Friday, October 4, 2013

UK2013: The Beer Diaries

During my travels around the UK, it was of course my pleasure and delight to sample various Ales according to which region I was in at the time. The UK appears to be enjoying a resurgence of breweries, both micro and otherwise, and there are plenty of tasty beverages to be had.

I'm going to backtrack a bit and take you on a whistle-top tour of the UK and its beers; stay with me for tours of a couple of Gloucestershire breweries. However since I'm writing this so long after drinking them, my mental tasting notes are faded with time; I'm not a beer writer - don't be expecting detailed descriptions of hops or aroma but I'll do the best I can. So let's return briefly to Bury St Edmunds, where I encountered my first British brews after a trip to Waitrose with Sarah.

Oakham Ales' Citra. This comes from Peterborough, so not very local but it was tasty and refreshing. I do love the Green Man Hop on their label.

Sharps' Doom Bar. Even less local - from Cornwall - but a well known beer in the UK these days.

We decamped into town to check out the new Wetherspoons pub, in which I couldn't ignore Bury St Edmunds's most famous local beer, Greene King IPA. They appear to have changed the logo, it used to feature a stern-looking king, not a landscape.

During my time in Sudbury, I made it a point to meet all my friends in the town's Brewery Tap. This is the Blackadder Tap just on the edge of the town center, and serves primarily beers from Mauldon's Brewery which is on an industrial estate up the road a mile or so. They also serve a good selection of other local beers, and they don't have TVs or serve food, it's a Proper Decent Pub. Definitely the place to enjoy a pint in Sudbury.

I think this was a pint of Mild. I tried a few Mauldon's beers and they are always pretty good.

At the end of the week, I found myself back in Bury St Edmunds, in the Old Cannon Brewery with friend Rob. They do flights of beer in 1/3 pint glasses. Since I was about to get on a train, I figured I'd try three beers this way.

I believe we have here some Old Cannon Best Bitter, Old Cannon Gunner's Daughter and some Adnams' Broadside.

Three train rides later, I was in West Yorkshire. This next pair were actually in Bradford, in another Wetherspoons pub there.

This one was OK

This was very ordinary. And with a name like that... aimed at the Stereotypical Yorkshireman, methinks.

These next two were in the Stubbing Wharf pub in Hebden Bridge. This place was really nice and very busy, with good reason. They did fabulous Sunday lunches and are located right by the canal. Nice place to be.

I had some Longdendale Lights, which I recall as being very drinkable, a nice light summer ale.

I had some Golden Pippin which was pleasant, but I preferred the first one. And then I had some Landlord because it would have been churlish not to.

Now we're in Gloucestershire, and in the Whole Foods supermarket I found This, next to a bottle of That. Teme Valley Brewery have a sense of humour, it appears. (When I was a kid, my mother said she wanted to get three cats and name them 'This One', 'That One' and 'The Other One'. I'm sure the vet would have loved us).

I am sure it was nice. It doesn't appear to have lodged any particular impression in my mind.

Moving up the hill to the Carpenter's Arms in Miserden, we find this nice handpump from Wye Valley Brewery, whose product we became quite familiar with.

Nice quaffable Pale Ale. Not as hoppy as an American one but pleasant.

This was in the Weighbridge Inn on the road out of Nailsworth, just before we went into Nailsworth for a very nice dinner.

My first exposure to Stroud Brewery's products. Teasel was very refreshing. We had some more from a bottle, back at my Dad's house later on. And for our American readers wondering what a teasel is? Here you go.

Off to lunch with friend Cherry the next day, and she had very kindly bought me a couple of beers. These are from Wickwar Brewing in South Gloucestershire.

I drank this at Cherry's. It was a nice, honest, English ale.

I took this one back to Dad's and drank it later. I don't usually drink Porter but this had a good flavour and wasn't heavy at all.

Now we're off to Gloucester for the first part of Dad's and my brewery tour. Yay! We went to Gloucester Docks after visiting the Cathedral and found the relatively new Gloucester Brewery.

They have these unusual wooden-clad brewing vessels which look great in the red brick brewery.

Why hello there, bags of Cara Pils and Crystal Malt. You look familiar, from Alan's brewing here at home.

This is the tasting station - straight from the barrels! It seems to be the way of British breweries to use these plastic kegs. They are lighter than metal ones and don't get stolen for the metal value. Each brewery has its own colours; Gloucester has the grey, pink and red you see here.

The shop area, from which you can buy tasty wares. Of course, we did not come away empty handed ;-)

Just outside the brewery lies this water trough for horses. It is inscribed, "Drink and let no man hinder you" Robert Brewin 1890. Kind of appropriate for the location of a brewery! That's a box of Gloucester beers sitting on top which we had just bought. It was a mixed case which allowed us to try a selection. They were generally enjoyable, for sure.

Onwards to Stroud Brewery. This lies in the valley between Stroud and Chalford, fairly close to where I grew up. It, like Gloucester, is a pretty new brewery. (There used to be another Stroud Brewery, it was situated in town and disappeared many years ago. This new one is no relation that I'm aware of.) Stroud's focus is on organic craft ales and intensely local names.
They have an open house on Fridays from 3pm onwards, which we didn't know about, and we had arrived a bit early. They kindly gave us a tour around anyway.

I think these are a mash tun and a hot liquor tank.

They were proud of the fact that all their grain comes from the last remaining traditional maltings in the UK - Warminster Maltings. This means that the malt is laid out to dry on the floor, in a large multi-level warehouse in which the grain is turned manually, just as it's been done for hundreds of years.

They have a nice control box for the brewery systems, made for them by another local company just up the road, so I was told.

These are the brewing/storage vessels. Lots of tables and chairs stand ready for the evening's festivities.

Inside the fridge. You can see here that Stroud's colours are green and brown. They were proud of the fact they'd just taken delivery of a large batch of new kegs. More kegs = more beer!

A selection of beers above the bar. There's some good local names amongst these. Five Valleys is named after the five valleys that radiate from Stroud. Tom Long is named after Tom Long's Post, a signpost that sits in the middle of Minchinhampton Common. Woolsack refers to the local woollen industry. The town of Tetbury still holds Woolsack Races, in which big, burly men run up a 1 in 4 hill carrying 60lb sacks on their backs.

They mentioned that they had a brick oven, which I was most amused to learn, so I had a quick look at it. It seemed about as finished as ours was at the time (Alan has done more to ours since then), although of smaller dimensions.

In the bar, we found they had a cunning way of taking beer home, in these 2-pint Tetrapaks. It was kind of unusual to be able to visit a brewery and just pay for beers to drink there, like you would in a pub. Texas laws at the time forbade breweries to charge for beer, so when you visit a brewery in Texas, they usually have you buy a glass and then fill it with free beer. Since my UK visit, the laws have changed a bit, allowing breweries to charge, although many are still using the old model. However, I don't think you can buy beer to take away in Texas, yet.

We bought some Budding to take home, named after Edwin Budding, the inventor of the lawnmower, who lived in Stroud. And of course we drank some there, too!

This one is Stroud Life, named after a local newspaper. It was a nice light and refreshing brew.

Back home to Dad's place, and we opened up the box from Gloucester. Let's see what's in here... First up, some Priory Pale, which was probably my favourite, but then I generally prefer the paler beers.

Cherry and White is named for the colours of the Gloucester Rugby team, I believe. According to their website, it is a re-badged Mariner copper ale.

Puddle and Spice is a festive beer named for the old nursery rhyme 'Doctor Foster, went to Gloucester, in a shower of rain. He stepped in a puddle, right up to his middle, and never went there again'.
I didn't get time in my visit to try the Dockside Dark, although Dad later said it was probably his favourite from the box.

We had one more encounter with Gloucester Brewery, at Stroud Market. Stroud Brewery had a stand there too.

One more beer; Butcombe, at a pub in Stroud. Pleasant enough; another very traditional English best bitter. Although after drinking so many excellently hoppy American beers, a lot of English ales just seem a bit flat somehow. I guess my palate has changed.

And one last bit of local history for you. These plaques appear on pubs all over Gloucestershire. This one is in Nympsfield, home to a lovely gliding airfield and a pub (the Rose and Crown) that does very nice food. It turns out that Stroud Brewery of old merged with Cheltenham Brewery to create West Country Ales. They stuck these plaques onto all their pubs from 1958 until 1967. (thanks to for the info).
Seeing these around is just part of growing up in Gloucestershire; they've always been there in my eyes.

So there you go; I hope you enjoyed this tour around British brewing. Cheers!

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