IN SEARCH OF NEW BREWS

The boys of The Swan go in search of new brews at Indyman – and survive with scary tales of ‘Slush Puppy IPA’ and Sea Salt Cider

Today we have a very different beer landscape from when the choice was bitter, best bitter or mild. Some might say that beery life was much simpler then; you just went to the pub that served the beer you liked best.

Of course many younger imbibers have no recall of those unsophisticated days. They have become used to a veritable cornucopia of choice when venturing for a tipple or two (although research shows the number is diminishing among young millennials).

Whether die-hard cask lovers like it or not – and I count myself among them – craft keg ale is rising, driven by a burgeoning demand from consumers for new taste experiences and ‘provenance’ in their food and drink.

The Swan has already brought you more than one hundred varieties of cask brews, since opening last April. But such is the dedication of David and Jack that they selflessly went off to booming beer town Manchester in an intrepid trip to seek out new ales and explore the craft keg beer scene.

The fearless duo headed off by train from Wrenbury’s own wee train station to arrive intent on taking in the pioneering Indyman Beer Festival- which specialises in keg brews.

But first was a call on the splendid Marble Arch pub, located in the now rapidly developing area of the once down at heel Rochdale Road. Some 25 minutes’ walk from the Piccadilly station, it is a must venue for every pub and beer lover visiting the city.

Grade II listed, this hostelry is a throwback to grandiose Victorian era and renowned for its glazed tilework and sloping mosaic floor. It’s now owned by Marble Brewery, brewers of some excellent beers like Pint and Lagonda IPA for both cask and keg. Here they discovered the cask ‘Petite IPA’ that comes in at just 2.8%abv.  David says this is “Full of hoppy flavour and it’s very hard to tell that the strength is so low.”

Brewers are working hard to come up with low alcohol beers these days, so they may have found a gem here to meet the concerns of the ever vigilant health lobby and help those who need to drive to enjoy a couple of pints.

Strong stout for starters
At the other end of the spectrum, was the keg Boundary Export Stout at 9%abv, bravely tackled by David early in the day. “I think this was the best option to start the day and at £5 for a half it prepared my wallet as well,” he says, somewhat philosophically.

The boys manfully carried on: “After sampling a few halves in the Marble Arch we made our way to the festival, a 45 minute walk, so we were hoping to find other pubs to pop into but only found Wetherspoon’s and a Walkabout.”

Never mind, the venue for the Indyman is the Victoria swimming baths, a splendid Victorian edifice, complete with the old pool side changing cubicles and winding corridors, where pools are drained for events like this. It’s a wonderfully historic venue for what is a very modern festival, complete with music, a huge choice of street exotic food and bean bag areas for relaxing. Ok, if you are not wearing a flat cap, dripping with tattoos and ironmongery you may feel a little out of place at first – I did when I went – but really it’s very welcoming.

David reports:

“The majority of the brewers were housed in the pools but some had their own spots in the smaller rooms dotted around.  I felt the need to throw away the map and just adventure through them all”.

All beers cost one Indy coin for a third – everyone is issued with their own Indyman stemmed third glass.  Ten Indy coins are £26, which may sound expensive but if you consider the first beer David tried was an Imperial Campfire Porter at 10.5% from Box Social then perhaps it isn’t actually that bad!

Pushing Boundaries
David & Jack ploughed on for some fascinating finds. David comments: “The beers on offer were not for the traditionalist. This was a chance for brewers to really push the boundaries and show off their creative brewing abilities.  There was even a soft serve beer that I tried; Original Double Vanilla Ice Cream IIPA from Buxton & Omnipollo.  That’s right….beer served like a slush puppy almost.  Very different. Not that practical for a pub!  It was very tasty though.

“Sticking with the dark beers we also sampled “Millionaire” by Wild Beer Company.  A chocolate salted caramel milk stout at 4.7%.  I’ve discovered that the addition of salt to beer and cider creates an amazing new flavour but one that you couldn’t have a session on.”

And they discovered another low ABV beer – Sunshine Radler 2.8%.

‘refreshing summer beer with huge orange flavours’.

Cider came up strong too says David: “After wandering and sampling some interesting beers, as a cider maker myself, I settled into a conversation with Allen from Hogan’s Cider. He had an amazing sea salt cider. Not something you could have a session on, but it would be nice to have a third or half to break up the normal routine.

“I was so impressed I requested a sample of his draught cider to consider for the pub and also a bottle of his “High Sobriety” 1% cider.  I’ve tasted both of these and they really do not disappoint.  The draught cider is a true traditional cider with lots of apple flavour and would impress any keg cider drinker in my opinion. The 1%abv cider is outstanding.  You really can’t tell it has such low alcohol.”

Already the Swan has ventured into craft keg beers and David and Jack were very impressed with the festival – ‘the rock n roll tear away of beer festivals’ they thought; so expect more adventures with cider, craft keg and cask beers soon. But don’t worry, flat caps and earrings won’t be compulsory.

SMELL THE HOPS, A BLOWIN’ IN THE WIND

The season of mists and mellow fruitiness is quickly passing, and in the beer world thoughts turn from Keats’ gentle poem to the hop harvest. Early reports indicate a steady year but with some traditional varieties down, due to the very wet spring weather followed by the hot summer,

The Humulus lupulus is a curious little green flower that plays an enormous role in the diversity of beer, providing luscious aromas, flavour and the crucial bitterness that makes you keen for another pint.

Hops have been recognised for centuries for their medicinal and preservative properties. Bt in the Middle Ages they were condemned as a ‘wicked’ foreign threat to English ale. Back then we used such delightful ingredients as bog myrtle and St John’s wort. In the early 1500s hops were a banned, but, fortunately for us, the enlightened Edward VI repealed the law.

By the time of the industrial revolution we had Goldings, a soft and earthy hop still very much in use. And in 1875 Richard Fuggle came up with his eponymous variety that, with its delicate, minty, grassy character that has proved to be the mainstay for many quality ales. Other old stages include Admiral for bitterness, Bramling Cross for spicy and blackcurrant flavours and Challenger with full-bodied roundness and crispness.

In recent times the hop business has evolved with many new varieties, particularly from the USA and New Zealand – Citra, Chinook, Amarillo, Cascade, Nelson Sauvin and Motueka – much embraced by our new wave brewers for the distinctive citrus and tropical fruit notes for blonde, golden pale ales and US style IPAs (India Pale Ale).

The British hop industry suffered as brewers moved to these New World hops, but today there are some 50 commercially available British hop varieties and our growers are hitting back with their own new varieties – Jester, Olicana, Endeavour and GP75, offering tropical style fruit notes to rival the foreigners. Meanwhile American brewers are demanding British hops for session ales.

My own discovery of hops began as an ‘unemployed student’. After a few weeks of summer travelling around Britain I was stony broke – so I hitched to a hop farm near Staplehurst, deep in the Garden of England, for the harvest.

After two days struggling some 80 miles along the south coast – on a diet of plums and a solitary pint of Sussex bitter (I still remember how I savoured that one) – I was very glad to meet the hops.

When the Kentish September sun shone, I loved working among the bines on the tractor and trailer. But tackling the rather malodourous shed, where the bines were stripped and dried, with a touch of a Kentish ale hangover on a chilly autumn morning was….. something else. By October I had seen – and smelt – enough of hops, I thought, to last a lifetime. I sped back to industrial Lancashire and a building site job – where hops in a glass were very firmly in the glass.

Rockin’ on at the hop shed

Quite some years later I renewed my acquaintance with the hop world when the UK’s oldest brewery, Shepherd Neame of Faversham, kindly invited me to their ‘harvest blessing’.

This long tradition had faltered, but was revived by ‘Sheps’ in a jolly church service complete with its own rocking vicar, the Reverend William Mowll. The 15thC parish church of St Peter & St Paul at Bought on-under-Blean rang out with hymns to celebrate the almost bewitching heritage of the Kent hop fields, from centuries ago to more recent times when London’s east-enders made their seasonal pilgrimage.

Post ceremony it was down to the hop shed. Now this was more my sort of shed, complete with the famous Spitfire ale plus table’s groaning with ‘hop-pickers’ culinary delights.

No wonder the East-Enders went out by the train load. Then it was on with the communal singing, led by the rockin’ Rev with a choir, belting out with some great sixties hits. I seem to particularly recall Dylan’s famous Blowin’ in the Wind. A wonderful, bizarrely British, celebration.

When you take that welcome gulp of your first pint tonight, perhaps think for a moment about the magic and romance of the Humulus lupulus – quietly raise your glass to a bright future for the British hop and, maybe, hum a bar or two of Bob’s golden oldie. I think I will.

Does the word ‘Stout’ begin with a ‘G’?

Sampling a pint in a busy Chester ale house the other night I overheard a young Irish lady ask for a Guinness. There wasn’t any, but the bar person offered an alternative ‘stout’.

The conversation went something like ‘that’s like Guinness is it? ‘Yes’. So she took a pint – and then she had black current added! Her husband, also Irish, looked on in bemusement! Well mixing drinks is for another ramble, but this incident caused me to ponder how many younger drinkers recognise that the ubiquitous Irish black stuff is indeed stout.

The Dublin based mega brand has delivered some legendary advertising down the years – although some would be outlawed by today’s booze police – and rather claimed the stout style as its own. But ‘stout’ originated in London as a more pokey version of porter – ‘stout porter’ that eventually became simply stout. Porter was originally a dark brown brew derived from mixing pale, brown and old ales. It was the quaff of choice for the many thirsty street and river porters in early 18thcentury London, hence the sobriquet.

Such was the demand, porter (and stout porter) came to be brewed on an unprecedented commercial scale. The style developed. When the more economical pale malt replaced the old brown malt, less was needed. Brewers used molasses, liquorice, muscovado sugars and sometimes less savoury ingredients such as tobacco and even opium to colour the brew – but these were banned in 1816. Then advances in kilning allowed the creation of new brown or black malts to give porter and stout the character and colour we are familiar with today. Eventually, roasted un-malted barley also came in to use for Irish dry stout.

During the later 19th century English stout, with rich toasty, milky flavours, was much revered by the Russian Imperial Court and it became very fashionable in the Baltic.Like exported India Pale Ale (IPA), it was brewed strong – 8% abv and upwards – to withstand its own lengthy sea journey, so they say, or maybe those thirsty Ruskies just liked getting hoonered!

However, during World War I, to save energy, restrictions were placed on producing the essential dark malts. English stout and porter virtually disappeared. The market was quickly grabbed by the Irish – who were unaffected. Guinness had been dedicated to stout since the early 19thcentury, after founder Arthur identified the potential across the Irish Sea. Hence their dominance today.

In recent times there has been a fight back, with many new wave brewers digging out old recipes or creating new to make excellent brews for both keg and cask. The Swan has its own keg version; Young’s London Stout (see beer notes http://www.theswanatmarbury.co.uk).

There are many other fine examples, but if you see these two around you should pounce:Acorn Gorlovka Imperial Stout (6%abv); strong and full bodied, rich in roast malts and dark fruits with chocolate and coffee notes with a bitter spiciness and dry finish. Peerless Oatmeal Stout (5%abv); brewed in Birkenhead. In a tasting session top beer guru Roger Protz said: “There’s chocolate and coffee with molasses notes on the aroma and lovely expresso coffee notes in the mouth.”

So maybe the next time you fancy a pint of the black stuff you should have a look around for an alternative to the G brand. But whatever it is, please, please, don’t put blackcurrent in it.

Wherefore the future for our traditional British ale? – A thought from the GBBF

The Great British Beer Festival is a very special five day event held at London’s wonderfully atmospheric Olympia Exhibition Hall in Kensington, built to showcase the wonders of Victorian Britain.

Now, every August, Olympia shows off the wonders of British cask ale brewing – and a bit of foreign stuff as well –  with some 1000 beers, ciders, perries to enjoy. And there’s even some gins. As you would expect from Camra it’s a bit quirky, even with a dedicated pickled egg stall.

The big thing for the first day when trade and media have their own special slot – is the announcement of the three winners in all classes and the big one; the Champion Beer of Britain (CBoB) and its runners up.

The festival has been run by the Campaign for Real Ale, who saved us from the perils of massed produced keg beer, for an astonishing 41 years. There’s a bit of a battle in the beer bubble going on these days and a ‘rival’ London Craft Beer Festival is now held at the same time – will that be around in another forty years we wonder.

Anyway the big results for this year were intriguing with the title of Champion Beer of Britain going to Siren’s Broken Dream Breakfast Stout at a very sturdy 6.5per cent strength. Brewed by Siren Brewery in Berkshire. CAMRA says: “If there is any beer in the world that is dangerously drinkable, it’s this one!” If taken literally, I imagine this would be a rather soporific start to the day.

The overall runner up taking silver was an even more powerful brew – Suffolk’s Green Jack Ripper (8.5% ABV); this is strong barley wine, a style that was popular way back in the Napoleonic Wars to replace the banned French clarets at the toffs’ dinner table. Doubt that we will see either of these at the Swan.

But, as a great believer in the wonders of well-balanced bitters, the most impressive result for me was – Mordue Workie Ticket which claimed the bronze award.  At 4.5%abv this is classic ‘best bitter’ that made the spotlight to be voted Champion Beer of Britain 1997 – only two years after Mordue started up. So a big comeback for this complex North East tipple with plenty of pale malt, some pale chocolate malt and torrefied wheat and traditional British hops – Fuggles, Challenger and East Kent Goldings.

Surprised to get the award, Garry Fawson from Mordue Brewery said: “We won the Champion Beer of Britain award 21 years ago so it’s fantastic to be back in the running this year! As a bitter, Workie Ticket isn’t the most fashionable of beers with everything moving towards being pale, hoppy or cloudy, so we’re especially pleased that it has made such a comeback.”

Maybe this is some reassurance that traditional English style bitter is fighting back against the plethora of West Coast style IPAs and pale ales, golden and blonde brews or adventurous stouts & porters and saisons.

Over the day we picked over the thorny issues of quality and pricing for cask ales, but the cheering news was speculation from some pundits and brewers that traditional bitter may just be seeing a glimmer of comeback in the face of those innovative new wave brews. I talked with one fledgling west London brewer who told me that his best seller is a session bitter, that younger drinkers were ‘rediscovering’ the style after cutting their baby teeth on more exotic brews.

Personally I have always embraced the golden and blonde ale styles, but traditional cask bitter is our heritage; no-one other country does it like we do, so this would be good news to me.

In my beer guide role, I know Americans, Canadians and Australians- and a couple of Japanese – who delight in these cask conditioned beers. At a time when cask sales are battling with ‘factory lager’ on the one front and the ‘crafty keg’ beers of the new wave brewers on another is there hope for a return to the future for our very own beer style perhaps?

Can the present army of some 2000 brewers out there rise to the challenge and turn their creativity to the style? Now that would be a real innovation for the British beer industry. Meanwhile I will raise a glass of Workie Ticket – when I can get one.

Great British Beer Festival

Who’s for a beer in the UK’s biggest pub?

Next week the redoubtable Great British Beer Festival arrives in London once again – a ‘beer lover’s paradise’. One of the best known events in the beer and cider world it brings together a thousand or so different beers from across the UK and abroad.

It’s on from 7-11 August and takes place in the glorious Victorian edifice that is Olympia. There’s beers from more than 400 breweries across 30 different bars with some 900 real ales as well as live music and street food. And the Champion Beer of Britain winners will be revealed on Tuesday afternoon.

The first GBBF was borne from the fledgling Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) movement in 1977, held at Alexandra Palace. Impressively this year is number 41 – 1984 was skipped due to a fire – testimony to the success of the campaign. And cask beer is still the mainstay of the festival; long may it reign despite the move to ‘craft keg’. Last year the moderate strength bitter Goat’s Milk (3.8%) from Church End Brewery took the Champion Beer of Britain title – I found that rather reassuring.

But it is not all about swilling large quantities of best bitter, oh no, no. Although there will no doubt still be quite a few beards, braces, beer bellies and funny hats about the hall, Camra has been busy modernizing – each year there’s more young people and females attracted to the beery fun.

And in these ‘progressive days’ they do let in ‘crafty’ keg beer on the stands as well as ciders and perries alongside beers from Europe and the US; apparently there are beers ranging from a cinnamon porter to a green jasmine tea IPA. Well ecky thump! – as my old aunt may have exclaimed with delighted surprise.

Also, in a substantial nod to the vagaries of modern life, the very first alcohol-free beer will be on sale alongside vegan-friendly and gluten-free brews. I know, there’s no accounting, but I can’t just think of anyone I know who would go to a beer festival to drink alcohol free beer – FREE beer, now yes! Anyway, here’s a few of the more off-the-wall delights spotlighted by Camra:

  • Alphabeta’s Rauch Bier, which was created to match this small batch brewery’s smokehouse menu and offers a distinctive smoky taste.
  • Coniston’s No 9 Barley Wine, brewed just once a year to allow for a long maturation period to give a smooth and warming character, making it a delightful sipping beer – that should be a cracker.
  • A collaborative brew from Brew York and Abbeydale, which is a festival-exclusive cask release IPA boasting flavours of white grape, peach and vanilla – look forward to that.
  • Thornbridge’s Strawberry Lucaria, which is a lower ABV twist on the ice cream porter with the addition of sweet strawberries ‘to provide that Neapolitan flavour we all need for summer’.
  • Norfolk Brewhouse’s Moon Gazer Pacific Pale Ale, a gluten-free beer that was made especially for a staff member diagnosed with coeliac disease last year.

Well, that lot is all very interesting in an extreme sort of way, but in a hall bursting with quality beers from brewers large and small across the country it will be tricky to know where to make a start. I’ve had a quick look and should think I shall be seeking out beers from the likes of the outstanding Swanney from windswept Orkney, their neighbour Cairngorm, the fast emerging Hooded Ram of the Isle of Man, the delightfully quirky Heavy Industry from the depths of North Wales, Acorn’s splendid Yorkshire brews and maybe some from the much hidden Driftwood Spars brew pub at St Agnes in Cornwall – with Lou’s Brew, a tribute to the landlady. It will be a long day.

Over the week Camra expects more than 50,000 visitors and, if you can get there, advance tickets are available at www.gbbf.org.uk If you can’t make it, your correspondent will be there, at great personal sacrifice, to report back on the winners of the CBofB contest. Cheers.

Nostalgia

Let’s taste the nostalgia with a retro look at Pale Ale.

Nostalgia is often tied in with tastes and smells. My own veers towards beer and my youthful days weaned on Massey’s Bitter in Burnley, drunk from ‘barrel glasses’.

Founded in the Industrial Revolution, Massey’s was knitted into the fabric of the town. From earlier childhood, hazily recall winter days with the pall of brew days hovering lovingly over the town centre mixed with the gritty smog of industrial Lancashire. Lovely! Well, it was home.

As factories closed, the town became cleaner. But the beer worsened. A modern monster called Bass-Charrington sneaked in and swallowed up Massey’s – just as my back was turned working in the London newspaper world. Disaster. For many at least as tragic the Clarets being relegated from the old First Division.

Bemused drinkers were then force-fed a dubious beverage called Brew Ten, so for a while some turned to Massey’s bottled pale ale for consolation – although this too eventually succumbed. Sometimes though my taste-buds time travel back to recall the tongue tingling delight of that tipple.

Meandering

I meander down this particular memory lane because a question I am asked in the pub nowadays is ‘what is pale ale?’ as drinkers face the plethora of blonde, golden and bronze brews created by the new wave brewers.

Unravelling this question when enjoying a quiet beer is akin to explaining the off side rule in the middle of a World Cup match – just a little troublesome. But let’s have a go here. Historically pale ale provided the bridge between exported India Pale Ale (IPA) and the new-fangled malty character bronze ‘bitter’ of the turn of the 20th century.

In the 1800s IPA had itself led the way from dark brown mild and porters to paler, much hoppier ales. When home drinkers tasted the stuff being shipped to the East they liked it, quite a lot, but wanted something at a lower strength and less bitter. Brewers could now do this and get away from maturing beers for lengthy periods. In any case, at home they didn’t need as many hops for preservatives nor the high alcohol demanded for the long sea journeys.

Blurred

But the demarcation between pale ales and bitter has become much blurred over the years. Marston’s Pedigree (4.5%abv), I am reliably informed by no less than beer guru Roger Protz, is classic Burton pale ale. Brewed with lots of biscuity Maris Otter pale malt, some brewing sugar and the historic British Fuggles hops for herby, grassy notes and Goldings with a hint of, sweetness honey and spice it is nicely rounded fruity modestly bitter beer – but this bronze brew long been positioned as ‘bitter and more recently re-baptised, like a born again Christian, as ‘amber ale’, whatever that is.

Today we often see beers under the pale ale moniker that may better be called blonde ales in new ‘interpretations’ of the style; very low coloured malts are used for these brews along with fragrant, citrusy New World hops.

So I was much intrigued to hear that the once mighty Joshua Tetley brand is to return – partially at least – to its home city of Leeds, where it was established in 1822. Owner Carlsberg abandoned brewing there and the famous Yorkshire beer has called the Midlands home for several years – shame. But with the launch of cask-conditioned Tetley’s No.3 Pale Ale (4.2%abv) they are back north, brewing in partnership with the much smaller, but celebrated, Leeds Brewery.

This brew is ’inspired’ by an original recipe launched in 1868 using Tetley’s unique double yeast strain – “giving drinkers a unique taste of the 19th century”. English Pale Ale malt gives body and a lighter bronze colour while traditional English Pilgrim, Brewers Gold and Goldings provide bitterness and aroma for a ‘full flavored, crisp and refreshing beer’. Perhaps a bit like Massey’s then I ponder.

Well anyway there’s an answer to the posed conundrum from no less than old Joshua: traditional English Pale Ale is brewed with restrained English hops and pale malt, not overtly hopped but with good bittering. Anything else, described as pale ale but highly hopped, if not exactly an imposter, is probably a new wave variant with some fancy Oregon or New Zealand hops perhaps. My own test is: will it nicely match roast beef and Yorkshires – or the traditional Lancashire pie & peas of old? If it won’t, it’s the new stuff.

The next time you come up against a brew claiming the sobriquet you will have to decide for yourself – pale ale or blonde bitter? Me, I just dream of Massey’s, sometimes I can almost taste it again – or is that just nostalgia?

Some beery ramblings

These Beery Ramblings will meander through the mysteries of hops, barley and yeast, who makes our cask ale and the gloriously idiosyncratic British pub. First, we take a glimpse at the fascinating history of the tipple that has, over the years, rather lost out to wine in the image stakes.

Beer has been with us since around 8000BC, when grain was cultivated in the Middle East and gave us a fermented drink. By 4000BC it seems it was so popular (well, perhaps not the fastest marketing success, but then no social media!) that many worshipped the Beer Goddess Ninkasi. A “Hymn to Ninkasi” served as a sort of post-it note for the recipe for beer. The Egyptians loved it too, especially after a day building pyramids.

When the Romans came along the beer was flying out, much to the invaders’ disgust. Wine snobs! But, later, the Anglo-Saxons and Danes took to the ale enthusiastically, enjoying a few foamy horns after a hard, blood spattered day shoving on a shield-wall.

That ale wasn’t today’s though. Hops were still unknown. Other stuff gee’d up the sweetness of the malt – rosewood, tree bark, bog myrtle, yarrow and thyme. Lovely. Hopped ale emerged around the 1500s, with the arrival of Flems and Germans in sunny Kent. At first hops were regarded as akin to the devil’s work, but eventually drinkers took to them. Kent became the Hop Garden of England to produce our wonderfully subtle English varieties such as Fuggles and Goldings.

Hop blessings and parades

Today the Humulus lupulus is the pin-up of the craft beer world, whilst malt, water and yeast do the donkey work. Shepherd Neame, Britain’s oldest established brewery, honours ‘the wolf plant’ every year with their own parish church blessing ceremony for the harvest, followed by a splendid hop fuelled party. There’s the hop parade too, with Morris Dancers and Pearly Kings, a nod to when London’s East End pickers used to move into Kent mob handed.

As a very callow youth, I picked Kent hops – hard, thirsty, toil! After a month enduring the highly odorous hop shed early every morning, not good after a night in the pub, I only wished to see them liquefied. Attending the hop blessing, years later, was a rather a better way to witness the harvesting.

During the 18thC and 19thC porter and ‘stout’ porter – developed themselves from a brown beer called ‘three threads’ – were the nation’s favoured refreshment, to replace energy spent on manual work. Then industrialisation allowed the lighter coloured IPA -India Pale Ale- and pale ales (more later on these) to move in as a prelude to the advent of ‘running’ beers. These ales, using new techniques together with the expanding railway network, could be brewed and distributed much quicker than the long matured beers of old. This meant more profit for the regional brewers that had evolved from the alewives and brewpubs of old. With the turn of the 20th century, top fermented bitters and the new type of mild ale came to dominate as the tipples of choice in Britain; a sort of early Beer Brexit as we chose not to follow Europe’s path of choice to bottom fermented lager.

Dark days and miracles

We were pretty happy with this arrangement. But then the dark days of the sixties and seventies came along when the bully boy Big Brewers inflicted on us the imposters of Double Diamond, Watney’s Red Barrel and something called Whitbread (Big Head!) Trophy Bitter – a terrible period!

However, in the early seventies a small miracle took shape. Camra (the Campaign for Real Ale) shuffled to the rescue very cleverly disguised – some might say ludicrously – in woolly sweaters, sandals and beards. Sheer genius! At first dismissed by brewing corporates as beer eccentrics, they became one of the most successful pressure groups of all time to snatch cask ale from the jaws of oblivion. Without this unlikely Captain Marvel it is very doubtful that we would have today’s small army of creative independent brewers and their formidable mountain of cask ales to tackle. Let’s attempt to scale it.

Finally up and running

So we are finally up and running and I’m very pleased.

The pub feels so good and we have not suffered from too many early day teething problems.

On Saturday night we had our drinks party for the locals which I thoroughly enjoyed. I don’t suppose the whole village have been together in one place for a long time. I think everyone enjoyed themselves too.

I’m at home writing this on Wednesday night so it really is the very beginning. I’ve just spoken to the manager David and he tells me it’s been a great night with a lot of people outside.

I’m looking forward to the weekend and after as we increase the bookings to more people as the staff gather experience and find their feet.

I thought you might like to look at these pictures of the village do.

We have finally set an opening date – Monday 16th April 2018

We have finally set an opening date – Monday 16th April 2018.

Before the official opening we’ll have a few test runs, a village drinks party on Saturday evening and the builders do on Sunday lunch. A pub needs the equivalent of sea trials before taking on passengers. We have some experienced staff but none of them have ever used our latest till system and of course the building and its layout is unfamiliar. Lindsay, the operations manager, and the team have been working very hard to try and get everything prepared but we will still need to take it easy to start with so that the new staff can find their feet.

The village drinks party will be from 6 to 9 on Saturday night. Just wine and beer and a choice of

four main courses. Entry will be by invitation only which we will distribute during the course of the next few days. We will be inviting everyone inside the red line on the map below so if anyone lives here and hasn’t got an invite call in and see us.

On Sunday we will have the builders party. This, as the name suggests, is for everyone who has worked on the project and will be a more complete test of all the systems and procedures. Then we cast off and open to the public at 11:30 am on Monday for the real test. I hope people like it if they don’t I might emigrate.

December 2017 Update

Twice sorry

I need to make two apologies. One for not keeping this web thingy up to date and one for the delay in getting the Swan open. You must have been wondering what the hell’s been happening. First, we were opening in September, then November and then January and now no news at all. To avoid further embarrassment I’ve decided it’s wiser not to speculate about an opening until I’ve got a proper and achievable date. What I can say is that it’s still some way off so I just hope it happens before I die.

Why so slow?

Why has it taken so long? Mainly because I’m out of practice. I’ve been retired from the business for 10 years now, many of my old contacts have gone and regulations and technology have moved on apace. I’ve had to find new suppliers and learn lots of new things. With a very small, albeit growing, the team I’ve had to start from scratch and it’s taken me longer than I thought. Having said that I can report that I’m really enjoying being back in business, I missed it more than I thought. There’s something very pleasing about having a whole series of problems and obstacles that need to be solved.

Pleased

But perhaps the best news is I’m really pleased with the pub and hope, and believe, that you will like it too. It seems that everyone and a few more, are waiting for it to open. Don’t expect massive style changes from my old Brunning and Price pubs, I’m settled in my ways and I like the natural materials and colours that I have always used. I still like using reclaimed materials, old furniture and old rugs for a “worn in” feel. I still want my pubs to be like going into someone’s house. I think the difference with this one will be that it’s much more personal as I have the time, the inclination and the experience to pay attention to details. That attention to detail will continue for many years to come. This is the difference between a corporate owner and a personal owner, a personal owner carries on improving and altering just as any homeowner does.

Only the few

Before we can open we will need to test all the IT, especially as it is all new and all high tech, and all the mechanical equipment and the staff procedures. We usually do this by having two trial runs. We trade just as we would normally but our customers do not pay. I want people to know in advance that we can only have 150 people at each test run so there are going to be disappointed people. The first one, which we normally call the builders party, will be mainly people who have worked on the project so very few potential customers. During this one we make a snagging list and then do all the repairs and changes before the second one. This will hopefully be all locals but, as I say, only 150. As I always think we need around 2,500 devotees to make a pub work this means we will only be able to invite 6% of the people who we’d like to be there which is far from ideal. We have not started compiling the guest list in earnest but will do so in February and March. It’s an arbitrary process, there’s no meritocracy or democracy or hierarchy. It’s basically the first ones we think of.

Still so slow

Finally, finally I’d like to say that these ramblings will not be frequent. I’m a very slow writer and this one has taken me the best part of a Sunday at home. It’s only because Beth, my wife, has got flu that we have not been out and I have been left undisturbed.

When the pub opens we will have a simple web site with all the information you may need together with a dashed clever table booking app type thing.

Some of you might have discovered that I do not like social media such as Facebook and LinkedIn and I’m hoping we don’t have to use it for the pub either. I find the whole movement very unhealthy and until the platforms accept responsibility for content and anonymity is forbidden it will, for me, have more negatives than positives. More discussion on this subject will require beer and be hanging around the bar.