Friday, 9 August 2019


Yesterday ( Thursday 8th October) I visited the Great British Beer Festival again, having been every year since 2005 ! This year, it was held again in Olympia. I always meet up with the same crowd every year. This time it was different as Mrs Ken wanted to come, to keep an eye on me.

We arrived about 20 minutes before opening and slowly snaked our way into the building. Security was tight, our bags were searched. Mine was full of CAMRA magazine, Mrs Kens full of food. 

"Having a picnic are we ?" said the steward. Outside there was a guy in a hi viz jacket , with a sniffer dog, also wearing a hi viz jacket, with the word explosives on it !

According to publicity gumph there were over 1000 beers, ciders and perrys in the vast hall. As friends arrived and sensing some confusion over glasses, I put an elastice band round mine, which proved useful later.

Keen to spot our local brewers beers ( Maxim) who had sent down Double Maxim and Raspberry Porter. The bar for these was nearby so sauntered over to find the latter had sold out the day before. ie. at the end of day one for the general public, which I consider amazing !

There were a lot of food-stalls selling everything from pasties to seafood to pickled eggs. As these are normally pricey, I always take my own and its been a running a joke over the years that I turn up with some discount out of date pies. These had a date of 7th August. Not too bad but there is no year printed !

 Most of the beer pricing was what you would expect for London, but one beer stunned me. CAMRA had set up a large key keg bar with over 50 beers. Looking at the programme, Chai Latte Masala White Stout at 7.4% looked interesting in the programme, till I walked up the bar and saw the price ...£12.60 a pint. WTF? That is taking the piss. In fact one brave soul at our table actually tried some, and confirmed it tasted like it as well !

Back to the beer glass, each glass has a third pint, a half and a full pint marker. As an experiment I moved my elastic band up above between the half and full pint lines to see what would happen. Well nothing till the last drink ( see picture). Not applicable to GBBF but how many times do we get a short measure plonked down in front of you, and having to ask for a top up . Victory for the common man.

It was great catching up with old friends, and making new ones. All to soon it was time to leave to get tube back to Kings Cross. Boarding the train back to the North East , we found our reserved seats were occupied ; there were 2 women sitting in them . They were in the wrong coach ! On the table was one of those metal/wicker  animal things about 2 feet high sitting on its back legs with its head and ears up. As they got up to move I said.

."And dont forget to take your kangaroo with you !!"
"Its not a kangaroo, its a rabbit!"
Of course Mrs Ken took their side and said it was cute! As they scuttled off I said " Still looks like a kangaroo !"

Already looking forward to next year.  

Saturday, 3 August 2019



Last night Mrs Ken and I attended a Maxim Brewery open night, which they hold once a month. 8 real ales were on offer . 

Arriving early into the main bar, we were greeted as I ordered a pint of Oranges & Lemons, a new beer. It was mentioned there were so freebies ?  Thinking this referred to bottles of beer it grabbed my interest. 

"Would you like an lawn scarifier for nothing"


"A lawn scarifier"...its next door ( in the main brewery hall)

What on earth is a lawn scarifier ?

Its for raking the lawn and getting all the moss up - I was told

So Mrs Ken disappeared to view our potential new toy while I continued enjoying my beer. She came back saying its ours. There were other giveaways as well. Again, expecting some beer I went to have a look a box of old vinyl albums.

Mostly Bing Crosby, Perry Como and KTEL presents ( remember them ?) Mrs Ken suggested one of these would make a great birthday pressie for one of my mates.

Lets explain that last sentence. 6 of us meet every Tuesday night and when its someones birthday, the other 5 provide gifts, usually something rescued from a charity shop and usually a few beers. One guy always bring out a vinyl album as a gift. Last time for mine I got an LP by Henry Cooper singing ( yes, the boxer). Its still upstairs somewhere. So time to get my own back. 

I selected "Million Seller Hits of 69, Carlini's World of Strings !" --- no me neither. Being released in 1970 it had the obligatory female model on the front to make people look at the cover. Tracks include Guantanamera, Windmills of your mind and My Way.....Cant wait to play it later

Anyhow, back to the scarifier... We were there about 2 hours as the brewery got fuller and fuller of locals from the surrounding area out for the night drinking great beer. Suddenly something  dawned on the wife  - "we are going have to wheel that thing out to the car in front of all these people"

" What do you mean we?...Ive got the LP to carry "  

Anyhow, time to leave as she grabbed the new toy and trundled it outside ( I held the doors open) . There were 2 smokers outside who looked on with mild amusement as we struggled to get the thing in the back of the car.

We may well go back next month...could do with a new strimmer.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019


This is two blogs in one.

When I go to a pub I like to record what I have drunk and I either take a picture of the handpull pump clip or write the beer down. This is sometimes useful to keep our brnach whatpub records up to date. The number of times Ive come back from the bar , usually which has a multiple choice and some new beers, to be asked " what are you drinking ?"  "Er hang on, back in a minute."

So with that in mind I was advised on an app you can download which converts speech to text. Using this I could talk into my phone and note down the name of the pub and the name of the beer (s). This app is called Otter.

So I downloaded it and first tried it out in The Wicket Gate, Chester Le St, having a pint of Black Sheep Holy Grail.

Me - "Wicket Gate - Monty Python Holy Grail"

Otter -  "We could get more depressants, holy grail" 

I thought, this is going to be a hoot using this. Mrs Ken pointed out it would be easier writing it down, and besides, it was picking up nearby conversations.

We then drove up to Glasgow for a long weekend  and met daughter in our favourite pub, The Bon Accord

Me - "Bon Accord - Mikado Mild" *

Otter - "Corner code- McArdle miles"  

* Brewed by Pheasantry Brewery from Nottinghamshire

After a couple of these during our meal , I then had a final half 

Me - "Bon Accord - Half of Old Peculier"

Otter - "Know they fill it okay perfect balance of honor code or peculiar"

Try unpicking this one! This had obviously picked up a background conversation. 

We then moved on to a bar called the Ben
Nevis, and according to Otter, I had a "Candle Burn Sunrise".  This was actually Kelburn Sunrise so close!

Our final pub, just round the corner was called 78, where I had a March of The Penguins *, which was correctly translated into text...starting to get the hang of this now. Note to self - " make sure no one is talking nearby"

* Williams Brothers - excellent 

Some people in the pub were playing games such as scrabble. We found a pack of picture cards where you play a more complicated version of snap. Now bearing in mind I was now onto my fifth pint, as she was dealing the cards, the daughter warned me in no uncertain  terms " dont knock your pint over !"

Just as she said it, she knocked her own drink over ! The timing was perfect.

Half went on the table soaking my cards, half on my right leg, half on the floor and half over this dog at the next table who never moved ( Ed - hang on that's 4 halves.....oh never mind)

I got wrong for laughing !

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 -