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Leader of the pack

henrysipaYesterday evening we went to  a jazz concert – “Jazz in a Summer Meadow” at Harcourt Arboretum, which is part of the Botanical Department of Oxford University.  A the name suggests, it is an open-air event where you can take your own picnic, and eat and drink while listening to the music. The weather was OK – just one brief shower – and we enjoyed our picnic, along with a couple of beers.  I’ll come clean and admit that I started out drinking cans of Carling lager, but progressed to bottles of St. Austell Tribute – which tastes good out of a bottle in the open air listening to jazz (as compared with out of a cask, in a marquee listening to jazz – see Real Ale and…rain).

The event finished at about 10pm, and we then set off back home to Reading.  In need of a comfort stop, we pulled in at The Pack Saddle in Mapledurham, a couple of miles north of Reading.  When I first moved to Reading back in the mid-1970’s I used to go there quite regularly – it was a Gale’s pub then, one of four to the north of Reading.  It was what used to be called a “spit and sawdust” pub – run for the locals, but with excellent beer.  It’s now a Wadworth’s pub, and has been extended and developed into what appears to be a decent restaurant – but still serving good beers.  I’d wanted to try a pint of Horizon, but unfortunately it was off, so I had a pint of Henry’s Original IPA (3.6%).  Quite dark and low in alcohol for an IPA – but a decent session bitter – I hadn’t tried it before, but I will look out for it again, as I prefer the lower strength bitters (it means I can drink more of it).  It’s one of those beers that you just drink – nothing outstanding about it, no gimmick, just a nice tasting and very satisfying drink.

Back to the pub – we were surprised to see, when we walked into the bar, that it had a bar billiards table.  You don’t see those very often these days, and apparently it had only been there for a few days.  Sarah and I used to play regularly in the leagues in Reading, but we haven’t played in years – we didn’t have time for a game last night, but it’s a good reason to go back there.  I also discovered, when I was looking at the pub’s website, that it also has a helicopter landing pad!

The Young’s Ones

youngs-bitterHere are a couple of bottle-conditioned beers from Wells & Young’s that are worth trying.

Young’s Bitter (4.5%).  The cask version of this beer is a very pleasant 3.7% session beer (see A bit of a pickle).  The bottled version – a bit stronger – is also very pleasant.  It has a slightly sweet smell and initial taste, and it takes a while for the bitterness to kick in.  It’s a light, uncomplicated beer.  The bottle notes claim it is perfect with bangers and mash or roast beef, but I drank it on its own.

Young’s Special London Ale (6.4%).  Although bottle-conditioned, and quite strong, it didn’t seem to have any sediment, and poured very clear.  It has a hoppy smell and a fruity flavour – and not as sweet as I expected it to be – quite bitter, in fact, which was s very nice surprise as I don’t go much on strong sweet beers.  The bottle notes claim it is “perfect with cured hams or smoked salmon”, but I found that it went well with some Lindt dark chocolate.

Best of British

GBBF-logoJust a quick reminder that the CAMRA Great British Beer Festival takes place at Earls Court in London from 4th to 8th August.  Over 450 real ales, ciders and foreign beers from around the world – sounds a bit overwhelming, and I don’t think I’ll manage to try all of them!  Actually, I’ll be lucky to manage 4.5 let alone 450.

We’ll be there on Friday 7th, and hopefully I’ll have some nice things to write about afterwards.

Real Ale and …rain

Reading Real Ale and JazzAs predicted, Friday night was a bit damp, though to be fair, the rain did stop, and it did give the opportunity for people to venture outside the marquee later on.  It was still a bit cold though, and having found a table with some friends (and being naturalised southern softies), we decided to stay under cover.  Mind you, the easiest way to get to the bar was to nip out of the marquee at one end, go round the outside and back in at the other end – the event was fairly well attended, but I’m sure the organisers would have expected a better turn-out if the weather had been better.  Anyway, on to the beers, and there was a good selection to choose from.  I’d downloaded the list of beers from the website in advance, so I’d already got a shortlist of beers that I wanted to try.  I can’t manage as many pints as I used to be able to, so I had to prioritise!

Dark Star Hophead (3.8%).  I’d never come across the Dark Star Brewing Company before.  Although it has been in business since 1994, it is still a small operation.  It started out in the cellar of the Evening Star pub in Brighton, and in 2001 it relocated to a purpose-built brewery in Ansty, near Haywards Heath.  This beer was the star of the show as far as I’m concerned – it is very pale gold, has a floral, elderflower and hoppy aroma, and a dry, hoppy, bitter taste – lovely – if you can find it, I would definitely recommend it.

Chiltern Ale (3.7%) from The Chiltern Brewery.  Another small and fairly local brewery – based near Aylesbury.  another light, drinkable beer – amber, with a slight toffee aroma and taste.  Not as bitter as the Hophead, and with a slightly sweet taste – quite enjoyable though.

Oxfordshire Triple B (3.7%).  I’ve previously written about Oxfordshire Ales and their Pride of Oxford bottled beer (see Dreaming Spires).  Another local-ish brewery, in Marsh Gibbon, north of Oxford.  A dark amber beer, another with toffee overtones, but well-hopped and satisfyingly bitter.  Went down nicely.

West Berkshire Brewing Company’s Good Old Boy (4%).  Described by the brewery as a “good ordinary bitter”.  Full bodied and bitter, and very pleasant, but by this time I was starting to find the amber-toffee-bitters a bit samey – but I did enjoy this one.

Almost time to go home, but just time for another pint – I just couldn’t resist a pint of St. Austell Tribute (4.2%), even though there were other beers there that I haven’t tasted before – well, there’s always next year.  You’ll know from my previous posts that this is one of my favourite beers, especially the cask version.  A light-coloured bitter (“bronze” according to the blurb), light bodied as well, but with plenty of taste – aromatic, fruity, hoppy and dry.  A beautiful beer.

Despite the soggy weather this event was as enjoyable as it always has been (this was its 22nd year, and we reckon we have only missed one of them).  The 23rd event will be on 15th, 16th and 17th July 2010.

Black and Greene

Black BoyOn Monday evening we went out to the Black Boy at Shinfield.  Sarah had acquired some vouchers for a special offer that meant we could get a 2-course meal for a tenner each.  The Black Boy is only 2 or 3 miles from where we live, and has seen a number of managers come and go over the years, with varying degrees of success – sometimes we would go and the food, drink and atmosphere would be excellent, at other times they would be rubbish.  We hadn’t been for quite a while, so we didn’t really know what to expect.  The current managers have been there for a year now, and they appear to have done a really good job, so I think we’ll be going there a bit more often now.  It’s a Greene King pub, and I like their beer, so that’s another reason for going.

They have 3 cask ales – IPA, Abbot Ale and Old Speckled Hen.  I went for the IPA, which was very tasty – well kept, light and refreshing – and washed down our starter of loaded potato skins very nicely.  Main course – well, when there’s a steak and ale pie on the menu I just can’t resist – this one was huge, with loads of steak and smashing gravy – with another pint of IPA to help it down.  And for pudding?  While Sarah tucked into the hot fudge cake with chocolate sauce, my pudding was a pint of Old Speckled Hen – one of my favourite beers both in bottles and on draught.  A bit more body than the IPA, and a nutty, caramel taste.  We were stuffed after all that – a very satisfying meal and a nice drop of beer.

Jazz it up

raaj_linkThis weekend is the Reading Real Ale and Jazz Festival, at Christchurch Meadows in Reading – and like many recent years, the weather forecast is for rain and wind.  When the weather is nice, there is nothing better than sitting out on the grass with a pint of decent beer – but when it’s nasty weather, everybody is huddled into the stuffy, steamy, noisy marquee, and it’s virtually impossible to get to the bar.

Never mind, I’m still looking forward to it – we’ll be there on Friday evening.  Look on the website, and you’ll see that there will be 34 beers on sale, from 21 different brewers – and there are some on the list that I’m really looking forward to sampling – some old favourites, and some that will be new to me.  Not a huge beer festival by any means, but manageable, with a good selection – anyway, I can’t manage as many different beers in a session as I used to be able to.

Oh, and there will be some jazz as well!

Marston’s Pedigree – you either love it or you hate it

Marston's Pedigree Marmite

Well, what’s not to love about Marston’s Pedigree?  It’s a lovely beer.  No, I’m referring to the special limited-edition Marmite made from the yeast from the Marston’s Pedigree brewing process.  There are 500,000 of these jars, styled to look like a cricket ball, to coincide with The Ashes cricket between England and Australia.  Marston’s Pedigree is “the official beer of England”, and has for a while carried the ECB (England & Wales Cricket Board) logo.

The added relevance is that Australia has its own version of Marmite called Vegemite, which ex-pat Aussies are constantly trying to source in the UK.

The limited-edition Marmite is available in many stores, including Waitrose, Morrisons, Tesco and Sainsbury’s – but you’d better be quick – I’ve got mine!  Even if you don’t like Marmite, the jar is an interesting souvenir in itself.

Top Gunn

Innis & Gunn Special Limited Edition BeersFor some reason the start of this post seems to have been corrupted – so I’ll try to remember what I originally wrote.

Many thanks to Nicky Hall-Thompson at R&R Teamwork for sending me a couple of samples from Innis & Gunn.  Canadian Cask (7.1%) – I’m afraid that this is only available in Canada, so unless you are travelling there (or you speak very nicely to Nicky) you won’t be able to try it.  It is a special brew inspired by Canada and celebrates the fact that in 2008, Innis & Gunn Original Oak Aged Beer (6.6%) became the number one UK beer in Canada.  The brewery acquired a  number of antique Canadian whisky casks, many of which had been holding Canadian whisky for up to 50 years – the beer matures in these casks and takes on the flavours from them – apparently these flavours include peat, rye, honey and vanilla – quite a combination!  I’m looking forward to trying this beer.
I’m also looking forward to trying the Rum Cask Finish Oak Aged Beer (7.4%).  This has been on sale since the beginning of June, and you should be able to get it at Sainsbury’s and other supermarkets.  This beer spends 107 days maturing in oak barrels, much of that time is spent in barrels previously used to hold rum – and I can imagine that it will have the rich, spicy, fruity taste that the marketing blurb claims.
Once again, thanks to the folks at R&R for sending me the samples.  They will not go to waste! 

Get a Proper Job

Our tour of the St. Austell Brewery was really interesting – I’ll post more details and some pictures in one of the other sections of the web site when I get time.  The fact that we got the tour for free as part of the hotel deal through the St. Austell Brewery CAMRA Club was an additional bonus.  If you’re ever in the area and you get the opportunity, I would really recommend it – it’s not expensive (if, unlike us, you have to pay for it) – adults £5 if you’re a CAMRA member, £7 if you aren’t – and that includes vouchers for two free half pints at the Visitor Centre bar afterwards.  Details on the brewery website.

The culmination of the tour was, of course, sampling the wares in the Visitor Centre bar.  We were given (small) samples of any of the beers, then we each had two vouchers for half a pint of whichever beer we wanted.  Needless to say, we sampled a few of them! 

The Black Prince was interesting – described as a “black ale” rather than a stout, one of the brewery staff described it as a “dark mild”, and it certainly wasn’t as bitter as I had been expecting – I thought it would be a bit heavy for a lunchtime, even though it weighs in at 4%, so I decided to leave a proper tasting of this until another day. 

Clouded Yellow is a bottle-conditioned wheat beer, flavoured with spices.  We were given two samples – one poured without disturbing the sediment, and the other one with the bottle shaken to disturb the settled yeast.  Everyone in the tour party thought the clear one tasted better, with the subtle flavours not being overpowered by the taste of the yeast. 

Now to the star of the show as far as I’m concerned – an IPA called Proper Job.  I thought the Tribute was good, as I said in my previous post, but this is even better.  As with the Tribute, it was originally brewed as a seasonal beer, but it proved to be so popular that the brewery continued to make it.  It’s 4.5%, which is not strong for an IPA (though the bottled version comes in at 5.5%).  It is powerfully hopped, light, dry, citrussy…..and delicious.  Guess where my two vouchers (and one of Sarah’s) went!  Good job Sarah was driving!

We brought back a few bottles for sampling at home – obviously the bottled versions will be different from the cask versions, but it will be interesting to see how they compare.

Saintly beers

We thoroughly enjoyed our brief visit to Cornwall last weekend – the trouble is that since we got back, I’ve been too busy to write about it – that and melting in the very un-British-summer-like heat!  Suffice to say for the time being that we sampled a few of the St. Austell Brewery cask ales, and brought back a few bottles for a leisurely sampling at home.

The White Hart Hotel that we stayed in is great – nice rooms, good bar and restaurant, and a central location – opposite the parish church, and we were initially a bit concerned about the clock chiming every quarter hour, but they stop at 11pm until 7am – the churchyard also seems to be a rendezvous for the youth of the town once the pubs have shut, so it was a little bit noisy, but in a good-natured way.

The bar had just 2 cask beers – Tinners and Tribute.  The first night I had a pint of Tinners before dinner.  It weighs in at 3.7% and is a good session beer – light and refreshing – bitter, but not too much so.  It brought back memories of my time working in Camborne in the early ’90s.  In the restaurant I went for the Steak and Tribute Pie, so I thought I’d better wash it down with a pint of Tribute – and I was hooked.  This is a wonderful beer.  Slightly stronger that the Tinners at 4.2%, pale, fruity, hoppy and dry.  To be honest, probably better suited to a lighter meal than steak and ale pie, but I wasn’t complaining.  I’m afraid that after that, the Tinners didn’t get a look in, even though that is also a lovely beer.

I had wondered why I hadn’t come across Tribute on previous visits to Cornwall – admittedly, it’s a few years since we were last there.  The story of the beer is that it was originally brewed to commemorate the total solar eclipse that was visible from parts of Cornwall in 1999 – the beer was called Daylight Robbery, and it was only expected to be around for a short while.  The beer was so popular, that the brewery decided to re-launch it as Tribute to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the brewery in 2001.  Since then, Tribute has been St. Austell Brewery’s best selling beer.