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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.

 

 

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.

 

Jubilee!!

1 Jun

Yoo-Hoo!! The Queen.

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!

Remote Brewing – Nether Wasdale’s Strands Pub and Brewery

9 May

I probably go to the Lake District in the North West of England about once every year and a half. Each time I have been, I’ve found myself in awe at how beautiful the place is. There is something in the combination of colours, light and stone that is individual. The farmhouses and stone walls are fantastic, the walking is superb and there is plenty of good food and beer to be had to boot.

Cumbria

The West side of the lakes is less visited but equally beautiful. I started a walk from Gosforth village where I saw an excellent bakery which doubles up as someone’s home. Nice. I like that kind of thing.

Gosforth Bakery

The village itself is very pretty by normal standards but certainly not a jewel in any Cumbrian crown. My walk was through the village for about 5 miles in the direction of Nether Wasdale. Another of the great things about being in this part of the world is that the light changes every 5 minutes and the views are in a constant state of change. There are also plenty of animals to look at and, of course, plenty of animal shit to tread in. Oh the great outdoors!

Moo

Goat

Deer

Sheep

I also came across that most rare of things. A fox. Not just any fox, a fox that was actually frightened enough by your presence to bolt off into the fields on seeing you. A far cry from your urban fox with its devil-may-care attitude and its disdain for all things human (as exemplified by the holes in my garden and the ‘little messages’ left outside my front porch).

Road to Wasdale

Nether Wasdale is a stunning place and when I entered the village I came across a young man knocking posts into the ground and fixing some bunting along the roadside. ‘Why?’ I asked. Well, there was to be a May Day Fair in the village that weekend and they were expecting quite a few people. From where I’m not sure I could guess as there seemed to be more pubs in this village than houses (there were 2 pubs). Nevertheless the small green still had its maypole in good working order and apparently the local (?) children were well versed in the ways of traditional country dancing.

A signpost

All good walks in England ought to take in a pub at some point or other and mine did just that. If I’m being completely honest I’ll admit that I had slightly engineered this walk because I had heard about one of the village’s pubs, The Strands pub and microbrewery. We’ll keep quiet about that one though!

As pub location go this is up there with the best of them. We shared the pub garden with a load of hens while a group of brown cows looked over the fence at us. The views towards the mountains were great and sitting back with an ale after a bit of a trek was just what the doctor didn’t order, but I did it anyway because I’m rock and roll! So off to the bar.

Strands handpumps

There is nothing so welcoming as a line of ale pumps set on a pub bar as you walk in. In this case there were 5 from the pub’s own microbrewery. Great – Responsibly, Brown Bitter, Red Screes, Pied Piper Mild and Irresponsibly. It was nice to see a selection of different styles of beer on offer. I didn’t check the food out because I’d brought my own packed lunch (this is also rock and roll). I wasn’t entirely sure about the triangular pump clips but they did catch the eye, or rather I remembered them. The barman happily took me through the beers and made appropriate recommendations along the lines of ‘they are all nice.’ This happened to be true.

Red Screes & Irresponsibly

The beers on the right were halves because I was trying to get into the spirit of the rambler! My first half was Responsibly, again in the spirit of the rambler, a slightly hoppy, light, dare I say largery 3.7% beer.  Their website says it is slightly smoky but I didn’t really get that. I would certainly have a couple of these again though. The two in the picture are Red Screes 4.3% and Irresponsibly 5%. The Red Screes was my favourite of the three, it was tasty, refreshing and interesting. I contemplated it down to the bottom of my glass, much to the chagrin of the Profesorette, who was hoping for a little bit more adult conversation.

Being a saddo who photographs pump clips turns out well sometimes as the owner came out and told me he was setting up a tent in the garden for the next week’s beer festival and that if I gave him a few minutes he would put on all 25 pump clips for me to photograph. Now in the real world I would have taken this as a sarcastic threat but in the beer world people are genuinely nice and I took him up on the offer.

Chickens, or are they hens?

After I finished my beer, I left the Profesorette playing with the hens/chickens and joined him for a while while (ahem) he was setting up. Despite him and his co-worker looking extremely busy he stuck some pump clips on for me and let me take photos. I felt a bit guilty so rushed them. He also took me into the microbrewery where he was brewing up some Angry Bee honey beer and happily answered my questions. If I had known he was going to be so accommodating I would have prepared some more!!

Mark Corr, I believe his name is, brews around 26 beers and many of them look really interesting. Unfortunately, I won’t be there to try them all as the festival is on 11th-13th May 2012. This weekend. He brews for the pub mainly and he mentioned one other pub in another valley that he supplies to as well. He sells bottles from the pub and they are all bottle conditioned and very popular by all accounts.

It’s always quite impressive when a brewer tries his hand at so many different types of beer and even more that he manages to get different beers all ready in time for one festival. Remember they are all beers from the microbrewery and in cask form!!  Unfashionably, I love a TBB (that’s Traditional Brown Bitter apparently) and like the idea of drinking a beer called … Brown Bitter. I’d also love to get my hands on his Barley Wine (and no that isn’t a camp euphemism). There is also a cheeky lager style ale name Corrsberg. (That’s a play on words, you see his surname is Corr and there is a Danish brew…)

It’s a shame the beer is only sold in the pub but next time I go to that part of the world, I will definitely time it right so that I’m there for the festival or if not, I’ll stay the night in front of the fire after a long day walking, supping ales and waxing lyrical about the time I jumped over a stile and nearly fell full force into a great big round cow pat, and we’ll all laugh heartily!

Angry Bee in the tank

 

The cheeky one is on the left!

Pumps

More handpumps

Tea, Beer and a Mallet – 2 Great British Institutions and a potentially lethal murder weapon!

Bored yet?

 

 

If you are in the area. You won’t regret going there if not for the pub then the scenery!

The pub

The pub opposite

Things I no longer like #1

21 Apr

If being positive is all about making yourself happy, I’ve come to the realisation that moaning often makes me very happy indeed. I very much like the idea of things not being as good as they used to be as it’s something we can nearly all relate to in one way or another. We all get older after all. However, I’m going to spin that on its head and list a number of things that I used to like but don’t any more. To be fair, that’s not really spinning anything on its head but I wanted to use that phrase so I did.

Sweets

Sweets are really just poison in chewy form. I cannot imagine how I derived any pleasure from sticking a luminous rubbery hose in my mouth and masticating! Hang around groups of school kids after school and you’ll see what I mean. They stink of sweets and all have multi-coloured mouths. On second thoughts, DON’T hang around groups of school kids after school, it’s entirely inappropriate. Chocolate is not included in this category.

Shaving

When I was young, I wanted to have a five O’clock shadow more than anything else in the world, that is with the exception of a good grope with C***** P******. You’ll understand I can’t reveal details. Having stubble would be a passport into adulthood. With stubble I could buy cigarettes more easily, buy beer in the pub and more importantly finally get off with someone! I would go into the bathroom when everyone was out and try and shave the bum fluff off my face in order to stimulate more growth. Fast forward and shaving is the most boring part of the day. Even when I’m going through a positivity stage, shaving is an ordeal and expensive too! If I had a tad less self-respect and didn’t really want to maintain relationship with a woman, I might just have grown a beard by now.

Dairy Lea Cheese

Time was when I used to whoop for joy upon opening my school lunchbox and finding a silver triangle sitting there. When I used to peel apart two thin slices of bread and see the plasticky creamy stodge there, it made me feel like I’d arrived. All the other kids used to have it all the time. Mostly, I used to get this horrible, strong, ‘proper’ cheese that only grown ups liked. It used to burn my mouth!

Skin-tight Jeans

And in particular, skin-tight faded light blue jeans (don’t worry I never liked snow-washed jeans!). Everyone had them. The pleasure of squeezing your ever-growing plums into these little tubes of material and snatching yourself in the zip was one of the coolest things a growing boy could do. These days I would most likely be cautioned by the local constabulary were I to wear them.

Music Videos

Music videos were a passport into another world. A story drawing you in. Just getting a 30-second glimpse of a music video on TV was exciting back in the day. Nowadays, when I land on a music channel on the TV, the videos are all the same. Lots of people do stupid dances and make shapes with their arms behind a lead singer. The background may change but the format does not. And whatever happened to ugly pop stars, pretty people just don’t do it for me any more…… well..

Only Fools and Horses

Controversial I know, but this died a sorry death for me once Grandad left. He carried that series. Well, OK, it did have a bit more life left in it than that, but you can’t really replace a character whose middle name was Kitchener, can you? I can’t stomach watching later episodes with Cassandra and Raquel in them and as for that piss-poor Christmas special in Miami, it was like watching some you love suffering from Alzheimer’s, only not quite as bad!

Grandad AKA Edward Kitchener Rossiter

Cor Blimey!! Cockney Food Gone All Posh!

16 Apr

Didn’t we ‘ave a loverlee time!

Time was when these were a working man’s staple down in ‘ole London town. A little bit of malt vinegar and a toothpick to pull out the grit and you were away.

Dirty Whelks

Whelks are sea snails and grow around the coast of Britain and elsewhere and these days our whelks seem to have found themselves a market in South Korea. There is more information from the Marine Conservation Society here. I was actually unaware that there was any pressure on them when I bought this lot but still it’s a bit of a shame that there is no longer a natural market for them over here. Apart from some very good restaurants or the dying breed of cockney fish vans traditionally found in pub car parks, there doesn’t seem to be anything in between.

under water

I’ve eaten whelks but never cooked them. It always sounded like a bit too much effort. When I’ve had them before, they’ve been either very nice or very rubbery. Still, I couldn’t resist picking up some to see how they would turn out once placed in my foolish hands.

I said it sounded like a bit too much effort and I half still think that. Basically, this is because you have to clean the blighters forever to get rid of the grit.  Now, there is a man whose recipes I generally trust and who goes by the name of Mark Hix, you may have heard of him as he is quite famous over here, and I chose to follow a recipe of his from his book British Regional Food.

Basically, it’s a simple snails in garlic butter recipe but strike-a-light it was blummin’ long-winded. The first step was cleaning them as best you could, which I did. It has to be said they were quite dirty on the whole and it was good 10 minute job. I was glad the Profesorette wasn’t taken with the idea of having a serving or I would have had to have spent more time at the sink. They were then drained and put into a bowl with some salt and left for two hours. I was already bored by this stage but did eventually find something else to do to fill my time. After this step, you are supposed to leave them rinsing under the tap for 30 minutes but in these dry, dusty days of hose pipe bans I decided not to be quite so wasteful and just rinsed them in a couple of changes of water.

The next stage was creating the cooking liquor. 1 onion, 12 white peppercorns, fennel seeds, thyme , 1/2 lemon and some white wine were all put into a pan and the whelks were added. The pan was then topped up so they were covered with water and some salt added. This was brought to the boil before lowering the heat and simmering for 45 minutes. At this point, I was a bit worried that 45 minutes seemed a long time and that they would be sure to come out rubbery but, uncharacteristically perhaps, I stuck with the recipe.

After the 45 minutes, they were taken off the heat and allowed to cool down in the liquid for yet another hour, and to think I had originally planned to have them for breakfast! Fortunately, I was around the house most of the day yesterday so when they were cooled, I plucked them out of their shells and chopped them up, being sure to remove the foot and any grey sacks from them.

Whelks and Beer

The butter mixture was made with garlic chives, butter, lemon, salt and pepper and the meat was mixed into it. The shells were then given another clean and the mixture stuffed into them. Nearly there! Puff, deep breath!

Salt was spread along the bottom of an oven dish and the filled whelks were rested on this to prevent them slipping and the butter leaking out during baking. Needless to say, I didn’t quite get this right!

Just put the ruddy things in the oven!

Last bit!!!!! Into the oven at Gas 6/200C for 12-15 minutes and they were ready. Finally! It’s tiring me out just writing this.

Verdict/Conclusion: Really nice, better than garden snails and best of all I managed not to make them rubbery – take note Essex! However, I wish more restaurants and pubs would do them properly so I could eat more of them without having to hang around all day preparing them. Would I make them again? If I had a sous chef maybe.

Non-gritty, non-rubbery, cor blimey Whelks done all posh like!

When Mother Comes to Stay….

4 Apr

I’m not one of those who dread mother coming to stay. In fact, quite the reverse. She’s got a lot of life my mum so it’s good fun but there is an added benefit -the Professorette suddenly gets all houseproud.

Once the date has been set those abandoned pink marigolds come out along with the long-forgotten plastic bottles of strange cleaning fluid and every cupboard door in the house seems to have been left wide-open. Just last night, I walked into the kitchen only to be met by the soles of two feet saying hello from the kitchen sink cupboard  in a rather muffled manner. I must add at this point that this doesn’t happen for any logical reason because being the don of domesticity that I am, I’m usually well on top of the cleaning. Perhaps it’s a fortunate by-product of other family dynamics, fortunate for me that is.

So what to do? Do I kick back, put my feet up and tell myself that it’s my time and I deserve it or do I watch her working and pass her the odd scouring pad? Sadly, I can’t see me doing either of these……

Sorrel? What was that?

17 Mar

I’ve got this type of sorrel growing in my garden but don’t know what to do with it. Clearly, I want to eat it but it is way too bitter to put into a salad, even the smaller leaves. I want to eat everything I possibly can from my garden so feel free to chip in with ways in which I can consume it.

Sorrel

Classic Apples #1 – Egremont Russet

17 Mar

Apparently, this was ‘raised’ by Lord Egremont in the 1870s in a place called Petworth, Sussex, England. The fact that a Lord raised it makes it even more of a classic since he probably examined the skin with a monocle. This is a dry, crisp apple and is often said to be ‘nutty’. Despite the dryness of the skin this apple is a winner and is a belter in salads.

Haircut 100

16 Mar

Haircuts are funny things. No two are the same. Inane holiday conversations. No conversations. Wearing an oversized bib. Hairy men putting large razor blades to your neck. Looking at yourself in a mirror for 20 consecutive minutes.

Today I had a haircut. It was boringly weird, or weirdly boring. I can’t decide. The highlight (ahem) was when the really hairy Greek hairdresser saw it fit to surreptitiously run the clipper over my earlobe. I’d have liked it to have been an accident but I’m convinced he did it on purpose. He only did one ear and I’ve since checked my other ear and there’s definitely no sign of stubble on it. The ear he clipppered doesn’t look to have any unduly hairy remnants on it either. Perplexing stuff indeed. I’ve racked my brains and can think of no girlfriend past or present who has ever recoiled at the sight of my earlobes. My brutally frank siblings have never called me Sasquatch or Yeti and I myself have never even caught the merest glimpse of a rogue follicle. But what if he really did spot something? What if there was shaft of hair? Could it be a sign of ageing? Could be a side effect of carbohydrate restriction in my diet? Perhaps, like an elephant, I’m currently in must and am secreting large amounts of testosterone through my lobulus auriculae.  Fortunately, the hairdresser waited until the end of the cut before asking me if I wanted my eyebrows trimming.

As I said, haircuts are funny things. I just wish he’d asked me about my holidays.

Uncharted Territory

15 Mar

I am about to embark on a journey into the unknown. In my fridge, I have two bottles of gluten-free beer. One Golden Ale, one Pils. Wish me luck. I may be some time as some bloke once said!

Click here to view the new beers

Toilet Humour

9 Mar

toilet humour in prague

Northern Soul Off #2

4 Mar

Help me trim down my northern soul playlist for my next party. This is the second Northern Soul Off and I’ve updated the links on the first one, which weren’t working.

Ain’t Nothing But a Houseparty – The Show Stoppers or  I Spy for the FBI – Jamo Thomas

Both are great but I don’t have room for both.