We make the best beer in the world!

8 Oct

This is something I hear often from Czech after Czech after Czech. This week I told a Czech that I work with that I had been to a brewery open day to which the response was that this wasn’t important because it was English beer and only Czechs can make good beer and the Czechs make the best beer in the world. Full Stop.

I challenged the guy to explain himself and he was unable to name a single English beer, a single Belgian beer and didn’t know Americans made beer. OK, so I asked him to tell me about Czech beer and he told me that Pilsner Urquell was the only good beer in the world apart from Budvar.

I was recently talking to a German who swore that only German beer was worth drinking and Germans made the best beer in the world. English beer was rubbish and Belgian beer was just stupid. After some of the hangovers I’ve had, I wondered whether he had a point about the latter.

I was in the low countries of late when I bumped into an Englishman. In a land where there was plenty of choice he claimed that he was desperate for a proper beer. What do you mean by a ‘proper’ beer? Dunno, Fosters, Carling something like that. He knew what he wanted.

I’ve nothing against people’s personal choice of beers or Czech people or German people nor their respective countries, but I do find it interesting that people can be aware enough of something to shout about it from the rooftops but so unaware that they cannot recognize or accept difference, variety and quality.

I haven’t come across many Americans recently but wonder if the same blind nationalism penetrates the light discussion of what is basically a refreshingly unhealthy drink over there.



Taking my Probe out in Public!

11 Jul

Before you read on, I’d like to openly admit that this behaviour is a little on the sad side. If I were to imagine myself doing this even 5 years ago, I would be more than a tad perturbed. It’s not really the done thing to pull it out in public places, let alone dunking it in someone’s drink. My mate Bob thinks I should be locked up and is threatening to stop being my mate unless I get some help. Such things really should be confined to the privacy of your own home, he says.

Well, I’m not the only one to enjoy getting theirs out. Heston swears by his. This lady does too. However, I don’t know whether either of them have taken their probes out in public. Curiosity is a cruel mistress. It drives a man to distraction and this particular distraction began with my mate Bob whingeing about the temperature that beer was being served in pubs. My mate Bob does like it served on the cold side, whereas although I can enjoy it across a whole spectrum of temperatures, I’m more likely to whine if it is too cold.

It got me a thinkin’. Again. If I had my probe with me, maybe I could measure the temperature of the beers that we were served over the course of a night or two, come to a rather neat little conclusion and put the matter firmly (but lovingly) to bed! So that’s what I tried to do.

However, there were a few flaws in my plan. Mainly, I hadn’t bargained on all the attention pulling it out would receive. I’m quite proud of my probe and I’m not bragging but it isn’t exactly a subtle one, you can’t slip it into a pint glass unnoticed.  After the first attempt, everyone wanted a play. In the end I just had to explain to people that it was my probe and nobody was to touch it except me.

Another issue was that my probe has the appearance of an offensive weapon in some people’s eyes and I hadn’t bargained on having it confiscated by security guards at a football match. I tried to argue that it was more likely to save someone’s life than take it, especially with some of the old codgers I stand near. It held no truck with the men in black bomber jackets mind and they stood firm. Understandable in a way, I mean, you wouldn’t want me taking your temperature in the crowd with 2 minutes to go, would you? Fortunately, for me, and the world if they are remotely interested, I recovered my probe in good working order.


So what were the results, well they are either in my spare room under a mountain of paper or being recycled by the local council but the long and short of it was that all pints were not served at the same temperatures. If my memory serves me correctly, the warmest was at 16.5 degrees and was too warm to enjoy and the coolest was at 10 degrees, which was agreed to be acceptable. Those in the 11-12.5 range were perceived as the most enjoyable because you didn’t really think it was too warm or cool, you just got on with enjoying them!!

Needless to say, I won’t be repeating the exercise!!

Identify my plant dot com (2)

11 Jul

This one seems to be growing and self-seeding very merrily around my herbs. I don’t know whether it is useful or should be obliterated (weeded)? The closest guess using a book is that it is Mugwort but I don’t know for sure. It smells quite nice. Is it good or safe to eat? Is it good for the herbs around it? MMmmm…..

On a different note, I’ve just seen rainbow number 10 of the week!




Identify my plant dot com (1)

11 Jul

What with all this rain we’ve been getting here, the weeds have been having a rum old son and dance. I thought it was high time I went out into the garden again and did some weeding, and so to the devil with the rain! It’s a tiresome process I can tell you, the little bleeders just pop up again when you turn your back. If only my vegetables did the same, I thought. One thought quickly led to another and it came to mind that I could just leave them if they were edible, and munch them at a later date rather than bother pulling them up and getting my fingernails dirty.

One small problem though…confidence! How would I know if it could poison me or not…. Put it on the blog and ask, why not? came the reply.

With that in mind, if anyone could shed any light on this I’d be grateful because I want to eat it!


Can I eat it?

It’s certainly doing better than my spinach. I have done some research and think it may be Good King Henry or something called Fat Hen.

Requiem for the Front Garden

22 Jun

What are you doing people? Everywhere I look I see the same thing –  the demise of the front garden. These are sorry times. The craze of all things paved is slowly creeping across our entire island. Soon there will be just houses and double driveways with not an inch of space left for a green shoot to pop out for some light relief. Tarmac, Paving, even Concrete allowing more cars and less water to drain down into the water tables and so on to our reservoirs.

Houses in the suburbs were built to have gardens, little fences, gates and above all, a little slice of vegetation. Houses in the suburbs now have rock-hard open driveways and exposed house fronts revealing ugly lines, and, where there is no car, a skip.



2 Jun

Just thinking about nutrition, which, despite all my blethering on about beer, does concern me, I came across this post on Glen Pendlay’s Blog. The comments section makes fantastic reading with lots of interesting ideas and opinions, along with a bit of spam! I liked it so much I wanted to post it here too.

I myself do eat in a particular way but have resisted going on about  it here as I don’t want to come across all evangelical and would also feel a little hypocritical eulogizing about beer and trying to promote a way of eating as healthy. For the record, I don’t think there are real health benefits to beer and I no longer kid myself that there is (I used to). I do still enjoy the culture that surrounds it and like the taste!


1 Jun

Yoo-Hoo!! The Queen.

Low ABV disillusionment!

28 May

Today I’m a little dissatisfied with the beer world. After enjoying a lovely beer from the Kernel Brewery in the garden, and then another, I found myself feeling a bit skew whiff (if that’s how you spell it!). This narked me somewhat as I would have like to have continued out there, drinking lovely beer after lovely beer until the sun went down unaffected. It seems to be a sad fact of life that if you really want to hit those heights in your beer, alcohol is necessary. I’m not 16 any more. I don’t drink beer (more or less my only vice these days) just to get swerved up. I like to enjoy it and when I do it doesn’t seem fair that I have to stop.

If I had one wish it would be that someone would brew a really low ABV beer that tasted magnificent and different. Yeah! You can keep your world peace, cutting greenhouse emissions and cures for yellowfoot!!

I might feel differently tomorrow….

Silly Pils, Silly Photos!

23 May

Beermerchants.com sell beer. A lot of nice beer. I’ve ordered beer from them before, it’s been prompt and I have been pretty satisfied with the service. Buying online does tend to put you on mailing lists and you do get a few mails from time to time. In the case of Beermerchants it’s not such a bad thing as the mails can keep you abreast of some developments in the beer world (i.e. new stuff they’re selling, or old). How else would I have been dumbfounded by the idea of Orval coming in cans.

Well, when I received their latest e-mail where they were doing a special offer on Silly Pils, I got a bit spooked out. The photo at the top of the ‘brewsletter’ looked as if it had been taken in my back garden. Closer inspection seems to reveal that it had been, on a table in front of my heather!

The thought of them sneaking round to do a photo shoot for Silly Pils while I was out crossed my mind but I quickly told myself not to be a plum. Then I realised… I’d posted the photo on this sight before!! They must have lifted it.

To be honest, it wasn’t exactly a great picture and they must have thought the same because they’ve done some rather nasty photoshopping on it!! However, I don’t know whether to be indignant that they are using it to make money from or take it as a compliment.

At the end of the day, I think I’ll just think nothing!


Excited? The Return of Kevin Rowland – the Brummy Irish James Brown!

23 May

There’s a buzz on the streets of on the streets of England. That buzz created by the forthcoming release of what promises to be another amazing, tortuous Dexy’s Midnight Runners album, One Day I’m Going to Soar. Except it isn’t quite, this time the amazing Kevin Rowland has opted to call the band Dexys, which most people did anyway.

I’m sure that if Kevin Rowland read the title of this post, he would give me a big kick in the shins with his two-tone brogues. But make no mistake, I meant it in the best possible way, I’m comparing him with the Minister of the New, New, Superheavy Funk. The Professor is very happy about this new coming.

The last album was way back 1985. Back then, I don’t think I would have understood the cult of Dexy’s Midnight Runners. It was only about 12 years ago when I first considered buying some of their music as before that time I had only associated Come on Eileen with shitty nightclubs or tacky DJs. I was heavily into my funk and soul music at the time and kept hearing these rumours that their first album, In Search of the Young Soul Rebelswas actually pretty good. I was curious.

I’ve always had a light-hearted side and an intense side. The intense side of me is reflected in the types of books, films and a lot of the music I like. After buying the CD in a CD/Record shop (remember them?), I took it home and put it on. I was slightly perplexed because it didn’t quite fit into any category I was listening to at the time, it was punky, poppy, soulful and powerful. Above all, it was one of the most intense albums I had ever heard. Like all good albums it just got better and better and better with every play and was permanently in my CD player for months and months and months and months (I could go on but I wasn’t actually counting at the time). At one point, I almost felt bad if I couldn’t play it or had decided to put on something else. I even took it with me on a trip to Copenhagen and got the barman in a pub to put it on for me. At this point in my life, I hadn’t been obsessed with any album for a long, long time. How do you top that? I thought or rather I would have thought if I hadn’t been consumed by the music. How do you top that? I say with the benefit of hindsight, this is/was as good as it gets!!

One day I was browsing a charity shop in Trinity Road, Tooting Bec, just up from the Wheatsheaf pub and I flicked through the selection of old Herb Alpert and Tijuana Brass and Top of the Pops 70s records. All of a sudden, I came across a creamy green album cover with what looked like a poor destitute hillbilly on the front cover. It was Too-Rye-Ay and that poor destitute hillbilly man was none other than Kevin Rowland!! Oddly, such was the influence of Come on Eileen upon my subconscious that I still hadn’t considered buying this, thinking that it was just a collection of records destined for middle-aged, middle-of-the-road parties or for girls with white handbags. I coughed up my £1, bought it and it must rank as one of my best ever purchases and definitely way above my Hopsack beige Farahs!

From the moment it starting revolving around my turntable I knew it was to be something special. Famously, in the 1986 World Cup TV coverage, co-commentor David Pleat said of Maradona that he believed he had just dethroned Pele. I myself screamed ‘I don’t believe it, they’ve just dethroned In Search of the Young Soul Rebels!’  It’s true there were a few more syllables in my exclamation than David’s but I don’t think it was any less effective for it, particularly as no one else was in the house at the time.

Now I had even seen (heard) Come on Eileen on its own terms and loved it. I was and still am obsessed with this album. Many times the Profesorette would come down the stairs to find out what all the racket was at 2 am only to find me dancing and singing along to Too-Rye-Ay in me underpants!!! I say singing along but if you’ve ever heard Kevin Rowland sing then you’ll know that there is quite a bit of wailing to be had. It is an all-consuming record for me and was ever difficult not to listen to the album in its entirety.

Dexy’s went on to release another quite stunning album in 1985 called Don’t Stand Me Down, this was an altogether slower burner for me but equally brilliant. All three of these albums have their own individual character and are pure class. The last was a very mature offering which I like to savour, much like a Thomas Hardy Vintage Ale, opting not to dance to it in my undergarments and preferring instead to listen to it in the bath or when I’m chopping onions (cooking and music are happy bedfellows in my opinion, or in this case, rather intense bedfellows since they both make your eyes water).

In the interests of balance, I should probably point out at this point that all that Kevin Rowland has done has not been perfect and sometime after Dexy’s disbanded there was a slightly odd cover album that he did with an ‘interesting’ choice of songs and a rather unnerving video for the song Concrete and Clay. Watch it for yourself if you dare but don’t come running to me if you can’t get to sleep tonight.

Dark days indeed for a fallen legend. Nevertheless genius doesn’t die, it just has tea and biscuits. And after the calamity of the rich tea falling into the teacup has come a whole new freshly brewed pot of organic fairtrade Lapsan Souchong. Yes, Dexys have been revived by a rejuvenated band leader and by all accounts the new record is every bit a Dexys classic. I’ll have to see (hear) about that but the early noises bouncing around the internet are very promising indeed.

So have I whet your appetite or are you still suffering from the prejudices of their past success? Conversely, maybe you just think they are shit? (Idiot)


Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant

22 May

Ghent, in Belgium for the ignorant, has many plus points for someone like me. First of all, it is very close by. Well, that’s relative I suppose. It’s not that close but it is only 3 train rides away (Lots of my favourite London locations are 3 train rides away.) and one of those is the Eurostar, which is mildly pleasurable with the exception of its poisonous buffet carriage. Secondly, it’s architecturally beautiful and historical. I haven’t ranted on too much about architecture but no doubt will do in future, from a layman’s perspective. It’s also a student location, which lends it a little more life to the old place. It’s a bit more real than it’s more celebrated cousin Bruges. Thirdly, and rather obviously, it has some great Belgian beer!

If you have ever seen the film In Bruges with Colin Farrell, who is actually quite good in it, you’ll recognise Bruges as being both really interesting but really boring and conservative in equal measures. This is also true of Ghent. However, there is enough sexy beer in sexy beer glasses to keep my attention for a day or too. It’s always nice to have a decent beer list in any restaurant or cafe you rock up to. Something that here, through snobbery, foolhardiness and a tendency not to celebrate things we do well, is only just appearing in restaurants. There are some good pubs/bars there too, many institutions that you have to (try to) visit.

Het Waterhuis aan Bierkant

Situated on the canal just along from the market, Het Waterhuis aan Bierkant is a fairly busy place in town. In the daytime when we were there, it was just too busy, being a bank holiday and all. Roll forward a few hours and the crowds had fallen away revealing quite a chilled out little bar. The weather was a little balmy before moving aside for a short rainstorm, which looked almost romantic on the surface of the canal from the pub window.

The service was interesting in the bar. You had to order from behind the counter and then the barman would sort out your drinks before giving them to the waiter who brought them to your table where you paid. I’m sure there is logic there somewhere, maybe they like you to have a seat before serving you.

The beer list was pretty immense and you can check it out on the website. However, what are the chances of me having all those beers in an evening. I had to choose something that I hadn’t had before, I always have to, which is a bit of a chore at times.


There was also a good mix of ages in the place, something I would aim for if I ever opened a pub. The locals were very friendly and were happy to help out with information and a little bit of banter. I’m a sucker for a bit of memorabilia really, or brewerania as some call it, and there were some good little bits and bobs around the place including this:

Xmas box!

I was reliably informed by one of the locals that this was a savings box. Regulars would have a slot where they would put some money aside over the year and it would only be opened around Christmas time, presumably for an almighty blowout in the pub itself. If you ask me, it sounds like a bit of a ruse by the publican to ensure the punters don’t go home with their own change in case they should spend it on the kids or something equally disturbing.

Reinaert Gran Cru

The above beer was fairly interesting. A 9.5% dark beer which was sweet and spicy smelling but with an underlying sourness. It was a thoughtful beer or rather a thought-provoking beer. It provoked me into thinking what I should go for next. After all the talk of choosing beers I hadn’t had before, I went for an old favourite in Saison Dupont. A marvellous choice it was too. I always think of straw bales and barns when I have this beer and it never lets me down. If I were to write tasting notes for this one they would be along the lines of .. bloody lovely  mmm straw bales! It’s quite easy to get my mitts on over here too so I did feel a little guilty choosing it from such an extensive menu. But I wanted it.

Brewerania that you can’t see very well. Still it looks chunky enough.

Overall, I liked the bar, liked the beer and enjoyed the company!!

No more charity bags please!!

16 May

They’ve forced me into it. Although I clearly am a bit grumpy at times, I’m not that bad. The measure that I took today, however, will tell every passer-by that I am a miserable old sod!

Recycling plastic bags is a pain in the neck at the best of times. I do try not to take them in shops and often get shopkeepers to empty them when they have decided to put a single onion in one, which actually happens. Nevertheless, there are times when I either have to take the bag or don’t buy what I need and risk castigation from the Profesorette. Then they build up and clog up the house as I wait until I make the next trip to a recycling area.

So what I don’t need is random delivery people dropping 4 charity bags a day into my porch. Random charities, some I’ve never heard of and have no explanation for. Now initially I felt a little guilty doing this, after all it’s for charity and I should show some good will and take them in every week and dispose of them because it’s for charity and … because it’s for charity. Well, why have I been conditioned to think like that? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not uncharitable at all (that’s what they all say!) but they don’t even come and collect the bloody things! Along with being bothered by those chuggers three times a day, five times a week I think such practices can easily create resentment towards some groups who clearly feel they are doing some good. Perhaps the bags would be put to better use by putting them over the heads of said chuggers so we don’t have to see those nasty, spray-on smiles of theirs!

I typed up a new notice for the front door today and it read:

Bugger off unless I know your first name and don’t even think about going near the letterbox unless you are the postman, otherwise I may spit in your eye!

I was, however, persuaded to change this to something a little less confrontational!

A Tale of Two Stations

14 May

I like St Pancras station.

I do not like Brussels Midi station.

St Pancras station has a lovely roof.

Brussels Midi has concrete and washing up bowls catching the rainwater as it leaks through to the basement.

This is not a poem!!

Brussels Midi does serve this beer in one of life’s more preposterous receptacles though. Every cloud!


All that is Belgium, is not gold!!

14 May

This stuff …

Bellegems Witbier

…. tasted like it had been squeezed out of a ewe’s bladder!!

While that’s certainly no mature verdict on a beer, it does express my profound disappointment upon tasting it. However, top marks must be added for the faux heather (?) and label matching.

The Humble Beer Mat

13 May

I take it all back. A while back I had a rant about ‘real ale’ in which I touched on the ludicrousness of collecting beer mats, actually I didn’t say anything about beer mat collecting but in my head I was suggesting that it was ludicrous and I questioned the need for this particular book.


While I still feel it’s a little on the pricey side, I take back all I err thought on the subject. Basically, I was in a pub in Peckham way, I went to the toilet and came across this beer mat wall.

Beer mat wall

Not only did I think it looked great, it was interesting to look through the designs and see how the brands had changed. As well as pushing a few nostalgia buttons, it also made me remember that I like seeing pump clips plastered around pubs, many of them are great design!

From another angle

So I suppose the message is – keep collecting those beer mats!

Cheese of the Moment #4

13 May

I always enjoy a farmers market. Yesterday the Traditional Cheese Dairy were in town again. The cheesemaker was keen to offer us some of his … cheese to taste. This time it was called Burwash Rose, a nice semi-soft cheese again from East Sussex, it was quite squelchy in texture.

This cheese came with a little romantic story. Mr Cheesemaker told me it was called Burwash Rose because it originated in the town of Burwash and it is washed in rosewater during the maturation process. Say what you like, but you don’t get more romantic than that.

Well you do as it happens because the jolly man on the stall went on to tell us that this particular cheese has its origins way back in 1211 although that date could be wrong, he definitely said it was 12 something or 11 something. Whatever year it was it was a long time ago. He said he discovered it in a very old recipe book from an Abbey, again I can’t remember which Abbey but for some reason Nottinghamshire keeps popping into my head. He took the recipe and started making the cheese and there you have it. Originally, he added, the cheese was named Abbot’s Delight but they changed the name because they didn’t want people to get the impression they were in the habit of selling small boys! He then winked or I might have added that for dramatic effect.

I’m a sucker for such romance so this is my cheese of the moment.


Not my pic