Tag: American Beer

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Don Younger – a beer world legend

Don Younger RIP

Last night the brewing world lost one of its best, someone who summed up everything – every last little wave and particle – that is good about the world of beer and pubs.  And that’s no hyperbole – anyone who ever shared a drink with Don Younger could tell you what those qualities are, and how Don encapsulated them.
I was introduced to Don when I was in his hometown, Portland Oregon, while researching my second book, Three Sheets to the Wind.  If I tell you that I have read out the bit about our encounter at every single event at which I was promoting the book, that might give you the first inkling as to what a great man he was.  It was one of the highlights of the book – one of the funniest passages, but also one of the most revelatory about the nature of beer.
I was in Portland because it’s the heart of North American craft beer.  You might now say that’s San Diego, or wherever has produced this month’s latest extreme whisky aged Imperial stout, but Portland still has more craft breweries per capita than anywhere else (I think), and its brewers and drinkers perfectly capture the cooperation, camaraderie and conviviality that make beer great – uniquely great.
And Don was its Godfather, its benign inspiration, in his passion, his kindness, and more than anything else, his legendary drinking prowess.
The story I was told is that he bought the Horse Brass Pub after a night on the piss.  He woke up the next morning clutching a piece of paper bearing his signature, confirming that he was the new owner of the pub. He’d never wanted to run a pub, and had no memory of signing the paper.  He could of course have blamed the booze and negotiated his way out of it.  But he always lived by a strict code: if you make a decision or promise while drunk, you either follow through with it when sober, or you give up drinking.  And Don never gave up drinking.
Under his leadership, the Horse Brass became the hub of the emerging craft beer scene, attracting beer loving locals, many of whom went on to start celebrated breweries.  No one in that brewing scene speaks of him with anything other than love.
Don was 68 or 69, and had a fall last week in which he injured his shoulder.  According to reports, this led to multiple complications, and he died around midnight last night, West Coast time.
I’ll leave it there.  I only met Don the one time and I’ll leave the proper obituaries to the people who were lucky enough to know him well.
But on the basis of one meeting, he was one of my favourite people in the beer world.  Even if you didn’t know who he was till now, take a while to read about him, and raise a glass of your favourite US craft beer to him tonight.  After all, there’s a good chance it may not have existed without his influence.

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2010: What the blazes was all THAT about? (Part two)

Here’s part two of my review of the year – three more arbitrary categories…

Villains of the year: The rise and rise of the neo-pros

I spent most of January trying to offer a robust and factually based defence against the wilful distortions and occasional outright lies told by those who seek to curb our right to drink.  The actual data – from most sources – suggests that Britain’s drink problem is declining, yet the NHS, Government and newspapers from the Daily Mail right through to the Guardian are trying to tell us the ‘epidemic’ is getting worse.  Any rational, scientific analysis of the data shows this is not true.  But no one is giving us that analysis. 
As the biggest consumer body, CAMRA does absolutely nothing to confront or challenge the lies being told about drinkers and pubs.  All it does is ‘welcome’ the bits where people like Alcohol Concern acknowledge the role of well run community pubs as part of the solution, not the problem, and campaign for a lower rate of duty for low strength beers.  Where distortions are put forward about drink in a wider sense, CAMRA remains silent.  Always.  
People like Mike Benner deserve to be congratulated for at least getting Alcohol Concern to concede the point on community pubs.  But for a body that, according to its website, acts ‘as the consumer’s champion in relation to the UK and European beer and drinks industry’ (ie it’s NOT ‘just about real ale’, as many of its defenders are quick to argue) it plays no role at all in supporting the industry or the consumer in this wider attack on our right to drink and our reputation as drinkers.
The BBPA is little better – though it at least has an excuse.  If the BBPA were to actively argue that the scale of alcohol abuse in this country were being deliberately exaggerated and distorted (it doesn’t), the media would say “well you would say that wouldn’t you?  You’re the drinks industry.” Even though this argument is never put to self-declared temperance advocates,  whose “findings” are accepted without dispute.  Every time.
Look at the case of David Nutt, for example.  In the autumn, he published a study that was not peer-reviewed, had a deeply questionable methodology, and had questionable, self-interested motivations, claiming that alcohol was more harmful then hard drugs such as heroin.  His findings were published without question, as ‘authoritative’ scientific fact.  The Guardian broke this story on a Monday.  I wrote to the Guardian pointing out the problems with methodology and the self-interest point, arguing that the Guardian, as professional journalists, should at least show some scepticism about what they were being told.  I was ignored.  An archive search shows that in the week that followed, no dissenting voice was published in the paper arguing against Nutt’s claims.  And yet on the Friday, he was given a full page to ‘answer his critics’ – critics who no one had actually been allowed to hear from.
And look at the case of the Dentist’s Chair.  The legislation banning promotions that encourage excessive alcohol consumption actually names the Dentist’s Chair specifically. Even though, at the time the legislation was passed, it seems that there was only one pub in Newcastle that actually did it.
A few people think I overreact about this.  But I’ve studied Prohibition in some detail for my books, and the point about everything from total Prohibition in the US through to the UK smoking ban in 2007 is that before you pass the legislation, you create a climate in which most people will support it.  That’s what’s happening now, and it’s happening quickly, and it’s happening because we are being deceived about the true scale of the problem.
Ben Goldacre, we need you.
Time to cheer up I think…

Personal regalvanisation event of the year: America

I’ve done so much this year that I haven’t had chance to write about a lot of it.  Partly I’m too busy doing stuff to actually write about it, partly the process of getting features commissioned, delivered and published is akin to the gestation period of an elephant.
In October I went to the US for ten days.  A trip that was based upon a book and a feature I’m writing expanded to include a bit of self-indulgent travelling.
It’s the first time I’ve been to the US for four years, first time in New York for six years, first time I’ve done a big beery adventure since I got back from India at the end of 2007.
And it’s a trip that completely reset me. 
I spend so much of my time now writing about the kind of shit above, arguing with people about beer style definitions, trying to meet trade press deadlines, negotiating the fine balance of political interest around the Cask Report, or worrying about keeping abreast with everything that’s happening in an ever-accelerating craft beer scene, I sometimes wonder why I want to be a professional beer writer, making my living from researching and commenting upon the beer and pub industry.
I went to New York and visited a couple of the obvious craft beer bars, and also found wonderful dive bars where the spirit of the boozer is alive and well.  I went to Brooklyn, had a tour of the Brooklyn Brewery, almost finished in its ambitious expansion, had a tasting of the stunning, poetic boutique beers Garrett Oliver is creating, then went out and got riotously drunk with Garrett in a selection of stylish Brooklyn craft beer bars, before wondering off into the New York night.  The next morning, scrolling back, I had cause to regret the invention of Twitter, reading what I’d posted the night before.
Then I got on a plane to Rochester, New York, the main purpose of my visit.  In an unassuming town, robbed of much of its purpose after the decline of Eastman Kodak, I visited the Old Toad, the pub I’d come to write about, one of the first real ale pubs in North America. 
My plan on Day One had been to sit at the end of the bar, order a pint and take in the ambience, observing anonymously before introducing myself to the people I was there to meet.  I was on the premises for ten seconds before someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Pete?”  They were waiting for me, Rochester’s craft beer drinkers, and they proceeded to show me a life-affirmingly excellent time. 
In three days I never got my chance to sit quietly at the end of the bar on my own.  I tried it one afternoon and the staff were sitting there trying to put together a ‘trifecta’ beer, food and whisky matching menu, which they pulled me into.  I mentioned that I loved Buffalo Wings and was taken to the place that served the best wings outside Buffalo itself – which also had a great selection of American micros.  I mentioned I loved the whole dive bar thing and was taken to Rochester’s best dive bars – which, again, had a great selection of American micros.  The Old Toad and its sort-of-sibling, the Tap and Mallet, and the group of great beer fans who drink in them, are worth the price of a transatlantic plane fare on their own.
But I wasn’t done yet.  On the Amtrak, around the Lakes and up to Toronto, to stay for a few days with Rudgie out of Hops and Glory, who now lives there.  A few days in town with him and the excellent Steve Beaumont, and again Toronto’s constituency of craft beer fans, beer writers and Hops and Glory fans were waiting for me in the craft beer pubs and at Volo, a one-time Italian restaurant that now boasted a cask ale festival featuring over thirty Canadian real ales, including some of the best Imperial porters and dark IPAs – sorry, “Cascadian dark ales” – I’ve ever tasted.  We won’t mention Rudgie taking us to the hockey game only to find out we had tickets for the wrong day, because we still had one of those evenings you remember for years, and the following morning he drove me for two hours up through Ontario to Creemore Springs, a craft brewery in a town strongly reminiscent of Groundhog Day’s Punxsutawney, especially when the Halloween snow started flying at the windscreen.  Creemore Springs itself was an object lesson in great Kellerbier and how sometimes, a macro can go into a partnership with a micro successfully, to the benefit of both partners.
Beer people, beer places, and great beer.  I came back from that trip re-energised, repurposed, the flame of passion for this crazy, infuriating, eccentric scene burning brighter than ever, with so many plans and ideas for 2011 and, more importantly, a pubfull of great new friends.
This is what beer is all about.  This is why I started this, was pulled into it, allowed it to change my life.
All of which makes me even more frustrated about…

Green ink moments of the year: Craft beer, CAMRA, real ale and beer styles

Beer is only any good if it’s from cask.  Fuller’s ESB is not ‘to style’ for an ESB.  The new wave of keg beers will consign cask to history.  Brewery X has grown so big I no longer like their beers (even though the beer hasn’t changed).  Micro is good, macro is bad – but how do we define micro?  Craft beer is a meaningless term and we shouldn’t use it.  Greene King IPA is not a true IPA.  Micros are parasites feeding off regional brewers.  Craft beer is only craft beer if the brewery producing it is below a certain size.  This beer is not really real ale if it served with gas pressure.  How can you have a black IPA?
Shut up.  All of you, just shut up.
I include myself in that.  I get pulled into some of these debates – I even fuel them sometimes – but I always regret doing so, and I apologise for every moment in 2010 where I’ve made people focus on these aspects of beer more than they otherwise would have.
On some level they’re important.  But try this test.  Find a friend or work colleague who you think is open to discovering the flavours of your favourite beer, but currently just drinks something boring and characterless.  Now try to interest them in that beer by telling them about your definition of craft beer, or real ale, or talking to them about the politics of craft brewing, or explaining the importance of the absence of cask breathers.
Now you’ve lost their interest and reaffirmed their status as a wine drinker for the foreseeable future, find a similar friend or colleague, and say, “Here, drink this,” and if they’re interested, tell them a bit about the history or provenance of it, or why it tastes as good as it does with reference to how it’s made and what’s in it.
Or if you can’t be bothered, just shut up.  Find the beer that made you fall in love with great beer.  Drink it.  Savour it. Enjoy it. And marvel at how good beer can be, how much happiness it can bring, the flavour sensations, the inspiration, the soft mellow buzz, the conviviality, the laughter, the friends.
Part three tomorrow.

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Over-hopped and over here?

There’s never been a better time to drink American craft beer in the UK than next week.  The Beer San Frontieres bar at the Great British Beer Festival, form Tuesday to Saturday, is bigger than it’s ever been and received some good coverage in the Independent recently.

And this Friday, 6th August, The White Horse at Parsons Green is hosting the American craft brewers for an evening with an amazing range of beers.  The list is below.  Break out the milk thistle.

·      Ballast Point Calico Amber Ale – 5.5%ABV
·      Ballast Point Big Eye IPA – 7% ABV
·      Butternuts Beer & Ale Porkslap 4.3% ABV
·      Butternuts Beer & Ale Moo Thunder – 4.9% ABV
·      Dogfish Head Midas Touch – 9%ABV
·      Great Divide 16th Anniversary IPA – 10% ABV
·      Great Divide Yeti Imperial Stout – 9.5% ABV
·      Great Divide Hoss Rye Lager – 6.2% ABV
·      Green Flash Double Stout – 8.8% ABV
·      Left Hand Milk Stout – 6% ABV
·      Left Hand Imperial Stout – 10.2% ABV
·      Odell IPA – 7% ABV
·      Odell 90 Shilling Ale – 5.3% ABV
·      Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale – 6.5% ABV
·      Oskar Blue Ten Fidy – 10.5% ABV
·      Smutty Nose Baltic Porter – 8.7% ABV
·      Southern Tier 2XIPA – 6.5% ABV
·      Southern Tier Mokah – 11% ABV
·      Stone IPA – 6.9% ABV
·      Stone Old Guardian Barley Wine 11.26% ABV
·      Tommyknocker Black Rye IPA – 7% ABV
·      Tommyknocker Maple Nut Brown Ale – 4.5% ABV
·      Uncommon Brewers Siamese Twin Ale- 8.5% ABV
·      Uncommon Brewers Bacon Brown Ale – 6.8% ABV
·      Victory Hop Devil – 6.7% ABV
·      Victory Golden Monkey -9.5% ABV

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It’s a Dog’s Life

What better way to spend a Tuesday afternoon than visit the nicest pub you never knew about, drink some fantastic beers over a hog roast and watch your dog be utterly humiliated?
Meet Captain PBBB – the final member of the PBBB family:

Captain is a rescue dog, and we’re not quite sure of his progeny – we think he’s a Yorkshire terrier mixed with a Shitsu or laser apso. In other words, Yorkshire with a bit of ponceyness mixed in – just like his master.
On the scale of doggie hardness, Captain marks out one end of a continuum of which the foam-flecked, wild-eyed hounds of the Flying Dog Brewery‘s labels pin down the other:
But the two ends met yesterday at an event to mark the launch of an expanded range of Flying Dog beers in the UK, including two of their best sellers – Doggie Style Pale Ale and Gonzo Porter – now being listed in over 300 Tesco branches across the country. (Of course, in Tesco it won’t have the words ‘Doggie Style’ on the label – after all, that would bring about the collapse of civilisation).
I’ve always liked Flying Dog and have visited the brewery when over at the Great American Beer Festival. We went out drinking with them one night and all I can remember is my sides hurting from laughing. Their beers are excellent – not the most envelope-pushing ever, but American craft brews don’t always have to try to reinvent the wheel. A small range has been available in the Uk for a few years, and when I was touring Three Sheets to the Wind three years ago, doing events with a selection of beers from around the world, Gonzo Porter – inky like alien blood, full of spicy chocolate malt and yet at the same time a Cascade hop bomb – converted a surprising number of women to beer for the first time. It’s great news for any beer lover that this and the pale ale – zingy, hoppy, but light and perfectly balanced – now have such wide distribution.
And it turns out that Flying Dog are more experimental than their limited (till now) range in the UK would suggest. I’m looking forward to trying my bottle of the 11.5% Double Dog Double Pale Ale I scrounged from lunch. We tried a German-style smoked lager that can be enjoyed even when you’re not eating bacon – so an improvement or a ‘dumbing down’ on German smoked beers depending on your point of view – mine is certainly the former. And we heard great things about a new Belgian-style IPA, which isn’t bottled yet. Good luck with the Portman Group over the name of that one when it does get over here, guys.
The event was in the Spaniard’s Inn, on the north-west side of Hampstead Heath. I’ve never been there before but it instantly became one of my new favourite pubs. It’s an M&B place, and within that group it’s the only pub other than the famous White Horse that has free rein over its beer stocking policy. A great range of draft and bottled beers – Doggie Style was on tap, along with the great and good of English cask beer and a few new ones I’ve never seen before. And a fantastic food menu with dishes like slow-cooked lamb shank, pearl barley and creamy mash and organic pies at prices that are lower than some really dreadful wannabe pubs I’ve visited recently.
And my new test of a pub menu – a Ploughman’s should have ham and cheddar in it. So why do pubs normally ask you to choose between the two? Why do they not even give you an option of paying a quid extra and having both? A good pub is one that does both on the plate. The Spaniards goes better: a choice of two from rare roast beef, honey roast ham, Cropwell Bishop Stilton or mature Cheddar – for £7. I’ve paid more than that for some pretty dire city centre Ploughman’s before now.
The building itself is centuries old, and rumoured to have been a haunt of Dick Turpin. Dickens visited, but Dickens seems to have visited every single pub that was standing in the Great London Area at ay point in the ninteenth century. Whatever, The Spaniard’s age, affluent location and basic pub infrastructure combine to make it a blend of gastro and traditional boozer you rarely see pulled off so successfully. Other nearby pubs have gone down that infuriating route where they still insist on calling themselves a pub even though they ask if you’ve booked a table as soon as you walk through the door. The Spaniards is definitely, 100% a pub – albeit a pub that did 700 covers for food last Sunday. As pubs that Dickens has visited go, just thinking about how this place compares to the Anchor on the Thames makes me want to cry.
The location means it’s popular with dog walkers, and you can even buy boutique, artisanal dog food and treats at the bar. Sounds a bit poncey, but if you believe your dog deserves as nice a meal as you’re getting, well there you go.
Proximity to the Heath means some of the dogs must be a bit muddy sometimes by the time they get here – and that’s why, at the bottom of the car park, there’s a Doggie Wash. In goes the dog, up go the screens. A few tokens from the bar and your dog has the pleasure of shampoo and conditioner, rinse, cold air blow down and warm air blow dry.
So yeah, nice pub, great beers and everything. But the true highlight of the afternoon was this – a mutt who won’t be inspiring any Flying Dog beer labels any time soon:
Heh heh heh.

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Beer World Cup – the next round

My Market Kitchen appearance was broadcast last Thursday night, so I can now reveal that, as some people guessed, I squeaked through the first round of the Beer World Cup versus Germany.

The competition breaks down into two parts: a blind tasting of the two beers before we get there, and a studio debate on whose beer culture is the best. The audience score both parts and the combined score produces the winner. Schiehallion actually lost out very narrowly to Paulaner lager in the taste test, confirming my suspicions about how to play this tactically with a mainly female audience not that into beer. I very narrowly won the studio debate.
(Sample dialogue:
Sabine von Reth: “In Germany, in the army you get two litres of free beer every day. The British army doesn’t have this.”
Matt (our chair): “Pete, what do you say to that?”
Me: “If you’re British, don’t join the army. Go to the pub instead.”)
Overall, I won and went through. But I think it was by the very narrowest of margins. Sabine was great. She runs the Bavarian Brewhouse in Old Street, London. They’re currently having an Oktoberfest there, with bands flow in from Munich. I suggest you go. I will be.
Anyway, next week we record the semi-final. I’m up against America, so this could get messy. I don’t know the person I’m up against, but they could bring either the blandest, most boring beer in the world or something very good indeed. What will the audience go for? Will they recognise greatness?
I need to choose another beer to go up against them. And if I get through, I need a range of six beers for the final. I can’t duplicate beers. So do I sacrifice one of our finest beers for the semi, choosing something I believe can beat whatever the Yanks throw at us? Or do I save the best for the final and play tactically? And why is British beer culture so much better than American beer culture?
These are the questions that will preoccupy me till October 7th…

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Hops and America

Every week I’m asked by American readers when Hops and Glory might be available over there. We’ve not had much luck.
Next week I’d be over there at the Great American Beer Festival if it wasn’t for the gigs listed below. But beer hero Glenn Payne has very kindly offered to haul some books and promo material across the pond and give them to anyone who may be in a position to engineer a North American publication.
This is Glenn, although he now sports a fetching beard (beards are the future):
Most people in the American craft brew scene already know him thanks to his tireless efforts to promote US craft beer in the UK. If you see him, say hello. And if you know anyone you think he should speak to, please let him know!

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OK so drinking beer might make you feel horny – but packaging it?

Last week a customer at Asda found a little more than they bargained for when they bought a four-pack of Cobra Zero beer from Asda in Shoeburyness, Essex.

Inside the cardboard outer packaging there was a thoughtful free gift – a condom.  A used condom.  
An Asda spokeswoman said, “We are at a loss to understand how it got there,” while Adrian McKeon, chief executive of Cobra beer, apologised and stressed the company;s strict quality control procedures.
Good job it didn’t actually get into one of the cans – there are already enough people of the view that lager tastes like piss without introducing other bodily fluids…

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From Oak(well) to Mighty Acorns. Or something.

This is a long post – a magazine article rather than blog entry, but I can’t think of anywhere else to sell it to and don’t really have time, so I’m putting it here instead. No-one’s saying you have to read it all…

Allegedly you can’t trademark a place name as your brand. When I wrote Three Sheets to the Wind, I always wanted to finish my round-the-world journey back in my home town of Barnsley, and compare what I’d seen with good old Barnsley Bitter, once a legendary brew, bought and killed by John Smith’s in the 1960s because, if you believe the locals, it was too good to have as competition.

Such is the scale of the cask ale revival that, when I was planning my Three Sheets trip to Barnsley in early 2005, Barnsley bitter was not only back; there were three different beers claiming to be it. One of them was brewed in Blackpool, which made me doubt its authenticity somewhat. Of the other two, one was brewed in Wombwell, a village on the other side of town (or t’tarn) from where I grew up, and one was in the crumbling old Oakwell Brewery, in the shadow of Barnsley FC’s famous ground, the site of the original Barnsley Brewery. I chose to write about the Oakwell one, because it seemed to have the most authentic lineage. The owners of the brewery were extremely secretive. The passage in the book was fine, but uninspiring. The beer was good. I’ve heard nothing about the Oakwell brewery since.

It’s now looking like I backed the wrong horse.

The Wombwell-brewed Barnsley Bitter came from the Acorn Brewery. What I didn’t know then was that Acorn was very new at the time, and had links with the Blackpool one, which was by then defunct. Since I wrote the book, Acorn has gone from strength to strength, and the first part of my 40th birthday jaunt north was to help them celebrate their own fifth birthday, on 4th July.

Me and Dave, the head brewer at Acorn. A vast majority of brewers in the north are called Dave.
I arrived at the brewery to be greeted by a smell of warm meat and pastry that made my stomach growl. A proper northern buffet had been laid on in the bar, the centrepiece being Percy Turner’s pork pies from Jump.

You may think you know what a pork pie tastes like. Not if you haven’t been to Barnsley, you don’t. Pork pies are to Barnsley what truffles are to the Dordogne. There is no shortage of pork pies in Barnsley, but according to the Acorn lads there had been Soviet-style queues outside Percy Turner’s shop that morning, and this was not uncommon. These were real pork pies, the pastry crumbly, the jelly runny, soaking into the soft, salty, peppery, still-warm meat as it fell apart and melted on your tongue…

Oh yes, we were supposed to be talking about the beers.

The buffet had been laid on because there was a bit of a tasting session happening, and it soon became apparent that I was leading it. I didn’t mind – I do a lot of tasting session now and am good at winging them, but this one was different: the attendees were, in the main, northern publicans. Publicans tend to be an opinionated bunch. They’re not accustomed to sitting quietly while other people speak. And northern publicans – well, I crossed one once. I shan’t be doing it again.

First came Rob from the Gatehouse, Barnsley town centre’s best pub. Rob looks a bit like how Norris out of Coronation Street would look if he was suddenly kidnapped from Weatherfield and dropped in the jungles of 1960s Vietnam, and learned to survive on his instincts and by acquiring the ability to kill with his bare hands. Rob’s pub is one of the busiest on Barnsley match days, and yet he makes no secret of the fact that he’s a Sheffield Wednesday fan. His hard gaze can make you void your bowels involuntarily. And that’s when he’s in a good mood.

But behind Rob came a man who clearly saw himself as the King of the Northern Landlords. He’d even brought an entourage.

Tetley Dave runs the Shoulder of Mutton in Castleford. He worked at Tetley’s for decades before taking over the pub, and fought a ‘Battle of the Alamo’ when the pubco who owned it wanted to shut it down. The Acorn lads had been talking about him coming, and I guessed it was him when his voice boomed from the corridor, insisting that the only beer he’d ever stock permanently was Tetley’s, but that if he was impressed, he may well take a cask of Acorn back with him. He took control of the room as soon as he entered – a tall, man with grey, close-shaved hair and glasses, wearing the trousers and waistcoat of a grey three-piece suit, a white shirt open at the neck. He found a seat that was closest to both me at the front, and Turner’s pork pies down the side. “Nice bit o’ growler, this,” he mumbled between mouthfuls of his third one.

Tetley Dave was accompanied by a man in his late forties with bubble-permed peroxide hair. He drove a RAV-4, the kind of vehicle you normally see covered in the livery of local pop hit radio stations. “He’s a professional entertainer, him,” said Tetley Dave, jerking his thumb at the man who stood grinning inscrutably, leaning against the wall. “He lives wi’ us.” A better writer than me, someone like Jon Ronson (who I was introduced to last weekend and who was, sadly, a bit aloof, perhaps because he took it the wrong way when I described his reading as ‘meandering’), would have been able to get to the story behind this. But I had beers to talk about that I hadn’t yet tasted, and more people were arriving, and the moment passed.

In the brief lulls between orations on the nature of beer, pubs and the universe (well, Yorkshire, and that’s practically the same thing) I managed to run through about five of Acorn’s beers.

Summer Pale was an extremely pale golden ale, white gold, with a floral and sherbet aroma and pear drops washing over the tongue.

Barnsley Gold had a citrus aroma with chewy, gloopy, caramel notes followed by a gentle bitterness.

Then onto Barnsley Bitter itself, a silver medal winner two years ago at GBBF. Combining the drinkability of a true session bitter with a dark richness, a hint of chocolate and red berry fruit, this is the kind of beer that Yorkshire does better than anywhere else.

So Acorn brew good beers. But they’ve been going beyond that. In 2007 they brewed ten different IPAs with different British hops. This year, they’re doing the same thing with American hops: the same basic beer chassis, a 5% IPA, with a different single varietal hop each month. I have to confess I’m a bastard for Cascade hops, I love them, the aromas intoxicate me on their own. So while the Liberty hop IPA was the new one, and Cascade last month’s news, I was guilty of flipping them around. The Liberty IPA was great, full-bodied and rich with the hops not shouting out, but creating a complex brew to savour. But the Cascade… it was a riot, a tropical fruit salad with papaya and citrus fruits. I’d say it had about 90% of the sheer hop hit and bold character of an American IPA, but at 5%, it was distressingly sessionable. The best IPA I’ve tasted since the lads from Stone came over earlier in the year.

This was the point at which I really gained my audience’s attention, and we talked about the legend of IPA, and my journey. One man – who had also arrived with Tetley Dave – took a very keen interest and questioned me on my Indian experience quite closely. I didn’t know who he was then, but Ian Clayton is a well-known broadcaster on ITV and a stalwart of the Yorkshire arts scene. “Oh, I write books as well,” he said at one point during the tasting, when I was talking about my IPA book. I did my best encouraging smile, ignorant twat that I am. Days later, Ian sent me a copy of his latest book. Richard Hawley calls it “beautiful”, Robert Wyatt “a magical roller coaster”, and Record Collector magazine thinks it’s “One of the best books about popular music ever written”. Half way through as I write this, I agree wholeheartedly with all of them. If you only buy one book this year, and you already own both of mine, buy Bringing it all Back Home.

Finally we tasted Old Moor Porter, full of fruit cake and liquorice, laced with vinous notes. I recently did a radio programme for Diageo about stout and oysters and this eternal match was fresh in my mind, so I thought my audience would appreciate the story of how porter was once the drink of the working man, and oysters were the food of poor people, and they just happened to go together in a sublime fashion. Ian nodded thoughtfully, but it was the chance Tetley Dave had been waiting for.

“I had ‘alf a dozen o’ them oysters t’other week.” He paused. “Only two o’ the buggers worked!”

I couldn’t let him get away with that unchallenged. “That’s it!” I said, “That’s who you remind me of. You look just like Jim Bowen!”

Suddenly, Tetley Dave was out of his chair, jabbing his finger at me furiously. “Don’t you mention that name in here! That bloke still owes me five hundred quid!”

As I doubled up with laughter, another no-doubt amazing anecdote slipped by, and escaped. Tetley Dave

Jim Bowen

After that it was time for Rob to leave. He’d enjoyed himself. You could tell this because, although he still looked furious, like he was about to punch someone out, he told us that he’d enjoyed himself.

As he neared the door, Tetley Dave, ever mindful of opportunities for his entourage, called out, “Hey, have you got any entertainment at your pub?”

“We will have if tha’ comes in,” replied Rob, and he was out of the door before Tetley Dave could respond, victory snatched at the close.

The best endorsement for Acorn’s beers is that Tetley Dave took away a cask of one of the IPAs in the back of the RAV4.

That night, the Acorn boys took me out drinking. Allegedly Sheffield has more different cask ales on tap at any given time than anywhere else in the country. We tried as many as we could, and stayed out until we started to fall asleep in our curries. We exceeded the government’s recommended daily intake of units, it’s fair to say. I’m keeping my diary clear for Acorn’s tenth birthday in July 2013.

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American Beers at the White Horse

Looks like I picked the wrong weekend to visit my folks back in Yorkshire…

From Friday 4th (US Independence Day) to Sunday 6th, the celebrated White Horse in Parson’s Green is hosting its first American Beer Festival. We don’t get enough American micros in the UK and this is a great opportunity to try old favourites, some of the growing number of British beers inspired by the American way with the hop, and a few beers that haven’t left the US before now, including a few in cask.

I’m celebrating my 40th birthday there the following Saturday, so if there are any REALLY nice beers, if you could only have one of them and not tell anyone else about them, so there’s plenty left, it would be really appreciated.

They’ve got American bands on and even line dancig at some point, but don;t let that put you off. The full range of beers is as follows:

*Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA (in cask and keg)
*Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Harvest Ale (in cask)
Sierra Nevada Porter (in cask)
Sierra Nevada IPA (in cask)
*Sierra Nevada ESP (in cask)
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
Sierra Nevada Brown Ale
Sierra Nevada Bigfoot
Sierra Nevada Blonde
Sierra Nevada Summerfest Lager
Flying Dog Gonzo
Flying Dog Doggie Pale Ale
Flying Dog Old Scratch
Anchor Liberty
Anchor Steam

Crouch Vale Amarillo
Durham White Amarillo
Saltaire Cascade Pale Ale
Roosters Yankee
Roosters Outlaw Amarillo
Roosters Cream
Roosters Special
Acorn Sunstorm
Acorn Cascade IPA
Oakleaf Whole Hearted
Archers IPA
Bowman Quiver
Dark Star American Pale Ale
Ascot Posh Pooch
Ascot Alligator Ale
Ascot Wheatsheaf
Thornbridge Jaywick
Thornbridge Jaipur
Thornbridge Ashford
Abbeydale Brimstone
Kelham island Pale Rider
Goose Eye Chinook
Oakham JHB

* Denotes beers that are leaving the US for the first time