Monthly Archives: February 2014

‘And yet, Lady Alice, even pigs have feelings.’

Quick bleg: That London.

Yes, I know it’s a big place (see above). But for this trip, just to make things more interesting, I’m working under a set of arbitrarily-imposed* constraints, viz. and to wit:

  1. Nowhere that doesn’t serve cask, I don’t care who you are.
  2. And I’m not going to bloody Hoxton. (Let’s face it, I wouldn’t like it, it wouldn’t like me.)
  3. In fact, let’s think central. Bloomsbury, West End, South Bank, that kind of manor.
  4. Only not the City. Tried drinking in the City. Didn’t like it. (Great scrums of Agent Smiths outside every single pub.) Ended up in a Spoons.
  5. Oh, and (IMPORTANT) I’ll have three non- or occasional drinkers in tow, one of whom is aged 14 & gets uncomfortable in predominantly male environments (see previous).
  6. And (ALSO IMPORTANT) we’ll be looking for food, more often than not.
  7. And we don’t want to end up in Spoons, again.

Have at it in comments, you who know these things.

*Not really.

Update We’re back. Where did we get to? Glad you asked. We got to

The Holborn Whippet. Wow. Saved the best for, er, first. I had a fair-to-middling winter ale whose name I forget and a Redemption Trinity, which was fab. This was from a choice of eight cask and as many keg beers, which I could have happily worked my way through had time allowed. We were there for lunch & had a 16″ pizza and a plate of chips between the three of us; it was all good. Great beer, great food – reasonably priced, too (the beer was cheaper than at some of the pubs in Chorlton, which is quite something for central London). I’ll go there again as soon as the opportunity presents itself. Many thanks to Reading Tom in comments for this recommendation.

The Grafton Arms was the next day’s lunchtime destination, chosen (a) because it was there and (b) because it didn’t look rammed (a cursory search for pubs on Tottenham Court Road had been called off the previous night for lack of (b) qualifiers). The food came 35 minutes after ordering – not particularly remarkable, except that we’d been warned that it would take an hour; not sure if this was inefficiency or cunning expectations management. I had Portobello Star, which was fine if not especially memorable, and Meantime Pale (keg), which was a bit thin (and fizzy). The food was good and, again, cheaper than we’d expected. (The G. A. is a Taylor Walker pub; not a chain I’d seen before, but there seem to be a few of them in That London, complete with identical food menus. I think you could do a lot worse.)

The next day’s early-afternoon stop was the Elgin, which is now run by a chain called Geronimo, although at one time (according to Somebody On The Net) it was “the second dodgiest pub in Ladbroke Grove”. Whatever – it’s a big place with what look like some genuinely old fixtures and fittings; the overall effect is somewhere between a junkshop and a small stately home. We weren’t lunching that day (two words: Premier Inn), but I had a Young’s Special, which once again has failed to make any noticeable imprint on my memory (I ought to make notes, really).

And then there was the near-obligatory station stop, which in our case means the Doric Arch. Bengal Lancer was on draught, and very nice it was too.

Summing up: some nice pubs, some good food, some oddly unmemorable beers. And the Holborn Whippet.

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Here for rapid persuasion

I don’t do advertising.

I do review beer, and if someone sends me a bottle of beer – or stands me a pint or five – I’ll put my impressions on here (using the ‘category’ tag of “Free as in beer”). And I’ll probably be reasonably positive, or mildly critical at worst – it seems polite.

What you’re not going to see here is rewritten press release copy, or those posts that look like a promo from a free paper (“Those nice people at AB-InBev have sent me a bag of free stuff, and now it’s your turn!”). I hate reading that kind of thing, so I’m certainly not going to write it. So when you do see a product endorsement on Oh Good Ale, you’ll know it’s a product endorsement you can really trust… hang on, that’s not where I thought I was going with that one. (Shall I put the Bill Hicks link in now? You know the one.)

Anyway, yesterday I had some free stuff delivered (after a brief email exchange of the “would you like some free stuff?” variety). Beer, specifically. Most of it looks good, some of it I know to be good. I haven’t drunk the beer yet, for reasons that will become obvious, but here’s what I think of it so far.

The beer. I was sent three 500 ml bottles, three 330s and two 355s. Both the 355 ml bottles are from the same US brewery; otherwise they’re all from different breweries. The breweries in my selection are Barney’s*, Church Farm**, Grain*, Oakham, Stevens Point, Top Out** and the very wonderful Ticketybrew (* = never seen their beer before; ** = never heard of them before). Most of the beers are low-strength; only three go over 5% and only one over 6%.

The service. The deal is that the retailer sends you eight bottles of what they insist on calling ‘craft beer’; it comes in a box decorated with the silly food-matching diagram I wrote about in this post, bizarrely enough. There’s also an informative leaflet with some useful details on the beers and breweries, as well as some more silly food suggestions (with ‘red meat’ you want a dubbel, apparently, unless it’s a steak (stout) or it’s been barbecued (pale ale)). You pay £24 for this; a month later, they do it all over again and you pay them again. (The Web site seems to want you to set up a recurring payment authorisation on your credit card. I’d be a lot happier with a Direct Debit mandate; in my experience recurring payments on CCs are a swine to manage.)

The price and value (the offering if you want to be pretentious). There’s a trade-off between price and perceived value – quality, rarity, novelty etc – and for me, living where I do and drinking what I do, this box doesn’t quite hit it. I buy a lot more beer in supermarkets than in specialist shops; there’s a huge range of beer available in the supermarkets around here, and although it’s not a huge interesting range, it is a range with interesting fringes. So I’m not used to going much over £2 a bottle – particularly not for a small bottle. Also, I’m not a mad ticker, so I don’t seize on beers I’ve never seen before with whoops of glee; and I don’t often – actually, I don’t ever – buy beer by post, so I’m not habituated to adding a bit for P+P. All in all, if I was being asked to pay £3 for a 330 ml bottle of Barney’s GOPA (3.8%), I would not feel I was getting a good deal. But your utility function may vary (enough jargon already – Ed.) If you’re less bothered by the pricing, have fewer alternatives to mail order or really like the sound of those breweries, this may suit you better than it does me. And let’s face it, you can always cancel after a month or two (although, as I say, I have had trouble stopping recurring payment authorisations before now).

The marketing. I’m going to be a bit harsh here, I’m afraid. I work from home quite a lot, which means that I’m interrupted quite often by phone calls from people who tell me they’re from Microsoft Technical Support and they’ve received error messages from my computer. (Sometimes I tell them I use a Mac.) Obviously “I’m from Microsoft” is just an opener – a way of getting the punter into conversation – but it’s still a con; you really shouldn’t make a statement like that unless you mean it, and if you mean it you should be willing to prove it. (Sometimes I ask them what my IP address is. That’s fun. One of them even had an answer – it’s 192.168.0.1, he said (that’s one for the geeks).)

The thing is, I don’t think there’s much difference between that approach and mailing a random beer blogger with a line like “I’m a huge fan of your blog”. This line – which I have seen before – just makes me think, O RLY? What is it that you particularly like about my blog in particular, hmm? In the case of this particular retailer I tried to set them a bit of a test (“Your familiarity with my blog should give you a pretty good idea what I do & don’t like in the world of beer”) – and I will admit that my first reaction to seeing the beers was that they’d included the Ticketybrew because they knew I’m a fan. Not so, as I realised when I saw the leaflet; nothing personalised about this box, any more than the email. I’ve worked in business, and I know that if you make stuff, or sell stuff, you always have some spare stuff knocking about, or put some stuff aside for spare. What they’ve done, essentially, is sent me a form email followed by some spare stuff, in the hope that I’ll give them a bit of advertiahempresence on social media. As transactions go it’s a bit, well, cheap.

I’m not saying I feel hard done by – far from it; one free beer is a bonus, let alone eight. (All those years doing political and current affairs blogging, before I started on this beer lark; nobody ever sent me any free, um, politics. I may have spotted the problem.) What I’m saying is that their marketing needs some work, especially if they’re serious about doing social media stuff. With their current approach they may get a few Those nice people at X have sent me… posts and related tweetage, but they’re missing the chance to build relationships with actual bloggers, who (like Soylent Green) are people.

So, anyway. Eight beers a month (quite good ones, mostly not in the high street); £24 a month. Up to you. More details in comments.

Not the Supermarket Beer Project

Just noticed this post in my Drafts folder; I seem to have set it aside eleven months ago and forgotten to finish it. For what it’s worth, here it is. – Phil, 3/1/15

IPAs and old ales (and Burtons). What else comes in bottles in multiple forms, different enough to be contrasted but similar enough to be compared, and many of them strong?

Stout, that’s what. Since I’ve got a few of those under the stairs, I’m going to use this post to do some quick comparison tasting. Nothing below 5%, though, and nothing calling itself a porter – this is very much ‘double stout’ territory (a.k.a. ‘extra stout’, ‘imperial stout’… I mean, really, whatevs).

Shepherd Neame Double Stout 5.2% 7/10 One of Sheps’ ‘revival’ beers, currently available – pitched daringly high at £2.25 for 500 ml – in a couple of supermarkets. A bit thinner in body than I was expecting, but a solid whack of dark bitter roasty goodness. Surprisingly aromatic; if the base flavour is a bit like licking wood varnish (in a good way), to get the full effect you’d have to be licking a table where somebody had just been sitting and smoking something exotic. Sorry about that image. Nice beer, anyway.

Sadler’s Mud City Stout 6.6% 6/10 Currently on sale for buttons at licensed branches of Home Bargains, along with the same brewery’s golden bitter Worcester Sorcerer. Who knows why? It’s a strong stout brewed with cocoa and vanilla, although it didn’t taste of either; not much sourness or ‘burnt grain’ quality either. A big, full-bodied stout, but it was actually rather unmemorable – at least, until I got to the bottom of the glass, about 45 minutes after pouring. At that point, warmed up to near room temperature, the beer developed a bit of sweetness and a curious liquorice flavour, along with a rather unpleasant aroma of alcohol. Just rather an odd beer, really, and didn’t really earn its strength.

Guinness Foreign Extra Stout 7.5% 8/10 Perhaps I’ve been spoilt by the festival last week – both T’Owd Tup and King of Clubs were really excellent strong stouts – but this initially doesn’t strike me as all that special. What it is, though, is well-balanced. It develops as you get down the glass; you distinguish the light malty front-of-mouth attack from the heavy, lingering burnt-grain finish, and you appreciate how well they go together. There’s no actual flavour of alcohol, but the finish definitely tastes strong – you get the feeling you’re drinking something serious. Not a world-beater but a very solid performer (the highest score so far) – definitely the one to beat.

De Molen Hel & Verdoemenis 10% /10 Loses half a point for a layer of odd black jelly-ish stuff at the bottom (presumably yeast, although I’ve never seen it look like that before).  I’m not an extremophile, but I have to concede that there are some things that only a really strong beer can do – a Rochefort 10, a Spingo Special, a Vuur & Vlam. And this is one of those beers. From the smokey attack to the huge, enveloping finish, this is probably the best stout I’ve ever tasted. Not a supermarket beer, of course; I would probably never have tasted it but for the charity auction of the cellar left behind by Simon “Reluctant Scooper” Johnson. Cheers, Scoop!