Tim Hampson's Beer Blog

The quest for the perfect beer

Archive for August 2010

Dwink, Dwink and be merry

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Cheeky chappies Ben McFarland and Tom Sandham

In the firmament of the current group of people doing beer talks two of the shining stars are Ben McFarland and Tom Sandhan.

The cheeky, chappy Dwink duo, which I caught yesterday at a Foodies Festival in Oxford, took an irreverent and sometime bawdy journey through the world of beer and cider. “We do corporate events and consumer tastings, stag events, hen nights and children’s parties, but prefer hen nights,” confides Tom with a mischievous grin and a sparkle in his eye.

Forget the notion that beer tastings are an extravagance of technical terms and facts about hop varieties, international bitterness units and measurements for the colour of malt. In triple quick time, well they had to make way for a Portuguese wine tasting, and a testy stage manager behind the scenes was giving a stern look, the pair took an entranced audience though five beers and an organic cider.

Most loved the Hall & Woodhouse elderflower flavoured Champion. The opening of a flip top bottle of Grolsch became a piece of crowd theatre. The flavour of a Molson Coors Blue Moon, a wheat beer, was enhanced by being poured over a piece of orange. Coopers Pale Ale confused several people as it was cloudy, giving the pair a chance to talk about bottle conditioned beers. The Westons Organic Cider showed there is more to alcoholic apple drinks than Magners or Bulmers. And the tasting ended with a glass of Innis & Gunn, which introduced people to the idea of wood aging beer in whisky barrels. And on the way they took in beer and food pairings, the health benefits of sensible drinking and told everyone that the beer belly was a myth.

The choice of drinks by the Dwink’s pair was clever. All easily available, all approachable and all a marvellous entry into the world of beers. The audience left with smiles on their faces, a greater knowledge about beer and that marvellous of feeling contentment from having had a good beer.

So who have you seen recently who has given a good beer talk?


Three year’s ago, the beer world lost its most influential and passionate advocate – Michael Jackson – the Beer Hunter.

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Michael Jackson - the Beer Hunter

It is hard to believe that it is three years since the death of the world’s greatest beer writer, Michael Jackson. Known as the Beer Hunter, he almost singlehandedly transformed the world of beer, bringing it out of brewers’ tasting rooms into people’s front rooms.

Who would have thought that a train ride from Amsterdam to the Roman Catholic south of the Netherlands would forever change the world of beer, beer writing and brewing? It was 1969 and Michael Jackson a tyro journalist, who had trained on the Huddersfield Examiner and worked in London and Edinburgh, was enjoying his first foreign posting. The sixties were in full swing, and Michael revelled in the city’s sex, rock and roll and jazz cafes with beer and whiskey his drugs of choice. As John Lennon and Yoko Ono enjoyed a bed in the Amsterdam Hilton, Jackson decided to travel to the southern Dutch border to write an article on the uninhibited enjoyment he had been told took place at the region’s pre-lent carnivals.

Jackson throughout his life soon tired of uniformity and he was bored with drinking the city’s ubiquitous Pils beers. He wanted to experience the wider range of beers a friend had said was available. And in an unnamed town, where revellers danced to the sounds of the Beatles, a man in a John Lennon mask handed him a chalice with a darker beer. It was a Trappist beer from Belgium, and in a gulp his life changed. Beer was suddenly much more than an alcoholic liquid in a glass. The following day he travelled to Belgium for the first time – sampling the marvels of De Konnick, Westmalle Dubbel and Tripel and an unidentified Gueuze. John Barleycorn had grabbed his heart and soul. And as the beer flowed, so did the words. He dedicated more than 30 years to discovering, recording and then sharing the world’s finest beers and whiskeys in his many books, articles and TV programmes. It was a journey that took him from Alaska to Patagonia and on to Sri Lanka.

He developed a classification system for the world’s classic beers styles and in doing so created consumer interest that saved many beers from extinction. His writing set the standard for beer enthusiasts and brewers alike. He wrote in depth about different brewing techniques, ingredients, flavour profiles, cultural differences, and food parings.

His writing style was wonderfully erudite and bubbled with humanity and humour. His knowledge of beer was unsurpassable. His genius was to be able to write simply and beautifully about beer and the lives of the people who created them. He was an inspiration to hundreds of brewers worldwide. Jackson knew he would never be as famous as Michael Jackson, the rock star, and that was reflected in his many talks. “Hello, my name is Michael Jackson. No, not that Michael Jackson, but I am on a world tour. My tour is in pursuit of exceptional beer. That’s why they call me the Beer Hunter.”

Michael Jackson, Beer Hunter, was born on March 27 1942. He died on August 30 2007.

So what are your memories of Michael, I’d love to know?

Written by timhampson

August 30, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Some things make you think

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Today is the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain. I’d quite forgotten that I was once asked to write an article, called Last Orders of the Day, about the importance of the pub and beer to airmen in 1940, which was in a publication to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the air battle.

In it there is a quote from Air Vice-Marshall Sir Cecil Bouchier, Commander of Hornchurch Fighter Sector.

He said: “My most enduring memories of those days are not of the battle itself, but rather of the pilots, their thoughts, hopes and fears and the way in which they bore themselves in moments of failure and triumph or deep tragedy.

“Mostly my memories are centred around the mess, for this was their home – the only place each night where taut nerves could unwind and body and mind find refreshment…I remember how the chaps, the lion-hearted Douglas Barder, Al Deere, Stanford Tuck and a host others used to flock up to the mess at the end of each day’s fighting, flop down on the hall floor – and call for their tankards.

“This was their great relaxation at the end of each day – the beer they had dreamt about all day. In those days no-one drank anything but draught beer…..

“In their very real world of the quick and the dead two half cans (half-pints) was usually their self-imposed ration. This was the brief spell they all looked forward to each day, as squatting side by side against the walls they would lap up their beer and swap experiences of the day…….

“Often a Leader bringing his Squadron home just before dark and fearful of being late, would radio me from halfway across the Channel: ‘Please keep the bar open Sir, we we’ll be down in 20 minutes.’ Alas there were many deep personal tragedies and these were always concerned with the unaccountable loss in combat of a friend. Sooner or later during a lull in the general chatter, a voice would anxiously ask if anyone had seen ‘Jimmy go down’.

“The painful silence was usually broken by someone saying ‘come on chaps drink up’ – lets go and eat and they would all get up and file into the mess for supper. Quickly and quietly they would slide off to bed – greedy to grasp the bare four or five hours of sleep available to them before coming to readiness again at dawn.”

Humbly, I think I might enjoy my beer tonight.

Written by timhampson

August 20, 2010 at 6:20 pm

Dove flies to new heights

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The Dove - a must visit pub for any beer lover

Favourite pubs – Dove Street Inn, Ipswich

I discovered my satellite navigation system couldn’t cope with Ipswich’s one-way system as I looked for this street corner pub. Eventually, I had to shun the technology and find someone to ask the way. Why do men so reluctantly ask for directions? “You’ll like it there,” said my guide, “I’ve never known a pub sell so many real ales.”

Quantity doesn’t normally equate to quality when it comes to the selling of beers. However, if the serving of good cask beer marks the very best pubs from those that are just good then the Dove Street Inn is quality personified. Ten hand pumps vie for space on the bar and at least another 10 real ales are served straight from the barrel. Many of the beers are from local brewers, reflecting the vibrancy of Britain’s brewers big and small. So far this year 388 different beers have been served. And if this is not enough there is a fabulous range of bottled beers and craft ciders.

This is a friendly place, run by Karen and Ady, which is staffed by people with welcoming smiles and a confident knowledge about the beers they sell and how they should be served. The Dove Inn is comfortable, well lit by the natural light that floods through the large windows and dances on the wooden floor. The food is simple, the homemade sausage rolls and chilli con carne are to be recommended. “I wish this were my local,” said one customer as he sipped a pint of Old Speckled Hen.

One of Britain’s best ever writers Eric Blair took his nom de plume from the River Orwell, which runs through Ipswich. On his favourite, but mythical pub he wrote ‘The Moon under Water’, is only two minutes from a bus stop, but it is on a side-street, and drunks and rowdies never seem to find their way there, even on Saturday nights.” George Orwell could have been writing about the Dove Street Inn. Good beer served by people who care about what they serve and drunk by those who like good company. Things do not get much better than this.

The pub’s next beer festival starts 12 noon Wednesday 1 September to Sunday 5 September 2010.

76 St Helens Street, Ipswich

01473 211270


Written by timhampson

August 20, 2010 at 9:39 am

Search for best beer writer begins

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Pictured from left - Budweiser Budvar's Ian Moss and Beer Writer of the Year Pete Brown

Search for best beer writer launched –

Have you got the words to be Beer Writer of the Year 2010 and win £1,000?

The British Guild of Beer Writers is giving beer communicators the chance to enter their work in six different categories, with one of the category winners to be named as the Beer Writer of the Year and receive the coveted Michael Jackson Gold Tankard Award*.

The competition is open to writers, broadcasters, photographers, poets, illustrators, designers, webmasters and bloggers whose work has broadened the public’s knowledge of beer and pubs. Nominations and entries are being sought for six categories:

Molson Coors’ Award for Best Writing in National Publications – prize £1,000 & £500

For the very best writing or broadcasting aimed at a general audience, published in the national (and international) press, consumer magazines, books, national television and radio.

Adnams Award for Best Writing in Regional Publications – prize £1,000 & £500

For the very best writing or broadcasting aimed at a specific local or regional audience, published in local and regional newspapers, magazines, radio, television and CAMRA newsletters.

Wells & Young’s Awards for Best Writing for the Beer and Pub Trade – prize £1,000 & £500

For the very best writing or broadcasting aimed at the brewing and pub industry, published in trade and company newspapers, newsletters, magazines, reports and websites.

Brains SA Gold Award for Best Online Communication – £1,000 & £500

For the very best use of blogs, websites and social media, whether that be writing or use of other tools such as video or social networking.

Budweiser Budvar John White Travel Bursary – prize £1,000 plus trip to Czech Republic

For the very best travel-themed beer writing (or beer-themed travel writing) or broadcasting. Entries can be from national, local or regional media, books, trade publications or online.

Bishop’s Finger Award for Beer and Food Writing – prize £1,000

For the very best writing or broadcasting on the subject of matching beer with food (an area formerly dominated by wine). Entries can be from national, local or regional media, books, trade publications or online.

How to enter

To enter the British Guild of Beer Writers Annual Awards send four copies (photocopies or printouts from PDFs accepted) of each entry, published or broadcast in the last 12 months up to 30 September 2010 – stating where it has been published. Authors of books need to send four copies of the book.

Website and bloggers entries – please send web address and URLs of the pages you want the judges to read.

Entrants can enter as many categories as they want, but they are limited to a maximum of six entries within each category. Remember, quality is more important than quantity so send one good entry in a category rather than six mediocre ones.

The entry should be accompanied by a letter stating which category or categories are being entered.

Entries should be sent by 8 October to – Beer Writers Competition, c/o  Seal Communications, Commercial Street, Birmingham, B1 1RH

Contact Seal: Nigel Pipkin 0121 616 5800 E: Birmingham@seal.uk.com

Entrants are asked to nominate which category they would like their work to be entered into but the judges reserve the right to consider work for other categories.

Editors, publishers and other third parties can nominate entrants to the competition.

Entrants do not have to be members of the British Guild of Beer Writers – they just have to communicate about beer or beer culture, new products or the ingredients and brewing of beer.

There is no limitation on the number of categories that an individual may enter.

Entries can only be returned if accompanied with a self-addressed, stamped envelope or packaging.

*Michael Jackson (27 March 1942 – 30 August 2007) who was also known as the beer hunter, dedicated more than 30 years to discovering, recording and then sharing the world’s finest beers in his many books, articles and TV programmes. He was the first Chairman of the British Guild of Beer Writers.

Guidelines for entrants can be found at http://www.beerwriters.co.uk/news.php?awards=1&showarticle=23

To book a place at the awards dinner – ticket price is £70 per person or £56 for BGBW individual members. For more information booking at the dinner contact Angie Armitage, at angie@cask-marque.co.uk or on 01206 752212

For more information on the British Guild of Beer Writers Awards contact Tim Hampson Tel: 07768 614283 – Email: tim@infopub.co.uk. Blog: https://beerandpubs.wordpress.com


Written by timhampson

August 19, 2010 at 9:29 am

Honey – have you got the beer?

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Honey can add luxurious almost magical qualities to beer

And talking of competitions Britain’s bee keepers have launched this year’s competition to find the best honey beer in the world. International tennis players long to have a Wimbledon title to their names. For beekeepers, Britain’s National Honey Show, now in its 79th year, has the same appeal. The show benches are packed with nearly 250 classes showcasing the very best examples of the beekeepers’ craft. A walk around them is an instant education.

Last year saw the introduction of a new class for Honey Beer. It attracted entrants from Cornwall to Scotland. Now the search is on to find the best honey beer for 2010. And it is very easy to enter.

The requirement is for three bottles or cans in any style. It should be commercially available and of course honey must be an ingredient. Gold, silver and bronze medals are the prizes, plus the kudos of success at the world’s largest honey show.

The NHS attracts a good deal of media attention.  Last year several TV crews were present and BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme devoted an entire edition to the show. Already one major BBC TV programme has asked to film this year.

Last year’s worth winner was the highly drinkable Fairtrade Bumble Bee Honey Ale. Brewed by Freeminer, the honey came from wild flowers growing on a Chilean hillside.

Silver went to the distinctive Thornbridge’s Bracia, which was infused with a generous amount of dark and bitter Chestnut Honey. The bronze was won by the exquisite Lovibonds Gold Reserve.

So do you know anyone who produces a packaged beer which uses honey as an ingredient? Sweeten them up and encourage them to enter the competition. And what is your favourite honey beer?

The 2010 National Honey Show will be held at St Georges College, Weybridge, Surrey from 28 to 30 October.

Further information about the Honey Beer class can be obtained from the General Secretary, The Rev H F Capener  showsec@zbee.com

General information about the show and entry forms are available on the NHS website www.honeyshow.co.uk

Written by timhampson

August 18, 2010 at 7:23 am

Happy fourth birthday Rake

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Is this London's best beer bar?

No one would walk into a restaurant and ask for a plate of food.  So don’t walk into the Rake and just ask for a beer – better to ask what is new or different or ask for a style that suits the moment. If you want a bland international lager purporting to be a pilsner don’t drink at the Rake.

When it comes to pubs, the Rake in Brought Market, by London Bridge, was once the new brash kid on the block, but it has just celebrated its fourth birthday and now should be must a must visit destination for anyone who wants to enjoy beer culture. It opened in 2006 on the former site of a nineteenth century public house, making it the first bar in the bounds of the Borough Market for one hundred years.

The Rake’s beer menu is extensive, varied and constantly changing. It always includes two draught beers.  But think of a beer style – Lambic, American IPA, true pilsners or whatever then the Rake probably has it. In its first week of opening one of the highlights was Thomas Hardy Ale on cask. How good to see it back on the bar four years later, though it is a different vintage.  People who think beer is a swift swallow shouldn’t drink Thomas Hardy’s Ale. It is to be sipped and savoured and treated as one would a rare whisky. This incarnation was young, brash and like a wilful two year old having a tantrum, challenging to my senses.  Some say the beer should only be drunk when 10 years old when it acquires a palate of complex elegance – for that I might have to wait.

The Rake might be small but its heart and soul are big. Its ever-changing and evolving beer repertoire, chosen from some of the world’s most creative brewers puts it on a world stage. For people who want to talk beer then the Rake is a must visit.

The Rake

14 Winchester Walk, Borough Market, SE1 9AG

Written by timhampson

August 15, 2010 at 3:25 pm

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Koch throws his Stone into European waters

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Could the closed Highate Brewery be a target for Stone's ambitions?

I am intrigued by the notion that the Stone Brewing company is looking for a site from where it could brew its beer in Europe. This is no Californian dreaming, but yes, the Escondido-based company, close to the Mexican border is looking for a European base for its beers.

One of the sites being looked at is the closed Highgate Brewery in Walsall in the West Midlands. Sadly the company that owned the historic Victorian Tower brewery, which was built in 1898 went into liquidation several weeks ago and 22 workers have been laid off. Stone Brewing chief executive Greg Koch confirmed the brewery in Sandymount Road, Walsall was one of the “possible locations he was considering”.

Koch said after he had heard about the brewery being up for sale, he posted a message on the Save the Highgate Brewery FaceBook page, which had sparked a lot of speculation locally and on the net that Stone had put in a bid for the company.

But the web surfers’ dreams of those who want to save Highgate will probably be wiped out as Koch says in a statement on Ratebeer: “We have the greatest respect for the existing traditional styles brewed in Europe, however those traditions are not ours.”

Stone is currently evaluation locations in nine different countries and Koch says there is a “lot to sort through. We are indeed intending to brew Stone beers that are substantially similar – or as precisely the same as we can get – to what we brew in Escondido,” he said.

The move raises interesting question about the provenance and integrity of beer. But does a Michelin starred chef stop being a good chef because he changes his frying pan? So why cannot a world class brewer and a company that makes a fantastic interpretation of an IPA bring that skill to Europe?

And a company with the marketing skills of Stone would shake some of the stuffed shirts who run breweries in Europe. Commercially beer a is relatively low cost purchase for the drinker and shipping it across oceans and continents is expensive and not the greatest use of resources.

So Stone’s throw into Europe could be a welcome blast to the world of beer.

Stone’s proposal to set up a site in Europe can be found at http://www.stonebrew.com/rfp/

The Save Highgate Brewery campaign can be found at FaceBook at http://www.facebook.com/#!/group.php?gid=132472633446481&ref=ts

Written by timhampson

August 13, 2010 at 6:42 pm

Want to lose weight? Swap the wine for beer

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Some years back I was in Bass Brewing Museum, in Burton on Trent, though it might have been called the Coors Visitor Centre by this time. A group of women on the next table were from the local Weightwatchers group. And when it came to lunch, in the spiritual home of British brewing and one of the most important town’s in the world story of beer, they all ordered…….glasses of white wine.

A great pity they didn’t know that people can drink beer without putting on weight. In fact, swapping from wine to beer for just one week would save as many calories as a half-hour jog so some scientists have told me. Research shows that around one-third of men and women wrongly believe that beer has more calories than other alcoholic drinks. In fact, the opposite is true and, when drunk in moderation, beer people lose weight, cut their alcohol consumption and, more generally, supplement a healthy lifestyle.

So cut out the pies and kebabs and eat salad with a drizzle of olive oil instead. Now a takeaway green salad might not sound as exciting as the queue for a burger and chips, but perhaps this research could herald a new trend in late night eateries? According to the boffins half pint of 3.8% bitter contains 85 calories, a 175ml of 12% red plonk has 119 calories, the same size glass of a vino blanc has a tummy expanding 131 calories and a 5 per cent alcopop has 179.

And the good news for alcohol unit counter (yes there are some) is that they should shun wine too and turn to beer. Because beer is the drinks category with the lowest average alcohol content. Beer also contains no fat or cholesterol and very few free sugars. So for someone looking to lose weight, swapping their glass of wine for a beer every day would not only reduce their weekly alcohol intake by seven units – but also cut out more calories than are burned off during a typical 30 minute jog.

So no more beer bellies, but what should our expanding girths? Wine-waisters? Ideas welcome.

The research was published in Beer, the natural choice? http://www.beeracademy.co.uk/about-us/what-does-it-do

Written by timhampson

August 11, 2010 at 4:54 pm

Is Sheffield the best beer city in England and is the Kelham Island Tavern the finest pub?

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A local pub with a national reputation

I was in the Steel City researching a new book and also taking the opportunity to visit an old friend Dave Wickett – creator of the Fat Cat pub and founder of the Kelham Island Brewery. With pubs like the Fat Cat, Tap, Rutland Arms, Devonshire Arms, University Arms, Hillsborough and Harlequin a beer lover is never more than a short walk or a tram ride away from good beer.

The Kelham Island Tavern’s glass is much more than half full, it is bubbling over. The back street Sheffield pub recently won Campaign for Real ale’s (CAMRA) National Pub of the Year for an unprecedented second year in a row. Not bad for a boozer that was rescued from dereliction in 2002 and nearly went under following the Steels City’s flooding in 2007. It was shuttered, boarded and sadly dilapidated when bought by Trevor Wraith and Lewis Gonda in 2001, and most thought its best days like that of Sheffield’s steel industry had long since gone. But the pair had a vision of running a local pub based on simple virtues – good service, a wide choice of well-kept beer served by knowledgeable staff – which was a place for people of all ages to sit, chat and sometimes sing or just read newspapers.

And now their dream has become a nationally renowned gem with customers exchanging articulate views on the merits of a Farmers Blonde, a Nutty Black or even a Ludwig Wheat. Trevor Wraith said: “Never in a million years did I think I would get CAMRA’s national Pub of the Year the first time. To get it a year later is beyond imagination.” Inside, the Kelham is neat and clean – with a seeming Tardis like ability to keep allowing people in, most of whom seem to find a bit of space to call their own.

Lewis Gonda said: “We are a small, humble pub and we endeavour to serve the best real ale we can. We never envisaged anything like this could happen to us.” The pub offers up to 13 permanent hand pumps, including two that always dispense a mild, a stout or a porter.

Kelham Island’s accolades are well deserved and Sheffield is a delight to visit – but where could be better?

Kelham Island Tavern.

62 Russell Street. Kelham Island. Sheffield. S3 8RW.

0114 272 2482.


Written by timhampson

August 10, 2010 at 6:52 am