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Past news and editorials

Editorial March 1995

Try a polypin

The Bird-In-Hand,Earls Colne is a remote pub without huge sales (understatement) but I was able to get five different beers (1 on hand pump) all in good condition. The reason was that the gravity beer came in polypins. The brewery doesn't like the messing about but the system works. If your local publican says "there's no demand . . ." then suggest they try a polypin and harass the brewery.


Compare with the George,Witham: Eventually they stocked up with polypins of Winter ale then kept it secret - not a single advertisement until they needed to sell it quick. Perhaps some landlords should try the very simplest of marketing over the bar rather than leave the field clear for TV adverts for cans and widgets. How pleasant the invitation "Have a sip of X and tell me what you think."

Editorial April 1995

Guest beers

Gray & Sons allow their houses to have a guest beer alongside Greene King (IPA and Abbot). For this policy to be successful there has to be sufficient demand to keep the beers turning over - so get out there and try it. I fancy the guest list is rather limited but I don't expect the suggestions of loyal drinkers for alternatives will be ignored.

Hip Hip Hooray

As a stranger in the Hoop, Stock I was offered a taste before you buy of a beer that I asked about.

Editorial June 1995

A gravity off-licence discovered in Boreham.

The Wine Barrel in the Main street, Boreham typically serves two ales on gravity at considerably less than you have to pay in a pub. Take your container with you! As far as I know this is the only such off-licence (until you tell me different). You can order polypins here for parties - an ideal substitute for chilled tins at a barbecue perhaps.

Quality ratings

It is horribly difficult to give a single rating to what is a moving target. (Has anyone noticed that Greene King changes at bank-holiday weekends?) I have no axe to grind, and especially no satisfaction from giving a poor rating. Poor on my scale is probably average on an everyday scale.

Smart and inviting

Ridleys have spent a few bob on the exteriors of some pubs. Well done. You can find beautiful gems inside muddy oysters, but if intrepid explorers like myself (I've had all the innoculations against Trumanitis) have spent years being put off by downdiness, then how much everyday trade has been lost? There is a fine line between down-at-heel and genuine traditional character, or as we say a rat hole and a rabbit hole. Put a marketing man on the job and you get a pseudo ale-house - A pot-hole perhaps?

Editorial November 1995

That hot summer

Sorry to say there were some days in some pubs where quality was not up to scratch. There is not the space to discuss the possible methods of keeping beer in condition. Some places did well with wet sacks while others couldn't seem to get it right. Not an easy problem at the best of times. As a backlash, cool rooms stuck at 52 degrees are proposed, but this will not work unless the bitters are kept for at least a week before serving. (This is the "conditioning" in "cask conditioned" you sometimes see.) I have had "green" (unripe) beer at the Boars Head (immersions for cooling) and this was such a disappointment. (New cellar staff.) At the Walnut Tree, with no special equipment, the beer was lovely. The moral is that keeping beer well under normal circumstances is a skill that anyone can learn, but when the heat's on you can tell who has the feel for it and the experience to make it count. I hope my jottings give you the necessary hints.
UPDATE MARCH 1996 In the winter many places were not keeping the beer warm enough in the cellar

Good news

Great to see the GK IPA in such form. You notice these things more when you have gravity ale because you don't have the bitterness taken out by the pumps. Good to see brewers fighting the Swan neck. (Ahem, Ridleys where are you? ) Good to see Grays introducing another 'plain- Jane' (but excellent) ale instead of a 'funny'.
UPDATE MARCH 1996 This appeared to be one more quality control cock-up.

Editorial March 1996

That cold winter

Quite a few pubs have not been looking after their beer as I would like to have seen them do. The reason is that with the chilly weather the temperature of the beer has been at the lower end of the range. In my opinion this doesn't let the beer condition. It has, in effect, hibernated. Result: Green beer that tastes like dishwater with very little of the true character being allowed to develop. For any publicans reading this and thinking of warming the beer in the cellar up, be careful, CHANGES of temperature are not good for beer either, and 'up and down like a tarts draws' is absolutely to be avoided.

Greene King quality control problems

There is only so much that a publican can do with the raw materials provided. At least one pub won't stock GK IPA now after all the trouble over the summer and winter. I have seen samples from another pub of IPA which appeared to be 1/3 sludge. In February there was a batch that foamed and tasted strange enough for at least one pub to refuse the batch and at many places comments were passed. Who pays in the end for these continuing mistakes? The customer of course, but also the tied landlord is losing custom. If a barrel of Adnams is going to keep a week longer than a barrel of GK then which beer will be left in the cellar to mature and which served on the day after delivery?

Empty pubs

I happen to like a quiet pub. There are limits though. There may be official figures but all I can say is that trade in the first two months of the year has been dismal in many pubs. Get out there and protect your heritage! Get you mates out there for a game of something. Get your granny out there for a coffee and a sandwich. Get your MP out there for a good talking to. Get the conductress from the No 23 Tram out there for a quick trip to the terminus.

Editorial July 1996

Green beer

Green beer is beer that has come straight from the brewery. It needs at least a week at no less that 54 degrees for the character to mature. Just because GK IPA drops clear in 24 hours doesn't mean it is ready to serve. This is probably the most common (I estimate 75% of pubs serve their beer green) of indifferent character.
There is no excuse for green beer...
...if you get it complain!

Greene King quality control problems

(Continued. In the last editorial some instances of duff beer down to the brewery were reported.) In the six months since Christmas the quality of GK has been consistently average. (Above I complain about the sweetness in Ridley's, but that is nothing when compared to the plainness and often sweetness of GK IPA.) I know that GK are making a big effort this year to tighten up on quality from mash to mug. This should have the effect of avoiding duff beer, but without a change in the recipe or brewing process is not going to do much to put more character into the beer.

Greene King possibilities

I have a suspicion that GK IPA benefits by being kept slightly warmer than the official 55 degrees. This is only based on visits to the Maltsters in Heybridge where the GK has the most character for many miles around. (Thought for a summer's evening: Visit a bunch of the Maldonish ,or Dengieish, Grays pubs and finish at the Maltsters and see what I mean.)

Train your taste buds

Typically an indifferent pint of GK IPA will be tasted in the roof of the mouth, perhaps with a metallic taste. Typically a good pint of Adnams or Ridleys will have a first hit in the roof then clutch at the bottom and edge of your tongue. Hops tend to have the latter effect - draw your own conclusions. Some really excellent beers have an aftertaste that comes through up to a minute after sipping. This aftertaste can be almost anything except sour or metallic. This is not to say that the Suffolk-style can't be balanced, fruity and tingle the cheeks but green beer of any style will probably lack any after taste and the flavours 'flat' rather than complex. Now go and try some!

News items

April 95
The Square and Compasses, Fuller Street is changing hands at the end of this month. The new tennant is going to replace the barrels behind the bar with a ground floor cellar. All this to save 20 square feet. A sad end to a tasty tradition that I've enjoyed for over a decade.
UPDATE OCTOBER 95 Reprieved! The Square and Compasses will stay as a gravity pub.

April 95
The Pig and Whistle, Chignal Smealy is reported boarded up after going bankrupt. The future for this pub is unknown. In my opinion the uncertain quality of the beer must have been a contributing factor. UPDATE OCTOBER 95 Reopened as a pot-hole.

October 95
Master Brew (Shepherd Neame) is now a 'permanent guest' in some Grays houses. It is being strongly marketed to the publicans so look out for this 3.7% with typical Kentish bitterness (Wonderful).

November 95
Real Cider (gravity) found in barrels at Cricketers,Goldhanger and Odd-one out, Colchester. Any more sightings will be welcome. (I can hardly test the quality of cider as after a few I'm like a supermarket trolley.) Lets make 96 the year real cider made a comeback. By the way: Be careful - Cider on handpump MAY be the real thing but a huge amount of marketing effort and techno-fraud is going on as the fizz-boys try to jump on board the cider bandwagon.

November 95
Greene King IPA has really improved at the end of the summer. It now has a proper bitter finish which probably has a lot to do with the change of course over Abbot. I expect GK are not too keen to admit the beer has changed for fear of upsetting the conservative IPA drinker. For the rest of the world, that has looked on GK as mediocre, this is news worth shouting about. It seems to foam a bit more than the old days, even direct from the barrel so watch out for over-generous (not to you!) heads. If you fell into a GK pub during the summer by mistake or necessity and had a sort of vanilla-toffee beer, don't worry, the IPA Mk2 is really like the Mk1 with better taste at the start and a proper finish without silly extraneous flavours.

November 95No sparklers logo
Wring those necks! Shepherd Neame, Adnams, Fullers and Greene King are officially against the use of swan necks (and sparklers of course). I'm sure they would welcome a note from you if you see their products, which they have spent years perfecting and weeks watching over at the brewery, being deflumbustigated at the last minute by ignorant publicans.

July 96
This time last year Ridley's beer (especially the IPA) was on absolute top form. This year I'm afraid to say it is not in focus (if you understand what I mean.) There is a sweetness and brown, sugary flavours come to the predominate. This same vagueness can appear in Rumpus, which is perhaps why so many people have a poor opinion of what can be a beautiful drink. (Ask for a taste if you see it and make up your own mind.) Hot weather can only make this sort of problem worse. In this case tell THE BREWERY (01371) 820316 or me, if you are thinking of giving up making the effort to visit their pubs because the spark of excellence is missing. (The publicans have to take what the brewery gives them and in this list they all make the effort to do the best with what they've got.)
UPDATE Nov 96: The quality has gradually improved during the late summer.
Dec 97
Ridleys Indifferent beer - Continued. The early summer's predominence of sweetness and brown, sugary flavours has been dealt with to some extent but more and better hops are needed to but the bitterness back.

In October the mild was real mild rather than the darkened bitter. The Spectacular wasn't, and beware of fake witchfinder (ESX with colouring) - freehouses should specifically insist on the true brews when ordering - they are far superior to the blends. Go to the Walnut Tree for the best Ridleys IPA. This pub consistently serves Ridleys better than anywhere else. I'm looking forward to tasting the Winter Ale which is available now - Ask your local to get a polypin, it is excellent if history is anything to go by.

Hazeleigh Oak
Removed from the guide because beer is not often available on gravity, and the handpumped version is indifferent.

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