Sunday, 15 February 2015

A Trip Back in Time with Trumans

It being the Fifth Round of the FA Cup this weekend, the BBC showed a programme yesterday with highlights from this stage of the competition in the past.

One of the matches featured (at 42 minutes) is a tie between Wimbledon and Everton at Plough Lane in 1987. There are lots of things that will look odd to younger viewers: fans massed on standing terraces behind the goals and in paddocks in front of the stands; players in unnamed shirts numbered 1-11; floodlight pylons at the corners of the ground; passing back to the goalkeeper, and advertising hoardings for long-gone entities, such as Girobank, Danair and, on the half-way line in front of the Main Stand, one for "Trumans - London Brewers Since 1666".

Trumans - then part of the GrandMet conglomerate which had taken it over in 1971 and merged it with Watney Mann the following year - closed its brewery in Brick Lane, East London, in 1989. The 1983 Good Beer Guide describes their bitter, best bitter and mild as "full-flavoured", "distinctive" and tasty" and the 1990 one records their transfer to the, also now defunct, Ushers brewery in Wiltshire. I've never seen, let alone drunk, them so have no idea what they were like; I suspect they still exist among the unbrewed beers of some corporate portfolio.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Trouble in Broon Toon

Protests have been raised in the North East at the news that Heineken is changing the recipe of Newcastle Brown Ale.

Heineken, which bought the Scottish and Newcastle brewery in 2008, says substituting roasted malt for the caramel now used to colour the beer on health grounds won't affect the taste.

I haven't drunk Newcastle Brown for a while but I don't remember it having that distinctive a taste to start with, especially when served cold. A delicate wineyness and a slight nuttiness maybe (I know "nut brown ale" is poetic but I can still detect it: maybe it's psychological suggestion). The name is a bit of a misnomer too: unlike Belgian brown ales or the brown lagers you get in Germany, it's not much browner than a lot of bitters and hasn't been brewed in Newcastle since 2005. I doubt tweaking the recipe will have much effect on the taste, or sales.

I went to a pizzeria in Chicago about a decade ago and amazed the barman serving Newcastle Brown Ale by telling him it came from Newcastle in England, not the one in Canada as he'd always assumed and told his customers. I like to think he now quotes me as an authority when telling them of its true origin.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Was everything rubbish in the past?

This weekend's Guardian has a piece called A Brief History of IPA

The repetition of myths about India Pale Ale is pretty much to be expected and is rightly challenged in the below the line comments but the thing that really struck me - and is also challenged by one of the commenters - is the idea that decent cask beer has only become widespread in the last decade.

Maybe, as the writer claims, parts of London were a beer desert until then but in Manchester where I cut my drinking teeth as a teenager in the late 80's there's always been plenty of decent cask beer, mainly from local breweries Holt's, Hydes and Robinson's, and when I went to Stoke as a student in the early 90's pretty much every street corner had a pub on it selling cask, most of it, unsurprisingly, from Staffordshire breweries Banks's, Bass and Marston's. I can remember drinking well-kept cask beer in London back then too.

There's a word for this that I'm struggling to remember. You could call it new-ism: the idea that things are better now than they ever have been. The opening of new breweries and specialist beer bars and rediscovery of beer styles in the last few years is something to be celebrated, but not at the expense of claiming that the beer and pubs of the past were uniformly rubbish.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Manchester, so much to answer for

I went to the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival at the National Cycling Centre, a.k.a. the Velodrome, yesterday.

I blogged about the first beer festival there last year which, unfairly I thought, got quite a bit of flak on several fronts, including accessibility for disabled drinkers and beer shortages on the Saturday.

The organisers have responded to those issues by introducing bars and seating areas on the concourse level and substantially increasing the beer order. At the risk of repeating myself, I'm a fan of the new venue, both because it's impressive to see cyclists whizzing round the track as you stand in the middle with a pint and the ease of getting to it on a tram from the city centre.

Friday, 2 January 2015

New Year, new beers

The hanging up of a new calendar inevitably gets me thinking about beer travels in the next twelve months.

There are three big gaps in my beer travels: Belgium, Austria and the Czech Republic; I'd also like to get to a few places I've not been to in Bavaria, such as Regensburg and Buttenheim.

I'll almost certainly head for Belgium first, partly because it's the easiest to get to. Beyond that however, where should I go next?

Monday, 15 December 2014

Books of the Year

It's time for my annual review of what I've read this year.

As with last year's list, it's influenced by things I saw on TV or in newspapers and other media, as well as the non-fiction I've read.

The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie

I enjoyed re-watching this ITV Hercule Poirot adaption with David Suchet at the start of the year so decided to read the novel it's based on in which a serial killer's victims and the towns in which the crimes are committed proceed in alphabetical order.

The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe

I spotted this short, semi-autobiographical novel about unrequited love on a list of supposedly unreadable books and thought I'd take up the challenge.

The Jealous God by John Braine

I picked this up after reading a description of it in Jay P. Corrin's Catholic Progressives in England after Vatican II, about the Catholic left of the 60's. The main character is a young Catholic schoolteacher of Irish descent in a small Northern English town who meets a Protestant woman, a world I instantly recognised given my own similar background.

Nostromo by Joseph Conrad

Pretty much the only thing I hadn't read by Conrad, this novel, about exiled Italian revolutionaries in a fictional South American country, is widely regarded as his masterpiece.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

The only book I hadn't read by Austen, for similar "completist" reasons.

Ulysses and Finnegans Wake by James Joyce

I tried to read Ulyssses as a teenager but didn't get very far. It's about Leopold Bloom, a middle-aged Jewish advertising salesman wandering around Dublin on a single day in 1904 (now known as "Bloomsday") and is actually quite accessible, especially compared to the supposedly unreadable Finnegans Wake, an avant garde mix of Irish folklore and puns which I read next.

The Group by Mary McCarthy 

This had sat on my bookshelves for many years and I'm not sure why it took me so long to get around to this highly autobiographical novel about young female graduates and the American left in 1930's New York.

The Folks That Live on the Hill by Kingsley Amis

I read this social comedy set in early 90's North London after hearing an excerpt from it in a documentary about Amis.

Far From the Madding Crowd, Tess of the D'Urbevilles, The Mayor of Casterbridge and Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy

Having not read a Hardy novel before, I had a midsummer binge on four of his tales of life and love in his native Wessex.

The Spire by William Golding

Stopping in South West England, I read this novel about the building of Salisbury Cathedral's spire in the early fourteenth century.

Nana by Emile Zola

I read quite a few Zola novels as a teenager and this was the only one on my bookshelves that I hadn't got round to. The young prostitute Nana serves as a metaphor for the corruption of the French Second Empire on the eve of its downfall.

The Long Memory by Howard Clewes

Set in the post-war London Docklands, this novel was made into a film starring John Mills which has long been a favourite of mine. The main character is an ex-convict who - in an almost Dickensian plot - wanders along the banks of the Thames attempting to clear his name.

Catholics by Brian Moore

I bought this after a seeing a clip from the film adaption of it. A short novel about an American priest sent by Rome to to suppress the Latin Mass at a monastery off the coast of Ireland after the Second Vatican Council, I read it straight through in a little over an hour.

A Glass of Blessings by Barbara Pym

Also on the theme of religion, this light comic novel features camp Anglo-Catholics in a London parish of the late 50's.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Long on my "must read" list, this is a psychological study of a young man who commits a double murder in mid-nineteenth century St Petersburg.

Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol

Rounding off the year on a Russian theme, I read Gogol's comic masterpiece about landowners and their dead, but still taxable, serfs and the conman who aims to exploit that.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Matt's mats

Rather stereotypically for a cask beer drinker, my favourite types of music are blues and jazz.  Those two interests coincided yesterday when the secretary of Manchester Jazz Society, of which I'm a member, very kindly gave me a collection of 1970's beer mats which he was clearing out.

As well as being visually appealing and in some cases jogging memories of pubs from my childhood, they also give a snapshot of a vanished world: not just the breweries that no longer exist such as Ansell's, Higson's and Walkers but also the unexamined sexism, tobacco advertising and the appeal on the back of some of them that drivers only drink moderately.