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.

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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 Duke William Charity Pie and Cask Festival

I went to check out a local beer and pie festival last night at a pub the town (Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent). After all why wouldn’t I, beer & pie, it’s a match made in heaven!

The pub in question is the Duke William, which stands proud overlooking the mother towns main square. The Duke was one of my favourite haunts many years ago before becoming vacant for several years and almost falling derelict.

The current owners took the place on and worked absolute magic to restore it to former glory whilst keeping the original character features, also making a few improvements too along the way. These including a fabulous restaurant area serving top quality food made fresh in-house. The food area doubling up as a conference suite, party/band venue and as with now an extended bar for the beer fest.

The extra bar being built in readiness..

What I like about The Duke is their willingness to embrace beers of some of the newer breweries, bringing the likes of Magic Rock, Red Willow, Buxton and Mallinsons into the area which I have to say is quite rare. Also giving some smaller local micros a chance too. Indirectly following my own personal philosophy of “put them on and people will come”, they have done just that largely thanks to bar manager Jason and seen the benefits as the new beers turn over quickly and increases the repeat demand from visiting punters.

You can see this reflected in the beer festival menu with some lovely beers on show:

*Note some of these beers may have changed due to availability, most though as I recall are correct.

So how were the beers?

As you can no doubt imagine I tried one or two, some old favourites some new. Hawkshead’s USPA is absolute stunner (I went back for seconds), with Magic Rock’s High Wire and Curious needing no introduction. Other favourites on the night were Oakham’s Green Devil, Mallinsons Chinook (big marzipan flavours) and Abbeydale’s Cask Paint. All in cracking condition with the only minor flaw being those not cellared seemed slightly warm. Hopefully another night on the cooler will sort that out though.

This is no ordinary pie and peas supper either, with a selection of absolutely stunning home-made pies.

  • Snake and Pygmy – Steak and Kidney
  • A Bit Of All Right – Meat and Potato
  • Summer Fayre – Spring Minted Lamb and Root Vegetables
  • Tasty Tilt – Beef, Stilton and Stout
  • Pickled Porky – Pork in Cider
  • Drunken Duck -Duck, Rosemary and Merlot Wine
  • Early Christmas – Turkey, Stuffing and Cranberry
  • Cock-a-Leeki – Chicken, Leek and Potato
  • Ale to the Beef – Steak and Ale
  • Curry in a Hurry – Beef Madras
  • Roosters Revenge – Chicken and Wild Mushroom
  • Sunburnt Cow – Beef in Merlot Wine
  • The Romping Donkey – Beef, Guinness and Port
  • Billy The Kid – Goats Cheese, Caramelised Red Onion and Cherry Tomato
  • Desperate Dan – Peppered Steak

All sounded delicious but we only tried the two, Roosters Revenge and Romping Donkey, both were really tasty and packed to the lid with lean meat and veggies etc.

* I‘d be interested in hearing some beer and pie pairing suggestions from you guys out there, stick them in the comments and I will try to amend for future visitors.

The festival is running from 7th to 10th of June, so you still have a few more sessions if you fancy going along to drink some good beer and get well fed. Don’t forgot you’d be also supporting the events two charities, Help For Heroes and The Rainbow Trust.

Have a great weekend, cheers!

More De Molen hits The Mother Town.

I posted a little while ago in my post “Burslem twinned with Bodegraven” about my delight that after some gentle nudging my local pub, Titanic Brewerys “The Bulls Head” had taken the plunge and was getting a larger stock of foreign import bottled beers, in particular those from Dutch brewers De Molen.

Well I am doubly thrilled to tell you that they have been a roaring success and that from today another eight are being added to the beer menu. I’ve gleaned a few tasting notes from various internet sites to give an idea about what to expect, but I stress, I have only tasted one of these so far so don’t hold me to them.. If reputation is anything to go by though you won’t go far wrong.. 😉

Engels: Our attempt at creating a real English cask ale. And we certainly succeeded. At the Great Brittish Beer Festival our Engels was appreciated by all that tried. Cask ale from the continent? Yeah! Also available bottled by the way.

Hemel and Aarde: Made with the most heavily peated malt in the world from the Bruichladdich distillery. Almost pitch black and opaque, small head. Furiously peated aroma, hiding the malt, licorice and dark chocolate somewhat. Very full-bodied, thick mouthfeel, like fluid bread. Dark chocolate, loads of peat, lapsang souchong tea, chocolate cake, culminating in an almost endless aftertaste that also has licorice.

Op & Top: Light IPA/Bitter using European hops and late hopped with US Cascade and Amarillo. Light floral aromas with notes of lemon, bread & caramel. Fresh and delicate flavours of citrus fruit, grass, and yeast. An uncomplicated light refreshing style.

Hel & Verdoemenis: Brewed with brown malts, an English traditional specialty malt, we created an Imperial Russian Stout that has won prizes at festivals across Europe from Sweden to Italy. It’s big (10% ABV), black, roasted and complex. We are convinced that not trying this ale will be a mortal sin to your taste buds and beer experience.

Bloed Zweet & Tranen: The standard Bloed, Zweet en Tranen (Blood Sweat and Tears) is a beer inspired by Bamberg smoked lagers, but upped in alcohol and with the addition of English peated malt to the Franconian smoked stuff. This variant is the result of an incident in which Scottish peated malt intended for Bruichladdich whisky got into the mash tun by mistake. (courtesy of Beer Culture with Des De Moore)

Man & Muis: Copper cloudy, with aromas of grass, grapefruit, citrus zests and some malts. Taste is light malted, good sweetness, still quite light and drinkable. Finishes with nice american hops combined with grassy saaz hop bitterness

Geboren and Getogen: Born & Raised’ is a smoked pale ale, the beer has lovely light citrus & bittering hops, & the smokey embers are ever present throught the flavours

Licht and Lustig: Described as a speciality grain beer,pours a hazy medium orange colour. Aroma is slightly malty, toasted caramel, hops bring tropical & citrus fruit, banana, slightly yeasty. Taste is citrus again, wheats, some caramel, banana and toffee.

All good news for the drinkers and visitors to Burslem.

If you’ve not tried one you’re unlikely to get the chance to drink 13 varieties all in one place anywhere in the UK I’d bet, so come on down and get stuck in. Oh and when you do PLEASE pop back on here and let me know what you think in the comments section below and give the staff at the Bulls some feedback too.

Cheers

Burslem twinned with Bodegraven?

The brewery in the Windmill

OK so that might be a teensy exaggeration…

Bodegraven is the home of Brouwerij de Molen (or “Brewery the Mill” in English). I think I can safely say they are one of the worlds most respected breweries, if the list of old, new and would be collaborators is anything to go by, not to mention the many guests for their famous Borefts beer festival and stunning beer pedigree.

Being a massive fan after sampling many different beers from their vast range I was really excited to hear them being mentioned as a potential addition to my local pubs foreign beer menu. Of course I heartily recommended them amongst others available and to my deep joy was over the moon to see not one but FIVE arrive.

The venue is The Bull Head in Burslem, Stoke On Trent, the Titanic Brewery Tap. It’s a cozy friendly pub with of course the obligatory selection from the Titanic range, a regular 5-6 pump ever changing cask ale selection and also quite a healthy stock of foreign beers both on the font and in bottled form. Being an antagonistic soul with the latter I’d always thought most of the selections as being a little “safe”. I can understand that of course from a commercial point of view, it’s a standard drinkers pub and not a swanky big city craft beer bar and the clientele reflect that, they are far more likely to go for say a Chimay Blue over a fridge full of completely unrecognisable labels.

That’s why I think this time around management team Bob and Jim at The Bulls have really excelled and perhaps popped their heads above the parapet a little, a brave and most welcome move. What needs to happen now though is for more and more people to go in and support their efforts by trying the beers, taste, chat and tell friends about them to make their arrival a resounding success.

This in turn will hopefully lead to a more and more adventurous customer base willing to try more new and interesting beers from around the world and so the cycle continues and the menu grows.. 😉

So what of the beers themselves? Well I’ve tried all of the De Molen beers on the list and although I’ve not made any tasting notes would recommend each one at the drop of a hat. Amerikaans is  a light and hoppy beer with a taste that defies it’s 4.5% abv, fruity, perhaps slightly floral in flavour and very very fresh on the palate, a spicy bitter finish cleans everything up nicely.

Vuur and Vlaam (or Fire and Flames) is an absolutely stunning IPA and is one of the best beers I’ve had in the last year. First tried from the keg at Port Street Beer House and many times since in bottled form. Loads of citrus and tropical fruit flavours are evident from the first sniff and follow throughout, at 6.2% easy to drink for a dabble in the fridges at any time of day, looking forward to warmer summer sunny days ahead in particular though.

Jaar & Dag is a Saison, pale and hoppy with (from memory) hints of orange spice and banana, it’s been a week or two since sampled this so it’s a little vague, one to revisit at my next session methinks. Going darker we have the Hamer & Sikel, a dark roasty porter coming in at a very easy-going 5.2%. It’s smooth and very drinkable with a good helping of bitter chocolate, espresso and dark boozy winter fruits.

Finally we come to the Daddy, the dark destroyer, Mooi & Meedogenloos. “Some people say it’s served in Mordor on Saurons breakfast serial and that by drinking it you sell your soul to the devil” (unless of course you are ginger and suffer from Gingervitus), “all we know is that it means in English “beautiful and ruthless” and is absolutely gorgeous”. It’s described as a Belgian Strong ale and I’d say it’s almost quad-like, rich malty flavours, sweet caramels, dark chocolate, liquorice, fruitcake and more, there is so much going on in this beer I’m not going any further without any notes or a sample as I simply won’t do it justice. Try one..

As a side note there are a few more additions to the fridges in the Bulls, notably from American brewery Rogue with Juniper Ale, Mocha Porter and Dead Guy Ale, again another welcome sight in the Mother Town, plus these two newbies for me St Fueillien Grand Cru and Gulden Draak 9000 Quaduple.

So what are you waiting for, the Burslem drinking scene looks set for a revival, get down here, support the cause…”POWER TO THE PEOPLE!!” 😉

Cheers

UK drinkers & pubs, are you happy that price of your pint is up 35% in 4 yrs? No I thought not, so please spare two minutes and sign this online Government e-petition to stop the beer duty escalator: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/29664

Titanic Brewery Charity Pub Crawl for the Douglas Macmillan Hospice

Calling all pub walkers, beer lovers, bloggers, brewers, retailers & drinkers, friends, family and even dog lovers too, I need your help.

A good friend of mine Lee Farrington, landlord of The Greyhound, in Hartshill Road, Newcastle – Under – Lyme, is encouraging friends and pub-goers to join him on a 23-mile pub crawl between Titanic Brewery’s five inns.

You may recognise Lee from the SIBA local beer video where he made his big screen debut.. (His big moment is at 3 minutes 13 seconds by the way…)

The pub crawl will wind it’s way slowly 23 miles north from Stafford in South Staffordshire, calling at each of the Titanic Pubs on the way. So starting at The Sun in Stafford town centre, it will call at The Royal Exchange, in Stone, The White Star, in Stoke, The Bulls Head, in Burslem and finishing at The Greyhound.

I myself, as I am sure many of you will have too, have had friends and relatives who have been helped at a time of real need by the great work done by the Douglas Macmillan Hospice and so not being one to turn down a challenge (especially involving beer) I duly signed up….

I will be joined by my trusty dog Maggie, we both know it’s not going to be easy, 23 miles is a long way despite the refreshment stops. Besides that, one of us only has short fat hairy legs, is not particularly fit and the other is a little Jack Russell!

So how can you help?

Well all walkers are welcome to join in, either for the full march or to join and leave Lee & his merry band as you can along the route. For details please contact me directly or speak to Lee at The Greyhound.

Most of all though we want your support in terms of sponsorship, if you can donate even the smallest amount it will all mount up. Also please spread the word, between you all with your influence we can reach thousands of people if you share this. So please share this by emailing it to your friends, post it on your blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds.

A Just Giving page has been set up for the walk. It can be accessed online at  http://www.justgiving.com/titanicgreyhound.  Alternatively, donations can be made in person at the Greyhound or by phone – text GHTB67 followed by £1, £2, £3, £4, £5 or £10 (eg. GHTB67 £3) to 70070.

We will all have individual sponsorship forms too, so collar me if you see me or any of us in the pub. Of course if you have any other ideas of ways to raise money on the day I’d be glad to hear them, just drop me a line.

When you do donate, please leave a message, it would be great to see your messages of support. Please give generously, it’s all for a VERY WORTHY CAUSE.

Thanks everyone, CHEERS!

Coastal Brewery – Kernow Stout – 9%

I first came across this little gem at the Bhurtpore Inn Beer festival. I’d had a few Coastal beers before, all had been pretty good, their Erosion being a fine example, described as being a powerful, warming old ale, coming in at 8% it was  certainly that and more.. 

For the last few days the Kernow’s been on at The Bulls Head in Burslem, I’d been eagerly awaiting the it’s arrival as soon as the pump clip appeared on the “coming soon” board and had even managed to blag a couple of pre pump pints from the cellar. 😉 In a similar vein to Erosion this is a dangerously drinkable beer, it slides down far too easily for a 9% Imperial Stout that’s for sure. As it’s delivered across the bar the first thing that strikes you is the appearance, a swirling mass of dark brown, slowly settling to a jet black body topped with a thick chocolate brown foamy head. It smells of espresso, molasses and strong molten chocolate. The mouth feel is thick, sweet, bitter all rolled into one whilst remaining very drinkable, there are all the flavours as per the aroma list above, but suspended in a rich liquorice caramel which is long lasting. Fans of big imperial stouts will love this, it’s a truly impressive beer. If I had to pick a winner out of the two, Kernow and Erosion, I reckon the latter just edges it on drinkability, saying that both are powerhouses in terms of alcoholic strength and manage to hide it very well. For fellow foodies I’d like to try this instead of a good port and pair it with a nice strong stilton, or maybe in place of a desert wine with a good pud. How well are Coastal known in your area? If you’ve not tried them, a brewery to look out for most definitely, maybe hunt one down for International Stout Day.. 🙂

About Coastal Brewery

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Summer Wine Brewery at Port Street Beer House

First off apologies to the guys at Summer Wine Brewery and Port Street Beer House for the delay in posting this, I’d normally hope to have a post ready the day after the event, but work commitments and a dodgy Apple iMac scuppered any chance of that…

The day started poorly on an otherwise gorgeous sunny hot afternoon, I caught an extremely slow train and then got lost in Manchester, but it was soon improved with a couple of halves of Marble Breweries “Dobber IPA”, at their very own 57 Thomas Street bar. It’s a lovely little modern bar with a few tables set outside on the pavements where I soaked up the sun and the IPA’s thirstily with @6TownsMart & @jamesbwxm before heading off to Port Street for the main event.

On arrival were met at the door with a set of five raffle tickets which were to be exchanged for the beer samples, one for a free SWB from the established range, the other four for the new beers that were form the rest of the tasting. It was here that I solved my extra ticket dilemma, (a friend of mine had dropped out at late notice so I had two). Two lots of samples it is then I thought, (VERY) happy days! 🙂

As the crowds gathered we had the choice of either the Valencia Pale Ale or Teleporter, the latter was the better choice from the two in my opinion, with a rich dark roasty complexity from the 10 malt varieties used, followed by the lovely hoppy finish expected from SWB. As we drank James and Andy from the brewery were mingling and chatting to the assembling crowd, taking a brief photo call with the rather impressive (and tasty) Summer Wine Brewery branded pork pie before taking to the “stage”.

The guys then held an informal tasting where we got to try four new brews Rouge Hop, a revamped version of 7 C’s of Rye, one of their new range of keg Saisons, Nettle and Ginger and the fresh to keg Diablo IPA.

Now having being left in the unfortunate position of being forced to drink double samples, I’m sure you can forgive the lack of any meaningful tasting notes, (I was a little “sleepy” when I got home, but I did try to share, honestly). That said, from memory I can confirm that each one was bloody delicious.  The Rouge Hop as the name suggests was a red hoppy beer, definitely one that I’d drink regularly, I also loved the Diablo. I personally am a big advocate of beers having options on how they are served, I love cask beers but sometimes especially in the warmer months I think with keg you just get that extra zing required to refresh. I just hope they make it to Stoke sometime very soon.

On the night though the beers I found most interesting were the 7 C’s and the Saison. The 7 C’s of Rye I had tried before, the night before as it happens at my local The Bulls Head in Burslem. Although both versions were delicious, the new incarnation just tastes slightly more balanced, both are true hopfests but the bitterness is now a little less “in your face”.

I really liked the Saison, it’s just the perfect summer beer for me and this was surprisingly subtle despite the two strong sounding flavours in the title. I’d never tasted nettle anything before and was expecting a real herbal taste reminiscent of the smell you get from them when out walking, I was reliably informed though that it isn’t which rang true in the beer, very much like a mild hop in taste. With the ginger element too, at first taste you think it’s not there, but there it is, gingery goodness quietly buzzing away in the background, a slow warming gingerness in the finish long after your last gulp. I can’t wait for these to develop and will look forward eagerly to tasting the other flavours planned including Lime and Coriander.

Overall a great night was had by all and here’s a big hello and thanks to friends old, new, but too numerous to mention, great company and conversation to match the beers, great to meet you all.

Port Street Beer House is a cracking place, bright, modern and uber friendly. They have some really exciting beers available and more superb events coming up, including another meet the brewer event on 3rd August where Matt Brophy from Flying Dog Brewery will be talking lucky punters though a selection of samples, if you get the chance it’s not one to miss.

Cheers