Tim Hampson's Beer Blog

The quest for the perfect beer

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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

Hop to it – let’s hear it for the beer

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Extravagant costumes are enhanced with garlands of hops

Beer is the national drink of the Britain, but how well do we support it?

Burton on Trent is one of the world’s great brewing towns, yet get off at its station or even drive into the town and few would realise the significance of the place to beer, not just in this country but worldwide. It is even home to the National Brewing Centre, which has barely scratched the national consciousness.

However, in the Kent town of Faversham, on the first weekend of September is held a raucous celebration of the hop, which spills over the town’s streets and pubs.

Morris dancers are adorned with hops

The two day festival, which I attended yesterday, was a vibrant celebration of beer and its natural roots. The festival is a celebration of the hop harvest and the heyday of hop picking, when thousands of Londoners came down to the Kent Hop-Gardens every September for a so-called “country holiday with pay”. Life in London was probably pretty tough if people found picking hops a holiday. Many families returned to the same farms, generation after generation, to be joined by every available local worker to form the largest agricultural workforce this country has ever seen.

Children get in on the act too

But a row over funding has threatened the future of the festival, as thousands of visitors thronged the town’s streets. It would be shame if the festival is lost – it provides a link between one of the natural raw materials that makes beer and of course the pubs where people drink it. Street corners and pavements become theatres for dance groups and musicians. Vendors sell bines of hops and many people wear garlands of hop cones. Pub gardens become rock gardens and crowds move from pub to pub to hear their favourite bands or look for something different.

Even the dogs join in the hop celebration

And of course there is beer – beautiful beer. I tried Shepherd Neame’s Master Brew Bitter. Not too strong at 3.7 per cent ABV, and full of rich robust citrus aromas, a deep bitterness and long, lingering finish from the use of the Kent grown hops.

The hop has bought the area much employment and wealth and the festival helps cement the link between the town’s brewer Shepherd Neame, farming, the harvest with its influx of workers from London and the impact that beer has upon our culture.

Pearly kings and queens from London sing out their songs

The festival costs a lot of money to run and of course there is a good argument that says why should a local council fund it?

But beer has shaped our culture – our art, literature and music. Taking a sip of beer is much more than just drinking alcohol, to understand the importance of beer we need to keep its links with the past. We lose these bonds at our peril.


Written by timhampson

September 6, 2010 at 8:41 am

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

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

The Junction Tavern – the rhythms of the world make this a very traditional London pub

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A perfect place for a lazy weekend afternoon

Do not be put off by the dark exterior of this pub a few moments walk away from Tufnell Park and Kentish Town stations, which I first visited when I was researching London’s Best Pubs, published by New Holland Publishers.  It is a classic Victorian pub, which must have worn many different masks over the years, but its latest minimalist incarnation has not damaged the many period features including some extravagant wood panelling at the rear. This leads on to a large comfortable conservatory and a small walled garden – an ideal place to relax with friends and as it is heated it can be used comfortably even on the chilliest of evenings.

This area of London is a place of constant flux, and the place where many new to the city come to live and discover their dreams. And many of the pubs cosmopolitan customers seem to be aspirant models, musicians or media stars – talking their dreams over pints of beer. The founder of communism Karl Marx once lived in the area, and who knows perhaps he sat in the Junction with a beer, united with some of the workers of the world, who lived in the area, discussing class struggle and the collapse of industrial capitalism.

A former Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) North London Pub of the Year with five cask ale pumps on the bar, each week it offers around fifteen different guest ales from regional breweries. Regular beer festivals are held when more than 40 ales will be on sale. Recently featured beers include Cornish Mutiny from Wooden Hand Brewery in Cornwall, and the award-winning Pieces of Eight from Nelson’s Brewery in Chatham, Kent.  The pub’s management try to offer the very best from regional, independent breweries, but they also feature what they consider to be the best of the big boys. The house ale, Deuchar’s IPA, is a light, hoppy golden ale from the Caledonian Brewery in Edinburgh. The front of the bar is dominated by a large open kitchen where chefs fervently work at producing food of the highest quality. For the Junction is rightly renowned for its food menu.

The food is modern and of the highest possible quality with the tastes of the world made from locally sourced ingredients vying for attention.  The fish and chips – yes they are real chips – is particularly good. The Sunday lunch – roast rib of beef with all the traditional trimmings or salmon fishcake – can rarely be bettered.

Background music is often playing – and the rhythms of the world make this a very traditional London pub.

Written by timhampson

August 8, 2010 at 9:08 am

A perfect pub – Barley Mow, Soutshea, Portsmouth

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There is something about the perfect beer pub. You actually feel it the moment you walk in the door. The atmosphere embraces you like an old friend. You might have never have crossed its threshold before but you know exactly where you are and why you are there.

But what makes the perfect beer pub? Is it the building and its location? Is it the people who work there? The people who drink there? The beers they serve? There are thousands of places selling beer in the UK – but how many are perfect beer pubs? Sadly not many.

A two-bar, street corner local, the Barley Mow, in Soutshea, Portsmouth is an Enterprise Pub, was shut when Judith Burr took it on. But a few short years later is it experiencing a resurgence thanks to her vision and enthusiasm. The Barley Mow is no foodies pub, the offering is simple chilli con carne, baked potato, a toastie or a roll. But beer is at the heart of this perfect pub. The pub now has seven different beer pumps on the bar. It started with two.

The pub serves Gales HSB & Fullers London Pride permanently and four guest ales from a wide variety of breweries. Hopback, Hogsback, Ringwood, Hooknorton, Tripple FFF & The Hidden Brewery & a mild to name but a few.

It is in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide and the pub has close links with the local branch.

Judith said:“I see real ale as the way forward. We offer variety and choice and say we can find a beer for any customer. Quality starts in the cellar and all the staff are trained to clean a beer line when a new cask is put on. Our customer range from students to college professionals, workmen and retired people. Ladies can come in on their own or in small groups because they feel safe.

“Beer drinkers are better behaved, they come in for a drink and rather than get drunk. We have comfortable seating because most people want to relax.

“You have to be brave to be a successful seller of beer as you will sometimes lose beer and have to throw it away. There is no point in struggling to sell something if it is going off. But it pays off in the end.”

A perfect local - the Barley Mow in Portsmouth

A perfect local - the Barley Mow in Portsmouth

Written by timhampson

August 7, 2010 at 7:09 pm

Favourite pubs – the White Swan, Llanfrynach

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Favourite pubs – the White Swan, Llanfrynach

The views of the Sugar Loaf and Penmalt Mawr from the A40 as one drives north west out of Abergavenny, on a sun-kissed day must be some of the most stunning in Wales.
Three miles shy of Brecon, home to one of the world’s great Jazz festivals, is the gracious village of Llanfyrnach, which is close to the contour hugging Brecknock & Abergavenny Canal and the Taff Trail.
The White Swan, stands like a national monument to icing sugar, opposite the Church of St Brynach and in the shadow of the Brecon Beacons with its stunning upland walks.
Recently refurbished in an uncluttered farmhouse, orange- walled rustic style, a small flagstone floored low beamed bar with several squashy leather chairs leads to a larger dining room.
Large windows at the rear overlook a neat garden with a Wisteria wrapped gazebo.
On a sunny day the garden is a perfect place for a family to relax, while inside offers a solid cloak of protection against the ills of a wild storm or the heat of a summer’s day.
A regularly changing, imaginative menu ranges from traditional pubby to high-flying dishes offering the tastes of the world using locally sourced organic ingredients with Welsh lamb and cheeses a speciality.
The White Swan is one of the new breed of pubs that offer an eating experience that is worth travelling for.
Fish specials are available daily and vegetarians can choose any of the sauces or garnishes from the main menu and have them with a non-meat alternative such as pasta.
The bar features a choice of two real ales and there are several reasonably priced house wines.

Llanfrynach, Brecon, Powys LD3 7BZ.
Tel: 01874 665276

Tourist information: http://www.breconbeacons.org

White Swan

Written by timhampson

August 6, 2010 at 12:23 pm