Monday, 7 January 2019


There was an article in the Winter edition of CAMRA Angle called Desert Island Breweries, where 8 breweries were picked as favourites. So I thought, why not take my favourite beers with me to a desert island.

Now setting  aside the fact that I will need a fully functioning bar to make all this happen, here we go.

            1. Theakstons Old Peculier.

In the summer of 1974 three of my friends and I were walking the southern half of the Pennine Way and had arrived at a youth hostel in Hawes in Wensleydale. We headed down into the village and were soon in the Crown Inn in the Market Place for scampi and chips in a basket and a few beers. I don’t know who spotted the Old Peculier first, but they are forever in my debt.  Having been on a diet of keg S&N , Bass Charrington  and Cameron’s over the years, this 5.7% drink was an absolute revelation. Thick, black and chewy with a hint of liquorice , we all agreed this was amazing. I think this was my first real ale. Needless to say, I do not recall the walk back to the hostel.

2. Marstons Owd Rodger

I first started drinking this on handpull in The Cooperage in Newcastle. I used to work shifts so would sometimes meet up with a mate and have a few before going to work  (Its 7.4%). Rarely seen on handpull it is usually a topic of conversation with guys I meet for the first time :- 

Me - " Have you ever had Owd Rodger in cask form?" 
"Oh yes, I used to drink it in the Cooperage" " 
Did you really, so did I !"

Nice a dark, chewy, fruity and warming 

3. Brains Dark 

Great British Beer Festival August 4th 2011. As usual there were hundreds of ales from all over the UK and the world to choose from, but for starters I made a beeline for the Wales bar and Brains Dark. I had never had this 3.8% mild before and was easily the best beer I had that day. Soon the friends I was with were dashing off to try some.One of the rare times I have had a repeat beer at the same festival.

4. Robinsons Old Tom.

Again, another GBBF favourite. This 8.5% old ale is dangerously drinkable. I remember an early GBBF when 3 of us tried some; we weren't very coherent after that ! The Station House in Durham have it on every Xmas and, guess what I had some !  Available in small bottles so I have the occasional treat.

5. Broughton Old Jock.

I first spotted this one in a CAMRA book, 300 Beers to Try Before You Die. I then spotted it in bottled form in an Asda in Glasgow. My daughter lives there so guess what, its always on my Fathers Day/ Birthday/Christmas list. I must still  have 6 bottles stashed away after the Xmas  festivities ! Last seen on handpull at our Sunderland Beer Festival. Saving some for Burns Night.

Like Owd Rodger , dark and fruity. Oh and another strong one at 6.7%

6. Maxim Maximus

Closer to home this one and at 6%,. another dangerously drinkable beer. I remember nearly 10 years ago after it was first brewed, my mates and I had a pub crawl in Chester Le Street and we ended up in the Cricket Club. One of the guys is not a heavy drinker and Ive never seen him have anything over 5% ( Abbott) . He ordered the Maximus without reading the label properly.  I forget what I had but I said :-

" Er are you sure you want that, its 6%"
" Oh shit better not, can we swap?"

I was delighted.

Last had this one in The Library pub in Durham between Xmas and New Year. Still as good as ever. 

7. Brass Castle Bad Kitty

Appears on an occasional basis in the Station House Durham and when I first tried it last year I was blown away by the complexities of the coffee/chocolate aroma and flavour. I usually can't smell beer but this one hits the spot. "Only" 5.5% but a splendid warming porter.

8. Fullers Vintage Ale.

Another strong one (8.5%) for which I make no apologies. Appears around Xmas every year only in bottle form as a limited edition. Each special box that it comes in is given a unique number. This is bottled conditioned so if I do manage to get a fridge on this desert island there will need to be room to store this upright.  

PS. By a coincidence, I picked up a copy of a CAMRA Magazine, Swale Ale, before Xmas. Based in Kent, their Branch Chairman wrote an article called, you guessed it "Desert Island Beers".  Old Peculier made his list.

This is catching !

Thursday, 20 December 2018


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, in no particular order, beer related awards for 2018.

The First In The queue For The Champion Beer Of Britain 2018 Award

That goes to yours truly ! ( I am deeply humbled)

At out regular annual visit to the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF)  it had been announced that the Champion Beer of Britain was Siren Craft Broken Dream Biscuit Stout. Every year it sells out and there is usually a sign saying " available at 3 pm".

I headed to the bar it was on and saw the handpull clip turned around. So standing there I looked up to the large sign ( that they have behind each bar) to  see what else I could have instead. I was just about to order when this CAMRA volunteer suddenly spun the pump clip round. 

Stunned I said " er er half please ". Looking round, a large queue had formed behind me . Oh, the power !

And the beer ? Well lets just say Ive forgotten what it tastes like.

Best beer at GBBF

You may think I have gone mad here. There was a Greene King bar where the brewery had on several of their beers, including the IPA. Why sell this  IPA at a beer festival ? 

Anyhow, i noticed in the programme the strongest beer was their 5X. At 12%, this oak aged beer is rarely seen and it was fantastic. Mind you, it was the last drink I had in the 6 hours I was their so that could have had a bearing on it. 

This flows nicely into the next award, Best Beer at the Sunderland Beer & Cider Festival.   

A late replacement beer was a Coco Pops Milk Stout from Hambleton Brewery. It did what it said on the label. Far superior to the Siren Broken Dream. It was voted best at the festival, a worthy winner. 

Things That Go Wrong At A Beer Festival Award 2018 

Joint winners this year ( why, have you awarded this one before - ed ?) go to The Goods Lift and the Glass Washer

The first day of the Sunderland Festival was collection and delivery of kit and beer day.  Access for the heavy stuff was from an alleyway behind the venue, then up a dodgy goods lift. The door to the alleyway locked from the inside. At the very end of the day, several of the team decided to cram into the lift together to get up to the floor of the venue where the festival was to be held. Fortunately for me, i wasnt one of them.

They hadn't appeared after several minutes and a phone call from inside established the fact the lift was stuck. We couldn't get to them from outside as the door was locked. Finding a member of staff, she rang her boss and then said " we will try and get an electrician out "  TRY ?

To reassure the trapped group, they were told they would be rescued by morning. After about 20 minutes, the lift suddenly recovered and soon the merry band spilled  out of the lift doors.

The second day was bar set up day. I decided I would do the glass washing. After a while figuring out how to work it we were soon in full flow. The venue manager came into the kitchen and said " that's broken" . Err. 

After several washes we noticed the tiled floor was getting flooded. The bloody thing was leaking !. The guy came back, saw the puddle, chucked half a dozen paper towels down , then buggered off ! He never came back !

Soon a rhythm was established, place glasses in washer ; mop floor ; remove glasses, mop floor etc .

The Most Confusing Pie Menu Award 2018   

There is a pub on the Newcastle Quayside called The Red House. A group of us were doing a summer pub crawl in Newcastle and finished up in this pub, ready for some nosh. The speciality is Pies, Mash and Peas. So far so good. There were a choice of 8 pies, 4 types of mash, 3 types of peas and 3 of gravy. There was also 6 of us onto our 6th pint of the day.

The more alert of you can see the problem here. As we each wanted  different combinations I had to place 6 separate lengthy orders. The sheet of paper  looked like a project GANTT chart.

Of course with us well away, most of us forgot what we had ordered so we just ate what was plonked in front of us ! 

The Best Pub Crawl Award 2018

In October a bunch of us set off on the bus on a mystery trip to Allendale. I knew where to but the others didnt. By a remarkable coincidence the visit coincided with the opening of a new sci-fi museum in the town.. The place was swarming with Star Wars Storm Troopers, Cybermen, Chewbacca and other dressed up characters. One pub had been taken over as a Dr Who convention, full of memorabilia and fans queuing to pay £5 for the autograph of the actor who played a sergeant in the 70's.

We were pissing ourselves laughing at all these people taking this all so seriously. Outside, Chewbacca sidled up to one on my mates and said " Your Mick aren't you, I used to work with you !" 

The Pub With The Most Pointless Place For A Pool Table 2018

For Fathers Day this year Mrs Ken, Daughter and me went on a steam train trip from Fort William to Mallaig. In Mallaig, we headed for fish and chips in the Chlachain Inn. After the food, daughter challenged me to a game of pool. Now a pool cue is 57" long. Unfortunately 2 sides of the table were less than half of that. Most of the game was spent holding the cue vertically, risking damaging the table. If you have seen Peter Sellers ( as Inspector Clouseau ) playing snooker with George Sanders in  the film, Shot in the Dark, you get the drift.

I still won ! 

And Finally The Best Pub Award 2018 

Now  I just checked, Ive been in half a dozen micropubs this year. The best, and the one I visit nearly every week is The Station House in Durham. 4 beers all on gravity and always a dark beer. The staff know what I like to drink which makes the place so welcoming.

A recent tweet stated that Old Peculier was on. 
I replied - "Keep some for Tuesday"
"Too late, but we have Old Tom coming !"

And so it was when I arrived. It coincided with the pubs 3rd birthday, so I got a free cup cake  Marvellous 

Thursday, 6 December 2018


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 issue has three, what I think are unique articles in their own right :-

Desert Island Breweries, A Mystery Trip and the tale of beer mat that travelled around Europe.

Being its Xmas, there are 3 timely book reviews, including the Good Beer Guide. 

Two articles revisit old haunts ( Ive never understood what that means - Ed)  . Kent Micropubs and Middesbrough Micropubs ( must do the latter sometime ! - Ed again)  

If any one gets confused about how the Pub of the Year is chosen, then this issue is for you. There is also a report about our recent beer festival.

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.
And remember, accept no imitations. 

Monday, 12 November 2018


Sometimes ideas for this blog just come out of nowhere. 

Yesterday ( Nov 11th) Mrs Ken and I were at Beamish Museum for the Armistice event. After the ceremony we had a wander around and went into the Regional Resource Centre, which houses hundreds of items that are waiting go on display, or  taken off display. A lot are stacked up to the ceiling. Items such as old domestic appliances, furniture, toys and even a penny farthing bicycle.

Looking at this last one and wondering who on earth came up with an idea like that I said to Mrs Ken , to let me know if she spots any beer related items . " What, like that display behind you ?"

Some items are on shelves behind perspex panels such as these 4 wooden Theakstons Casks, 2 with XXXX, 1 with BBB and 1 with XB. Now Ive heard of and has XB but not the other two. Must look into that.

Opposite this was an even better display and I include some pictures. Being behind perspex, and with strong ceiling lights, it was hard to get the right shot, hope you can see them Ok.

Note the bar price list ( I wish some pubs would have displays like this but dont get me started.) The bottle of Roker Roar was produced by Vaux to celebrate Sunderland's Promotion to the Premier League in 1996.

Worth a visit 


Tuesday, 23 October 2018


A few weeks ago I suggested to my mates " fancy a mystery trip pub crawl?" They were all up for it so last Saturday 8 of us convened for breakfast in the 5 Swans Newcastle. Still keeping them in suspense, we walked along to Eldon Square Bus Station and queued at the stand that said

X 10 Middlesborough ,
X82  Throckley , 
X85 Newbrough. 

They were still mystified as we got on the express for Newbrough and got off at Hexham Bus Station. 

Our next bus to our mystery destination was not for an hour so a quick pint in the County Hotel seemed the sensible thing to do. One guy, who happened to be sitting in a backwards facing seat on the bus said " so this is Throckley ?" Wrong town mate.

The Crown was quite pleasant with well kept beers but only time for a pint, as the next bus was due. So back to the bus station and the number 688 to Allenheads. We got off at Allendale Town half an hour later,  as the town had three pubs worth looking at ; The Golden Lion, The Kings Head and the Allendale Inn.

The first pub was too small for 8 of us so we opted for The Kings head which is literally next door.

But before we even got to the door , marching towards us were three some Star Wars Stormtroopers brandishing their weapons. What on earth was going on ? Turns out a new science fiction museum had opened that day in the town so they were doing some  publicity and collecting for the local school. Parking this experience,  we dived into the Kings Head for a another pint ; some bland Marstons beers.

After one, it was time to investigate this museum. That's when the fun started -outside was Chewbacca from Star Wars, a Cyberman with a bald head , a Dalek in a shed (?) and other characters. The museum cost £7 entrance, in unison we all said - " sod that, that's nearly 2 pints"  so after some photos, straight into the Allendale Inn which seemed to be the centre of attention. 

Inside a few tables were taken up by some Dr Who memorabilia and, as it turned out , an ex actor from Dr Who , John Levene (no,  me neither) . He was there to open the museum and sign autographs in the pub at £5 a time. There was actually people of all ages queuing up for the honour. He apparently played a sergeant in the 70's during the days of Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker.
We just sat there thinking we had just entered some sort of parallel universe as we came over the moors on the bus. The local townsfolk just seemed to be taking it their stride. We were pissing ourselves laughing most of the time. The height of the surrealism of it all was when back outside ,  Chewbacca came over and mentioned to one of the lads that he used to work with him !

With buses being every two hours it was time to travel back through the portal and back to Hexham and sanity. A pint in The Heart of Northumberland went down well then down to the Tannery for some excellent grub. 

Getting back to Newcastle , it seemed sensible to go for beer in the Town Mouse to round off the day and recover from what we had just seen.

In all honesty, the pubs and the beers came secondary to our unique experience in Allendale. The lads thought I had planned the whole thing to coincide with this sci fi weekend. Pure chance honest ! 


Tuesday, 16 October 2018


As our daughter works in Glasgow Mrs Ken and I dont need any excuse to go north. This time it was a Sunday to a Tuesday ( weekend before last ). 

Now in the new Good Beer Guide there is a new entry called Crossing the Rubicon. It was one of daughters haunts and they hold a quiz every Sunday night, so why not ? Located on the Great Western Road it was primarily a keg bar from Williams Brothers Brewery ( the co owners with Drygate Brewery) but they did sell real ale ( through founts), quite common in Scotland.

The quiz was called Speedquizzing, which I had heard of but not taken part in. You have to load an app onto your smartphone, or in our case a tablet. Enjoying my Merchant City 80/-, nice and malty, in walks the quizmaster , lugging a console thing, bags and other stuff. Out of one of the bags he dons a sparkly jacket. I thought " what have we walked into here ?"

Actually he quite was good and apparently he does different pubs most nights and daughter knew what to do. He sets it all up with a control app , then every team logs in with a team name. Ours was " Whiskey Pedia"

He then asked us all to nominate our theme tune, which would automatically play if we answered a question first. We picked from a list, Atomic by Blondie. 

So , the idea is that before each question he sends out either a keypad grid if letters A- E -  these are for multi choice questions, or a grid of  the full alphabet so we could answer by giving the first letter of the answer. So if question was, name the largest city in Scotland, you hit the letter G as quick as you can. The first in gets their signature tune played and max points.

( I hope you are all following this ?)  ( You lost me - ed)

Anyhow, our tablet kept dropping out and we had to log back on each time. Imagine doing that when you have to answer questions within a micro second ? So Mister Tinsel brought over a spare so we could use. Unfortunately he had typed in our team wrong , so for the rest of the night we were the  "Whisky Pedo's" !

Halfway thru he asked the teams to write down their  funniest joke, which he would read out for a prize.
Daughter suggested this :-

"Roses are Red, Violets are Glorious
Dont Creep up on Oscar Pistorious"

The team with the most laughs won. So we laughed and cheered at our own and won !.

A box of chocolate fingers
Some hand cream
4 cans of Williams of Joker IPA.

We came third overall which wasn't bad considering it was a quiz for the young ones ( I was oldest in the bar).

One final word - its back to the beer. I ordered another 80/- while daughter ordered a pint of some fruity keg IPA. I had a was bloody awful. It was so hoppy and bitter my cheeks sucked in to meet in the middle. She didnt like my beer either so its down to age and taste I guess.

A good night was had by all.

PS - had a chocolate finger the next day but no sign of the beer !! Someone must have knocked it all back in the intervening period.    


Wednesday, 10 October 2018


Being a personal account of the 2018 Sunderland Beer & Cider Festival.

Day 1 - Collection of equipment.

All the equipment for the beer festival is held in a lock up somewhere in South Tyneside ; and it all has to be transported to the festival venue, The Point in Sunderland. So thats everything that is needed to make up the 2 bars, the racking for the casks, handpulls, flooring and dozens of glasses and boxes. The heavy stuff went in one van which would be unloaded at the front of the venue, the rest in a second van to be unloaded at the back of the Point into the cellar. Access from the cellar was only possible by this dodgy lift that took our stuff to the festival, floor.

Several trips up and down were made in the lift, which only had one light - on the verge of going out. At some point at the end of this up and down, seven of the guys found themselves in the cellar waiting to go up. Luckily I wasn't one of them. No lift arrived. Where the hell are they. After 5 minutes I banged on the door. A muted response. Apparently they were stuck. We found out later the lift went down a few inches instead of up. The cellar door was locked from the inside so we couldn't get in to "rescue "them.

We found the caretaker who promptly rang someone and said " Hes going to try and get an electrician out "  Try ?

Suddenly the phone rang of one of us in the safety and comfort of the main hall. Updates were given and to comfort the magnificent seven down below, we told them an engineer would be out at 9am the next morning.

After half an hour ( some later said 20 minutes and 45 minutes ) the lift apparently "woke up ", and the door opened. What happened next was probably the fast exodus from a lift in history.

Day 2 - Set up day.

After collecting most of the casks and cider boxes from Maxim Brewery, as we do every year , we headed into town in the van to drop them off, to be carried up in the notorious lift. This time there were no incidents. 

Most of the guys were assembling the racking for the casks  and bar so decided to keep out of the way and wash the 400 plus glasses we had left over from last year. There is a small kitchen with a small glass washer. After spending several minutes figuring out how it worked, our efforts were helped enormously when we switched the power on at the wall. 
After a few button presses it was loaded up and we were good to go.

After about 10 mins and a few successful washes the guy who managed the place walked in. " That's broken" he said. " Well its working now, where do we send the repair bill ?"

Just then we all looked down at the slowly growing pool of water on the tiled floor of the kitchen. The water was heading to the door leading to the landing at the top of the staircase down to the entrance. With quick presence of mind the manger grabbed 3 ( I counted them) tissues, stuffed them against the door, then buggered off !!   He didnt come back.  

Luckily I found a mop and bucket so spent the next few hours with 2 others washing, re- boxing and mopping.  Another behind the scenes drama the punters never see.

Day 3 - Day One ( if you see what I mean)

I was busy behind the bar for most of the afternoon. This couple, who I remember from last year, kept coming to the bar and ordering one of the stouts. She came first, wandered off then shared her half with her boyfriend. Then he would come up and so on. After an hour of this they had gone through all the dark beers, including an 11% Russian Stout. They came over to say they were off, as he had a woodwork class to go to !! Visions of scenes of the DIY guy, Reg Prescott from the Kenny Everet show came to mind as they left for another year.

Day 4- Day two

I was helping out on the front desk today which included wrapping a wrist band round the payees and handing out glasses/ programs. One guy came back for a new wrist band as the one he had on was too tight, digging into his skin and severely restricting his drinking hand ! Cant have that !

I was a good way to get to know our customers but if I was honest I preferred behind the bar   

Day 5 - Day three

An interesting experiment was carried out today. One of the beers was from Black Sheep, a milk stout - newly released in bottle and cask . Now to me, it didnt taste like one, with no or not much lactose in it. Anyhow, one of the guys had a bottle so we had a blind taste of both. I thought the bottle was better -  in fact the score was 10 -7 in favour of the bottle !
I bought a one after the festival but have not tried it yet. 

This was a Saturday and we were just ticking over. Also my last day as heading for Glasgow on Sunday morning - see next blog soon.