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What's new?

What's new?
Pledges for my new beer book - Miracle Brew - are now closed. Book is out 1st June and available for pre-order here.
I've been accused of attacking cask ale. Here's what I actually wrote - decide for yourselves.
News about my next books!

Thursday, 24 April 2008

The cask ale revival - a sample of one

One of the best things ever written about pubs was George Orwell's essay, the Moon Under Water. This was the name of his favourite pub. The atmosphere was perfect, the clientele friendly, the food was basic but just right, and the beer was good.

At the end of the essay, Orwell confesses that there is no such pub. It was a composite of elements from his favourite pubs. All had something that made them special, but none seemed to be able to pull off the whole thing.

Little has changed. In Stoke Newington, the pub that serves the best beer won't let you take dogs in. The one with the best pub quiz serves terrible food. The one that serves decent beer and lets you take the dog in, and has the best juke box, serves no food at all.

My local is the White Hart on the High Street.

It does a cracking Sunday lunch, they bring Captain a bowl of water and occasionally a chew when he comes in, they have an immense beer garden, big screens for the game, fantastic vibe and brilliant, eclectic crowd of characters - and shit beer. It's the kind of pub you visit more than any other, and only ever drink Guinness while you're there. There's a Spitfire font in the corner of the bar, on its own, and you just know you don't want to drink the stuff that comes out whenever someone disturbs the cobwebs on the hand pump.

That changed a few weeks ago. One Saturday afternoon, I walked in, and there, next to the dusty Spitfire font, was a brand new, shiny handpump, with a Timothy Taylor Landlord pump clip on the front. I pointed at it, open-mouthed, and Andy, the landlord, said, "You like that one do you?"

I nodded.

"Yeah, I only put it in on Thursday night and I've sold one cask already."

"Well, it is one of the best beers in the world," I replied.

"Yeah, I know that now," said Andy.

The next time I went in, three days later, that second cask had gone too, and he was awaiting the next delivery.

This is a pub with a very hip crowd that has, until now, seen no need to take on the hassle of stocking cask ale. And now he's selling more than two casks a week of Landlord - not exceptional, but certainly comparable to the throughput the beer would have in a decent real ale pub. Sticking it on the bar has unleashed a latent demand for cask ale among a clientele you wouldn't automatically consider cask drinkers. I promise it wasn't me drinking it all.

The perfect pub? Not yet, but it's a damn sight better than the Wetherspoons in Leicester Square that set itself up for a fall by nicking the name of Orwell's fantasy boozer.

By the way - apologies to anyone who is interested for the very infrequent posts at the moment. There's loads I want to write about, but the IPA book is past its deadline!

Sunday, 6 April 2008

What's going on at The Guardian?

It's galling when the newspaper you read is one of the very worst of a bad bunch for beer (and Barnsley FC) coverage. Since Roger Protz's column was axed a few years ago they've carried no regular beer coverage. I've soke to Matthew Fort, the Weekend Magazine's food and drink editor and a passionate cask ale fan, several times about it, and he says he's simply not allowed to feature beer by his wine-drinking bosses.

But now this seems to be changing.

Two weeks ago, there was a full page feature on Thornbridge, one of my favourite breweries. Now, two weeks later, here's Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall with the lead food article, saying "Forget wine - beer is our national drink, and it's time we used it more often in our cooking", giving recipes including beef in ale stew and Guinness and walnut chocolate brownies, plus a separate supplementary piece on sourcing great beers.

There's probably nothing here that's new to hardcore beer bloggers - that's not the point. The point is one of the most notoriously anti-beer newspapers in the country (ask any freelance beer writer on that one) seems to be having a Damascene conversion to the cause.

All this, and they fronted the sports section with a full-length, intelligent, non-patronising feature on Barnsley that only mentioned Dickie Bird once.