3RD FEBRUARY 2013 AT ROB’S (BALI HAI BREWERY) – Review by Trevor

By the very nature of British weather you can’t rely on a standard winter. We don’t get snow in December which remains until the spring. Heck!, some years we don’t get snow at all. My evening to entertain the lads had to be cancelled as all the beer froze. What a start to the new year. Which means that the second venue of the year turned out to be the first, and this venue was Bali Hai, our Rob’s brewery and bar.

I called for Big John just before six o’clock. Was he ready ? – NO. He had forgotten the meeting was tonight. Brewing Group meetings is all we live for and he forgets! I go for John Winterburn, our Glorious Leader, to give Big ‘forgetful’ time to sort himself out. Our Glorious Leader doesn’t forget as he stands by the window, curtain twitching, waiting for me. We go back to pick up Big ‘whats-his-name’ only to find Stuart is there and he is taking the big guy.

Finally we are at Rob’s! There to greet us are three beers, thus:

Running in first is Rickshaw a light ale with a slight hop influence. Pearl and Pale Crystal malts with Torrified Wheat in the mash; Calypso hops for bittering (28 EBUs) and at 15.7% alpha acids they do the job fine. The last ten minutes, Liberty hops for aroma and flavour making this 4.1% ABV ale a jolly good quaff.

The next ale that Rob is pedalling is Penny Farthing. Here he uses both Dark Crystal and Pale Crystal malts alongside Pearl malt and Torrified Wheat to make this an equally good beer. Again he uses Calypso for bittering (29 EBUs) but this time Perle in the last 10 minutes and Citra hops, last 5 minutes, to give it flavour and aroma. It’s not strong, only managing a meagre 3.8% ABV, but yet another quaffing ale.

Motoring on our third choice is Tuk Tuk which contains five malts. Whether Rob was cleaning out his cupboard and thought he’d chuck everything into one brew, I don’t know. Count them: Pearl, Amber, Brown, Crystal and Pale Crystal – yep!, that’s five. This time he turns to Perle hops (5.5% Alpha Acids) to take on all bittering and aroma duties. Personally I found this beer has a strong caramel flavour probably because of too much Crystal malt for my taste.

There was another beer on which didn’t qualify as anything really. Apparently Rob had a beer kit (a WHAT ?, I hear you cry). Yes, a beer kit which had passed its sell by date in measures of years rather than months, and was supposed to be Woodforde’s Wherry. (Rob insisted that it was pronounced ‘wee-ree’ but I know different. A wherry (weh-ree) is a kind of boat found on the Norfolk Broads, I know I have been on one. Does he listen ? No.) Anyway, getting back to this beer kit. He had made it up following the instructions. It came out black. Wherry drinkers know that this is an amber ale so something is wrong immediately. Also, there was a very little taste. One to forget. So next time you happen to have an old, defunct, out-of-sell-by-date beer kit, just chuck it.

At this point I must mention the pump clips. They were pink. The kind of pink you get when your printer has very little ink and thinks pink will do. Get some ink Rob!

Tonight was the first time I met any of the new lads who joined the group during my absence. This was in the shape of Sean. Prior to his arrival tonight Rob seemed to take on the guise of a scouser from Liverpool, by prefixing their names with ‘that’ as in ‘That Sean’. So ‘That Sean’ arrives complete with two polypins for yours truly. We have had the devil’s own job trying to find a supplier. That Sean finally tracked down a said supplier and now I have plenty to be going at. Rob repairs his apparently and offers advice to those who want to know how. He reckons the patches he uses would repair a water bed. Rob and a water bed. You know where this is leading. Why not store beer in a water bed ?. That idea would take some planning. We’ll sleep on it.

Furniture. Rob’s bar has had a transformation over the past year. The garage has been well turned-out, new bar built and now we have cupboards and drawers. All his gear is tidily away. Great. Well almost. One side of the unit holding all these cupboards and drawers has a D-I-Y feel about it, and it’s Rob’s D-I-Y at that. Between the bar and this unit is stacked plastic bottles holding everything up. They are jammed in. One heatwave and the whole lot will be down.

Having had a share of the shepherds pie, tonight’s culinary delight, Stuart leaves early  to which Big ‘Forgetful’ says he’ll get a lift home with me. Listen, If I ain’t good enough to bring ya, I’m not good enough to take ya home, so says I.

Pete brought me some Brown malt which I use in a London Porter recipe which dates back to the turn of the twentieth century. Our Glorious Leader’s ear prick up at the word ‘free’ and asked if he could have some, to which I commented, “you know it darkens the beer.” He is afraid of the dark stuff, brewing only pale coloured beers so that is one to look out for (if it ever happens).

Remember Tommo ?. He has had to give up the brewing lark due to health problems. But every cloud had a silver lining and ‘That Sean’ has bought all his equipment. Staying with ‘That Sean’, somebody mentions cider and, casual as you like, he says he has a press. Our Glorious Leader, ears working overtime, shouts out ‘Eureka’ and grins. Doesn’t ‘That Sean’ know the history behind the group and an apple press ?. For years we’ve had prototypes built and busted, designs ripped up, hair pulled out, suggestions squashed … so I repeat “he has a press!”. Will we have cider this year ?. I couldn’t care less, I hate the stuff.

An idea come up right at the end of the night. We should all go up to Tan Hill (check Google Earth) and stay overnight in caravans or tents. Good idea, say the word and I’ll hitch mine up.

Beer of the Night ?. We have a draw with Tuk Tuk and Rickshaw.

That’s the first meeting of the new year over, and thanks to Rob’s hospitality, a good start to the year. I’m next.

24TH FEBRUARY AT TREVOR’S (OWL BREWERY) – Review by Ian                                   

Meeting number Two of the year is at the Owl Brewery aka Trevor’s. His previous attempt at hosting a meeting, which incidentally was meant to be the first one of the year, was unable to happen due to our inclement weather and his beers which he brewed actually froze in the polypins! – Ice lollies anyone ??.

Speaking of the weather I’m heading to Trevor’s post League Cup Final won by Swansea and thankfully it’s a clear sky and a touch icy which makes a change as usually it tends to rain cats and dogs when he has a meeting. Take our group’s 10th anniversary party for instance which was remembered for the thunder and lighting along with torrential rain – and at the end of June!

On arrival Big John, John W our glorious leader, Stuart plus mine host Trevor are already there. Our glorious leader is itching as “He’s got something to tell us all” but unfortunately we ain’t all here yet! Trevor has four beers on tonight: Night Owl 4.1%It’s A Hoot 4.3%The Barn Owl Hop 5.7% and one of his regular beers (and his favourite) Owl’d Peculiar 6.0%.

The first beer is It’s a Hoot at 4.3% and 30 EBU’s which has Pale, Chocolate and Crystal malts plus Torrified Wheat and also has palm tree sap (Jaggery) along with Brewers Caramel. Citra hops are used for bittering while Mittlefruh and Saaz provide the aroma hops. A beer with an interesting combination, the only beer I can recall using “tree ingredients” is Alba which uses pine needles in the brewing process and is nowadays done by Williams Brothers Brewing Company based in Alloa in Scotland.

During this first pint our glorious leader brings up the subject of maltsters and the fact that he used to work in one, namely on Neasham Road where Matalan is these days. I remind him on that he has to do an article for me on this for the next issue of the Darlington Drinker magazine. He tells us that due to it originating in 1874, it was like going to work in Victorian times where health and safety was non existent, and out came the stories of hanging on to funnels whilst attempting to unblock a chute! Interesting also to hear that Guinness and Camerons in Hartlepool were its main customers.

The Yakkers were next to turn up, and early for once (yes Richard was driving again!) and is the norm the nibbles didn’t last long! The subject of farmers forming their own farm watch was brought up by Richard and I mentioned camouflage and bright colours just as Rob turned up on his iron horse wearing his luminous yellow top! On walking inside the bar, the poor guy’s glasses steamed up and the question, “What you got on ?” was more significant than normal as he couldn’t see the bar!

Next beer: Night Owl 4.3% and 30 EBUs. This had Pearl, Chocolate and Crystal malts and Torrified Wheat with Admiral hops for bittering with Bobek and Celeia for aroma. Bit of a strange choice for aroma hops I thought since Bobek and Celeia are the more or less the same hop from the Styrian Goldings family.

At this point Stuart, who had been somewhat subdued so far at the meeting then disappeared and proceeded to start rifling through a bag he had brought in the back room. On re-entering the bar, a clock and a bottle of Jeyes Fluid were to hand. The clock was a Route 66 one for Pete, it turns out that Stuart had an aunt who was something of a “clock hoarder” and had around 200 clocks plus approximately 2000 watches. The Jeyes Fluid was for our glorious leader, I can’t remember exactly why he wanted it but I assume it is (or was) for outdoor purposes.

Speaking of our glorious leader, his sermon finally came round and there was the mention of Crystal Rye malt which gives a liquorice taste to a beer and was used in cask Magnet before its sad demise plus the difficulty in getting two brews exactly the same. Another subject from our leader was condoms (yes condoms!) to clear bottled beer, I couldn’t quite get my head around this one but I think there’s a promise in there from him to show us some time! Also on the agenda was beer stone and how to get rid of it, there’s a theory that coca cola might possibly be able to do the trick ??.

Beer number three was The Barn Owl Hop weighing in at 5.7% and an EBU of 43. Consisting of Pearl malt, Flaked Maize and Rolled Barley in the mash with WGV and Bramling Cross hops as bittering hops, Hallertau and Bramling Cross for aroma and Hallertau post boil.

Lastly but by no means least was Owl’d Peculiar with an ABV of 6.0% and 46 EBUs. Brewed with Pearl, Black and Crystal malts with Torrified Wheat and Target hops for bittering with no hops for aroma. Easy to see why it was a favourite and ended up being Beer of the Night.

Thanks to Trevor’s hospitality and despite the icy weather the beer hadn’t froze this time!

17TH MARCH AT PETE’S (MITHRIL ALES) – Review by Trevor                                         

6 across. “Initially, some nasty old weather.” Yeah, we all get it – snow.
Not the best sort of night to be traipsing round the countryside but with the thought of some decent beers in mind, we are willing to suffer for our art. In this case, Pete’s art. We arrive earlier than first planned as we don’t have Richard to pick up ‘cause he’s working: a discussion arose about this very subject – read on. We slop in the slush as we rush to get in the warm. And a warm welcome greets us in the shape of five handpumps brandishing names associated with St Paddy’s Night.

Top o’ the Morning  Pale malt, Crystal malt, Torrified Wheat; Chinook hops for bittering and Delta & Chinook for aroma. A light crisp ale coming in at 4.1% abv

2 B Sure (3.7% abv) Pale malt, Crystal malt, Torrified Wheat; Citra hops for both bittering and aroma. Very pale, easy drinking ale. A refined beer with all the attributes you would expect in a quality, low alcohol drink.

Paddy’s Brew (3.8% abv) Pale and Munich malts, Pale and Dark Crystal malts, plus Chocolate malt, Roast Barley and Torrified Wheat: Chinook hops taking on the job of bittering and aroma. A darker beer with a rich mouthfeel.

Leprechaun The malts used to make this 4.2% abv are many: Pale, Munich, Dark Crystal,Crystal Rye, and Chocolate. Add to the list Flaked and Roast Barley; Galena Hops for bittering and Chinook for aroma.  A dark dry ale. The dryness caused by the Crystal Rye malt. The wrong proportions of this malt can have adverse effects, making it unpopular with many brewers.

Grand Slam What the name has anything to do with St Paddy I fail to see. Maybe Saint Patrick had a head and so does this beer! Looking at the ingredients I see we are calling on Mr malt from malt Street in Malta again! Pale, Munich, Pale Crystal, Dark Crystal and Chocolate malts, rubbing shoulders with Roast Barley and Torrified Wheat. For bittering, Calypso hops and Celeia hops for aroma. Copper in colour and again a very drinkable beer and at 3.8% abv you can go back for another.

It’s the first time ‘That Sean’ has been to Pete’s and is suitably impressed with his bar, which originated way back in the 1970s. In walks Stuart, flanked on either side by guest visitors. The first is his son Rob, who is here to drive our Hartlepudlian and the other guest back home. The other guest is in the form of Wayne who hails from Italy these days. He moved there two years ago, following many holidays and has a lot to say on the subject of olive oil.

I wouldn’t recognise him again as I didn’t bring my glasses with me. What was I thinking? Our Glorious Leader offered his but they were a whole lot worse. I shall struggle through but can managed to see the nibbles, though. And a good selection they were too. I was perched over the bacon crisps, a particular favourite of mine.

A conversation ensues regarding rolled and flaked barley, and another on hops before we were rudely interrupted by ‘That Sean’. It was unforgivable as the subject of this outburst from our newest member was, “I’ve got a lager kit!” This is wrong on so many levels: lager? kit? ownership? If this big guy wants to remain in the group he had better learn that he can only talk to Our Glorious Leader, John Winterburn on the subject of lager as he has knowledge of such things and is an avid lover of Carling – a throw-back from one of our trips where he was offered a free pint of the stuff and readily accepted, although he now denies such an atrocity ever took place. Lager kits are a no-no. There are, however, some very good lagers from Europe so we don’t dismiss lager completely.

Pie and peas are served and jolly welcome they are, too.

I notice that Rob, our diminutive, limping member, thus called Gimpy, hasn’t had a pint of Grand Slam and I question him as to the reason why. In his secretive hush-hush manner he divulges a secret. “There’s not much left of that particular beer.” Oh, and how does he know? It turns out that 4 out of 5 beers on offer and mentioned at the beginning of this review are what Pete brews in his micro-brewery commercially, changing the names for tonight’s meeting. This has an adverse effect when choosing the Beer of the Night which will be revealed later. And Rob is privy to such information because he’s round a Pete’s most days helping out. This keeps the little guy out of mischief and out of harm’s way. There’s a lesson to be learnt here – if you want to know anything, ask Gimpy.

A conversation nearly broke out about Beer stone, the brown stain on the side of much used plastic bins,  which raised an angry response from Big John Anderson. No one seems to be bothered, argues the big guy, with the exception of Our Glorious Leader, about such inconveniences in our hobby of brewing. Another conversation which only just broke the surface was the number of ingredients put into a brew; does one counteract another? Are we better having just a few ingredients?

Then up I pops and declares that Rob and I have gone halves with a bottler. Rob had been surfing the internet and came up with a website that sells them at trade prices. He tells me about this machine and, although I am not a great lover of bottled beers, there are times when I haven’t time to brew, say being away from home, I am greeted with a bottle of the old nectar brewed some time ago and allowed to mature in the bottle, or a barren wasteland of no beer in the house. This machine will come in handy. So Rob and I send away for this ‘must-have’ piece of kit. It arrived at Rob’s some days later and I get a phone call telling me that he has set it up and it needs tweaking. I arrived to be greeted with an inch of water on the floor of his garage. The missus had kicked him out of the kitchen for the same waterlogged reason. Eventually we get the thing working and what a labour saving device it is. Anyway, for those of you who haven’t switched off after this regaling, we told the lads.

We usually meet on a Sunday evening, in fact we always meet on a Sunday evening. Apparently Thursdays was the chosen night in the infancy of the Group. Sundays are proving a problem for our farmer member Richard. He has to be up early for work the next day so to accommodate we could be meeting on a Saturday evening – makes sense I say.

Being in the brewing trade, Pete often gets offers from various purveyors. He has been offered 50 kilos of First Gold hops so we’re invited to take some when they arrive. They are quite a new British hop so we will see how they fare. A couple of years ago we were offered a First Gold plant with the intention of growing our own. I tried but the young sapling died after the first spell of frost.

Beer of the Night, for me, was very difficult to judge as four out of five beers were commercially brewed and were in tip-top condition. Any one of the four could have won the accolade tonight but the honours went to 2 B Sure.

Do you know, there was no call of, “Listen, I’ve got something to tell you all.” Our Glorious Leader had no special topic of brewing to bore the pants off us. No mention of how hops react in the cold weather when there’s an ostrich wandering over your lawn, or the mash, slack or otherwise, should be stirred with the left hand whilst holding onto a light fitment. I wonder if the internet was switched off in his house these past few weeks. Either that or he mislaid his reading spectacles …

It’s ten o’clock. So, dear reader, surfer, brewer, St Paddy’s night came and went and as the immortal reviewer of this missive says, “You can keep your Guinness, I’ll settle for Pete’s offerings any day.”

7TH APRIL AT IAN’S (TEES CREEK BREWING COMPANY) – Review by Stuart                

Tonight’s meeting was at Ian’s, where the Tees Creek Brewing Company resides. Various pumpclips adorn the bar area bearing names from along the stretch of the River Tees, the waterway which starts high upon the Pennines on Cross Fell and runs for 85 miles into the North Sea twixt Hartlepool and Redcar – so in theory plenty of places to pick a beer name! Three beers are on offer tonight; the Upper Teesdale area is well represented with Cronkley Fell and Lartington Light while Neasham Ale represents further down the Tees.

Lartington Light is the starter with a combination of Pearl, Crystal and Wheat malts along with Torrified Wheat while hops are Centennial and Citra for bittering with Cascade for Aroma. At 3.6% this light ale was fairly hoppy and also weighed in at 35 EBU.  These combinations of hops made for a very pleasant pint and my favourite.

Not long into the night a familiar phrase was heard “I’ve something I want to tell you”. John W, our glorious leader’s talking point this evening was water and the use of water treatment. As is usual a lively debate ensued with a fair mix of science and folklore. There was some confusion over TV aka Trevor and his whereabouts after having been in hospital, while on the TV itself, Countryfile and a certain Julia Bradbury in particular was proving a distraction to some! John W had spent the previous week in cyberspace researching the phenomena of low gravity yeasts and he discovered that those pesky dried yeast manufacturers are adding an enzyme to promote low gravity fermentation. Is nothing sacred ?.  On a brighter note Dave Wall from Walls Brewery is to get some fresh yeast to be passed on to Big John to share within the group.

Onto the second beer. Neasham Ale at 4.0% and like Lartington Light had Pearl, Crystal and Wheat malts plus Torrified Wheat. Pilgrim hops this time were used for bittering with Celeia for aroma. At 31 EBU this ale was very much to my taste and well received by all.

The Yakkers eventually turned up and in tow with two “large” boxes. Turns out they contained First Gold hops and had been “given away” by a brewer. Once distributed, these hops best were recommended for bittering with an alpha acid value of approximately 6.9%.

The third beer, Cronkley Fell and 5.0% was a strong, dark beer. Pearl, Chocolate, Crystal and Oat malts along with Roast Barley and Rolled Barley. Bittering hops were Challenger and WGV (Whitbread Golding Variey) while Williamette hops provided the aroma. At 25 EBU this dark ale had plenty of taste and complexity and won over some suspected lager drinkers. Ian later confessed this brew was made with ingredients he’s had for a while so there was a need to conjure something up. Experimentation – it’s what it’s all about! John W reported on the state of the group finances and they are healthy at the moment. Suggestions were made as to the possibility of having a beer trip in the not to near future, possibly in the Northumberland area.

With the exception of Trevor, this was a full turnout of the group and a very pleasant evening was had by all, while Cronkley Fell was chosen as beer of the night.

28TH JULY AT STUART’S (OLD HARTLEPOOL BREWERY) – Review by Trevor            

Hartlepool is the home of Andy Capp. Peter Mandelson was MP here and no monkey would be seen dead here (not after the last one). Sky Sports’ Jeff Stelling’s favourite football team had two players named Hartley and Poole and they both scored in the same match in the 2012/2013 season – one for the statisticians! This is Hartlepool with its famous harbour and just up from there is the Headland area and the imposing St Hilda’s Parish Church. Opposite the war memorial, ‘Triumphant Youth,’ lives Stuart and it is he that is host tonight.

He welcomes us with open doors and leads the way down to his cellar. Home to Stuart is a four storey Georgian town house. The basement would have originally been the servants workplace but one part is sectioned off to accommodate his bar where – no sign of a serving wench or similar – he serves the first pint himself. On offer are three beers:

Ghost Pale 3.9%: A light ale brewed with Maris Otter Pale malt with Aurora and Liberty hops for bittering and Saaz for aroma (EBU 23). Despite the finished gravity of 1012 there is very little sweetness. A light, refreshing quaffing ale and most welcome in this unusually hot summer. The lack of other malts and adjuncts shows what can be brewed with the simplest of ingredients.

Bat Brown 4.1%: Uses Maris Otter Pale malt, Black malt and Roast Barley for malts with Aurora and Progress hops at the start of boil and Saaz doing the aromatic work at 15 minutes before the end. EBUs is only 16 and makes this ale void of bitterness.

Porter 4.5%: With Pale and Black malts plus Roast Barley and Torrified Wheat in the mash. Target and Progress hops are at the start of the boil with Aurora for aroma. At 14 EBUs, I will question the fact that this is actually a Porter ??.

Let’s turn our attention to John Winterburn, Our Glorious Leader. “Right, listen!” are his instructions as he takes the floor, “English Hops.” He intonates that we should all be using English hops in our brewing. What ?. Admittedly there are some good English hops around but there foreign hops equally good. This is what brewing beer is all about – so many varieties of taste. So we take his advice with a pinch of the proverbial. It is the middle of summer and he is a man who tans quickly. He is actually browner than Mr Brown who uses brown malt in Brown Street, Brown Town. Ian makes the comment that he was left in the oven too long.

It is the middle of summer and we are in the basement of a Georgian house which has a wood burning stove fit enough to heat all rooms on all floors in the colder times of the year. It is very warm in here but he comes again. “I’m cold,” says Our Glorious Leader. Our host obliges by lighting the stove. This makes him happy and immediately points his backside to the source of the heat and remains there until the stove goes out because we stopped putting logs on it.

Bikes are a common conversation piece at our group meeting. While Ian and Rob are our keenest, Our Glorious Leader knows a lot about them. I recall a blast from the past – the bike shop owned by Joe (Clemmy) Clementson, in Northgate. In this shop it seemed Joe had parts for every bike ever made, plus he sold new bikes as well. Great place. This is followed by either Rob or Our Glorious Leader giving us instructions on how to ride a tandem. A complex procedure make no mistake!

Our annual trip was mentioned. We could well be heading off to The Ship Inn at Low Newton by the Sea in Northumberland as it brews its own beer exclusively for the pub. When we go is becoming a problem as work commitments, holidays and other trips etc. may clash. It looks like it may be September so watch this space.

Ten o’clock comes round all too soon. We stand on the front steps of Stuart’s house glaring out at the lights of Teesside and the shimmering North Sea and is accompanied by raucous seagulls “awking” their nightly cry. We wait in the warm breeze for our minibus to arrive. When it does it’s goodnight to Stuart and thanks for great evening while Beer of the Night is Ghost Pale.

18TH AUGUST AT TREVOR’S (OWL BREWERY) – Review by Ian                                           

Tonight’s meeting is at Trevor’s Owl Brewery. He resides at the far side of South Park and a breeze for me to get to via the iron horse from the top end of town, be it on the Gary Fisher or Marin steed. A nice pleasant ride through the park occurs once the main roads, traffic and the appalling number of god forsaken traffic lights in this town are negotiated!

On arrival Big John, Rob, Sean, John W (our Glorious Leader) are already there plus mein host Trevor. Most are on the first beer of the night, Summer Zeer, a 3.4% pale coloured beer (EBU 30) brewed with Pale and Crystal malts and Torrified Wheat while the hops are Perle and Bramling Cross with First Gold for aroma. Rob enquiries about the health of one of my pedals on the Marin steed which is fine now following a few misdemeanours the previous week. The cassette isn’t too well on the back wheel though and a replacement is on its way via mail order from Northern Ireland – cheaper by far than those in town.

And so back to the beer trail! Big John is reading a copy of “The Strangest Pubs in Britain”, a book which I received as a Christmas present a few years back, and yes, I have been in some of them! And speaking of pubs, Big John and Dave’s Half Moon pub on Northgate have just recently scooped Darlington CAMRA’s Town Centre Pub of the Season Award for 2013 – very well done indeed and a much deserved award after all the work they and their staff have put in since opening at the beginning of June.

The second beer of three on offer is Tawny Bitter, with an ABV of 4% and 25 EBUs. Pale, Crystal and Chocolate malts plus Torrified Wheat provide the grist, Admiral is used for bittering hops while Saaz and Celeia provide the aroma hops – an interesting combination. Incidentally, group members have collected a number of glasses from breweries over the years and certain members are subtlety given these glasses at meetings to remind them of their “not so glorious past” from time to time. There’s no escape for me tonight as the glass I’m supping out of tonight so happens to be a Boddingtons one! Whether Trevor actually intended to do this I’m not sure. So before you ask, as much as I would have liked Melanie Sykes to be involved with my “not so glorious past” moment, sadly she wasn’t!

And speaking of the past, the notebook I used to take notes for this review is a fairly old one. So old in fact I used it for making notes for CAMRA puroposes about Swaled Ale Brewery , a very small microbrewery based in Gunnerside in the Yorkshire Dales. Some of the notes brought back memories for me and Our Glorious Leader – good times indeed in Swaledale in the company of Fred Bristow and his wife Chris.

Stuart and his son arrive and they are the last ones turning up tonight as the Yakkers have other engagements in the form of farming and feasts. Subjects such as Perle and Marynka hops are brought up, Marynka hops come from Poland and I recall having a beer brewed with these hops at Charles Faram’s Hop Farm Open Day near Malvern a few years ago now. Sean suggests we include wine as part of the group too, he has made one litre of pea pod wine and has some broad bean wine on the go too and he is planning on doing a rhubarb and custard porter for his meeting in a few months time. It turns out he has a cider press to which Our Glorious Leader’s ears prick up and negotiations are made for its loan – he can get apples from anywhere you know! I try the third beer tonight which is London Porter, 4.6% in ABV and 30 EBUs. Brewed with Pale, Brown, Chocolate and Crystal malts with Fuggles hops used both for bittering and aroma.

The year is marching on and the subject of our annual trip came up again. The consensus has been to go to the Ship Inn at Low Newton in Northumberland sometime in September plus a few other places nearby, but as not everyone was at the meeting we couldn’t set a date. Stuart then piped up about Dr Phil’s Real Ale House, a new micropub which has opened in Middlesbrough and is modelled on the Rat Race in Hartlepool. As I have already visited it, I can heartily recommend it so there is talk of us doing a “mini trip” there sometime soon to check it out. And speaking of checking things out Sean is keen to go sailing with Stuart also sometime soon, but unfortunately Stuart says it’s all down to the weather – “You’re in the lap of the gods”, as he puts it. Our Glorious Leader then provides us with a tale of when he went out on a trawler and it capsized in Tees Bay with helicopters, lifeboats et al attempting to rescue them – “Never seen anything like it”, came out his infamous catchphrase!

The night draws to a close, and London Porter is Beer of the Night. Thanks to Trevor’s Owl Brewery for hosting the meeting in what may well be in its current guise as he and the missus are hopefully moving to pastures new at the top end of town, fairly close to me.

Oh and by the way Sean – you forgot to pick up that polypin again!

7TH SEPTEMBER AT ROB’S (BALI HAI BREWERY) – Review by Trevor                               

The Brewing Group were given an option: “You can come on the Saturday night or the Sunday. It makes no difference.” So said Rob a week ago. The vast majority plumped for Saturday, leaving John Anderson to tend to his (real) pub, The Half Moon, and Stuart to tend to personal matters down in Doncaster. Whether they turn up on the Sunday or not remains to be seen.

Earlier this week I got an email from John W, Our Glorious Leader, in which he informs me that it is his birthday on Saturday BUT not to tell anyone as he wants to keep it quiet. Has he not heard of Facebook? Everyone knew. That doesn’t stop him from blaming me thinking I was the source. But that is not the only celebration tonight as you will find out as you read this missive.

Rob has three beers on tonight:

Marina 4.0%: Pale, Amber, Light Crystal and Wheat malts. A new ingredient to brewing, according to Rob – Flacked Mazie – not a great speller is our diminutive brewer. That aside, he has used Calypso hops for bittering and for the aroma he has blended Liberty and Cascade.

Foggy 4.1%: Pale, Black, Chocolate and Dark Crystal malts together with Roast Barley and Rolled Barley. Rob has used a combination of Pilgrim and Northdown hops for bittering.

Compo 4.2%: Pale, Chocolate, Light Crystal and Wheat malts. First Gold hops for bitter and for aroma he has used Perle hops.

All three names are characters featured in the Roy Clarke sit-com Last of the Summer Wine. Richard clocks the similarity between Foggy and John W, the latter only needing a flat cap to complete the resemblance.

Rob, like many brewers (myself included) make wine to a greater or lesser degree. He tells Sean who is keen to try some. I had a taste of this Elderberry Vino and found it to be ‘cracking’, to use Rob’s turn of phrase. This in turn, leads me to ask Sean when he intends brewing the (wait for it) Rhubarb and Custard ale. Already done, he tells me so it should be ready soon. I feel a Road Trip coming on. Sean then has a discussion with Our Glorious Leader about heads on beers. Which gases, and the like, are associated with the creamy crown and other such scientific involvement, to which he is in his element to explain. There’s more to brewing than just brewing!

I missed the start of the roving polypin saga, being away in China, but I will relate what I know and my involvement. Rob’s brain cells worked overtime to perfect a way of repairing polypins, using cycle repair kits, no less. Sean had a polypin with a hole in it. Not much use when that happens. So up pops bicycle repair man and tells Sean to bring it to the next meeting so that he can repair it, and once done will give it back to him at the meeting after next. This he does. Rob takes the polypin to Pete Fenwick’s as it is his ‘do’ next. Sean forgets to pick it up so Pete takes it to John W’s when it is his ‘do.’ Sean forgets to pick it up so John brings it to my do. Yes, you’ve guessed it, Sean forgets to pick it up so I bring the polypin tonight and personally hand it to him. And the saga of the polypin is at an end as he takes it immediately to his car. Job done!

A plate with small cakes around the edge and a candle in the middle suffices as a celebration of Our Glorious Leader’s birthday. He has hit the ripe old age of 67 and blows the candle out at his first attempt. We give him a card signed by all those present, some comments a bit cruder than others. On the other end of the scale Mrs Rob comes into the bar carrying a baby, Joshua James – her’s and Rob’s grandson. And get this, he is less than a day old! We toast his health and he makes his exit amid a few “awes.”

Pies and peas are served and very nice they were.

Well, my hard work paid off. Prior to this meeting I sent everyone an email asking which days they would be available for our annual Trip. Sunday 22nd September was the best date but unfortunately Richard can’t make it. Peter was to organise the mini bus and Ian, using his wealth of pubs knowledge, would plan a route of hostelries we can visit on the way back. I had to smile at the comment made by Big John who, “can’t wait until Monday 23rd September to see if we actually did have a trip.”

Our Glorious Leader beams when Richard tells him there are hundreds of apples on his farm: “Turn up any time and take as many as you want.” I offer to take him up the next day and he rubs his hands in delight – he’s just a big kid. Armed with Sean’s press and Richard’s apples, he will be making cider this next week.

Don’t tell Rob but I hear nothing but good comments about his beers tonight. Beer of the Night is ‘Marina’ by a majority of 6 to 1. Thanks go to Rob for a good night. Can’t wait to read the review of the trip.

NORTHUMBERLAND TRIP (SUNDAY 22ND SEPTEMBER) – Review by Sean                      

So here we are, the brewing group’s annual trip and my first trip out. I somewhat confusedly got handed a tenner, and not sure what to do with but was told “it’s for beer!”. Still slow on the uptake, I eventually realised it was for me to spend on beer, Huzzah! We set off when I was reliably informed the group had already narrowly avoided being thrust into the rear of a stationary caravan caused by a road accident in the A1(M). Was this a sign of things to come, would this be my first and our last trip ??. The story now unfolds …

Our first place was a pub in Alnwick, up a back alley, round the corner, in the middle of a street. I have no idea what it was called and will rely on Ian to fill the gap (The John Bull Inn). I was only told I was doing the review later!  A fine selection of ales, some going for a tasty porter, some the stout and a good few of us going for the delicious sounding Dinner Ale, and tasty it was too. The pub had an extensive range of whiskies, I could have stayed all day trying them, but it was a beer trip so more about beer. The menu also included a wide range of bottled Trappist and Abbey and Abbey style Belgian beers, Saisons and Geuzes – fantastic but not enough time to try them all out either! Perhaps another time when I’m up drinking the whiskies as well. We then headed off to our next venue with no near misses or accidents getting there but Stuart’s leg did go to sleep a bit though.

Our second venue was the Joiners Arms at High Newton by the sea. A destination style pub, somewhat expensive, kiddie friendly with an extensive if somewhat pricey food menu. Beers were Hadrian Border’s Reiver IPA, a little yeasty with a malty flavour and British hops a little heavy for afternoon drinks. This was bested by the house beer made by Anarchy brewery. St. Mary’s was a light, fresh and tasty and we all agreed it was the better of the two beers. We had mixed opinions about tattoos. Trevor doesn’t like them but everyone else does, so outvoted. There were several wasps, one of flew pretty damn close to my pint, but no stings, so phew, another narrow escape from certain death!

Onto the Ship at Low Newton by the sea. A brew pub with initially four beers; Pilgrim, a brown ale hopped with, wait for it, surprise surprise Pilgrim hops. Tada! Next was Sea Coal with chocolate and coffee flavours, nice n chewy, a kind of porter or possibly a strong mild. Emblestones was a nice dark brown ale, hoppy and malty. Next was Indian Summer a very lemony pale ale, finished with star anise and cumin, but very citrusy indeed, even flavours of Mr Sheen were mentioned. All beers were buttered with Aurora. A fifth beer came on which we were not terribly impressed with, this being a very pale and clear wheat beer called Sea Wheat. Kippers were had and lovely they were too. Our Glorious Leader enjoyed his hand home made sarnies and mini pork pies which he generously shared with those so unfortunate who had not ordered their food early enough.

The pub at Embleton! The Greys Inn. A lovely barmaid, well from Mackemsville anyway … Stagger, stagger, stagger. Our Glorious Leader has stated categorically “I’m sick of drinking pale beers” which he said with a pint of dark dark Daleside Alnwick Stout in front of him! There was also Cascadian Blonde from Tempest Brewery in Kelso, a cascade hopped pale ale, very tasty and Daleside Alnwick Amber, which was also quite pleasant I was told. Here we entered into the world of how to get the right colour in either a golden or ruby beer, Our Glorious Leader informed me either using the dark malts or by adding caramel which seems like cheating to me, but I’ll give out a go once and he kindly offered me a free sample so I can’t complain. There appears to be variance in the group that’s fed up with American West Coast style big hopped beers, these people are of course wrong and big hopped American style pale beers are the future…

Onto our next venue, The Queen’s Head at Newbiggin. This apparently used to have a selection of ales but now limited to one guest beer and a bunch of Sam Smith’s beers “because they’re cheap” was mein host’s answer as to why. Fewer beers that keep longer due to less custom; for shame people of Newbiggin, forsaking your alehouse for what I assume are plastic lager venues. However the Mordue Northumbrian Blonde was perfectly acceptable and quite tasty unlike the kebabs which were brought back to the bus by people who shall remain nameless. Far to early and I’m sure we weren’t drunk enough for kebabs!

An ale house bearing the name The Three Horseshoes was next, delicately fragranced with lamb and mint wafting through the air as you entered through their sun room. This was just off the A189 near Blyth on a roundabout (surely not a good portent). We were welcomed with the sight of four guest ales and one house ale apparently made for them by some Big Brewery Inc. that makes these ales for many pubs. A real shame the house ale and the other beers on offer appeared not to please anyone very much at all. A poor show.

On to our final destination. Another hostelry at Leamside near to Durham again by the name of The Three Horseshoes. However that was all it shared in common with the last venue with a fine selection of ales from the in house brewery, the Leamside Brewery (eyed up by Big John for inclusion in his offerings at his place I suspect). This had four house beers on; Resolution, a traditional probably English hopped golden ale; Brockwell, a very hopped IPA style beer which was mine and Pete’s favourite (so much for being over big hopped beers!); Alexandrina, which seemed to be a ‘thinner’ version of the Brockwell and Adventure, which I didn’t try but was informed it was “okay”’ so fair enough. Also on offer was Timothy Taylor Landlord and Dark Mild, which I’d never had before so dutifully tried. Okay, so it was late, I’d drank quite a bit already but it didn’t seem to taste of much. Apparently it is  “a bugger to keep” so perhaps I need to try it again with a cleaner palate next time.

The journey back was event less, no near misses or averted crashes, just gentle snoring from Stewart and Our Glorious Leader, perhaps maybe regretting his promise to make some dark beers… I guess we’ll see.

29TH SEPTEMBER AT PETE’S (MITHRIL ALES) – Review by Trevor                                     

There is something interesting I want to put in this review which I hope will be of interest to beer lovers where ever you are. Beerstone. Yes, that old chestnut. I ask Our Glorious Leader to mention the word, ‘beerstone’ so that I can write my little bit of information. “Oh,” he says. “It’s an acid and you can’t get it off.” I know from other meetings what beerstone is so don’t tell me now, I say to him. Just mention the word. Then Rob starts off with the problems he has with beerstone. STOP! The word, just mention the word and don’t go any further. What don’t they understand ?. And all this is happening in the minibus taking us to Pete’s. Still on the bus we are told that Our Glorious Leader has something to tell us about the head on a pint of beer. That’ll be interesting. We have two new faces on our minibus in the guise of Graham and Mark (this is a different Mark than any other Mark previously mentioned in any review – ever.) More about these guys later.

We are greeted at Pete’s by our host and Sean, who is busy pouring a pint down his neck. Pete has obviously been overstretched as I find out when I reach the bar and see my photo on a pump clip. Hang on, there are more. Our Glorious Leader’s, Ian’s, Big John’s and Richard’s photo adorn other handpumps. This is because Pete has excelled himself and named his beers after a few of the members of the group.

Big John so named as he is bigger than Our Glorious Leader, John Winterburn. Little Rich is the only Richard in the group so why not just call him Richard. Moon – the past catches up with everyone including Ian and this describes his antics on ferries and past bus rides! T.V. is me but where they get the ‘V’ from, God alone knows. JW is John Winterburn aka Our Glorious Leader. Now you know, read on. On offer are –

Big John (4.2% abv): Pale malt, Munich malt, Pale Crystal, Dark Crystal and Chocolate malts; Flaked and Roast Barley. Three Mulled Wine Bags at the cooling stage all go into making this complex dark ale. Junga hops are used for bittering with Bramling Cross for aroma. The mulled wine worked well with the malts to give a subtle but not over-powering taste.

Little Rich (3.8% abv): Pale and Pale Crystal malts with Junga bitter hops and aromatic Celeia hops. A general session ale.

Moon (3.8%  abv): Pale malt and Torrified Wheat; Citra for bittering, Nelson Sauvin and Citra for aroma. Using just Pale malt it goes without saying this is a very pale ale. (But now I’ve said it!)

T.V. (3.8% abv): Pale malt accompanied by Munich malt, Pale Crystal malt and Chocolate malt with the addition of Torrified Wheat. Bittering hops are Brewers Gold and Perle with Bobek and Goldings for aroma. An easy drinking ale which is copper in colour.

J.W. (3.9% abv): Pale malt, Munich malt and Pale Crystal malts with Torrefied Wheat make up this amber ale, together with Dana as bittering hops and Savinjski Goldings as aroma hops.

The evening kicks off getting to know the new lads. Graham wants to build a 5 barrel brewery at the school house in Manfield near to Darlington and has been brewing the full grain method as a hobby for quite a while. Mark has converted the shed in his garden into a bar and is keen to brew.

Sean and the two Johns leave the party and head off to harvest some of Pete’s First Gold hops, the English bush variety becoming very popular and fairly easy to grow. I could have been tempted but not knowing the alpha acid makes it impossible to accurately work out the bitterness. But free is free and these three guys spot a bargain. When all is safely gathered in Stuart tells us of his Sunday morning vigil over the waves in his boat. Fancy words like spinnaker, jib, mast and deck are spouted from our very own Captain Pugwash. Too much like hard work for me.

I have discovered the sheer joy of using Brown malt in porters. It is a fantastic addition to brewing bringing out the tastes of coffee and chocolate. It is a malt that is rarely used these days so I am in fine company propping up the bar with Ian and Pete discussing its merits. Fortunately it is still available so I could be ordering a bag. Whilst we are deep in discussion Our Glorious Leader has been giving a lecture on the head of beer to whoever was listening. I know of at least six guys that were not. What have we missed ?.

Rob, who struts around Pete’s with a ‘sense of belonging’ and the fact that he is here five days a week, seem to allow him to do this, makes the remark, and not for the first time tonight, that Pete has his T-shirt inside out; the stitching being on the outside as opposed to the inside, a style harping back to the 1980s, but tickles our diminutive member. Pass the meatballs Rob.

Those who make cider within the group think nature is unkind. The ratio of apples (that’s picking, scrounging, mashing them up and pressing, not to mention the time consumed) to the juice extracted make it a thankless task. Two hundredweight (?kg) of fruit produce a couple of bottles of finished cider, so they reckon. But this gives the lads the chance to discuss.

Ian and I still stationed at the bar, discuss the merits of Norwich, and in particular the number of real ale pubs. The city is surrounded by micro breweries which feed these pubs. With the benefit of gravity served ales a pub can have numerous beers on offer. Also, many pubs are within cork popping distance of each other. I go down to Norwich a couple of times a year, when I’m not globetrotting out East. Ian, sensible chap, is probably the only other member who has been to this Mecca for the worship of real ale. I think we should have our annual trip down there so start saving lads.

If we have heard once we have heard it a thousand times. Our Glorious Leader announces he is going to brew a dark beer for Christmas. Don’t hold your breath.

“Beerstone,” I prompt OGL. “What do you want to know ?”, he asks. I tell him “nothing” it just had to be mentioned so that I can put it in the review. Beerstone, or to give it its proper name, calcium oxalate, is the browny yellow build up on brewing vessels. Now, OGL finds this abhorent and has tried all sorts of stuff to get it off. But this man is messing with archaeology, history and nature. Brewing beer, as most beer buffs will tell you, dates back five thousand years to Mesopotamia. Thanks to Beerstone (in reverance I give it a capital letter) archaeologists can now date beer brewing as far back as 5400 BC. Now isn’t that worth knowing ?.

I have to get something off my chest. The group seems to be falling apart when it comes to getting supplies of malt. The old system where someone went down to Fawcett’s in Castleford to pick up the order was replaced when Pete started brewing full time so the malt was delivered to his brother’s farm and we collected from there but that seems to have been replaced by everyone getting their own via local breweries. I wanted to know what is going on. The very fabric of our group seems to be splitting at the seam. Big John to the rescue. He says he will be going down to Castleford “in the van” to get supplies as he will be brewing for his pub – the Half Moon.

Then there was a full moon (or a full-on Moon). Smarting from only been given £10 each to spend on our recent trip Ian wants to know why we couldn’t have £20 each as funds would cover this. Our Glorious Leader, who is also our not so Glorious Treasurer wanted to keep sufficient money in the funds to buy malts. We could have done both. A typical treasurer who hates to part with money. It’s the same the world over.

Following that, we voted Moon as beer of the night. Thanks to Pete for an interesting night. Turn your T-shirt the other way …


Tonight promises to be special as the creator of our group, Our Glorious Leader (OGL), will not be joining us. As he entertains his family we are here enjoying three beers that Ian, our twice winner of “DTBG Beer of the Year Award” has brewed for us.

Erimus Gold (4.0% abv): brewed from Pearl, Light Crystal and Wheat malts plus Torrified Wheat. Challenger and Palisade hops for bittering and Cascade for aroma. A light, refreshing drink and a very good session ale.

Worsall IPA (4.2% abv): Pearl, Light Crystal and Wheat malts, Flaked Maize and Torrified Wheat. Bittering hops are Calypso, Chinook and Citra while Cascade is used for aroma. A nice rounded, hoppy IPA (EBU 50). Using almost the same ingredients as Erimus Gold, Ian has managed through thoughtful hopping to get a very different ale – one to savour.

Bran Sands (4.6% abv): Made from Pearl, Dark Crystal and Wheat malts, Roast Barley and Torrified Wheat. Hops used for bittering are Northdown and Perle, and for aroma the same again with the addition of Riwaka, a New Zealand hop. A ruby red ale with plenty of mouth feel.

So where do the names come from I hear you cry ?. Ian describes them thus: Erimus translated in Latin means ‘we shall be’. It was chosen as Middlesbrough’s motto in 1830 to signify the town’s will to grow. The town is situated on the Tees just over 5 miles from where the river reaches the sea. Worsall is a village on the banks of the Tees in North Yorkshire close to Yarm. A disused quay marks the navigational limit for boats that used to travel along the river. Bran Sands are an area of mudflats situated near to the mouth of the Tees where it reaches the North Sea. The sands are well known for its bird life and the wooden wreck of a ship.

Later in the evening Stuart confesses he has never heard of the latter which comes as a bit of a surprise when you bear in mind he is an avid sailor of many years. Ian quizzes Stuart about the depth of the River Tees where it reaches the sea and the distance from North Gare breakwater to the South Gare breakwater. Following blank looks from Stuart, Ian informs him the river is approximately 50 feet deep at its mouth while it is around 732 metres across the river mouth from breakwater to breakwater.

I arrive carrying bags of Challenger hops, a kilo each for the guys. I am accompanied by Big John Anderson and we get ourselves comfortable, propping up the bar, and wade through the nibbles on offer. It is quite some time before the others arrive, probably due to the weather conditions – it is pouring down. Anyway, all eventually arrive but Richard. Stuart has with him Fred who is acting as driver. Fred, it turns out, has a Chinese wife and has been over there quite often. Something there for me to discuss with him as I have spent the past year on and off in China.

Ian has many posters on his walls one of which is Alison Moyet’s Raindancing New Zealand tour from 1987 when he saw in concert in Christchurch. The singer was big in the 1980s. Come to think of it she was big in the 1990s and the 2000s. She has since lost a lot of weight, so much so it renders her unrecognisable. Ian recently saw her in concert at The Sage in Gateshead and met her afterwards for photos and autograph signings, in particular the aforementioned poster. So when Ian changes his Facebook profile photo to one with her it sends out all sorts of messages around the group. Least of all to OGL who is convinced Ian has a new woman in his life. Cry me a river but there is no romance there!

Back to tonight where we raid the pickled eggs jar. Rob has piles which feel like a bunch of grapes with the pips left in, according to him. There have been no cries of, “Right, I have something to tell you …” Nor have we been restricted to finishing at 10 o’clock as OGL’s wife set curfew is not in force tonight. Instead we all feel like naughty kids staying out late. We are still chatting and it’s nearly half past eleven. nah nah nee nah nah …

Beer of the night is a tie between Worsall IPA and Bran Sands. Thanks to Ian for a great night.

9TH NOVEMBER AT SEAN’S (THE MERRINGTON BREWERY) – Review by Trevor            

Tonight our Brewing Group heads out to Kirk Merrington and to the home of Maverick brewer Sean Mellor.

Sean likes to experiment. If it’s an ordinary beer you want, then don’t set off for The Merrington Brewing because you won’t get one. He has been brewing for quite a few years but only joined the group last year and glad we are to have him. He is a radical brewer as Michael Jackson, the famous beer writer, points out in his foreword to Randy Mosher’s book of the same name – the world desperately needs more Moshers. In Sean we have such a person.

There are five of us on the minibus: Richard and Stuart can’t make it tonight while Ian is carrying out football duties and will be joining us later. Whilst on the minibus, Rob tells us fellow travellers that he is now an accomplished maker of malt loaf. And yes, it’s sticky like the sort you can buy. Next it will be Horlicks.

We are welcomed and ushered into the kitchen by our host. We are now sitting around a table full of tapas delights. Three handpumps are clamped onto a piece of wood which itself is clamped to the end of a kitchen worktop.

On offer tonight we have:

English IPA (5.9% abv): Pale, Crystal and Munich malts. Cascade, Chinook and Citra hops at the start of the boil and the same varieties of hops for aroma. Heavily hopped and with 96 EBUs you can see how there is a note of citrus and floral taste. This is an easy drinking beer but at 5.9% abv be on your guard.

Merrington Brown (6.3% abv): Pale, Brown, Carafa 3, Caramunich and Crystal malts plus Flaked Corn. First Gold and Perle hops for bittering with First Gold for aroma. A deep red, rather than brown ale which seemed quite sweet. Complex tastes leaving plenty of mouthfeel. The Maverick certainly put the ‘merry’ in Merrington with this one.

At this point there should be a fanfare to introduce the third beer: da dah

Rhubarb and Custard Stout (4.7% abv): Pale, Black, Chocolate, Crystal and Munich malts; Carafa III. Rhubarb, Lactose and Vanilla Extract. The hop to accompany this menagerie of malts and adjuncts is Perle. Did it taste like rhubarb and custard ? – of course it did! Delicate flavour goes well with the base stout to make this a winner at any beery ‘do’. Whether I could have drunk two pints, I question.

Our Glorious Leader was venturing into unknown territory as he usually sticks to beers of around 4% abv. Having tried all three of the beers on offer his face was bright red. Rob, complete with piles, brought up the poor turnout of the recent CAMRA beer festival which provoked the rest of us chipping in with what we would do …

By this time Ian arrives. Better late, etc, etc.

Out comes a small bottle of whisky for the lads to try which the Maverick had blended when he visited some Scottish distillery with Mrs Maverick. Instructions thus: choose a few whiskies from the range available, blend them and bottle. Not exactly rocket science but they are unique. Personally, I would put lemonade to any whisky, unique or otherwise, but there again I’m a heathen. Chilli con carne is served.

Do my eyes deceive me ?. Is it a caterpillar ?. Is it a bruise ?. Is it a felt-tipped pen ?. No, it’s Rob’s excuse for a moustache, all of two days old if that. He is the latest member to adorn his upper lip with hair. Already supporting facial follicles are Big John, the Maverick (full ensemble) and Our Glorious Leader (moustache). Out comes moustache wax used to shape the growth into points. Why ?. Mine is not to reason ‘why’ but to merely report such things to you dear reader. Rob’s whiskers are not long enough to call his growth a moustache, so the wax wouldn’t help him at this stage. If you are losing your hair, why take it out on your upper lip. You never know, it may make him look more distinguished.

So, let’s get back to brewing matters and the age old question – “who wants malt ?” This time of year we brew more for obvious reasons but  everyone seems to have enough with the exception of OGL, Ian and myself. There is a possibility that Kevin, the new owner of the Hop & Grape could join the group next year once he has accustomed himself to running what is, without a doubt, the best homebrew shop in the country.

Pete and Rob go out back for a smoke. Inside, the outback comes to us. Sean gets out his didgeridoo and gives us a tune(?). There’s no end to this man’s talents.

Beer of the Night is Merrington Brown. This has been a great night, so thanks to the Maverick for his venturing into new territory and bringing to the group a fresh approach to brewing.

1ST DECEMBER AT JOHN’S (THE SHED) – Review by Trevor                                               


The Shed, home of light beers and landlord John Winterburn (Our Glorious Leader) is where it all began. At least for the nine cerevisaphiles who meet every three weeks to try beers, eat, and discuss amongst other topics the art of brewing. John’s shed is the same as it was way back in the group’s infancy – small. The biggest headache for our host is how we will all fit in with the door closed as it is very cold outside.

Big John and myself arrive at the Shed bang on six o’clock which is more than can be said of the rest, so we wade into the nibbles like two men on a mission to eat all before they arrive. Mighty fine nibbles they are too. Big John tells me about the bad reaction he had taking Tramadol, details I will not print, so watch out dear readers if you are prescribed them. Sean (aka That Sean, aka The Maverick) arrives and dives into the nibbles as there are some left. But what about the beers, are they all light and 4% – read on.

On offer tonight are Golden Wonder (4.0% abv) a crisp (no pun intended) dry amber coloured ale made using Pale and Light Crystal malts, Torrified Wheat and bittering hops Challenger and Fuggles. Easy drinking.

Bunny Hops (4.1% abv) Pale malt, Flaked Maize and Challenger hops. As the name suggests, this is a hoppy ale and lighter in colour than Golden Wonder.

Wild Rover (4.3% abv) Pale malt, Chocolate malt and Torrified Wheat with Target hops. A well rounded beer. OGL was banging on about this beer being ‘iffy’ but it was alright as far as I could tell.

We now enter the realms of disbelief for Our Glorious Leader has made a dark, very dark, porter AND it comes in at a hefty abv of 5.1% it is Coal Porter. Pale malt, Flaked Barley and Roast Barley with Challenger for bitterness make up this old favourite from years ago. So he can make a dark beer and go beyond any of his ‘lights at 4%’ have ventured.

Enter Rob and Ian who have braved the cold on their trusty iron steeds, not the Harley Davidson variety, to be with us tonight. They come in discussing the whys and wherefores of the bottom bracket. Too technical for me so I shall move on. They are confronted with almost empty plates which once contained a variety of nibbles. The shed is filling up and is beginning to heave, especially when Stuart brings a driver to make the number up to ten. This, of course, unsettles OGL as “we won’t all get in.” Pete and Richard arrive and, surprise, surprise, we all get in. However, this means that four guys have to stand behind the bar. The occasional door being opened letting the cold air in is a blessed relief as the heat generated by ten oversized bodies is stifling.

Talk about over doing things, OGL brings out beefburgers for us all. We have to assemble them. This is followed by the infamous corned beef pie, an old stalwart of his. Now is a good time to mention that the television has been up to now and looks like it will not be turned off until after we leave. A conversation stopper indeed.

Having had our fill of eatables we get into conversations with each other. Rob (aka Gimpy) will be shaving his moustache off in the morning as he had a bit of a ‘this can only happen to Rob’ moment earlier in the day. His moustache is grey, so our diminutive pile propagator decides he will colour it. Out comes the spray which he covers liberally all over the caterpillar-like follicles only to discover the spray colour is … yes,  you’ve guessed it, grey. We all, to a man, decide that Rob’s moustache is not a kick and a spit from Our Glorious Leader’s. This earns him another nickname – Little Me.

Leading onto more technical matters, The Maverick asks the group if anyone has a controller or how to make one which reacts to heartbeats, causing it to interact with other gizmos and would be … oh why do I bother ?. He lost me half way through the first sentence. I should stick to simpler things like bottom brackets.

Rob (aka Little Me, aka Gimpy) engages in a discussion on signing for deaf people. One interesting fact comes to light, deaf people can swear; plus they have accents. Stuart’s driver confesses to having a car crash very recently and has photos to prove it. Our Glorious Leader brings up the subject of Flaked Maize and I seem to be the only one listening. “Too much will make your beer cloudy. Loads of starch which is not good.” Earlier in the evening he enlightened us all with, “there are always creepy crawlies in malt.”  It’s enough to put you off brewing, or is it ?.

Richard drops a bombshell as he can’t host the next meeting but yours truly steps and offers to host the Christmas Party meet. A good idea ?. I will wait until I get home and tell she who must be obeyed. Throughout the evening I have accused everyone individually of having one of my brewing books but no one owns up.

Beer of the Night goes to Golden Wonder. A note to the wise, you don’t have to brew light beers all the time, don’t be afraid of the dark. Thanks John for a great night.

21ST DECEMBER AT TREVOR’S (THE OWL BREWERY) – Review by Trevor                        


Well we have managed to get one more meeting in before Christmas and it is at my watering hole instead of being at Richard’s farm. The weather is normal for a winter’s night so maybe it is a good move after all. I had brewed in advance for Christmas so I have plenty of beer on offer. The only problem being that there are no light ales, just dark and strong which is not a problem for she-who-must-be-obeyed and myself but not ideal for a brewing group meeting. Earlier in the week I mentioned to Rob about this and he kindly gave me one of his ‘light’ brews which turns out to be one of Pete’s. Confusing isn’t it ?. On offer I have the following:

Sichuan Ale: 6.8%abv, EBU 46. A strong dark vinous ale made from Pale, Black and Crystal malts and Torrified Wheat. Admiral hops for bitterness. Nothing to do with the Chinese Province, or China in fact – apart from there being a Sichuan owl.

Amber Ale: so called as I made it with Pale and Amber malts and Torrified Wheat. Bittering hops were Admiral (I’ve had this hop for over a year and still going strong) and Mount Hood (two years old and wilting) while Liberty and Saaz were the aroma hops. An easy drinking amber ale (it’s easy for she-who-must-be-obeyed) weighing in at 4.3% abv with EBU of 30.

Ollie’s Christmas Pud: (abv 6.5%) is an experimental ale and because Big John makes one I thought I’d have a go. I used Pale, Amber, Brown and Crystal malts and Roasted Barley. After the 30 minute boil time I added Jaggery (Palm Tree sap), two Christmas Puddings and sultanas. Challenger hops created a bitterness of 39 EBUs. A dark brown ale that didn’t clear (or should I say hazy on purpose ?). The end result was a bit disappointing as I expected to taste the pudding but it scarcely hit the surface as far as I could tell. However, Sean (aka the Maverick) liked it so much he took a ‘carry-out’ of a few pints home. Ollie is the wooden owl perched on the bar.

After Dark: (abv 6.5%+ and 20 EBUs). Black in colour with the number of ingredients well beyond this galaxy, but only a few could be tasted. Pale, Amber, Brown, Chocolate and Crystal malts with Roast Barley and Torrified Wheat as adjuncts. The spices were Cinnamon, Nutmeg, 5-spice along with Orange peel and juice, honey and ginger. So named as the pump clip has a grey owl and it looks dark and rather spooky.

Snowy Ale: Ingredients include 95% water. This is Pete’s beer he gave to Rob who gave it to me, to you, to me, to you … Chuckle Brothers are in Darlington for the panto season you see. I renamed the beer rather cunningly don’t you think ?.

Rob arrives early. In fact an hour and a half early. He hadn’t read his emails about the starting time. “Read yer emails Rob,” we keep telling him. The rest of the lads arrive at the right time with the exception of Pete who is delivering his beers to a number of pubs in time for the Christmas holidays. This gives us plenty of time to talk about him, just like you’d expect women to do. Sean (aka the Maverick) turns to me and swears he will never miss a meeting or be late. Pete arrives, ears aglow.

As with all reviews the reviewer can’t be expected to note every conversation the goes on but Sean and I discuss the finer things in life like ballet which we both enjoy (don’t tell the others as they are all heathens) and in particular Ballet Rambert, the contemporary dance company from down south. We have both seen the Bolshoi, Moscow State, Royal and Northern Ballet company’s productions.

Richard couldn’t hold tonight’s meeting because of farming duties. His cows are “calfing”, or should that be carving – no, that comes later. He has planned this event to coincide with, what should be, a quiet time down on the farm. Richard has to be on hand for the next calf delivery – to aid but also to make sure the cow and the calf bond.

What’s all this to do with beer ?. Let’s get back on track.

With such a glorious long summer barley is plentiful and thus malt has come down by almost 50 pence per 25kg. Great for us brewers but I doubt it will be reflected in the pubs.

Each member of the group have quite an array of hops, acquired cheaply or given for nothing. John (aka Our Glorious Leader) has made a decision about his brewing. Having brewed since before the Boer War he is taking a leaf, so to speak, out of Stuart’s book. “Listen,” he starts his usual ramble. “Stuart’s right. You should always use fresh hops. If they’re old they are no good, they must be fresh. From now on I am going to use only fresh hops.” I will guarantee he won’t be saying that when he has done a few brews and worked out the cost.

“And another thing – fresh yeast.” Instead of using the yeast from a previous brew (as we all do) he is going to use yeast only once. I refer to my comment … he won’t be saying that when he has done a few brews.

It’s the end of the year with a new year to look forward. What does the future hold for our unique group of brewers ?.

Will Big John get his new hip ?
Will Rob have his piles removed ?
Will Ian be seeing Alison Moyet ?
Will Our Glorious Leader run out of money ?
Will Stuart ever get his bar finished ?
Will Richard have a bumper harvest ?
Will Sean make a brew that will cure all ills ?
Will Pete realise that Rob only eats the nibbles so he doesn’t have to?
Will I always be the ninth letter of the alphabet ?

Tune in next year and see.

Happy New Year!

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