Monday, 22 February 2016

Stratford-upon-Avon Revisited

They say you should never go back.  When it comes to beer I think that's a dumb argument as pubs often thrive and develop and make themselves more appealing alongside new establishments that can offer something new.  I have worked in Stratford-Upon-Avon on and off for well over ten years and the pubs have always been OK and some have been very good.  With two weeks of working here again I spent the first evening trying the best pubs from previous visits alongside a new micropub that wasn't open when I was last here.

The Stratford Alehouse was my first port of call.  It is a compact micropub with plenty of tall wooden tables.  There is a small bar area at the far end with four beers served straight from the barrel.  From Great Heck we had both Dave and Christopher.  The former is a superb chocolatey nutty mild (3.8% ABV) but I have no idea why it is called Dave.  The latter is a gorgeous citrusy hoppy beer (4.5% ABV) packed with Colombus hops (you know why it is named Christopher now I hope).  In addition to these I tried a half of Uley Old Spot (5.0% ABV), a fabulous rich and sweet old ale which I last tried years ago and a half of Coventry bitter from Byatts.  Byatts was one of my favourite brewers from my last visit to this area and this session bitter is one of the best in this category.  Four excellent beers served straight from the barrel.  Exactly what I expect from a micropub.

Around the bar area the wall was rammed with pump clips of all the beers they have offered since their opening a couple of years ago.  The pub has plenty of reading material with CAMRA magazines from all around the UK which had been left by previous customers alongside a selection of daily newspapers.  Once I got chatting with one of the locals, Dave (who was loving the beer named after him), there was no need to sit and read though.  This usually happens when I visit a micropub.  Phil was attending to our beer requirements behind the bar and Dave was full of praise for his beer knowledge.  Owner Bill arrived later and he has visited many micropubs around the country including my local ones in Sussex.  He enjoys his beer travels it seems while letting Phil run the day-to-day operations back at base.  I think I now have a good knowledge of all the locals who were enjoying a beer or two this evening and with two more weeks in Stratford I will be seeing more of them I am sure.

I did not spend all my time in the Stratford Alehouse.  I thought I would pop into the two other GBG pubs in town that were both firm favourites on previous visits.  The New Bulls Head is a lovely pub but the beer selection tonight was disappointing.  A couple of Tim Taylor beers and one from Ringwood alongside a Northern Line Stout from Portobello / Camerons.  The latter was my choice and it is a decent beer and served in top condition so no complaints at all except that it was the only beer I wanted to try.  This is a genuine backstreet local though and we need more pubs like this one.   

Finally, I headed for the Bear at the Swan's Nest.  This pub within the Swan's Nest hotel (where I am staying next week) normally has up to 8 beers available.  The four regulars haven't really changed from my previous visits three years ago and the guest beers came from Banks's, Cottage and the local Stratford-upon-Avon brewery.  The latter I was keen to try but sadly, after attempting to pour a half, I was told it was off.  I was left with trying a half of Pacific from Cottage.  The poorest beer of the evening but I was told the SUA Brewery beer is a regular and will be on again shortly.  I will look forward to trying it next week.

My first evening back in Stratford was enlightening.  The pubs I loved had stood still and were offering nothing much that was new.  Certainly nothing in the way of the hoppy beers I have grown to love in recent years.  The micropub was a delight and I think I will be spending most of my pennies here over the next couple of weeks.  With the price of a pint at less than £3 for CAMRA members I won't need many pennies either to enjoy a blooming good pint.  There are other places to go too though and tomorrow I will be checking out my favourite pubs in Birmingham.  


Friday, 19 February 2016

Arundel Smokehouse Porter

Some great things are happening down at my local brewery, Arundel.  Since I last visited with them they have opened up an excellent shop in the heart of Arundel selling all of their beer from cask and bottles.  They have now added cans to their output with their new Smokehouse Porter (6.0% ABV) canned by mobile canning experts WeCan.  Success of any beer launch is helped by the quality of the product of course and Arundel have got this one spot on.  An order for 5000 cans from helped too.  

A trip to the Arundel shop was made specifically to pick up one of these cans at a cost of just £2.20 which is a bit of a bargain.  I have not been fortunate to try this beer from cask yet but if this can is anything to go by then I can't wait.  It has been brewed from malt that has been smoked over apple wood by local firm besmoke, a few yards from the Arundel brewery.  Not many beer miles in the creation of this product then.              

I love applewood smoked cheddar cheese and the aroma of this beer is very similar to that.  It is a lovely rich beer with not too much carbonation which is a good thing.  Initially the flavours were a little bitter and smoky with plenty of dark fruit notes coming through.  The applewood flavour comes bursting through to give a sweeter finish.  Arundel already produce a superb dark beer with their Sussex Dark (or Old Knucker as it was originally named) and this one is going to be just as popular with me.  It doesn't stop here though as there are plans to collaborate with local coffee roasters Edgcumbes to produce a coffee stout.  More cans will also be appearing soon too with their lovely APA Wild Heaven (5.2% ABV) lined up for the canning process soon.

It is great to see things thriving at Arundel.  They have always looked to try new things in recent years and it looks like this is all set to continue too which is good news for us local beer drinkers and I'm sure it will lead to increased national exposure too.


Friday, 12 February 2016

Brewdog Brighton

It's taken me a while to finally get to the new Brewdog bar in Brighton.  I have been to the ones in Birmingham and Nottingham and I wasn't overly impressed with either of them to be honest.  I think it is a case of both of these cities having superb real ale pubs that I love going in and a trip to Brewdog is taking away the chance to go into a pub I really love.  Perhaps that will also be the problem with the one in Brighton too.  The location does not put it on a circuit of Brighton's best pubs for me , in fact it is not near any of my favourites and I am someone who is not averse to walking a good distance either when it comes to beer.  It is on Grand Parade, the main road into Brighton that leads down to the pier and close to the Royal Pavilion but it is on the 'wrong side' so you have to cross this busy main road to get to it coming from the city centre.

From the outside it looks a bit like the one in Nottingham if my memory serves me right.  Inside, it is a vast improvement although the decor and styling is quite similar in many ways.  A very industrial look but I particularly like the caged recesses.  Except for the red leather benches it is wood and metal everywhere it seems along with plenty of floor space.  

There was only one other customer and so I had both members of staff helping to serve me.  Both young ladies were friendly and knowledgeable and I was offered samples of anything I wanted.  There were probably well over 20 beers to choose from and ten of those were Brewdog beers as you would expect.  There were also some from the US and Europe too.    

Two thirds of the Jack Hammer IPA (7.2% ABV) was requested and this cost me the best part of a fiver.  I don't actually have too much of a problem with the pricing in Brewdog bars really.  It is worth paying extra for quality and I would willingly pay more for many of the beers I drink to be honest.  Beer is a strange animal though.  You can go to a pub serving one or two decent beers alongside awful stuff such as GK and D*** B** and you pay a similar price for each.  Some beer I'd happily pay £4 a pint or more for whereas some stuff would be overpriced if they sold it for a quid it is so bad.  Anyway, all the beers here were not similarly priced,.  Some were just expensive but there were some really strong ones that were extremely expensive.  I would make a bet though that every beer was of the highest quality.    

This was my first taste of Jack Hammer and it was a superb hop monster of a beer.  Very pale and very hoppy with a dry citrusy taste that I love.  Drinking this while listening to Pearl Jam seemed somehow quite perfect in this environment.  I also decided I must get a Jack Hammer glass because they look pretty cool and perfect for IPAs.

I followed this up with a two thirds of Baby Wheel (7.1% ABV) from Siren.  This gave me even less change from a fiver but my gosh it was worth every penny and more.  Probably my favourite beer of the year so far.  It is packed with English (yes English) hops although a few American hops were thown in at the end I was informed by the young lady serving me.  It was bursting with juicy tropical and citrusy fruit notes and tastefully wonderfully fresh.     

So will I be adding the Brewdog bar to my list of pubs to visit in Brighton?  Highly likely.  I certainly prefer it to Craft Brighton, the only thing going for that place is the close proximity to my favourite Brighton pub, the Brighton Beer Dispensary.  Heading out of Brighton station and turning left down the hill skirting the North Laines you come across some cracking pubs though too and the Brewdog bar would be an excellent place to finish up before making your way back.


Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Mr Chairman

At the AGM of my local CAMRA branch (Western Sussex) last year our chairman announced he would be stepping down at the end of the year.  Last month he confirmed his intentions as he felt that after 27 years it needed a fresh (and younger) face.  The current treasurer approached me to ask if I would be interested in taking over and I was duly nominated.  I also felt honoured to have the nomination seconded by our outgoing chairman.  I have only been active in our branch for a couple of years so I was delighted to have been asked to stand and I hope I can do a decent job because last night I was voted in unopposed.  

Perhaps it says something about the average age of our active branch members when they see me as a 'younger' man.  Perhaps CAMRA should use this in their recruitment campaigns.  Feeling old?  Join CAMRA and you will soon feel a whole lot younger.  Anyway, it will be an interesting role, something I'd never thought about until I was asked last month, and one that I can hopefully enjoy too because at the end of the day if something isn't enjoyable then you shouldn't do it.  I have been a member of CAMRA for about 30 years though and I am passionate about real ale and I firmly believe that without CAMRA the beer map today would be a sorry sight indeed.  

Where this leaves what I write about here only time will tell.  I'm sure I will just continue to write about good beer and good pubs from my own experiences as I always try to do.  In fact my next post will be a review of the new Brewdog bar in Brighton I visited recently which is somewhere you won't find in a CAMRA Good Beer Guide but which did sell some very good beer.  So on that note I will sign off and get writing about that.