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Biker bliss and beer at the greatest road race in the world

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ConorCummins TT

This is my take on the Isle of Man bike races, which are currently happening. It first appeared in 101 Beer Days Out, which was published by CAMRA. The book is currently being updated.

They must be mad. There is a harsh, precarious beauty to the screaming sound of a 999ccc Honda, throttle full open, hurtling down winding, twisting, rising, falling country roads, at speeds well in excess of 140mph. Astonishingly, the Isle of Man races take place on public roads, complete with drain covers, manhole covers, bumps, lumps and uneven surfaces.

Isle_of_Man_TT.svgThe moment between the quick and the dead seems infinitesimal as riders flash by, with seemingly only occasional hay bales protecting them from the oblivion of hitting an unremitting stone wall.

The Isle of Man mountain circuit is without doubt the greatest challenge any racing motorcyclist can take on. Each year more than 500 riders arrive on the island in June for the TT races in June or the Manx Grand Prix races in later August and September.

It is a dangerous circuit 37.37 miles round, which astonishing the top riders can lap in 17min at an average speed in excess of 130mph.

The riders are the stuff of legend Geof Duke, John Surtees, Barry Sheene and Mike Hailwood have all raced here. Today’s heroes are multiple-winners Joey Dunlop and John McGuinness, names adored by their fans.

Motor racing first came to the Isle of Man in 1904 when the Gordon Bennett car trials were held, bikes first raced here a year later and they are still doing it.

The Mountain circuit begins on the front in Douglas and heads at a break neck pace west to via Ballaugh, Sulby to Ramsey some 23 miles away. Here the riders straining every sinew and rivet start the daunting mountain climb from sea level, rising some 1400 ft to the highest point at Brandywell

From here is almost down hill all the way down to Creg-ny-Baa and the return to Douglas. The circuit has been completed faster than most people can drink a pint.

Each evening the racing is on the road along the seafront in Douglas is closed for bike displays. Rolling burnouts leave black rubber marks across the road and over the tram tracks and the air fills with the sound of screaming, howling engines and the sweet smell of burning oil. It’s biker heaven. And then there is mad Sunday, when for a couple of hours the course is open for the public to ride bikes around at unrestricted speeds.

The Isle of Man is a beautiful and unspoilt place with a rich history and worth visiting even if the bikes are not racing. It has many gentle walks, horse drawn trams, some fine pubs, and four  breweries – Bushy’s, Hooded Ram, Okells and Old Laxey.

Some pubs which offer a view of the TT

Crosby Hotel

Main Road, Crosby, IM4 2DQ


Mountain Road, Onchan, IM4 5BP

Ginger Hall

Main Road, Sulby, IM7 2HB

Quarterbridge Hotel

Quarterbridge, Douglas, Isle of Man, IM2 1HB

Railway Inn

Main Road, Union Mills IM4 4NE

Raven Bar

Ballaugh Bridge, Ballaugh,

Sulby Glen Hotel

Main Road, Sulby, IM7 2HR Ramsey

Isle of Man RR race information


Isle of Man information


Written by timhampson

June 1, 2015 at 11:51 am

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It’s all about the people – A History of the International Brewing Awards

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IBA logo Good writing and journalism is about telling other people’s stories well.

The best commentators are able to take, what at first sight might be a dull subject and make it compelling reading.

The story of the International brewing Awards (IBA) is not one which immediately captures the imagination, after all it can be little more than a long, list of different beers?

In this book, Brewing Champions – A History of the International Brewing Awards, Adrian Tierney-Jones tells a story which amazes and galvanises.

The narrative is underpinned by not just a love of beer but the importance of robust historical analysis often from primary sources.

And above all it tells the story of the ardent and dedicated people who are proud to call themselves brewers.

International-Brewing-Awards-name-Championship-winnersThe International Brewing awards is the longest established brewing competition in the world. First held in 1888 at the Agricultural Hall, Islington on north London.

Across three centuries the awards provide an annual snapshot into the world of beer – and an insight into how the once conservative and narrow spectre of British brewing has grown to embrace a multitude of styles, ingredients and continents.

But, it is the brewers themselves who are the stars of this book – it is their triumphs and disasters, rivalries and friendships which turn what could be just be a stodgy list of beers into an illuminating, insight into our world.

As the current chairman of the IBA Bill Taylor says “Adrian in one book has created a history book, a story book and a reference book.

“I feel that this book should be seen as the beginning of something and it is a work that begs to be continued in the future.”

IMG_20150506_072804022Brewing Champions – A History of the International Brewing Awards, Adrian Tierney-Jones.

Published by the by the BFBi and for details on how to buy itplease email info@bfbi.org.uk.

Written by timhampson

May 6, 2015 at 7:03 am

Pinning our hopes on a digital history

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Charrington photos

Thousands of historic pub photographs are being digitalised by the National Brewery Heritage Trust (NBHT), as part of a move to preserve the country’s pub heritage.

And it could all have been so different, as in the late 1980s, the entire collection was only moments away from destruction.

The collection’s saving started, almost by chance when the phone rang in the office of former All Party Parliamentary Beer Club secretary Robert Humphreys, who was at the time working for Charrington’s in London.

Humphreys, who is now a trustee of the NBHT, said: “25 years ago I received a call from a colleague alerting me to the casual disposal of the entire, priceless collection of some 5,000 pub photographs, some dating back to Edwardian times.

“There in a skip in the yard at the old Charrington brewery in the Mile End road was the filing cabinet, stuffed to bursting with these images.

“Thankfully I managed to retrieve it and arrange for it to be delivered to the Bass Museum in Burton (Now the National Brewery Centre), where the pictures have safely survived for the intervening years.”

The NHBT was formed was formed to support the work of the museum with funding from CAMRA and the Burton Civic Society, and last year, it together with the Save Photo and Historypin agreed to digitise the entire collection.

Charrington George the Fourth, 28 Portugal Street (1)“Now, at last, the collection is to be made available on-line to all of us, thanks to the combined efforts of those involved. I could not be more delighted,” said Humphreys.

Historypin is working with the Europeana project is to develop a book and ebook based on the collection and on additional material sourced from the pubs themselves, pub regulars, the National Brewery Heritage Trust and other organisations.

To collect this material, Historypin will organise events in selected pubs that invite landlords and regulars to come and admire the Charrington collection photographs, as well as ask them to contribute their own memories, photographs and stories.

In the meantime, a few pubs have expressed their interest in having a high-resolution image from the Charrington collection on their wall.

http://www.historypin.org/  http://nationalbreweryheritagetrust.co.uk/

Tim Hampson’s Tweets can be found @beerhero

His published work includes The Beer Book, World Beer, Haynes Beer Manual, Haynes Whisky Manual, Eyewitness Companion Beer, Great Beers, 101 Beer Days Out, London’s Riverside Pubs, London’s Best Pubs, London’s Best Style Bars, Room at the Inn.

He was also a contributor The Oxford Companion to Beer and 1001 Beers You Must Try Before You Die.

He is currently chairman of the British Guild of Beer Writers.

Written by timhampson

March 2, 2015 at 4:57 pm

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The Greeks are coming – and they are bringing good beer with them

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BeerbartenderGreece is not a country normally associated with a beer culture, but there are people who think that notion should be consigned to ancient history.

And when it comes to promoting good beer in Greece Beerbartender is doing more than most

Yes, the beer revolution has come to Greece and people there  are embracing it with enthusiasm.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABeerBartender founder Nicola Radisis, pictured left, says the “dark years for beer in Greece belong to the past.

“Since 2008, I can say that the beer revolution has begun. Each year we see one or two new microbreweries making their appearance.

“The economic recession, has turned Greeks towards local products. They are treating their own goods with more respect. Every microbrewery in Greece has its fans. Some more than others. For example Septem microbrewery, is considered to be a pioneer, because of the quality it provides and the success it has.

“Ten years ago, the Greek consumers used to drink only lagers and imported beers, mostly European. Today, with the help of the internet, Greeks have access to thousands of beers.

“The latest trend are beers with higher IBUs than the ordinary pilsners or ales, with IPA’s being the most beloved. Home brewers try to replicate those styles and participate in competitions with their brews.

However, he concedes that there is still much work to be done.

Our work, at BeerBartender, is very difficult. We face a lot of uncertainty, from the breweries. The main reason for that is that they don’t know their products and don’t have a certain marketing plan.

“This is a new market for Greece and it needs it’s time to stabilize. On the other hand, consumers, accept our efforts, follow us and contact us in order to co-operate for their businesses. As BeerBartender, we try to be in touch with the whole world. To share news and information and raise the respect for beer.

Septem“Happily, beers like Delphi, which is a new Pilsner or Septem Porter and many more, raise the status of the Greek brewing community.

“Even if the beer revolution has started, a lot has to be done. Beer was never the national drink for the Greeks.

“However, I believe the future has much to give,” said Radisis.

Volka beer

Go to http://beerbartender.gr/en/ to find out more about Beerbartender and its annual awards to find Greece’s best beers.

Written by timhampson

February 5, 2015 at 4:30 pm

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We really shouldn’t shy from shouting the health benefits of beer.

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Beer_is_goodHopping could become a new health craze.

Forget the idea, long trumpeted in the media, that a glass of red wine is the only alcohol good for your health.

In moderation, wine isn’t harmful to you and nor is beer. However, more and more scientists are showing that there are substances in beer which could bring a health benefits above and beyond the adage that a glass of red wine is good for the heart.

Found in hops, is a substance called Xanthohumol, which could bring a whole range of health benefits.

Now scientists are reporting in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry that Xanthohumol from hops could protect brain cells from damage — and potentially slow the development of disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

In lab tests, the researchers found that the compound could protect neuronal cells and potentially help slow the development of brain disorders. The scientists conclude Xanthohumol could be a good candidate for fighting such conditions.

Xanthohumol, commonly referred to as Xn, was isolated compound and scientists tested its effects on cells from rats. They observed a “previously unrecognized mechanism underlying the biological action of Xn,” which suggests that Xanthohumol “might be a potential candidate for the prevention of neurodegenerative disorders.”

This latest research adds to an increasing long list of peer reviewed research to test the health benefits of beer

Beer and hop in basketIn 2010, researchers at the German Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg discovered that Xanthohumol could also help protect against breast and prostate cancers.

“Research is still early but in trials we hope to further demonstrate that Xanthohumol actively prevents prostate cancer development,” says Clarissa Gerhauser of the Heidelberg centre. If successful, Xanthohumol may one day be developed as a cancer-fighting drug.”

And in 2013 researchers at Oregon State University said evidence is mounting that Xanthohumol may have cancer-preventing properties.

The researchers isolated the compound in a petri dish model. The experiment found it can actually slow down the process that leads to cancer formation.

And now some scientists are researching if the same substance could slow the onset of type 2 diabetes.

So hop to it and enjoy a glass of healthy beer.

Tim Hampson’s Tweets can be found @beerhero

His published work includes The Beer Book, World Beer, Haynes Beer Manual, Haynes Whisky Manual, Eyewitness Companion Beer, Great Beers, 101 Beer Days Out, London’s Riverside Pubs, London’s Best Pubs, London’s Best Style Bars, Room at the Inn.

He is currently chairman of the British Guild of Beer Writers.

Written by timhampson

February 3, 2015 at 10:41 am

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St Austell’s Celtic beer festival – a raucous celebration of great beers

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There is a labyrinth of cellars and corridors underneath the St Austell Brewery. Once the vaults were used to store hundreds of barrels of wine and spirits, today for most of the year they are empty or just used as a place to put things that no one can decide what to do with.

But, for one day in November the Victorian vault becomes the location for one of the south west’s if not the country’s best beer festivals.

For twelve hours the brewery rocks to a celebration of beer and music. This year 178 beers were available to try, but the real treat is the opportunity to sample some of “experimental” beers produced by St Austell’s head brewer Roger Ryman and his brewing team.

Ryman arrived at the brewery in 1999. A very modern brewer he was he bought with him from Scotland, where he was assistant head brewer at Maclays, the ability to make a new beer every two months “and then just move on”. He also had an appreciation of what brewers in other countries were doing. He was undoubtedly influenced by the books of beer writer Michael Jackson, who was one of the first to describe to a wider audience brewing trends from America, where many brewers were using citrusy, tangy hops from Washington and Oregon. Suddenly English hops seemed so sober and staid.

So each year at the festival, people can expect the different and the unexpected as the brewing team draws inspiration from around the world. The only boundaries are the knowledge, imagination and cultural enlightenment of the brewers. The air is full of malt of malt, hops and spice. Warm soft flavours seem to hang from the subterranean crypt’s ceilings.

The festival is a university for new beers – it is a fame academy for different ingredients. One of the festival’s earliest graduates was Clouded Yellow, which was created by Ryman for the first Celtic Festival in 1999. It seems almost unimaginable that a seemingly somnolent regional brewer should produce a German style wheat beer full of spice apples and banana flavours. But it was produced and has gone on to be a regular brew.

Each year there will always be something different – this year’s freshers included the tropical fruity Experimental 622 made with an unknown hop; the robust Hopped Up Lager; a smooth 1913 Stout and an authentic 14th century ale called Gruitlyn’s.

Other highlights included a warming Rum & Raison brew, a luscious Old Smoked Porter and Goss Moor Best, made with locally picked gorse and heather

This festival is a raucous celebration of the ability of brewers, which is as loud and exciting as the music playing on the stage. It has become one of the country’s must visit festivals.

I was a guest of St Austell at the festival


Written by timhampson

November 24, 2014 at 9:23 am

Beers I’m looking forward to – De Dolle Stille Nacht

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Most travelers flying into Brussels’ main airport will have flown over the small West Flanders village of Esen.

Not many people will know that it is home to the De Dolle brewery one of the new wave of craft brewers which Belgium is becoming famed for.

Founded in 2008, by three passionate home brewers Romeo Bostoen and the brothers Kris & Dr Jo Herteleer, who took over a rundown, very traditional brewery.

They called themselves The Mad Brewers – De Dolle Brouwers – and set about breathing new life into the brewery.

Today, only Kris is still involved with the brewery, and he is famed for his knowledge about the history and tradition of Flanders many great beers.

One of the great traditions of Belgian’s beer culture is the brewing of Winter/Christmas beers – usually richer and stronger than other beers in a brewer’s portfolio. They are an affordable extravagance and the perfect partner for a dark night and a roaring fire.

Stille Nacht (Silent Night) was brewed for the first time in 1982 and fans of the beer recommend that you should always buy more than one of bottle of each vintage of the beer – one bottle is for drinking now, the others for storing and to see how they evolve over time.

Originally brewed at 8%, it is now brewed to 12% alcohol and goes on sale once a year at the start of December. The beer is bottle conditioned, which means if it is stored in a cool dark place it can “last forever”.

Golden in colour, it swirls with aromatic Nugget hops grown in nearby Poperinge. Smooth and complex, the beer is full of pear, banana and apple flavours with a luscious overlay of sugar and spice.

Is makes a perfect partner to a venison stew, which if you can spare it, is made even better by the addition of some of the beer to the gravy.


Written by timhampson

October 27, 2014 at 5:28 pm

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