Saturday 30 November 2019

15 years in the Good Beer Guide

Three Saturdays ago, I joined members from my local CAMRA branch to present an award to a well-known local pub. The recipient of the award was the Halfway House at Brenchley, or rather the back road between Brenchley and Horsmonden. The award took the form of a certificate presented to landlord Richard Allen, in order to mark 15 continuous years in CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide. Since taking over in 2003, Richard has transformed what had been a rather ordinary country pub formerly owned by  Whitbread, into a thriving and bustling "destination pub" which majors on cask ale.

Richard completely re-modelled the interior of the Halfway House, removing the bar counter and serving area and relocating them to a separate area to the right of the pub. From the outside this looks like an extension, and it may well have a been a barn of some description. When I first knew the pub, before Richard changed it around, this section was a separate restaurant, known as the "Hayloft." Today it forms not only the serving area but the main bar and beating heart of the pub, where customers gather for a chat, or to congregate in front of the open fire, and it is behind here where the casks are kept.

Richard was also responsible for the  installation of an ingenious system for serving cask-beer by gravity. He originally devised this, whilst at his former pub, the Dovecote at Capel. The casks are kept in a temperature-controlled room, immediately behind the bar. Extra-long cask taps then protrude through the dividing wall, and out via false barrel ends, made out of wood, set into the wall. The result - beer kept at just the right temperature, and served in the most natural way possible – straight from the cask.

Despite being out in the sticks, the Halfway House can be reached quite easily on foot, by walking from Paddock Wood railway station. A pleasant uphill walk across an old golf course, and then through some apple orchards, brings you into Brenchley, and there is then a pathway down to the pub which avoids the busy road which runs along to the neighbouring village of Horsmonden.

I have done this walk numerous times, particularly on the occasions of the pub’s two annual Bank Holiday Beer Festivals (late spring & August).  It’s a lovely walk in summer, and in spring and autumn too, but in early November it’s nowhere near as enjoyable, not unless you like walking in the pitch black. With darkness falling shortly after 4pm, the return walk really needs to be embarked on by 2.30pm, at the latest, which is obviously not much use when contemplating an afternoon’s drinking.  

Fortunately there is a reasonably regular bus, which provides a link between the pub and Tunbridge Wells; but not on a Sunday. The bus continues right through to Tenterden, a charming Wealden town, which was almost missed by the coming of the railways, and therefore developed and expanded at a much slower pace than some of its more prominent neighbours.

Two branch stalwarts caught an earlier bus, and alighted at Cranbrook, a smaller but equally charming Wealden town. This enabled them to visit Larkins Alehouse; a recently opened micro-pub. They had time there for a couple of pints before taking the bus back toward Tunbridge Wells, getting off outside the Halfway House.

I had a number of things to do first thing that Saturday, not least of which was doing the weekly shop with Mrs PBT’s. The majority of the CAMRA contingent caught the 12.16 bus, or at least those who didn’t go to Cranbrook did. The next bus ran two hours later, which gave me plenty of time for domestic duties, before jumping on a train over to Tunbridge Wells.

I arrived early, so after a look at the skating rink, as in previous years set up in Calverley Gardens, plus a cup of tea and a bacon sandwich at the greasy spoon, outside the station, I boarded the 2.16  No. 297 bus, operated by Hams Travel, in the direction of Brenchley. The journey was frustratingly slow, due to a combination of  heavy traffic and the inevitable roadwork’s in Tunbridge Wells, but once we’d left the town behind, our chatty driver made good time. It was still 10 minutes behind schedule when it dropped me off, as requested, dead opposite the Halfway House.

My CAMRA colleagues were already there, and several of them had enjoyed a pub lunch. One eagle-eyed friend had spotted the bus pulling up outside, and met me at the bar, recommending East Kent Green Hop Collaboration Beer, brewed by Canterbury Brewers, Gadds, Goody Ales, Wantsum Brewery and Canterbury Ales. Pale golden in colour, it was crisp and refreshing and slipped down rather well in spite of its 5.0 % abv.

I joined the rest of the group, in the former bar area, which was much quieter than “upstairs,” and just the place to make the presentation.  Accepting the award on behalf of the pub, were Richard and his son Sam. Sam helps run the Beer Seller, the Halfway House’s "sister pub" in Tonbridge High Street. With its rustic feel, and slightly quirky interior, the Beer Seller offers gravity-served cask ales, using the same system as the Halfway House.

Richard was obviously pleased with his award, and Sam will be keeping his fingers crossed for a place in next year’s GBG, although as I’m not a branch committee member, or someone involved with the Guide selection process, I couldn’t possibly comment.

What I do know is, that in Richard's case, the award is well deserved, as it is no mean feat to have been at the helm of the Halfway House and have kept it in the Good Beer Guide for  decade and a half.

I shifted down a gear and moved onto the Goacher’s Fine Light, for my next pint, finishing with a further swift half of EKH Collaboration, before it was time for us to leave. We caught the penultimate bus back, alighting in Pembury "village"in order to check out the King William IV pub.

It was excellent, and packed out as well, so much so that it’s worthy of a short post in its own right. When that appears on the blog, depends on when I’ve caught up with the other outstanding posts, but do keep an eye out for it.

Wednesday 27 November 2019

From a mush in Shepherd's Bush

After a slack period at the beginning of November, when I was scratching around for things to write about, I’m suddenly inundated with topics stories and ideas to regale you all with. So where to  start?

I probably won’t be able to squeeze out another post  about Shifnal. I've picked out the highlights and  Pub Curmudgeon has followed suit with part one of a much more comprehensive account of our day out in Shropshire. In addition, I expect Retired Martin won’t be far behind, with a rather more off-beat account of his own, but there is mileage in a particular beer that we encountered on our visit, but I’ll leave that for another time.

Last weekend was a busy one, so it’s just as well I didn’t over-indulge in Shifnal. Saturday saw the Bailey family making our first foray into Nando’s, for some of the chain’s renowned peri-peri chicken. Our visit to their Sevenoaks restaurant, was well timed, as there were a couple of spare tables when we arrived, so without having to wait we were able to participate in, and enjoy the whole Nando’s experience. 

Sunday saw son Matthew and I heading up to London, as I’d promised him a day out in the big city. For my part, I wanted to check out up and coming Chinese mobile phone manufacturer Xiaomi, who have an outlet (Mi Store) in the Westfield Shopping Centre. So after taking the train to central London, we headed over to Shepherd’s Bush.
 Xiaomi’s store is modelled on  the Apple iStores, and it provided the perfect opportunity to view and try out their range of Mi phones at first hand. I liked what I saw, but resisted the temptation to make a purchase there and then, preferring instead to reflect and pause over a few more reviews before committing my hard-earned cash.  So after a coffee at Waitrose, and a walk past Shepherd’s Bush Market - closed on a Sunday, we headed off in search of a pub where we could have a drink and grab a bite to eat.

Brew-Dog have an outlet nearby, but as I was in search of something more traditional, and less “cutting edge,” we jumped on a tube with the intention of stopping off at Hampstead. A brisk walk across  the  Heath would see us at the Spaniard's Inn; one of the most famous pubs in London, and an establishment I had wanted to re-visit for quite some time.

Our journey involved a couple of line changes, but once on the Northern Line, we sped north towards  our destination. We walked up to the Whitestone Pond, a feature I remember vaguely from childhood. It was a popular place for young boys to sail their model yachts, although on Saturday it looked sad, unloved and partially obscured by reeds growing around the edge.

These days I expect young boys (and girls), have much more exciting electronic devices to keep them entertained, but I am possibly being unkind about the pond, in view of the dull, overcast and slightly chilly weather experienced over the weekend. For those of you who like statistics, the pond occupies the highest point in London, which seems strange for a water feature. Even stranger is the fact that the pond is a naturally occurring "dew pond." It was  adapted over time as a place for watering and washing horses, with ramps constructed at either end so horse and carriages could drive straight through.

Also looking unkempt and definitely un-cared for was the imposing bulk of Jack Straw’s Castle, another of Hampstead’s famous old pubs, which overlooks the far end of Whitestone Pond. Regrettably the pub closed several year ago, and has been converted into apartments and a gym. With Hampstead Heath on the doorstep, who needs a flaming gym?

The current  building dates from 1964 when, what was once an attractive old coaching inn was rebuilt, after sustaining bomb damage following an air raid in 1941. I remember my parents and grandparents, who all lived and grew up just off the nearby Finchley Road, discussing the new pub. My grandfather, who was a dedicated pub man, was not impressed by what he saw as a trendy place, aimed at the youth market.

When I was able to pass myself off as being old enough to drink, I called in at Jack Straws Castle, to have a look for myself. My grandfather was right of course, but to an impressionable 17 year old, the pub seemed somewhere to aspire to; especially as it was full of attractive young ladies. I'm pretty certain  that it had several bars, some of which may have been upstairs, and I also think it may have served keg Worthington E – even back then I paid attention to what beer was on tap!

I digress, but trendy or not, it is sad to see a famous old London pub and local landmark reduced to a series of posh pads for Hampstead poseurs and a gym for those with an aversion to fresh air!  We walked along Spaniard’s Road, which skirts the western edge of Hampstead Heath, taking care to avoid straying into the cycle lane and getting mown down by over-enthusiastic cyclists. (There were still some fresh air devotees around!)

We eventually reached the Spaniards Inn, an attractive Grade II listed building which is said to date back to 1585. With its white weatherboard clad exterior, and its cosy interior featuring several separate rooms, with associated wooden beams and low ceilings, the pub oozes history. As might be expected the inn is mentioned by Charles Dickens, and features in a scene from the  “Pickwick Papers.”

It was also oozing with fully paid-up members of the “Hampstead set.” I half expected this on a Sunday afternoon, although the pub and garden were not as crowded as they might have been on a warm summer’s day. I wanted Matthew to experience another of London’s famous old pubs for himself – he has previously visited several others with me, and I also wanted to reacquaint myself with this classic old inn, that I last visited in 2005.

We managed to get a drink without any trouble, but there wasn’t really anywhere to sit, and without a table, it wasn’t worth us ordering food. What we saw being brought out did look good, but with fish & chips twice the price I paid in Shifnal two days previously, I didn’t mind waiting for my food until later on.

There was a “safe” range of cask ales on sale (see photo), so I opted for the least well-known one in the form of Session IPA, a 4.6% pale coloured  beer from West London-based Reunion Brewery. Matthew went for Hells Lager from Camden Brewery. My pint tasted rather good, but I don’t know how much the  round came to, as Matthew was paying.

Not wishing to hog  the bar - never a favourite position of mine anyway, we decided to go outside.  It was quite mild for the time of year, and there were lots of customers taking advantage of this. We only stayed for one, as we wanted to find somewhere to eat, but it was fun indulging in spot of people watching. We caught the number 210 bus, from the stop directly opposite the pub, and this took us down into Golders Green.

From there, it was the Northern Line, back into Central London. After alighting at Tottenham Court Road, we strolled along towards Holborn and the restored Victorian splendour of the Princess Louise.

I wrote briefly about our visit ion my previous post, but we were to be equally disappointed in our quest for food as we were for Samuel Smith’s Yorkshire Stingo. The cask OBB was excellent though, and the brewery’s “own brand” crisps help ward off the hunger pangs for a short while.

It was Matthew’s turn to suggest our next, and final port of call. Somewhere where, our hunger could finally be assuaged. He came up with a good one, but more about that next time, in my final post about our day in the big city.

Monday 25 November 2019

Wot, no Yorkshire Stingo?

I’ve been up in that there London place again, with my son and heir for company.  Apart from looking at new mobile phones, followed by a stroll across Hampstead Heath,  I was attempting to track down some Samuel Smith’s Yorkshire Stingo.

This legendary beer weighs in at 8.0% abv, and is only brewed in limited quantities. Prior to release, it is matured in oak casks, held in the brewery cellar, for an unspecified period of time.

It is normally available in bottled form only, but this year, for the first time ever,  Sam’s are selling Yorkshire Stingo on cask. It’ll be served straight from an oak cask at a limited number of their London pubs from this week until Christmas.

So after arriving at the wonderfully restored, Victorian masterpiece in Holborn, that is the  Princess Louise, my excitement mounted when, after entering the pub, I noticed a pump, advertising “Oak barrel-aged” Yorkshire Stingo.

My joy quickly turned to gloom though, when the barman informed me stocks had run out. To make matters worse, he didn’t know when the pub would be getting more in. Disappointed or what?? Word had obviously been passed around on the beer bush telegraph. I’m not sure what happens now, as I’m unlikely to be visiting the capital this side of Christmas.

On the plus side. The Old Brewery Bitter was on top form, and I scored it at 4.5 NBSS. The pub itself was a delight on the eyes, with its amazing tile-work and intricate etched glass panels. And, as you can see, I even managed to take a few photos, despite Sir Humphrey’s ban on mobile phones!

Saturday 23 November 2019

Shifnal shines through - despite the rain!

I survived yesterday’s encounter with the “Real Pub Men,” and thoroughly enjoyed my tour around the pubs of Shifnal, Shropshire. This was my first trip to the county since a canal boat holiday, back in the mid-1980’s, so a return visit was long over-due.

Looking at the map, Shifnal is not that far inside Shropshire, and just a short train ride away from Wolverhampton and the West Midlands conurbation, but to me it was somewhere different, somewhere I hadn’t been to before and the chance to enjoy beers which we rarely, if ever, see in this corner of the country. It was also the opportunity to visit a few “proper” pubs, in the company of a group of like-minded individuals.

I don’t intend to write a piece about all eight pubs we visited, as I expect either Pub Curmudgeon or Retired Martin will do that. Possibly they both will in their own inimitable way, so what I want to do, certainly in this introductory post, is to list out a few highlights.

First on the list is the Codsall Station Bar. This is situated at Codsall station, a few stops back down the line towards Wolverhampton, and that was our official meeting point. It was also the location of my first beer of the day, although I later learned that several of the group had started drinking earlier, and had visited a couple of other nearby establishments.

This unique pub is situated right on the platform occupies the original station building. The latter is a handsome, brick-built Victorian building, with several interconnecting rooms. There is also a conservatory, right at the far end, where customers can sit and watch the trains arriving and departing.

The pub is owned by Holden’s Brewery, and offers a selection of their own fine, Black Country Ales, plus the odd  guest beer. Holden’s are a family-owned brewery, based in Dudley, West Midlands and have been brewing for 104 years. They own around 20 pubs, most of which are located fairly close to the brewery.

Our meet-up at Codsall Station provided me with the perfect opportunity to renew my acquaintance with Holden’s beers, and am pleased to confirm majority were in fine fettle. I particularly enjoyed the Black Country Mild, along with the equally named Black Country Bitter, although the Special left a little to be desired.

I found the roaring open fire, in the main room – opposite the bar, very welcoming, along with the stack of pre-prepared rolls, known locally as "cobs," stacked by the side of the bar, under a protective hood.

Although tempted, I managed to resist, knowing we’d be stopping for lunch at one of the pubs in Shifnal, so after finishing our beers, we walked round to the platform, ready to board the 12.42 train to Shifnal. Unfortunately the rain had set in by the time we arrived, and as the day progressed, the damp conditions steadily got worse. We visited seven pubs in the town, and the following ones stand out for a variety of reasons. One though, is worthy of a mention, if only for the wrong ones! First the good ones.

The Plough was the second pub on our Shifnal itinerary and also our intended lunchtime stop. Its half-timbered frontage is appropriate to its heritage, as according to WhatPub, the Plough’s origins date back to the 17th Century. The pub is longer than it is wide, and prides itself on keeping up to eight cask ales on tap. This is possibly too many, and certainly during the duration of our visit, there seemed far more pints of San Miguel being ordered than pints of cask.
Having said that, my pint of Hobson’s Champion Mild was on top form and worthy of 3.5 NBSS. Also on top form was the fish & chips, which four of us chose from the menu board. Even if this dish hadn’t been on offer at two for £15, it would have represented excellent value, with a good size piece of battered cod, chunky chips and mushy peas. What really sold it to me was the accompanying slice of bread and butter; talk about real comfort food!
The Wheatsheaf is on the opposite side of the road, and was the fourth pub we called in at. It’s a lengthy, three room pub with a welcoming fire, blazing away; a feature which was very welcome yesterday, given the damp and rather cold conditions outside.

The Wheatsheaf is listed on CAMRA’s National Inventory as a historic pub, with an interior of some regional importance. There are certainly plenty of old beams to support this, and along with the flagstone floors and the intricately patterned 1930s fireplace, in the public bar, it came across as the most genuinely historic pub of the whole trip.

The beers were from the Marston’s/Banks stable, noticeably Banks Mild and Bitter, but also Wainwright (now a Marston’s brand), plus Courage Director’s. The latter was a surprise find, but most of us opted for one of the two Banks beers.

The next pub was a disappointment, particularly as the potential was there for it to be excellent. The Crown has recently been refurbished by Wood's Brewery, who  appear to have been spent a significant amount of money on it. Strangely, the pub isn’t listed on Wood’s website, as belonging to the brewery.
The interior has a very contemporary feel to it, with a central bar surrounded by four rooms. When we first entered we thought a band was performing, such was the level and the quality of
the sound emanating from within, but we soon realised that this was just a sound system with the volume set way too high. The system was obviously of high spec, such was the quality of the sound reproduction, but played at such a level as to intrude into every part of the pub.

As it was, we made our way to the room behind the bar, where the sound levels were fractionally lower, but they were still excessive – certainly for a practically empty pub. And there lie the rub, as apart from our party of five, there were only three other customers. Two of these were sat drinking at the bar, laughing and joking with the barman, and we had the impression they were the people responsible for the appalling choice of music IMO, and for the excessive volume it was being played at.

The sad thing was the beers were all in excellent  condition, despite being a little expensive for the area, so what is it that drives pub managers to act in a way guaranteed to drive away custom?
This aside, the other six Shifnal  pubs we visited were all good in their own way, and apart from the Crown, were all trading quite nicely, with a wide age range and mix  of customers; certainly for a cold and damp, late November afternoon.

I had a thoroughly enjoyable day, sharing the experiences outlined above, with the excellent company of the “Real Pub Men” and look forward to participating in future, “Proper Days Out.”

Footnote: I have changed the title to something more appropriate. "Shifty" wasn't the correct adjective to be using when writing about the town.

Thursday 21 November 2019

All set for a "Proper Day Out"

I’ve an early start in the morning, so just a short post. I’m off to Shifnal, in Shropshire – a town I’d never heard of until a few weeks ago, but it’s the chosen destination for the next Beer & Pubs Forum’s “Proper Day Out.”

I’ll be joining up with the “Real Pub Men” as they attempt to visit seven different  pubs in this small, Shropshire market town, and as you can imagine I’m really looking forward to this trip.

I’ve booked an Advance Return Ticket, which should see me meeting up with the bulk of the group at 11.30 tomorrow in the Codsall Station Bar. We’ll be able to enjoy some Holden’s beers there, before boarding the train for a ten minute ride to Shifnal.

There’s a good selection of different ales in the pubs that are on the itinerary, offering beers from the likes of Black Country Ales, Hobson’s, Salopian, Woods and Wye Valley - all of which are hard to come by in West Kent.  There’s also a lunch stop, at one of the pubs, in order to partake of something more solid, which will help soak up the beer.
I’ve met two of the participants, and know quite a bit about a third. From my point of view it will be interesting to see who else turns up, but one of my main reasons for joining the B&P Forum, and taking part in one of these outings, is the opportunity to visit somewhere a bit different in this fair isle of ours, and to do so in the company of some seasoned pub-goers.

Some might be referred to as "connoisseurs of real pubs," so it will be a privilege to be guided round a few of Shropshire’s finest pubs tomorrow. Like a child eagerly awaiting a much longed for holiday, I can hardly wait!!

Tuesday 19 November 2019

Style over substance?

An 11% abv Barrel Aged Imperial Stout, described as the UK’s most expensive beer, was launched last week, selling for a staggering £1,000 per 330ml bottle. The brewery behind the beer, are Leeds-based Northern Monk Brewery.

What makes the beer unusual, if not unique, is the fact it was brewed at the summit of Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain. Somewhat unimaginatively,  the beer is called “Ben Nevis,” and Northern Monk believe it qualifies for the title of “highest altitude brew” in British history.

Few would argue with that claim, but I’m sure many would ask why did four members of Northern Monk’s staff, including founder, Russell Bisset, hike all the way to the summit of  the 4,000ft peak, carrying the 90 Kg of equipment and ingredients necessary for this unique brew? The initial brewing stages of mashing and boiling were presumably performed at high altitude, and the brew was then carried back down from the mountain, to undergo primary fermentation.

The beer then underwent two months ageing in a whisky barrel, donated by the Ben Nevis Distillery in Fort William. As if all this was not enough, the beer includes ingredients foraged from the mountain, such as blaeberries (also known as bilberries) and "Dew of Ben Nevis" water, which is also used in the production of Ben Nevis Whisky.

Although there are only 50 bottles of this heavily hyped beer available, are there sufficient people,  prepared to fork out a grand each, for a small bottle of beer -  BA Imperial Stout or not? Given the hype and all-round, one-upmanship surrounding much of the craft-beer industry, there probably are enough people with more money than sense beer connoisseurs, who will snap up this limited edition brew; even at such a ludicrously inflated price! 

None of this sells the beer for me, (certainly not at that price!), and where does this glorified PR stunt leave the ordinary drinker?  Northern Monk brew a wide range of excellent beers, which are generally well-received by an increasingly discerning audience, so what were they trying to prove with this one?

The short answer is they were raising money for a charitable foundation, so as well as the opportunity of owning a unique and limited edition beer, there is an added incentive for anyone looking to make a purchase. All proceeds from the sale will be donated to the “For the North Foundation,” a grant scheme created by Northern Monk back in September, in support of projects that are “designed to benefit the North, its people and its communities.”

The first bottles of Ben Nevis beer were auctioned off earlier this month, at an event held at  Northern Monk's  Manchester outlet. In keeping with their monastic theme, the brewery refer to this taproom as the "Refractory,"  and have a similar establishment in Leeds.  More than £7,000 was raised on the night ensuring funding for the first project.

Northern Monk Founder, Russell Bisset, said: “This has been a groundbreaking project to be a part of. "When we launched the For the North Foundation, our intention was to create pieces of high-impact activity that will raise awareness and encourage donations. Brewing the UK’s highest altitude beer at the summit of Ben Nevis seemed like a pretty good place to start!”

Make of this, what you will. Is this altruism of the highest order, is it just an over-blown publicity stunt, or is it something in between?  One thing's for certain, even if I'd just won the lottery, I wouldn't be buying a bottle!

Sunday 17 November 2019

The "Friendly Light"

There’s something warm and welcoming about the friendly light shining out from a pub window, on a dark winter’s night. I was reminded of this the other evening, whilst driving home from work. My route takes me to the edge of the “estate village” village of Leigh, before turning off, towards Hayesden  and Tonbridge, via Ensfield Bridge.

It’s quite easy to miss the turning, which is between a row of houses and the Fleur de Lis pub; although the welcoming light shining out from the pub, does make things somewhat easier. The pub itself is an attractive mid 19th Century building sited a short distance from the village centre, on the junction of the road which leads down to the station.

Like much of Leigh the Fleur is built in a particular style, and this is due to the influence of two wealthy families who constructed many of the distinctive buildings present today. The stately pile of Hall Place, is the best known, but there are others including Forge Square and the School Master's House.

When I first became acquainted with the village, the Fleur was a Courage pub, but today it is owned by Greene King. Since the closure of the nearby Bat & Ball, several years ago, the Fleur De Lis is now the only pub in Leigh itself; although the Plough Inn, located to the east of the village in Powder Mill Lane,is still trading.

I’m pretty sure the Fleur must have changed its opening hours, as in previous years I only recall the light shining out on a Friday evening. This year, its welcoming glow has been shining out every day of the week, signifying a 5pm (or earlier), opening.

I only noticed the light from the pub, a couple of weeks ago, after the clocks were put back an hour, due to the change from British summer time, as during the hours of daylight it would be nowhere near as visible.  During the winter months, my homeward commute changes from a pleasant drive, through some attractive countryside, to something a little more challenging.

The road twists and turn, as it descends towards the crossing over the River Medway, before rising sharply, as it skirts the outlying flanks of Bidborough Ridge, and it is on some of the bends and ridges that one inevitably ends up being dazzled by oncoming drivers, who are too lazy to dip their increasingly powerful headlights. So whilst my commute is a joy in summer, and is also fine on a crisp winter’s morning, it is nowhere near as much fun on a dark winter’s evening.

It is therefore good to see the light shining out from the Fleur, guiding me to the turning. As I slow down to make the sharp right-hand turn, I can see right into the pub, and the illuminated interior looks particularly appealing. So much so that there is almost a compelling reason to stop and call in for a quick drink.

The “Friendly Light” was the logo and trademark of the long defunct brewery of Thompson and Son Ltd, who were based at Walmer, on the Kent coast. The brewery sign depicted a lighthouse atop the nearby White Cliffs, guiding sailors away from the treacherous water below.

For copyright reasons, I am unable to display the old, “Friendly Light”  poster on this page, but you can find a copy on the Brewery History Society website. My photo, which is purely for illustrative purposes, is one I took of the old lighthouse at Dungeness. If you look carefully, you can also see the new lighthouse, in the background, to the right.

Thursday 14 November 2019

Grolsch bows out

By Source, Fair use,
In what is seen as yet another shake-up of the global beer market, the iconic lager brand Grolsch is set to be discontinued in the UK after 35 years on supermarket shelves. This follows reports in recent weeks, that Grolsch had been de-listed in both Tesco and Asda supermarkets. 

Industry insiders had been saying that supplies of the lager had dried up, and now the reasons behind this have become clear. The brand's owners, Asahi of Japan, have ended their joint venture agreement with Molson Coors,  meaning the brand will no longer be available in the UK or Ireland. 

Molson Coors brewed Grolsch at their Burton-on-Trent plant, but the brand has been passed from pillar to post in recent years, following various takeover and mergers within the industry. Grolsch became a part of the SABMiller group in March 2008, but following their merger with Anheuser-Busch InBev in 2016, the brand was spun-off to Asahi, along with other former SABMiller beer brands such as Peroni and Pilsner Urquell.

By Ccyyrree - Own work, CC0,
The reasons for the decision to drop the brand are unclear, but Grolsch , has experienced a decline in popularity in recent years with sales in supermarkets and shops falling 22 percent in the last year alone. It is not known how much of this fall is due to completion from cheaper rivals, or to the rise in popularity of lower alcohol alternatives. Some commentators have even suggested the increased interest in craft beer may also have been a contributing factor, although personally I am rather sceptical about this.

The Grolsch Brewery was founded in 1615 in the Dutch town of Groenlo, which at the time was known as Grolle. The name Grolsch, means “of Grolle.” At the time of its takeover in 2006, Grolsch was the second largest brewer in the Netherlands (after Heineken), with an annual production of 320 million litres. 

Today, Grolsch is best known for its 5% abv pale lager, Grolsch Premium Pilsner and for its characteristic chunky green bottles, with their swing-top lids. The latter eliminates the need for an opener. The bottles are very robust, and the flip-top cap means they can easily be sealed by hand without the expense of new crown caps. This has made them very popular with home-brewers. 

To me, Grolsch always seemed one of those “other brands,”  a second-division sort of beer, if you like; although to be fair I always found it pleasant enough to drink.  When my wife and I had our off-licence, Grolsch was never a big seller, but it did attract a small band of devotees. 

I am sorry in a way to see it go, but reading between the lines it has been elbowed off the shelf by larger and more “powerful” brands, backed up by the power of mass-advertising. 

I expect home-brewers too, will be sorry to see it go, as will people like me who use the bottle for other purposes. The 1.5 litre bottle in the photo, is my 20p jar, which holds around £300 worth of coins, when full. It is now heading towards its second full load. I acquired it as a novelty, during my time at the off-licence.