As part of writing this column I trawl the Trade papers for interesting or relevant news (there are only so many feature pieces you can do before you run out of topics for a while), however some just falls into the category “why bother”. This week, the resident in that box is the Governments decision to reduce duty on beers below 2.8% ABV in the next budget. The only beer I can recall seeing in a pub which would fall under this band is Carling C2 (improving the standard of mediocrity over the full strength version). I’m not a fan of overly strong beers when out at the pub, mainly because I am normally driving or with the family, so normally stick around the 3.5-4.5% range. I cannot recall the last time I drank a beer below 3.4%, excepting Non Alcoholic Beers. Its a case of re-arranging the deckchair on the Titanic as it sinks. It makes them look busy while achieving nothing. A brewery I have mentioned several times, Brew Dog, also do a product which does qualify called “Nanny State”. It sums up the whole policy in 2 words. They also plan to tax beers above 7.5% at a higher rate, but again how many times do you see a beer that strength in a pub.

I have focused on real ale over the last 12 weeks, so while I have a snow enforced relative lack of access to pumped ale this week, I though I would take a look at ales sister drink cider. Like ale there is a mix of multinationals and “micro-presses” producing all qualities of cider. However there is a lot less of a distribution network for ciders when excluding the major brands such as Magners, Bulmers and Strongbow. Last week I mentioned a real ale brewer winning the Radio 4 Food Award for best drinks producer, His main rival was Henney’s, a cider producer who produces many fine and distinct ciders. Other producers I can recommend are Thatchers who do a range of single apple pressings and Aspinal who do pressings of similar quality especially their Premier Cru. The mainstream ciders are generally sweeter than the smaller companies offerings, with the pressers I mention all generally being towards the dry end of the range in my experience. When recommending pubs where you can try a range of ciders, the only one in the area who really specialises in cider is the Stubbing Wharf just outside Hebden Bridge who normally have 4-5 on tap and regularly hold cider festivals. The Ship Inn at Brighouse also stock 3-4 proper ciders, but dispensed from boxes.

The one new real ale I can recommend from a flying visit to the Shoulder of Mutton this week is Bank Top Blonde, a fantastically hoppy pale 5% beer with tonnes of flavour. Its the first beer from this brewery I have tried, and has put them on my radar in the future. This week has mainly been bottled beers at home, the majority being German (including favourites such as Erdinger and Paulander), however a couple Brewdog IPA’s had to slip into my shopping basket at the same time.

Over the last few months, you have noticed I champion independent pubs, and a recent report vindicated this view that despite the chains buying power bringing down costs, the indies are coming out of the recession in better shape. This has been put down to local knowledge, product specialisation and also the public’s rejection of standardisation of pubs. I agree with the last point wholeheartedly, there are too many chains where you could be in any town in the country if it wasn’t for the view out of the window. A number of these chains have scaled down and sold / remodelled large parts of their estates over the last couple of years. People fall into two camps, those who like the familiar and will go where they know, and those like me who look for new experiences where we can, and the latter camp is getting bigger.

Finally this week, my regular Greene King comment, who this week launched a new campaign titled “Man Deserves a Proper Pint”. He does and their beers aren’t.