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Showing posts from 2010

Live From Spoons

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Christmas Day is full of traditions. The Queen’s Message, Deal or No Deal: Scrooge or Santa, and, of course, a surge in domestic violence. Following in those footsteps is my legendary, eagerly awaited, live Spoons blog.

This year, as always, it comes from the resplendent Robert Peel. Which is full, as always, at this time of year with the unwashed, the unwanted and the old school drunk. It’s slightly busier than last year. But then Trackside Mick said he’d been in the Knowlsey (the only other pub open) had a pint and spewed up-that’s Greene King for you.

The conversations range from the likelihood of Man Utd winning the league (high) to the likelihood of getting a Christmas snog from the barmaid (highly unlikely) and the drinks of choice are Wobbly Bob, Robert Peel IPA and Black Market.

Cheers and please remember that pubs aren’t just for Christmas.

Merry Christmas

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And so to my, by now, traditional Christmas greeting. Somehow, more than ever, it seems appropriate this year, but, hey, let’s not get too political. Yes, 2010 may have been a shit year and Santa may have got the sack, but let’s try and be positive and look forward to 2011. It just might not be as bad as you think.

So dear readers, Happy Christmas to one and all. In the words of John Lennon, I hope you have fun. The near and the dear ones. The old and the young. Except, of course, for Aso Mohammed Ibrahim. He can roast his chestnuts on the fiery coals of Hell as far as I’m concerned. Hopefully shortly.

Merry Christmas.

Breakfast Beer: Nanny State

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Today’s breakfast beer is Brewdog Nanny State. This is the original version of their Imperial Mild. It may only tip the scales at 1.1% ABV, but it packs a (theoretical) punch of some 225 IBUs. That’s International Bitterness Units for the uninitiated. With Holts Bitter coming in around the 40 IBU mark, that’s some serious bitterness.

Initially it didn’t seem too bad. The russet colouring seemed to actually complement the washed out brown of the Oatabix. The aroma was more of a stench really, but the strong vegetated hop notes didn’t seem to bother my hangover too much. What was a problem was the taste.

There was a one dimensional bitterness that marked it out as a gimmick beer. I could have handled the extreme bitterness, but the sheer wateriness of it made it seem like a glass of hop tea rather than beer. It wasn’t doing anything for me and frankly the Oatabix was lost in translation.

Like a true professional-you won’t get pissed on it anyway-I threw it down my neck. But this, althou…

BABPOW: Oatabix & Brewdog Punk Monk

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Ok, it’s awhile since I did any beer and food matching so, in an attempt to also catch up with some beer reviews, I decided to initiate this first review in, hopefully, an occasional series.

Now with all respect to the great & the good, when they try beer matching, they invariably try different foods in an attempt to perfectly complement the beer. This can be a little hit and miss and doesn’t strike me as good methodology.

For my purposes, I need a benchmark. Something that will not only allow me to evaluate the beer, but offer an opportunity to possibly find the ultimate food and beer pairing. Now this would mean eating the same dish-and nothing too racy-each time. Possibly a little dull and impractical to do that at various times of the day.

With this in mind, I have decided to go with a breakfast and beer theme: BABPOW. The universal nature of this meal seems ideal and the timing will not impinge on the rest of the day. Plus it gives me a perfect excuse for having a beer early…

No Booze Shortage At Westminster

Good news. There’s no need to worry about how the severe weather may affect the booze supply at the Palace of Westminster. According to information released under the Freedom of Information Act, the government and their select chosen ones have a stockpile of bottles to tuck into.

Yes, when they said we’re all in it together, they obviously weren’t referring to the mountain of booze that they have access to. It seems Whitehall is awash with the stuff. Some 36,000 bottles of wine and spirits, some worth £3,000 each, are included in the £2M valuation.

Of course theses bottles aren’t available to all and sundry. Apparently each bottle comes with instructions as to how and to whom it should be served. All bottles are graded, with A1 being reserved only for VIPs and C grade being the stuff that is served at receptions. Good to see standards haven’t slipped under our new ConDem masters.

Phoenix Nights

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Tony Allen of Phoenix Brewery in Heywood has been brewing fine ales of various hues for over 25 years now. In that time the North West has been quietly carving out a reputation for itself as a producer of hoppy beers. Of which, Tony has more than his fair share. Although it should be stressed that Phoenix isn’t a one trick pony and does brew some excellent dark beers as well.
That being the case, an opportunity to sample at source is a prized invite and explains a sell out crowd for Tuesday’s Christmas bash. The great, the good and even Tandleman were all there. There was a choice of three beers: Hopsack, Snowbound and Christmas Kiss. The first two didn’t survive the night’s festivities, but an 18 of Kiss proved just beyond ever our capability to finish off in the permitted time.
So thanks to Tony & Mel for hosting the event and for putting up with all of those other drunks. And if you get the chance, try some Phoenix beers. You know it makes sense.

The Bartons Arms

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The Bartons Arms in Birmingham is renowned for its opulent, turn of the century, decor and for being home to some fine Oakham beer. What few customers may be aware of are the many rooms upstairs and the extensive cellar that lies beneath their feet.

Of course the pub itself is a large Grade 11 listed masterpiece. Built in 1901 for the princely sum of £12,000, it was intended to be the flagship of the Mitchell & Butler estate. Serving the Aston Hippodrome, it could boast guests of the quality of Laurel & Hardy, Caruso and a certain Mr Charlie Chaplin.
But times change and the Bartons was in a sorry state by the time it was rescued by Oakham Ales in 2002. I’ve visited many times since then, but have never had the pleasure of a guided tour until recently.

Under the direction of the very amiable and very knowledgeable General Manager, John Wilson, I had the opportunity to view the upstairs and the aforementioned cellar. The upper level was interesting with its boardroom and dance…

Beer Of The Week: Darkstar Thornstar

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Darkstar/Thornbridge Thornstar is 4.7% and was sampled in the Sheffield Tap. On paper, a marriage made in heaven. Two great breweries joined in holy unison. But how many marriages have foundered on the rocky shores of relationships. Ok enough already with the marriage metaphors, what was this like?
I’m informed it’s one of these new fangled Cascadian Dark Ales or a Black IPA as they're known in the cheap seats. Well it was certainly black, but seemed to lack the classic IPA hop aroma. This had a pungent earthy, agricultural, nose that wasn’t particularly appealing on first sniff. 
The taste was chewy with a little roast malt, some sour fruit and a little hop kick followed by a short, slightly sour, finish. Not great. Quite underwhelming really. Which is somewhat of a surprise as a passing beer guru told me that it contains 6 varieties of New Zealand hops.
It's been compared to Thornbridge Raven and whilst not that bad, definitely more one for the beer geeks rather than the mass…

More Cheese, Gromit?

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Yet another welcome donation to the cheese cupboard. Many thanks and please keep ‘em rolling in folks. At this time of year, more than ever, it’s important that poor cheesehounds are given the sustenance they need.
This is the Wallace & Gromit “Crackers about Cheese” gift set. It contains a truckle of finest Yorkshire Wensleydale (naturally), a jar of caramelised onion chutney called “Middle Aged Spread” and a packet of oatcakes.

It all looks very tasty. I was saving it for nearer Christmas, but seeing that someone has emptied the rest of the cheese cupboard, I fear its time has come.

Another One Bites The Dust

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The New Inn on Walmersley Road, Bury has shut and will be reopening as a nursery.

It’s a roadside boozer that is surrounded by plenty of potential custom, but it has been ill-served over the years and after a very long lean period, the closure comes as no real surprise. You have to go back to the late 70s/early 80s to find its heyday.
The 1979 GBG detailed the pub (then the Walmersley Arms) as selling Wilsons Mild & Bitter and described it as “Large emporium set back from main road. L shaped lounge, pool table in vault”.

Of course this comes only 3.5 years after the smoking ban came into force. Coincidence? You decide.

Pubs Look Back To The Past To Save Their Future

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In these tough trading times, more than ever, it seems, pubs need to diversify if they want to survive. That’s the thinking behind the White Hart Inn in Spilsby Lincolnshire deciding to bring the joys of the cinema to pub goers.

The pub, which is a 35 minute drive from the nearest cinema in Skegness, is thought to be the first granted a licence to show films coming to the end of their general release, but crucially before they are released on DVD.

Licensee Angela Morgan-Knight explained: “We have a really big function room with a 9ft screen and projector and we can have 100 people in there.” There are plans for a Sunday matinee incorporating meal deals and family tickets. There is some irony here as many pubs are in a similar situation to cinemas when they reached their low point and could do worse than look at how cinemas adapted to bounce back.

Of course pubs have a long history of incorporating technology to attract punters. Currently 3D is leading the chase, but before that we ha…

A Christmas Appeal: Stephen Neary

Many injustices, both large and small, go uncorrected of every hour of every day. Perhaps this Christmas we can help to right the balance sheet. Perhaps by moving a stone, we can help move a boulder.
http://www.annaraccoon.com/politics/the-orwellian-present-%E2%80%93-never-mind-the-future/

November's Beer Of The Month: Hardknott Light Cascade

Sampled in the Grove in Huddersfield, so naturally in top condition. I’ve been wanting to try this much discussed 3.4% for awhile and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Now a lot of beer geeks/brewers go ga-ga for stronger beers, but you can hide a multitude of sins in stronger brews, but the truth will out at this strength.

Yes, it’s in the tiddlers like this that the true mettle of a brewer lies. How to pack in plenty of flavour without the weight of alcohol? And on that basis, this passed with flying colours. A well-hopped thirst quencher that builds to the kind of dry finish that demands you have another. So I did.

Runner Up Beer Of The Month: Yates Garlic Beer

This one does what it says on the tin: It’s not hoppy, malty, sweet or dry, nor full of chocolate or spices. It’s got a strong garlic aroma, tastes of garlic and has a strong garlic aftertaste. It’s liquid garlic. Not recommended for vampires or anyone expecting a goodnight snog.

Christmas Cheese: Epoisses de Bourgogne

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Noddy Holder is blasting away, so it must be Christmas. Or very nearly. And naturally, one’s thoughts turn to cheese. Will M&S be repeating their Stilton offer this year? What exactly should be going on that Xmas Day cheeseboard? And how to avoid making a faux pas by matching the right cheese with the correct condiment.

It’s also a good time of year to treat oneself to a premier league cheese. Well anytime is a good time for that, but Christmas does lend a certain legitimacy to the idea. With that in mind, I humbly recommend Epoisses for your delectation and delight.

Epoisses de Bourgogne is a French Appellation d’origine controlee (AOC) cheese, which means that it can only be made in and around Epoisses. It’s an unpasteurised cow’s cheese that gets its distinctiveness from being washed in Marc de Bourgogne.

Marc de Bourgogne is a French spirit made from pressing the skins, pulp, and seeds that are left over after wine grapes are processed into wine. This produces a very harsh, fie…

Best Explanation Of The Irish Bail Out Overheard In A Wetherspoons

Bloke 1: “I can’t believe we’re bailing Ireland out. It’s unbelievable.”
Bloke 2: “Ireland?”
Bloke 1: “Yeah, have you not seen we’re lending them £7bn. What for, that’s what I want to know?"
Bloke 2: “To be fair, the Irish have always had the best songs. “I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen”, now that’s a good ‘un.”
Bloke 1: “Aye I never thought of that.”

Bury Beer Festival

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The lights have been dimmed and the suppings all over. Yes, Bury Beer Festival 2010 has come to an end. Around 100 beers from a wide variety of breweries have been on offer at the Met on Market St over this last weekend. Oh and not forgetting some cider and perry.

The CAMRA bar at the festival was manned by some familiar looking faces, whilst the beer was a mix of old favourites and new friends. Marble Bitter stood alongside Mallinsons Hcmf//ale which was what you would expect from Mallinsons-light, fruity and hop edged. Their Chocolate Stout was even better.
Meanwhile Crown Brewery’s Stannington Stout also proved pleasing with its mix of espresso and bitter chocolate. Their 5.1% Sam Berry IPA, described as a “dark IPA”, did puzzle some as it wasn’t actually dark.
The undoubted hop monster, hiding like the elephant in the room, was Steel City’s Nightmare on Henry St which, with 8kg of Amarillo & Cascade etc in it, certainly packed a punch.
Swiftly passing over the Leyden bar (as mo…

London Round Up

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But one pub does not London make. So, despite the obvious temptation to do so, one cannot live solely on the succulent nourishment of the Euston Tap. Well they don’t open till 4pm on a Sunday for a start.

On the plus side: Top of the pile is the Rake; maintaining its high standards. Excellent Oakham JHB (welcome back); an interesting draught beer choice and an outdoor; covered, heated area. What’s not to like? Oh and thanks for the warning that Flying Dog Double Dog Double Pale Ale (practice saying that pissed) was £4.75 a half. Well it is 11.5%.
The Bree Louise, for the second visit in a row, excelled with some very good beers. I was particularly taken with the Redemption Pale Ale (3.8%), which has a long bitter finish that really dries the back of the throat. The Market Porter and the Wheatsheaf, both in Borough, also did well.
Brodie’s Amarilla at the Old Coffee House was refreshing and well conditioned, scoring higher than the under par Dark Star Hophead in the usually reliable Ha…

Euston Tap: The Shocking Truth

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Well what a week. Pete Brown tried his best to stir up a storm (hint: next time try smoking ban/sparklers), but ultimately failed to win me a fiver. In the blue corner Tandleman got in touch with his feminine side and came over all “tired and emotional” and made some very funny comments which he, rather sadly, later retracted.

Meanwhile down amongst the plebeians, there was drinking to be done. This involved a much anticipated visit to the Euston Tap. Well more than one, actually. These things can’t be rushed.
So everyone has heard about the Euston Tap. Everyone has heard that it’s outside Euston station, is tiny and has only one, yes one, toilet. But is it any good? Well the shock news is that...yes it is. It’s excellent actually.
A small downstairs bar area is complemented by a comfortable little room upstairs. This is navigated via a splendid spiral staircase which, like Everest, is no problem going up pissed, but requires caution on the descent. A beer carrier (that’s not the nickn…

Cheese-Preference or Dogma?

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"Is that blue or white Stilton?"

This was the first question I got asked when I mentioned on Twitter that I had just purchased some for my supper. And when I replied it was blue, there was a supplemental question: “Is that pure Stilton or with raisins etc?”
These questions are of course of no interest to most cheese eaters, but they are paramount to a certain small section of cheese lovers. And it got me thinking-what if it had been white Stilton with raisins? Or mango? Would that have been so wrong?

Caerphilly, Lancashire, Brie; they all have their admirers, but has personal preference given way to dogma? For me it’s whether the cheese is good or bad. I’ve no problem with Stilton & raisins. Or even Stilton with mango & ginger..

However, the mere mention of extraneous food stuffs in cheese sends Crackers-members of CRAC, the Campaign for Real Authentic Cheese, into a stupor. And don't even mention pasteurisation. Their forums are full of debate over whether Stilt…

Goodbye Kelly Ryan

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So it’s goodbye to Kelly Ryan, brewer extraordinaire at Thornbridge. He’s heading back to New Zealand and will no doubt be commencing his brewing adventures in the land of the Hobbit. Frankly they need him. The land of the long white cloud produces some excellent wine, but, despite having some damn fine hops, their beery output isn’t great.

This will no doubt change for the better when Kelly gets a grip of matters over there. In fact, John Key, their PM had better watch out, as I foresee a Thornbridge inspired takeover of this corner of the empire. It should be a piece of cake after helping to craft beers such as Jaipur, St Petersburg and Kipling. Ah, Kipling. Of course there was also Lord Marples, but, hey, no one’s perfect...

SIBA Northern: First Night Review

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Last week saw the SIBA Great Northern Beer Festival at the Palace Hotel in Manchester. The first thing to say is that my impressions are only based on the opening night. I believe things got better and a venture of this size, making its debut, was always bound to have a few teething problems.

So what was it like? Well, the setup was great. 56 handpulls complete with sparkler, naturally, were sat atop the bar. The gimmick of a fresh glass each time was fine, although some old-timers were heard grumbling about it. It did cause a little confusion amongst some of the staff and there had to be the odd reminder that a half pint glass isn’t the same as a pint glass, despite being worth the same deposit.
Slightly surprising was the number of beers that weren’t quite up to scratch. Particularly affected seemed to be the lighter session beers, whilst the darker, stronger, ales seemed more robust. Attendances were disappointing due to poor publicity and some people were put off by the admission p…

Are Spoons Feeling the Squeeze?

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Wetherspoons have built up a very successful business model and a reputation for prospering in hard times. However, a number of subtle hints have appeared that suggest that every bargain boozer’s favourite pubco may be feeling the pinch.

First came the repricing of their guest ales. This has seen them remove the one-price-for-all charge and introduce different bands according to strength. A necessary measure, it was felt, to try and redress some of the lost revenue. Of course this is already common in other pubs, but was apparently opposed by some managers who were afraid of losing sales.

More recently came the revelation that despite selling some 400,000 breakfast each week, it wasn’t actually making much from them. Some analysts felt they had simply priced them too low. Makes a change for a pubco, I suppose.

Now two further changes are coming into force without too much publicity. One is that many of their pubs are abandoning their 7am opening and will now be opening at 8am instead…

Hare & Hounds Festival Highlights

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The dust has settled and the tables cleared. Yes, the latest Hare & Hounds beer festival has come to an end. After 10 days and some 170 beers (plus assorted ciders and perrys) all served the correct way: i.e. through sparklered handpump, it’s time to tally up.

There was the usual cluster of favourites and go-to beers. Castle Rock Harvest Pale, Allgates Motueka and all of the Pictish offerings were eagerly consumed. Not to mention Brewdog Trashy Blonde. But there were plenty of new delights to be had as well.
Ashover’s Hydro owed more than a nod to Marble Pint, but nothing wrong with that. Coastal from Redruth in Cornwall also surprised many with its light (3.7%) but citrus packed Hop Monster. Also very moreish was the Cambridge brewpub (White Hart) Ufford’s Green Bullet. Meanwhile Blue Monkey consolidated their reputation with the well balanced, but bitter finishing, Guerrilla Stout.
Of course not every brewery shone. Burton Bridge Knot Brown Ale at 4.7% was heavy and cloying. Toad…

Mallinsons Brewery Visit

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Mallinsons Brewery can be considered amongst the top rank of UK microbrewers. I was going to say amongst the up and coming, but as they have actually been brewing for 2.5 years, I think it’s fair to say that they have arrived.

Sir Tandleman has already covered the basic logistics of the trip, so I will just summarise. An eager group of CAMRA freeloaders descended on a converted garage in Lindley, Huddersfield, and proceeded to drink the place dry.

Tara, the brewster, entertained us with her simple, but effective, brewing philosophy-no brown beer, lots of hops etc. Meanwhile the hordes of CAMRA wildebeest hungrily eyed up the first lone, vulnerable, cask offering. For the geeks-this was Dominator, a 3.9% very hoppy beer brewed with Centennial and Simcoe hops and lager malt.

A perfect example of the evolutionary directive: it really was dog eat dog and survival of the fittest. Picture the scene-thirsty imbibers shuffling ever closer to the firkin; no one willing to break from the group un…

Beer Style: Does It Matter?

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Booze=Brains mc2

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I knew there was a reason why I drank. It’s ‘cos I’m very intelligent. Yes. Really. Honestly. It’s a scientific fact. Or a hypothesis anyway. That is just the same in my book.
It goes like this: The Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis (hereafter “The Hypothesis”) suggests that less intelligent individuals have greater difficulty than more intelligent people with comprehending and dealing with evolutionarily novel entities and situations that did not exist in the ancestral environment.
Basically, thickies have trouble in dealing with new ideas and situations. Conversely, evolutionary psychology in the form of the Hypothesis would suggest that more intelligent people are better able to deal with new ideas and situations.
So applied to our personal tastes and values, this all means that more intelligent individuals are more likely than less intelligent individuals to acquire and espouse evolutionarily novel preferences and values.
This is where booze comes in.

Alcohol is evolutionary novel. T…

Sheffield & The Kipling Test

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It was Friday night and I was offered a bit of this or a bit of the other. Being a beerhound, I chose the other: A chauffeured trip over to Sheffield; the valley of beers.
After a dark and winding, somewhat mysterious, drive through the Snake Pass, we reached our first destination.The Crickets is hidden away down Penny Lane and is apparently close to the very posh end of South Yorkshire. Yes, apparently they do have one.
Presumably that’s what influenced Thornbridge to lease the pub from Enterprise. Despite its isolated location it had the potential to attract punters by offering a good food led operation. They’ve certainly gone for it in a big way-and I don’t just mean the A3 menus-with a very interesting selection and from what we could see, nicely presented.
The pub itself is posh. Stone floors, big sturdy furniture, candlelit tables, that sort of thing. But I liked it. After all, I can do posh occasionally; sometimes I even have a paper napkin with my black pudding.

The staff were…

The Princess & The Grog

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A hilarious rib tickling tale ripped from the pages of the fourth estate.

Princess Eugenie (daughter of Andy & Fergie, apparently) is studying English and the History of Art at Newcastle University. Now, like all students, it appears she likes a drink. And, like most people, she chose to buy her grog from her local Tesco.
This is where it gets hilarious. The cashier at the store in Jesmond thought she looked younger than her 20 years and demanded proof of ID. But when she flashed her student card, according to the Daily Mirror, “the man immediately spotted who she was and squirmed with embarrassment”.
Not only that, but apparently “Other shoppers in the Tesco at Jesmond, Newcastle, struggled to hide their amusement at the gaffe.” One explained: "It was funny. Obviously everyone else in the queue knew exactly who Eugenie was.”
Hilarious? Not really. I wouldn’t have recognised her either. Dare I suggest that she may not be quite as famous as some at the Mirror would seem to believ…

Manchester Food & Drink Festival Finale

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Manchester’s Food & Drink Festival came to a festival-like conclusion over the weekend. For once the weather gods smiled down on their chosen people and allowed sunshine to reign over Albert Square, thereby giving visitors a rare opportunity to indulge in some al fresco imbibing.
Stockport’s very own family-brewer Robinsons were in charge of the Pavilion Bar which was used to showcase no less than 12 of their beers. This ranged from the delightful Old Stockport through to the rare-on-handpump Ginger Tom and the sickly Chocolate Tom. I tried the festival special-Manchester Icon-and found it tasted suspiciously like...Robinsons.
There were also a number of Old Tom foodstuffs available for the inquisitive foody. Everything from pies to ice cream, not forgetting Old Tom cheese and Old Tom chutney which mysteriously found their way home with me. Hollands pies were also available for the less discerning, although to be fair, they did receive several positive comments. Were they using ring…

Winners & Losers

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The Good Pub Guide 2011 has excluded 381 pubs from this year’s edition after a flood of complaints. It claims that the number of dissatisfied pub customers has risen from 3/10 to 4/10 since publication of last year's guide.

Staff shortages and surly landlords were the most common complaints. Other complaints included: a smelly roaming dog, grubby surroundings, overpowering TVs, piped music, poor choice of beers and food not up to standard.

This beggars the question-are pubs really getting worse or are just more people complaining? However, it’s not all bad news and some pubs were singled out for particular praise. The Tempest Arms at Elslack, Yorkshire, was named as the overall 2011 Pub of the Year, whilst the famous Watermill at Ings picked up the gong for best beer pub.

There’s an interesting comparison with the GBG: The Church Inn at Saddleworth is praised for brewing its own beers and selling them for £1.70 a pint. No mention of quality. On that basis the pages should be pa…

MFDF: Day One

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This weekend gone was the start of Manchester Food & Drink Festival. As the title suggests, this is a celebration of the delights of local food and drink. But it’s just not black pudding and tripe. Oh no, there’s fancy chocolate and stuff like that. And cheese, but more of that later.


Friday afternoon saw the launch of our very own Oktoberfest in Albert Square. I’m not sure if it was raining in Munich, but it certainly was tipping down in Manchester. Luckily there was Kaiserdom Pils, Helles, Dunkel and Hefe-Weissbier to calm our nerves.

Just to add to the German experience, there was a genuine Oompah band playing gallantly away. And plastic glasses. Yes plastic. Which you had to pay a deposit for. Despite not being allowed outside of the festival bar. The original idea of serving beer in seidels was apparently vetoed by the local bobbies who obviously see all Mancunians as Frank Gallagher types.

There was also a selection of local real ales to try. Unfortunately they weren’t helped…