Wednesday 20 November 2019

Who writes pretentious real ale tasting notes?

Am I alone in thinking that real ale tasting notes are mostly pretentious twaddle? I picked up Wetherspoon's guest ale tasting notes and selected a few beers that I am familiar with.

Marston's Wainwright: "This pale straw-coloured beer has a subtle sweetness, with delicate citrus fruit overtones, complemented by sweet honey notes to deliver a refreshing character."

I struggle to detect sweetness, subtle or otherwise, nor any hint of honey, although there is possibly the faintest whiff of citrus. I am suspicious of any beer described as refreshing, which usually means lacking in any distinctive flavour, as here.

Salopian Golden Thread: "This bright golden ale is brewed using wheat and lager malts, plus an infusion of aroma hops, resulting in a clean, crisp palate, hints of sweetness and a long fruit-filled finish."

I like this beer, and in fact had a few yesterday, but did not detect any hint of sweetness or a fruit-filled finish. I thought it a fairly dry beer.

Adnams Broadside: "This classic beer is a deep ruby colour, rich in fruit cake aromas, with hints of almonds and fruit in the smooth, malty flavour, leading to a balanced, lasting finish."

Another beer I like, but I wonder whether whoever wrote this has ever eaten a fruit cake? I've never detected almonds or fruit in the flavour.

I could write more but I'd just be labouring the point. It's all about trying to elevate beer from the old image of a cheap product drunk in quantities in street corner pubs to something on a par with wine, which is why we now have the ridiculous title of 'beer sommelier'. It's also why we now have beer and food matching, because that's what often been done with wine. Personally, I'm not very keen on drinking beer with food; if I have a pub meal, I don't usually touch my pint while I'm actually eating.

I suppose in the great scheme of things such an approach to beer drinking is relatively harmless, although I can imagine that if the image of real ale drinking becomes insufferably precious, some people may well be put off ever trying it.

Sunday 17 November 2019

St George's Hall Winter Ale Festival

My friend Roland (left) and I in St George's Hall 
for the last beer festival
Tickets are now on sale for the St George's Hall Winter Ale Festival which will be taking place in the famous St George's Hall in Liverpool. I went with some friends to the last festival in this venue, and everyone had a great time. It was my first ever visit to the spectacular Great Hall - I say that with a slight feeling of shame, having been born in Liverpool! The session we attended was concluded with the Grim Reaper calling 'Time!' while Mozart was being played on the great organ.

There will be up to 200 different real ales and ciders alongside an indoor gin garden with a selection of boutique gins, spirits, wine and prosecco. This ale festival definitely caters for all tastes.

The bar sponsor for the festival will be Ossett Brewery, which is based just outside Bradford, and many of their award-winning brews will be on the bars. Not only that, but Ossett will be bringing their sister breweries with them too, so there will be beers from Fernandes, Riverhead and the famous Rat brewery. You can expect many other breweries to be announced as the festival draws closer.

Entertainment will be provided at all sessions, except for Friday daytime. If you get peckish, there will be tasty hot and cold food prepared by Liverpool Cheese Company, Peninsula Pies and Crackpot Catering (serving up their special Scouse) throughout the festival.

All CAMRA members receive a discount on production of a valid membership card at the Thursday evening and Friday daytime session: a full card of tokens is £15, but at those two sessions is only £13 for CAMRA card holders. There will also be a return of the 'Beer of the Festival Award', voted for by all customers.

The festival runs from Thursday 30 January to Saturday 1 February 2020. For those unfamiliar with Liverpool, the venue is adjacent to Queens Square bus station and less than 10 minutes' walk from Central Station.

This is a popular festival so it might be wise to buy your tickets well in advance here.

► This is one of a series of articles that I write for the CAMRA column in our local papers, the Southport Visiter and Ormskirk Advertiser. Older articles on local pubs are here.

Thursday 7 November 2019

The Buck I'Th' Vine, Ormskirk

Click on photo for larger image
An appointment had taken me to Ormskirk, and afterwards I decided to visit the Buck I'Th' Vine which reopened three months ago, having closed closed in 2014. The closure saddened many people, particularly as the Buck, as it's now officially known, dates from the 17th century when it was known as the Roebuck. The appearance of the pub is very distinctive with the Grade II listed buildings on two sides of a cobbled courtyard to the front where you can sit when the weather permits.

The layout has been reconfigured with the bar moved to another room; formerly it was behind a multi-paned window, which is still there, as are quite a few other original features. Its new position is in front on an old fireplace, and it is longer and more practical than the old one. There are five drinking areas with a separate Spitroast restaurant to the rear. It has real fires, although probably not behind the bar!

There three real ales on: Hobgoblin Gold, Wainwright, and Jennings Sneck Lifter, with Brakspear lined up to go on next. I tried all three beers and found they were in good form. Among the fonts was Shipyard American Pale Ale, and there was good selection of spirits, especially gin.

The Spitroast restaurant to the rear is a more modern affair, and is the third in the chain, the others being in Crosby and Liverpool. The menu looked interesting, but I didn't try anything as I wasn't hungry, and this is not a restaurant review. A glass panel in the restaurant floor gives a glimpse of the old cobbles of the market town. Spitroast website.

The pub has recently become the home venue for a team in the quiz league, and on Sunday afternoons entertainment is provided by a singer-guitarist. Children and dogs are welcome. After quite a long chat with the manager, Sue, I feel this fine old inn is in good hands.

The Buck is at 35 Burscough Street, Ormskirk L39 2EG, close to Ormskirk's famous clock tower. Events are advertised on their Facebook page.

► This is one of a series of articles that I write for the CAMRA column in our local papers, the Southport Visiter and Ormskirk Advertiser. Older articles on local pubs are here.

Sunday 3 November 2019

The Excelsior, Liverpool

The Excelsior, Liverpool
Strolling around in Liverpool on Tuesday last week, I decided to call into the Excelsior on Dale Street, a pub I haven't visited for some time. It was named after a sailing ship, a reminder of Liverpool's long maritime history. This is a tastefully decorated, traditional pub with three separate drinking areas, old fireplaces, and attractive wooden rails, bar, plate racks and doorways. Pictures of old Liverpool adorn the walls.

The choice of real changes but these are the six that were on when I visited: Salopian Oracle, Salopian Lemon Dream,, Salopian Shropshire Gold, Peerless Galaxian, Timothy Taylor's Landlord and Brain's Rev. James. I was told this last beer is particularly popular with Everton fans! The three beers I tried were all in good form, as you'd expect from a Cask Marque accredited pub. There is 30p off all real ales every Monday.

Other drinks include a choice of 21 gins, six different bottled craft beers a wine menu that includes fizz and coffee. They advertise pub food until the early evening with pies, mash, pasta and paninis – there is even a pie menu. They show live sports on three screens that can be tuned to show different sporting events at the same time, and there is live music every Friday.

I found the pub friendly and ended chatting to a young woman who was visiting Liverpool from London; she was actually Polish, although I would never have guessed from her English accent. I also had a talk with the enthusiastic licensee.

They have free WiFi, and you can find out what's happening there on their Facebook page. The address is 121-123 Dale Street, Liverpool 2, just five minutes' walk from Moorfields Station on the Merseyrail Nothern Line.

While you're in that part of Liverpool, there are quite a few other pubs all less than 10 minutes' walk from Moorfields. The Hole In The Wall, Thomas Rigby's, the Lady of Mann, the Vernon, the Ship & Mitre and the Lion Tavern can, along the Excelsior, constitute a satisfying compact pub tour.

► This is one of a series of articles that I write for the CAMRA column in our local papers, the Southport Visiter and Ormskirk Advertiser. Older articles on local pubs are here.