Friday, 30 September 2011

State of the (Cask Ale) Nation

By way of something different, I thought I would point you all to an interesting publication – the latest version of the annual Cask Report.

It is an interesting read, mainly aimed at publicans in order for them to understand the trends in current drinking with respect to cask beers.

All beer sales are down but less so in the cask beer market which seems to be at an all-time high, certainly from my experiences visiting pubs in recent years (and that is before we consider the craft beer/nu-keg movement).

Therefore this report looks to helping publicans by outlining what they can do to use cask beer to improve their business. It isn't simply a case of adding a few handpumps to the bar.

There are an unprecedented number of new breweries across the country but it has to be said though that not all of them are producing top quality beers.

This was certainly our experience at the latest Darlo beer festival - lots of new breweries but hardly any beers that you would want to have again. It isn't much fun having a local brewery if their output is no better than the likes of Greene King.

One of the most interesting things it highlights is the way in which it regards younger drinkers as being less loyal – what is calls repertoire drinking – which worries me slightly. Will they stop drinking cask as soon as the next big thing comes along?

It also suggests the those new to cask beers often look to try it as it has a retro feel about it – how’s that for making you feel old? I’ve never thought as myself as retro before though I'd accept being described as stuck in a time warp.

Not so sure I agree with one of the statements regarding cider suggesting - “it also substitutes for ale because as well as being cold and refreshing, pouring a bottle into a pint glass over ice is a slow, relaxed, seated occasion – the same as ale”. Hmmmmm.

You can download the report here.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Darlo Got The Blues

As someone who can be a bit superstitious, especially when Darlo are not doing too well, I decided to try somewhere else for breakfast today - the Station Sandwich Bar & Cafe on Pentonville Road. A very good breakfast but would it bring us luck?

I caught a slow train to Cambridge and had virtually a whole carriage to myself - makes a very nice change and it is certainly the most peaceful journey I've had for a long time.

Chaos on arrival at Cambridge though where there was an almighty scrum to get out as it seemed the whole of the city were inside intent on buying tickets, presumably to somewhere else.

Whilst waiting for Tony's train to arrive I checked out the site of what will eventually be the Cambridge Tap - sister of the Euston Tap - just a few yards from the station exit. Something to look forward to next season perhaps?

(left) Steve, John and Tony waiting for the Cambridge Blue to open

A call from John W to say the Cambridge Blue didn't open until noon - despite what is says in the latest GBG - meant a change of plan.

Tony and I wandered off to a local butcher for some pies before meeting Steve, John and various other Darlo fans outside the Live and Let Live.

Due to open at 11:30am, it was opened with apparent reluctance four minutes late - inside there were only half of the hand pumps on and then one beer went off as the first pint was being pulled.

The remainder of the beers on offer were not the most appealing so we decided to give it all a miss. A shame as we have been coming here for years but it didn't impress last season and I think we'll give it a miss in future.

We then walked to the Cambridge Blue - with a quick visit into Bacchanalia for me so I can lust over various bottles of foreign beeriness - and had just a short wait before landlord Jethro let us in a few minutes early.

A mouth-watering choice on offer - Woodfordes Wherry, Elland Moonbeam Rider, Oakham Musashi and Inferno, Humpty Dumpty Swingbridge Stout and Swallowtail, Cottage Trident and Bank Top Barley to Beer.

The best of the bunch for me was the Musashi and the Moonbeam Rider which turned out to be a rye lager - very interesting but a tad fruity for Tony's palate.

It was my first visit here - other than an abortive one last season - the front of the pub is very traditional whilst the new extension - leading to a large garden at the rear - was quite obviously recent but still matched the rest of the pub.

There were quite a few DAFTS here today - Colin, Neil and family, Ely Steve and Huntingdon Mark who were meeting Paul and Mags and then the Darlo beerhounds - Rich, John and Andy.

We decided against the long walk to the ground and took a cab - annoyingly it was a little tardy and then took us on what seemed to be a roundabout route.

(right) Walshaw celebrates but he was offside

Despite our worries we were there about fifteen minutes before kick-off - plenty of time for me to collect my pass.

No time to have a chat with anyone before kick-off though - only just long enough to get my gear out and take a few practice shots. A nice sunny and no sign of rain - just right.

Darlo were defending the goal at the away end and were soon under pressure - Ian Miller was out injured and was replaced by Sunchez-Munoz who looked a bit lost.

Cambridge applied early pressure and caused Sam Russell a few scares and it wasn't long before yet another cross was not picked up by our defence and left Michael Gash to head home smartly from about ten yards. Very sloppy.

Darlington came into the game a bit more - Chandler shot from the edge of the box and Walshaw hit the side netting but we conceded too much possession to the home side and can only have been grateful to go into the break just one goal down.

At the whistle, Mark Cooper was straight onto the pitch with the ball to give the referee the benefit of his opinion. Unsurprisingly the referee took exception and at the restart, Cooper was exiled to the unused half of the away end. Solitary confinement.

Darlington were not a lot better in the second half - Bowman replaced the ineffectual Purcell and put himself about to some effect but Rory McAuley in the centre of the home defence gave nothing away.

The only time he was beaten was when Greg Taylor hit the bar and then Walshaw prodded the ball into the net from close range but was offside.

Cambridge then extended their lead after an hour and that was about it. Campbell and Arnison were brought on but it made no difference - the game was up. Goodnight Vienna!

After the final whistle we walked back across the fields - careful to avoid the cowpats - and made our way back into town.

(left) Cooper making his feelings known

Sad to see that the Greyhound pub - which we used for a pre-match boozer for many years - is now boarded up and closed.

Tony and I made a quick detour to pick up some bottles from Bacchanalia - some Belgian and US saison beers for me - before joining the others in the Devonshire Arms.

A few Milton beers - Sparta, Minotaur, Pegasus and Nero of what I can remember plus a few guests, White Horse Village Idiot and a couple from Wentworth, WPA and Lemon. The Sparta though is one of my favourites and it didn't disappoint whilst John W found the vanilla taste of the Nero a bit too much.

Neil and Mari joined us with son Martin who tried to climb around the pub when their backs were turned - a right little devil - where does he get it from?

After a couple of pints it was time to wander back to London - thankfully an express service which took just forty-five minutes. Cambridge as ever was a great place for good pubs but the poor performance really put a downer on the day.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Luton Hoo-doo Continues

No early morning rush for me today as I accompanied Liz into town - her plans to meet fellow London Millers was nearly derailed by a signal problem at King's Cross but as things turned out she got there with time to spare and after a quick chat with Jenny and Chris, I left them to their train.

I popped up the Euston Road to meet John Wilson and then we both headed to a newly discovered breakfast venue, hidden away behind St Pancras church on a little pedestrian street, the Sorrento Snack Bar.

John and I had tried to eat here once before but it doesn't open early but no such problems today and when we arrived there were a few tables spare.

The place seems to be run by three elderly ladies - presumably of Italian descent - who run it in a very precise but friendly way. Every customer is "My darling" to the one in charge. I have a side order of black pudding so I can make a full appraisal of their wares.

The breakfast turns out to be one of the better ones we've had for a while - very well cooked chips and bacon, moist black pud, strong tea and excellent toast - the only minus points would be awarded for the less than inspiring catering sausage. Recommended nonetheless for both the food and the friendly reception.

We wander along to St Pancras - having a quick look at the beers in the Sourced market - before meeting Steve Duffy and catching the train to Luton.

(left) Ian Miller makes a timely tackle on Luton new boy Fleetwood

We had timed our train so we wouldn't be too early since the Bricklayers Arms didn't open until noon.

However we had a smug text from John Bell - who'd caught an earlier train - that the pub was already open as it was showing the rugby world cup game. Damn - rugger bugger types in the pub!

Thankfully by the time we got there the game was over and things were not too bad. A decent selection at the bar - JHB and Inferno from Oakham, Azzaskunk and Lemon & Ginger from Nethergate, St Peter's Organic Best and regular beer Bateman's XB.

I restricted myself to both Oakham beers - not very adventurous but you simply can't go wrong with these two - and the sips of the Nethergate beers I had convinced me I made the right choice. In fact they were going down rather too well.

We left in time for a leisurely walk to the ground - I picked up my pass from the ticket office and went off to collect my bib. Like last season I positioned myself at the front of the unused away section which offers a decent view.

Making his debut today was recent signing, Sanchez-Munoz, who was playing at left-back. He certainly looked a big lad and some of his early touches were impressive.

However Darlo were on the back foot for most of the first half - not helped by a seemingly voice-activated ref who gave a foul virtually every time a Luton player flung themselves to the ground. Very frustrating.

Not content with this the referee must have got a new notebook as he was certainly keen to take down a few names - Darlo players only though. Do I sound bitter?

Luton had their new £75,000 striker on display - Stuart Fleetwood - and he was out to show exactly why they'd paid all that money. He was a threat and gave the central defenders a hard time.

As it was, Luton eventually scored after Fleetwood set up Danny Crow to slip the ball past Russell.

The Luton defence had an easier time of it with Walshaw and Hatch struggling to make inroads. Walshaw was subbed after just half an hour when he got a kick to the leg and he hobbled off to be replaced by Bowman.

(right) Darlo debut boy Sanchez-Munoz takes a freekick

Just before the break, Darlo's task was made doubly difficult when Lee received a second booking for what seemed a very innocuous challenge and off he went for an early bath.

With only ten men in the second half, it was very hard for Darlo to get any prolonged passages of possession as Luton tried for a killer second goal. it eventually came from debut boy Fleetwood when he headed home past Russell.

There was no way back now and it was all Darlo could do to stop Luton from scoring a third goal.

The final whistle blew and we were spared further embarrassment - the Darlo fans trooped out disconsolately and headed back to the station.

Back in London, we all headed for some more beers at the Euston Tap. It was a nice warm evening so there was plenty of room inside and Bev was not far behind in joining us there.

After carrying my bag round all day I was a bit sweaty so on the train back from Luton I'd changed into my Killing Joke t-shirt. The shirt has caught the attention of a few fellow fans in the past and today was no exception as it caught that of a less-than-sober Donny Fan who'd been on the lash in the capital with his mates rather than go to see his team in Cardiff.

It seems that he was indeed a KJ fan and proceeded to ask me to take the back of his shirt up ("not in a gay way, ya knows" he added) so that he could show me all his KJ tattoos. Errr, very nice!

And as we got chatting he suddenly decides to quiz us on Number One hits beginning with the letter V! Where's Gavin when you need him? Quite a surreal ending to the day...