Pubpaper 827 – Cask Report 2015-2016

Posted: 2nd October 2015 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

This week, I’ll be covering the 2015-2016 Cask Report, the year report written by Pete Brown on the state of health of the cask beer market published a couple of weeks ago.   In summary the demand for cask ale is growing, albeit slowly at 0.2% per year, but this compares to a fall of 1.1% per year across the whole on trade market.   Cask is now accounting for 17% of all on trade sales, with 57% of ales being sold in pubs dispensed from cask rather than keg.  The value of the market has risen from £1.4 billion in 2010 to £1.8 billion in 2015, expected to reach £2.3 billion in 2020.

But let’s dive into the details of report.  Why is the cask ale market growing when the sector as a whole is shrinking.   The report cites the following trends Flavour, Less but Better (Quality not Quantity), Localness and Authenticity and what they call the Experience Economy (offering more than just the product).   The last point I disagree with, the pubs I visit for the best real ale don’t have to wrap it up in shiny paper, they just serve great real ale and that is all they need to do consistently to keep people returning.  But the other three points I broadly agree with.  When drinking I am looking for great new beers, different flavours and good quality.  I’m at an age where I can’t do ten pints any more, I’d rather drink 4 or 5 really good beers in a session than more average ones.  I’m 40 years old and have had 22 years of drinking beer, the taste buds need something stimulating.   The locality thing is certainly something I look for as well, just look at the success of the Vocation Brewery in Cragg Vale at the moment and their amazing beers (I must admit writing about beer while not being able to drink it is immensely annoying).  I always try to drink local beer wherever I visit, it is part of the experience.

The range of beers and brewers helps to grow the market through diversification, we now have over 1700 brewers registered in the UK, making 11,000 different beers each year. Of course the quality of the beer coming out of brewery will not be consistent across the market, but from a purely statistical point of view, the more people who are brewing beer, the more great brewers and beers which are out there and choice of good beer is never a bad thing.  People are bored of big brand beers and that is one of the reasons that small breweries can survive and grow.  I rarely touch mainstream brands now unless the only choice is such as Timothy Taylor, Black Sheep or Copper Dragon nestled into a bar stocked with AB InBev or Molson Coors core products, where it is the least worse option.

Now let’s look at why cask ale drinkers choose the pubs they visit.  In order the report lists these as Atmosphere, Price, Range of Beers, Range of Cask Ales, Decor, Food and Entertainment.   I think the order is pretty much right here, if a pub relies on food and entertainment to drive it’s wet trade then they haven’t got the beer right.  If the pub puts you off as soon as you walk in with its atmosphere then never mind how good the beers are, you are not going to buy them.  Price is important, but not critical and I will pay what I think a good beer is worth at the bar even if other might think it over the odds.   Personally I’d maybe swap Range of Beers and Range of Cask Ales, as that is one of the primary reasons I go to a pub regularly.   Some people put a lot of stock in decor, but as long as it is clean that is what matters.  I’ve been to some proper old school spit and sawdust boozers in my time and have great beer and a great time and not end of paint, fixtures or new furniture would have improved that experience.

To round off this week’s article, an update, I’ve been through my first week of radiotherapy and chemotherapy as I write this at the weekend.  The chemotherapy really takes a toll on your body and the drugs to counter the side effects of it don’t help much either.  Thankfully this has cleared and I’m only on mild irritation internally in my throat from the radiotherapy, but I am assured by the end of the week things won’t be quite as rosy. However the worse thing about the treatment is the mouthwash mix you are given, it would make Carlsberg taste like the best beer in the world and I’m not exaggerating.  It takes the taste of salt water and removes all the pleasant elements leaving one of the rankest flavours I have ever encountered.  The other thing I have learnt is that you are not the first to go through this, and will not be the last.  You know who you are, good luck for everything.

Pubpaper 826 – Pubs and Community

Posted: 28th September 2015 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

There are sometimes moments which absolutely define what a local pub is about, those little things which may seem significant in the overall flow of life, but links people over the communal pint.   I was sitting in my local pub, The Cock and Bottle early evening on Friday, relaxing over beer.  There is a great old guy I’ve known for the 16 years I’ve lived in the village called Postie Paul (although now retired, the name has stuck).   We got chatting as usual and ended up working on the crossword together, five minutes late we are both stumped, a couple of other people come over and as the beer flows a few more clues are solved, leaving 2 or 3 stubborn clues left.  Giving up on it for a while, another local pops over for a chat and finishes off the crossword.  The age range of those who solved it is 40 to 75, all of which entered the pub in separate parties.

Now the crossword may be at the centre of this story, but it is the least important element of it.  The crucial thing is how the ebb and flow between people from different circles develops over time so there becomes this loose community within the four walls which extends outside into the wider world.  At the Cock and Bottle, like many local pubs, there are people who have been going there for fifteen, twenty, maybe thirty years or longer, having had their first “legal” pint there when they turned 18.   Through landlord changes, refurbishments, periods of closure, they are as much part of the pub as the bench seats and the bar, and have probably outlived a number of both.   

Mix in the interlopers like me who have moved into the village and have lived here long enough to be considered a “local” now as well as the new generation of drinkers, some of which I can remember from them being 6 or 7 year olds playing at the top of my street, and now more commonly seen walking up the road at 2 or 3 in the morning, you knowing they aren’t getting up anytime before lunch realistically.   Add all these groups (and others) together and you get a wonderful mixing bowl for society to be created.   The strings of community strengthen over time and in this era where work and family pressures seem to use up all the time some people have, the sense of community like this has been lost in many places.

You go to most local pubs on a Friday tea time, you probably see a good number of work vans in the the car park.   If you have ever wondered where the plumber knows a good gas engineer or builder from, it is probably one of these Friday teatimes and subsequent social and professional interactions leading from that.  It is where people find other people with skills they need and don’t have.  I can’t plumb, build a wall or fix a boiler to save my life, but I can build a decent website, write copy, design a poster or logo and create business stationery, all of which I have done in exchange for jobs around the house.  These same links help me raise money in sponsorship for the charities the Ramfest Music Festival supports each year.

But the benefits from the local pub helping to forge the local community is not just for economic gain.   It is just common decency that if I see Paul at the bus stop and I am going his way, I’ll offer him a lift even if it is a few minutes out of my way (although when I drove a few people out to a pub about 13 years ago, he came within a gnat’s whisker of being left there, but that is another story).   My local pub was brought by a local family about 5 years ago after laying closed for a substantial few months, a lot of sweat and effort went into making the building safe and creating a really nice local.   That the pub is owned by a family, many of which as adults and children were regulars in its previous incarnation for many years and is not just a money making machine for Enterprise Inns (who previously owned the property) has certainly helped this sense of community and is something I’d like to see happen in more villages.  

Even in towns this can happen at individual pub level.  The Commercial / Railway Inn, Brighouse for example, Trevor and Sue own the place outright after being there for many years and it is well and truly their place, they feel themselves part of the community. They and the customers keep an eye out for other more vulnerable customers making sure that people get home or they are checked on if not seen as often as expected.  

The local pub should be heart of the community and it is through connections built that we get back that sense of cohesion which has been lost to lesser and greater extents across this country.

Beer 52 Beer Box Review

Posted: 21st September 2015 by santobugtio in Writing

P1180825In the second of my Beer Club box reviews this month, I’m revisiting Beer 52 who sent me a box to review previously.  Lets see how they get on second time.  The box contains 6 bottles, 2 cans, a pack of chili popcorn chips and a copy of Ferment magazine.  Not quite as good presentation as Flavourly lacking the glass, bottle opener and beer mats, but the box is well packaged and protected and the beers look interesting at first glance, with only one beer I’ve drank before.   Lack of any mainstream brands is good and it is good to see that one of my current favourite brewers has been included in the package.  As a note I was offered a complimentary box to review by the company.

First, the beers on offer.

  • Brewfist (Italy) and Brewhere (Denmark) – Caterpillar Pale Ale – 5.8%
  • Cloudwater – Grissette (Summer Range) – 3.5%
  • Beer Project Brussels – Dark Sister Black IPA – 6.66%
  • Bronher (Spain) – The Drunk Hop – Large Lager – 4.7%
  • Six Degrees North – HopClassic Belgian IPA – 6.6%
  • Gosnells – London Mead – 5.5%
  • Lucky Jack (Norway) – American Pale Ale – 4.7%
  • Vocation – Heart and Soul – Session IPA – 4.4%

Concentrating more on the IPA’s and pale ales, the box has a nice range of geographic sources as well as Vocation which was brewed 10 miles from my house.  The initial impression is certainly better than the previous box I got from them.

I’ll start with Vocation Heart and Soul.  I’m a massive fan of their beers, having tried all 6 currently on offer, so this beer is a bit like a bus mans holiday.  The can says this is a fruity beer with tropical aroma, and it’s right, filling the glass with a lovely sweet pineapple like aroma.  A good stable head lasts a nice amount of time.   The citrus fruit notes rush over the tongue, the bitter and more sweet tastes balanced wonderfully, leaving an aftertaste of both on the tongue at the same time.   After a brief rest the sharper notes of the citrus family begin to come through more, later more bitterness coming out.  The beer is absolutely packed with interesting flavour, the well blended hops shining through.  It’s good to see that Vocation Brewery can keep the quality up in cans and on pump. (9.5/10)

Next up is Six Degrees North Hop Classic Belgian IPA.    Forming a nice head on the pour, which fades after a few minutes.  The nose is a bit indistinct.   The taste is quite earthy, but with a decent mix of flavours, some citrus notes emerge and the beer is generally well balanced with a bitter edge.   The impression is of a refreshing well brewed beer at 6.66%.   When the sediment is mixed in prior to pouring as I did, the appearance is of a cloudy amber-ish color, and you can taste it in the beer, the strength of flavour commensurate with the ABV.  Overall a very nice beer I could drink a number of happily. (8/10)

Next up is the Brewfist and Brewhere colab Caterpillar Pale Ale.  Orange / Red in colour, the odour is of the more citrus hops.  A nice solid head forms, settling down in a few minutes.   A nice blend of bitter and lighter hop tastes is the first impression.   The strength tastes about right for its 5.8%.   Aftertaste goes quickly from bitter to sweet, but maybe lasts a little shorter than I would like.   After a rest it settles down to quite an earthy flavour which is tinged with lighter citrus notes.  Overall a thoroughly pleasant beer to drink, but it doesn’t stand out against the beers sampled previously. (7/10)

Fourth is Lucky Jack American Pale Ale at 4.7%.   Pale as expected in colour, nose is a bit indistinct, some sweeter odours emerging.  Initial tasting show both bitter and citrus hops but not a lot of either really.  Aftertaste much the same, but disappearing off the tongue too quickly.  After a while the citrus hops start to come through more, but it is still lacking something flavour wise.  There is nothing wrong with beer per-se, it just isn’t particularly good in any aspect and distinctly average overall. (6/10)

As we enter the second half of th box we open Cloudwater from Grissette (Summer Range) at 3.5%.  A pale slightly yellow body holding a loose head which disappears quickly.  Odour is more citrus, but a little weak.  The initial taste is quite lemony, with citrus tastes definitely to the fore.   It settles slighty from the citrus high, but the same tastes still dominate.  This uses a saison yeast so is naturally cloudy.   I found this beer really refreshing and light on the palette.  As the “summer range” label suggests would be great for an afternoons drinking in the warm sun.  This beer could be a bit of marmite beer, if you don’t like lemon, it won’t be for you, if you do, then this would probably suit you down to the ground.  I do like lemon hence the score. (8/10)

Overall score is 38.5 / 50 so far.  The rival box I tested the other week was at 38/50 by the same stage, so there is really nothing in it so far.  The last three beers will decide the winner.

Beer Project Brussels Dark Sister Black IPA at 6.66% leads out these beers.  A good creamy long lasting head. Deep brown in colour with nicely balanced odour.  Intial flavours are a good mix of maltiness, citrus and bitter hops, tasting its 6.66%.  The beer is quite light to drink making it quite refreshing.  On second taste the beer still gives a good impression, citrus followed by bitter hop followed by malty taste, aftertaste following a similar pattern lasting a decent period.  The beer is a bit lively out of the bottle, so make sure you have the glass at hand when you open it.  Overall this is a very decent beer, but not an all day beer which the strength reflects. (7.5/10)

Our penultimate beer is Bronhers The Drunk Hop, a “large lager” with a 4.7% ABV.  A classic lager look in the glass, pale golden in colour and tall gassy head with sustains itself.  The nose is like most continental lagers as well, refreshing but with nothing in particular coming through.  However on the taste, this comes across as stronger than it’s 4.7%, more like a 5.5% beer.   A nice range of hops with citrus and bitter balanced well dominating the overall taste of the beer, it is not overpowering, keeping the beer light and refreshing.  As a “lager” style beer they have done a good job on this and if we ever had a summer then a few pints of this would go down nicely in the beer garden.   The aftertaste goes from slightly bitter to citrus on the tongue and hangs around a while on it. (7.5/10)

The final beer is Gosnells London Mead at 5.5%.   A sort of cloudy apple juice colour, the fizzy head disappears quickly.   Nose is mix of apple and lemon.  The taste is sweet from the honey, but not overpoweringly so, almost a good sweet cider like balance.  A nice sharp bite on the taste compliments the sweetness well.   A nice little bit of natural gas keeps the drink light and refreshing and it lines your mouth quite nicely.   Some nice citrus notes, with undertones of the rich honey taste coming more to the fore as the drink rests and starts to warm to ambient temperature.  My first mead I’ve tasted and I enjoyed it.   It’s probably not something I could do a session on, but happy to have one or two (7.5/10)

So an average score of 7.6/10, with a good set of beers, only one disappointing, I’d say this was a well selected box by Beer 52 and wouldn’t be disappointed if I have paid for it.  The Chili Popcorn Chips were decent enough and the Ferment magazine had some good articles by the likes of Melissa Code and Mark Dredge and was an interesting read.

If you want to order a box from, then please use promo code “LIQUORISH10” which will give you £10 towards your first purchase, the usual cost being between £24 and £21 per months according on how long you take the subscription for.  I’ll repeat my comment on beer box clubs from the other review.   24 quid is what it would be for 8 beers, or £3 per bottle.   You could pay more or pay less according to where you shop and how close you buy to the brewer in the distribution chain.  If you want something different each month without having to source from multiple places, this is where this model works well, it is also a ideal for a gift.  For me personally, it isn’t something I’d do regularly, but as an occasional purchase certainly would be in my basket.

Pubpaper 825 – Going Dry, Post Vine Cheer and Mergers.

Posted: 20th September 2015 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

I’d like the start this week thanking everybody who I have spoken to since my column regarding my diagnosis of cancer was published a couple of weeks ago.  I’ve had nothing by positive sentiments from those people in the trade I know and pub customers who know me by face and of course those online.   This week will be last one I will be drinking until at least Christmas as I start full time treatment on Monday (28th) and post treatment recovery is really not the time where drinking alcohol will help your physical state which is fragile at times.   You will be glad to know that my consultant at St James Cancer Centre has officially confirmed that even your taste buds being temporarily destroyed by radiotherapy will not make John Smiths, Fosters or Carling gain any flavour whatsoever.

I aim to do a number of pub profiles over the next few months with some of my favourite venues where possible with one lined up already.  If you do see me out and about I’ll be no doubt be on iced water (I’m a cheap date you know), but pub landlords don’t worry I’ll be back pouring my wages into your tills as soon as possible once it is worth me buying something with any taste.  The beer that a good number of our pubs in Calderdale serve will be something I’m probably going to miss most of all, there is a wealth of excellent well kept beer being served (and brewed) every day in our numerous hills and valleys and as drinkers should consider ourselves very lucky.

Referring back to last week’s article regarding Children and Pubs.  I ran out of space to mention the pub I went to post Vine after a cracking drive over the Huddersfield Moors (via A640) as far as New Hey and back over the A58 Rochdale Road over the tops back to Ripponden.  If you like a good drive I can well recommend it for an afternoons fun.

3406842147_952fb4295dWe stopped at the Wine Press at Hollingworth Lake for a couple of hours.  Located at the dam end of the lake, it is a contemporary pub with a mix of bar and restaurant dining, probably best labelled a Gastropub.  However the mix of people range from couples to families with children of all ages to a good number of bikers who seems to regularly visit.  Well behaved children are made welcome all day inside and out, there is a really friendly atmosphere.  The beer range is not going to excite beer tickers, but the real ale, European beer and ciders are part of a decent choice and are all well kept and served.    Frankly it put Vine to shame on the day, with not dissimilar drink offerings at both (real ales missing at Vine of course), but the superior attitude at what is still designed as an adult space ensures future business, whereas the West Vale venue has ensured exactly the opposite.

For a day out I’d recommend a pint of two there and a walk round the lake, not forgetting Fish and Chips or Ice Cream on the way round (if you have never visited Hollingworth Lake, it’s a bit like an inland seaside complete with arcade).  There is another pub in the area, The Beach, but that is definitely aimed at the “value meals” family audience and is operated as one of a large chain which typify the “Ping and Pop” style of cooking endemic in these places.

I’ll be doing more articles on the drinks industry going forward and on this point I’ll move on to the SAB Miller / AB InBev merger to wrap up this week (although in reality it is an AB InBev takeover of their smaller rival).  There was rumours earlier in the year, but now it is official, AB InBev have made an approach to merge the companies to form a brewing giant worth £175 billion and with a market share of over a third of the beer sold worldwide.  Even more importantly combined they will be taking over 60% of the profits made by all of the world’s breweries.  It looks like SAB Miller shareholders will accept the offer as it gives them a profit on their shares of over 250% if they have held them for at least 5 years.  But it will do the beer market no good at all, more consolidation of brands (although as the Independent newspaper states “if you have such malformed taste buds that you actually drink anything made by AB InBev or SABMiller out of choice, you get what you deserve”) and more power to keep gobbling up the small to medium independent brewers of the world.  But the bankers will get their fees for managing the merger, the money markets will make profits on the deal and at the end of the day that is all that matters with this deal in the financial world.

Pubpaper 824 – Children in Pubs and Hypocrisy.

Posted: 11th September 2015 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

This week I return to the subject of children in pubs, a topic I have not discussed for a while.   This was prompted by an experience last weekend at a newly opened bar.  But first some background, my general attitude is that a pub landlord has a perfect right to set his or her boundaries for children and customers should thoroughly respect this.  If children are allowed and they misbehave affecting other customers he has the perfect right to ask the parents to remove the children.

The pubs I frequent have a variety of rules regarding children.  There are pubs such as the Big Six which are child free inside with the exception of the beer garden.  Then you have the many local pubs who allow well behaved children into the pub until 6, 7 or 8pm (the exception usually being “occasions” such as family themed events, bonfire night etc, and of course “private parties”).  My local, the Cock and Bottle, Southowram operates such a policy.  Of course even if children are allowed, there can be extra rules such as children not being allowed in certain areas of the bar, the Cross Keys, Siddal being one such place.

Looking at more family oriented venues, The Sportsman, Ploughcroft operates a family friendly policy as it is a mixed food and drink pub, but has separate facilities to entertain them in the form of Charlie Fastrack Play Gym, generally leaving the Sportsman pub for adults and well behaved children who have burnt off the excess energy across the road.   Then you get the family oriented chains such as Two for One, Hungry Horse etc which shamelessly target parents with indoor and/or outdoor play facilities and TV’s in the booths to keep smaller people entertained.   

However I had an experience this week where I went to a bar with my family and nothing was said at the time of entry and we were allowed to order drinks and sit down to enjoy them.  I’ll mention now that with my party of 4, there was nearly as many staff as customers when we entered.   The bar in question is the newly opened Vine in West Vale in the Andy Thornton mill complex.  We were present in the bar from 2.30pm until 3.30pm on a Saturday afternoon, so not late.  Everything was fine until the latter part of our visit, we’d had a couple of drinks each in that time.  

Towards the end of our visit the bar manager approached us to say “Children are not technically allowed in the bar as we are not serving food yet”.   It could be a co-incidence that the bar was starting to get busy with 6 or 7 tables now filled with adult parties.  The attitude came across as that of “Thank you for paying my staff wages for the last hour while nobody was in the bar, but I’ve now got customers paying £20 a bottle of wine and £7 a cocktail, can you kindly go away”.   The bar itself is well designed and looks the part, but the attitude shown by the management has put myself and my wife off ever visiting again even as a couple and not wanting to recommend the bar.

The bar also it let down from what it promised when it did it’s pre-launch, they were promising a range of craft beer, but a Brooklyn Brewery pump and 3 bottled / canned “craft beers” only technically fills that brief, it’s what you get from a lot of local pubs now, who don’t need to mention this explicitly when in pre-launch or ongoing marketing.  From a cider point of view, they only had Rekorderlig (but let’s be honest, it’s an alcopop) and Magners, with only 1 bottle left of that, fresh deliveries arriving as we left.  Would a handful of bottles of Aspalls, Westons or other ciders have done any harm.  

The lack of a cask beer was disappointing as well, although lack of cellar space obviously hampers this.  The other keg lines included San Miguel and Stud Fold Gold, both decent enough beers, but not exactly inspired.   They say they are a cocktail bar and that may be their focus (plus wine), but a good beer range will attract couples where the male is a beer drinker and partner prefers wine / spirits (or visa versa).  There is nothing here from a beer point of view that will make you choose this bar over one 5 minutes up the road.  After a lot of promise up front a disappointing implementation in reality.  Style over Substance definitely the issue here.

I’d like to start this weeks article with a big thanks to Darren and the team up at the Sportsman, Ploughcroft ( over the bank holiday weekend.   I’ve just entered my 5th decade and they did a great job of hosting my 40th birthday party on the Saturday afternoon and evening.  The food and service was as expected from the pub and they made sure everyone had a great time.   It is times like these when the pub is king for celebrating, there is no better place and you have to make the most of these times with friends and family surrounding you.  Although I think the everlasting glass of Glenlivet Single Malt I seemed to own on the day won’t be seeing the light again for a while.

The same weekend I also had a chance to chill out at the Upper George in Halifax for the first time in years on a weekend night as usually a daytime visitor.  I said last week it hasn’t changed in 18 years and nothing could be closer to the truth bar the change in TV technology, some reupholstering and new carpet.  Frankly half of the customers went there 18 years ago as well.   The 3 rooms surrounding the island which are the 2 bars makes it feel like the proper pub it is, there has been no move to create a better flow for customers or more room (and when crowded is guaranteed to block up at some point, especially when a band is in the back corner).  The brands may have changed on the bar, but I like the place for keeping to its honest rock pub roots and honest goes a long way for me.  The stage outside on the night hosting two local bands Rugosa and Eyes Wide Twenty utilised the open courtyard well and both bands put on a great show.

I also popped into the Victorian Craft Beer Cafe in Halifax on the way home from the George and was very impressed by the selection of beer on offer, although even by Friday night some of the more popular ales had ran off already.   The Vocation Brewery Chop and Change Motueka was spot on I had there, but sadly the final orders bell beat me to a second pint.  But Simon put on a great range of beers (and 12 ciders) and next festival, I’ll be down there for longer.  Whilst talking about Vocation Brewery (, based in Cragg Vale.  I’ve now had a chance to try all 6 of their launch beers and all without exception are cracking ales, full of taste, interesting, good aftertaste, everything I want in an ale.  Bread and Butter, Heart and Soul, Pride and Joy, Divide and Conquer, Life and Death, along with the 2-3 varieties of Chop and Change single hop beer all beers I’d be happy to drink all day.  It’ll be interesting to see what they do as they expand their range.

As I said last week in this column I’ve been doing this for nearly 5 years and only missed one issue in this time.  Later this year I’m going to have to take a 3 month break from writing this column weekly, probably starting in the last 2 months of 2015.  We’ll be mixing guest columnists pieces with my own contributions to keep you entertained.  The reason for this is that I’ll be not drinking or going to the pub full stop.  This is due to myself going through chemotherapy and radiotherapy for Tonsil and Lymph Gland Cancer.  As part of the side effects of radiotherapy, it severely affects the ability to swallow in the later stages of treatment and early stages of recovery (requiring a peg feed to get enough nutrition), the other reason is I’m going to lose my sense of taste for 3 or 4 months around the same time, making drinking beer rather pointless unless you drink Fosters when it will make no difference to the experience.    For someone who’s main pleasures in life are good beer and good food, it’s probably the worse place to get it, so all you local brewers, can you please hold off your good beers until Spring 2016 please.

People have a go at the NHS, but I can’t fault them and the McMillan Cancer Nurses in how quickly I’ve been treated and fast tracked into treatment as well as their fantastic support.   There are many things which make Britain great, fantastic beer and national health care are some of the best things.  You don’t really appreciate them until you really need it or are deprived of it.

Flavourly Beer Club – Craft Beer Box Review

Posted: 1st September 2015 by santobugtio in Writing

I was recently sent a box of selected beers to review from the craft beer club, you may remember them from Dragons Den a few years ago.   I’ve reviewed a box of beers from a rival beer club previously, so it will be interesting to see how it compares to the rival company.    The package sent included 9 beers (8 x bottles and 1 x can), a pack of gourmet tortillas and 2 bags of corn kernels.  Along side these I was sent a Hardknott glass, branded beer mats and a branded wooden bottle opener.  Overall I was quite impressed by the contents, which were well protected for transit.  Click on the images below for bigger versions.








Lets take a quick look at the beers before we go into detail.

  • Tempest – Marmalade on Rye – 9% DIPA
  • Seven Brothers – India Pale Ale – 5% IPA
  • Tickety Brew – Rose Wheat Beer – 4.7% Wheat Beer
  • Stewart – Black IPA – 5%
  • Firebrand – Black Saison – 5% Saison Beer
  • Eden Mill – 19th Brew – 3.9% Golden Ale
  • Hiver – The Honey Ale – 4.5% Honey Brown Ale
  • Innis and Gunn – Spiced Rum Finish Oak Aged Beer – 4.7%
  • Four Pure – Amber Ale – 5.1%

The snacks are Manomasa White Cheddar Tortillas and Darling Corn Salted Corn Kernels, but lets get to the important things, the beer.  Initial reaction is good, 8 beers I’ve never tried before and most of breweries I not come across in my “drinking career”.  A nice range of styles, with only one beer you could consider mainstream sourced (Innis and Gunn).

The first beer I tried was the solitary can in the box, the Four Pure Amber Ale.   More towards red in color, it forms a nice head.  First taste is good, the flavour about what I would expect from a beer of its strength (5.1%).  The beer is inspired by the American beers of Colorado and whilst I can’t pin it down that locally, it certainly pays homage to the country.  Nicely hopped and a good interesting taste, well balanced between bitter and citrus, moving towards the citrus end as it coats the tongue.  A pleasant odour in the glass and good solid aftertaste doesn’t do this any harm at all either.  All in all a good solid start to the box, whilst not going to win any awards, it is a thoroughly pleasant beer. (7.5/10)

The next beer under discussion is Tempest Marmalade on Rye, the strongest in the box at 9%.  Again another beer tending towards the red.  A nice rich smell in the glass, the head clearing quickly.  The hops hit straight away, but are not overpowering.  The depth of flavour is good, initially bitter hops taking the lead, with citrus coming afterwards, although not as strongly as you would expect a beer which claims “the zest of 200 oranges and 70lbs of your favourite orangey hops”.  Give it time and it settles slightly more into those flavours although never reaching where you want it to go.  Not a beer you could do a session on obviously at 9%, but OK as a bottle as part of a wider session.  I’ve had Rye ales before and really enjoyed them, however this wasn’t quite on the mark. (6.5/10)

The third beer out of the box is Tickety Brew Rose Wheat Beer (subtitled “with a spicy kick”).  A pale cloudy appearance and long lasting loose head is as expected for the style.  The floral notes come through in the aroma and the initial taste is of citrus hops and an slight underlying floral element.  Once on the tongue it is rather pleasant and refreshing.  After a rest, more of the bitter hops come through, but citrus still dominates.  It is a definitely a light beer to drink, but still full of flavour.   The aftertaste is also from the citrus element and sticks around nicely in the mouth.  All in all, the best beer in the box so far and at 4.7% one you could enjoy a few of. (8.5/10)

Beer number 4 is Eden Mill 19th Brew Golden Ale at 3.9%.  Describing itself as a “a well balanced golden beer with a hint of citrus and slightly hoppy character.  Colour is as it states, forming a nice head which doesn’t disappear quickly.  The flavour is exactly as it says on the bottle as well.  The aftertaste disappears fairly quickly and is nothing special.  The beer is a pleasant brew, but a little bland for my tastes, coming across as fairly standard session ale.  There is nothing wrong with the beer, but it does nothing to stand out from the realm of session ales out there.  OK for a pint, I’d move on to another beer if in the pub.  (6.5/10)

Next up is Seven Brothers India Pale Ale, a nice place beer as expected with a head which dies down quickly.  Nice crisp citrus aroma in glass, almost lemon juice like.   Citrus hops hit first, followed by the bitter hops coming through.  A really nicely balanced beer hop wise, with a good transition of taste in the mouth.   The aftertaste lingers pleasantly for a while on the tongue.   After the beer has rested for a bit, the hop flavours intensify really nicely, with the bitter and citrus notes presenting themselves more equally from initial wash over the tongue.  At 5%, this is would be a session beer I could drink all day.  The best beer of the box so far.  (9/10)

Hiver Honey Ale (4.5%) is next to be poured, marked “a brown ale brewed with raw British honey”.  Initial nose is slightly of honey, but is a bit weak overall.   The beer has the base of classic brown ale with a touch of sweetness coming through from the honey, but the honey doesn’t really do a lot to change the beer really initially.   The aftertaste lasts a reasonable amount of time, but the honey element disappears leaving the brown ale base.   Leaving the beer to rest brings out the honey slightly more in both the mouth and aftertaste and this makes this a more interesting beer to drink.  I’ll admit this one grew on me over time, and although it doesn’t stand out, it is a pleasant brew for a bottle or two (7/10)

The seventh beer is Firebrand Black Saison at 5%.   Deep in colour as expected with a thin head forming in the glass.  Smell is fresh, but nothing jumps out at you, but odours can be decieving.  The initial taste is quite interesting, the malts coming through nicely and really is quite refreshing with the hops giving a skim of sweetness to the flavour.   It is light on the palette and the taste transitions from hints of  citrus freshness to the rich malts on the aftertaste, which lingers for a good time.  After letting the beer rest, the taste on the swill moves to a more earthy note, balancing the elements well.  This rather good beer is certainly equal best beer in the box along side the Seven Brothers India Pale Ale and thus deserves the same mark (9/10)

The penultimate beer is Stewart Brewing Black IPA (5%).  I’m a big fan of this style, so expecting good things.  It’s a lively beer for sure.  Even from the froth you get a nice rich flavour.  The head forms a good “swiss cheese” structure which settles to a long lasting top.  The deeper malty tastes are nicely balanced by the well proportioned bitter and slight citrus note.  The nose of the beer is very similar to the taste.   The overall impression is of a really well brewed refreshing Black IPA which does its beer style justice and is at least as good as most I have tasted.  The taste moves slightly to the hoppy notes after resting, lightening slightly.  This is definitely on a par with the two top beers in the box so far, so deserves the following score (9/10)

To round off the box I left the only “mainstream” beer.    The best presented beer in its own box, Innis and Gunn Spiced Rum Finish Oak Aged Beer at 4.7% is a sister beer of some of their other oak aged beers I tried before.  The Spiced Rum comes through in the nose of the beer, forming a dense head which collapses after a few sips, the domination continuing into the taste of the beer initially.  Almost red in colour, the beer flavours themselves start to come through more after a short rest, with the spiced rum becoming an secondary note which follows the shortly after the initial wash over the tongue.   The aftertaste is of a “bitter hop noted rum” which whilst not unpleasant becomes dominant on your taste buds after half a glass or so slightly clouding the other flavours in the beer as you drink it.  A drinkable beer for 1 or 2, but not for an extended session hence the score of (7/10)

The snacks are not too shabby either the Manomasa White Cheddar Tortillas hitting the spot with most of the family and the corn kernels quite satisfying.  The corn kernels were decent as well.

Overall the beers rank at 8/10 with four very good beers and a couple letting the side down, not a bad score for a random selection of beers without knowing my tastes.  As a thought on the beer box model, 24 quid is what it would be for 8 beers, or £3 per bottle.   You could pay more or pay less according to where you shop and how close you buy to the brewer in the distribution chain.  If you want something different each month without having to source from multiple places, this is where this model works well, it is also a ideal for a gift.  For me personally, it isn’t something I’d do regularly, but as an occasional purchase certainly would be in my basket.

If you use the buddy code “SEAN12” at, you will receive £12 off your first box, normally costing £20 + £4 delivery.

Give or take a month, I’ve been writing this column for 5 years now.   The pub scene in Calderdale has had its peaks and troughs, some following the economy, some due to acts of god and sometimes a town has just popped its head above the Calderdale crowd.  The pubs I was regularly visiting 5 years ago are very different to those who get my money today.   A number of these changes have been because I’ve got to know the people who run a certain pub and come to be friendly with them, but with many it is simply drifting away as new premises open, became more real ale oriented or improved their beer offerings.   In some cases over the years, a pub has drifted in-out-in of favour and in one case in-out-in-out of favour.

Back in 2010, I regularly visited the bars at the bottom of Halifax, The Three Pigeons and The Pump Room.  In Hipperholme the Cock of the North was a regular venue whilst in Brighouse I was a regular guest at the pub Mark Feasey and Jason Fieldhouse were involved in operating back then.  The Big Six was also a regular haunt up at Manor Heath and in Sowerby Bridge it was usually The Works getting my money.  Hebden Bridge generally saw the White Lion and Stubbing Wharf getting my beer money.

Of these, the Cock of the North totally dropped off the radar for a number of years as previously documented, but recently came back into consideration.  The Big Six I only occasionally visit, but that is in no way down to the pub, merely the fact I’m not in the area as much.  John and the team there always seem to be doing the same good job of running an honest boozer when I do visit.  The Works is still on my list when in town (which isn’t as much as 5 years ago), but I now usually visit the Puzzle Hall Inn if down that way for the live music.  Regarding the two Hebden Bridge pubs, it is down to competition with the newer Old Gate and the now community owned Fox and Goose suiting my beer tastes better, although the Stubbing Wharf still gets a visit with my cider loving wife.  Brighouse wise I’ve moved to Jeremys, Millers and the Beck as well as the Commercial which I’ll discuss later.

Of the Halifax pubs, my town drinking money moved to Lewins (ex O’Neills / Last Drop) when Kevin Sanders took over and stayed there pretty solidly for the couple of years he ran the pub.  Some great beer rotated through the pumps at that time and I drank most of it.    After or around this period, the Ring of Bells came onto the scene for me, slightly up the road The Old Post Office started having a decent ale range.  Just outside town, Hugh and the Cross Keys at Siddal hit the real ale scene with force and sucked up my beer money like a Dyson (and still does to a lesser extent). There was no real reason for me not going back to the Three Pigeons, just local competition and of course the Pump Room was run down, then pulled down (well most of it as this is written).  

Looking at Halifax, The Upper George is still a great pub for a night out and hasn’t really changed since I moved here 18 years ago thankfully.  However in the last 5 years new additions have come along to the real ale scene in the form of Dirty Dicks, a pub I went through a phase of being a regular, and now visit occasionally.  However in the town centre my most regular pub is Victorian Craft Beer Cafe with its great range of keg and cask beers and lovely space to drink in.   Hugh at the Cross Keys may take every chance he gets to rip into my writing about Craft Keg (and is right now working out an expletive laden phrase to use when I next step into his pub) and argue the toss about this column, however there is no doubt he runs an excellent pub with some of the best real ale around, great staff and a fantastic music scene as well.

I’ve got to mention a couple more pubs before I wrap up, firstly The Commercial / Railway, Brighouse.  Trevor, Sue, Jason et all, run a great pub up there, decent beer and cider range and a friendlier pub it’d be hard to find.  It looks like someone’s house inside and feels like it as well.  A great community spirit that has been lost in many places pub or not is alive and well here.   The second pub is the Sportsman at Ploughcroft, ran by Darren, this little gem does a handful of good well kept real ales, well priced food and always has a nice atmosphere.  Out of the way, but worth the trip for the view over Shibden Valley alone.

Pubpaper 821 – Brighouse Canal and Music Festival

Posted: 23rd August 2015 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

Brighouse this weekend hosted it’s annual Canal, Beer and Food festival.  This year the festival was bigger and better with three music stages spread around the town, with the festival bar being located by the main stage on the Bethel Street car park.  As well as the three official stages, Jeremys and Millers hosted their own music stages playing throughout the day on Saturday.  The town was packed with people on Saturday despite the heavy rain just after tea time, which cleared for Rugosa to put on a cracking set before hitting later acts Blood Sweat and Beers with a downpour who put on a great set despite the soaking.  It was also nicely busy Sunday afternoon when I popped down for an hour, sadly having to miss the set by Rainey Street Band due to prior commitments.

The music side was organised by Jason Fieldhouse, guitarist with Rugosa and long term bar man at the Commercial / Railway Inn in Brighouse.  Three stages with great acts throughout the day, he deserves the recognition for getting such a good line up sorted despite the usual problems with big festivals of last minute band changes.  His second year of doing the job, things can only get better next year.  The music scene in Brighouse is really thriving at the moment, with 5 or 6 venues around the town hosting regular music nights and you sense there is a real community between them in the area, something which can do no harm at all when running a festival like this locally.

The town’s pubs were all up for the festival as well.  Pubs I rarely visit like the George and Black Bull, both adjacent to official stage were doing great trade watering music fans outside whilst providing wrap around entertainment through the weekend.   Wetherspoons was doing cracking trade in their beer garden when the heavens were not being opened.   Millers and Jeremys were packed throughout the day as their own music offerings kept punters happy.  But the festival beer tent was good value at £3.00 per pints and some good beers.  

The highlight for me was the Anchor Steam Bigleaf Maple, a triple hopped (Nelson Sauvin, Citra, Cascade) with double dry hop (Citra, Cascade) 6% beer.  A lovely rich interesting beer, of which a few were consumed.  The South West Cider was a lovely dry cider which refreshed the palate after a few beers.   Rat Brewery had a very nice 5.6% golden beer #RatCrafted, again with plenty of flavour.  From a lager point of view the Dortmunder Vier was a nice choice and a good beer.  Other beers came from Nook Brewery (Holmfirth), Fernandez (Wakefield), Rat Brewery (Huddersfield), Riverhead (Marsden) and Ossett.    You’ll notice that four of these brewers are all part of the Ossett Brewery empire, but the overall  beer choice and range of styles was nicely balanced to suit all drinkers at the decent price.  The same people have operated the bar for the last two years (as well as for the towns 40’s weekend) and they do a very good job in this aspect.

The food was also good, maybe a little less choice than last year, but between our party we tried 4-5 stalls and all of it was decent grub, including the excellent very hot malaysian curry and some good hot dogs and burgers from the Polish stand in the Bethel Street car park.   Overall the organisers did a great job on this years festival, despite the weathers best attempts and I look forward next years festival.    Our local small towns put on some cracking events, including the Sowerby Bridge Rushbearing Festival coming up soon.  Our pubs contribute to all of these, so sup up and enjoy some great beer.   

On a final note whilst talking about Sowerby Bridge, the new occupants of the Bull’s Head (to be called The Sowerby Taps) are well into their refurb now and it is looking rather good and if the beer selection is as good then the town will have another worthy stop on its real ale trail.   The town has suffered a couple of losses in its pub stock recently so its good to see a reverse.

Pubpaper 820 – A Correction

Posted: 17th August 2015 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

This weeks piece is a correction to erroneous articles in Pubpaper 818 and Pubpaper 817.   The purpose of this piece is to present the correct facts regarding the Old Ship Inn in those two articles.  This should not be taken as an endorsement of these premises or the owners / operators, it is merely a statement of facts giving their corrected point of view.  No opinion on the part of myself is to be taken from this piece and should be taken as a statement of fact.  Representations have been made by the operators representatives Heath Kitteringham and David Bradley. Proper procedure would have been to check with the owners before publishing both pieces or either piece, this was not done.  It is this action I regret not doing, which would have avoided this situation.

In the two Pubpaper Articles listed above I stated that all the real ale pumps were to be removed from the pub.  On passing the pub, the marketing outside the pub seemed to indicate this with mainstream beers being pushed and no mention of real ale.  The fact is that real ale is still being served in the pub, but the focus of their marketing has changed to attract more customers, as David quotes in his correspondence “that when a business is failing decisions have to be made.”, something a business owner has to do.  My quote of the Old Ship Inn occupying “good unique niche being a good real ale town centre pub” was regarding the previous business model, something which wasn’t working as stated by David.

Regarding the quote that the low pricing would “attract the less desirables”, this could be the case in other premises and locations, but there is no evidence in the case of the Old Ship Inn.    I cannot comment on the atmosphere or any aspect of the pub with the current management, as I have not visited since writing these articles three weeks ago and cannot at present for personal reasons.  This will be the case for the immediate future, so I leave opinions of the Old Ship Inn to their customers, management and staff who are free to leave polite comments online against this article.

David quotes regarding the provision and keeping of real ale “that we are doing our additional bit for Real Ale by teaching a young man, supervised by one of the Old Masters, the craft of maintaining the very high standard that we demand from our cellar in an attempt to introduce new talent to the trade hopefully creating a new generation which can not only drink the beer but also look after it properly”.  More information has been requested regarding the typical real ale range and their plans for the future to communicate out here, but at this time none was forthcoming from Heath Kitteringham or David Bradley after requests.   Indications from outside signage would give the impression of being a more music and sport based pub with live entertainment and karaoke accompanying a full sports coverage program.  This venue previously being primarily marketed as a real ale house.

As a consequence of these previous two articles and the corrections from the management of the pub, I have decided that Old Ship Inn, Brighouse will not be mentioned in these columns or any online article ever again by me after this piece even in the context of a Brighouse centric article, avoiding any future misunderstandings totally.   The simple message to give out from this correction is that if you want real ale, then the Old Ship Inn is a valid choice for your drinking pound in Brighouse and that the change of direction is the choice of the owner and management to improve business.  I give no recommendation either negative or positive regarding the reader’s actions or choice of drinking venue in making this statement.