Monday, 31 March 2014

tweet chat thingy

Currently doing a tweet chat thing. Not sure what it is really, Luddite that I am. I think it means you can ask me stuff and, er, stuff like that. About my new book, The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer

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Me talking yet again

You must be getting fed up of the sound of my voice. In the off chance that you aren't, this is me talking on BBC Radio 4's Food Programme:

This is a written interview, so you won't have to listen to my East Midlands drawl:

Book tour day nine - Washington

I awake on Saturday feeling a bit strange. And full of diarrhoea.

Jamie suggests we go to the Pancake House so I can work off my bacon deficit. Outside I feel worse. A lot worse. Soon the contents of my stomach are splashing all over Jamie's lawn. Just as well I was outside.

Breakfast is definitely off the menu as I head back to bed. With a bowl beside it just in case. It turns out my caution was well founded. My listless sleep is occasionally punctuated by bouts of vomitting.

This is worrying. I have an event later. I'm supposed to be talking later and I can't even really stand. A real bummer.

I can guess the cause of my illness. It must be something I ate at that Golden Corral. Fortunately niether Jamie nor Paul ate any of the same things I did. They're both fine.

It had been planned for me to do some book-signing a couple of hours before the event, but that's cancelled. It gives me a little more time to recover. We drive over to 3 Stars in the late afternoon. I'm still not feeling great and doze in the car for an hour until it's showtime. It does me the power of good. I'm almost feeling human.

I do a little light book-signing and chatting. I'm not feeling great. Just about good enough to function. My stomach is behaving itself just enough for me to be able to take the odd sip of beer. That's good. Because it's sort of an integral part of the event.

We only work out what we're going to do just before it starts. It's a 30-second conversation between me and Jamie. BURP (Jamie & Paul's homebrew club) members have brewed six beers from the book. I put each of the beers into historical context, then the brewer says a little about how it was brewed.

It's a neat format. It gives me a rocky ledge from which to dive into the ocean of historical beer. From that fixed starting point, I wander randomly into the past, pointing out interesting sights as I go. It takes an hour or so, with me talking most of the time.

Once I'm done, I immediately feel totally exhausted. I struggle to chat, though there are plenty who want to talk to me. Including Catherine Portner, descendant of the family that once owned the largest brewery in Alexandria. With her sister, she plans opening a brewery making recipes from the original Robert Portner Brewing Company. It's an interesting project.

I really have to force myself to keep talking. I'm dead on my feet. Just as well I'd been able to sit down during the event.

Back at Paul and Jamie's, I have a bowl of turkey soup. It's the only thing I've eaten all day, other than a handful of crackers.

Let's hope I feel better tomorrow when we're off to Baltimore for the trip's final event.

The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer

The Original Pancake House
7703 Woodmont Ave.,
Tel: 301-986-0285

3 Stars Brewing
6400 Chillum Pl NW,
Washington, DC 20011.
Tel: +1 202-670-0333

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Book tour day eight - Williamsburg

Breakfast is included this time. But there's no bacon, just sausage. I sob quietly as that horrible revelation sinks in.

We arrive in the historic bit of Williamsburg before opening time. Frank is there to let us in. We'll be brewing in the scullery of the Governor's Palace. It's pretty bare, just a fireplace, whitewashed walls, brick floor and a few wooden tubs.

We've time for a quick tour of the kitchen next door before we start. They're a cheeful and welcoming bunch who work in the kitchens. They get to make all sorts of fun food, only some of which gets eaten, sadly. The smoke house is wonderfully, er, smoky and the meat smells delicious. I feel like slicing off a slice.

The brewing equipment is pretty basic. Very basic. A copper pan dangling over a wood fire and a couple of half-barrel tubs. But first Frank makes some hot chocolate. They had great trouble getting hold of raw cocoa beans. Eventually they sourced them via Mars. It was worth the effort. The chocolate is delicious.

The water is heating in the copper pan. We're cheating a little because we're using a thermometer. It does make sense. No point messing up the mash for nit-picking historical detail.

We're brewing a Porter. From a mix of grains, including some home toasted malt. I get to ladle some of the water into the tub. Then we tip in the malt and start stirring. A lot. This is when I discover exactly how to use a brewing oar. And realise the purpose behind its form. It's rather good at breaking up the clumps of malt that have formed. This so much fun . . . . as long as you don't have to do it all day, every day.

Once we've finished stirring, Frank has a go at capping off the mash with some malt. It's never worked before and the malt has just sunk. This time it miraculously floats on the top. It's blindingly obvious what effect it has. There's no longer steam rising from the mash. Heat is clearly being retained.

We fetch sandwiches for lunch. And try some of the beers made commercially for Williamsburg, Stitch and Mumme. I really like the Stitch.

After lunch we make essentia bina - burnt sugar. It's quite a scary process. Brown sugar and molasses are heated in a small pot over the fire. Fank tells us that the trick is not to stir it. If you do, it won't ignite. The sugar plops and bubbles like lava then flames appear on its surface. Frank lets it burn a while then takes it off the fire and adds water to cool it.

We're only doing two mashes today. There isn't enough time for a third. The wort is run off and more hot water poured over the grains. The first wort is boiled with the hops. After a while we add what's left of the essentia bina - I kicked half of it over the floor. The effect is magical. The wort turns pitch black after a couple of minutes boiling. Very impressive. There's also some liquorice root in the boil. Should make for an interesting beer. It's a shame I won't get to drink it.

I've a little time to kill before my talk in the early evening. I buy a pack of old-fashioned cards and wooden dice for the kids. Some lavender soap for Dolores. Then a beer and a couple of whiskies in the Dog Street Pub. Just to strighten my head out.

My talk is in a little theatre. It's the most professional venue I've ever spoken in. I even wear a radio mike.

I'm scheduled to talk for an hour. I manage to get through in just 80 minutes. Not bad going fo me. It's a bit too technical for most of the audience, but the home brewers love it.

Jamie didn't sleep well and I feel sorry for her having to drive us back to Washington. We struggle to find somewhere to eat on the journey and end up in Golden Corral. All you can eat for $13. It turns out not to have been such a bargain. At least for me.

The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer

Governor's Palace
Palace Green St,
Williamsburg, VA 23185.
Tel: +1 800-447-8679

DoG Street Pub
401 W Duke of Gloucester St
Williamsburg, VA 23185.
Tel: +1 757-293-6478

Golden Corral‎

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Book tour day seven - Williamsburg

I'm up early. Very early. My train is at 07:45.

I'm meeting Jamie and Paul at Union Station in Washington. They're driving me down to Williamsburg.

20 minutes before arrival, I think about adding Jamie's phine number to my contatcs. Then noice that the battery is dead. Bum. This being an Amtrak train there's a socket by my seat. I start charging it.

Perhaps I should explain here about my phone. It's a US one Martha got for me. $6.95, with 200 minutes credit. A bargain. And dead handy, given all the travelling I'm doing. I start worrying about how I'll contact Paul and Jamie if my phoe is dead. Do pay phones still exist?

My phone hasn't charged. And I'm to technologically-challenegd to work out how to switch it on. Entering the station I'm gobsmacked to see a row of pay phones. They do still exist. Phew.

I won't go into all the excruciating effort it takes to contact Paul and Jamie. Let's just say that it involved two pay phones (the first turned out to be broken) a good deal of walking and the purchase of two newpapers. And a good deal of freezing my arse off. The weather has turned cold again. And it's blowing a gale. But outside the station is still as dazzlingly bright as I remember. Last time here I was virtually blinded.

On the way down to Williamsburg we stop in Joe's Crab Shack in Fredriksburg to eat. I have various seefoody things and a Landshark. Followed by a Boston Lager. The beer selection isn't great.

After checking in to our hotel, we head for Colonial Williamsburg to see Frank Clark. He's arranged everything here and we'll be brewing together tomorrow. I'm dead excited about that. My chance to do some authentic 18th-century-style brewing. Today I have some important form-filling to do. Including one that waives my right to sue, should I be maimed during the brewing process.

We spend the evening in the Green Leafe Cafe, which has a decent range of beer. I drink various things, mostly IPA-like. Though I do throw in something Stouty for variation.

I don't stay up too late. Tomorrow will be an exciting day.

The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer

Joe's Crab Shack
2805 Plank Rd,
Fredericksburg, VA 22401.
Tel: +1 540-548-3844

Green Leafe Cafe
765 Scotland St,
Williamsburg, VA 23185.
Tel: +1 757-220-3405

Friday, 28 March 2014

Book tour day six - Philadelphia

I'll try to rattle through today quicker than yesterday. Otherwise I'll still be writing this trip up when I embark on my next.

Breakfast isn't included at my hotel so I turn to Google Maps. There's a diner just around the corner.

It's in the indoor market. I somehow managed to miss that last time I was in Philadelphia. 30th Street Station excepted, there's not one place I recall from my last visit. It seems like a different town. I eat my usual egg and bacon combo. And drink an orange juice. Important to keep up the vitamin intake.

First stop in the Dock Street Brewery. Not that we stop, because it isn't open.

Instead, we go to Local 44 which is. Interesting. It looks like it was built as a pub.

I'm reassured by the sight of handpulls. Unfortunately, the Yards IPA is off. I pass on the Bombardier. Not sure I'd even drink that in the UK, unless desparate. I have a perfumy IPA-ype thing. I can't remember what it's called, but then again, I'm not trying to. This is my relaxing time, not my pointlessly obsessing time.

After a couple we head back to Dock Street, which is now open. We chat with a brewer, then the owner. No, I can't recall what I'm drinking. I'm too relaxed.

The evening's event in Yards is a bit chaotic. One of the sudience tries to take over my talk. Which is a bit annoying. I manage to wrest it back when he says something that's bollocks. Oh well. I sell a few books. And sign a few. I hadn't realised how early Yards closes in the evening and am a bit surprised when we get thrown out at 19:00.

I pop in for some Dim Sum on the way back. Full of dumplingy goodness.

Tomorrow I head for Washington.

The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer

Down Home Diner
51 N 12th St
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Tel: +1 215-627-1955

Dock Street Brewing Co
701 S 50th St,
Philadelphia, PA 19143.
Tel: +1 215-726-2337

Local 44
4333 Spruce St,
Philadelphia, PA 19104.
Tel: +1 215-222-2337

Yards Brewing Company
901 N Delaware Ave,
Philadelphia, PA 19123.
Tel: +1 215-634-2600

Dim Sum Garden
59 N 11th St.,
Philadelphia, PA 19107.
Tel: +1 215-627-0218

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Book tour day five - Philadelphia (part two)

Already on part two and I've not even left New York. Let's see if I can get all the way to the end of Tuesday this time.

"Have your tickets and id ready for inspection." They say. I obediently take out my verblijfsvergunning and hold it in the same hand as my ticket. It's a dead handy document, a verblijfsvergunning. I'm pretty sure they think it's a driving licence in the US. Whatever, they accept it as id. It saves having to take my passport everyehere with me. 

The ticket inspector is only interested in inspecting my ticket. Waste of time getting out my id.

There are no free pairs of seats so I sit next to a middle-aged woman. I put my magazine ticket and verblijfsvergunningon my seat while I hunk my monster bag onto the overhead luggage rack. When I look back at my seat, the magazine and ticket are there, but the verblijfsvergunningis nowhere to be seen.

I check my wallet. No, I hadn't put it back. I check the floor under my seat. No. Under the seat in front. Not there, either. Under the seats across the gangway. No. I start panicking. And sweating. Just as well there are no security guards about.

I sit down nervously and do through my wallet again. No, definitely not in there. Where the hell could the thing have disappeared to. I check a wide area of floor, crawling around on my knees. This is bollocks. It's not as bad a s losing my passport, but it will still be a pain in the arse getting a new one.

Twenty minutes into the journey, I'm still full of anxiety, anger and apathy. Where could it have gone. In a final depairing attempt, I stick my hand down the back of my seat. And out pops my verblijfsvergunning. What a fun start to the journey.

I get a taxi to my hotel when I get to Philadelphia. It's not far and only costs me ten bucks.

The strange covered-in bit of road outside my hotel looks familiar. When have I seen it before? I know - when we took the crazy Chinese bus from Washington to New York. This is where it stopped in Philadelphia. I'm in China Town.

Despite this being my free day, I have a couple of appointments. Most important is meeting George Hummel, who has arranged my event at Yards tomorrow. He's going to show me around later. First I'm havong a few beers with one of my blog readers, Ed Draper, and his faincée Michelle.

We meet at Home Sweet Hombrew, George's homebrew shop. I'm a bit late, having got disorientated on leaving my hotel. We head off for the City Tap house. The weather is being weird. Having spent the last couple of days freezing my bollocks off, it's now warm enough to sit outside in the sun. Where we have a few beers.

I've mentioned on the blog that I'll be in the Nodding Head brewpub around 18:00, which I am. Another blog reader, Bill King, is waiting there with some books for me to sign. More beers are drunk.

Last time I was in town, I didn't have chance to visit Monks Cafe. For reasons entirely outside my control: a bus smashed into the front of it the day I arrived. Now I can see if it lives up to its awesome reputation. I break one of my most important rules: I drink a European beer. I've a good excuse. It's Tilquin Geuze, a beer I can't nornally buy. And a cracking beer.

I follow it up with a Pliny the Elder. Which goes very nicely with my mussels. George is very entertaining as he shows me his hometown. He's quite a character and seems to know every publican and barperson in town. Which is quite handy. We arrange to meet around midday the following day. For a few more beers while I'm waiting for the evening's event.

Which is what we'll hear about next time.

The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer

Home Sweet Homebrew
2008 Sansom St.
Philadelphia PA 19103
Tel: +1 215-569-9469

City Tap House
3925 Walnut St,
Philadelphia, PA 19104.
Tel: +1 215-662-0105

Nodding Head
1516 Sansom St,
Philadelphia, PA 19102.
Tel: +1 215-569-9525‎

Monk's Cafe
264 S 16th St,
Philadelphia, PA 19102.
Tel: +1 215-545-7005

Jose Pistola's
263 S 15th St,
Philadelphia, PA 19102.
Phone:+1 215-545-4101

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Me on the radio again

Here's me bullshitting on the radio again:

It was recorded a couple of weeks ago, when I was in Brooklyn.

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Book tour day five - Philadelphia

Tuesday begins in leisurely fashion. Gazing vaguely at the TV in my undercrackers.

It's not an attractive sight, but no-one's there to see it. Washed, shaven and bekecked, I head up to the fifth floor for breakfast. It's billed as a continental breakfast. I don't get my hopes up too much.

If I liked cake, I'd be in heaven. Sadly I'm savoury to my core. I've only two topping options: butter or cheese.

At least I assume it's cheese. When I unwrap a slice the contents seem more plasticy than the plastic around them. Though it doesn't seem to make much difference whether I eat that or the wrapper, I plonk the cream-coloured putty on a slice of toast. Can something have negative taste? This reputed cheese seems to. Negative texture, too. It pushes the boundary of bland further than I care to go.

Not the best breakfast I've ever had.

I ask the hotel to call me a cab. I'm still waiting for someone to come back with that old gag "OK, you're a cab." but they never do. As I'd hoped, it's a car service rather than a yellow cab. I ask the driver how much it will cost to get to Penn Station. pretty reasonable is what it is.

The traffic is heavy and I've not quite as much time as I'd hoped at the station. I needed three things: a wee, some food for the train and a stiff drink. Not necessarily in that order. Though I did need the wee first. If an unfortunate trouser-soiling incident were to be avoided.

Luckily Penn Station had public bogs. Free ones. And not even filthy. Score.

I spot a TGI Friday's on the concourse and slip up to the bar.

"Is this seat free" I ask the nice young lady alreadt sitting at the bar.


I order a double Jack Daniels. The young lady is drinking a cocktail. And has a ring in her nose. She's also reading a Kurt Vonnegut novel.

"He's a great writer. I loved his stuff when I was younger." I've only 10 minutes. Why not spend them talking to another human being? No chance of being suspected of trying to chat her up. I've only time for a few sentences and a quickly gulped dose of whiskey.

She's waiting for a train, too, unsurprisingly. Just had an interview at the publisher's Penguin. I tell her I'm in the US to promote my book.

"What's it called?"

"The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer." I have to repeat it three times before she undertands it.

"It's your accent."

Been a while since I had anyone struggle with my accent. Though it happened fairly regularly when I lived in New York. I think I'm pretty easy to understand.

I'd like to eat on the train. I can't linger. The only reason I have any time left at all is that my train is 30 minutes late. At least that's what it said on the departure board.

I say goodbye to the nice young lady and rush off in search of food. A sandwich is all I need. I blow off my first choice when the queue appears immobile. I get served immediately at the next place. But have to wait to pay. Which prompts some grade-A worrying.

Pointlessly, as it turns out. They still haven't let passengers down onto the platform. I've some waiting to do.

"Have your tickets and id ready for inspection." That instruction was to cause me a good deal of panic in a few moments. But we'll learn about that next time . . .

The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer

T.G.I. Friday’s
484 8th Ave
New York, NY 10001
Tel: +1 212-630-0307

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Book tour day four - Brooklyn (part two)

It's a busy day, Monday, as I told you. I wasn't kidding. Still lots more happening.

Radio interview done, we've still a fair bit of time before showtime. Best not spend it all just boozing. I want my best legs on for later. A couple of the Brouwerij Lane guys invite us down to their new brewpub, which is just arounnd the corner. Why not? I never tire of looking at shiny things.

The brewery is called Greenpoint Beer & Ale Co., though the pub it's in is called Dirck the Norseman. It's easy enough to spot, being painted Ikea blue and yellow. The brewery hasn't officially opened. That's in a few days. Luckily there's beer to try, a tasty Pale Ale. Now there's a tick - an unreleased beer. But only for a day or two.

Back at Brouwerij Lane, no-one is quite sure what time is showtime. There aren't many punters about. We decide that there's time for a quick meal. Dann, Martha and me. We venture out in search of Mexican. But stumble upon a Polish restaurant. That'll do.

It's called Karczma and has a well in the middle of the dining room. And the waitresses are wearing folk costumes. I always like that.

They've a reasonable selection of Czech and polish beers, bottled and draught. Dann gets a draught pale Lager, I go for a dark one. Dann sniffs suspiciously at his beer, then tentatively tastes it.

"Dirty lines" is his conclusion. He looks at my beer. "I ordered the pale because that's more likely to be fresh. You've no idea how long a dark one might have been sitting around."

Thanks for raising my expectations, Dann.

This is my third meal if the day. Don't want to pig out, so I just order pirogis. Boiled, not fried. Martha has a plate-sized piece of pork.

I don't manage to finish my beer. Something that rarely happens.

It's much busier back at Brouwerij Lane.

"When do you want to start your talk?" One of the guys asks.


"Yes, the 30-minute talk you're giving."

It's the first I've heard of it.

"Dann, am I supposed to be giving a talk?"

"Did I not mention that? Just talk about historic beer a bit. It doesn't need to be too structured."

I frantically try to plan out a small talk, while chatting to various people. It's hard to concentrate on either. No point in waiting too long - I'll only fret more. Best just dive straight in.

Dann introduces me. The stove burns at my back. I clear my throat.

Suddenly, it's an hour and a quarter later. I've been talking that long, occasionally punctuated by questions. Not sure what I just said or how much sense it made. But they're clapping so it can't have been totally shit. And no-one buggered off half way through.

There's some book-signing and chatting to be done. As well as some beer-drinking. I'm relief drinking. There's even cask Mild. I can't pass that up. And more 1955 Double Brown on tap. Can't pass that up either. No reason I can't drink both. Though obviously not mixed. That would be weird.

We finish in  Tørst, Evil Twin's bar. It's a bit relentlessly cool, both décor and atmosphere-wise.

We don't linger too late. Poor Dann and Martha have a ridiculously early start to dodge the New York traffic. Four in the morning they plan on leaving. My train to Philadelphia is a little after noon. I can have a nice lie in. And Tuesday is my rest day. Can't wait.

The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer

Brouwerij Lane
78 Greenpoint Ave,
Brooklyn, NY 11222.
Tel:+1 347-529-6133

Greenpoint Beer & Ale Co.
Dirck the Norseman
7 N 15th St
Brooklyn, NY 11222.
Tel: +1 718-389-2940

136 Greenpoint Ave,
Brooklyn, NY 11222.
Tel: +1 718-349-1744

615 Manhattan Ave,
Brooklyn, NY 11222.
Tel: +1 718-389-6034

Monday, 24 March 2014

Book tour day four - Brooklyn

Monday was the busiest day of the tour so far. Two radio interviews and an event.

Just as well, then, that we rose early again. The hotel did include breakfast, but just a buffet. I wanted something more substantial and luckily Dann and Martha agreed. Off we headed in their van into deepest Brooklyn. Through streets that had seen better days, clad in decayed and sometimes crumbling Victorian grandeur. I love old brownstones. They remind me of the buildings I see in my dreams.

Our destination is Tom's Diner (officially Tom's Restaurant), a renowned breakfast haunt, which, if the photos adorning the place are to be believed, has been frequented by movie stars and popular singers. I go for my usual egg and bacon combination. Can't go wrong with that. Especially when the day ahead is long and busy.

On the wall next to our table are the lyrics of Suzanne Vega's Tom's Diner. Proof that at least one pop singer came here. To be honest, I'm more concerned by the quality of my fry up than which of the famous have eaten here before me. Luckily, it doesn't disappoint. My breakfast, I mean. It's soon safely curled up inside me, sleeping peacefully.

Fed, we need to scuttle quickly across Brooklyn to Roberta's, in a deceptively industrial-looking area of town. It's a pizza place with attached radio studio. I know, weird. But this is Brooklyn. The scavenged construction reminds me of squatted (or formerly squatted) venues in Amsterdam.

As we're still waiting for Jimmy to arrive, I stave off dehydration with a Bell's Two Hearted, a beer I've not tried before. It comes in what look like a jam jar. It's made out of glass - what do I care? It's full of than Americany IPA-style flavour. You know what I mean, the grapefruit thing. It's a pleasant enough breakfast beer.

We record three 15-minute segments with Jimmy. Dann and I are joined by John Holl, editor of All About Beer. It's quite a good laugh. Never much chance of the conversation lagging with Jimmy there.

Done and it's time to eat. In Roberta's, obviously, as we're already there. I have a pastrami sandwich. Just because it sounds so New York. It's rather good, but way too much for me. I've forgotten how much meat they stuff into sandwiches over here.

Fascinating for you, me describing my lunch. It came with some crisps, I almost forgot to tell you. I'm sure you needed to know that.

It's time for our next interview, this time with Chris and Mary of Heritage Radio's Fuhmentaboudit!. But we don't head back to the studio. That's been booked by someone else. We're off to Brouwerij Lane where we'll be interviewd using a little portable recorder.

It's still a little chilly in Brouwerij Lane, but there's beer to drink and the wood-burning stove at the back is gradually chewing awat at the cold. Chris and Mary are remarkably professional. They've clearly been at this radio thing for a while. Just two 15-minute chunks this time. They're done in a flash.

The main event is still to come. My book event in Brouwerij Lane. But before that Dann, Martha and I will eat a Polish meal. Try to contain your excitement.

The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer

Tom's Restaurant
782 Washington Ave,
Brooklyn, NY 11238.
Phone:+1 718-636-9738

261 Moore St,
Brooklyn, NY 11206.
Phone:+1 718-417-1118

Brouwerij Lane
78 Greenpoint Ave,
Brooklyn, NY 11222.
Tel:+1 347-529-6133

Sunday, 23 March 2014

San Diego here I come

I've never been to the West Coast. Which is one of the reasons I'm so excited about my May trip to San Diego.

I'll be there 14th - 18th May. And there will be events - though where and when is not settled yet. One thing is certain: I'll be trying to shift some books. Seems to have become the sole purpose of my life at the moment, selling books.

So if you live in Southern California come along and have a chat. But do remember to buy a book.

Book tour day three - New York City

I needed to be checked out and ready to roll by 9 AM. Dann and Martha were driving me down to New York and wanted a reasonably early start.

Originally, I hadn't planned travelling to New York until Monday. Then Dann had arranged an additional event in New York on the Sunday, at Jimmy's No. 43. Bang went one of my two rest days.

We picked up breakfast on the way down. I dodged breaking my 27-year McDonalds fast by getting something from Boston Market instead. (February 1987 in New Orleans was the last time, in case you're wondering. Don't ask me why I even ate it then. It wasn't my choice.)

We all nodded off at some point during the journey. Except for Dann. Just as well, as he was driving. I find a conscious driver infinitely more reassuring than a slumbering one.

First we dropped off the beer at Jimmy's, before continuing on to our hotel in Brooklyn. I'd not been to Brooklyn for a long while. Since I lived in New York. Almost as long - spring 1987 - as since I last ate McDonalds. I didn't feel quite so guilty about easing over the East River as I would have felt about easing down a greasy burger.

We stayed in an interesting part of Brooklyn. 90% of the locals were Orthodox Jews and the streets around our hotel were filled with beards, long black coats, odd hats, prams and children. That extended to the hotel itself, except for the kids. My room was clean and tidy. Though the pillar in the middle of it was a bit odd.

I was excited to drink in Jimmy's. The East Village was one of my preferred piss-up locations during my NYC time. Jimmy's is right in the middle of where I lived out many of my most memorable drinking evenings. Not that I can remember any of them it great detail. It was all a very long time ago.

Jimmy is quite a character, ebullient and garrulous, flitting this way and that to greet and chat,  perpetually in motion. And always shaking hands. We must have shook a dozen times in the first hour. The perfect character for a publican.

Jimmy keeps beer and appetisers coming. There's also a constant flow of people come to chat with me and Dann, a few books are sold and more are signed. But it's quieter than at the Independent and I've more chance to knock back a few beers. I've a good excuse: I have to grab the chance to drink draught 1955 Double Brown while I can.

It's a lovely beer, but I'd expected nothing less. A Whitbread recipe and Dann's brewing skill were always going to hit the bullseye. It's bitterer than you might expect from and British Brown Ale, but that's backed up by plenty of malt. A great drinking beer. I think I did it justice.

We don't stay too late. There's still time for a barbecue dinner in a trendy, garage-like space back in Brooklyn (Fette Sau). Though my memories of the meal are almost as blurred as the photos I took.

We'll be meeting Jimmy again next time. When he interviews me and Dann in the middle of hipster Brooklyn.

The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer

Jimmy's No. 43   
43 E. 7th St.,
New York, NY 10003.

Pointe Plaza Hotel
2 Franklin Ave,
Brooklyn, NY 11249.
Phone:+1 718-782-7000

Fette Sau
354 Metropolitan Ave,
Brooklyn, New York 11211.
Tel: +1 718-963-3404

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Book tour day two - Boston still

Unsurprisingly, given my state of knackeration, I slept well that first night. But more importantly I woke up at the right time.

I'd a breakfast appointment with Dann and Martha. They took me to a diner in Somerville for exactly the breakfast I needed. The type of egg and bacon combination that always gets the day off to a good start. That and lots of coffee.

I've pretty much abandoned breakfasting in American hotels. It rarely comes included and a diner always trumps it for atmosphere, price and often quality, too. There's something I love about American diners, and I'm sure it's not jsut a false nostalgia engendered by film and TV. Just like London cafes, they offer a glimpse into daily life and daily lives. And they sell bacon. What's not to like?

Bellies full, we dropped by the Pretty Things office, also in Somerville. We needed to pick up the stuff for that evening's 1955 Brown Ale launch at the Independent, located just around the corner. Then on to the Independent to start setting up. Decorating tables, hanging up banners, that sort of thing.

A love of dressing up is one of Pretty Things' best features. Once again, they didn't disappoint. Dann has a particular knack for getting the facial hair spot on. I think you'll agree that this was another triumph:

Made me wish I'd got a costume, too.

We didn't idle around listlessly before the evening event. Dann filled the afternoon with and industry event in their office. Where, as a special treat, there was cask Double Brown. Sorry all you craft fan boys, but, once again, here was proof of the superiority of a well-handled cask over keg. It wees all over it. Every day of the week, every month of the year.

Pulled through a sparkler, both the head and carbonation level were spot on. It's not just in flavour where cask is a clear winner. It's also in drinkability. The higher temperature and lower carbonation help it ease its way down your neck almost unnoticed. A few pints quickly evaporated as I chatted with old friends and new acquaintances. There would be little time for chatting later on.

The evening in the Independent was busy, loud, slightly anarchic, but loads of fun. Given the crowds, noise and general boisterousness, it was just as well I really did say just a few words. My shortest talk of the tour by at least an hour.

I'm so occupied by signing books and chatting to punters that it's only when I'm back in the hotel that I realise I forgot to try the other Pretty Things beers being launched, Grampus. A double-mash monster of a beer. Then again, given the length of the day, sticking to the modestly-strengthed Double Brown perhaps wasn't such a bad idea.

Having an early start the next day, I didn't stay up late. We were all off to New Yotk City for more events, more beer and hopefully lots more fun. We'll find out how that went next time.

The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer

The Independent
75 Union Square,
Tel: 617 440 6022

Friday, 21 March 2014

Book tour day one - Boston

Just as well my plane was on time and the queues at immigration short. Because my first appointment was a mere two hours after my scheduled touchdown.

Arival at Boston ran perfectly smoothly. Unlike departure from Amsterdam. Mistaking my natural sweatiness for anxiety, I got nearly the full security works. It stopped just short of getting my grillox out. Dontcha just love air travel?

I had enough time to unpack my undies, log on to the internet and catch my breath a little before Dann and Martha (of Pretty Things) picked me up and whisked me off to the radio studio. Where I was set to appear on Digradio's Good American programme.

It was my first radio appearance, but, having done plenty of podcasty things and Skype interviews, nothing too daunting. We chatted a bit about our latest collaboration: 1955 Whibread Double Brown. A beer I kept telling everyone was in my book, The Homebrewer's Guide to Vintage Beer, until I realised it was one of the recipes I'd had to cut for space reasons. Whoops. It was a couple of days before I twigged.

I was dead pleased when Dann suggested spending the evening in Deep Ellum. I'd feared I might not have the chance to drop by one of my favourite bars in the US. Especially as they had the 1955 Double Brown on tap. We'd cracked a bottle during the radio show, but I'd only got a couple of mouthfuls.

It was packed. Which I guess is a good sign. It was Friday night, after all. We had to wait for a table, trying not to get too much in the way of the waiting staff.

My only complaint was the mood lighting. I struggled to read the beer menu. Not that I tried much (anything? I can't remember) other than the 1955.

By the end of the evening I was stuggling with fatigue, too. But I managed to prop my eyes open until 23:00 or so. Then off for a well-earned kip. In preparation for a busy day.

The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer


Deep Ellum
477 Cambridge St,
Boston, MA 02134.
Tel:+1 617-787-2337

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Cannon Brewery Pale Ale quality 1922 - 1925

Mixed results so far for Cannon. Their Mild came in a reasonable, but their Burton came last. How will their Bitter do?

Cannon's Clerkenwell Brewery in 1896

There was certainly money in the brewery. A former director left £100,000:


Mr. William Musgravo Wroughton, of 77 Chester-square, London, Creaton Lodge, Northampton, and Clarehavon, Melton Mowbray, a former Master the Pytchley and later of tho Woodland Pytchley Hunt, at one time a director Cannon Co.. who was killed on December 29th last whilst hunting with the Belvoir Hounds, aged 78 years, has left estate of the value of £99,515 with net personalty £73,038. Probate is granted to Mrs. Wroughton, the widow.

He gives Creaton Lodge, property and 1,150 preferred ord. shares in the Cannon Brewery Co. to his wife for life, and then in trust for his granddaughter, Antoniette Musgrave Morland; £200 each to Sub.-Lt. John A. D. Wroughton, and Walter P. Cazenove, and the Rev. John Maillard, and James Moore Hickson; and £300 to the Westminster Hospital. One half of the residue of the estate he leaves in trust for his wife for life, and, subject thereto, the whole trust for his two daughters Cicely Countess Coreth. and Dulce Musgravo Morland, and their children.'
Nottingham Evening Post - Friday 22 March 1929, page 1.
And in 1928 they made over £350,000. Quite a tidy sum for a brewery that wasn't enormous, as you can see from the map above.

"Brewery Company's Big Profits.
LONDON, Tuesday.

The Cannon Brewery report for the year shows a net profit of £352,170 compared with £338,043, while £157,542 was brought in. The distribution on the Deferred Ordinary shares unchanged in a dividend 16 cent., free of tax, and a bonus of £5 per share, free of tax, equivalent to 9 per cent, on the Deferred Ordinary capital before reduction. The allocation to reserve is again £50,000, while £184,603 is carried forward. The directors announce that the company has agreed to acquire the old established brewery of Messrs Christie and Co., Ltd., Hoddesdon, with the licensed houses attached."
Aberdeen Journal - Wednesday 21 March 1928, page 11.
And they had the money to be making acquisitions, which is what the smart and successful breweries of the 1920's did.

Cannon's beer is an 8d Ordinary Bitter, with a typical gravity of mid-1040's. It's another beer that looks pretty dry.

How does it score?

Cannon Brewery Pale Ale quality 1922 - 1925
Year Beer FG OG ABV App. Atten-uation Appearance Flavour score Price
1922 PA 1008 1045.5 4.89 82.42% bright good 2 8d
1922 PA 1007.3 1044.8 4.89 83.71% hazy fair 1 8d
1922 PA 1008.4 1045.4 4.82 81.50% brilliant good 2 8d
1922 PA 1007.4 1046.4 5.09 84.05% bright Poor & thin -2 8d
1923 PA 1009.6 1045.1 4.62 78.71% brilliant thin poor -2 8d
1923 PA 1008.6 1045.1 4.75 80.93% (rank aftertaste, no character -3 8d
1923 PA 1010.3 1045.3 4.55 77.26% fairly bright unpleasant bitter -1 8d
1923 PA 1009.8 1045.8 4.68 78.60% brilliant fair 1 7d
1923 PA 1010.6 1044.1 4.35 75.96% fairly bright going off -2 7d
1924 PA 1044.5 bright v fair 2 7d
1925 PA 1010.2 1045.2 4.55 77.43% not bright only fair 1 7d
Average  1009.0 1045.2 4.72 80.06% -0.09
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/001

Not brilliantly, is the answer. Just over 50% - six out of eleven - samples were clear. The same number got a positive score for flavour. There were some pretty bad examples - two -2 and 1 -3 - but also three +2. Another very mixed bunch.

Drinker beware, is my advice.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Charrington's Burton brewery

Like some of their London rivals, Charrington's desire to enter the Pale Ale market prompted them to acquire a brewery in Burton-on-Trent.

Their plan to buy an existing, but unused, brewery didn't quite work out:

"As stated in a previous Chapter, it was in the year 1871 that the London firm decided to build a brewery in Burton to supply their London houses with pale ale of their own brewing. In the first instance they commenced negotiations with the London and Burton Brewery Company, whose brewery in Burton was then closed and in the market. Subsequently terms were agreed upon, but on taking possession of the property it was found that the plant was in such a bad state, and the buildings not sufficiently substantial for the erection of new, that the firm resolved to pull them down and build a new brewery, from designs furnished by Messrs. Martin & Hardy, architects, Nottingham, under the immediate superintendence of Mr. Baxter, who, besides being a practical brewer, is thoroughly acquainted with the construction of breweries and maltings."
"The Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 1" by Alfred Barnard, 1889, page 327.

I hope they didn't pay too much for the brewery that turned out to be useless. Then again, they may have been better off with a brand new plant.

"Before the new brewery was completed, the London firm arranged to take into partnership Mr. F. Earle, who had been their brewer for nearly forty years, as managing partner of the Burton brewery. The first brewing commenced on November 7th, 1872, with but one mash tun, capable of mashing twenty quarters, and the output for the year was but ten thousand barrels. To show the continued success of this brewery, we may mention that in the year 1887 this output had increased to 80,000 barrels in the year."
"The Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 1" by Alfred Barnard, 1889, page 327.

80,000 barrels isn't an enormous amount. At the time the Bass and Allsopp breweries in Burton were each churning out more than a million barrels. Barnard says that on the late 1880's Charrington's Mile End brewery was getting through more than 100,000 quarters of malt a year*. At roughly four barrels of standard-strength beer from a quarter, that means they must have been brewing more than 400,000 barrels a year. Which makes the business look a bit lop-sided.

The Burton operation seems to have been run quite independently from London, though with the involvement of Charrington family members:
"About the year 1873, Mr. J. Evelyn Charrington, son of the late Mr. Edward Charrington, head of the London firm, joined the Burton Firm, and assisted in its management until his death, which event occurred in July, 1880, at the early age of 33. He was much regretted by all who knew him. Earlier in the same year, Mr. Francis, son of Spencer Charrington, Esq., M.P., joined the firm, and at the death of the above-mentioned Mr. Evelyn Charrington, Mr. Hugh S. Charrington, entered the partnership and took his brothers place. Mr. F. Earle died in March, 1888, at the age of 70, having been absent from the brewery but three days before his death, and was succeeded by his son, Edward Earle.

We may add that Mr. Francis Charrington is one of the senior captains of the 4th battalion South Staffordshire regiment, whilst Mr. Hugh S. Charrington is the lieutenant of the Anglesey or Burton troop of the Staffordshire yeomanry cavalry."
"The Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 1" by Alfred Barnard, 1889, pages 327 - 328.
Francis Charrington was around until almost the last days of the brewery. He also got promoted to Colonel and fought in the Boer War:

The death has taken place of Colonel Francis Charrington, chairman of Charrington and and Co., Ltd. He was the son of Mr. Spencer Charrington, for many years father of the House Commons. During the South African War he commanded the South Staffordshire Regiment, and was present at the battles of Warrenton, Lindley, Bethlehem and Wimburg, being mentioned in despatches and subsequently rude a C.M.G. In addition to the chairmanship the London board of the brewery company, he occupied a like position at the Burton establishment, and until returning to the Metropolis, lived at Netherseal Hall. He died at his Hertfordshire seat, Pishiobury Park, Sawbridgeworth, at the age of 62 years."
Lichfield Mercury - Friday 08 July 1921, page 5.
This is where the brewery was:

"Charrington's Burton Brewery is situated in Abbey Street, Lichfield Street, and Fleet Street, and is about a mile from the railway station. The premises cover upwards of four acres of ground at the brewery, and at the Wood Street maltings, where are situated the ale stores, nearly five acres."
"The Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 1" by Alfred Barnard, 1889, page 328.

It's now a B&Q DIY Superstore:

* "The Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 1" by Alfred Barnard, 1889, page 303.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014


The positive response to my BeerSmith podcast has prompted me to start one  of my own.

The concept is simple: you send in questions or suggest topics you'd like me to discuss. I'll pick the ones I like and bullshit for an hour or so about them.

So get those questions coming in. Unless, of course, you've had enough of me droning on about this history bollocks.

Benskin Pale Ale quality 1922 - 1925

I'm not quite sure why only Benskins Bitter appears in this section of the Gravity Book. Bit strange. Still, I'm not complaining. Better than nothing.

Benskins, of course, were best known for their legendary Colne Spring Ale, an extremely strong beer that underwent extended ageing. Sadly, after Benskins was bought by Ind Coope in 1957 the production method was changed and the strength reduced.

Benskins, located in Watford just to the North of London, became a limited company in 1898, though they seemed to have struggled in the early years:

"Benskin's Brewery.
A final dividend 12.5 per cent., and making with the interim 15 per cent, for the year ended September 30 last, has already been announced by Benskin's Watford Brewery, Ltd., on the Ordinary share capital. The dividend goes 12.5 per cent. for the previous twelve months. The report is now available, and shows that the net profit increased from £104,572 to £110,392. The company has made particular headway during recent years, for between 1905 and 1921 no dividend was paid on the Ordinary share capital of £304,000. A proposal will be placed before the shareholders at the annual meeting that the directors' remuneration shall be increased from £200 per annum each to £400 per annum each, free of tax. It is pointed out that the  company was formed in 1898, and the director's fee has remained at the original £200 per year ever since."
Western Morning News - Wednesday 09 December 1925, page 7.
Usually the ordinary shares were mostly held by the directors and their families. It sounds like they hadn't been earning a great deal from the business.

It's amazing what you can piece together from the newspaper archives. Things like this:

Benskin profits 1921 - 1929
net profit carry forward to reserve divdend ordinary shares divdend preference shares
1921 £88,519 £36,519 £25,000 0% 10
1922 £58,633 5%
1923 £68,838 £26,990
1924 £104,572 £34,603 £25,000 12.5%
1925 £110,392 £39,354 15%
1926 £124,000 £41,631 £25,000 18.75%
1927 £140,342 20%
1928 £141,004 £55,777 22.25%
1929 £145,933 25%
Dundee Courier - Friday 09 December 1921, page 2.
Dundee Courier - Wednesday 06 December 1922, page 2.
Aberdeen Journal - Thursday 06 December 1923, page 11.
Dundee Courier - Thursday 06 December 1923, page 2.
Dundee Courier - Saturday 15 November 1924, page 2.
Aberdeen Journal - Thursday 04 December 1924, page 11.
Western Morning News - Wednesday 09 December 1925, page 7.
Aberdeen Journal - Tuesday 07 December 1926, page 11.
Dundee Courier - Tuesday 06 December 1927, page 2.
Dundee Courier - Saturday 24 November 1928, page 2.
Dundee Courier - Wednesday 11 December 1929, page 2.
1926 net profit figure apporximate, calculated from other figures.

Things certainly picked up in the 1920's for Benskins. Profits and the dividend on the ordinary shares increased every year from 1922 to 1929. They seem to have really prospered.

You can see that this is one of the 9d Best Bitter types. In terms of specs, it looks very similar to the Burtons. Not surprising PA should have a similar gravity, as it sold for the same price.

Was beer quality the reasons Benskins did so well? Not on this evidence:

Benskin Pale Ale quality 1922 - 1925
Year Beer FG OG ABV App. Atten-uation Appearance Flavour score Price
1922 PA 1008.2 1053.7 5.95 84.73% bright poor -1 9d
1922 PA 1007 1053 6.02 86.79% hazy unpleasant -3 9d
1922 PA 1008.4 1055.6 6.17 84.89% hazy nasty flavour -3 9d
1922 PA 1012.2 1053.7 5.40 77.28% rather grey v good 3 9d
1923 PA 1010 1053.5 5.67 81.31% piecey fair 1 9d
1923 PA 1012.4 1053.9 5.40 76.99% brilliant bitter after flavour -1 9d
1923 PA 1011.2 1053.7 5.54 79.14% hazy too new -1 9d
1923 PA 1010.4 1052.4 5.47 80.15% bright good 2 8d
1925 PA 1010.8 1053.3 5.54 79.74% fairly bright v good 3 9d
Average  1010.1 1053.6 5.68 81.23% 0.00
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/001

A pathetic three of nine were bright. A couple - "rather grey" and "piecey" - sound pretty bad. Not much better with the flavour, where there are just four positive scores. And two that sound pretty horrible. On the other hand, there are two excellent ones. Overall the good and bad cancel each other out and leave an average score of zero.

Bitter in  Benskins pub sound like Russian roulette, you might be lucky and play on or you might paint the walls with your brains. I think I'll be looking elsewhere for refreshment.