Part of the front room of Ian J’s house does very nicely for his green topped pine bar which announces three beers on handpump, alongside the accolade to his brewing prowess – the award for ‘Beer of the Year’.

He has on offer Ironopolis at 3.8%, made from Maris Otter Pale Malt, a combination of Amber, Crystal and Wheat malts, and has used East Kent Golding’s hops in both the main boil and for late hopping giving an EBU of 30. Next beer on offer is Cascade, the Beer of the Year. This 4.1% ale with an EBU of 33, is made from Maris Otter Pale Malt accompanied by Crystal and Wheat malts plus Flaked Maize. Centennial hops are used for the boil and Cascade hops in the last fifteen minutes. The third one is dark. Black Diamond is made from Maris Otter Pale Malt with the additions of Amber, Chocolate, Crystal and Wheat malts and Roast Barley. Hops used are Whitbread Golding Variety and Fuggles. It weighs in at a hefty 5.1% with an EBU of 33.

Propping up the bar when Our Glorious Leader and myself arrive are Big John and Big Richard. Rob arrives almost at the same time as us. Ian ‘Pops’ Thompson isn’t joining us tonight because he forgot. Yes folks, we meet every three weeks (without fail) and a list is on this website but he forgot. So, for him and no one else, “TWENTY FIRST OF FEBRUARY AT BIG RICHARDS!”

The nibbles on offer were outstanding. Various cheeses, scotch eggs, crisps, olives, pork pies, pickled eggs and corned beef pie. Those present tuck into the fayre with the usual shout from Rob to get them finished before our country cousins arrive. Plenty of time to do that as they are late in arriving. Stuart gets in well before them. We have been warned already that Our Glorious Leader has a lot to talk about tonight, but that must wait until we are all here.

Pete and Little Richard duly arrive looking rather windswept as is the way with country folk. The precision in which these guys can enter a room and grab a piece of corned beef pie whilst still holding onto the door knob has got to be seen to be believed. Within four minutes half the pie has gone with Little Richard remonstrating that he only had one piece. At least it got eaten.

Because our numbers once totalled twelve, Our Glorious Leader John Winterburn has got it into his head that we should always have twelve. At present there are ten of us in the group and if someone is interested in brewing and wants to join then all well and good. But someone just has to mention the word “beer” and John will invite them to join. ‘Ale fellow well met’, as they say in Derbyshire. So, this is one thing that he wanted to talk about.

The next is the Leyburn Festival. Last time I was there I got stuck behind William Hague MP, who insisted on talking to everyone, apart from me because I was behind him. Anyway, we’ve been asked to go along and show people how to brew, and we need two brews for people to try. All sorted.

Next up is the Darlington Beer Festival where we have a stall for people to try samples of our ales and donate some money to add to our coffers. Four lads volunteer to make one – Big John, Little Richard, John and Pete. So, dear Reader, that’s your weekend sorted around 25th – 27th March. Fourth up is the cost of the hiring of minibuses, or is that minibuy. We pay £5 each, the rest is subsidised by group funds. Group funds are getting stretched so what do we do ?. Long discussion brings the usual outcome – we stay as we were. That, too, got sorted having made a few guys feeling awkward but – hey! – we’re men aren’t we ?.

With our resident farmer, his ear to the ground, nose up a tractor’s exhaust, we discover that barley is down in price to £78 per tonne. Will pubs be bringing prices down ?. I doubt it, but you can always ask! Tell them the Croft Brewers told you to!

Cringe upon cringe! What has Ian put in his pickled eggs ?. Big Richard has a face on him that wouldn’t look out of place in a horror movie! “I know there’s coriander,” says Ian …

In this room there is a lamp that changes colour but do we have to cheer when it does ?. Still, keeps us occupied for a few minutes before ‘HOPS’ are mentioned. [FOR THOSE WITH A DELICATE DISPOSITION GO TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH]. Hops don’t stay fresh for ever. There comes a time when they lose their colour and their aroma. Well, Rob, sharp as a button, sees an opportunity to get a load of them rather than have them thrown out. Now here is where the ‘yellow card’ comes out. He only goes off on one, doesn’t he ?. We keep all our stocks of hops round at Our Glorious Leader’s place but Our Glorious Leader can’t give them out willy-nilly just because they are a bit iffy. Now our Rob loses it a bit (ie. going to leave the group etc, etc!).

Anyway, I think he calmed down. He can’t leave the group, where would he go ?, Croft Brewers perhaps ?.
Beer of the night is Black Diamond. Cascade beaten into second place. If any reader sees ‘Pops’ before the next meeting remind him will you ?. It was a cracking night, cheers Ian.

When I left dear old Blighty, in March, with ‘she who must be obeyed,’ swapping this green and pleasant land with the deserts of the Middle East and the world’s largest building site the Emirates call ‘Dubai’. I left strict instructions with ‘home-alone’ man of the house, that the dwelling place must be clean and tidy upon our return. You can bet money on the outcome of that! Similarly, I had a volunteer to write the Reviews, to recall for prosperity all that the brewing group do. What did you get – Nothing! Yes, dear reader, you have been starved of reviews, which I hope this particular commentary will go somewhere to compensate for the past few months’ deserted wilderness we call ‘reviewing.’


18TH JULY AT PETE’S (MITHRIL ALES):                                                                                   

We are at the above mentioned brewery as it is Pete’s turn to play host and to the group. Many changes have taken place since my last review. Mithril Ales has now gone commercial. Pete has taken the plunge and bought a micro brewery, had it installed, and is now brewing at weekends. His intention is to supply local pubs.

So, to the entrance of Pete’s bar and the home of Mithril Ales. Before we enter Pete’s bar I do have news to impart – both Big Richard and Ian ‘Pops’ Thompson have left the group. This means that Little Richard becomes Richard by default and Ian J is now the only Ian.

The beers we are having tonight have been made purposely for our consumption with the exception of one, which is the remains, after barrelling, of one of his commercial brews.

So, back to the entrance of Pete’s bar and the home of Mithril Ales. Stuart is sailing the high seas so can’t be with us tonight. Pete is still cleaning out his brewery so we are left to get on with it. Also, we have a new member in the form of Alex. He bumped into Our Glorious Leader John Winterburn brandishing some home brew kits. Our Glorious Leader being who he is, told him he should be brewing properly and invited him along.

Alex brought his wife to the meeting with him. Now many years ago, in the Emerald Isle a young woman wandered into a freemason coven and, because she saw something of what went on, was made the only woman to ever be a freemason. Our manly group don’t tolerate such things, so our new member’s missus, a brewer in her own right, albeit kits, was allowed to stay the evening but will never be a member. Mind you, Mrs Alex does have a keen nose which will come in handy when Alex brews the traditional way. She also knows a good pint when she sees it. She could be a very useful non-member and a force to be reckoned with if all spouses decided to have a ladies brewing group. Nuff said.

So, back to the entrance of Pete’s bar and the home of Mithril Ales. Will we ever pass the threshold and get a drink ?. Yes we do and it’s Our Glorious Leader behind the bar. Big John and myself get the two stools and prop up the bar, spaces vacated by Big Richard and Ian ‘Pops’ Thompson.

On offer we have three ales:-

BARBIE CUE (4%), a light beer with elderflower notes (picked around in the village hedgerows by Pete’s own fair hand.) In addition to the Pale Malt, he used Light Crystal and Wheat Malt along with Torrified Wheat. His choice of hops were First Gold for bitterness with Sorachi and First Gold for aroma.

CHARCOAL (4.4%) was his option for a dark ale. The list of ingredients is long – Pale, Black, Brown, Chocolate and Dark Crystal Malts, Roast Barley and Rolled Barley plus Oat Flakes. Columbus hops are used for both bitterness and aroma.

HEATWAVE (3.9%). Amarillo hops are used to give a nice slightly clean bitterness.

The meeting was bereft of the usual topics (probably sorted in my absence). There are no plans to have a trip this year but maybe we will make up for it next year. It also looks like the cider press idea has been shelved. On the subject of hops, the two main hops have been bought for this year – Saaz (alpha acid 3.5%) and Bobek (4.5%). Our Glorious Leader had his usual, “I’ve got something to tell you all.” This time it was about a bag of malt which was found that is 18 years old. Brewlab in Sunderland are going to use it for experimental purposes. “18 Years old!” he shouts again. “I can’t believe it!”.

Beer of the night was Barbie Cue and on a warm summer’s night, and why not ?. For all of you who live in or near Darlington watch out for Mithril Ales.


8TH AUGUST AT ROB’S (BALI HAI BREWERY):                                                                       

This is Rob’s brew pub and and is in his garage with his odds-and-sods hidden from view by a couple of dust covers. Not with us tonight are Pete and new boy, Alex. So few are the numbers that Big John points out that only one car is needed to get here. Not strictly true as recently promoted Richard (from Little Richard) is making his own way from his farm and Stuart from Hartlepool.

On offer tonight are three beers: Stormy, Peg Leg and Darkness.

First out the pump is Peg Leg, a cool light and fruity ale. It’s ABV is 4.5% and has an EBU of 28. A very simple recipe using Maris Otter Pale Malt and Bobek hops for bittering. For the aroma hops Rob has used Bobek again with a very precise measurement of ‘a handful.’ The final gravity is a very low 1.007 for all you aficionados.

Next we try Stormy. Again a very simple recipe with Maris Otter, Crystal Rye malt and Challenger hops. Some readers may remember Our Glorious Leader’s opinion of Rye Malt, which he wouldn’t give house room. The ale has a healthy ABV of 4.6% and EBU of 30. Again the gravity is low at 1.007.

Darkness is a low alcohol dark beer (3.9%) made up of Maris Otter, Black Malt and Roast Barley. Heaven knows how much hops Rob used as the EBU is 40 and the Alpha Acid of Saaz hops is only 3.5%. He reckons he used Palisade as well but our stocks of that particular hop are all but finished; age wise as well as weight. It is difficult to categorise this beer as it isn’t a porter nor a stout, and certainly isn’t a mild. Probably a lighter beer that’s been out in the sun. The Final Gravity was 1.011

At this point Ian tries to guess which two hops are in the Darkness – I know you know but he didn’t! So he sets off by telling us what they ain’t; Fuggles, Challenger, Target or Cascade … okay, now tell us what they are. He had to be told in the end, or at least given a few clues.

The evening kicks off with Our Glorious Leader banging on about how he had to throw 10 gallons of beer out because the yeast he used was “sh**e!”.

I brought only  a magazine that I picked up called ‘CHEERS’ edited by champion beer writer Alistair Gilmore of Newcastle Journal fame. Issue 2 has coverage of the North-East’s latest brewery, Mithril Ales – and with Pete’s face staring up from the page we each read the article.

From behind the dust covers Rob brings out a long rod with a tap at one end. It is used for dispensing beer from certain barrels. Next he brings out a cornelius! To the layman a cornelius is a beer/lager keg originally used for lemonade and the like. It is a vessel that is easy to clean and can withstand very high pressure. They would be ideal for our stall at the next Darlington Beer Festival which is in September at the Arts Centre. Come along and have a free taste of what we can brew. Those brewing for the ‘do’ are Our Glorious Leader, Ian, Rob, Big John and Richard. Anyway, we now get a lesson on how to fill, unfill, put valves here and there and one or two other snippets before, (low and behold), Rob reveals more corneliuses (cornelii), barrels and other paraphernalia related to brewing. He is a regular jackdaw is our Rob.

Lasagne is our meal tonight and very nice it is too; gives Stuart a chance to tell everyone of his sailing exploits of a couple of weeks ago. He took his boat down to Scarborough to race over to Holland. He did very well, or at least he arrived at his destination. Then went on to tell us about sails and rigging; sailing into the wind, and out; navigation; and many other gizmos that help the stranded, if not lost, mariner on the high seas.

On the subject of sailing, Hartlepool has played host to the ‘Tall Ships’ Race. Races that have won international acclaim. Competition is fierce between the 80 or so vessels but all come together at Hartlepool marina, where thousands of people from all over Britain descend upon this coastal resort (!) to marvel at the boats, the crew and to enjoy an interesting day out. What could go wrong ? If you are Our Glorious leader, anything can go wrong. He decided to take Mrs Glorious Leader and grandchildren on the bus to Hartlepool.

First and foremost there seems to be no direct bus from Darlington to Hartlepool so Our Glorious Leader went via Stockton. Eventually arriving at his destination, he and his entourage have a mosey round Hartlepool. At this point he is no where near the ships! And this is how it remains for the rest of his visit. Having tired themselves out wandering around the uninteresting bits of the town, they decide that enough is enough and go to the bus stop for the lift back home. Google maps at the ready, dear reader, for Our Glorious Leader has not finished this day out. Buses, it seems, don’t go back the way they came so no going back home via Stockton. Our intrepid adventurer has to come back via Peterlee – oh no!

Ah well! You may be envious of me spending the next few months until Christmas over in Dubai, and very nice it is too! One drawback is, of course, no real ale. Only lager and usually Heineken at that. And it costs in excess of £4 a pint.

And so, dear reader, I close this extended edition in the knowledge that reviews will probably not get written in my absence; the ‘malt run’ will have it’s dates changed at least twice; there’ll be something wrong with yeast; and the group no doubt will talk about me in my absence in a derogatory manner …

… but hey!, they are not bad blokes, really. ‘Beer of the Night’ is Stormy.


2010 CHRISTMAS PARTY AT PETE’S (MITHRIL ALES):                                                          

It has been a strange year for our Brewing Group.

A year which brought personal conflicts to many members – from a near fatal stabbing to an emergency hernia operation; from two members leaving, one for health reasons and the other for personal reasons; and from one member spending the majority of the year in a country where beer is barred, if you’ll forgive the pun!

Despite all this we got through it and met up for our Christmas Party. I am pleased to report that both ‘leavers,’  ‘Big Richard’ and Ian Thompson were there and it is hoped that they may continue coming even if they don’t brew anymore. The Christmas Party. Dictionary definition: A Brewing Group get together where we can let our hair down and even invite WAGs.

This year it is held at Pete’s bar, home of Mithril Ales. Pete lives in the country so us townies have to travel by minibus. The weather hasn’t been kind to us as we have just had snow, followed by rain, followed by a freeze – but it is winter, after all. On the bus is Our Glorious Leader – John W, Big Richard, Big John, Ian and myself. We go to pick up Rob who is carrying a holdall full of beer (I’ll tell you why later). Then it’s off to the farm to pick up Richard and his missus. They are not ready so we wait, and wait … then take odds on which one of them will slip on the ice. We wait a bit longer then decide Big Richard has to brave the Arctic conditions and knock on the door. Out he gets just as the Richard and his missus emerge. Rob is particularly upset as no one slipped on the ice.

So we have arrived at Pete’s. There to meet us is our newest recruit, Mark and his missus, and Ian Thompson and his missus, plus Pete of course and his missus. Stuart and his missus arrives later, having driven from Hartlepool. Nothing puts our Stuart off, not even Arctic conditions.

Four beers on offer tonight and not one of them brewed by Peter. To be fair, there is one of Pete’s beers available which is a throwback from his last ‘do’ – Wassail. Wassail is, as many of you know, any mulled plonk. I had a pint which wasn’t bad but not good as a food accompaniment. Back to the four beers on offer. Two of the four are up for Beer of the Year; Black Diamond and Skiers Delight. Black Diamond, brewed by Ian is an old favourite with the group and as its name suggests is a dark beer with an ABV. of 5.2%. Skiers Delight is a contract brew from its originator Big Richard who isn’t brewing at the moment. Rob volunteered to make it for him. Keeping the two finalist beers company are 8th Anniversary, a light lager beer coming in at 4.7% and Mild Autumn at 4.2%, both brewed by Big John. The voting is taking place at the end of the evening. Oh, and there’s some winey stuff for the WAGs.

Followers of the Brewing Group’s reviews may remember that Pete’s bar has a lounge attached and it is in this room where all the food is spread out. Eager eyes see that the famous corned beef pie (all bow) made by our Glorious Leader is about to be sliced so in time-honoured tradition there is a stampede. That devoured it is on to the rest of the buffet – sausages, pies, … oh, you’ve been to a festive get-together, so you’ll know what’s here. I feel a Dickensian moment coming on …

Here, by my own admission, I make a faux pas by innocently, and no malice aforethought, close the otherwise open dividing glass partitioned door between the bar and the aforesaid mentioned lounge, which happens to be many degrees warmer than the temperature in the bar; and so it should be as three convector radiators serve to keep its occupants in a comfortable heat not experienced by others in the party, who, by their very nature jeer the dwellers of the warm saloon; an action I and my fellow occupiers ignore regardless of how vigorous their taunting and mocking, and we continue conversing in a merry way until that dreaded hinged entrance, and exit, is finally flung open and we get another pint! … Dickensian moment over.

The lounge plays an important part in this next paragraph. Everyone is, by this time, in the bar with the exception of our Glorious Leader (John) and Richard’s missus. Again the door is shut so we can’t make out what the conversation is about. All we see is John’s arms violently swinging about like a manic baboon on rush-hour traffic duty. Speculation is running high although it is soon over and both she and the baboon come into the bar. I think you have to be here to appreciate how funny it looked.

Now is the time for voting. At this point Rob usually throws his hand up at least twice – not quite grasping the fact that we only have one vote each. He’s only been a member for about seven years, so will someone explain it to him ? Firstly, we vote for Beer of the Year. In the running, if you remember, are Black Diamond and Skiers Delight … and the winner is … Black Diamond. Yes indeed, Ian wins the trophy for a second year in succession. Usual thanks from Ian to our Glorious Leader (John W) for imparting so much knowledge. All pose for photographs before we vote for Beer of the Night. This is awarded to Big John for his 8th Anniversary Ale. Well done to both guys.

Well, it’s almost time to go. Ian Thompson announces his 60th birthday is looming and having a bash to celebrate so all members are invited, but that’s in May. Our Glorious Leader leads the way to the mini bus.
Strange, isn’t it ? A Christmas Party without crackers, paper hats, tinsel or tree; no games; not even a mention of Christmas in any conversation due to it now being 8th January 2011!

But what we did have was good food, good beer and good mates. Despite all that had gone on in the past year we were still able to meet up with one common interest – brewing. Why not raise a glass to the Darlington Traditional Brewing Group.


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