Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Lockwood Festival

This weekend we have 2 festivals locally. One is at Pennine Manor at Scapegoat Hill, which is their first and for which I have no information at present, the other closer to town is at the Lockwood Pub on Lockwood Rd. They have held beer festivals before but last time it was upstairs in a function room, this time it is downstairs on a makeshift bar attached to the main bar with the barrels stored behind the bar.

I took a look at what was on offer yesterday afternoon and was pleasantly surprised with the beer range available. There are 26 beers available through the weekend, but due to space constrictions only 15 are on at any one time. All the festival beers are £2.50 a pint irrespective of strength. My concern would be the quality later in the festival as the barrels behind the bar begin to warm up. I just hope their cooling system is up to it.

Armed with my programme I set about making my beer choices. Some of the beers on the regular bar were immediately discounted, such as Landlord and Tetley's (I know some of you will find the latter hard to believe !!) but there were still a fair few new beers to go at. There was a majority of Brass Monkey beers but since it was their pub, that was fair enough, however I expected something new from them but the range offered just the old favourites. I started with Empire 'Pennine Way' a 3.9% light beer, inoffensive and a good opener.

The rest of the bar was made up of South Western beers, many rare round these parts, and without tasting notes I had to gamble a bit. There were little glasses to show the colour of the beers so I had a bit of direction but most of the new ones to me were mid brown which did not really assist. I decided to select in order of strength. Dawkins 'TTT' was next up, instantly forgettable, then Nailsworth ' Funny Bones' , a little better, Moles 'Hole In One' , another failure, and Cotleigh 'Ettaler', the best of the new beer I chose. 4.8% and a take on a dark lager.

By now my time there was rapidly drawing to a close, and I wanted something tasty, and light. So I finished with Brass Monkey 'Silverback'. The best beer that the brewery brew in my opinion, and I was not disappointed. It was bursting with hop flavours that had missing in the other beers I had tried.

It is good sometimes to have plenty of beers from one part of the country to go at at a festival, but the problem is, as demonstrated here, many have very similar flavours and tastes, and if they are not to your taste then you are a bit stuck. I almost reverted to Tetley's at one stage !!

It is a little unfair of me to criticise though. It is credit to the brewery that they have sourced some rare beers and to the pub to organise the festival. It is a good place to while away a couple of hours sampling something different.

On the subject of Brass Monkey they have added a third pub to their chain along with the Rose & Crown at Thurstonland and The Lockwood. They have now taken over the Golden Cock at Farnley Tyas. Another pub in the middle of nowhere that was formerly more of an eatery that a pub. No doubt I will visit it one day and let you know what's on offer, that is unless someone can tell me first !!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wetherspoons Autumn Festival 2010

Today Wetherspoons kick off their autumn festival, they are using their tried and tested system of putting the 50 beers on offer on the bars at their pubs throughout the next three weeks, which should give punters plenty of time to sample the whole range on offer.

Flicking my way through the beer list, (this time, a stupid size that is guaranteed not to fit in anyone's pocket) it is amazing to see the amount of breweries who have produced new beers specially for the festival. They come from far and wide, north and south, and plenty in between. The styles are as varied as the breweries and virtually every different type of beer is represented.In addition to the British breweries, there are, as usual, half a dozen beers brewed in England from brewers across the globe, so you can try beer from Sri Lanka, Belgium and Italy to name but three.

The list gives tasting notes for each beer, and also the hops used, so if you want to try something a bit out of the ordinary you are given a clue what to look for.

If you are not a regular 'Spoons visitor, give it a go, you may find you are pleasantly surprised. Especially at the prices. They even give you the chance to try the beer in thirds so you can sample even more.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Brewdog - meet the brewer night

As regular visitors to the Grove, in Huddersfield will be aware, they have several pumps dedicated to individual breweries. There is a Marble pump, a Dark Star pump, a Thornbridge pump, a Durham pump and a Brewdog pump. All the beers on these pumps change regularly, so the drinker there is often able to sample various selections of beer from the one brewery over a fairly short space of time. Some are their regular offerings, some are their specials. Most times, all are interesting.

A while ago, Thornbridge did a 'meet the brewer night' at the Grove and it was hailed as a great success. So much so that they are following this with a similar event with the Brewdog brewer. This will be on the evening of the 2nd November at the pub and promises to be one of the events in the local beer drinkers' calendar. As well as a coup for The Grove. All proceeds will be going to charity, so why not jot it down in your diary and call along. It sounds like a great evening.

On the subject of Brewdog, it is one of Ossett's featured breweries for the season and therefore expect to see their beers on the bar at the Rat & Ratchet before long. I believe there are 6 barrels there of various beers including a 9% offering and the 10% 'Paradox' matured in whisky barrels. Something else to make the darker nights seem more bearable.

Pictish, Pictish and more Pictish !!

This weekend, visitors to the Rat and Ratchet in Huddersfield have been treated to one of those occasions that only occurs once, (or twice) in a blue moon. Rubbing shoulders with the regular selection of Ossett beers we had the choice of 4 Pictish beers as well. We often see Pictish beers about in the town, after all they are only brewed over the hill in Rochdale but rarely do we get chance to contrast and compare several of their range at the same time.

On the bar when I called in, were their single hopped 'Centennial', 4.5% and full of spicy hop flavours, and very moreish. This was supported by 'Samhain Stout'; a very good example of the style and brewed as a Halloween special, get it while you can. Their regular 'Brewers Gold' was also there, another single hopped beer but weaker than Centennial and a good session bitter. However the star of the show, if that's not a contradiction in terms, was their 'Blue Moon'.

I was intending to sound really clever and explain why they brewed 'Blue Moon' and when it as brewed. I have checked various websites and I now more baffled than ever, so suffice it to say that it was originally brewed to celebrate the second full moon in a calendar month, according to the Pictish website, so I assume they know what they are talking about. They first brewed it in 2001 so it has been around a while, but nevertheless is still worth searching out. It is 6%, brewed in the style of an IPA but with a subtle ,spicy hoppiness that almost forces you back for another pint, and another,and......

Anyway, I managed to drag myself away from the Rat and went down the hill,(not downhill as you may be assuming after the previous paragraph!!) to the Star. What was sitting proudly at the end of the bar to taunt me ? You have guessed, more 'Blue Moon' . May be this is the new definition, the same beer on in two pubs less than a few hundred yards apart. Or would that be 'Twice In a Blue Moon' . I don't really care. It was just a chance to sample one of the best beers around in two of the best pubs around. What more can you ask !!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Swan festival at Slaithwaite

Yesterday I had a trip up to Slaithwaite to sample the delights of the Swan festival. It is decent little pub festival, with 20 beers available, all on hand pull, and Jonny Holmes generally finds something to keep the tickers interested, hence my visit.

The doors opened at 4pm, so I had chance for a pint in Jonny's other pub, the Commercial, before going along to the Swan. The beer in the Commercial is always kept well, and well worth a call. I had a pint of Empire 'Budgie' here, I know its been about a while but is a beer that has always managed to elude me, so I was more than happy.

The list at the Swan was predominantly Yorkshire beers, with offerings from Greenfield, Leyden and Phoenix from Lancashire and Otley '01' ,Springhead 'Bramley Apple',and a couple of Dark Star beers from further afield.

I started with the Springhead, a brewery I have not often seen recently. It was a decent light beer, but the tasting notes said 'made with bramley apples' I struggled to find them I admit. I followed this with Empire '9 Standards' another inoffensive offering and again light and hoppy. I wanted something with a bit more flavour. Elland 'Twa Tipa' fit the bill. Again pale, but this time with more of a citrus kick, and 4.6% so a bit more body. Greenfield 'Little Jack' was another pale beer, but lacked the bite of the Elland. The star of the show, in my opinion, on my short visit, was the Abbeydale beer. Their 'Dr Morton's' range always seem to be good, and the 'Binge Oil' was no let down. With subtle New Zealand hops, if this is not a contradiction in terms, it was very pleasant and well balanced.

There were plenty of other good beers on the list, Abbeydale 'Fascination' is another excellent beer, Phoenix 'Arizona' is always good, as is Dark Star 'HopHead'. For those in search of different flavours Nook 'Strawberry Blonde' was there, Mallinsons 'Porker Porter' also and Empire 'Chocolate Stout'.

Not a massive beer range but enough to keep me happy, with its mixture of old favourites and new beers. So, if you have a bit of time to waste this weekend, maybe a trip into Slaithwaite may fit the bill. For £2.20 a pint for all the beers, it will certainly not break the bank.

Monday, October 18, 2010

What makes a good beer festival ?

In the wake of the Huddersfield Beer Festival, I started thinking about what makes a good festival. Let's face it, most of us beer drinkers visit a few festivals a year. Why do we like some and why do we return year after year ? Or why do we go to some and never go back ? What is it we actually want ?

To take the larger picture first. From the organisers point of view, a good festival will be one that runs out of beer and everyone goes home happy. The running out of beer is a bit dodgy though. It is all down to ordering enough beer to satisfy everyone who is expected, but not too much that there is a lot poured down the drain. I know of festivals that hold beers back for sessions to spread beers available throughout its duration, Bradford is a prime example. This is no help to the visitor early in the proceedings, only to find the beer(s) they particularly wanted kept for those visiting later. The other side of the coin obviously is that the early visitor snaps up all the interesting beers leaving little for those attending later.

Nottingham goes some way to solving this problem, marking the reserve beers in the programme, but out of 700 plus beers there should be no problem for the visitor to find something to his taste. The Swan festival uses a system where the first beer is replaced with a reserve barrel but again this is clearly marked in the programme.

The visitors all go to festivals for different reasons. I go for new beers and new breweries, others go for local beers that they cannot get in their local area, and some go for tried and tested beers they enjoy. It is common sense that the larger festivals try to accomodate all visitors. The smaller ones tend to concentrate on one of these three. The Star tries to find all new beers, some of the other local ones do find a balance between old and new. The organiser has to know his or her clientele and provide what will sell.

The Great British Beer festival, allegedly the flagship Camra festival, always uses established breweries, but always seems to attract plenty of customers. However, being in London, is not the easiest festival for everyone to get to. They do put their Winter Ale festival on in Manchester however to make sure us northerners get a fair chance of at least getting to one of their events.

I suppose that no festival can tick all the boxes. Everyone has his own favourite. In the last few years I have tried to get to as many as possible to give me chance to compare them. Many I have only attended once and will not return to, but others I will return to time after time. It is common to find the same faces at festivals, and good to look up old friends, and compare notes, and keep up to date. Many of these people travel miles to get there and sample the beer on offer.

But I am going away from the point. What else makes a good festival, apart from the beer and the craic ? The cost is obviously a factor. Some are free, some are more expensive. In these times where cash is tight, we all want value for money. Some festivals price themselves out of some peoples pockets before you even start buying the beer. The cost of the beer is also a consideration. This clearly will vary from place to place but should be realistic. I know of two pubs in Sheffield who have done themselves lots of harm by overpricing. One with a massive admission charge, the other with a ridiculous price for the beer on offer. It takes a long time to get a reputation for having good festivals, and a very short time to destroy it. Ask the tickers !

Another consideration is the venue. Some hold them at places that are completely unsuitable, at least in my eyes. Many pub festivals are better in this respect. Using rooms set aside, either temporarily or permanently for the purpose, or outside marquees to house their beers. Camra have to take what is reasonably priced and on offer for what they require, hence some of them being less than inviting.

The main consideration is the quality of the beer. The best serve beer on handpulls. But generally the larger festivals have a mixture with beer served on stillage as well. It is a great skill to provide a large number of beers in good nick at one time and keep them in that condition throughout. Some succeed, some do not.

So what do I want ? A decent environment to drink my beer, which is reasonably priced and in good nick. Personally, I look for new breweries and new beers. I prefer pub festivals to Camra events, thinking that the publican who cares enough to try to have a festival deserves some support, but that will not preclude me visiting bigger festivals. I want a beer list that is interesting, and preferably like to see it before I go to the festival to arrange my drinking in advance. I want to enjoy my visit, and feel I am getting value for money. Give me all that this year, and next year you will see me again. Surely that is what the festival game is all about.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Oktoberfest 2010

Last night Huddersfield Oktoberfest opened its doors to the public. The Sikh Leisure centre is a decent venue for a beer festival. Plenty of space to move to move around and plenty of seating for the punters, and just as well, come 8pm there were a lot of people there to sample the wares. Fortunately there were enough staff on duty to man, or woman, the pumps and no one seemed to be left waiting for long before being served.

As I said in the preview, 94 beers were on offer, from breweries near and far. Too many to sample in one session obviously, it took some time to work out where to start and what to have. I fancied a cross section of local beers, and some of those that had come from unusual breweries. The programme/beer list was not easy to read though, a magnifying glass would have been a help, but the barrels were all well marked, with beers available in pints,halves and thirds as per Camra policy, with the prices for each clearly displayed so that was a help.

Anyway, enough of that, what about the beers? The obvious place to start was the Mallinsons special,'Cheers Charlie', soon a half was being lifted to celebrate the life of one of local Camra's most dedicated members. It was a beer that would have done Charlie proud, bet it won't last long. Next to it on the bar, was another Mallinsons dry hopped offering, a bit stronger this time, and called 'The Bloke From Hull', a beer for Dave Litton, well known around these parts and a constant source of information for 'A Swift One'. So far, so good, two new beers, and two excellent ones too. What next to try though ?

I decided to try a few of the offerings from down South. Most of these were sold on gravity and the condition of some of them was a little lacking when compared to those on the bar. I tried beer from Opa Hays, Glastonbury, and Winters, but nothing really touched the spot. '8 Sail' was a new brewery to me, from Lincolnshire, and their 'Harvest' was next on the list. I hoped for great things but it was a bit too malty for my liking. Spectrum '43' sounded good, but again fell short, as did the Tydd Steam 'Golden Kiwi' but at least it was lighter and the hops did come through, just not enough of them. Desperation was setting in.

Time for a change of tack. Back to the northern beers and those that sounded a bit different. Great Heck came up with a interesting special, 'Wakefield Trinity', with its blend of English hops and local green hops it made for a good comparison to the foreign hops I generally prefer. Next came York 'Jack a Lantern' which was brewed with pumpkin, and I must confess, not to my taste.

Taking advice now, I tried the Green Jack 'Orange Wheat', a beer that I have had several times and enjoyed, but in recent times it seemed to have lost some of its hoppiness. Not this time, the blend of wheat and citra hops certainly hit the mark, things were on the up. To finish off, time to revisit another old favourite and back to Mallinsons. 'Castle Hill Premium' was excellent with its nelson sauvin hops to the fore, it would have been my beer of the festival had the 'Cheers Charlie' not just edged it.

There you have it. A quick whistle stop tour around the festival. There are still plenty of beers to keep me going for a second visit. I only hope that some of the beers I missed live up to the standards of the Mallinsons I enjoyed yesterday. If not, at least I know what is good to try again.

A word of thanks must go to Sam Birkhead, for his success at organising his first Camra festival and the dedicated team of volunteers in getting the festival running. If numbers are anything to go by, then I am sure the festival will be classed as a success.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Huddersfield Oktoberfest, the preview

This evening at 6pm, the doors open on Huddersfield's long awaited Camra beer festival, titled the 'Oktoberfest', it is to be held in the same venue as last year, the Sikh Leisure Centre in Springwood. But sadly without one of the doyen of the festival after the untimely death of Dave Charlesworth at the end of last year.

The beer list was published yesterday and provides just over 90 beers for the visitor to sample. Many are local to the Town, or should I say, 'Locale'. With offerings from Golcar, Mallinsons, Empire, Brass Monkey, and Anglo Dutch, to name but a few. Golcar give us their Bronze award winning mild from the GBBF, along with the overall winner from there, Castle Rock 'Harvest Gold'. Mallinsons provide 2 regulars and 2 specials, one in memory of 'Charlie' and most of the others provide new beers to the town.

What of beers from further afield? This year has a plethora of beers from East Anglia, many breweries rare to these parts. Buffys, Opa Hays, Green Jack, and Tydd Steam all appear. There are also plenty of beers from the North Midlands, with the list showing Blue Monkey, Derby and Magpie amongst others.

If that is not enough to tempt you then there are also over 20 ciders and perrys available. Coming from producers far and wide, including our own 'Udders Orchard' the organisers have managed to source some interesting ciders for our delectation.

If you get chance, take a look, it goes on all day Friday and Saturday, for a £3 admission fee. It looks well worth a visit, I will certainly be there.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Tea leaf reading - the real ale version

From the start of time, life has thrown up those people capable of reading into the future from information placed in front of them. We have had mystics who read animal entrails, utterings from the Delphic Oracle, soothsayers and haruspex, Tarot card readers, crystal ball gazers, and palmists. On Sunday I was privileged to make the acquaintance of 'Gypsy Yelland' whose speciality was reading beer glasses.

To read a beer glass, I was informed by the expert, not only required a life of dedication to the contents but also skill and perseverance to the art. Not everyone has the ability or opportunity to venture into the mystical side of beer. You need the right conditions. These are more often found in the North of the country for some peculiar reason. I will try to explain.

For the reader to get the best results and the best chance of a successful reading, a pint glass is preferable. It should be empty, having being previously emptied by the victim, sorry, subject of the reading. Hopefully, the side of the glass will still contain some of the foam from the head of the beer, (therefore the readings are not suitable for those who drink beer without a sparkler, or those who drink lager - the latter, would not understand the subleties of the art anyway !!). The reader then lifts the empty glass to eye level and reads the shapes left in the foam on the glass. Simples !! But does it work ?

After watching 'Gypsy Yelland' at work, I am still not convinced. She managed to read that Will's glass had plenty of bird related foam in it and assumed that he was a twitcher. As in birds, not as in some sort of affliction. Tara's glass had what was described as a sports field with lots of people there, I couldn't see it personally, but the mystic advised us it was a dead ringer for the field placings at the Australia v India test match. I was a little less sure with mine. Lots of hills and a plane. I would be going on a long journey by air. Not that I know of. Unless she mixed me up with Chris who is in Mexico at present.

Its a great way to while away some time in the pub. You have all the essentials for reading there. (i.e a beer glass with beer), try it yourself, see if you can read into the future. It more fun than trying to read a tea bag, and less messy that disembowelling animals,(which most landlords frown on apparently). See if you can become a 'spoomologist', that what google calls it .

{Thanks for being a great sport Elaine, and giving me the idea}

Every One a Winner !!

This weekend the lucky drinkers at the Star have been privileged to sample some of the best beers around from a mixture of old and new breweries. Every beer I sampled was excellent, both in flavour and condition. It was difficult to select a beer of the day, let alone of the weekend. It just seemed when a great beer ran off an even better one replaced it.

On Saturday we had the choice of Mallinsons 'Pacifica' . A 3.9% single hopped beer with New Zealand hops giving the beer a light colour and a refreshing bite, not too bitter but very acceptable. Next to this was Pictish 'Hallertau Wheat', a little stronger at 4.0%, but a very subtle crystal clear wheat beer with the subtle flavour of the hallertau hops making this an excellent companion for the Mallinsons. What really surprised me was the Arkwrights 'Run of the Mill'. This was a beer I had previously encountered at a beer festival, and was not overly thrilled by, I thought it was just an average blonde bitter. How wrong I was. This time it was spectacular, and bursting with hop flavour leading to a refreshing bitter, but not too bitter, after taste. A tad stronger at 4.1% it stood comparison with both the previous beers, and was possibly the best of the three. Not bad for a brewery that only started earlier this year. To round off the session, lurking on the end of the bar was a giant from Five Towns. This is a small brewery, who previous readers of a 'A Swift One' will know I rate very highly. This time their offering was a 6.3% beer 'Tyketanic' . It is a bit of an understatement to say it went down well. Another light beer that was bursting with flavour, none of the subtlety of the others, this packed a massive citrus hit, mainly of rich Seville orange, bitter and a bit like marmalade without the sweetness. A beer that needed to treated with caution, and best left to the end of a session as its taste would over power the other beers. That was Saturday, would Sunday stand comparison.

It did. Three new beers to choose from, and two of these were excellent, one less so. To deal with that first, Marlpool 'Scatty Ratty' was on the bar. I had been looking forward to this, a new brewery to me, but I was a bit disappointed. It was a light 4.4% offering but had a very astringent TCP type flavour. I thought it was Green Bullet hops, those who know better said it was not. But whatever it was it was a let down sadly. This was compensated however by the two beers from Sheffield that had arrived on the bar since my previous visit. Kelham Island 'Are you Lonesome Tonight' was another light beer, at 3.8%. Pleasantly balanced, it was an excellent quaffing beer and one I could have happily had a session on had it not been rubbing shoulders with the superb Abbeydale 'Fascination'. Another brewery that usually provide the goods, and this time they have pulled all the stops out. It had everything I want in a beer. A pleasant, but not overpowering hoppy bitterness, a well crafted maltiness and a sensible strength at 3.9%. Another winner from one of my favourite breweries.

What was the beer of the weekend. It would be impossible to say from a line up like this. All had their own good points and it would be wrong to choose one over the others. All I can say that it was a great weekend's drinking. Lets hope it continues into the week.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Why all the fuss about sparklers ?

One of the subjects guaranteed to get beer drinkers talking is the subject of sparklers. Whether they are a good thing or not, whether they should be used or not,and what effect they have on the beer. I do not intend to get into that debate but feel that I need to have my say.

'A Swift One' as most people will know is based in Huddersfield, which is a northern town, and as such, most of the pubs here will serve beer in the northern way, through a sparkler, sometimes more 'tight' than others. There are certain pubs here though that do not use them.

Firstly I should address the need for them at all. As the drinker knows, beer can be served in several ways. The most basic is straight from a barrel, through a tap on the barrel itself. Generally the beer served this way comes out flat, without a head, and although the quality may be good, the product does not appeal to the eye, not in my opinion anyway. It also sometimes leads to sediment transferring from the barrel to the glass, again not appealing to the eye.

To try to counter this the beer engine was invented. This is a mechanical way of transferring the beer from the barrel to the point of sale. In real ale pubs, this is generally by manual means of the bar person 'pulling' the beer from the barrel, through the engine and into the glass. In other pubs, the electric dispense is more common, especially for lagers. Dispense through a beer engine seems to give a more lively beer, although not necessarily a head on the beer.

To get a head on beer seems to be slightly more hit and miss. It depends on the beer, the condition in the beer, the method of dispense and sometimes the skill of the dispenser. But do we all want a head on beer ? Maybe not. I personally find it makes the beer more visually appealing, others I know think differently. There is an argument that by having a head the character of the beer actually changes, drawing more hop flavour into the head away from the beer itself and altering the taste. This is accentuated by the actual way the beer is dispensed.

Let me try and explain. The basic beer engine would have a mechanical method of drawing the beer from the barrel but the point of dispense would historically have a fairly wide spout, thereby not subjecting the beer to any great agitation. However, nowadays it is more common to find a spout with a narrower bore and maybe a swan neck. This leads to more agitation in the beer and often, but not always a head (although fairly loose it has to be said) on the beer itself. To make the head tighter, a sparkler is used. This is a small device, similar to a shower head attached to the spout at the point of dispense. Now this seems to be where the arguments start.

Sparklers have holes in them obviously. The smaller the holes the tighter the head in theory. This acts in two ways; initially it acts as a secondary filter for the beer, the primary filter being fitted to the tube leading from the barrel, but it also makes the beer aireated and creates the head we northerners are used to.

Now then, what if we want a beer without the tight head ? It makes sense to take the sparkler off. Unless the sparkler is built into or welded onto the spout, this should present no problem. They screw on and screw off quite easily. If I am a barman, and the customer wants his beer without a sparkler why not? It his choice after all. I am merely providing him with the product as he wants it. Lets face it, if we went into a restaurant and ordered a steak medium rare, but the chef refuses to serve it as such because he thinks it tastes better well done, we would not be impressed. Surely the same applies to beer. The customer is always right, irrespective of what I may think. To do this is easy in a pub with removeable sparklers.

What annoys me is the pub where the landlord has made the unilateral decision that all the beer will be served without sparklers. I am a paying customer, surely I should be allowed to have my beer served how I want it, as the steak analogy shows, not how he thinks I may want it. I know the Good Beer Guide marks certain beers that the brewer thinks taste better without sparklers, or vice versa. But again, that is only a guide. If I believe his product tastes better with a sparkler, why am I not allowed that choice, even if it alters the taste, it is again a matter of personal choice.

The sparkler argument will always be there, and there is not definitive answer. It is down to personal choice, surely we should be allowed, as paying customers, to have that choice. Or do we just have the choice to drink elsewhere where our needs may be better met. I will let you decide.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Pump clips - todays whinge !!!

After a discussion with a couple of our local brewers my mind, for some bizarre reason, started to ponder the question of pump clips. What are they for ? What do they tell us ? Are they relevant ? After a while I decided that I could probably write a Phd on them but rather than that I have decided to share some of my thinking with you. See what you think.

Before the real ale explosion, a pump clip was a fairly straight forward thing. It told the drinker what to expect to come out of the pump. It had the brewery name, the type of beer, and the strength. Just like Tetleys now for example, or Timmy Taylors. Simple, straightforward and to the point. A bit like buying a tin of beans, functional but clear. Effectively pump clips were a point of sale for the brewer, so the buyer knew what he was getting. The same is true now of many lager clips, all you find is the brewery name and an abv, nothing else to help the drinker who presumably knows the product and knows what to expect.

In recent years this has all changed and we are faced with all sorts of pump clips. They fit into many sorts of areas, some informative, some less so; some humourous, some bland; some works of art, some look to have been designed by a child; some a credit to the brewer,some less so. What do I mean ?

Before I start getting deeper, it may be useful to consider what the drinker actually wants from the pump clip. If I see a clip saying mild, or bitter,stout or porter, I roughly know what to expect, and I assume that other drinkers who drink in real ale pubs do too. If the pump clip says amarillo, chinook, mount hood or brewers gold, I have enough knowledge of the product to know that this is likely to be a single hopped beer and in some cases, what taste to expect from it. This is not true of all drinkers though. They are unfamiliar with the ingredients in their pint, nor what style they are likely to encounter. However, I like the simple style which tells me the brewery, the strength and the hop, succinct and to the point.

The same is true of seasonal beers; spring,summer and autumn beers all have their own styles and mention on the clip gives me a rough idea of what style the beer is, and what to expect. Back to the beans analogy, if the label says curried beans, that's what I expect in the tin.

The issues start with beers that have all sorts of weird and wonderful names. I know that brewers want to be different from each other and often have beer ranges to reflect that, but sometimes the poor drinker does not quite get what he expects. Locally we are lucky, we know what style of beer to expect from Empire, Goose Eye or Mallinsons, and if the style varies from the norm, then the pump clip makes it clear. Its when we encounter less familiar breweries that the trouble starts. Abbeydale make loads of very good beers, but often the clips and the names, give little evidence of what to expect. Sometimes I have been hoping for a light beer and ended up with some more best bitter coloured, or worse. Fernandes likewise. Many of the Summer Wine beers have caught me out too. And the list could go on.

May be the way forward could be to follow the example of Castle Rock, who are a brewery we do not often see around these parts. Their 'Preservation' series of beers are monthly specials which show a bird or animal on the clip but in smaller print around the outside of the clip it does explain what style of beer the drinker can expect, it is a help. More so than many breweries who just have a name with no explanation.

Lets face it, if you are in a supermarket and buy a tin with no label, you do not know whether you have your tin of beans or they are peaches instead. The drinker is often faced with the same choice, effectively buying blind, even though the beer has a pump clip, often it does not describe the product. May be a little more thought should go into naming the beer, and informing the drinker. How much more informative it would be to just have words like 'light bitter' or 'dark and malty' added somewhere on the clip to advise the unwary, and to save me buying a pint of something I don't like.

I am not having a go at the brewers here. I know they strive to be different from each other and their ranges of pump clips reflect this, and lets face it, I do enjoy ranges of viaducts, buses, birds, animals, stars, and engines and the interest they create around the bar. I like to be able to recognize a Yorkshire Dales pump clip and tell it apart from an Elland one across a crowded bar, all I would like, sometimes, is a gentle prod in the right direction so I know what beer to expect. It cannot be so hard, can it ?

(Ps due to technical problems, there are no images to illustrate this article, normal service will hopefully be resumed when he returns from his holiday !!)

Monday, October 04, 2010

Beers of the day 3rd October

Calling in the Star for a pint on Sunday one could be forgiven for thinking you had fallen into an Mallinsons festival, we had not one but three new Mallinsons beers to sample and compare, and very good they all were too.

'Tri-Continental' was a 4.2% light beer created with hops from New Zealand, England and the USA, and as would be expected, brought out some amazing hop flavours but managed to retain a balance between all three, with none of them predominating, just very balanced. The pump clip also created plenty of interest with its map of Europe having the other 2 continents tacked on. It would certainly make for easier holidays if it were true !!

Just along the bar came the stronger (5%), 'Hops Crossing'. Definitely a beer for the hop monsters, with plenty of flavour and far too drinkable for its strength, and certainly different to 'Tri-Continental'. Again light but packing a lot of interest into a pint. Another winner.

If these two were not sufficient the third of the triumverate was 'Anniversary Ale'. A dry hopped 4.2% beer specially for one of the regulars wedding anniversary. Certainly beats a card !! Again,perfectly balanced and light with the extra hops bringing a whole different flavour to the beer.

All in all, an excellent way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon, just topped off with some of Chris's famous chilli pickled onions to make the day complete. All that I can hope for now is that there are still some of the beers left for Tuesday for more tasting comparisons.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Have We Got Festivals For You!

After a couple of barren weeks, October sees a plethora of beer festivals throughout Yorkshire, many within easy reach of Huddersfield. And from the beer lists I have seen, many are worth taking a look at.

The extravaganza starts this weekend with the Sheffield CAMRA Festival, held out at Cemetery Park in a marquee (off Ecceshall Rd near Sheffield Hallam University). Not the easiest place to get to but they have plenty of new beers and unusual breweries (list), especially from the South West, making the trek worth while - that's if you fancy drinking under canvas in a graveyard of course! On the subject of Sheffield, the Gardeners Rest on Neepsend Lane is holding a pub festival this month, again with the promise of beers from near and far - definately worth a trip down the Penistone line.

Nearer to home, we have the Triangle Cricket Club beer festival next weekend at Sowerby Bridge (list). This runs all day Saturday and Sunday (9th & 10th). I have never been, but those who have attended in the past have commented on how good it is. The beer list is compact but covers all tastes and has a couple from the Landlord's Friend brewery. It is easy to reach by bus from Sowerby Bridge on the Ripponden route (get off at Triangle Post Office).

Huddersfield CAMRA's 'Oktoberfest' opens its doors at the Sikh Leisure Centre the Thursday after (14th at 6pm) and promises 90 beers. I am not in possession of any information yet about the beer available but I am sure there will enough to keep everyone interested for the weekend.

At the end of the month it's Wetherspoons Autumn Festival (starting on the 27th), and a sneak preview reveals some unusual beers (list) amongst the 50 - admittedly many from larger breweries, but specials and one offs will feature at this festival. As usual they have managed to get guest brewers from around the world to create some of their classics at British brewery plants. There is also a beer from Jersey which is a bit of a coup, unless you are Gary of course!! Why not get out and about and have a bit of fun and see how many you can find? Be warned though, after previous experience it's a bit like collecting football cards, you never find the one with Bobby Charlton!!!

So there you have it. Loads of reasons to make the passing of summer more bearable. Get out and take a look, I am sure they will not disappoint.