Local Beer Fest News – Brandling Villa Update

14 01 2010

A quick update on the Brandling’s festival as we now have the Cider list in so I thought I might as well make it available to you all:

Crossman’s Somerset Sweet Cider 7%
Hartland’s Farmhouse Cider
Malvern Magic 6.5%
Ross On Wye 5 Apple Medium Dry 6.5%
Ross On Wye Dabinett Bramley 5.5%
Weston’s Old Rosie 7.3%
Weston’s Traditional Scrumpy 6%

I’m sure the Cider Tarts will be overjoyed at the prospect of 7 ciders, although CTγ may be more than a little annoyed given that she offered to drive me there today thinking there would only be 3 on.

The plan seems to be that CTγ and I will pop in tonight to grab a couple of drinks (or a half in CTγ’s case) and some sausage for tea.  We will then be back on Friday night for a longer session in the company of HH and CT’s σ & λ.

KC

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Local Beer Fest News – Beer & Sausages, Brandling Villa…The Lists Are In

10 01 2010

After posting yesterday about the Brandling Villa’s Snorker and Beer Fest the inimitable Eric Larkham has emailed me with the list of delights available.  So without further ado…

Beer

Allendale – Golden Plover 4.0%

Allendale – Tar Bar’l 4.0%

Big Lamp – Prince Bishop 4.8%

Durham – Benedictus 6.6%

Durham – Evensong 5.0%

Everards – Tiger 4.2%

Hadrian Border – Tyneside Brown Ale 4.0%

Harviestoun – Schiehallion 4.8%

Jarrow – McConnells Stout 4.5%

Jarrow – Rivet Catcher 4.2%

Mordue – India Pale Ale 5.1%

Theakstons – Old Peculier 5.2%

Wylam – Dognobbler 3.9%

Wylam – Haugh Porter 4.6%

Cider

Three ciders as well as the usual Weston’s Traditional on handpump

Sausage

Allendale Chilli Banger

Chainbridge Honey & Lemon

Duck & Orange

Ginger & Spring Onion

Lincolnshire Pork

McConnells Stout Sausage

Merguez (Spiced)

Mordue Workie Ticket

Northumbrian Beef & Guinness

Northumbrian Beef & Leffe Brune

Pork & Dijon Mustard

Pork & Leek

Pork & Old Rosie

Theakstons Old Peculier

Toulouse (Garlic & Black Pepper)

Venison

All the sausages have apparently been made especially for the festival by Stewart & Co Fine Food & Butchery who will also be providing packs available for purchase allowing you to continue the festivities at home on a later date.

ADB and the Cider Tarts plan to get along for at least a couple of the sessions so we may see you there if you can make it.  And judging by the lists above it would be a shame not to.

KC





Local Beer Fest News – Beer & Sausages, Brandling Villa

9 01 2010

This is the closest pub to Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital (I think) and therefore the watering hole of choice when the work day has been too stressful to take home with me.  To be honest it’s proximity to work has been the only thing going for it until recently with both the drink selection and bar staff being piss poor in the past.  All quite handy in some ways because I was never seduced into  staying for more than a pint or two before escaping to the comforts of home.

That has all changed recently with the introduction of a new management team who have given the place a kick up the arse and brought real ale and cider onto the bar and overhauled the food menu.  Along with the introduction of live music at weekends the changes have made it a very dangerous place to visit now as the need to get home seems less pressing.

Anyway, new manager Dave Carr has decided, in his obvious wisdom, that a real ale and sausage festival was called for to blow away those post crimbo blues and has duly organised one for January…what a hero.   The flyer for the event is posted below and my contacts tell me that there will be vegetarian options available, although why you would bother…

KC





The Full Measure – The Bacchus

3 01 2010

So here we go.  Welcome to the first posting of our occasional feature The Full Measure, our attempt at in-depth pub reviews.  We have chosen the following format as a way of trying to structure our thoughts but I imagine we may play around with this once we’ve written a few reviews.  We’ve also included a scoring system but I’m really not sure about that and that may be the first thing to go.  We have left our rating of the drinks on offer until the end because we feel everything else has as much and in some cases more bearing on why we frequent these pubs.  Above all please remember this is just our opinion and as such should be taken with a pinch of salt and we would recommend everyone to check out the places we review for themselves.  Oh, and apologies for the length of this post.

Name (inc. Nickname): The Bacchus

Location (inc transport links): Located at the eastern end of High Bridge, a cobbled lane running between Grey Street and Pilgrim Street.  For those old enough to remember, it stands almost exactly where Phaze, Newcastle’s premier alternative clothing shop of the ‘80’s, used to be.

Approximately 0.5 miles from Central Station – about a 10 minute walk.

Nearest Metro: Monument (2-5 minute walk depending on whether you have the footwear to handle the cobbles)

Marked down only because of the cobbles, which can be deadly when wet (not great when you’ve had a few) or, so the ladies tell me, when you are wearing heels.  Some people may also find the lane a bit intimidating in the dark although it is as safe as anywhere else in town, otherwise an ideally situated, city centre pub.

Score: 9/10

Architecture: The Bacchus is a relatively new build; the old building which stood a few yards further along the lane was flattened in the name of urban regeneration about 8 years ago.  The dark green painted frontage has 3 large windows allowing views of passers by and diners in the Flat Bread Café opposite.

It looks largely unassuming from the outside and could be quite easy to miss from the ends of the lane if you didn’t know it was there.  All in all a rather lacklustre, but clean and tidy, modern exterior that gives no real clues about what to expect inside.

Again, somewhat like the external façade, the interior décor is clean, tidy and somewhat characterless.  The external doors lead into what is a medium sized, 2 room space dominated by a large ‘U’ shaped, island bar to the right.  The bar was allegedly created by the design team to look like that in the Café Royal in Edinburgh but, trust me, it doesn’t.  The area by the windows has a selection of armchairs and tables which are always popular with people watchers taking in the view of the lane and cafes opposite.

Towards the rear of the main room is a raised seated area which is often populated by those customers partaking of the food menu.  The area around the bar has a number of bar stools and a couple of tables but is largely a standing area.  There are a couple of large wooden clad pillars around the main room which have beer glass shelving around them for the standing punters.

The second smaller room is to the left of the main room, accessed though a couple of archways, and contains a mixture of sofa’s, armchairs and poufs arranged around a couple of low tables.  A wide, sweeping staircase also to the left takes you to the toilets on the first floor.

Score: 6/10

Social & Historical Context: As previously noted the Bacchus is a new build and as such you may expect it still to be finding its place in Newcastle’s drinking landscape but there is more to it than that.

Prior to its demolition the old Bacchus used to sit a little further down the lane and looked very similar to the new build only with slightly smaller windows and a splash of Rust Red paint if I remember.  The old Bacchus was one of Newcastle’s ‘Universal Pubs’ i.e. it didn’t really matter who you were or what you looked like you would be welcomed in.  Old blokes nursing bottles of Brown Ale in schooners sat next to dolly birds heading off to the Bigg Market and Rock fans preparing for a night of excess at the Mayfair, all coexisting quite happily.  It was a bit tatty around the edges and was definitely in need of a lick of paint but flattening the place was a bit excessive.

The new build doesn’t attract as diverse a crowd and doesn’t have the same social soul of the old build but, to be fair, it is only starting to make a history for itself, hence the low mark here.  Out of interest I would have scored the old build 8/10 here, largely for the social diversity of the place.

Score: 4/10

Décor: Often described as looking like the bar from an Edwardian era passenger liner the Bacchus has many admirers and a fair number of detractors.  The walls are painted in inoffensive beige and are partially clad in dark wood panelling.  The large central bar is also in a polished dark wood as are the pillars around the main room and the drinks racks behind and in the middle of the bar.  The dark wood is OK during the day and when the place is quiet but at night and if it is busy it can make the main room a bit gloomy.

The flooring is a mixture of hardwood and perhaps the most ill advised Burrberry checked carpet I’ve yet seen in a bar.  I’m not sure how many Charvers you had to skin for a flooring like this but it’s not a good look guys.  Continuing the general nautical theme pictures of ships of all type line the walls of the smaller second room.

The Bacchus looks like an upmarket boozer and certainly wouldn’t be out of place as a wine bar.  Everything is generally kept very clean and tidy although, as you may expect after a few years, the carpet is starting to look a bit careworn.

Score 7.5/10

Clientele: The punters you tend to find in the Bacchus these days are mainly a well heeled, middle aged crowd.  Sadly the old geezers with their Brown Ale seem to have disappeared and, now that the Bigg Market is no longer the place to be seen and the Mayfair is a car park, many of the younger crowd are absent too.

Given that we are talking about CAMRA’s current Tyneside pub of the year there are also fewer real ale stereotypes on view than you would imagine.  In fact looking around the bar there are far more people drinking John Smith’s/lager/wine/shorts than real ale, something I’ve noticed every time I’ve been here.  The other thing that strikes you is the number of women in the pub and they often outnumber the blokes making the Bacchus a more comfortable venue for the lone female punter.

Mostly harmless.

Score: 7/10

Atmosphere (inc music & games machines): Does this place have an atmosphere? Pretty staid and boring to be honest.  I would never describe the place as lively, even when there is a large pre-match crowd in, it just gets busy.  However it does feel safe and I’ve never been aware of or seen any trouble here.

The most annoying thing about the Bacchus is the piped music they insist on playing.  Well I say music, it’s more of a muzac drone of radio 2’s greatest hits and it is played at a volume too low to make it worthwhile but just high enough that it interferes with your conversations especially when the place gets busy…aaarrrggghhh!!!

There are 2 slot machines in the main room but thankfully they are situated on the edge of things and the volume has been turned right down.  In truth I don’t recall anyone ever playing on the things.

Score: 5/10

Staff: A bit of a mixed bag really, with some not seemingly the most knowledgeable about their beer and often more interested in chatting to each other whilst serving.  But, if you can hold their attention for a short time, they are pleasant enough.  I have, to be fair, noticed an improvement recently.

Score: 6.5/10

Food: Other than a beer/food matching event I have only ever partaken of the Sunday lunches here.  The food is generally well cooked but there have been a couple of times where the meat on my plate looked as if it had spent too long under a salamander and was a bit dried out.  This is not the place to come to if you want some nice pink beef.  That one quibble aside I would certainly recommend popping in for lunch, you get plenty of it for your money and it tastes rather lovely too.

Score: 7/10

Toilets: Upstairs, always clean and tidy.  There is also a disabled toilet on the ground floor for those who can’t manage the stairs.

Score: 8.5/10

Drinks: By far the Bacchus’s best feature has to be the range of drinks available both on draft and in the bottle.  For the real ale fan there are 8 handpumps offering quite a varied selection of beer usually including a strong ale and a dark beer.  Jarrow Rivet Catcher appears to be a constant fixture as the house beer.  There are often Brewery events run where all the beers on tap are from a single brewery which always prove to be very popular.  The beer is always kept really well and I’ve yet to have had to take a pint back.  As always I recommend you check out Phil’s excellent site to see what brews are currently available.

The Real Cider/Perry drinkers are also well catered for with a least 6 different varieties on tap from the cellar at any one time.  Again there is always a range of styles available meaning you should find something to your taste at any given visit.

As you would expect the staff are happy to give you taste of anything that catches your eye but are unsure of.  You can also request your favourite tipple to be ordered in if you have a hankering for something you may have tried elsewhere.

Bottled beer lovers have a nice selection to choose from with examples from the Continent rubbing shoulders with those from the States.  I’ve not dipped into the bottles myself but I am informed that it is one of the better selections available in Newcastle.

Wine and spirits drinkers also seem to be well served although again I have yet to try any of those on offer.  A cursory glance tells me the usual suspects are available as far as spirits are concerned and that the wine list looks to have plenty of choice available.

Score: 8.5/10

Conclusion: This has been a difficult review.  Many of you may have gathered that I have a fondness for the previous incarnation of the Bacchus and you would be right.  I freely admit here that that fondness has coloured my review, but isn’t that what this is all about? A pub has to fulfil many criteria to work its way into out hearts and those criteria are often very personal.  It’s about what makes you comfortable to sit in a room and drink with a bunch of total strangers.  At the end of the day it matters little how good the beer is if you don’t feel comfortable drinking it and that’s where I find myself with the Bacchus.

It is not a bad pub by any stretch of the imagination, far from it, and it is one of the first places I recommend to people who ask me about good pubs in Newcastle but it doesn’t do it for me.  I only tend to go in if accompanied (dragged) by a Cider Tart or if I find out about a particular beer being on which is quite sad really.  Perhaps, over time, I’ll warm to the place, but it has been a few years now and I don’t see any sign of a thaw.

Overall Score: 7/10

KC





‘Tis The Season To Be Jolly – Redux

3 01 2010

Some of you may remember that way back in November I posted about a carol service with real ale accompaniment.  Well, just in the cause of consumer research you understand the ADB team and a couple of likely Cider Tarts headed over to Gosforth to check things out.

Now as much as I love churches (and graveyards…but that’s perhaps a story for another occasion) I’m definitely agnostic in my theological standpoint so I wasn’t sure what I was going to make of it all and what the other members of the congregation would make of us.  The venue was, I realised as we pulled up in the car, the same as that for my friend Richard’s wedding several years ago, so I at least knew the place.  We had arrived early to get a suitable seat towards the back of the hall, you can’t seem too keen after all, and lets face it, the back of the hall was where the bar was likely to be.

I had arranged via email to pick up my tickets at the door so we waited in line and took the time to check out the other punters.  OK, given that the church lies in one of the more affluent areas of Newcastle I wasn’t surprised to see that the majority of people were exactly what I expected, the well healed, professional, middle class.  Just the sort of crowd you would expect at a country pub renowned for its good food by way of example.  Lots of neatly coiffured hair, clipped accents and Pringle sweaters.  Not that I’m trying to paint a picture of my being some sort of class warrior, or anti class snob, but they are not the sort of people I normally socialise with (for no reason other than I don’t know many who fit the demographic) and that, plus being in church, did make me a little uneasy I have to admit.

Getting in and securing a table I was in much need of a pint by this point just to calm my nerves and so, depositing the Cider Tarts, HH and I made our way to the bar.  Four handpumps greeted us, all carrying a Big Lamp Brewery badge informing us we had a choice of Bitter, Northern Lights, Prince Bishop or Summerhill Stout and it was the latter we plumped for using our tickets to secure a free pint.  Oh, we may also have nicked one of the Cider Tarts tickets too in order to have a ‘top-up’ glass of stout handy on the table.  We didn’t forget the Tarts though, oh no, we picked up a glass of white wine and can of diet coke, in the absence of any real cider, to keep them happy.

The stout was as good as always and perfect for the evenings festivities.  Summerhill has never been a heavy stout and is as close as you’ll come to having a stout as a session ale because it is so easy drinking.  It actually smells much heavier than it tastes, lots of dark, bitter chocolate, caramel and burnt, roasted malts mingling with a definite fruitiness.  The mouth feel is much lighter than you would expect from the aroma but all the flavours introduced in the aroma are present with a lovely coffee smoothness added for good measure.  All this for what turned out to be £2 a pint made for a very joyous evening, especially after a good few.

The carols and Christmas songs were sung with gusto, most accompanied by a band whose occasional atonal take on the tunes made the evening even more entertaining.  I’m sure the drummer was partaking of the brew as his initial timid, out of time, shuffle across the skins morphed into some sort of manic (if still out of time) Ginger Baker like crescendo.  I was introduced to several previously unheard verses of what I thought were well known songs and nobody tried to turn me from my path towards damnation or preach to me in any way.  The only time religion was brought up in conversation was when a friendly chap on the opposite table asked us which church we had come from.  When I explained that we had only come along for the beer and a bit of a sing song he seemed happy enough, if a little perplexed.

At the end of the day this was a great little event, good beer and company always make for a pleasant evening and this was no exception.  My initial discomfort was soon replaced and I was certainly made to feel comfortable and welcome.  We were informed that the event is likely to be repeated next year and I would have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone in the area.

KC





That Was The Year That Was…2009

2 01 2010

So another year comes to an end and those idiots in the media would have us believe we are entering a new decade.  Learn to count chaps and chapess’s, please.  The done thing in the blogosphere seems to be to list all the things that have impressed or disappointed you over the preceding year and, given that this is a blog about drinking, I guess I should be extolling the virtues of or deriding various drinks/drinking establishments.  But I’m not going to do that.

Everything we do is coloured by time and place, the emotions we feel and the influence of others.  All of which makes being objective about the events and flavours of the past year too damned hard for someone with a limited vocabulary, such as myself.  Anyway, I’m old enough to know not to trust my first impressions and to always give something a second chance no matter how strongly I may have reacted to it initially.  Sure, I’m likely to have been right first time but I’ve also been wrong often enough to give me pause for thought.

My goals for the rest of the decade are to try and discover some of the pubs that I have always considered too far away despite only being at the end of a 20 min train journey.  Revisit some of those that have failed to impress me yet in the hope that either they or I have changed and re-evaluate those which I probably take for granted at the moment.  I also need to try and broaden my palate and try some beers I would normally avoid like the plague, those with Gold, Golden, Spring, Summer or any mention of the word Hop in the name.  Not that I can ever see me stop predominantly drinking dark beers but I may just be missing out on one or two that I might find I enjoy.

I’m also going to shirk away from saying that I want to ensure that I keep this blog up to date.  The last month has shown me that there are things that can happen in my life that are far more important than writing a blog post, opening a bottle of beer or heading out to the pub.  I’m also still not sure what direction I want to take the blog.  At the moment I’m just posting this and that when it comes to my attention but I’ve stayed away from making too much comment and I think that has to change, so I may give my spleen a venting a number of times in the coming months.

And so, finally, it comes down to wishing you all a happy New Year.  May it bring all you wish for and, more importantly, all you deserve.

KC





Back In The Saddle

2 01 2010

Oh boy, that’s really what I didn’t want, an enforced lay-off.  Struck down by Swine Flu in early December I’ve yet to fully recover.  Probably due to being a total numpty and going back to work long before I had fully recovered.   This has meant crawling exhausted into bed before 21:00 and no energy, and even less will, to write anything on here before then.  I’d also pretty much stopped drinking.  Making my mind up as to which bottle to open was too much for my addled brain and as for going to a pub…

Anyway I’m pleased to report I’m almost there now and both bottled beer and pubs have been sampled in the last week.  So without much further ado I do believe I have some catching up to do.

KC