Archive for October, 2012

Cask Ale Week – The Town

I know Cask Ale Week was a while ago but I’ve been busy. Deal with it. For those of you who don’t know cask ale week is an event set up and organised by Cask Marque. It is a promotion of good cask ales for a week (that is actually ten days) with different events and offers at pubs up and down the country.

One such promotion was tied in with the Cask Finder app for smartphones. The app, which bills itself as “The worlds largest ale trail” includes a section which allows the used to scan the QR codes on cask marque certificates. Usually when someone has visited 25 pubs they are sent a bottle opener, 50: a t-shirt and 100: a whole range of other exciting things. During cask ale week though you have the chance to win a different, limited edition t-shirt by visiting twelve different pubs during the event. Now with no other events going on in my area and fortuitously coinciding with week with no work on, I call that challenge accepted.

My friend Jay is accompanying me on this one. It is his first time using the app, whereas I have had it for a while. He is yet to know the frustrations of trying to find the certificates which are supposed to be displayed. He hasn’t yet experienced the cask marque database and its many inaccuracies. And he hasn’t yet been met with blank faces on the other side of the bar when you enquire about anything relating to cask marque. He shall soon find out…

We meet up on the Tuesday morning in Bedford and after a brief encounter with a friend of a friend of mind-bending odds, we find our first pub. The Pilgrim’s Progress, a Wetherspoon’s pub. Spotting the certificate in here was easy enough because it was so high up behind the bar. When we asked the bar man, he had to stand on a stool to scan the codes for us. When he got back down he asked what it was for, and we explained, I don’t think either of us realised how tedious that was going to become.

I finished my Harvest Moon and we moved on to our next pub, which was a bit of a trek because Jay had some unfinished business and had to go all the way across town first. We spotted a Cask Marque sign on the outside of The Ship on the way back into town. It wasn’t on the map marking the cask marque’d pubs on the phone app but with a sign outside it must have one, right? We went in and had a swift half of Eagle IPA, the bloke behind the bar had absolutely no idea what was going on when we asked him and so we moved on down the road to The Foresters Arms.

At least the landlord, who was behind the bar, knew what we were talking about. They had just received a load of post about their cask marque but hadn’t yet got round to sorting it out. So he goes out of site for a moment, comes back with piles of papers, dumps it on the bar and asks “Is any of that lot it?”. Eventually we find a letter which states that the actual certificate comes later on by recorded delivery. So that’s three pubs and only one scan towards our target of twelve. Things are not looking good.

We then try the other Wetherspoon in Bedford, The Banker’s Draft. As soon as we walked in we could see the certificate, again, its way too high to reach and this time we can see it is out of date too. The queue at the bar is so long we gave up on this one and down the High Street to The Rose. In here the cask marque was right by the bar, easy to get to and could be scanner, finally number two! I had a Jester Jack, I can’t remember what Jay had (Then again, I can’t remember what I had either, I’m looking back through my untappd app).

Moving along we tried The Embankment. The girl behind the bar had no clue, the manager was on the phone and clearly didn’t want to help the likes of us. Again another miss, although I’m not too bothered about this one, last time we were in there the beer was vile. We walked out without even having a drink.

Next on the list was The Devonshire Arms. When we got there it was shut. Our fault entirely, we should have looked up the opening hours, they aren’t open during the day weekdays. Fortunately though the landlord was outside, who was nice, friendly, helpful, understanding, kind and a million other nice things which could be said. This was probably the only time that we met a bar manager or landlord who knew completely everything about what we were doing. He let us in the pub to scan his certificate, which was help pride of place in the front of the pub by the main door. While we were inside he showed of his large selection of cask ales which we could have if we came back later. Getting a pub scanned felt a bit like cheating seaming as we didn’t have a drink but we have been there before on another occasion, so it’s OK in my eyes.

Moving on and we got another Eagle IPA in The Gordon Arms. The landlady didn’t really know why but she did let us behind the bar so we could scan the certificate and she was very friendly as well, talking to us about music venues in the town and other things besides. By now we had come quite a way from the town centre and decided to turn back because Jay had to work later on.

After a sausage roll from the bakery on Castle Street we walked back and found The Three Cups. I had a Farriers Best Bitter while a hunt the certificate game proceeded upstairs with the manager and some of the staff because they knew “it’s around here somewhere”. It was eventually found in a drawer upstairs, we scanned it and it was taken away again. I thought that surely now they know that people might want to see it that they would put it up somewhere, but what do I know?

Just down the road from this is The Castle. This was another pub where there was a lot of confusion with the staff and eventually the landlord was summoned. He also had no idea what we were talking about. We showed him a leaflet about the ale trail, which he asked if he could keep, we then pointed to the stack of them on his bar. He then didn’t feel the need to keep our leaflet. He did say that he had no idea about any of these things because he had only just moved in and was new to running a pub, and was interested in finding out more. He phoned up cask marque while we were there and got a new certificate ordered. Hopefully, when we are next in town, we can get a scan then. The bar staff suggested that we try The Cricketers and The Wellington Arms.

So we did as they suggested, tried The Cricketers, which was closed and then The Wellington Arms, which was open and FANTASTIC. This pub deserves its own post because there was wall to wall great beer and nothing else. The walls were festooned with CAMRA certificates for pub of the year and the like. I had a Black Squirrel and Jay had a Fruit Bat, both from B&T, a local brewery who’s beers are excellent. Cask marque? That was behind the two locals who didn’t mind moving so we could scan it in.

So, we visited twelve pubs, which all showed some sign either on the app of on the signs on their doors saying they should have a cask marque, of those we only got six scans on our target of twelve. We’ll just have to go to a few more pubs before the week is out. What a shame.

The Flitwick Club Beer Festival

The Flitwick club is a members only social club in Flitwick, which is near where I live. I am infact a member of this club, however you did not need to be last weekend because for two days it was open to the public to allow entry to its beer festival. It was the first beer festival at the club and they have started out small. In fact the choice was only ten beers and two ciders.

image The beers which were available were Hogg’s Back’s  HBB, W.J King’s Horsham Best, Long Man’s Long Blonde,Long Man’s Best Bitter,Skinner’s Betty Stoggs, Otter’s Amber,Hogg’s Back’s T.E.A, Exmoor’s Wild Cat, Exmoor’s Gold and Adnam’s Ghost Ship. The two ciders available were Weston’s First Quality Cider and Thatcher’s Cheddar Valley. On top of this the standard bar which is always at the club has two constantly rotating real ales, while the festival was on there was Jennings‘ Little Gem and St Austell’s Tribute. Not a huge choice, and some of the beers I have had before, but that’s not a bad thing. I personally would have liked to have a darker beer, a mild or a porter perhaps, but it wasn’t the end of the world.

The small number of beers there meant that I got to try everything which was on offer. I had planned to go down for a little while but as a friend said to me a few days later “Stay for a bit?!?!?!? Looke, You never left all day”. Yeah, oops.

image I first arrived just after lunchtime with Darren. We sat down for a few halves, during which time I realised that perhaps my drinking in this town was getting a bit too much. Myself and Darren were sitting at a table with our drinks, paying no attention to the others at the bar when a gentleman in his thirties approached us. In his hand he had a half of what was clearly cheddar valley cider (if you’ve ever seen it you’ll know what I mean, the colour is extraordinary) and in his other he had another glass with a taster in it of the same. “Excuse me, are you the cider drinker”. I looked at my glass and the Adnams Ghost Ship that was in it. I tried to think of something witty to say but ended up saying “errrr… I do drink cider, yes”. The man handed me the taster and asked me if it was “alright”, I explained that it was the dry version of Cheddar Valley and so unlike most commercial cider isn’t sweet and can indeed taste like it did. The man thanked me and left us to continue our drinks. I couldn’t help but think over his choice of words though “the cider drinker”. I didn’t think I drunk that much cider these days but clearly I’ve started to gain a reputation. I know I have had Cheddar valley before , but I’m not sure if that it is a good thing or not.

On the whole I would say that Flitwick beer festival was very good for a small event. I even overcame my trepidation about Betty Stoggs, which I now can only conclude was off at every other pub I’ve drunk it in and is actually rather fine. All the beers were in good condition and all were very good choices to stock. Hopefully they will build on this for next year, can’t wait.

The session. Once a month beer bloggers from around the world take five minutes to all discuss a particular topic. This month, the topic is novelty beers. It was suggested by this months host, Tiffany from 99 Pours. The following quote sums up the brief for this month:

“What novelty beer comes to mind when you think: Is this beer just to strange to stay around? Why in the world would they choose ingredients most beer drinkers have never heard of …what the heck is a qatar fruit? If it’s okay for beer to taste like tea or coffee, why not pizza? If wild yeasts are allowed to ferment beer, then why not beard yeast? If oysters, why not bacon? If pumpkin’s good enough for pie, why not beer? Since hops are flowers, why not brew with actual flowers?”

OK, lets address these points from the beginning and see where this takes me. What comes to mind when I think of novelty beers? Well mostly its the beers which have got strange ingredients which come to mind the most, although it’s not a completely bizarre ingredient in beer I find that the ginger in Badgers Blandford Flyer makes for a beer which is quite novel, and repeatedly I keep coming back to this beer in my trail of thought. Ever since I first tried this beer I have loved it, especially on a hot day. I must admit that I was first drawn to it by the idea of the added ginger and the story that goes with why they add it (apparently their is a fly which has a tendency to bite fishermen in the area around the Blandford River and the ginger helps to repel the fly).

On the other end of the spectrum of novel ingredients, things which really are out there, I can only think of  BrewDog’s Never mind the anabolics. This is a beer which contains several ingredients which are banned by the powers that be in the professional sporting world for their performance enhancing qualities, although this is quite obviously still legal for us mere mortals to drink. These ingredients include creatine, guarana, ginseng, gingo, maca powder, matcha tea and kola nut, most of these things I have never heard of. This is a beer which I most certainly want to try, not so much because of its performance enhancing ingredients, but because with such a long list of different additions to the beer its surely not going to taste like their regular IPA and I’m all for trying something new and different.

As for some of the other questions asked, my response is why not indeed? We should have more innovative beers in the world, without innovation we would stand still and things would just get boring. I say yes to pizza beer (I assume you mean this one?). I say yes to yeast which has come from odd sources, if it’s yeast, then why not, it all does the same thing. Just as long as you have got rid of the beard, I draw the line there. I say yes to flowers and I definitely say yes to bacon (infact I say yes to bacon on nearly a daily basis). A quick Google showed me that at least two brewery’s, Goose Island and Uncommon Brewers, have both made a beer at some point which has bacon in. I really want to try these, as long as they actually tastes like bacon, unlike the bacon bubblegum which I was given the other day, which was wrank.

I think that a brewer should be allowed to experiment. Of course while many of the outcomes may be a success and they may taste really nice, they probably won’t have the same drinkability that our palettes are used to. I know, for example, that Blandford Flyer is a great pint, but I couldn’t drink more than one or two of them in a night, the taste is just not what you expect from a beer, and while its enjoyable, at the end of the day we all just want a no nonsense pint.

Really what I am trying to say is that we, as beer lovers, like variety, if all the beers in the world were the same it would get boring very quickly, and we’d all just buy the same cans from the same place and that would be that. So we want the mad dog ideas along with all the standards to throw something different into the mix.  But at the same time while a different, life-changing, innovative and experimental beer can be wonderful, and I truly hope that the idea of trying new things never goes away, as a general rule they are fascinating to try but are not necessarily a beer which will win the hearts and souls of a generation. They lack the Je ne sais quoi of our regular session beers, our IPAs and our lagers, milds and porters. Brewers probably know this and is why novelty beers are usually in small batches, or just limited edition runs of bottles and rarely make it to the big outlets, although, saying that I did see Banana Beer in Tesco the other day, so what do I know?