The Session – The Best Thing I Had Ever Tasted

4 02 2011

OK so I’ve never taken part in this before (and not sure if you need an invite or anything) but here is my two penneth for beer blogging Friday’s The Session. The topic given for this week’s posts – Cask, Keg, Can, Bottle: Does dispense matter?

My first ever recollection of tasting beer was from a can. Both my parents were tee total but they would occasionally buy some beer in for my grandfather which would often sit half empty in the fridge after his visit. Now as someone who couldn’t resist a good rummage around his parents’ bedroom at Christmas for clues about what presents I might be getting this was far too much of an open invitation. The tingling bitterness on my tongue and the bready comforting aroma sold me there and then. I loved beer. Unfortunately being around 10 years old meant I had to wait a while before I could really explore this love. The beer in question was McEwans Export and I knew that canned beer was the best thing I had ever tasted and I would never look back.

In my early teens I would try some more exotic beers from cans, Colt 45 was a particular favourite, and obviously very classy. It helped that the parents of one of my school pals owned the local off licence so we were able to try a multitude of these tempting brews. However, living just outside of Newcastle there was only one king of beers. Dog. Newcastle Brown Ale was seen as the drink to turn up to a party with if you were being serious about your drinking and if you saw someone with it you knew what they were either very brave or very stupid. To prove its obvious superiority it didn’t come out of a cheap can, oh no, this was proper stuff and came in a bottle and because of that bottled beer became the best thing I had ever tasted and I would never look back.

The now long gone Engine Inn provided me with my first ever taste of draught beer at the tender age of 16 and was again McEwans in the shape of keg Scotch. This was the real, grown up world I was in now, shoulder to shoulder with fitters and welders from the Yards who would laugh knowingly at us as we tried to act about 5 years older. The keg Scotch was like the can of Export on steroids, bursting with flavour and it came in a wrist aching pint glass…a whole pint! As you can imagine keg beer suddenly became the best thing I had ever tasted and I would never look back.

However in the early 80’s the only thing to be seen drinking was the much paler lager which was apparently some complex, arcane continental brew which made it much cooler to be seen with. The great thing was that it wasn’t just cooler in a John Travolta kind of way, it actually came chilled and girls liked it, winner. The dispenser taps for lager were also cool. Gone were the simple lit boxes of the Scotch and in came garishly lit chrome masterpieces to tempt you with their wares, each seemingly more complex and overdesigned than the next. Served chilled from a keg it became the best thing I had ever tasted and I would never look back.

At some point in the mid 80’s I ventured down to Tynemouth to partake in what would be my first ever Indian meal. We arrived early knowing there were (and still are) several pubs worth popping in to and we never passed up the opportunity for a beer or two. Entering the Cumberland Arms (I think) I noticed that they had McEwans Scotch on and in a fit of nostalgia I strode to the bar and promptly asked for a pint. “Keg or cask?” came the reply. What?!?!? I gave my mates a blank look which was duly returned and had to ask the barman what on earth he was talking about, whereupon he rather patiently, and maybe a little patronisingly, explained the difference to me. “Cask it is then” I said after picking up from the tone of voice that this was the right answer to give. When my pint arrived it looked no different than I could remember from the keg version but the taste, now that was different. Even as a lager boy I could tell this was special, it was smooth, creamy, nutty and refreshing. Cask beer was the best thing I had ever tasted and I would never look back.

So there you go, 25 years ago after trying all the dispensing methods I came across I knew cask beer was by far in a way the best of the lot. Fact. Except life doesn’t work like that, does it? Despite my new found irrefutable knowledge I still drank, well, pretty much anything to be honest as long as it was relatively cheap, had the desired effect and regardless of dispensing method. I even largely gave up beer for quite a while during what I refer to as the Whisky Years. Over the past decade or so I have taken much more of an interest in beer but, thankfully, have never felt indoctrinated by the cask or nowt argument peddled by CAMRA etc. I’m led in my drinking choices by two things, taste and the company I’m in. If it tastes good to me I’ll drink it regardless of how it is served because I drink for pleasure not to prove a point and, if the neo-prohibitionists allow, I’ll enjoy the 30p bottle of no-brand lager at my mates barbie this year knowing it was the best thing I had ever tasted and that I would never look back.



Another Drinking Song

3 02 2011

OK here is the first of what I hope will be an regular/occasional (we’ll see) series of posts about drinking and music, my two big loves [EDIT Cider Tart γ has just reminded me that they are actually numbers 2 and 3 on my big loves list].  The songs featured may have nothing to do with drinks or drinking themselves but to me they will have a strong affinity with the places, people and drinks my memory connects them to. They may also be simply, as in this case, about the joy of drinking and the places in which we do it.

First up for your entertainment is the very ditty which gave inspiration for the title of this here blog and of course the title of this post.

Title: Anotherdrinkingsong

Band: Skyclad

Album: A Semblance of Normality

Where they sit around and get a round in while the getting’s good,

They’ll make the most until the money’s gone.

They’re coming out to celebrate, to sing and dance and to escape

A crazy world where everything seems wrong.

Drinking to forget and to remember all the glory days,

The days we stood apart and we stood strong;

Though the beer befuddles sense it can’t provide them recompense,

They settle for anotherdrinkingsong.


Where the busy man finds recreation the idle man finds business,

The melancholy man finds sanctuary;

The stranger may have welcome and still within these selfsame walls,

The citizen may find some courtesy.

From Rose and Crown to Cock and Bull all history is written there,

To folklore, myth and legend we belong;

Come Masons, Plumbers Carpenters, come Cricketers and Huntsmen,

All join in with anotherdrinkingsong.


Well you can keep your long-hours culture and lusting for adventure,

There’s life aplenty down The Tap ‘n’ Spile

Forget your occupation down the Salutation

This tragicomedy will make you smile

From quaint barstool philosophy to subtle innuendo

It’s funny how the tribes all get along

Curse abstinence and temperance; and celebrate insouciance

And join us in anotherdrinkingsong.


Kevin Ridley:  Vocals, Guitars

Georgina Biddle:  Fiddle, Keyboard, Piano

Steve Ramsey:  Guitars

Graeme English:  Bass

Arron Walton:  Drums

Listening to this song always puts a smile on my face and starts me looking for the nearest watering hole to rest my wearies.  What I really like about it is the way it truly celebrates drinking culture and the feeling of community offered by the Pub and its various occupants.  It is a positive affirmation of all that is good about the Pub and what it is that keeps us going back when it is probably easier to open a bottle or two at home.  Sure it’s a rose tinted view of things, but come on it’s a celebration, why spoil the mood? In many ways it reminds me of a musical version of a Hogarth cartoon.  I never tire of it and every time I revisit it I discover something else to amuse.

You have to love a tune that can get insouciance into the lyrics and they are delivered with just the right amount of tongue in cheek reverence by Kevin Ridley.  Musically things are equally as good and even without the lyrics you would just know that this is a party song and that drinking had to be in there somewhere. A true toe tapper/head nodder.  Of course if you don’t like folk influenced hard rock then it’s all going to be absolute drivel to you, mores the shame.  It’s not often that we get a song which isn’t about alcohols more detrimental effects or its use in dulling the pain of a broken heart so good on you Skyclad.

The song appears on Skyclad’s first full album after the departure of original vocalist Martin Walkyier, A Semblance of Normality, and along with last years In The…All Together I think they represent the bands best work.  Steve Ramsey and Bean were both members of one of the North East’s premier NWOBHM bands, Satan, and I can heartily recommend picking up their Court in the Act album which is re-released sporadically.  It wipes the floor with many of the more well known releases from the genre, I’m looking at you Venom.

You can check out more tunes on the bands MySpace page and purchase CD’s from their Website.


Golden Pints 2010 Part 2

19 01 2011

After some subtle persuasion from KC, I had been asked to break my vow of silent contribution and nominate my belated Golden Pints Awards. So here we go

Best Draft UK Beer: Some excellent ales in 2010 the umptious Ascot Anastasia Imperial Stout, the vanilla based Yorkshire Dales Stout Of This World, the complete flavor surprise of Thornbridge Colorado Red and the gorgeous Harviestoun Ola Dubh 30. But in the end my vote goes to the excellent Highland Orkney Porter. Consistently excellent and comforting.

Best UK bottle Beer: Again lots of contenders. Scottish beers though dominate Williams Bros Midnight Sun, Traquir 2010, Harviestoun Ola Dubh 40 and Orkney Dark Island Reserve. They are all distinct and excellent, But for its uniqueness, consistency and what would always be my first Beer swap ale, the sublime Durham Temptation.

Best Overseas Draught Beer: A couple of German Draught Ales were the most memorable. At The National Winter Ales Festival, the smokey bacon crisp tasting  Schlenkerla Eisbock was a great find. Equally at the Brandling Arms Octoberfest, the recommendation of  Marzen Rauchbier brought an ale with a distinct kipper smell and deep smokey taste. It was surprisingly good.

Best Overseas Bottled beer: Some great strong dark beers. The Imperial Porters/Stouts of Flying Dog Gonzo and Left Handed were both amazing. But two presents take the top two places. In second, the excellent Mill St Coffee Porter from Canada and first, Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch, a stunning beer full of flavor and balance.

Best Overall Ale: Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch

Best Pumpclip or Label: Choice between the funny/clever or the iconic/business. On one side I love the pumpclips of Blue Monkey. The Che Guevera influenced Guerilla and the clever 99 red Baboons are distinctive and fun. On the other side, the distinct pumpclips for Yorkshire Dales Brewery are almost iconic art deco with a great use of colours showing beers of real quality. Prize goes to Yorkshire Dales.

Best UK brewery: Almost too hard to call. First of all, the best NE brewery would go to Bull Lane, arguably had best ales at both Leeds and Newcastle beer festivals. Summer Wine Brewery, Thornbridge and Yorkshire Dales continued to push the boundaries and produce excellent ales. But for real consistency of great beer and for making an IPA that I actually like, it needs to go to Highland Brewery.

Overseas brewery: Flying Dog gets my vote. Gonzo Imperial Porter was far too easy drinking & dogtoberfest, the maltiest beer I had this year.

Pub/bar of year: Outside the area it would be Marble Arch or North Bar. In Newcastle, Bacchus (8 course beer matches/great beer), Free Trade (getting better all the time) & Cumberland Arms (my fab bizarre local). But vote goes to Newcastle Arms, great bar staff, homely atmosphere & excellent beer festivals.

Best Festival: still adore Newcastle beer fest (especially all day Thursday). Leeds continues to be one of the most friendly. National Winter was an experience whilst Scottish national always has great beer. But for it’s uniqueness, atmosphere, location & excellent beer (despite polycarbonate glasses) it has to be York.

Supermarket: Tesco Online when ordering only in Scotland. Midnight Sun, Black Gold and Glencoe Stout. Enough said

Independent retailer: Beeritz was excellent, but for accessibility and constant improvement, Rehills Deli in Jesmond

Online retailer: don’t buy online

Beer book or magazine: Cheers

Best beer blog or website: Phils Newcastle Real Ale Listing. Indispensable resource for working out what/where you want to drink. Also useful for remembering what you had last night

Best beer twitterer: too difficult to call

Best Brewery OnlineBrewdog. Part interesting information part episode of the Young Ones

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year: Agree with my esteemed colleague. Cranachan and Highland’s Orkney Porter at a food/beer matching event at the Bacchus was unbelievably good.

In 2011 I’d Most Like To…: write something on this blog… get in, one New Year Resolution down!


*Good work HH…keep ’em coming.…KC

The Winner Takes It All…Then Gives It Away

18 01 2011

Yesterday I was lucky enough to win a little spot prize from those purveyors of mighty fine ales the Dark Star Brewing Co. via their Twitter feed.  All I had to do was reply to their tweet to receive a T-shirt so I quickly typed out a witty yet poetic response… ‘bo’.  Yep, my total lack of digital dexterity certainly shone through on that one.  However all was not lost as James messaged me to say he had taken pity on my inadequacies and was going to send me the agreed T-shirt…I’d won!

All James needed to know was my size and address and said wondrous garment would be heading its way up to the North East.  At this point I remembered a point from the evenings CAMRA branch meeting asking for beer related paraphernalia (clothing, glasses, books etc) to be donated to raise funds for this year’s chosen Newcastle Beer Festival charity the Peoples Kitchen and so I said any size would do as I would be donating it.  James was straight back saying that he would throw in a few more to help the cause so I would just like to take this opportunity to offer my thanks to Dark Star for such a nice gesture.  Cheers guys!

PS …and at the risk of being a little bit cheeky if any other breweries out there would like to make a small donation to a very worthy cause please drop me a line and I’ll make sure it gets to the relevant people.  Thanks.


18 01 2011

I attended my first CAMRA branch meeting yesterday despite having been a member of several years.  I went along with my sister, Cider Tart Lambda, who is the branch Cider & Perry officer and Cider Tart Gamma who is my better half.  I’d never been to a meeting before for a number of reasons; I’ve never felt the urge to become actively involved beyond handing over my hard earned cash or to become embroiled in the perceived, and actual, petty politics that always rears its head in any organisation.

But anyway I went along to have a nosey and also because the meeting was being held in Gateshead’s recently refurbished Central Bar which I had enjoyed on previous visits.   I was expecting maybe 20-30 diehards to be in attendance but there were easily double that number and we had to blag some stools from an adjoining room in order for the Tarts to sit down.  I recognised perhaps 80% of those present although a few I hadn’t previously realised were branch members.  Plenty of younger (30’s and lower) folk were present which, I guess, also surprised me although I can’t rightly say why.

Was there any evidence of the previously mentioned politics? Sure, but it rather reminded of a school yard version of PMQ’s.  A bit of name calling, giggly pointing and pantomime heckles which were all a bit sad and it certainly wouldn’t change my mind about getting involved.  However, in spite of all that the meeting was informative and a valuable source of news concerning up and coming events.  The pubs of the year were also announced for the local regions with no changes from last year noted which means the Bacchus remains Tyneside’s POTY (with an increased majority – congratulations Andy).  Not a bad choice but in my opinion there are better out there (sorry Andy).

The format of the meeting was a little strange in that there was no open discussion allowed which the chairman later explained to me is done to ensure that meetings don’t just turn into a protracted knockabout between 50 people.  I’m not sure how this then enables members to actively engage in policy formation but perhaps the whole thing will become clearer if I attend subsequent meetings.  And there is the question; will I attend any further meetings? I think I probably will although I don’t think I would go out of my way to make sure I get to them.  I found some of it quite interesting and some of it quite depressing but I’m long enough in the tooth not to judge things totally on first impressions even if they are usually right.

For the record I had two pints through the night.  First up was Allendale Wagtail which I had not come across before and to be honest I wish I hadn’t.  It was a flat, lifeless pint of brown nothingness which is a great shame as Allendale usually produce some cracking ales.  Next up I went for safety and a pint of Thornbridge Kipling my beer of the year 2010 and it was all I needed to erase memories of the brown muck preceding it.

Golden Pints 2010

13 01 2011






OK so I’m a bit late with this (started before Christmas, tidied up today) but, hey, I’ve had ‘things’ to do and it got here eventually didn’t it?






Best UK Draught Beer: There have been a number of beers that have wowed me this year; Highland’s Orkney Porter was stunning in the Bacchus as was Yorkshire Dales Brewing Co’s St’Out of This World.  However, for opening my taste buds to the delights of ‘lighter’ beer the winner goes to Thornbridge Kipling.

Best UK Bottled Beer: I’ve been drinking more bottled beer than ever this year and certainly a more varied selection than usual and up until New Years Eve the winner was still going to be my old friend Traquair Jacobite Ale.  However, I had the pleasure of sharing one of my bottles of Orkney Dark Island Reserve (2008) with HH and was totally blown away by it, a stunning drink.

Best Overseas Draught Beer: County Durham Brewing – C’est What? Steve’s Dreaded Chocolate Orange Ale.  Despite the name this doesn’t come from just down the road, rather I enjoyed this during July’s trip to Toronto.  Brewed specifically for the basement bar C’est What? this was a lovely dark malty beer which was lifted from being Nutella infused coffee by the sharpness of the orange in the background to start with and then prominently in the finish which took it to another level.

Best Overseas Bottled Beer: Rogue Old Crustacean 1999.  Again from my Toronto trip and this time served as an accompaniment to my ice cream in Beer Bistro.  There were so many aromas coming at me from this that I ran out of adjectives and was severely worried it was going to be a total mess.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  A gorgeous Barley Wine full of tangy dried fruits (dates, prunes and cherries), caramel and a stunningly pithy bitterness which complemented the food perfectly.

Best Overall Beer: For just being so damned drinkable – Thornbridge Kipling.

Best Pumpclip or Label: I really like what the Yorkshire Dales Brewing Company have done with their clips and labels, instantly recognizable and stylish with the advantage of almost always signaling a great beer.

Best UK Brewery: I had a lot of thought on this and a number of changes to the name here but in the end because they consistently come up with great drinkable beers the winner is the Yorkshire Dales Brewing Company.  Honourable mentions go to Highland Brewery, Summer Wine Brewery, Thornbridge and Bull Lane who could all have been justifiable choices.

Best Overseas Brewery: For the great beer tasted, the friendliness of all the staff and a great brewery tour the winner goes to Mill Street Brewery, Toronto.

Pub/Bar of the Year: Loved Smokeless Joe’s in Toronto for the company, the North Bar in Leeds for the drinks selection, the Cumberland Arms in Byker for being so welcoming, the Free Trade Inn again in Byker which has my all time favorite view but the winner is The Newcastle (Top) Arms…just because.

Beer Festival of the Year: Really enjoyed the National Winter Ale Festival in Manchester and on, a smaller level, regular festivals at the Newcastle Arms.

Supermarket of the Year: Meh!

Independent Retailer of the Year: Had fun rooting around Beer Ritz in Leeds and really wish I’d had more bag space but due to its closer proximity I’ll go for Rehill’s Deli in Jesmond which has a great selection of all types of booze…but no website unfortunately.

Online Retailer of the Year: Had great service from BeerMerchants, myBrewerytap and Ales by Mail this year with no problems and nothing but praise for all of them.

Best Beer Book or Magazine: Cheers has been a breath of fresh air in the North East and wipes the floor with the woeful local CAMRA effort.

Best Beer Blog or Website: Because it’s always handy to have an idea what may be waiting for you at the pub I always check Phil’s Newcastle Real Ale Listing.

Best Beer Twitterer: Enjoy all the banter so no particular favorites.

Best Brewery Online: Very rarely visit any to be honest.

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year: Cranachan and Highland’s Orkney Porter at a food/beer matching event at the Bacchus.

In 2011 I’d Most Like To…: Find time to write more here…but not at the expense of drinking.

Open Category: I think I’ve said enough.

Local Beer Fest News – The Free Trade Inn Midwinter Beer Festival

13 01 2011

OK so the first local festival of the year takes place in what in my opinion is the most improved pub in the region, the Free Trade Inn.  The festival runs from the 27th of this month through to the 30th but some of the beers (marked) will be on earlier.  So, some of you may think the place needs a lick of paint but I call it character and it has it in abundance as well as a great selection of beer/cider and a view to die for.

Some cracking beers on the list, I’m particularly looking forward to the Odell, Orkney and SWB offerings and the Cider Tarts will have enough to keep them quiet for a while…well…OK nothing ever keeps a Cider Tart quiet.  Both HH and I will be down there on a least a couple of the days so say hello if you spot us.  The pub itself is easy enough to get to from the centre of Newcastle by jumping on a Yellow QuayLink bus which will drop you only 50 yards from the door.


Allgates, Green Bullett

Arran, Dark

Blue Monkey, Guerilla Stout

Boggart, Rum Porter

Bowland, Hen Harrier

Brewdog, Riptide *Available from Tues 25th

Darkstar, TBC

Durham, TBC

Durham, TBC

Fyne Ales, Jarl

Fyne Ales, Hurricane Jack

Mallinsons, Motueka

Marble, Ginger

Marble, W90

Marston Moor, Implacable

Nelson, Loose Cannon

Orkney, Clootie Dumplin *Available from Tues 25th

Ossett, South Pacific IPA

Ossett, B2K

Rudgate, Northern Brewer

Salamander, Cloak and Dagger

Salamander, Slapstick

Stables, Monboucher Mild

Summer Wine, Boreas

Summer Wine, Heretic Imperial Black IPA

Titanic, Stout

Wansom, Millers Mirth

Wharfbank, Slinger

Wold Top, Against the Grain * Gluten Free Beer

Wold Top, Dawn Of Time


Westons, Organic Vintage

Westons, Winter Twist

Millwhites, Single Organic

Millwhites, Novo Pyrus

Millwhites, Pear Lite

Millwhites, Equinox

Mr Whiteheads, TBC

Mr Whiteheads, TBC

Broadoak, Perry

Broadoak, Bristol Port

Broadoak, Moonshine

Orchard Pig, Hot Mulled Cider

Guest Draught Bar

Erdinger, Urweisse

De Koninck, Winter De Koninck

Sierra Nevada, Celebration

Sierra Nevada, Northern Harvest

Sierra Nevada, Old Chico Crystal Wheat

Sierra Nevada, Brown Ales

Sierra Nevada, Porter

Odell, IPA