Tuesday 26 October 2010

Why Cask Ale Rocks!

Cask Ale is important to each of us in very different ways. In this collaborative blogging effort me(Bar Manager), Kelly(Brewer), Mark(Homebrewer), Mark(Beer Writer) and Shea(Young Female Drinker) say why it's important to us.

When I took over The Rake, it had two hand pumps and was doing approximately 8 firkins a week. A little over two years later and Cask sales have more than doubled to the point where on average The Rake goes through 17 casks a week and I’ve had to add a third Handpump and some extra stillaging in the cellar!

So what do I put this down to? Well, for starters, I’ll put it down to the customer. My average punters are not old guys who sit at the bar all day and drink the same thing day in day out, they are a lot more curious than that. Whilst I do get some of the older generation coming in, they are also genuinely after something new, probably more adventurous than a lot of the younger guys.  I’m not saying that the younger folks aren’t curious or adventurous, that’s the nature of youth and I am extremely thankful for that, it makes my job more rewarding if I can recommend a beer to someone and they come back and say that was fantastic!

It’s helped also by the fact that the British craft beer scene is so vibrant at the moment, breweries such as Otley, Thornbridge, Dark Star and Moor, to name just a few, are taking their inspiration from the USA. They have the personalities to give cask ale the hype that it deserves, they are giving their beer a personality too, something that has to be applauded and celebrated.  What craft brewers and bar managers such as myself are trying to do is spread the word that it’s not just about necking 10 pints of lager on a Friday night and writing off your Saturday, it’s more about experiencing the flavours and enjoying the craft that goes into making the beer that goes into your glass.

For years the beer scene in Britain was bland and one dimensional, it made working in pubs a bit dull really and gave us the feeling of working in a factory environment, dishing out the same beers to the same people day after day. That in turn gave credence to the generalisation that anyone could work in a pub and those that do are thick and should be treated like second class citizens. With the amount of different beers coming into pubs, bars and restaurants nowadays the staff are more than just mindless robots dishing out tasteless fizzy rubbish and there is a genuine lack of respect for these human beings. It’s a mindset that is still to be gotten rid of in these enlightened days of craft brewing and growing choice for the consumer but we do what we can and we’ll keep shouting about it.

The recently published Cask Report states that cask beers sell better when they are more expensive than the regular or ‘house’ lager. I generally agree with that sort of pricing, after all, from the first mash-in to racking the beer into barrels, delivering it to the outlet, stillaging, venting and tapping to the final moments up to when the customer takes their first sip of the pint, it’s a labour of love from brewer to cellar man. Cask ale you see is a live product if it‘s not handled correctly it will lose its flavour, its body, its condition or life, it needs to be loved. One of the stigma’s of cask ale you see is that it’s warm and flat. Not so if you pay attention to it, treat it like a baby. It needs to be nurtured and more than anything it needs to be respected.

Sunday 24 October 2010

My #Twissup

So the day started at 6am, I'm excited, it feels like Christmas, my attempt to call it #twissmas on twitter was pretty much ignored, hay-ho, back to being excited then.
I miss a bus by seconds and had to wait 10 minutes for another bus to Brixton, 10 minutes which felt like an eternity. A 333 finally turns up and we're off!

I get to Brixton and the Victoria line tube I got on seemed to be clean and new, bit bright for that early in the morning but it doesn't smell of piss so it's ok. Euston here I come! I'm meeting up with Mark Dredge and Chunk for the two hour train journey to Manchester and #twissup.

I'm there before my two journey mates and by this time I am starving, I really need my daily bacon fix. I head upstairs to the Britannia for a coffee and a bacon sarnie!

Dredge and Chunk turn up, we grab a breakfast or two and head onto the train, we're due into Manchester Picadilly at 10.49am. At this point it must be pointed out that I think Dredge and Chunk have worms, I've never seen two skinny guys eat so much and then complain about being hungry!
We discuss the various stuff on the train including t-shirts for next time, plain white with Twitter names, followers, blogs(if applicable) etc... what do you think, would you wear one?

People I am looking forward to meeting on this trip are Leigh who writes about good stuff and of course the beery legend that is Cooking Lager. There's also the guys and gals who I haven't seen in a while or even since the first twissup in January and are great fun to be around, Baron Orm, Fletch, Moggy, Zak, Tandleman & Richard MBT to name but a few!

We get into Manchester on time and meet up at a coffee shop, even though there was a perfectly crappy bar we could have started at instead! Baron Orm unexpectedly dishes out our 'Twadges'(Twitter Badges). Not t-shirts but welcome nonetheless.

We have a 10 minute walk from the station to our first stop which will be the Marble Brewery just down the road from the Marble Arch Pub, somewhere I am looking forward to getting to later. We're greeted at the Brewery by Colin who's dishing out glasses of Dobber, an absolutely great beer with no need for sparklers, eh Tandy?

Marble Arch, Interior
We get a tour of the brewery, another glass of Dobber and head off to the Marble Arch where most of us begin with either the Pint or the Bitter, mine was a couple of Pints, then a Manchester Bitter then half a Lagonda, great beers all of them! Just as we're were preparing to leave Cookie turned up, top bloke, and finally, out of the...er...'closet'?

Then it was time to go, predictably I wanted to stay at The Marble Arch all day, such a great pub with good beers in great condition, I look forward to visiting the pub again!

Next up was The Angel just down the road from the Marble Arch, there seemed to be 30-40 of us, so the poor guys at The Angel must have got a bit of a shock, especially when we all started ordering the Pictish Centennial. Yet another example of a superb beer served oop north. I've not had the pleasure of many Pictish beers but I have heard lots of good stuff about them and, the two that I have tried have been top notch! Anybody know who can get them down to London? A couple of pints later and it was time to go again, this time we were off to the Fringe.

This is where things got a bit fuzzy for me, all I know is that there are pictures that I remember having been taken of myself and posted on various social networks. I have no idea what I had to drink there but soon enough it was time to move on again and since people were heading towards Huddersfield, it was time for me to make a move toward home. We got back to Manchester Picadilly and I partook of the Burger King before getting onto the train and passing out. God only knows what the other passengers went through with my snoring but I woke up about half an hour out of London and got back home, hangover well and truly intact!

Another good day with like-minded beery folk, as Hunter S. Thompson said 'good people drink good beer' I couldn't agree more!

Women Who Drink Beer Are...

So the poll is closed on the debate over women drinking beer. A massive 22 of you voted and you decided what all of us actually already know.

Women who drink beer are....Sexy and Sophisticiated.

Of course they are! Meaningless poll really but for those of you that voted 'Just Fucking Weird'...Shame on you!

Thursday 21 October 2010

Beer Styles

Well this was always going to be a contentious one! Monday night I was getting pissed, sorry, enjoying the atmosphere at The Old Brewery in Greenwich for the British Guild of Beer Writers Seminar on beer styles. I'm not going to go into the seminar much because other people have already done that.
Dave Bailey a.k.a. Hardknott Dave of Hardknott Brewery fame gave me a bottle of his Dark Energy, a 4.9% beer that when we had it on draught for Hardknott Night at The Rake, whilst Dave it described as a stout he qualified the style classification to say he wasn't entirely sure what style it was but that it was the easiest hat to put on the beer.
It tasted enough like a stout at the time but the bottle is distinctly different, it's much more like a Mild and a very nice one at that. at 4.9% though, can it be called a mild? a strong mild?
Since the seminar there have been numerous posts on beer styles, a lot of people saying that there are too many(133 apparently), that we don't need all these classifications, I tend to agree; with consumer choice becoming more widespread regarding beer there is a real danger of confusing the customer to a point of alienating them all over again.
The Molson Coors UK Cheif says he wants beer menus in every pub, well in a lot of pubs cases that is a decent idea after all you have a wine list, why not a beer list. How are you going to lay it out though? It's a question that I have battled with in the last couple of years, deciding how to lay out a beer menu for The Rake, no easy task I can assure you with the fluidity of my ever changing line-up.
It's easy to pigeon hole things, and it happens every day in life, doesn't mean we need to do the same with beer though. After all there aren't really any right or wrong answers in this debate, which kind of makes the whole thing a bit pointless and dull.
There have been comments though that intimate the need for clarity so my beer list will eventually read by simple style and any description will have to fit into that category. For example a Raspberry Porter would come under the Stouts and Porters category rather than fruit beer or 'Raspberry Porter' or the SOS that I recently brewed with Otley would come under the Wheat Beer Category, after all it is a wheat beer.
Keep it basic and don't confuse the customers!

Sunday 17 October 2010

Beer Cupcakes

The cupcake war has been going on for some time now and more and more people seem to be getting involved in some way. Started by brewing Leg-End Phil Lowry and Dominic Driscoll others have started making them and I started getting the itch to try it on Wednesday, unfortunately I couldn't partake until Sunday. I was having had ideas for 'normal' cupcakes, you know, lemon drizzle, vanilla etc...Bacon was then mentioned on twitter and the aforementioned Mr Lowry suggested that would be a Yorkshire Pudding 'or a muffin' I retorted.
Then the idea came to me, beer! Now this was partly because I was feeling like shit all week and hadn't really had anything to drink because of it.
So which beer to use? Kernel Export Stout? Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary? Beaumonts Ginger Beer?
All of the above?
I decided on Ginger and Lemon Cupcakes with Beaumonts Ginger Beer and fresh grated Ginger.
So I'm not going to go into the details of the recipe because I'm not a chef and you don't want you all nodding off but suffice to say you can find the recipe I used here.
What I will say is I modified it from Lemon to Lemon, Ginger and Vanilla and I also used Beaumonts Ginger Beer which I've blogged about before, it's a light, refreshing alcoholic ginger beer from Cornish Orchards and it's damn fine stuff!
All in all I guess it's a success, the cakes are light and fluffy and the icing is lovely and gingery too!
Now I'm going to...and drumroll please....have my cake and eat it!

Saturday 16 October 2010

Girlie Beer Anyone?

Picture supplied by Cooking Lager
Not once, not twice but three times today we were asked if we had any 'Girlie Beer' by ladies who had been brought in by their other halves. Ok now I'm one for equal opportunities but I knew what they meant, something that tasted of fruit. Oh dear.
My mate Melissa Cole has been shouting about this subject for years(not going to give her age away though) and I'm sure if she was standing in the bar at the time she'd either a) walk out in disgust or almost certainly b) try and educate these ladies into trying something other than an over-sweetened fruit beer.
Now, I have a whole shelf in one of my fridges dedicated to fruit beers and there are some very good ones but clearly we still need to shout about the fact that ladies can enjoy any beer on any occasion so, anyone up for ladies night soon at The Rake?
I could put some very 'unladylike' beers on and invite all the ladies I know, hell! YOU could invite all the ladies YOU know, how does that sound?
You can also vote on the poll to the right, and before I get people complaining that it's sexist, it's just a bit of fun and my wife approved it!

CAMRA Awards 2010

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of attending the CAMRA awards lunch. Now having had Roger Ryman, Head Brewer at St Austells and one of the winners at The Rake the night before, I was somewhat hungover so it took me a bit of time to get into my stride.
I was lucky enough to get a mini tour of The Oval too before the function, it was awesome! It's a ground I've been to loads of times, being a member at Surrey CCC but I had never been behind the scenes before, what a treat!
I got to see the original copies of the Wisden almanacs and the dressing rooms. Interestingly, the away dressing room has a wall not unlike The Rake's brewers wall. It's been signed by lots of international players from all countries that have played at The Oval.
The Lunch itself was superb, the staff at The Oval really did a superb job. Lunch started with beer, of course! I started on a pint of the Castle Rock Harvest Pale Ale, a lovely light hoppy beer that's apparently good for getting rid of hangovers!
The menu went thus...
Ravioli of Butternut Squash with a sage butter sauce, crisp sage leaves with grated aged Parmigiano Reggiano. Served with Castle Rock Harvest Pale Ale.

Roast breast of creedy carver duck, celeriac souboise, root vegetable and sweet potato galette, creamed savoy cabbage and a port and sage jus. Served with Timothy Taylor Landlord and Fullers Gales HSB.

Creme Brulee with Scottish shortbread biscuit and blueberry confit. Served with O'Hanlon's Port Stout and Thornbridge Jaipur.

Served with St Austells Admiral Ale.

Now I don't usually eat posh nosh like this but it  was really rather good and the beer parings were excellent, introduced by the brewers of each beer they went extremely well. I've never really liked creme brulee but because I was in polite company(surrounded by Fullers & Thornbridge brewers!) I thought I'd give it a go and very nice it was too, exactly the right consistency and great flavour, made all the better with the beer paring of Thornbridge's Jaipur and the O'Hanlons Port Stout.
If you weren't aware there were awards going on too, these were I believe announced at GBBF but given out last week. If you didn't know who won here's the list:
Mild Category
Gold : Surrey Hills, Hammer Mild
Sliver : Greene King XX Mild
Joint Bronze : Golcar Dark Mild & Nottingham Rock Ale Mild.
Bitter Category
Gold : RCH PG Steam
Silver : Moor Revival
Joint Bronze : Orkney Raven & Purple Moose Snowdonia Ale
Best Bitter Category
Gold : Timothy Taylor Landlord
Silver : St Austell Tribute
Joint Bronze : Evan Evans Cwrw & Great Oakley Gobble
Strong Bitter Category
Gold : Thornbridge Jaipur
Silver : Fullers Gales HSB
Bronze : Beckstones Rev Rob
Golden Ale Category
Gold : Castle Rock Harvest Pale Ale
Silver : Marble Manchester Bitter
Bronze : St Austell Proper Job
Speciality Category
Gold : Amber Chocolate Orange Stout
Silver : O'Hanlons Port Stout
Bronze : Breconshire Ysbrid y Draig
Bottled Beer of Britain Category
Gold : St Austell Admirals Ale
Silver : Pitfield 1850 London Porter
Bronze : Great Oakley Delapre Dark
Champion Beer of Britain 2010 : Castle Rock Harvest Pale Ale
Silver : Timothy Talyors Landlord
Bronze : Surrey Hills Hammer Mild

Now I like the Castle Rock Harvest Pale Ale but Champion Beer of Britain? Really? There are better beers on this list. Likewise the Silver position and I haven't tried the Surrey Hills Hammer Mild but I am reliably informed that it was superb.
There were some very interesting results in the mix, for instance, one of my favourite beers at the moment is the Moor Revival, it's a beautifully balanced beer that's 4% and tasty as hell, it only got silver. As remarked by Roger Protz who was doing the presentations, brewers are getting a lot younger! The Great Oakley lads got a couple of bronze's and they don't look old enough to even drink! So when they went to collect their awards I thought they'd let their kids collect instead! Now I haven't had their beers but they got two bronzes which usually means they're better than the golds when it comes to CAMRA so well done chaps!
All in all a massive well done to all the guys who got through to the final stages, I enjoyed almost all the beers I tried and those I haven't I'm looking forward to!
Slap on the wrist for Protsky though who STILL can't pronounce Ysbrid y Draig! You've had two months to practice Roger, school report says must do better!
Until next time folks!

Thursday 7 October 2010

If The Rake had a Jukebox!

So Pete and Liz have published their Pub Jukebox choices on their blogs. Sorry folks but my pub jukebox 'Rocks Out' way more than yours! This is what would be on it...

1) Wonderstuff - Mission Drive
Possibly the best first song to any album...ever!

2) Stone Roses - Fools Gold
This has to be just about one of the coolest songs ever made. Fact.

3) The Who - Won't Get Fooled Again
Rock track at the beginning of CSI Miami, one of my favourite shows and a great track.

4) Oasis - Cigarettes & Alcohol
Because in the nineties that's all it was about!

5) Pulp - Year 2000
It was either this or Parklife by Blur, both fantastic songs that are 'party-bangers'.

6) Gomez - Whipping Piccadilly 
One of my favourite bands and it was this or 'Get myself arrested' guitar riff won though.

7) Stereophonics - Handbags and Gladrags
 I love this song, it's a nice harmony and Kelly Jones has a great voice.

8) Bruce Springsteen - Jungleland
This song epitomises exactly what 'The Boss' is, a legendary musical, religious experience and Clarence Clemons Sax solo is just fantastic.

9) Manic Street Preachers - No Surface All Feeling
Another Welsh band that I listened to as an impressionable teen and I love this track.

10) Pearl Jam - Alive
I remember coming back from a pearl jam gig with my best mate and not having any voice left because they played this last as an encore, and what an encore!

Yup, they might be crass, they might not be classics but they are feel good party tunes and that's what you want for a pub. There will never be any music at The Rake as some people will never be able to agree on it, also it's too small for music offer. More's the pity.

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Water, Malted Barley, Hops & Yeast

I'm about to start sounding like a right grumpy old bastard so please forgive me or stop reading this post now before you get bored.
There is a current trend in the beer scene that says that ales have to be hopped then dry-hopped, green-hopped, mega-fuckin-hopped and then hopped again. Really? Not so my friends. Those of you that read this blog on a regular basis will know that I am a bit of a 'hophead'. Last night however, I had a great balanced beer, what gave it the balance, why that'll be one of the other four main ingredients in beer, the malt!
The beer in question is Kernel Pale Ale with Amarillo and Centennial hops, this pale ale is slightly darker than most of Evin's previous concoctions in as much as it's a light amber colour! Boy it's great beer though, totally drinkable, so much so that I went from having a quick half before going home to having a couple of pints of it before leaving!
People were insisting on more hops last night for his next round of these beers but I personally think this was pretty much the perfect beer and without wanting to sound patronising, I think it marked a certain 'coming of age' or maturity in the brewing that whilst the beers were great, hasn't been seen before and I hope that he just get overly persuaded by the beer mafia wannabes and keeps making these superb brews. Hops are all well and good but when you find the perfect mix, why change it?
If it ain't broke don't fix it!