The Sort Of Pub I Wish I Lived Near

278I have to admit that I am not exactly a guy with a regular pub. Frankly, when I head to the States on holiday with our pals like I will tomorrow for ten days, I am more likely to have a favorite bar I go to regularly than I would have here. But none are like the pub mentioned at the BBC today, “The Pigs” at Edgefield:

Locals at a village pub in Norfolk are beating the credit crunch by bartering home-grown produce for pints. The Pigs public house, in Edgefield, near Holt, encourages drinkers to contribute to its traditional food menu in return for free alcohol. A sign placed inside the pub reads: “If you grow, breed, shoot or steal anything that may look at home on our menu, bring it in and let’s do a deal.”

Who wouldn’t want to go to a pub where this could happen: “someone will say ‘that rabbit tasted great’ and we say ‘here, meet the person who shot it’.” But it’s not the food that particularly attracted me when I checked out the pub’s website, it’s the games. Sure there are quizzes, darts, billiards, dominoes and even shove ha’penny but right there to the lower left of the page so generously titled simply “drinking” it says you can play “I Spy“. What better indication of a genial spirit than the invitation to spy with one’s little eye something that begins with “J”.

Big Hop Bombs: India Pale Ale, Meantime, London, England

I picked up a couple of big format bottles of Meantime beers at some point in my travels last year. I needed a Stonch-like moment to try this micro from the centre of the known universe like the one from last March when he tried this beer on an English spring afternoon. Apparently, this first Wednesday evening in February with a blizzard coming was it.

The brewery has given me some confidence that this beer is fit for the Big Hop Bomb category, if we go by this description on their website:

Jam packed with English Fuggles and Goldings, the beer is brewed with as many hops as we can physically get into the copper. We then fill the lauter tun with hops for a further infusion and then we dry hop with the beer with even more hops using our own unique circulation process to ensure maximum contact between the hops and the body of the beer. All this gives us a final hopping rate of well over 2lbs of hops per barrel.

What a gorgeous beer. Orange straw ale under a rich cream mousse head. French bread and herbed lemon curd nose. Very rich and one has visions of slow roasting chickens that have soaked whole in a bucket of this. Plenty of hop floaties like I last saw in a Founder’s Harvest ale. A succession of quickly changing hop effects spark. None burn like in a big US IPA but there are garden bitter greens, tangerine zest and something like licorice. The body is lighter than a full throttle DIIPA, say, but there is plenty of mildy apple and sultana raisin pale malt balancing this 7.5% brew. A bit of arugula to dry the lightly sweet malt finish. Big BA support.

Ontario: 666, Devil’s Pale Ale, Great Lakes Brewing, Etobicoke

A very strange thing has been happening lately. I am going out to a store in my own town and buying the same Ontario-made beer week after week. I wrote about Lake Ontario’s (not Lake Erie’s) Great Lake Brewing’s take on a winter ale a few weeks ago. That beer was a bit frustrating as, while I liked it, I had to buy it in a presentation pack for more than a bit too much. This beer, however, if anything is under-priced at $2.50 a tall can. Better than that, 666 has turned out to be a bit of a puzzle to my mind and in the brewer’s description:

Brewed with 6 select malts and 4 premium hops, it has a rich mahogany colour, reminiscent of early English pale ales. The wonderful hoppy aroma is revealed even before your first sip, followed by a hearty malty body, and culminating with a pronounced bitterness. Prepare yourself for a devilishly good time…

Hmm…six percent…hearty malt body…English hops. Is this a Burton, the elusive Georgian and Victorian bad boy of pale ales before the advent of barley wines? My only possible comparator could be Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome, itself a likely pretender, reviewed back here and happily sampled every year. The only thing I think might be against that 666 is claim of final hoppiness but I won’t know until I pop the caps.

As you can see, the Winter Welcome 2007-08 is much lighter, the dark amber orange ale sitting under white foam and rim. By comparison, the 666 is darker – chestnut with a fine rich tan rim and foam. On the nose the 666 speaks of roasty nuts with dark raisin, with a nod to oloroso sherry. The Winter Warmer leans more to orange marmalade but there’s plenty of biscuit in there, too. In the mouth, the two have about the same mouthfeel and, if anything, the Sammy Smith offering is more bitter: fresh green salad herb mixing with twig blended throughout the orange-kumquat biscuit malt. A sip of 666 is more about a rougher bitterness framing the darker dried winter fruits.

Martyn Cornell, the Zythophile himself, recently summarized Burton’s style in a few words – “a recognisably Burton Ale profile: red-brown, bitter-sweet, fruity and full-bodied, with a roast malt aroma.” It’s certainly hard to exclude this Canadian-Satanic joint enterprise of a beer from the categorization even if it were to turn out to be unintentional. It certainly is a lush brew, fruit-ridden with hop and a true roastiness within the grainy malt. Loverly. But is it Burton? Who knows? It fills a similar place in the pantheon but I would likely have to mail Martyn a sample. For now this side by side will have to do.

Book Review: Pub Games Of England by Timothy Finn

pubgamesThis finally came from after ordering it not long after mid-February, right around when I decided to create The Pub Game Project. The roaring silence that followed was lesson enough that this book was very much needed in the library.

And what a treat it is. Now I can trick the children and push the weaker willed of the family, inducing them into playing Knur and Spell, Aunt Sally, Daddlums, Lawn Billiards and Dwyle Flunking. Rules, diagrams, hints to play and photos of the games in action. First published in 1975. Excellent.

Paul Tells A Tale Of Two Beer Festivals


Bury St Edmunds Corn Exchange, home of the East Anglian Beer Festival
The East Anglian Beer Festival takes place in my hometown of Bury St Edmunds at the end of April. As it is on my doorstep, so to speak, it’s a must visit event. I normally pay a visit everyday, but this year was different. This year I’d planned to visit two different beer festivals in one week. Not only that but also several hundred miles apart to boot.

The East Anglian Beer Festival is what it says on the label “celebrating the best of East Anglian ale”. Now, apart from a singular trip to the Great British Beer Festival in London a couple of years ago, my beer festival attendances have been restricted purely to East Anglia. As a consequence I get to try a lot of local ales. Because of this there were few new beers to get me exited at this year’s EA festival. Not a problem as I had only a brief time to sample. Here’s what I sampled:

  • Maldon Gold from Mighty Oak – 3.8% – A bitter golden ale floral and lemon undertones. Hoppy with strong hints of sweet vanilla.
  • JHB (Jeffrey Hudson Bitter) from Oakham Ales – 3.8% – The colour of donkey wee, this ale tastes better than it looks. Light in colour, subtle in taste, hints of PLJ or lemon marmalade.
  • Windswept from Oulton Ales – 4.5% – Sweet dark copper coloured ale. Mass of flavours including honey and prunes. A most excellent ale.
  • Bitter from Winter’s Brewery – 3.8% – A bland could-have-been-anything sort of ale. A very boring beer. A distinct absence of the “advertised” fuggles taste. You can’t win them all!

The next day we set of for Bonnie Scotland. We planned to break our journey by a stop off in the Lake District. Keswick was our town of choice. I had hoped that staying at what was a traditional coaching inn would have given me the opportunity to at least have a decent ale-a-errific nightcap in pleasant surroundings. Not so. Three hand pumps but no real ale on. I was told that there might be some on later, “when it cleared.” What concerned me was how the bar steward tried to persuade me to have John Smith’s Creamflow, a disgustingly bland nitro-keg beer that I’d cross the street to avoid. When I said most certainly not, he looked totally bemused and went on to say that it was the most popular selling bitter in the country and that it’s always consistent. Well, in terms of quality I suspect suppositories are also consistent but I would recommend them as a substitute real ale either! He then went on to dis real ale because it sometimes went sour. They presumably don’t have a fast enough turnover, but with a salesman like that I’m not surprised. The man clearly knows fuck all about real ale.

paulstrip1In a situation like this there’s only one thing to do. Reach for one’s trusty Good Beer Guide. Bingo! A recommendation: The Dog and Gun also in Keswick. The Dog and Gun is a proper pub, four real ales, flag stones on the floor, a local’s pub with bags of atmosphere. Plus it serves good honest well cooked pub grub. I sampled two of their fine ales:

  • Yates Bitter – 3.8% – Distinct bitterness, a really good session beer, with some maltiness and no hint of hops.
  • Taste Ascent – Keswick Brewery – 4% – Very bitter golden ale. Too bitter for my taste. Hints of marmalade, again bereft of hoppiness.

paulstrip2…Hullo Jimmy. I’d like to introduce Jimmy…

The following day it was back on the road to the land of my Nana, north of the border. It was my first trip to a Scottish beer festival, nay my first visit to any beer festival north of The Wash and an interesting affair. Nosier, most certainly, and with a different demographic to the English beer festivals that I’m used to attending. East Anglian folk tend to be quite reserved, so the loudness and the extrovert nature of the locals I found needed a bit of adjusting to.

paulstrip4My raison d’etre for attending beer festivals is to try something new, as I intimated a little difficult in my hometown, but I suppose for those less dedicated or less travelled, that only attend their local beer festival, local beers are probably quite a novelty. Local beers for local people!

This was obviously the case at the 20th Paisley Beer Festival. The festival was spread over two rooms, one for Scottish ales and the other housing “foreign” ales – predominantly English ales. It came as no surprise to find that the hall containing the Scottish selection was more densely populated than the “foreign” hall.

The Caledonian Brewery Pipe band was at the festival, enjoying a few bevies and playing for the punters. There seemed to be an even greater mood of national pride at the time. It was just before the Scottish election so, as a consequence, the pipe band went down a storm with great cheers going up after each number. I was under the impression that this sort of thing was for tourists only, but clearly the local crowd loved it. Even more astonishing to a sasenach was the average age of the festival goers. It was a great deal lower than that of the festivals I normally attend in England. In my locale, youngsters would never be as enthusiastic about something as folksy as a pipe band. Not only was the average age a lot lower than in England, where beer festivals tend to be the domain of middle-aged bearded blokes in jumpers, but a large proportion of them were women. Young women in their late teens or early twenties, not wearing their vests and balancing precariously on frighteningly high heeled shoes, and seemingly able to out drink many of the men.

paulstrip3Here’s what I tasted at the festival:

  • Arran Blonde from Arran Brewery – 5% – A pale golden beer with that distinct hamster bedding flavour we’ve all come to know and love.
  • Piper’s Gold from Fyne Ales – 3.8% – A dark golden ale with an initial refreshing bitter taste and not a single hint of hops to be had.
  • Avalanche from Fyne Ales – 4.5% – A very pale and hoppy seasonal beer, perfect for supping on the banks of Loch Fyne.
  • Riptide from Brew Dog – 8% – A malty, smoky chocolately ale with traces of liquorice. Warming like liquid coal or a sharp intake of breath by someone with a 40 a day Capstan Full Strength habit.
  • Lia Fail from Inveralmond – 4.7% – A dark beer with a well-balanced sweetness, malt and slight chocolate tones.
  • Red Cuillin from Isle Of Skye Brewing Co – 4.2% – Smooth, well rounded dark copper malty ale. Also with burnt butterscotch musings.
  • Kelburn Red Smiddy from Kelburn Brewing – 4.1% – A red ale, complex in character with a dry bitterness and a citrus finish.
  • Cuil Hill from Sulwath Brewers – 3.6% – A light copper ale with bursts of malt and hints of honey.
  • Stairway To Heaven from Triple fff Brewery – 4.6% – The only “foreign” beer that I tried and I’m ashamed to say the best that I tasted at the festival. A pale brown ale with lusciously ripe mouthfuls of raspberries and blackberries. All that glitters is gold!

A great festival with a friendly and lively crowd. A wonderful trip.

PGP 1.0: The Pub Games Project

northants_skittlesWhat – another theme? As if having contests and starting to think about beer and music is not enough, I have been obsessing a bit (inspired no doubt by Stonch) about old games a bit lately at my other blog, the general purpose Gen X at 40, the web site that spawned this here place.

Plenty of old games relate to pubs – both inside games like darts and lawn games like bowls. But beyond that, they tie beer to gathering and do so in an utterly unproductive but pleasing way. I am a bit fan of unproductive skills and have started a gathering of local beer fans under the name of the Kingston Society for Playing Catch with the aim of exploring all aspects of idleness at a very slow pace over the remaining decades of my life. I think I am going to suggest that pub games need to be added to the mandate of the KSPC.

What do I mean by pub games? There are the obvious ones. My life has always included doinggames as much or more than board or card games. I grew up in a Minister’s house where darts was played after supper – leaving one manse front door in a very bad state as I recall. And, along with good helpings of shuffleboard, undergrad early ’80s two-player table top video games morphed into law school snooker as staples during my free time in the vicinity of a beer or two. But before or as these popular games developed in the Victorian era (or were created in the early digital one) there were other more localized games skill being played by a few dedicated fans like bar billiards, ball and trap, the incredibly fun looking London skittles or the smaller scale variation known as hood skittles or Northamptonshire skittles shown being played above. Plenty of different games and their rules are to be found at the excellent Masters Traditional Games. More rules and history can be found through the pub games page at wikiality as well as the Online Guide to Traditional Games.

Realizing that these are mainly English games, I hope to explore a bit about the other games played by folk having a beer in other nations through this series. If you know of any you love please join in.

Paul Goes to Two Cambridge Pubs

[Alan here. Before we get into this post, the third of Paul’s series this week, I just have to point out my gratitude for these contributions as well as all those of all those who get to post here – Knut, Gary, Donavan and the rest. And I have to say that I had a hard time cropping Paul’s pictures, as I often do, as there were so many wonderful aspects to what he caught. Thanks again, guys.]


Cambridge is one of my favourite cities, and my partner Ginny and I were lucky enough to spend a couple of days there recently. Amongst all the activities that we had scheduled to cover there were two pubs I wanted to visit; they were The Eagle, which I had been to before on a couple of occasions and The Live And Let Live, a pub I had heard a lot about but had never crossed the threshold.


We arrived in Cambridge by train. The best mode of transport to use when travelling to this fair city as it’s not a particularly car friendly place. The Live And Let Live is but a short distance from the railway station, so of course it was our first port of call. It was a Sunday lunchtime. A very pleasant man behind the bar greeted us. As there were half a dozen different real ales on offer we hummed and hared for a while over what to have. In the end I plumped for a pint of Rupert’s Ruin from Springhead Brewery while Ginny went for the Nethergate Stinger.

The Rupert’s Ruin was a dark copper coloured sweetish malty bitter while the Stinger had a hint of sweetness but with a very bitter after taste that was very tamarind in style. We ordered food, Ginny went for a fishy dish while I decided that I would have Quorn bangers and mash. Quorn in the UK is a brand of ‘vegetarian meat’ – please forgive the tautology. I am no longer a vegetarian but I really fancied it. To my surprise a little while after we’d ordered the meal the chef came to the bar and asked if I wanted the normal gravy or did I want him to make some vegetarian especially. “What’s the normal gravy ?” I asked, “ Well it’s an onion gravy but it has red wine in it, which isn’t necessarily vegetarian”, he paused for a split second, “but I notice you’re drinking real ale so I guess it doesn’t matter”. I agreed. He went back to his cooking and I sat there impressed at the attention to detail. When the food arrived it was jolly good and tasty.


To wash down our lunch I had a pint of Banks & Taylor Dragon Mild, a stout-like ale without the bitterness, smooth, almost creamy. Ginny had an Everards Tiger, a golden ale of the Tanglefoot ilk, but this one had usual apple undertones. With a decor that reminds you of the inside of a wooden packing case this unassuming back street hostelry is a fantastic free house. Sunday night was spent at a John Martyn concert, singer, songwriter and guitarist extraordinaire! Followed by a ‘bag of chips’ supper from a burger van on Cambridge market, most welcome on a cold winter’s evening. Then off to bed at the Crowne Plaza. Monday lunchtime saw us heading off to the Eagle. The Eagle is an old coaching inn that dates back to the 17th century. The interior (above, right) is an interesting mix of stone floors, wood paneling, mullioned windows and wall paintings. Personally I think it has an ‘Arts and Crafts’ feel, but what do I know about history ? It’s a Greene King pub, but don’t hold that against it. I had a pint of Old Jerusalem a new beer to their stable and named after the Nottingham pub that I wrote about recently. A pleasant ale in the Old Speckled Hen mold. Greene King no longer make the most exciting range of ales but a well kept pint of their beer is still a pleasure.

Paul Goes To The Laxfield Low House, Suffolk, England

[This post was written by Paul of Bury-St.E.]


I’ve never been to a pub quite like the Laxfield Low House. First up that’s not its proper name, but it’s what the locals call it. Its official name is The Kings Head, an Adnams pub now, but it is the stuff of legend. I’ve known of it for a number of years but have never managed to get to it before now. Set in the rolling Suffolk countryside well into Adnams territory, the small hamlet of Laxfield is a picturesque gem, so it’s only fitting that it should have such a wonderful pub, and wonderful it most certainly is. The Low House is well off the beaten track.


Largely unchanged since Victorian times this is like no other pub I’ve been in. There is no bar as such, you wander into the tap room, at busy periods you queue, which comes naturally to us British, and you order the beer of your choice from a selection of five or six, straight from the barrel. Delicious ! The taproom is one of those sort of backrooms that you just know stays at a fairly constant temperature all year round. Perfect for the keeping of beer. Whilst I was waiting to be served, the gentleman in front of me, blessed with a South African accent, ordered a pint of Carling. To the uninitiated this is factory Euro-fizz lager, also brewed in the rainbow republic. I wondered what drove people to commit such acts of gross stupidity, but then I suppose it’s just asking for trouble selling the stuff in the first place.


It’s a pub of nooks and crannies; a number small rooms and snugs plus a restaurant area. A lovely fire was blazing on the Sunday we called in. Food was excellent. Dublin prawns for starters followed by a honey and mustard grilled ham chop. Unfortunately it’s a pub you have to drive to, and I was driving, so I only had the one pint. Adnams Explorer, a golden ale of some note. Not very ‘winter’, but it slipped down well all the same. There was a welcoming fire blazing in the grate of one of the larger rooms, an interesting mix of locals and tourists lingered, sipping well-kept ale. A welcoming air flows around the whole establishment. It’s appeared to be a pub for milling about, chatting and just plain soaking up the atmosphere. The walls are a busy mix of pictures, posters and rural artefacts whilst the floors are on several slightly different levels. There were a few rural artefacts sitting in chairs, chairs I suspect they occupy on a regular basis. One local character was hawking cuts of meat in the main saloon. Meat that was on display from the open tailgate of his estate car, conveniently situated opposite the front door. All an interesting slice of bucolic Suffolk life.

I want to go back soon. Better still I want to live in Laxfield.

Quick Note: 2006 Vintage Ale, Fuller’s, London, England

This one is being peddled at the LCBO right now for $6.50 for 500 ml. Nice packaging. This is bottle #65180. I have another 2006 hidden away with a 2005. Why? Because I am a nerd.

Tan frothy head over caramel ale. On the nose, just malt sweetness. Rich. Plenty of grain texture all in all and an exceptionally well hidden 8.5% with sweet malt and twiggy and slightly astringent hops on the wash around the chops. There must be more – start again. The nose is more than just sweet. There is a hay loft sort of clean organic smell. Tweedy. What about the taste? Fruit? Sultana and apple perhaps. Maybe one of those green fig varieties as well. Some smokiness as well but gentle. Black tea at the finish with creme caramel.

Some day I will do a side by side. Meantime, pick a few of these up even at this price. Thinking ale. BAers say yes.

Village Games

I was sent off on a YouTube adventure by a kind reader of note who last evening sent me emails with videos of cheese rolling attached like this one and all these.

That got me thinking that maybe there were videos of the ancient pre-football village games that happen at holidays. And there were. Like Royal Shrovetide Football you can watch here. Kind of weirdly but appropriately put to music. I think this is that game explained on wikipedia. Here is another – this from Orkney. Again set to music. Here is a web page on that game. Nothing on Winchester College Football on YouTube yet.

As we start moving from the recreational and civic holidays of the warm half of the year to the traditional holidays of the darker half, I am reminded that village and community are interesting things which are not like suburbs, workplaces or shopping malls or even families. The internet will only create real community when this sort of game starts up, including people you do not necessarily like doing things together you do not necessarily understand because you must. Maybe it has and maybe it hasn’t. Maybe that is what the Kingston Society for Playing Catch is to be. I will only know if anyone gets the hat and even then likely not.