Country pubs and Butcombe IPA

As we’ve mentioned before, the pubs in my home town aren’t much to get excited about, but there are some nice places hidden out in the countryside.

sunshapwick

As we’ve mentioned before, the pubs in my home town aren’t much to get excited about, but there are some nice places hidden out in the countryside.

The Red Tile at Cossington, for example, is a perfect cosy country pub. On Boxing Day, it was busy with diners (there’s an unpretentious pub menu) but I managed to find a corner in which to enjoy a pint of Butcombe Brunel IPA. I’m a fan of Butcombe’s beers but I’m happy to admit that regional chauvinism makes it hard for me to be objective. Butcombe ‘ordinary’ is brown, very bitter and slightly sulphurous. The IPA is quite different — less bitter, if anything, but with a warmer orange colour and pronounced flowery hop aroma. A good example of the English session IPA.

Also worth a look is the Burtle Inn. This pub is even cosier: dark, but not gloomy, with light from wonky 18th century windows and several fierce wood fires. Although the staff looked exhausted and the pub’s supplies were depleted (“We’ve only got parsnip crisps left”) the real ales were in good nick and were also available hot and spiced! In London these days, we take it for granted that a pub will have Czech lager, wheat beer and Leffe on tap, but it’s less common in the depths of the West Country.

Finally, there was Crown at Catcott, which my Dad called “old Fred Vernon’s place” after a landlord he remembered from his youth. It’s up a winding track on a particularly windy spot on the Somerset levels, so its burning fires and low ceilings were very welcome. There was a selection of West Country ales on offer from larger brewers like Sharp’s and Butcombe. The Butcombe ordinary was, well, extraordinary — perfectly fresh and in such good condition that the head didn’t move even in the stiff breeze whistling under the old wooden door.

In short, if you’re in Somerset, ditch the towns, get yourself a designated driver and go on a crawl across the levels. It’s likely to be a lot more fun than Bridgwater, Taunton or Yeovil.

La Ronda – New year's beer resolutions

This month’s “round” is paid for by Andres of Culturilla Cervecera, and it’s a follow-up to a previous question on building and maintaining a good beer culture. He asks us what our resolutions for 2009 are to help further the cause.

beermugs

Espanol.

This month’s “round” is paid for by Andres of Culturilla Cervecera, and it’s a follow-up to a previous question on building and maintaining a good beer culture. He asks us what our resolutions for 2009 are to help further the cause.

Apart from the obvious answer (“drink more beer”), we do have a number of beer-related resolutions;

1. Try to persuade our local to rotate the range of beer a bit.
Our local pub has got a great atmosphere, friendly staff, and the beer it does serve is usually in good condition. We’re usually there at least once a week for all these reasons. We’ve often thought that it would be perfect if they took advantage of having five handpumps and being a genuine free house to have at least one pump offering something different each week. So our first resolution is to talk to the landlady about it.

2. Organise a cheese and beer tasting
We’ve wanted to have a go at this ever since seeing Garrett Oliver do one at BeerExposed. Could be a fun way of getting some of our friends interested in beer? After all, everyone loves cheese.

3. Go on more beer expeditions
There are lots of great pubs in London, some of them in the suburbs. There are also many great beer destinations that are within a short train ride. We always have fun when we go exploring, so we’re going to do that some more. At least one a month.

P.S. Jeff Pickthall has an interesting resolution — to provide almost instant reviews EVERY beer he drinks via modern technology. Anyone else got any beer-related resolutions?

Stout at the Speaker

The Speaker in Westminster (one of our favourite London pubs, in a funny kind of way) is having a month of stouts, porters and wheat beer. Here’s what they’re expecting to serve up throughout January:

Acorn Gorlovka Stout 6%
Allendale Tar Barl Stout 4.5%
Brysons Patrick Stout 5%
Burton Bridge Bramble Stout 5%
Dark Star  Espresso Stout 4.2%
Hop Back Entire Stout 4.5%
Itchen Valley  Treacle Stout 4.4%
Little Valley  Hebden’s Wheat 4.5% (Cloudy)
Mauldons Peggoty’s Porter 4.1%
Milestone Raspberry Wheat Beer 5.5%
TSA Scotch Mist 5%
Westerham Puddle Dock Porter 4.3%
Wylam Haugh Porter 4.6%

We’ll try to pop in once or twice as we’re wholeheartedly in favour of every pub serving up at least one dark beer at all times and, as TV’s Dr Tanya Byron would say, we want to reinforce this positive behaviour.

Brighton binge

It was a gorgeous sunny day yesterday, so we decided to go to the seaside. Brighton was the natural choice — it has a range of pubs and bars for everyone’s tastes, plus it’s only 50 minutes by train from central London.

Once we’d chucked some stones in the sea and played on the slot machines for a bit, we looked around for some refreshment and stumbled across the Bath Arms. This is a very good pub. It has a nice mixed crowd, extremely friendly staff, good food and five ales in tip-top condition. It’s not in our edition of the Good Beer Guide (2007). Not quite sure why. We suppose the beer selection might be criticised as conservative (Adnams, Summer Lightning, Pride, Sussex Best and Bombardier). Then again, there are a number of places that are listed in the GBG in Brighton which have a much less exciting selection (Greene King IPA, anyone?).

On to another good place not in the Guide — the Victory. We were attracted into this place by the offer of local Arundel ales. Arundel Stronghold was an interesting sweetish brown ale which I might have said had too much crystal malt if it wasn’t nicely balanced with the hops. Bailey had a rich, fruitycakey Theakston’s Old Peculiar. Again, the staff, though busy, were very friendly.

You can’t go to Brighton and not go to the Evening Star, the original outlet for the magnificent Dark Star Brewing Company. There are 10 handpumps, seven ales and three ciders. There are usually four Dark Star beers on, and three guests. This time the guests were from local brewery Rectory Ales. In addition to the cask ale, there is Blonde, an organic lager, and some pumps for kegged beers from Belgium and America. Then there are the bottles, some of which are world classics that are always on offer, others change with the seasons.

We started on the Dark Star offerings. The American Pale Ale was like a sweeter, fuller-bodied, more grapefruity version of their flagship Hophead, and very nice too. The Sussex Extra Stout mimics the Guinness branding, and it’s obvious that it’s targeted at Guinness fans who won’t drink anything else. It’s perfect for this purpose, tasting similar to Guinness but fresher and more chocolatey. Really, really good. “Critical Mass” is their Christmas special, a strong dark ale (7.8%) which contains spices , according to the spiel on their site. Unfortunately, we didn’t like this one — we can’t really put our finger on what was wrong with it, but there was too much alcohol and not enough other flavours. A brave effort, though.

American brewery Stone’s Ruination IPA was on tap, so we had to try it. This reminded us of a more heady Liberty Ale, and regular readers will know how much we love that. Onto the bottles, and we went for a Franconian Christmas theme — Christkindlmarkt beer from Tucher, and Weihnachts-Festbier from Forchheim brewery Greif. Both beers tasted a bit anemic next to the Stone, but the Greif offering was noticeably more flavoursome, and was exactly what we’ve always expected but rarely found in festbiers.

We finished on Bush Noel, also on tap. We like this one, and think it’s clever of them to make a beer so drinkable at 12%. It’s never going to become a regular beer for us at that strength, but it makes a classy nightcap, with all kinds of pleasant brandy and sherry aromas.

It would be easy to assume that, with a line up like this, the pub would be for beer geeks only. However, there was a very mixed crowd, and it was pretty busy from mid-afternoon onwards.

Could this be the perfect pub?

Happy new year – here's to a boozy January

So, ’tis the time of year for resolutions. I resolve to have a pretty beery January. January’s just the worst time to give up alcohol — not only is it cold and miserable, but you’d be missing out on all those great pubs in central London during their quietest time. You can actually get a seat in the Blackfriar in January, for example.

Happy New Year!

Boak