Thursday, 27 October 2011

Beer and Chocolate .... life really can't get better can it?

So tomorrow sees the start of British Pub Week 2011 and a celebration of one of our most cherished social institutions
 ..... blah blah blah!

The download from the Morning Advertiser contains a recipe to combine two of the things I cherish - beer and chocolate ... if nothing else comes from BPW 2011 then the recipe contained in the download from award winning  chocolatier Will Torrent must surely justify the whole event!

Can't wait to get to work on this one ... Dark Chocolate and Golden Ale Cake

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Taking it easy, easy like Sunday morning ...

... that's what I trust the team at Great Oakley Brewery (near Corby, Northants) will be doing this morning after having what should have been a fantastic weekend at CAMRA's Robin Hood Beer Festival in Nottingham.

Congratulations to them on winning overall champion of the competition with their Gobble, they also won a couple of other gongs for speciality and bottled beers.

That's the only thing about judging at these competitions, you only get a number not a name to identify each beer, so having carefully assessed appearance, aroma, taste, aftertaste and "saleability" and totted up the scores you don't ever know the name of the one(s) you really like.

If their's was the one I and others seemed to agree was the best on our table (as we were judging their category for Gobble) then at least I know what to look out for ... must write to SIBA and see if they'll let me know which number corresponded to which beer.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Judging at beer festivals ... or how I learned to love drinking in the morning!

10.30 a.m. Slightly overcast but a mild 15 degrees C in Nottingham, the wind is light and the sun is desperately trying to push its way through the clouds, whilst I desperately try to push my way through the crowds.

Now call me old fashioned, but I've never been a fan of beer in the morning, even as hair of the dog, so the prospect of judging beers for a SIBA competition at a CAMRA beer festival was slightly daunting. I mean it's not as if you can taste, swill and spit like those light-weight wine tasters, you have to swallow.

The Robin Hood Beer Festival in the magnificent setting of Nottingham Castle's grounds is now in its 35th year and quite frankly I was absolutely gob-smacked at the sheer scale of it. One of the largest marquees I have ever seen set atop the castle mount overlooking the city centre plays host to a truly staggering array of artisanal ales, ciders and English wines, along with various hand crafted foodie offerings.

The statistics are simply amazing - over 300 brewers exhibiting and 31 of them fitting the CAMRA criteria for LocAle (i.e. from within a 20 mile radius of Nottingham) offering up an incredible 900 different cask ales and 91 real ciders. 

Luckily I only had to sit on two tables this year, both for Premium Bitters though, so the head is still banging a bit as I write this ... even by strictly limiting consumption to a third of a pint this means I quaffed getting on for 8 pints in less than three hours and starting at 11 in the morning! I can only thank the organisers for not putting me on the final tasting table for the SIBA Midlands champion beer (that would have been a further 8 ales to try from the other categories) as I feel an ambulance may have been required.

The feeling of bonhomie and camaraderie (or should that be CAMRAderie?) was palpable not only amongst the judges' tables (must have been well over 60 of us) but amongst the hundreds of paying visitors, exhibiting brewers and volunteers running the event. With all the doom and gloom prevalent nowadays it was joyful to see so many smiling faces and all well before the sun had hit the yardarm. 

Even if you were to visit every day of the three day festival and spent all day long sipping thirds of pints you wouldn't be able to sample everything on offer ... but that's the great thing about beer festivals you can re-visit old favourites and discover new favourites to be. At this year's Robin Hood you could spend the three days just sampling the wares of the 55 new brewers that have been added to the roster. That is 55 new brewers who have set up this year alone and produced a plethora of varying ambrosias ... to name check a few of the locals Black Iris (Peregrine Pale - 4.6% - crisp), Wentwell (Farm Hand's Bitter well rounded copper ale at 4.1%), Wellbeck Abbey (Spyke's Gold full of Goldings Hops at 4%) and one from a pub from my student days in Hull over 30 years ago ... The Wellington Inn (a darkly serious brew at 4.5%).

My final thanks have to go, albeit posthumously, to Spyke Golding, the recently deceased legend of the Nottingham CAMRA branch who gave so much encouragement to both brewers and publicans in the area. His monumental frame and good nature is still missed so it was a nice touch for this year's festival to be dedicated to his memory - including a cracking festival ale from Castle Rock of Nottingham bearing his name.

Now I must go lie down in a darkened room, keeping one foot placed firmly on the floor to ground me and drift into the arms of Morpheus ... 

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Cool Brands 2011

In case you missed them in The Observer newspaper on 2/10/11 the top 500 Cool Brands for 2011 have been announced by the achingly cool Expert Council and a "representative" panel of 2,000 members of the public. I was surprised just how many were from the food and drinks industries - 79 in total.

What didn't surprise me, given the average age of the "Expert Council" looked to be about 25 (from their piccies anyway), was that not a single cask ale was singled out as being cool enough for this particular sub-set of the glitterati.

Still if you want to join the serried ranks of the uber-cool then make sure you are stocking some of their recommendations ... winners in the drinks section were, Guinness, Dom Perignon (12th coolest brand over all sectors), Innocent smoothies and Jack Daniels.

Whilst not many of you will be stocking the Dom, I am sure many of you will stock Mr Daniels, and here are a few of the others you might easily stock to bump up your coolness rating:

Asahi beer, Aspall Cider, Cobra beer, Lavazza coffee, Marmite (yay!), Salty Dog (artisan crisps), Stella Artois (despite their announced 7.8% price rise - outrageous), Tiger Beer

Or you could just ignore this and stick to what is really cool - the great British Pub serving real ale, good food and great company.

By the way, if you really must see the list then follow this link

Time to put an energy saving strategy into place ...

It seems that not a day goes by without some energy supplier announcing price hikes and not a day goes by without those very same energy suppliers having to admit they’ve cocked up some poor blighter’s bill. 

With all the energy companies now publishing their price rises it is vitally important that all business electricity and gas customers make sure that they don’t fall into the suppliers’ favourite trap of charging the wrong amount for the units consumed after a price rise.

The best way to avoid this is to take a meter reading at 12 midnight on the night before the price change and the very next day giving that meter reading to your electricity and gas supplier. If they will give you an estimated balance on your account at that point all the better, you will then be able to scrutinise your bill when it comes in to ensure that you have been charged at the correct rate post price rise.

Coincidentally you will be able to use the pre-rise estimate as a way of calculating how much extra your energy is costing you and ensure you are implementing energy saving strategies to minimise the impact on your cashflow.

If you are changing supplier to get a more favourable deal then checking your meter readings at the point of supply change is equally important.

I, for one, read my gas, electricity and water meters at the end of every billing period (gas & electricity monthly) and water every six months. I believe it’s better to give a reading than allow the supplier to estimate my consumption. It’s also a good way of monitoring your pub’s energy/water consumption and not storing up any unpleasant surprises. Even though the water is billed twice a year I like to take a monthly reading, I once had an unnoticed leak that put my consumption up considerably; however, as I keep an eye on things I was able to notice the spike relatively quickly, investigate the problem and get it fixed.