Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The Evils of Beer Conversion

Nearly everywhere I look I see advocates of good beer talking about “converting” non-beer drinkers… from other blogs, to nationally recognised beer campaigns, to the drinks menus in Brewdog bars that suggest what beer to drink instead of their wines & spirits.

Conversion in this sense is an evil word as it’s all about changing people’s ideas and perceptions, much like Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons who knock on your door while you’re kicking back eating a fry-up on a Saturday morning… people telling you that everything you know is wrong and that you’re somewhat inferior if you don’t believe.

That’s what “Conversion” sounds like to me. It doesn’t sound like a gentle nudge saying “hey, why not try this beer? You might like it”, conversion sounds like you’re judgementally forcing someone to do something because it’s what you like and believe in even if they are quite happy doing what they enjoy.

“Conversion” doesn’t convey a welcoming sense of community, in fact it does quite the opposite. “Conversion” suggests that all of us beer drinkers are in our own little clique and that outsiders have to pass some kind of initiation in order to join us.

“Conversion” isn’t a friendly word, it’s alienating people who could potentially become fans of good beer if it wasn't for the pressure.

This isn’t to say that more people shouldn’t drink good beer, it’s saying “hey, would you like to try my beer” instead of rocking up at someone’s house when they’ve invited you and hijacking it with beer talk. It’s not forcing people to listen to “why they should drink beer” because to be perfectly honest nobody “should” do anything just because you want them to.

By all means recommend, but if they resist just leave it at that. It’s only a drink sothere shouldn't be any "conversion" process involved.


Monday, 18 August 2014

London Craft Beer Festival 2014 Review

On Sunday some friends and I decided to travel down to Oval Space in Hackney for London Craft Beer Festival. As I mentioned in my preview blog, it’s a festival whereby all of the beer is included in admission price as well as the breweries serving their own beer (or at least someone who knows about beer. Probably).

We got to the venue and collected our glass, bottle caps (third pint tokens) and program before heading up to the room of doom.

The Venue:

It was a small but comfortable venue with a decked area where food was, as well as a balcony area overlooking the old gas terminals. There were breweries all around the room and a stage in the middle for the performers.

Across the road there was also another venue that they were using to promote holidays in Flanders. We sampled some delicious cheese and whitebait.

The Food:

I would have liked to see some more reasonably priced food. There was a stand selling hot dogs in burger baps for £6.50 which seemed like a rip off, and the other option was onglet steak with veggies for £8. They did also have chips for £2, which were nice enough but the portions weren’t nearly big enough.

The People:

Along with Alec, Jay & Lee whom I travelled with, I bumped into some of my awesome beery twitter fam, Some of whom I’d never met before.

As for the brewers themselves... I don’t know whether it was because they were tired from a long weekend but the vast majority of them didn’t seem interested in talking to us normal people, aside from serving their beers. Too many times I’d ordered a beer and want to talk to brewers about them but before I got the chance they’d already turned their back to talk to the brewer next to them. It kind of defeats the point of this kind of festival set up.

The Beers:

I had a lot of beers, well it would have been rude not to since it was included in the ticket price. I’m not going to tell you about all of them but stand outs included:

Redemption Pale Ale w/ Mangos & Pink Peppercorns (3.8%) – You got the hoppiness of the pale ale, the sweet and juicy mango with a shower of spicy peppercorns. It was absolutely outstanding!

Weird Beard Little Things That Kill (A low ABV. Each batch changes) – I drank more of this beer than anything else. It’s a beer I already love and I just stood at the Weird Beard stand (the most friendly stand manned by Bryan & Chris) talking to Chris and constantly getting my glass topped up. So much fruitiness and body for such a low ABV beer.

Buxton Ace Edge (6.8%) – It’s a beer I’ve wanted to try for ages as I love the original Axe Edge and I am one of the rare people who LOVE Sorachi Ace Hops. I am so glad this was on (I may have had multiple drinks of this too).

Magic Rock Bourbon Barrel Bearded Lady (11%) – BIG chocolate and coffee followed by the oaky bourbon booziness. So fucking good.

My beer of the festival, though, was Alpha State Vanilla Mocha Shake (10%) – Jesus fuck! This was absolutely incredible... a coffee and chocolate filled mocha with a sprinkling of vanilla at the end. It really was like a silky smooth milkshake and I could have actually drank multiple pints. WANT MORE NOW.


It was a great festival, with a really cool concept. I like not having to worry about spending money once I go in, but they could have ditched the whole token system entirely since I don’t think I even saw the brewery stands take one. They didn’t take any from me, simply asked “Big pour or small pour?” I also think some of the brewers could have been more engaging and excited about talking about their beer. Maybe it was better during one of the previous sessions.

But it was a good experience and I reckon I will return next year!


Tuesday, 12 August 2014

White Horse, Chedgrave (Burger Review)

The other Sunday Emily and I were on our way back to her house in Gorleston, from mine in Norwich and we were hungry. Not regular hungry but superhuman hungry. We decided to go the long way back instead of the straight route down the A47 so we could find a pub to go to for lunch. After passing several that didn’t look too appealing, I said to Emily to turn down towards Chedgrave/Loddon way as I recall going through there once and noticing several pubs.

We decided to stop at the first one we saw, The White Horse, as it had a rustic look yet there was also something modern about it. It turned out to be a good decision.

We parked up and walked past the pub’s own bowls green and past the families who were just finishing up lunch, with the kids running around and screaming because obviously the sugar in dessert and the copious amounts of coca cola was too much for them to handle.

We walked into the pub and up to the bar – there were a few hand pumps with Young’s Bitter, Timothy Taylor’s Landlord, Woodforde’s Wherry & Adnams Bitter… so not a varied selection by any means. And then I noticed Crouch Vale Brewer’s Gold, which is always a delight, and to my surprise it was served in a rather fetching branded glass! Standard reporting here and it was just the usual suspects on keg. Emily just had a coke as obviously she was driving.

We sat down outside in a quiet corner by the back door, away from the children (or so we thought – after a while we discovered that the kids were constantly running in and out of the pub being rather annoying) and after a while we were given menus. We’d decided upon what we wanted and a different server came to take our order.

When I asked for “the burger please” I got a look of confusion followed by “Just a plain burger?” to which I replied “Y’know, the one on the menu with onions and bacon and cheese?” at which point she was leaning right over my shoulder try to look at the menu before it clicked… “Oh, that burger”.

Emily ordered the breaded plaice fillets with chips, mushy peas & tartare sauce which she was happy with. We also split a side of onion rings.
It was a handmade beef burger with caramelised red onions, bacon, gruyere & salad on a brioche bun with a side of red cabbage coleslaw, onion rings and crispy skin on chips.

Now here’s the thing – as nice as presentation was, I don’t want my burger served on a chopping board with the chips stood up in a wire basket making it impossible to put salt on them, or cover them in favourite combination of ketchup and mayo.

The chips were absolutely brilliant though – crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside and just delicious. I would have preferred to be able to add sauce to them and while it’s true that I could have put them on the chopping board, there was very little space with everything else on!

The onion rings were possibly the best I’ve ever had – they were massive, filled with tangy, sweet onion with delightfully crunchy batter that wasn’t ridiculously greasy.

The burger, as you can see, was rather massive! I figured there was no way I could actually eat it in the way that burgers were designed for, by picking it up and biting. It was just too… filled with stuff, which isn’t a bad thing. I decided cutting it in half would help – it didn’t. I ended up eating it with a knife and fork and loved every second of it.

The sweet bun… the salty bacon and burger, the fresh salad underneath it and the gooey melted gruyere cheese helping it get that little bit unhealthier. Each bite was a delight quite simply and I left feeling so full!

Emily enjoyed her plaice fillets too and I wish I would have snuck a bite from her, but it wouldn’t have been fair since being a vegetarian she couldn’t have a bite of my burger!

The cost of our mains, a side between us, a pint of real ale and a coca cola was around £30 so basically what you’d expect to pay really. It was definitely worth it anyway.

Aside from minor annoyances like kids running around, and the waitress not knowing the menu, it was a thoroughly enjoyable meal and I will certainly return here if the opportunity arises!


Tuesday, 29 July 2014

London Craft Beer Festival 2014 preview

Imagine being able to go to a beer festival, where all of the bars are manned by the breweries representing them AND beer is included in your ticket price.

I’m just going to let that sink in for a while.

You ready yet?

Yes, at London Craft Beer Festival all of the beer from each the 24 breweries is included in your £35 (+booking fee) ticket price. For that money you can have a ‘small pour’ of every single beer in there, if you wish, as well as 4 ‘big pours’ which amount to 1/3rd pint each… you also get your LCBF glass and a program with information of all of the breweries involved.

This kind of beer festival is based on ones you find in America. They’re not like the ones here where you pay to get in, pay for a glass then pay for all of your beer. You get to try everything if you want, for one price. I think it’s a great concept because for me, a beer festival is all about trying as many different beers as possible.

Amongst the breweries represented will be British household names like Thornbridge and Brewdog, with smaller London breweries such as Howling Hops and Pressure Drop alongside foreign legends like Sierra Nevada from California & Evil Twin from Denmark/Brooklyn.

It’s an exciting line-up this year for sure, especially since the people pouring your beers are from said breweries!

I’m incredibly excited about going to the Sunday Session and hopefully I’ll see you there!

Check out the website for more information on the event, and to buy tickets: http://www.londoncraftbeerfestival.co.uk/


Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The Mash Tun, Norwich (Pub review)

The Mash Tun. Such an appropriate name for a craft beer establishment. They could have used “Hop Store” I suppose, but that gives the image of being rather cold.

It’s situated on Charing Cross in Norwich and is in the building that was previously known as The Hog in Armour, a pub that I recall being awful.

Luckily for us, The Mash Tun isn’t. In fact, The Mash Tun is rather good.

When you walk in you’ll notice that the main room is incredibly long and narrow, and right in front of you is a large board displaying the names of breweries (Weird Beard was spelt wrong), the beers, ABV and prices. Oddly though, only the keg prices are listed. Not cask.

You glance to the bar on the right and you’ll notice the unique keg taps which have a chamber above it, showing you the colour of the beer as well as beer menus on tables which give you a brief description of the beer. This can be incredibly helpful for customers in deciding what to drink based on their preference BUT it does have a big disadvantage in that it kind of limits interaction between the customer and the staff. You’ll also notice the HOP INFUSER which is a hollow keg font which you can fill with hops, fruit or whatever else you want to infuse the beer with to give it a crazy twist. On my visit it was Redwell Wheat w/ Oranges, Lemons & Blueberries which made it deliciously tart and even fruitier.

15 kegs and a few casks you'll find and the beer selection was great… a load of Redwell, 3 Weird Beard (Hit the Lights, Fade to Black & Black Perle), Bruges Zot Dubbel, Bavo Pils and quite a few more on keg, with Blue Monkey BG Sips & Oakham Green Devil on cask.

The prices are quite good considering there’s a lot you can’t get elsewhere in Norwich. I certainly wasn’t complaining at £4.90 for a pint of Weird Beard Hit The Lights, anyway!

You’ve also got food which is a pop up called “Madder Mash Kitchen” that does various small plates that look delicious, but I’ve not tried yet.

At the moment, only the main bar floorspace is open but there is going to be another raised seating area which is great as there’s not much space at the moment so I can imagine it’ll be horrible when busy. There’s also going to be a Gin Palace upstairs, which will apparently have 150 different varieties of gin!

All in all, it’s a very cool bar with an awesome beer selection and definitely one that I plan on visiting whenever I can!


Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Georgian Townhouse, Norwich (Bar review)

The Georgian Townhouse is an iconic building, right at the top of Unthank Road in Norwich. It was previously a rather upmarket hotel, paired with RARE Steakhouse but closed maybe last year, I don’t know, I wasn’t really paying attention.

Now it has been refurbished and reopened, not as a hotel but as a Restaurant/Craft Beer Bar, with private function rooms.

I was first alerted to it on Twitter a couple of months ago, before it opened. They tweeted me a photo of Budvar Dark, saying they’ll have it on tap when they open and I remember thinking “oh, that’s nice”, not quite expecting the rest of the beer list, but more on that later!

Walking into the car park, you get a real sense of scale when you look at the big, beautiful building. It really is a sight to behold. Although there are a few doors at the front, you have to walk to the furthest right to get in. You’re greeted by a host who asks if you’re dining, in which case they’ll show you to your seat, otherwise you’re left to your own devices.

It’s an incredibly big and bright building and you’ll not be stuck for a place to sit as there are a hell load of tables and chairs everywhere. It’s beautifully and comfortably furnished meaning you’ll not want to leave!

You walk out into the garden and wow. It’s a garden of epic proportions! There are standard picnic benches that you’ll see in most beer gardens, along with some more comfortable and bigger tables at the edges, which look like they can easily be covered in the winter. Over to the left there are rather nice looking beanbags that you can hang out on, and plenty of space for the kids to run around. Not only that, there’s a professional ping pong table to keep you entertained – I think this is a great idea!

Anyway, I said I’d talk about the beer…

On the keg front, it can rival any pub in Norwich. There is no Guinness… instead you get Camden Ink, if you want a creamy stout (this is almost always what I choose) along with Camden Pale for something lighter. Local heroes Redwell also appear, but I forget which beer was on at the time. From up north you’ve got Magic Rock High Wire & Thornbridge Jaipur, from the Czech Republic you have Budvar Dark and from the USA you can get some Lagunitas IPA! There are also a few cask pumps on which I noticed Adnams & Grain Brewery, which definitely is a good option!

While the selection is amazing right now, I really do hope they change some things around from time to time to mix it up!

If beer isn’t your thing, they also have an extensive wine list and an even more extensive gin list!

The food menu looks great too – they do BBQs as well as small plates and a more A La Carte menu and I can’t wait to try it sometime!

As for the beer prices, they’ll rival anywhere in Norwich when it comes to craft keg. I only had a pint of Camden Ink, which was a respectable £4.20 where it’s been seen elsewhere locally for quite a bit more.

All in all, I think this has potential to be one of my favourite places to drink in Norwich. Great beer selection, atmosphere and an amazing garden, something you don’t find too often in ‘craft’ establishments.

Well worth a visit if you’re in the area, especially given it’s so close to the city centre!


Thursday, 3 July 2014

The New Entertainer, Gorleston (Pub Review)

As I’m walking down pier plain in Gorleston, a couple of blocks over from the docks, on a warm Sunday evening that’s slowly getting dimmer I see the pub that I’ve been meaning to check out for a while. Emily was out cruising with her friends, like she does every Sunday night, so I thought it’d be my perfect opportunity.

I see the pub on the corner and I stop for a moment. It doesn’t look like the kind of pub I’d want to go in. It’s on a street corner and it looks beaten up, and it looks like entering will get me beaten up.

I slowly pluck up the courage to walk closer to the pub and circumvent the building to find the entrance. There is a sign pointing to the right side of the building, but there are about 5 doors. Of course, it had to be the last one.

I push the door that feels like it’s going to fall off of its hinges and walk through the tiny corridor and walk in.

It’s a weirdly narrow pub, very traditional looking, with seating around the edges, a massive mirror above the fireplace, a pool table at one end and a bar adorned with several hand pumps and keg taps.

Right off the bat I’d suggest holding your nose in this pub. As soon as I walked in I could smell the stench of stale smoke. The pub obviously hadn’t been re-carpeted or anything since god knows when. I’m a smoker, but it was vile. I almost left due to the smell, but I was meeting a friend so I couldn’t.

I walk up to the bar and notice that there are 6 real ales on hand pump including many of the usual suspects you’ll see in Norfolk, from the big breweries – Greene King IPA (the house beer, naturally), Adnams Bitter & Woodforde’s Wherry, along with the very local Lacons Pale Ale and Hop Back Summer Lightning.

I went for Dark Star The Art of Darkness, a beer I have loved since it was first released and a beer I will always buy if I see it on cask. It’s deliciously confusing as it has all of the hops you’d expect in a pale ale, but it’s black and carries the body of a beer way above 3.5%.

There wasn’t anything to speak of on the keg taps – just your usual suspects like Foster’s, but they did have Stella Artois Black which is probably the fanciest keg beer you’ll see in that part of the county.

The bottles were fairly standard too, but on the way out I noticed they were selling bottles of Greene King Light Ale. I’ve no idea what it’s all about as I can’t seem to find much information about it, but I may try it next time.

I took a seat in an empty corner and studied my surroundings. There were a group of very drunk women attempting to play pool, another solitary chap reading the paper behind me and your obligatory locals sitting at the bar chatting to the girl behind the bar.

Just looking around, it is a very nice pub. The beers were well kept too (I had a half of Lacons Pale Ale after, and it was also delicious), completely bright and at the perfect temperature.

After a while sitting there, chatting to my buddy, I started to feel more comfortable. The smell didn’t go away, but I started to realise that I wasn’t going to get any shit from being in what looks like a very tight local pub, as I had first imagined.

It’s a great pub for what it is, a street corner boozer, and if I can put up with the smell I may return there.


This is the start of my discovery of Gorleston pubs. Since I spend a lot of time there because it’s where Emily lives, I figure I may as well report on the local watering holes.