Friday, 24 February 2017

National Winter Ales Festival

I got given some guest tickets to the National Winter Ale Festival (thanks Outline Mag), handily being held in my home city of Norwich this year. I took my dad with me and between us we made quite a dent in the beer list seeing as we only had 3 hours. Dad even squeezed in a portion of macaroni cheese.

I tried to at least mark every beer we had, my dad sticking to porters generally and me sticking to blondes and pales we covered a lot. I made no attempt to make notes (I didn’t have anywhere near enough hands) and managed to take three pictures before giving up and just enjoying myself. At festivals I always try to drink beers and experience breweries I’ve not had before, which I managed for the most part. I tried a beer from Boudicca that I’d not had (even though I’m familiar with the local brewery) and was really disappointed when the Weird Beard ‘Little Things That Kill’ wasn’t on (mostly for the name alone) so settled for the Marianna Trench which I’ve had before.

My dad complained that all porters listed chocolate and/or coffee as tasting notes, then complained that there were tasting notes at all, then said my pale ales tasted like water. I said his porters tasted like burnt toast and wrinkled my nose. He loved the Lacons Old Ale (he wrote ‘V Nice’ next to it, which is as close to a glowing review as m’dad does). The recommended Pale Four from Tring stood out for me, in a good way, but other than that I just walked up to a space in the bar and asked for a recommendation. As usual the volunteers were beyond friendly and happy to chat about beer and the festival in general.

At points in the evening I lost my dad, thinking he’d wandered off, only to realise I was looking for him in the wrong place and should probably have eaten some mac and cheese myself. The evening went so quickly but I was still glad when my mum pulled up outside to give me a lift home yes, I'm in my thirties and still get lifts with my mum). I think the number of beers combined with the storm I might have ended up in the river if I'd have walked home…

Below is our final list, in no particular order:

Fyne Ales – Jarl
Boudicca – Golden Torc
Mordue - Northumbrian Blonde
Loch Lomund – Southern Summit
Tring – Pale Four
Weird Beard – Marianna Trench

Fullers - London Porter
Monty’s – Dark Secret
Adnams – Old Ale
Moor – Old Freddy Walker
Sulwath – Black Galloway

Lacons – Old Ale

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Impromptu Islington

In my other life as a writer (I have many lives, some are more interesting than others) I occasionally have to report on events. This Sunday was one such day so I'd gone down to London, with my photographer fella Niki in tow to take pictures for me. After snapping pictures of the catwalk and making notes, we popped out for lunch and for the first of very many beers.

Where: The Steam Passage
What: Hop House 13, St Jame's Gate

We chose this pub because it did reasonable food and was right next door to the event. The football was on so we chose a supposedly quiet corner. After ordering our food three big blokes sat next to us to watch the game. I immediately felt uncomfortable but then spotted one of them was wearing a Swingin' Utters t-shirt. He was also talking about how his anxiety was affecting his hairline. I reminded myself not to judge so quickly. The Hop House 13 was ok, but I think I mis-remembered it as something else, it was a lot more lager-y than I thought. After taking more pictures at the second show we headed a little further for a kookier beer.

Where: The Angelic
What: We didn't get that far...

The Angelic is ok, usually an alright selection of beers but it can be a little trendy/business-y. On a Sunday afternoon apparently it is a lot baby-y. As we got to the door there was a veritable creche happening inside and we pulled up short, turned around and went to the Islington.

Where: The Islington
What: Shoreditch Blonde, Redchurch

As we approached the bar I remembered how expensive this place was and was not-so-secretly pleased that it wasn't my round. I had the Shoreditch Blonde and as it was placed on the bar I remembered it wasn't an easy pint. Cloudy, wheaty and slightly sour it is a nice beer, just not a quick beer, but the other choice on tap was 7.4% and it was still the afternoon so...
There were two young guys sat in the corner, drinking tea and talking in English despite the fact it was clearly both their second language. They were talking about forming a band and how they liked each others' 'vibe'. One said to the other "I like Carole Carpenter, from The Carpenters" and his inflection was adorable. We talked about childhood bands, how rockabilly all sounds the same after a while and how Niki wished he had his camera ready to take pictures of pigeons. As we left a female vocalist was warming up in the other room, in a suitably hipster singer-songwriter kind of way.

Where: The Alma
What: Snakecharmer IPA, One Mile End

Not knowing Islington very well (other than the O2 venue and Electrowerkz) I was following Niki's lead. The Alma was on what looked like a market street, where I could imagine on a busy day there would be lots of street traffic to watch go by. I had to remind myself it was a Sunday and that was why the pub was so quiet. Almost deathly quiet. A few old blokes were scattered about, like they'd been left there to be collected later. I felt awkward when my boots clumped and jangled as I walked to a corner table and even more so down the stairs to the ladies. I had a Snakecharmer IPA, a decent pint but the head went nuts! It was at that point I was reminded I wrote a beer blog and perhaps I should get a picture. I'm rubbish sometimes...I can totally agree with the tropical fruits mentioned in the tasting notes, but I'll be damned if I can taste caramel, but as I've said before I'm no sommelier (and neither do I intend to be one. Beer is the accompaniment to a good time, not the sole focus. Also I never want to drink beer from a stem glass).

Where: The York
What: Dead Pony Club, Brewdog

This is another chain pub, but sometimes they're difficult to avoid. I played it safe and enjoyed a Dead Pony Club on tap while watching the odd collection of drinkers that an early Sunday evening combined with a chain pub attracts. Niki ate some hot nuts that were hotter than he expected. We still had time to kill before the after party started at Metalworkz and things were getting decidedly hazy...

Where: The Old Red Lion Theatre Bar
What: Mosaic Pale Ale, Adnams

I love this pub. It's kooky and shabby and someone clearly loves Norwich as Niki pointed out a neon Canary's football club sign behind the bar. (After reading their website the pub owner is a Norwich fan. They show all the Norwich games and even sell merchandise. New favourite pub found). I drank Adnams Mosaic Pale Ale just to get the proper hometown feel and kinda resented having to leave to go to a party with lots of pretty people and rubbish lager.

As expected the party at Metalworkz was loud and served Red Stripe in cans. We stayed for a bit then went home. We even had beers on the train and watched Commando, then Flight of the Conchords. It's nice to know I can still do an all-dayer, but equally nice to know I can go home and watch crap action movies and eat pizza.

St Andrew's Brewhouse

I've fallen behind with posting my monthly columns from Outline Magazine, so I'm attempting to catch up. Here's my column from la

"You know that phrase “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans”? Yep, it’s bollocks, I know. I tend to find that actually a beer is what happens when you’re making other plans. And if there is no plan forthcoming, at least there will be another beer."

Read the rest here