Friday, November 04, 2005

A Tough Assignment? - 'Go And Drink Some Beer'

If you have never been to a CAMRA Beer Festival then this article might open up a whole new world for you...

The Editor gave me a tough assignment. 'Go and drink some beer'
By Chris Wickham

IT is not every day that your main task is simply to drink beer, so when the opportunity arose to visit the Twickenham Beer Festival at York House I wasn't going to turn it down.

With 72 barrelled beers, at least a dozen ciders and perries and many more bottled beers to sample there seemed to be no better way to spend a Friday afternoon, and a hundred or so people who were also present must have felt the same.

The Richmond and Hounslow branch of CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, organised the festival, the 13th they have run since 1992 and the seventh in Twickenham. The first six were in Feltham, and a band of volunteers did most of the hard work.

Brain Kirton, chairman of the branch, explains that all the setting up for the festival and taking it back down again is done by volunteers, who take time off work to help.

He tells me that 650 people came to the opening night of the festival on Thursday and six of the ales were finished off.

"It was mainly the strong ones that went, people do like strong beer," he explains. And strong beer is what they can get, along with any other type of beer you can think of.

I was armed with my tasting notes for the range of barrelled ales, but upon entering with my fellow taster Chris Suk -being a sensible drinker I knew I couldn't try a full range of ales on my own - the first thing that caught the eye was the range of bottled beers.

A large shelving unit was stacked high with bottled beers from Austria to Australia and including traditional brewing strongholds such as Belgium and the Netherlands.

Amongst those was a beer called Herculean Stout, which is nine per cent ABV. Chris and I were willing to try most types of beer, but neither of us were that brave.

A full range of ciders was also available but it was the ale we had come for, so we headed into the Clarendon Room and were confronted with such a wide range of ales that we didn't know where to begin.

Not a man to stand on ceremony I decided to try the first one I saw, a beer from the Hexhamshire brewery in Northumberland called Devil's Water, a copper beer with a fruity finish according to the blurb. Chris, meanwhile, was tempted by a beer from the E and S Elland brewery in West Yorkshire called Bargee.

We both enjoyed our first foray into the festival so decided not to waste any time and continue our tasting session.

A Scottish ale was next on my list, Highlander from the Fyne brewery in Argyll while Chris went for a beer slightly closer to home, Golden, from the Archers brewery in Swindon.

Both beers were stronger than our first, and in my case it was noticeably so, the intense flavours enhanced by the strength of the beer.

With four down we were keen to expand our range and keep sampling, but as Brian explains we would not get a chance to taste all 72, even if our bodies could take it.

"Ale is a live product," he says. "It takes time to settle and develop its flavours, availability of some brews may be limited during the festival."

Limited perhaps, but in no way small. People were coming in constantly and enjoying the brews but ales were being added all the time, there were still plenty available.

Chris, being slighter more brave than me, decided it was time to try a mild, beer of lower alcoholic strength which is usually darker, and went for one from Thwaites, a brewery in Blackburn, Lancashire.

When he came back with a jet black beer I feared for him, and when a slightly pungent smell wafted in my direction I urged him not to drink it, but I soon learned not to judge a beer on anything other than taste.

The tasting notes said that this beer was hard to find in this form, I can only assume that is because so many people are drinking it, Chris couldn't get it down fast enough and from my small taste I could only describe it as a joy to drink.

Not one to be outdone I went for a grapefruit beer from the St Peter's brewery in Suffolk which, in complete contrast to the mild, appealed to the nose more than it did to the palate.

My next choice also came from the eastern extreme of the country, Woodforde's brewery in Norfolk, the aptly named, seeing as it was Trafalgar Day, Nelson's Revenge. Another strong beer it got me back into the swing of things, after the slightly disappointing grapefruit beer.

Chris went for Kodiak Gold, from the Beartown brewery in Cheshire, and immediately noticed an astringent aftertaste. He didn't drink much of it.

With eight beers between us we had sampled some very good ones, and some which hadn't been what we expected, but we could have no complaints about the range available.

Brian explains that in an ideal world they could get even more beers on.

"We have been setting up here since Tuesday," he says. "If we could come on Monday and get the extra day it would be even better.

"That would give us more chance to have more beers on. We had 16 to 20 on Thursday, if we can have them all on it would even out the sales and more beers would last longer, you have more chance of them all getting through to the end of the festival."

But what about outside the festival? As Roy Hurry, one of the festival organisers, explains the Richmond and Hounslow branch has 255 real ale pubs in its area, which covers the whole of Richmond upon Thames and 80 per cent of Hounslow.

And they make it easy to find the best, with CAMRA publishing real ale guides nationally and locally, and a branch pub of the year award, won this year by The Lion, on Wick Road, Teddington. The Magpie and Crown on Brentford High Street and The Express Tavern near Kew Bridge were the runners-up.

"A good number of pubs in this area do decent real ale," says Roy. "I can't be exact but I would say about 70 per cent do a decent real ale, which is very pleasing, and we hope that the festivals have gone some way to bringing the number up to that level.

"Anyone who is active in CAMRA becomes so because they would like to walk into any pub in the country and have a decent pint of beer."

Steve Williams, Greater London regional director for CAMRA, adds: "It is good in this area because Fuller's brewery is near, as is Young's. They have their own pubs and Twickenham has its own brewery too, it would be good to see their beers available in local pubs."

Twickenham Original, which is from the Twickenham Fine Ales brewery Steve mentioned, was my last choice, while Chris finished with a bang, the Strong beer from the Exmoor brewery in Somerset being the strongest either of us sampled.

The bitter finish to the beer didn't appeal to him but I couldn't fault the local brew. Another of their ales, Advantage Ale, was also popular, being voted as ale of the festival. Having got the taste for the beer I am loath to go back to the fizz and bubble of lager and as Brian explains there is plenty of beer out there for me to try.

"We show a minute amount of the beers that are available," he says. "There are four and a half thousand beers brewed in this country, it would be nice to have choices.

"The beer festival is all about people going back to the pubs they drink in and asking why a beer isn't there."

I will certainly be looking for pubs with real ales in the future and I'm sure I'll be back at York House next year to see what they've got.

"Unfortunately we can't have every beer," says Steve. "Even at the Great British Beer Festival we can't fit them all in, although we do get over 400 there."

Perhaps the Richmond and Twickenham Times would like a report from there next year.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

CAMRA NEWS: Beer Doesn’t Have To Leave A Bitter Taste

CAMRA Books, the publishing division of the Campaign for Real Ale, today launched The Big Book of Beer, a book temptingly subtitled, ‘Everything you Need to Know About the World’s Greatest Drink!

Beer writer Adrian Tierney-Jones, tells the complete story of beer in a refreshing and accessible manner. It takes you on a journey from humble beginnings in a sun-drenched field of barley, through the brewing process, to reaching the glass in various forms and styles - satisfyingly aromatic and lightly sparkling.

The Big Book of Beer
I hope the book goes some way towards changing people‘s perceptions about real beer,

said author Adrian Tierney-Jones.

People are often pleasantly shocked when they give it a go, and there’s no better place to see drinker’s reactions than at a beer tasting.

At a recent corporate tasting hosted by Adrian Tierney-Jones, two-thirds of the females at the tasting liked English Bitter, from a selection of six contrasting beer styles, which flies in the face of orthodox brewing wisdom that the female palate enjoys a sweeter beer. Interestingly none of the drinkers would have considered drinking Bitter before tasting it.

“This is obviously a small sample from one corporate event, but it does demonstrate that an English Bitter is one of the great drinks of the beer world, full of flavour and complexity, thirst-quenching and moreish. It’s a shame that people seem to have a problem with the word Bitter when applied to beer, thinking it old-fashioned and redolent of flat caps and whippets!”

Tierney-Jones continues, “Bitter to many drinkers is a negative word. Yet the same people are happy to drink a double espresso or add Angostura bitters to their slinky cocktails; hardly easy and smooth flavours. If you look beyond the name, you’ll discover a world of flavour.”

In the same tasting 43% of those taking part said they prefer to be offered a glass which is specific for the beer they are drinking.

Author Tierney Jones said: “Again this idea is nothing new, and something that the industry has talked about for some time, it’s all about changing people’s perceptions, as beer is usually served in a standard pint glass. That’s why I decided to include a section on ‘Beer Curiosities’ in the The Big Book of Beer. In order to attract different types of drinkers to this wonderful drink, we have to accept that for some people the presentation of the beer is almost as important as the taste.”

The Big Book of Beer covers a range of topics and is a great gift title, for both beer novices and aficionados alike.

The book lists everything from:

Beer Beginnings - What makes beer, beer as a natural and organic product and how it is brewed.
Beer File - How to identify beer styles, tastes and beers of the world.
Beer Brewing – Craft brewers, family brewers, brewpubs, women and beer.
Drinking Beer – Beer in the pub, at home, Fancy a beer? Which beer to choose?
Beer and Food – Beer as an ingredient, matched with food, is beer the new wine?
Beer Curiosities – Glassware, beer mats, labels, festivals and advertising.

The Big Book of Beer celebrates every aspect of beer and urges the reader with their new-found knowledge to give it a try. Quite simply it is everything you need to know about the world’s greatest drink!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

CAMRA NEWS: New Good Cider Guide Launch At Award Winning Herefordshire Cider Producer

CAMRA award prestigious Pomona award to Dunkertons
CAMRA’s new Good Cider Guide launched at the same venue

CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, has awarded the prestigious Pomona award to Dunkertons, Leominster, Herefordshire.

Pomona Award
Ivor and Susie Dunkerton have been awarded CAMRA’s prestigious Pomona award for their tireless work establishing cider and perry as a premium product since founding their company in 1979, being the first producer in Herefordshire to be awarded the Soil Association certificate in 1988 and extensive orcharding work including the recent planting of specialist perry pear trees.

On hearing of the success Ivor Dunkerton said,
We are delighted to have received this recognition as we believe our ciders and perries are simply the best, at least that’s what our customers tell us. We want to thank all those who support and help us throughout the year.

Gillian Williams, CAMRA’s Director of Cider & Perry Campaigning said,
Dunkertons have led the way by establishing both cider & perry as premium organic products; they have acted as an inspiration to others. Perry trees produce perry pears for about 400 years. Ivor and Susie’s recent planting of perry trees means that in the year 2405 Pembridge could still be toasting the fruits of their labour.

CAMRA’s Good Cider Guide
CAMRA’s Good Cider Guide is the guide for real cider-loving connoisseurs. It is packed with information on every producer in the UK and highlights all the best places in which to buy and sample the nation’s best ciders.

The book is divided into counties and contains maps, listings of producers and over 550 cider outlets. The guide also includes other areas of cider interest, museums, orchards and heritage areas.

Monday, October 31, 2005

CAMRA Announces Britain's Best Pub For Cider And Perry

CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, has been celebrating Cider and Perry Month through October, today announced that The Miners, New Road, Whitecroft, Lydney, Gloucester is the best pub in Britain for cider and perry. This is the first time this award has been made to a pub.

CAMRA’s Cider and Perry campaign celebrates ‘real’ cider and perry. A number of events have been run by pubs, CAMRA branches and Common Ground throughout the month to help promote the quality of ‘real’ cider and perry to highlight the difference in taste that ‘real’ cider and perry offers compared to gassy, tasteless, keg products.

Gillian Williams, CAMRA’s Director of Cider & Perry Campaigning said,
It has been a very successful campaign this year. A large amount of pubs have come on board to help promote ‘real’ cider and perry by organising different events and offering consumers the chance to try the fantastic ‘real’ ciders and perries Britain produce. We have in the past always awarded pubs for the quality of their real ale and felt this was the ideal time to present an award for Britain’s Best Cider and Perry pub.

CAMRA’s Cider and Perry Pub of the Year 2005 – The Miners Arms, New Road, Whitecroft, Lydney, Gloucester. Presentation at the pub - Monday 21st October 2pm

This is the first year CAMRA has awarded a prize to the best pub in Britain that promotes and encourages sales of quality ‘real’ cider and perry. Pub goers were encouraged to enter their favourite cider and perry pubs and CAMRA received over 40 different pubs entries from across Britain.

The final judges report summed up the success of The Miners:
The Miners Arms clearly shows the listings of the fantastic ‘real’ ciders that are on sale, making it simple for the consumer to decide on which ones to try. They regularly offer three real ciders, all served on handpump. These ciders were tasted and served in excellent condition and at the right temperature. The Miners Arms also scored very highly for its friendly, welcoming staff who made you feel at home straight away. The pub feels like the heart and soul of the village and attracts all age groups. There is a wide selection of traditional games in the pub for people to enjoy, they offer occasional live music and there is an attractive garden. All in all, The Miners Arms is an excellent asset to the lucky locals of Whitecroft. It made us wish we lived a lot nearer!

Bob and Liz Kirby have run The Miners Arms for two years and on hearing they had been named as CAMRA’s National Cider & Perry Pub they said,
We are obviously chuffed to bits about this. Much of the credit for the award must go to our local cider drinkers who are dedicated in their quality control and consultancy roles and to our predecessors Stuart & Elaine who established the real cider reputation of the Miners.

Gillian Williams concluded,
The National Award provides recognition for the achievement of Bob and Liz who run this thriving real cider and perry pub. The judges, who have visited many pubs, just fell in love with The Miners Arms!

The three other finalists in this judging were –

The Brandy Wharf Cider Centre, Waddingham, Gainsborough, Lincolnshire

Dave Wells runs a wonderful pub with a constantly changing range of ciders and perries in a location which needs to be seen to be believed. Brandy Wharf Cider Centre is as far away from a bland high street chain as you could imagine.

The Wellington, 37 Bennetts Hill, Birmingham

Nigel Barker runs this busy city centre pub just five minutes from New Street Station. This is a new establishment which having been a finalist in this competition is now attracting a loyal following.

The White Horse, Village Lane, Hedgerley, Bucks

Kevin runs this pub which is lovingly described as ‘chocolate box’ due to its appearance and timeless quality. This is a pub to settle into with few strangers, only friends you haven’t met yet!