The Art of Beer – Rob Pointon at The Bulls Head

IMG_8740I don’t tend to do event plugs on here (as stand alone posts at least), but this one is a little different as it features something that has both happened and is yet to be. It features many people I know well, and sees a guest appearance of my own best doggie pal Maggie.

Sporadically over the last few weeks, my local pub The Bulls Head in Burslem, has paid host to artist Rob Pointon as he painted a scene perhaps typical to most people reading this, the inside of a pub, or maybe more importantly, warm daily pub life.

Rob set up his easel over several nights and it was absolutely fascinating to watch him build up the scene on canvas, a living picture you were part of. Starting with blocks of shaded colour, familiar faces and objects began to take shape gradually over time, before fine details were committed to history with an almost casual looking, but ultimately accurate flick of Robs brush, bringing them to life before our eyes.

The finished work is set to feature in an exhibition at the Bare Wall gallery in Burslem, showcasing art from the Potteries and North Wales. The event details are below, if you are in the area, make sure to call in.

Cheers

http://www.robpointon.co.uk/home 

Rob, signs the finished masterpiece.

Rob, signs the finished masterpiece.

POINTON

An exhibition of new work featuring The Potteries and North Wales.

Saturday 29th March 2014 until Saturday 5th April 2014

Barewall Studio, 2-4 Market Place, Burslem, Stoke on Trent ST6 4AT.

You've been framed! (Thanks to Jim at the Bulls head for the pic)

You’ve been framed! (Thanks to Jim at the Bulls head for the pic)

 

 

 

Glassware Conundrum?

Being a “bit” of a glass pedant, I often get asked questions by folk like “what glass do you think best suits this beer?” and such things.

Now I know there are no hard and fast rules, and to some folks, a glass is purely a method of shifting liquid from table to gob with no thoughts of what benefits using a suitable designed receptacle could bring to the party. Some don’t bother with glasses at all, but we won’t mention those…. ;)

Seriously though, if you are interested, there are loads of books out there on beers and beer styles that offer advice with the associated perceived enhancements to expect, or maybe purely just the historical reasons behind why a specific beer glass is the way it is.

You could also do worse than keeping theses two “info-graphics” to hand. Both of the attached articles were published by Jay Brooks over at Brookston Beer Bulletin (a great source of information on this sort of thing and well worth subscribing to), and whilst both, as Jay states, are only guides, they should give you at least a reasonable idea on what to look for.

Hope they are of some use and that Jay doesn’t mind my sharing again.

Cheers

1 “Today’s info graphic is Which Beer Glass Should I Choose?, created for the Central Blog, the blog for Central Restaurant Products’ Foodservice Equipment & Restaurant Supply.”

8394569939_3f975c483a_o

2 “Today’s info graphic is a poster of the most common glassware for beer, with a list of styles below each glass that whoever created the poster believes would work best with each one. I’m not sure I agree with every choice, but at least some styles are listed with multiple glassware. That suggests that none of this is written in stone, which we all know, of course’

8698797185_a727594711

Click here to see the poster full size.

Hawkshead Spring

IMG_8659The night before I set off to Staveley, the home of Hawkshead Brewery, for their annual Spring Festival, someone said to me, “well, there’s not much on” in reference to the beer list. I feigned mock concern but secretly thought, “I doubt it”. The person making the remark is a fan of Hawkshead and the comment I think was not meant in a derisory way either, but if you travel to lots of standard UK beer fests as he does, it’s perhaps an easy mistake to make.

Personally speaking I’ve been to far too many beer festivals that claim to have 25-250 real ales, ciders and perry to tempt you to venture along, only to find a far too high proportion of them are the same old standards you’ve tried at festival after festival, or in your local, or in the supermarket. Don’t get me wrong, I understand it to a degree, festivals cost money, sponsored beer is sponsored beer and of course if that is what the local punters lap up (or what the festival beer list compiler prefers) that I’m afraid is that.

IMG_8667IMG_8658For me though, it’s one of the many reasons why Hawkshead have the format nailed, and in some ways I feel, shows they were early pioneers of the modern “craft” or mixed serving method festivals we are seeing more and more of as years go by. Back in July 2012, I spent two days at the Summer Festival and had a brilliant time, that was the first occasion I’d had the chance to try kegged beers outside of a specialist bar, so to do it at such an event alongside an exciting range of hand pulled cask was just quality.

At this years Spring Fest (or my first) what Hawkshead seemingly decided, was to choose breweries and allow them to showcase a good proportion of their range, rather than take the scattergun approach and take one individual beer from here, there and everywhere. To the untrained eye or for the festival traditionalist that may make the beer list look a little barren at first glance, but when you look at who those breweries were and what they had on offer, you couldn’t help but be happy. I won’t list beers but those breweries were:

Hawkshead (obviously), Magic Rock, Buxton, Ossett, Quantum, Roosters, Siren, Stringers, Thornbridge, Tickety Brew, Tiny Rebel, Weird Beard and Wild. As you can see, still a good mix of local brews and those from further afield.

IMG_8655It’s not just beer choices though that make the Hawkshead festivals so special, they have such a relaxed feel, a bit like taking a stroll around a big farmers country market with an amazing beverage bonus waiting in the wings, all served to absolute perfection. But, if the beer hasn’t got you hooked already, here are five more reasons why it is one of my favourite beer festival locations, and why you should put a few box X’s on your own calendars this coming July and more in 2015.

1. Freedom I love the openness, there is no entry fee to pay, or programme to buy, so if you want to just pop in for a couple of halves you can do, no problem. I can only liken it to De Molen’s Borefts in that respect on there a fee for a glass and programme is charged. A side product of having the space on your own premises I suppose, but it’s definitely a winner that not everyone could replicate.

2. Munchies Then of course you have the fabulous food, from the Beer Kitchen and various local suppliers, all complimenting the occasion well, Brodies Prime sausages being my particular favourite.

3. Location, Location, Location Although the brewery is nestled at the back of a small industrial estate, that estate is in a picturesque little village in the Lake District, the Lake District is beautiful, the air is clean and it JUST FEELS NICE

IMG_86644. Four Legged Friends Whenever we go away for a beery trip, inevitably it means leaving the beloved pooch behind, adding to the organisational nightmare and journey times, besides that, she’s family, I miss having her around and she loves a good beer. This year we took her along, as did many many others and it was really enjoyable for us all. Maggie of course revelled in all the fuss and attention (Diva).

5. Folk Everyone is just so friendly, no doubt a by-product of all the above, relaxed, chilled having fun drinking good beer in fine company. As a city boy I reckon life in Cumbria would be tough, but whenever we are there, it always feels like I’m welcome and makes me want to sell up and move in.

In terms of my favourite beers, who cares really, I had a few that perhaps stood out, but more importantly none stood out for the wrong reasons, meaning either I made excellent choices, or perhaps they were made for me weeks ago without my knowledge..

Cheers to all at Hawkshead, to everyone who’s beer I supped and to those of you I supped them with. See you next time

IMG_8656 IMG_8663 IMG_8669

Twissup Macclesfield II – #BackInMacc

twissupA date for your beer diary, at last, after much moaning, groaning and gnashing of teeth, we finally have a date that fits the bill.

After last years event I had no idea that we’d be “Back In Macc” (hashtag alert). #Twissups don’t tend to be annual, they are usually wild sporadic beasts that pop up, create a fuss and are gone before you know it, at least for a year or two. However, the feedback from last year was ace, people have asked if I can pull another together and the venues seem game, so hey, let’s do this thing!

The aim will be to try and improve a little on last year, but keep the format similar. A group of great venues within a short walking distance of the train station each with some hand-picked beers for your delight. A brewery visit to Red Willow and all the joys that such visitations bring, plus, if all goes to plan, at least one completely new beer at each place we visit, hopefully with brewer/s in tow, and of course a selection of quality munchies to mop up some of the many beverages consumed.

That is the plan at least, it’s tough, but there’s only one way to find out if I manage it, turn up.

September 13th is so far away though, why wait so long I hear you ask?

Well it’s a number of things really, the first is time. Ask anyone who’s pulled together anything like the above and they will tell you it doesn’t happen over night. Then there are dates that clash all over the place. Last years date for example was scuppered by both an extended Barnaby Festival (a local Macclesfield event) and the European Beer Bloggers Conference, excluding lots of potential attendees. Of the other three potential dates, two clashed with large “craft” beer festivals in Leeds and Liverpool, the other was just too short notice to make it viable. On top of all that, August was pretty much wiped out by some of our protagonists taking three week well earned holiday.

In short, the next five months are just a bit mental, it also gives you all plenty of time to plan ahead..

As usual, more info will be posted up here as and when things develop, please share this post register your interest in comments or via Twitter.

(Read more about last years event here and here, there are lots more too, just follow the links on the pages)

Join the Facebook Page too, there you can get easy access to last years updates and chat to each other and social-mediarise or sammink!

Cheers all

Memories 

P1020565 P1020578 P1020538 P1020533 P1020537 P1020524 P1020523 IMG_6369

Grumpy about glassware…

Yes its true, I am. “My name is Phil and I’m a pedantic glassoholic”, there I’ve said it, I’ve come out, now the world can see me for the miserable sod I truly can be, where beer and beer glasses are concerned. (Some of you will not be surprised, I don’t hide it well)

IMG_8372notobsessiveI’m not ashamed, I’m proud of it. I love my beer and I firmly believe it should be treated with a degree of respect and reverence if brewed to the same exacting standards.

There’s no snobbery in that either, you wouldn’t dream of buying a decent bottle of wine and swilling it from the bottle (unless of course its wrapped in brown paper and you are covered in flies), nor would you grab a bottle of 15-year-old single malt whisky from ‘the special shelf’ and take a slug, leaving your stale saliva dripping down the inside of the bottle..

How many times have you seen the shell suited faithful, wander down the high street swigging from a can of Tennents Super or Special Brew and thought, bloody piss-head? Why does it make it any different because your bottle is an imported super hoppy IPA, or an expensive barrel aged Imperial Stout?

When my good friend Nate, author of Booze, Beats and Bites wrote his “Drinkin’ From The Bottle” post a few days ago, we had a bit of light-hearted banter about it across Twitter and the like. I still think the bottle part is utter bollocks (sorry Nate), but I understand the sentiment was more about just enjoying beer because you want it, and want to drink it without any distractions of mentally pulling it apart, but really, was the glassware cupboard THAT far away?

IMG_8369Don’t get me wrong we’ve all done it when needs must. The inevitable Becks or Stella at a Christmas party, an ice-cold bottle of Bud dripping with condensation whilst enjoying a BBQ, or perhaps a bomber of Punk IPA at a mates because all he has is a chipped tea mug. Then of course, for the infamous “train beer”, sometimes it just has to be done. There will always be exceptions.

You equally may think I too am talking utter bollocks and after all you could well be right, who am I to tell you how to drink YOUR beer, it’s your decision at the end of the day.

What annoys me most though, is the thought that this is all trying to make necking from the bottle a bit “trendy”, the next big thing, for fresher beer bottle is better and all that, it’s just not.

Apart from inevitable the CO2 bloat and accompanying belch-fest, bottles are often dirty unhygienic things on the outside. You have no idea where they have been stored since they left the brewery, stale beer spillage, dust, bacteria, fly shit, rat piss could all lie hidden on that shiny looking bottle in the hidden world of the microbe, how many hands have mauled it too in it’s life in transit. That aside, drinking from the bottle adds nothing apart from the convenience a few seconds saved from grabbing and washing a glass.

IMG_6475For the doubters I say this, go to Belgium and order a bottled beer from the menu in any half decent bar (pretty much most of them).

Watch the bar person grab your bottle and open it…

Watch as they carefully select usually the matching breweries glassware, wipe and or refresh it…

Watch some more as the beer is poured with precision leaving just the last few centimetres in the bottom of the bottle and the glass is carefully set down with the branding set towards you on one of the two beer mats set down in front of you in readiness.

Finally, watch as the bottle is set down on the other empty mat, the label again turned towards your place at the table or bar, it’s your beer, you chose it and the server wants you to enjoy it to the full and as the brewer intended.

Watch all this and tell me that you are not impressed..

For years we’ve lagged behind here in the UK on that front but things are changing and definitely for the better, best use it or lose it and end up with little choice than to keep on chugging..

The great Westvleteren “best beer in the world” debate…

A lot of “stuff” happened yesterday, and as I lay in bed last night, brain fuelled (distorted) mainly by Buxton “Jawgate” and Colin Stronge Extra Stout, it sort of all came together into this outpouring of thoughts, views and observations, some of which relate to a bit of a red rag to a bull debate and others of things still yet to come..

Image courtesy of CAMRGB

Image courtesy of CAMRGB

It was a quite inoffensive comment on a friends Facebook profile that started this off and linked to the events that fell before it, the comment (and I’m sure he won’t mind me saying so), was written by Simon from CAMRGB and was as follows: “Westvleteren 12. Supposedly the best beer in the world. It Isn’t. It’s just f*ckin hard to get hold of”

Now this isn’t a dig at Simon, we are mates, he knows his stuff and goes on to write a balanced review of the beer itself which you can read here, apart from perhaps slightly falling into the old “best beer in the world” trap again at the end.

That small section though is what gets the hackles up, and being completely fair, Simon is not alone, far from it. For every person I hear that has sampled Westvleteren 12, I probably hear two more that say something along similar lines. “It’s not as good as beer X”, it’s not the best beer in the world”, very expensive for what it is”, “I think St Bernardus Abt is nicer”, “don’t believe the hype”etc. etc. But what most people don’t seem to grasp is that they themselves are the ones that perpetuate those myths, feeding the hype that will keep this beer on it’s perceived marble pedestal.

detail silhouet groenThe Trappist monks that brew this beer have never claimed this beer is the best in the world, they are I believe quite embarrassed by all the fuss it causes it to a degree, although clearly the mystique around it helps them survive. However you’ll see no Rolls Royces driving out of the Abbey gates, all money made is ploughed back into living costs, the monastery upkeep and or goes to charity.

Back in December 2012, BeerPulse posted an audio interview with one of the brothers, it’s half an hour long, but I feel it gives the listener a real insight into what goes on behind those monastery walls:

The Abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren’s Brother Joris speaks

In my view there is no secret GRAND MARKETING campaign at work to propel it to stardom (geek-dom). If there was, it’s rubbish, incredibly “slow burn” and surely fatally flawed, as surely the whole idea behind marketing is to make people buy more and more? If you visit the brewery there is no vast loading bay with truckloads of beer leaving the building, there is one man, checking number plates on vehicles as they pull up to his little hut and loading two crates in each, hardly Anheuser-Busch world domination, unless of course they have secretly bought it and the whole thing is an elaborate front.

Of course not all of those daily callers are collecting beer to drink, that same hype feeds a huge black market, but do you really think the Monastery see a penny of the additional revenue made from the often 500% mark up on the original sale price as it filters out to bars and shops across Europe and the rest of the world?

Westvleteren isn’t hard to get hold of either, it just takes a bit of effort. Get on a ferry, train and travel to the abbey and taste it there, sitting in the sunshine.

The first time I did that, it was the best beer in the world, for me, right then, it isn’t now, but that isn’t the point. On my first trip I was so excited to try some, that I had this leering moon-faced grin that I just could not suppress no matter how hard I tried. I love Belgian quads, and in my mind this one was going to be so special. The planning, the journey, the anticipation, the beautiful setting with my wife at my side, even that “hype” fuelled that moment and by god I was going to enjoy it. Last year I had a similar moment drinking Houblon Chouffe in Gent, it’s all relative.

Of course not everyone can make that journey or even want to, but don’t expect to always “get it” if you are drinking it at home or in a bar after shelling out £10 plus a bottle for the privilege.

What I really don’t get most of all though, is why Westie gets singled out so much for criticism just because they limit sales. The St Bernardus connection probably doesn’t help, is it the same, is it different yeast, one is better than the other etcetera.

pliny-the-youngerI wonder for example, if Russian River get the same treatment for Pliny The Younger, surely even more limited in it’s distribution and availability? Similarly much-lauded as the best Double IPA in the world or even as a challenger to Westvleteren’s mighty throne, I am absolutely positive it is amazing. If I ever make it to queue for my half a glass I’m sure too that I will again involuntarily don that ridiculous moon-face, just then in that moment, but it will wear off shortly afterwards and I’ll be back to my usual miserable grimace before I know it.

What I’m trying to say is that there is no best beer in the world, only the best beer in your mind or in the moment you drink it, so if you get your hands on a Westie, Pliny or perhaps a can of SKOL found at the back of the cupboard from 1987, put all comparative thoughts aside and enjoy it for what it is.

Cheers

Beery Twitter, is it just me?

twiterI’ve been a twitter user for a couple of years now and still find it a really valuable tool for communicating socially, plus the most incredible information source when I need to travel anywhere or even just need advice. But in recent months I’ve seen my general use decline. The reasons I think are varied, time, outside personal influences, melancholy or just general lethargy at times, but also an uneasy feeling that things are changing and not for the better.

As an early user I started as most folk tend to with a plethora of celebrity sports, TV and comedy personalities. I soon winnowed most of these away to all but those I really found either funny or interesting, as clearly none of them generally interact with Joe-Public and for me at least that is not what twitter is about.

Gradually over time my following and followers list grew into list of folk who have similar interests to myself, and post, read and most importantly interacted with me about them, these being, good food, music, a skittering of sport, coffee and BEER.

Now I may be reminiscing about those “good old days” wearing rose-coloured glasses, these filtering only the good times to the fore, but my memories of a year ago for example are filled with laughs, impromptu beer tasting sessions and good-natured banter. More recently though things seem be taking a darker sometimes sinister direction. I’m not saying it’s all bad, it’s not and I have some great friends out there in the Twittersphere, but there is definitely something that just doesn’t feel right.

So what’s changed in the beer community in that time?

Well it’s grown for starters, maybe that has a part to play as less folk know each other as they perhaps once did, therefore making the interaction more widespread and perceptually less often.

I also think some brewers interact a bit less than they used to, and that is not meant to be either a criticism nor a broad brush sweeping statement as I can understand it completely. Some do, some don’t, tweet much or interact with followers and I can’t say that I blame them in some respects. The hours worked are often crucifying and I’m sure there are only so many times you want to reply to someone saying how much they love your beer, or to randomly condemn it as being drain-pour slops making all their hard work meaningless.

This though is where the brewery and brewery folks personal accounts come into their own, but again with the former, “some” can be nothing more faceless spewers of advertising with little or no banter, though thankfully these are in the minority too.

Does Untappd have a part to play? (I wrote about this a while back) Some people really hate it and I know for sure with some brewers it definitely does. Being slammed with wave after wave of beer check-ins on a daily basis, at times with undeservedly negative comments can’t do much for your cheery goodwill attitude to all..  A classic example below:

Note: Some of these tweets were found easily thanks to Boak and Bailey‘s excellent “Top Tweets of 2013” post..

I have definitely made an effort to cut the amount of twitter posts direct from Untappd to a minimum and go back to my old ways of posting comments etc direct or even just generally without tagging.

The characters have changed over time too, some alliances/friendships fade, sometimes through neglect, or maybe perhaps a quiet but deliberate attempt to slip away from folk that annoy or badger you. I’ve lost count of some of the people I used to speak to almost every day, but who’s icons I now rarely see pop up on my timeline. It may be that these folk are just bored, I’m missing them or maybe I’m a victim of the “quiet walk off” myself. Could some though be a little fearful of being down-trodden or ridiculed for saying the “wrong thing”, going against the flow of general consensus or being lost in a sea of messages from the scattergun tweeters, those folk that attack your timeline like wasps battering themselves to death as if trapped inside a bottle of warm cider, bam, bam, bam, then silence and peace…

Then of course we have the “parody accounts”, some of which are clever and witty, others that seem to be there for nought but malice or mischief. I do follow some for sure, but I do question whether it’s a wise move at times, after all who is next, it could be you or I. Take the most recent examples of the last few days, with names I am not going to mention for fear of fanning the flames which at last seem to have gone out, but I’m sure have still left nasty scars on those unfortunate enough to have been attacked or so badly cloned. Twitter can be a truly evil place at times and it’s all too easy for a snide remark or accusation made with a certain degree on anonymity to snowball into a dark avalanche.

Finally there are some folk that are sadly no longer with us, but whose name still lives on through fond personal memories, old musings forever committed to the web, or even now in annual “Golden Pints” beer blogging awards. Twitter needs more witty, articulate folk like this much missed chap, but sadly they are a very rare breed. Make Golden Pints choices wisely and if you are lucky enough to be honoured in this way, treasure that moment as you must be doing something right for someone.

Now these are some of my personal thoughts, stuff that’s been rattling around my head on the whole for a while. You may agree, It may of course “just be me”, after all I am a moaning miserable old sod at times and there’s a good chance that your experiences are completely at odds with my own, either way no malice is meant, I just had to get it off my chest to allow me to get on with it and move on.

I wasn’t sure how to end this, in fact I wasn’t sure whether I should actually post it up at all, so I asked a good friend and confidant for his thoughts and I quote:

“I hope Twitter isn’t changing into a big fuck-bag full of lazy run-of-the-mill twats called the general public that don’t have even half a brain and are screwing up what used to be a fun and exciting media by lowering the average IQ level to that of an amoeba after 12 pints of Carling”

Not quite how I would have put it, but I think you get the point being made..

In closing I ask the question again, “is it just me?”

Am I just in the wrong frame of mind, is all still as good as it once was and I’m just not seeing it or have things seen a change for the worse in your eyes too? Either way I’ll be doing my upmost to be more positive in 2014 and plan to take as many other folks as I can with me.

Cheers