About Me

My photo
Manchester, United Kingdom
Tyson is a beer hound and cheese addict living in the beery metropolis paradise known as Manchester
If the people are buying tears, I'll be rich someday, Ma

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Feast On Wine

Friday saw the start of the Wetherspoons wine festival and Archimedes and the WHB press-ganged me into giving it a go. It was also their first opportunity to see the wonderfully, no-expenses spared, refurbishment of the Robert Peel. Gold chandeliers adorn the ceiling and Georgian furniture now litters the room. Well almost...they did paint the ceiling and clean the carpet. No new furniture, unfortunately, but a rearrangement has improved the ambience.

Obviously it’s never advisable to drink wine on an empty stomach, so we had a couple of pints warm up at the Trackside. Yesterday Warwickshire’s Lady Godiva, apart from having an interesting pumpclip (where have I seen her before?) was pleasant enough with the bitter finish balancing out the initial sweetness. Today, the honey sweetness was more prominent and so I switched to Outstanding Piston Broke.

Having slated our thirst, we continued onto the Robert Peel. The previous night, Phoenix Midsummer Madness had been in very good form and had sold out quickly. There wasn’t anything as exciting on Friday, with Goose Eye No Eye Deer being decidedly average. Son it was time to crack open a bottle or two.

First up was Tryst Cabernet Tempranillo Zinfandel. This Australian red was described as being mellow but was far from it. It did have plum and spices in it-ok if you like that sort of thing. The South African Goats Do Roam Rose 2009 boasted that it was full of strawberries but fell short of the standard set by the Californian trend setters.

The Montana Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2008 is well known as a classic and certainly lived up to its reputation. Even better, was my old friend the Villa Maria Pinot Grigio, which was beautifully crisp and refreshing. I would have gladly stayed for another bottle, but the WHB and Archimedes were late for their pole dancing class, so reluctantly I headed for pastures new.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Heaven Was A Drink Of Wine

We’re constantly being lectured by the government and other alcohol-Nazis that wine measures are too large. The industry should be responsible and serve the smaller 125ml measure, we are told. So it was with some amusement that I read that one of Britain’s top chefs had gotten into hot water for serving too SMALL wine measures.

Michael Caines was running a meal and wine tasting deal at his Abode chain of restaurants. And despite stating that the wine was of a smaller measure than usual, the Michelin-starred chef soon found himself in trouble with the authorities. For-and he really must have known this-he was clearly breaching the Weights and Measures Act. This sets the legally permitted measures at 125,175 and 250ml.

I do have some sympathy with Mr Caines and his claim that the law is “archaic”. And indeed, the government is said to be considering the issue of wine-tasting. However, he goes on to say “We're under pressure to reduce the amount of alcohol people consume. When you're talking about drinking with food, I think we should encourage smaller measures.”

Now I would have thought that eating whilst drinking means you can actually drink more, not less. And, although I may be bias as someone who thinks 250ml should be compulsory, is 125ml really too large for a lunchtime, as he claims. His customers seem divided on the issue, with some agreeing with him but the counter argument being nicely put by Fiona Williamson, who said, “If you're having anything less than 125mls, it's not worth having as far as I'm concerned."

And just because you are under pressure to serve smaller measures, doesn’t mean you have to give in. It’s clearly annoyed the Scottish Government, though, with their spokesman asserting that they were more concerned about a shift towards larger-not smaller-measures of alcohol. Speak for yourself.

My thanks to grape fiend Archimedes for drawing my attention to this story.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Haircut 100 20000

As we discovered on Saturday, if there’s one thing that Tandleman is willing to wipe the dust off his wallet’s padlock for, it’s his thatch. However, even he might think twice about splashing his doubloons on the crimping service offered by Stuart Phillips. For Mr Phillips is offering his clients the world’s most expensive haircut.

Based in Covent Garden, a cut and blow dry will set you back £20,000. However, you get a discount if you bring a friend, so Tandleman’s lovely lass could get her bonney done for only £8000. For these prices, you get a 40 minute consultation, posh nosh, a massage and free champagne. Personally, for those prices, I’d expect Scarlett Johansson to be delivering the massage, free real ale and 500 bottles of Brewdog Tokyo to take away.

It's A Numbers Game

One rather clever Camra member has forced the Advertising Standards Authority to withdraw an advert for the Axe The Tax campaign. The advert, which featured prominently in Camra’s newsletter What’s Brewing, claimed that “the Chancellor takes 33% of a pint of beer”.

However, this figure of 33% is wholly inaccurate and so the advert, in its current form, has been banned as misleading. The rather amusing fact is that 33% is actually too LOW a figure. As the ASA points out, this only represents alcohol duty plus VAT. Factor in other tax burdens that the beer industry pays and the real figure is 39%. A more accurate (but more depressing!) version of the ad will be launched shortly.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Can The Can

As someone who likes a drink, I have to salute the tenacity and determination of Simon Holden in his simple quest for a can of lager. Not to mention his barefaced cheek.

The jobless 22 year old applied for a shelf- stacking job at an Asda in Colne, Lancashire. However, turns out the lad was better at taking things off the shelf, rather than putting them on. For the manager recognised him from CCTV footage as having stolen four boxes of lager earlier that week. When confronted with this unpalatable truth, Holden did a runner. But not before he managed to grab another two boxes of his favourite tipple on the way out.

Despite being in breach of an earlier suspended sentence for burglary, the judge, obviously sympathetic with a man’s desire for beer, rightly spared him gaol and gave him another suspended term. I believe Mr Holden is now seeking employment with Tesco...

Ashes to Ashes

Sunday was, of course, crunch time for the Ashes. However, not being a heathen, I resisted the clarion call to drink until a respectable time. Thus it was not till 1208 that I got my hands on a refreshing pint of Golden Pippin at the Towler on Walmersley Road.

This seemed a good place to catch all the action and the beer was on good form. However, it soon filled up with perambulators and the like and soon I was returning wayward children to disinterested parents. Not fancying an afternoon of this, it was time to look elsewhere. In the centre of Bury, the Trackside was busy and struggling. Two wickets (topical, see) were dead and the Station House Maiden’s Cross had to be returned as bottom of the barrel. Acorn Golovka is tasty, but I’d had it there 6 days ago, so thought it might just be past its best. That left Pennine Railway Sleeper which tasted too much like Leyden homebrew for my taste and confirmed my belief in their inconsistency.

A trip to the Robert Peel and their Outstanding LocAle beer festival was called for. Unfortunately, they only had the Smoked Out and the Pushing Out (nice but 7.3%) left. This beer sparsity was explained by a notice informing customers that the pub was due to close later that day for a refurbishment.

It was time to admit defeat and bring out the big guns. So the rest of the afternoon was spent in a very jovial (except for one very miserable Australian) atmosphere at the Hare & Hounds. And the fruity and very hoppy Pictish Simcoe fitted the occasion very well. As darkness fell and some very happy drunks staggered home, it was decided (for some reason that now eludes me) that whisky would be the perfect end to the day.

The aptly named MALT is the premier whisky spot in town (well there is the Fisherman’s Retreat, but that’s another story) and it certainly lived up to its rep. They can be sneaky in here, though and sometimes try and catch you out with last orders. However, I proved too nimble for them this time, managing to beat the bell and finish off with best of the night-Macallan 1841. Beautifully light-bodied, it proved very subtle and complex. Mind you, for £16 a double, it probably should be.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Wish Me Luck As You Wave Me Goodbye

Whilst certain bloggers are away warming up their lederhosen, it falls to me to summarise Saturday’s excursion to Leeds.

A hardy bunch met at Rochdale train station-this being such an exotic location to one of our number, she gazed round in undisguised wonderment. Being a Saturday, the local mills were closed and everyone had their weekend best flat cap and clogs on. Tandleman’s lovely lass arrived-alone. Had she finally thrown off the shackles of male oppression? Nay, turns out the great man was already in Leeds getting his Barnet done. And, apparently, sampling the local Wetherspoons. He did text me this information but, as he’s on the poncey 3 network, the texts didn’t arrive for some six hours.

Anyway, we were soon on our way: departing to the strains of Our Gracie singing “Wish Me Luck As You Wave Me Goodbye”. First stop was the excellent Brewery Tap and an appearance by the freshly coiffured Tandleman. Lunchtime is an excellent time to visit this usually busy pub and we were soon tucking into the seasonal Funfair (3.6%) as well as the usual Leeds Pale. A good deal is the sandwich and a pint for £6.50, enabling me to enjoy an excellent Wensleydale cheese and ale chutney, with the beer thrown in for only £1.25 extra.

Next up was the Victoria Family and Commercial and some Barnsley Gold. Things got a bit sticky at Mr Foleys where some of our party had already decamped. We were warned off the Guzzler (too sulphurous) and the sample of the Summer Wine offering saved us a lot of grief-it tasted like some horrible metallic homebrew. Elland El Divino was at least drinkable, although it was difficult to detect the Mount Hood hops that it’s alleged to have.

Sadly things didn’t get any better at North. One poor barmaid had been abandoned by the boss and was clearly struggling by herself. The Outlaw was pure mud and Elland Bargee wasn’t at his best, either, leaving the 1872 Porter to win sole approval. PIN on Dock St was let down by its lack of working coolers, with the beer being compared very unfavourably with the Brewery Tap.

Things got back on track with some al fresco Daleside at the Grove. Everyone seemed to disappear right about now, but there was still al fresco and Acorn Summer Pale to be enjoyed at the Cross Keys before a finale at the Midnight Bell. Then there was just time for a quickie at the Wetherspoons at the railway station before boarding the rather posh homeward bound train. It was more Wetherspoons (Pale Rider) action at the Regal Moon in Rochdale before the last bus beckoned.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Let's All Go Down The Strand

Some light relief for the weekend. Greene King are launching a new beer to encourage drinkers to frequent their London pubs. Royal London will be 4% and is described as “rich and fruity”. Or, to the less gullible, tasting like Greene King.

According to GK: “A beer dedicated to London is of course a great pull for the city’s many tourists and visitors here on business. Britain’s cask beer is renowned the world over - it’s the jewel in London’s crown that everyone wants to experience.” Cask ale might be the jewel in London’s crown, but is GK that jewel?

I mean, who in their right mind would come to London and drink solely/mainly Greene King beers? Plenty hope GK, as they are using the launch to promote their new Capital Cask Ale Trail. Participants will get a stamp every time they buy a GK beer and will count towards a lovely GK t-shirt. Sounds like beer torture to me. We do have a Northern equivalent, though; it’s called the JW Lees passport scheme.

Live long and prosper. I’m off for some sub 5% Outstanding beers.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Going LocAle In Acapulco Bury

JDW’s Robert Peel in Bury are hosting their first ever LocAle beer festival. Which means, until Sunday, you have the rare opportunity to sample the full range of Outstanding beers. But pay heed to your Uncle Tyson. Yes, Standing Out is very hoppy and dangerously moreish. But it is 5.5%. Before you start your session, ask yourself one question: do I really need a gallon of it? Conclusive testing says no. Particularly when your aperitif was Acorn's (rather tasty itself) 5% Admiral IPA...

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Give It Some Welly

Doing the rounds for my bi-annual survey of all Bury’s hostelries, I never fail to be surprised by the ebbs and flows of the pub game. Pubs that you think are perpetual landmarks disappear overnight and those that seem doomed cling to life like shipwrecked mariners. So it is with the Wellington on Bolton Road.

The “Welly” has had many incarnations over the years. A large, originally Whitbread, roadside boozer, it has veered from innovative ale house to roadside rough-house. At the start of the 1980s it was Madness on the jukebox and 4 or 5 beers-including Castle Eden, on the pumps. Ten years later and Shaun Ryder had replaced Suggs on the jukebox, the pub had been opened out and real ale had disappeared from the bar.

These were the wilderness years: when there was still a clutch of pubs competing for the, then, quite substantial weekend trade. The Black Maria had moved away from the George and was now a semi-permanent fixture at the Welly. On a Friday night the car park was full of testosterone fuelled lads (and lasses) getting high or getting battered. Or, on a good night, both.

However, fashion and the drugs squad wait for no man and so it was that, as we hurtled towards the millennium, the Welly had a little renaissance. The Romeos had all either grown up, moved away or were simply banged up. Likewise, their Juliets were either past it, or were knocked up and living on a council estate at the other side of town. This little window of light didn’t last long, however, and soon it had settled back into a pattern of forgettable mediocrity.

Then the big bad wolf that is Greene King came along. They did a sympathetic refurbishment-the pool table was no longer the centre piece of the pub and they upped the food operation. Real ale returned to the bar, albeit in the form of their own, rather mundane, beers. Today the Wellington enjoys a steady, mainly food led, daytime trade (lots of pensioners) and a regular clientele at weekends. It’s too clinical and pubcoish for my tastes, but at least Suggs is back on the jukebox.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Gudbuy T' Jane George

And so another Bury drinking institution bites the dust. The George on Market Street has finally given up the ghost and will reopen shortly as a party supplies/card shop. No one has obviously told them that the £300 million development (the biggest outside of the Olympics) is actually on the other side of town. Oh well.

With the demise of the George, only three original town centre hostelries remain open. But let’s not get too nostalgic for the George: it was never one of the greats. It was always a bit of a plodder beer wise and had a reputation as a “fighting pub”. For many years, a paddywagon used to park alongside at the weekends and had its fair share of “characters.”

Still, I would have thought it was viable as a pub. It’s got a good location in the centre of town, close to the travel interchange and always had a decent trade. Problem is that it’s been abused over the years. Firstly by Whitbread who changed it from a reasonably smart multi-roomer to an open plan format. After that, it went gradually even more downhill, with a succession of owners who didn’t know really what to do with it.

So, not too many tears, then. More a sense of frustration that it never reached its obvious potential. It did have its moments, mind. Who can forget the Sunday afternoon meat raffles? The mid-afternoon lock ins? Not forgetting my ten pint Stella lunchtime session whilst at college-it was for a bet, ok. However, undoubtedly its greatest historical came when I, on being informed that Stella had gone up to £1, confidently proclaimed that they had lost the plot, as “no one sane will ever pay a pound for a pint of beer." And I think you'll find I've been proved right.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Friday Frolics

Friday saw a lunchtime session at the Crescent in Salford. The pub’s still not the greatest but their beer festival was a good opportunity to put it through its paces. Beer from the pumps was ok but the stuff coming straight from the cellar wasn’t in the best condition.

Of the beers sampled, Goose Eye’s Puddle Duck & Turkey’s Revenge weren’t bad, but the best was Mallinsons Hazy Shade of Summer which delivered their usual hop bite, despite being only 3.9%. Atlas Three Sisters was unpleasantly phenolic, but was nothing in comparison to Bollington Chilli Nights. This was a 3.9% little brew but was fatally unbalanced. It was as if someone had dropped a box of chillies into a glass of dark, thin beer. An ok flavour for a curry but it was horribly astringent and the opposite of moreish.

Talking of moreish, The New Oxford gave me another (and some their first) chance to try Phoenix’s Strawberry Beer. It was agreed that this is much better than Fruli; avoiding the sickly sweetness that ruins that beer. This is deceptively drinkable (did anyone say proper real keg?) but they do have one problem with it-it’s quite thick and keeps blocking the lines. This gives the impression they have run out of it, when they haven’t.

Back in Bury, the Robert Peel delivered up not one, but two, decent Acorn beers-Woodstock and Aurora IPA. A final hurrah at the Trackside meant Jever and that old reliable, Cheddar Valley.

Friday, 14 August 2009

One For The Ladies

Women in Manchester are set to become the latest guinea pigs in the battle to corner the “femALE” drinks market. It’s Carlsberg’s turn to launch a beer aimed squarely at the ladies. So, for the next 12 weeks, a number of bars will be trialling Eve, a 3.1% lightly sparkling beer that is described as being somewhere between a lager and am RTD (ready to drink) product. It will be available in two flavours, passion fruit or lychee.

Apparently, (yet again), there is a growing demand for these products. Apparently, there is nothing on the market that satisfies the designated demographics parameters. Apparently, what’s required is a light, sophisticated alternative. This 3.1% light, sophisticated alternative is brewed with the finest malt and, er, rice. Sounds a bit like dog beer to me.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Me And You And A Beer Named Dog

Some innovations in beer just pass you by. So it was with dog beer. Yes, beer for dogs. Although apparently it’s been available for awhile now, there’s now a big marketing push to cash in on the “hot” summer. Hmmm.

According to Amy Laura Hepworth, marketing manager for Beaphar, “Dogs can become even more of the family as they enjoy a beer too.” I can’t argue with that.

Six 33cl bottles of Dog Beer can be yours for £11.70. It’s brewed with hops and barley but “with the alcohol and gas taken out, and a little meaty flavouring is added for ultimate palatability.” That explains why none of my doggie friends have mentioned it before-beer without alcohol isn’t really beer, is it?

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

A Foggy Sunny Day in London Town

It was a measured start to Sunday after the excesses of Saturday. We were up early-well some of us were. I was up at 0610 whilst Eddie, the eager, legal beagle was still dreaming of Jarndyce and Jarndyce. Eventually he emerged from his pink tweed pyjamas and we headed for some breakfast.

Wetherspoons provide a good value hearty breakfast and so we decided to try the Spoons at Victoria station. This took some manoeuvring because of the state of the tube network but we were pleasantly surprised by it. It was smarter than the average train station pub and offered a mezzanine view of the scuttling passengers below. It also had a decent beer offering including Phoenix White Monk & Bitter and Twisted.

Suitably refreshed, we headed back to the hotel before beginning Sunday’s beer tour. Now you may have seen us on our tour-Eddie was the one with the very fashionable Manx kipper carrier bag. Well, it’s fashionable in Douglas, anyway.

We made haste to our first hostelry for an early lunchtime pint. Now I’m not saying Eddie likes a lunchtime drink, but if you want your will to be legible and legally comprehendible, try and catch him before noon. I’ll say no more.

The Charles Lamb was another new one to both of us and another one down to Boak & Bailey. It’s a charming Islington corner local of the kind that doesn’t really exist up North. Smart and contemporarily cosy, it looks to offer decent food and some good beer. There are three real ales-although the Butcombe wasn’t available on our visit. No matter, who can complain with Hophead and Hophead Extra on offer? This was Eddie’s favourite pub of the weekend-Cask just shaded it for me-and we will certainly be back.

In fact, that whole area was a revelation. Lots of quite posh boozers offering nourishment and real ale. Even the Prince of Wales, which seemed the least posh, was interesting. We eventually found our way to the Narrow Boat. This is modern and airy with downstairs dining and seating outside overlooking the canal. Price wise it was punchy and the beer choice seemed a bit pedestrian (Black Sheep?) but we were happy with our Harveys.

We were heading for Belgravia but our stop at the Eagle on Shepherdess Walk proved disappointing. The pub is scruffy both inside and out and the furniture really looked out of place. Now it isn't as bad as the Wenlock (what is?)-which is the most overrated pub in London, but I digress. We may have been tempted if the beer choice had been even vaguely interesting, but as it wasn’t, we moved on.

A lively crowd met us at the small bar of the undisputedly posh Grenadier. This is where Madonna cut her teeth on Landlord. She wasn’t in on our visit, but Eddie left his business card, just in case. After our Bateman’s Miss America, we made tracks for the Nag’s Head. This is a classic amongst London pubs, with its split levels, bric-a-brac and very unusual low bar. Adnams Bitter and Broadside were the order of the day here.

It was eerily quiet in the Star Tavern with the Czech barmaid (another one for Tandleman’s collection) eager for any company. Eddie and I were the only customers for quite some time-this surely can’t be representative of their Sunday trade? The pub itself is another of Belgravia’s gems and delivered up some nicely chilled Discovery.

There was just time for a couple of more pints at the Doric Arch at Euston. It was good to see a choice of guest beers but the Bitter & Twisted was so dull, it prompted a switch to Discovery. On the train home, the Manx Minx phoned to say she had just taken her first shower for three days. I think it’s great she’s finally overcoming her hydrophobia.

Back in Manchester, we decided to break our journey at the Marble Arch. Unfortunately, the Pictish Chinook wasn’t quite on top form but the Pint certainly was. And then the last tram beckoned. Once in Bury we enjoyed a delayed Sunday lunch at Pizza Pioneer before I burnt my mouth and encountered Joe Stalin-the two incidents aren’t related...

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Every Little Helps

Sometimes the story writes the headline. Sometimes the press release makes it just too easy...but here goes anyway. From tomorrow, Tesco will be stocking Durex Extra Large*-a condom for men who need that bit extra. It’s 10mm longer and only 1mm wider but obviously...every little helps.

Naturally I’m pleased that I will be able to get my supplies from the local supermarket rather than the internet, but is there really that much demand? According to Healthcare buyer Nicola Evans, yes, there is. Last year, over 200 customers (presumably mostly men) called asking for them to be stocked. Probably when their mates were in the room...

*£9.53 for 12

Knocked Em' In The Old Kent Road

This is how it all began. The Manx Minx was away on a Manx Norton restoration workshop: leaving Eddie, the eager legal beagle to put his freshly pressed tweed underpants on and head for the bright lights of London. Now I would have preferred a weekend of culture and art (apparently there is some in London) but Eddie, like most of the legal profession, is a total social degenerate. Left to his own devices, he would no doubt spend his time carousing round seedy taverns and fleshpots. For his own good, I reluctantly agreed to accompany him.

What a funny place London is. I never visit at weekends if I can help it and it’s no wonder. Two tube lines closed and two more restricted put unnecessary obstacles in the path of two thirsty travellers. And its claim to be an international city of repute is risible considering most of the pubs shut at 11pm at weekends. On that basis alone, it’s not even the best city in the UK. Still, British pluck and ingenuity won through in the end.

(Yet) another failure of London is that a lot of good pubs don't even open at weekends. My local-the Edgar Wallace, being one of them. Luckily, there were enough pubs, both old and new, to keep us busy. I shall try and summarise the day the best as I can recall.

Our first stop should have been the Charles Dickens but despite advertising noon opening, it actually opens at 2pm. So it was onwards to an old friend-the Royal Oak. This is a great Harveys pub and the Olympian proved very refreshing. There was a poster up advertising “Knocked Em’ In The Old Kent Road”, a musical hall song favourite of Eddie’s. It was popularised by Shirley Temple but the definitive version has to be this
I believe Tandleman does a mean rendition as well.

Then it was time to treat Eddie. He’d wanted to visit a pie and mash shop and so we made for Manzes. This is reputedly London’s oldest such establishment and offers a very basic menu of pie, mash and er, liquor. This appears to be very watered down parsley sauce. Oh, and jellied eels, which Eddie tucked into with great gusto. Hmmm. I begin to see why fish and chip shops became popular.

Eddie wasn’t finished yet, though. He procured some oysters at Borough market before we popped into the Market Porter. Here we tried the lageresque Solar Power by the Isle of Purbeck brewery. Nice enough, although it could have done with being served through a sparkler-as we know all beer should be. And that’s another thing. The anti-sparkler fascists are always banging on about how it’s taking over and they always have to ask for it to be removed. Yet, we never even had a sniff of one all weekend. I fear their propaganda is starting to take effect.

Our next stop was the rather swanky Brewery Wharf. I quite like this place, with its exposed brick and glass and metallic look. It’s got a seriously large sports screen and a good outdoor drinking area. Unfortunately, it’s now letting its shiny brew kit go to waste and from what we were told, although they haven’t officially ceased brewing, in reality they have. Their cask was in good nick though and we ended up trying both the Acorn Woodstock and the Coulsons EPA.

A short walk took us to the Wheatsheaf: a pleasant cellar bar with a good selection of beers. Again we ended up trying not one, but two of the possible candidates-Darkstar Hophead and Youngs Kew Gold. Then it was time to drop our bags off at the hotel, before continuing our beer quest. The hotel was nice and clean and deserves full marks for having a proper shower door. They weren’t kidding about it being a “small” single room, though. I thought it was only the hotels of Her Majesty’s pleasure where you could touch the walls without stretching.

It was a bit of a trek to our next watering hole. Zeitgeist advertises itself as London’s only German pub and judging by the attention given to the Bundesliga match playing, it deserves that rep. Naturally there’s a good selection of beers from the Vaterland and we enjoyed a couple of different pils from the Rothaus stable. Cask in Pimlico was new to both of us and definitely worth the visit. Smart and contemporary, it has a relaxed vibe and serves up good beer as well. Darkstar beers are complemented by guest ales, but we couldn’t resist the Darkstar American Pale which was excellent and our favourite beer of the weekend.

It was getting late now but we still had time to squeeze a few more in. Sadly, the Packenham Arms was one of only two real disappointments over the weekend. Beer choice was a bit pedestrian, quality was average and the place was completely lacking in atmosphere. No problems at the Seven Stars on Carey Street who are to be applauded for (1) being open on Saturday night and (2) delivering up a treat of Hophead American Pale.

The Betjeman Arms at St Pancras station also made a very favourable mark. Structurally it was very impressive. To be candid, I think Eddie was drunk by now, as all I can remember drinks-wise was that the barman was French. We just made the curfew at the Ship & Shovel, enjoying the zingy Lemony Cricket more than the ordinary Badger beer. Somehow we made the last tube and feasted on some rather posh late-night grub before embracing the arms of Morpheus.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Never Mind The Gingko Biloba

During my recent weekend sojourn with Eddie, the eager, legal beagle, we sampled many of the delights that London had to offer. One thing that we apparently did miss out on was Sex Pistols ice cream.

This is the first offering by Icecreamists, who are part of the Selfridges store and where the ice cream is exclusively on sale. The green and white dessert contains natural stimulants such as ginkgo biloba, arginine and guarana and comes with a shot of La Fee Absinthe poured over the top.

The makers claim that it enhances blood flow and increases energy levels and the results are so electric that customers are limited to just one serving per person. For £11.99 a pop, it better had.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Bars Without Frontiers

DIY beer service has come to Manchester. I haven’t tried it yet, but customers at new bar Taps will apparently be able to quench their thirst without leaving their table. And it’s all done without a waiter in sight. For, following the success of their first outlet in Leicester, they have launched the first self-service bar in the North West.

The idea is simple. Each table has a number of beer fonts, or “taps”, which the customer uses to self administer their choice of poison. The options are Amstel, Duvel Green, Leifermans Summer Fruits or Vedett White. You settle up when you’re finished and if anyone gets carried away, the taps can be turned off before anyone gets, er, carried away.

It’s based on the bottom floor of the Great Northern Tower apartment complex on Watson St. That’s the posh end of the Great Northern development and upstairs houses Epernay (where I have had a flute or two) the very sleek champagne bar.

The owners obviously think Belgium is the way to go, as they’re keeping it as a basis for the food menu as well. Whether it will be enough to drag punters out of the local MacDump, I don’t know. Certainly I was hoping for more on the beer front but will give it a spin out of sheer curiosity

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Tokyo Joe Versus Cheesezilla

I’m often asked what my favourite pizza is. Now, that’s like saying what’s your favourite cheese-like beer, it can vary with the mood. Obviously though, it has to feature lots of cheese. At home, where you’ve got the time and choice of ingredients, the options are endless. Making your own is very rewarding and the perfect opportunity to scoff several varieties of cheese and call it your tea-dinner to posh scoffers.

I’ve also discovered that it’s a tasty late night treat when you need sobering up from a hard day’s graft at the GBBF and everywhere decent is shut. Rudgate Ruby Mild won the much coveted Supreme Champion gong-somewhat contentiously, judging by some of the mutterings overheard. I don’t think it was a fix (as some were postulating) but there is something of a recent history of rewarding very average beers-Alton’s Pride, anyone?

Rudgate Ruby Mild is ok, but not exceptional as a Mild, let alone in comparison with the myriad of other beers. Just my opinion, of course. Amongst the punters there actually seemed more excitement over the appearance of Fuller’s Vintage Ale in cask form. There was a horde of them all heading tantivy for their third shots-which left me free to enjoy the Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere. I think that was the beginning of the end as it seems to have been all downhill from there. It certainly has been a long day.

Anyway, the secret to the perfect beerhound cheese pizza is preparation. The base is crucial. I like to use Wright’s speciality bread mixes to get a quick, consistent, result. Time and time again, I find myself returning to their Parmesan and Sun-Dried Tomato variety. Garlic & Rosemary is a viable alternative, but stay away from the Wholemeal and Sunflower varieties.

Simply mix it with 300ml of warm water, roll the resulting dough into a ball and leave to air for a couple of minutes. Knead and stretch and then leave again. Put in a mixing bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave somewhere warm for about 40 mins. This will give you time to get your other ingredients ready and, in my case, time to choose my nightcap. Whisky and pizza don’t mix-I’ve tried it, but some calling was drawing me to the newly arrived Brewdog Tokyo-the perfect accompaniment.

When the dough has doubled (or more) in size, you will have enough to make two large pizzas and a small bread. On pizza 1, I went for a first tier of Canadian Extra Mature followed by a healthy sprinkling of grated Grana Padano. This was topped off by Feta, Parmesan shavings and Garlic Roule. Chunks of fresh pineapple and a touch of oregano sealed the deal.

For variety, on Pizza 2, I tried Feta, Parmesan, Red Leicester, Farmhouse Lancashire, red onions and some basil. Then it was simply a case of putting them in the oven at gas mark 7.5 for 12 mins-swapping them over halfway through. And then sit back and enjoy. The Brewdog really added to the experience. Or was that just me being totally pissed? At 18.2% you expect it to pack a punch and it does, although the aroma wasn’t as pungent as I was expecting. I got plenty of cherry and fruit sweetness before I nodded off. My second swig made me think of chocolate with a bitter finish. Good stuff-I think-hopefully it will have cauterised the damage done to the top of my mouth by that bloody hot cheese. Or was it the garlic?

Time for bed, I reckon.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft

Another kick in the teeth for natural justice yesterday with the ruling on Gary McKinnon’s extradition to the USA. Of course, the court was bound to rule by the strict letter of the law. But correct interpretation of poor law is no excuse for letting this farce continue. If Alan Johnson had the balls he’s supposed to, he’d rip up the extradition order hastily signed by Jacqui “I’m Useless Get Me Out Of Here” Smith and do the right thing.

Mr McKinnon is the computer hacker who, famously, managed to penetrate several American networks, including Nasa and the Pentagon. Crucially, his motivation wasn’t terrorism, blackmail or anything of that ilk. He simply wanted to discover evidence of UFOs and where better to look than NASA and the Pentagon. Makes sense to me. Sadly for conspiracy buffs, he didn’t find any, but that’s a whole other blog post.

The point is that the good ship Freedom, having failed to nail any of the world’s real baddies-Bin Laden, Mullah Omar and the guy responsible for making Budweiser a global brand; seem intent on getting their pound of flesh out of poor Gary. But without Captain Bush at the helm, surely it’s time for a more rational approach.

Seven years is far too long to wait for trial on a matter that could, and should, have been dealt with very easily by a court in the UK. If the government won’t stop taking the oestrogen injections and grow a pair, then justice’s only hope may be President Obama.

It's Cider. Jim, But Not As We Know It

A cider festival at the Knowsley? The Knowsley? The rapidly getting-grubbier Greene King pub opposite the bus station? Yes, my source was insistent, that was the case and there were posters up to prove it. Feeling like Bernstein and Woodward must have done on the trail of an unbelievable story, I duly went and investigated.

Of course it was too good to be true. There is indeed a cider festival taking place, but (1) it’s taking place across a range of their pubs and (2) it’s not a festival as I’d recognise the term. For it mainly consists of the usual suspects-Magners, Strongbow and Kopparberg which are available anyway. They’ve thrown in some Aspalls as well, but really, a couple of bottles of cider-even at sale prices-does not a festival make.