Monday, 20 October 2014

Guinness Nigerian Foreign Extra Stout

I've been drinking bottled Guinness quite a bit recently.

I've drunk Guinness Foreign Extra Stout and the Special Export Stout they brew for Belgium before but not the FES brewed in Nigeria.

I don't know if it's the sorghum in the mash but Nigerian FES has got a smoother mouthfeel and less burnt flavour than the Dublin-brewed version. And it goes without saying that the different versions of Foreign Extra and Special Export Stout are not just stronger but far superior in taste to the standard Extra Stout now that it's no longer bottle-conditioned.


Monday, 8 September 2014

Hail to the ale

I've been watching One Ale of A Job, Channel 5's series about Marston's Brewery.

The dodgy puns - delivered by Pub Landlord comedian Al Murray - don't end with the title and I had pretty low expectations of what looked like, and to be honest is, another cheapo fly-on-the-wall documentary. Having said that, it contains some interesting stuff about brewing, cellar management and beer dispense and is the first TV series about beer and brewing I can remember since Michael Jackson's Beer Hunter in the late 80's.


Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Thomas Hardy's ale

I'm on a bit of a Thomas Hardy binge at the moment: in the last month, I've read four of his novels and some of the short stories too.

There's lots of stuff in Hardy about ale, cider and pubs, including landlords and farmers brewing their own beer in mid-nineteenth century South Wessex (Hardy's name for his native Dorset) rather than buying it from breweries. The relatively late arrival of the railway in that part of South West England which he also mentions might have had something to do with that.

One thing that caught my eye in A Tragedy if Two Ambitions, a short story Hardy wrote in 1888, is a character talking about a pub having "the rarest drop of Old Tom that I've tasted for many a year", showing that other brewers were making strong ales called that before the famous one from my local brewery Robinson's, first brewed in 1899 by a brewer who drew the face of the brewery cat in the brewing log.





Monday, 18 August 2014

GBBF 2014

I went to the Great British Beer Festival in London for the first time last week.

The first thing to say is how impressive Kensington Olympia where the event's held is: it's like walking into a Victorian railway station with its iron and glass arched roof and pillared galleries.

I'd read that the GBBF could be a bit overwhelming both in terms of the number of people attending and choice of beer but I can't say I found that; it was more like an upscaled version of the CAMRA festivals I've been to over the years in Manchester.

We mainly stuck to the brewery bars, drinking beers that you don't see much outside London such as Fuller's ESB and Young's Special and two that could easily join my list of favourites: Belhaven Black Stout and Harvey's XX Mild. I also got to drink draught Schlenkerla Rauchmärzen outside the brewpub in Bamberg for the first time and it was as deliciously smoky bacony as I remember it there.

If you live in Britain and like beer, you really should go to the GBBF at least once. I know that I'm already planning to return.


Friday, 8 August 2014

Batting for cask

I spent yesterday at Old Trafford watching the Test match between England and India.

Although the former Prime Minister John Major, echoing George Orwell, famously listed warm beer and cricket as quintessentially English things, for a long time the choice at matches consisted of lager, smoothflow bitter and Guinness.

I'm glad to say that cask beer has made a comeback, at least at Old Trafford. I first saw it a few years ago in the members' pavilion at a county match and since then the beer  Bomber and Wainwright from Lancashire's sponsor Thwaites – has spread to the bars around the ground and a marquee in front of it.

Cask beer has a long association with cricket, being served at the inns that adjoined the playing fields in the game's earliest days. All I can say about its re-appearance at Test matches is, "Welcome home!".

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The Beer Drinker's Companion

I've just picked up a second-hand copy of The Beer Drinker's Companion, Frank Baillie's 1974 survey of British beer and brewing.

I was inspired to look out for it by a reading list on Boak and Bailey's blog as it was pretty much the only book there that I hadn't got.

Some of the things he mentions about the storing and serving of beer ( (metal v wooden casks, gravity or hand-pumps v electric dispense, cellar conditioning v bright, top pressure or container tank beer) aren't really issues now; others, like serving temperature and cloudiness, clearly still are.

One of the things that stands out is bottled beer. Bottle-conditioned beers are now, he says, "very few" (Guinness Extra Stout and Worthington White Shield being the only nationally available ones), compared to the hundreds you can buy today. On the other hand, the number of bottled beers in pubs has dropped. In 1974, according to Baillie, my local brewery, Robinsons in Stockport, produced not only the bottled pale and strong ale they still sell but also a bottled stout and a light and a brown ale. I think this has to do with the decline in mixing bottled and draught beer that I remember from my early pub-going days in the late 80's.


Monday, 14 July 2014

Too much too young?

Seeing the twenty-two year old midfielder Mario Götze come on as a substitute and score the winning goal for Germany in extra time in the World Cup Final last night reminded me of Brian Kidd's goal for Manchester United on his nineteenth birthday in the 1968 European Cup Final at Wembley. Where do you go next in your career when the highlight comes so near the start of it?

F. Scott Fitzgerald sums that feeling up in a passage near the beginning of The Great Gatsby which Hugh McIvanney quotes in his documentary about George Best:

"one of those men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterward savours of anti-climax...Tom would drift on forever seeking, a little wistfully, for the dramatic turbulence of some irrevocable football game."