“Mmm, I’m telling you now, the greatest thing you ever can do now, is trade a smile with someone who’s blue now, it’s very easy just..”

I’d been looking forward this weekend so much. Thanks to Mrs H I had a rare Saturday off and I was heading for my first ever visit to the Independent Salford Beer Festival (ISBF), an event organised and frequented by really good friends.

It started with train delays, pretty much par for the course these days. Quickly topped off with a typical Phil dropping myself in the shit moment. After cows on the line, several train cancellations and the added bonus of Manchester Christmas Market travellers, the already overcrowded cattle wagon pulled into Stockport. As hordes more passengers crammed on and forced their way deep into the carriage, I looked right towards the building carnage and exclaimed “Jesus F@*king Christ”. At that exact moment emerging from my left I found myself face to face with a 6ft plus Krishna monk. Shaved head, tiny platted pony tail, painted face, fully robed up in glowing orange, the complete works. As I finished my three word rant, he stopped, turned, looked me straight in the eye and said quite loudly “Hare Krishna” and walked away without a glance back. I was like, no, sorry, not you, I didn’t mean it like….oh bugger!

Anyway, after fighting through Piccadilly and a short ride with a seemingly deaf taxi driver we made it.

I was met inside by organiser and good friend Jim Cullen, Jim doing his customary Wayne’s World style bow of adoration at my approach, as he often quotes my old blogging & and events as being at least part of his inspiration to do the same. If I have in any way shape or form had any part of what this bloke has achieved over the last five or six years I am very humbled, and it is I who’s not worthy my friend. Anyway, enough of that, it was around 11:50 the place was already buzzing, I was gagging for a beer and there was quite a bit of it about.

I headed straight for the cask area, absolutely over the moon to find that oh so rare cask of De Ranke XX Bitter hadn’t gone yet. It was my first choice and didn’t disappoint, richer and fuller than I’d tasted before with a more intensely bitter finish, delicious! I’m not sure if cask XX is a first, it’s definitely something I’ve never seen before and it’s a beer I love so go figure..

That in itself should give you an idea of the sort of beer list Jim pulls together for this festival. An eclectic mix of gems, from progressively traditional and new wave brewers, one-off collaborations and old favourites, I think it’s called putting the miles in. Cask being served alongside “evil keg filth” and being enjoyed in equal measure for what it is, bloody good beer and nobody dying because a rule had been broken, the way festivals should be.

At this point I should witter on about what beers I drank and what they tasted like but in truth everything was so good I lost track. The “Staggeringly Good” Ekuanodon was staggeringly good and a new brewery for me. “Five Towns & Rivington” Sweet Thing Imperial Fruited Ale was gorgeous, Toms Tap, Bexar County, North Riding all fab, in fact everything I had was excellent, apart from that one that everyone seemed to love except me and which shall remain nameless lol.

One thing that struck me about ISBF was the feel good vibes. From the moment I walked through the door to the second I wobbled out I felt happy, IT felt happy. Perhaps that’s because I was among so many friends, perhaps it was much more of an intimate venue than some of the more well-known festivals, my gut feeling though is that it is by design. The whole thing felt inclusive, there was something for everyone from your Grandad to the new breed Untappd “craft beer” ticker. It had warmth and not just from the non-pretentious hot-pot and chips, no doughnut burgers or deep-fried chaffinch livers in sight here. Simple but tasty honest beer and food served with a smile.

In all seriousness isn’t that what beer should be about?

At this point I’m going to put something out there, not only is this my favourite UK-based beer festival this year (I specify UK only because Borefts in the Netherlands is almost untouchable in my eyes), but if it happens in 2019, #ISBF6 will be first on my hit list for next year. Put it on yours too!

Before I close this out it’s worth saying that I almost never blog these days, since opening Otter’s Tears I generally feel gagged. I write something, think twice about it and don’t post it for fear of my views affecting the business. It’s hard enough without my gob making things tougher.. But here I felt compelled to do so albeit in completely different circumstances. I needed to say something to Jim and to all the folk who support him in making this wonderful thing happen and my rambling away on here seemed the most fitting tribute to folk who have done so much more. So thank you all, I had an absolute blast with old friends and new, who could ask for more.

“So anytime, somebody needs you, don’t let them down although it grieves you, some day you’ll need someone like they do, looking for what you new” Friends – Led Zeppelin



Throxheards Old Unobtainable

“Scrooge was ready to settle in for Christmas Eve. Newly imported naughty parchments, a ceramic pot of Mrs Arbuthnott’s Self-Enhancement Embrocation and a case of Throxheards Old Unobtainable. So why the Dickens was there a ghost at the end of his bed?”

It’s early December 2011, and I’m hosting The Session, something I should really get around to doing again. My Theme? Well, Christmas of course, it was December after all.

A post is published from Simon (Scoop) Johnson… “Scrooged: or A Cautionary Tale Of How Beer Got Fecked”. It made me laugh so much, it’s still possibly my favourite blog post ever, and it’s always something I go back to read and share as Christmas approaches.

Click the link and read it for yourself, tell me you are not smiling by the third paragraph.

Scrooged: or A Cautionary Tale Of How Beer Got Fecked

 “Throxheards Old Unobtainable”. 

Ever since that day, and long before I’d even dreamed of opening Otter’s Tears, I’d often had thoughts of making that beer a reality. So, around a year or so ago, I pitched the idea to my good friend Andy Parker of Elusive Brewing, we talked about it and then, as things do, it got lost in busy lives. Then a few months ago, it came up again in conversation and this time we set a brew date in the diary: Sunday 6th August 2017.

My original idea has always been to brew a small batch high strength beer, something like an Imperial Stout, Old Ale or Barley Wine. An annual release, bottles only, something that would age well and be brewed in very low numbers. Something sought out, but often not attained. Basically in line with my interpretation of the beer name.

After a week or so, Andy messaged me and said, “Phil, just had a thought regarding Throxheards. How about we launch it at Indyman? I’ve such fond memories of him dressed as a clown there, such great times. It just feels right to have it on at IMBC”. I have to admit, this threw me completely. But then I thought, yeah, it does feel right. It was then it started to snowball.. #nopunintended

 AP “We’d really need to nail it for IMBC though. That said, we’d have some great brewers to call upon for advice”

He wasn’t wrong…. Before I knew it we had Stuart Ross of Magic Rock, Dominic Driscoll of Thornbridge, James Farran of Summer Wine and Colin Stronge of Buxton, all friends of Simon, all keen to be involved in some way, all having very fond memories of him and wanting to bring this to life as a lasting legacy to a great guy. Between them a recipe was finalised, an old school Barley Wine, with various tweaks and flavour profiles being proposed. Sadly though, due to late notice, none of the four collaborators could make it physically to the brew day itself. Look out for a post on the brew day soon. But fear not, as that’s not the end of the story..

“He threw the parchments on the fire, fetched up a bottle of Throxheards Vintage Christmas Special from the cellar and threw open the front door. Maybe he should make a steaming bowl of Smoking Bishop and offer it to the waifs in the street?”

Throxheards Vintage Christmas Special, that gives us another opportunity. With a good proportion of the first batch going into a keg, we lose 3-4 cases of an already limited bottle release. So if all goes to plan, the thought is to brew another version or at least an enhanced edition for Christmas, potentially opening this up for further collaborative involvement, plus of course more bottles.

There are lots more plans afoot too, details to be confirmed and announced soon, but for now, this is where we are today:

  • Throxheards Old Unobtainable is at present working its magic down at Elusive under the watchful eye of Andy Parker, tasting great I’m told
  • One keg is destined for Indyman, exactly when to be confirmed
  • Approximately 3 cases of bottles, news on how to get one of those soon
  • All profits going to Rebecca Johnson’s nominated charity “British Heart Foundation” in Scoops memory via #RIPScoop

For now, a massive thanks to Andy for helping me make this happen; to Colin, Stuart, James and Dominic for embracing the idea and giving their input on the recipe; to the guys at Indyman; and those who helped me brew it: Chris, Rach and Jane.

Has anyone got a recipe for Mrs Arbuthnott’s Self-Enhancement Embrocation?



So, a quiet day at Otter’s Tears (I’m assuming after everyone’s wallets and livers took a battering over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend) allows me at last a chance to recap on what has happened, or at least some of the things I’ve learned and or observed since opening the shop back in December.

So, without further ado, here’s a random selection of thoughts and observations in no particular order..

  • British beer is fabulous. Much as I love beers from Belgium, Holland, Europe and beyond, I could fill my shelves twice over again and still not get everything in that I think deserves stocking.
  • There are not enough varieties of the word Gueuze, Geuze, we need more, preferably on bottles, with examples of said style contained within. (Lambic too)
  • I know more about beer than I ever thought was possible, my problem is knowing when to shut up…
  • That said, I could just be talking a load of bollies…which is more than likely.
  • I still have more to learn than perhaps my beer-fuddled brain can absorb, however I am trying to make room.
  • I love kegs but they can also be complete and utter bastards..
  • I have some fabulous friends who have, and still help me far more than they know. Big LOVE to you all!
  • Friends do not a business make, their funds are finite and they have lives too. (No criticism meant there by the way, see earlier comment, just facing facts)
  • Five tables with four chairs each does not make seating for twenty-five.
  • Accountants will not come and count cellar seating.
  • The Juffage Christmas Mix-Tape refuses to be deleted, be prepared for it to resurface forever once installed.
  • I judge people far too easily on first appearance and am very often proved completely wrong.
  • Beer people ARE good people, apart from the dodgy feckers…
  • Some people will never ever stop being miserable buggers. (Me included, I’ll say it before anyone else does) 😉
  • Banks are robbing bastards.
  • Working in beer is great, but do not for a second think that it is easy or glamorous, very often it is more worry, dirty, sweaty, hard graft and sometimes even being bored shitless. Only the beer bit is the good bit.
  • My wife deserves a medal, she is ace…
  • Traffic Wardens hunt in packs….
  • I wish my dog (Maggie JR) didn’t bark at customers, ferocious beast that she isn’t..
  • I miss weekends off and going to any event I fancied, priorities often have to be different these days. #realitycheck
  • I do have some willpower and can resist drinking the stock despite the plethora of delicious smells I have to inhale as I open beers for customers.
  • However, taking beer home for extensive research is very much a legitimate business activity and should be raucously applauded. I’m doing it for you right?
  • Some beer smells baaaad and will be banished..
  • A glass-washer “can” be your friend.
  • Some people REALLY mistrust cans, regardless of how pretty they look
  • I do actually have some patience after all.
  • Beer served from a yak herdsman’s codpiece, even if as the brewer intended, is probably not a great idea.
  • Joking (in relation to beer made using beard yeast) about beer being potentially made from nether region yeast I thought was actually only a joke…
  • John Guest fittings are the work of an evil genius…with emphasis on the evil.
  • Not all beer is great…(but you knew that right)
  • The very latest bit of information was brought to light only last night, from a new customer, a local chap on his very first visit to the shop. It wasn’t beer related but is nonetheless topical. It was that many years before the internet age, his father, a vicar, had his own polite word for a dog poo… “A Blog”

Blood, Sweat and Otter’s Tears….


Back in October 2015, we finally got the keys to 24 Queen Street here in Burslem, Stoke-On-Trent. An almost forgotten little shop/office on what used to be one of the towns busiest thoroughfares, home to the now derelict Indoor Market, once the bustling hive of the town.

Although Queen Street is much quieter these days, it still holds a host of hidden treasures, the stunning architecture of The Wedgwood Institute and School Of Art, an old hotel in need of renovation, a butchers, greetings card shop, Samaritans, two chemists, a wedding dress store, insurance broker, hairdresser, pubs, an Indian restaurant, takeaways, even a radio station.


But sadly there are lots of empty shops too, as with other town centres, a by-product of stores migrating to out-of-town retail parks or a move to internet retailing, plus of course the decline in manufacturing jobs especially here in the very heart of the Potteries.

So what made us choose here?

Well, for one we felt a genuine desire from local people to try to revive that heart, still beating, albeit with a feeble pulse. As with the old indoor market pictured below, old shop fronts still mothballed, public meetings organised to try to raise funds to bring it back to life and in use by the community in some form. Other buildings being renovated, cafés opening, even a hog roast shop, that in itself a good reason to locate here…

On top of all that though, we saw this place and felt with a bit of vision, a scattering of creative thinking to best use the odd space, a touch of madness, several car loads of paint and LOTS of hard work, we could breathe life into this sad neglected building and turn it into something to be proud of.

So over a period of about two months, with a little help from lots of people here and there, we grafted to bring the image in my head to life.

There is not a lot more to add here apart from a little photo narrative, but here in pictures is what we started with and where we ended up, in Otter’s Tears Beer Co.



First job, strip out upstairs, clean and paint EVERYTHING white, to give us a blank canvas.IMG_4798

Add a splash of colour and rip out that manky old carpet..


IMG_4834 IMG_4906 IMG_4909

Decoration complete, upstairs… Now to tackle that cellar!

This may seem a tad over the top, but believe me these walls were in a proper state, damp, crumbling mortar, the entire room needing scrubbing with a wire brush before being coated with sticky PVA to get a firm base to bond to.. img_4912 IMG_4913 IMG_4926One particular Saturday we had a bit of help wielding paintbrushes and rollers from Chris @ckdsaddlers, Michelle from OffBeat and Dave Shipman from Otherton Ales (he’s hiding somewhere)IMG_4930 IMG_4931

Enter James, my old mate from the Bespoke Trellis Company, who put his skills to work in a new direction for this job, cladding, building and shelf design and construction. James took my ideas, threw in a few of his own and basically after scribbling them down, made them appear, from trees, metal tubes and fixings, like magic!IMG_4951 I waxed wood…IMG_4957


Lots and lots of wood…IMG_4989 IMG_4993

IMG_4959 But gradually, things started to take shape.IMG_4960 Randomly turning up in the same shirts…IMG_4975 IMG_4977

IMG_4995 IMG_5030 IMG_5072 Ready for BEER!IMG_5115

I thought painting outside was going to be a piece of cake, but that arch is higher than it looks, that ladder is flimsier than it looks, that pavement slopes in all directions and we were having gales at the time. The only option was to bungy the ladder to the T-bar supports and on a particularly cold day, for Rach to spend hours gripping the bottom of the ladder, the shivers travelling up the ladder strings..IMG_5054 IMG_5056 IMG_5127 The logos as designed by Lemon Top Creative start to be applied by local sign-writer Mark from Poster Express. I was away fetching goodies in Yorkshire when these went up, it was a lovely moment when I first saw them in action, made it all seem very real. IMG_5203

IMG_5158The earlier mentioned goody fetching beer trip…
IMG_5189 IMG_5194 IMG_5195 IMG_5196 Lots of shelf space to fill… More beer arriving day after day.IMG_5204 IMG_5266 IMG_5270 IMG_5276

Shane, on a late night delivery…
IMG_5227 Fridges man-handed in, unwrapped, then returned after being mugged-off…

New fridges arrived, man-handled again, the genuine article this time from a new supplier.


More wood waxing.IMG_5234 Shelf filling.. IMG_5265 IMG_5271 Oh, there’s Mr Shipman, where else would you find him..IMG_5245IMG_5292

Shop front finished off…IMG_5218

Cellar finished off..IMG_5678 IMG_5680Finished article..IMG_5681

Three weeks in, we are doing well, lots of old friends have visited Otter’s Tears, lots of new friends too. Importantly though, people are walking past, doing a double take, then coming in to see what we are about. Exactly what we hoped for and in doing so, we hope it will inspire other people to come to Burslem to shop, even start a business of their own (and enjoy a good beer or two from us of course).

There is of course a lot more to come. Currently that tasting room isn’t open that much, mainly Saturdays and Vale home games, but that will change soon. We’ve lots of events in the pipeline, and LOTS of new and interesting beers due to hit those “hand-crafted” shelves.

Things are most definitely getting Otter…

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Address: Otter’s Tears Beer Co, 24 Queen Street, Burslem, STOKE ON TRENT ST6 3EG’s+Tears+Beer+Company/@53.0446984,-2.2002328,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!3m1!1s0x487a42948b962f69:0x86b4cffcf9be8021

Golden Pints 2015

A rare visit to the blog for me, as you may have noticed I’ve been a little side-tracked of late, meaning writing has had to take a back seat. Maybe I’ll get more time to bash the keys more in 2016, who knows..

I normally have time to sit and ponder over this for hours (days), but as I’m trying to write this in between customer visits to Otter’s Tears, this one maybe brief and perhaps a tad hasty for someone who takes twenty minutes to decide what main meal to grab from a menu, then immediately regrets the choice as the order makes its way to the kitchen… (it wasn’t, see later)

Best UK Cask Beer: What an amazing year it has been for beer in the UK, so many great festivals, pub, bar and shop openings especially here in Stoke On Trent which makes me so proud. But one beer leapt immediately to mind as a read this first category, Yellow Belly Sundae from Buxton. Tried alongside keg and bottled versions of the original Yellow Belly at the stupendously good Omnipollo tap take-over at the Buxton Tap. Heaven..

Best UK Keg Beer: This one is an altogether much more difficult proposition, as a huge keg-head I’ve tried and forgotten a lot.. Yellow Belly again, Magic Rock “High Wire Grapefruit”, the Beavertown “Phantom” range at Birmingham Beer Bash, all brilliant and many many more.

But I think I’m sticking with Hawkshead’s delicious “Key Lime Tau”. If you are at an event like the Magic Rock Rainbow Project launch with such a ruinous choice of beer and choose to go back for more, something has just clicked. Matt, please make more, I’ll take a keg and many cases if you please..klt

Best UK Bottled Beer: Wow, a tricky one, especially in my new chosen profession. I love Weird Beard “Safeword”, Brew By Numbers 09/02 Brown ale and 01/02 Orange and Amarillo Saison, Blackjack have also excelled this year too as have Northern Monk with their seasonal specials. As I write the though, with one beer in mind from the outset, three more are beating the shit out of the very small decision-making area of my brain, screaming “ME! ME!”

  • Buxton – Trolltunga
  • Mad Hatter – Tzatziki Sour and/or Hold Your Plums
  • Cloudwater – NZ Hopfen Weisse


IMG_4867I’m sorry, I can’t decide between them, all very different, interesting, flavour packed, EXCITING beers, all bloody brilliant.


Best UK Canned Beer: Much easier, an absolute no brainer hands down. “Vocation – Life and Death”. This was the first beer I’d tried from Vocation earlier this year after picking it up in Brewtique Macclesfield. It totally blew me away, as has everything else I’ve tried from these guys. I’ve been lucky enough to get up to their hilltop brewery a few times late this year and gotten to know them, such a warm friendly bunch in a beautiful location. I also have to give a special mention to Magic Rock for their canned range, High Wire Grapefruit looks tastes and smells amazing, a beer that always makes me smile.

Best Overseas Draught: If this category means physically drank overseas, I’d have to go for Saison Dupont Dry Hopping I reckon as supped in Café Rose Red. Regardless, and it is a very difficult choice, but almost anything on the menu at the Omnipollo tap takeover as mentioned earlier. Without doubt the best one brewery line up event I can remember enjoying. So many incredibly good beers, with “Magic #4:21 Raspberry Smoothie I.P.A” nicking it from memory. Hats off to the Swedes…

Best Overseas Bottled Beer: Fresh in the memory, Immediately jumped in with Omnipollo again, for “Noa Pecan Mud Cake Stout”. Then…then I remembered my visit at last to Cantillon. Everything was delicious of course, but the “Zwanze Cuvée Florian” was a revelation. My only wish is that I’d tried more of the Zwanzie range, instead of hitting bottles of old favourites. Also ran, was the luxurious Calvados barrel St Bernardus Oak Aged Abt. A very close call indeed.

I think this is actually Fou' Foune but hey..

I think this is actually Fou’ Foune but hey..

IMG_3022Best Overseas Canned Beer: I’ve not had that many to be honest, at least that my muddled brain can recall. Oscar Blues “Ten FIDY” is always a firm favourite though, so err, that.

IMG_5473Best collaboration brew: This could easily go to either the Buxton/Omnipollo Yellow Belly, Hawkshead/Crooked Stave Key Lime Tau collaborations. But, a beer I have bought far to many times in recent weeks that ticks all the right boxes is the delightful “Trolltunga Gooseberry Sour IPA” by the hands of those reprobates at Buxton (who seem to be taking a starring role in proceedings) and Lervig Aktiebryggeri (Norway). A fruity, sour, tart, hoppy, sharp, funky, juicy, bottle of sherbet magic.

Best Overall Beer: Having copped out in the highest order on best UK bottled beer, I’ve now made it almost impossible to call this one without making that category meaningless. In truth though, any of those beers and indeed any of the other category winners could take the plaudits. I’m going to say though, and purely from the memories of gazing around the Buxton Taphouse at the looks of wonder in the eyes of those present, that an Omnipollo/Buxton winner is the only fair result. “Yellow Belly/Yellow Belly Sundae” with “Magic #4:21 Raspberry Smoothie I.P.A” biting their heels.

IMG_5449Best Branding: Sitting at the counter in my own beer shop should make this easy, instead the indecision demon in my head is having a field day. The minimalistic classy look of Brew By Numbers bottles I love, but I do find them tricky to distinguish, the same goes for Cloudwater, stunning look and feel, but tricky I think to pick out individual beers on a shelf although clearly both well worth doing so. Magic Rock cans look fantastic, as do the Mad Hatter bottles. I also delight in the inventiveness of Weird Beard, my favourite t-shirts too.

Sticking my neck out here though I’m going to say new kids on the block Vocation take this category. Their cans look and feel great, and are easily recognisable. Clean, bold and classy. Honourable mention to Northern Monk Brewing Co for the special edition range, I see so many people walk past and take a step back to look again, super branding.

Vocation Range IMG_5477Best Pump Clip: In the age of beer list boards, I rarely notice, for sheer beauty of logo design and backdrop, I’d say Cloudwater. Despite my earlier reservations about bottle identification, on a pump clip they really stand out well, drawing the eye from across a busy bar. I really must visit them soon, their merchandise is so cool too, the Tees at Indyman looked ace and I always want to buy a hat when I see them even though I never wear one! 😉

Best Bottle Label: As an individual label, the Mad Hatter “Sorachi Face Hugger” makes me chuckle every time I see it.

IMG_5478Best UK Brewery: Tough gig… Mad Hatter, whacky mad scientists producing beers that make you go WOW. Cloudwater, living up to the hype of that big build up in glorious style. Brew By Numbers, quietly getting on with it with superb range. Magic Rock, for just being Magic. Moor for making me want more. Buxton feature far too heavily in my list to not just nick it though, by an axe edge..

Best Overseas Brewery: Omnipollo. Case Closed!

Best New Brewery Opening 2015: Has to be Cloudwater, producing some outstanding results in a brewery that is a thing of beauty, oh that NZ Hopfen Weisse is good.. Closely followed by Vocation, with a special shout out to the guys at Torrside too.

Pub/Bar of the Year: RedWillow bar in Macclesfield is a firm favourite. Magic Rock Tap & the Northern Monk Refractory too, I only wish I could visit either of them more often.

I’m incredibly happy though to be able to give this one to someone local. The HopInn in Newcastle Under Lyme has gone from strength to strength this year. Constantly in search of the UK’s finest beers and generally getting them. The recent addition of extra cask and keg lines increasing the beer offering to 14, not including your standard lager and cider type ranges. Old standards mix with craziest of craft, meaning there is something for everyone.

Martin and son Olly can often be seen out at the best bars actively “researching”, for no personal enjoyment, selflessly testing what is new and interesting to stock. 😉 The whole family and team at the pub though are all brilliant in truth, an absolute pleasure to drink there. (A special shout to Mark Coltman who’s not pictured, who regularly keeps me updated on what I am missing)

Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2015: Magic Rock Tap, what a cracking place, can’t wait to visit again. Also really excited by the new Beermoth Café, a place I must visit very very soon.

IMG_4173 IMG_4473Beer Festival of the Year: Indyman Beer Convention & Birmingham Beer Bash, I flatly refuse to choose between them as both are superb events in slightly different ways and both are run by groups of people I both love and respect massively. Roll on 2016

Supermarket of the Year: Aldi, their bacon is fantastic

Independent Retailer of the Year: What a year it has been for the rise of the independents, not least here in Stoke where we now have BottleCraft – Hanley, Ten Green Bottles and The Hopwater Cellar in Newcastle Under Lyme, as well as my gaff Otters Tears in Burslem

Otter’s Tears has to win of course, “my gaff, my rules! 😉

Seriously though, Cotteridge Wines are hard to beat, their range is incredible and they are lovely guys. Beermoth is uber cool and I love to visit them whenever I venture to Manchester. I also have to give a huge shout out to the guys at Brewtique – Macc, Beer Emporium – Sandbach and The Bottle Lab in Leek who were all incredibly supportive while we set up our new venture.

Online Retailer of the Year: Rarely used any this year, usually Beermerchants if any, that said Eebria are doing really good things these days, so I’ll say those guys.

Best Beer Book or Magazine: “Hop & Barley” is a super professional publication, really glad I subscribed to them, and “Belgian Beer & Food” look after my yearnings for Belgium. I’d highly recommend both.

Best Beer Blog or Website: Beers Manchester and The Half Pint Gentleman keep me happy, “Boak & Bailey” and Matt Curtis are always coming up with something different too, lots of updated snippets that draw me in. In terms of a winner though the “Beer O’Clock Show” guys take it on one count for their podcast, always mega enthusiastic and interesting, big twitter presence, not forgetting the sheer hard work put into Big Beery Night. The other goes to my old mate John Clarke for his work on Dutch beer, “JC’S Beer Blog is the one I look out for in my inbox of late, mainly as I’m interested in the subject and John’s knowledge is exceptional.

IMG_4147Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer: David Bishop aka @broadfordbrewer and @twattybeerdoodles he’s clearly mental but oh do I love him! (in a manly hug sorta way). Special mention to my partner in crime @ckdsaddlers of course.

TwattyBest Brewery Website/Social media: Not something I tend to visit often, but I reckon Thornbridge, their website is clean easy, to navigate and always has some goodies in stock. Plus they are regulars to twitter as are the brewing team, lots of posts and interaction. Not really a brewery presence, but again both the “Beer O’Clock Show” and “Craft Beer Hour” have both brought new life to Twitter.

So that’s me done, completely failed to meet my deadline yesterday, so am finishing this at  midday on New Years Day, ah well, best get cracking on this years beers!

Cheers for reading and a Happy New Year to you all.

Now for something completely different…

Weirdly, almost two years to the day, something happened that would in time, go on change my life’s path completely. I don’t want to dwell on it too much as it led to some very tough times and hard battles, but lets just say that it involved too many straws, a camel, and it most definitely gave me the hump!

IMG_4621Thankfully those days are long gone, but towards the end of that last road I started to think it was time to make a break and move on, but what could I do?

Beer seemed the most logical answer, not drinking it, although clearly that helped, but a career within the industry would at least give me a chance to do something I know a little about and would hopefully enjoy.

I suppose I could have gone out and hawked a CV around breweries, beer distributors or whatever in the hope that somebody had a vacancy, but the thought of knocking on doors of friends, saying “giz a job, I can do that”, didn’t really feel appropriate. Besides, I have always harboured a dream of doing something for myself and this seemed like an opportunity to take that leap of faith and do just that. So with that in mind, the help, love and patience of the wife and the gentle nudge/shove of some reassuring friends and family, I started to look at opening a specialist beer shop.

Location was a tricky one. For several years I have wished and pushed for more choice in my home city Stoke On Trent, which for a long time seemed to be being left behind in terms of the new trends sweeping most of the country. In more recent times though that has changed, Stoke now has quite a few establishments who are prepared to push the boundaries of choice for something “less traditional” shall we say, with more and more opening month on month. With this in mind it made sense to us to stay local, where we knew there is a growing interest and we have friends to help us get started, so we opted for Burslem, Stoke’s “Mother Town”.

Thoughts then turned to a name, I decided I wanted something different from the traditional type names, thought-provoking even, be that in a knowing smile or a “what the bleedin’ hell does that mean” sort of way. A memorable name that hopefully would get folk talking, although I may live to regret that having already had to explain it to banks, insurers, council staff and many more.

As I wrote a couple of days ago, many people have inspired me to write over the years but from that great bunch of people, nobody made me laugh as much as Simon Johnson, the Reluctant Scooper. He could take a serious subject or equally a nonsensical argument and come up with something witty whilst still getting a point across, be that in a simple tweet or a full-blown blog post. Although Simon passed away in 2013, I still find myself returning to his blog time and again, a memory stirs from somewhere that has me reaching into cyberspace to find the post I’m looking for and it is inevitably one of his.

It was at such a moment that inspiration for the name came to me, although clearly not the credit. The question, “What to me encapsulates the new and exciting buzz that is gripping the beer world, without actually using the words craft?” For the answer, my mind immediately turned to the words of Simon’s “Craft Beer Manifesto” specifically the use of “distilled otters tears”!

“Craft beer is where you find it. Where you find it depends on how you define it.
How you define it? That’s your call.
There will never – never – be agreement in the UK as to what ‘craft beer’ really means.
So let’s just drink good beer and have some fun” 

If you’ve not read it, do it now, the link is above and perhaps linger awhile. Basically it was a tongue in cheek dig at those waging a war of words back then, over what was or was not craft beer. Nothing much has changed of course in terms of defining the C word, but the words of wisdom in Simon’s manifesto clearly tickled me enough to make it commit to memory, so Otters Tears it was.


Thornbridge Brewery

Of course that was only the beginning, the name existed already, as a brew created by Thornbridge and the IndyMan crew as a fitting tribute to Simon and of course there was Rebecca Johnson, Simons wife to think of too, how would they all take to the idea?

Apprehensively approaching the brewers first, thankfully I found my nervousness unfounded as the powers that be at both Thornbridge and IndyMan were equally supportive of the idea and gave their blessing gladly. Rebecca however, found me out before I got the chance to show her what we were planning to do. This tweet setting my heart racing I can tell you..

That’ll teach me to stop putting things off! 😉

When we caught up the following morning Rebecca, was happy, sad, moved, ecstatic, emotionally joyful at the prospect if I’ve summed that up correctly, and loves the support and continuing friendship of her “beer family”. We’ve had lots of little DM chats since then and I’m delighted that she is as excited as we are at the prospect. I just hope we can do it justice, one thing is assured, we will try our best.

We sincerely hope that you guys out there in the beer world are on board and get it too.

So, the wheels are now fully in motion. We have found a small starter unit in Burslem that will need a lot of creative TLC to get it looking something like my vision. Our hope is that we can create a place where you can find the best beers around, then either take them away or sample some on site in a relaxing atmosphere. Nothing groundbreaking these days about that concept I know, as many similar places exist, but that only proves that it can and does work.

Otters-Tears-LogoOur logo was designed by Andy Mogg and his ever patient team at Lemon Top, who after many interventions and changes of heart from me, managed to capture what was in my head and bring it to life. I really like it and hope you do too. (Cheers Andy)

*Disclaimer: No comedy otters were used in the making of this branding..

Otters-Tears-IconV2-360pxWe don’t have a Facebook page set up as yet, it will be coming soon, but you can catch up with us on Twitter via @otterstears

More news as things develop and time allows during the hard  work that lies ahead. For now though I’d like to thank everyone who has listened patiently to me wittering on about this for yonks, you’ve answered daft questions, given me endless amounts of much needed advice, listened to my moans and groans and no doubt those daft questions again. No names mentioned (yet), much love to you all though.

Wish me luck!

The big three double O..

300xThis is my 300th post, a bit of a milestone for me and long overdue. Much in beer has changed since I first sat down and decided to start blogging under the Beersay handle around five or six years ago..

Brewdog opened their first bar in Aberdeen sometime during my first year in blogging proper. My own first visit to a new-fangled “craft beer” bar came I think a year or so later when I walked through the doors of Mr Foley’s in Leeds. 

Mr Foley’s rapid rise to fame came largely in my view at least, as a result of the vision of it’s then manager Dean Pugh. His potential quickly spotted, @BrewDogBarDean as he is now known, became manager at Brewdog Manchester, before helping to establish the brands UK flagship 40-tap bar in Shepherds Bush. Then bringing the timeline bang up to date. Only a few weeks ago, Dean packed his bags and moved to Berlin, and he’s not just going over to watch better football. 

Although saying that, currently the only team doing “wurst” than his is my own.

In that time of course Brewdog’s massive expansion has been mirrored by a huge rise facial growths of the beardy variety, many other things grown too, breweries, bars, beer columns in the press, full-on “quality” beer publications, podcasts, twitter beer shows, blogs and more.

Beer Festivals are no longer purely the domain of brown, there is a now veritable rainbow of colour choice, cloudy is acceptable and if a beer is sour, it won’t necessarily always mean “it’s off, sorry I’m sending it back”.

The once awful catchphrase uttered by a landlord, “here’s a fruit based drink for your good lady” doesn’t have to mean he’s being sexist, but only if he’s just handed you a bourbon barrel aged imperial apricot and mango saison. If not, he’s still a twat.

Beer is on TV, hooray! OK it still needs work and will get better, but it’s getting there.

Loads of the beer writers that inspired me to write also have moved on. Some have written books, become beer sommeliers, taken jobs in breweries, STARTED breweries, launched enormously successful beer festivals, opened bars, shops etc. Some have done pretty much all of the above.

Personally speaking I certainly don’t write as much now as I once did and there are many reasons for that. So many more folk doing it better than I do being one that immediately springs to mind. But that is a good thing too, as clearly with more being written by more people, beers popularity has risen enough to enthuse more people to be passionate about it in whatever fashion they see fit.

I definitely get a buzz about it still, especially when folk comment or say that I have inspired them in some way, or even if they just tell me I’ve written a complete load of tosh, as at least I know they bothered to take time out to read it.

If nothing else, I have made so many new and good friends over the years, not just drinking buddies, people I truly class as long-term close friends, people I trust and can (and do) confide in, go to for help and get it, help back, have a moan at or with, or just plain have a laugh and get drunk next to. Inspirational people in some way all of them.


But the times they are a changing, as old Bobby Dylan once scribbled: and I have exciting news. Things are about to change for me too

Exciting, scary things..


Things are about to get otter, but I’ll tell you more about that in a day or so..