Showing posts with label guest blog. Show all posts
Showing posts with label guest blog. Show all posts

Friday, September 25, 2020

Raising Voices: Amethyst Heels

Today sees the beginning of a new series of guest posts here on Fuggled, which I am calling "Raising Voices". The aim of this series is to amplify, as much as this blog can do, the voices of people in the beer world who come from communities that are under-represented in the mainstream of beer communications, such as people of colour and LGBT.

I very much believe that beer is the people's drink and as such is open to all, regardless of background. Yet, so often the voices we hear talking about beer are very much like me, white, financially middle to upper middle class, straight, and male. Being the people's drink, the beer community should be intrinsically diverse and inclusive, and such diversity reflected in the media we produce.

Today's post is by Ruvani de Silva or the Craft Beer Amethyst site, and perhaps better known by her Twitter handle "Amethyst Heels", so to avoid waffling on, I hand over to her...

When I walked into my very first Great British Beer Festival at London’s Earl’s Court back in August 2005, I (rather obviously) had no idea that fifteen years later I would be a beer writer, beer nerd, beer traveller and beer advocate. If I had known, however, I would not have been at all surprised to hear that I would be one of the only South Asian voices in the industry. 

Back in 2005 I liked beer, but was honestly a bit more of a wine gal. Walking into Earl’s Court that day, something began to change. That huge cavernous space, not a pretty events arena by anybody’s estimation, but so alive and buzzing with the hubbub of beer nerds poised over their programmes, clamouring at each of the endless progression of bars, full of questions, specifications, speaking - or so it felt – their own language. I was fascinated. I wanted to be on the inside, to learn how to navigate this enormous room full of more beer, more types of beer, more breweries than I could ever have imagined could exist in the geographical confines of Great Britain.

Unusually for a South Asian second-generation immigrant of my age, I grew up, while not exactly in the countryside, also not very far from it either. In smallish town that I hail from, cask beer was the norm, much of it brewed locally, and I’ve always enjoyed the taste of Milds and Bitters, those cheeky sips sneaked out of the top of my dad’s pint glass. Lagers were frowned upon as ‘foreign muck’ – a young person’s drink, and as a young person I was more than happy to fall into that particular stereotype, but the nuance, the variety, the excitement of cask ale, drew me back. I began to investigate cask options from pub to pub, note flavours, styles and breweries. I began to have my favourites. GBBF became a fixture in my calendar, and I began attending other CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) festivals and events around London, eventually becoming a paid-up member and volunteer. I loved the element of exploration, getting to know different styles well and becoming discerning, ie a bit of a nerd, the same way I had with wine. And yes, I liked surprising people. Bartenders, friends, colleagues, men in general and sometimes women too. No one expects the brown girl to order a pint of cask, still less do they expect her to be able to talk knowledgeably about it. Being unusual, unpredictable and informed in a world where people are constantly making assumptions about you based on how you look is fun and it’s empowering (to me at least). There’s a satisfaction, a sheer fuck-you-you-don’t-know-me at play. Yes, I do want a pint. Yes, it is for me. No, I don’t need you to steer me towards a beverage you consider more appropriate for me to drink, and please, please don’t try to tell me that I’ll find it much too bitter, or worse, too boozy. This one is a particularly fun kicker with craft beer.

So yes, craft beer. I discovered it in the corner stores of New York, chock-full of Sierra Nevada, Lagunitas and, if I was really lucky, a bit of Rogue, way back in the early 2010s. My job brought me to the US regularly, and soon every trip became a mission to try as many different beers as I could, beers that were rare, nay impossible to find in the UK but cheap as chips in the land of the free. I got into hops, the bigger, bolder, punchier the better. Boozy beer did not faze me. I dreamed of brewery selection boxes, Black IPAs, Rye IPAs, Imperial Stouts and Coffee Porters. I drank my first flights and began to seek out every American bar in London selling the stuff. Of course, as with every successful American export, we soon had our own craft beer scene in London and I jumped in head-first. As with CAMRA, I was lucky. I found a group of beer-friends where I was welcomed and accepted, and we set up beery charity events and walking tours. Yes, a few folks were a bit flummoxed to find their beer-tour guide was in fact a young-ish South Asian lady, but I considered that to be another part of their learning experience, let’s just say. Once again, knowledge can be a powerful thing. It’s much harder to reject someone’s presence when they know what they’re talking about. While I am not in any way a beer snob and I believe that everyone has the right to their own opinion and that everyone’s presence is equally valid, if you want or need to prove your worth and your place somewhere it is, undoubtedly a lot easier if you can talk the talk. I’m still very much on my own beer-education journey, and while I know a lot less than a lot of folks, I know a lot more than plenty of others too. It’s easy to believe that your opinion is worth less when folks with louder voices try to deny you your seat at the table by drowning you out, shutting you down or shaming you into thinking you don’t know enough. You don’t have to learn more, but I have found that knowledge can act like armour, can be a vital tool in pushing back, even in instances of micro-aggression. Growing up in the place and time that I did, I’m used to being the only brown girl in the room, and I’m comfortable speaking up and holding my own with a group of white men. It’s a full-time job being the person who defies social and cultural expectations on three fronts – age, gender and colour – so I’ll take and use any tools available to me.

Fast-forward to the American craft beer world of September 2020 - we’re in the middle of a pandemic but there’s another crisis affecting our industry that we’re all aware of – it’s still riddled with prejudice. Now, as a female South Asian beer writer, the divide across the industry between those pushing for change, demanding a full restructure, a revitalisation of our own, and those desperate to hold onto the keys to the kingdom feels like huge unbridgeable chasm. It’s easy to focus on the good people, the good places, the powerful voices who want to make everyone welcome. I can nestle into a space, both physically and online, where my voice is wanted and heard, where my interest and knowledge aren’t undermined and where I’m valued as a legitimate part of this industry. But the enormity of the industry space where that just isn’t the case is absolutely astonishing – the bigotry, hate, aggression and really the sheer bullshit that continues to appear on online beer forums, brewery statements, pump clips and advertising campaigns is enough to make any non white cis male shy away from the industry as a whole, never mind taking on a public, vocal role. It feels as though the ongoing pitched-battle for the heart and soul of this country taking place across our social and political landscape is being played out in miniature in our own beery backyard. We have to be prepared to argue, to fight back, to get into it even if we’re people who don’t like confrontations, even if it’s draining, depressing, potentially pointless. Because if we don’t, who will? As a British South Asian living and writing in America, I have a luxury I never had at home in that I am so unusual as to be removed from the frontlines of much of the bigoted hate and ire out there – unless, that is, I deliberately insert myself into the conversation. When I write, I try to write in a way that shows my commitment to the rights and voices of all diverse groups and the need for us to stand together with our allies, speak up for and protect one another, and fight for our place at the table. We cannot afford not to.

I love beer – writing about it, reading about it, talking about it, learning about it, sharing it, travelling for it, and most of all drinking it. I feel that, along with my identities as a woman and a South Asian, being a beer-person, a beer nerd, a beer writer is an important part of who I am, and is something worth defending and holding on to. Like most minorities, there are times when I revel in my diversity and times when I hate it. Would it be easier or different in another industry or community? Experience has shown me that that is a definite no. There are very few culturally sanctioned public spaces for women of colour, or any other minorities for that matter, so there’s no point running away looking for somewhere easier to belong. This is an incredibly crucial time for all of us to be heard, in the beer world and the world at large, and although I don’t have a huge platform, I will continue to use my skills and experience to keep pushing for equity, diversity, inclusion and visibility for women, South Asians and all diverse groups.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Guest Post: Always There

Part 3 in the 'Always There' series of posts comes from TenInchWheels who as well as being a good writer is a magnificent photographer, take a gander at his blog sometime, even though he hasn't posted in a while, the pictures are great. Anyway....

For more than two decades I’ve been a Londoner. And for most of that time, the capital has largely been a dismal place for the lover of good beer.

I grew up in Keighley, and anyone who’s read my blog will know that I’m an unashamed Taylor’s fanboy. Maybe I’m biased about our local heroes, but I really don’t care. I earned my beergeek chops on sparkled, cellar-cool Landlord, drunk from the fountainhead, The Boltmakers Arms. From the immaculate old coaching inn to the shabby lock-in in the shadow of a derelict mill, a good pint in almost any pub could be taken for granted, and still can be. Until I left home for art college, I didn’t even know it was possible to get a bad pint.

In 1992 I moved to London. London! The greatest city on earth! Surely, in this throbbing metropolis of impossible-to-please Cockneys a good pint was a dead cert. Well, no. The pubs were good, but the beer was almost universally bad. For the first few years I persevered. Always ordering from the handpump, and I was nearly always disappointed. It was a matter of pride to find that elusive, decent (or consistently decent) pint. Soho, Camden, Shoreditch, Brixton, Holloway, Holborn, Highgate, Hackney, Bethnal Green. Flat, flabby, skunky, sour, murky, eggy. I’ve run the gamut of pints that I’ve had to return to a stink-eyed barman, swatting off the inevitable ‘it’s meant to be like that’ comments. Too many ‘nearly’ pints winced down. Too many unfinished nonics of flat, soupy brown boredom left on sticky tables. One famous day I took my dad to a pub, where - on asking what real ales were ‘on’ - he was told that the bank of six handpumps was just for decoration. So I gave up. For years - now it can be told - I drank Kronenbourg, Newcastle Brown or (heaven help me) Strongbow. But one thing kept me going through those terrible years. Bottles of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord.

On trips home I’d bring bottles back down on the train with me, my rucksack clinking like a milk float. Rare sightings in supermarkets were moments of rejoicing. Visitors would leave them in the cupboard, where I’d find them behind the cornflakes with a moist, homesick eye. Crack off the cap, wait a second, pour. The head settles. First sip and the tingling hit as your palate wakes with that characteristic smack of grapefruit and marmalade which drifts into an astounding lip-smacking, citrus-bitter finish. Full-bodied. Satisfying. As comfortable as my old Redwings, as cosy as a cashmere scarf in a Pennine February. You don’t want cosy? I do. It’s the taste of permanence, rootedness, and home.

Landlord’s a legend, and nowadays it’s in every London pub worthy of a visit. I’ve even seen it sold in a bowling alley. Taylor’s have brewed Landlord since 1952, and it’s always been a favourite among beer fans. But it was a rare sight on handpump in the capital until 2003. That was when Madonna lit Taylors’ blue touchpaper by claiming in an interview with Jonathan Ross that she enjoyed a pint of of their most famous brew at Soho’s Dog And Duck. Did anyone really believe her? It didn’t matter. Suddenly, you started to see it all over the place. And in London it was terrible whenever I tried it. And in 2015 it usually still is. So Landlord is still my go-to bottle, and probably always will be.

And now London is a city with more breweries than I can count, and a beer choice that’s impossible to comprehend. I’m sat typing this with a choice of at least twelve places to get a good, well-kept local beer within a five or ten minute bike ride. I have the pick of the best brews in London on sale at my local bottle shop, the Wanstead Tap. When out and about I no longer have to carry a mental map of a half-dozen ‘reliable’ pubs. A revolution has happened - but there’s still work to do before this is truly a great ‘beer city’. Now you can now get Landlord in almost any supermarket, but the contents of my rucksack on trips back from home still ring and tinkle as the the train clatters south to Kings Cross. Although nowadays it doesn’t matter too much if a couple of those bottles don’t survive the journey.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Guest Post: Going Steady with Golden Beers

Part 2 of the 'Always There' guest post mini-series comes from those fine folks Boak and Bailey, and with that minimalist introduction (seriously if you aren't already reading their blog you should be) out of the way, I hand you over to them.....

Al wanted us to think about beers that we keep going back to which, as far as we're concerned, is just another way of asking: 'What are your favourite beers?' After all, your favourite album isn't one you listened to once, enjoyed well enough, but then left to gather dust: it's the one that pops up under 'frequently played' on iTunes -- the one you have on CD, deluxe double CD, MP3 and in your Spotify favourites. You could hum it in your sleep.

We've said before, only somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that Westmalle Tripel is the Very Best Beer in the World. We always have some in the house and it's pretty much Boak's default beer. It never seems to diminish in WOW factor -- every time, it amazes us afresh.

Pilsner Urquell is on the list, too, especially now it comes in brown glass in the UK and can be bought for around £1.50 ($2.35) per bottle. We have a fridgeful right now and it's the perfect no-brainer beer -- quietly satisfying, but not demanding of attention.

When it comes to cask-conditioned beer in the pub, there's an obvious answer: St Austell Proper Job. Established in the 19th century, St Austell is our local big brewery here in Cornwall, and Proper Job is a golden, US-accented IPA first brewed in homage to Bridgport's classic take on the style more than a decade ago. Brought down from 5.5% to 4.5% ABV over the years, it was a 'session IPA' before that was a buzz-phrase, and is a beer we can easily drink multiple pints of, several times a week. So that's exactly what we do.

So, there you go: that's what amounts to our top three beers, right now, in the real world. We like trying new things and find plenty to enjoy at the silly end of the market but, if need be, those three would easily do us for the rest of our lives.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Guest Post: Always There

My recent post on the theme of 'Always There' was the precursor to a mini-series of guest posts around the same theme. Today's post is from my good friend, and sometime drinking buddy, Eric, formerly of Relentless Thirst fame. And so with further ado.....

Let me begin by dishing out this well-worn saw: the brewing industry has undergone radical changes in the past ten years. When I first started blogging, I can recall tracking down new and exciting beers from other states that you had to make a special trip just to taste or buy. Since I've stopped blogging, it's hard to go anywhere without seeing beers from all over the country, let alone the world, on the menu at places that aren't even all that beer-centric. There are countless styles to choose from, new breweries to become acquainted with, and a wide range of quality. This should represent the triumph of the consumer, but much like the music industry these days, it's hard to sift through the noise. And much like that favorite album from yesteryear you still queue up on Spotify, there are certain beers that you always return to for their familiarity.

So what's "always there" actually mean? To me, this implies a reliable beverage that can satiate my palate's desires at any given moment; a beer that I don't have to think about to enjoy it, but when I do I appreciate it all the more. I can come up with a handful of beers that fit this motif, but one that sticks out indelibly in my mind is Stiegl Goldbrau. That's right, the pale Austrian lager that comes in pint cans. And let's start with that: cans. Great for transporting a light-sensitive product, as well as portability to places that don't allow glass containers (most useful in the summertime). Furthermore, it's a PINT - my preferred volume for easy-drinking, relatively-low ABV Central European beer.

Though if it were just tall cans of beer I was after, I could choose from thousands. Why this one? Well, for starters, it's inoffensive. I can drink this beer in the sweltering summer heat, or in the dead of winter. But inoffensive doesn't mean it has to taste like nothing (I'm looking at you, Landshark Lager). In this case, I'm talking about appreciating the subtle nuances, being nudged with flavor rather than beaten over the head by it. Goldbrau offers a pleasing, noble hop aroma and a touch, just a touch, of pale malt sweetness that makes it akin to a Munich Helles lager. A clean, drying finish allows you to take another sip and experience it all over again.

I could stop there, but I won't. The last, and most important criterion for me, is that it's consistently well-made. And this is after being transported thousands of miles from Salzburg to the States. Brewing is the intersection of art and science, and too much of either can leave you reaching for something else. But too often I think "craft" beer drinkers prize the unbridled whims of one madcap brewer over the technical prowess of another. It's infuriating to hear some zealots dismiss all lagers, and thus centuries of brewing knowledge and discovery, with the wave of a hand. When I drink this beer, I'm reminded of how light lagers came to be so long ago, and the concentrated efforts that were necessary for them to come to fruition and ultimately fill my glass.

Though I may never become the conservative-minded Teuton, content with drinking the one beer produced by the village brewery that dates back to the 13th century, I do prize a beer that's "always there". Though a beer may seem "simple" or common, I'm surprised at how many breweries miss the mark. If it were so easy, I'd have a difficult time choosing an "always there" beer. But it wasn't hard at all. For me, Stiegl Goldbrau is that beer.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Guest Post: Summer Nights Drinking with Steady Flames

It's been a while since I had a guest post on Fuggled, and we have a returning writer here today, Renée Francoeur. Rather than witter on myself, here's Renée....

There were three women out on the lake in a giant, multi-coloured, inflatable tube. One, sitting upright with the poise of a ballerina, had a Nymphaea alba woven into her dark Spanish hair, and a stick she was using as a Venetian oar. The other two, sprawled out on their bellies, had tossed off their bikini tops, one hand each sunk below the tea-coloured surface.

In the other hand, of course, there was beer. Specifically, a 568mL can of Old Flame’s Perry Loved Mary West Coast Style IPA. The saying goes “…till the bitter end. But Mary loved another.” Let me tell you, if unrequited love had more of a hoppy scent to it and a lingering aftertaste of orange infused wheat (instead of acid reflux and tonsil stones), well, I may have been still somewhat happily dancing around Perth County, waiting for a bricklayer to throw me a bone. As it is, I’ll just take another cold one.

It had been years in the making: this reunion of women. My five best friends from university (who now are all oh-so-conveniently scattered across the globe) and I had snuck away to a cottage on the shores of the artificially filled Lake Scugog in Ontario. There was no one we knew nearby. No distractions. No boyfriends. No obligations. Just puzzles, board games, inflatables, bottles of sunscreen, one badly selected scary movie, a fridge full of vegetables and steaks from the family-owned Willowtree Farm market, and of course: beer. The Canadian-crafted, microbrewed, the guy/gal-with-the-recipe-was-a-friend-of-a-friend kind of good, wholesome shit, too.

I was one of the two ladies belly-down on said tube, sipping Perry Loved Mary, created in the heart of Port Perry, a charming town with the old pioneering whiff of Upper Canada, not 10 minutes away from our cottage. I like to keep it local on vacations—especially so if the brewery is housed in an old brick building creaking with history and antiques.

“I hope it’s been established I’d be the one to survive in the wild,” Cristina (the one with the lily pad flower in her hair) said, pushing us to shore with her rather impressive twig.

Sabrina and I dipped our hands further and attempted to paddle, tugging waterweeds (Lake Scugog is actually flooded marshland and Scugog is Ojibwe for “marshy waters”).

“Now, we had no stick yesterday and got back just fine,” Sabby said, making a whirlpool with her wrist. How I’ve missed her strong Quebecois accent (along with the way she’ll creep up behind you when you’re cooking and envelope your back and ribs in a quick, tight embrace).

We sipped our beers, the cans reflecting the beaming sunlight; we were diamonds in a swamp afloat a rainbow. And it showed on our faces as we tumbled onto the mossy bank; Sabrina losing her bottoms, me clambering on all fours to run to the bathroom, and Cristina daintily stepping on land with the help of an extra hand.

Later in the week we managed to toss on something more than string bikinis and tour into town. Old Flame Brewery was our first stop. It didn’t disappoint.

My grandfather’s great-great uncles had enough of the coal dust in Wales and dove into the carriage business around the Niagara region in the late nineteenth century while my great-great-great-grandfather, Thomas Harris, took up farming in East Nissouri county.

Old Flame has made its home in the former Ontario Carriage Works, erected in 1884. I imagined those uncles touring this building in the 1890s as part of their work, perhaps aloof in striped trousers, velvet-collared overcoats and top hats (it was said they did well for themselves). Their hands behind their backs, boots covered in saw dust, peering at wooden spokes and the like. And now here I am, sampling malt and taking in authentic ceiling beams, still showing off their charred skirts from two major fires.

The girls and I plopped ourselves down at a fascinating table made of reclaimed wood with various malts and hops on display under glass. Off to the side was an old buggy that brought back memories of the doctor’s mode of transportation from my childhood viewings of Little House on the Prairie. The sitting area was bustling with a party on the new patio that extended out to the parking lot and an older couple at a table made from a vintage washing machine I later learned.

“Try the blonde,” said the older woman, after she offered to snap a photo of us.

“And if any of you are named Mary, they have a beer for you,” her husband added as they shuffled out.

It was just past noon so up to the bar we went. One “She Left Me Blue” (a 4.8 per cent blueberry ale that turns into a heat quenching shandy when mixed with ginger ale) and one Dirty Blonde (Kellerbier style lager), please. We were even permitted to take our glass pints with us throughout the tour. Thanks to an arm from Tiffany, I managed not to spill as I navigated around the tubes and grates in my high heels to get back to the see the massive fridge.

The tour marked the first time I sampled malt: a roasted one they use for the brunette (an aftertaste of burnt popcorn anyone?) and the one they used for the blonde (like chewing on wheat).

The crew at Old Flame was phenomenal: knowledgeable and friendly and our guide was hilarious in a relatable awkward kind of way (my apologies for forgetting your name). The hometown vibe is electric in there: service is personal. There are no assembly lines, no rushing or panic. I told the girls I could have spent all day on that patio, sampling everything they had. Old Flame may be playing off the memory of bygone romances and first kisses you can taste years later but everything about it whispers family. Maybe that’s what knotted it all together for me: a rising (thanks to the yeast of course) sense of loyalty. Try as hard as we might to bury and block, we all have old flames whose faces we’ll carry with us into the graves. Old first love, blasting though innocence, has a lasting impact. And after the heartache and the pain and the business of leaving bends the clock hands for a decent amount of time, there’s solely energy there. We can stay true to those kind of memories and the moments we felt we could trust ourselves to take such leaps: pure courageous unstoppable love. That is the crux, they say. It’s as we stay true to our blood and as we should stay true to good local brews.

(Yes, I ordered She Left Me Blue the first time I walked into Newmarket’s new Ground Burger Bar and yes I wanted to shout and wave at the staff manning Old Flame’s tent at the Jazz Festival—I recognized our guide!—but alas I was caught behind a fence and attempting to make it through another cringe-worthy cityboy date without an overdose of humiliation.)

Old Flame has another motto, too: life is better when you’re in love.

As an anti-institution-of-marriage pessimist still nursing a heart that was grated out into a liquid pig manure covered field, even I agree. And I’m so lucky to be in love with the Ninkasi goddesses I spent that week with on Scugog. They remind me of big, bold love and to honour all the love and fires around me. Out in the swamp, drinking beer, our spirits flickering unruly and constant towards each other, this is the flame.

This is Renée Francoeur’s 2nd guest blog post for Fuggled. See her first here

She is a 26 year-old journalist/writer who works in the magazine business in the Greater Toronto Area. She's worked as a news reporter in Red Deer, Alberta and Fort Smith, NWT as well as throughout Ontario and loves meeting new faces in new places. She is an organic gardener, local food and anti-fish-farm advocate, part-time poet, intersectional feminist, baker, and overall small town womyn. She loves Northern and social justice news, coconut coffee porter, goats, wild buffalo, whooping cranes, old tombstones, forgotten country bridges, late breakfasts with her kickass parents and operas with her little sister. She is currently working on a collection of short stories (when she's not driving down back roads or playing pool in gastro pubs) and hopes to one day call Yukon home with two potbellied pigs named Winifred and Beatrice.

Photos courtesy Tiffany D’Souza

Friday, March 23, 2012

Just a few women and their beer in the heart of Canada’s capital - Guest Post

Today I am very happy to have a guest post from Renée Francoeur, someone that I "met" (you know what I mean) through the good graces of Twitter. There are some more details about her after the post, so I will duck out without further ado!

This is a toast to Ninkasi, the ancient Sumerian goddess of beer.

When I first moved to Ottawa for school I knew little to nothing about beer.

In fact, a beer to me was a solely a Coors Light – that was the standard. The wheaty smell of those Coors beer caps was a way I identified my uncle Kevin and the scent of summer of their cottage on murky Lake Huron.

It was also a lightning bolt flash back to New Years Eve 2005 when a friend had stolen two from her mother’s fridge for us to try under a blanket of snow, down a back road, walking in ripped, acid-wash jeans and screamo band t-shirts we thought made us stand-offish and cool.

Everyone drank Coors. Except my father who, true to his western roots, had about three Kokanees every year – if that.

But I should have known the artistic, microbrewed family of the golden grain beverage would eventually worm its way into my thirsty heart – by a fluke I ended up with a case of beer I’d never heard of before for prom. Then I was really the cool, aloof kid. Imported from the Netherlands. Bavaria, it was called. Heineken has nothing on those green bottles.

Ottawa, for the seemingly boring grey pantsuit city of politics it is, has a plethora of dark corner bars with academic personalities.

I came to relish quite a few of them. Especially Clocktower on Bank, Irene’s and of course the often forgotten O’Gradys, tucked down in the south side.

But, for the glory of craft beer and our favourite spot for gatherings, I have to mention the Arrow and Loon, perfectly located in the Glebe where many of us poor Carleton students lived in tiny apartments on the third floors of old houses with fire escapes and bathrooms the size of linen closets.

Here, I discovered real beer. It also led to a hell of a project for an arts reporting class.

Every now and then it happens; you come across a place worth branding into your memory, a place whose half wall wainscoting and scuffed up hardwood floors gets under your fingernails like savory smelling sawdust.

The Arrow and Loon in Ottawa did that.

Since those days of my undergrad, I’ve gone for a pint in too many places to recall across Ontario (including the Wheat Sheaf, Toronto’s oldest bar – check it) and now I’m drifting into small bars in Alberta (recently drowned a glass of Wild Rose Wheat ale at the locally owned Cities gastro pub in Red Deer and wasn’t sorry for it) . . . but nothing holds me like the Arrow and the Loon.

There’s just something so homey about a place where the waitress recognizes you . . . where you can get a good, local burger for half price . . . where the list of beer is lengthy and full like a garden on the cusp of harvest . . .

Upon my first visit to the Arrow and Loon, my friend Valerie and I asked the bartender to recommend a beer.

“Kichesippi,” he said without hesitation.

I liked the way the name – Algonquin for “great river” – fizzed on my tongue.

From the first sip of that all malt pale ale, so citrusy and dashed with a whisper of a zippy bitterness that swipes clean your palate, we were soldiers of the local brand (you can’t get Kichesippi anywhere else but within the Ottawa region).

Who knew beer wasn’t supposed to be watery? Who knew it could fit on a gradient of flavours, to be fitted with foods like the over-done society of wines?

We got ourselves to a brewery. And we went on a tour. And these women learned about their barley, hops, fermentation, and how to uses herbs and fruit as natural flavouring.

At the time, we didn’t know of any other places we could get Kichesippi (though we later found ourselves at a wine bar of all places where we could go for our honey-coloured liquid) so we stayed true to the Arrow and Loon.

Breakfast dates commenced there. Afternoon catch-ups after a studious week of essays or exams. Waupoos cider evenings to soothe mid-semester anxiety. Pitchers of some type of apricot ale straight from Montreal for tear-stained nights of healing hearts that had been through the sewer system and down the falls at Hogsback. We’d go watch UFC fights there and order Kichesippi or Beau’s lugtread lagered ale, handcrafted with organic malts.

Turned out Valerie and I knew how to order better beer than most boys we took there (they lacked experimental appetites when it came to their choosing their hops).

Our time at the Arrow and Loon was short – I only discovered their cask beers as I was packing up, saddled with my degree, to move 600 km away for a magazine job.

What I would give now to sit down at one of their dark wood tables for two, out on the patio in the quiet night, and ask Valerie about her day over a cool glass of Kichesippi.

Ah those glory university drinking days. It was the time. It was the place. We were the women. And the craft brew went down good and easy. Bulls eye of an arrow shot.

Renée Francoeur is a 23 year-old writer and proud feminist. She's currently working as a reporter in Red Deer, Alberta. She loves vegetable gardening, baking from scratch, watching brick houses go up, singing Cher and Reba at the top of her lungs while dancing in the kitchen with her mother, exploring old tombstone inscriptions, and eating and of course drinking local.

Friday, January 13, 2012

My Local - Guest Blog

Ah, Prague, city of a thousand spires, the golden city, the place I still think of as being "home" (in some loose, woolly sense of course). A city of writers, thinkers and drinkers, Kafka, Havel and Hrabal. A city with pubs on most street corners and some in between corners in case you need refreshment from one corner to the next. Enough with the misty eyed reminiscences, this week's guest blogger is often known as Max, though perhaps more often known as Pivní Filosof. I have shared many a pint with Max, not to mention beer spirits at festivals in Plzeň, so it is my pleasure to hand Fuggled over to him for a few hundred words.

Other than the pub in the village I lived at the time (a great place where we had our wedding reception and we still visit every year on that day's anniversary), my first local in Prague was U Pětníka, a small pub near the Dejvická metro station.

I was introduced to it by a friend and it was love at first pint. The place is rather small, welcoming, with solid food and great atmosphere. They also had very good Staropramen 10o tanková. I spent many a great evening there, until InBev decided to turn the Smíchov brand into the Czech version of Brahma, which made me go in search of greener pastures.

By that time my beer horizons were expanding and one day I came across Pivovarsky Klub, which became my local after the first sip of I don't remember now which beer. At the time, this place was something unheard of, six taps! and all with stuff from small and micro breweries. I would go every week just to see what was new. I made friends there, got in "ahoj" terms with some of the staff and sometimes could spend hours chatting with them or the owner. What a great place, to this day, and it would still be my local if in April 2008 I hadn't found Zly ?asy.

Today this pub in Nusle is almost an international celebrity. It was ranked by RateBeer among the Top 40 pubs in the world and it came out in first place in a recent survey carried out by a Czech newspaper. Things were very different three and a half years ago. The pub had just come out of its contract with Staropramen and Pilsner Urquell and were just getting into the "?tvrtá pípa" thing. They had Kácov and a couple more things, but not only I felt this was just the beginning of something good, but the atmosphere of this cellar reminded me a lot of U Pětníka's and made me realise how much I was missing a place like that. It didn't take much for Zly ?asy to become my new local.

With time I've met many of the regulars and I know that whenever I drop by for a pint I will find someone to chat with. I also have to honour of always having a place at the ?tamgasty table and also to be counted among Hanz's friends. He's Zly ?asy's owner, a great guy who knows a thing or two about beer and loves and loves what he does, but above all, who wants to do things the best possible way. I've talked to him countless times about his plans, his ideas, I've even helped him find suppliers for some of the imported beers, always sitting in that deep cellar, beer in hand.

Since that first visit I've seen Zly ?asy grow to become what it is today, one of the finest pubs in the world, but at heart, it is still that same neighbourhood dive I fell in love with back then.

Friday, January 6, 2012

My Local - Guest Blog

When I went to France in 2008 for Christmas and New Year, we actually spent Christmas in Kent at my eldest brother's house, I drank a fair bit of local Kentish ale. One of my January posts was about the Gadd's beers that I drank while I was there, and in the comments was a new commenter for me at the time, one Mark Dredge, author of Pencil and Spoon and subsequently much lauded beer blogger. It is my pleasure then, that today Mark is my guest blogger.

I don’t have a local. Not somewhere I’d like to regularly drink that’s stumbling distance from my front door. I never have had a local. When I moved in with my girlfriend two years ago I went in search of a local and found nothing (I found pubs but not ones I’d like to drink in...). I’m moving house in a few weeks and I’ll go on the search for a local again then. I hope I find somewhere good, although I doubt I’ll go there very often.

Not having a local doesn’t bother me much. I wasn’t brought up around the pub environment so it never mattered to me. More important was spending time with family and friends. For me, being with family or friends is more important than where we actually are. I very rarely go out drinking alone. I don’t pop to the pub for a few pints and a chat with whoever is there. I’d rather sit at home with a bottle from the fridge (though solo drinking can be a fine thing).

There are pubs that I go to more often than others, so I guess these are my ‘locals’, even if they would take me over an hour to travel to from home. But I don’t work near where I live and I tend to go out near where I work. And that’s in London and London has a lot of pubs.

I’m not a monogamous drinker. I regularly return to the same places but I go because I like the beer there or want to meet friends there. A local, for me, is something that other people have. Maybe if I lived near a good pub this would be different. Maybe not.

Friday, December 30, 2011

My Local - Guest Blog

Pubs are a topic very close to my heart. Pubs are, in my as ever unhumble opinion, the natural environment for the lover of beer. It seems fitting then that the last post of 2011 should be a guest post on the theme of pubs, in particular the ones we call our "local". It is also fitting that the author of this post is Adrian Tierney-Jones of Called to the Bar, one of my favourite and absolute must read blogs, he is also the author of Great British Pubs. Without further ado, let me hand over to Adrian....

I’m greedy. I’m positively gargantuan in my appetite for pubs, which is why whenever I am asked about my local, I answer that I have two of them and both suit my ever changing moods in many ways. Both of them serve good grub and I eat in both. Both of them keep a perfect cellar and I drink beer in both, especially at the weekend, where in the company of several other topers I start at the bottom pub by the river and then end up at the pub at the top nearest to my house. I drink cask beer most times — St Austell Proper Job, Tribute, Otter Head, anything from Bristol Beer Factory, Dark Star, Adnams, Thornbridge — or I might have an Orval or a Flying Dog IPA (in their proper glasses).

Then, as Graham Greene wrote, there’s the human element. I like the people who run both these pubs. I enjoy the company of those that drink in both these pubs (some of whom, like myself, lead a dual pub life). We swap jokes, gossip, local news, comments on the weather, football and rugby anecdotes, rarely politics though, moans about road-works (they’ve just finished) and occasionally I talk about beer, though I try not to. I am minded to remember the look on the face of one of the guys a couple of years ago after I’d persuaded one of my pubs to take in Schneider Weiss on draught — I like this lager he said to me, and 10 minutes later was wishing he’d kept his mouth shut as I continued to drone on about Bavarian Weizen. On the other hand, Mike always asks me what the guest beer at one of my locals is like when I see him there over the weekend. We also get lots of tourists and you get wistful comments about how they would like a local back home. I always like talking with them; you just never know where the journey of conversation is going to take you.

So what else do my locals offer me? Both are a home from home, a place that is homely and public, a public house in the true sense of the word and of course having two homes is better than one (well I suppose you could say I have three). And much as I like the social discourse that having a local pub brings there are also subtle nuances that I think you can show whenever you just want to read your paper and have a quiet pint (though there is the odd type who even if it’s obvious that I’m sitting there working on my laptop will wander over and ask me what I am doing — for him and his sort I have reserved a special place in the third ring of hell, otherwise known as one of the pubs in the nearest market town over the border).

There’s one other thing that occurs to me as I think about the local. I travel about visiting pubs and I think that sometimes one also can have a mobile local, one that is very much of the here and now, a local that you don’t visit that often but as soon as you walk in it’s like slipping into a favourite pair of carpet slippers (not that I ever wear the fiendish things) and starting to relax. And this then makes me think that a local pub is both a physical entity (whether it’s one or two) and also a state of mind.

And finally, dialectically speaking, the synthesis of all this thought about the local is that it makes me realise what is the greatest thing about the local pub — it offers a never-ending potential for discussion and debate on what a local pub is. The road goes on forever.

Friday, December 23, 2011

My Local - Guest Blog

Earlier this year I had the inestimable pleasure of brewing a beer with the guys at Devils Backbone and beer historian Ron Pattinson, of Shut About Barclay Perkins fame. Well Ron has stepped in the guest blogger shoes to tell us about his local pubs....

My local. What could be easier than shooting the breeze about the place you usually drink? Well, for me it's a bit tricky. First of all I have to decide what is my local.

Strictly speaking, it's either the Playground Pub or Gent aan de Schinkel.

I would tell you the real name of the first one. If I could remember it. Physically, it's the closest pub to my flat. And, as the nickname might well give away, It's a place I used to frequent with the kids. Dump them in the playground and then dump myself at the bar. Only it never quite worked out as simply as that. But when does anything go the way it should? (And for that matter, when will I stop asking questions?) Kids, eh. Always wanting attention the little attention vampires. That and unhealthy food.

The pub was a good way to get acquainted with some of the other people in our neighbourhood. As it turned, mostly ones with kids themselves. I wasn't the only one with the idea about dumping the babes and boozing myself into oblivion. Must be something about children that prompts that.

I don't go there any more. On principle. Despite the law, they allow smoking. Yes, just what I need. Bugger my lungs even more.

I have a strange relationship with Gent aan de Schinkel. I won't go into that now. Let's just say that it also has something to do with my kids. On the face of it, it's an obvious candidate for my local. Just around the corner and a sort of half beer café. It used to be a full one, but they've pared back the range somewhat over the years. Still, La Chouffe and Filliers 8 (a rather delicious jenever) is usually enough to satisfy me. All sounds pretty good so far, doesn't it? Now here are the not-so-good points.

They major on food. I rarely to never eat out in Amsterdam. No point. There's a kitchen and a cook back home. Seems like a huge waste of money. Being crowded out of a pub by diners isn't my idea of fun (I won't tell you what is, it's just too sad). Especially (here's the second not-so-good point) when they are a bunch of yuppies. I prefer a more genuine drinking atmosphere myself. Preferably without any music, TVs, slot machines or yuppies. Miserable old git, that's me.

The pub I most regularly go in Amsterdam in Wildeman. Not exactly local, at near dead on three miles away, as the crow flies. Not being a crow, it's just as well the number 2 tram takes me virtually door to door. Usually on Saturday afternoon.

Night time boozing. It's a young man's (or woman's) game. My powers of recovery are too feeble for it to be an option most nights. And, given the state I'm in when I leave a pub, it's best if there's still daylight. Gives me a sporting chance of getting home uninjured. It's hard enough getting up in the morning when I've gone to bed sober. I'm not taking any chances. That's why 2 o' clock in the afternoon is my designated Wildeman time.

I'm not the only one with a routine. The bloke with a beard who reads the paper. He's always there, too. Reading the paper. As well as me and Mike, Guy Thornton often turns up. Very reassuring. Usually we occupy enough seats to keep out the young. The bastards. With their designer clothes, radiant skin and irritating electronic devices. Ticky, ticky, tick. You can't get away from people fiddling with some gadget or other nowadays.

When I contemplating writing this piece I realised there was another pub that had a claim to be my local. What is a local? It's a home from home. Somewhere you feel comfortable and safe. Where there are people you know. Where you can walk in at any time of the day and someone will say "Hello Ron" (it's probably a different name your case, but you get the idea). Where there's always someone to chat with. A place where the normal rules of physics don't apply. It doesn't matter how long since your last visit, you pick up straight away where you left off, even if it's been a year.

Going by those criteria, I realise there was an odd candidate for my local: the Gunmakers in London. The preceding paragraph, that was all about the Gunmakers. I feel bizarrely at home there. Even though I've not lived in London since I became aware of it. Even though I've not spent more than four days on the bounce in London for several decades. Yet every time I walk through the door the welcome rushed out to meet me.

Of course, it helps that I'm mates with Jeff, the landlord. But that isn't the only reason I love the place. Well-kept cask beer is a must. And Jeff's is very well looked after. Not a huge selection, just four handpumps. But I've never been shallow enough to judge a pub by the number of beers it sells. (Some of my favourite pubs only sell one.) Small, but well chosen. That's the Gunmakers beer range. You're guaranteed that any beer you buy will be in top condition.

I'm going to contradict myself now. But who gives a toss about consistency other than premiership managers? The Gunmakers is at times of the day mostly given over to diners. I told you I hated that. But there's always space for the solitary drinker and his pint and paper. And having a full kitchen means they can offer the things I like to eat in a pub: homemade scotch eggs and pork pie.

Maybe it's the associations that makes it such a happy place for me. Most of my visits are after a session in the London Metropolitan Archives, which isn't far away. Aching and dirty, but with a camera full of brewing records, I stumble in and soothe my exhaustion with a pint. Several pints. Because pints like company, too.

There you have it, three locals for the price of one. Sorry, four for. Pubs, they’re like kids. Noisy, irritating, lively, invigorating. And just like kids, it’s cruel to pick just one favourite.

Friday, December 16, 2011

My Local - Guest Blog

We come back to Virginia for this week's guest blog. Richmond based Eric Delia is the man behind the Relentless Thirst blog and an all round superb human being to boot. Since Mrs V and I moved to the States in 2009, Eric and his now wife have become good friends and we count it an honour to be able to name them as such. So let me hand over to Eric.....

I'll be up front with you. I don't have a local.

To make a fairly confident assumption, I'd argue that most Americans don't have one either. At least not in the traditional British sense of the word. The way I see it, you can be a frequent customer of a drinking establishment, but that still doesn't necessarily make it your local.

Local as an adjective is defined by Merriam-Webster as "primarily serving the needs of a particular limited district." In noun form, the same source also includes the British definition of "a nearby or neighborhood pub." Due to zoning laws, reliance on the automobile, and the vicious circle of demonization and quiet overindulgence of alcohol, "locals" in the United States are mainly confined to densely-populated urban centers, if they exist here at all. Oft-cited examples are bars, but to me, a public house means more than just that. Though that tangent is probably best left for another post.

Therefore, if I have to pick a place in order to appease Velky Al, I'll go out on a limb and pick Whole Foods.

That's right, I'm not going with any of the grassroots spots in Richmond, Virginia that have happened to catch the beer bug in the past few years. I'm picking a chain of upscale grocery stores that has caught the beer bug in the past few years. In particular, my local Whole Foods.

The Whole Foods in my area has quite the selection of beer, not to mention food, wine, homeopathic healing salves, and accessories for the home. It's a regular earth-loving granola-fest, and I dig it. The products on the shelf often emphasize local, organic, or both simultaneously, all of which I'm happy to support with my wallet. That, and they fill growlers. So it's a win-win.

At any given time, there are eight beers on tap, and they rotate constantly. In addition to standard releases from breweries, their beer buyer often stocks up on limited release kegs of various sizes to store for appropriate seasons or occasions, and rarely do I come across their current draft list without wanting to walk away with 64oz of something.

It's my local, in a sense, because it's where I buy my groceries, where I can have an open discussion about the latest trends in the beer world, and at times, it's also where I do my drinking. As always, there's more to do there than just drink. After work, when I need to pick up some made-in-house organic sausage or fresh local produce, I can grab a pint before I do my shopping. How cool is that?

It's also a place to get away from other places. Not to be insulting, but I'd rather discuss beer, or any topic really, with people I care about or whose opinions I respect. It would be nice to have the sense of community that truly local, neighborhood pubs often cultivate, but I just don't see it here in the US.

So while it may sound selfish to want to drink a pint alone in quiet reflection, or in the company of a small group of friends, it's the way I prefer to spend my valuable leisure time when having a pint out. It just so happens that I enjoy doing that at Whole Foods. Lately, it's the closest thing to a local that I can find.

Friday, December 9, 2011

My Local - Guest Blog

Pubs are a ubiquitous feature of life in many European countries and Ireland surely has one of the more celebrated pub cultures. So, off to Ireland we go, and this week's post comes from Reuben, writer of the Tale of the Ale blog and all round good egg. I'll be hanging out with Reuben and his wife in a few weeks in Paris, something Mrs V and I are very much looking forward to. Without further ado.....

Ah the local, a term of endearment. It's a home away from home. For many it might feel more like home than wherever you live. It's an odd term "Your local". What does it actually mean? In the strictest terms, your local should be the pub/bar that's closest to your place of residence, or at least in the vicinity. What happens if you live in a small rural town with only two remaining pubs? That's my current situation, since I have moved to the town formerly known as Beggars Bridge, though the Irish name Droichead Chaisleán Loiste means Castlelost Bridge and refers to a ruined castle named Castlelost and so on. Yes there is history to this little town, though little of it all that interesting. Not until you get to more modern times. Apparently (and I have no evidence either way), my humble little town is the site of the country's first strip or pole dancing club. I'm not sure which, or even if it's true but since it happened before I moved here, I also don't care.

What I do care about is that of the two pubs remaining in my town, neither have any beer worth drinking. Now that would not bother me so much if my closest pub, Bagnalls (the one VelkyAl has been to) still served food. When we moved here first they actually had lovely food and Sunday lunch was fantastic. It was not a carvery, it was menu and table service but the cost was about the same and the food quality far superior to a carvery. Sadly they stopped serving food a few years ago and as a result, we stopped having a reason to go there. I have tried a few times to make it my local. For a time they had bottled Guinness and I went to watch a few rugby games but it just had no atmosphere.

The other pub called Lysters is more of a farmer and GAA pub. I have only been in there once while waiting for the post office to open. When I mentioned this to the bar man he pointed out that in actual fact the post office closed in 20 minutes and I had been waiting for it to close all that time.

I now have a dilemma. The closest homely pub to me is in my closest large town of Mullingar. Daly's serves craft beer and is a lovely pub as well. It is hard to get to using public transport. My only real option is to either use a taxi at over €20 each way, or I can cycle as I did in my report.

That means my real local, the one I feel most at home in must be somewhere with a better public transport link and where else but my home town of Dublin?

There are many great pubs I can choose but The Bull & Castle usually ends up as number one, as long as we are talking Saturday or Sunday afternoon when it's quiet enough to sit at the downstairs bar and read. Later on weekends they bring on a DJ and loud music to ruin the atmosphere and ability to have a conversation. This can be overlooked for their dedication to craft beer, their sheer range of craft and world beers and also because if I get hungry, as I often do when drinking beer, I have some fantastic dishes to choose from. The manager also runs a blog listing their latest beers and current rotation cask and keg offerings.

Sitting at the bar downstairs is probably my favourite place to be while enjoying a beer, a book and perhaps something to eat. Upstairs is the German style beer hall but there is something more homely & more welcoming about the downstairs bar if you are on your own. If not, head upstairs to the beer hall and pick any bench style table. Pick a beer of any of the chalkboard or table menus. See what's on cask that day or watch a match on the projector, assuming there is one. It's a great place to watch Rugby matches.

There are quieter and more relaxing pubs, pubs that serve better food perhaps or even pubs that might be better craic, but as an all round great place to be, for their sheer number of speciality world and craft beers, their dedication to Irish craft beer and their cask offerings and many other indefinable reasons, The Bull & Castle is my local, my home away from home.

Friday, December 2, 2011

My Local - Guest Blog

For our guest blog this week we head to the right side of Hadrian's Wall, and then up the M8 a bit to Glasgow, a city where I have spent many a happy evening hanging out, drinking and having a black pudding supper. Needless to say I like Glasgow a lot, and when Mrs V and I discuss the possibility of moving to the UK, Glasgow is high on the list of places I would happily move to. The Glasgow based blog "I might have a glass of beer" is absolutely essential reading, written by Barm, also known in the Twitter world as @robsterowski. Here, then, is the post...

I should admit it straight away: I’ve never really had a local.

I did when I started drinking. It was the only decent pub in my town, and the last bus home left from across the street, which was convenient. I spent many sessions in there with my chums from school, before we all started moving away, discovering the differences between Guinness, Heineken, Whitbread Pale Ale and McEwan’s Blue Label. It had a big mahogany island bar and was one of those pubs where the ladies’ toilet was an obvious recent addition.

But I’ve seldom lived close to a pub where I’d actually want to drink. Some will say the first mentioned above doesn’t even count, as it wasn’t within walking distance. It’s usually been at least a bus ride away.

This is probably why I always insist on booking somewhere central when I go on a trip. For a few joyous days one time, Brauerei Spezial in Bamberg was my local. That was nice.

The essence of a local, though, isn’t really proximity; it’s having a connection to the pub and to its regulars. For a period a group of us scenesters would hang around in an old Victorian pub at Charing Cross talking about music; the bands and songs we talked about would naturally flow into the playlist at the club night the next evening. The beer was nothing special, but the scene was.

This went on for a year or so and then fizzled out, as these things inevitably do. Oddly enough, the club night was in a different venue, which had terrible beer. I begrudged the money for every pint I bought there, but I never resented buying a round in the pub. Because the local isn't really about beer, but relationships. If the beer is good, that makes the relationships stronger because you find yourself in the pub with your friends more often.

Every pub should aim to be a local for at least a few people. If too many of the customers are regulars, it can be unwelcoming to outsiders. Maybe this is why I never really wanted to go to a lot of pubs that were physically nearby.

Constant motion is the price paid by those who crave variety in their drinking. Even if you have a bar with a hundred or two hundred different beers, waiting for the world’s beers to come to you is lame. You have to go out and find them in their native habitat. Then come home and drink ale in the local and try to fit in again. As people move about so much nowadays, a session with friends in the local can become a special occasion, which is a shame.

Friday, November 25, 2011

My Local - Guest Blog

We're staying in the UK for this week's guest blog. Ten Inch Wheels chronicles life in London from the perspective of a Yorkshireman and goes beyond being a blog just about beer. It is always a good read, and his photos are excellent as well, so I heartily recommend reading more of his posts, once you have read the one below of course!

You're home. As you walk up the slope from the station platform, an inch of snow crunches underfoot. The Pennine air is fresh and frigid, biting your face. Snowflakes hang in the streetlights. You turn left onto East Parade, the pub windows glowing a hundred yards away. Through the doors and the heat from the coal fire wraps round you like a blanket. A nod from one of the regulars. 'Yes, love?' from the barmaid.

Locals aren't always local. Mine's about 230 miles, give or take, from where I live - but The Boltmakers Arms in my home town of Keighley is my 'local'. You'll have heard of Keighley because of Timothy Taylor. Taylor's is - but me no buts - the greatest brewery on earth, and the Bolts (as it is universally known) is their de-facto brewery tap. It's a tiny pub - really a converted cottage - and almost always busy. Some nights it can be so packed it's difficult to get your pint to your mouth. If you're lucky you can snag a seat by the open fire. It doesn't matter if you're on your own. This is Yorkshire. If you haven't got your nose in the paper, someone will want to chat.

I've known the Bolts a long time. When I first started going in, it had been run for years by Eric French. Kept a good pint, did Eric. His main punters came from the printworks over the road and the mill round the back. Both long gone. I think I was the only one who liked the decor as it was back then; a palimpsest of decades of Taylor's ad hoc makeovers - Red vinyl benches, formica tables and Bakelite lampshades. When Eric retired The Bolts had a couple of wilderness years and a refit before the current guv'nor Phil Booth took over. The Taylor's pumps are front and centre on the bar. You'll never find a better pint of Landord. No, really you won't. I've looked. Phil pours a pint of Taylor's flagship brew to such forensic perfection it can make a returning native weep.

The Bolts is one of about five Taylor pubs in the town centre. They're all good, but there's something very special about the Bolts. Something you can't quite define that makes it all just right. Maybe it's the easy bonhomie between the generations - the flat cap chatting with the baseball cap. That fire, or even the size of the place which helps you feel as comfortable as you would in your own living room. Ultimately at all comes down to it being a classic town pub that happens to serve extraordinarily good beer. And you can't ask for much more than that.

Friday, November 18, 2011

My Local - Guest Blog

This week's guest post on the theme of "my local" comes from pithy blogger, beer taster, beer retailer and one of the few people I know with a beer named after him - Zak Avery. Over to you Zak......

To me, there's a clear difference between "your local" and "your favourite".

To get to my local, I walk for about 4 minutes. To get to my favourite - depending on which favourite you mean - is anything from a 20 minute busride to a longhaul flight. Even then, I'm cheating a bit, because I walk past two pubs to get to "my local", The Black Bull in Rothwell.

The Black Bull is typical of good, suburban British pubs. Everything about it is instantly familiar, from the almost-lurid pattern of the brown and red carpet to the elbow-height, dark wooden wainscotting. True to type, there is a bit of exposed brickwork, and an area of bare floorboards that leads up to, and around, the bar. At 6.30 on a wet Thursday evening, there is already an assortment of drinkers assembled, but the pub is quiet. The gleaming chrome fonts offer familiar megabrands, the optics on the wooden barback are the usual suspects. The selection is nothing to write home about.

Of course, there's a reason that I walk past two pubs to get to this one. It's not the slightly-too-loud jukebox, the quiz machine, the Sky Sports TVs, the raised area with the pool table. It is, of course, the beer. Ordinary, beautiful, humble, dazzling British bitter. They have three handpumps, and will rotate beers through them with a decent amount of speed - tonight there are only two on, which is as it should be mid-week. It's better to offer one cask ale in perfect condition than three that are past their best, and The Black Bull knows that. I've never had a bad pint here. Tonight, I'm drinking Adnams Southwold Bitter, in an Adnams glass, at the perfect temperature. Other times, Tetley's Bitter (in a Tetley's glass), Acorn Barnsley Bitter (in an Acorn glass), Ossett Excelsior (in an Ossett glass).

The Black Bull is an ur-pub, outside of fashion and trend. This is the sort of place that any visitor to the UK should try to experience in order to get an insight into the real drinking culture of the country. While I love drinking in beer geek bars (and I use that term with love), while I love being asked "This is £9 a pint, is that OK?", while I love the current preoccupation with offering the best Scotch egg known to humanity as a humble bar snack ("This Scotch egg's a fiver, is that OK?"), I also love the brilliant simplicity of a pub that just wants to be a good, ordinary pub serving good, ordinary beer.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Guest Blog - My Local

This week's guest blog is by Leslie from Texas, the person behind Lushtastic and one of Houston's leading bloggers, so rather me wittering on, I hand you over to her:

When I first discovered an old gas station turned coffee shop, turned amazing craft beer bar, nestled in the quiet Garden Oaks neighborhood of Houston, I was in love. The Petrol Station*, with their laid back atmosphere, 2 huge patios, rumors of expansion and possible brewpub dreams, great food menu (get the garlic-parmesan fries with everything), and ever evolving and changing craft beer selection, I knew there wouldn’t be another place I loved in this town more to get my craft beer fix.

I started frequenting Petrol after a visit with my dear friends, Christine and Jordan, and now I feel like family. Troy, the best beertender ever, knows the styles I like to drink and always has a recommendation for me when I can’t decide (which is often, as I am quite indecisive with their list). He even made a Chocolate Yeti “Beeramisu”, with homemade marscapone, for my friend Cathy’s birthday party we had there.

Not only is Petrol a perfect place to drink a delicious craft beer and eat yummy tacos (the special on Tuesdays), owner Ben Fullelove goes out of his way to acquire seriously awesome beers for other events, like the Dogfish Head Scavenger Hunt he hosted in October of 2010, that featured a different rare, vintage Dogfish beer at a different bar each day, some to take home, some to drink on premise (Texas law says if an establishment has a mixed-liquor license, no beers are available to-go). I participated in the hunt every day for 10 days, figured out the clues, knew the password and had all the beers. I got a sweet t-shirt and a 4pack of beer out of it too.

Petrol sells growlers too, a few times a year they offer a limited number of these to-go containers and they always feature an entertaining graphic. It has become almost a cult following of Houston beer nerds, everyone trying their hardest to collect all of the Petrol growlers. The last round involved selling them out of the trunk of Ben's classic Lincoln across the street from the bar in their parking lot, and sold out in something like 15 minutes.

Then there are Ben’s beer dinners. Coming up for Houston Beer Week in November, he is collaborating with Jonathan Jones of Xuco Xicana to face-off in a beer dinner vs. beer dinner against Kevin Floyd of Anvil and forthcoming Hay Merchant, who is teamed up with Chris Shepherd of the upcoming Underbelly. It will include 10 courses and 10 beers, and it is sure to be epic. Previously, he has worked with Chef Jones on two beer dinners, I attended both and they were fabulous. The first one took place during Houston Beer Week in 2010 and the second was earlier this year in March. Both of them paired rare beers (to our market) with fabulous creations from Chef Jones. I have been to some great beer dinners in my time of enjoying craft beers, but these take the cake, by far.

When someone asks me where to go in Houston for good beer, good food, or a good patio, I always recommend Petrol. Hell, I recommend Petrol for almost anything, I have all of my blog interviews there and any meetings I can possibly schedule there as well. The only downside, if you aren't a regular and used to it, may be the wait time for food when they are busy. Their small kitchen seriously limits how much food they can make quickly during busy times. These guys take their time, but I have never seen that as a bad thing, only an indication that the food is fresh, made-to-order and always stellar.

*Petrol Station, 985 Wakefield Drive, Houston, Texas, 77018

Friday, November 4, 2011

Finding A Local - Guest Blog

Today sees the beginning of a new series of guest blogs here on Fuggled. Taking on the theme of "My Local" the bloggers I have invited will be talking about the pub scene where they live. So rather than me wittering on much longer, I will hand over to the first guest bloggers of the series, Boak and Bailey:

We've just moved to Penzance which is a really, really long way from London -- a short bus ride from Land's End, in fact; in the Atlantic; near America.

With all of our friends hundreds of miles away, as the nights draw in, and the sea starts to crash over the promenade, we're beginning to realise just how much we're going to need a friendly local pub.

But which will it be?

Our actual local -- the nearest pub geographically -- is described online as "grubby inside, grubby outside, and with a hostile atmosphere". It certainly doesn't look welcoming. We're going to give it a miss.

So, downright rough pubs aside, based on what we've seen so far, we've got a choice of lovely pubs with bad beer, or soulless pubs with good beer.

The long-term project is to drink in the lovely pubs often enough that we get to know the landlords and then explain why we only ever drink Budvar from bottles. If that goes well and we "do a Barm", our problem might be solved.

As it is, we've more-or-less decided that, spiritually speaking, our local is a 20 minute bus ride away in a village on the way to St Ives. The beer is great, the regulars are chatty, and the landlord, who brews out back, is happy to geek out about hops with us.

If only it were nearer... As it is, we'll probably never be able to go often enough to earn the sacred right to hang our own glass behind the bar, or be greeted by name when we walk through the door.

Old Friends: Joseph's Brau PLZNR

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