Specialist Beer Shop in Darlington

I was recently in Darlington for work, and scheduled a brief visit to the city’s specialist beer shop.

Unlike most other specialist shops like, say, the York Beer and Wine Shop, or Open Bottles in Somerset, it isn’t a little store run by a middle-aged chap in a jumper — it’s part of a huge department store. Binns is part of the House of Fraser chain, and looks like the set of Are You Being Served.

After wandering around “teen fashions” for a while, getting some very funny looks, I found a dark cavern at the back of the basement stacked high with wine, beer and beer glasses. I couldn’t carry much, but picked up a Witkap Stimulo, an Anchor Porter and a Maudite, all of which were on sale.

I left behind a lot of interesting looking ales from up North, several bottles of St Bernardus 12 and a great big shiny Judas goblet which caught my eye, but which I knew would get broken on the train if I’d dared to buy it.

All in all, there must have been around 100 different beers on sale, which sure beats my local branch of Sainsbury’s. Londoners will know that the Army and Navy Stores in Westminster (also part of House of Fraser) also has a decent beer selection, but Binns is quite a bit better. Various experts say that it’s not as good as it used to be since the retirement of its original manager and the introduction of central buying, but I was nonetheless impressed.

If you’re in the area, it’s well worth a look.

Mild on the Rise?

mightyoak.gifOur local is an interesting place. For years it was a complete dump, very much like the Murderer’s Arms from Viz’s notorious “Real Ale T**ts” comic strip. But about five years ago, it was refurbished and reopened as a would-be trendy venue for hip young people.

I say “would-be” because it’s not as trendy as it thinks it is, and the clientele is neither uniformly trendy nor young — there are often groups of old ladies in there, and grumpy blokes reading the paper on their own. Nonetheless, it’s become a huge success because it’s the only pub in the area with a really warm, buzzing atmosphere, and because it has a garden.

I go there for another reason, though — the mild.

There are usually four or five ales on, but on the whole, they’re not well kept. Last year, though, someone convinced the landlord to take part in CAMRA’s campaign to promote mild, and Mighty Oak‘s Oscar Wilde appeared on the pumps. It’s been there ever since, fresh, local, well kept, and slowly gaining popularity.

Last night, I stood at the bar and listened to a stream of young men and young women order pint after pint of the stuff. So much, in fact, that the barrel had to be changed.

Ordinary people (as opposed to obvious beer nerds) were saying things like:

“Three point seven per cent? Wicked. I’ll have one of those.”

“Four pints of mild and a Kronenbourg, please. Oh — tell you what — make it five pints of mild.”

Someone ordered a whole round of mild! Becks Vier wasn’t getting a look in. Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of that or Carling C2 cornering the weak session beer market, mild did?

RIP Michael Jackson

As we did our rounds of the beer blogs today, we were shocked to learn of the death of Michael Jackson.

We can’t claim any personal experiences, but he was extremely influential in developing our interest in beer.  His “Great Beer Guide – 500 Classic brews” is possibly our most-thumbed book — it’s been on holiday with us countless times.

We liked his eclecticism, and his enthusiasm — he talked about what he liked, and not so much about what he didn’t. We didn’t always agree with his comments, but they always gave us food for thought, and often made us think twice about a beer we’d never have considered otherwise.

He’ll be missed.

Dodgy Chinese Beer?

tsingtao.jpgThere’s been a lot of hysteria recently around Chinese food and drink. Some Chinese toothpaste poisoned people in Panama, and several American pets were killed by dodgy Chinese pet food.

On the back of that, people have been desperately hunting for more examples, and have even resorted to resurrecting some old urban myths. There is a whiff of xenophobia about it all (which is a bit distasteful) not to mention a bit of good old-fashioned tit-for-tat free market manouevring.

But I still find myself wondering: what about Chinese beer?

We had a party recently and told our guests there would be a prize for the most interesting beer donated to our cellar — we didn’t want to end up with 10 bottles of red wine and fifteen Kronenbourg Blanc at the end of the night. Someone brought a bottle of Tsingtao, which is now sitting amongst the stash. Is it kosher?

Well, Danwei, a website about media, advertising, and urban life in China, published this piece in 2005. It claims that up to 95% of Chinese beer contains formaldehyde. Eurgh. Before you panic, though, there is a later correction: it’s probably only about 65%. Phew!

As far as I can tell, formaldehyde is used as a cheap alternative to silica gel, which itself is used to clear beer quickly so it needs less time to mature.

Thankfully for my bottle of Tsingtao, however, the article also suggests that most Chinese beer made for export is made without formaldehyde. Tsingtao is also well regarded and has won awards worldwide. So, although I probably won’t like it anymore than the last time I had it, it won’t cause me severe pain, vomiting, coma or death.

Starring Sierra Nevada

knockedup.jpgWe went to see Knocked Up last night. We liked it, tut this isn’t a film review site — you don’t care what we thought about the movie. You want to know what the beer angle is.

Well, this is surely the first and only film to signal a character’s hipness by having him chug Sierra Nevada Pale Ale throughout.

Paul Rudd‘s character, Pete, spends one scene knocking back SNPA from the bottle like that mock product placement slot for Pepsi in Wayne’s World. Later on, its possible to see where his character has been by the trail of small brown bottles with lime green labels littering the flat surfaces in his house.

Does the fact that we even noticed this mean we’ve crossed some kind of line into obsession…?