2009

5TH APRIL AT PETE’S (MITHRIL ALES)                                                                                   

The night started with a fishy tail. Our beloved leader, John W had spent yesterday fishing and by his own account caught nothing, although a mate of his caught a half ton rainbow trout. But John W had a gripe – foul smelling smoke. Turns out that a farmer not too far away was burning equine straw (horse s**t to you and me). Apparently this particular burning has gone on for the past ten years and is topped up every day. This of course got up old John W’s nostrils and, even though the locals are used to it, this upset our leader’s day fishing.

All this and we haven’t even arrived at our destination – Mithril Ales. We were greeted by Pete brandishing a brush and dust pan. “Help yourselves,” he shouted and buggered off and wasn’t seen for another half hour. Richard took over the bar and pulled our first pint, Dirty Boy, 4.2% copper in colour and a very nice full-flavoured beer using Northdown and Bobek hops.

Conversation starts and John W regales the radio broadcast he did earlier in the week. This guy is a magnet for the media. Anyway, he then tells the story of sea fishing where the boat hit high waves and capsized. Talk about a fishy tail, that’s the second one tonight. Pete by this time has arrived back, minus household implements. Time for another beer, Fools Gold 3.9%, a lighter ale using Challenger and Cascade hops. As it was 1st April a few days ago Pete decided … well, you know where this is going.

At this point we get a treasurer’s report from John W and it looks like we are quite healthy, financially. This year’s trip was decided at a previous meeting and is the Transpennine Rail Ale Trip from Stalybridge back to Dewsbury calling at all stations where there’s a pub (and why not). Special review on that if anyone remains sober enough to hold a pen.

Pete had all four hand pumps in use but he wasn’t happy with the Swing Low so no one tried it. Another beer not on was the Black Pig Porter which was a throw back to Christmas. “It was at its best a couple of weeks ago”, says a despondent Pete. Still we were all happy with the two beers on offer. When I say all, there are only nine of us. Dave left the group a few weeks ago; Ian was at a family do and John P – Stateside! It was then that silence fell for pork pies and mushy peas with a corned beef hash starter.

Stuart, it is fair to say, was in a reflective mood having just gone through the riggers of OFSTED. We all had a moan about television adverts, someone mentioned hops and then the vote for “Beer of the Night.” with Dirty Boy winning it. Talking of winning, Pete had a cutout replica of a BAFTA award trophy on a shelf given to him by an obvious fan following his appearance on television when the BBC came to visit the group.

Next meeting is at Rob’s. For those who don’t know Rob, he’s the guy with a pronounced limp not helped by the fact that he fell off his ladder and thus making his limp more pronounced. The guys, not famous for political correctness, thought up names for his brews (or should that be bruise ?) “Hop To It” was as kind as they got, with other suggestions too crude to mention. Perhaps you can think of some!!

Three minutes to ten o’clock and John W is outside panicking about the bus arriving late. The rest of us inside swigging the remainders of our pints. “It’s ‘ere, it’s ‘ere!” he shouts. Bang on time!

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26TH APRIL AT ROB’S (BALI HAI BREWERY):                                                                           
“Bali Hai” is a song sung by the character ‘Bloody Mary’ in the Rogers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific. It’s also the name of Rob’s brewery and where the group met up this time. We were reminded of distant shores by our lad John. Yes, John P the younger; New John, call him what you will. Oh yes, another name now comes to mind – John the “I’ve just come back from Mauritius and only got married whilst I was there.” Congratulations to him all the same. BUT why the flowery shirt and the suntan on a not too warm a night in spring ? But I digress …

Having to leave early as I had to be somewhere Monday morning, I thought I would get to Rob’s early, be the first one there. Already propping up the bar was Big Richard claiming, “This is my first,” and holding out his glass for a second. There were four choices, and the reasons behind the names, for us:

“WHERE’S THE BUS ?” (named after our beloved leader John W who, you may remember, panics when it gets to 9.45pm) a dark 3.9% session beer with Northdown and Goldings hops.

“SAVE GIMPY” (the name’s not exactly PC when you consider the brewer has a limp) an even darker 4.5% using Palisade and Northdown hops.

“10 O’CLOCK CURFEW” (for the name see above, old John W has to be in bed) coming in at 4.5%, an amber ale using Progress and Goldings.

“PEG LEG” (named after our host for the evening) another light ale using Rye Malt, and again with Goldings and Progress hops, brewed to a healthy 4.7%.

Try as we might Big Richard, Rob and myself tried to scoff all the pork pies before Pete arrived but, alas, we failed, so there were plenty of nibbles for the rest of the guys when they arrived an hour afterwards. Having got over the shirt, as mentioned, the first topic of the evening was Crystal Rye Malt. Rob had bought some and gave John W and myself a sample – supposed to give a liquorice flavour to the beer.

Next topic was hops. We buy our hops in 5kg vacuum packed bags but what was in question was, “Should we buy 6 or 7 2kg vacuum packed bags which would mean a greater choice ?” However, it was decided that we buy three stalwart hops – Challenger, Fuggles and Goldings – in 5kg bags. Going for 2kg wraps doesn’t go very far when 11 brewers want a share of the spoils!

So that’s malt and hops sorted. Ian J grabbed the last pork pie – Pete’s face dropped – and John W told the hamster joke – Pete’s face dropped even further! Ian T was like a fish out of water as he couldn’t get a seat near the bar and had to do with standing at arms length. Rob, it is fair to say, is not known for good spelling. In fact it is atrocious as pointed out when we discovered a new ingredient to the craft of brewing – torfed wet – Torrified wheat to you and me. Regular readers will know that this year’s trip is a Rail Ale journey from Stalybridge to Dewsbury, calling at all stations with pubs. We have decided to go on Saturday 11th July so if you are in the neighbourhood make yourself known to us.

Just about this time the “Save Gimpy” has been relegated to the drain and in its place Rob puts on “Hopalong” a tasty beer with BoBek and Cascade hops and Rolled Barley. Forever the host Rob then shouts out that the food is ready and we had to ‘come and get it.’ Corned beef hash which was described as “souper” by one miscreant in the shape of Big Richard. More soup than hash he says – like he’s a connoisseur. He thinks we concentrate too much on the food and such an activity should be stopped. That went down like a lead balloon. The very same person’s favourite meal is fish fingers and bread. So stopping the food is not going to happen.
Beer of the Night, dear reader, was Peg Leg. Plenty of alcohol was drunk and not a sign of ‘Bloody Mary’!

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17TH MAY AT TREVOR’S (OWL BREWERY):                                                                            

It has been the bone of contention with passed writers that they can’t, won’t, shouldn’t, write their own review. Well, not me!

I own the Owl Brewery and my bar is portable. In other words, I can put it in the conservatory when it’s party time, in the garage if we are enjoying the summer sun – well, you get the idea. Portable. I stole the design off Big John some time ago.

I had three beers on offer for the group meeting. BooBuck, a session ale at 3.9% using Palisade hops, plus a hop tea. John W told me about this. The hops, in this case Cascade, are infused in hot water and the resulting liquor is poured into the fermenter with the rest of the wort. I wasn’t too happy with the result but John P (minus flowered shirt this time) came up with the idea of putting hop cones in the polypin. As I write this review the beer has matured and is quite good. All this highlights the fact that we are all here to help each other – that’s what the group is all about. A boobuck, by the way, is a strange owl that bobs from side to side for no apparent reason. Yes, we’ve all been there!

Barn Owl, 4.2% ABV, using Cascade and Progress hops for bitterness and Bobek for aroma, maybe a bit acidic with an EBU of 32 (European Bitterness Units). At 5.4% Night Owl was the darker and strongest beer on offer. A combination of 4 malts – Halcyon Pale, Chocolate, Crystal, Crystal Rye – with Torrified Wheat and Roast Barley. Palisade and Progress hops for bitterness and more Progress for aroma.

I knew Rob was away in Wales so couldn’t make the meeting but Ian T, I was informed by the first two arrivees, John W and Big Richard, was off somewhere on the Monday and was feeling kind of rough! What he had been doing on Saturday I know not. Unfortunately Little Richard was unwell which left us with eight members for the evening.

Stuart and Big John arrived. It turns out that recently Stuart went, “just for a ride out on the motor bike”. Stuart who lives in Hartlepool, went off to the Lake District and back again – just a ride out! That’s got to be 140 miles of anyone’s money. This of course provoked John W’s (Our Glorious Leader) account of cycling in the lakes and going down some mountain pass at some hell-raising speed only ever reached by him and NASA.

Then the heavens opened. Ian J arrived by bike suitably attired but wet, followed by John P who sensibly got a lift. Enough of bikes, already. The conversation turned to football and the dismal season all the North East teams had had. Pete was the last to arrive but as I didn’t have any pork pies it didn’t matter.

When we hear the cry, “Now listen to this, right…” or “Here’s a thing, right…” we know that John W is going to come out with something new. Not always interesting, or relevant but always informative. This time it was an interesting fact regarding yeast, and in particular Greene King yeast. John had got some sent to him by those kind people of Bury St Edmunds. He made a brew which turned out flowery. And, as befitting this legend of our group, he didn’t care for it. It is true to say that he is never satisfied with a brew as he insists it could be better. He does brew good beer but he is hard to convince.

The Transpennine Rail Ale trip we are going on in July was next on the agenda. Ian J had sorted out train times between Stalybridge and Dewsbury. Then came the food, a stew made with beer accompanied by dumplings. The Beer of the Night was Night Owl.

“Now listen to this, right…” The group heard a first in brewing, and you, dear reader, this may be a first for you as well – Slack yeast! We all know about a slack mash but slack yeast ? Say goodnight John…

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7TH JUNE AT IAN’S (TEES CREEK BREWING COMPANY):                                                   

Ian J was host to this Sunday’s group meeting and a fine job he did too. It is fair to say that Ian’s beers have got to be good as he is a brewer by profession so has a lot to live up to. I picked up Our Glorious Leader, John W, bang on six o’clock (my son was driving, actually). We got to Ian’s only to find that Big Ritchie got there before us. Every meeting he’s there first! One day, dear reader, I’ll beat him to it.

We were treated to three beers, namely:

INDEPENDENCE: At 3.9% a golden ale using Bramling Cross and Challenger hops for bitterness, with Cascade and Challenger for the aroma. The EBU was only 10 which made this a delightful session beer.

CASCADE: At 4.1% a light copper coloured ale with Centennial hops for bitterness and Cascade for the aroma. EBU here was 33.

WOLFMAN ALE: At 4.2% a dark full bodied beer with the bitterness provided by Progress hops and the aroma by Goldings.

Not long after John W and I arrived in came Big John and Stuart who ordered their first pints and in limps Rob (“Here’s Gimpy”, someone shouted). There we all sat nibbling away at a fine array of snacks, including smoked cheese, a particular favourite of mine. We waited and we waited but no sign of the others. We knew Ian T wasn’t coming but where the others were we knew not. We were entertained by various flying stories; you know the thing, near misses, turbulence, etc. Enough! Enough! It turns out that Ian J is off to Milan in a couple of weeks!

There we are, nibbling the nibbles. “Pork pies!” shouts Gimpy … sorry, Rob. “Let’s finish them before Pete arrives.” But too late. In walked Little Richard and Pete, both grabbing the last two pieces. Better luck next time, Rob.

“Now listen to this, right.” (regular readers know that this means John W has another interesting if not relevant piece of information) He has decided that the yeast he got from Bury St Edmunds is too flowery and spoils the brew. Not so, according to Big John, who tried it and had great success. No, no, Our Glorious Leader has managed to get hold of some really good yeast from Castle Eden Brewery which will be brilliant – didn’t he say that about Greene King yeast ? To be honest, dear reader, I use a dry yeast most of the time as do a few other members of the group.

Then comes John P, ‘Young’ John, ‘Look I’ve just got married’ John – call him what you like! He is brandishing a few plants in pots. “Hello” says everyone, “Cannabis will brighten up the party!” For all you knowledgeable readers out there cannabis and hops are very similar to look at, especially young plants. But before you call the cops and have Ian J arrested for keeping a crack-house, the plants were First Gold hops, a dwarf variety which our ‘grumpy allotment bloke’ (yet another name for him!) has cultivated. I got a plant which I am reliably informed will flower next year.

“Now here’s a thing, right.” John W’s tip for drying hops – “Put them in the tumble dryer, it’s the best way of doing it.” Now I have a friend in Wisconsin who harvests trailer loads of Cascade hops. I don’t think his wife Kerry would be too pleased if he used the tumble dryer. Talking of which, our reader population is ever expanding and now reaches the States where craft brewing is starting to take off.

Next meeting is down on the farm at Little Richard’s and we’re having a barbecue. Bet Big Ritchie’s there first.

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28TH JUNE AT LITTLE RICHARD’S (PRIMROSE HILL BREWERY):                                        

For those who don’t know, Little Richard is a farmer living a few miles out of Darlington. We hire a mini bus for such occasions and we all arrive together so Big Richard isn’t first this time! We were greeted at the entrance of the farm by a Little Owl. It was a beautiful warm night with the prospect of some fine beers and a barbecue (known henceforth as the barbie to empathise with any Australian readers out there, and to worry any Americans who might be waiting for Ken to enter the scene!).

The barbie is going well – half an oil drum filled with logs etc., with a canopy over the top to act as hotplate. But let’s get to the beers. On entering Richard’s pub one notices straight away that he has moved the bar. Maybe more room but it’s six and two threes to me. Next thing to notice is that he hasn’t named any of of his four beers so I reckon there could be confusion so … I am naming them 1,2,3 and 4 so that you can follow me throughout this review.

NUMBER 1: a 4% light ale using Saaz hop pellets and Hallertau for bittering accompanied by Mittlefruh for aroma. A pleasant, easy drinking beer with a bitterness of 34 EBUs.

NUMBER 2: weighing in at 3.9% this ale is very similar to the first one. Here, Richard used Mittlefruh for bitterness and nothing for aroma even though it had a hint of aromatic hop to the nose.

NUMBER 3: using the stalwart hops of Challenger and Fuggles this 30 EBU was cloudy but tasty and got one or two votes in the beer of the night section.

NUMBER 4: was really a non-starter which was unfortunate because Richard had a good selection of malts, including black and chocolate, and elderflowers! The same hops as in Number 3.

Young P, daring to wear that flowery shirt of some months back, takes on the job as cook. Whilst we wait for the sausages Ian J tells of his recent visit to Milan. Anyway, it turns out that he enjoyed a pint of Newcastle Brown Ale on his visit along with imported Scottish beers!

Sausages are ready so grab a bread bun. Baked potatoes are handed out.

“Now listen to this.” Yes it’s John W and he’s got something to say. “Hops, right ?” He then bemoans the bag of Challenger hops he has in store. “They’re all brown and they are not right, right ? But what can we do ?”. Easy, tell the supplier. Sorted!

Burgers are ready so grab a bread bun. This guy, John P, could get a job at McDonalds if only he didn’t smile so much. He’s doing a fine job, even put some onions on. Next to do a fine job is Big Richard who takes over the cooking from the McDonalds wanabee. On goes everything else: chops, minute steaks, bacon, kebabs, the lot. The mention of Bear Grylls at this point suggests that he would be eating this food raw. He’s not even a real bear.

Plenty to eat and plenty to see around the farm. A field with two horses, one muzzled so it couldn’t eat the grass or bite the other one and further up chickens happily doing what chickens do. Cows in an adjoining field being watched over by an attentive bull. Birds whistling in the trees; wagtails drinking from a puddle. I paint an idyllic scene to prepare you for what comes next.

Gapeworm (Syngamus trachea) is a parasitic nematode worm infecting the tracheas of certain birds. “My hens had Gapeworm,” says John W. “I had to get rid of the lot!”. This guy seems to have done everything. Now we find out he kept chickens. “Watch out for Coccidosis,” he cries. “Mine had that along with Red Mite”.

Time comes to order our malt as Big John is doing the malt run a week next Tuesday. Each member gives their order to John W (the chicken man). Pete fancies Golden Promise, so a few follow suit. This is a malt that is not always available unlike Halcyon and Maris Otter. Big John has a trailer so he’s the obvious choice for the trip to Castleford.

Next came the voting and beer number 2 wins Beer of the Night. Then came news that Big Richard is to become a grandfather in about three weeks so congratulations all round. The group’s trip doing the Tyne Valley Ale Trail is set for 5th September and we call on Ian J to organise the day.

Stuart is lamenting that in three weeks he’s on holiday and going boating off the west coast of Scotland. Just then Jack turns up and demands attention, going around each of us in turn. Richard gives him a potato and he’s happy. Oh, by the way, Jack is the resident sheep dog. “First time I came up here, Jack nearly bit my leg off,” cracks John W. This dog, granted likes rolling in anything unmentionable, has become a placid creature but put a chain on him …

Bus arrives on time so no gripe from John W. Throughout the evening there has been a faint hum – a generator. The whole area has been without electricity for over a fortnight much to the annoyance of Little Richard. Too much going on for that to spoil the evening, mate. Nice one Richard.

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19TH JULY AT YOUNG JOHN’S (BAREFOOT BREWERY):                                                     

It is fair to say that in brewing within the group that there is little in the way of competition. Each one of us has our own quirky ways of brewing the good stuff. But hidden beneath the fermenters, boilers and even stiff mashes lies a competitive streak in us all far away from brewing. Take, for example, the fierce competition to eat all the pork pies before Pete arrives, to arrive first at someone’s bar to beat Big Richard or who can get the bar stool before Ian T.

All bets are off as we make our way to Young/New/I’ve just got Married John, known henceforth as John P. (Yes, dear reader, this page tells all that we have done but, like a highwayman or the Lone Ranger, we still conceal our true identities – unless you go on the links page and check out Flickr, for it is there that you will see our faces but our names are still shrouded in mystery. If you live in Darlington you probably know who we are but if you live on Beer Eeter Island off the coast of Australia [check it out on Google Earth] our identity is secure). As John W, Ian T and myself pile out of the car Big Richard is already running up the driveway to secure the ‘first there’ spot only to be usurped by Stuart and Big John who are propping up the bar. Not even a bar stool for Ian T.

Missing tonight is Pete who is up in Edinburgh celebrating Mrs Pete’s birthday, and Little Richard who is away on holiday with Mrs Little Richard and the little Little Richards. Question on everyone’s mind – will Gimpy be coming tonight. Keep up, dear reader, Gimpy = Rob. Yes, he arrives last beaten only by our fittest member, Ian J, who uses pedal power.

John P has four beers on to whet our thirst. (All names have a cricketing theme as you will see.) Cover Drive Bitter at 3.5% is a session beer with a light copper colour; Yorker Stout weighs in at 4.7%; Googly Special Pale Ale 4.7%; and, Howzat Brown Ale at 4.8%. What went into any of these beers I know not as all recipes are stored on John P’s computer! The Googly lived up to its name as it was withdrawn, not for the taste or condition, but our young brewer dry hopped this one, with the unfortunate result that it clogged the system up and wouldn’t dispense properly. (Be aware, dear reader, dry hopping can do wonders to your beer but …).

I start the evening off with my account of finding a bat in a glass of orange juice which prompts Big John to tell the tale of finding a mouse in a drip tray. Someone else found a blackbird nesting in his greenhouse. “What I once found,” starts John W. Whatever have I started ?

Seats have been put outside so that we can enjoy the warm evening. Food is then brought out in the form of sliced pork, peas-pudding and bread, lots of it. This has been baked by Mrs P this morning. All of which is consumed very quickly and back to the ale. We are joined at this point by Alfred and Lucky, John P’s two dogs. You might guess that John W knows some obscure useless piece of information regarding the black bile substance caused when dogs have flatulence. The evening is becoming cooler so John P lights the brazier.

Darlington’s Beer Festival is coming up in September and the group put on a few beers for people to try. Because of the Customs and Excise laws in this country we can’t sell our beers but people can give us a donation. This helps to boost our coffers. So, volunteers are required to make a brew for the aforesaid festival. Six hands go up so that’s sorted. Ian J has a good idea by giving samples in half pint glasses rather than a pint to make the beer go further. All agree.

Alfred, described as a wirey haired, rabbit worrying, odd shaped, no breed kind of dog (going grey), has taken a shine to Ian J and left him with more hairs on his legs than his head. Took him quarter of an hour to get rid of them all. He also took a shine to Ian’s beer – he’ll sleep well tonight (Alfred, not Ian J!).

“Now listen to this, right,” yes it’s John W who has a question regarding hops. “Should we buy some Pacific Gem (alpha acid an unbelievable 16%) ?”. Apparently this is a fantastic hop from New Zealand and with such a high alpha acid you don’t need to use so many. However, the cost might be off-putting so John W is going to contact the supplier this next week for a price. Then came a John W classic. See if you can tell what is wrong with this statement: “They (the company he worked for) held centenary celebrations for being in Darlington for fifty years!”.

Beer of the Night is Howzat Brown Ale. Scrounger of the Night is Rob. He managed to get at least six cigarettes off Ian T, whose lighter has broken so they have to get their faces up to brazier to get the a light. Eyebrows singed but that doesn’t worry these two chaps. To ensure the evening went with a bang Ian T throws his lighter into the brazier …

It’s ten o’clock so time to go. Another good night of beer and crack.

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9TH AUGUST AT BIG JOHN’S (ST ANDREWS BREWING):                                                     

Sidled away at the bottom of Big John’s garden stands a monument to beer. A haven where he can have rest bite from the family, the dog and the cat. It’s a bar that offers on average three/four beers at any one time. Memorabilia is strewn around the walls; a wooden floor that wouldn’t look out of place in many a pub in the land; it has even got flashing lights that are tasteful enough not to put the drinker off, or bring back memories of Christmas; and one of the few bars in the group where everyone can get a seat.

Indeed, four beers are on offer tonight, namely: Spring M’th Ale (4.2% ABV), a regular beer at Big John’s bar, an easy drinking amber ale; Paddy’s Oirish, a 4.3% ABV stout; All Hail to the Ale (4.4% ABV); Summer Storm coming in at 5.4% ABV.

No prizes for guessing who arrives first. Big Richard props up the bar ready to greet John W and Ian T who are close behind. I come in next closely followed by Rob, who incidentally, has purloined a packet of fags (cigarettes) to share with Ian T. Hard to believe that this scrounger of the wicked weed has actually brought some. Ian T will enjoy these all the more! It is that man Rob who is determined once again to eat all the pork pies before Pete arrives.

Big John has had a consignment of side handle glasses which we all use tonight. They’re not your usual dimpled glasses widely used in pubs in the south of England but a design that only IKEA could come up with. Unfortunately, All Hail to the Ale is a non-starter so is taken off and put to one side ready for dispersal on the lawn. (That age old joke gets another airing – the grass comes up half cut!). Good news for Big Richard – he is a grandad to a baby girl, Holly, who was born two weeks ago. Baby and grandfather are doing well!

Ian J arrives in usual style, on his trusty iron horse. Stuart won’t be coming tonight as he’s on his boat. Little Richard is harvesting so will be late (we are informed). As for Pete and John P we know not.

“Slack Mash” a term often used but rarely seen in reality. But I can bare witness to what follows as I was there at the time. John W, in his infinite wisdom, decided to get Lager Malt on the last malt run. We all ordered the likes of Halcyon, Golden Promise, Maris Otter but not John W. He relates his latest mash, thus: “I’ve never seen ‘owt like it. The bag was full of straw and rat crap. The grains a so small. I tell yer, I’ve not seen ‘owt like it. Slack mash! You wouldn’t believe it. And I bought three bags of the stuff. Never again. I had to use six pounds more to get the same results. Then I had to use brewers’ sugar.” Obviously, lager malt is not for us.

Rob is on form tonight with the insults. John W tells everyone present how to clean out handpumps (like we don’t know already), that bleach will get rid of anything – to which Rob pipes up, “we should pour it on you then.” Next I say that I have a touch of gut-rot but don’t know what caused it. Rob’s answer being, “it’s caused by your bad beer!”

“Straw, I couldn’t believe it.” Okay John W, we get the picture. Big John brings out the bangers and mash. Originally catering for eleven, there is plenty to go around the seven that are here. Big John gets out a polypin from his fridge – a beer made by John W (given to Big John as John W didn’t like it), and puts it on handpump, aptly naming it John W’s Castoff. This beer is void when voting for Beer of the Night.

Next we hear that Pete and Little Richard are on their way but, alas, too late for sausages. Fortunately for them there is a standby in the form of egg and bacon flan. Both our country buddies look the worst for wear. Little Richard, excusably, has been harvesting and thus is worn out and Pete who has been drinking all afternoon.

It is now about 9pm and what happens in the next hour is anyone’s guess as I give up the ‘ghost’ and make my way home. Before doing so we have a vote on Beer of the Night and Summer Storm wins it. “Straw. I’ve never seen anything like it,” is the echo as I leave.

Well, dear reader, a good night was had, thanks to our host Big John.

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30TH AUGUST AT IAN T’S (WEST MOOR BREWING COMPANY):                                         

Allow me to gloat for a while. I arrived at the aforesaid hostelry, mastering the tricky sneck on the gate and armed with my usual notebook and pen, to be welcomed by Ian T. “You’re the first one here!”. Music to my ears. Yes, dear reader, I have beaten Big Richard. I am the first at the bar, I order a beer before anyone else AND I get the pick of the seats. Aaaarrggh!

Arriving first allows me to have a look at what Ian T has on offer.

DARK NIGHT – 3.9% ABV – 25 EBU – using Fuggles and Hersbrucker Hallertauer hops. A very dark beer but I’m not surprised, Ian T put in quarter of a pound of black malt! He also used ‘cara-red’, a new malt from Weyermann in Bamberg. It is used to add body and increase malt aroma in many beer styles. It also provides greater depth of colour and gives a reddish hue. It’s EBC in 50.

GOLDEN DAWN – 4.1% ABV – 30 EBU – using Challenger and Fuggles hops.

AULD RED – 5% ABV – EBU of 25, and using Fuggles and Goldings hops made up the trio of fine beers.

John W is next to arrive closely followed by the man himself, Big Richard and then Big John. Cast your minds back to the previous meeting and you will see that I mention John W’s dilemma with his lager malt. Was that an end to the matter – No! Yes, we got it all again. “There’s more straw than malt, and the grains are so small, and I had to use half a bag (12kg) in one brew, and…”.

Rob walks in at this point wielding the cheapest packet of fags on the market, determined to share them with the other smokers of the group. This is two meetings running that he has provided them. After all, he is trying to make amends for years of scrounging. There’s no sign of anyone else so Big John borrows Big Richard’s mobile to ring Stuart in Hartlepool who says he will try and get here. Its 20 odd miles away so we shall see.

The conversation turns yeast. All beers tonight have been made with a strain called Safale 04, for all you aficionados. Now fruit is the topic. I say that my apple tree is laden with fruit, and what happens next, well you had to be there. John W, usually an expert on most subjects asks, “Which fruit ?”. Try apples, John! Ian J arrives on his trusty steed just as the corned beef pie and mushy peas are brought out to us. As usual Rob is all for eating the lot before anyone else arrives. Finally having had our fill of the aforesaid eatables we settle down to chatting again.

Enter our country cousins. Little Richard, you may remember, is a farmer and Pete lives out in the sticks a few miles away. As with country folk their minds are on the food and manage to order a pint with mouths full. Believe it or not, even after these hungry pair have had their fill, there is still some left! Ian T’s missus must have been slaving in the kitchen all day.

As said Little Richard is a farmer and knows a thing or two about crops and in particular barley. He raised a most interesting point about two-row, and six-row, barley. For those who are lost on this I shall try and explain. Barley has a stem on which two shoots come out – that is two-row barley. However, some strains of barley have six shoots coming out – Great you might say. Logic says that farmers should grow six-row after all its three times the amount of barley on one plant. But here lies the problem. When the barley is ready for harvest and there is a wind the two-row will bend to the wind but the six-row reacts differently. Because of its weight the wind snaps the stem and renders the plant unharvestable. Consequently, the farmer only gets paid for what he supplies and therefore loses out, yet again.

The time is 8.15pm and blow me down with fly’s fart it isn’t Stuart standing in the doorway. Yes, he made it. And there is plenty for him to eat. “Finish it off,” invites Ian T. Discussion starts about manning at the Darlington Beer Festival while Stuart is still wading through the pie.

Alas, dear reader, the topic of conversation gets round to the Group Trip. Yes, it is September and we haven’t had it yet. I don’t know who mentioned it but the idea is that we get the train to Carlisle and work back stopping at pubs on the way. All agree! It is now down to Ian J to sort out train times. Big Richard, smarting from being usurped by me, informs us all that he is going to Blackpool this week so can’t … so can meet us at Carlisle (I bet he’s there before the rest of us).

We vote for beer of the night. There are ten of us here, Ian T doesn’t vote but two beers get five votes each. It’s that bloody Gimpy (Rob) voting for two beers. It’s no wonder it takes us for ever to sort out what kind of hops we want, or which malt we should buy. “Don’t get that lager malt, it’s full of straw. I’m not kidding you, there’s more straw than grains. And they are so small you need half a bag to make a brew.” If he mentions lager malt one more time … Anyway beer of the night is Auld Red.

Big Richard picks up a programme from Peterborough Beer Festival and puts Pete and Ian J through their paces with a quiz on which brewery brews what. There are 200 beers mentioned in this booklet but the lads show great knowledge. With that aside our country cousins bid their farewells and off they go. Rob, Ian T and I get into deep conversation on how to make poteen, using a pressure cooker! Next to go is John W. Is that a trail of straw he’s leaving behind ?

Ah well, dear reader, it was a great night with great beer. Ian, you did us proud.
Tyne
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TYNE VALLEY RAIL ALE TRIP (SATURDAY 5TH SEPTEMBER):                                            

Well, the day eventually arrived for the group’s trip. Ian J did his homework by organising the train times both to Carlisle and back via Haltwhistle, Hexham, Wylam and Newcastle. Last I heard before setting off was that Our Glorious Leader, John W, wasn’t coming but sure enough he was at Darlington railway station along with Rob, Big John, Ian J and Pete. Tickets in hand, all six of us got on the 9.30 train to Newcastle. Waiting for us was Stuart who, if you follow the ramblings of our reviews, comes from Hartlepool. (We were to meet Big Richard in Carlisle but unfortunately his mother was taken ill so he cut his holiday short to be with her). Stuart is brandishing an empty paper coffee cup. We have a bit of a wait in Newcastle which allows Stuart to hold the empty cup a bit longer. Another ten minutes before the train leaves and, yes you’ve guessed it, he still has the bloody cup.

So now there are seven of us taking the one and a half hour train journey from Newcastle to Carlisle. The weather changed from a dry North East to pouring down in Cumbria. Here we are, Carlisle – the home of Eddie Stobart and Woodrow Wilson; the first theatre to have electric lighting; the head of the longest motorway in Britain; birthplace of Melvin Bragg; and more importantly a football team that’s an anagram of ‘re idle lunatics’.

Not necessarily dressed for the weather we make our way, somewhat hurriedly across the pedestrian-only precinct to our first port of call – the King’s Head in Fisher Street. A deserved pint of Yates’ Bitter for each. John W, being our treasurer, duly paid the tab. That supped we set off back over the precinct and down Botchergate to the Woodrow Wilson, a JD Wetherspoon pub, named after the US president who originated from Carlisle. With plenty of ales to tempt us the bill came to £8-something and for seven pints that’s not bad. One of the perks of being a card-carrying CAMRA member! The rain is still pouring when we make our way to the Griffin, located in Court Square opposite the station.

By this time the lads are getting hungry, but we have a schedule to keep and a train to catch. All aboard, next stop Haltwhistle and the Black Bull. It is quite a walk from the station but the rain has stopped. There must be plenty to see on the way you would think. This town is dead! Not a soul. Only thing moving apart from the seven figures heading for the hostelry is tumbleweed. Not a car, or a cat, not even a bird or a dog … just don’t go to Haltwhistle after 1pm on a Saturday, I’ll say no more. We found our destination hidden away from the road in the Market Square and down a short cobbled road. It’s a small but interesting pub with decent beers.

Empty glasses in hand we find out, by one of the locals, the whereabouts of another drinking establishment.
We set off to find the suggested boozer and find it in the guise of a club, namely the Comrades Club. Not much frontage but the inside was what one expects of a standard club. Beer here is very cheap and we are made to feel welcome. I point out to the barman that one of their beers, Rivet Catcher, is brewed at Jarrow Brewery derived from one of Pete’s recipes. How about that! Another coincidence is something the lads may not have hit upon but doing research for this review I find that the Comrades Club is quite famous around the Tyne Valley for their quoits playing and are in a league and doing very well, thank you. The coincidence ? The first ever quoits club was set up in Darlington 150 years ago, when John W was just a little lad.

Back on the train, next stop Hexham. On the way Stuart (minus the cup) decides that a group of people further up the train look more interesting than we do so up he gets and encroaches on this group. To be fair, Stuart has had a few pints by now so inhibitions go out the window. What they thought, I can only imagine. We arrive at Hexham, to the relief of the other passengers.

Food has been scarce so far on this epic journey but we do find a patisserie open and buy plenty of pies to eat on the way to the Tap & Spile. It just so happens that on this walk to the pub some of us meet up with some students who are offering hugs. Standing in the thoroughfare with some placards with “hug … something” on them. I don’t know whether it was the hug or the beer, but I am blowed if I can remember anything about the Tap & Spile, apart from it was at the top of a bank, I think. Ian J told me we went but I haven’t a clue. Mind’s a blank. Funny thing is, I can remember the next port of call – the Station Inn. A very small bar, described by the landlord as ‘cosy’. The England v Slovenia match was on the large screen but time was tight, so having downed our pints, off we went to the station and on to Wylam.

The Boathouse at Wylam is a gem. It is situated next to the railway station and a big sign outside says it is “Arguably the best pub in the world.” Inside it is convivial with a variety of real ales on offer in this two roomed pub; the bar and a lounge where the television also showed the England game. We only stayed a short time but enjoyed it. You should allow yourself plenty of time when visiting here. Anyway, back over the crossing and onto the platform. The train is on it’s way. This is when Pete realises he has left a bag in the pub. The crossing gates come down, siren starts, lights flash. So it’s up the steps, over the gantry, down the other side and into the pub. The train is in sight. Will he make it ? Oh yes! Pete retraces his steps complete with bag. Next stop Newcastle.

It is a while before the train home so we head off into the city and in particular the Bodega on Westgate Road. Architecturally the Bodega is one of Newcastle’s best pubs. It was formerly the music hall attached to the Tyne Theatre and Opera House. It has an attractive frontage but the best bits are inside. Towards the rear there is a huge skylight almost dome-shaped and the wooden bar, floor and partitions that make several little cosy booths make the place look great. Its spacious and light and very appealing. I have half a pint of a 7.1% nip, the name escapes me but it’s something like “skull-splitter”.

We make our way back to the station, leaving Stuart to get his train to Hartlepool, and pile onto ours. We’re soon back in Darlington. All agree that it has been a great day out and a big thanks goes to Ian J for his planning and knowledge.

Note: Pete apparently still found space for another three pints at his local before retiring.

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20TH SEPTEMBER AT JOHN W’S (THE SHED):                                                                       

Big John just beats me in arriving at our venue for our three weekly gathering. I order my beer and jot down the beers on offer. It was then that I realised that John W is the only member not to have a name for his brewery (he normally gives his beers a number but we all insist on names). Strange when you consider that it was he who has been brewing the longest and he that started the group eight years previous.

But what can you call it ?  “John’s Place” is naff. “John’s Shed” is naff. So what do you call the brewery of Our Glorious Leader ? Suggestions please! In the meantime I think “The Shed” with the “The” pronounced “Thee” is as good as any and it sets itself aside from any other such shed mundane or otherwise. But I waffle …

The three beers on offer tonight are ‘Yesteryear’ at 4.2% – lager malt and light crystal malt, accompanied by flaked maize and using Challenger and Goldings hops. ‘Autumn Delight’ a darker, 4% ale with Dark Crystal Malt. Here John has used Challenger and Fuggles hops. His third offering is ‘Crystal Maize’ at 4%, a light session beer using Fuggles and Goldings hops. Jarrow yeast was used for all three beers.

There’s a bit of clattering going on outside as Ian T arrives in his chariot (wheelchair), pushed here by his better half. That’s the three bar stools taken with John W behind the bar ready to serve. Not long before Rob arrives. And he knows that he’s in for some stick tonight, which will be revealed shortly. He is followed by another clattering in the form of Ian J and his bike. Almost a third clattering when John W tries to serve a beer in that most unholy of unholies – a cracked glass. Shame on him.

Good time to mention that the Darlington Beer Festival finished last night. Our group had a bar on and offered punters a sample of our beers for which they gave a donation. Over £194 was taken, which will increase our coffers somewhat, especially when we had our annual trip a couple of weeks ago, something else that will be revealed shortly! I got an offer of hops for the group to use. We would have to pick them ourselves but the problem is the alpha acid content. Without this figure we can’t be sure of the bitterness units in our brews. They would be okay for aroma hops, so whether we take up the offer – who knows!

Just then the first of our culinary delights is brought out in the form of a quiche. It doesn’t pay to be late for these meetings as the food soon goes. However, we did leave some for the country cousins. Well, when I say leave … Stuart arrived, had some and left one piece. All this was followed by the famous corned beef pie, synonymous with John W. Having just one piece of this pie is not on so we eat most and leave the rest to the two lads still to come – Little Richard and Pete. In true country style they devour any food that is laid around.

Rob, we find out, has brewed a couple of beers for a few guys at a village nearby who want to start up their own brewing group. Now whether he thought he would not be found out is pure conjecture but he did give the game away by using Crystal Rye Malt. He is the only one who uses it so it doesn’t take a mastermind to find the culprit. Question is, will he remain loyal to our group or will these new guys tempt him away. Only time will tell.

Then, dear reader, a shadow wafted over the group as the television was turned up loud for everyone to watch that God awful X-factor. Now was a good time to entered my dream world where all sights and sounds were blotted out by surrealism as I drift back in time. Not to childhood or love’s labours, but to a few weeks ago and the Group Trip. I remember it well …

And now back to the present, enough of this mind wandering. The subject of the ‘Malt Run’ is next but Big John is unable due to work commitments of going this time, however John W and myself will be going down to Castleford during half term. The orders were taken. No one ordered Lager Malt for reasons you will find in past reviews. Stuart reminds me that he still has a wooden ladle to make for me, alongside all the other tasks he has to accomplish like house improvements, etc.

We call Beer of the Night and ‘Autumn Delight’ gets the vote. A good night at ‘The Shed’ with three good beers. Our thanks to Our Glorious Leader, our host.

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11TH OCTOBER AT STUART’S (THE OLD HARTLEPOOL BREWERY) – Review by Ian J

The next brew group meeting in theory defies our name. We’re having a trip outside our borders tonight with a visit to Stuart’s cellar bar situated on the Headland in Hartlepool.

We arrive on the headland via minibus and see mein host looking out the front window of number 13 (unlucky for some ?). Stuart welcomes us and we wind our way down the stairs to the cellar bar featuring tables and stools and walls with a great “brick” effect. The bar doesn’t disappoint either – there are 5 yals on offer tonight. There are no pumpclips but labels suffice for names on each handpump.

Due to the absence of Trevor (our regular writer up), Ian J offers his services to write the review. After revealing a “There’s NO NEED for a slack mash” t-shirt to all, I try “Dock Water” at 3.8%. Dock Water has Halycon Malt, Roast Barley and Rolled Barley with Challenger hops for bittering and has an EBU of 28 and fermented with Jarrow yeast. At this point John W pulls out the list of malts people wish to order for the next malt run and peruses it intently followed by reading out who wants what. There is mention of Lager Malt which led to a recent bad experience with our Glorious Leader and he got, yes you’ve guessed it, a slack mash! He’s also worried about those who haven’t been in touch with him – it will all come right in the end John!

Time for the second beer. After using the unusual glass washing system in the form of a spray gun, it’s one called Dolphin – 3.5% ABV brewed with Maris Otter and Light Crystal Malts and Flaked Maize malts plus Mittelfruh and Bobek hops along with Camerons yeast. Stuart is not a fan of this beer and only recommends a half to me – it has an acquired taste but tastes fine and is akin to a light coloured mild. Cardinal at 4.2% is exactly the same as Dolphin but uses Jarrow yeast and also includes Elderflower.

After the Dolphin comes Cold Fusion, a 4.1% belter! This has Halcyon and Crystal Malts along with Fuggles and Goldings hops. With an EBU of 33 this has an excellent balance between malts and hops. There’s a bit of ambiguity on Stuart’s recipe sheets for this one with no weights written down for Crystal Malt – see me after the meeting regarding this recipe Armstrong!

The year is coming to an end and talk is of the group’s Christmas Party. Rob has his meeting on Sunday Dec 13th so we plump for Saturday Dec 19th with Big John offering to host the do. Stuart says “Food’s ready!”. It’s chilli and rice, and in true fashion Pete downs his in no time and even grabs a bit of John W’s who can’t manage his due to a large Sunday dinner!

Back onto the beer; I try the Cardinal at 4.2% followed by the last beer (and not least) to try which is Dark Matter at 5.7%. Made with Halcyon, Roast Barley and Rolled Barley plus Challenger and Progress hops, this like the Cold Fusion is a gem. The initial aroma of roast flavours leads to a deceptively drinkable beer and it has a consistent head all the way down the glass. Stuart worries that with all the banter that is flying around (mainly from Rob!) he’s not going to make any more strong beers for future meetings. Stuart also has a cornelius version of this beer, but the aroma was not as prominent and taste more mellow.

Beer of the night was Cold Fusion – and deservedly so. A great choice with great balance between the malts and hops. As we await our chariot back over the border and others heading outside, Stuart remarks to me that “the bar will all be done next time we are round”. We look forward to the refurbishments next time round but beer wise, we’re all happy with what we’ve had tonight – thanks Stuart.

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1ST NOVEMBER AT TREVOR’S (THE OWL BREWERY):                                                        

The weather is atrocious and not many would send a dog out in such wet and windy conditions but a few stalwarts made it to my meeting. I have on offer two beers – It’s a Hoot (4%) and Owl House Coffee Porter (5.7%). The former is a simple recipe using Fuggles, Goldings and Palisade, hops for bittering and Challenger for aroma. The inclusion of Brewer’s Caramel gives the beer a pale ruby colour. For the porter I used Black Malt and Chocolate malt (400g in five gallons!) plus Rolled Barley with Challenger and Fuggles hops.

Arriving first, and on a bike too, is our Glorious Leader John W. We are sitting with pints in hand chatting away when Big John and Stuart arrive. The weather doesn’t faze our man Stuart who has travelled from Hartlepool. Straight away he’s talking about his second favourite subject; all things boating. He, you may recall dear reader, owns a boat and tells us about the bargain he had with a sale of sails. This of course steers John W into regaling his exploits on the high seas when he went fishing in a boat off the coast at Hartlepool many years ago. “Forty foot waves,” he says. “I’m not kidding. The boat was overturned and we were hanging on for dear life. Up the boat would go and then down and we still hung on even though we were underwater for hours. We drifted back to shore – the fishing tackle gone.”

All this talk about the sea is quite fitting as I have made paella for the guys. Stuart, boat owner, with a house that overlooks the North Sea, who enjoys all things nautical doesn’t care for fish! Anyway, he tries some and isn’t keen.

Last Tuesday John W and myself went down to Castleford on the “Malt Run” and coming back had a near miss when a motorway maintenance lorry shed its load onto the carriageway. An incident recalled by John W. Something else in the long line of catastrophes that have befallen our glorious leader.

Beer of the night is the Owl House Coffee Porter. By 9.30pm the guys leave to brave the weather once again – at least it isn’t raining! Last time I had a ‘do’ Big John broke/sprained/damaged a bone/muscle in his foot/leg walking home. So far I have heard nothing …

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13TH DECEMBER AT ROB’S (BALI HAI BREWERY):                                                               

Last brewing group meeting of the year and it’s round at Gimpy’s place. I normally try to get to meetings early so that I can make a few notes before the rest arrive (does not include Big Richard). The thing is that it’s my birthday and a big one too! Not saying how many but it’s an anagram of 06. Understandably I was late. Had a do with the inlaws. So I arrive at 8 o’clock. All there except Ian T. I go and get a pint and notice that one beer on offer is Daynes’ Special – a special brew in my honour, thanks Rob.

I am then called into the kitchen where there’s a card waiting for me from the guys. All have signed it – including a, “Ya owl’d bastard” from Ian T, such a sentimental kind of guy he is. John W even put kisses on his inclusion which, I hasten to add, turned into a hug and nothing else, honest. Pie and peas is served and then the lights go out and in comes a birthday cake complete with a few candles to blow out. They are not a bad bunch of guys really – Thanks.

The telly is on in another room and a few decide to watch that talent show “How can I convince Simon Cowell that I can sing” or something like that. The rest of us talk of brewing …

When there is a lull in the TV programme we all get together for more beer. Then John W starts up with the usual: “Hops, we need to talk about hops!”. Immediately, the majority stand up and walk out, leaving our Glorious Leader flabbergasted. “What did I say ?”. Still, later on in the evening we decide to buy three kinds, including one from New Zealand with high alpha acid so you don’t need so many.

Confession Time: I forgot to write down the other three beers Rob has on.

One thing I can tell you is that he used bread yeast on all four. No matter, they tasted fine. The birthday is drawing to a close. Unbelievably, we finish at 10.30pm., half an hour after John W should be in bed. It was a great night even though that other Owl’d Bastard wasn’t there.

Cheers Rob for a good evening. The 2009 Christmas Party is at Big John’s in January.

In 2009:

Ÿ We saw two members leave the group;

 

Ÿ We enjoyed a Rail Ale trip from Carlisle to Newcastle;

 

Ÿ We still didn’t get a cider press;

 

Ÿ Rob didn’t manage to eat every pork pie before Pete arrived;

 

Ÿ We were on the television;

 

Ÿ Big Richard usually arrived first;

 

Ÿ Ian T always got a seat at the bar;

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2009 CHRISTMAS PARTY AT BIG JOHN’S (ST ANDREW’S BREWING):                               

Let’s go back to this afternoon where I fought through snow drifts and blizzards! Okay I was in my car but that doesn’t matter, the snow was pretty deep all the same. Maybe there were no blizzards but a gentle breeze was noticeable and it was very cold, and it was wet. Don’t switch off dear reader, I am getting to the point. I had to get the ‘Beer of the Year Award’ trophy from last year’s winner to make sure it was clean and no scratches. This year the award has caused controversy which I will elaborate upon later.

It is a cold, wet Saturday evening as I plod my way through Big John’s front gate followed by Big Richard. Yes, dear reader, Big Richard is not the first. That particular honour goes to Our Glorious Leader John W and Ian T who are propping up the bar in Big John’s shed. Now, there is a story attached to Ian (Pops) T, which I will now enlighten you all.

At each meeting throughout the year we select a ‘Beer of the Night’ as you will see on further scrutiny of this website. These beers are voted on to decide the entries into the ‘Beer of the Year’ of which we choose four, which are made again for the Christmas Party of which we choose the winner. Well, that’s all well and good if the four beers are brewed again so that we remind ourselves what they tasted like. ‘Pops’ it turns out, couldn’t make his brew but, and this is his reasoning, it was voted the best of those which are to be entered into the Christmas vote so therefore he should have won (?). This same reasoning suggests that in Formula One racing the car in pole position shouldn’t have to go tear-arsing round a race circuit, “because they were fastest the day before”. Mind you, his beer was a cracking one – and that includes commercial beers as well.

Shrouded in mystery three hand pumps only have numbers on. This means that no one knows which beer is which. This way the voting is fair, regardless of ‘Pops’. Next to arrive are our country cousins Pete, Rob (Gimpy) and Little Richard, followed by Stuart who brought his wife, Mrs Stuart, to keep Mrs Big John company in the kitchen. Well, there’s got to be washing up and stuff – and we don’t know where the pots go! Last to arrive is Ian J.

Each one of us brought something to eat, not necessarily conferring so two very large pork pies were brought, alongside the traditional Corned Beef Pie, sausage wrapped in bacon, a load of nibbles and chilli con carni from our host, or rather Mrs Big John! A veritable feast indeed. Even the smokers amongst us enjoy cigars in this festive get together.

Big John, being the good landlord he is, keeps us all topped up with championship ales. The call goes out that the food is ready – good job as all the nibbles have disappeared. Up to the house we go and witness some kind of miracles. Not that ‘Pops’ finished off the corn beef pie but finally, Big Richard admits he is FULL. “Can’t eat another thing.” And there are still pieces of pork pie left and Pete and Little Richard have had their fill. Pete couldn’t manage to polish off the chilli. Miracles ?. I should say so.

We wander back down to the shed and continue where we left off – drinking beer. Also on offer are Big John’s stock ales Paddy’s Oirish (I polished off a couple of pints) and All Hail to the Ale. By this time we should be voting for that coveted title but one of our soldiers is missing. It’s Stuart. Is he been trapped in the toilet and can’t get out ?. Have the womenfolk forced him into washing up ?. Has he taken a wrong turning and is six feet under a snowdrift ? Where can he be ?. “I fell asleep!”. Some hero he turns out to be.

It’s time for voting and the winner is Cascade, brewed by Ian J. The newly crowned Brewer of the Year is called upon to give a speech which he does, and John W gets a big mention with gratitude in teaching him all he knows. A good speech, but I bet ‘Pops’ had a better one prepared.

It has been a good night, thanks to our host Big John – no mention of hops, barley, subs or slack mashes. Let’s hope we have a good 2010 with good beer and good friends.

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