Tuesday, 11 June 2019


I have a friend who I used to work with a long time ago. To maintain his anonymity lets call him Ian Cognito. He lives in the Midlands and visits the North East about twice a year. Invariably we end up meeting up in Newcastle for a pub crawl. So far so good !.

Prior to our most recent one earlier this year he had revealed he was planning to have a Man Cave in his garden, in the form of a bar. We met in the Town Mouse in Newcastle before Xmas and the project was part of the conversation. I revealed that once completed there should be an official opening ceremony. He had named the bar Fecit Hall - for those with a classical language education it means :- "he made it: used on works of art next to art an artist's name" .

Fast forward to earlier this year when Mrs Ken & I booked a weeks holiday in North Wales. I suggested we call in to view this much anticipated structure. So at the beginning of June we set off down south laden with gifts for his new bar, including 3 Newcastle Beer Festival glasses, an empty cider flagon, beer mats  and of course some beer. As luck would have it he lives about 30 minutes to drive from the Mount Bernard Trappist Monastery where they brew the Tynt Meadow Trappist Beer. So a short diversion was in order to pick up a crate.

This is a photo of  the Fecit Hall when closed  .

And this is when its open !!

The bar at the front is from left over timber from a house extension that had been completed as part of the Man Cave project
There are some interesting features in Fecit Hall including a dart board with nowhere to stand to throw darts at it, a bottle of Old Feculier,(soon to be joined by some Old Feckled Hen), a beer fridge and some bar snacks. There is an Ipod for background music.No one is allowed behind the bar except mine host. 

Now it is often the case that structures of this importance are awarded a blue plaque, and so it seemed appropriate to have one in this case.

Now Fecit Hall hasn't been open that long but already future plans have been discussed, including a juke box, pub quiz, and a Full Monty night. Talks are in progress with the local council for a brown tourist sign at the entrance to the estate.

As part of the evening we had a BBQ and drank many beers. A good time was had by all. Awaiting the invite back for the Full Monty night.

Monday, 10 June 2019


The Summer edition of CAMRA Angle , the quarterly magazine of the Sunderland and South Tyneside branch of CAMRA, has  just been published. Copies will be distributed to real ale pubs throughout the area , and beyond after today. As usual , this is another full issue and well worth a read. 

The front cover recognises the fact that The Avenue in Sunderland is the North East Regional Cider pub of the year. This issue features an arduous day beer tasting at the SIBA NE beer awards at Gateshead Rugby Club, a look at a famous pub in York, pub crawls in South Shields, Barnard Castle and Huddersfield. 

There is a visit to the isle of malt ( you need to read it to find out where), and a mystery tour ( again, read it to find out where!)There are two book reviews, one of which must be the only beer book that has an illustration about the human digestion system.

A regular section is a news update on beer from the wood, branch pubs and  breweries in the branch as well as Locale pubs and those that offer discounts. Issue 56 is rounded off by the regular pub quiz.  

Click on this link to download the issue, and to read other branch news. 

Saturday, 18 May 2019


A news story broke in August last year about the fate of the landlord of the Blue Bell in York. Briefly, Punch Taverns had served the owner, John Pybus, with a termination of his lease and an eviction notice from the pub. 

John had exercised his legal right as the tenant of the city centre pub to negotiate a fair market rent and opt out of the beer tie, which would have meant he had to buy all his beer from the pubco at inflated prices.

Punch wanted to bring in a manager rather than a landlord and it was felt this would change the way the pub was run. The York branch of Camra launched a petition which was signed by 6500 including me. The petition  was a success. John signed a 6 year lease in 2018.

Fast forward to last week. making use of a special offer from Transpennine Express we decided on a day trip to York. Booking the tickets I recalled the above story and suggested to Mrs Ken I would like to visit the pub as had never been.
The Blue Bell has been a pub since 1798 and was listed as a Grade II listed building in 1954.  It can be found in Fossgate, about 15 minutes walk from York Station.

When we arrived in the tiny front bar there was one customer (who turned out to be a bit of a motormouth) chatting to the barman, (who turned out to be American) There was a good selection of ales and I asked for a pint of Rudgate Mild. The guy did the right thing and said he would top it up when it had settled. Now how many don't do that ?  

Sensing an opportunity I said I had signed the petition and did they give discount for the signee's ?.  No - was the reply..well it was worth a try.

The motormouth was still  spouting forth about beer and trains, and whilst both are my favourite subjects, it got a bit wearing after 10 minutes. 

Making my excuses to take some pictures of the other room, I left the Mrs to it and had a nosey in the back room (smoke room) , which was slightly bigger than the bar. There were 4 guys in; and they soon left which gave me an excuse to drag Mrs out of the bar for some more pictures. There were plenty of notices adorning the walls, most of which were interesting and in  character. What wasn't was a list of house rules on a laminated sheet. One of the rules was to bar large groups of visitors as the pub was too small, so no hen parties of bachelor nights. Fair enough I suppose. You could actually class this place as a micropub as its a coversation only place. I did like the cash only and the lager boy signs   however.

After a pint we left to do some touristy stuff. Outside Mrs Ken came out with some priceless female logic 
" Why is the pub called The Blue Bell and painted red ?"

Er ...the bell is blue *.

* I feel an article for our branch magazine coming on, "The meaning of pub names"

PS - 

Before we got to the Blue Bell we had a lunchtime curry in the nearby Wetherspoon's, One of the beers they had one was new to me, Great Heck Apocalypse Brau - strong ruby red fruity beer, a lot like Owd Rodger. Fantastic ! Its a seasonal but try it if you see it !

Saturday, 4 May 2019


I was asked the other week if I would like to attend a SIBA North East Regional judging event at Gateshead Rugby Club Beer Festival. After agonising over this for about 2 microseconds I said yes.

Cask, bottled and canned beers from North East Breweries would be blind tasted throughout the day to coincide with the opening day of the annual Rugby Club Beer and Music Festival. With so much beer to judge I had visions of being virtually comatose on the bus back, waking up in the depot.

This however was not to be, so here is what happened.

The main bar of the club was set up with 4 seats per table, several empty glasses, crackers and water. Each judge, of which there appeared to be about 30, had a score sheet to complete.

Each table or pairs of tables had different categories to judge.   My first table was for the entry - Bottles and Cans British Bitters up to 4.4%. Runners were assigned to bring the beer in jugs, take away empties and bring more beer. Each beer was judged based on appearance, aroma, flavour, aftertaste and saleability. Usually one taste and swallow was enough to give marks. To be honest most of the selection we had was pretty nondescript. I dont drink out of cans and some have said the tinniness that used to be present has been removed. I dont think so, two offerings had a faint metal taste. Dont forget this is blind tasting so we didnt know what we were drinking.

Now my favourite beers are dark beers - stouts and porters specifically. Everything we tasted on our table were pale beers and I looked in envy at a few tables who had dark beers to taste. 
Never mind, there was always round two.

Round two - Cask British Bitters up to 4.4%. Same as round one but cask beers. By now we had figured out that the beers were being brought from the main beer festival hall adjacent. In the hall all the pump clips were turned round and the runners had instruction to get beer from Cask X and Cask Y etc. So even the runners, most of whom worked for the competing breweries, didnt know which beer was which. The handpulls weren't in any sequence- so not alphabetical and not in strength order, to  maintain fairness of judging.

One thing I noticed, all the cask beers were of better quality than the bottles/cans, although some were cloudy and had a couple had bits of yeast floating in them. Whether this was down to some casks not having settled would never be known - you mark what you are presented with.   

Again, my envious eyes wandered over to the stouts and porters tables. Never mind , there was always round three after lunch.

Round three - Cask IPA 5.5% to 6.4%.   There were 9 to judge in this round and to be honest, most  were distinguishable from each other. One stunk of sulpher. Thankfully there were no black IPA's - dont get me started !

 Note that to this day I dont know which beers I drank and whether any that we judged went forward to the final round.

After round three it was the final round which was left to the industry experts, so we wandered off into the beer festival hall. All except 10 of the handpulls were now turned round, so 10 beers in the final. It was noticeable that when these were revealed later, most were dark/ strong beers. 

There was also a long table with all the bottles and cans on. These hadn't been disguised but it was still impossible to tell what had been judged. 

There were 26 awards given in the final award ceremony - different styles of various strengths in bottles, cans and cask. 

Below are the 1-2-3 overall cask winners :-

Brewery Product ABV
Gold  Cullercoats Brewery  Polly Donkin Oatmeal Stout 4.2
Silver  Brass Castle Brewery  Annexation 8.3
Bronze  Daleside Brewery Ltd  Monkey Wrench 5.3

One final thing. In the beer festival hall, one of the chaps behind the bar looked like someone famous. Myself and the guy I was with both said at the same time.."him out of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young !" 

David Crosby with a Geordie Accent.He admitted he gets it all the time ! See what you think -


Monday, 1 April 2019


Last November at the time marking the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, I as was looking through some old family stuff and shared what I was doing with my sister. Now by chance she has a friend who is into geneology, family trees and all that "Who do you think you are" stuff.

A few weeks ago this friend, doing some research on Ancestry.co.uk and Find My Past, unearthed some interesting stuff about my mothers side of the family.

Now when I was a kid my mams sister used to visit a village called Eakring in Nottingham about twice a year and I never knew why. Turns out my maternal grandad got married there ( he was from Usworth) and lived there for a while. Looking at the family tree I had a great grandmother who lived there with her 2 sisters and a brother.

Eakring is not far from Sherwood Forest so I had jokingly said to Mrs Ken before we saw the results that I may be related to Robin Hood !. 

" More like Friar Tuck" came the speedy reply.
Be that as it may, ( stick with this please, nearly at the punchline) on the 1891 census form  there is a household reference which had 12 people, 7 from the same family and 5 servants. 2 of the servants were my great grandmother and her sister.

At the very bottom of the census is the house name :- North Laiths. So I'm reading this and decided to google North Laiths.

It came up with North Laiths Farm, MAYPOLE BREWERY 

I got quite animated by this revelation - what a find. Turns out the farm buildings are now the home to several businesses, one of which is the brewery

In the Good Beer Guide the Maypole Brewery has the description :-

"The Brewery opened in 1995 in a converted 18th century farm buildings"

Im going to email them and suggest a new dark beer name :- "Ken's Ancestral Home"

Could be a top seller.  

Monday, 25 March 2019


 As I have no doubt mentioned before, our daughter lives and works in Glasgow, so Mrs Ken & I had yet another trip to that city. Now the CAMRA AGM will be held in Dundee next month so I suggested a drive up one day from Glasgow, where we  were staying for 2 nights.. I have driven round the city a few times on the way to and from Aberdeen, so was keen to see what the city had to offer.

Dundee is home the Beano and Dandy comics, the latter featuring Desperate Dan. There is a statue of him in the City Square

The first research was the Good Beer Guide and I found a suitable pub , The Phoenix, which is described as :-

One of Dundee's oldest pubs with sturdy wooden seats and tables and green leather benches giving the place character, along with a rare Ballingall Brewery mirror. Five ales on, and excellent pub food at conservative prices. Traditional pub, warm and cosy with great atmosphere and subdued lighting, like pubs used to be.

It was 5 minutes walk from the car park so that was our first port of call. One of the house beers was Deuchars IPA, fair enough...the other was Landlord. Why ? All those Scottish beers to chose from !

Anyhow, conscious of the drinking driving laws the Deuchars was the lowest ABV, so had a pint and lunch. I was hoping some Desperate Dan cow pie would be on the menu, had to make do with a chilli burger and chips (excellent).

While waiting for the food I asked mine host if I could leave some CAMRA Angle magazines.
"CAMRA ? Harumph"  or something like that, "leave them over there on that table outside the ladies"
I thought it was a strange reply,  considering the pub will be rammed with CAMRA members in about 2 weeks time. 

Anyhow, left them next to some local CAMRA magazines, one of which I took to read.The first thing I  noticed on the front was the advert for the AGM but with the date -  Issue 2 2018 !

Now I am imagining the Magazine Editor taking delivery and grabbing a copy to proudly check his work, and seeing the misprint and saying " Oh Shit !"

Halfway through lunch, the landlord started collecting glasses and walked past us saying, " Now then CAMRA Boy ( I'm 67) hows the beer?"How could I not say it was fine.

After lunch, I was keen to find the statue so after a brief detour into a shopping centre, we found him.

If you look at the photograph I hope you agree he should be made an honorary CAMRA member, he has the shape !

Back in Glasgow that evening, we went for a meal in a Greek Restaurant then moved to the adjacent Drum and Monkey Pub. I said to the other two we had not been in before. "Yes we have, last year". I cannot remember it, so I checked my beer scoring on Whatpub , and sure enough we had, November last year!

Anyhow setting aside this alarming memory lapse, on the door of the pub was a sticker, "CAMRA Discount Here, ask at the bar". Ordering a couple of pints I flashed my card. The young lad wandered off to find a till, scratched his head and came back.

" How much is the discount?"   he asked.

"I don't know mate , you work here !"

"Lets call it 20%"   he offered.  I should have replied 50% when he asked...bugger.


Sunday, 10 March 2019


The Spring edition of CAMRA Angle , the quarterly magazine of the Sunderland and South Tyneside branch of CAMRA, has  just been published. Copies will be distributed to real ale pubs throughout the area , and beyond after Wednesday 13th. As usual , this is another full issue and well worth a read. 

This issue features the local and national pubs of the year, a look at a unique Fullers pub, pub crawls round the Boldons York and Morpeth (no, not at the same time !)

Theres a book review, a report on a new film being released in July about Vaux Brewery and a report from our pubs preservation officer, who is also well preserved !.

A regular section is a news update on beer from the wood, branch and regional  pubs and  breweries in the branch as well as Locale pubs and those that offer discounts. Issue 54 is rounded off by the regular pub quiz. 

Enjoy the read !!

If you cant find a copy, follow this link to download your own,  and for more branch news. http://sst.camra.org.uk/wordpress/
And remember, accept no imitations.