Tuesday 30 March 2021

House beers - revisited

Back in 2008, I wrote a post titled, “House Beers.”  It was one of the very first articles I posted on this blog but after viewing a thread, on the Beer Socials Whats App group I belong to, I felt inclined to re-post my 13-year-old piece, as the points raised seem just as relevant today, then they were back then.

News broke, that come pub re-opening, a well-known local free house will be offering not just one, but two “house beers.” This seemed to spark much excitement, but not from my direction, so before going any further, what exactly is a “house beer?” 

The answer is it is a beer that is branded as being exclusive to the pub in question. It may be named after the pub itself, the landlord or a feature of local interest, but if the publicity and spin behind the beer is to be believed, the beers is produced exclusively for the pub. But is it?

The term “house beer” covers a multitude of sins, ranging from a beer brewed to a certain recipe and then made available to any pub interested in taking it, through to a beer that is genuinely brewed specifically for a particular pub. So far so good, but if we discard the first “mass circulation” house beer type, and concentrate on the accepted use of the term, it becomes self-evident that it would need a combination of a very small micro-brewery and a pub with a very large turnover to make the brewing of a genuine “house beer” worthwhile.

The smallest sized plant normally chosen by micro-brewers is five barrels (180 gallons), which amounts to an awful lot of beer for any pub to shift in one go! Admittedly the beer can be stored for a while, but it is likely to change in character during the storage period, which is why I am certain that very few so-called “house beers” are the genuine article.

I have learnt from years of experience that many so called “house beers” do not tick the “exclusivity box,” and neither do they meet the “carefully crafted pint of beer, brewed to the highest standards, from the highest quality ingredients,” criteria either.

This is especially true when a brewery chooses to mix two or three different beers, and then pass them off as a “house beer”. This is blending rather than brewing, and whilst these beers might be good for the landlord’s ego, they do the cause of the small independent brewer no good at all.

Even worse than pubs selling brewery mixes, are pubs that sell a brewer’s bog-standard beer under their own name. Over the years I have come across several examples of this form of deception, and whilst its prevalence is nowhere near as wide as it once was, I still think it is dishonest.

Many years ago, when I was much more of CAMRA zealot than I am today, I annoyed the owner of a local free house, by asking too many questions about the beer the pub was calling “Our Own”. “Where does the beer come from?” I inquired. “Is it a local brew, or do you bring it in from elsewhere?”

All these questions were met with a stony silence so, perhaps rather foolishly, I then asked mine host if he brewed the beer “out the back.” I knew full well that he didn’t as, back then, word would soon have got around that the pub in question had started brewing it own beer.

Obviously rattled, the landlord told me, in no uncertain terms, that the beer was “Our Own” and if I couldn’t accept that then I should take my custom elsewhere. As I was with work colleagues at the time, I ignored this suggestion and settled for a pint of Fullers London Pride instead. I like to know what I am drinking, so had to chuckle when I later discovered that the cantankerous old landlord had been prosecuted, by Trading Standards,  for passing off Fremlin’s Bitter as his own brew. Talk about karma!

My message to landlords, and also to micro-brewers, remains the same as it was 13 years ago. I appreciate that times are hard and that you need to drum up sales and increase trade. However, please don’t do it in such a way that deceives the drinking public, and which in the end does your reputation no good at all.

By all means offer a genuine “house beer”, but please don’t try and insult our intelligence, or our taste buds, with half-measures or out and out fakes. Better still, do you really think drinkers will travel to your pub for the sole purpose of sampling your “house beer?”

I remain unconvinced, especially as when I come across a beer I haven’t seen before, I like to give it a try. I won’t be pleased if I discover that what I have been drinking, is just a re-badged beer, or a blend of two or more different brews. Equally, if I do spot a pump clip advertising what purports to be a beer brewed specially for the pub itself, I am likely to give it a wide birth.  

Am I being snobbish? Probably yes, fussy too, and downright picky, but I remember the days of “badge brewing” when the likes of Archers and Cottage Brewery were churning out a never-ending number of allegedly different beers, all based on a small handful of basic recipes. 

The beer tickers might have been delighted, but those of us who could see through this, and view it for what it was, were less than impressed. Personally, I can’t see it catching on again, but who knows?

Competition Time (no prizes).

First, the attractive building in the third photo down, is a former West Kent pub. Not only that, it was THE pub where I had the "discussion," mentioned in the post above, about "Own Ale." Can anyone name it?

Second, can anyone name the pioneering establishment which served "Own Ale," back in the early 1970's, thereby reviving the practice of pubs brewing their own beer? This was at a time when there were only four, home-brewpubs left in the country.

Wednesday 24 March 2021


Last Friday I received my first box of beers from FUGSCLUB – a monthly beer subscription service that features 12 beers each month, complete with tasting notes and occasional extra goodies. As its name suggests the scheme is run by Fuggles, the independent craft beer café and bottle shop, with outlets in Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge.

Founded, initially in Tunbridge Wells, back in 2013, by local beer enthusiast and experienced licensee Alex Grieg, Fuggles has since gone from strength to strength, with the opening of a second pub in Tonbridge, five years later. Rather than repeating what is written elsewhere, this piece which featured in the Morning Advertiser, tells you all you need to know about Alex and his two excellent beer cafés.


Like other local pubs and bars, Fuggles has been forced to close because of the global, Coronavirus pandemic, and whilst the two pubs did briefly re-open late last summer and into autumn, the second national lockdown put a stop to that. For a short time in early December, both outlets operated as off-licenses, allowing customers to purchase a wide range of British and European bottled and canned beers, but following Kent being placed in Tier Three, even that limited window of opportunity was sadly forced to close.

Deprived by a mean-hearted government of offering, even a click-and-collect operation, Fuggles switched instead to a home delivery service, and it was from the latter that the idea of FUGSCLUB was born. Expanding on the monthly specials, and recommended choices, featured on the website, the club does the choosing for you, which is great for lazy buggers like me.

Each month Fuggles select a different set of beers and deliver them to your home. 12 different beers featuring some favourites, some classics and some new breweries showcasing the best in beer each month from the UK and beyond. They aim to deliver the first box within 5 days, and after that the subscription will automatically fall on or around the 15th of each month and be delivered shortly after.

The first box includes a Fuggles glass, which Mrs PBT’s has already laid claim to. Signing up also offers exclusive access to the Fuggles members discount area, with exclusive discounts on that month’s beers alongside other special offers.

There are five boxes to choose from, each complete with its own set of tasting notes:

Pale/IPA box - a selection of 12 fantastic hop forward beers from the UK & beyond - a great mix of session pales through to juicy IPA’s.

European styles - a showcase of classic European styles (from Lagers to Wheat beers, Bocks, Blondes, Dubbels, Saisons and back round again!) alongside some modern interpretations from around the world (at times this box may contain 9 beers & one bigger sharing bottle)

Dealer’s Choice - a showcase of some of Fuggles' favourite beers encompassing all styles from all places, occasional classics and pub favourites. A real beer lovers box featuring pales, lagers, Belgian and German classics, the odd sour/fruit beer, stouts and dark beers alongside the occasional cider. (At times this box may contain 9 beers & one bigger sharing bottle)

Dark Beers - Spanning Stouts and Porters, Dunkels, Dubbels and more. A real dark beer lovers set.

Bitters/Traditional Beer Styles - One for anyone who loves a pint of Cask beer - Fuggles' selection of the best bitters, golden, mild, stouts and porters, but in bottle/can format.

I opted for the dark beers box, and the selection I received certainly doesn’t’ disappoint. Fuggles emphasise that subscribers are supporting local, and they support local too, whether that’s businesses or employing local people. They rightly claim that it's really important, especially right now!

Fuggles work with independent breweries who have the same ethos and values as themselves., and also vow they won't try to shift average beer to punters. Every box contains beers they’d sell and drink themselves across a broad range of styles.

Apologies if this all sounds rather too much of a love-in, but for me this is a great way to be supporting a local business, whilst at the same time stocking up with a fantastic selection of different beers. Also, don’t get the idea that I’m not supporting local pubs, because as an added incentive, people like me taking out a subscription in March, get a £15 voucher to spend in the two pubs when they’re back open.  

Finally, I rather foolishly mislaid the description and tasting notes that came with my first box, but the photos displayed on this post, should give an idea of the excellent election of dark beers I received.

Sunday 21 March 2021

CAMRA's half-century and the beer revolution it inspired

I said a couple of posts ago, that I would write my own tribute to CAMRA, after the organisation notched up its 50-year milestone, so here it is. The fact that the Campaign for the Revitalisation of Ale (to use its original name), should reach its half century is quite an achievement; especially when you consider the campaign’s humble beginnings, and the fact that the idea was hatched out of what Mrs PBT’s would dismiss as "pub talk!"

You know the sort of thing, a group of blokes, and it is mainly blokes as women seem to possess a lot more sense, sitting around in a pub and trying to put the world to right. After moaning about something not being as good as it used to be (in the case of the four northern lads on holiday in Ireland, it was beer), someone then comes up with a half-baked idea, along the lines of “We should do something about it.”  following on, someone else has the even dafter idea about staring a campaign.

The rest, as they say, is history, because in that particular instance, the four friends did actually do
something, just like they said they would and, in their own unintentional way, changed the world of beer and brewing forever. Because not only did they save traditional British beer – cask-conditioned ale, or “Real Ale,” as they eventually decided to do call it, but they sparked an unprecedented, world-wide interest in beer that would elevate the status of beer, from a humble, everyday drink that no-one thought that much of, to a level which put it on level pegging with wine.

Thanks to those four fine fellows, and the countless people they picked up along the way, I can now go virtually anywhere within countries where the brewing and consumption of beer is permitted and find myself a drink of the highest quality. Proper small-batch, artisanal beer, brewed according to local traditions and produced to suite local tastes, is now readily available, and whilst big brand, multi-national beers are obviously everywhere too, it’s nice to have that choice.

It’s no exaggeration either to say this is all down to CAMRA, because what the organisation did was to light the fuse, the fuse that led to the explosion in new breweries, the resurrection of old beer styles and the bold experimentation of the craft beer movement that followed in CAMRA’s wake.

Sure there were people like Frank Baillie, Michael Jackson, Richard Boston, Roger Protz, Christopher Hutt, Peter Austin, John Young,  John & Christine Cryne, Fritz Maytag, Garret Oliver, Roger Ryman, David Bruce, Tony Ruddle, Matthias Trum, Vaclav Berka and countless others along the way, all helping and assisting in their own fashion, but without CAMRA lighting the blue touch paper that brought them altogether – however remotely, would the world of brewing be as interesting, diverse and exciting as it is today?

So, thank you Messrs Hardman, Lees, Makin and Mellor. You obviously weren’t aware what your drink-fueled conversation at Kruger’s Bar, County Kerry, Ireland on 16th March 1971, was going to lead to, but like tens of thousands of other beer aficionados all over the world, I’m mighty glad that you acted upon it, with the determination that you did.

Other beer writers and bloggers have all paid their own tribute to this amazing achievement and put their own spin on it. These include:

Pub CurmudgeonTandlemanJeff Bell (Stonch);  Retired MartinEd's Beer SiteMatt - When my Feet go Through the Door).

I‘m sure there are others, so if I’ve missed anyone, and you’d like me to link to your site, do please get in touch.

Thursday 18 March 2021

Laying the groundwork - or speculate to accumulate

As hinted at in the previous post, I was planning a piece on CAMRA’s milestone, 50th Birthday; a proper tribute if you wish, as despite no longer being a member, I still possess a large amount of affection for the campaign.

The trouble is I’ve written so much in the past about CAMRA that it’s hard to know where to start, as well as trying to avoid repeating myself. The other trouble is I’m cream-crackered, to use a bit of rhyming slang, so much so that it’s more common than not for me to fall asleep in front of my computer screen of an evening.

Yesterday, for example, I was woken by Mrs PBT’s coming up the stairs and found myself staring at several pages worth of the letter “k.” My finger had obviously been pressed on that particular key, when I dosed off!

With a significant milestone birthday less than a month away now, I ought to be winding down. To a certain extent I am, but at the moment it’s a case of speculate to accumulate, with my plan being to go part-time, and switch to a three-day week. This new pattern of working is scheduled to take effect from the end of September, which is when Mrs PBT’s also reaches the same milestone.

I outlined these plans a few months ago, even though I haven’t yet found the reference to them, but I’ve had them approved now by our board of directors and agreed them with the rest of my management colleagues. So, as well as guiding a busy department through a period of unprecedented demand for the company’s products, I’m heavily involved with the re-structuring that’s taking place in order to strengthen our management team and take us into the future.

Being a relatively small concern – less than 50 employees, we don’t have an HR department, although we have now outsourced this to an outside organisation. This means re-drafting job descriptions, whilst recruiting three new members of management. One of them will be my successor, so as I’ve invested a lot of time in both my team and the company, it’s important that I help choose the right person.

In the meantime, we’ve got the aftermath of an ISO re-certification audit to deal with, although that’s not too onerous, plus the problems caused by leaving the European Single Market and Customs Union. Now which bunch of numbskulls thought that would be a good idea? So, with all work and no play making Paul a very dull boy, it’s hardly surprising that I’m nodding off in front of my screen – but at least it’s at home, rather than at work!

It will be worth it in the end, I keep telling myself, and I’m sure it will, so apologies for the non-appearance of the 50th anniversary tribute to CAMRA, as well as a rather more enlightening piece about campaigning during the early days of the group, and a campaign that backfired.

Before ending, there’s another task that’s been taking up my time, and taxing my mind, and that’s the job I have of winding up my recently deceased father’s estate.  Dad’ financial assets, whilst not above the threshold for income tax, still require a grant of probate before the banks will release them. So as joint executor of his will, this job falls to me.

You can apply for probate online, at the UK. Gov website, but there’s a complication as the other executor is the eldest of my two sisters, who just happens to live in the USA! Because of this, I decided to hand the process over to the firm of local solicitors that Mrs PBT’s and I have used from time to time – most recently to draw up our own wills.

The solicitor will sort everything out, including the issue caused by my non-domicile sister, but there are obvious costs involved. Solicitors always seem painfully slow, but it frees up my time, and along with the other beneficiaries, I will know that things have been done properly.

Finally, I don’t want this post to come across as a whine or one of “Woe is me.” I am merely laying the groundwork and preparing myself for better things to come. So, with things such as meeting up with friends, going to the pub or travelling to new places off the menu at present, I might as well use the time wisely. That way I can enjoy myself all the more when we are all released from our cages and can really start living again!

See you in the morning, as I’m off to bed now.  zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Wednesday 17 March 2021

Some significant anniversaries and happenings

I mentioned in a comment, on Retired Martin’s excellent blog, that I am amongst a group of fellow drinkers, who have booked a table in the garden of a Tonbridge pub. This will be for the afternoon of April 14th, two days after the PM’s official date for hospitality to reopen in an outdoor environment. It will also be the day after a milestone birthday for me – one which will entitle me to free travel on bus services, across the country.

Although understandable for those wishing to enjoy a meal, it seems incongruous to have to book a table in order to enjoy a few drinks, but such is the dystopian world we live in, at present. However, having been denied the pleasure of a few drinks, in the company of friends, for such a long time, it was well worth making the booking in order to be able to do this.

Fingers crossed that, as the vaccine rollout continues apace, and the pandemic gradually lessens its grip on society, we will eventually be able to turn up at any pub that takes our fancy, and even enjoy a few drinks inside – all without making a booking. I suspect that this utopia, that was the norm just over year ago, is still some time off, so being grateful for small mercies and any port in a storm, and all that, I am looking forward to a day that is exactly a month away.

More important (marginally), than the beer itself, will be the opportunity of catching up with friends whom I haven’t seen for five and a half months; although I did enjoy a coffee and a natter with one friend who I met, quite by chance in the town, one cold day in early January – but don’t tell Priti Patel, or Chris Whitty!

Sticking with the subject of beers and pubs, a story surfaced yesterday that the number of breweries in the UK, increased last year, rising by 216, to a total of 3,018. It is rather surprising that this should have occurred during what must be the worst year ever for the brewing and pubs sectors, and does raise the question, where is all this extra demand coming from?

With around 12,000 pubs, bars and restaurants estimated to have permanently closed since December 2019, where is all this extra beer being drunk? Sources within the industry, point to the growth of online sales and the continues long term viability of brewing.

They claim that with the closure of pubs and bars, smaller breweries have had to switch to selling direct to consumers, and with what at times, seems an insatiable appetite for trying new beers, investors in the sector feel confident about a bounce back, once pubs and bars can reopen again.

It isn’t all roses though, as the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA), which represents around 830 UK independent brewers, claimed that 2020 had seen a 34% cut in production, setting the industry back a decade. So, yet again, with beer production dropping by a third, and a worryingly large number of on-sale outlets shutting up shop for good, where is the market, and the punters, for this unprecedented number of breweries?

Finally, yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the founding of CAMRA – the Campaign for Real Ale, or the Campaign for the Revitalisation of Ale, as it was, back in 1971. I was planning to write my own tribute, having notched up 45 years of membership, before resigning at the end of  2019, but ran out of time.

I will put up a piece in the fullness of time, but for now – well done CAMRA, you didn’t just preserve traditional beer in the UK, you changed beer the world over, and in a way the founders of the campaign could never have imagined.



Sunday 14 March 2021

More questions than answers

Like most of the nation, I’m heartedly sick of lock-down, and becoming increasingly impatient for restrictions to be lifted. I’m in need of a haircut, a new pair of shoes, plus some new walking boots, and related to the latter is the ability to walk further afield than an eight-mile radius of my home.

It seems incredulous that things as everyday as hopping on a train and heading off for a spot of walking in the English countryside, have been denied to us, as have the opportunity of extending the walk with a couple of overnight stops along the way.

I understand the reasons why freedoms we once took for granted have been temporarily removed from us, but that still doesn’t make it any easier, but not wishing to dwell on this, and looking forward to a return to some semblance of reality, I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the subject and asking a lot of questions.

Countries such as Israel, where the government’s stated aim is to provide a coronavirus vaccine to everyone over the age of 16, by the end of March, are already feeling the benefit. The bars and restaurants are reopening, with night clubs said to be hot on their heels. Closer to home, the devolved nations of Scotland and Wales, have also started easing restrictions, several weeks in advance of what is planned for England.  

These developments have been made possible by the continuing roll out of the vaccine, and with more vaccines set for approval, there is no reason why the United Kingdom as a whole, cannot follow Israel’s shining example.

Why then was the UK’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, so downbeat when he addressed the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, at the beginning of last week? Po-faced Whitty, who looks as if he’s about to burst into tears at any moment, told MP’s he was expecting a further surge in Covid-19 infections, “Involving significant numbers, but much fewer deaths.” This would occur either in the summer or, more likely, the autumn/winter, and would be due to the vulnerability of significant numbers of people who either couldn’t have the vaccine, or because they had refused it.

I really don’t know what it is with this man who, along with his cohorts Sir Patrick Valance and Professor Van-Tam, takes such a delight in being a harbinger of doom. The reported 90 percent vaccine take-up rate doesn’t tally with Whitty’s “significant numbers” of vaccine refuseniks and, more to the point, seems to contradict the idea of so-called “herd immunity” put forward by him and Valance, just a year ago.

Last March, our learned “experts” were saying the pandemic wouldn’t fade away until around 60 percent of the population had been infected, or immunized – even though no vaccine existed back then. Authorities in the US have since upped this to 85 percent if, as seems likely, the more transmissible "Kent variant" becomes the dominant strain of Covid. But with real life studies demonstrating that just a single dose of either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine is 80 percent effective in preventing hospitalisation among the over-eighties, it is hard to see where this pair of jokers are coming from.

It’s now five weeks since Mrs PBT’s and I received our first dose of the vaccine, and whilst we feel much more relaxed about the situation, we will continue to follow guidelines such as mask wearing and avoiding close contact with others. We do wonder though, why we are not now permitted to meet up with friends and family members who have also been vaccinated, especially as we suspect there is no valid scientific reason for this ban.

It all calls into question the snail’s pace of Johnson’s “road map” out of lock-down. I would go as far as saying that significant numbers of people are now only paying lip-service to the restrictions, although the evidence for this is still anecdotal. There are certainly far more people out and about, and a lot more traffic on the roads – back to pre-March 2020 levels in the mornings, with the return of the school run.

This all begs the question, who is right and why haven’t factors such as the damage to the economy caused by lock-downs, and the serious effects on people’s mental health, caused by locking them away inside their own homes, been taken into account by those driving government policy.

Whitty and Valance also need to come clean and explain why their previous predictions for herd immunity haven’t so far come to pass, a disturbing question given the predictions was based on the same type of computer modelling they are still using to scare us into staying at home and living like hermits - answers that are long overdue.

Much of the Covid-related information in this post came from an article that appeared earlier last week in the Spectator, a publication seemingly unafraid of asking a few searching questions, of those who would rule over us. 



Monday 8 March 2021

Ground Force

The arrival of spring heralds the start of the gardening season, and whilst I’m not a fanatical gardener, by any stretch of the imagination, there’s plenty of tidying up to be done, along with preparation for the summer months.

So, with the weather dry and fair, albeit a little on the cold side, the chance to get out into the fresh air was not one to be missed, especially after a hectic week, couped up in the office. Also, with lock-down restrictions still in place and exercise limited to within a certain radius of one’s home (who monitors this sort of thing?), it wasn’t as if I could go to the pub or continue my walk along the North Downs Way.

Instead, I spent the majority of the weekend digging, raking, sawing and pulling. I ached all over, in muscles I never knew I had, but I accomplished quite a lot and have to say I am pleased with what I’ve achieved so far. The weekends that started from the beginning of the year, have seen two trees getting a severe cut-back and pruning. These are a coppiced hazel in the front garden – the one which the squirrels strip the nuts off, before we’ve even realised they are ripe.

The other tree is a horse chestnut in the back garden, that grew from a conker which came from a tree in my parents’ garden. That tree was also grown from a conker which yours truly found sprouting. Despite the sentimental attachment to this tree, it’s growing in the wrong place and if left to grow freely would end up shading out a large section of the garden, so every few years it receives a severe haircut.

I’ve also got the truncated remains of six leylandii conifers that stand in a row in front of our new fence, to remove. Seeing them there, minus most of their foliage and topped by the remnant of a crown, reminds me of those photos of the Battle of the Somme, so much so that they’ve got to go.  

I managed to get rid of one over the weekend, but it involved digging away at the roots and then cutting through them with a pruning saw. That task completed as best as possible, it was then a case of rocking the tree back and forth before pushing against it with my entire body weight.  Fortunately, the remaining piece – a difficult to reach tap root, gave way before I did, but I’m not looking forward to repeating this process with the remaining five!

So, what happens with all the twigs, branches and thicker sections of wood, I hear you ask? The twigs and smaller branches are cut into shorter lengths using secateurs and/or loppers and placed in the garden waste bin. This is a container that households wishing to make use of this service have to pay for, but the fortnightly collections are worth every penny in my book.

The larger branches are cut into suitable lengths, with the really thick sections of tree trunk split with an axe, before being sacked in my log store, be seasoned and eventually burned in our log-burner. We’ve only lit the burner a couple of times this winter, as apart from a cold spell, earlier in February, the winter has been relatively mild.

Some individuals claim that log burners aren’t environmentally friendly – probably the same people who heat their home with gas. Both are fossil fuels, but the logs we burn are sustainable – being home grown, and if that excess wood was removed for chipping say, it would still release CO2 as the chippings slowly rotted.

Apart from the tree and brushwood removal, my main project was finishing the preparation of the seed bed for our wildflower garden. This is a large rectangular plot, close to the house. I’d dug it over and removed the bulk of the weeds, over the Christmas recess, and then spent the past two weekends given it a subsequent weed, before raking it over a couple of times.

So, with the soil levelled and raked to a fine tilth – as all good gardeners would say, I set about sowing the seeds. I sprinkled several varieties of mixed wildflowers and other native species into some kiln-dried sand in the bottom of a bucket, gave the whole lot a good stir and then scattered the mix onto my carefully prepared piece of ground and lightly raked it all in. Now all I’ve got to do is sit back and wait, whilst nature takes its course.

That was my lock-down weekend for early March  – not particularly exciting, but needs must and all that. At least I’ve used what is effectively dead time, wisely, but how I long to start seeing people, go places and do something rather more exciting!

The final photo shows 2019's effort on the wild flower front.