Wikio - Top Blogs - Wine and beer The Real Ale Girl: 2010

Thursday 16 December 2010

Way out West-erham

I'm not a country girl. I am city born, my lullabies are the sounds of sirens and 3am revellers. Four years living in Cambridge, albeit glorious and the location of my discovery of real ale, often felt like clasutrophibic village living to me. Meanwhile, my friend from rural Devon thought she had arrived in a dangerous, graffitti- ridden metropolis.
So it was with a mix of intrigued trepidation that I allowed myself to be driven down the deepest, darkest lanes of Kent towards the Westerham Brewery. When I say I allowed myself to be driven, I should admit, we actually managed to convince Non-drinking Mum to drive us there, pay £8 for a shandy and stand in a cold barn. She didn't get the reward for the crazy journey, pot-holed driveway and snow-ramped car park that we did, as we heaved open huge sliding doors to find a brewhouse brimming with jugs of beer, the glitter of fairy lights bouncing off mash tuns and hundreds of balding heads. We paid eight quid, we poured unlimited ale into our non-plastic compostable cups and we merried ourselves squeezing into nooks between pieces of brewing equipment.
We made our way along the jugs, from the refreshing 1965 Special Bitter, the William Wilborforce Freedom Ale (mixing demerera sugar- fairtrade, of course- with Kentish hops), past SPA, British Bulldog, Finchcocks Orginial and Grasshopper, to the Christmas brew God's Wallop and the relatively new Double Stout. We had an 18 pint box of God's Wallop last Christmas (it goes very well with turkey, in fact, the food offering at the brewery itself were baps of turkey marinated in the stuff). This year, we will be making our way through an 18 pinter of the Double Stout- a beautifully rich and fruity, yet smooth, easy drinking beer full of winter warming oomph.
Westerham is a brewery which, from the farmyard location and open-air gents, appears quaint and old-fashioned but in reality is at the forefront of innovation in beer. Robert Wicks, the brewery's founder, peppered his tour with nuggets of the future- his sccience geek 'hoprocket' system (oo-er), the eclectic, up-coming international beer style specials, the ethical and environmental credentials of the brewery, all the while singing of the health benefits of ale. They have recently started growing their own malt and use almost entirely Kentish grown hops, being loyal to the beer heritage of the local area both through the ingredients sourced and by creating beers to old recipes from the archives (and the original yeast) of the famous Black Eagle Brewery.
A unique experience: a glimpse of the future, in a dark and muddy farm, while handling the biggest jugs around. (Ahem).

Wednesday 1 December 2010

All Hail The Harp

I just had one of those lovely moments where you exclaim out loud with glee and want to tell someone the news. I had one such moment this morning when a text arrived saying not to go to work because of the snow. But that's not the one I wanted to tell you about. This particular exclamation happened when I finally got round to opening this month's What's Brewing.
Behold, on the front page, a most marvellous piece of news-The (glorious) Harp on Chandos Place, London, has made it into the final four for the CAMRA best pub in the country. I always look at the pubs who win that accolade with a sense of wonder and intrigue- they must be spectacular enclaves of beer joy, full of ale loving pilgrims clutching their Good Beer Guides with rapture. But they are always so darn far away an I find myself asking the inevitable questions- will I be able to go there on a weekend away? How far is it from the nearest train station? When I get there will the punters look at me like I shouldn't be there (or offer me a glass of rose)? Before the cries of complaint at my naive comments leap from your mouths, I will confess to never having, to my knowledge, been to a CAMRA national pub of the year. Not even The Kelham Island Tavern. Indeed a travesty, and a black mark on ale loving credibilty.
But- oh! The Harp! Its 15 minutes on the train from my gaff! It's a mere delight filled skip from Charing Cross! And they never look at you like you haven't got the right to be ordering a stout with bosoms, a good figure, and no memory of the '70s, as the staff are in the same boat! This place is girl power Real Ale Stylee, a place I love so much that I will risk every elbow in the rib, every sweaty armpit up the nose, every moment of missing out on a bar stall, just to be inside. It was the first place I tried the heavenly Old Chestnut by the lovely dudes at Dark Star, and Sambrook's Powerhouse Porter, hot off the press in its first couple of weeks. The beers are reliable, exciting, beautifully served and varied, served to locals, commuters and Japanese tourists in equal measure, making it truly cosmoplitan whilst endearingly quaint, charming and well, bloody small.
Bigup to the lasses at The Harp- a well deserved place in the final four.

Monday 22 November 2010

The Tale of The Real Ale Girl and the Psychic Cellarman

Lewisham Wetherspoons. Friday, 9pm and I have the distinct feeling thre is a psychic about. One who can read into the depths of my dreams and who, for some reason, wants to make all my wishes a reality.

At the official end of  the latest Wetherspoons Real Ale festival, I had had 39 of the 50 beers. A memorable evening around The City's selections kicked it off, followed by several trips to our locals, Lewisham and Lee Green. We made a couple of stop offs in Mark Dredge's haunt Tonbridge, spent an evening in our wedding venue The Knights' Templar (where I was given a festival T-shirt which I am going to turn into the coolest bag around) and finished it all off on the last official day of the fest with an eye opening (and nostril torturing, in some) Northern Line JDW crawl. And with that, I thought it was over and I'd get all ticked off in my Good Beer Guide, with Wadworth's stunner Pixley Blackcurrant Stout getting my vote for beer of the festival.

But lo and behold- the wizard that is the Lewisham cellar manager must have snuck a peak over my tasting note booklet and decided to reward me for getting through another week with five festival ales. Four, beautiful, untried, pristine pump clipped ales that I had not yet ticked off in my guide. (I say ticked-the black paper made ticking impossible, so I used glittery little star stickers, making my fest notes more glam than Cheryl Cole).

Okay, so I understand neither Mystic Meg nor Professor Dumbledore were skulking outside Primark and Iceland on Lewisham High Street on Friday night wating for me to appear before running into 'Spoons and bewitching the mnager into putting my need-to-try beers on. I admit that deep down I know that they have a tactic of ridding their festival beers from the cellar to make way for the rather exciting looking Christmas brews. And also being able to charge 30p more for them post-fest.

But I'm going to indulge myself in the fantasy that we were being rewarded for trudging from pub to pub, clutching our untickable tasting notes on bus, tube and train, only to find the same three beers on as in the pub before. The fantasy that if you look hard enough, work hard enough, wish hard enough, you may just find what your looking for, even if it is just a beer called Black Squirrel.

Monday 8 November 2010

The Good Beer Girl

I write as the Real Ale Girl. I am a member of CAMRA, I tick off every ale I drink in my Good Beer Guide and cask ale is my drink of choice 99.9% of the time. If you have read any of my previous blog posts, you will undoubtedly be aware that I'm just a little bit keen on real ale. So, yesterday, I moseyed on over (well, ok, I took the Northern Line, but moseying sounds more jolly, it's raining out there, we need cheering up) to the brand new Euston Tap: an ingeniously renovated architectural beauty stocked to the very atmospheric rafters with beers. Beers of such variety, origin and type that even a very hard to please Real Ale Girl had her mind well and truly boggled. Of course, we started on the cask ale. We tasted the wares of Bristol Brewing Co., Marble, Bath, among others and we compared the 10% Brew Dog Paradox to the very limited edition 9% Thornbridge Bracia and decided the Thornbridge boys won hands down. And then we moved on to the rest; a rather marvellous rest; huge accessible fridges stocked with the rare gems and firm favourites, and witty range of taps (indescribable- you'll have to go), serving an intriguing mix of draft beers from around the world. When I say we moved on to the rest; we actually managed about 5 more between us, it was a Sunday after all. Darn it, we'll just have to go back.
After The Why Cask Ale Rocks collaborative posts, we got many comments about why we stuck to cask- 'isn't it just a method of dispense?' etc. My response to this is that Belgian/ Czech etc etc beers don't need promotion, they don't have an image problem in the way real ale does in this country. However, overwhelmingly, it seemed from people's comments that there is an assumption that  being passionate about Cask Beer means a deep hatred and spurning of all other types of beer.
A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post featuring the Draft House bar in Tower Bridge. A respected blogger and hugely experienced real ale drinker posted  a comment saying it was disappointing there was only one real ale when he went to visit. On my own visit I experienced this too, but took it as a great opportunity to try something different and have become a little addicted to German Rauchbier ever since.
Real Ale Husband plays football 3 times a week. But he also loves a good tennis session and is rather good at cricket. Real Ale Brother used to DJ and loves house music. But he can also regularly be found watching The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and saw Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and Paul McCartney this summer.
And occasionally, I like to drink beer that isn't cask.
Cask Beer is not always good beer. It's not a secret that I find several of Greene King's beers quite undrinkable and would rather have a vodka if they are all that's on offer. The pub I frequent most Friday afternoons with colleagues does such a bad job of looking after its cask beers that I usually, embarassingly, end up on Strongbow. Good beer is good beer. Well kept beer is well kept beer. Cask beer is cask beer. That is all. Sometimes, those three happen simultaneously and the result is orgasmic. But sometimes, just sometimes, even a Real Ale Girl can find joy in a bottle that has travelled halfway around the world and tastes of pumpkin, not a cask in sight.

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Why Cask Ale Rocks

Cask ale is important to each of us in very different ways. In this collaborative blogging effort me, Mark (homebrewer), Mark (beer writer), Glyn (bar manager) and Kelly (brewer) say why it's important to us.
I am not usually an arrogant person; colleagues and friends often say I’m quite self deprecating. But here goes anyway:  I am fashionable. I am funky. I am hip (if you can still be hip having used that word). I have been on clubbing trips to Ibiza nine times, I can understand the appeal of both jeggings and jumpsuits (though have not chosen to wear either), I can name all the contestants on the last series of Young, Dumb, Living off Mum and shop for clothes around Spitalfields. I also happen to enjoy drinking Real Ale. Regularly. And I know quite a lot about it.

So how did this come to be? Isn’t ale just for beardy people? Isn’t it impossible to be a size 12 ale drinker? Don’t I have to hang out in dingy backstreet bars or country pubs to sup the stuff? Do I need to spend all my time with old men? Well, to put it simply, no, no, no, no.

I discovered Real Ale at university. The city I partied, studied and loved in for my four student years just happened to have a perfectly timed CAMRA beer festival at the end of the summer term exams. It was (and still is) held in a pair of marquees in a park by the river and was the perfect place for a student to kick off their summer. Everyone went. The beer wasn’t even that important; it was just somewhere outside, in the sun, where we were allowed to get drunk without getting a ASBO. We lasses mostly stuck to the cider, some played it even safer at the English Wine stand. And then, at the end of my third year, it happened. A friend bought me a pint of something so dark and thick looking I expected it to taste of marmite. My friends just expected me to throw-up; it was called Skullsplitter, after all. They held a collective breath as I stepped up to the dare. It was… well, sublime. Strong, yes, but still the most intriguing liquid I had ever tried. This made champagne feel like orange squash- there was so much going on, such depth, such flavour, yet still so refreshing. To the bemusement of my friends, who were used to me wearing pink boob tubes and dancing to S Club 7 at cheese nights (this was 2004, remember), I drank the lot. And then demanded they take me to pubs where I could try more. And maybe some that weren’t 8.5%.

I’ve never looked back. I love the fact that there is ale for every occasion; a 3.5% biscuity brown ale allows me to drink 5 pints on a week night and still wake up feeling spritely, while a cherry chocolate stout gets me in a party mood. But the best thing? There are no rules. You want a midnight black porter on the beach? Perfectly refreshing. A golden IPA on Christmas day? It goes really well with turkey. You want to drink a real ale while dancing to Deadmaus? Why the hell not. For me, Real Ale is about choice- choice for free-minded people, to choose to drink something exciting, something local, something crafted with love and care, something retro. Something...(dare I say it?)... Cool.

Check out Why Cask Ale Rocks from four more young cask ale lovers: (Glyn- bar manager) (Mark- beer writer) (Kelly- brewer) (Mark- homebrewer)

Sunday 17 October 2010

All the young dudes

We all know how much I love a good old fashioned pub.  Friends frequently get frustrated with me as I badger them away from a groovy bar into a backstreet local. My pals have long since learned never to scorn me for ordering ‘an old man’s drink’ but they will occasionally allow themselves a rant about my choice of venue.  Having said that, on a recent pub crawl round Forest Hill, South-East London, it was the time-warped Forest Hill Hotel, with its distinctly early 90’s karaoke set up and faded flowery seat covers, which had everyone hooked.  Except me, as there was no real ale.
But there is real ale a-plenty around London today.  In cool, funky venues with quirky design and young, interesting staff who know what they are talking about.
For the past two Saturday’s we have found ourselves in the shadow of Tower Bridge, in the delightful Dean Swift and the much talked about Draft House.  We found them both through sheer fluke last weekend but returned entirely intentionally this time round.
Last Saturday was a landmark day for Real Ale Girl.  We spotted that our 2nd closest brewery, Kernel, is open every Saturday to buy their beer directly (for those of you interested in such things, Meantime’s new brewing premises is 3.6 miles away from my gaff, Kernel = 5.6.).  So off we sped, traipsing round the back arse of Bermondsey, carefully tracing our route alongside the railway arches, repeatedly mistaking mechanics for our destination.  But boy, what a destination.  We sat on a wooden plank, admiring the fashion for cool young lads to make themselves look as geeky and unstylish as possible, and marvelled.  We made our way through as much of the exotic range as we could manage in half an hour, and chatted to Evin, the brewer, who made my year by recognising me.  I am officially cool.
Evin recommended the Dean Swift to us.  They sell his bottles, and even the occasional rare cask.  He told us how to find it and told us they serve good beer.  He didn’t tell us just how darn hip it would be.  It is stylish, it is quirky, it was full of groovy young folks.  And I loved it.  They indeed serve good beer.  Not just cask, but a carefully selected range of draft beers from around the world- beers for the connoisseur and the casual beer drinker alike.  The bottled beer list is split into styles and features a Wheat beer from Corsica.  The place is quite simply very cool.  They know their stuff- about both beer and what makes a pub attractive to young people, and are combining the two perfectly.  And I am going to keep going back.
Round the corner is the much hyped Draft House, but hyped has negative connotations.  Hyped implies an exaggerated reputation, and that when you finally go yourself, you’ll be somewhat disappointed by the reality.  But I didn’t get that with the Draft House.  I got some amazing beer- the Rauchbier is pure heaven for a smoky beer lover, and I got to sit in a New York loft-esque space marvelling at their witty marketing and Ghostbusters wallpaper.
What is exciting about these bars is not just the beer.  And it’s not simply the style.  It is the combination of the two.  Looking around both bars yesterday afternoon, there were groups of friends having lunch and nursing hangovers.  Drinking exciting, unusual beers.  There were cool couples on their way home from Spitalfields.  Drinking exciting, unusual beers.  There were family groups having birthday lunches, drinking exciting, unusual beers- not a glass of wine in sight, the grannies were drinking Belgian fruit beers.  And there was me.  In a state of excitement that beer really is getting cool.  About bloody time.

Thursday 30 September 2010

A small step for real ale-kind... A giant leap for a John Smiths drinker.

Monday saw the launch of The Cask Report 2010 and I found myself in the heart of Brew Wharf for the shindig. Well, it was more of a presentation, but when I'm drinking ale and sneaking more than my fair share of canapes with the bigwigs of the UK's beer industry, I'm in shindig frame of mind. It did feel a bit like stepping into an edition of The Publican, but all the pictures were alive and talking to me.
(The delightful Jo Theakston from Black Sheep and I pondered what life would be like if a bomb fell on the venue: we'd all have to be drinking Guinness.)
But have no fear- the gravitas of the report wasn't wasted on me. Sitting next to Marverline Cole (aka Beer Beauty, who I want to be my new best friend) I contemplated the lack of real ale in the O2 despite it being the biggest entertainment venue in Europe and the fact that I met a woman the other day who refused to accept a free sample of real ale, saying 'I don't drink bitter.' She was drinking John Smiths.
I sincerely agree with Maestro Brown (Pete, by the way, not Gordon/ Bobbi/ Derren) that educating folks about Cask Beer is key to its continued growth. People don't hate the stuff, they just don't always consider it worth a try or understand why it’s such a special drink.
Which is why I was delighted to see exactly that education going on in one of my local Wetherspoons (oh yes, I'm lucky enough to have two within ten minutes walk from my gaff.)
This is a pub that could reap the benefits from ale educating; not lectures, nothing forceful, but friendly, free exposure to real ale’s delights. The pub itself does well with ale- they have regularly changing guests from an exciting range of microbreweries. They organise brewery tours and advertise ale events on behalf of others. So some people here must drink it. I just seem to always be at the bar next to the person who is ordering Tuborg and yet more John Smiths. It’s not a particularly glamourous area, lots of punters come to the pub alone and its really not the most stylish or inspiring of joints.
So, on a miserable Wednesday evening, in the midst of a power shower level downpour, just what everyone needed was a bit of a freebie and some friendly banter. It came in the form of a meet the brewer evening with a lovely chap from Hogsback and some dapper gents from Itchen Valley. Punters approached with inquisitive intrepidation- some were regular cask drinkers, others were after a free drink. We all sampled the wares, discussed the beer, compared the breweries’ artwork,  enjoyed the raffle (Real Ale Brother securing tickets for the Hogsback fellow from Sainsbury’s over the road) and admired the stylish shoes bedecking the feet of Gary and Mark (not from Take That, but Itchen Valley). It was low key, it wasn’t groundbreaking, it won’t make a massive impact on the market value, but if it just makes one person switch from John Smiths, just once, and helps turn 8.6 million cask ale drinkers into 8.7, then it was worth the boys making their rainy journeys.

Monday 20 September 2010

A very important arrival

The nights are beginning to draw in sooner, the mornings are a bit crisper and we have just had gammon for dinner. It must be Autumn. But I don't mind. And not for the reasons you might expect (chestnut ales,  a multitude of marvellous ale festivals, being able to wear your favourite cardigans...).
No. These are all glorious reasons for celebrate the arrival of the season of falling leaves. But none bring me as much joy, as much tingling anticipation, as much sheer, erm, delight as the sublime feeling of a pristine, factory smelling, uniform paged, unspoilt spine of a new Good Beer Guide (picked up from the sorting office after an agonising two weeks).
Blog will go on a back burner, emails will be ignored, texts will lie unreplied to, skincare regime will suffer, and washing up will sit festering (actually, this is always the case, new GBG or not.) There is important updating to be done.
With each page turn of the beautiful Breweies section, tanatlising teasers spur me on. Which breweries are no longer listed? Which previously unlisted beers are now included? What ticked beers have disappeared? What's my total tally this year? Not to mention all the thrill and excitement of flicking through the pubs section (which Real Ale Husband dutifully maintains now that I spend more time on beer ticking than sleeping.)
So, I'm off. Off to get on with it all, giving my ticking hand repetitive strain injury and potentially casuing Real Ale Husband to wonder whether he made the right desision when he said 'I will' in August. And, of course, to forlornly fondle Roger Protz's signature in last year's edition for a few more times before the tome goes to GBG retirement home (underneath the coffee table.)

Wednesday 8 September 2010

A real ale girl's guide to weddings

So due to popular demand, having been married for a month and one day, here is the ultimate 'nuptiale' guide.

 How to realaleify your wedding:

1. Choose a pub for your reception which will let you select the ale. And taste it. And pay you lot of compliments on your choices. Ours was the stunning Knight's Templar in Chancery Lane, which got almost as much praise as my dress.

2. Create your own tasting badges to go with said beers- e.g. dark and fruity, a bit like us.

3. Ask your favourite, friendly local brewery (in our case, Brodies Beers) to brew up a special beer for the day. Proudly display your personalised pump clip (in our case, featuring a London bus in-keeping with our other theme) and plug it mightily throughout the day.

    4. Make serving the first pint of your special ale be as important as cutting the cake. (Which incidently had hidden pint glass shapes and a sneaky CAMRA logo.)

    5. Get commemorative pint and half pint glasses created to serve all the beer in and allow your guests to take them home as a souvenir. (Tip: keep about 100 for yourself- if you are anywhere near as clumsy as me, you'll smash, on average, one every 3.2 days.)
    6. Find a beer related 'favour'. (In our case, personalised beer mats/ pump clips as coasters, matched to the person's name/ job/ personality etc. A hell of a lot of work, but well worth it. (By the way, thank you to The Southampton Arms, Kentish Town, The Admiral Hardy, Greenwich, Wetherspoons Lewisham & Greenwich, Bexley Beer Festival Tombola Men, The Alleyn's Head, Dulwich, many folks on Ebay and course, The Knight's Templar for supplying them. You'd have thought they were gold plated by the ripples of joy spreading round the tables as people discovered them.

    Why you should realaleify your wedding:
    • A longer lasting bar tab (ale is bargainous in comparison to wine)
    • Very happy musicians (if they are a 70 year old 60's band as ours were)
    • A more gradual rate of drunkeness (weaker than spirits) meaning you abd your guests can enjoy more of your special day and be more likely to remember it all.
    • Tons of wine and vodka drinkers discovering the joys of ale because they wanted to try the 'special wedding beer'.
    • Merry people who don't get aggressive (who does on real ale?)
    • A microbrewery being discovered by a massive pub chain.
    • Fabulous quirky photos (who normally gets to pull a pint of their own beer together as newlyweds?)
    The Real Ale Girl and the Real Ale Husband are available for wedding/Christening/BarMitzvah realaleifying. Oh, and if anyone is after hundreds of beers mats/ pumpclips, I'm your girl. There were quite a few that were too boring for our guests.

    Monday 2 August 2010

    Girls: Chocolate Stout v Banana Bread beer?

    This wedding lark don't half get in the way of blogging, you know. Its hard to frivolously blog my thoughts away while the fiance sits in a pool of table settings and italic pens. However, have no fear; the next edition will be entitled How To Real Aleify Your Wedding. I can't reveal too many deatils yet as one or two lucky followers also happen to be guests at said wedding on Saturday. So you can hear about it all post honeymoon.
    All this place card writing and favour wrapping however, have given us the perfect opportunities to sup our way through a Welsh Ale Selection box, bought for me as a leaving gift from work by an immensly insightful, beer appreciating colleague, who shall be named as The Belgian Beer Girl. Monty's Midnight has been the stand out so far, but we've got some way to go before there is only polystyrene left in the box.
    Its been a fortnight of big events and acievements; starting a new job, winning the newly opened Grape and Grain quiz without brilliant brother and fabulous Father in Law to be planning this phenonomenal wedding, surviving (just) my amazing hen do (lots of vodka, champagne,and cocktails, with a bit of ale thrown in at the end), However, my biggest achievements in the last two weeks have been my Real Ale Girl Evangelism. Last week, on my hen do, Wine Girl (bridesmaid and cousin) drank a whole bottle of ale, to herself! Once she a had a sip of Wells and Youngs' Banana Bread beer, I didn't get a look in and was stuck with Skinner's Cornish Knocker. I also introduced at least one other wine drinking buddy the delights of ale (again with a Youngs'- have they found the secret to beer for women?) at our work party last week. Do all women love chocolate? I don't know, but Young's Chocolate Stout sure is a great way to lure female drinkers. Just be aware of the rather erotic sounding groans they may emit whilst discovering the joy.  I will leave you with that thought.

    Wednesday 23 June 2010

    Good, strong stuff.

    So, in the post football come down, its impossible to get any real work done, sio here I am with my first blog post in zeons. My apologies for lack of bloggage, I can't really explain why I've been quite so busy, so that will have to be that. Let's hear no more about it. Although if someone wants to by me an iphone, I'll gladly blog a whole lot more.
    So what's been going down? I've been drinking a lot of strong stuff, that's what. The lovely ladies at the glorious Royal Oak in Tunbridge Wells gave me an exclusive, top secret, tight lipped tasting of BrewDog's 41% (or is 42%?) Sink the Bismark. Now give me that over whisky any day (and I like a good whisky). It goes down like a dark velvety dream, without the vinegary bite you get from beers a fifth of that strength. Still, don't know if I'd be up to paying 40 quid for 330ml- is is a beer after all! I thank the Royal Oak landlady for her generosity and interest; people: go to that pub!
    Another crew who know how to make a goo9d strong beer are the folks at the HardKnott Brewry. Having been given a pair of limited edition bottles at the Ale v Lager evening at the White Horse ages ago, I was eager to get stuck in. Howver, I soon realised I have night in and nights out. I have nights in for recuperating, for doing a bit of out of hours work, for cleaning, for laundry, all that dull stuff, washed down with beers of around 4%. I have nights out for drinking strong stuff that leaves your lips numb. So here was a conundrum. I was home on no evening that was suitable for a 10% + beer. These glorious Cumbrian ales sat untouched, waiting for a Friday night in. It did'nt come. They eventually came on the train with us (Boris hasn't killed that joy) on our way to the magnificent Dartford Working Mens' Club a couple of weeks ago.It was 7pm, the commuter looked at us as if we were bonkers, as we exclaimed the tatsebud beauty that these beers brought with them. Strong, yes. Lip numbing, yes. Drunk making, absolutely. Vinegary and eye watering, not at all. If I manage to get hold of any more of Dave's beers, I better plan some nights in.

    Sunday 9 May 2010

    George and The Duck

    Cast your mind back to 23rd April. I was St George's Day, it had been sunny during the day, but the evening was a bit nippier. We embarked on a feat so daring, so risky, so intrepid, we may as well have been dragon slaying. Oh yes. We were on the way to Dartford Working Men's Club.

    Invited along to their St George's day festival by the lovely manager Nick, we were not sure what to expect but had to take him up on the offer- this place is legendary, multi multi multi award winning and once inside, I could'nt beleive it had taken us this long to hop on the train here. As we entered, we thought we had landed in Skegness with all the old ladies playing bingo (taking it very seriously indeed.) But this place is huge, and once in the back room, all thoughts of demon old dears faded away- this was an ale den, masquerading as a working men's club. (They even had a seafood man with a wicker basket like pubs had in the good ol' days. Yum!)

    Ushered in by Nick, we were shown straight to the bar, where a fabulous range of rare and wonderful 26 English ales made it impossible to choose. So we had them all. St George's brewery (based in Worcester) provided incredibly tasty beers with marvellously english names (Friar Tuck, George & Dragon).

    Sharing a long table with people who were drinking lager at the the start of the night and ale by the end, we settled in to watch the entertainment. Now what live music do you have on St George's Day? Morris Men? A colliery band? Madrigals playing Greensleeves? No no no. A German Beer Hall Oom-pah band. Genius. Dressed in Lederhosen with German Flag decorated music stands, the boys were perfect for the event, encouraging normally apathetic club goers to swing their glasses above their heads, chant toasts in German and grab the thighs of strangers.

    Nick gave us a tour of the cellar and a history of the club. This man knows what he is doing and well deserves the many awards the club as won- his committment to ale in this unlikely setting is astounding, and he is nowhere near as scary as he looks.

    The following day, we headed down to The Chequers Inn in Ladingford for their beer festival- always good fun, with thousands of young people geting wasted on ale for the first time, and a band who played the time warp live. The only issue is that bere tokens means you end up buying way more than you can actually manage, which makes you talk to strange people and get stuck in the mud in the garden. But hey, I was drinking a beer called Drunken Duck.

    Oh, hope the layout is more suitbale, hard of sighted ones. x

    Tuesday 13 April 2010

    A perfectly lovely beer festival.

    Thursday night took us to the first day of the Bexley Beer Festival, so keen we were that we arrived twenty minutes before it opened. We were not alone, however, three young drinkers amongst a fellowship of retirees who clearly bought their Beer Fest T-shirts before they drank this much beer.
    Bexley has always impressed me as a festival that manages its stock well- they always have all the beers on at the start of the festival, and despite attracting some crowds (it is only Sidcup), they usually manage not to sell out too quickly. I didn't find out how long it lasted though, standing  in front of the bar with ten other keenos at opening time in a state of ecstacy enduced by a full range to choose from. And I'd only had about 15 of the 60 or so beers tempting me. Good going Bexley dudes- rare beers from mini breweries from all over the place. I appreciate all the benefits of Locale, don'y get me wrong, but it is so nice to go to a London area festival and not be confronted with just Sambrooks and Shepherd Neame.
    Williams from Alloa impressed us with both the Ceilidh Lager and Midnight Sun Porter, two very different but equally yumscious beers, one straw pale and nutty, the other with just enough ginger to give a sunny kick in the dark. Another bonza of this particular festival- they always get in lots of dark beers, milds, stouts and porters- when will other festival organisers realise just how popular they are now?
    As the beers wowed us, I wowed everyone else with my badge making skills. The lovely Adrain, manning the make your own badge stall seemed suprised I'd never witnessed the machine's glory at a festival before. Has anyone? I'd love to hear from any of you who have made your own beer badges at a fest, we had slightly too much fun making ours, or maybe that when we knocked beer all over the stand playing the wooden slot game (what is that called, people?) Anyway, I am now sporting a rather fetching yellow Real Ale Girl badge with a home made caricature of myself. I might have to get myself one of those machines.
    Had a good chat with the lovely man who runs the Dartford Working Mans club, and having established that the train goes there (!) will be attending their St George's day festival- come on down if you want to see my badge!
    Anyhoo, better run, am in Swansea at the moment, and there is Rhymney to be consumed. But not before I say, big up Bexley dudes, hope the rest of the festival went well.

    Thursday 8 April 2010

    A Pineapple, a mug tree of beer and 5pm dancing. Easter!

    Most folks spend Easter eating chocolate, but of course, for me, it is prime beer drinking time. A long weekend with beer festivals left, right and centre, with the odd sprinkling of sunshine to remind you that there is a use for beer gardens other than  freezing smokers' asses off.
    We kicked off our festivities at the Pineapple in Kentish Town on Good Friday. With casks setup in the garden, and pie ploughmans' platters, I thought we'd stumbled our way to Kent itself. But the hip and groovy yoofs told us otherwise, even if only 1 in 5 of them were brave enough to move away from Stella.  After being shouted at by a punter becuase I was lucky enough to get money off using my CAMRA card, we proceeded to drink our way through all 24 beers available that day. Surprisingly for me, I went with a popular choice for my favourite of the festival- Derventio's Cleopatra- fruity (masses of apricot silkiness), pale and girly- all the things I usually avoid in an ale. But this one was something special, a perfect Easter treat. You could almost see the bunnies and chicks frolicking in it.
    I also made a new celebrity pal, with Suggs being intrigued by my beer ticking antics - he'd clearly never met anyone who gets kicks out of trying new beers, and bombarded me with questions about festivals and ale, declaring to the barman "That girl has got it right! What a hobby!" He stuck to Hop Back Crop Circle for the afternoon, signing my beer list, rather than starting his own!
    We finished off a perfectly good Friday wih another trip to the glorious Southampton Arms, where we made it through all the beers and most of the ciders. And still had room for some chocolate on the way home.
    Saturday, and we are off to the airport, to Geneva, and the Alps. An Exmoor Gold in the Gatwick North Terminal Wetherspoons started off a trip of great beers- who knew the Swiss had so many beers around? The Austrian Gosser was a perfect accompaniment to fondue whilst Switzerland's own Feldschlossen Lager, whilst a bit bland and fizzy, was a treat after climbing 300 odd steps up the cathedral towers. We found two amazing brewpubs in Geneva, who mercifully both did tasting selections. At the brasserie du Molard, these tasters came on a mug tree for beer, and contained the intriguing Ambree, which was so good, even my mum had one.
     At Les Brasseurs, they had a special seasonal beer on, a bright, bright, bright red 'Spice beer' which was flavoured with what tasted like jalapenos and cinnamon. It was both delicious and hideous at the same time, I never quite decided whether I loved it or hated it.
    From Geneva, we wound our way up and up and up into the Haute Alps and the land of ski, and more importantly, apres-ski. With a bit too much Grimbergen wiggling around inside, we made our way in a cable car from Brides les Bains to Meribel, the heart of  SkiBunnyVille.  Not wishing to take part in any activity involving voluntary breaking your own bones whilst hanging out up a mountain, the apres-ski is what I'm interested in. Especially when it invloves dancing to live music, drinking Mutzig Old Lager, at 6.9 % at 5pm. If it weren't for all the skiing, I could get into that lifestyle.

    Tuesday 30 March 2010

    Its all about London beer!

    Two London Breweries, two very different experiences!

    On Thursday night, we finally managed to get to Meantime’s new joint, the Old Brewery at the Naval College (well, it had been open since Tuesday). At 8%, the specially brewed Hospital Porter was a major triumph, and went down nicely when supped whilst getting in the way of diners so we could read the amazingly comprehensive history of beer timeline. The manager thought I was joking when I suggested they reproduce this timeline on tiles so I could have one in my kitchen. I wasn’t. Maybe I’ll just have to make indents in some copper to make it look like beer bubbles and put that on the wall. Oh, they did that too.

    Did I ever mention Brodies and the wedding beer? A couple of weeks ago the lovely James confirmed they would make us a beer for our reception, which led to many squeals from me, at work, where no one else understood what a phenomenal prospect this was. Heathens.

    So, on Sunday, we went over to Brodies Bunny Basher Festival, and worryingly, drank about 12 different beers before we finally met with Jamie. Who gave us lots more. And free T-Shirts. Mint Chocolate Chip Stout led to many squeals- mint aero in a glass. Blue (a blueberry wheat beer)- cue more squeals. And then one beer got an accolade rarely awarded by Real Ale Girl. A Ten. Olde Ardour (was it brown ale, was it old ale?) was perfection in beer form. Get some somehow, people; those Brodies know what they are doing. And so, the wedding beer. After much deliberation and argument… well, I’m not going to give it away on here, am I?

    Tonight, we are off for a schmooze at the White Horse for their Lager V Ale shindig- Pete Brown invited me after the writing comp. I just hope I don’t swoon over Roger Protz like I did last time I saw him. Oh, bugger, what if he remembers me, the mad girl who got giggly over him signing her Good Beer Guide? Well, at least I can feel more like an equal- I just got invited to join the Guild of Beer Writers… again, all down to that competition entry. You’ve got to be in it to win it.

    Sunday 21 March 2010

    Right there, under my nose.

    I think of myself as quite adventurous, fairly quick on the uptake and keen to venture into new places. So, why was it only this weekend that I discovered the joys of Crystal Palace's Grape and Grain, and The Harp, near Charing Cross? I did consider making out that I'd been to both of these gems before, out of sheer embarassment, but then my excitement would give me away- nothing beats that fluttering buzz of finding a phenomenal real ale pub.
    So imagine this. It's Friday night. I've come straight from work, having gotten changed in the coat cupboard and put lipstick on in the dark, as everyone else had left and I was concerned that turning the light on might trigger an alarm. I'm due to attend a special one off pub quiz put on by a friend's church, and I need somewhere to while away half a hour or so while I wait for fiance. I had heard about this place, the Grape and Grain, but I'd heard about it from CAMRA ticking friends, and was apprehensive about the presence of my short skirt in such an establishment. I've still got a CAMRA card, miniskirt or not, I thought, as I pushed on the heavy door, escaping the drizzly rain.
    And there it was. Pub heaven. 8 real ales, Locale and microbreweries. Arm chairs. Discounts for CAMRA members. Wood panelling. Menus in LP covers. In SOUTH EAST LONDON! I have a feeling that miniskirt may become a regualr feature at the Grape and Grain.
    Pity we had to leave to go the quiz, although we had a marvellously civilised time and busted all competition with our music round prowess and ended up winning. The quiz, by the way, was at The Rosendale, in West Dulwich. My pal's pals had hired out the upstairs. Meanwhile downstairs, in the main bar, I reluctantly ordered one of my least favourite ales (from a choice of one), Adnams Broadside. The serving was laughable, I flagged down the nearest barmaid for a top up (it was missing about 40p worth of beer, at these prices) and she topped it up with Murphys. It might be worth avoiding the Rosendale if you like your ale without an Irish stout top.
    Saturday brought with it an early meeting at our wedding reception venue- quarter past eleven isn't too early for a half, is it? Cottage Ex Mayor or Itchen Valley Godfather? Ok, then. Both.
    Meeting down, and fiance off to football, I had a good few hours to fill, and so took a stack of work to the Baker Street Wetherspoons. The barman serenaded me as I ordered Welton's Sweet Chariot- any guesses what he sang? And soon it was time for my Harp adventure. Bro took me round the houses (well, the side of the Colliseum, in truth) to find the back entrance- which was well worth it. The Narnia effect of pushing open the unmarked door and stumbling into the warm bustle of the tiny bar made me want to run aroundand say hello to everyone. Redemption's Urban Dusk just added to the glowing loveliness of this place, and after 4 ales, I vowed to come back again soon. I had'n' expected it to be the next day. A very dodgy play in Kentish Town put us fabulously close to the Southampton Arms, my previous pub heaven discovery. A local played rock and roll on the peiano, we shared a bench with Helen Mirren lookalikes and we made our way through all thier ales and a selection of their ciders, but let me say- a green beer should not taste of egg, Stonehenge Ales.
    Sunday- and we paid a visit to our wedding chapel, followed by a tour of Wembley Stadium (we really do get up to all sorts, don't we?) We jumped off the tube at Finchley for a Wetherspoons Sunday lunch, and then hopped off again at Euston to pop into the Bree Louise. Hopback's Back row was the most exciting of an already outdated range of Six nations themed beers, but we had a lot of fun playing bankety blank with the menu. Who would ever guess garlic loaf?
    And as if by magic, we were back at Charing Cross, and our legs led us subconciously back to The Harp. Some Dark Star wares and dry cider finished off my weekend of surprised discovery. Do you think I can stumble across two stunning new pubs every weekend? I'll give it a good shot.

    Sunday 14 March 2010

    (2nd) Prize winning beer writer, anyone...?

    After an ale free night on Tuesday at the Brockley Jack, I was up for the South East London CAMRA branch crawl in Sydenham. The chat was good, the ale disappointing; we got a Young's Bitter in The Bricklayers, a dodgy Tribute in The Windmill and left The Woodman out entirley due to no real ale- how did that place end up on the itinerary? Lucky we started the night off in the Capital with B & T's sublime SOD- how can something with that name taste so good?
    Having not be to the Brockley Jack for ages, we were back again on Thursday, this time en route to Justin Lee Collins at the Rivoli Ballroom. I still had no ale, though- I just can't bring myself to pay for a Greene King beer.
    No matter, however, for Friday night was London Drinker night. Swinging my way into the weekend with the news of my second place in Pete Brown/ The Publican's new beer writer competition (check out for the details) I was up for some classic beer fest fun. I got it, in the form of chats with lovely CAMRA friends, reunions with pals we had not seen for ages, Tombola fun, and of course some yummy ol' beers. But the organising dudes still need to learn to get more dark ones on; they all disappear so quickly! I even managed to kit Lorraine out in a pair of the highly desirable and hard to come by CAMRA earrings- all cool real ale girls should own a pair.

    Sunday 28 February 2010

    Dresses, beer, dresses, beer

    What else could a girl have in hand when trying on wedding dresses than a botte of ale (this time, Maypole Mild from Oakleaf) which was the last of a fabulous Christmas present, a box of ales from Winter really must be over- the box is now empty.
    Friday, late afternoon, and I was squished inside the Market Porter, drinking something lovely, but I wasn't too sure what it was- it was too busy to get a view of the pumps, but it took me nicely into the weekend- a weekend that was quite lacking in ale opportunities. Until today, that is.
    Hounslow. Trekking over there on a Bridesmaid dress quest, we popped into it's Wetherspoons; one of first, in true shop conversion/ local history on the walls style. Welton's Horsham Old, Cotleigh's Buzzard and Caledonian's Over the top gave us the strength to step out into the gale and find the bus to Isleworth- how could we be this close and not make a detour to the Red Lion? Now, its not everyday that avid London Drinker readers find a pub beer festival accidently, but it happened today, in the form of their Celtic fest, serving 25 Scottish and Welsh beers over the weekend. We managed 8 this afternoon- not bad for a Sunday, but very easy when there are tasty offerings from Abergavenny's Tudor brewery, and more Rhymney (mentioned last week.) This time is was their Dark. Dark indeed, and delicious. Beautiful beers, good live music, this is a truly fabulous pub- worth reserving bridesmaid dresses on the other side of London for.

    Sunday 21 February 2010

    All over the shop...

    Wowzer, what a week! Sorry for the lack of post last week, but as I mentioned, I was in Amsterdam, drinking lots of (in the words of The Wenlock) Fizzy Piss in the form of Heineken. I did get to drink wort on their brewery tour though, now that's a sweet experience.
    Back in London, we went for a whisky tasting this time, at Cadenhead's, where whilst not being an expert on the stuff, I fooled the proprietor with taste buds that have been honed into accuracy through real ale sampling!
    From whisky in Marylebone to Porter in Tunbridge Wells, courtesy of the fabulous Royal Oak. The perfect spot for a cosy Wednesday night, we enjoyed their new pie and beer deal with the beautiful Larkin's Porter- its so nice to try something different by them. Lovely. And they serve Ramos Pinto Port- this place knows their stuff.
    And then to Wales, Swansea in particular. Despite forgetting my Good Beer Guide (potential ale on tour disaster) a soon to be relative filled me in on the places to be. He led us to The Joiner's Arms in nearby Bishopston, which, as well as being a gorgeous homely pub full of friendly locals celebrating Friday afternoon, it's also the home of The Swansea Brewing Co. We made our way through their available range; the Bishopswood Bitter and Three Cliffs Gold (which admittedly, whilst tasty, were spookily similar to each other) and the stronger Original Wood, with a real lump of carved wood for a pump clip. We also popped into one of Swansea's Wetherspoons where, despite huge wine/ cider hangovers, we were able to sip down some more Welsh ale, this time from the Rhymney Brewery. I wish I could say it cured the hangover, but it stood no chance after I'd witnessed all those cockles in the market. I was feeling better, however by the time we headed to a Sizzling food pub, which was just as well, as they were serving Brains Bitter for £2 a pint.
    Now, last time, I said the Southampton Arms was enough to make me want to move to Kentish town and I had a feeling it would'nt be long before we returned. Yesterday was the first opportunity we had, sneaking it onto the end of the Kentish Town Crawl recommended by those nice folks we met last time. The sublime Pineapple and the busy Junction served us well on the ale front, each place allowing the three of us to try a different ale. The Dartmouth Arms, whilst being a fun pub with an amazing board game selection, was a bit disappointing on the ale front, so we drank cider and Erdinger. And so to the super Southampton Arms- an amazing pale ale from the new Redemption Brewery, a rich Porter (or was it a stout) from Bath's Abbey Ales, and Fraoch's Heather Ale were the tastiest of a superb selection, and we nibbled on the world's best Scotch egg.
    Oh, and between arriving back from Swansea mid afternoon and our evening crawl in Kentish Town, I managed to squeeze in a trip to The Old Coffee House in Soho for this week's Brodies fix- yummy stuff, the West End Best. Looking forward to the Easter Festival.
    Indeed, what a week. Think I need an ale from the cupboard to help me recover.

    Sunday 7 February 2010

    Can we move to Kentish Town?

    Despite possiby the craziest week at work, I how managed to sneak in a few ales- although, we all know that ale is the best therapy.
    A sleepy trip to the Capital, Forest Hill's Wetherspoon's, left us full of a sense of what we were missing- three extremely exciting looking beers were all 'available soon'... if only we lived the sorts of lives that meant we could pop in everyday. We can dream. 
    On Thursday, as the work madness was subsiding, we made a pilgrimage across London to Kentish Town and the glorious haven that is the new Southhamptpn arms. An alehouse by name, alehouse by nature- they serve only real ale and cider from small independent producers, with no fizzy piss to be seen! Sharing a pew and marvelling at the pork pies, we enjoyed to beers by the Earl of Soham Brewery and made our way through all eight ciders. We met some lovely locals and a surpirise workmate who gave us enough pub tip offs to merit a pretty good crawl in the near future. Yet another pub to make you want to move... anyone fancy opening an alehouse in Lewisham?
    Today took us to the Mad Hatter, the Fuller's pub by Blackfriars bridge, which wasn't yet serving their new Bengal Lancer- we'll just have to wait until Tuesday when we are having a tutored tasting by Fuller's head brewer. Then over to Greenwich and the Admiral Hardy where we were pleasantly surprised as, despite only popping in for the football, we were greeted by Sharp's Winter Berry. Tasty stuff. Still not being willing to head home, we navigatec our way to the Dog and Bell for a gargantuan Bar Billiards Tournament, washed down with Moorhouses Black Cat Mild and Nethergate Umbel Ale- strange not to see something rarer in Deptford's beer paradise, but still certainly yummy. Also strange for me not to win the Bar Billiards tournament.
    Next weekend takes us to Amsterdam, so, dear followers, there will be no blog on Sunday, but I'll try and make a new post on Saturday, if you are lucky.

    Sunday 31 January 2010

    its only mini- its my birthday!

    It is my birthday today and was tempted to leave the blog, but I could'nt go back on my Every Sunday resolution. But it'll only be brief.
    Friday took us, and 63 lovely pals to the Wheatsheaf near Borough Market (weird to go there without stopping in the old MP first!) for our engagemnet shindig. We chose it for the buzz and the beer, and well and truly enjoyed both, but sadly, due to the level of this enjoyment, I can only recall one beer by name, but that's because it was beautiful- Wayland Smith's Giant. The rest of the selection was undoubetdly consumed, but will have to remain sorrowfully unticked in my Good Beer Guide.
    Speaking of the GBG, we were in Hastings today for a my birthday lunch when we stumbled upon a guide stalwart, the First In Last Out brewpub which we were all embarrased to admit we did'n't know anything about. Thier Cardinal Porter and Crofter's ale were tasty treats to try as we peered into the blue lit brewing space, and they were also serving a Cottage ale and Dark Star's Old Chestnut. Yummy stuff. Maybe we could try and find a new brewpub on every birthday.

    Sunday 24 January 2010

    An argument, some haggis and a tasty blonde

    I started off this week's aleness with an awkward confrontation in the Clannanch, a Nicholson's near Carnaby Street. I asked if a particular beer was on. The barman, in the tone of a headmaster talking to a naughty 5year old, stated that if the pump clip is facing me, the beer is on. So I had to remind him of the last time I was in that exact spot, three pump clips were facing me and not a single one was actually available and we had left, and I'd emailed the head office (yes I am a grass). He didn't really reply.
    Thursday saw the best deal Wetherspoons has done in ages, with their Burn's week special, Haggis, neeps and tatties with a pint of scottish ale for £3.99. Beautiful- at the risk of sounding a bit Oz Clarke, the Caledonian Auld Aquaintance brought out the oats and went perfectly with the turnip. Dark but light, I came over all och aye.
    We just got back from  another London Bridge session- it seems to be coming a Sunday/ lazy day regular. A good selection in the Market Porter ( Loddon's Firsty the Snowman and Bradfield's Farmers were the best of the bunch) were accompanied by the permanent problem of insufficient seating and a debate over stealing the beer mats (we have a very good but very secret reason for wanting to do so). We then ambled round to the Wheatsheaf, which despite having a sign outside advertising Sunday night jazz, was shut. With a padlock. So yet again, the Horniman got our custom, and we got to try two Lancaster ales, their blonde and their amber. I never thought I'd say this, but just this once, blonde was better.

    Sunday 17 January 2010


    So it has been ages since my last post, but certainly not because there has been nothing to write about. A very busy real ale girl, but my 2010 pledge is a blog every Sunday, perhaps another on a Wednesday if you are lucky.
      So, the busy month. What could have possibly kept me away? Lets go through this chronologically, peeps, for the sake of thoroughness.
      After the pure joy that was Pig's Ear 2009, came the ale free Staff night out, painful being so so so close to  Market Porter and Wheatsheaf holy graildom without getting through the door to either. I had to drink vodka. Quite refreshing, actually.
      Christmas concert rehearsals saw me spending a lot of time at The Blackheath Halls, making my way though the Meantime range (the raspberry is very good for the vocal chords, I've discovered), and a lot of time in a selection of Wetherspoons, ticking off Christmas beers form their winter offering. Lovely stuff. I love Christmas beer.
      With that in mind, we made a pilgrimage to the temple that is the King William for the Brodies Christmas Beer Festival, and yummed our way though Ho Ho Ho and had a sneaky sample from Lizzie of the sacredly rare Pink Pride. Good ol' stuff ad nice T-shirts. Pink and Beer, what an amazing combo.
      Christmas itself brought with it an 18 pint box of Westerham's Godswallop, incredibly easy to drink all day by a roaring fire, under wooden beams (not a Christmas card, but my parents' place in Kent).
      In the post Christmas lull, we pepped ourselves up with a Good Beer Guide led trip to Salisbury, where, as well as getting engaged (yay!) we made our way round the historical streets and Cathedral, and all the pubs in the guide, as well as many that should be. The glorious Village Freehouse is the sort of pub that you want to move house (and city) to be near to; I have major pub envy of those locals. Lots of Hogsback beer drunk, we made our way back to London with the warm glow of love and the buzz of yet another storming Good Beer Guide trip. It was surely meant to be.
      The snow kept us indoors, but have no fear- a marvellous Christmas present of a selection box from meant we were suitably entertained and satisfied, with a flat full of polystyrene.
      So here we are, snow survived, back to the grind, but with a rather beer related wedding to plan. I'll try not to bore you with too much wedding chat. I'll try.