Saturday, 20 December 2008

Is this the last jukebox in Newport?

As the chav-palaces of the JD Wethersoons aggregation do not allow music in their pubs and the Hornblower closed after previous land"lady" alchy Karen drank the pub dry, it is has been difficult if not impossible to find a good jukebox with good beer in the City. Even Sam Smiths got rid of music in The Murenger. So the Pen and Wig ends up as being the last pub in town that offers good beer (Otley O2 @ mo) and good music. And people wonder why pubs are in trouble. Well at least the state-funded and now EU loan-funded BBC are taking an interest. Jukebox now playing Louis Armstrong - what better on a saturday night?

Christmas Heaven

A good pint of Otley O2, a good pub to drink it in, the Pen & Wig in Newport, and a decent paper to read are all the ingredients one needs for an excuse not to do any christmas shopping. I will do some, but not today. The city centre is too packed. There is only one shop I use and that's Thorntons for christmas shopping, luckily everyone I buy presents for likes chocolate. Meanwhile back to the Otley O2 - its a golden beer, slightly less hoppy than 01 but still with a good amount of bitterness. A good way to spend an afternoon in the shopping maelstrom that is christmas is in a pub, in my case the Pen & Wig. The reasons I like this pub are varied: I like the fact that it sells Bass along with Flowers IPA, Original and two guest ales (brains rev James also on today). I like the fact that a single member of staff in this pub serves people quicker than 3 "serving operatives" can do in the chav palaces that are JD Wetherspoons. I even like the decor, a sort of late 1980s style with wallpaper on the ceiling and odd bits of wooden signs on the walls. But the main season I like this pub is that the beer is good. So that calls for another pint of Otley O2 and lets leave the christmas shopping for another day!

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

O-HO-HO in the Bunch

Another day another BBC Radio Wales interview, this time a pre-record for Country Focus. The programme features both Otley and Ffos-y-ffin breweries and of course Brew Wales was there to offer opinion on the beers. The 5% Towy Ale had a bitter-sweet taste but the most unusual beer was the Otley O-Ho-Ho which is made with blueberries. At 5% this golden beer is suprisingly easy to drink for its strength. The blueberries provide a fruity nose to the hoppy aroma, as well as a bitter-sharp initial taste which mellows to a dry, bitter aftertaste. Good level of astringency which makes you want another glass! According to Nick Otley, "The perfect beer to go with turkey". Think I'll stick with 01.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Is your MP sober?

I see that the Australian Parliament is planning to introduce breathalysers to make sure their MPs are sober in Parliament. Now I don't know if the Aussie Parliament has more bars than the 19 in the Houses of Parliament but is drinking in Parliament such a problem down under?

With the Australian Members of Parliament being stuck in Canberra I can see nothing wrong with a few tinnies of Fosters or more preferably a few stubbies of Little Creatures to make the business of legislature run easier.

Wonder what the bar or bars are like in the Australian Parliament? No doubt based on the Oz Theme bar we have in this country, but a bit more upmarket, there being 2 spittoons on the floor Down Under, “One for the Sheilas”. We don't see any coverage of the Australian Parliament here in the UK and for some reason all I can think about when I hear it mentioned is the Monty Python sketch of a certain outback academic centre. The only differences is that Members would be referred to as “The Honorable Bruce”

If there is one Legislature in the world where alcohol should be compulsory then it is in the Welsh Assembly, where debates have reached a new level of tedium. I've tried watching it, but without any success in the debates interesting me, it is proving difficult. Now if an Assembly Member was, for instance , to use Parliamentary language, say “Tired and Emotional”, during a debate then the glorified Parish Council of Cardiff Bay may succeed in raising the interest level in the electorate who did not vote for it in the first place. Even the AMs look bored during the debates, but at least they have computers to use, no doubt one of the AMs biggest decisions is which iTune to download to their publicly-funded iPods.

There is a bar in the Welsh Assembly, or “Tea Room” as it has to be called. When it first opened the best alcoholic drink it served was Budweiser Budvar from the Czech Republic with no Welsh products on sale at all. That has now changed and Welsh beers are available. Now the Tea Room is on an upper floor of the old building, when it first opened the view was of a building site, today the view is the back end of Millennium Centre, the expensive Slate Slug. No sprawling vista of Cardiff Bay, not even a view of the debating chamber is to be had from this Tea Room which a resembles an airport departure lounge, though not as good as Munich airport and its brewpub. In fact it is quite a depressing place, one of the reasons why the pubs surrounding the Welsh Assembly do so well, both with hacks and politicians.

The one advantage of Welsh beers being available in the Welsh Assembly Tea Room is that it is the one place in Cardiff Bay where you can be assured of finding some Brains.

But back to the question , should MPs be breathalysed? Definitely not due to the entertainment value a MP always gives when “Tired and Emotional”. Alan Clarke famously presented a bill to the House of Commons after a serious wine-tasting. That was back in 1983 when the licensing hours of the Palace of Westminster were as long as the House sat for. But how many other debates from 1983 does anyone remember?

With all-night sittings the various bars Press, Strangers, Annies etc would carry on serving as long as an MP or Lord was still drinking there. Now they normally shut at eleven and the Palace is strangely empty at night. Even the smoking ban has had an effect on the Strangers Bar, for some reason it looks smaller. Okay in the old days you could not see the end of the room for the smoke from the Honorable Members cigarettes, now the wood paneling, old etchings, old pumpclips from the guest beer pump, including an old Reckless Eric pumpclip from 12 years ago and even the Members themselves are visible . Honorable and Right Honorable Members now have to go out the door and onto the Terrace to have a ciggie. No great hardship there then, as the Terrace in the summer is one of the best places to have a drink in London. I do know of one hack who, when he is waiting for an MP on the Terrace, always waves to the boats of tourists going by. Sometimes they wave back but nearly all of the tourists shoot away with their cameras. No doubt when those tourists get home they try and identify the photos of this MP they thought was waving to them! It's a great game to play and with the subsidised bar adjacent to the Terrace can get quite fun.

So if we breathalyse MPs then they would cut down on their drinking and this would cut down on the amount of alcohol drunk in Parliament. Our MPs would be up in arms as the bars in the Palace of Westminster start closing down to be converted into coffee parlours and smoothie outlets. Politics would get less interesting, its bad enough at the moment with the teetotal Jockocracy we have running the country (Brown, Darling etc). But if all of our MPs had to remain sober all of the time?

Some MPs are unbearable when sober and drinking is the only thing that can give these non-entities a personality. There is one story about one Labour member, who lost his seat at the following election, who was so drunk that he was hardly able to stand and blurted out about who had been contributing to his election campaign locally. One of these donors was the landlord of a Welsh pub who was applying for change of use to private accommodation, despite objections from the regulars. When this appeared in print the Labour MP and his cronies threatened libel action against the publisher and the writer of the article. The libel action never came into fruition, for two reasons, one the MP was too drunk to remember the even meeting the author and two, it was true! That did not stop the New Labour bullies from issuing their threats though. At the next general election this MP lost his seat by thousands of votes and scuttled off back under the rock he used to share in a biblical manner with a similar disgraced badger-loving former MP.

Many an “off the record briefing” has been given to journalists over a drink in the bars of the Palace of Westminster and surrounding area. Nothing is ever off the record, if someone tells you it is then why are they telling you that! Even today, pubs close to the Houses of Parliament are wired up to the Division Bell. It is always a good sight to see MPs rushing off to the lobbys from the Red Lion on Whitehall when the bell rings. Even more fun is watching the tourists traipse out as they think the fire alarm has gone off!

It was Winston Churchill who said “I have taken more out of alcohol than it has taken out of me”. And if that is not a good enough reason not to breathalyse MPs then I don't know what is.

Breathalysers for MPs? Whatever next? Intelligence tests for MPs ? And then where would be?

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Abergavenny Cinema Brewery!

The King's Arms in Abergavenny, which has already been home to a CAMRA beer festival is now home to the only cinema in the town. Owner Ben Jones has converted one of the outbuildings, originally home to Delafields Brewery into a 60 seat cinema. So as well as taking a meal at this ancient brew pub (it's also home to the Tudor Brewery) you can sit back and enjoy a blockbuster with a pint.
Now what films will be shown at this cinema? Brew Wales have already put together a list of what we will like to see there:
Ice Cold in Aber
One brew over the cuckoo's nest
The (Marstons) Empire Strikes back
Schindler's Pist
The Hopfather
Lawrence of Beerarabia
A clockwork Blorenge
Monty Python and the hoppy grail
The Maltese falcon

The 39 Sips/Sups
Four Wadworths and a Felinfoel
National Velvet Stout
Home Brew Alone
The Full Malty (obviously)
Stairway to Heaven (aka A Matter of Life & Death)
The Man With Two Brains
The Spiling
A Room With a Brew
The Third Manns
Oh Mr Porter
Anymore suggestions welcome!
The previous cinema is now a chav-palace called the Coliseum run by JD Wetherspoons.

If you do visit the Coliseum, make sure you have a look at the poster with a member of the Klu Klax Klan on it! I'm not joking, it's near the window. The poster is an advert for the film "Birth of a Nation", directed by DW Griffiths, who was of Welsh parentage.
The controversial poster in your Abergavenny 'spoons
For more information on this film and its view of history, check out the Wikipedia page on Birth of A Nation

The Beer Book

Book review – The Beer Book, published by Dorling Kindersley, Edited by Tim Hampson, £10.00 Asda, £16.99 cover price
Book: Hardcover
| 9.25 x 6.25in | 352 pages | ISBN 9780756639822 | 20 Oct 2008 | Dorling Kindersley | 18 - AND UP

With Michael Jackson having moved to the upstairs bar I had started to think that no one would ever be able to write another big well-written, full-colour book on the world of beer. Luckily Tim Hampson assembled a bevy of beer writers to put this 350 page worldwide beer crawl together, each of them experts in the beers of their own country. Hence from Italy we have Lorenzo Dabove, regular on the ITV Wales Food Show, well he featured in 2 episodes, exploring the weird and wonderful bottle shapes and flavours of Italian craft ale renaissance brewers. In recent years Italian brewers have realised there is a market for individually crafted ales as opposed to the mass produced Euro lager that most people think of as Italian beer. There's more to Italian beer than Nasty Azzuro!

Similarly, experts from other countries provide other chapters; Alastair Gilmour for the UK, Corad Seidl for Austria, Joris Pattyn for Belgium to name 3 of the 13 contributers to this book.

There is a very extensive section on the craft breweries of the USA, which over the last 30 years has seen over 1400 new breweries start up, producing everything from Victorian-style IPAs to Belgium-style brews. Even the multi-nationals are trying to cash in on the craft-brewery revolution, with Coors producing its Blue Moon range of beers which include a a Belgium-style wheat beer and a Czech-style lager. It's just a shame that Coors Brewery closed down their museum in the UK, formerly the Bass brewery Musuem.

Most of the pages of the Beer Book feature reviews of 2 beers from a selected brewery with a bit of history and the photo of a beer bottle. Added to that we have beer trails in selected countries with maps and articles on beer styles liberally spaced throughout the book. It's quite enjoyable in reading the beer book to rediscover old favorites such as Cwmbran Crow Valley Bitter and some tasting notes on something new and interesting sounding. For instance, the Dogfish Head brewery of Delaware produce a beer called Midas touch whose ingredients include Muscat grapes, honey and saffron! Not a beer that I would drink a lot of but definitely one to try.

One minor fault with the book is that it says that Felinfoel Brewery has been in existence since 1878 which should come as a surprise to the Lewis family who have been brewing there since the 1830s!

All in all The Beer Book is an excellent reference book and would make an excellent Christmas gift for the enthusiast or even anyone vaguely interested in the world of beer, my only gripe is where I am going to find room to put another book about beer on my already bulging bookcase!

Above: part of the Brew Wales research libary

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

JD Wetherspoons Customer Service

Some of you may know about my complaint to JD Wetherspoons over the behaviour of a relative of a duty staff manager in the John Wallace Linton pub in Newport City Centre. If not the link and the footage is available here. Well I offered JDW the full right to reply some 5 weeks ago and they have decided not to take this up.
Okay then 'spoons, under the Stalinist Government we all now live in the UK- the right to silence has been removed and if you choose to remain silent I can only assume you are admitting the poor customer service and the fact that you allow your customers to be verbally abused and threatened by relatives of your staff. No doubt this doctrine will soon be enshrined in one of your "customer service" DVDs the staff are for ever complaining about having to watch.
Not that I'm missing going to Wetherspoons (I've decided to boycott all JDW pubs).
There's plenty of other places to drink in which offer good beer, good value and a safe environment, free from being hassled by the "Gangsta Grandad" of the duty manageress. Sam Smith's Brewery is doing very well out of me this year!
Just had an email from Wetherspoons! Unfortunately its there corporate mailshot informing me I can get a Christmas meal for £6.99 at one of their "chav palaces", not an apology or even an explanation into why the duty manageress allowed the Gansta Grandad to carry on with his outrageous behavior.
Whilst on the subject of Wetherspoons, the Brew Wales contact in Pontypridd mentioned that the clientele of the Tumble Inn on Broadway are worse than the usual bunch of Stella-supping chavs that normally inhabit Wetherspoons pubs. It turns out that this chav-palace is next door to the Probation service and their clients regularly use the Tumble as the place to go before and after meeting their probation officers!
The Urban Dictionary gives this description of Wetherspoons:

A chain of pubs throughouth Britain that act as a magnet for chavs and minors. Invariably centre stage for all fighting due to the lack of entertainment allowing low priced alcohol and thus large concentrations of both men and women that enjoy violence.
Dude, Where's Mickey?

Oh he fancied a fight so he went up to the Wetherspoons"

In the Publican today it was announced that 'spoons have won "Loo of the Year" award, with a special mention for the Tumble Inn. No doubt the "clients" in the pub appreciate the toilets as it is a major trading area for them!

New Felinfoel beer

One of biggest surprises of the year is that Wales' oldest brewery, Felinfoel have launched a new beer; "Chilly Pecker" will be available in selected pubs in Saundersfoot to celebrate the charity festive swim that has been going on for the last 25 years.
The beer is descibed as being "4.3%, malty and suitably hot. Deep and rich in colour, long and smooth on the palate, created with a blend of the finest malt and hops and pure Welsh spring water".
Full article is in the Tenby Observer
Or for more on Felinfoel Brewery visit their website

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Buckley's. It Tastes Awful

Now before the writs start flying from a certain brewery on the Taff I have to point out that whereas Buckley's is a famous Welsh beer, now brewed in Cardiff, in Canada it is the brand name of the major cough syrup containing camphor, menthol, Canada balsam, capsicum and pine needle oil. Sounds inviting doesn't it? Still beer tickers have been known to drink worse in the UK.
What I really like though is the company logo of "It tastes awful". Now that's not something I would use to describe beer, at least not to the brewers I'm still on speaking terms with, but what a great line for a cough medicine. Reminisant of the "love it or hate it" campaign run by the by-product of the brewing industry, Marmite.
For more information and if you have a cough have a look at their website.

Of course to anyone in Wales, Buckley's was the famous Welsh brewery, formerely in Llanelli, part of the site of an Aldi supermarket now. The site of the old Rhymney brewery now houses a German supermarket as well. Is this a trend?

There is another Buckley's Brewery, this one in Australia, this is named after William Buckley (any relation to Simon?) who was an escaped convict (still any relation Simon?)
Buckley's Brewery Australia
Brewery seems to be doing well as they won an award for Best Dark Lager with their Dark Bock at a brewery showcase.

Otley Brewery Receive their Awards

Welsh Members of CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, dished out the awards to the Otley Brewery the other day. After a few pints of O1 , or Thornbridge St Petersburg Stout for those a bit more thirsty, in the Otley Arms, Trefforest, a short journey was made to the site of the Otley Brewery in Cilfynydd, a few miles up the valley. Here we were rewarded with more of the excellent O1 before presenting the family with a collection of certificates from various competitions they had won, including, Champion Beer of Wales 08/09 for Otley O8.
After a few more pints of O1 it was time to head for one of their other pubs, the Bunch of Grapes in Pontypridd for a buffet and a quiz.
With all those certificate it looks like the Otley family will have to buy another pub just to have room to put them up on the walls.
For more information visit the Otley Brewery website

Friday, 5 December 2008

Hereford Arms Newport

Looks like the recession may have saved the Hereford Arms in Newport. This very popular free house in the east of the city is able to sell beers from any brewery it chooses to and is under threat of closure and conversion to residential use. But a hard fought campaign by locals, CAMRA and an MP, though not the local incumbent has resulted in a stalemate situation where no one seems to the future of this succesful pub. Anyway tonights guest beer was Burton Bridge bitter and in the run up to christmas we have lots of Wye Valley coming on. Another pub not superpub I will be supporting. Oh and the above photo is of behind the bar with some of the breweries that have been supported here over the years.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Fullers ESB in Wales

The latest edition of First Draught, the free quarterly newsletter from Fullers Brewery, gives the addresses of some pubs in the free trade that sell my favourite real ale, Fullers ESB. Imagine my surprise on finding one listed in the beer desert that is Aberdare. Great, Aberdare is easily reached by public transport (train and bus) but I could not think of any pub called the Red Lion in the town. A quick look on the internet and I found that the Red Lion is actually in Penderyn, on the road to Brecon. Oh well looks like I'll have to make do with another trip to the Old Fishmarket in Bristol to sample the ESB, where the other day the Fullers London Porter was actually on better form than the ESB. Now Bristol or Penderyn for a pint, think the answer will be Bristol.
You can sign up for the Fullers Fine Ale Club and receive their quarterly newsletter and money off vouchers for beer here.

The Red Lion Inn
Church Road
Mid Glamorgan
CF44 9JR
01685 811914

Old Fish Market
59-63 Baldwin Street
Tel: 01179 211515

Failing a visit to the Old Fishmarket I'll have to do with a pint of London Pride in the Green Dragon, St Thomas' Square, Monmouth.

Monday, 1 December 2008

True taste Winners 2008

The True Taste Awards for 2008 have been announced.
The full brochure is available as a pdf here but here are the beery highlights:

Alcoholic Drinks Section

1st Place went to Penny & Stefan Samociuk from Penlon Cottage Brewery in Ceredigion, with their Gimmers Mischief Premium Ale – Export.

2nd Place went to Steve & Marc Evans at Rhymney Brewery (Dowlais) Ltd with Export.

With the first two winners it seems that only beers meant for drinking outside of Wales would win awards but

3rd Place went to Otley Brewery with 01. A Highly Commended award also went to current Champion Beer of Wales, Otley 08. Well done to Nick, Charlie and Matt for brewing such excellent beers.
Other Highly Commended awards went to Breconshire Brewery with Red Dragon and Golden Valley, Hurns Tomos Watkin Cwrw Haf , SA Brain with Reverend James and Purple Moose with Dark Side of the Moose.

Now I'm not a fan of non-alcoholic drinks but well done to Alan Wordsworth at Springfield Cider for winning a Highly Commended with his Llangovan pure welsh apple juice. I prefer my apple by-products fermented though.

Sifting through the food results, in the Baked & Confectionery – large producer section, Lewis' Pies in Swansea came joint first with their Steak & Ale Pie made with Tomos Watkin Cwrw Gaeaf, whilst Peter's of Bedwas came in second with their Steak and Brain SA pie.

Odd that none of our award-winning ciders or perries made it through to the final but if the judges prefer beer to cider then they will choose the beers!


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