News, Nuggets & Longreads: Bumper Xmas 2015 Issue

Killing time between meals, relatives, TV events, church services or whatever, here you are scrolling about on your phone or tablet looking for something to read. Well, thanks to the magic of scheduled posts, we’ve got you covered.

Celebrator plastic goat at Christmas.
Posts of Christmas Past

Here are a few things from the archives to suit the season.

→ From 2011, there’s Leigh Linley’s poignant reflections on why pretension goes out of the window on Christmas Day:

The sound of cans being popped, the toffee-brown contents poured into glasses with slogans on them. Orange cans, crumpled, sitting in the bin. Stones Bitter. Tetley’s. These are the beers my dad drinks. These are the beers my uncle drinks. Sitting on their laps, watching Morecambe and Wise and Only Fools and Horses. Little hands reaching up – a little sip for us won’t hurt! After all, it’s Christmas – The best day of the year!

→ Christmas beers are common and varied these days but, back in the mid-1990s, Michael ‘The Beer Hunter’ Jackson wrote a couple of pieces recording the growth of this niche: here’s his 1992 article about Fuller’s ESB and other ‘winter warmers’; and a 1996 piece focusing on King & Barnes that also rounds up Christmas ales from other brewers.

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads: Bumper Xmas 2015 Issue”

Modern Pubmanship 5: Christmas Day

A brief Christmas missive from our etiquette expert R.M. Banks.

You may be fortunate enough to find that the licensee of your favourite watering station is the splendid sort who postpones the enjoyment of a platter laden with the flesh of the fowl and the well-stewed brassica to fling open the hatches for an hour or so on Christmas Day.

If so, and you are not posted eagerly outside at 12 o’clock with a dry mouth and a fistful of the Bank of England’s finest lettuce, then you are, frankly, a foul blister who ought not to be allowed into the pub at any other time of year.

You see, the open door of a public house on the 25 of December is to the keen student of the Champagne of the grain as the ‘Battle Action Millennium Falcon’ (RRP £120) is to an 8-year-old child, and, like a fine equine specimen with a bow on top, its oral cavity ought not be given the glassy eye.

So, you have done the right thing and turned up for the midday service — perhaps in the company of one parent while the other dons the novelty apron to baste the goose. So far, so good.

Now, on approaching the bar, and after exchanging the necessary pleasantries with your host, if there was ever a time to sally forth with ‘One for yourself?’, this is it. (If you are one of those unfortunate wretches afflicted with chronic rigor mortis of the wallet, perhaps take a tumbler-full of your favourite loosener before leaving the house.)

This duty dispensed, it is a simply your mission to achieve a moderate level of jollity in the hour or so before the publican begins to send subtle signals that their own feed will wait no longer by, for example, dousing the fire with a bucket of cold water,  switching off the lights and standing with folded arms before the grandfather clock.

At this, you may return to the homestead, pour yourself into a dining chair, hold the silverware aloft, and know that you have demonstrated the true pub fancier’s spirit.

Session 106: Holiday Beers

For the 106th edition of the beer blogging jamboree that is ‘The Session’ Jay Brooks has asked us to consider ‘holiday beers’:

Holiday beers are by design no one style, but are a chance for individual breweries to let their talent and imagination run wild. At the holidays, when people stop their busy lives and share some precious time with family and friends, the beer they choose should be equally as special as the time they’re sharing. So a holiday beer should be made to impress, to wow its audience, to stand out. That’s the only criteria that should be met by one of these beers. Will it impress?

We thought this would be an easy topic until we started bashing around ideas for a post over dinner. It turns out that we’ve probably already said everything we’ve got to say about Christmas beer:

Continue reading “Session 106: Holiday Beers”

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.

Christmas Opening Hours

And that’s it: we’re shutting down for a week or so as we head off to spend Christmas with our families.

We’ll no doubt be Tweeting anything beer- or pub-related that catches our eye and also updating our Facebook page, but we’re going to give the blogging a rest.

In the meantime, there are some posts from the 2014 archive that you might want to give a second look listed below.

Thanks for reading in 2014 and merry Christmas to you all!

Continue reading “Christmas Opening Hours”