Saturday, 28 November 2015

Risk Free Drinking

This post is by Broggers, who is on twitter here. Our man's a reformed beer geek: he used to mad buy into all that stuff but grew out of it and now just drinks solid cask beers and nice Czech lager. He works in the City and lives in Metroland.

A lovely pint of Oakham at the author's local. No #murkshaming required.
Beer is expensive. That's a nailed on truth as far as I'm concerned, yet there are many that think otherwise despite the volume (both meanings) of complaints of inconsistency in quality, carb levels, murk etc. Higher prices mean higher risk and I'm in neither the mood nor the position to speculate unnecessarily.

Supermarkets have upped their game. Fuller flavoured beers are finding their way into multi-buy and pack deals. Even Morrison's let me leave the store with 4 well regarded bottles of US IPA, 4  tins of Scottish craft IPA and 12 bottles of standard Czech lager for £17.50. Less than a quid for each 330ml rather than the £3+ that many beer shops want for a potential gusher.

That's low risk boozing. In my situation, and that of many others, this matters. Work, commute, toddler, owning and running a house; these things all leave me relatively time and disposable cash poor. Reliable brand, reasonable price are the key influencers of all buying decisions. Ford beers.

There was a window on Sunday to actually get in a pub, leading to a stroll up to the Sportsman. Warm welcome, great beer, outstanding bar stool conversation topics ranging from Ron (nice bloke, knows his beer does Ron, doesn't come in often though) to the era of ice skating on Rickmansworth Aquadrome. So far so good.

But the loud and legion complaints tell me that beer pulled from cask or poured from keg is risky. What if it's flat? Murky? Old? Are the lines clean? Does the man behind the bar think it's supposed to be like that just to compound the misery of parting with hard earned for poor product?

I fancied some pale and hoppy and went for a Truman Zephyr; an unexpected delight that left an echo of melon and Parma ham on the palate (oooh get me). Oakham JHB and Green Devil (keg) followed and delivered the standard Oakham experience. Hop forward beer from independent breweries (my choice, dark and fruity beer lovers were catered for too. So were people who like Carling and Guinness but with actual Carling and Guinness rather than the haughty patter of 'why don't you try this alternative'). Both cask and keg without even a slight haze let alone shameful murk.

The damage; two Zephyr, one JHB and two Green Devil came in at £17.50.

What this and other pubs like it tell me is that it isn't enough to just care about your beer offering. It'll take experience, skill and hard work on top of that to free drinking out of the home from risk completely. The complaints make clear that many operators are missing at least one.

In order to free myself from my reclusive Croxley Green booze haven, I plan to venture to Berkhamsted and Little Chalfont over the next week to keep this blog rolling.

Thursday, 26 November 2015


A new opening in Manchester's Northern Quarter throws up a surprise: a Krusovice tankovna.

The two 880-pint tanks of unpasteurised Czech beer sit directly above the bar in Cottonopolis. It's served in tall, unpretty branded mugs with minimal head. This is in contrast to the more traditional presentation of tank Pilsner Urquell across town at Albert's Schloss.

Krusovice is, to my palate, harsh and one-dimensional, even in tank-fresh condition. I've never really enjoyed it, in the UK or in Prague. The brand's owned by Heineken, and they've been trying to market it here for a few years now.

Cottonopolis itself is lovely. I like the choice of name: I haven't heard this moniker for our newly-christened "Northern powerhouse" since GCSE History. My companion's gin and tonic was served in a chunky, cut-glass tumbler with a slice of blood orange and juniper berries. The staff were friendly and industrious and there was a sense that they, and the customers they were looking after, were very happy to be there.

Cottonopolis is at 16 Newton Street, Manchester, M1 2AE.

Brew Dog finally crack Clerkenwell

This is going to be a BrewDog bar
BrewDog have been trying to get a site in Clerkenwell, London, for yonks. It's where I live so I've watched with some interest.

First they applied for a licence at the former restaurant adjoining the Betsey Trotwood. Local LibDem councillor and anti-nightlife campaigner George Allan kaiboshed their plans, raising a number of objections. James Watt went stone mad about it and threatened to appeal, but the freeholder chose to grant Whitbread a lease instead. It's now a Costa Coffee. I was told they also sniffed about a premises across the road, but that was leased by the Church Group and is now trading as Ninth Ward.

Well, I've just heard they've taken over the bar formerly known as Fourteenth Colonie on Clerkenwell Road. This used to be Giant Robot, and before that it was a Match bar. It's always floundered in these various cocktail permutations: loads of cash has been squandered refitting it over the last decade. It's a strange unit - the middle section is sunken so the seating areas around it look down on the bar - but not one without appeal. BrewDog will do well there and break the curse, I reckon.

I doubt I'll frequent it much, even though it's two streets away, but I do have a lot of respect for BrewDog as bar operators. They serve their product well, and the staff are invariably excellently trained and a bit less miserable than in most craft beer bars.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Beer of the week #12

Every Sunday we offer you a beer of the week. The rules of engagement are simple: it's a draught beer enjoyed, in a pub or elsewhere, in the last seven days.

Howard Town Dark Peak
Several pints at the New Oxford, Salford
6% abv, £3.80 a pint

The New Oxford in Salford is my new local, albeit temporarily. It's an ex-Vaux pub, and still bears its livery outside. That's a funny coincidence for me: Vaux is Sunderland's old brewery. It closed in 1999, but just before that I served its beer at the Steamboat in South Shields. I'm really surprised they had pubs so far away from County Durham as this.

I've been in the New Oxford three times since I arrived here last week. I'm very glad to have such a great pub on my doorstep: it's got a 16 handpumps, loads of great keg beers (including proper Duvel - not the Green - on tap) and a fridge full of Belgian bottles.

My choice of beer there (because these days I like to choose one thing and stick with it) is from a brewery I've never heard of before: Howard Town, of Glossop, just on the edge of the Peak District.

High Peak a properly strong stout. It's got this chocolate and coffee liqueur character, and an ever-present booziness that befits a beer of this strength, yet somehow doesn't detract from my ability to knock a couple back at the end of the day.

Dangerous, perhaps. But no need to worry: my bed's just a few dozen yards away.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Drinker's Digest

What's going down in beer town? Here's this week's round-up.

The week in pubs

A pub landlady pressed a panic button and called the Old Bill - who turned up mob handed in a riot van - when a customer refused to pay her bill due to an allegedly overcooked steak. The customer then got to strike a pose looking glum for her local paper, the Western Daily Express. Crumbs.

A pub in Bristol - The Bag of Nails, pictured right - has 15 cats living in it, according to BBC News Online. Pest control contracts aren't that expensive and tend to be preferred by Environmental Health, you know.

The week in brewing

Guinness announced they were removing isinglass from their beers. Frankly it came as a surprise they still used it. My understanding was that's it's only really some UK cask brewers who still do. We won't notice any difference anyway, as Guinness is opaque. But it allows boring people to drone on about veganism and fish guts and all that shit, so crack on.

A US craft brewery called Ballast Point I'd never heard of sold out to Constellation Brands, who own Corona. Broggers - who is secretly a massive beer geek - had it covered though. We then had a discussion about whether we really care about who owns our favourite breweries, but sadly no-one rose to the bait and came out with self-contradictory, vaguely anti-capitalist hogwash.

The week in beer communicators

Roger Protz and Tim Hampson were honoured by a Belgian brewing guild for services to beer. For some reason neither were required to wear a tie for the ceremony, but there was a man in fancy dress knocking about.

You all know who Protz is, but Tim might not be familiar to some STONCH readers. He's a very nice chap with a lovely, cultured manner. It makes you wonder why on earth he still has any interest in writing about beer.

The week in STONCH

The aforementioned "Do you care really care who owns your favourite breweries?" was our number one read this week, and was commented on over 40 times. A review of Albert's Schloss in Manchester was number two. Third most read was A Wedge of Ballast by Broggers.

The week elsewhere

This interview with David Bruce - ex-Firkin, now City Pub Company - by Claire Dodd in Imbibe is worth a deeks. Also you should read MP Greg Mulholland's right of reply to the Morning Advertiser's Mike Berry, who said last week he'd "overstepped the mark" in a meeting with pubco figures,

Comment of the week

In reply to "Do you care really care who owns your favourite breweries?"

Tweet of the week

Friday, 20 November 2015


Because they've taken over numerous pubs and turned them into convenience stores, Britain's biggest supermarket chain Tesco isn't too popular in beery circles. This morning I spotted this:

To my surprise I then received the following tweet, and replied, I think, appropriately:

Enjoy your weekend.

The brewpubs of Bolzano

In this post back in summer I offered you my impressions of the Italian/Austrian city of Bolzano/Bozen. I'd been there not long before, on a three day rail journey from Franconia to Tuscany. At the end of that lengthy piece I promised my next would be about the city's two brewpubs.

How time has flown. It's now winter, and in my first week here in Manchester's it's barely stopped raining. My thoughts turn back to the sunny carefree days of summer, and my time on the continent. Let's return to Bolzano and take a look at those brewpubs, shall we?

Hopfen & Co

If you spend any time at all wandering around the beautiful, narrow streets of Bolzano's centre, you won't miss Hopfen & Co. It sits on a busy corner, with tables for diners down one side in typical Italian fashion. They also run their own bakery stall on the other side (remember brewing and baking are historically linked, particularly in the German world). Of an evening this makes a good place to perch with a pint of their "Bozner Bier" if it's packed inside.

Waiting staff swept around with impressive platters full of tremendously appealing food. I sat at the bar and ordered one of their basic dishes: a pan with wild mushrooms, chunks of bacon, cream and spätzle. It was a glorious accompaniment to their light, dark, red and wheat beers. All were cloudy with the indistinct, bready palate that goes with that particular territory. Uncharacteristically I opted for small 0.3L measures and tried them all.

I sat by an outspoken Australian man in his 60s. He'd decided to travel across Europe, from Naples to Berlin, via rail. He was undertaking a longer journey than my own, and in reverse. He'd made his money winning decorating contracts for a chain of shopping centres and had decided to spend some of it.

As with many travellers, it was the parts he didn't expand upon that were key to his story. It became clear this was a man whose wife had left him, and who had a taste for excursions to the fleshpots of South East Asia (the two were probably linked). A European tour was dull for someone with such tastes, but he was making the best of it; he seemed content drinking and bending the ear of people like me. He made for interesting company but I wouldn't have wanted any more of it.

Batzen Bräu

I awoke early and spent the next morning exploring Bolzano, marvelling at what might be the most wonderful city I will ever visit. My meander through the streets - some more Germanic, some more Italian - brought me suddenly upon Batzen Bräu, a flash brewpub my Australian acquaintance had recommended the night before. Checking he wasn't actually there, I took a seat on the street outside and summoned a beer.

I tried their effort at a pilsner first. It was OK. A touch yeasty, I remember. I'd love to crowdfund filtration equipment and centrifuges for some of these Germanic brewpubs.

The waiter insisted on speaking to me in Italian even though I'm English, he was German-speaking, and he spoke perfectly good Queen's to the table next to me. Such is the linguistic confusion in that city. He also insisted on whipping away the menu with the beer profiles, so alas I was in his hands when I wanted to try something else.

They produced a wide range, I think, including an ale and a porter, but he insisted on bringing me what he called simply their "lager". It turned out to be what one might call a "Landbier" up in Franconia, where I'd just been. Again, it was initially fresh but riddled with dead yeast in suspension, so strangely dull at the same time.

Bidding farewell to my waiter - in Italian, just to play along - I scooted off down to the railway station, past clusters of bored economic migrants, and boarded a claustrophobic Frecce to Emilia-Romagna. The train hurtled past endless vineyards, and it was only then that I realised I'd been to a region that produces beautiful wine without drinking a drop of it. Such is life.