Friday, 14 December 2018

The calm before the storm? Or all quiet on the Tunbridge Wells front

As you might have guessed, I didn’t manage to track down any Harvey’s Old at the weekend, and neither did I manage to source any Larkin’s Porter, although by all accounts I came pretty close.The truth is there was too much occurring on the domestic front, and this was enough to keep me out of the pub.

Tuesday evening saw me catching the train over to Tunbridge Wells in order to catch up with some of my CAMRA colleagues who were on an extended “Christmas Drinks” pub-crawl. As most of them are retired, they started at 5.30pm, but that was way too early for us ordinary folk who are still working, so I caught up with them at the last port of call.

Actually, they caught up with me as they were running behind schedule, as is so often the case on these sort of events. So having missed out on the Royal Oak, the Guinea Butt and Fuggles, I made my way to the top of Mount Ephraim and bought myself a well-earned pint at the George; this year’s West Kent CAMRA pub of the year.

It’s some time since I last set foot in the George, but the pub was looking suitably festive and with a log fire providing some welcoming warmth on a cold winter’s night, I could think of few better places to be. My only grouse was the two drinkers, sat at the bar, blocking my view of the pumps, but even that changed when they disappeared outside for a ciggy.

There was an interesting line-up of beers, including two dark ones, but for starters I opted for a pint of  “Pint” from Manchester-based, Marble Beers. Weighing in at just 3.9% ABV, this session ale is packed full of citrus flavours from the use of American and New Zealand hops, and I scored it a worthy 4.0 NBSS.

I sat down away from the bar, and towards the front of the pub. It was fairly quiet, but then it was only Tuesday and the Christmas festivities haven’t really kicked off yet. You could almost describe it as the calm before the storm, and as I sat there I felt content and nicely relaxed.

The peace was shattered by the arrival of my CAMRA friends and colleagues, so I made my way towards the bar to greet them. They had a similar tale to tell, as the other three pubs they’d been in were all on the quiet side. Whilst standing at the bar chatting, I was trying to make up my mind as to which beer I should have next; a decision which basically meant I could  now dive in on the dark stuff.

A friend had bought himself a pint of Adnam’s Sloe Storm Winter Ale, and offered me a taste. Coming straight after the Marble Pint, the Adnam’s offering tasted rather insipid; you certainly couldn't taste the sloes,  so I gave it a miss and opted instead for the Holler Brass Hand – a 4.2% ABV Golden Ale. Holler are based in Brighton, having moved there, having outgrown their original premises in Uckfield.

The Brass Hand was very drinkable (3.5 NBSS), but on balance I preferred the Pint. By this time the CAMRA contingent had grabbed one of the large tables, close to where I’d been sitting earlier. It was good to see them, and it was equally good to  catch up with a friend who’d been away in Australia for the past month. He was definitely feeling the change in climate between here and Oz – not that I had much sympathy for him!

I learned from one of my other friends that I had narrowly missed Larkin’s Porter, as it had been on at the George over the weekend. “Fancy not saving me any”, was my response, but this did give me the cue to try the other dark offering on at the George that night.

Export India Porter from 360º Brewing; another Uckfield based brewery.  This 5.8% ABV beer has a strong malt base supplemented with oats for both body and smoothness. Three aromatic New World hops produce a Porter which, according to the brewery, “Is strong on body, big on aroma and large on taste”.  It was good so, as with the first beer, I scored it at 4.0 NBBS.

It wasn’t a beer to rush either, so it was gone 10.15pm when my friend from Tonbridge and I left the pub to make our way to the station. It had started raining, only lightly, but it did at least raise the temperature. Unfortunately our train to Tonbridge was delayed by 30 minutes, which meant by the time I arrived home it was 11.30pm.

This wasn’t good, with work the next day, but this minor irritation aside, it had been an excellent evening. Having been tempted now by the dark stuff, I  just need to find a pub serving either Larkin’s Porter or Harvey’s Old and I shall then be a really happy bunny.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

The Bass Chronicles - Part 2. (1980 - 1990)

Carrying on from the first part of this narrative, we move into the 1980's and see how after losing its way and ditching much of its heritage, Draught Bass made a bit of a comeback and even recovered some of its former glory.

It was to be  nearly ten years before I returned to Burton. During the intervening years I had changed my job twice, moved house three times, got divorced and re-married. The fact that my moving house had brought me back to Kent (first Maidstone and latterly Tonbridge) meant that opportunities to consume Draught Bass were not as frequent as they were in London. However, the Man of Kent in East Street, Tonbridge always managed to serve a very acceptable pint of the stuff!

It was during this time that Bass committed an appalling act of vandalism by announcing the closure of their Union Rooms on the grounds of "cost". For a brewery that had built its reputation on the quality of its pale ales, this was tantamount to sacrilege. As CAMRA commented at the time, for a company prepared to spend thousands on advertising such tasteless aberrations as Carling Black Label, to claim that they couldn't afford the maintenance and upkeep of the rooms where their most famous and prestigious product was produced, just did not add up.

Bass claimed that after extensive trials they had managed to match the unique taste of Draught Bass, using modern conical fermenters, with that of the version brewed using the traditional union method. As CAMRA again remarked, "They may indeed have been able to do this under carefully controlled brewery sample room conditions, but would they be able to reproduce the same character in the pub cellar?"

My own observations (and indeed tasting at the time) suggest that CAMRA was correct, and the Draught Bass that I sampled during the mid-1980's quite frankly left me rather disappointed. It also left me feeling extremely angry that Bass could have debased their most famous product in this way.

In March 1987 I had the opportunity of returning to Burton. A group of friends (drinking buddies) had noticed a trip advertised by the local coach company - Maidstone & District. The trip was advertised as  "The Burton Brewer", and consisted of a visit to the Bass Museum followed by a trip around the Bass Brewery. I had seen the museum, then in its infancy, during my earlier visit and the opportunity to re-visit it and to spend some time in Britain’s “brewing capital” seemed too good to miss. We duly booked our places and on the allotted day boarded the coach to Burton.

After a somewhat tedious journey up the motorway, we arrived in Burton just after midday. Our driver told us to assemble at the brewery gates at one o'clock, so having some free time, we decided to try some of the town’s delights. We headed straight for the Victoria Tavern, the brewery tap of the then recently formed Burton Bridge Brewery.

The pub was a splendid multi-roomed establishment and the beer was very good as well. We tried the Bridge Bitter and also the very tasty Porter, but by the time we arrived back at the brewery gates we learned that not only had we missed our trip round the museum, but the tour round the brewery was about to commence. It seems that the coach driver had got his times muddled up, which was a great shame as I would really have liked to have had a proper look round the museum.

Seeing that we were late, our tour guide enquired as to where we had been, with a look of obvious annoyance on her face. One of my three companions informed her that “We had been sampling some proper beer in the Victoria Tavern". “Oh”, replied our guide, "it's strange but everyone seems to go there". “Perhaps if Bass brewed some decent beer these days, people wouldn't have to” murmured another of my friends. Our guide either did not hear, or perhaps chose to ignore that somewhat pointed but rather poignant comment, and without further ado we embarked on our tour of the brewery.

As we rapidly discovered, this was not to be a trip around the solidly traditional Number 2 Brewery that I had visited nearly ten years earlier. Instead our tour was to consist of a look round the ultra modern Number 1 Brewery. En route to the latter we discovered perhaps the real reason for the closure of the Burton Union rooms, namely the site was wanted for redevelopment. Demolition of the lovely old red-brick Victorian buildings was well under way, a sight which left me feeling both saddened and angry.

There is not much to see in a modern, functional brewery. Everything is either concrete, steel girders or white-tiled walls. Most of the brewing vessels are totally enclosed and can only be glimpsed through viewing portals. However, the view over Burton from the top of the brewery was worth seeing, even if it again provided further evidence of the desecration of the town's proud brewing heritage by both Bass and near neighbours, Ind Coope.

The tour ended with a couple of pints in the visitor centre. My friends and I all opted for Draught Bass, but after five pints of Burton Bridge ales our palates were somewhat jaded and it was not possible to give either a sound or indeed fair judgement on the taste of the beer.

Some six months later I had the opportunity to visit Burton again; this time on business for my new employer. I travelled by train, and as Burton is somewhat poorly served by rail links, I was collected from Nuneaton station, on the West Coast mainline, and driven to Burton by a representative from the company I was visiting. We drove to the company's factory on the outskirts of Burton, and after a very fruitful morning's discussion adjourned for lunch. My host took me to a pub in a nearby village and, seeing as it was a Bass house, I opted for a pint of Draught Bass.

We sat down at a table ready to peruse the menu, but all thoughts of food vanished as I took my first sip of the beer. It was heavenly. I decided that I must be dreaming and took a full mouthful this time to discover that I wasn't imagining things. There was no mistake, this was the Draught Bass I had known and loved, but which I thought had been lost for ever! I was absolutely amazed that after all this time the ale had suddenly returned to its previous superb form. During the course of the meal I made certain that this was not a “one-off” by ordering a second pint. This proved every bit as enjoyable as the first, and definitely made my day. It even eclipsed  the successful outcome to my business trip, which was concluded when we returned to the factory.

It still seemed too good to be true that Draught Bass was back on form, but a couple of months later I had the opportunity to sample the beer again when I visited the West Country for a well earned holiday. My wife and I, accompanied by our pet dog, drove down to Devon for what was to be our first proper holiday since our honeymoon some two years previously.

We had booked into self-catering accommodation in an annexe adjoining a farmhouse, close to the picturesque village of Dittisham on the River Dart. Although my wife had been to this part of South Devon before, it was my first visit. Furthermore, all we had to go on in those pre-internet days, as to the standard of our accommodation, was a brief description in the brochure, plus an artist’s impression. It was therefore with some trepidation that we drove down the narrow track which led to the farmhouse.

We needn't have worried, as the accommodation was of a very high standard, and was clean as well as cosy and comfortable. Having unloaded our bags, I left Mrs PBT’s to prepare our evening meal and set off, in the car, to explore Dittisham and, more importantly, to find its GBG listed pub - the Red Lion.

Standing close to the imposing village church, the Red Lion is a large, but perfectly ordinary looking, white painted, Victorian pub.  Stepping inside though I  was immediately struck by its peaceful atmosphere, and quiet rural charm. I had noticed that Draught Bass was on sale, so spurred on by my previous experience opted for a pint.

It was every bit as good as the ale I had recently sampled in Burton. I tried another swift half, just to make sure (I was driving after all!). I then instructed the barman to fill my 4 pint container with Bass and set off back to the farmhouse.

 I arrived back in extremely high spirits, enthusing about the beer, the pub, the village, the tranquillity of our surroundings and life in general, and tucked into my meal with relish. I washed it down with several more glasses of Bass, and polished the rest of it off later that same evening. Over the course of the week, I discovered Draught Bass to be quite  common in South Devon, and I must confess I enjoyed a good few pints of it.

We returned to the same farmhouse for three years in a row, and on each occasion I enjoyed the Bass at the Red Lion as well as the other pubs in the area. One pub in particular is worthy of a mention, namely the Dolphin Inn at Newton Ferrers. This wonderfully unspoilt pub faces out, across the River Yealm, to Noss Mayo - the village on the other side of the estuary. I have some very happy memories of sitting in the south-facing, pub garden looking across the river, whilst soaking up the mid-September sunshine and the superb Bass in equal quantities!

The Bass seemed all the more better for being served straight from the cask - by gravity, and this leads me on nicely to the conclusion of this treatise,  namely the methods by which Draught Bass is served.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

"Down for maintenance"

There is something strange going on over at CAMRA’s National Heritage Pub website, as anyone who has tried logging on recently will know. Rather than being able to access information about the UK’s remaining “unspoilt” stock of pubs; the ones which are rightly regarded as “heritage pubs” and hence “National Treasures”,  visitors are instead confronted with the following message:

We’ll be back soon!  Sorry for the inconvenience, but we’re performing some critical maintenance at the moment. - The CAMRA IT Team.

I wouldn’t say I’m a regular visitor to the site, but I do find it useful especially when planning a trip to a new area. Several years ago, I made up my mind to visit as many of the country’s remaining “heritage pubs” as possible, but with the website down for “maintenance” it’s proving difficult to track them down.

What I hadn’t realised was just how long the site has actually been down, as it was only a disgruntled email from a correspondent, on one of the CAMRA discourse forums, which alerted me to the fact the website has been undergoing "critical maintenance" for six months now.

So does anybody out there know the reason why this important resource has been unavailable for so long? And can anyone, especially someone from CAMRA, say when it might be up and running again?

Data protection and/or security issues have been cited as possible reasons, but whatever the problem it seems absolutely incredible that a site could be out of action for such a lengthy period of time, in this day and age.

Footnote: the photos are of two historic, absolute gems, which I am privileged to have visited. Both are called the Red Lion, but that is the most common pub name in England.

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Beer at home over Christmas

I was talking beer with a work colleague yesterday afternoon. He was thinking of buying one of those 5 litre mini-casks to drink over Christmas, and was asking for my advice. I've limited experience of beer in these containers; in fact the only mint-cask I've had was one of Bamberg's legendary Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier, brought back from a pre-Christmas trip to the city, eleven years ago.

The beer was excellent for the first two or three days, but then slowly began to go downhill as the level of the precious liquid in the container gradually went down. As might be expected, the amount of condition in the beer (the level of dissolved CO2), was the first thing to decline, followed slowly by a deterioration in the taste of the beer.

My conclusions are these containers are fine, if there are sufficient people around to drink the beer, but if there's not, then do your best to consume the contents as quickly as possible. So, would a flexible container, such as a poly or mini-pin, which slowly collapses as the beer is drawn off, be better.

The answer of course, is yes, and over the years I've had plenty of polypins, but with only me to drink it, I found the beer wasn't always quite at its best by the time the contents were exhausted. I also found considerable variation in quality between different beers; and over the years I had a fair few.

None were off or even approaching undrinkable, but several were rather lacking in condition, meaning a flat and often uninspiring pint, and when you’ve got 36 pints of beer to get through that you’re not particularly enjoying, then it becomes something of an endurance test.

I gave up on polypins, but not before several years of having my own, home-brew to enjoy. This was back in the day when I was accomplished home-brewer, producing a wide range of well-crafted, full-mash beers. Now I don't want to blow my own trumpet too much, but my beers were rather good and eminently drinkable and the only reason I ceased brewing was the off-licence that Mrs PBT's and I opened, was pretty much a twenty four-seven affair.

I eventually moved on to bottles, as in my experience they're a much better bet. Not only do they remain fresh until they are opened, but they can provide a lot more variety. And with so much good food and interesting flavours available over the Christmas period, variety is what's required.

Now I'm not going to get all snobbish here and insist on matching beers to accompany certain foods, but there's no getting away from the fact that some do provide a better accompaniment to particular foods than others. I've got a reasonable number of bottles to enjoy, which have built up over the past few months, but the amount is probably not as many as in previous years.

So what have I got in my stash?  For starters, I've got plenty bottles of Pilsner Urquell to hand. This classic and pioneering “original” pilsner, has just the right amount of aromatic hoppiness, from the lovely Saaz hops, which is set against some lovely, chewy toffee malt. For several years this Czech classic has become my go-to beer for every day, home-drinking. It's only 4.4% in strength, but still manages to pack in loads of flavour.

I've got several bottles of St Austell Proper Job; a beer which in my view is one of the best bottled pale ales around. It's bottle-conditioned as well, but unlike many producers of BCA's St Austell do this properly - hence the name (only kidding!). Proper Job is well-hopped, but not too aggressively, and there is just the right amount of juicy biscuit-like malt present to counteract the bitterness.

Fuller’s, the last surviving traditional brewery in London, supply two more beers which feature high on my list of personal favourites. The company’s London Porter, is a fine example of the beer which made the capital's name as one of the world's great brewing cities. It weighs in at 5.2% ABV, and packs in a range of roasted chocolate and coffee flavours from the dark malts used in the brew. Served lightly chilled, this Porter is the perfect beer to round off an evening's drinking.

The other beer from Fuller's that I'm really looking forward to drinking is 1845. This 6.3% ABV bottle-conditioned beer is packed with lots of ripe, juicy fruit and marmalade flavours, and goes really well with a traditional roast turkey dinner. For as many years as I care to remember, a bottle of this excellent ale has always been my beer of choice to accompany  my Christmas dinner.

So what other beers have I got hanging around? Well it's a bit of a mixed bag really. I’ve still got a selection of six different bottles from the St Bernardus Brewery, in Watou, Belgium, to drink my way through. They range in strength from 6% up to 10%  ABV. I obtained them via a colleague at work, who has a friend living in West Flanders; definitely a handy person to know!

There's a few other odds and sods at the bottom of the boxes I use to store my bottles, including a bottle of Gadd's Imperial Stout. There's also a bottle of Dark Star Imperial Stout which needs drinking. Bush de Nuits, from Brasserie Dubuisson, which I acquired over three years ago, whilst in Belgium for the European Beer Bloggers Conference. It’s 13.0%, and aged in oak Burgundy casks, plus it's bottle-conditioned as well, so it’s a beer I will need some assistance in polishing off.

Finally I'm sure there will be the gift of the odd few bottles of beer from family members and colleagues (we buy a present for each other within my department). Basically, there's little chance of me running out of beer over the festive season, and with such a variety kicking around in my cupboard, there will be a beer for virtually every occasion.

Christmas is still a fortnight or so away, but I thought I'd get in early this year, especially in relation to the beers. So whatever you're planning to drink over the festive season, may you do so in the company of friends, family or loved ones.

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

The dark side

As I’m sure many of you will have noticed, the weather’s been unseasonably mild for the beginning of December, and much of November was very similar. We haven’t been tempted yet to light our log-burner, and our thick winter coats, scarves and woolly hats are still in the cupboard.

It’s been plain sailing in the mornings too, with no ice to scrape off the car windscreen, and no icy country roads to contend with on the drive into work. The central heating is ticking over in the background, but is nowhere near running flat out. This is despite sharing a house with a woman who feels the cold – don’t they all?

So far so good, and with a potentially lower gas bill to look forward to, you could be forgiven for thinking that everything’s rosy. Well it’s pretty good, all things considered, with one exception, the warm weather seems to have created a paucity of demand for dark ales, and I’m getting increasingly desperate to track some down.

By dark ales, I mean beers such as Harvey's XXXX Old Ale or Larkin’s Porter, both of which are firm favourites of mine and beers to look forward to as winter approaches.

Late Autumn is traditionally the season when many old ales make their appearance, followed a little later on by stronger beers such as winter warmers and barley wines. Harvey's launch their Old Ale at the beginning of October, whilst Larkin’s traditionally hold their delectable Porter back until Bonfire Night.

I haven’t seen either on sale yet, and here we are heading into December with Christmas only three weeks away. I seem to have this moan every year but normally a few weeks earlier in the season than now, so why no dark ales gracing our bars and pubs, and why does my desire for a drop of the dark stuff end up like the quest for the Holy Grail?

Despite the welcome increase in discerning drinking establishments locally, I still think far too many licensees are frightened to take a punt, and would rather play things safe, when it comes to dark ales. With a few honourable exceptions, most pubs in these parts shy away from serving dark ales, in the mistaken belief they won’t sell. The trouble is they won’t know until they try, and I wouldn’t mind betting that few, if any, have actually tried.

I know full well, from when we had our off-licence, that dark beers fly out the door, particularly during the winter months and I’m sure local pubs would experience the same level of interest. It can’t be that experimental or overly-adventurous to stock the odd dark beer, can it?

Harvey's Old Ale is available in the brewery’s own tied pubs and that's about it, and Larkin’s Porter has always been a difficult beer to track down, and the pubs which do sell it are normally right out in the sticks, which means it is necessary to drive there. This sort of defeats the object, particularly if you start to get the taste for one of these delicious dark beers.

I was in Tonbridge Fuggles yesterday evening and half expected to see something dark on offer. Well Weird Beard came close with their Black Cranberry Stout, but that was it on the dark side, and besides I was looking for something a little smoother, and with slightly more body than a beer flavoured with cranberries.

So will this weekend finally be the time when I manage to track down one or more of my favourite dark ales, or will I be foiled by a doomed mix of warm weather and overly-cautious licensees?

I will let you know.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

The Bass Chronicles - Part 1 ( 1974 - 1979)

I wrote this article back in the 1990’s. I can’t remember exactly when, but it’s a piece I’ve hung onto over the years, and a file I’ve always transferred whenever I’ve updated, or purchased a new computer.

It’s the article about Draught Bass which, in a recent post, I was threatening to publish in the form of a number of installments. Parts of it may appear a little dated, but the main change has been that Bass have gone from being the UK’s largest brewer to a company which is no longer involved in brewing. The sentiments expressed though, remain the same.

Like most members of CAMRA I am not a great fan of the big brewers or their products, but I believe in giving credit where it's due, and one particular beer, produced by  what was Britain's biggest brewer, remains on my list of all time favourites.

I am talking about Draught Bass, of course. This Burton-brewed beer can trace its ancestry back to the India Pale Ales produced during the 19th Century for export to the Indian sub-continent. Such beers were heavily hopped, and brewed to a high gravity. The high hopping rate helped prevent infection, whilst their considerable strength allowed for maturation to take place, in the cask, during long sea voyage to India.

Over the years the gravity of this style of beer was gradually reduced as the growing popularity of Pale Ale for the home market led brewers to produce a beer which didn't require such a long period of maturation, and which could be produced for more or less immediate consumption. Such beers became known as “running beers”, and were the forerunners of the beer known today simply as “bitter”.

As far as I recall, I  first sampled Draught Bass sometime in early 1974, at the Anglesea Arms in London's South Kensington. This legendary free-house was one of the first pubs in the capital to offer a variety of real ales and I am fairly certain that it was on my second visit to the pub that I took the opportunity to try a pint of  Bass.

The beer was not labelled as Bass at that time, but instead was somewhat confusingly badged as Worthington E. The latter was also the name of a well known keg beer, so it is easy to understand my confusion. I later discovered that cask Worthington E and Draught Bass were one and the same thing, although originally they had been two completely separate brews.

Bass and Worthington were two well-known brewers based in Burton-on-Trent. They had merged during the 1920’s, but had maintained separate identities, and separate beers. I remember reading that Worthington’s ales were lighter in character than those of Bass, whose beers were described as “thick and heavy”. This probably meant they were closer in style to those of the original India Pale Ales, but as tastes changed, it was Worthington’s beers which ended up having the greater appeal.

The separate identities of Bass and Worthington’s beers ceased at the end of the 1960’s, following the creation of the behemoth known as Bass Charrington; a merger between Bass, Mitchells & Butler and Charrington United Breweries. This joining together of two already large brewing groups, created Britain’s largest brewer. With their eye on consolidation and integration, the new company  took the decision to gradually merge the palates of both Bass Pale Draught and Worthington E, so that by the early 1970's they were identical beers.

Eventually Bass Pale Draught became the name for the cask ale, whilst the name Worthington E was applied solely to the completely different, and rather  inferior, keg product. The name Worthington E did linger on for some time, especially in areas such as Wales and the West Country; but also in parts of the capital. This confusion explains why I don't remember much about my first taste of Bass - I obviously believed I was drinking cask Worthington E at the time!

I believe that the change of name from Bass Pale Draught to just Draught Bass took place some time in 1975, as the company, concerned by the success of Courage's promotion of their premium Directors Bitter, and by Allied Breweries’ recently launched Draught Burton Ale, decided they needed a flagship ale in order to compete.

They had a ready made brand in the shape of  Bass Pale Draught, but over the years it had been reduced in strength to a gravity of around 1037 - more the strength of an ordinary bitter than a premium ale. The decision was taken to increase the OG to 1044, and to put some promotion behind the brand, so after years in the doldrums Draught Bass was set to make a fitting comeback.

The first time I  consciously remember drinking Draught Bass was at the now sadly closed, Cross Keys in Eccles, Greater Manchester. I remember the occasion well, it being the day of my graduation from Salford University. My proud parents had travelled up the previous day from Kent to see their only son collect his degree from the university vice-chancellor.

Following the degree ceremony, and a late afternoon meal, they were making plans for their journey back to Kent. It was agreed that myself and the girl I was living with at the time, would accompany them as far as the start of the M602 in Eccles. From there they could easily find their way onto the motorway network, whilst we would be able to catch a bus back to Salford.

Having said our farewells, we decided that a drink would be in order. As it was a fine July evening we sat on the grass, outside the Cross Keys, enjoying both the fresh air and the beer. We had only intended to stay for one, but the beer was so good that it was some three pints later before I reluctantly decided that it was time we made our way home.

The beer of course, was Draught Bass, and was on sale dispensed from a free-flow electric pump with a new-style font - based on an old-style Bass mirror. The beer was superb! It was pale in colour and had a delectable malty taste, subtly interlaced with a wonderful hoppy bitterness. It certainly slipped down a treat, and made me realise just what a good beer Bass could be.

During the following years I drank Bass whenever and wherever I could and, following a move to London in early 1978, actively sought out this excellent beer which was readily available in many of the company's Charrington tied houses.

Later that same year, and quite coincidentally, I ended up working for Bass Charrington, after obtaining my first laboratory post following my graduation.  This was with Hedges & Butlers, who were the wines and spirits division of Bass Charrington. They were based in East London, at the time, at Bromley-by-Bow. The ironic thing is that I didn't realise the connection initially, as I was sent for the interview by an agency.

To compound my ignorance further, as I was  somewhat naive in those days,  I had mentioned on my application form, that I was a member of CAMRA The parting comment from the company’s Quality Assurance Manger who interviewed me, which was spoken in a very broad Polish accent, was "Bass Charrington shoot CAMRA members!"

Despite my initial fears that I had blown my chances I was offered the job, having obviously made a good impression where it counts. Hedges and Butlers dealt exclusively with wines and spirits and the company were very keen for their employees to learn more about this fascinating aspect of the drinks trade.

Unfortunately, despite their connection with Bass, opportunities to learn about beer and brewing were few and far between. However, after a bit of badgering, coupled with a grouse at the fact that managers and supervisors had been given a tour round the Bass Burton Brewery a colleague and I were allowed to accompany the Q.A. Manager on one of his regular visits to group headquarters at Burton-on-Trent. This was ideal, as whilst our boss was ensconced in a meeting, we were enjoying our own private tour around the brewery with a member of the Burton Q.A. departmental staff acting as our guide.

Our first port of call, naturally enough, was the laboratory where we were able to compare the different ways in which beer was analysed as compared to wines and spirits. Colour, taste and appearance seemed to be prime factors in determining what went into the make up of a good pint, although microbiological quality, yeast counts etc. were also important. Having got the "shop" side of the visit out of the way we were then shown round the somewhat clinical and modern Number 1 Brewery. The highlight of the trip though, for me, was a look around the adjacent, and much more traditional, Number 2 Brewery.

This delightful group of red-brick buildings was Victorian in origin. With its teak-clad mash tuns and gleaming coppers, it was as traditional as any brewery you could wish for. It was here of course that the company's traditional cask ales were brewed. Close by stood Bass's famous Union Rooms, where Draught Bass, together with Worthington White Shield, fermented away in a series of interlinked oak casks.

The only sound audible was that of the gentle hissing of the fermenting beer as it forced its way out of the swan-necked pipes at the top of each cask and into the collecting "barm troughs". Here the yeast settled out, allowing the clear beer to return to the casks. It was certainly a magnificent sight to behold, but unfortunately I only had the simplest of cameras with me, and the photographs which I took did not do justice to such a magnificent place.

After gazing in awe at the care and attention devoted to brewing such a splendid beer, what better next than to sample it. Even better to be able to sample it just yards from where it was brewed, as our guide ushered us in to the brewers’ sample cellar.

This long, low room, with its white painted walls and tiled floor was home to row upon row of racked casks, each bearing a chalk mark showing gyle number, date of brewing, racking etc. The cellar seemed to be both a mecca and general meeting place for brewers drawn from all over the vast site (it was lunchtime after all), and all were knocking back glasses of Draught Bass. This "palace of beer appreciation" was presided over by a white-coated steward. After our guide had introduced myself and my colleague to the latter, we were each  presented with a half-pint tasting glass, full of Draught Bass, drawn straight from one of the casks.

Needless to say the beer tasted divine, being a crisp but subtle blend of malt and hops with the slight sulphury taste, know as the "Burton Snatch", for which the town’s ales are famed. Our first glass was swiftly followed by several more, before it was time to find our boss and head back to London.  

To be continued............................................

Monday, 3 December 2018

A silver lining

My relationship with CAMRA at the moment is something of a love-hate one. Hate is probably too strong a word, but my feelings towards the Campaign have definitely cooled over the past few years. and this is for a variety of reasons which I won't go into here.

What I will say though is, as I wrote in a comment on Pub Curmudgeon's blog, I really think that CAMRA has lost its way, and this comes after the results of the Revitalisation Project; the grand design which was supposed to breathe new life into the Campaign and set it on course for the next decade or so.

However, despite these mis-givings I have decided to allow my CAMRA membership to renew again, as the Direct Debit is due later this month and there isn't sufficient time to cancel it. This is sheer laziness on my part, but perhaps there's still something stirring deep in my unconsciousness which doesn't want me to let go of an organisation which has been part of my life for over 40 years.

If I had decided to throw in the towel, there are a few things that I wouldn't have missed. Good Beer Guide surveys and selections meetings top the list, but so do CAMRA committee meetings (I am involved in more than enough meetings during the course of my work, to tick that particular box). I wouldn't miss the Wetherspoon's vouchers either, as I barely use a fraction of them, and Tim Martin isn't exactly "flavour of the month" as far as I am concerned.

On the plus side though, there is the social side of the Campaign, and this for me has always been one of the most important aspects of CAMRA. The other real positive is that I will continue to receive copies of CAMRA's award-winning, quarterly Beer magazine.

I don't use the words "award-wining" lightly here, as this full-colour publication, packed full of so many good things, really is the best of its kind when it comes to writing about beer, pubs and all things related. Edited by a team which includes Tom Stainer and Tim Hampson, along with contributions from regular CAMRA columnists Des de Moor, Susan Novak and Roger Protz, Beer magazine really does hit the spot.

The publication is enriched by articles from a variety of guest contributors, who are too numerous to mention here, but there have been articles about pubs, food, walking, places to visit abroad, music, breweries, beer and cider tastings and all things related. In short there is plenty to entertain, enthral and educate everyone and anyone with an interest in beer.

Nicely laid out in a pleasing and contemporary style you'd be forgiven for thinking that I am on CAMRA's payroll for writing this piece which sings the magazine's praises.

Beer magazine is only available to CAMRA members and not to the general public, which may seem strange at first until you consider the Campaign has had its fingers burned over general-sale magazines in the past. Many reading this may not be aware that back in the 1980's CAMRA made a couple of brave, but ultimately doomed attempts to launch "What's Brewing" as a magazine for public consumption.

There were a number of reasons for these failures, but it was said at the time this was due to the role played by Smith's News (formerly WH Smith's News), in the distribution of magazines and newspapers to the newsagent and book trade.

I don't recall anything concrete, although this was 30 plus years ago, but I suspect sales might not have been sufficient for publication of the magazine to continue. It may also have been that CAMRA were unable to live with a loss for the sustained period necessary to get the magazine off the ground.

This was a shame, but perhaps inevitable given the cut-throat nature of the world of publishing, but whilst it was sad for CAMRA, it was even worse for the general public as they missed out, and are continuing to miss out on what is (in its current guise of Beer), an excellent publication.

As a beer writer and beer enthusiast, I would say that, but at least I am able to get my fix of all things beer, brewing and pubs related, on a quarterly basis. If you are a CAMRA member and have been tempted to cast this publication aside, may I humbly suggest you give it a second look.

One final thing, which I'm sure most members are aware of, CAMRA is extremely keen to push the electronic/digital versions of both "What's Brewing" and "Beer magazine". The Campaign's reason for going down this route are purely financial, as they want to save on printing and postage costs.

What they have failed to realise is they are swimming against the tide. Printed publications, be they books or magazines are not only holding their own, but are gaining sales over their digital counterparts.

So don't be pressured into going down this route, and make sure you have registered with CAMRA  to receive a paper copy of both "Beer" and "What's Brewing", as trying to read these publications on a computer screen or tablet. just isn't the same.

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Technical difficulties

This short post isn't about beer and neither is it about travel. If anything it's totally off-piste and unconnected with anything I have written before. Oh, and before anyone mentions the "B" word, it's not about politics either!

What I'm writing about here is a technical issue relating to the blog itself, and I'm sure other people have experienced the same thing.

As many readers will know, there are two main hosting platforms for blogging on the internet; Blogger and WordPress. The former is Google's baby, whilst WordPress is an independent platform. Both have their good points, as well as the occasional bad ones and both have their devotees, but there seems to be a problem when it comes to posting across the two platforms.

Part of the fun of blogging is reading other people's blogs and posting the odd comment. If you write a blog it's good to receive feedback in the form of these comments and, vice-versa, it's good to reciprocate by commenting on other writer's work.

So far, so good, but I'm sure I'm not alone in having experienced  the odd problem when doing this. Over the past month or so comments I've made on other bloggers' posts have not loaded, and instead have disappeared completely as soon as I've hit the "Post Comment" button.

As I said a short while ago, the problem seems to be when posting "across platform" ie, on blogs hosted by Word Press. I've had no problems posting on Blogger sites, and confusingly many WordPress blogs are also OK, but it's very frustrating when you've got something to say or a valid comment to make and it disappears of into the ether. Conversely when others might be attempting to post on my blog, I can share their frustration.

The reason I've written this is firstly to ask whether others have experienced these difficulties (I'm sure they have), but secondly - and more importantly, what to do about it.

So over to you, dear readers, any ideas and, reaching out to all those technically-minded people out there, what is the fix?
Footnote: blogs I have experienced difficulties commenting on, include Zythophile, Look at Brew, Boak & Bailey and Pubmeister writes........., so if any of theabove authors are reading this, apologies if I appear to have ignored you, or not come back with a comment.