I'm heading in the right direction although reaching 30% by the time the next Good Beer Guide is launched is looking unlikely.  What I don't include are half pints which of course leaves me with a dilemma at beer festivals.  What I tend to do is have a pint where I see a brewery that I think may be hard to find elsewhere and halves of others.  I have now begun a similar task with bottled beers but that's another story altogether and is still in the early stages.  

One major problem with this obsession is that I will often go into a pub and see a favourite beer alongside something totally unfamiliar and of course I try a pint of the unfamiliar.  This can be particularly tiresome when the beer I choose turns out to be crap.  There is the flipside of course and I may discover another new favourite but you may wonder what is the point in discovering a new wonderful beer when the chances of drinking it again is not always that high.  However, to try and redress the balance a little I have introduced 'treat night'.  Last Friday was the first and I chose one of my all-time favourite beers, Bede's Chalice from the Durham Brewery.  A 9.0% ABV Belgian tripel that I find to be even better than most of the tripels that come out of Belgium and certainly the best I have discovered from any UK brewer.  I have reviewed this beer in the past which you can read here if you so wish.  It is certainly a treat.

Tonight I have lined up a couple of beers from London brewer Weird Beard.  One of these is a beer I haven't tried before, a 6.5% ABV tart grapefruit IPA called You Taste Better When You Are Scared which must go down as one of the longest beer names I can remember.  This will be followed by Hit The Lights, a 5.8% ABV mixed up IPA featuring Anglo/Euro hops that is one of my favourite bottled beers ever which is unusual in that it has none of my preferred US hops.  

So there you go.  To all you tickers out there, treat yourself now and again to something you know will hit the spot.  It's something I will be doing more of.


Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Head For Beavertown

One of my favourite brewers at this moment in time must be Beavertown.  This is despite the fact I have never tried any of their beers in cask and only once have I tried it from the keg.  What made me gravitate towards these wonderful beers then?  Well firstly I tried a bottle of their wonderful smoky porter called Smog Rocket (5.4% ABV).  This was sufficiently fab for me to try their 8 Ball Rye IPA next (6.2% ABV).  Then they brought out those fantastic cans with the funky artwork and I was hooked.  Gamma Ray is a luscious American Pale (5.4% ABV), Black Betty (7.4% ABV) is a damn good black IPA and finally we have the Neck Oil, a hoppy session IPA (4.3% ABV).  As core ranges go this is pretty fantastic.  

The week before last I was in the fabulous Cask Pub & Kitchen, Pimlico and I spied behind the bar cans of Bloody 'Ell and Power of the Voodoo.  Two more attractive looking cans from Beavertown so how could I refuse.  I managed to get them home without leaving them on the train which was a success and last weekend I sat down and gave them a try.

I started with the Bloody 'Ell because at 7.2% ABV it is the weaker of the two!!  I tried getting hold of some of this on my last visit to Cotteridge Wines as I had heard great things about it but sadly they had sold out.  Hopefully I would not be disappointed now I was finally going to try it.  It is described as a blood orange IPA.  Blood orange zest is listed as one of the ingredients of course and there are obviously tons of Amarillo and Citra hops from the US to satisfy the hopheads.  The Amarillo adds to the orange flavours that are the dominant force without being too overpowering as there are plenty of other citrus notes from the Citra hops too as you would expect.  It poured beautifully, it looked superb, it gave off a wonderful aroma and it tasted amazing.  My beer of the year so far without question.  Bloody amazing!!    

The story behind the next beer, Power of the Voodoo, is of a collaboration between Beavertown and Boneyard Brewing from Oregon.  At 10% ABV it is a triple IPA and having had Magic Rock's Unhuman Cannonball recently I was wondering how this would compare.  I found this beer to be less drinkable to be honest.  The UHC went down so easily for an 11% beer but this one is thick, syrupy and full of rich tropical fruit flavours.  Mango was dominant and there were hints of apricot and passion fruit too.  However the sweetness did give way to a good bitterness in the finish and overall it is a lovely beer that didn't quite hit the heights of the Bloody 'Ell for me.            

Beavertown open up their doors every Saturday with taproom Saturdays from 2.00.pm - 8.00.pm.  I am going to have to head to Tottenham for one of these for sure.  I love everything they do and I can't get enough of those cans.  


Monday, 8 June 2015

Top Sussex Pubs

It's been a while since I last wrote a post on here.  I have not been idle though when it comes to checking out new pubs and new beers.  Much of May was taken up with finding the time to visit the best pubs in Sussex as selected by the local CAMRA groups.  Once all the scores are collated from the various branches we will have a winner to go through to the regional finals.  There are five CAMRA areas in Sussex and you cannot vote for your own area pub of course so that meant visiting four pubs which may not seem much but the transport links in Sussex are awful with some of the worst roads in the UK to contend with.

I started with the nearest pub to home.  The Parsonage Bar is listed under Worthing but it is really in the old village of Tarring which has been swallowed up by the urbanisation of the Sussex coastal regions.  The Parsonage is possibly the smallest pub I have been in although there is also a separate restaurant and it is all housed in a lovely grade II listed timber-framed building.  The bar area could seat a dozen at a squeeze and a separate room that was in darkness when I visited was slightly smaller.  There was a great selection of Locales and the Charcoal Burner (4.3% ABV) from the local High Weald brewery was a superb oatmeal stout and was in perfect condition.  However, I did find the pub itself a bit cliquey and lacking atmosphere.  Perhaps you have to be a local to appreciate it.

A couple of weeks later I was heading to the north of the county.  The White Horse in Maplehurst is a pub I visited many years ago and I don't think it has made any changes in the intervening years.  The village of Maplehurst is tiny and the White Horse is the obvious focal point.  

The inside is like a living museum with wood block flooring, wooden beams, wood panelling, exposed brickwork and all sorts of antique items with some dangerous looking agricultural equipment scattered around and hanging from the walls.  

To the rear the conservatory is a real sun-trap and the garden is large and sunny too.  Overall it is a very pleasant country pub of which there are many such places hidden away in the pretty Sussex villages.  Where it possibly beats the rest though is in the beer choice.  It has always had a good reputation for beer and the Red Cross Mild from the Weltons Brewery just up the road in Horsham was absolutely superb and a perfect beer for CAMRA's 'May Is Mild Month'.  This was one of four Locales available and I don't think I could have chosen a better pint to be honest.  

When planning the visit to the last couple of pubs I suggested to my wife that she might like a day in Lewes.  This would enable me to visit both pubs on the same day as well as allowing me not to have to drive home.  A cunning plan.  After dropping the wife off I headed out further east to the coastal town of St Leonards near Hastings.  It really is a horrible drive along the south coast and I was in need of a pint when I got there.  The Tower is out of town on the main London Road and it is a very imposing street-corner local.  I wasn't too sure about the Arsenal FC badge on the pub sign but I can forgive them this small indiscretion.  

It is a genuine local pub with a fantastic beer range which on the day I visited included a good range of beer from Dark Star as well as the excellent Thornbridge Jaipur and the one I decided to try, a beer called Mort Cheval from Brewsters, which I was told translates to 'Dead Horse'.  This mild was very pleasant but it didn't hit the heights of the aforementioned Red Cross.  The pub had a single central bar with seating going off at right angles to each other.  Two TV screens were there for sports and there were comfortable sofas alongside more traditional wooden tables and chairs.  The welcome was the friendliest of any of the pubs by far with some chatty locals at the bar adding to the friendly atmosphere. The bar prices were also exceptionally good value with my pint just £2.80.  A relaxed, convivial atmosphere to enjoy a pint.

I then headed back to Lewes where I met up with my wife at the Brewers Arms.  This town centre pub is in the High Street nearly opposite the really wonderful Lewes Castle.  It is a bit of a climb from the Harveys Brewery down by the river but it is well worth fitting in a visit to both when you are visiting Lewes.  

The Brewers Arms is a very traditional town centre pub which is fast becoming a rarity in these days of Wetherspoons dominated towns and cities.  It was popular with lunchtime diners enjoying the traditional menu as well as others enjoying a drink or two.  It is a genuine free house but of course the choice had to include Harveys.  As with all of these winning pubs there was a great choice of Locales and my choice at this pub was Bedlam Porter (5.0% ABV).  The Bedlam Brewery is not far from Lewes, being just over the border in West Sussex.  The porter was robust and full of everything I love about this kind of beer.  Dark roast malt flavours with chocolate, coffee and liquorice notes.

So, four very different pubs all with the common theme of selling a great choice of Locales.  My favourite pub was a close run thing between the last two I visited, with the Tower just edging it.  All of the five local branches will be submitting their results about now and the winner will be announced shortly.  Our branch winner, the fabulous Inglenook Hotel in Pagham will have been visited by the other four branches and I hope it scores favourably.  Are these the best five pubs in Sussex?  Well I can think of quite a few pubs in Sussex I would choose above any of these four to be honest but that is the beauty of the great British pub.  There's one for everyone and I don't think the beer drinker will come away disappointed from visiting any of these pubs either.