Sunday, 14 January 2018


Last week we held our first CAMRA branch meeting of the year in Ship Isis in Sunderland. Now this is a great pub and sells excellent real ales and ciders. As you walk in the  bar is on the right, a staircase in front and a snug to the left. 

Normally we have had meetings in the snug, and you can see the room ( this shows a third of it) is fairly large and comfortable for meetings. However, on this occasion we were directed upstairs to a smaller sitting room. ( and I mean smaller- ie what you can see in the photo). I was one of the first ones in so managed to get a comfy chair. There was a fire burning away warming the room up nicely. The meeting started with a full room, no spare seats.

After 10 minutes , in comes another member, who had to grab a stool from another room. He perched near the door. After another 10 minutes, someone else arrived. He had to sit on the marble surround of the fireplace.

Halfway through we were starting to sweat. One guy took of his Christmas present jumper and soon we were gagging for another pint.

The guy on the stool opened the door and we all hurriedly left onto the landing. It reminded me of the crowded cabin  scene from the Marx Brothers film, A Night at the Opera, when a steward opened the door and everyone spilled out. 

During this mini heatwave no one could figure out how to turn the fire off. A busker had started singing in the bar downstairs which was drowning us out with the door open. Soon the manager arrived to turn the fire down.

Towards the end of the meeting someone remarked, quite prophetically...." this room is a breeding ground for colds"

Where is that tissue box.


Thursday, 4 January 2018


My birthday is exactly 5 weeks before Christmas Day. So for my birthday I always get several bottles of beer from family and friends. Then 5 weeks later  , I get a lot more from the family so at the moment I have 30 bottles stashed away in various cupboards. A lot of them have been brought down from Glasgow, which is no bad thing !

Now I don't have trouble drinking these beers , what I do have trouble with is sometimes trying to read the best before end dates. It really is an eye straining exercise these days as I get older - I am very shorted sighted !   The number of times I have to hold a bottle up to the light, or even open the back door and stand in the garden to see the bloody thing.

Some beers thankfully print the end date on the label. Most say " Best Before End - See Neck " or "See bottle top". Its the See Neck ones that invariably do my head in . Usually the printing is so tiny, faded or badly printed I have to remove my specs and peer with one eye shut  about an inch from the bottle, slowly turning it round in the light. 

If some brewers manage to get the date on the label, why can't they all. So here are my awards for the best and worst for dates that are not printed on the label. .

Worst - Inveralmond Brewery Edinburgh Pale Ale. On the label it says " best before see shoulder" 
No it doesn't !  I  cannot find the bloody date anywhere !

Confusing - Fullers 1845 . the date appears to be printed in Klingon just below the bar code. Although if I narrow my eyes sufficiently enough it could be 1st  Dec 2019 ?? 

And the winner is - Robinsons Old Tom   I can actually see this one without squinting or taking it outside ( its under the  M of TOM). Well done.

End of first rant of 2018. Getting eye strain; time for a beer. Happy new year !

Thursday, 21 December 2017


The other night the BBC held their Sports Personality of the year awards. As usual I didnt watch it. So to celebrate that fact , here are my own, beer related awards for 2017.

The Best Name for a Beer Award 2017

I have been to the Glasgow Beer Festival for the last 3 years. There is always a good choice and this year was no exception. The beer with the best name was Cock Up Your Beaver. 

Brewed on the isle of Bute and for those with inquiring minds, its named after a  song and poem by Robbie Burns. A beaver is a type of Scottish hat, so cock up your beaver means to doff your hat. You didnt think it meant something else, surely ? 

Most Enlightening Beer Festival Conversation.

I always go to the Glasgow Beer Festival on my own ( Kenny No Mates), while the family tour  the shops . But I quickly get talking to anyone and this year I was sitting next to a couple from West Yorkshire. They were CAMRA members so we were chatting about our different branches etc. Then the topic of one of there mates Eric came up. Apparently he nearly always falls asleep in pubs. I thought, " hang on Ive seen a picture of him somewhere!"

Now, some years ago I acquired a 2010 copy of the Calderdale CAMRA Branch newsletter. One feature was "Snoozers in Boozers". Sure enough, after all this time  this is Eric.( see picture)

Now I have a mate who nearly always falls asleep on buses and trains after a pub crawl. So my next award is :-

Worst singing performance by a male artist in a pub 2017.

A group of us do a pub crawl about 5 times a year. One of us compiles a quiz, which we enjoy in each pub we visit. Our recent trip was to Malton. Settling into the first pub, The Crown, we started the quiz. Eventually the question was asked . " Name no 1 hit songs with the name of an animal in the title from these groups ". So examples  were  Culture Club  - " Karma Chameleon" and Tight Fit -  "The Lion Sleeps tonight". . 

Then it was the turn of he who sleeps on trains. The question was Sweet. After a brief thought he suddenly stood up and stared singing, with the accompanying dance movements as seen on Top of The Pops. "Tiger Feet" By Mud.

We all just stared with mouths open. What the **** ? That was Mud you daft sod ( or perhaps another word was used here), not Sweet !.  

You had to be there    
( The Sweet hit was Fox on the Run) 
Back to beer festivals now 

Best Sponsorship link at a beer festival.     
At the Sunderland Beer Festival held in October, one of the beers was called Black Jesus, brewed by Great Heck. Now various sponsors had been approached prior to the festival, either to have an advert in the Program, or sponsor a beer.

One of the establishments approached was a restaurant/ bar opposite the Sunderland Empire. It was named after its address , 2 Church Lane. So Black Jesus was sponsored by 2 Church Lane !

Best Beer at the Great British Beer Festival 

The first beer I tried when I got there in August was from the Titanic Bar - Plum Porter Grand Reserve. I couldn't smell the plums and it tasted just like a....porter. Not impressed. I thought they had upped the strength to 6% & given it a fancy name as a marketing tool. Well it worked, it keeps appearing this Xmas.
So not going for that one. Some of us agreed that Bathams Mild Ale was the best. At 3.5% it was not overly hoppy, it had a pleasant easy drinking caramel taste. Its been brewed in the West Midlands for years and a pleasant change from all these over hopped IPAs that are everywhere these days. ( There got that one off my chest !)

Best Pub for Customer Interaction ( and best Halloween Pumpkin)

A few weeks ago, on the way back from our 3rd Glasgow visit  ,  Mrs Ken and I called into The Crown Inn, in a village called Humshaugh, just north of Hexham.  It was early afternoon, the pub I think had just opened and we were the only drinkers. The barmaid was very chatty and took the time to tell us a lot about the pub and the area. Apparently the owner is a car nut and every first Sunday of the month there is a sports car gathering at the pub, when dozens of owners turn up with polished and sometimes expensive cars.

Outside the gents is a photo board which shows the many cars that turn up. They were planning on having a "turn up in your tractor event" after we visited. And the pumpkin, well here is the picture.

Worst pub for customer interaction

Every 3 months I deliver CAMRA Magazines to some of the real ale pubs in our branch. There is a pub called the Stackyard in West Herrington had reopened after a major refurb. So I called one Sunday lunchtime. The place was busy but I managed to get the attention of a member of staff, who could well have been the manager. I asked I her if I could leave some magazines.

" Are we in it ? " she said.
" Er no"  
" Well if we are not in it, no you cant leave any", She then turned her back and disappeared into the kitchen.
Not going back there again !.

Best friendly pub photo award

In total contrast to the aforesaid Stackyard, about 3 miles away is the Monument pub in Old Penshaw. When I drop CAMRA magazines off I am welcomed by the landlady, the locals and not forgetting the dogs. They go mad when anyone comes in. Now Ive been doing some research on the pub for a future magazine article and have been a couple of times lately. The other day I called in to take a picture of their real fire. After the usual ritual of excitable barks, jumping on me etc ( that would be the dogs by the way) , one of them posed for me next to the fire.

Best surprise beer in a pub  

One of my favourite beers is Owd Rodger. These days I only see it in bottles, so imagine my delight at seeing it on handpull in the Teal Farm, a Marstons pub in Washington. Its the first time Ive had it in cask form since the 80's in the Cooperage in Newcastle. To of us used to drink this 7.4% beer at lunchtime then go into work when we started at 3pm.         Happy days 

Best Pub Garden Experience 

Earlier this year a group of us did a pub bus crawl from Houghton le Spring to Seaton and Seaham.
Our 3rd pub was the Dun Cow in Seaton village. Being a warm sunny day, after getting the beers we retired to the garden. Glasses were placed on a picnic table and some of us sat down. For some reason I stood up, and the resulting imbalance caused the table to tip and at least 3 pints to project  into the air , showering their contents on the one of us sitting opposite. The poor bugger got soaked so much so he spent the rest of our time there in his underpants with his jeans drying on the garden wall.

I took the 3 empty glasses back inside and explained what had happened . 
" Oh yes", she said " that's happened before !"

Tuesday, 12 December 2017


It seems appropriate to share this tale. Last week I had a drink ( or drinks !) in Washington Village on 3 separate occasions ; The Steps, The Washington Arms and then then the Steps again !. This recent spell of cold weather reminded me of an event from the early 70s.

In those care free days we usually drank in the Village ; either the Arms, The Cross Keys or The Black Bush. One friday night we were having few in the Arms. My mate had a bright red Ford Capri the door of which opened with an actual key ( remember them !) 

Anyhow, it had started snowing before we go there and a blizzard soon set in, blanketing the Village Green and everything else in a deep covering of snow.

My mate had a had a few so someone else volunteered to get his car ( it was parked round the corner) and drive it round for him, He wasn't sure which car it was so I volunteered to help him identify it. Now remember we hadnt seen him arrive with his Capri, we were already getting well oiled in the Arms. 

Rounding the corner, we spotted a bright red Capri covered in snow and opened the door. With the help of the wipers we cleared the windows and put the heating on full blast . I got in the back and we put some music on the radio. This all took a while so the driver turned up , saw us and opened the passenger door. 

" What are you doing ?"

" Getting the car ready why ?"

" This isn't my car, that's mine back there !"

Sure enough, there was his  bright red Ford Capri about 20 yards behind. We hastily got out of the car locked it and ran back to the correct one. What must the owner of the wrong car have thought, seeing his windows all cleared and the car warming up !! And the same key opened both cars !!

Great night.


Monday, 27 November 2017


Four times a year several of us in our CAMRA Branch distribute our quarterly CAMRA Magazine. This time I set off in the car to Houghton le Spring & Penshaw. Being a Friday I was expecting it to be busy --- it was Black Friday after all - a term that has passed me by. I understand this term, like craft beer, has been imported from the States.  Sigh

Anyhow, I delivered to 8 pubs that Friday and they were all dead !  One of them was a Wetherspoons and I witnessed the unusual occurrence of their being more staff behind the bar than customers waiting to be served ie a ratio of 2:0  ; its usually a 1 : 10 ratio. 

One of the pubs had just opened at 3 and the barmaid was getting the fire lit. So I had a chat about how quiet it was for a Friday and so it all came out. She said that a lot of their customers were old men ( er, excuse me !) who were all dying off and not being replaced by younger drinkers. Being a village local most living around there used their bus passes and headed into Sunderland ( guilty as charged) for the day. I can sense a trend here. I said I was thinking about writing an article about the pub for the next issue of the magazine  " Do you think it will do any good ?" came the fatalistic  reply.

In my opinion, no matter what CAMRA do to encourage real ale drinking in pubs, its going to be the larger city centre pubs that are going to benefit, at the expense of the small ones. 

Typing this on , drum roll, Cyber Monday I set off on the bus down to Chester Le St to give out so more magazine.1 pub and 1 club ; dead !, There was only the local Spoons that was ticking over. 
I pulled out a handful of angles and said " where do you want them?" 

"Put some over there and some over there, but not over there as the older men tear them up"

"What do you mean, tear them up ?" Envisaging some form of origami or model making club.

" Yes, they tear them into strips to roll their tobacco in!"

On the way home I thought about the hours spent putting the magazine together, the effort put in to distribution, and these old gadgies are setting fire to them !!

Friday, 24 November 2017


The Winter edition of CAMRA Angle , the quarterly magazine of the Sunderland and South Tyneside branch of CAMRA, has  just been published. Copies are being  distributed to real ale pubs throughout the area , and beyond. As usual , this is another full issue and well worth a read.  This is issue 50, so by way of a celebration, the covers of the previous 49 are displayed on the front and back covers of this new issue so you cant miss it !

There are articles from our roving reporters in the National Beer Museum in Burton, Malton and St Petersburg ( no, that's  not a misprint). There is a centre spread containing the updated South Shields Real Ale Pub Guide and a review of the Peacock in Sunderland. 

Our chairman muses over his favourite pubs just outside the
branch area and updates us on beer from the wood news. There is also a feature on pub cellar management.  

We have a review of the Sunderland Beer Festival and the new 2018 Good Beer Guide.

A regular section is a news update on pubs and  breweries in the branch as well as Locale pubs and those that offer discounts.

Issue 50 is rounded off by pub quiz. 

Enjoy the read !!

If you cant find a copy, follow this link to download your own,  and for more branch news. .
And remember, accept no imitations.  

Saturday, 18 November 2017


There was an article in the paper the other week  about "The sensible drinking movement." It mentioned the fact that it is becoming more and more fashionable for young people to moderate their alcohol intake.

Fair enough, but not in my day. There was a time when we were in the boozer nearly every night, and usually some afternoons,  enjoying ourselves. There was only 3 TV channels , no internet, mobile phones. There was 3pm pub closing which used to curtail our sessions somewhat !  We had a great time - then we all got married.

Anyhow, on the subject of having a few and having a great day out, in the early 70's 5 of us had a trip through to Durham. After a lunchtime session starting in the Colpitts and ending up in the Shakespeare, we were ejected from the latter after 3pm closing so we decided to carry on up the hill to Durham Cathedral. 

Someone had the bright idea to climb up the tower ( inside !)  It was  a warm day as we admired the view of the County Durham countryside and the jail. Now the roof of the tower was sloping so we all lay down in the sun. The drink took over and soon we were asleep. 

We awoke with a start and decided to head back down the stairs ; after all the pubs would reopen at 6pm. Reaching the bottom, the large wooden door leading into the cathedral was locked. We were incarcerated in the tower !!

Banging on the door, we were eventually rescued by the verger who said " you were up there a long time !" ; suspiciously sniffing our breath.

True Story - happy days.