Tim Hampson's Beer Blog

The quest for the perfect beer

Archive for October 2010

Oh to be in Manchester on a Twissup

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So where would I like to be today? Manchester.

The Olde Wellington was moved to its current site on giant wheels

A group of beer writers who are tweeters, well I suppose I can call myself a tweeter now. The old boundaries between the paper and electronic mediums have collapsed like the Berlin Wall did in November 1989. We are all communicators now.

The Twissup group is going to Manchester today and then on to Huddersfield. I am afraid, I cannot spare the time, horses need to be fed and a daughter is returning from Argentina where she has been a contestant on Total Wipeout and I need to pick her up from the airport.

When I was filming for a television programme about 18 months ago, a cock-up by the production team meant a 24 hour trip to Manchester resulted in a four day stay. It gave me a great opportunity to experience just some of the city’s great bars and pubs.

The ornate tiling is a delight

I sure those on the Twissup don’t need my advice on pubs to go to, but some of my personal favourites in Manchester city’s centre which I would love to visit again include the Marble Arch, on the Rochdale Road. A marvellous classic tiled Victorian gem which sells beers from the fantastic Marble brewery. It also does good food. I’ve yet to visit the new Marble brewery, but it is on my wish list of places to go to.

The Old Wellington, Cathedral Gates, is worth it just to enjoy its architecture. It is a 16th century building, which was somehow shifted on giant wheels during a redevelopment to its current location. It serves good Jennings too. Close to the main shops it can get very crowded at lunchtime.

The Britons Protection is a muddle of marvelous bars and corridors

The Micro bar, Unit FC16, Manchester Arndale, High Street, is home to the Boggart brewery and if as many people go on the Twissup as predicted it will soon fill up. It does some good guest beers.

There is a triangle of pubs where it is great to lose an hour or two. Within shouting distance are the Britons Protection, Rain Bar and Peveril of Peak. The Britons Protection, 50 Great Bridgewater Street, is a marvellous collection of small bars and corridors. The Rain bar, 80 Great Bridgewater Street is owned by J W lees. When it first opened in 1999 in a former Victorian warehouse on the Rochdale canal, it was a great example of showing that real ale can be served to a new audience in stylish surroundings and it is still bringing new people to good beer. The Peveril of Peak, 127 Great Bridgewater Street, is worth a visit just to enjoy its exquisite tiled exterior.

The Jolly Angler, 47 Dickie Street, a back street pub, it is a slightly old fashioned place, and one that is now a rarity. The Hydes Original Bitter might be seen as a retro beer, but when it is good it is very good.

Rain's bought real ale to a new audience

Knott, 374 Deansgate, there is something for everyone in this bar. It is a great place to meet up with friends, have a beer and then a second before deciding what to do next.

I’m dying to know where the Twissups goes, I’m sure they’ll find different places to drink which will equal and even better my personal choices. Manchester is that type of place.

Written by timhampson

October 23, 2010 at 6:57 am

An old friend returns

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Courage Directors - "actually it's really rather good".

One of the best things about old friends, is that sometimes you don’t see them for years, but when you do meet you immediately feel comfortable in each others company. There doesn’t even have to be lot conversation, you just enjoy the other’s presence.

So it is with Courage Directors. Once the beer was one of the strutting stags of British brewing and stood tall alongside great English ales like Bass and Pedigree. This was in a time when drinkers did not have the lavish choice of style and beers now compete for our attention.

A traditional dark bitter, at 4.8 per cent ABV, it was first brewed (I think) at Alton in Hampshire and so the legend has it was brewed exclusively for the company’s top brass, and not for public sale. For many year’s it was brewed in Courage’s famed ale brewery in Bristol.

The story of the Courage mirrors the decline of the country’s old brewing companies, when takeovers, poor marketing and bad business decisions saw the disappearance of many household names.

Courage & Co was started by John Courage at the Anchor Brewhouse in Horselydown, Bermondsey in 1787. Skipping a couple of centuries, in 1955, the company merged with Barclay, Perkins & Co Ltd to become Courage, Barclay & Co. Only five years later, another merger with the Reading based Simonds’ Brewery led to the name changing to Courage, Barclay, Simonds & Co. This was simplified to Courage in October 1970 and the company was taken over by the Imperial Tobacco Group two years later.

Imperial Tobacco was acquired by the Hanson Trust in 1986 and they sold off Courage to Elders IXL who were renamed the Foster’s Brewing Group in 1990. The following year, the Courage section of Foster’s merged with all the breweries of Grand Metropolitan.

Its public houses were owned by a joint-company called Inntrepreneur Estates. Scottish & Newcastle purchased Courage from Foster’s in 1995, creating Scottish Courage as its brewing arm, which was itself then bought a consortium comprising Carlsberg and Heineken in 2008.

Sadly, during the 1990s and the early years of this century Directors fell on troubled times, it wasn’t promoted as it could have been as different owners concentrated on the sale of lager and how much money they would make from asset stripping and the sale of their shares. But the iconic brand was rescued in 2007 by Wells and Young’s Brewing The Bedford company set up a new joint venture business called Courage Brands, in which it has an 83 per cent stake with Scottish & Newcastle the previous owner of the brand. S&N holds the remaining equity in the company. But enough of the history.

Some old tasting notes of mine describe Directors as a full-drinking and complex ale with a full malt taste and an intense bitter sweet finish.

Comparing a draught beer with its bottled version is rarely ideal. But the current bottled Directors, which was given to me by Wells and Youngs, is a distinguished beer. I don’t trust my on taste memory and our palates change over time anyway, but it has a marvellous bitter sweet intensity and almost a honey flavour. It ends with a satisfying, longish dry salty finish.

My daughter Ruth (aged 24) took a sip of it – ooh that got some citrus, grapefruit flavours, “actually it’s rather good” as she finished the glass. I think that sums it up, it is  indeed rather good.

Written by timhampson

October 22, 2010 at 2:04 pm

Making room in the bar for the standout Veltins

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Standing out on the bar

Veltins Brewery is brewed in Sauerland, a rural hilly area in the north-west Germany. Close to the industrial Ruhr and the major cities of Dusseldorf and Dortmund, its Pilsner, at 4.8 per cent ABV, is the fifth most popular beer in Germany and the brewer would like to make it the number one imported speciality German beer in Britain.

Founded in 1824, the family firm’s watch words are freshness and quality, both attributes which are in abundance in its non-pasteurised draught beer, which can now be found in some pubs in Britain. Deals have been done with regional brewers Osset, Butcombe, Robinsons, Purity, wholesaler James Clay and M&B for 50 All Bar One pubs in the London area. This now sees Veltins Pilsner in 300 plus pubs and the company hopes to double that within the next two years. And once it has established this bridgehead it would then target the off trade.

The beer is being sold on its authenticity and provenance. It uses the natural water from its own spring which is located in a mountain by the side of the brewery

Quality drives the success of the beer

One of the firm’s ambitions is to produce the best quality beer in harmony with the environment. And this is reflected in the brewery’s modern and environmentally sensitive production process. To this end the brewery has invested more than €20 million investment in a hi-tech and visually, alluring bottle recycling plant. Almost without human intervention thousands of bottles, which in Germany are returnable, are automatically taken out of crates and separated into fast moving lines dedicated to individual brewers. The bottles are then repackaged back into crates either for use by Veltins or returned to their owners.

One interesting aspect of the brewery, (and possibly unique) is its fermentation process. After boiling with hops in four brewing kettles, the hopped wort begins its fermentation in what are called floating tanks, of which the brewery has 15.  Here the wort is mixed with yeast, encouraging a build up of natural carbon dioxide. After 24 hours, 80 per cent of the fermenting liquid is run off into the main fermentation tanks, while the remaining fermenting wort is mixed with fresh hopped wort. This is repeated for four days until the tanks are emptied and cleaned. The brewer says the process is ideal for removing unwanted flavours from the beer and that one bottle of its Pilsner could be made up of 200 different brews.

The beer is then fermented for fermented for 48 hours, and then cooled to minus 2C, a process which takes five days, before being lagered for four weeks.

The brewery sponsors the FC Schalke football team in the Bundesliga, and the Porsche racing team. There is a sporting chance it should be a success here too

In the UK the beer is available in 50 litre kegs or packs of 12 0.33 litre bottles and Vertical Drinks is the agent.

http://www.veltins.de

Steve Holt Vertical Drinks Ltd Tel: 07831 581171 e-mail: steveholtavc@aol.com

Written by timhampson

October 21, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Old if might be, but that doesn’t stop Dusseldorf’s alt beer from being served fresh

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Alt beers are poured fresh and fast from wooden barrels

 

The beer world is getting smaller – today we can drink an American IPA brewed in Yorkshire, a pilsner produced in the Cotswolds and English bitter made in northern Italy.

However, there is something special about finding a beer which is enjoyed by people of all ages in its home town. The best bars are like good friends – be it the first time you have met them or a reunion after many years – the mood is comfortable and relaxed, but coupled with a frisson of excitement.

The German town of Dusseldorf in Germany is renowned for its dark Alt beers.  One translation of the alt might mean “old”,and it is said these beers are so-called because they predate the “newer”  pilsner which in many parts of the world have seemingly swept all before it. However, more likely is that the word has a Latin root and it would be better translated as “high”, denoting that the beer is top fermented, with a yeast head forming on top of the fermenting beer

 

Alt beers are topped by a fresh white head

 

A Dusseldorfer alt is served fresh and fast from a wooden cask. Brown in colour, with a large white foaming head, they have a refreshing bitter sweetness –not as bitter as English ale – they have the full maltiness one comes to expect from a German beer.

The beer is a great soul mate to plates of local sausages or even a hearty Rhineland variation of a steak tartar, which is served with raw onions on a crispy roll. Vegetarians do not fare well in Dusseldorf.

Within the bustling streets of the Altstade – or old town to you and me – there are a trio of three brew pubs – Füchschen (Ratinger Str. 32), Zum Schlüssel, (Bolkerstraße 41-47) and Uerige (Berger Straße 1) –whose beers can be found in other pubs too, along with beers from Schumacher (Oststraße 123) which is just outside the old area.

 

The food is hearty and robust

 

Inside these glorious, coliseums to the art of craft brewing, the beer is mashed like an English ale and then top fermented in open vessels. Here ale and lager production meld into one as the beer is then fermented and conditioned or 15/16 days before being decanted into the wooden barrels and lagered for up to four weeks at a temperature close to zero centigrade.  The beer is served straight from the wooden casks.

The waiters’ prowl through these bars, with rapt concentration watching those they are serving. Empty glasses are soon filled, a pen puts a mark on a beer mat recording accurately how many you have had. It is a curious process, but one which becomes clear, when you realise the waiters, often known as kobes, are self employed, they buy the beer from the bar and sell it on to customers.

There is always something special about sitting in bars, where in the shadows there are generations of drinkers who have come before – all who have indulged in the same simple pleasures of conversation, friendship and good beer. And that is the glory of the old town bars.

But how should an Englishman abroad finish off the evening? Locals point me towards a bar selling Killepitsch, a herbal liquor with 42% alcohol content, it is a digestif made of 98 different essences, herbs, berries and fruits. Better than a dessert, the Schnapps based drink, is said to settle nerves and prevent indigestion.

 

It might not be a beer but a glass of Killepitsch, served through a hatch and drunk from a plastic glass is a perfect end to a wonderful evening

 

And if it is late and the Killepitsch bar is closing, lucky drinkers can be served a through a hatch in the window and just “tip it back” from a small plastic glass before heading back to their hotel.

Written by timhampson

October 6, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Turf Tavern, Oxford – a “heart-warming oasis”

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The Turf offers an education in intoxication

One of my favourite pubs in Oxford has been dubbed as a “heart-warming oasis and named Britain’s town pub of the year by the Good Pub Guide 2011.

The Turf is a historic pub located just outside the Oxford city walls. It is a village pub in the heart of a city. With foundations dating back to the 14th century, its city centre location makes it a favourite for both town and gown. The Turf is probably Oxford’s oldest pub. The current timbered front part is seventeenth century when it was progressively a malthouse, a cider house and finally an inn (circa 1790), called the Spotted Cow. It was renamed the Turf Tavern in 1805 and thus it remains to the present. The pub has been frequented by the fictional character Inspector Morse and President Bill Clinton, and some would claim that it is the “obscure and low-beamed tavern up a court” visited by Jude Fawley in Hardy’s Jude the Obscure – although this pub is later referred to as the Lamb and Flag.

The Turf is owned and managed by Greene King and even though its corporate hand has clearly touched the pub, it is to their credit that it has such a free-wheeling atmosphere and a wide variety of ales from many brewers.

Hard to find, the Turf is worth the search

There must be an art in finding the Turf, which is seemingly hidden away down labyrinthine alleys in the heart of Oxford’s ancient colleges. The inside is low beamed and quirky at the front – leading through to a clutter of small rooms. The outside of the pub seems bigger than the inside for it comprises several twisting passageways and courtyards covered in awnings, which are warmed in the evenings by heaters. Here students, tourists and locals sit, stand and vie for space in this busy pub.

Yes it does get crowded, yes it is very popular, yes the wait at the bar can seem too long and yes sometimes the staff are almost overwhelmed, but even the most perfect pearl has imperfections. But, as one student says to a friend as he walks into the bar, “doesn’t this place make you want to have a pint, it’s just perfect”.

The Turf is popular with students, tourists and locals

Turf Tavern, 7 Bath Place, Oxford

01865 243235

www.theturftavern.co.uk

Written by timhampson

October 3, 2010 at 10:22 am

We must end the myth of 24 hour pub opening

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If you listened to some politicians and elements of the media they would have you believe that all pubs in the UK were open 24 hours a day, leading to a breakdown in society as we know it.

Well it is not true, was never true and completely ignores the fact that the pub is probably the best, most controlled environment for people who want to have a drink.

New government figures released by Department for Culture, Media and Sport reveal of the more than 200,0000 places where alcohol can be legally sold in England and Wales less than four per cent have a 24 hours licence and most of these are supermarkets and hotels – and not pubs.

Of the 7,567 venues in England and Wales with a 24-hour licence, nearly eight out of 10 (78 per cent) are off-licences or hotels. According to the DCMS 4,200 were hotel bars, 1,700 supermarkets and stores, 950 pubs, bars and nightclubs, and 740 other premises types.

The DCMS also debunks another myth that a 24 licence means 24 hours of opening. It says “the possession of a 24-hour licence does not necessarily mean that the premises will choose to open for 24 hours”.

The great advantage of the current licensing system is that they offer pub operators flexibility – and this could be put at risk by the current review of licensing law.

The BBC ran the headline “Round-the-clock drinking licences at record level” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11436311).

But again, what do DCMS figures show – there was a four per cent rise in the number of 24-hour licences, but in real terms this meant around 100 more shops and supermarkets were permitted to open around-the-clock and 100 more pubs and bars.  Well the BBC headline “Round-the-clock drinking licences at record level” was right in one respect, there was a small increase in the number of licenses issued, so I suppose they are at record levels. But the DCMS analysis of the increase has a different interpretation it says “the main premises types that have 24 hour licences to sell or supply alcohol – remained constant at 4,400 over the last couple of years”. Now that hardly sounds like an epidemic of 24 hours drinking.

If the pub industry does not fight its corner better – and do more to rubbish claims about there being a 24 hours pub culture, the current review of licensing laws could mean an end to pubs staying open to midnight or even 11pm. And if that did happen the chances are that even more people would choose to drink cheap alcohol bought from a supermarket than go out to the pub.

Go to http://www.culture.gov.uk/publications/7456.aspx for the latest licensing figures.

Written by timhampson

October 1, 2010 at 10:44 am