Category: Booze


Two posts in one day for you lucky, lucky readers of this infrequent little blog, how exiting!

There are three things which my life revolves around, my work with The Friends of Bedfordshire Society, my love of music (especially live) and my love of beer. I had a bit of an update on the music front a earlier today. Now to address the other two.

I realise that I haven’t really talked on my blog much (actually, at all),  about my work with The Friends of Bedfordshire Society, so briefly… we are a small group which tries to promote the historic and ceremonial county of Bedfordshire with our main interest being the pride of the community itself. As part of this we’ve set up BEDFORDSHIRE DAY (28th November) – a day of celebrations across the county which is just there to say “ain’t Bedfordshire great!”.

There are many things going on but what I wanted to draw attention to on this blog, given it’s beery bent was Leighton Buzzard Brewery. They are a fairly new brewery but who are going from strength to strength with a range of fantastic ales all brewed in their industrial unit on the edge of Leighton Buzzard.

To celebrate Bedfordshire Day they will be opening their brewery for the day and releasing a new beer, Bedfordshire Best. As well as the beers the Little Buzzard Bakery will be selling Bedfordshire Clangers to the thirsty beer loving masses. So why not head down if you are in the area, they are open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.

Leighton Buzzard Brewery 

I know it’s been a long time since I last posted but truthfully there hasn’t been much to blog about. I haven’t really been drinking anything that interesting and work has meant that life has been plodding on without going anywhere or doing anything of any note. Or at least that is what I thought. Looking back over the past few months I have had a few tales to tell, situations where I’ve thought “that might be worth blogging about” but never really got round to it, then forgot about. So prepare yourself for a short barrage of posts concerning all the things I’ve been too lazy to type up until now.

First up as the title suggests: ale. A while ago now I was expecting to get a few days off and relax for a long weekend all of a sudden the bat-phone goes off. “An emergency installation of lockers in Cornwall, can you get there tomorrow?” So much for the long weekend, but a trip to Cornwall is always a good thing right?

Cape Cornwall

Cape Cornwall

Bags packed we head down to Cape Cornwall Golf and Leisure club, who require our assistance with their new locker room. If you ever get the chance to get down to this part of the world just go because it is breathtakingly gorgeous. Even on the the worst days, when the weather was throwing everything it had got the rugged landscape stood up to it with ease and still held a bleak magnificence. Even when the fog rolled in off the sea, just knowing it was there beyond the think fug was enough to make the hairs stand on end and bring out the inner poet from the soul (don’t worry I won’t inflict poetry any on you).

If that wasn’t good enough the golf club was good enough to put us up for the duration in one of their on site hotel rooms (result) with a sea view (result++). Sitting in the evening watching the waves crash against the rocks was great.

On the first evening the bar wasn’t open, not enough guests to warrant it, so we ventured into the village. The village in question is called St. Just. It’s a small town set a mile or so inland. Village amenities include a butchers, a bakers, a candlestick makers, a green grocers, a deli, a chippy, two newsagents, a post office and a garage, nearly all independent. On top three pubs which all, from the outside at least, looked wonderfully charming and full of character. I’m sure that in season they are booming with business and out of season the locals will be enough to keep things ticking over, because despite its appearances, St. Just is actually quite big. We had a quick fish and chip supper before returning to the hotel with a few bottles of beer from the newsagents.

The next night the hotel bar was open so we didn’t need to drive anywhere for food or drink. The bar always stocks Sharp’s Doom bar and also one other ale which is the choice of the Golf captain. The captain chose wisely with another Sharp’s, this time Atlantic. An appropriately named beer considering we were at Cape Cornwall. [For those who don’t know and are slightly interested Cape Cornwall is the point where the Atlantic currents meet and split to either go south and round the English Channel or north  and up into the Irish Sea.]

Now it is to my shame that up until this point I had not had Sharp’s Atlantic, even though it is in my local Tesco. It’s just one of those things that I never got round to. But I was about to rectify that with an accompanying rib-eye steak that was cooked to perfection. It was a beautiful pint, filled with juicy flavours of orange and mango with a rounded sweet malty after-taste that was sublime. I probably had one more than I should but I just couldn’t help myself, it was just so nice, and after a long day at work it was just a real treat, especially with the food accompaniment which was first class.

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Fast forward a few days and you find me at another job staying at another stunning location, this time in the Cotswolds, just outside Hook Norton. Now, if you read this blog because you’re interested in beer I don’t think I need to tell you where this is going but for everyone else (Hi Mum!) you should know that Hook Norton is mostly famed for its brewery, and a fine brewery it is too.

The Gate Hangs High

The Gate Hangs High

The rolling hills are a fine setting for a golf club and made for a pleasant days work, but they make for an even greater setting for  twee little English country villages which look like the backdrop to Midsummer Murders. The sort of village which we all think the rest of the world thinks that we live in (did that make sense?). I’m trying to think of another way of putting this without using the phrases “Chocolate-box” or “picture -postcard”. From the golf club we drove for several miles through village after village passing several pubs and even a distillery before finally arriving at a cross roads just outside Hook Norton itself where on the corner sits the perfectly proportioned building that is The Gate Hangs High, a Hook Norton pub.

Beautiful location, real ales on tap, well appointed, comfortable rooms. I was getting a feeling of deja vu (except in the Cotswolds there isn’t much of a sea view and we didn’t get the room for free but hey, you can’t have everything). There was quite a selection of ‘Hooky’ beers on tap and in bottle and I endeavoured to try several of them. The stand outs for me we the cask ones. The bottles, while  nice enough, just didn’t cut it. Lion and Old Hooky were the two which I went back to the most and with good reason. They weren’t going to set the world alight with some brand new highly technical hop combination or an astronomical ABV, they were just really well executed ordinary, down to earth beers. This was for me especially true of the Old Hooky with the subtle dark fruit flavours which add a special quality to the beer, just luxury in a glass without pretension.

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Fast forward a few more days and I’m back in Bedfordshire and in Tesco and what do you know both Atlantic and Old Hooky are in bottles and are sitting on the shelf begging to be bought, which is exactly what I did. That evening I got them out of the fridge and tried them in turn. Atlantic first and then the Old Hooky. I was disappointed with both. Now it could have been something to do with being at home and having not worked that day not needed the calming refreshment and relaxing hug of a nice beer, but I just didn’t get it. The Old Hooky was OK and perfectly drinkable, just not quite as amazing as it was in The Gate Hangs High. The Atlantic, however was dreadful by comparison, so dull of taste compared to the vibrant, flavoursome drink I had in Cornwall. In the end I took to telling myself it wasn’t the same beer while I tried to finish it, so much was my disappointment.

So like the title says Real ale really is the real thing.

TLDR?

I have just got back from the Isle of Wight and this year’s Isle of Wight music festival where a fun time was had by all. There was one thing there which really got my goat. The Beer. Now I’m sure that the powers that be have done a lot of market research and deduced the average age of the festival ticket holders and what they are likely to drink etc. etc. But we’re not all 19 year olds with no taste so why oh why do the main bars only give the options of lager and cider? And when I say cider I mean Strongbow, a drink which is so ubiquitous at IoW that it even has a stage named after it!

Looking around the site I saw that there was a huge range of people, from the group of teenages on their first festival, to the family of mum, dad and 2.4 children to the group of ageing hippies who haven’t realised that the summer of love has been and gone. Even the demographicsof these say that some of these people want some ale of some kind, or at least a different cider, one which preferably doesn’t corrode the back of your throat, infact I’m getting acid reflux just thinking about it. Now I’m sure defenders of IoW will say “what are you talking about? there is a tent over there with real ale on”. Yeah, one tent, about 15 minutes walk from the front of the main stage, with one local ale (Island Brewery’s Yachtsman’s, which was rather nice) and one foreign beer (Lindeman’s Kriek, a bit sweet but nice and very popular). The popularity of the Kreik really said it all, in the end they had to stop serving it by about 9 p.m. every evening so that they could ration it for the next day!

So if we want the beer from this tent we have to miss all the good music on the main stage, do we? Well that’s great.

The Isle of Wight isn’t the only festival like this. Secret Garden Party do the same thing, one tent in the arse end of nowhere which has a couple of local beers and all the main bars near the music give you the choice of Kopparberg or San Miguel. Ditto Reading.

Some festivals are catching on Latitude a few years ago already had at least one ale on at every bar, but they made the same mistake as IoW and didn’t order enough. Glastonbury, on the other hand has got it bang on. Real ale at all the bars, even though it’s just one choice, even at the main bar’s near all the good music. As well as that there are several over bars which are more like small beer festivals in their own right and on top of that there is the institution of the cider bus and the brothers bar which is arguably where the cider revolution of the recent years took place.

Why can Glastonbury get it so right and yet the others get it so wrong? I know the first thing that anyone will say is that its all to  do with sponsorship and I realise that but I’m paying nearly £200 a ticket and I can’t even get the drink I want? And on top of all the money they make out of me for the privilege of not having a decent drink is the fact that they make even more money out of the drinks company sponsorship deals.

I realise that people put on festivals to make money. It’s a business after all, but at some point (a point somewhere around overpriced sponsorship deals for bars) it starts to lose the fun and become just a bit tedious. Glastonbury itself has often been accused of selling out and corporate brandings taking over but it is still far and away the best of them all. Why can’t the others learn from them?