Inside the mind of CAMRA

We hope CAMRA appreciates the brilliant if unsanctioned work of its activist bloggers. All the paid-for PR and press releases in the world can’t compete with the kind of insight we get daily from Maeib, Tandleman, Steve and others.

Recently, all three have come into their own, explaining the murky world of Good Beer Guide selection to outsiders in posts like those linked above. When we questioned why a particular pub wasn’t in the Good Beer Guide a few months back, Steve commented here, chased up with his contacts in the region in question, and then posted a detailed response here. Although Steve is careful to remind everyone that he isn’t speaking on behalf of CAMRA when he blogs, he certainly boosts its image by doing so.

We still don’t understand why, in some towns, the GBG lists so many indifferent Wetherspoons and Greene King pubs; and we’d rather be told, straight up, which are the most interesting pubs in town, rather than those with the most consistent beer quality (inconsistency is half the fun with real ale, right?); but at least we know now that the decisions aren’t made by robots or at random.

Oxford: smoke, hops and ginger

whitehorsebreweryblenheim

Here are quick reviews of a few beers we enjoyed on a recent trip to Oxford.

1. White Horse Village Idiot, 4.1%

An attempt, we think, to clone Hopback’s venerable Summer Lightning, Village Idiot is actually a somewhat better beer. Pale yellow, crisply bitter and slightly sweet, it was so full of the flavour and aroma of fresh hops, we though it should probably count as one of our portions of fruit and veg for the day. We guessed at a mix of German and British hops — if anyone knows for sure, tell us! The normal bitter (3.7%) is also superb.

The brewery tap at the Royal Blenheim has a ludicrously cheerful singing barman and 10 real ales in total, too, so well worth a visit.

2. Leatherbritches Ginger Spice, 3.8%

The best ginger beer we’ve had yet, where hefty amounts of (candied?) ginger make for a characterful pint. Often, ginger in beer leads to a gritty dryness but this beer is almost sickly sweet. Normally, that would be a real turn-off, but it definitely balances. But, as the expert barman at the excellent Turf Tavern said as he served it, “tasty, but you won’t want more than one”.

3. Thermal Cheer, by Isle of Purbeck brewery, ?%

This brewery seems to favour smoked flavours: all three of their beers that we tried tasted like they’d been lightly barbecued (although their website makes no mention of this). An acquired taste. This, a dark bitter, was the best of the bunch and certainly an interesting experiment. Did we actually like it? We still haven’t made up our minds. We had this one at the Turf but also saw their beers (the bitter and “Solar Power”) in a couple of other pubs.

4. Cotswold Brewing Company Wheat, 4.2%

Also at the Turf Tavern, this unfiltered kegged German-style wheat beer has alerted us to the existence of yet another interesting British lager brewer. Sadly, it wasn’t all that fresh, but the local students were mad for the stuff and its underlying quality shone through. If, like us, you’ve ever thought German wheat beer would be improved with a bit more bitterness, then this will be just the job. Hopefully we’ll get the chance to try the rest of their range sometime soon.

We got some ideas for which pubs to visit from the Good Beer Guide, Maeib’s pub crawl post and whole bunch of other websites. There are a fair few decent places to drink in Oxford!

Brentwood Brewing Chestnut Stout: ker-ching!

Brentwood Brewing are a small outfit run by Essex CAMRA activists and borne out of a good old-fashioned love of real ale. Their winter seasonal Chestnut Stout is a corker. Or do we mean a conker?

chestnut

Brentwood Brewing is a small outfit run by Essex CAMRA activists and borne out of a good old-fashioned love of real ale. Their winter seasonal Chestnut Stout is a corker. Or do we mean a conker?

It tastes — and don’t laugh at the Gooldenism — like chocolate bourbon biscuits. There’s only a little bitterness at the end, but it’s not sickly either. For a beer that claims to be only 3.999% (ha ha) it’s got a lot of body, too. Could we taste chestnuts? Probably not, to be honest, but it’s a fantastic stout we’d be pleased to see more of. Good job, chaps.

Compare this with Milton Caligula which we tried on the same night: 8.8% and, according to the barman, supposed to taste like blue cheese. Eugh.

Photo by FotoDawg at Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons.

Active drinking

Confronted with a sparkled pint in a pub in Cheshire recently, I thought I’d try the same trick. I actively supped, rather than just pouring the beer in through my horrible great cakehole.

sparklypints

In the latest edition of James and Oz Pretend to Argue about Booze, a man told them how to drink Guinness properly. He insisted that you “pull the beer through the head”.

Confronted with a sparkled pint in a pub in Cheshire recently, I thought I’d try the same trick. So, I actively supped, rather than just pouring the beer in through my horrible great cakehole.

It worked.

I got the benefit of the pillowy head, but the beer came through loud and clear — not muted, or subdued. I left the head behind in the glass, where it belongs, making my pint look nice.

It’s odd to find yourself rethinking something as natural and instinctive as the act of taking on liquid through the mouth, but I guess an obsession with beer will do that to you.

Incidentally, we thought Oz and James were pretty dreadful last night, although it was worth putting up with 25 minutes of self-indulgent drivel to see the Beer Nut and Bionic Laura on our screens.


Mysteries of British pub culture #1

Why is it that no-one bats an eyelid at buying a round of drinks for their workmates on a Friday night at £20 a go and yet they blow a fuse if you nick 3p’s-worth of  teabag or a splash of milk in the office?

For those wanting more information about just how generous us Brits are in the pub, here’s a good post from Pete Brown from this time last year.