Thursday, 17 December 2015

2015 top 10 beers

Thank you 2015, you have been fantastic!

It's that time of year again when the pubs are heaving with seasonal drinkers and the winter solstice is only days away that I start to procrastinate regarding what my beery highlights have been this year, at least those I can still recall!. So with no further ado or gilding of any lilies, here are my top 10 beer picks of 2015!

10. Anspach &HobdayThe Funky Pale (Bottle)
It was at their meet the brewer in The 23 club, Liverpool that this bizarre, cloudy and brilliant little pale ale made an appearance. The Funky Pale is apparently fermented from a variety of yeasts reclaimed from the end of other beers and provided one of the more interesting tastings of the year. Each sip took a slightly different characteristic with a variety of fruits, fizz and sourness levels. One moment it was a refreshing little pale ale, the next it was a gueuze. While not to everyone's tastes this has been one of my best beer memories of the year and the fact that I'm still thinking about it helps it edge Toccalmatto's Imperial Stout off the list.

Ad Hop (from Liverpool) made it onto my top 10 last year with their licorice lady and this year there were actually two worthy beers that fought to make this list. Code Red was one of my highlights from Indyman and really delivered a hop bomb in a glass (not that I remember a tremendous amount about the rest of the day), but it was a refined edition of last years beer that beat it. The Raspberry Infused Licorice Lady sampled at the Liverpool Craft Beer Expo combined some of my favourite flavours and added a new layer of complexity to an already great beer, ending in a silky smooth finish. Moorish and brilliant.

Originally looking to pick up the puntastic “Citra Ass Down”, I dangerously found myself at a bar in a beer festival with no idea what to order next. On recommendation I went for their 35k stout, a jet black milk stout that was just so pleasantly smooth that it was a joy to drink. The tempting mocha aroma and sweetness perfectly balanced each other. I'll certainly be looking to try more of their beers next year!

7. Black LodgeBrewery – Coffee IPA (Keg)
I really didn't know what to expect when I first visited the Black Lodge, Liverpool's latest Brewery for their pre-launch party. Brought to us through the winning combination of the people behind the 23 Club & Liverpool Craft Brewery they have produced a relaxed atmosphere with a number of very different beers on tap. One immediately stood out above the rest and roared it's way straight into my top 10. Coffee IPA made using cold brew coffee to produce an enchantingly smooth aroma which immediately makes you salivate all before the rich vanilla and cinnamon flavours combine to produce an almost cream like ale. Bonkers, delicious and outstanding!

6. Wild BeerMillionaire (Cask)
Although not at the top spot Wild Beer takes my accolade as my favourite brewer for 2015. They make consistently good, as well as very diverse beers and there have been a number that I've enjoyed immensely. Bibble, The Blend (2015), Wildebeest and this years Rainbow Project beer Violet Underground have all ranked highly, but my favourite has to be one that I've tried on cask, keg and in bottle, Millionaire. The Cask version, being served a little warmer really releases the chocolate and salted caramel to their full effect producing a beer that you just want to keep drinking. Love it.

5. WylamJakehead IPA (Cask)
I need to thank Jess from Liverpool Craft Brewery for introducing me to Wylam's Jakehead IPA where I was literally marched over to their stand at Liverpool Craft Beer expo and ordered to drink it (as only she can). And you know what? She was right! I immediately fell in love with this beer. This Northumberland brewed IPA is jam packed full of hops and has an aroma that just entices you to take a sip. I've tried in both cask and on keg, but it was the cask version that won out for me. It's a beer that I look for and one that I have traveled specifically to a pub to enjoy. It also holds the accolade as being voted to the nations “Hottest Beer” 2015 in an online poll.

I've a sneaky feeling that Mad Hatter may well be in contention for next years brewery of the year accolade. They're certainly one to watch and if their impressive 2015 line up is anything to go by, this is one Liverpool brewery that will be on everyone's radar. Fattest Stout, Club Tropicana and Tzatziki Sour are just three of the many beers that I have really enjoyed, but it was their Salted Caramel Quad which has taken my accolade this year. Silky smooth and exceptionally warming, this is a beer that accepts its strength and uses as that to its advantage delivering everything it promises and walks that precarious knife edge between sharp and salty like a goat traversing a mountain. Bonkers, but in the best way possible.

3. MikkellerNelson Sauvin (Bottle)
Mikkeller have had quite a good year. Their sponten range has really been thought provoking, especially the single Hop beers, but it's a big sharing beer that clinched my third place. Not even the fantastic Black Ink and Blood could quite touch the behemoth that is Nelson Sauvin (Brut). Brewed at the Proef Brewery in Belgium, they really managed to get the most out of this expensive and delicious hop to produce a beer I simply wanted more of and embarrassingly, I may have even licked the bottle dry!

2. Buxton & OmnipolloYellowBelly (Cask)
Second place in my 2015 goes to an established brewer who produced two outstanding beers this year, Buxton. What came between them was simply the method of dispense. Sometimes you have to try a beer poured the right way to decide. Both Yellow Belly and Yellow Belly Sundae were superb bottled beers, but for me it was Yellow Belly served on Cask at the Liverpool Craft Beer Expo which won this spot. The slightly warmer dispense and lack of slightly sharp carbonation really highlighted the nutty, biscuity flavours and left the beer with a super smooth finish. Delicious!

Before I reveal my top pick, I just want to say what a fantastic year 2015. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to have tried so many of the fantastic beers being produced both in the UK as well as from further afield. The local breweries have all been active with all three Wirral Breweries Burton, Brimstage as well as Peerless, releasing new beers. A plethora of new breweries have sprung up in Liverpool and its surrounding area and many are already producing more interesting beer than their more established, larger competition.

Although I'm looking ahead to the worrying reports of hop shortages that 2016 will bring, I find myself bolstered by the anticipation of what beers will be produced. What new unheard of flavour combinations and adjuncts will be used to produce more amazing beer? I'm not sure, but if the standards of this year can be upheld, we're in for a fun time finding out

1. StoneEnjoyBy IPA 14/02/2015 (Bottle)
My favourite beer of 2015 (which I only got to try once before it sold out, but that was once more than some managed) Stone Enjoy By IPA (14th Feb 2015). A short description could never really do it justice, so let me leave it with “This is simply the most complete hop experience I have ever tried all tied together with a deceptively delicate but refreshing body, which leaves your mouth in total harmony and your body wanting more”. Not only my favourite of this year, but probably my favourite pale beer ever made. Stunning, just stunning.


Thursday, 3 September 2015

A bank holiday to remember

As Summer gives way to Autumn we enter the UK's beer festival season where week after week events of various sizes spring up; each set in an eclectic variety of locations from grand halls to sports halls, rugby clubs to church crypts.

This August bank holiday the Wirral was fortunate to pay host to two such events. Wallasey Cricket Club hosted their Cricket, Beer & Entertainment festival in association with Ship and Mitre and Hoylake Beer Festival returned for it's third successive year. This is my round-up of both festivals.

Beer festival glass and program
Wallasey Cricket Club 

Friday evening saw me catch a bus over to Wallasey where after a short walk up a fairly steep hill and I found myself at Wallasey Cricket Club. Tickets were collected at the gate and entry was quick and easy. Heading towards the boundary I passed a fast food van offering the usual selection of burgers, fish and chips. Next to them was the ever popular local beer festival staple Peninsular Pies.

Strolling over to the beer tent just a short walk from the pavilion my anticipation was rising. I'd enjoyed both of the Ship and Mitre's previous Wirral Beer Festival in Hulme Hall and my expectations were undoubtedly high. Also, in the run up I'd read that this was to be a 100 beer festival, the larger of the bank holiday weekend's two festivals.


Wallasey Cricket Club Pavillion
Beer was exchanged for cash with refreshingly no sign of beer vouchers. Melwood provided a hoppy new cask beer called First Test, alongside Bootleg #2 their new keg beer. Facers provided the appropriately named Howzat and these stood alongside other popular brews from the likes of Brimstage, Liverpool Organic & Liverpool Craft Brewery. Kegged lagers & ciders finished the bar and these were topped up with a selection bottled beers.

Disappointingly, only around 20% of the 100 advertised beers and ciders were available from cask and keg with the other 80% comprising of chilled bottles. Even more disappointingly, very few beers were new, with the majority being similar to those already sold in the Ship and Mitre pub. I was not the only person to comment on this.

Ship and Mitre beer tent at dusk.
That said, with the majority of live sporting events usually offering a relatively small choice of mass produced national beer, it was really refreshing to have a large choice of UK and European beers to sample. I really did not expect was just how nice it was to sit in the sun and watch a game of 20/20 cricket with a good beer. I've always fancied the idea yet somehow never found time to try, but this is something that I would defiantly do again

I caught up with Ben from Ship and Mitre, who commented that the event was never intended to be a beer festival, but a cricket festival with entertainment and a beer tent and this is very much what I had already come to realize. While I probably wouldn't have made a special trip exclusively for the beer on offer, I stayed for the fantastic combination and enjoyed myself immensely.

My evening rounded up with a bottle of Chimay White, a cheese and onion peninsular pastey and a pint of Kaltenberg lager after which I toddled off with a smile on my face to sample the pubs in Liscard.

Nearly all my negative experiences of the day result from one thing, the advertisement. If this (as well as the signage to the toilets) were improved then this could be a superb way to spend your bank holiday. What more do you really want than sun, good beer & live sport!


Outside Hoylake Beer Festival

Hoylake Beer Festival

Saturday afternoon saw me heading over to Hoylake Beer Festival. Sadly neither my vast hat collection or I were working this year however I really wanted to support them from the paying side of the bar.

This year's festival saw a slight decrease in the amount of beer being offered down from last years 80 to a more realistic 65. This freed up space the bar would have used and left the beer hall feeling considerably more open, allowing easier access.

There is a certain charm to smaller beer festivals. The number of tickets often being limited by smaller capacity, quirky locations seems to help them generate a more laid back and welcoming atmosphere, especially when paired with a good selection of beers.

The main hall at Hoylake Beer Festival
Hoylake beer festival is certainly no exception to this rule. Set on Hoylake promenade in the Parade School which after it's closure in 1988 (and a brief period being home to the local pigeons) was transformed into a Community Centre. The beer festival takes over the majority of the ground floor of this two story building. The three main rooms allow for a different ambiance in each. The main hall has plenty of seating and also held the cider and Peerless bar as well as the entertainment. The main bar was in an adjacent room and there was also an third additional quiet room in the centres coffee shop which also doubled as the festivals Wine bar. Additional seating was provided outside next to the hot food which this year was provided by Pen-y-lanPork with vegetarian options also being available (even if they were not advertised in any of the media)

The beer selection was well balanced with plenty on offer for all tastes. I overheard a few people questioning the temperature of the beer however I found the beers to be in good condition and full of favour. There were a couple of last minute changes with Wylem's Angel making an unexpected appearance. Another nice addition was a small selection of unfined beers..

The beers at Hoylake Beer Festival
Beer vouchers came by trading in £12 for 8 halves with smaller denominations also available. Each half a pint of beer or cider cost a single voucher regardless of strength. This is by far one of the easiest approaches to costing as lower ABV beers help cover the cost of higher ones. Wine was also available and cost two tokens per large glass.

The beer selection gave plenty of choice for both beer tickers as well as those who enjoy more recognised brands. There were d├ębuts for two new local breweries Deva (Chester) and Neptune (Maghull, Liverpool)alongside firm festival favourites. Birkenhead's Peerless Brewing Company once again sponsored the event and ran their own bar offering the likes of Peninsula IPA re-brewed specifically for the festival as well as Storr, their recently kegged lager.

One other significant change this year was the lack of a Saturday afternoon session. The decision to open for a longer evening session probably helped stagger the arrival of paying customers with some choosing to come and finish early, while others dance and drank the night away. This year also saw a change in the entertainment with the Wreckless Elbow being replaced with The Oil Chickens. The lack of the metal portable toilets was also a significant improvement, especially for those choosing to sit outside!

As I headed off to some local pubs with the Wirral skyline stained sky pink, I thought back to the previous Hoylake beer festivals and how this years event compared. The layout was spot-on as it allowed easy movement yet still offered plenty of seating. The number of beers were just about right, as was the offered choice. There could have been a little more choice outside including other food vendors. I also can't help but wonder whether there could be room for a small craft keg section as well in the future.....
Hoylake Parade approaching sunset

Needless to say that I will be back again next year and who knows, maybe my hats will make a reappearance, though I do hope next years t-shirts aren't orange!

In summary

I'll admit that I was apprehensive after hearing that Wallasey Cricket Club was hosting an event over the same weekend (and just under 6 miles) from the already established Hoylake Beer Festival that both festivals would be targeting the same patrons. Visiting both I think that it's fair to say that they ultimately would probably appeal to different people.

Though it was really enjoyable to sample some great beers while watching a game of cricket, the Wallasey event simply lacked enough new beer to appeal to the beer tickers that frequent beer festivals. Hoylake on the other hand not only offered a much broader range, but crucially provided clearer advertisement prior to the event. You were also considerably less likely to be injured by an unfortunately placed six!

One thing that is clear, with several large festivals running annually, beer demand appears to be increasing on the Wirral. It's fantastic that these events are well supported and that Charities are able to benefit without resorting to abstinence.

Next up? Ship &Mitre's Wirral Beer Festival in November!

Acknowledgements

Thanks to @djmccahill for reporting an error with the band.  I had incorrectly stated that the Loose Moose String Band were former headliners, when it was actually Wreckless Elbow

disclaimer:

All links and information was correct at the time of publishing. If you notice anything incorrect, please let me know and I'll correct it. All photos included were taken by myself.



Sunday, 22 February 2015

McSpoons and the vanishing beer

I thought I would share with you a copy of the email that I have just sent to JD Wetherspoons, which is halfway between an email and a blog post. Once again I got to experience the frustration of advertised by not available beer.

On Saturday I once again experienced one of the most aggravating “joys” of visiting your establishments, advertising beer which is not actually available.



Leaving pump clips facing forward is an indication to any normal human being of drinking age that a beer is available. Imagine my frustration when the only 3 guest beers (ordered consecutively) were all suddenly unavailable. Asking the person working behind the bar to turn the pump clip around resulted in the same message experienced in around 4 of your bars. “We're not allowed to do that”.



Let me put it another way. Someone within your company had the brilliant idea that the presentation of the bar was more important than the customers experience. They are happy to advertise beer which is no longer available (or maybe never was); cause the repeated inevitable stress on their staff after once again having to appease annoyed customers (whom have yet again had their time wasted); as well the negative advertisement for the breweries featured in this ruse.



I'm not sure how high up the chain this ridiculous order comes from, however I have heard the North West Area Manager being cited by multiple people and one even claiming that it came from the top, though I presume they meant Tim Martin and not some deity. Having experienced it in at least 4 local Wetherspoons I can assume that this is not due to local managers, but someone managing at least at regional level.



What is even more frustrating is that there are plenty of other options available. Advertise the same beers (as actually available), promote your social sites, advertise upcoming events or even advertise how to vote on future beers. These are all preferable to having our time wasted or listening to the inevitable frustration of other customers attempingt to order the same beer.



This particular experience was at your Dee Hotel (West Kirby) and similar problems have happened in the John Laird, Brass Balance (Birkenhead) as well as the Clairville (Liscard). Please note that I've experienced this at least three separate occasions at the Dee Hotel, once during a meet the brewery where I (and that brewer) had to listen to a further 10 people attempt to order the same beer, before I chose to vote with my feet.



Please stop this ridiculous practice. You are the only pub chain where I seem to experience this issue. As an active promoter of pubs and beer locally, I cannot in good faith recommend any of your establishments while you are prepared to trick customers with what is effectively a bait and switch. Of course, I am presuming that this email address is monitored and not just for show.



As a result I will be boycotting promoting local JD Weatherspoons on my twitter account until I have assurances that this practice has ended.

** Update 4th March 2015 - A reply from JD Weatherspoons

Dear Sir,

Thank you for your web form and for taking the time to contact us.

I am sorry to hear of your disappointment following visits to a number of our pubs recently.

I can confirm that our staff are advised to keep all pump clips displayed on their respective pumps at all times, even in the circumstance of unavailability.  However we do expect our staff to politely advise our customers of any of our ales that are unavailable at the time of your visit.

Please accept our apologies for any disappointment or inconvenience this may cause to you. Your comments have been noted, passed to our Operations Department and will be included in any future reviews.

Thank you again for your interest in J D Wetherspoon.


Yours sincerely

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

New Year Resolution: The Pubs In Play



The pub list 

 

A mercifully short blog post on the eve of 2015 to list each of the pubs I am resolved to visit in 2015. This has been generated with thanks to the CAMRA Whatpub website of which I helped to originally populate.

Whatpub.com lists 128 Wirral pubs that serve Real Ale, however I have amended this list to include additional which serve either real ale or bottled conditioned beers; this is not exhaustive and I plan to revisit many other of my old haunts.

Private "member only" clubs do not feature since I am not a member and cannot easily gain access.

If any Wirral pub or club not on this list would like me to call in during 2015, please tweet, email me or comment on this blog post. I will update the list each month and highlight each of the pubs I have visited.

The 134 pubs I will be visiting are:

Fox & Hounds
Barnston
Acorn
Bebington
Chronicle
Bebington
George
Bebington
Kings Arms
Bebington
Rose & Crown
Bebington
Three Stags
Bebington
Traveller's Rest
Bebington
Wellington
Bebington
Brass Balance
Birkenhead
Gallaghers Pub & Barbers Shop
Birkenhead
John Laird
Birkenhead
Peerless Brewery
Birkenhead
Riverview
Birkenhead
Stork Hotel
Birkenhead
Swinging Arm
Birkenhead
Waterloo
Birkenhead
Bromborough
Bromborough
Dibbinsdale Hotel
Bromborough
Knockaloe Bar & Restaurant
Bromborough
Merebrook
Bromborough
Royal Oak Hotel
Bromborough
Village Hotel Victory Pub & Kitchen
Bromborough
Open Arms
Claughton
Eastham Ferry Hotel
Eastham
Hooton Arms
Eastham
Montgomery Pub & Kitchen
Eastham
Tap
Eastham
Ferry
Egremont
Farmers Arms
Frankby
Coach & Horses
Greasby
Greave Dunning
Greasby
Irby Mill (v)
Greasby
Red Cat
Greasby
Twelfth Man
Greasby
Black Horse
Heswall
Chambers Bar & Grill
Heswall
Dee View Inn
Heswall
Devon Doorway
Heswall
Glegg Arms
Heswall
Johnny Pye
Heswall
Jug & Bottle
Heswall
Sheldrakes
Heswall
Green Lodge Hotel
Hoylake
Hoose
Hoylake
Hoylake Lights
Hoylake
Lake
Hoylake
Plasters Arms
Hoylake
Ship Inn
Hoylake
Anchor Inn
Irby
Shippons
Irby
Boot
Liscard
Clairville
Liscard
Dukes Bar & Grill
Liscard
Lazy Landlord
Liscard
Saddle Inn
Liscard
Stanleys
Liscard
Harp
Little Neston
Lady Hamilton
Little Neston
Royal Oak Hotel
Little Neston
Railway inn
Meols
Grange
Moreton
Mockbeggar Hall
Moreton
Inn at Ness
Ness
Brewers Arms
Neston
Brown Horse
Neston
Hinderton Arms
Neston
Malt Shovel
Neston
Clarence
New Brighton
Harbour
New Brighton
Magazine Hotel
New Brighton
Master Mariner
New Brighton
Perch Rock Hotel
New Brighton
Pilot Boat
New Brighton
Queen's Royal
New Brighton
Sandridge Hotel
New Brighton
Seahorse
New Brighton
Stanley's Cask
New Brighton
Telegraph Inn
New Brighton
John Masefield
New Ferry
Caernarvon Castle
Oxton
Cock & Pullet
Oxton
Courtyard
Oxton
Oxton Bar & Kitchen
Oxton
Queens Arms
Oxton
Shrewsbury Arms
Oxton
Swan Hotel
Oxton
Boat House
Parkgate
Elephant Lounge & Bar
Parkgate
Old Quay
Parkgate
Red Lion
Parkgate
Ship Hotel
Parkgate
Pensby Hotel
Pensby
Bridge Inn
Port Sunlight
Railway Inn
Port Sunlight
Rose & Crown
Poulton
Birth Tree
Prenton
Halfway House
Prenton
Wheatsheaf Inn
Raby
Cock & Donkey
Rock Ferry
Lord Napier
Rock Ferry
Refreshment Rooms
Rock Ferry
Rock Station
Rock Ferry
Saughall
Saughall Massie
Basset Hound
Thingwall
Red Fox (v)
Thornton Hough
Seven Stars
Thornton Hough
Cottage Loaf
Thurstaston
Prenton Park
Tranmere
Revolver
Tranmere
Sportsmans Arms
Tranmere
Eagle & Crown
Upton
Horse & Jockey
Upton
Overchurch
Upton
Willows
Upton
Cheshire Cheese
Wallasey
Farmers Arms
Wallasey
Lighthouse
Wallasey
Nelson
Wallasey
Sheridan's
Wallasey
Curios
West Kirby
Dee Hotel
West Kirby
Hickory's Smoke House
West Kirby
Hilbre
West Kirby
Hiltop
West Kirby
Ridger
West Kirby
Ring O Bells
West Kirby
West Kirby Tap
West Kirby
White Lion
West Kirby
Wro Bar
West Kirby
Nags Head
Willaston
Pollards Inn
Willaston
Arrow Park Hotel
Woodchurch
Cherry Orchard
Woodchurch