Hogs Back brewery – some of it our cup of T.E.A

Various Hogsback Brewery beers
Var­i­ous Hogs­back Brew­ery beers

Lots of peo­ple seem to rate T.E.A. (Tra­di­tion­al Eng­lish Ale) by the Hogs Back* brew­ery. We’ve had it on a num­ber of occa­sions (on cask and in bot­tle) and nev­er real­ly liked it. There’s just some­thing a bit acrid about it. So we’ve nev­er made much of a point about seek­ing their stuff out.

How­ev­er, the oth­er night we were in Stonch’s pub, and he got out some of their OTT, a 6% old ale. As he says in his post, it had a “sur­pris­ing­ly sour, funky char­ac­ter”, tast­ing almost like an Oud Bru­in. It worked extreme­ly well and was very tasty, but we did won­der whether it was sup­posed to taste like that.

We’ve just drunk a bot­tle we’ve had stashed away for a while, and it’s a very dif­fer­ent beer. There are ele­ments of a dark Bel­gian beer like Ciney Brune in the nose and mouth. I sup­pose there’s a hint of sour­ness right at the end, but you would not call this a sour beer. It’s much more fruity. It’s very pleas­ant. I don’t know which I pre­fer – this ver­sion, or the poten­tial­ly “off” bot­tle we had the oth­er night!

Any­way, this made us keen to try the rest of the Hogs Back stash we’d accu­mu­lat­ed over the years. Bur­ma Star Ale is 4.2%, and a per­cent­age of the rev­enue goes to the Bur­ma Star Asso­ci­a­tion. It’s a well-round­ed, red ale, with spicy, fruity aro­ma. An almost creamy malti­ness gives way to a nut­ty, dry fin­ish. Nice.

Then came Wob­ble in a Bot­tle, which packs a pow­er­ful punch at 7.5%. It didn’t look all that great – the head van­ished almost instant­ly – but this tast­ed like a good Bel­gian abbey brew. Sim­i­lar sug­ary-fruity-chewi­ness. I real­ly enjoyed this one.

Final­ly, we had to try T.E.A. again. I would love to say that the con­ver­sion process was com­plete, but it still didn’t work for us. But it made won­der­ful beer-rye bread.

Boak

*And there’s anoth­er lack of apos­tro­phe to wind the Beer Nut up.

Representing the community

A barman playing Guitar Hero in a pub in London
A bar­man play­ing Gui­tar Hero in a pub in Lon­don

It’s not just about where you feel com­fort­able your­self – it’s some­times about where you feel com­fort­able tak­ing your friends.

A Jew­ish friend of mine recent­ly said he hat­ed going to his favourite kosher restau­rants with non-Jew­ish friends because he felt account­able for the ter­ri­ble time they would inevitably have: “If it wasn’t for me and my dietary require­ments, they could be in a nice restau­rant eat­ing food they’d actu­al­ly enjoy!”

The fun­ny thing is, I feel very much the same about pubs that cater for the beer geek.

I go to those kind of pubs fre­quent­ly with Boak, and with those of my mates who are both­ered about beer, but the cou­ple of times I’ve gone with peo­ple who aren’t that fussed – nor­mal peo­ple – they’ve real­ly hat­ed them.

A pub which, on pre­vi­ous occa­sions, has felt as relax­ing and cosy as my own front room sud­den­ly becomes cold and rather lone­ly. I find myself try­ing to make peo­ple like the pub; mak­ing apolo­gies for it; defend­ing it.

It’s just like when I made my broth­er watch Peep Show and he didn’t laugh once.

The pub should be fun. Being (per­haps jus­ti­fi­ably) berat­ed for mak­ing peo­ple go out of their way to get to a “weird, silent pub full of weirdos”, just isn’t.

Bai­ley

Maieb touched upon a sim­i­lar issue a few months ago.

A pub crawl in Solva, Pembrokeshire

The Ship Inn, Solva, Pembrokeshire, Wales
The Ship Inn, Sol­va, Pem­brokeshire, Wales

The small Welsh ham­let of Sol­va has three pubs with­in a hun­dred yards of each oth­er, and there’s at least one more up the hill in Upper Sol­va. Only the Har­bour Inn is men­tioned in the Good Beer Guide (2007) but the oth­er two are also worth some love.

The Har­bour Inn has the best loca­tion, and there­fore the lion’s share of the pun­ters. It has fine views across the har­bour and an ambi­tious menu. Beer-wise it’s a Brains place, offer­ing the reg­u­lar bit­ter and Rev­erend James. I have to say, I’m not a mas­sive fan of these two. Per­haps I’ve nev­er had a real­ly good pint, but they real­ly don’t do very much for me.

It’s cosy, and the young chap behind the bar was very friend­ly, although I didn’t much care for the old­er chap chas­ing fam­i­lies with chil­dren into their own spe­cial ghet­to. “Dogs are fine, it’s chil­dren I can’t stand,” he said cheer­ful­ly to a cou­ple on the next table from me. That’s Britain summed up for you.

Almost next door to the Har­bour Inn is the Ship Inn, which also dou­bles as the Spice Gal­ley, an Indi­an restaurant/takeaway. I’d nev­er been in this place before, and rather expect­ed it to be an unfriend­ly locals’ place. The bar­man ignored me ini­tial­ly, but I’ll give him the ben­e­fit of the doubt, as he may not have seen me. I’m quite small.

It’s a Marstons pub, so had Pedi­gree and Long Hop on. They’d just had a beer fes­ti­val, so on the oth­er two taps were spe­cials from that – some­thing by Banks, and Gold­en Thread by Salop­i­an. I went for the lat­ter, and it blew my mind. I don’t think I’ve had a bet­ter pint this sum­mer. It was in per­fect con­di­tion, with a creamy head, and a gor­geous hop aro­ma. Flow­ery hops dom­i­nat­ed the flavour but there were also hints of banana and clove in it. Won­der­ful stuff. I would have stayed to drink more, but I had one more pub to check out before the bus was due.

The Cam­bri­an Arms looks a bit like a hotel bar and also has inter­est­ing food. On tap they had Tomos Watkin’s OSB which has a love­ly heavy malt & mar­malade flavour. They also had Bevan’s Bit­ter, from the Rhym­ney Brew­ery. This was a good deal hop­pi­er than the TW, but beau­ti­ful­ly bal­anced. I also had their Rhym­ney Bit­ter in the Farm­ers Arms ear­li­er in the week, and was impressed. I reck­on that the Rhym­ney brew­ery is a wel­come new addi­tion to the Welsh brew­ing scene.

The Cam­bri­an Arms also had But­ty Bach, by the Wye Val­ley brew­ery, but I didn’t have a chance to reac­quaint myself with this delight­ful drop as I could hear the bus com­ing down the hill.

Boak

Sol­va is served by semi-reg­u­lar bus­es Mon-Sat between Haver­ford­west and St Davids. It makes an excel­lent end point for cliff walks from New­gale or Caer­fai, St Davids. Just give your­self more time for the beer before the last bus leaves…

The Rhym­ney brew­ery is a com­par­a­tive­ly new Welsh brew­ery. It was start­ed in 2005, but is keen to draw links between it and his­toric brew­eries from Merthyr Tyd­fil. It has an inter­est­ing page about these brew­eries on its web­site.

New Tricks: an episode for beer geeks

Amanda Redman and Dennis Waterman in New Tricks
Aman­da Red­man and Den­nis Water­man in New Tricks

Last Monday’s edi­tion of New Tricks focused on beer and brew­eries. The sto­ry was ludi­crous even by the usu­al stan­dards of this pro­gramme (which we kind of like…). It had the team inves­ti­gat­ing the 10-year-old case of the death of a promis­ing young brew­er in a fer­men­ta­tion ves­sel at a tra­di­tion­al fam­i­ly brew­ery. How­ev­er daft the plot, which fea­tures a secret beer recipe, argu­ments over the prove­nance of the malt, and brew­ing dynas­ti­cism, there’s plen­ty for the beer geek to enjoy:

  • try­ing to guess which brew­ery they used for film­ing;
  • pon­der­ing which indus­tri­al brew­ers would real­ly be using open fer­men­ta­tion ves­sels in this day and age;
  • prod­uct place­ment for Fullers, Theak­stons and pos­si­bly Spe­cial Brew (although has that become a gener­ic term for super-strength crap lager now?);
  • won­der­ing whether they filmed the beer fes­ti­val scene at a real fes­ti­val or just got CAMRA to help with posters etc;
  • lazy stereo­types about gas­tro pubs vs tra­di­tion­al booz­ers (Eg gas­tro = female friend­ly and crap beer); and
  • old codgers com­plain­ing that the beer doesn’t taste as good as it used to.

You can enjoy it for your­self through BBC I-play­er. But you’ve only got until 21:00 on Mon­day 11th.

My favourite pub

If I had to choose my favourite pub in the world, it would prob­a­bly be the Farm­ers Arms in St Davids, Pem­brokeshire. This isn’t because of its beer offer­ings or even because of the great atmos­phere, but because all my ear­ly pub mem­o­ries were formed here.

When I was grow­ing up, we went to the Pem­brokeshire coast every year for our annu­al hol­i­day, some­times as a fam­i­ly, some­times with a large group of my par­ents’ friends as well. It’s a very spe­cial place for me, and I try to get back there every cou­ple of years at least. St Davids itself keeps evolv­ing – I remem­ber it being a sleepy vil­lage for hard­core hik­ers in the 1980s, a buck­et-and-spade resort in the ear­ly nineties, and now it’s like Hamp­stead-on-sea, with posh restau­rants, and artists sell­ing paint­ings to each oth­er.

Because of its large beer gar­den, the Farm­ers was open to kids, and so was prob­a­bly the first pub I ever went to, and cer­tain­ly the first pub I remem­ber. And obvi­ous­ly, because I was always there on hol­i­day, the mem­o­ries are all pleas­ant. When I walk into the beer gar­den now, there’s a lit­tle bit of me that’s five years old, real­ly excit­ed about going to the beach.

I tast­ed beer there for the first time, a sip from the par­ents’ pints. Urgh – how can they drink that stuff? I observed the plea­sure that my par­ents and their friends got from drink­ing and chat­ting in the after­noon sun. I learnt that drink­ing too much makes you bor­ing and repet­i­tive. And then did it any­way, when I was old enough.

Here I also devel­oped my strange love of pub fish and chips. Yes, I know it’s usu­al­ly frozen fish and oven chips. But we didn’t eat out much when I was grow­ing up, and so it was always a bit of a treat, and con­tin­ues to be now I’m old­er and can afford to eat bet­ter stuff.

As a sulky teenag­er, I con­tin­ued to love the Farm­ers, even before I could drink. Its sta­tus as the only pub in town has always made it a live­ly place, the cen­tre of the social scene for young and old alike. There are always a sur­pris­ing num­ber of young peo­ple in St Davids – surfer types, I always assumed.

I’ve just spent an after­noon there with my mum, and it’s as charm­ing as ever. Reverand James (Brains), Dou­ble Drag­on (Felin­foel) and Rhym­ney Bit­ter on tap, all in good nick. Friend­ly bar staff. Same great view out of the beer gar­den. I’m sad to be miss­ing GBBF, but extreme­ly con­tent­ed to be here instead.

Boak

The Farm­ers Arms is on Goat Street. You don’t need a map to find it as St Davids is a pret­ty small place. How­ev­er, it is offi­cial­ly a city (the small­est in the UK) thanks to its beau­ti­ful 12th cen­tu­ry cathe­dral. Its pop­u­la­tion is few­er than 2000 peo­ple, although this prob­a­bly quadru­ples dur­ing the sum­mer. These days it must also have the high­est per­cent­age of espres­so machines per capi­ta in the world.