Saturday, 6 February 2016

Beer In Essex: Brentwood Reclaimed

Beer In Essex
Brentwood Reclaimed
A Local Odyssey

At the beginning of January I was asked if I'd like to contribute to this years #tryanuary campaign by writing a few words for the website as a guest blogger. Obviously I wanted to do something Essex-related but I also wanted to do something that I hadn't done before, something new. That is after all the essence of #tryanuary. Luckily for me my inspiration was close at hand, and I decided to revisit, rediscover and in some cases uncover some of the pubs that I had in my local town that I didn't know.

With one exception, which reveals itself instantly, I hadn't drunk in any of these pubs for at least ten years if at all. 

Unfortunately time restraints meant that they didn't all make the blog but they're all here, and for me they have become: Brentwood Reclaimed.

The Brewery Tap

Towards the bottom of King Street, less than a minute from the Brewery Tap. Once part of A. Fielder and Company, brewers, before the rest of the site was converted into shops in the late 1920s, the actual pub building and layout remain unchanged.

I used to drink in here when we first moved to the area as an old school friend used to live next door, but it’s been more than a decade since I last crossed the threshold. It’s not changed much, which is to its credit, and as I sit here on a Wednesday afternoon I reckon it’s not a bad place to be.

There’s a group of men aged 35-50 discussing the latest episode of Countdown whilst three women in the corner are gossiping about mutual friends, a half of lager each and a few empty packets of crisps sit ignored on the table in front of them.

Aside from Timothy Taylor’s Landlord there’s Fuller’s London Pride, Adnams Ghost Ship and Southwold Bitter on the bar. The beer tastes good, and as I drain my glass I wish I had more time. It’s been a while since I’ve been in here, but it won’t be too long before I’m back.

The Victoria Arms

Just around the corner from the Sainsbury’s superstore, tucked snugly into its space on the Ongar Road is the Victoria Arms.
Built in the late 1860s this Victorian boozer, a Gray & Sons tied house, could make a very good case for being the most aesthetically pleasing of all of Brentwood’s pubs. Head inside, through the unusual internal porch and you’ll discover that it’s bigger inside than it looks from the street, cleaner and brighter too.

The interior is split into two distinct sections, and although you can freely between them now it’s not difficult to spot where the central corridor once led to a Tap Room on the left and a Saloon Bar on the right. Look back from the bar and you can see the writing on the period etched windows confirms this.

Six hand pumps greet you, and I’m told that there’s a fair chance that you’ll find a beer from an Essex brewery on one of them. There’s four beers from Cornwall, two each from Sharp’s and Skinners, Greene King IPA and Maldon’s Farmers Golden Boar, on the bar when I pop in at lunchtime, and if you’re so inclined Heineken’s Meister lager provides a drinkable alternative to some of the usual brands.

A mix of ages of both sexes occupy the tables that keep to the edges of the room, eating, drinking and talking, each absorbed in their own company.

I take my pint and retreat to a table near the door to observe the comings and goings, content to watch the world go by for half an hour or so. The woman who served me comes out from behind the bar to clean the tables as soon as the patrons leave, smiling happily to herself as she does so.

I rather like the Victoria Arms and I’m guessing you will too.

The Artichoke

Standing like a guardian at the gateway to the town, The Artichoke has seen some changes in the two centuries of its existence.

Viewed from the busy crossroads that quarters Shenfield Common the uninformed visitor would never guess it’s true, older identity as, following a mysterious roof fire in July 2000, Mitchell and Butler’s reduced then removed that name from the building completely.

It’s a Toby Carvery now, Home of the Roast, it proudly proclaims, and it’s a bustling temple to the most traditional of English fare from breakfast time through to dinner and beyond. Cars pull in and cars pull out from the featureless car park behind the pub disgorging their passengers before waiting silently for them to return on this asphalt wasteland where, a mere stone’s throw away, 19 year old William Hunter was burnt at the stake during the reign of Bloody Mary for refusing to retract his Protestant beliefs.

Brentwood school is just next door, counting Douglas Adams, Hardy Amies, Robin Day, Griff Rhys Jones, Noel Edmunds and Keith Allen amongst its illustrious and not-so alumni. I’m given to wonder how many of them may have sneaked out of the dormitory for a clandestine pint or two in the later years of their attendance.

I doubt that they’d find much there to excite them today.

The polish gold metal fonts dispense Stella Artois, Carling, Carlsberg and Magners cider, Tetley Bitter and Fuller’s London Pride all on keg. I ask if they have any cask or interesting bottled beer, they don’t so I opt for a half of the latter.

It’s a soulless food factory now, designed to satisfy but not to be enjoyed as a pub should. There’s nobody waiting for anyone to arrive, no groups gathering for a drink before a night out, no clubs or associations meet here and the token bar seating area to the right of the door goes unnoticed by those waiting to be seated at the sign they must obey.

I have no reason to linger, so I drink quickly and leave. I don’t look back.

The Robin

There’s been a beer house on this site for at least the last three hundred years, and in a survey of businesses in 1788 it was notable for being the only one of eleven public house not on the High Street. It was known as the Robin Hood then, and more recently the Robin Hood and Little John, however a makeover and a change of name from legendary benevolent outlaw to red-breasted Christmas bird has given the building a different feel.

I recall the Robin Hood and Little John having a dubious reputation, but recent refurbishments have transformed the place I’m told by Tara who works behind the bar and is happy to chat and extol its virtues.

It’s a Heineken pub, not a temple of beer with Heineken, Amstel and Moretti on keg, and Deuchars IPA and Old Speckled Hen are the only cask beers (“because they sell well” I’m told) although they are occasionally replaced with seasonal variations.

A television opposite the bar shows Sky Sports, but it’s unobtrusive and I barely notice the sound coming from it despite me being the only customer. The interior is smart, light, clean and spacious, and the central bar is accessible from two of the three distinct areas that were once separate rooms. That was several alterations ago and you can walk between them easily now.

Situated on the main Ongar to Tilbury road along which once timber from Epping Forest was taken down to the docks, it’s taken me ten minutes to walk here from the centre of town so I’m in need of a drink. The Caledonian Deuchars IPA is the only sensible choice as far as I’m concerned and I’m delighted to find that it’s well kept and sparklingly bight.

The menu is American inspired; burgers hot dogs, pulled pork and chilli, but a packet of Monster Munch is enough for me today, and I make my way to a table near the door to devour them hungrily. After taking a delivery Tara returns and engages me if conversation once more and we happily put the world to rights chatting about local pubs, many of which she’s worked in, until it’s time for me to leave.

The Robin is the furthest pub in Brentwood from where I live and the beer range isn’t exciting enough to entice me across town often, but if I’m passing and want a place to rest and chat then I just might pop in.

The Gardeners Arms

In the oldest part of Brentwood, just behind the High Street, you’ll find the Gardeners Arms.

Built in the early eighteenth century as a workhouse for the poor of the parish, it fell under the ownership of the Billericay Union Workhouse in 1835 before being sold as an inn two years later.

It stood on Back Street in those days and overlooked fields leading to Thorndon Woods, but times change and so did the name of the road and it now stands stoically on Hart Street whilst giggling day trippers on their TOWIE tour scuttle briskly past on their way to the Crown Street boutiques.

The first thing I notice on entering is how dingy the place is.

I cross to the bar and have a choice of Greene King IPA or Sharp’s Doom Bar so I opt for a half of the latter. It’s poured in silence, the barman only speaking to tell me the price, and he takes my money and retreats to a stool on the other side of the counter.

Two men who look to be in their early sixties sitting adjacent to where I stand stop talking whilst I’m at the bar, only resuming their conversation when I’ve taken my beer to a far table.

The horseshoe shaped seating area was clearly once two separate bars, lit only by eight dim lamps, a fruit machine, five keg founts and two large televisions showing an R&B music channel. The barman is listening to talk radio from a old transistor and it sounds as if it’s coming from the inside of a wet cardboard box.

The beer is passable if unremarkable so I quickly finish the last third and head out into the rain.

The Rising Sun

It’s unusual for a pub to open in the middle of the afternoon these days. Three o’clock used to be the time when last orders were called not so long ago, but from Monday to Friday this is the time that the first pint of the day is pulled in the Rising Sun.

Noted as a “beer shop” in an Essex Chronicle report of 1851 and a quarter of a century later as a “beer house”, the current building dates from 1912 when the original was demolished and rebuilt in what was its own garden to accommodate the widening of the Ongar to Tilbury road on which it stands.

It is currently the only pub in Brentwood to feature in the Good Beer Guide and consists of two rooms with very separate uses. One is the lounge with a scattering of tables and chairs as well as some stools at the bar, whilst just beyond a smaller brighter space has two dart boards and a fruit machine.

Five hand pumps are arrayed in front of me as I enter, with Timmy Taylor’s Landlord, Fuller’s London Pride and Sharp’s Cornish Coaster permanent fixtures with the other two usually featuring a local beer, at least one of which is from the nearby Brentwood Brewery.

It’s obviously a regulars pub as everybody seems to know everyone who comes and goes, and although I don’t fall into that category they’re friendly enough and don’t seem bothered that I have entered their midst. It’s relaxed, and I feel comfortable taking my pint to a nearby table to watch the evening unfold.

It’s fairly busy, not overly so but steady enough and I find myself wishing this pub was on my walk home rather than being in completely the opposite direction.

I can’t think why I’ve never been in here before and order myself another pint. I could be here a while.

The Nags Head

Although technically in the parish of South Weald, the Nags Head is the first pub that you pass should you pull off the M25 at junction 28 and head towards Brentwood itself.
Originally a rural public house on the main route from London to Colchester, ownership can be traced back to 1826, it stands close to the crossing of two major roads, the M25 and the A12.

It’s a large brick building with an even larger car park, a destination for diners rather than the thirsty forest and field workers of times past.

Heading up some steps to the pub itself it has the feel of a slightly up market carvery rather than a pub and my suspicions are confirmed as I head inside.

For half past two on a Thursday afternoon it’s surprisingly busy and I have to wait a few minutes for a table as my companion and I have come down for a late lunch.

There’s a small but comfortable seating and waiting area before you get to the desk of the table manager and the bar, and it’s bright and clean inside with wooden floors and muted tones. It’s efficient but relatively informal.

A varied crowd of reasonably-dressed people have clearly made a little effort to come out to eat and chatter comfortably as they eat, office workers, two elderly ladies, young families and a group out for a birthday lunch are occupy the tables around us.

There are two hand pumps on the bar, Doom Bar and Broadside, and it’s the latter I fancy and order a pint. When it arrives it’s a little flat but palatable and not in the greatest condition. If I’d have thought about it then perhaps I should have gone for the Sharp’s beer, being the lighter of the two it probably turns over a little quicker.

The food however is good, tasty and relatively reasonably priced with the triple-cooked chunky chips in particular being very nice indeed, but we’re on limited time and we eat up hungrily and go.

I’d come back for food, but not for beer, and as it’s quite a walk from both where I live and the town centre I doubt I’ll return soon. Strangely a small part of me finds that a bit of a shame.

The Hutton Junction, Hutton

It’s Wednesday night and I’ve arrived back at Shenfield station a little earlier than I expected. Finding myself with a half hour to call my own I forgo my usual route up Mount Avenue, push on past my turning and head to the Hutton Junction.

Dating from at least the mid 1880s when the local railway station had the rather longer name of Shenfield and Hutton Junction due to the fact that it lies on the parish boundary of both, you’ll notice that it’s not actually a Brentwood pub. I’m sure you’ll forgive me this indiscretion as it’s a pub I’ve not visiting it before despite working just up the road for six years and only being a half hour walk from the centre of Brentwood itself.

It’s a Gray’s pub now, one always meant to go in but never quite made it. A ‘not quite but nearly’ pub that always fell at the final hurdle.

Tonight I bite an eighteen year bullet (I don’t live that far away either), head inside … and wonder why it’s taken me so long.

Walking up to the bar, the conversation around me is relaxed and friendly and the smile I get from the woman who serves me puts me at ease in an instant.

There are five cask beers to choose from this evening, Greene King IPA, Pendle’s Blonde Witch, Belhaven Burns Ale, Greene King XX Mild, and the beer I opt for Cottage’s Full Steam Ahead. I take my pint to the only unoccupied table and take a seat just as the bell for last orders rings.

Looking around the sounds are muted and respectful considering the late hour, and I recognise the faces of a few customers from work and one or two others who live locally. We smile and nod and carry on. No more is necessary.

I finish my pint and wind my way home just as the glasses are being collected. The perfect end to a good evening. I make a mental note to get a slightly earlier train home next time I’m in London so that I can squeeze in just one more drink at the Hutton Junction.

The Spread Eagle

All journeys, whether good or bad end with a return home. Or at least to somewhere you feel at home.

The Spread Eagle is that place for me. It’s not my closest pub, but it’s on my journey home, and in recent times and due to recent changes it has become my local.

It’s one of those pubs that, if you didn’t know it was there then you’d easily miss it. A stark white mid-Victorian building its triangular shape at a slight angle to both Queens Road and Coptfold Road at whose apex junction it sits.

Familiar places, familiar faces.

Head inside and look left to see a narrowing seating area with wooden tables of various heights, mis-matched chairs and an out-of-tune piano. Off to the right it opens out a little, and even though there’s slightly less seating it’s more comfortable and relaxed.

In front of you is the bar which has a few high stools, and on which stands three hand pumps serving draught Bass, Sharp’s Atlantic and Adnams Broadside, all kept in immaculate condition by Jack, an experienced landlord despite his relatively young years. The keg fonts have Shipyard IPA and Greene King East Coast, with Estrella, Amstel, Moretti and Staropramen the lager options, but you might see Brooklyn Lager in the place of the latter in the not-too distant future.

Bottles from Brewdog, Sierra Nevada, Goose Island and Curious Brew can be found in the fridge, offering a safe but tasty diversion if you’d like a change from the usual.

My usual is the Atlantic, at least for my first drink, and I ordered a pint when I came in. It tastes great and after a minute or replying to a work email I wander over to the bar for a chat with Jack, and we swap anecdotes whilst he expands on ideas he has for the place we’ve discussed on a few occasions.

A visit from Greene King head brewer John Bexon was well received, and the first of the brewing / home brewing club meetings due to take place of the 15th February has attracted a lot of interest from local home-brewers, commercial brewers and even further afield.

I return to my seat as there are customers requiring service, and I look around the bar with a contented sigh as soft soul music plays in the background. I finish my drink and decide whether to have another or head home. Looking at my watch it’s later than I thought. Maybe just a half.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Beer In Essex: Beer Brothers - Saffron Brewery

Beer In Essex
Beer Brothers
Saffron Brewery

It's mid-November, and there's a definite chill in the air as I walk down the drive of Parsonage Farm towards the Saffron Brewery, the imposing shadow of the church of St Mary the Virgin blocking out the sun making it just that little bit colder.

I've made the visit to Henham, a small picturesque Essex village that is by distance a few miles north of Stansted Airport although a world away in time, with David Ginn of Essex Food. He has kindly driven us both there, and after a brief stop to take some photographs of the 'chocolate-box' thatched cottages across the village green we find ourselves right on time for our midday appointment.

I went to a meet-the-brewer that Saffron did in Chelmsford in the summer and recognise James as we get nearer, pacing up and down outside the main entrance with his mobile phone glued to his ear. He waves his acknowledgement but continues his earnest conversation before finishing abruptly and shaking our hands warmly introducing himself. Another door opens, from what I later learn is the office and shop, and his brother Ed appears rolling up his sleeves and shakes our hands too.

The warmth of the welcome and the ease with which we fall into conversation has made me briefly forget the temperature outside, but after chatting for about ten minutes or so we all decide that it's best if we head inside.

The first phase of Saffron Brewery started in May 2006 when the then owner and brewer Tony Barrett launched its first official beer at the 33rd Cambridge Beer Festival. The beers soon developed a strong local following and sold well, so much so that the only pub in Henham, the Cock Inn just across from the brewery, continued to stock it despite being ordered not to by Punch Taverns.

Tony was joined soon after by Dave Hill in order to expand the business, and he took over control of the operation, briefly sharing the site with Bishop Stortford Brewery, before the Hoskins family stepped in and bought Saffron outright in 2013.

I ask them why they decided to go into brewing, and James informs me that it was a natural progression for him. "I'd run the pub (the St. Radegund in Cambridge) since 2009, and before that I was in the building trade. We used to stock the beers, and when the opportunity came up it seemed like the logical thing to do."

Despite some early problems, they managed to get the brewery how they wanted it and began adding some of the beers that they wanted to brew to the range that they inherited. As with many smaller regional breweries however, they don't get to experiment as much as they'd, or at least Ed, would like.

"We have our core beers and our seasonals, and they are proving very popular," he tells me, "and when you have a limited amount of kit it's hard to find time to plan and brew another beer. Our customers ask us for specific beers, and we don't want to let them down."

I get a sense that Ed would like to brew a few more different beers though and occasionally gets his own way, the recent Saffron Galaxy with its distinctive sci-fi themed label being particularly memorable, the Galaxy hop's beautiful passion fruit and mango flavour, its tropical aroma bursting from the glass.

They've also recently brewed their first collaboration beer with Daniel Neilson of Original Gravity magazine and comedian Ed Byrne. "Humour Me" is described as a golden harvest ale, based on their Saffron Blonde with a higher caramalt content, but this has fermented out beautifully leaving a deliciously lingering brown sugar sweetness. If you're lucky you might still find some bottles out there, I believe Ales By Mail have some, but it sold very briskly I'm told.

Inevitably I have to ask them what's next.

James becomes quite guarded here, and pauses before answering, choosing his words carefully.
"Well, we already have the St. Radegund in Cambridge as our brewery tap, but we're in the process of buying and converting a new pub locally, just outside Saffron Walden (from which the brewery gets its name) but I don't want to say too much about that at this stage, just in case."

That pub is the Bluebell Inn, in Hempstead, Essex, I can now reveal, and will hopefully be opening relatively soon so keep an eye on their website for details of that.

As far as beer is concerned, I'm told that they will be trying a few different things in January and February with a Pilsner-style lager and 6-7% abv US-style hoppy IPA beers to look out for.

The afternoon passes quickly in beer and conversation, particularly as we are generously treated to a tasting of the full bottled range. I make some cursory tasting notes and buy quite a few, ready for the third and final part of my Essex bottled beer series which you can expect to see in a month or two.

We take some final pictures and head off home just as the sun is setting on what has been a thoroughly enjoyable day. I hadn't written too much down but I was taking away some good memories, as well as a very heavy bag full of beer.

It's been two months since my visit and things have moved on apace. There's more to come from Saffron Brewery and you'll be hearing from me again soon about some quite exciting developments. Watch this space, as they say.

Saffron Brewery can be found at:
The Cartshed,
Parsonage Farm,
CM22 6AN
Tel. 01279 850923
On twitter at: @SaffronBrewery and on Facebook at: Saffron Brewery

They have a shop on site where you can buy bottles, glasses and mini-casks, and will be hosting a series of tasting evenings at the brewery itself the first of which was on 22nd January, so if you're in the area or just fancy an evening in the Essex countryside with an extra attraction then keep an eye on their website for further details.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

#12EssexBeersofChristmas The Twelfth Day - Twelfth Night

The Twelve Essex Beers of Christmas

It's the Twelfth Day of Christmas, or Twelfth Night or Epiphany if you's prefer, and it's time for my last entry of this Essex seasonal selection, and the beer I've chosen is particularly apt for the day.

As it's the last day I'm going to take this opportunity to look forward to some of the things that I'll be up to for @BeerInEssex this year.

You can expect quite a few features on Essex Breweries as I'll be getting out and about to bring you more stories from our county's brewers starting with Saffron who I visited towards the end of last year. I'll also be finishing off my guide to Essex bottled beer starting with Pitfield/Dominion and finishing with Wibblers, hopefully finding a few gems along the way.

I have a couple of projects that I'm hoping to come to fruition, some of which are in the very early stages but could prove to be rather exciting but we'll have to wait and see. I'm also planning to brew again this year, and a beer with Billericay Brewing has been in the pipeline for a while and if everything falls into place we hope to have it available at the Chelmsford Winter Beer Festival in February.

That's all to come and I'll hope you'll join me, or at least look in from time to time, but for now the time has come to open one final Essex Christmas Beer.

The Twelfth Day, Twelfth Night:
George's Brewery - Balthazar's Feast 9.0%

This Extra Strong Old Ale has a curious name combining both that of the wise man (King or mage) who is supposed to have brought the gift of myrrh to the infant Jesus, an event that is celebrated today, the Twelfth Day of Christmas, and a story in the book of Daniel, Belshazzar's Feast (which is also a painting by Rembrandt) where King Belshazzar holds a great Feast using the cups from the great Temple, but dies that night for his blasphemy. Hoping not to meet the same fate, I'm going to pour this out.

This is a deep brown beer with ruby red edges and a sustained creamy off-white head. The aroma is really fruity at first full of blackcurrant, blackberry, liquorice and burnt toast, it really is inviting, one of those beers you instinctively know is going to be good. I have had this beer before and I remember that I loved it when I had it in the summer, but my mouth is salivating just thinking about it. This is a fresh batch, and now you know why I left it to last. Smooth at first before a big bitter boozy kick propels this beer into a whirl of raisin, chocolate, blackcurrant and a beautiful alcohol burn, all stirred around with a stick of liquorice wood. The finish is equally fruity, with the blackcurrant fading out slowly into a dry bitter ghost that takes up residence at the back of your tongue and waves comfortingly at you from time to time like an old friend across a crowded bar.

This was a great way to finish this journey through twelve Christmas beers from my home county of Essex, and I'm extremely grateful to all the brewers and breweries for making them. I paid for them all with the exception of the Billericay Brewing Black Christmas, and I have enjoyed every one. I really do hope you have had a fantastic Christmas and 2016 brings you all that you wish for. I also hope that you have enjoyed this exploration of Essex beer, and if Essex brewers produce twelve different Essex Christmas beers next year, and I can get hold of them then I'll do it all over again in twelve months time. Let's drink to that.

If you like to find out more about George's Brewery beers, or their alter-ego Hop Monster, you can follow this link to their website. If you've read my reviews then I'm sure you'll want to.

Happy drinking, and a very Happy New Year to you all!

Monday, 4 January 2016

#12EssexBeersofChristmas The Eleventh Day

The Twelve Essex Beers of Christmas

It's the Eleventh Day of Christmas, and I expect for some of you it was your first day back at work after a nice long break. If it was more of a shock than you were hoping then grab yourself a bottle, can or pint of something new, it is #tryanuary after all. If you are in Scotland of course, you'll be going back to work tomorrow. I hope you had a pleasant Hogmanay.

If you're at work and are thinking about beer, as I often do, why not consider going somewhere different for your lunchtime beer. If that isn't an option then why not try after work or on the way home. There are a few pubs close to where I am that I haven't been in for many years and one of two that I don't recall going in at all. These are the pubs I'll devoting one beer a week two in January. It may well be that I won't ever go in them again, but at least I can comment on them if asked. I'll be writing a blog for Andy at Tryanuary about my experiences, so look out for that towards the end of the month on his site. I'll let you know when.

My day at work was pretty horrendous, I hope yours was less hard work, but it's over now and time to open a beer.

The Eleventh Day
Maldon Brewing Company - Farmer's Christmas Stout 4.8%

This is Maldon's festive stout, a regular seasonal and one I've been looking forward to all year. This is a classic Oatmeal Stout, brewed with English Challenger, Fuggles and Goldings hops and exactly the kind of beer that you want when the weather turns colder.

This bottle conditioned beer pours a deep dark ruby red, so dark it's close to brown, close but not quite. Chocolate, liquorice and prune notes dominate the aroma once you've let it warm a while, in fact the closer to room temperature it gets the more pronounced it becomes, so you might want to let it warm a while. Full bodied and a touch coarse, this isn't a silky smooth beer but I think it's much the better for it, there is a dry toasty chocolate note that runs throughout with raisin, prune and the merest hint of blackberry lurk in the background but, as before, become a little more prominent as the glass warms in my hands. The finish has a thick lick of frothy chocolate mousse before it dries beautifully leaving the thinnest of milk chocolate veneers mixed with a hint of burnt toast. This is a delicious Christmas stout, I wish I'd bought some more.

If you'd like to know about Maldon Brewing beers, you can follow this link to their website or visit their micro-pub, the Farmer's Yard, in Maldon High Street.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

#12EssexBeersofChristmas The Tenth Day

The Twelve Essex Beers of Christmas

On the Tenth Day of Christmas my true love sent to me ten lords a-leaping, which reminds me that 2016 is a leap year.

The extra day we have every four years helps us synchronise with both the astronomical and seasonal years, as the earth travels around the sun roughly every 365 and a quarter days this gets us back on track. The extra day is always in February, meaning it has 29 days this year instead of the usual 28, and the name leap year itself comes about because the calender days 'leap' an extra weekday when a leap year occurs. For example Christmas Day, which was on a Friday in 2015, leaps a day so that it falls on a Sunday this year.

However that isn't until February, and we still have the whole of January to get through first, and keeping with the theme of my posts this new year I'm going to remind you once again of Tryanuary and give you a way you can take part, particularly if you live in Essex this week.

This Tuesday the 5th of January, as well as being Twelfth Night is our twelfth monthly meeting, and also the first time that the SX Bottleshare meet this year. For #tryanuary we're all trying to bring along a beer that none of us have actually had before, it'll be quite a challenge.

We meet at the Alehouse in Chelmsford on the first Tuesday in the month, with the majority of us coming straight from work for a beer and a chat. We drift in from around 6.00pm, meeting at the bar for a pint or two before we make our way to our reserved table for the main event at 7.00pm sharp(ish). It's always lots of fun, and we have had brewers, publicans, beer sellers, beer writers and overseas sales reps turn up, sometimes out of the blue, to join in, drink and talk about beer. There's often food, usually home made and always delicious, so we never go hungry.

What I'd like you to consider, particularly if you live in Essex and you're free on Tuesday, is to come along and join us. Make coming to the SX Bottleshare something that you decide to do for #tryanuary. If you're not able to come, then try and make 2016 the year that you do go to a bottle share, if we're too far away find one near you, and if there isn't one near you then think about starting one yourself or with a group of friends. Share that special beer, share the love, it tastes so much better when you do.

If you're thinking of joining us on Tuesday, I urge you to take the plunge. Let us know at @SXBottleshare on Twitter, or leave a message with me @1970sBoy so that we know to look out for you. I can't wait for you to join us.

The Tenth Day:
George's Brewery - Marley's Ghost 4.0% 

The second of my three George's beers is named after the first ghostly visitor to Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol". With three hop varieties although only one named, which is Citra, this pours a medium amber cover with a bright white head, and from the aroma the Citra hop is very evident with its grapefruit citrus notes. Medium bodied it has an initial light Rich Tea biscuit malt taste before the sweet and tart citrus hops, of equal lightness, emerge from the background to balance those malts perfectly. This is a lovely beer, one I've had before but I don't recall it being as good as this, surely the recipe has changed? I'm sure the brewery will let me know if this is the case. The finish is clean and crisp like the beer itself, and those beautiful citrus flavours linger just long enough. It's simply delicious.

If you'd like to know more about George's Brewery / Hopmonster, then follow this link to their website where you'll find my reviews of some more of their beers.
If you'd like to come along to the SX Bottleshare then follow this link to see a list of the amazing beer we've drunk in our last eleven meetings. We'd love you to come and ask for that.
Incidentally, if anyone from George's Brewery would like to come along at any point then please let me know, or even just turn up with some of your beer. That would be fantastic.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

#12EssexBeersofChristmas The Ninth Day

The Twelve Essex Beers of Christmas

The Ninth Day of Christmas is, rather strangely, National Science Fiction Day in the USA due to, and I'm guessing this, it being the birthday of Isaac Asimov in 1920. It is also the day that my true love sent to me, nine ladies dancing, and all that.

It's not going to be a long post tonight, I have to confess that I've been at a local pub this afternoon, the Olde Dog in Herongate, a pub that I've been drinking regularly at for over a quarter of a century. It's one of those pubs that, even though I hadn't been in for a couple of months, I immediately felt at home. They keep their cask beer on stillage behind the bar and their house beer, Olde Dog IPA is brewed for them by Crouch Vale. They usually have their Brewers Gold on, however the Essex beer available tonight was from Wibblers, and very good it was too.

Many pubs are quiet this time of year, but not the Olde Dog, with its real fire and Christmas decorations still decking the bar it had attracted quite a late afternoon-early evening of crowd drinking plenty of good beer. This is the one f the best times of year to visit a pub near you that has some festive charm and good beer. The once-a-year Christmas drinking crowd have melted away like the remnants of a late winter snowman, before the warm weather brings the families in to enjoy the gardens and lighter evenings. So get out and supprt your local pub, they'll thank you for it.

The Ninth Day:
Brentwood Brewing Company - Santas Little Helper 4.0%

This hoppy blonde Christmas beer from Brentwood almost didn't make it into this selection, and if I'd had a substitute I probably would have gone for it, and there are two reasons why.

The first, and most trivial of these is the lack of correct punctuation. For goodness sake, if you have to write Santa's please put in the apostrophe otherwise it looks very sloppy. But I'm sure this isn't what caught your eye if you looked at the label, I'd imagine it's the scantily clad blonde haired girl making Father Christmas (or Santas (sic)) look like a lecherous old pervert.  This is something I'll keep going on about until it changes, but there is no need for this type of out-moded 1970s imagery in beer, and certainly not in beer in Essex. We get a rough enough ride with TOWIE showing us in poor light without this kind of thing as well. Please stop it.

Onto the beer itself. It pours a pale amber with a pure white head and the aroma of peach juice and lime zest. It's actually very good, smooth and medium bodied it ticks all the right boxes for this style, with gentle honey-soaked waffle malts wrapped up in grapefruit and mango citrus sprinkled with the merest hint of orange zest. The finish drops the malt and leaves the citrus notes to linger, not too long but long enough to keep you drinking and make you want another.

This is a really good beer sullied by some ill-thought out packaging. I'd like to see it next year looking a little more mature.

If you'd like to know more about the Brentwood Brewing Company and their beer then follow this link to their website, or visit their shop at the brewery itself. They'll be more than happy to introduce you to their range.

Friday, 1 January 2016

#12EssexBeersofChristmas The Eighth Day

The Twelve Essex Beers of Christmas

New Year's Day it is, and I'm sure that by now this morning's hangover is a thing of the past and you're already thinking about the beers you'll be drinking this evening. Will you be drinking a beer that you know well, an old favourite that you've had many times before or perhaps sloping off down the pub for a pint of the usual?

As it's the first of January today I'm urging you to do something different.

That's the thinking behind the Tryanuary initiative, that urges you to get out there and try beer that you haven't had before, visit a brewery that's near you, or perhaps a bit further away, that you haven't been to before, and pick up some new beer to try. Get out and visit those great pubs you've heard of and always meant to get to, if not now then when? It's all about doing something positive for the industry and broadening your horizons at the same time, you might even find a new favourite, and if you do then why not let everyone know about it? All you need to do is post something on Twitter using the #tryanuary hashtag. Give it a go.

As for me, there are a still some Essex breweries I've not visited, beers I've not had, and lot's of pubs still to check out, and I plan to spend some time roaming the county doing my own Essex-centric Tryanuary trail. I'll report back on this blog as I do, so keep checking these pages to see what I find.

Tonight's beer is from a brewery I've had before, one I've already featured on these pages, but it is a new beer to me.

The Eighth Day:
Maldon Brewing Company - Rudolph's Red 4.3%

This is Maldon's second outing of three, and it's the only Red Ale to feature in this seasonal selection although they actually produced six beers with either a Yuletide or Winter theme, making them the most Christmas focussed of Essex brewers.

Pouring a deep ruby red with dark amber highlights but no real head to speak of, it has a malty red berry aroma exactly as you'd expect from this style. It's quite bitter, surprisingly so as I was expecting it to be a little smoother, and this dominates the whole of the taste with little of the strawberry bootlace sweet or blackcurrant wine gum taste I was expecting. I put this down to it being a bit too cold so I'll warm it for a minute or two before I continue.

So I've watched a few minutes of the World's Strongest Man Final, with Savickas going for the world record deadlift and failing (see, I really do this on the day) and the beer's had a chance to warm a bit and it's taken on a slightly different character. There is some berry fruit there, cherry, redcurrant and a touch of blackcurrant, but also a caramel chocolate note under the malty bitterness which I rather like. The finish is a bit disappointing however, just a thin jumble of those flavours that doesn't actually go anywhere or add anything to the beer, and that's a real shame. It's not a bad beer by any means, I just don't think it's one on Maldon's best, but that's the risk you run with a lower abv Red Ale.

If you want to find out more about the Maldon Brewing Company then follow this link to their website. The home page gives away what my last beer selction from them is, and you'll see why I'm saving that for later.
If you'd like more details on Tryanuary, you'll find the home page here and the Twitter page here. Get exploring.