Beer E-News Archive 2006

This page is an archive of items culled from our Beer Newsletter.   For earlier issues click on 2005
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From Issue 28 (December 06)

Whatever happened to to the autumn?  October was a very busy beer-related month for us - a few of the highlights are listed below - but we're not quite sure where November went.  [Perhaps I should explain that was because we were so busy, not because the amount of beer in October had addled our remaining brain cells!]  So we'll try to make this a fairly comprehensive issue, partly to make up for lost time, but also to give you something to look at over the Christmas period if you don't fancy the millionth repeat of the Sound of Music.
1) Worthing Beer Festival 13-14 October
This was Worthing's 10th Festival and they celebrated by making it the biggest to date with 46 beers, to say nothing of the ciders.  We went to the Friday lunchtime session.  We have found it to be a good strategy for beer festivals to go to the quieter, early sessions.  We don't feel the need for musical entertainments to assist our tasting, the substantial rolls that you can get at lunch-time help soak up the beer, and, perhaps most importantly, it's less likely that the popular brews will have run out.
This year produced a good range of tasty beers and one major surprise - or should I say shock.  The latter was a first for us - the first beer at a festival which neither of us could finish!  The guilty party was Beartown Pandemonium 4.8% and was the first beer to which we have ever awarded a round nul points
The review said "Made with blackcurrants the fruit hops out of the glass to hit you between the eyes!"  More like, in the pit of the stomach!  (Anyone feeling queasy please jump to the next paragraph now.)  Imagine a glass half filled with a concentrated artificial syrup which is a poor imitation of Ribena, then top it up with weak beer.  Now drink it if you can - we couldn't!  The strangest part was that the review continued: "Beer of the Festival at the 10th Birkenhead Beer Festival".  I'd better not comment in case we have some readers from Birkenhead - though perhaps they don't like beer in Birkenhead?  The review concluded: "This beer was so popular that it was put 'off-limits' to festival staff."  Ah, now I get it, they didn't want all the helpers to end up sick!
Well it's all part of life's rich experience, and fortunately this was more than counterbalanced by the other beers we tried.  We avoided ones we already knew, so that we could concentrate on the strangers.  Four of them scored 3 ticks as basic competent brews, but the rest were all above average.  We were pleased to see that the local Hammerpot Brewery is maintaining its high standards and that both its offerings, Woodcote Bitter 4.5% and the newcomer Martlet 3.5%, which uses three different hops, merited 3.5 ticks.  (Heraldic note - the martlet is a mythical bird, similar to a swallow but with tufts of feathers in place of legs.  Hammerpot's choice of name is no doubt linked to the 6 martlets featured on the Sussex county crest.) 
Others scoring 3.5 were Castle Rock Harvest Pale 3.8%,  Northern's Liberty Bell 4.0% and two wheat beers.  Fallen Angel's Naughty Nun Witbier 4.5% was heavily spiced with ginger, cardamom and coriander showing through, whereas Breconshire Honddu Gold 4.8% was more subtle and appeared to have less character, but that may be because it suffered from the head-to-head comparison - we'd be more than happy to try these again.
The last of the 3.5 ticks was the first of the stouts, Reepham Velvet Stout 4.2%.  The next was Spire's Sergeant Pepper Stout 5.5%, a full dark stout laced with black pepper, perhaps showing through a little too strongly, but still deserving 4 ticks. 
Onwards and upwards, to Spectrum Old Stoatwobbler 6.0% which was our joint best beer of the Festival, getting a hefty 4.5 ticks.  It's another black stout, with a roasted aroma and taste "with all the usual flavours you would expect from a dry stout combining together excellently."
Returning to the bitters, we have to mention Glastonbury Lady of the Lake 4.2%, an amber best bitter whose "fruity malt flavour" with a "subtle hint of vanilla" meant we didn't hesitate to give it 4 ticks.
And finally, our other joint favourite was a prodigy - Napoleon's Retreat 3.8%, the first bitter from the new Wigan brewery of Allgates which only appeared on 7th August and immediately sold out!  We're not surprised - it's a complicated but very tasty combination of 3 types of malt and 3 hop varieties, and we're very keen to see if this brewery can follow up on this amazing start.
If you didn't get to Worthing this year, bookmark the Adur & Arun CAMRA website for next year's dates at
2) Beer Festival at the Palace Hotel, Poperinge
At the end of October we planned our latest sojourn in Belgium to coincide with the weekend of the famous festival which is held annually at the Palace Hotel, in Poperinge.  It's always worth a trip to Poperinge, a very pleasant town - see our guide on
and the Palace routinely stocks a huge range of beers. 
At the Festival, we were delighted to meet Filip Geerts, who is a one-man promotion board for Belgian beers.  See more about him on
As usual, Filip did an excellent photo report, as he does on all the events he attends, and among the pictures is the following
We know that in the past the Festival has been patronised by such luminaries of the beer world as Michael Jackson and Tim Webb - this year they had to make do with us!  But do have a look at the rest of Filip's report - you'll get to see Poperinge's Queen of the Hops, flanked by her Princesses!
Again we tried to avoid the familiar beers and sought out the ones which were new to us. 
De Struise
is an ostrich farm (yes, you did read that correctly!) near Lo which commisions a range of beers and makes some good design decisions.  We tried their Pannepot 10.0% which is a Donker (dark) and is obviously intended as a competitor to the classic Kasteelbier Bruin.  This is sweet, with good flavour, and powerful alcohol.  It is more vinous than Kasteelbier and there are hints of marmalade.  Ultimately the sweetness becomes too obvious, seeming candied, so while it's a good initial attempt, it won't yet displace Kasteelbier as one of our favourite nightcaps.
We hadn't previously encountered the Contreras brewery but were particularly impressed by their Especial Malt 6.5%  This has a malty aroma reminiscent of Horlicks tablets (anybody remember them?) and a full, almost oily mouthfeel.  The flavour is subtle, with hints of caramel - very tasty!  They also do a good Valeir Donker 6.5% (a brown which has a nice malty caramel taste with a hint of bitterness) and Valeir Divers Triple 8.5% (which is a clear gold, with citrus on the nose and notes of coriander in the taste).
We had met De Graal brewery at last year's Karakterbier weekend run by by HOP at Vichte - see brief report on the links page
At Poperinge they launched their new Slock 6.5% which their write-up called Koperkleurig (copper coloured) but in spite of the dim light in the hall we were sure it was closer to a pale gold.  The first taste to hit your palate is lemony, and the whole effect is clean and refreshing - a good choice for a hot day.
If you look at any of the pictures of the event you'll see the sensibly sized glasses the Belgins use at their festivals.  Of course their beers are generally stronger, but you don't need a half pint to get the flavour of a beer, and a smaller quantity of each means you have the chance to try a bigger range.  CAMRA's Great British Beer Festival in August trialled 1/3 pint glasses which is apparently still a legal measure but is just not used.  We understand the new glasses were well received, and hope it's the beginning of a new trend over here which could result in making beer drinking acceptable to a wider range of people - besides being more convenient for festivals.  For more about beer measures, see item 6) below
3) 'Taste the Beers of Belgium' - at Steyning Grammar School on 4th November
Another reason for our Belgian trip was that we wanted to do some research and stock up for our next Adult Ed course.  Belgium didn't disappoint, and we were able to produce a menu of beers for the course which covered all the main styles but didn't duplicate beers we had used on earlier courses.  One change we made was to take advantage of more of the cork topped 75cl and larger sized bottles which you can get from the better suppliers, as opposed to the more commonly available 25 and 33cl crown-capped bottles.  There does seem to be a benefit in that the larger volume seems to preserve the subtleties of the beer better, and comes closer to the draught versions - and it's cheaper too.  If you've got friends to help you share a bottle - or a powerful thirst - these larger sizes (including a 1.5L magnum!) have a lot of advantages. 
We think the course was well-received: the students worked assiduously through the menu, and stayed on for a few encores . . .
4) Additions to the website
Following on from our travels, the website has grown somewhat - apart from the links page mentioned above, check out the revised West Flanders page
which will take you to the new guide to the joys of Alveringem
and also to the Westvleteren page, home of St Sixtus abbey and the best beer in the world (allegedly!)
5) Belgian beer in Brighton
From June this year Brighton was enhanced by the addition of a branch of Café Belge and our Brighton correspondent Debi helped us navigate to 64 Kings Road to check it out.  It's on the seafront at the corner of West Street and in good weather has nice views from the tables in the window - provided you ignore the traffic rushing between you and the sea!  The only other disadvantage is the garish multi-coloured check design of the table cloths (but you may see this as a plus point if you have one of those fashionable modern kitchens which feature an explosion of different coloured tiles behind the worktops . . .) 
Those are not exactly drawbacks, and everything else is extremely positive, from the friendly and helpful staff with authentic accents (Brussels French, not Flanders Flemish) to the wide ranging menu of genuine Belgian cuisine, making it difficult to choose among the first class, reasonably priced offerings.  But before you start wrestling with the choice of food you must tackle the beer menu.  With a selection of 100 beers and helpful notes you can amuse yourself for hours.  And we're not just talking about the run of the mill Belgian beers you can find in some supermarkets, there are some quite unusual beers here.  I was able to try a classic gueuze which I'd read about but never managed to find in Belgium!  (For any gueuze afficianados it's Frank Boon's Oude Gueuze Mariage Parfait 8%.  If you've never tried this classic 'champagne beer' style, it's best to start with a good one; if you've tried something like Cantillon, and found it too tart, give this one a trial, it's more subtle.)   It would take too long to list in detail the benefits of this corner of Brighton that is for ever Belgium, but you can get some idea, and find the locations of other branches, from their website at 
6) Measure for measure
In case you missed the announcement, the latest publication from Shire Books (the people who do those little reasonably-priced books on every topic under the sun that you see on sale at stately homes and other tourist venues) is 'Pub Beermugs and Glasses' by Hugh Glass ('Is that really his name?' I thought, and double checked.  Seems the reviewer made a Freudian slop, and the author's name is actually Hugh ROCK!)  At £5.99 it's an ideal stocking filler for your nearest and dearest beer fanatic - and it's only £4.79 if you include it with your latest order to  - but you won't get it from them in time for Christmas!
While I'm waiting to receive my copy, I can pass on to you a little gem I gleaned from the first review of the book.
It seems that the famous British pint is derived from a subdivision of a waggon load of grain.  This was reckoned to average a ton, and those of you who date back to our vintage will be able to stir the grey matter and recall that a ton was divided into 4 quarters - a medieval measurement which still lingers in some corners of the brewing industry.  A quarter was made up of 8 bushels (the measure under which your light should not be hidden!) and these were divided into 8 gallons, with the latter subdivided into 8 pints each.  Now if you've been following this closely (or can remember your far distant school days) you will have spotted the anomaly.  Yes that's right, a pint worked out that way equals one 2048th part of a ton - which is the same as a pound dry weight.  And of course a pound is 16 ounces, not the 20 fluid ounces which constitutes the pint you get in a pub!
More history: in 1824 the Weights and Measures Act was introduced to standardise all the regional variations, and this decreed that henceforth the imperial gallon was to be 160 fluid ounces.  When this was divided by 8 it gave the 20 fluid ounce pint we use in the UK today. 
But it seems that the anti-imperialist  Americans wouldn't countenance this, and retained the 16 ounce pint.   I must check the truth of this little gem with our recently discovered distant relative in America - Jeannette's 4th cousin - who just happens to be a real beer fan, too.  Yet more evidence that we are controlled by our genes . . .
7) Ale Trail
We have reported on the occasional visits to local real ale haunts in pursuit of the glittering prizes which await those who completed the 2006 Ale Trail.  If you have been waiting with bated breath to know whether we made our target, your suspense is over and a full report awaits your perusal at
8) News from the Supermarkets
A trip to Shoreham's Tesco super-duper-hyper-store is presently a harrowing experience as they are trying to make this huge retail outlet even huger!  They are doing this by the brilliant expedient of reducing the amount of parking space.  (This does at least help the unemployment situation as they now have people standing around with notices bearing the word 'Space' on tall poles to aim hapless drivers into any available slots.)  Once you get inside the store the layout is being completely altered so navigation to your favourite gourmet items becomes a novel experience. 
Should you be brave enough to make the attempt - or if you live somewhere with a more accessible Tesco - you may want to look out for Etalon Weissbier.  It is a worthy competitor for the German brewers who invented the Weissbier style and set the standard.  It has won several international awards, including one of Tesco's own.  The bottle and label style imitate the German approach - but then you notice that the name is printed in Cyrillic script, which gives you a clue that this beer is produced in the Ukraine.  A fun activity might be to give a group of friends several glasses of this pleasant 5% beer, then get them to read the label.  They may manage to guess that ЕТАЛОН is Etalon but ПШЕНЙЧНЕ, the name of the brewery is likely to cause some difficulty, even if it is transcribed into our script as Pshenychne.  As I've never heard it pronounced I can only guess that it comes out something like an attack of hayfever - perhaps our Ukrainian correspondents could help?

9) Japanese flavours

We were delighted to find that it's now easier to get the occasional 'fix' of Japanese flavours (anyone who's become addicted to Japan, its culture and food, will know what we mean).  The restaurant chain of Wagamama now has a branch in Brighton, and we checked it recently with Debi, our Brighton correspondent and fellow Japanophile.  Pick your time, as it can get quite busy, but get along there and try an authentic taste of Japan at very reasonable prices.  Although they apparently serve Japanese beers, these are brewed under licence in the UK, but still make an acceptable accompaniment to the huge bowls of noodles.  Find out more from the Wagamama website  Meanwhile we're off to do some research on Japanese beers on their home ground - New Year in Tokyo, courtesy of a very good flight/hotel deal from ANA  Further reports when we get back.


From Issue 27 (September 06)

1) More on the Westvleteren story
A report from Stephen Darcy on the Belgian Beer Discussion Group tells us that the Metro Bar (formerly the Old French Horn), in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent recently re-opened as a
speciality Belgian beer bar, selling about 40 beers, including Westvleteren beers, ('the best beers in the world' - allegedly!) at the following sky-high prices:-

Blond : £6.00    8° : £10.00    12° :£12.00

At those prices it would be cheaper to go to Belgium for your sip of the liquid gold!
2) Try another Trappist?
As you will all know, there are 6 main beer-brewing Trappist Abbeys, all located in Belgium.  But you may have started to hear things about the relative newcomer, the Abbey of Koningshoeven, in Holland, better known through their brand name La Trappe.  For some time now, their Blond and Dubbel have been seen in supermarkets, usually in distinctive stone bottles, and were very pleasant, if not outstanding - clearly they had their work cut out to stand comparison with the best of the other Trappist beers.  There was also some murmurings as to whether they could be genuine Trappist beers, as there was a certain degree of commercial involvement in the production process.  Now they have apparently taken firm monkish control of the brewing and we were fortunate recently to find one of their less often encountered beers, La Trappe Tripel 8%.  The appearance was an unusual orange colour and we could detect hints of orange in the aroma and flavour.  The warmth of the alcohol was balanced by the initial sweetness, fruity flavours and bittersweet finish.  Part way through the tasting we decided to give it the ultimate challenge and poured a well matured Westvleteren 12 for comparison.  We were pleased to find that the La Trappe Tripel could hold up its head even in such distinguished company, and there could be situations, e.g. with particular food pairings, when you might prefer it.  Find out more details at the abbey's website (Dutch only) and find La Trappe Tripel locally at Trafalgar Wines in Brighton.  It's at 23 Trafalgar Street, which runs down from the station, and you can contact the owner, Steve Foster, by phone on 01273 683 325.
3) Beers of the Marches
Some of our recent travels took us to Herefordshire and the into Wales.  There we renewed acquaintance with the beers of the Wye Valley Brewery, and used the Good Beer Guide to maximum effect.  I'll be giving a bit more detail in a later issue, but for now you'll get a good idea of what's available in that area from an online retailer who conveniently listed his local products on the following web page:
4) An entertaining brewery link
The Belgian beer group to which we belong mentioned a new micro-brewery producing 'Mortals Beers'.  Although we've not tried the beer yet, we really enjoyed the website, which documents in pictures the setting up of the brewery and the first brews.  If you have ambitions of owning your own brewery you can use this website as a DIY manual!  Have a look at
5) Sainsburys Offers
First a word of warning.  Beware of the packs labelled Best of British Beers, these contain just 3 bottles and the pack is priced at £6.66 - £2.22 a bottle???  Similar packs of mixed beers from smaller breweries can be bought from Waitrose at a more reasonable price.  However, other offers are very worthwhile, but act soon.  We suspect that some stock intended for the Christmas market starts cheap when it first comes in, but then goes up as it gets closer to the festival.
Currently there is £1 off the 4-packs of Cologne style 'lager' (they can't call it Kölsch as it's not made in Cologne, but it's a pretty good copy) and Vienna Red - this was historically the original style of lager.  It's a nice drink, and a bit of history that you won't easily find elsewhere.  With the discount these are now £2.99 for 4 bottles - worth getting some in!
A new item is a gift-pack of 4 World Premier Lagers at £3.99.  It includes a bottle each of Czech Staropramen, Chinese Tsingtao, Birra Poretti from Italy and Palma Louca from Brazil.  The pack has been sourced and put together by Youngs brewery, who seem to have displayed good taste - certainly the first two are respectable examples of lager, and for those who attended one of the World Beers tastings and were less than impressed by Brahma Chop, here's a chance to try something else from Brazil, which we hope will restore that country's reputation.
Another gift-pack offer is Young's Christmas Ale 5% priced at £1.33.  This is a 500 ml bottle in a cardboard tube suitably decorated with snowmen.  It has and abundant white head, golden brown body, and a slight floral/fruity aroma.  It has a good bitterness, and a nice lingering aftertaste, but we could only give it 3 ticks, because the initial flavours are nowhere near as imposing as you would expect from something called a Christmas Ale.
Also new is a gift-boxed Limited Edition Oak Aged IPA from Innis & Gunn 6.4%  and currently priced at £1.33 which is a real bargain.  They say there are only 63,000 bottles in existence - make that 62,998 because we've already tried a couple! 
You probably know the reason for the name IPA - India Pale Ale, originally a beer which was brewed stronger and with more hops to stand the journey out to the Raj in sailing ships.  Most beers described as IPA these days tend to be stronger and distinctly hoppy, and this has become the accepted stereotype.  
What makes the Innis & Gunn version of IPA so interesting is that it is matured in oak barrels for 60 days.  This reproduces more accurately the historical situation when the beer being transported in oak barrels would also have absorbed the character of the oak as well as the hops.  I & G have brewed their IPA using English Golding hops (for their orangey aromas and flavours) and then added Styrian Goldings individually to the barrels, to provide notes of citrus in the finish.
It is a nice clear gold, with a short-lived white head and the aroma is floral with clear notes of orange.  The mouthfeel is soft, and the flavours are very complex - you can detect the hops, giving the orange zest and citrus which the brewers mention but then there are a lot of extra tones supplied by the oak (vanilla, buttery perhaps), and l-o-n-g dry aftertaste.  Superb!
It's important to put out of your mind any pre-conceptions of what an IPA should taste like, because this doesn't fit the normal stereotype, but we suspect it is far more true to the historical brew.  The brewers say 'Serve chilled' and we initially obeyed, but for the comparison (see below) we followed our usual practice of pouring it at (cool) room temperature, which we felt did more justice to the subtle array of flavours in there.  We gave this 4.5 ticks but are debating whether it should have the maximum 5, since it it is not only an excellent beer but accurately reproduces a classic historical style.
6) Comparison
Having made ecstatic comments in our notes on the I & G IPA we felt duty bound to do a comparative tasting with another IPA, and just happened to have in the house a bottle of
Sam Smith's India Pale IPA 5.0%  (surprisingly, no website) The colour is very similar to I & G, perhaps a slight shade darker, with a pale brown head which is denser and lasts longer.  The aroma is much heavier, with more obvious malt as well as the hops.  The flavour also has a note of orange, but it is a more pronounced orange zest, and there is more bitterness in the aftertaste.  This an excellent beer and we gave it 4 ticks, but the comparison with the Innis & Gunn shows that the oak ageing really does do something rather special, in terms of marrying the flavours of the hops with the extra notes from the oak.  Had we tried the Sam Smith's on its own, we would have been delighted to have discovered it, and we'll certainly seek it out again, but while the Innis & Gunn is still available we'll be fighting for the remaining stocks - if you happen to be in Sainsburys at the same time, don't expect us to stand back politely, Jeannette has vowed to use feet, elbows, trolley or whatever's necessary to secure our next supply!


From Issue 26 (August 06 supplement)

1) Buckingham Arms Beer Festival
We're rushing out this edition to let you know there's still time to get down to the 'Buck' for their beer fest which is on until Monday 28th August.  As usual there's a good turn out of beers (30 real ales and 3 ciders) and of the modest 14 we tried nothing rated less than a score of 3 ticks (competent), 4 were worth 3.5 (special), and 6 made it to 4 ticks (really worth seeking out).  Our friend Pam checked out the ciders and gave top score to Biddendens Dry  - this at 8.4% made those of us drinking 'strong' ales up to 6% feel like wimps! 
Among the 4 tick scorers is Crouch Vale Brewers Gold 4.0%, which has just scooped the CAMRA Champion Beer of Britain Award, so you should get along and try it, but then compare it with Harveys Sussex Bitter (rated Champion Best Bitter).  Then remember we gave 5 other beers 4 ticks, and see whether you think Crouch Vale can hold its head up in such challenging company!  And while all this is food for thought, try a little of the Buck's sustenance.  We enjoyed superb home-made salmon fishcakes, while our friends indulged themselves in the ham, eggs and chips.  We also had a food 'special' - in return for a donation to the local Lifeboat fund we were supplied with slices of plain bread, which we find invaluable to clear the palate before tasting the next beer.
These were the ones we tasted:
FOUR TICKS- impressive versions of the style and worth seeking out
a) Shardlow - Five Bells (5.0%) From a Leicestershire brewery, which doesn't seem to have a website, this is a 'ruby coloured powerful ale with a bitter sweet finish'.  Although our little group didn't formally vote an 'Ale of the Festival' this may have been it, but we tried it late in the day, and there was so much top-class competition, that it would be invidious to single one out from this group.
b) Castle Rock - Nottingham Gold (3.5%) This Nottingham beer is 'golden . . . with a distinct hop character derived from 100% Golding hops'.  We were impressed by the excellent hop aroma and flavour and lingering bitterness.
c) Crouch Vale - Brewers Gold (4.0%) This Essex brew has just won CAMRA Champion Beer of Britain - for the second year in succession! - and it was great to be able to try it.  'A well-hopped, pale and refreshing beer, with delicious aromas of grapefruit and tropical fruits'.  We were more prosaic and called it generic citrus aromas, which we also detected in the taste.
d) Corvedale - Dark and Delicious (4.6%) Yes it was!  But they don't have a website.  From Shropshire, this is 'a dark ruby beer with hops on the aroma and palate and a sweet aftertaste'.  We thought it also had pleasant vinous tones.
e) Cropton - Monksman's Slaughter (6.0%)  We hoped the website for this North Yorks brewery might have explained the gory sounding name but it just told us that this, and their other beers, had received the Vegetarian Society's seal of approval!  And also that it was Champion Beer of Britain in 2000.  'A full bodied powerful brew, dark brown with a very distinct malty flavour using finest crushed pale, crystal and roasted malts, which combine perfectly with Kent Challenger and Goldings hops. Very strong and extremely moreish.'
f) Spectrum - Trip Hazard (6.5%) The Health & Safety warning in the title is underlined by the black and yellow hazard tape shown on the pump clip.  We heeded the warning and managed to make it to and from the bar on several occasions with no mishaps.  The Norfolk brewery boasts a website at but it just contains a logo and a telephone number - watch this space?  The beer is 'very strong, fruity, full-flavoured, mid-brown/red-brown bitter' - and very tasty too.
3.5 TICKS- above average specimens of the type 
a) Blackawton - Head Strong (5.2%) This Cornish brewery has no website but delivers 'a deceptively smooth beer with sweet malt taste.  A lingering hoppy finish rounds this strong and formidable fellow perfectly'. 
b) Acorn - XL(5.0%) In spite of the name, this beer from South Yorkshire is served in standard size glasses (though no doubt Keith will serve you a jug if you ask him nicely!)  It uses Saas and Perle hops and lager malts to 'create an extremely pale, well balanced, refreshing summer ale' with an 'earthy aroma' which also comes through in the taste.
c) Downton - Polish Golden Ale (4.2%) Established 2003, so they have obviously been concentrating on the beers and haven't yet created a website.  The Wiltshire brewery offers 'a pale golden beer made with 100% Polish hops.  A distinctive bitter ale with a spicy finish.'  It's interesting to compare this with the Acorn - our preferences went back and forth between them so we had to give them the same score - see what you think.
d) Wylam - Magic - XL(4.2%) [This beer replaces Litton Potts Beck Ale shown in the programme.]  A Northumberland brewery whose website is at they offer 'a light, crisp, refreshing ale with Amarillo hops and pale malts.  Floral and spicy with a good bitter finish'.
3 TICKS- competent versions of the type, you'd be happy to drink these wherever you came across them, but wouldn't make a special journey to find them 
a) Eastwood and Sanders - Nettlethrasher (4.4%)  This west Yorkshire brewery is to be re-named Elland Brewery, although the web address reflects the old name, Eastwood and Sanders, which itself was the product of the amalgamation of two Yorkshire micro breweries, the Barge & Barrel Brewery Company based in Elland, and West Yorkshire Brewery, based in Luddendenfoot.  The new name refelects the location.  I hope you've been following all that? 
The brewer says this is 'a deep copper coloured traditional strong ale, brewed using six different malts and developing interesting flavours from the combined use of English and American hop varieties. All this goes together to make this a mighty mouthful!' but we couldn't agree, finding it a thin tasting basic bitter, which was not particularly special.
b) Frog Island - Natterjack (4.8%) Based in Northampton, with a website at  which mercilessly exploits the frog connection, with lily pads to click on and several beers named after species of frogs or toads - some of which I suspect are either poisonous or hallucinogenic!  They describe it as ' golden, smooth-drinking beer with a sweet, hoppy aroma. English Marris Otter pale malt and wheat malt is combined to give an initial sweet taste followed by a malty astringency. English Target and Goldings hops provide a sweet, floral flavour and slight bitterness.'  Our experience found it only average.
c) Springhead - Willy's Wheatbeer (5.3%) This Nottingham brewery has a rather stark looking website at which says they make 15 beers but only mentions 13 of them, and this is one of the omissions.  They have a forum, where someone waxes lyrical about it and considers 'it must be the best wheatbeer on the market'.  They've obviously never been to Belgium!  While it has some of the characteristics of a traditional wheatbeer, it also has a strange oily mouthfeel which is most unusual for the type, and which we found rather off-putting, so we only gave it 3 ticks.
d) Weltons - Loverly Jubbly (5.7%)  I gave up trying to find this one online since there are the complications of the mereger of Hepworths and Weltons, with the current and old websites not mentioning this beer, whereas at least 3 other brewers make a beer using this reference to 'Only Fools and Horses'.  It is described as 'Smooth, rich, and on the dark side'.  We found it slightly sweetish, not unpleasant but not outstanding.
We were sorry to see that Williams Brothers Roisin (4.2%) was 'off' - apparently in both senses - as we should have liked to have tasted this pink beer from Alloa infused with fresh tayberries.  Also note that Oakham Ales Helter Skelter (5.0%) has been replaced by Archers SSB (5.0%).
Thanks to friends Nigel and Pam for their comments and moral support in this serious scientific study.


From Issue 25 August 06

I'm sending out this issue rather early, as there's quite a lot of tasting notes, and it may give you some inspiration for the holiday period and the current thirsty weather.  Thre are also a few extra items in the events section.
For a long time I've referred to this as the e-newsletter (newsletter by e-mail) and it's only just dawned on me that I should call it the 'Beer E-News' (so that it sounds like 'beery news' - geddit? Oh, never mind!) 
         If you can bear to read on after that we've got some interesting and entertaining items . . .
1) Belgian Shock
Our good friend Anny, owner of De Oude Abdij Hotel  recently gave us a surprise - or perhaps I should say a shock!  When our friends Nigel & Pam stayed there recently, Anny asked them to bring back some beer for us.  I wondered why Nigel seemed a bit worried when I saw him and then he told me that Anny had sent some Leffe (brewed by InBev).  Now as anyone who likes a decent drink knows, InBev is the evil international conglomerate which is out to destroy the world of beer - their latest act is to close down the Hoegaarden brewery having already 'dumbed down' the beer itself.  So by simple equations InBev=bad, thus Leffe=InBev=bad, and I assumed this was another example of Anny's wicked sense of humour.  However we agreed we should try it, in the interests of finding out what the enemy are up to, and that's when we realised that the foil and the label were different - this was Leffe 9.  Approaching it with minds as open as we could make them, we noted the good golden colour and white head, with floral aromas of malt and hop.  The flavour was surprisingly good - caramel, with a bitter sweetness, and a distinct warmth from the alcohol level.  The score was reduced by a slightly metallic aftertaste but overall, it wasn't bad, and while I wouldn't cross oceans to seek this one out, I certainly wouldn't object to drinking it if I found myself in an InBev-only bar.  So - my world has turned upside down, nothing is clear any more, InBev have produced a drinkable beer!  Does this mean they have have turned over a new Leffe?  Or is it just a momentary aberration in their inexorable campaign to destroy taste?  Wait and see . .
2) Brussels news
You may have heard of the Delirium Cafe, where the beer list looks like a telephone directory - over 2000 of 'em!  Worth seeking out when you're in Brussels and worth a return visit if you've been there before, since they have just announced the opening of the Floris Bar at Impasse de fidelite 12, just opposite the Delirium itself. 
This new bar sets out to stock 2000 spirits!  One range will be 500 different Jenevers, which sounds interesting, if a little challenging.  I'm not so sure about another - they proudly boast that they will hold a range of absinthes.  Although an airline magazine article asures me it is the trendy new drink, it was actually illegal until relatively recently - and there may have been a good reason for this. 
The Cafe says that "this nectar . . .  inspired the genius of artists like RIMBAUD , VERLAINE, WILDE, TOULOUSE-LAUTREC, MODIGLIANI,HEMINGWAY and many others".  Tim Webb, author of the 'Good Beer Guide to Belgium' wryly asks "Is this wise? Rimbaud died mysteriously at 21.  Verlaine hurled his infant son against a wall when intoxicated on the stuff.  Wilde died impoverished after his reputation was ruined.  Toulouse-Lautrec stopped growing.  Modigliani's reputation as an artist was marred by his tendency to strip himself naked in bars when drunk.  Hemingway killed himself."  He concludes "Not so much inspiring genius as expiring it, I would say.  I think I'll stick with the amber nectar and moderate habits." 
I think I agree with him in respect of the absinthe, however fashionable, but I might be tempted by the Jenevers.  But if none of this appeals you could console yourself with what else they offer "AND MORE THAN THAT !!!.... YES, TEQUILAS, VODKAS, GINS, WHISKIES, BOURBONS, MEZCALS, PISCOS AND AGUARDIENTE..... CALIENTE!!!"  Perhaps some widely travelled (or widely drunk) correspondent could enlighten me about the last three which sound rather like tropical diseases . . .

3) VivA Worthing!
Thanks to Stuart Elms for news of VivA, a Spanish & Mediterranean Deli in Worthing that stocks an interesting range of unusual wines & continental bottled beers - including some from the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Rumania, Russia and Ukraine.  You'll find them on the corner of Rowlands and Queens Road.  Their beer list includes some I met in the course of the research for our World Beers courses, so you're sure to find something interesting there.
4) More Tastings
a) Robinsons Double Hop (5.0%) 'Brewed with extra hops for extra flavour'  A clear golden brown with a short-lived white head and a pleasant floral hoppy aroma.  The advertised 2-stage hopping is supposed to produce both aroma and bitterness.  It works in the first instance, but this bottled variety was so full of fizz that it was just like drinking the old-fashioned 'Corona' (Come on, own up - I'm not the only one here old enough to remember that!)  The flavour was pleasant enough and when it eventually settled down it was refreshing, but we didn't feel that it worked as the brewer intended, and only gave it 2.5 ticks.  It would be good to see how the draught version compares.
b) Chimera IPA (6.8%)  'Very strong bitter' as the label says on his offering from the Downton (nr Salisbury) brewery - no website.  A golden body under a dense white head and a hoppy aroma so fresh it's almost astringent.  The mouthfeel is smooth and oily and the warmth of the alcohol is evident.  Flavours are complex - malty, hoppy, hints of orange peel and a good, satisfying bitterness.  The label explains that IPA - India Pale Ale - was so called from the drink sent in casks to India.  It had to be strong and hoppy to survive the voyage - and this is both, a good example of an IPA, well worth 4 ticks.  The label celebrates its style and name with a picture of the Indian flag (presumably not in use in the heyday of IPA under the Raj?  Historians, your assistance please!) and a picture of a chimera.  The latter is/was/might be a mythical beast, a combination of lion, goat and snake, and if you drink enough of these at 6.8% you just might get to see one . . .
c) Royal Oak Bitter (5.0%) From O'Hanlon's - you know, the brewery which sounds as though it should be brewing stout in the Emerald Isle, but is in fact located in England's West Country at Whimple, Devon, where it turns out an adventurous range of interesting brews.  This one is a pale red-brown, with a dense, creamy head, and a hoppy aroma.  The cap seems as though it is trying to comply with requirements to state ingredients without giving away any recipe secrets: "Contains barley, and may contain (my underlining) wheat oats rye spelt" (wot, no hops, yeast or water?) "May also contain corn flakes, all bran, cocopops, frosties and special K, traces of peanuts, monosodium glutamate' lots of E numbers and permitted flavourings" - not really, I made the last bit up!  The label explains that it is recreated from a recipe of 1896, and the name comes from the name given to many pubs, taken from Charles II's habit of clambering up every tree in sight (you would, too, if you had a Roundhead posse breathing down your neck!) 
The brewers describe it as having a 'soft balanced complexity' and we couldn't put it better - unless we added a note about the pleasant lingering finish, and the fact we deemed it above average and worthy of 3.5 ticks.  We came across O'Hanlon's Port Stout, and Wheat Beer, some years ago at a festival in a delightful village pub we happened on while passing through Somerset.  We were supposed to be on our way home, but the pub and the beer range were so attractive that we enquired whether they had accommodation, and when we found they did, were able to stay on and enjoy the festival.  (So what if the journey from Somerset to Sussex took two days, we're talking quality of life here!)  And since then we have always had very fond memories of O'Hanlon's . . .
d) Highgate Old Ale (5.1%) Highgate is actually a subsidiary of Aston Manor Brewery but when you go to the website you are confronted by details of their cider production.  Look for the small link to 'beers' and you are faced with Piddle in the Hole (see issue 23 for explanation) and their new 'Balti Beer' - thankfully this refers to the food it's designed to accompany, not the ingredients.  Then you notice that Aston Manor acquired the Highgate Brewing Company - which finally provides the link you want!
The old Ale has a dense brown-black colour and a creamy, lingering head.  There is a sweetish aroma of caramel and malt and the first taste reveals the warmth of the alcohol. This is followed by a taste which is dry, slightly astringent even, and at the same time rich, slightly burnt, with hints of licorice, and a lingering dry aftertaste.  That rather confused description tells you it's quite complex.  Trying it on a hot day made us think that it could actually cope with some chilling, as the taste would still come through.  Brewed since 1898 to the original Victorian recipe, it made it to SIBA champion in 2004, and we gave it 3.5 ticks.
e) The Bishop's Tipple (6.5%in bottle, 5.5% draught - bottled version tasted) from Wadworth of Devizes, Wilts  This has a clear golden brown body under a white head.  There is an intriguing aroma from the mix of Saaz and Styrian Golding hops which give it both floral and fruity notes.  The mouthfeel is slightly oily, and there is good flavour from the hops, but it is complex and subtle, giving an almost peachy impression.  The bitterness is there, but in a refined fashion, it's not 'in your face'.  The aftertaste is dry with a lingering fruitiness.  The label tells that it was first brewed to commemorate the inauguration of George Reindorp as Bishop of Salisbury (which happened in 1973 according to a Google search, although the stronger, bottled version was only re-launched a year or so ago).  It has a suitable ecclesiastical design, looking like a stained glass window, with a chalice and the text: "rejoice and enjoy the fruits of our labour, and be thankful that the earth provides".  So we accordingly rejoiced, definitely enjoyed, and thankfully awarded it 3.5 ticks, nudging on 4.


From Issue 24 (July 06)

1) Beers of Portugal (Lisbon, actually!) 
Before we wing our way across the Atlantic I'm planning to get the web page about Lisbon finished.  Give it a day or so, then all being well you should find some new info on the website at
2) Ale Trail
Brighton and South Downs CAMRA are running an Ale Trail again this year.  You start by picking up a Passport, then getting it stamped when you have a pint of real ale in any of the 40 participating pubs.  You have until the end of September to collect stamps, and prizes such as T-shirts etc are awarded for various 'scores'.  There's a parallel 'trail' for those who prefer cider.  Full details are on  Apart from the appeal of glittering prizes (?), and the satisfaction of 'ticking' which appeals to a lot of beer festival attendees, it's a very good way of encouraging you to make the effort to try some of the pubs which are off your normal beaten track.  Thanks to the trail, we have already discovered some locations new to us . . .
3) Beers in Brighton
With the aid of our friend, Debi, who is a resident of, and knowledgeable about, the megalopolis of Brighton, we took in some Brighton pubs last week.  We started with the Lord Nelson at 36 Trafalgar Street - good Harveys, friendly staff and very good food - and Debi then asked us if we'd seen the nearby beer shop.  As we hadn't, we went a few steps further down Trafalgar Street, where she introduced us to Trafalgar Wines

This little gem, run by a fellow Midlander, sells wines, as you might expect, but we paid them little heed, our attention being grabbed by the range of UK and world beers which covers the left hand wall.  The owner, Steve Foster, has no website and relies on word-of-mouth advertising only.  He is obviously very interested in his subject and has managed to source a lot of unusual brews - we found beers there which even the vast warehouse of 'Beers of Europe', our usual online supplier, does not stock.  As we were travelling by a mixture of train and foot we were limited in what we could carry home, but we picked out half a dozen interesting specimens, of which more anon.  If visiting Brighton, you'll find Trafalgar Wines at 23 Trafalgar Street, which runs down from the station.  You can contact Steve by phone on 01273 683 325.

Next we made good a long-standing omission.  We have enjoyed Dark Star beers at many beer festivals, been thrilled when they opened a new brewery tap in Shoreham (the Duke of Wellington) but had never visited the fountain head, the pub where it all started - the Evening Star at 55-56 Surrey Street, again handy for the station.  I won't give a long review here - suffice to say this is the mecca for real ale lovers in Sussex and it does not disappoint.  Sitting outside with a pint of Oatmeal stout - such bliss that the occasional sunshowers couldn't put a damper on it!

Having already done a lot of hard research work, and gained two stamps on our passport, we were all set to head for the train home, when Debi mentioned her local - conveniently close to the station, continuing the Nelsonian theme as it's called the Battle of Trafalgar, another fine Harveys pub, and it would give us another stamp on our Ale Trail passport - how could we miss it?  It can be found at 34 Guildford Road, which is a steep little hill just north of the station.  Having climbed to the pub, you feel justified in relaxing with your beer (Harveys and guest ales) in their pleasant little garden.  Although it has several good reviews on beer websites it doesn't seem to have its own webpage yet, but you can contact the pub on 01273 327997 

We were well pleased with the results of our miniature pub crawl, all within a few hundred yards of the station, and with another 9 Ale Trail destinations in the city it won't be long before we return to Brighton for more research.
4) Another Heaven on Earth?
A work commitment took us to Lindfield, which just happens to be the location of the Stand Up Inn, the third of the Dark Star's brewery taps, and one  which we had not previously visited. (No website, but info on the Evening Star website above.)   As we had an urgent need to call in there for a stamp on our Ale Trail Passports, we managed to combine business with pleasure. 
Picture the scene:  A summer's day, the sun slants in through the open front and back doors.  Outside it's hot, but the bar interior, with its tiled floor and clean pale decor feels delightfully cool.  Lean back and look at the old wooden beams crossing the ceiling.  You have just been served by the pleasant and helpful staff.  Look down at the scrubbed pine table, contemplate the luscious pint of Dark Star Original sitting there, and inhale the aroma of the beer, and also of the sausage and fried onion roll on the plate next to it - a perfect pairing of food and drink.  Forget your gourmet restaurants, it doesn't get better than this!
5) More tastings
We couldn't resist starting fairly quickly on the specimens we brought back from the Brighton beer specialist, Trafalgar Wines, (see above) and in view of the warm weather two German beers seemed a good place to begin.  Both are brewed according to the German Purity Law, the Reinheitsgebot, which has proved a mixed blessing for the German beer industry, but these brewers still produce competent products.  I had heard about, but never before tried, Jever Pilsener 4.9% This Friesian brewery is known for its use of hops, giving a sharpish taste and a long dry finish.  The appearance is impressive - a clear, pale gold body under a dense white head - and the hops and malt come through clearly in the aroma.  The lingering bitterness is the dominant impression, perhaps not overly subtle, but it does a good job in producing a refreshing brew which is more distinctive than most German pilsners.  Checking out the website for this brewer I was intrigued to find that they sell jars of spread called the 'Brewer's Breakfast'.  It contains 63% Jever Pilsener, so they have to label the finished product as 2% ABV - it might give a more interesting start to the day than Marmite on your toast!

Next we tried the Hefeweisse 5.5% from Hacker-Pschorr - a dense abundant white head and a cloudy orange-amber body, with the typical floral, wheaty aroma of a Hefeweisse.  The taste encompasses wheat, fruit and hints of ginger.  It is refreshing with a light prickle on the palate and a pleasant fruity aftertaste. 
We tried both German beers unchilled, and felt that some of the more subtle flavours would be lost if they were subjected to the heavy chilling common in Germany. 
Then we moved on to some UK offerings, including some from our cellar which were sourced from Beers of Europe.
a) Stoodley Stout 4.8% from the Little Valley Brewery near Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire - website   Among the UK range at Trafalgar Wines.  The word 'Organic' appears on the label and reflects the concern of the owner and master-brewer (who is Dutch-born and Bavarian-qualified) to use environmentally sound methods and natural ingredients in the production of his range of English and Continental style beers.  Here the ingredients contain chocolate malt with oats and wheat.  This is a bottle-conditioned stout of dense, dark mahogany hue, which pours with a light brown head.  There are pleasant aromas of coffee and burnt toast.  The mouthfeel is full, slightly oily, and the flavours include burnt toast and liquorice with a good bitterness in the lingering complex after-taste.  Definitely worth 3.5 ticks and we would be interested to see some of the other beers from this brewery.
b) RW Randall 'Cynful' 3.5% a mild from Guernsey, website A dark red-brown body and a big pale brown head, stout-like aromas of toast with caramel and a taste which had a hint of sweetness - if it were a sherry you'd call it medium dry - and toasty flavours leading to a dry finish.   Perhaps some of the write-ups ('a living gem'), and the presentation, made us expect too much.  We could only it 3 ticks, as a competent beer, but not as outstanding (at least in this bottled version) as we had been led to believe.
c) 'Two Water Grog 4.0% from the Broadstone Brewing Co Ltd of Retford Notts. They purport to have a website at  but the address currently leads to a holding page by a domain name seller.  The label description say " Complex and malty ale.  Blend of 4 different malts, which gives a full-bodied taste, and the Bramling hops leave a long dry finish".  It also relates the background story, that this beer is only available on draught from the brewery tap, the Rum Runner Bar in Retford, and the name is taken from the diluted tots given to sailors, made of 2 parts water, one part rum.  It displays a pale cream head over a dark amber body.  The aroma seems slightly sweet, the body is smooth, and there is a good bitterness in the flavour.  It is a competent bitter, deserving 3 ticks, but does not really match the big build up.
d) Strong Stout (Christmas 2005) 7.0% from the Craftsman Brewery of Wretton Norfolk. Get out your hankies folks, this is a really sad story!  We got some of this 'bottle conditioned strong stout made with 5 malts and 2 hop varieties' from Beers of Europe, and got around to trying it today.  It had a solid black body with a full pale brown head.  The aroma started off with digestive biscuits, it had a good full body, with a slightly prickly mouthfeel and the first thing we noticed was the pleasant warmth of the alcohol.  This was followed by flavours of toast, liquorice, malt, hints of peardrops, not too bitter, with a nice slightly smoky aftertaste.  It was complex, satisfying and robust enough to accompany foods with strongish tastes - sausages, roasts, casseroles, in fact any warm winter food, although we enjoyed it in the summer.  It was voted an instant 4 ticks. 

Now for the hankies . . .  When looking for brewery websites a reliable source is and there I found that the entry for Craftsman Brewery was headed 'Closed'!  Reading on to the history of the brewery I found "Opened September 2005, it was a partnership with Wissey Valley. It was using equipment from Wissey Valley Brewery and brewing at the Clover Social Club, Low Road, Wretton, King's Lynn. The brewery ceased to exist in February 2006, when the partnership split and it reverted to Wissey Valley." 
We find ourselves wondering what human dramas lie behind this zythological tragedy.  The ancient samurai compared their lives to that of the cherry blossoms which bloom gloriously for a short while and then are gone; so too did the Craftsman Brewery arise, produced this delectable stout, and then was no more! 

With a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye, I checked out the Wissey Valley website  where its Potted History page informs us that the brewer's career started in 1999 and the article ends with the words 'And so the Wissey Valley Brewery, craft brewers of ales, milds, porters and stouts was formed and opened in July 2003.'  The website was updated in May 2006, and it looks as though any mention of Craftsman Brewery was wiped from the page.  What mysteries are here?  Like any good soap opera, there is scope for a follow up. . .  we see that Wissey's bottled range includes Khaki Sergeant 6.7% Strong Stout.  Does Craftsman's Strong Stout live on?   Watch for "Strong Stout 2 - The Sequel" coming soon to a webpage near you!
6)  Virtual Germany
A good way of getting a taste of Germany, which costs even less than Easyjet's cheap flights to Cologne, is to take a stroll to Sainsbury's where they are now stocking a good selection from the Meantime Brewery although they are marketed under Sainsbury's own 'Taste the Difference' label.  Sold in packs of 4 330ml bottles they have introduced a very interesting range.  My attention was first drawn to them when I was trying to find some Vienna Red, the original style of lager, for a German beer tasting.  It seems that once the Germans discovered (from the Czechs) how to make golden lager, they abandoned the original, and I have not been able to find any specimens produced in Germany.  Australia and USA both produce versions, but I was pleased to find a home-grown version from Meantime, and it went down very well at the tasting. 
Subsequently we tried a very creditable Bavarian-style wheatbeer from Meantime, and their latest effort is a Kölsch, although they're not allowed to call it that, as the name is restricted to breweries in Cologne.  So it goes by the rather cumbersome name of 'Cologne-style lager' (5%) - and says that they use 'a special recipe from Cologne'.  This raises a number of interesting questions since a Kölsch may look like a lager (bottom-fermented) but is actually a top-fermented ale.  We should be told - so I've contacted the brewery and await their reply with interest. 
Update - I subsequently got a reply from the head brewer confessing that it was top-fermented as any authentic
Kölsch should be and therefore was technically an ale not a lager - but they thought the British market might not understand!
Technical aspects aside the label says it displays 'fresh, fruity hop and light malt flavours', and we agree completely.  Bearing in mind that it took us two visits to Cologne to find out where all the good Kölsch was hiding, it's nice to know that you can get something which is up there with the best of Cologne from a supermarket near you.

From Issue 23 (June 06 supplement)

We're off shortly to check out the cervejarias of Lisbon (and may also look into the Port Institute as light relief from all that work - that's port as in alcoholic beverage and not as in harbour!)  In order to keep your minds on the important things of life we've done some arduous tasting sessions, of which the results are below, to inspire you to some serious studies over the summer.
1) Visit Germany (virtually) 
No, this isn't about football!  Just to let you know I've made some progress with the German areas of the website.  Most of the new stuff starts with  and there's an intro to the delights of Cologne at  Reviewing what I'd written, I realised I'd become quite fond of the city, and in particular the culture of the Kölsch bars and the quirky waiters (called Köbes) which are such a feature of them - read more on
4) More fine beers to try
While working through the miscellany we recently ordered from we came across the following:
a) Alcazar Gaoler's Ale 7.5% website This is an old ale with a clear dark red-brown appearance.  The light brown head is fairly shortlived but the aroma is complex: 'yeasty, jammy, fruitcake' were some of the words that came to mind.  The flavour is smoky, slightly sweet, fruity, and the warmth of the alcohol is quite evident.  Although some of the famous Belgian after-dinner beers are stronger, this one could hold its head up in the company of those classics.  It does very well as a digestif, as a nightcap, or an accompaniment to cheese.  We had no hesitation in awarding it 4 ticks, and will be including it in our next order, along with other products from this brewery.  (They do an 8% Imperial stout which sounds worth a try!)
b) Arkells Bees 4.5% website This is supposed to be Arkells first Organic Ale, launched 2001, and (they say) 'recently voted Organic Ale of the Year'.  They stress it's made with organically grown malted barley, hops, and includes organically produced honey - and no doubt brewed by an organic brewer used a mash tun made only from wood from sustainable forests etc etc . . .  No, shouldn't mock, especially as it's not a bad drink.  Supplied in a clear (recycled??) glass bottle, which is perhaps not so good for protection against UV, but allows the golden colour to show to advantage.  The finishing touch is added to the appearance by having a black foil cover to conceal the crown cap - wine bottle style.  It pours with a dense white head, which dissipates fairly quickly.  The organic honey which has been added is very pronounced in the aroma and although obvious in the flavour it is nicely balanced with hop bitterness, to give a light refreshing effect.  We thought it worth 3.5 ticks as a good summer beverage.
c) Arkells 3B 5.0% Another from Arkells, with a cryptic name which stands for 'Best Bitter Beer' (or as some would have it 'Big Boys' Beer' - although Jeannette liked it a lot too!)  It comes in a clear glass bottle, which looks elegant and is obviously positioned as premium beer since the bottle contains only 330ml.  The body colour is dark amber and it pours with a creamy white head.  Sweet malt is clear in the aroma.  The taste is complex, smooth and distinctive - malty, slightly sweet, with hints of vanilla, and a dry finish.  It reminded us of Innis & Gunn, which is aged in oak whisky barrels and also comes in clear 330ml bottles, although I & G is stronger at 6.6%.  (I & G was reviewed in May 05, and is on the website at It's currently on promotion at Waitrose so our cupboard has been replenished.) Like I & G, 3B is a beer to be savoured slowly, but at the same time is better for those who want less alcohol per glass.  We awarded it 4 ticks.
d) Greene King Strong Suffolk Vintage Ale 6.0% website   The brewer's website modestly says" Strong Suffolk Vintage Ale is unique and unrivalled in this country."  It goes on to explain" It's a blend of two ales: Old 5X , which is brewed to the maximum strength possible (around 12% abv) and left to mature in 100-barrel oak vats for a minimum of two years, and BPA, a dark, full-bodied freshly brewed beer which is added just before bottling."  They conclude "The result is a unique beer – strong (6% abv), dark, fruity, oaky and very, very special!" - so what did we think?  It pours with a shortlived pale brown head over a dark ruby body.  The aroma is spicy and fruity.  It is full-bodied, with hints of caramel and burnt toffee, and high notes of vanilla from the oak-aged component.  The aftertaste showed some bitterness and we were well aware of the warm glow from the alcohol content.  It was definitely enjoyable, so why were we left with a feeling that something was missing to make it match up with the hype?  It may be that it suffered by following the Arkell's 3B - by comparison this Vintage Ale showed less complexity, but was still worth 3.5 ticks.  Can't help wondering what the Old 5X 12% might be like if it were sold unadulterated . . .

e) Now pay attention at the back, and no sniggering Wallace minor, because we're going to talk about Piddle in the Hole 4.0% , one of the regular products from the Wyre Piddle Brewery - website  And first we must be clear that the name comes from Puddle - although the pump clip used when this beer is produced in cask form shows someone doing something they shouldn't into a hole on a golf course.  The brewery, actually located on a farm near Pershore, gets its name from a children's rhyme which was popular in the area around Wyre Piddle village: 

Upton Snodsbury, Peopleton and Crowle,

Wyre Piddle, North Piddle

And Piddle in the Hole

Some of W P brewery's output is sent to the Aston Manor Brewery in Birmingham, who do the bottling for them - which is how we were able to get a sample to try.  The dark bottle has a label showing a rowing boat which has sprung a leak - it doesn't equate to the name as well as the pump clip but is probably more acceptable for the retail trade. 
With all those gimmicks you might have some misgivings about the beer, but it's not at all bad - in fact it's very nice.  The body is a clear deep gold with an abundant dense white head.  The aroma is vinous and fruity, and these elements are even more pronounced in the flavour, with a hint of sweetness.  In the mouth it is full-bodied and satisfying, with a lingering bitterness in the aftertaste.  We thought it deserved 4 ticks.  Can't wait until it arrives down here on draught - "Landlord, another pint of Piddle if you please"!
f) Sneck Lifter 5.1% from Jennings a brewery based in Cockermouth, Cumbria.  This strong bitter is currently available through Waitrose and we felt it was more interesting than the same brewery's Cumberland Ale 4.2%, which can also be found in Waitrose.  Sneck Lifter has a dark mahogany body, with a huge pale brown head.  There is burnt toast in both the aroma and the flavour, with well balanced hop bitterness and a dry aftertaste.  It is an interesting and complex beer, to be savoured slowly - definitely not a session beer!  We gave it 3.5 ticks. 
And now, what you've really been waiting to hear - where did they get that name?  The answer is on the label, in the small illustration of an 1828 6d (six penny coin - you don't know what that is? - all you post-decimalisation pupils stay behind for extra tuition after class!)  As you all know (?) 'sneck' is Cumbrian dialect for a door latch, so a sneck lifter was a poor man's last 6d which enabled him to lift the latch of the pub door and buy himself a pint, hoping that some kind friend would buy him the next one!  (A pint for 2.5p - read this and weep!)
g) Humdinger 4.1% from Joseph Holt of Manchester    The brewers give us 'hum' in the name as they obviously couldn't think up a title with 'buzz' in it, but just in case you haven't got the point, the label is largely taken up with a picture of a beehive - and there's a scroll proclaiming the honey too.  The website proudly announces that this was "Winner of the Tesco Beer Challenge 2004."  It also informs us that it is "brewed with a combination of quality English malt, Mexican Aroma Honey and Citrus flavoured Traditional Whole Hops. Provides a rounded, tongue-tingling taste with an exciting aroma" - and to be fair, we'd agree with that.  The honey is very clear in the aroma and in the taste, where the sharpness of the lemony hops offsets it nicely, making it refreshing and not at all sweet.  Definitely worth 3.5 ticks.
h) Melton Red 4.3% from the Belvoir Brewery of Melton Mowbray, who as at June 2006 seem to have registered the domain name - but not actually created a website yet!  Watch that space.  In spite of the name, the body colour is more of an orange brown, with a small creamy head.  The aroma has caramel, malt, citrus (grapefruit?) and the taste is sweetish, with caramel overlaid by hoppy top notes, then a long dry finish.  It was interesting enough to be worth 3.5 ticks. 
We always like a label with a bit of interest to it and this one does not disappoint.  In Melton Mowbray, on 6 April 1837 after the Croxton Park races, the Marquis of Waterford and a large group of his friends decided to paint the town red - literally!  And there's a nice picture of these aristocratic vandals at work - bet they didn't get 30 hours community service for their prank!
We didn't have a Melton Mowbray pork pie on hand to try with the beer, but the bitter finish would be effective in cutting through the richness of fatty foods, so it might be a good combination.
i) Moonlight 5.0% Yet another from Arkells.  This time the bottle carries a blue-tinted photograph of a WWII Lysander aircraft, with the caption 'He landed by moonlight' - what's it all about?  But first, the beer.  A golden brown body, with a good white head, and clear malt and hops in the aroma.  The mouthfeel is slightly oily, with substantial malt and hop flavours, and a hint of caramel in the dry aftertaste.  A very pleasing competent bitter, and well worth 3.5 ticks.  Now back to the plane. 
Anyone remember a series called 'Moonstrike' on black & white TV?  No?  As I thought, you're all too young!  It was a series about the RAF Special Ops squadron who flew missions into occupied France to support the Resistance.  Lysanders were used because they could fly slowly and land in fields at night, so the pilots had to be exceptional fliers and risked being shot as spies if captured.  Peter Arkell OBE, whose picture in RAF uniform is on the back label, had a distinguished career in the RAF and was in the Special Duties Squadron from 1940-1945.  'Moonlight' was brewed to celebrate his 80th birthday.  If they keep on brewing beers as good as this for his parties we hope he'll have many happy returns.
j) Rolling Hitch 5.2% is an IPA from the Darwin Brewery  No, it's not an import from Oz, this brewery is based in Sunderland!  The label carries a picture of a sailing ship and of course all you jolly tars (or weekend yachtsmen) will know that a rolling hitch is a nautical not (or should that be knautical knot?)  The associations in the name pay homage to the origins of the beer style. 
IPA stands for India Pale Ale and comes from the days of the Honourable East India Company, whose captains would turn a personal profit by taking out a few home comforts to the expatriates who were administering the then colony.  Among these was beer, and a favourite was 'October beer' - a strong, pale, well hopped stock beer brewed in the autumn.  It was recommended in the 1760's that it should be kept 12 months before bottling, and a further year before drinking - thus it was two years old before it was ready to drink.  As luck would have it, this was the ideal beer to spend a long 4-6 months sea journey to India.  The slow, regular temperature changes it went through and the rocking it received in its oak casks on the voyage had a magical maturing effect, so that on arrival it was as mature as a brew which had spent six times as long in an English cellar.  It was extremely popular and quickly became a widely established style.
So, if the label shows that the brewers know a bit about beer history you begin to suspect that they might have academic qualifications - and you'd be right!  Darwin Brewery, established in 1994,  is owned by three micro-biologists who hail from Brewlab at the University of Sunderland.  Not only is the latter organisation respected for its research work, it provides the authorised Tasting Kits to CAMRA - and is famous for its courses which teach all the essential arts associated with brewing.  (Anyone who is contemplating a career change, or dreams of spending their life in a brewery, should surf to and sign up right away!)
Nice story, what about the beer?  A lovely clear amber colour and a h-u-g-e white head.    The brewers are probably thinking of selling to that other former colony, because they use Amarillo hops to make it a 'US style IPA' - sounds like some confusion between historical links and pressures of marketing creeping in there, chaps!  Nevertheless it does have a beautiful hoppy aroma.  The taste has malt and hops with what the brewer says is citrus fruit, but we felt was closer to autumn fruits - who's quibbling, it's still tastes very good!  It finishes clean and dry.  We awarded it 3.5 ticks, though could have wavered towards a 4.

From Issue 22 (June 06)

1) What's going on in Germany? 
No, we're not talking about those people currently kicking balls round a field - this newsletter is about beer!  Although on our recent visit to Cologne and Düsseldorf the amount of hysterical coverage of the WM (WeltMeisterschaft = World Championship) had to be seen to be believed.  The vast roof of Cologne station has been turned into a 21st century version of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, but with footballers as the new divinities - ah well, to each their own.  Our own pilgrimage was in search of the Holy Grail of the best Kölsch and Alt beers of the region, and we didn't need any dubious da Vinci codes to find them - although we did get some useful tips from Paul Allison and Ron Pattinson , as well as the recent CAMRA 'Good Beer Guide to Germany'.  Notes on this German beerscursion (and earlier ones) will be appearing on the website as soon as we can get them there.  If you start from the updated page on Going to Germany and follow the links you'll see which pages are complete.  We'll keep you posted via this newsletter as more is added.
2) Developments at St Sixtus Abbey
Since the media hysteria which declared the Westvleteren beers 'best in the world' the monks of St Sixtus, who refuse to bow to commercial pressures and compromise quality by increasing production, have been suffering huge queues (over 6 hours wait is normal) and the inhabitants of the area have had lines of cars kilometres long blocking their narrow country lanes.  So they have decided to try to regulate the system.  Here's a couple of notes from the Belgian beer discussion group about the likely form of the arrangements which will come into force in September:

Subject: Big Westvleteren news

VRT teletext reported that the monks are going to change their selling method. People will only be able to buy beer at the monastery gate if they have reserved in advance. By doing this the monks want to deal with the long queues. When reserving by phone, buyers will be given a number, without which you will not be able to buy beer.

Subject: Westvleteren - more details

In a Belgian newspaper some more details about the new sales method were disclosed.  The new method will start on September 25. When calling to reserve your beer, you will be asked your name and your car's licence plate number. According to the article the monks would like to give more people a chance to buy some of their beer. Reading between the lines, makes me
believe that their will definitely be a set a limit to the amount of crates you will be able to buy.
So, if you're driving to Flanders in the autumn, and want to come back with a boot full of the monks' elixir, keep an eye on the abbey's website - go to choose the link to 'Brewery', where you'll find the 'Beer Line' phone number and information about the procedures.  We'll also put information in the newsletter as we receive it.

3) Off the beaten track
We recently indulged ourselves with a hefty order to Beers of Europe  Although they are our preferred supplier for Belgian, German and World beers, we have not previously exploited their extensive UK selection.  So we ran riot through their website, indulging our spirit of scientific curiosity by picking out beers we'd never encountered before (as well as stocking up on some interesting ciders, for when we feel like a change).  We'll report from time to time as we work our way through our newly extended stock, but here's a couple for starters:
a) is for the Alcazar brewery, based in Nottingham, with the rather verbose web address of to make sure you know they are "on the edge of old Sherwood Forest in the shadow of Nottingham castle".  No prizes for guessing that they plug the Robin Hood connection for all it's worth!  They also provide a rather imaginative definition of the word 'ale' - I prefer the more likely explanations of the Saxon source given in the authoritative tome: Beer, the Story of the Pint by Martin Cornell.  (An excellent reference book - for details see )  So the first one we tried was Maidens Magic 5.0% The brewery says "This is a smooth, lightly hopped and aromatic English-style brown ale, pleasantly malty with a hint of honey in aroma and taste. It perfectly complements light seafood dishes, mild cheese dishes, vegetable dishes and salads."  Our notes record that it has a lasting, light brown head on a red-brown body.  The aroma is very full, with the malt and honey coming through clearly, with hints of smoke and woodiness, but we didn't notice much hop aroma.  There is a trace of hops in the flavour but again it's the malt and honey which hits you, making you think of mead.  They seem to have got the balance just right - the background hops prevent it from being sweet, and if there were more honey it would make the flavour too pronounced.  As it stands it is a very pleasant and interesting drink with a difference, but you need to choose the right occasion for it.  We took the brewer's advice and had it as an accompaniment to a salad, and it worked very well, so we gave it 3.5 ticks.
b) is for a brewery on the Isle of Man, from where our next interesting specimen comes.  It is a wheat beer and the label says it is brewed at Okells Falcon brewery in accordance with the Manx Beer Purity Law dating from 1874.  This made me rather wary at first, since I, and others, have discoursed at length about the problems created by the German Purity Laws, but all is explained on their website  Fortunately it seems that Tynwald is less rigid than the German government, because they amended the law in 1998 to give more flexibilty in lager making, but the full might of the law still applies to top-fermented ales, as follows:
No brewer shall use in the brewing, making, mixing with, recovering or colouring, any beer, or any liquid made to resemble beer, or have in his possession any copperas, Coculus Indicus, nux vomica, grains of paradise, Guinea pepper or opium, or any article, ingredient, or preparation whatever, for, or as a substitute for, malt or sugar or hops
Now I don't know about you, but I'm quite happy that a brewer should be restrained from adding any opium or grains of paradise to my pint.  The only thing which I'm now worrying about is whether English brewers, without such controls, are slipping a bit of nux vomica into their ales - certainly the Saturday night scenes in the High Streets of this country might make you think so!!!  (Just checked it out on a 'herbals' website which tells me nux vomica has the same characteristics as strychnine - what were they doing in the IoM prior to 1874 to need such controls?)
After that little excursion into horror, it's a relief to report that the beer concerned was excellent, well worth seeking out, and we awarded it 4 ticks.  Here are the full notes:
Okell's Mac Lir 4.4% We start with a dark, elegant looking bottle.  The colours on the label are restrained greys and greens, with a Celtic style typeface in white, and between the words Mac and Lir appears a small version of the three-legged symbol of the IoM.  The background illustration is a Druidic head with flowing locks and long beard, totally appropriate since (as you know???) Mac Lir was a mystic warrior and wizard from the island's legendary past.  It pours a clear amber-gold, with a big white head.  There are hops in the aroma and a good hop bitterness in the taste.  A hint of sweetness takes the edge off the bitterness, leaving an excellent flavour without being too 'in your face'.  The mouthfeel is slightly oily, and the finish is dry and refreshing, tickling the tastebuds, so it is an excellent prelude, or accompaniment to food.  The reason for the hop aroma and flavour become clear when you see the brewer's tasting notes, which explain that they use  "a veritable oast house full of little green plants: Pride of Ringwood from New Zealand, Cascade and Cluster from the US, Saaz from the Czech Republic, Styrian Goldings from Slovenia, and First Gold and Goldings from England."  This is in total contrast to Belgian and German wheat beers, where the hops are normally applied with a very light touch.  So the result is a very distinctive brew, full of interest and character.  If you come to it expecting a Belgian wheat beer, you'll be disappointed, but accept it on its own terms and it's a very worthwhile drinking experience, which we can't wait to try again.
4) Further research
One of the great things about an interest in beer is that it can lead you down all sorts of interesting byways.  Having written the above article I searched a bit further on the ingredients forbidden to Manx brewers and found out that grains of Paradise are the same things as Guinea seeds, a kind of spice which is a cross between pepper, ginger, and cardamom in flavour, although it is not actually related to them.  Copperas is a name for ferrous sulphate crystals, used extensively in preparing drinking water and treating effluent - not too sure about having that one in my beer!
Unfortunately some further reading, following up the delightful story of the ale conners who wore leather breeches so they could sit in a puddle of ale to check it's consistency, found that it is just a story, albeit widely perpetuated (by the owners of the Leatherbritches brewery among others!).   In Martyn Cornell's authoritative book "Beer, the story of the pint", he devotes over a page of solid information to exploding this myth - number 19 of 39 myths making up a chapter which he calls 'A short and entirely wrong history of beer'.  Ah well, another illusion shattered!
5) Beer is healthy - official!
The June issue of the magazine of the Guild of Beer writers includes a report by Guy Thornton on the 4th Beer and Health Symposium held in Brussels at the beginning of May.  It contains nothing but good news!  Silicon found in beer can help strengthen bones, while ethanol inhibits certain hormones which can lead to weakening of bones and cause osteoporosis - altogether, the beneficial effects are greater than those of calcium.  (Remember the old slogan 'Drinka pinta milka day'?  Seems like they had the right idea but the wrong beverage!)  Moderate beer consumption also helps protect against coronary heart disease. 

So what's the catch?  How about the famous stereotype of the beer drinker's belly?  Not so - apparently, glass for glass, beer has fewer calories than apple juice or milk.  But then how do they explain those prominent profiles seen at so many beer festivals?  "The beer belly is the result of associated factors such as continual snacking, unhealthy eating and lack of exercise."  The moral is to spend more on beer and less on crisps - and you could get more exercise if you keep getting up to buy the next round . . .
6) More news from the supermarkets
I was intrigued to learn from a recent article (though I can't remember where I saw it!) that a company was bringing to the UK beers from Corsica, and that they were due to appear in Waitrose.  This required investigating, and sure enough, the Worthing Waitrose had the two new varieties on its shelves.  So we felt duty bound to bring samples home for testing.
a) Colomba bière blanche 5%  [Why the French?  Of course you knew that Corsica was a French province and the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte, didn't you?]  This is allegedly "made from Maquis, the wild flowers and herbs of the Corsican forest".  ['Allo, 'Allo - I thought the Maquis was the name for the French Resistance!]  Well, it pours with a pale cloudy yellow body and a good white head.  The aroma is fresh, floral and wheaty.  First impressions are of the prickly mouthfeel, then the taste emerges as you swallow.  There are hints of vanilla and lemon zest.  Chilled, on a hot day, it's very refreshing.  [Yes, we tried it during the English summer - you know, last Saturday!]  Bearing in mind that Inbev is going all out to dumb down and kill off the classic Belgian Hoegaaden wheat beer, this makes an easily accessible substitute, although it doesn't have the character or complexity to put it in the same class as Belgian wheat beers such as St Bernardus witbier
b) Pietra bière ambrée 6% Having ingested the herbs and flowers of the forest, we then started on the trees - this one is allegedly made with chestnuts in the malt, and it announces the fact in several languages on the label to make sure you notice.  It's a clear amber beer (just as the name says) and has a shortlived white head.  The aroma is malty with hints of woody vegetation.  Like its stablemate, the initial impression is of the prickly mouthfeel, but it settles down to a malty taste with woody notes and a lingering bitterness.  It's refreshing, and displays a distinctive character.
So the supermarkets continue to make shopping an interesting experience, and we'd recommend you try a couple of bottles of these newcomers if you're looking for some novelty in the contents of your cellar.


From Issue 21 (May 06)

2) German Beers - Part 2

With impeccable timing, CAMRA has chosen 17 May (just before our German beer tasting course!) to launch their Good Beer Guide to Germany, and kindly arranged for me to get an advance copy.  I've already perused it from cover to cover and can sum up in one short sentence:
                    If you have even the slightest interest in the beers of Germany YOU MUST GET THIS BOOK!

For those who'd like a little more information here's the full review:

The author, Steve Thomas, has spent four years in assembling the data for the book, which is good going, considering that it includes details of 1257 breweries,  together with over 7750 beers which they produce.  Given the size of the project, it is understandable that it can't be compared directly with the GBG's for Britain or Belgium. It can't include tasting notes on each of those beers or details of every bar in Germany - if it did, you'd be looking at a publication similar in size to the Encyclopaedia Britannica! 

But what it does have is well-written sections full of tips on getting there, carnivals, pub etiquette (Don't sit at the Stammtisch!!!), beer gardens, Oktoberfest, Reinheitsgebot, suggested 'top 5' lists of breweries, beers, brewpubs etc, and an excellent 'phrase-book' appendix, aimed specifically at the needs of the visiting beer - and food - fan. (If you can't tell your Radler from your Rosenkohl you definitely need this book!) 

The body of the book comprises the list of breweries, arranged by Bundesland (state) and town, and there are also location maps for the breweries, details of the 7 brewing corporations and their holdings (which now produce 70% of all beer in Germany between them), and useful indexes of places and beers and breweries.  I said it couldn't include all the bars in Germany - but it does have a very good pubs section which highlights interesting pubs in 12 major cities.  Perhaps my favourite chapter is the one which gives comprehensive notes on all the main beer styles, including a couple of obscure ones I hadn't heard of before.  Oh yes, the book is also beautifully printed and extensively illustrated in colour.  It costs £14.99 to CAMRA members and £16.99 to non-members - don't forget that you can sign up to CAMRA through their website and immediately recoup part of your subscription by enjoying the members' discounts.  So, what are you waiting for?  Get on down to the CAMRA shop at or try the following link which will take you straight to the GBG Germany page

In case you think that I'm raving even more than usual, it's because I really think that the GBG Germany is a publication with far more importance than a handy guide for beer tourists.  If you'd spent as much time as we have searching on-line and in bookshops in Germany in order to turn up just a handful of books on German beer you would realise that this is something which the Germans have signally failed to do for themselves.  They don't have an equivalent to CAMRA, and the image of beer has declined over recent years - German friends tell us that they wouldn't dream of offering beer when friends call, it has to be wine.  Most Germans have little knowledge of the superb variety of beers found in different parts of Germany and have sat back while the big corporations swallowed up the smaller breweries and their accountants decided that they should mass-produce tasteless, alcoholic fizz (but still very pure!).  There are still good breweries left in Germany, producing interesting beers.  If they are to survive and bring German beer back to what it was 40 years ago we need to seek out and support these small breweries, and help them fend off take-overs.  The GBG Germany is a valuable first step in this process - so please support the Guide, and use it to learn how to support the better German brewers.

And so that you realise just how inspiring this book is, I'll explain that a combination of comments from a correspondent (mentioning the delights of fresh Altbier in Düsseldorf and the fact that Easyjet's Gatwick-Cologne service is very reasonable) and reading the GBG Germany  prompted us into a making another trip to Germany rather earlier than intended - and it was great!
3) German Beers - Part 3
We spotted that Waitrose were offering a Bavarian Weissbier 5.3% and felt duty-bound to try it, though we didn't expect too much from an 'own brand'.  It is actually brewed in Germany by Arcobräu and technically should be called a HEFEweissbier as it is bottle conditioned and thus has a cloudy orange colour.  It pours with a huge white head, which lasts well.  There are wheat and floral aromas, with a slightly 'soapy' mouthfeel (description not criticism), and the flavour is good - appropriate for the type, and better than many weissbiers we have tried.  A pleasant surprise!

Emboldened by the above, we also tried Waitrose's Bavaria Dunkel Weissbier 5.3%. This has a large light brown head, which doesn't last as well as the white.  It is a cloudy brown colour, a similar wheaty, floral aroma.  The taste is also similar to the white but with more malt and a hint of dryness in the aftertaste.  It is quite pleasant and satisfying, but has less character than the white.  Both of these beers are made with 'pure mountain spring water' and 'brewed according to the Bavarian Reinheitsgebot'.  The Reinheitsgebot (purity law) was one of the earliest pieces of consumer legislation.  When it was passed in 1516 it was no doubt useful, in that it stopped brewers including unwholesome ingredients such as dead rats, sawdust etc in their products, but since then it has had a stranglehold which has inhibited German brewing techniques.  I'll resist the temptation to climb onto my soapbox but have a look at Ron Pattinson's excellent summary of the problems with German beer - actually, he phrases it rather more robustly than that! - on his website at 
4) From The Heart of England 
Over Easter we visited Staffordshire.  Our main aim was some genealogy around Stoke on Trent but we stayed on a farm just outside Leek in the Staffordshire Moorlands, on the edge of the Peak District.  Not having visited that area before we were very pleasantly surprised by the superb and very varied scenery, and the ample supply of picturesque villages, each with a good pub offering excellent food and new beers to try.  The area was very quiet, making for more enjoyable driving than we're used to.  So please don't pass this information on to anyone else, as we don't want too many tourists to learn the secret!

Using the Good Beer Guide we were able to discover great pubs in each of the locations we visited but were particularly excited when our travels took us to the village of Fenny Bentley, home to the Bentley Brook Inn, which houses the renowned Leatherbritches Brewery.
         What? You've never heard of it?  Make a resolution to read the programme at beer festivals more carefully in future!
(Having just written the above, I noticed that Leatherbritches was scheduled to feature in the Duke of Wellington mini-festival, which we were unfortunately not able to attend - did anybody else get to it?) 
The Bentley Brook Inn has a very pleasant, light and airy bar, which looked cheerful even on a rainy day.  They serve a range of good food and offer accommodation, but their main claim to fame is the brewery, set up in 1993 by Bill Allingham, the youngest son of the family. Edward Allingham, Bill's elder brother has taken over the brewery and runs it as sole proprietor. His Head Brewer is David Corby Bsc. Msc. who has won numerous awards for the beers produced here. We did try their Dovedale draught 4.4%, one of their regular products, with our meal and remember it as being very pleasant but didn't make tasting notes at the time - mea culpa!  Fortunately they now have a bottling unit, so their products can be more easily enjoyed over a wider area, and of course we brought back a pack to try at home, where we approached the beers a bit more scientifically. 
First that strange name.  I can do no better than give you the explanation as provided on the side of the takeaway pack:
The name "Leatherbritches" honours the Ale Conners of medieval England, who were the first officials appointed to assess purity, strength and quality.  They proved the beer by sitting in a small spill while they ate their 'snap'.  How sticky it became was its measure.  Only leather britches were able to stand the wear and tear, and they became the mark of their profession.
I didn't try it as I was wearing jeans at the time but it prompts me to ask your co-operation in a small experiment.  Next time you call in at your local, tip some of your pint on the seat before you sit down, wait until you've eaten your packet of crisps, then call out "Ho there landlord!  I am sitting in a puddle of your best ale but it is not sticky!  I must complain that your beer is not good enough quality!"  Be sure to note the reply in detail and let me know . . .
And so to the beers.
a) Hairy Helmet 4.9% 
A rich gold colour, sedimented as it is bottle conditioned.  Small short-lived head.  'Warm' hoppy aroma with a hint of caramel.  The mouthfeel is almost oily, very satisfying.  Taste quite complex - the initial bitterness seems to fade as flavours of caramel and digestive biscuit come to the fore, then returns to linger pleasantly in the aftertaste.  An easy drinking, refreshing beer to which we awarded 4 ticks (although we almost considered making a deduction for the weird name and cartoon Viking on the label!)
b) Bespoke 5.2%
Amber colour with a big, lasting white head.  Hoppier in aroma and distinctly fizzier in the mouth than a).  The taste is clean with medium bitterness throughout.  It is refreshing but less complex than H.H., so only gets 3 ticks.
c) Porter 5.4%
Dark red-brown body with a creamy head that lasts.  There is malt and liquorice in the aroma though the latter does not appear in the taste.  With a hint of bitterness, it is not very complex but is fruity and satisfying with a warm aftertaste, so we gave it 3.5 ticks. 
(The labels for b) and c) just show the Ale Conners sitting at a table - presumably in a puddle - wearing the garments denoting their trade!)
This is an interesting brewery which has produced many different beers over the years.  The brewer obviously enjoys experimenting, and this means that the beers have varying degrees of success.  Watch out for Leatherbritches at beer festivals - they will always be worth a try.
5) Keep an eye on Sainsburys - and keep the other eye on Morrisons! 
Following our report on some delights from Sainsburys, we received this communiqué from our Hampshire correspondent
I noticed you mentioning the range of beers at Sainsburys. I am very pleased with the range on offer at Morrisons. Our local branch always has 40 to 50 British bottled beers which they sell for £5 for four half litre bottles. And the range is from all over England and with a couple from Scotland. They add and subtract several from this range every few weeks. This is in addition to a modest section of bottled beers from other countries.
Of course, that makes us jealous, because we haven't got a convenient Morrisons near us!  But thanks for that, Gordon.  If anyone else comes across any good local discoveries, do let me know and I'll spread the word via this newsletter to others who will appreciate the news.

From Issue 20 (April 06)

1) CAMRA - Sussex Beer Festival at Hove 9-11 March
This was an excellent Festival and well organised.  We particularly appreciated there being a 'Sussex bar' where the products of the county were all assembled in one room.  We aim to work our way round the local brewers but this made the task easier, in that they were all in one place, and harder, insofar as there were too many to tackle in one session.  This meant we spent the entire time (11.00-15.00) in the Sussex bar and we still had to make some hard decisions on which of 60 local brews to sample.  These are some of the beers we encountered.  You will see that many were deserving of our 4-tick status (out of a maximum and rarely awarded 5).  With several of the established breweries gaining classic status, and the newcomers showing enormous promise, Sussex today is a great place for beer!
a) 1648 Brewery - Ginger Nol 4.7%
This is one of their 6 seasonal beers, being on offer from November to March, and it's a nice winter drink combining smoked malted barley with fresh root ginger - both tastes are discernible individually and yet blend well.  Definitely 4 ticks.
Custom Beers of Haywards Heath
For students of brewing history this company should make a nice case study for a PhD thesis and you can start your research using various links within the quaffale website
It seems that everything started in 1994 when Peter Skinner and Peter Halliday set up a small brewery in the cellar of their pub, The Evening Star, Brighton - at that time they called it Skinners Ales (not to be confused with Skinners Cornish brewery in Truro).  In 1995 they  were joined by Rob Jones - he was formerly with the Pitfield Brewery (and just to add to the confusion Custom Beers are currently brewing for Pitfield while the latter tries to get new premises!) This new partnership was called the Dark Star Brewing Company and over time the Skinners name was dropped.  In 2000 Peter Skinner left the partnership and set up Skinners Custom Brews using the Rectory Ales brewery but production was halted in 2001.  Meanwhile the Dark Star brewery set up a larger plant at Ansty and by 2002 all their production was concentrated there.  Peter Skinner now brews as Custom Beers (based in Haywards Heath quite close to the Dark Star brewery).  Custom Beers started operations in February 2005 yet already has an impressive list of beers to their credit which you can see at
If you can order in sufficient quantity, Mr Skinner will brew beers to order for you.  So now we've seen a brief history, let's get on to the beers.
b) Custom Beers - Chinook 4.2%
This one uses Chinook hops giving a rather different aroma and taste but still leaving a good hoppy bitterness in the taste and finish.  We didn't think this reached classic status, so it got 3.5 ticks, but I've included it here because of its individual nature.  If you see it, try it, and it may well grow on you. 
c) Custom Beers - Dark Roast Porter 5.5% (no website see above)
This traditional dark porter caused a lot of confusion for the Festival organisers.  The printed programme and the sign on the cask was initially 'Honey Porter' and the programme notes assured us it was 'tempered with the addition of honey'.  However when the brewer turned up he categorically denied that any honey was added and the cask label was quickly changed to read  'Dark Roast Porter'.  When we tried it, we could understand where the confusion arose, as there was a distinct impression of honey in the aftertaste, and this was confirmed by others at our table who tried it.  Well, however it's done, Mr Skinner has produced a very nice beer which merits 4 ticks.
Dark Star Brewing Company
See above for the history of this company which has won lots of CAMRA awards in its short life.  Now a confession: considering we are just a short train ride from Brighton, and the Dark Star's brewery tap, the Evening Star is very close to the station, I'm ashamed to say we've never been there, although we have been consistently impressed with all the Dark Star beers we have encountered at festivals.  However, it looks like Dark Star is coming to us as they have very obligingly taken over the Duke of Wellington pub in Shoreham so a trip there is a must for the near future.
d) Dark Star - Oatmeal Stout 4.5%
A nice dense black colour, it's a rich, smooth drink with caramel and liquorice flavours and a good bitterness in the aftertaste.  No question, 4 ticks.
e) Dark Star - Nut Brown Ale 4.5%
Another Dark Star offering which we just had to try.  It is a traditional ale with a nice mid-brown colour and nicely balanced malt and hops in the flavour.  Another member of the 4 ticks club.
f) FILO (First In Last Out) - Cardinal 4.4%
We had heard of this Hastings brewpub and were keen to try their products.  The website has a nice write up of their brewery, ingredients and procedures.  We agreed with their description of Cardinal as 'a dark porter with burnt caramel malt and dry finish' although we didn't pick up the 'coffee' flavour in the finish.  A pleasant drink, above competent but not quite special enough for 4, so it got 3.5 ticks. 
g) FILO (First In Last Out) - Ginger Tom 4.4%
Having enjoyed 1648's ginger offering we looked forward to trying this but found it disappointing.  The ginger was evident in the aroma but the body was thin, and the ginger flavours were, to say the least, unsubtle.  With our background of Belgian beers we are open minded about the practice of flavouring beers, having met some classics of the style.  However, trying this one gives you some sympathy with the views of those who say 'Why add anything to beer?' It just made 2.5 ticks
 h) Gribble - Pigs Ear 5.8%
From the website: 'A fuller bodied Old Ale with a rich ruby brown colour, brewed from a well researched old traditional recipe, which has been handed down from father to son'.  The colour is good and although we found the aftertaste did not linger long, it's very refreshing for a beer of this type, and we thought it worth 3.5 ticks.
i) Hammerpot -  Madgwick Gold 5.0%
Hammerpot only started in August 2005 and we encountered Red Hunter, the second beer they produced, at the Worthing Beer Festival.  We gave that one 3.5 ticks and said 'If Hammerpot can continue to produce beers of this quality they will be a force to be reckoned with'.  With Madgwick Gold, which received its first outing at the Sussex Beer Festival, they can only enhance their reputation.  It is a golden ale, with intriguing flavours of citrus and hints of spice.  It is a very easy drinking and refreshing beer, and is an excellent addition to their range, well desrving 4 tick status.
 We had a very pleasant session at Hove, enhanced by good company.  We were pleased to see Stephen Wallace and Emma, who introduced us to Roy who has the task of arranging the 200+ beers for the Festival.  We had also arranged to meet up with Rob Beer, who we had previously encountered only in cyberspace, in the Belgian beer discussion group.  One of Rob's main interests is collecting beer cans, for which he frequently visits Japan, so we were delighted to pick up some tips from his experiences over there.  And if you'd like to know everything there is to know about the art and science of beer cans, check out Rob's website at
23) A Belgian picobrewery
One of the breweries represented at the Karakterbierweekend is Alvinne - they consider they are smaller than a micro-brewery and so call themselves a picobrewery!  You can see just how small their establishment (or shed!) is by going to their website and clicking on the link to 'Onze brouwerij' in the top right-hand box, then watching the pictures in the window that pops up.  The site is in Flemish but just scroll down the pages and try all the links, and you'll see enough pictures to give you a good idea of the operation run by this team of three enthusiasts.  They are based in the village of Ingelmunster, home to the huge van Honsebrouck brewery (of Kasteelbier fame), so, delightfully, Alvinne advertise themselves as 'The second largest brewery in Ingelmunster'!
Small they may be, but their reputation among the cognoscenti is enormous.  So I've been anxious for some time to try their wares.  And of all places, it was the bottled beer sales counter of the CAMRA Festival at Hove, where I was using up my spare tokens on some take-aways, that I found some Alvinne Extra (Blond)  7.1% 
It has to take its first award for one of the most detailed labels I've seen (which may be the harbinger of a new Euro-standard).  As well as giving the specification, bottling date, best before (2 years from bottling), detailed ingredients list, bitterness units (35 EBU) etc,  it even gives the names of the brewers!  But the main awards are for the taste!
The colour is given as 10 EBC on the SRM rating, which equates to pale amber, and I would agree with that description, rather than the blond in the title.  It's slightly cloudy, as you would expect from an unfiltered, unpasteurised beer.  The aroma is excellent - they use a dryhopping procedure with some special hops for the aroma.  The mouthfeel is good, quite full-bodied for a beer of this type.  There is a warmth from the alcohol to a greater extent than you might expect from the abv.  The taste is malty, and slightly fruity, with a good bitterness which remains as a bitter-sweet aftertaste. 
This is a magnificent effort from this tiny brewery which only started operating in December 2004.  I just wish I'd brought back some more bottles from Hove. 
4) Keep an eye on Sainsburys
Reports have been coming in from several parts of the country about the range of beers stocked by Sainsburys supermarkets and the special offers they've had recently.  It seems that the items stocked and the offers vary between particular stores, but it certainly makes it worth calling in from time to time to see what's new.  Ignoring the InBev products, sightings of famous Belgians include Straffe Hendrik, Tripel Karmeliet (worth a go if you've not tried it before), Duvel, Liefmans Kriek and Frambozen, a couple of Trappists - Westmalle Dubbel and, in a few stores, Orval - and, quite unusual in the UK, La Chouffe blonde.  Tip: if you're lucky enough to find the Orval, don't rush to drink it - check the date bottled.  These days it's no longer matured in the brewery, and if you try it while it's young, it won't impress.  It needs to be at least 6 months after bottling before it starts to be special, so stand it in your cellar and taste it after it reaches its first birthday.
Sainsburys have also done well by UK beers lately.  To their normal array of Fullers and Theakstons they are sometimes adding Hepworths (Iron Horse), Brakspears (Triple) and Titanic (Stout).  But they also spring some one-off surprises and I'm going to upset you now, by telling you about one which has probably sold out by the time you read this. 
Jeannette brought home a bottle of Batemans Spring Breeze 5.0%  It's not a brewery I'm familiar with, and with a name like that, and a clear glass bottle with a label dedicated to Demeter Goddess of Spring and Fertility, I wasn't sure what market they were aiming for!  So I expected something light and refreshing but not too special.  Well, it was refreshing, but surprisingly full-bodied and satisfying.  The back label review was written by no less than Roger Protz, so I will just pass on the words of the guru (I do hope all the capitalisation isn't from him!) : "A burnished gold, REFRESHING BEER brewed with Maris Otter malts and Phoenix and Target hops.  It has a NOSE-TINGLING AROMA of hop resins, damson frui and cracker biscuit maltiness.  As it contains no fish-based finings it is VEGAN friendly."  Well, I agree with the gist, although I wouldn't have expressed it in quite those words, and I would certainly have OMITTED THE CAPITALS!  It was labelled as a 'Special Purchase while stocks last' so if you can't get any I'm very sorry - but we enjoyed it!
On other shopping expeditions to Sainsburys Jeannette discovered the three reviewed below.   (She does occasionally collect some groceries as well - when there's room in the car after loading the beer!)
Arundel Sussex Gold 4.2%  (no website)  It's nice to have a reliable brewery like this just down the road, and even nicer to see Sainsburys supporting the locals.  It has a big white head on a clear gold body.  The label says it is brewed with East Kent Goldings, Fuggles and Cascade hops.  This comes through clearly in both aroma and taste, making for a lovely, refreshing beer.
Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale 6.8%  It's good to know the US can produce something better than B**w**s*r and this Californian brewery has acquired a very good reputation.  We first discovered this when researching for the first of our World Beers courses and various products of this brewery have remained on the syllabus as an honourable representative of North America.  Normally we have to source it from an online supplier but now you can bring it on home with the groceries!  Celebration has an amber body, a middling duration cream head, and a hoppy aroma.  There are heavy hops in the taste, which is dry, but with an intriguing aftertaste which lingers well.
Robinsons Old Tom 8.5%    When you see this small but pricey bottle on the shelves you just have to buy it for the picture of the cheeky-looking cat on the label!  But you'll be glad you did.  It's a rich, warming barley wine, just right for a late-night relaxant.  The light brown head is short-lived and the body is a dark mahogany colour.  You'll notice fruitcake in the aroma, and you get some of that in the taste, along with burnt toffee, and just a hint of bitterness.  Next you feel the warm glow from the alcohol, which lingers with the flavour in the aftertaste.
Conclusion:  The weekly trip to the supermarket needn't be a chore when you can enjoy looking for treats like these!
5) More Oakleaf Brewery News 

I chastised Sarah at Oakleaf for their sneaking out the bottled version of Eichenblatt Bitte without telling me.  (We discovered it as Southwick Brewhouse - see issue 18).  So she relented and put out a newsletter which contained another surprise - they have squeezed a shop into their tiny premises.  If you're passing through Gosport now you can stock up with a wide range of Oakleaf brews - for more details see their website

6) The Epilogue
And finally, a quick mention of a couple of holy brews.  At the Southwick Brewhouse we picked up a bottle of Ale Mary 6.0% from the RCH brewery of Weston-super-Mare   The name scores points for cheek, but it's also a very pleasant fruity, spicey beer, with a dry finish - worth trying.
The other heavenly beer we brought home from the Hove Beer Festival - from the Durham Brewery it's Benedictus 8.4%  a golden barley wine with a nice balance of malt and hop flavours and a lingering warm finish.  If you tasted this blind, you'd be forgiven for deciding it was a Belgian Abbey Tripel!

From Issue 19 (February 06 )

1) Buckingham Arms Winterfest 2006
Your intrepid reporters have made their (slightly zig-zagging) way home from the first session of the Buck's Winterfest to rush you this report.  By arriving on the doorstep just before the pub opened and by trying the delightful home-made pasties we managed to work our way round the 12 ales on the back bar to report as follows:
a) Hogs Back Hop Garden Gold 4.6%
This was a pale golden best bitter, with a slightly prickly mouthfeel, well balanced, where the slightly citrus hop flavours were offset by malt and fruit tastes.  The bitterness in the aftertaste was not as distinct as the notes led us to believe but it merited 3.5 ticks on our scale, meaning above average.
b) Blackawton Original Bitter 3.8%
 Jeannette made a bee-line for this, with Blackawton being an ancestral Devon location but was surprised to find that the brewery was in Saltash, Cornwall.  The confusion may have carried into the beer which had powerful flavours, with the hopping not so successful, and some vinous tastes which verged on the 'off', so it only merited 2.5 ticks.
c) Eastwood & Sanders Beyond the Pale 4.2% (no website found)
The citrus fruit came through in this hoppy, refreshing, best bitter and the bitterness lingered well in the aftertaste.  Overall a competent bitter to which we gave 3 ticks.
d) Batemans Salem Porter 4.7%
The offering from this Lincolnshire brewery is a 'porter with a dry roast, nutty palate and rich malty aftertaste' - we agreed with the notes and awarded it 3.5 ticks.
e) Coach House Cromwells 4.0%
This is a competent bitter described as having a 'smooth clean hoppy finish'  We found the hoppiness a bit brash, with a bitterness which increases in the aftertaste. 3 ticks.
f) Jarrow Swinging Gibbet 4.1% (no website found)
'Evenly balanced with a fruity finish' and a bitterness which lingers in the aftertaste. 3.5 ticks
g) Old Bear Black Mari'a 4.2%
The website offers no information about the odd apostrophe in the name of this stout, which is smooth and dry on the palate with a strong roast malt flavour. 3 ticks.
h) Robinsons Double Hop 5.0%
This rich golden bitter had an excellent, almost oily mouthfeeel, and was very well balanced with a crisp, dry roasted malt finish.   Well worth 4 ticks.
i) Williams Brother Williams Joker 5.0% (no website found)
The notes say that Joker came about by accident when the wrong malt was used in a recipe.  It was certainly a happy accident, producing a medium bodied ale with notes of spice and fruit in the taste, which we awarded 4.5 ticks.
j) Grand Union Stout 4.8%
The 'bittersweet chocolate flavours' linger in the aftertaste of this full-bodied stout.  4 ticks.
k) Downton Chimera Black Knight 4.1% (no website found)
The Hop Back Brewery's website used to say 'the only brewery in the town of Downton near the city of Salisbury' but they've had to change that since the Downton Brewery Company Ltd started operations just a few doors away on the same Industrial Estate.  This product of Downton promised it was 'clean tasting with coffee and citric fruit flavours and aromas.'  It certainly delivered, lifting it above the average to win 3.5 ticks.
Apart from the 6 regulars there are another 5 interesting guest ales on the front bar - Grand Union Old 6.6%, Berrow Winter S'port 4.7% (what's with all these apostrophes?), Titanic Stout 4.5%, Cottage Between the Posts 4.6% and Itchen Valley Wat Tyler 4.8%.  We'll be back at the Buck tomorrow to check those out - can't pass up the opportunity for something from Titanic, and we'd like another go at the Joker before it runs out. 
2) Tickers Anonymous
We use a simple rating system when at beer festivals.  0 ticks would be a beer that was 'off', 1 drinkable but unpleasant, 2 drinkable but unexciting, 3 a competent beer, 4 something a bit special, and 5 a real classic, with half points for finer distinctions.  The benefit of ticks is that they can be inscribed quickly even when things are starting to get a bit blurry and can be read afterwards, unlike my handwriting which is challenging at the best of times.
So we were very amused to see the article in the latest issue of the 'Sussex Drinker' (which you can read online at about the 'types' you meet at Beer Festivals, the most common of which is the 'Beer Ticker' and associated sub-species!  We couldn't think of anyone who fitted that description . . .
But it did lead to another whimsical thought.  For the benefit of those coming on the Belgian beerscursion we've just finished writing up a short guide to the beers of West Flanders.  We limited it to the ones they're most likely to meet so it only runs to 380 - we'll be intrigued to see if we've got any tickers in the group who try to score that lot in a weekend!
3) Suckers!!!
A fellow beer enthusiast has reported that on asking for a Belgian beer at a Chichester hostelry he was asked if he wanted a glass!  When you think of all the purpose-made glasses that Belgian pubs keep, so that their customers will have their beer beautifully presented, and these Philistines question whether you even need a glass at all!
I'm afraid I just can't understand all these children you see in pubs who think it's 'cool' to suck their designer beers straight from the bottle - don't they realise that they're only helping to increase the profits for the pub which has just charged them a rip-off price for the beer?  And hasn't it ever occurred to them that crates of bottled beers are often stored outdooors where they can be sprinkled with rats' urine and other delights which no doubt help to improve the flavours of the beers in question? 

From Issue 18 (February 06 )

2) A Great Place to Visit 

Just inland from the range of hills that overlook Portsmouth Harbour lies the unspoiled village of Southwick, between Fareham and Cosham (pronounced Suthik, not Sarfwik, as in the one near Shoreham).  If you're a historian you'll want to see the area where Eisenhower and Montgomery stayed when planning D-Day.  You may even be tempted in to their local, the Golden Lion, where Ike was introduced to a half of bitter and Monty pushed the boat out with a grapefruit juice.  But it's much more likely that you'll want to go behind the Golden Lion to see the Southwick Brewhouse, a perfectly preserved Victorian brewery, looking just as it was when the 81-year old Head Brewer hung up his malt shovel for the last time in 1957.  And when you've enjoyed a nostalgic and educational tour of the brewery you'll get to the main purpose of your visit - a retail shop offering over 200 bottled beers.  And not just any old bottled beers - top brews from the UK and round the world.  Where else could you pick up a Belgian Gouden Carolus next to offerings from Gales, Oakleaf, Triple fff, as well as many special ciders?  You can also try their own Suthwyk ales, made from barley grown on nearby Portsdown Hill.  Check out our full report with pictures on 

And if you want to make a day of it,  you could do a lot worse than head for the village of Worlds End, as we did when our friends introduced us to the delights of this area.  There you will find the interestingly named 'Chairmakers Arms' - it may stem from the fact the local river valleys provide just the right kind of green wood used in 17th century chair making techniques.  It is a Gales house, so you can choose from Gales HSB or Gales Bitter.  But it's worth the trip, because it was the nicest pint (or two) of HSB I've had in a long time.  The pub is a big rambling building, so you can find not only smoking or non-smoking areas, but also rooms where the muzak can be turned off by request!  As well as looking after their beer, they also know a thing or two about food.  Sausage and mash consists of excellent Cumberland sausage (when uncoiled, it reaches right round your plate!) and chive mash with red onion gravy.  Having spotted that, I didn't need to look any further down the menu but Jeannette assures me there were over 20 other tempting main dishes, before even consulting the blackboard for the specials of the day. 

We asked about the future of the pub, now that Fullers has taken over Gales, and the staff thought there were plans to serve Fuller's London Pride alongside the Gales HSB (but will the HSB be brewed in Horndean or Chiswick?  Fullers are conducting a 'strategic review' of their brewing facilities . . .)  So if you want to be sure of the beer, as well as the food, get there asap.  And do your bit for the Save Gales campaign 

Although Gales own website seems to have faded to unhelpful blandness, as far as their pubs are concerned, this link below will take you to a location map for the Chairmakers


3) Oakleaf Brewery News 

When perusing the shelves at the Southwick Brewhouse I was amazed to see Oakleaf's Eichenblatt Bitte in bottles!  Ever since I discovered Britain's answer to Bavarian smoked beer I have been importuning the brewery to release it in bottled form, so that we poor souls who live too far from Oakleaf-supplied pubs can get some.  And here it was, having crept out quietly without any fanfare! We reported on this beer in issue 9 of the newsletter, now in the archive at  Hopefully Southwick Brewhouse will have replenished their stocks by the time you go looking for it but I cleared the shelf last Friday!  They also have Oakleaf's Blakes Heaven, a good winter ale, and Maypole Mild. The Oakleaf website  still does not admit to these being available in bottled form. 

The proprietor of the Southwick Brewhouse recommended we try Triple fff's 'Gilbert White' beer, taken from a recipe by the famous 18th century naturalist who apparently had as big a reputation for his own strong ale as he did for his studies of the flora and fauna of Selborne.  We weren't around to try Gil's version, so can't say how Triple fff's  offering compares to the original but we were very impressed by it - a big full-bodied warming traditional ale, tasting stronger than the 6% abv declared on the label, and leaving a lingering, smoked after-taste  Today's lunch was Eichenblatt Bitte, preceding the Sunday roast, Gilbert White to accompany it and a Trappist Rochefort 8 to wash it down - the perfect combination to cheer up a cold wet grey February day!

4) Free beer (magazine!) 
Fullers beers run Fuller's Fine Ale Club, 'an appreciation society for all lovers of Fuller's Beers'. Membership is free and brings you a free quarterly magazine, special invitations to Fuller's events and tastings, Fuller's breweriana - glasses, shirts, brollies, keyrings, cufflinks, golf balls etc - at discount prices, competitions (they're easy enough for me to do them!) and prize draws.  You'll find details of how to join on their website at but sadly it's only for UK residents.  (And you have to be over 18 - you are over 18 aren't you?)
5) Glossy beer magazine 
One of the early benefits of the Fullers club was a free sample copy of a new glossy beer magazine called 'Beers of the World'.  It contains a lot of reviews and interesting articles , and you can get a discount on the subscription.  Have a look at their website which will give you the flavour of the magazine and the opportunity to subscribe.  They manage to attract some famous writers - Michael Jackson is in most issues, and they even printed a letter from me in issue 3! - and it's nicely illustrated.  If someone wants to buy you something different for birthday/Christmas?  Or treat yourself!  One word of warning - the process of getting you on to the subscription list is a bit slow.  I sent off my sub during the period of issue 2, but they didn't get me on the system until issue 3 was out, so I have to get no. 2 as a back copy. 
For those who prefer their grain in distilled form, the same company offers Whisky Magazine - details at and they have a website for discussions reviews etc.  The latter website also has details of Whisky Live exhibitions which sound fun - especially the one to be held in Tokyo, or even better, in Belgium!  Imagine a short  holiday comprising a whisky exhibition coupled with Belgian beer tastings . . .

From Issue 17 (February 06 )

1) Haute cusine à la bière

Well, it is cuisine, but its only claim to be haute is that our kitchen's upstairs.  My culinary expertise includes such dishes as 'Cup-a-Soup Maison' and I thought I'd share with you a recent experiment.

Step 1 - get yourself a good packet of cup-a-soup.  (This is much easier if you happen to be in Belgium, where even the humble packet soup comes in a more interesting range of flavours and higher quality than you find over here.  The Royco range is widely available, so we always bring back a supply.  But any brand - Belgian, UK, Sainsbury's or Tesco's finest etc - will do for the trials.)

Step 2 - choose a beer.  (A 25 or 33cl bottle of Belgian beer is ideal for the purpose, but any beer can be used for the experiment.)

Step 3 - open the beer, pour a small quantity into a glass and taste it to make sure it's OK and to check that the taste is likely to complement the flavour of the selected soup. 

(Steps 2 and 3 may need to be repeated several times until you are sure you have found the right beer.)

Step 4 - put the contents of the soup packet in a mug, and add a small quantity of water that's just off the boil, and stir vigorously to make a paste.  Now add more water, still stirring but don't fill the cup. 

Step 5 - add a small quantity of the beer to the soup and stir.  (At this point you are likely to see the amazing sight of instant soup with froth on top.)

Step 6 - taste the soup, and make notes of your impressions, so that you will have a record of which are the best beer/soup combinations.

Step 7 - don't forget to drink any remaining beer.

Step 8 - get lots of beer and instant soups and invite all your friends to a dinner party the like of which they've never experienced before.

 Seriously, it can work quite well.  I tried using an Affligem Abbey Tripel (which in the grand scale of things is probably not a bad beer, but pales into insignificance next to Belgian Trappist tripels).  For the soup I had Waterzooi, a speciality from Ghent, which isn't always easy to find in the instant soup version.  It's a sort of creamy chicken and veg stew in the original dish and the soup is a thinner version of the same.  The slight bitterness imparted by the beer gave it an interesting piquancy. 

For Jeannette I prepared a French onion (instant) soup. The Tripel worked very well with that, balancing the sweetness of the onion nicely. 

For the next experiment we''ll try something hearty, like pea and ham soup, and see how an Abbey brown or even a rich dark beer like Kasteel goes with it. 

Do give this form of beer cuisine a try.  It's got to be easier than those complicated dishes which the galloping gourmets, naked chefs and domestic goddesses tell you you should be making!  And if you find some particularly happy combinations, let me know and we can share them through this newsletter.

 2) Selden Arms Winterfest revisited If you were there and would like to relive the experience, or if you weren't there and want to know what you missed, a chap called Richard Vobes has an Internet Radio site featuring a 30 minute Podcast recorded at the Selden on the Saturday of the Fest.
(OK, I didn't know what a Podcast was either - you can download an .mp3 soundfile and listen to it at your leisure.  BUT the file is 14MB in size, so if you've got anything less than a medium speed broadband connection downloads will take a l---o---n---g time.  If anyone wants a copy on CD I could make one for you - just send me a large A5 SAE.) 
It's very good for getting the atmosphere of the day and Michele, the landlady, sounds very professional talking about the choice of beers in the festival.  Just ignore the last few minutes when the interviewers latch on to some idiot spouting about college beer tasting courses and Belgian beers . . . (Oh - that was me, was it . . . ?)

From Issue 16B (January 06 supplement)

1) Selden Arms Winterfest
Well, if you haven't already been, you're too late now - and you've missed a treat.
 On Saturday the Selden opens at 12.00, which coincides with the serving of lunch.  We were able to start with the doorstep sandwiches right away - ideal Festival Fare, brilliant for soaking up large quantities of ale, and chewing a bit of the bread on its own between beers helps clear the palate. So we were well set up to tackle the parts of the beer menu we hadn't reached on Friday.  We were very impressed to see Stephen Wallace, star of stage, screen and CAMRA's Worthing Beer Festival, helping out - in fact a large part of the time he was serving 15 of the ales single handed and making a very professional job of it (once he'd been able to match the labels on the casks to the beer menu!)
 a) Titanic Mild 3.5%  We expected a lot, as we've been impressed with all the offerings we've met from this Stoke on Trent brewery, and we weren't disappointed - 'a rounded sweetness and a smooth, dry finish', everything a mild should be - excellent!
 b) Guzzler 3.6% from York Brewery 'Crisp and refreshing, well balanced pale beer' to which we'd only add that we detected some floral notes in the hop aroma and that this is a good competent bitter.
 c) White Horse Oxfordshire Bitter 3.8% from the eponymous brewery based in Faringdon 'golden with Challenger hops and Yorkshire malt' - this was a first class, well balanced bitter with a very nice creamy mouthfeel.  Definitely worth seeking out.
 d) No Eye Deer 4.0% (say it out loud!) from the Goose Eye Brewery of Keighley 'smooth warming chestnut ale with plenty of hops and a fruity aftertaste' - a good competent beer with an interesting name!
 e) Dragon Hill 4.2% this is also from the White Horse Brewery in c) above.  From the beer list we thought they were two different breweries, one in Faringdon and one in Stanford but it turns out that the address is Stanford In The Vale, Faringdon - of course, those of you familiar with Oxfordshire already knew that!  The brewery is in the Vale of the White Horse, and their logo is the stylish prehistoric rendition of a horse that some of our long forgotten ancestors carved in the chalk on the hillside there.  This website  tells you about the real Dragon Hill, where St George spilled the blood of the dragon.  Perhaps this is why the beer is 'red, bold and full bodied'?  But don't let that put you off -  it's a good basic beer and doesn't taste like reptilian haemoglobin (not that we've ever tried the latter . . .)
f) Challenger IPA 4.4% from Copper Dragon of Skipton    What's with all these fire-breathing flying reptiles?  Well, it allows them to say on the home page of their website 'Enter the Dragon' - feel free to groan!  But it also says of this beer  'A truly traditional premium ale brewed to revive flavours enjoyed by our Victorian ancestors. Full bodied and fruity with subtle hoppy undertones.'   We'd agree this description and rated it half a point above good.
 g) Coachman's Tipple 4.7% from Shugborough Brewery.  Having said we were impressed with the offerings from Titanic Brewery (in a) above) we were intrigued to find that although Titanic's main brewery is in Burslem, they also run the Shugborough Brewery, and it's featured on their main website.   To quote from their website "The Victorian Brewhouse, lovingly restored by Staffordshire County Council, is log fired, the only one of its type to brew commercially in England. Titanic brew at Shugborough to demonstrate brewing practices to the general public and also because we enjoy the opportunity to be a little different. Six seasonal beers are available which we brew 90 gallons at a time, and then recreate at our Burslem brewery."  So Coachman's Tipple, so called because it is brewed in January and February, recreating the brews designed as anti-freeze for Victorian stage coach drivers, is then brewed in bulk back at Burslem. They say 'This ruby red and rich beer has fine balancing hops and real depth of character' and we wouldn't argue with them - we'd already concluded it was something very special on a previous encounter and we rated it joint second place (equal with Goddards Winter Warmer - reviewed in the last issue)
 h) Winter Warrant 4.8% porter from the 1648 Brewery of East Hoathly  Very dark, smooth roasted flavour, hints of liquorice - a 'traditional full flavoured porter'  - and very nice it is too, sharing a rather crowded third place.
Not a lot of people know that these 'well executed ales' are named after the year when King Charles I was beheaded! 
But that's wrong, I hear you cry, Charles I was executed on January 30th1649.  Fancy you knowing that! 
Quite right say I, but before the Gregorian calendar was adopted in 1752, the year started with the Feast of the Annunciation on 25th March, so what we call January 1649 was still part of the year 1648 in the Old Style, so the Brewery is correct. 
When England did go over to the Gregorian calendar we were 11 days out of step with it, so in 1752 the calendar showed Wednesday 2nd September as being followed by Thursday 14th September - and a lot of people rioted, believing 11 days of their lives had been 'stolen'.  It sounds just like a scheme cooked up by the Eurocrats of Brussels!  But the story should come in handy when you want something to impress your friends in the pub!
 i) Double Gold 5.0% from Phoenix (the trading name of the Oak Brewing company) of Heywood, Greater Manchester (no website located) is a 'deep golden beer, malty flavour with hoppy finish' which didn't deliver as much as the write up and comparatively high strength promised, but still rated a 'Good'.
  j) Imperial Stout by Dark Star, only a few miles up the road at Ansty, near Haywards Heath  The beer list was arranged by ABV and so kept the best until last, as did we, making a a BIG finish with Dark Star's stout which comes in at a whopping 10.5%.  But the alcohol was not fierce, being subtly covered by the dark roasted malt flavours.  It is a solid, dense black colour, with a smooth mouthfeel and rich, full bodied flavours of smoky, chocolaty, fruity - I could go on but it's too complex for words to do it justice.  You have to taste it - but beware, for such an impressive beer, it's surprisingly easy to drink, and you could be tempted by a second and a third until you suddenly realise it's going to be very difficult to walk home!  This had to get a perfect 5 point score. 
 Our Beer of the Festival    We use an informal scoring system of 0 (awful) to 5 (nectar) - with half points possible.  On that scale nothing at this Fest rated less than a 3, which means it's a good competent beer, something you'd be glad to encounter if you dropped in to an unfamiliar pub.  Anything scoring a 4 means we'd go out of our way to a pub which stocked it, and 5 - well, just don't get between us and the bar when a 5 is on tap!
 If we were giving points for clever marketing and names to drive a barman potty, the winner would have to be No Eye Deer.  Stephen handed over my drink and obligingly asked 'And what's Jeannette having?' giving me the perfect opportunity to say 'No Eye Deer!'  I couldn't help wondering how many more times he would have to suffer that before the session ended!
 Near the top of the leader board at 4 points were Titanic Mild, White Horse Oxfordshire Bitter, Dark Star's Ported Old, Winter Warrant, and Old Thumper.  They were just pipped by an extra half point being awarded to Shugborough's Coachman's Tipple and Goddard's Winter Warmer.  But the star of the show, with a full 5 points, had to be Dark Star's Imperial Stout.  And to make sure, even after all the arduous tasting and comparing we'd done, we managed to have an encore of the Imperial Stout.  Fortunately, we didn't even need to find our way back to the station, as some kind friends gave us a lift home!
 It's interesting to note that almost all the leaders were dark beers.  That probably reflects our personal preferences, skewed further by the fact that such beers are particularly appealing on a cold raw winter's day - the cask of Titanic Mild looked as though it would be the first to run out.  So the fact that White Horse Oxfordshire Bitter was near the front of the field is all the more remarkable, and it's not surprising that it was last year's festival winning beer. 
 Congratulations to Bob & Michele at the Selden Arms for an excellent selection for their Winterfest.

From Issue 16A (January 06 supplement)

1) Selden Arms Winterfest - 41, Lyndhurst Road, Worthing (8 minutes walk from Worthing station)
As ever, your intrepid reporters have worked hard on your behalf to bring you a report on the Winterfest while you still have plenty of time to get there.  We arrived just after opening time and in an arduous session over lunch managed to sample half of the 20 real ales on offer - we'll be back for the rest tomorrow.  Of the 10 we sampled, the lowest rating we gave was 'Good' so you can see that the standard is high.
 Those we tried today were:
a) Flotsam 4.0% from the Hadrian & Border brewery (no website) - described as a 'bronze beer with citrus bitterness and floral aroma' - we agreed completely and rated it above average.
 b) Black Knight 4.1% from the Downton Brewery of Salisbury (no website) - again we agreed with the description 'cleantasting dark coloured bitter' and while we wouldn't drive for miles to find it, we'd be happy if we came upon a pub which offered it.
 c) Still with Salisbury brewers we tried the Old Sarum 4.1% from the Hidden Brewery 'full flavoured well balanced dark ruby brown beer with a dry bitterness' - we agreed with the description and gave it an above average rating.
 d) Of course we had to go straight for the first of the offerings from the local  (Ansty) and highly respected Dark Star brewery and tried their Ported Old 4.2%.  This has added port although it was not obvious in the taste.  What it did offer was a 'malty caramel taste with astringent hops'.  It was a lovely mahogany colour and had a good slightly oily mouthfeel, but the hops made it taste clean and gave a nice lingering bitterness.  This complex combination currently places it towards the top of the leaderboard.
 e) Jeannette's Cornish ancestry meant she had to try the One and All 4.4% from the Ring o' Bells brewery in Launceston (or Larns'n as the locals would say).  It has a nice golden brown colour and is described as 'light clean ale with a hoppy aroma' but we couldn't agree with the 'dry finish' - however it is a refreshing beer worth an above average rating.
 f) The Squirrel Brewery of Hertford is a new brewery (2004) which has pledged to help with the conservation of the red squirrel - so how could you not try their beers?  The Selden has their Bohemian Pilsner 4.5% made with saaz hops and lager malts.  Considering that most Continental pilsners are gassy disasters this is a pleasant surprise, being more like an English beer but with the distinctive taste from the Saaz hops.  Jeannette found the hoppy taste rather unsubtle but it is still a brave attempt at the style which merits a 'Good' rating.
 g) Flowerdew 4.0% from the Town House Brewery of Audley (near Stoke on Trent) is another brew where the hops are more 'in your face' - it is a pale straw colour and starts with a hoppy aroma which is also evident in the citrus-hoppy taste.  Nevertheless it still rated a 'Good'.
 h) Mr Sheppard's Crook 4.7% comes from the Exe Valley Brewery of Exeter and is a smooth brown beer with a sweetish taste but we didn't detect the 'bitter dry finish' it was supposed to exhibit.  Still a pleasant drinkable beer meriting a 'Good' rating.
 i) Winter Warmer from Goddards Isle of Wight brewery 5.2% was completely new to us and a very pleasant surprise.  A 'full-flavoured rich brown-black-ruby beer' it may have benefited from being just the right beer for a raw cold damp day like today but at present it's heading the leaderboard.  Winter Warmer - does just what it says on the pump clip!
 j) Old Thumper 5.6% from the Ringwood Brewery of Christchurch is a tried and tested favourite in local pubs.  A 'mild sweet malty beer with a bitter aftertaste' is apparently in the Festival by popular demand and rightly deserves a place near the top of the leaderboard.
 Recommendations:  Going in at lunchtime means you can order some food to soak up the beer.  Today we went for the doorsteps of granary bread (which come with a portion of good chips - or salad, but who cares about the diet when you're concentrating on the beer).  Jeannette had the more sophisticated bacon and brie with mushrooms, while I reverted to childhood and had my doorstep well filled with fish fingers and mayo - and it weren't 'arf nice!  If you're in on Saturday from 12.00 you can have similar fare and if you go in on Sunday you can have a traditional roast lunch. 

From Issue 16 (January 06)

1) Beer Tasting in Belgium fully booked 
The beerscursion in Belgium scheduled for Friday 24th - Monday 27th February 2006 is now fully subscribed.  We arranged a 14 seater coach to drive us around Flanders and all places are now taken.  If you've missed out, keep an eye on this newsletter as we hope to arrange others in future. 
 For those who have booked - and anyone who wants to see more about that part of West Flanders - have a look at the following pages from the website where we've added more information.  From the West Flanders page - updated - you'll find links to a short guide to the town of Lo, our favourite Belgian destination.  It also tells you about the glory days of the town when there were four breweries - one for every 400 inhabitants!
 There's also a guide to the historic town of Poperinge, hop capital of Belgium, consisting mainly of tips on where to eat, shop, buy beer - and of course drink it! 
 Another page shows the Poperinge hop harvest, with harvesting techniques old and new - essential background for anyone intending to imbibe Poperings Hommelbier, the hoppy delight made in the area with the products of the local hop fields.
The programme for the beerscursion weekend starts with visits to two breweries on the Saturday morning.  The first is Van Eecke, makers of the Hommelbier mentioned above, and after the brewery tour there'll be a beer in their brewery tap.  The next visit is an exclusive -  the St Bernardus brewery, which is not normally open to the public. 
Saturday afternoon sees us visiting the town of Poperinge, for lunch and time to visit any of the attractions of the town - although we suspect that bierproevers (Flemish for enthusiastic tasters) will be concentrating their efforts on the two bars which each have beer menus of 100+.  We finish off the afternoon by calling at a beer warehouse where you can stock up on bottles - or the special galsses to pour them into.  Back at the hotel, the bar will have a larger than usual range of beers in stock with an explanatory menu to help you choose appropriate beers to go with the hearty Flemish cuisine - as well as an aperitif before or digestif afterwards.
 On Sunday morning we check out a museum in an old brewery and malthouse - which just happens to have a bar serving its house beer and about 25 others.  Then off to a nearby hamlet which has a 17th century country pub serving the intriguing range of beers from the De Bie brewery (and offering souvenir glasses).  That should sharpen appetites for lunch at ’t Potje Pâté, a village bar where they make their own range of pâté and have a house beer from Liefmans, and there will be a chance to visit the shop selling the various types of pâté (many made with beer) and their special ceramic beer pots.
 In the afternoon we go to the café attached to the St Sixtus abbey, makers of 'the best beer in the world' - allegedly!  Try the ice-cream made with Trappist beer, or the local cakes; see the Claustrum audio-visual display about the life of the monks; decide to join them - or just buy the t-shirt, glass, 6-packs,  pâté, or cheese from the shop; or simply sit in the bar and contemplate the world through a glass of the top Trappist beer.  We finish the afternoon by calling in at a 'supermarket' unlike any you'll see in Sussex.  It's out in the country, features a good range of groceries etc but has a superb range of beers and associated glasses, including less common ones from Wallonia.  The final evening in the hotel will give you a chance to try any of the beers you've missed so far. 

From Issue 15(January 06)

1) Welcome to new members
First a special welcome to some overseas members of the newsletter.  As well as the UK, we now have members from Belgium, Netherlands, Norway and Newfoundland - truly representing the World of Beers!
2) Beer Tasting in Belgium (extract)
We made the final plans while we were in Belgium over Christmas.  The programme includes visits to two breweries, including an exclusive -  St Bernardus, which is not normally open to the public.  They used to make the St Sixtus beer on commission until the abbey had to take it back in-house so it could qualify as a genuine Trappist.  But when you think that St Sixtus has been rated 'world's best beer', and the St Bernardus folk have the same know-how, and their own brand has been given the same 100% score on  you can see why we're very excited about getting in there.  They didn't know how to deal with an 'entrance fee' so they came up with the idea of each person buying a special pack - for 7.5 Euros you will get a presentation glass and a 75cl (cork-closed) bottle of their finest, a souvenir you'll be proud to own - and take pleasure in tasting!
3) What price perfection?
How much would you expect to pay for the world's greatest wines?  The average supermarket will have bottles on its shelves priced between £20-30; during a recent visit to a top wine merchant (Tanners of Shrewsbury - worth a look if you're in the area) we saw bottles on the open shelves which were priced in the hundreds, so we didn't bother to ask about the ones locked in the huge cages at the back; and how often have you seen headlines about auctions where great vintages have sold for thousands per bottle?
 Now let's compare the world of beer.  To get the same quantity as a wine bottle you'd need to buy just over two 33cl bottles of St Sixtus - the 'world's best beer' - which in Belgium is going to cost you around £3 (although in the USA where it is sold illegally, it can fetch up to £16 a bottle).  On the beerscursion, the visit to St Bernardus will give you a wine-sized bottle of a top beer which can be laid down for years like a fine wine, plus the glass to drink it from, and all for about a fiver! 
 Bearing in mind that the range of flavours and styles of beer is arguably greater than those of wine, which do you think represents better value for money?
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