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

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Hawkshead@PSBH


The last meet-the-brewer at Port Street for 2012 turned out to be a real humdinger. No surprise, really, as the party concerned were Hawkshead; who consistently brew some of the finest beers in the land. And who, with Windermere Pale, have one of the most suppable beers that money can buy.

Although the Cumbrian massive came down mob-handed, it was left up to Matt Clake, the brewer, to do all the talking. As you would expect from a fella from the land of hobbits, it was informal and pitched just right. We had an interesting discourse throughout the night, but unfortunately (not for him) as their beers are too damn good, I was unable to offer my usual services in brewing correction.

Of course WPA had to be drank, as did far too much of the tweaked New Zealand Pale Ale which, despite being boozy, is seriously addictive. There was also a welcome outing for the often overlooked Brodie’s Prime. This is a tasty dark treat that was one of the forerunners for many of today’s black IPAs.

However, it was the presence of two very special offerings on cask that had the beerati on their knees thanking the Great Spirit in the sky. Both of these were unique as usually they’d go straight for bottling. Both were Imperial Stouts of 8.3% that had been aged for six months in oak whisky barrels from Bladnoch Distillery in Lowland Scotland.

The first was full of beautifully balanced coffee-whisky flavours with a little bit of chocolate thrown in. Very nice for sitting by a fire with on a cold winter’s day. The second one was made with Lyth Valley damsons; with the addition of vanilla to offset the sourness. It was an interesting concoction that split opinion. Some people raved about it, others (me included) preferred the first one and, for some, it proved an Imperial Stout too far. 

An excellent finale to the 2012 MTB events. And 2013 promises to be just as interesting.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Breakfast Beer Tasting: Brasserie des Sources Bellerose Bière Blonde

We go across the water for today’s breakfast treat and say bonjour to this French beer. It’s a top fermented brew made with three hops from three different continents and is an attempt to cross a traditional “bière de Garde" with an IPA style. Interestingly it comes from the brewery founded by Gérard Depardieu and his two friends.

It’s a 33cl, bottle-conditioned, 6.5% beer. The label is a rather classy in the French way, although a 1950s pinup girl risks ire in some quarters. It poured golden with good carbonation and a sizeable white head. The aroma was yeasty with a touch of citrus. I believe it’s supposed to be lychee, but I got more orange and lemon.

Taste wise, it’s fruit-led and has a good, peppery spiced aftertaste. It’s a smooth beer that hides the alcohol well and you could picture this being served at a dinner party. Being an old fashioned type of beerhound, I like beer that I can actually drink and this one isn’t hard to sup at all.

The French, bless ‘em, aren’t renowned for their great beer, but this is more than a reasonable effort. It lacks the overt bitterness that IPA junkies crave, but the spicy dryness and combination of old world and new makes this a blonde you wouldn’t kick out of bed in the morning.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Petit Pont-l'Évêque


Pont-l'Évêque has a long lineage and lays claim to be the oldest Normandy cheese still in production. It can trace its history back to at least the 12th century when it was known as "angelot". It gained national prominence in the 16th century and became known by its geographical area of production.

Being a cheese of some stature, of course it is protected by an Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) that sets out stringent requirements for any cheese that wants to go under that name. This was a Petit variety, so has to be 8.5-9.5 cm square, and have a minimum of 85g of dry matter.

The cheese itself is pale yellow with a white-orange washed rind that gives it a pungent aroma that may make you think that it’s stronger than it really is. Actually it’s very refined with a soft, creamy, buttery texture that brings a little piece of the Normandy sunshine with it.

It’s often recommended to drink Normandy cider with it or champagne. But I’ve just paired it with a bottle of Pinot Gris from Alsace and that seemed to work perfectly well.  

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

In The Black

The Grocer reports bad tidings for Diageo, makers of the “black liquidation with the froth on the top”. Sales of their star brand Guinness have fallen by nearly 10 million pints in the last year. That breaks down into a 15.8% fall for Guinness Draught and a 5% slump in Guinness Original sales.

Now, Guinness is a market leader and is a very heavily advertised brand. Indeed their esoteric adverts, while baffling the public, have long been the darling of the advertising industry. But times change and sales have been in decline for some time now.

Experts attribute various reasons for the fall-off in sales. Their traditional market is shrinking: there is a general shift towards lighter drinks and the growing premium bottle market has made inroads into their customer base.

Guinness is also under increasing pressure from the supermarket’s own brand Stouts. This is a difficult front to fight on as Guinness has traditionally been priced as a premium product. However, it seems that with Tesco’s Simply Stout available for £1.33 compared to £1.89 for Guinness, customers are voting with their wallet.

However, as you might expect, Diageo are not ready to throw the towel in just yet. They claim some of the fall in sales is down to customers switching pack sizes and will address the issue with a greater emphasis on “pack differentiation”. They also aim to hit back with that most traditional of weapons: advertising-£33 million of it, to be exact.

Most experts seem to think that Guinness is in irreversible, if gradual, decline. Whether the might of Diageo can prove them wrong, we will have to wait and see.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Cheap Booze Shock


Get ready to be outraged. Really outraged. Are you ready yet? Are you really ready? Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Tonight’s Manchester Evening News led with a humdinger of a story. You could feel the outrage from a foot away. A couple of things immediately struck me about the article. Firstly, it’s a non-story. But the famously parsimonious MEN always likes to make a crisis out of a drama and if it can be patronising, sensational and or just plainly wrong; so much the better.

Secondly, the tone is laughable. It leads with the fact that the cheap tramp juice contains more alcohol units than men should consume in a WEEK. Yes, you heard me, a WEEK. OMG. Call out the army. Call out the navy. But, (yawn) hold on, aren’t these the same units that, by the government’s own admission, are imaginary and therefore have no empirical basis? Erm...moving on.

Well what about the price then? It’s three times less than the proposed minimum unit price. Indeed it is three times less than yet another discredited figure plucked out of thin air. And what if is? We’re supposedly living in a free market, are we not? Of course cheap booze for the proletariat is to be frowned upon and there is clear frustration for the MEN that it cannot prove below cost selling.

Yes, but cheap booze is bad for you. Have you seen the 500,000+ alcohol related hospital admissions? That’s clever, linking the two. Well it would be if we didn’t know that’s another inflated figure that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. But let’s work with it anyway. Just how many of these people actually buy their booze from B&M?* Or any of the other mentioned brands? After this free publicity, probably lot's more.

The truth is that it’s a tiny percentage of an increasingly declining market. It’s not called tramp juice for nothing. And it’s not exactly atypical of the market as a whole. But, as with all propaganda pieces, they have cherry picked the unusual in order to get their message across.

My favourite bit is the quote from Elizabeth Burns; who claims that the survey showed that booze has never been available more freely for a lower price. Erm...no it doesn’t and no it isn’t.

I eagerly await the riposte article that puts the facts right: that generally booze is dearer then ever and that people are actually drinking less of it, not more. But with the MEN’s track record, I’m not holding my breath.
*I do know someone who buys their booze from B&M. But he swears it's just the Oakham Citra.

Calling Time On The Supermarket Conversion


CAMRA has called on the government to close loopholes in the planning laws that allow the likes of Tesco to convert pubs into supermarkets without undergoing the usual local scrutiny. Research by CAMRA members has shown that, since 2010, over 200 pubs have undergone conversion; the majority (130) by Tesco: well, every little helps.

The appeal of pub-to-supermarket conversions is simple. A public house is, for planning purposes, already considered a retail unit. So if Tesco, Sainsbury’s etc want to open on the site, they can do so without undergoing the usual change of use process. This of course sidesteps the local authority and has the added bonus, if the premises are less than 280 sq metres, of bypassing the Sunday Trading Act.

This circumventing of local consultation has been highlighted before, but CAMRA believe it’s more imperative than ever that this anomaly is corrected. And they’re not alone. Greg Mulholland MP, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Save The Pub Group, has written to all the major supermarkets asking that they cease to target pubs.

No one can pretend that this measure is some sort of panacea for the pub trade’s ills, but it seems only fair to correct legislation that makes it easier to convert a pub into a supermarket than a restaurant into a pub.

However, I fear that the appeal will fall on deaf ears. We have a prohibitionist government who are intent on less planning regulation, not more, and who are lukewarm towards pubs at best. So I won’t hold my breath.  

Breakfast Beer Tasting: Mighty Hop Black Pearl Porter


This morning we go to the dark side with a Porter from Dorset’s very own Mighty Hop Brewery. Based in Lyme Regis, they’ve been brewing since 2010 and are yet another outfit setup with the aid of Bury’s very own PBC (Brewery Installations) Ltd.

It’s a 500ml bottle and is bottle-conditioned, so careful with that pour. It came out a very dark, almost black, brown with little carbonation and a small tan head. The aroma was quite strong: lots of roast malt, burnt toast and caramel.

The beer itself was surprisingly light-bodied with a lot less roast than the aroma had. There’s toffee, caramel and a coffee. bitter chocolate aftertaste that dissipates quickly on the tongue. Not a heavy, slow supping, traditional Porter, but more of a session one.

You can’t really fault this on the easy-to-drink Richter scale. There’s enough flavour to keep those who like their Porters more substantial happy, but it’s not too heavy for those who aren’t naturally dark beer drinkers.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Seven Stars



Another link to Bury’s proud brewing past has gone with the conversion of the Seven Stars, on Rochdale Road, to Automoney. Originally a tied house of the nearby Crown Brewery (the photo is from 1952), the pub has gone through many guises over the years. Each seemingly bringing a further decline in fortunes. Its last closure turned out to its final hurrah and leaves but two pubs on Rochdale Road.

Tyson@Beagle

There’s a new kid on the block in Chorlton and it’s called the Beagle. Situated on the site of the former Scotts Hill, but probably better known in its former incarnation as Charango, this Beagle has a pedigree. Yes, it’s the latest outlet from the guys behind Common and the Port Street Beer House.

Each of their pubs has its own identity and the Beagle is unashamedly (modern) British in outlook. This can be seen in the range of drinks and its very promising food menu. The full details can be found on their website.
Now it’s fair to say that the Beagle wasn’t quite ready when the Beerhound first called. It’s still something of a work in progress-the telephone wasn’t even connected yet-but it’s clearly an impressive operation.
The second visit went much better: well there was beer for a start! Both the house beers tried were excellent and with the familiar face of Will, from the PSBH, at the helm, it’s clear that the Beagle will soon be an integral part of the Chorlton scene.
I look forward to visiting again shortly for a longer wining and dining session

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Mr Tweed's Manx Adventure


If you are thinking of going to the Isle of Man in November: don’t bother. It’s closed. Or most of it appears to be, anyway. Its numerous railways are finished for the season and, particularly outside of Douglas, the landscape is as barren as George Osborne’s economic outlook.
Station
There is the aviation and military museum-handily combined (open Sundays), but don’t imagine an Imperial War Museum type structure. Think more shed-in-a-field. However, you will need to seek shelter from the unforgiving wind and rain that plagues this heathen backwater. That is where the local hostelries come in.
 
The IOM does have a number of good pubs and real ale is widely available. Choice has often been somewhat limited, but this has steadily increased over the years and, on my recent visit, I was pleasantly surprised by the range that is now available.

Castletown has two good offerings. The Castle Arms (AKA the Glue Pot) is the only pub to feature on a Manx note and is a very cosy local. The Okells IPA was on very fine form here. Nearby is the Sidings-known locally as the Duck’s Nest-which offers an impressive range of beers.

I was keen to try the revamped British in Douglas and it did not disappoint. Its decor is now relaxed contemporary with both service and food excellent. There are eight handpulls adorning the bar, although it was the rare sighting of a Meantime font that caught my eye.

Port Erin lays claim to the best beach on the island. Perhaps not quite as appealing in November, but the local pubs will keep you occupied. The Station is a well appointed Okells house, but the jewel in the crown is the Bay Hotel. This flagship of the Bushy’s estate is a cracker by any standard. Four traditional rooms and a roaring fire all add to the atmosphere and the beer wasn’t bad, either.

So why not give the Isle of Man a whirl? Look beyond their wicker man constructions and worship of pagan gods and you will find a good pub culture. Best visit in summer, though.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Breakfast Beer Tasting: Flying Dog International Arms Race


Now this is an interesting one. In a battle of the international (brew) dogs, it was decided that the UK’s very own Brewdog would go head to head against Maryland’s Flying Dog. The challenge: to brew the same IPA and then let the public decide which was best. The twist here is that they wouldn’t use hops.

Yes, two famous hop-led breweries producing a hopless IPA. Clever, eh? Instead they had to use spearmint, bay leaves, rosemary, juniper berries, and elderflower to impart bitterness. In a tightly fought series of blind tastings, the Flying Dog version emerged as the winner.

It’s 7.5% and comes in a 12oz bottle. It poured amber with good carbonation and an initial decent looking head that disappeared incredibly quickly. I got some bubblegum (spearmint?) and quite a bit of floral (elderflower?) notes in the aroma.

Taste wise, there is the usual solid malt backbone that you would expect from an IPA. Beyond that the overall impression is herbal. The unusual ingredients have been used to good effect to produce a dry finish that is similar to, but distinct from, hop infused bitterness.

Somewhat surprisingly, I found myself liking this beer. It’s something of a palate cleanser: the alcohol is well hidden and the various herbs and berries combine well to prick the old taste buds. It’s not going to replace the traditional hop-led IPA in my affections, but it’s a solid performer.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

A Knight To Remember


I’ve been asked to recap this little trip to our fair capital as, unlikely as it seems, several of the reprobates involved may have had the odd drink or two. Apparently this has clouded their memory of some of the hostelries involved. The exception being the Lamb & Flag: possibly something to do with the clag-hair pulling gymnastic display that we witnessed there. 

So, as a public service, here’s a summary of our itinerary. Both Craft and the Euston Tap featured at the beginning and the end of the adventure with Magic Rock soothing the palate here. The impressive Parcel Yard at King’s Cross got a look in as did the snob screens in the Lamb. The Hat & Tun was very disappointing, but the Seven Stars and the Gunmakers were both on good form.

A new discovery and one worth revisiting is the Queens Head on Acton St. This smart, one-roomed boozer had a good selection on both draught and in bottle and with a barmaid from Portland, what more could you ask for? The first visit to Kernel brewery in its new location is also one that will be repeated; if only to top up the bottle collection.

First timers had their eyes opened at Ye Olde Mitre, while at the Harp it was more of a case of eyes closed for some. There was a good crawl of Borough with the Wheatsheaf. Market Porter, Brew Wharf and the Rake all delivering the goods. There was also a seemingly never ending queue of people wanting to have their photo taken with a big fake foam cock. Maybe it’s a London thing?

Special mention must go to the Old Fountain where, despite the inclement weather, we made full use of the rooftop terrace. Venturing inside to explore some of the excellent beers available during their beer festival, we were also treated to some rather good live music. And the Penderel’s Oak has to be praised for revitalising us with their breakfast. Well, for those of us who could manage breakfast.

I could mention the Stella on the clipper and someone being sick in Craft, but the Human Rights Act prevents me from doing so.

The planning for the reunion next year starts here...

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Help Me Make It Thro' The Night


These are tough times for pubs. Particularly for the out-of-town local (OTL) that can’t boast a large car park for diners or lots of passing trade. In recent times we’ve seen a steady erosion of the street corner and mod-terrace type of pub that were once as common as an MP’s fiddled expenses.

Local authorities have heeded the smoke signals coming from the government and, ever since they seized control of licensing, seem to have made the suburban pub their public enemy number one. Whilst continuing to license and tolerate any number of premises in the town centre; the slightest infringement by an OTL is seized upon eagerly.

Sadly the local authority is now often acting at the behest of a disgruntled neighbour. Where once the attraction of moving next door to a pub was seen as moving closer to an amenity, this is no longer the case. The pub’s proximity is seen as a nuisance, an annoyance that is best curtailed. If you don’t use it why should anyone else, seems to be the attitude.

Thus in recent years we have seen pubs closed because taxi doors are being “slammed” (in permitted hours) or people are gathering outside for a smoke. I know, I know, if only we hadn’t forced them outside in the first place.

Sometimes it is an ex-regular who has had fallen out with his former haunt. Hence the closure of a mid-terrace pub that dared to have its jukebox playing at 7pm on a Saturday in June. Unacceptable as next door happened to have its windows open and that’s the last thing you expect from a pub in summer. Especially when you are no longer welcome in said pub.

So it was with some resignation that I read a recent letter in the local press concerning the Help Me Thro’. This is a pleasant, terraced Thwaites pub that, as far as I know, tries to cater for its customers; who mainly live nearby.

However, according to ‘Disgruntled Grandparent’ it’s frequented by “inhabitants of other areas” and is characterised by loud music etc. Even worse, the local councillor had the audacity to defend the place. What about serving his disgruntled constituents? All very sadly predictable.

But this week’s edition contains not one, but two letters carrying the fight to the pub’s misanthropic neighbour. Not hiding behind anonymity (pointless as the identity of the miserable sod is well known) they seek to put the record straight.

The councillor was acting in his constituents interests: the pub is a local business and it is frequented by responsible local folk who enjoy the odd night out. Music is restricted to once a month or so and is of the solo kind, not an ACDC jamboree. And if you can’t stand the heat, don’t move next door to a pub. How do you like those apples, my hostelry-hating frined?

In the words of the late Clive Dunn: “They don’t like it up ‘em.”

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Seattle

Seattle is the largest city in the Pacific Northwest and still has the feel of a metropolis that has not reached its peak yet. Cocky, like a boxer on his way up; it boasts an excellent transport system that sees some of the highest transit user rates in North America and some of the very few electric trolley buses in the USA.

While it can seem brash and wears its prosperity on its sleeve, it’s undoubtedly fun. The skyline is dominated by the world famous Space Needle (great views, but overpriced) and the futuristic monorail that connects to the Needle. They’re very proud of their monorail. That’s fair enough, but I told them if they want to see a real monorail in action, they need to get to Blackpool; preferably during the Illuminations.

Although known as the Rainy City due to its rainfall, it was actually going through a near-record dry spell whilst I was there. And once you work out the address system, you’re on your way. Because, despite being a techno-hub, it’s quite traditional in other ways. Each district and the pubs therein, have their own characteristics.

Downtown
I advise (having done it the wrong way round) to start at the top of the hill (Tap House) and drink downwards.

Pike Brewing: One of the region’s oldest brewpubs. A fascinating place with lots of beer memorabilia adorning the walls. Brewing is actually powered by steam but, for legal reasons, they are unable to call the beer “steam beer”.

Collins Pub: Cosy boozer with a decent beer selection.

Tap House Grill: Has to be visited just to marvel at the 160 tap selection. Be warned, it’s expensive, even by Seattle standards.

Elysian Fields: Smart and modern; lots of wood and glass. This is the one on First Ave, further up from Pike. Very reasonable prices for some rather excellent beer. My favourite Seattle haunt and, in my opinion, the producer of some of the finest beers in the Pacific Northwest.

Capitol Hill
Another Seattle must-visit place is the Stumbling Monk. I was less impressed with the decor of this small, dimly lit dive-type bar than some people, but the knowledgeable staff and select beer choice makes it worth a visit.

Fremont Ballard

The Jolly Roger Taproom, home of the Maritime Pacific Brewing Company, offers around 14 beers including some cask-conditioned ones.

Other
I paid a few visits to Sharp’s Roaster and Ale House which is close to Sea-Tac airport. It majors heavily on food, but still manages a good list of 20+ beers and 500 spirits. Happy Hour is every 30 minutes when they spin a wheel to see what goes on offer.

Beers
Freemont Universale Pale Ale
Georgetown Lucille IPA
Elysian Idiot Sauvin IPA
Big Time Coal Creek Porter
Elysian Dragonstooth Stout

Summary
Seattle is a great city for drinking. It’s easy to get around and there are plenty of places worth exploring. My only annoyance was the determined effort to hide abvs from you and some of the prices. Although, outside of the centre, prices can be surprisingly reasonable. But be prepared to pay $3.50 for a small (8oz schooner) and $8.50 for a large (22oz tankard) glass of beer. But it’s certainly worth a visit.

Cap in Hand


Want to learn how to alienate many of your clientele and attract unwanted publicity? Then try banning flat caps and refuse to serve the Daily Mirror’s Paul Routledge for wearing one. Yes, that’s what Pearsons in Chorley have done. Now some pubs do have restrictions on baseball caps etc for security reasons, but this flat cap ban seems to go above and beyond common reasoning and is only nurturing their business rivals. Bets are on for how long it lasts.

Read the full story here.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

The Worm Turns


There has been quite some debate both within and outside of the alcohol lobby this week over a recent article by Klaus Makela. Why? Well, the article takes to task the now seemingly orthodox view that cost-of-alcohol studies are an accurate model for governments to base policy on.

These sorts of studies-that try to quantify in monetary terms the adverse effects of alcohol-have become increasingly popular in recent years and have largely supplanted the traditional type of social study.

The reasons for their popularity aren’t hard to understand. Politicians love having figures to play with. For one thing, putting a figure on anything makes it easily identifiable as a problem. Our own government, for example, claims that “alcohol related harm” now costs society £21bn annually. And if you can quantify a problem with cost, you can be seen to be tackling the problem by making savings.

This lazy approach is easily sold to the media which loves simple stories that feature big numbers that they can highlight. Thus we face a barrage of stories about minimum pricing, alcohol units etc that highlight just how much the cost to society is and how much better off we will be in terms of pounds saved, Brilliant, eh?

But Makela basically rubbishes the notion of monetising societal harm. And this is important because it’s not just me-or even some less influential blogger-pointing out the flawed methodology. This is a heavyweight peer review of 30 studies carried out since 2000. It’s published by the Nordic Studies on Alcohol and Drugs and will make for some uncomfortable reading in certain quarters.

What I found particularly satisfying is his demonstration that the controversial University of Sheffield study that advocated minimum pricing is only fir for wiping your arse with. Their model, based on guesswork and unsupported assumption states that a minimum price of 40p will see a reduction in unemployment of 25,000 in the first year.

But of course there are too many factors in play to justify this assumption. The economic climate for one. And it’s laughable to assume that 25,000 vacancies are just waiting to be filled when minimum pricing miraculously cures the stricken. In the real world, if a position is unfilled due to alcohol abuse, then it will most likely be simply filled by someone else.

So we cannot take seriously this “saving” of 25,000 jobs. And yet that accounts for 75% of the total savings credited to minimum pricing in the Sheffield study. Oops. The truth is that all of these cost-of-alcohol studies, from minimum pricing to monetising unprotected sex are built on a house of sand.

You can read the full article here

One thing that also struck a chord with me is how these so-called scientific studies only focused on the negative aspects of drinking and ignored the positive benefits. Politically inconvenient?