Monday 30 November 2009

Almost Perfect

"Almost Perfect" is the title of an interesting article which features in the Winter edition of CAMRA's Beer Magazine. Written by renowned lens man, Mick Slaughter, the article attempts to explain why a number of what most people would regard as classic, unspoilt pubs, have just failed to make it into CAMRA's National Inventory of Heritage Pubs. The article describes 17 pubs which didn't quite make the grade, for reasons that most reasonable observers would describe as "nit-picking", but which Mr Slaughter and his friends in English Heritage have decided to rule out for a number of very dubious decisions.

For some strange reason the national criterion for inclusion is that the pub must have remained largely unaltered since 1939. Why this arbitrary date was chosen is not explained, but Mr Slaughter admits that there are some pubs "where there have been minor or few changes that, had they occurred prior to 1939, would have resulted in the pub being included." What sort of perverse logic is that?

Amongst the pubs excluded from the National Inventory are such well-known gems as the Coopers Tavern in Burton-on-Trent, the Case is Altered at Fiveways in Warwickshire and,closer to where I live, the Lewes Arms, in the town of the same name, and the Bear in Shepherd Neame's home town of Faversham. I know both these pubs quite well, and would certainly include them in any inventory of unspoilt, classic pubs.

CAMRA, yet again, is in danger of taking itself far too seriously. What the compilers of the National Inventory fail to recognise is that pubs change over the years, not always for the better I grant you, but pubs are living entities and NOT museum pieces! Whilst I agree that there is something special about these inventory pubs, we must not forget that they need to be run as viable businesses, and if it is necessary to extend them, or improve their facilities in a way that is sympathetic to the original, then so be it. The alternative of the pub closing, for want of a few basic improvements, is far worse, but perhaps our friends in CAMRA and English Heritage don't quite see it the same way!

Bah Humbug!

The inside back page of the latest edition of Beer Magazine (CAMRA's quarterly publication that is attempting to try and reach out to a new audience), carries a full page advertisement from JDW. The advert depicts pump clips for what it describes as the company's Christmas Ales. These will feature in Wetherspoons outlets throughout the Festive Season.

So far so good, except few to my mind qualify as genuine Christmas Ales. For a start only four of the 23 beers featured are above 5% abv, although I will grant you that both Batemans Rosey Nosey and Mauldon's offering, Bah Humbug are both just under at 4.9%. Back in the days when I had my Ale Shop, I received countless fliers (and phone calls), around this time of year from both regional indpendents and micro's promoting their seasonal offering. Inevitably the beer would be named with an awful pun - you know the sort of thing "Good 'Elf", "Sleighbells", "Christmas Cracker", ad nauseum, but most would fail to deliver in terms of taste. Very few were dark in colour, but instead were just some bog standard brown brewery bitter done up with a fancy name.

So far as I can make out, the selection that Wetherspoons are offering this year is very similar to what I have just described. The awful puns continue, including Elgoods "Snickalmas", Caledonian's "Escape Claus" and Nethergate's "Frank Incensed" - the pump clip for which features an angry looking bloke, with his sleeves rolled up chasing after Father Christmas. This really is scraping the bottom of the proverbial barrel! Smiles "Turkey's Delight", which weighs in at a feeble 3.8%, is also taking the biscuit!

The list does feature Hook Norton's excellent Twelve Days, and also Greene King's Abbot Reserve. The latter though, whilst delivering in terms of both strength and taste, is not a true Christmas Ale, although we should perhaps be thankful it too has not been given some fake festive name.

The one genuine Christmas Ale that really does it for me is the seasonal offering from Harveys. Simply titled Christmas Ale, this rich, warming, yet well-hopped beer certainly packs a punch at 8.2%. Furthermore it is brewed well in advance of Christmas, with real care and devotion. Proof of this is the beer is allowed to mature in a vat, over a bed of fresh Golding Hops. The final result is absolutely stunning and knocks spots off most of the fake, gimmicky, so-called Christmas Ales described above. If you are lucky enough to find yourself in a pub selling this stunning beer, treat yourself to a half and you will know what I mean.

Wednesday 25 November 2009

New Blog

I've started a New Blog, for anyone that's interested. Entitled Paul's Beer Travels, as its name suggests it's primarily about two of my passions; Beer and Travelling. It's early days yet, and I could have just re-cycled some of my earlier postings on the South Downs Way, or my visits this year to Tallinn, Cologne and Munich. That would be cheating, of course, so instead here's a couple of posts relating to beer and travelling, (plus a brief introduction). Check them out and let me know what you think.

Saturday 21 November 2009

Shepherd Neame Christmas Ale

Couldn't resist picking up a bottle of Shep's 2009 Christmas Ale whilst shopping in Lidl's this morning. What's even better about this 7% abv offering is that Lidl's are selling them at just £1.49 each, or four for £5; a fact I didn't realise at the time. (I'll be waiting outside for them to open tomorrow morning!)

As for the beer itself, the label describes it as "A glowing amber ale with a heady fruity nose. Crystallised winter fruits combine with festive spicy hops on a platform of smooth warming alcoholic notes, leaving a refreshing cleansing hop finish." Roger Protz couldn't have put it better himself!

The above is as good a description as it gets, and I'm certainly not going to try to better it. I would just describe it as a bloody good beer, which perhaps belies its 7% strength. It's certainly very moreish, and at four for £5, I'm definitely heading back down to Lidl's tomorrow morning!

Wednesday 18 November 2009

Matt's 18th

I haven't posted for a while as I've been busy and somewhat pre-occupied with other things of late. I haven't really been drinking that much beer or even been to the pub recently. Last night was different though. It was Matt's 18th birthday yesterday so I took him out for a pint. We strolled down the road to the Vauxhall, a large Chef & Brewer outlet that sometimes has an interesting beer on.

We were in luck last night, as the pub had Adnams Broadside on tap at £2.90 a pint; quite a bargain for Tonbridge. Matt let the side down rather by choosing first Strongbow and then Fosters. Still, it was his birthday and these were his first legal pints. He was a bit disappointed that the bar-staff didn't ask for ID (he had his passport with him, just in case).

We had a good chat, and my three pints of Broadside were most enjoyable. We have drunk beer together before, most noticeably in Germany, where the legal age for beer drinking is 16, but it still feels strange that he is now legally old enough to walk into a pub in this country and buy himself a beer! As for the Strongbow and Fosters, he'll no doubt come round to drinking the proper stuff in due course; otherwise I might just have to dis-own him!

ps. This post originally featured a photo of Matt enjoying a beer (legally) in Munich. However, like many of his age group he is not over-keen on having his photo taken, let alone it being posted online! To save him further embarrassment I have decided to remove it.

Friday 6 November 2009

Fireworks at the Beacon

I spent an excellent evening last night, enjoying the fireworks display at the Beacon, in Rusthall - a village that adjoins Tunbridge Wells. Situated at the end of the quaintly named, Tea Garden Lane, the Beacon looks out across an area known as "Happy Valley". During the summer, one can sit out on the terrace and admire the spectacular views towards Ashdown Forest, whilst during the winter one can sit in the large, comfortable bar of this hotel-cum-restaurant-cum-excellent watering hole. Harveys Best, Larkins Traditional and Taylors Landlord are the beers on offer, in this regular CAMRA Good Beer Guide entry, as well as some excellent food, cooked wherever possible from locally sourced ingredients.

Last night the place was absolutely heaving, owing to the spectacular fireworks display the Beacon was putting on. A number of us from West Kent CAMRA had decided that an evening sampling the Beacon's beers whilst watching the fireworks, would be a good idea. I got a lift over from Tonbridge with a friend of a friend. Fortunately our driver had the presence of mind to park on the edge of the village, as it was impossible to get near the place by car. We walked down the unlit lane, none of us having remembered to bring a torch, and then joined the throngs at the bar. We just managed to get served before the display began, rushing out onto the terrace to watch a really excellent pyrotechnic display.

Once the display was over, there was a predictable rush for the bar. However, quite a few people did start to drift away; especially those who had brought young children with them. After standing outside for a while to allow the queues to subside, we managed to grab some chairs and a table, and settled down to enjoy the excellent Taylors Landlord. All in all it was an excellent evening. The outside temperature was mild for the time of year and, more importantly, it stayed dry - ideal for watching the fireworks. Despite the hordes we managed to get served, and after the display had finished we spent an enjoyable couple of hours chatting amongst friends. Nights at the pub don't get much better than this, so it really was a case of Remember, remember the 5th of November!

Wednesday 4 November 2009

Remember the 5th of November

Nothing much to write about at the moment, as have been busy at home, getting ready to decorate the spare room in time for Christmas. I've acquired a few interesting Belgian beers via a work colleague, but apart from one I haven't started sampling then yet. Tomorrow night I'm off to the Beacon at Rusthall, to watch their firework display, and also enjoy a few pints of Landlord. Hopefully I'll make it down to our local Wetherspoons at the weekend to check out what's left at the beer festival.