Category Archives: Beer

The World’s Largest Micro Brewery?

It has always amused me to see Newcastle Brown Ale in the USA. Mainly because it is almost always billed as a Micro Brew. Not bad for a product produced as 100,000 Hectolitres annually. In some ways I think it typifies the US attitude to beer in that there seem to be two types: Domestic and Premium. Anything which isn’t brewed by Bud, Coors, Miller etc. is, almost by definition, exotic and small (and expensive).

So it was with equal amusement that I spotted these for the first time. Apparently they are exclusive to Tenko in the UK and thus far I’ve only seen them in their Alfreton ‘Extra’ store.

Newky Micro!

Nestling among the imported US brews (none of which could remotely be described as ‘micro’ either, but there you go), were this quartet of Newcastle “Limited Editions”. Of course I felt obliged to try one of each. Regrettably, I can’t say I was impressed. I generally love US beers (the ‘domestic’ brands excluded) and I also like that any given brewer usually manages to have a signature ‘taste’ permeate all its recipes. Indeed, Heineken USA (for it is they) have managed to to this here. Which is all-well-and-good except I happen not to like Newcastle Brown Ale. I know there are legions of fans of this beer who would call me a heathen (or something more steeped in Geordie vernacular) and I’m not saying they’re wrong – I just happen to disagree! For me, bottled brown ale represents all that went awry with British brewing in the twentieth century.

Huge credit to Heineken USA for their attempt to wring every dollar out of the brand, but keep trying. Also, credit to Tesco for stocking them. The range of US beers on sale in the UK has dwindled noticeably since the halcyon days of Safeway (i.e. before they all became Morrisons). It is good to note the beginnings of a resurgence. Even Goose Island is showing up on supermarket shelves again after several years of conspicuous absence.

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Some observations from Derby Beer Festival


It’s that time of the year again – my 28th consecutive Derby summer beer festival. Thursday afternoon is suitably chilled for my tastes; no crowds (but still quite busy with folk), no crush, no hassle.

Even so, I’ve already witnessed the depressing modern face of Camra beer festivals in “action”: The Orange Shirts. This is a phenomenon which first manifested itself last year and, I gather, is now national Camra policy. A group of licenced “bouncers” patrol the beer festival to keep order, dressed in various shades of the titular garment. As an aside, in 28 years I have never seen anything approaching a fight here, but I guess times change. These guys and girls are clearly not local, being shipped in from somewhere by Camra. I mean it in the most positive way when I say that in every way they are typical Camra people.

I ensconced myself in a quiet corner of the Assembly Rooms to enjoy my second half (Big Lamp Bitter 3.9%, if you’re interested, the first being Hexhamshire Shire Bitter at 3.8%) and to read Private Eye. A short but discrete distance away, the guy who runs the sound desk for the bands (and who has being doing so here and at the Flower Pot for as long as I can remember) was also taking advantage of the quiet spell. In front of him is a mug of tea or coffee and he has his feet up, taking a bit of a nap. This, apparently, is against the Orange Shirt rules. One of them wandered by and proceeded to wake him up, telling him it’s against the law to sleep in public (eh?). Duly woken, sound guy replied that he works here which seemed to satisfy the Orange Shirt who then wandered off in my direction. I took it upon myself to explain who the the guy is and that he would be busily working until midnight – no wonder he was having 40 winks. The Orange Shirt replied that he looked drunk (though admitted he wasn’t) and that it would encourage more people to get drunk. Not sure how he expects to enforce his Don’t Get Drunk at a Beer Festival rule? Unlike the Orange Shirts, I contend that being drunk isn’t a binary state. Offensive/violent/incapable drunk is obviously out of order, but merry (sleepy?) drunk is surely part of the beer festival experience?

Meanwhile, a young girl with a clipboard has wandered by, inviting all and sundry to “sign the e-petiton”. Evidently this is one of Camra’s campaigns and they see the captive audience of a beer festival as a way of boosting support for whichever cause it may be. I politely declined and the girl moved on to an old boy seated a little way away. He cheerfully said yes and proceeded to sign – without asking or otherwise having explained what the particular cause was. To my mind that kind of undermines the worth of the petition – they may as well simply reproduce the membership list and call that a petition?

The aforementioned old boy soon got up and left, but not without asking me where I got the Wallace & Gromit T shirt I was wearing – apparently his grandchildren would love it. As it’s probably 15 – 20 years old, I haven’t a clue! He then showed me his Wallace & Gromit sound clip app in his iPhone (he didn’t look like an average iPhone user!) which his grandchildren “made” him put on it. Only at a beer festival.

More beer.


After a relatively exciting first half an hour or so, things have settled into a more routine pattern. The crowd is slowly swelling as the Main Hall has reopened (closed during the afternoon “to preserve the quality of the beer”?). Highlight of the People Watching thus far is a group of Japanese (?) lads, about six of them, who are sampling the best of what British culture has to offer. More power to them as they’re evidently having a go at all sorts of real ales and look to be enjoying the experience. I’m tempted to go and ask them what they make of it all, but I doubt “coherent” would be the best description of the ensuing conversation.

The choice of beers is up to Derby Camra’s usual high standards, with some notable new appearances. Townes of Chesterfield are represented by their Stavely Cross (4.3%) and despite their relative proximity to Derby, I’m pretty sure I’ve not seen them here before. Even more notable is the appearance of three beers from the Isle of Purbeck brewery, all the way from the Bankes Arms at Studland. As Kay said when I texted that snippet to her, “it’s a sign”. (We’ve stopped there a number of times on our semi-regular short break to Dorset).

I’ve now been asked three times to sign the e-petition. Apparently Camra want to prompt a Parliamentary debate about escalating tax on beer. Fair enough, but maybe drinkers should pay a proportionately higher contribution to the NHS to subsidise potential long term health issues than the general tax paying populace? Not sure I’ll express that view outwardly, however. My point is that even though this is a Camra event and they are, as the first three letters in their title subtly indicates, a campaigning organisation, it is becoming something of an imposition. Again, I fear the general point of a beer festival may be being missed somewhat?


And finally for today…

Bumped into Martin R (ex dog man for those who know him) and had a chat. He’s one of the cellar team for the festival, so the beer is in good hands. Apparently they had a bit of a blip last night,about which there’ll be recriminations, but no one went home thirsty and no one had a bad pint – what more could you ask of a cellar man?

A very pleasant, if deliberately light, session. I’ll be back tomorrow to try more of the heavier beers. Today was about chilling and “me time” which I thoroughly enjoyed. It was exactly what a well run beer festival should be. Checked in with Rog & Marie by text to see if they were coming tomorrow. Turns out they’re in a castle in Devon celebrating their tenth wedding anniversary. OK, it’s an excuse for missing the Derby Beer Festival 🙂 Congrats.

Stuck with my plan for the evening to get the 20:10 V3 home; first time I’ve used this service for a long time, for reasons I can’t adequately explain. If I’m getting off the bus outside the Green Man, it woud be rude not to go in? So I’d texted Chappers and a convivial evening ensued.

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A day out to Barrow Hill Rail Ale

A few pictures as we go along…

Routemaster operating the shuttle to Barrow Hill

Routemaster operating the shuttle to Barrow Hill.

Update 14:20

Unfortunately there’s no 3G signal on O2 here at Barrow Hill, so my plan to ‘live blog’ isn’t going to happen. Oh well. Ossett Dark Mild to start followed by Eccleshall Top Totty (as banned by the House of Parliament!) – both as they comply with the nothing over 4% before 1700 rule!

14:45 – Riverside Major Dixon’s Bitter.

15:10 – Shottle Pale Ale from the Derbyshire bar. Bumped into Karl Barrow for a chat. Only ever seem to see him at beer festivals – which isn’t necessarily a bad place to meet!






A packed shuttle bus back to Chesterfield, and awaiting the train to Derby.

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My Idea of a Good Evening


No further comment required, except to admit it was Bass in that pint, not Ruddles… especially notLangham Ruddles 😦


Butterley BeerFest Pt.II

Brampton Best – cheers!


I have to say I am very pleasantly surprised by this festival. The surroundings are, er, unusual. A marquee in a paddock adjacent to the former goods yard (now one of several rolling stock graveyards storage-pending-restoration areas on this site) serves as the focus of the festival. A second bar is running in some stabled coaching stock, which doubles as quiet a seating area.

The weather is stunning and absolutely makes the event. Apparently this time last year, for the inaugural Amber Valley Camra BeerFest here, they were ankle deep in mud. What a difference a year makes.

The legacy of last year might be the festival’s undoing. For much of this afternoon it is sad but true that volunteers/staff have outnumbered visitors/customers.

That is everyone else’s loss as far as I’m concerned as it has made for a really relaxing atmosphere. Good for me, but of course not for the organisers.

The beer choice is admirable, with a bias toward local micro-brewers – of which the legions are ever expanding, so there’s no danger of the choice getting boring.

So I’m sitting out in the paddock, in the dappled shade of a large tree, looking over toward the new houses occupying the Butterley Company’s former stock yard (with police radio mast beyond!). It’s hotter than it has a right to be for the last day of September, but a very gentle breeze and the cool, fine beer makes all right with the world.



Butterley Beer Festival

At the Midland Railway scrapyard, er, Centre…

More to follow.


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