Monday 14 November 2011

A Day in the Life of Newcastle Beer


It felt like an absolute eternity waiting for the next instalment of Twissup to come around since the last one in York. But, boy was it worth it.

For the uninitiated, a Twissup is the coming together of like minded souls who share a duality of interests: drinking lovely beer and using the medium of Twitter to communicate their appreciation of all things hop related. Put Twitter and piss up together and you get Twissup. Put the Twissupers together for a session, one Saturday, in a city serving a sublime smorgasbord of some smashing beer and you get a session that will be difficult to surpass.

How could it be any different?

The city in question hosting the lastest Twissup was to be Newcastle. It had been chosen via an online vote on Andy Mogg's Beer Reviews Blog. I had expected Edinburgh to be a clear winner as host city  but was pleasantly surprised when Newcastle was announced as the location for our late Autumn libations. It's easy enough to get to from Glasgow and, with the train snaking parallel to the stunning distraction that is the breathtaking North East English coastline, we were there in no time.

The meet up pub for everyone was to be The Bacchus in the heart of the city centre. It's a strangely enigmatic place. It's won the local Camra Pub of the Year for the last three years but it has a stylish and elegant wine bar ambience rather than traditional pub vibe. It's all about the beers, though, and Bacchus had great beers in abundance. Tall fonts, hand pulls and bottles. Loads of lovely beer.

As soon as the doors opened, thirty thirsty twissheads swarmed round the bar and began to frantically order beer, beer and more beer.

And the beer flowed, as did the conversation as old friendships were renewed and new ones made. Putting faces to twitter names is an enjoyable yet unusual pastime. It normally follows the same routine in which you exchange first names swiftly followed by your twitter moniker or blog name. And then the penny drops. "Ah, that's who you are? Pleased to meet you. What's that you are drinking? Is it nice?"

I was drinking some nice stuff in The Bacchus. I started off with Tempest's Canyonero - as nice as it was the last time I tried it in Edinburgh's Bow Bar. Followed by a Yorkshire Dales beer, Bacchus V Zeus, a very hoppy, zesty pint. Bitter and rather nice.

Next up was a Glastonbury beer called Thriller, a cappuchino porter. It was roasty, smooth and mellow with some slight coffee notes. Bad pumpclip but not a bad beer. The Black Isle Porter also hit the spot but then again Black Isle beers normally do.

I could have stayed in The Bacchus all day but there were other ale escapades to be had elsewhere.

Filtering out into the early afternoon sunshine we made our way to our next destination. It was time for a piss up in a brewery. Not just any brewery, but a brewery that I was very keen to get to know better, Tyne Bank Brewery.

I had met the brewery's acquaintance once before, at the recent Carlisle Beer Festival when I had a taste of their German inspired Alt Bier. It was one of my beers of the festival and one of the best Alt's I've tasted in a long time.

The brewery was a short Twissbus ride away that took us along the banks of the Tyne up to a small nondescript industrial unit in the Byker area of Newcastle. The industrial unit where Tyne Bank brew their beer has some ale pedigree, having previously been home to Hadrian and Border Brewery.

We were welcomed by Mark the brewer, given a glass and pointed in the direction of the five casks of beer proudly lined up and just waiting to be poured. It was my kind of welcome.

Tyne Bank Brewery are Newcastle's newest brewery having been on the go a mere six months. They have a 20 barrel plant and they have increased production, steadily since they opened to it's current level of 10 barrels per week. I got the impression that they are building up a solid and appreciative fan base drawn to their well made and rather lovely beers.

They have a stable of seven beers, with two regulars - Monument Bitter and Newcastle Gold. However, as Brewer Mark explained, they are keen to experiment with new beers and have just bought a 100 litres test kit that will allow Tyne Bank to play around with recipes and try new things.

What I tasted at the brewery, I was mightily impressed with. Their 3.5% Single Blonde packed a lovely bitter punch and a tender, lingering dryness. The Southern Star was packed full of fruity Nelson Sauvin New Zealand hops and was a delightful distant cousin of Hawkhead's NZPA. It was that good.

Time marched on and we quickly did the same, leaving the brewery and briskly making our way the short distance to The Free Trade Inn.

In no time we were indulging ourselves in some elegant slumming in the shabby genteel surroundings of a truly great pub. My head didn't know where to look as it was torn between the stunning view, out the huge glass windows, of the Tyne and the stunning view that greeted me as I scoped the beer selection on the bar.

Summer Wine, Hardknott, Brodies, Durham and on and on. Landlord, Mick has turned the Free Trade into the beating heart of a thriving Geordie beer scene and he knows what hot and what's not as he  strives to bring some of the most exciting and innovative beers and brewers to the pub. I made a pretty good effort of trying most of the beers they had on the bar.

The standouts for me were Summer Wine's 'Cohort', a double black Belgian IPA, Hardknott's, Vittesse Noir, a triple imperial vanilla mocha stout and something a bit simpler and less complex, Brodie's London Field's. The bottle selection is top notch too and I picked up a mixed bag of some Summer Wine bottles to take up the road.

Toon Twissup had found it's spiritual home in The Free Trade as we spend several very enjoyable hours in the pub, soaking up the beers and lapping up the beery chat and ale soaked atmosphere.

It was nearly time to head back to the station and catch the train home but there was still time for a final pint or two in a pub not far from The Free Trade. The pub is the Cumberland Arms, and it was a very pleasant surprise; warm  and welcoming with dark wood interiors and a decent range of beers. I'd tell you what beers I had at the Cumberland Arms, if I could remember.

I guess it had been a long day.


read the beer cast's review of toon twissup here

Glasgow Pub of the Year?

Tonight, the Glasgow branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) meets to decide which of the city's drinking establishments will become real ale pub of the year. In the past few years, the award has been won by The Bon Accord a trio of times, Blackfriars a brace and the Three Judges and The State once.

Given this, it is perhaps timely to cast a beady Beer Monkey eye over those Glasgow pubs that I think have been impressively presenting and pulling perfect pints over the past year.

It's been a pretty good year for beer drinking in Scotland's second city. Some pubs have upped their game and have delivered, to thirsty and appreciative drinkers, a great choice of tasty and well conditioned beers served by an increasingly adventurous and knowledgeable beer buyers and bar staff.

I have to first doff my cap to two Mitchells and Butlers bars that have genuinely surprised me with the depth and range of beers available behind their doors this year. Curlers Rest in Glasgow's west end and The Drum and Monkey in the city centre have pleasantly exceeded my expectations. The Drum and Monkey, in particular, has become a byword for consistency, quality and a cracking choice of beers from Scotland and across the rest of the UK. The beers are always well maintained and it is clear that the staff recognise the importance of sound cellarmanship.  The sumptious surroundings and the pork scratchings all add to the experience. As does the stunning ceiling.

The accomodating bar staff will even remove the sparkler and pour your pint into a straight non dimpled glass if you ask nicely.

Blackfriars, in the Merchant City is a nice easy going venue to have a beer. It's cask choice is always interesting and the range of hop monster U.S. beers and lovely low country lambics available in the bottle fridges are the best in the city centre.

My award for the best Wetherspoons goes to the much improved Hengler's Circus on SausageRoll St. The improvement is down solely to the pubs real ale guy, Sandy, who has put together some interesting beer weekends including regular tap takeovers from Scottish breweries such as Harviestoun. I'm sure I even got a pint of Fyne Ales' Jarl for £1.60 in Hengler's this year.

Special mention must go to the Laurieston just up from the River Clyde on Bridge St. It's much frequented by Sub Crawl participants and gig goers at the nearby Carling Academy. It's a lovely place to have a pint. Anyway, it's just got better as it now carries two real ales from the Fyne Ales range. Result.

BrewDog also opened in Glasgow this year.

No overview of Glasgow pubs would be complete without tipping a wink, doffing a cap and singing the praises of the two Old Dames of real ale in Glasgow: The Bon Accord and The Three Judges. Both have a reputation as being the first two pubs to visit if you are looking for a wide range of cask. They usually don't disappoint and you can normally find a few good 'uns among their respective ten beer selections. If i was to quibble, I would say that the reliance on using Flyer and Firkin as beer suppliers sometimes means that the Judges and the Bon have one or two of the same beers on at the same time. It's a minor quibble.

The Bon has had a couple of great festivals this year, most notably, their 40th Birthday festival. Stand out event, for me, this year at the Judges was the joint Dark Star and Fyne Ales festival in July. It was a week of superb beers from one of the best breweries in Scotland and one of the best breweries in England. More of the same, please, in 2012.

All in all, it's been a good year to be a beer drinking, pub frequenter in Glasgow.

Who do I think will win the Glasgow Camra real ale Pub of the Year?

I won't be surprised if it's the Drum and Monkey.


Sunday 13 November 2011

A New Pub for Glasgow?


I've been hearing on the beer breeze that the New Year will bring a shiny new bar to the West End of Glasgow.

It seems that Fuller Thomson, the owners of Holyrood 9a and The Red Squirrel in Edinburgh, have acquired the lease on the premises at Partick Cross currently occupied by self proclaimed 'great pub', The Millhouse.

This is good news.

The Millhouse has always seemed to me a bit of a wasted pub opportunity offering up the same old standard Scottish beers from the likes of Belhaven and Caledonian that can be obtained in countless other generic pubs across the city. In short, it brings nothing new to Glasgow's beer party.

The same can't be said for what will be replacing it.

Predominantly beer and burger establishments, Edinburgh's Fuller Thomson pubs have gained a reputation, in a relatively short space of time, for offering up a wide range of beers, both cask and keg, from British, European and U.S. breweries.

From what I hear, the new Glasgow pub will replicate the Fuller Thomson's Edinburgh pubs template and will carry a decent selection too. It's current west end equivalant would be Curler's Rest rather than the Three Judges.

The Partick Tap it won't be but it does, at least, offer Glasgow beer drinkers a little bit more choice that The Millhouse currently does.

That, in my book, can only be a good thing.


Friday 11 November 2011

Saltaire and Saltires


If you are a beer drinker based in Glasgow and it's environs, then November is shaping up to be a decent month for some interesting beer choices. Indeed, there appears to be more than enough beer events, festivals and one offs to appeal to, and whet the whistle of, even the most difficult and hard to please drinker. Some of the beers are rather nice too. Others, well.........

Tonight (Friday 11th Nov) sees the start of The Bon Accord's Winter Beer Festival in which over 60 beers will be showcased on the pub's 10 handpumps until the 27th of the month. The beers are a marvellous mix of new seasonals, old favourites and there's even a couple of new breweries making their Bon Accord debut.

The beer list is extensive but stand outs for me are the trio of tipples from Fyne Ales (Jarl, Hurricane Jack and Avalanche), Highland's Orkney Blast as well as beers from Pictish, Saltaire, York, Dark Star, Thornbridge and Crouch Vale. However, the high point of the beer list is the first Glasgow showing of beers from the rising star of Scotland's microbrewing scene, The Tempest Brewing Co. I've written about them before and I rate them highly, so it's great that thirsty Glaswegians can now get their hands on, and mouths around, something that Edinburgh punters have been enjoying for months: some lovely Tempest beers. Not just one but two Tempest beers will be available during the festival. Hat's off to the Bon's beer man, Russell for getting Tempest's Into the Light blonde and their Citra IPA on to the beer list.

Not to be outdone, the Maclay Inns group that own 26 pubs and inns around Scotland, including in Glasgow, The Three Judges, Drab!, sorry Dram! and Clockwork, launch their  'Scottish Craft Ale Festival' (ho hum) involving some Scottish Breweries including Broughton, Caledonian, Houston, Scottish Borders and Williams Bros.

Yeah, I know. With the exception of it's not the most exciting line up of breweries ever assembled in one place.  If I was to hazard a guess, I'd say these breweries were selected by Maclays not on quality but on price.  Get some cheap beers, create a few posters, dress it up as a festival and shift some stock in the process. From what I hear, Drab!, sorry Dram! had Caledonian Deuchars as their festival ale. Come on, that beer is as ubiquitous in Glasgow as ginger hair and chips. It's hardly a beer to set the heather (ale) on fire.

I popped into the Judges to see if there was a beer list for the festival but none existed. One hadn't been sent. The only beer that I know that's definately making an appearance is William's Brother's 'Movember Foxtrot Whisky', a red wheat beer.

As Jean Brodie in her prime would say, "For those that like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like". I've seen the pumpclip and it's got a sketch of a big old bushy moustache on it, so I presume that, going by the name and the etching, it's their contribution to St Movember, the patron Saint of not shaving your top lip and cultivating a Victorian handlebar, Mexican bandit or 1970's porn 'tache.

This smashing selection of beers in the Maclays 'craft festival' can be yours for just £2.75 a pint.

Which is cheap but not as cheap as a pint in everyone's favourite vertical drinking establishment, The Wetherspoons Craft Beer Co. Which is where you will find, over the space of a fortnight, one off beers produced by Scottish Breweries such Kelburn, Houston, Orkney, Caledonian and Harviestoun among others. The beers are being produced to commemorate St Andrews day, the patron Saint of shortbread and The Sunday Post.

The beers all have mock jock traditional names such as "Donald, where's ma deep fried mars bar?', 'Haggis, haggis, who the fuck is haggis?' and 'Och aye, the brew'. I'm certain the pumpclips will be suitably adorned with Saltires. The beers will be available in a Wetherspoons near you from the 17th through to St Andrew's Day on the 30th.

I'll be in the Bon Accord.