Hoptimystic at the Star Inn

‘I’m not putting it on until you’ve drunk that one,’ we overheard as we approached the bar of the Star Inn, Crowlas, on Friday afternoon. There was definitely what passes for A Buzz in sleepy West Cornwall.

‘What’s coming on then?’ I asked Steve the barman, eagerly studying the ‘Coming d’reckly’ part of the chalkboard beer menu.

‘Hoptimystic. It’s new.’

Cribbage in the pub with pints.We did our bit to help finish off the blocking cask by ordering a couple of pints of a perfectly decent Blonde from Great Heck and sat down to play cribbage in the corner by the fire.

Then, a couple of rounds in… Was there a sudden hush among the garrulous gang of middle-aged pals at the bar? Somehow, anyway, we just knew it had arrived and so drained our glasses before dashing up to to get in on the action.

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Public Service Announcement: Barley Wine for Stir-Up Sunday

Every year, a week or so before Stir-Up Sunday, we start getting visits to the website from people searching for barley wine to put in their Christmas pudding.

It is a main part of Delia Smith’s recipe which, let’s face it, is therefore the official national recipe. I’d guess from this line…

If you can’t get barley wine (pubs usually have it), use extra stout instead.

…that the recipe was written in the 1970s when Gold Label was a national brand. You probably won’t find barley wine in most ‘normal’ pubs these days, though most supermarkets do carry Gold Label.

There are also plenty of other options.

Barley wine is a term used to describe strong British ales — sometime they’re dark, other times not, but they’re usually at least (these days, for tax reasons) 7.4% ABV.

Fuller’s Vintage Ale is one and this year’s version has just hit supermarkets. Most larger regional breweries (Adnams, Lees, Robinson’s, etc.) make a strong old ale which will do the job. Not many have ‘barley wine’ actually written on the label so just look for anything called ‘Old This’ or ‘Vintage That’.

Most trendy new breweries also make strong ales of one sort or another, although often very hoppy and bitter rather than sweet. If you have a specialist shop near you, and want to use a special beer for some particular reason, ask them for advice.

However, back to the puddings. With several years’ experience in making a family recipe, which just calls for ‘half a pint of strong beer’, I would make the following points:

  • You’re going to be adding spices, sherry and steaming the hell out of it for many hours so you’re not going to taste any beer at all in the final product.
  • The cheapest beer I’ve ever used was a bottle of leftover home brew, and the most expensive was some of the aforementioned Vintage ale — there was no difference in the end taste.
  • If you’re going to follow Delia’s recipe precisely you will end up with two half bottles of different beers. This might be a good opportunity to drink something nice on the side so pick beers that are good in their own right, e.g. Fuller’s Vintage and something like Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout.
  • However, if you don’t particularly like beer, just chuck in the required volume of whatever beer you have to hand — it doesn’t really matter all that much.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 03/10/2015

Here’s our pick of the most interesting beer- and pub-related writing of the last week, with a sneaky contribution to Session 104 hidden at the end.

→ For All About Beer, Jeff Alworth asks ‘How Wild is Your Beer?‘:

Is there a difference between inoculated-wild ales and truly wild ales? There is. A Brett-aged beer will develop a lot of complexity as the wild yeast slowly creates different flavor and aroma compounds. Some breweries even add a cocktail of Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, and Pediococcus, which creates even more complexity. But truly wild ales have something more… [You’re] getting the taste of place.

→ Connor Murphy at the Beer Battered blog has been spurred into a blogging frenzy by the imminence of the Independent Manchester Beer Convention (IndyManBeerCon). The first post in a series profiling local brewers looks at Mark Welsby at Runaway:

I knew I wasn’t motivated by money because, in my previous role, the more successful I got, the more miserable I got. Brewing gave us the chance to leave everything we hated about our previous jobs, so we came upon the name Runaway because we were both escaping our past lives.

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Welcome to Adnamsland


We’d been wanting to go to Southwold for almost a decade but, when we lived in London, could never quite find the occasion – it was inconvenient for a weekend jaunt, but too close for a full-on holiday. There’s a perverse logic in the fact that we finally made the trip to Suffolk, England’s most easterly county, only after coming to live within ten miles of Land’s End in the far west.

We were prompted to act, first, by my family history: having learned that many of my ancestors in the 19th century spent their lives in and around a handful of towns and villages in the county, I felt a powerful urge to retrace their steps.

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Where’s Your Boyfriend?

Ladies sign in a pub.

by Boak

As a woman, I’ve become careful in choosing which pubs I go into on my own.

Unlike the other half, I’m an extrovert — I get antsy if I’m on my own and tend to seek out company when I’m away on business. A pub is the perfect place for this, right?

Unfortunately, when I was younger, I had a few too many encounters like this:

I enter a pub, realise there are no other women there, but approach the bar and order a drink anyway, all the time aware that conversation has stopped and the blokes round the bar are staring at me.

“Here on business, are you?”

[As coldly as possible] “Yes.”

I retreat to a table with my beer, get out a book or a newspaper, and read it with intense concentration. By this point, I’m already feeling uncomfortable. Not terrified or angry — uncomfortable.

Then someone calls out, or, worse, comes over: “Where’s your boyfriend?” or “Why don’t you come and sit with us?” or “What’s a girl like you doing all on your own?”

Feeling rather intimidated by the attention of the pack, I have to decide as quickly as possible how to respond:

  1. “I’m trying to read my book.”
  2. “Go away.” (Or words to that effect.)
  3. “He’s joining me in a minute.” (A fib.)

Some blokes will probably be thinking, so what? Big deal. After all, he hasn’t said anything obscene and he hasn’t touched me, and I’ve only had to say a few words to get rid of him.

I don’t know how to convey how it feels to be cornered by a half-drunk bloke several inches taller than you, several stone heavier, in a strange pub, in a strange town, while his mates egg him on and/or observe from the bar. In the particular instances I have in mind, it wasn’t a polite, tentative approach — it was an entitled, arrogant swagger. Suffice to say, it’s not much fun.

The problem for pubs is that, even if I was capable of shrugging it off, it’s still more trouble than I can be bothered with when all I want is somewhere to sit. I love pubs — proper pubs — but because of this kind of thing, they lose my custom to places such as Pizza Express or Costa Coffee, where I’ve never been harassed while eating or drinking on my own.

When I do go to pubs on my own, I’ve got good at selecting places which are (groan) female-friendly. I don’t especially like tea-lights, cushions and soft rock, but they seem to be off-putting to the kind of bloke I’ve been bothered by in the past. It’s also helpful to be able to see in before I walk through the door — if there are other women drinking there, I’ll probably be OK. If it’s all male, I walk on by.

But, going back to the situation described above, what would actually help is if one of his mates, the publicans or their bar staff had the sensitivity and/or nerve to say, when they see Casanova working up to make his move: “Oi, Bert — leave the lady alone!”

On Twitter, a few women told us they were comfortable in pubs on their own, while others said it depended where: London is fine, but rural areas less so. Others talked about using a book as a shield and hiding out of sight in the hope of avoiding attention. Again, I wonder if the lounge was such a bad idea after all…

See also: