Eichenblatt bitte from the Oakleaf Brewing Company

eichenblatt.jpgTandleman‘s not the only one to feel a bit let down by microbrews recently. However, after trying a number of rather disappointing British micros in the last couple of weeks, we finally hit a good one worth writing about.

Eichenblatt Bitte is produced by the Oakleaf Brewing company in Hampshire. It is, as you can see from the label, a Bavarian smoked wheatbeer, something you might expect from our wilder American microbrew cousins but is dangerously radical for the real ale market.

It didn’t look inspiring at first; the label could best be described as charmingly amateur, and when it poured, it had almost no head and resembled dirty dishwater.

BUT… it tasted lovely. I’ve never had any kind of smoked wheatbeer, and wasn’t sure how it would work, let alone what a bottle-conditioned English take on it would be like. It had the banana flavour you would expect from a German wheatbeer, with a subtle smokiness that took away the excess sweetness.

Very interesting. Nice to see a British micro experimenting (and more to the point, succeeding) with unusual styles, and I’d certainly like to try more from this brewery. It looks like they have a huge range (not always a good sign!) but I don’t think I’ve ever come across them before. You can find out all about them on their website, here.


The etiquette of complaining to your homebrew supplier

We’ve been let down by homebrewing suppliers in the UK on several occasions now.  You place your order, and hear nothing.  Perhaps a week later they may ring you up to explain that they don’t have everything you wanted, and is it OK if they wait a week or two until the rest of the stuff is supplied?

By which time, a precious weekend or two has passed, and you’ve had to postpone your brewing plans.

Now I appreciate that if you’re a small business, you might not be able to afford a just-in-time stock system on your website to make sure we don’t order stuff you don’t have.  You may not have the particular obscure liquid yeast strain we want right at that very moment.  But I don’t see why you don’t ring us up to explain the situation and discuss ways around it.  Instead, we can’t brew at all, because you’ve held up the entire delivery.

This has now happened on three occasions, with three different (small) suppliers.  And although I‘m willing to complain about a bad pint, I’ve never yet managed to explain my displeasure to one of these suppliers.  Possibly because they seem mystified that I might object to additional delivery charges, and seem to think I should feel grateful that they’re bothering to supply me at all.  Instead, I cross them off the list and try another one, next time.

So, homebrew suppliers, if any of you happen to stumble across this: if you really want to compete, you’re going to have to pick up the phone occasionally and attempt to please your customers.

Sorry if this is a bit of a rant but we’ve been waiting three f*cking weeks for the last delivery and can’t even bottle our latest batch because we’re waiting for caps.

PS – sorry, I know The Session was tonight.  Unfortunately, there are very few pubs in London that serve Barley Wine, and we weren’t in one tonight.   We were in a lovely Sam Smith’s pub, serving all sorts of BJCP-compliant styles such as brown ale, pale ale and oatmeal stout. But that’s neither here nor there.


Are family breweries really such a great idea?

marcaurel.jpgThere’s been lots of talk in the UK press this week about inheritance, in the wake of Nigella Lawson’s decision not to leave her wealth to her kids.

In their coverage of the story, the BBC came up with a piece of research by Economist Nick Bloom which suggests that businesses where the CEO is the oldest son of the founder aren’t likely to be the best:

We looked at 5,000 companies and we found that around a third of medium-sized manufacturing firms were family owned. In about half of them the eldest son was the CEO. They are very badly managed.

There is a perception in the world of beer that family run breweries are good; breweries run by accountants and marketing people are bad.

Although there are some breweries where the heirs do seem to have a real passion for brewing, what happens if the son just isn’t interested in beer or brewing, or is rubbish at running a business? I was at university with the scion of a great British brewing family. He was the thick, boorish product of a boarding school; prone to shouting homophobic abuse at people for drinking orange juice, reading books, not vomiting enough and so on; and didn’t show very much interest in ale at all, preferring alcopops and pound-a-pint lager, from what I recall. He will almost certainly end up running the family business one day. I shudder to think.

People should learn from the Five Good Emperors of Rome. They chose their heirs from outside the family and trained them from youth. When Marcus Aurelius broke this unwritten rule and handed control over to his son Commodus, the Roman Empire began its long collapse and 2000 years later, we were forced to endure Ridley Scott’s abysmal Gladiator.

A good pint of Timothy Taylor Landlord

postll.gifA while back, I moaned that it had been a while since I’d had a good pint of Timothy Taylor Landlord. Well, I’ve broken my run of bad luck — the Nag’s Head in Walthamstow, east London, served me a beauty this week. It was fresh, full of flavour and, just as important, bursting with exciting aromas.

The ale in the Nag’s Head hasn’t always been on great form, but  in the last year or so has seemed to be much more reliable. And we’ve never had anything but a cheery “thanks” when we’ve taken a dodgy pint back.

There are usually four or five cask ales on offer, including Mighty Oak Oscar Wilde Mild and Sharpe’s Cornish Coaster and/or Eden.

This comes hot on the heels of my parents excitedly reporting that they’d enjoyed TTL at the Vintage in Wellington in Somerset a couple of weekends ago. My Mum isn’t a big fan of real ale, but she says a pint that good could win her over. My Dad is a fan of ale and a former pub landlord. He says it was in perfect condition — “perfect temperature, long lasting head, a really good pint of beer”.

So maybe it does travel after all.

The etiquette of taking your pint back

Real ale can be a beautiful thing — nothing can beat it for its fresh taste and fruitiness. But when it’s bad, it’s horrid — sour and farty. So what do you do?

(a) exercise your rights, take it back and ask for something else

(b) leave the pub, never to return.

I bet most readers of this blog go for (a) whereas most Brits go for (b) or possibly even (c) — continue to drink it coz it’s a vehicle for alcohol on a Friday night.

It took me years to progress to option (a). Why? Well, partly because for the first couple of years of drinking ale, I really wasn’t sure if I had a bad pint, or if that was just how it was supposed to taste. Ale is an acquired taste — more acquired than it ought to be, in fact, because it’s off more than it ought to be.

Also, I’m British, and therefore not one to make a fuss or cause any possible awkwardness.

However, as my ale-drinking has progressed, I now have no problem taking back a dodgy pint. And every time I do it, it’s the same ritual:

Me (choosing a quiet moment if possible, using maximum possible “indirect” language):
Er….I think this might possibly be a bit off.

Bartender (shrugs and/or feigns perplexion): Are you sure?

Me: Yes. Try it yourself.

Bartender: Tastes fine to me.

Me: Well, it definitely tastes off to me.

At this point, the bartender usually shrugs, caves in and asks what you want instead. But they always try to convince you you’re wrong. As if you’ve got over your doubts about your own judgement, and your typical British reserve, just to walk away at this point. Must be something they learn in pub school? Or maybe the perplexion is genuine — maybe not that many people complain?

I’ve come to think you should always take a bad pint back. Firstly, they never refuse to give you a new one, once you’ve gone through the ritual. Secondly, you’re doing them a favour — lots of barstaff don’t like ale, remember, and have no way of knowing if it’s off unless you tell them.  In the case of the chain bar in central London where they hadn’t rinsed the bleach out of the pipes properly before serving me my Pride, maybe I even saved a life by fighting my way to the front of the queue to complain…