Thursday 27 August 2009

Git’s guide to beer and pubs

This week the Morning Advertiser has a ‘blokes’ issue — and they asked me and several others (including Roger Protz, Pete Brown and Tom Stainer), what we, as men (well I think we’re all men), wanted from a pub (there are other manly features). You can read our responses in the current MA (you can read the whole thing if you register for the digital issue here), but here’s mine for the record.
Being a modern man, who is neither neanderthal or metrosexual, I would certainly not like a men only pub; I like women in the pub, men on their own are boring and borish but on the other hand I would like a pub which doesn’t harp on about beers for men, beers for women etc. Can I just have a public house in the broadest sense of the word — somewhere that is part of the community.
My ideal pub would be beer led, not just real ale, but also stock bottled and keg beers from USA craft brewers, Bavarian wheat beer producers and Belgian mavericks; a decent wine list and interesting spirits otherwise it would become just a haven for scruffy looking men with carrier bags.
I don’t want brass ornaments or mugs hanging down, well just a few of the latter, memories of the characters for whose exclusive use they were once for. Old black and white photos on the wall, plus some framed posters for beers and the odd French film to add class. By the dart board there would be a rogues gallery of good nights in the pub.
I would like food, but simple stuff, good sandwiches, soup, decent salad, no chips, maybe seafood such as prawns, mussels etc. Wooden floors, terracotta colours on the walls, a book case with good books, not those bought by the yard; newspapers — broadsheets and a local.
This is a place where conversation rules (no music unless a couple of itinerant folk musicians come in and play), this is a place where men can talk about who was caught with whom in the polo field or discuss the latest calamities that has happened to so and so. A civilised place, as a pub should be — one concession to modern mores though: a screen that can be brought down and big rugby matches watched whenever Wales or Ospreys are playing, or indeed Arsenal are on. Pretty straightforward really.

And not a copy of Nuts in sight. The picture is of a man in a pub.

Sunday 23 August 2009

Old Freddy

Not that much of a cricket fan (but my lad is bat and ball mad), but there still has to be a beer for such an occasion: step forward Old Freddy Walker, which I happened to be contemplating when England finally took the shine off the Aussie sunshine. Have been drinking this for years (remember having a poly-pin in our old place in Chedzoy one Xmas that lasted a mere three nights), but tasting a bottle now, it knocks me over with its smooth chocolately, cocoa powder, creamy character — and with the feeling on Exmoor that autumn is coming this is the best tonic to greet those longer nights. I’m a fan of their JJJ as well, tasting notes of which can be found here — if you so wish.

Monday 17 August 2009

We had sun, we had fun, we had saisons in the sun

I love Saison, and am currently in the middle of researching a feature on it —yesterday, a 750ml bottle of Dupont and the same of De Glazen Toren Saison De Erpe-Mere. The difference is fascinating: Dupont is austere and flinty, restrained in its sweetness, with a champagne like effervescence; while Erpe-Mere is sweeter and more voluptuous, a bigger mouthfeel, more generous in its tasting profile. Both were brilliant and natural choices with food, the Dupont giving a great big hug to a creamy blue cheese, while the Erpe-Mere was a winner with roast pork. Saison is one of the great unsung beer styles of Europe — though both US and Italian brewers have not ignored it. Amongst the Italian saisons suggested by beer maestro Lorenzo Babove there are Birrificio del Ducato’s New Morning and Wayan by the incomparable Teo Musso; while over in the US I have a bottle of Victory’s Saison V waiting in my cellar and am intrigued by Saison-Brett from Boulevard Brewing. Purists might blanche at the thought of US brewers getting their hands on Saison but beer styles are surely always evolving through time and I love the idea of a Bret-influenced Saison (the pic was taken at Silly, who produce a decent if unexciting Saison).

Wednesday 12 August 2009

We are scum

To the Pilchard Inn on Burgh Island in Devon, overlooking the spit of sand that adjoins it to the mainland when the tide is out. An old inn, full of character I think, white-washed walls with the name standing out, the chance of a couple of pints in between body boarding and rock-pooling. Hello, what’s this, a queue for the bar, which I being essentially polite, join — after all there is South Hams’ XSB on and also something from Exeter Brewery (not world-beaters but at least they’re supporting local brewers, which is good and I don’t really expect this pub to have something from Schonram on tap, mind you they have San Miquel if you want to pretend you are in Spain).

Finally served by an unsmiling woman who presumably doesn’t like all these people from ‘off’ in her pub. There’s another bar at the back and so I go and have a look. A lovely sign says ‘reserved for guests and regulars’. Guests means those who can afford to stay at the Art Deco hotel that dominates one side of the island, while regulars I assume means some old sea salt who is wheeled out for the guests to talk to and make them feel they have had a brush with real life before returning to their Art Deco surroundings to throw peanut shells at the plebs shuffling about on the island.

The pub is a real disappointment, it presumably needs the service of those off the beach who fancy a pint, but it doesn’t want to infect the whole of its premises with them. It’s not a real public house then, it’s a facsimile, a virtual pub — I got more of a welcome in the Edwardian boozer that they transplanted to the Beamish Open-Air Museum in the north-east (barmaid in bustles, old Youngers signs, coal fire in the winter) than I did to this nose-wrinkling, handkerchief waving away, scowling place. Any port in a storm and all that but next time I do some body boarding on Bigbury beach I’ll settle for a bottle of Quercus ale from the excellent Venus Beach Cafe on the unwashed side of the beach.

The pub is lovely, the beer is good, the situation on a hot day heavenly, but this slice of suburban apartheid really sticks in my craw. So there.

Wednesday 5 August 2009

Beer Glasto

Another GBBF, another splendid cavalcade of characters from the world of beer, old friends, new friends. I find I don’t approach the GBBF with the same excitement I used to. It has — for me — become more of a social and business networking event than an attempt to drink myself around the world (though I always manage to give it a good go). Maybe it’s because I go to the trade session or maybe because it’s part of the establishment now: a media partnership from the Indie, a big piece on the science of beer in the DT and posters everywhere, even people I know in the non-beerwriting world ask me if it is worth going to (whereas once they saw me as a bit odd). It’s become the beer world’s Glastonbury or any number of those festivals that seem to mark the summer’s passage. All that is missing is the rain, though several years ago Olympia got a hammering during a cloud burst. But what’s wrong with that — if beer (and I am not just talking about real ale) is to remain part of the matter of Britain then events like this are essential. From its energetic presence other celebrations of beer (both cask and non cask, British and global) can draw sustenance.

Evidence of ennui though? A peek at the list online last week failed to excite. On the other hand I enjoyed the cask beers I tried — Lord Maples, Cwrw Eryri and Screech Owl. Then it’s over to BSF where I discovered several things: I don’t like every beer that has been matured in whisky barrels (cue handing over Blood Sweat & Tears to a mate); will there come a stage when barrel aged beers become the Emperor’s New Clothes? De Ranke XX Bitter was bitter hop juice, and I normally love it, while Messers Maguire’s Bock was a thin thimble of roast malt and nowt else.

On the positive side, Mummia from Birrificio Montegioco was fun — lambic like, complex and refreshing. Augustiner Helles and Beck Brau Pils were elegant and crisp on the palate, but not Schlenkerla’s Rauchbier Urbock (unsophisticated in its smokiness, unlike its mother Marzen). Lagunitas’ Pils (parma violets on the nose) disappointed, but have bought a bottle home to reassess as it was recommended to me by an American beerwriter. Firestone Walker’s Union Jack IPA was tremendous (as if someone had grabbed me by the back of the neck and plunged me into a hopsack), though the beer from the US that impressed most was Victory’s V12, tasted at a US craft brewers reception the day before — fermented with Westmalle yeast according to Bill Cowaleski, it was rich and spirited, smooth and feisty, and hard to resist.

As for the festival itself I didn’t really take much notice of what elsewhere Pete Brown has talked of ‘freakish volunteers’ (none of us are perfect), though a first sighting of the Hobgoblin made me start (however I have seen a Merlin strolling the streets of Glastonbury) — and then I realised I wasn’t at a heavy metal concert whose adherents swear by their bodkins. It was just someone done up to promote Hobgoblin (10 years ago I remember a man in a budgie suit, I think that was his normal outfit). Someone else, in a shabby shiny suit, wore a lovely damp lock of hair pressed down on his forehead as he staggered from ale to ale. Then a brace of monstrously overwhelming drag queens in coloured tin foil, hellbent on signing up for Melissa’s tours. All very Glasto. However, I suspect as the day wears on and the beers go down, very few people look ‘normal’ when the bell rings (I know I certainly don’t). Which is why, for once fearing for my normality, I reluctantly but resolutely made an exit at 4.15. See you next year .