Craft Keg Arrives in Cambridge

I popped into the Cambridge Brew House at lunchtime, as I was dropping off a couple of bottles of homebrew for James, the head brewer of the Cambridge Brewing Company. As he was telling me about his future trip to a hop farm to pick up some green hops, my eye wandered to the back of the bar, where I noticed a load of keg fonts coming out of a keg attached to the wall. I’ll admit to suddenly blurting out “you have Thornbridge Jaipur on keg…!?!” and stopping James in his tracks; it’s not everyday you see that sort of thing round here.

So evidently the Cambridge Brew House have installed a few more keg lines and have some national and international craft keg on tap! Today there was Camden Pale Ale and Freedom Organic Lager on the main bar fonts, plus Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted, Thornbridge Jaipur, Adnams Clump Sagin and Redhook Long Hammer IPA on the new keg fonts. If you can make out the prices on the photos above, you’ll notice that they’re craft keg prices, so a pint of the Jaipur would set you back £4.50. Which isn’t too steep if you’ve ever drank in Cask, Craft or The Euston Tap.

This is a definite step forward for pubs in Cambridge, especially as James told me that they had some Magic Rock stuff waiting to go on too. Which I’ll probably miss, due to being on holiday for the next three weeks, but those are the breaks. When I get back, I’m going to have to go down and see what they have on, fingers crossed for some Magic Rock

Paris

I was going to write a blow by blow account of my trip to Paris last December, but instead I’m just going to skim through everywhere we went. I’d written down most of what we go up to on the Friday, but to be honest, it was a load of crap. So here’s my thought on all the places we visited over the weekend of December 2nd to 4th:

The Eurostar
The main benefit of getting the Eurostar, is that you can take your own beer with you, as there’s not the same security restrictions as going by plane. I took a four pack of Punk IPA cans, packed carefully into a small cool bag along with an ice pack. If you don’t want to take your own beer, then you can always buy cold beer from Sourced Market in St Pancras. I bought some Camden Town bottles on the way back and should really have bought some of The Kernel bottles they had on the way out, as they’d gone by the Sunday afternoon.

If you don’t take your own beer and get thirsty on the train, it’s €5 for a can of Stella, you know taking your own makes sense…

The Frog & Rosbif, 116 Rue Saint-Denis
This was our first port of call, mainly as I’d heard varying reports about the quality of the beer and didn’t want to come here later on and be disappointed. At first glance, it looked pretty much like a British pub, but there was certain things that meant you could tell it was a pastiche. All the bumf on the tables and walls was in English, which was a bit weird and gave me the impression that this was a pub for foreigners, rather than locals.

I had a pint of the Maison Blanche, served with slice of lemon. I thought it was pretty forgettable and less interesting than Hoegaarden, which says a lot. Phil had a pint of Parislytic, which we both agreed was a nitro keg horror show. Neither of us noticed that they actually had a single hand pull in the midst of all the keg fonts, a pint of that might have been a better option. They had free wi-fi and we managed to sit next to a wall socket, so I could charge my phone.

HTB Hall’s Beer Tavern, 68 Rue Saint-Denis
The bar is on the right as you walk in, with a row of tables along the left hand wall, after a bit, it opens out into a back room full of tables. It reminded me a lot of those thin American bars you get in big cities. We plonked ourselves down opposite the bar, next to a plug socket, so I could continue charging my phone and pursued the beer menu. It was extensive, but contained nothing to quicken the heart, being comprised of major multinational brands and a load of Belgian stuff. Keg fonts for La Chouffe, Delirium Tremens and Chimay nested cheek and jowl with fonts for Carling Black Label, you get the idea.

I had a pint of La Chouffe, Phil had a pint of Chimay Triple, both were served in branded pint glasses, shame the brands were for different beer, think of a well known Irish stout brand. I’m assuming they keep the correct branded glasses for those drinking out of bottles. The main reason we didn’t drink from bottles was the cost, it was significantly cheaper to have a pint, than have two bottles. They also had free wi-fi, which was nice, but I didn’t really feel comfortable and welcome in the place and I can’t really put my finger on why.

La Cave à Bulles, 45 Rue Quincampoix
Just a quick note on this place, as I want to go into it a bit more in a separate blog post. One thing you’ll realise as you trawl all the Paris bars, is the lack of French beer, this shop practically redresses the balance all on its own. Run by a friendly and jovial chap called Simon, we ran all the places we were going to visit past him and he made a few suggestions. The main one being ditch the planned crawl and buy some tickets to a beer festival on a boat, so we did.

Au Trappiste, 4 Rue St Denis
With a name like Au Trappiste, you sort of know what kind of beer you’re going to get, before you cross the threshold. With 20 taps and an extensive bottle menu, this place majors in selling Belgian beer, in fact, I can’t remember if it sold anything else. Clad almost head to toe in wood, with matching wooden tables and chairs, it felt a bit like being in a wooden lodge, all be it, a cheap one with loads of cheap looking lighted colour panels on the walls.

We decided to eat here, but with a menu not exactly welcoming vegetarians, I plumped for a large plate of chips and a tub of mayonnaise, which went perfectly with my pint of Lindemans Gueuze, so that was me sorted. We ate upstairs, which felt a bit like eating in a wooden McBurger franchise, it was just a bit weirdly sterile for my tastes.

We ended coming back here later, so I had another pint of gueuze, this time instead of a nice dimpled mug, I got a branded pint glass, again the brand was for a well known Irish beverage. All the branded glassware looked like it was saved for those drinking from bottles, but just like Hall’s Beer Tavern, if you were having more than one, this worked out more expensive than a pint of draught.

The staff also seemed pretty incompetent when it came to change a keg, my gueuze ran out mid pour and it took nearly ten minutes of faffing and multiple members of staff to change it.

Les Soirées Maltées – Les Bières de Noël 2011, Bateau Six Huit, 33 Quai de Montebello
I’m only going to mention this briefly, as I want to cover it it in a separate blog post. However, it’s not often you get to go to a beer festival in a foreign country, let alone one on a boat in the shadow of Notre Dame.

Le Sous Bock Tavern, 49 Rue Saint-Honoré
We headed here after the beer festival for a nightcap before heading back to the hotel. This was one of the bars that Simon in La Cave à Bulles had said to avoid, so we approached with some trepidation. It wasn’t quite pitch black inside, but it wasn’t far off, with only some weird purple black light kind of things illuminating the interior. We walked along the bar to check out what beer they had, but to be honest, we just turned round and walked out. There was nothing on that we couldn’t have got from Hall’s Beer Tavern or Au Trappist and since both of them were slightly more welcoming, being properly illuminated and quiet, we left and headed back to Au Trappist. This place seems to get good reviews on all the rating sites, so your mileage may vary, but on this night we weren’t impressed.

La Gueuze, 19 Rue Soufflot
Saturday dawned all blustery and drizzly, so we headed to here to get some lunch and some gueuze. When we go there the door was locked, but after a quite shake, the proprietor came and opened up, it wasn’t like we were early or anything it being after their official opening time. The style of the place was a bit of a mish mash, with lots of wood like Au Trappist, but a similar layout to Hall’s Beer Tavern, with some seating at the front and down the side of the bar, before opening out into a large light and airy back room.

After perusing the menu, which was unsurprisingly pretty crap for vegetarians, we decided not to eat there, as it wasn’t very cheap and didn’t sound particularly great. I ordered a bottle of Mort Subite, which was pleasant enough and Phil had a bottle of Cantillon Rosé de Gambrinus. The cork on Phil’s bottle didn’t come out cleanly and instead of using a cloth to get the bits out of the neck, he just stuck his finger in and wiped them off. We didn’t stay for a second drink…

Godjo, 8 Rue de l’École Polytechnique
I’m mentioning this very, very compact Ethiopian restaurant, not because we drank any beer, we didn’t, but because the food was sensational. We were originally going to come here for dinner on the Friday night, but got side tracked by the beer festival, I’m really glad we hunted it out and came for lunch on the Saturday. Ethiopian food is all about sharing, but since Phil eats dead animals, I wasn’t about to share a plate, so had one all to myself and I’m so glad I did, the lentils were to die for. If you’re going to go, I’d try and book a table (if you can), as there’s hardly enough room to swing a cat inside.

On the way there we passed an English theme pub called The Bombardier, which was selling what looked like keg Bombardier and Directors, we paused by on the other side of the road…

Brewberry, 18 Rue Pot de Fer
Our second last port of call was to this compact shop cum bar, which if I’m being honest, would have been our only port of call if we come to it first. Selling beer from all over the world, but majoring in European breweries, its main advantage over La Cave à Bulles, is that you can drink beer on the premises. It’s such a great wee place, that it will get a blog post all of its own.

After Brewberry, we headed back to La Cave à Bulles for a meet the brewer with La Brasserie du Mont Salève, which I’ll cover in a later blog. After that, we had to attend a black tie dinner on the Saturday evening and caught the Eurostar just after lunch on the Sunday, so there wasn’t really any further opportunity to explore.

I feel like we only scratched the surface of beer in Paris, but at the same time, I feel like we also hit the two most important places and if I went again, I probably wouldn’t go anywhere other than La Cave à Bulles and Brewberry. For my money, Paris is far too fixated on the major multinational brands and anything that comes out of Belgium. It could really do with a few more outlets for French craft beer, as that’s what I really wanted to drink and apart from Brewberry, we really didn’t get the chance, as none of the bars were stocking it. Don’t get me wrong, I like a Lambic or Trappist ale as much as the next man, but sometimes I just want to try the local beer and apart from Brewberry, nowhere could deliver on that simple need.

So if you’re heading to Paris and want to drink some French beer, head to Brewberry. If you want to bring back some French beer, then head to La Cave à Bulles as well. Until someone opens something like CASK Pub & Kitchen or The Craft Beer Co. in Paris, these two places are your best opportunity to try really good artisan French beer.

The Quandary

When I was last in London, I visited The Craft Beer Company on Leather Lane and got a bit depressed in the process. A couple of days later I got confirmation of tickets to go to a recording of The Infinite Monkey Cage, so a plan was hatched. Rather than a fleeting visit to Craft, what if I went and spent the whole afternoon there. Would I still feel depressed that I couldn’t try all the beers I wanted, or would I get bored sitting in the same place all afternoon, I thought there was only one way to find out.

In the couple of weeks since, all I’ve thought about is where else I could go, what else I could fit in. Should I pop out to Tap East and try their new Coffee in the Morning stout. Should I visit The Southampton Arms again and go to BrewDog Camden for the first time. Should I get off at London Bridge and pop into Utobeer. Should I go here, should I go there, should I just stick to my original plan…?

The comments on that last blog post got me thinking, what is my ideal pub? I’m not quite sure yet, but I think I may have an inkling, but I’d need to find a pub that fits the bill and try it out.

As amazing as The Craft Beer Co is, I’m not sure I could ever say it’s a pub that could fit that bill, at least for me, I think I’d rather spend the afternoon in its sister pub Cask, Pub & Kitchen in Pimlico. I’ve been trying to work out why; is it the atmosphere, the layout, the fact that I feel less intimidated by the number of beers on offer? I’m not sure, but I think it’s closer to my ideal pub than Craft, but there’s only really one way to find out.

It’s not like I can spend an afternoon in each though, I’m not in London often enough, the Olympics will probably be the next time I’m there and I’ll have the family with me. So my quandary is this; do I spend the afternoon in Craft, Cask or trawling various places I’ve never been to or have only fleeting visited in the past? Do I give in to my continual desire to not miss out, or do I try and get comfortable in one place and watch the day drift by?

I’m desperately trying to talk myself out of trawling around London, I’d quite like a relaxing afternoon. But I really can’t decide between Cask and Craft and I’m not sure I’ll be able to until I get off the train at Kings Cross. I’m leaning towards Cask, only because I think it’s more like my ideal pub, but what if I’m missing out on something that Craft have on that Cask don’t, etc, etc…

The thought of missing out on something is what drives a lot of my obsessive behaviour and is probably the subject of a blog post all on its own. For now, all I can do is accept that I have a quandary and try and put it out of my mind.

So Much Beer, So Little Time…

I was in London on Saturday for the South East regional heat of the Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2012, I’ll be doing a full blog post about it soon. I managed to visit some pubs, both before and after, one of which was The Craft Beer Company, on Leather Lane. While I was there, I couldn’t help but think about Boak and Bailey’s recent blog post The Agony of Choice:

A place like the Craft Beer Company, unless you can visit it everyday, and have the funds to support such a habit, can actually be a little depressing. Even if we drink ourselves under the table, we’ll still leave wondering about the beers we didn’t try, the half that never was.

I’ve said before that I like choice and variety, which is one of the reasons that I hardly ever drink the same beer twice in a session. I also hate missing out on things, it’s one of the drivers of my obsessional behaviour and has lead to me getting into all sorts of trouble. I’m sure you can imagine that somewhere like The Craft Beer Co. is both an ideal venue and the worst nightmare for someone with these traits.

It’s the ideal venue due to the sixteen hand pumps, twenty one keg lines and over three hundred bottles. The choice is so staggering, you could easily drink all day for days without having to drink the same beer twice. At the same time, this staggering level of choice is my worst nightmare, especially when I’m on a time limited fleeting visit.

How am I supposed to choose which beers to drink, when at first glance there are at least seven cask beers I’m going wide eyed at? How can I not feel anything other than a bit of drression that I have neither the time nor money to try all the cask beers I’d like to, let alone any of the keg or bottled beers. To be honest, I stood upstairs with my phone plugged into a wall socket and felt pretty miserable, I didn’t even look at what was on the keg fonts as I walked past.

I know that I was tired from trying all the beers at the Great British Beer Hunt, both physically and mentally and as a result I didn’t really fancy having much beer after wards. But I can’t really remember feeling that despondent in a pub for a long time, as I had to chose between beers that I’ve never had and likely wont see again, potentially ever.

I know that quite a lot of the problem is in my own head, not letting my obsessions get the better of me is hard work. I’m sure plenty of people go through pubs like Craft, Cask or the Euston Tap and they have what they have and move on without much of a second thought. I’m with Boak and Bailey though, the last few times I’ve been to these pubs, I’ve left wondering about the halves that never were and wishing that their beer selection wasn’t quite so stellar.

28.845 Units

I thought it would be interesting to jot down everything I drank on Friday and add up the units. More to scare myself at the amount I drank, rather than to prove any kind of point. So here, in order, is what I imbibed and where (just to clarify, I drank half pints):

Pub Brewery Beer ABV Units*
King William IV Brodies Kiwi 3.8% 1.08
Brodies Citra 3.1% 0.881
Brodies Silver Bullet 4.7% 1.34
Brodies American Brown 4.8% **
Brodies Hoxton Special IPA 6.6% 1.88
Tap East Tap East Pale Ale 5.6% 1.59
Tap East Extra Stout 6.6% 1.88
Thornbridge Chiron 5% 1.42
Lovibonds 69 IPA 6.9% 1.96
Cask Pub And Kitchen Mikkeller / Redemption Mild Interpretation 3.5% 0.994
Dark Star Hophead 3.8% 1.08
Magic Rock Curious NZ 3.9% 1.11
Dark Star Green Hopped IPA 6.5% 1.85
The Southampton Arms Camden Town Show Boat 4.5% 1.28
Marble Chocolate Marble 5.5% 1.56
Magic Rock Cannonball 7.4% 2.1
The Euston Tap Magic Rock High Wire 5.5% 1.56
Thornbridge Raven 6.6% 1.88
Nøgne Ø Pale Ale 6% 1.7
Rogue Ales Brutal Bitter 6% 1.7
Total units   28.845

I was also in The Castle Inn on Tuesday lunch, The Cartlon Arms on Wednesday lunch and The Devonshire Arms on Thursday lunch. So all in all, last week was rather on the alcoholic side, not the worst week, units wise, that I’ve ever had, but certainly the worst for many, many years. I think I owe my liver a break and am planning on having this week off the booze, although there is an Adnams mini keg in the shed and my wife is away next weekend…

* Units calculated using the calculator here.
** I took this one back as it tasted funny, so it’s not inculuded in the calculation…

Live Blog: The Infinite Monkey Cage

I’m in London today for a recording of the BBC Radio 4 science show The Infinite Monkey Cage. I’m going to try and visit three pubs that I’ve not been to before and blog about them live. It’ll be interesting to see how we get on…

King William IV
I’m currently sitting in the Brodies Brewery tap and what a pub it is! I’ve never been to the East end before and I don’t know if this is a genuine example of a boozer, but I can imagine the it could get quite lively in here.

Even with half the pumps out of action, there is still a dizzying range of Brodies beer available. If I’m not careful, I might still be here come the evening!

Tap East
I’ve just left Tap East and am trying to write this on the underground, so apologies if it makes no sense…

Nestled away in a corner of the horrific Westfield Stratford, Tap East is a beery oasis in the midst of rampant consumerism. Run by Glyn, late of The Rake, the choice of beer is excellent, including two beers brewed on the premises, an Extra Stout and a Pale Ale. Both need a bit of tweaking, but for the first two beers brewed in a new brewery, they are hard to fault.

There is also an amazing choice of keg and bottled beer, so no one should be disappointed if they make the trip out to visit. The only problem on this visit, just like in any pub, is the occasional douchbag of a customer who oversteps the mark. I was very, very impressed with Glyn’s composure and restraint, I’m not so sure I’d have been so tolerant if I’d been in his shoes. I’ll be back…

Cask Pub and Kitchen
I don’t need to tell you how good this pub is. Do I…?

BBC Radio Theater
Bring on the monkeys…

The Aftermath
I’m writing this on Sunday evening, I would have written it last night, but I wasn’t really well enough to do much yesterday… As you can see, the live blogging stopped after I went into The Infinite Monkey Cage recording. This wasn’t my intent, but it just sort of, slipped by the wayside after a bit more beer.

My next destination was The Southampton Arms, which is a few minutes yomp North of Kentish Town underground station. It was busy, unsurprising for a Friday night, but this meant nowhere to sit, or to stand without getting in the way. I ended up stood at the bar, which meant that no only did I get through my drinks quicker, but I was chatting to people and what not, rather than blogging.

By the time I left The Southampton Arms, I was starting to feel the effects of drinking all afternoon. The half pint of Magic Rock Cannonball that disappeared in about ten minutes might have had something to do with that. However, buy the time I got the tube back to Euston Station, I’d never have made the fast train back to Cambridge from King Cross, so I headed for The Euston Tap.

In retrospect this was probably a mistake, as I was only there for forty minutes or so, yet managed to put away four halves, three of which were over six percent. So when I left, I was rather more than tipsy, but I did manage to stumble into the newly opened Cider Tap for a look. Don’t ask me what it look like as I can’t really remember, other than the bar isn’t where you expect it to be.

The train back to Cambridge was uneventful, other than feeling dangerously queasy. I nearly didn’t get off the train though, as I thought we’d stopped in Royston and as my media player was on quite loud and I had my head in my hands, I didn’t hear or see that were were in fact in stopped at Cambridge. When I eventually looked up, as we’d be stationary for ages, I realised where we were and go off onto a deserted platform. I’ve no idea how long the train had been sitting there, or how close it was to leaving, all I know is that I was rather lucky to actually get off on time and in the right station.

This just left an hours or so cycle home, after a ten minute stumble to the car to recover my bike. To be honest, I should probably have kipped in the boot, but after falling over a few times putting my cycling shoes one etc, I headed off for home. I stopped a couple of times on the way home, I had a bladder full of beer after all, but I eventually made it, where I promptly fell off my bike and landed in a heap in the front garden. Not wanting to disturb my wife too much, I passed out on the sofa, as I thought I may have to get up again to have a chat with someone on the giant porcelain telephone. Luckily that didn’t happen and I finally made it into bed around seven o’clock.

I’m pretty sure I don’t have to tell you what the hangover felt like when I eventually got up, lets just say that it was one of the worst I’ve had for a few years. I had a great day out though and I’d definitely go back to all the pubs I visited, maybe not in quite the same state, but I’ll definitely be back.

My First GBBF

Don't drink Hophead...

It’s amazing how time flies as it’s now been over a week since I went to the trade session of the GBBF, my first ever visit. I’d been saying that I’d go since 1999, so it was about time really. I had to get a later train to London than the friends I was going with, that coupled with the fact that I was getting my trade ticket from @jamesbwxm, who wasn’t going to get there until 13:00, all meant that I had time for a quick half in The Euston Tap before I had to head to Earls Court. I was after a nice cool unfiltered Bernard, but the Thornbridge Versa caught my eye and I plumped for a half of that and very nice it was too.

Sandstone Sweep and Hardknott Sooty...While standing at the bar I noticed someone a few places down who looked vaguely familiar, it turned out to be Richard Burhouse from myBreweryTap and Magic Rock Brewing fame. This was the first opportunity of the day to put a face to someone who I only know from social media, or being a customer of. I joined Rich and his colleagues outside to finish our beers and then headed to Earls Court with them on the tube.

This turned out to be a shrewd move as we got there before @jamesbwxm, but Rich had a few spare tickets, so I managed to sponge one off him, for which I’m most grateful. Once inside I realised that I knew a few of the orange shirt wearing stewards from the Cambridge beer festivals, so I went one way, while Rich and co went the other. I never saw them again, which meant I couldn’t buy them a beer, maybe next year.

Ian, Terri (from The Cambridge Blue), Toby and Bov....My first impressions upon walking in the hall aren’t fit for publication, they involved quite a bit of swearing. I knew it was going to be big, but I just didn’t realise how big. While I managed to get a free program, got to have some benefit to the CAMRA membership, I didn’t bother consulting it, I just went for a quick wander around the cavernous interior to see what was where.

I really wasn’t sure what I was going to drink until I got there, I was conflicted between trying all the British cask ale that I can’t normal get in Cambridge, or drinking the more esoteric world beers that I’d probably never see again. Given the vast size of the hall and the weird way the beers were distributed amongst all the bars, what’s wrong with alphabetical by brewery anyway…? I decided to try two British cask beers that I really wanted to try and then move onto the world beer.

Andy Mogg, Craig Garvie and Simon Johnson...After wandering for a while, I eventually ended up on the bar that had the festivals sole Moor beer, shame it had a "not on till later" sign, so I headed for the Thornbridge bar and had a half of Chiron (how are you supposed to pronounce that…? Ch-ee-ron Ch-iron, Ki-ron…?). Once I had a beer, I set off to find my friends, which turned out to not be that difficult. There were in one of the seating areas in a small enclave of Cambridge beer festival people, so I could finally dump my rucsac and get some suggestions for beers to try.

It was at this point I started to recognise people I only know via Twitter and other social media, wandering around. I’m not going to name check everyone, but it was nice to met you all. I think it’s human nature to form preconceived ideas about what people are like and I have to admit that I’m quite bad at doing that. I expected quite a few people to be taller, smaller, fatter, thinner, grumpy, cheery, you get the picture, so it was nice to have the vast majority of my preconceived ideas shattered. I’d like to say everyone I met was really nice, but after insulting both Jonathan Queally and Adrian Tierney-Jones within thirty seconds of meeting them, it wasn’t surprising they both looked at me like I was a creature that had just appeared from a black lagoon…

In need of more beer...In the end I split my drinking mainly between the Czech beers and the US cask beers, with the odd European thrown in for fun. I had tastes of loads more, some were fabulous, some a bit meh, one even looked like someone had been sick in the glass. I did plan of buy some of those I tasted, but for some annoying reason they took two of the US cask beers off, even though they weren’t finished (those would have been the Stone SoCal and the Green Flash Palete Wrecker).

Eventually it was time to leave, where the time had gone I have no idea. Loads of people had decamped hours before to Cask Pub & Kitchen, but we needed to head back to Cambridge. I was getting a lift home, so there wasn’t the opportunity to hit one of the excellent London pubs. We had to make do with a sneaky half in The Devonshire Arms before heading home.

I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on my first visit to GBBF, but I’m still not sure what I thought of it, I’m not sure if I actually liked it or not. I certainly enjoyed myself and I drank some cracking beer, but then I didn’t have to pay to get in, it wasn’t massively crowded and I did have access to a seat. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed myself as much if I’d had to pay to get in and it had been really, really hot and busy.

A fridge full of Budvar...I suppose I’m a small event kind of person, I’d never do the London Triathlon for example, I’d rather do the Bedford Classic, it’s smaller and more intimate. I think I feel the same way about the GBBF, it was too big for me, too much aimless wandering around trying to find the beer I wanted to try. I’m sure the organisers have their reasons for setting it up like that and for splitting up Bières Sans Frontières into four separate bars, I’d just do it differently (I know I’m not the only one who thinks that putting all the UK beer out alphabetically by brewery would be a better idea).

The range of beer was fantastic though, as were the people I met (when I wasn’t insulting them) and I did have a good time. I’m just not sure if I’m being overly critical of what I thought about it because I’ve never been before and it didn’t quite meet up with what I was expecting. I suppose the only way to find out, is to go back next year.

These are the beers that I actually bought while at the GBBF:

The Session #48: Dispense Doesn’t Matter

This months Session is being hosted by the Reluctant Scooper and the topic is Cask, Keg, Can, Bottle: Does dispense matter?.

When this session was announced, I was quite excited. I initially thought I’d try and track down a beer that is sold on all forms of dispense and compare them. Unfortunately, there appears to be no-one in the UK that currently does this with the same beer.

The SessionBoth Adnams Bitter and I think, Fuller’s London Pride, are available in cask, keg, bottle and can, but the strength of the beer differs depending on the dispense, so they don’t really count. Some brewers have the same beer available, at the same strength in cask, keg and bottle, both BrewDog and Thornbridge spring to mind here, although there are probably a few more, but they don’t can their beer.

This put me at a bit of a loss, if I couldn’t write about a single beer what could I write about? I could make this the shortest article ever, by just saying, no, dispense doesn’t matter, as long as the beer being dispensed is good. But I have more to say than just that, maybe enough to say, that multiple blog posts would be better than what’s below, but I digress.

There seems to me to be a difference in perception about some forms of dispense in the UK, that’s different to most other countries. This is mainly due to the prevalence of cask conditioned beer in this country. Kegged and canned beer are thought to be the bastard inbred cousins of cask and bottles and are thus shunned by a lot of real ale drinkers as being inferior.

Mikkeller Green GoldIs this perception really warranted though…? It’s very hard to say, that no, it isn’t warranted, when you walk down the beer aisle in any supermarket and it’s stacked high with cans of mass produced industrial lager and smooth flow versions of previously decent cask ales and not a lot else. It’s also very hard to say, that no, it isn’t warranted, when you walk into a pub and all the cask ales on offer are bland, boring, brown session beer, that hasn’t been looked after and tastes of vinegar.

I think the main reason why this perception exists is due to the product that is being put into the various forms of dispense. The vast, vast majority of keg beer in the UK is, for me, a mass produced undrinkable excuse for a beer, it’s totally vile. Similarly with canned beer, the vast, vast majority is the same mass produced undrinkable excuse for a beer that’s sold via keg. Real ale dispensed from cask on the other hand, is, with a few exceptions obviously, normally very, very good, at least where I drink it is. Similarly, the bottled beer I buy, while it’s not cask, can be just as enthralling to drink.

Redemption HopspurHowever, I know for a fact, that kegged beer can be just as good as casked beer. I spent a bit of time in Rome last year and frequented Brasserie 4:20, Bir and Fud, Open Baladin and Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fa’, all of which serve fantastic kegged beer. The vast majority of the beer I drank was from those kegs and it was produced by some of Europe’s most progressive and highly thought of brewers. I don’t think I had a bad glass during my whole time there and the vast majority of the beer I tried, was simply phenomenal.

I have also drank kegged beer at The Euston Tap and at Cask Pub and Kitchen, both of which are in London and both of which offer an amazing variety of cask beer as well. Again I’ve not had a bad one and some have been truly outstanding. Similarly, I had cask beer from both these establishments that was simply jaw dropping, a testament to the combined skill of the brewer and the love shown by the cellar man.

As far quality beer in a can though, it was only the other day that I got to try my first taste. The Caldera Pale Ale was perfectly pleasant, but just like Rogue’s Juniper Pale Ale, it left me wanting. The Caldera IPA on the other hand was a revelation, quality, tasty beer in a can, I’ll have to buy some more. Tasting it, was for me, the final nail in the coffin of the question posed for this months session. So to answer the question, no, dispense doesn’t matter, as long as the beer being dispensed is good.

Caldera IPASo why are we even having a debate about the different forms of dispense, when really, it’s the beer that’s inside the container that that we should be discussing? I think it’s just that in the UK at least, there hasn’t been any quality keg or cans, so they have an image problem. CAMRA have been, rightly, banging on that cask is best for years, but now that there is good quality beer in kegs and soon to be quality beer in cans, from UK breweries, cask no longer contains the best beer by default.

I for one, am looking forward to trying good quality beer from all from of dispense, especially from cans and the new fangled "real keg", because dispense doesn’t matter, it’s the beer inside the container that matters.

The Golden Pints 2010

Originally I was going to do my own round up of the year, I didn’t do one last year as I felt that I’d not been blogging for long enough. This year I felt that I had drank enough to have some thoughts I wanted to share, but then Andy and Mark posted about The Golden Pints. So I decided to combine my thoughts and The Golden Pints categories for this post, hence why I’ve given my top three beers and then a few highly recommendeds.

Now, I don’t normally hold much truck with lists and stuff, they are very personal after all and never seem to align with my view of things. So take this lot with a rather large pinch of salt, it’s only my opinion at the end of the day.

Best UK Draught Beer
  1. Thornbridge Bracia
    I had this at the Euston Tap the day after they opened, it was truly magnificent and while I’ve only had a ½ pint, it stood head and shoulders above anything else I had this year.
  2. Thornbridge Seaforth
    Supposedly an all English version of Jaipur and on this tasting in January, better than its stable mate. Utterly sublime…
  3. Thornbridge Kipling
    Beer of the festival at the Cambridge CAMRA summer beer festival and just about as perfect a beer as you can get for an early summers evening in a crowded tent.
Honourable mentions
Hopshakle Resination, Oakham Chinook, Thornbridge Raven
Best UK Bottled Beer
  1. Thornbridge Halycon 2009
    It took me a while to get hold of, but once I did, I bought every bottle I could find. Only one other beer has come close all year, including foreign imports.
  2. Moor Fusion
    The only beer to render me utterly speechless this year. I couldn’t take notes, I was so blown away…
  3. Marble Dobber
    You can keep your Punk IPA and your Jaipur, this is now my "go to beer".
Honourable mentions
Hardknott Infra Red, Hardknott Æther Blæc, Moor JJJ IPA, Cambridge Moonshine Transforming Tomorrow
Best Overseas Draught Beer
  1. Birra del Borgo ReAle Extra
    Stole my heart when I was in Rome earlier in the year and when I went back recently, it was just as good.
  2. Mikkeller I Beat yoU
    To be honest, it could have been any one of about 10 Mikkeller beers in this slot, but this was the last beer I had in Rome recently and it was an absolute hop monster.
  3. Grassroots Broken Spoke Blackened IPA
    A massive US West coast style IPA, but black. It messed with my senses and tasted sublime. Could have been any of the three Grassroots beers I’ve tried this year though, all of them were spectacular, the Rye Union Porter especially.
Honourable mentions
Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout, De Molen Rasputin, Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, Bernard Unfiltered, Hornbeer Black Magic Woman, Birrificio del Ducato Bia IPA, Birrificio San Paolo Ipè (Extra Hop)
Best Overseas Bottled Beer
  1. De Molen Hel & Verdoemenis 666
    Possibly the best beer I’ve had this year. Along with the Thornbridge Halcyon, it stands head and shoulders above everything else.
  2. Stone Arrogant Bastard
    I waited 13 years to try it after first seeing an (empty) bottle, it was so worth the wait.
  3. Mikkeller Single Hop IPA Simcoe
    Like drinking liquidised lychees, I’d have drunk more if it wasn’t so expensive and hard to get hold of.
Honourable mentions
Birra del Borgo Duchessic, Saison Dupont, Jandrain Jandrenouille IV Saison, Odel IPA, Dogfish Head Paolo Santo Maron, Hornbeer Oak Aged Cranberry Bastard, Nøgne Ø Porter, Rogue Dead Guy Ale, Rogue John John Dead Guy Ale
Best Overall Beer
So hard to choose between Thornbridge Halcyon 2009 and De Molen Hel & Verdoemenis 666. But if I really had to choose between the two, then only as I had more of it, Thornbridge Halcyon 2009.
Best Pumpclip or Label
Anything by Marble.
Best UK Brewery
  1. Thornbridge
    They’ve produced the best UK beer I’ve had this year.
  2. Marble
    Catching Thornbridge up fast, Dobber is sublime.
  3. Moor
    I just wish I could get a moor regular supply…
Honourable mentions
Hardknott, BrewDog, Adnams, Fuller’s
Best Overseas Brewery
  1. Mikkeller
  2. De Molen
  3. Birra del Borgo
Honourable mentions
Grassroots, Nøgne Ø, Rogue, Stone, Hornbeer, Amager
Pub/Bar of the Year
  1. Brasserie 4:20, Rome, Italy
    Possibly the best pub in the world and fantastic food too.
  2. Bir & Fud, Rome, Italy
    The best pizza I’ve ever had, all washed down with lots of amazing Italian craft beer.
  3. Ma ‘Che Siete Venuti a Fà, Rome, Italy
    Could also lay claim to being the best pub in the world, it certainly has the nicest landlord I have ever met.
Honourable mentions
The Euston Tap, London; Cask Pub & Kitchen, London; The Cambridge Blue, Cambridge
Beer Festival of the Year
  1. Cambridge CAMRA Summer beer festival
    Only as I’m now a fully paid up member of the foreign beer bar team…
  2. The Cambridge Blue Winter Festival
    Thornbridge Jaipur, Seaforth and Raven were all on sparkling form.
Supermarket of the Year
Waitrose
Independent Retailer of the Year
The Bacchanalia, Cambridge
Online Retailer of the Year
myBreweryTap and BEERMerchants
Best Beer Book or Magazine
Radical Brewing by Randy Mosher
Best Beer Blog or Website
  1. Martyn Cornell’s Zythophile
  2. The Reluctant Scooper
  3. Real Brewing at the Sharp End
Best Beer Twitterer
The HardKnott’s (@HardKnottDave and @HardKnottAnn); it’s like a Twitter soap opera…
Best Brewery Online
Adnams
Food and Beer Pairing of the Year
Orval with chips ‘n’ mayo
In 2011 I’d Most Like To…
Continue to try new and interesting beer and widen my horizons by trying new styles and retrying those styles I think I don’t like.
Open Category: Best Landlord
Manual from Ma ‘Che Siete Venuti a Fà
Within two minutes of meeting me was giving me free beer across the road in Bir & Fud. On subsequent visits, he opened things like Cantillon Zwanze 2009 and gave me bottles to bring home. The nicest beer person I’ve met all year.