Real Ale Reviews

Independent reviewers of real ales, beers and lagers from around the world, including beer reviews, breweries, watering holes and real ale events
    Sebright Arms / Lucky Chip

    Sebright Arms / Lucky Chip

    The bar is busy. The tables are full. The backroom is heaving and buoyant. Welcome to the Sebright Arms, dimly light and vivacious. We arrive from Soho at the fading of a sun drenched afternoon - four pubs, six pints, four hours. Three and a half miles later, bellies demanding meat and bread and barley, we bundle over the threshold. A table is found, pale beers ordered, burger menus devoured by hungry eyes. It's a young crowd, an old ...

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    A King and a Prince

    A Prince Amongst Beers

    It's not every day that you get the chance to try a beer that's older than you are. Last Saturday night I opened a bottle that was just that; I opened a beer that was older than me, so that’s over twenty five, give or take the odd ten years. In fact it was a lot older than me, more than twice my age. It was brewed in 1929 in fact, so that’s 83 years old. A mate ...

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    Build A Rocket Boys!

    Build A Rocket Boys! by Elbow & Robinsons

    Elbow are the kings of soaring melancholy, masters of poetic northern introspection.  Let Elbow's albums flow over you and you can be mesmerised by their beauty alone. Put in the time to listen, to soak up the poignancy, the humour, the extraordinary manifestations of the ordinary and their albums become life affirming tributes to the everyday. Conversely, it's quite easy to stick an Elbow album on and realise thirty lethargic minutes later that time - and ...

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    Man shed!

    Readers Pubs

    At the first pub there's a piano in the window but no one to play it. The seats are filled with ghosts. A long pew is adorned with individually wrapped cushions, resembling a bum-friendly box of Mr Kipling cakes. It's quiet, the fireplace glows warm and friendly, everything is cosy and snug. Welcome to Pete's Retreat. "We'll be at home here, let's get a pint." Much as we could stay forever we've a long crawl ahead ...

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    De Struise Pannepot 2008

    Pannepot 2008

    Broody and brown, like blood-red soil on a wet day, four-year aged Pannepot is dragged out of the beer cupboard and into a glass like Jack Dee to an in-laws barbecue... It simply doesn't want to open (the journey back from Belgium wasn't kind: a contemporary shot it's load in the suitcase, drenching the stash of bottles and it's still sticky and downtrodden) but eventually, after much gushing and fizzing, it acquiesces. Perhaps it's just the toll of ...

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    John Keeling Fullers

    Desert Island Beers #50: John Keeling - Fuller, Smith & Turner PLC

    It's a special week on the desert island as we celebrate a half century of castaways being swept up onto our shores. Robinson Crusoe # 50 is a real coup for us as it features none other than Sir (it’s only a matter of time) John Keeling; Head Brewer at Fuller, Smith & Turner PLC, (better known simply as Fullers). John was born in Droylsden, Manchester, in September 1956. When he left school without telling his ...

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    Will Hawkes

    Desert Island Beers #38: Will Hawkes, The Independent

    Welcome to the latest episode of Desert Island Beers which this week features Will Hawkes who works on The Independent’s sports desk and writes about beer in his spare time. Born in London and brought up in sunny Kent, he has had an interest in ale since he could convince a barman he was 18 – but his real conversion to good beer came after a year spent living in Southern California in 1999-2000, when the ...

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    Marston's Fever Pitch English Bitter

    Marston's Fever Pitch

    First off I should point out that I don't often take kindly to products and advertising that jump on the football bandwagon. The best footy related marketing is the football advertising by Nike and Carlsberg (ignoring their most recent attempts). So, I'm potentially a little biased against Marston's Fever Pitch... Let's start with the positives: oranges, lemons, citrus peel but not zest. It's more interesting than I expected, more summery. A mellow bitterness that isn't displeasing and ...

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    Englischer Garten

    Drunken in Munchen

    Let's be frank, I'm not brilliant at getting drunk. It's not that I'm a bad drunk per se, but since my uni days my tolerance has faded and I'm much better suited to a lazy pub garden or the frantic but well partitioned boozing of a hot festival day. So, the morning after the night before, eating pizza along the tramlines of Munich, Stag Day 2 of 3, the first beer is an inevitable mistake. The 12 ...

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    Lowlands Bier Festival

    Beer From The Low Country

    The smell of beer slopped on wooden tables, the glint of light in the top of the chalice, the sounds of a deck of cards and the clink of glasses. I'm in a bar in the north country but my senses are across the sea and howling winds, in the bustle of a backstreet bar in Belgium. Four pm on a sunny Friday, sampling the beers of the Low Countries in a bar in Leeds, dreaming of ...

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    BrewDog Blitz 2.8% ABV

    Brewdog Nottingham

    The blue logo can be seen for hundreds of yards. The windows that look out onto Hockley's student-filled streets, opposite a tea room, cinema and acclaimed bistro, are plastered with huge crest shaped decals, archetypal generation Nike branding for a Starbuck's influenced post-modern brand experience. B R E W D O G Reminiscent of the type of industrial themed sandwich shop found in downtown Prague or New York's Soho, but with added chutzpah and a munificence for ...

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    Shibden Valley by Tim Green

    Shibden Mill Inn

    Down a winding single lane road the descent to Shibden Mill Inn is not one to be taken with nonchalance. A careless clutch foot could result in an unexpected round of automobile tobogganing, even without the help of rain, ice or snow. But survive the swooning approach and there sits a fine pub to be snowed in at: good beer, warm hearths and food fit for kings. The pub is infected with sunny Sunday smiles. Gregarious family ...

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    Packhorse bridge and Old Bridge Inn Ripponden

    A bridge in time

    A brisk day in March, wet but without rain. Ducking through the dripping steel railway bridge, carving through residual puddles, Sowerby Bridge seems jack-knifed between the twenty first century and the 1970s. It's partly the lack of ubiquitous chain stores, partly the dubious puns of the shabby independent shops, but mostly the hues of a downtrodden day in a small Yorkshire town. Out the other side of the town the road befriends the trajectory of the ...

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    Hopback Summer Lightning: a bit of a legend in Beerland

    Hopback Summer Lightning

    Some beers have a pedestal. Sometimes it's deserved because they are truly great beers, technically and taste-wise. Some are headliners, built by a cheeky PR campaign or an elaborate story. And some are deserved winners of awards and a place within beery folklore. Summer Lightning by Hopback falls in the latter category. Back when I was enjoying my third year on this planet and coming to terms with the fact I would soon have a baby ...

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    June 5th, 2013FletchtheMonkeyComment

    This is a story about a true gentleman.

    The first time I met Simon was in Burton on Trent, and to be honest I didn’t know what to make of the bespectacled jester who brightened up the pub full of beer bloggers who’d assembled for the inaugural #twissup event.

    But brighten up the pub he did.

    Subsequent meetings with Simon (mostly, or always, in a pub) revealed much more to me about this man and why he always had the knack of being surrounding by joviality.

    A large part of my relationship with Simon could be called virtual, facilitated by Twitter. But it wasn’t virtual at all. Simon was a real character who made people cry with laughter. Opinionated, erudite and with a wit to be envious of, his network of followers is testament to his ability to engage with people and instigate discussion.

    His influence and passion for beer made him an obvious castaway on our Desert Island Beers series and he arguably delivered one of the most interesting interviews we’ve conducted. He told us he nearly picked Orval five times, but still managed to justify Jaipur and Stella Artois.

    Simon had a preference for giving rather than taking. In Nottingham one weekend and keen to catch Leeds United on the telly, but with my in-laws clueless as to Nottingham’s provision for football watching pubs, I reverted to twitter for advice. An hour or so later I’m in Brewdog and Simon is sat with a pint for him and one in for me. “Cheers” I say, “It’s nice to see a friendly face” I think to myself and hope that we get on well one on one. I needn’t have worried.

    That afternoon I got to Simon, chat about beer, football, digital, data, the city, our backgrounds. Shared interests and unshared interests alike are discussed over Punk IPA, a local pale ale and assorted bar snacks. We ramble towards a little inner city pub that Simon remembers and pass through an arse end of Nottingham that tourists would rarely find themselves in. A real tickers bimble.

    Leeds were abject that day as usual, but the day out a success and I parted thinking that I would look forward to more afternoons sampling the wares of Nottingham’s pubs with Simon. And Derby I promise. I’ll definitely come to Derby and let you show me around.

    Simon was the last person to comment on what we thought might be the last post here. Typically he offered more succinct wisdom in his comment than I mustered in 300 words.

    Somethings are more important than beer blogging. Like, everything else.
    If you want something to write about, I’ll meet you for a pint in Nottingham.
    And I promise not to wear my “We All Hate Leeds” t-shirt ;-)

    I replied taking him up on that offer, agian.

    Unfortunately I never will get to join Simon in Derby, or Nottingham, or get the chance to repay the favour in Leeds. Simon died two weeks ago and with him countless sharply delivered blogs and tweets of jest and pinpoint insight. We’ve lost a person who gave much more than we might have realised. His funeral is today at 12.30 and we’ll be raising a glass of something spectacular for him.

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    May 7th, 2013FletchtheMonkeyBeer and travel, Comment

    2013 has been a rollercoaster. I’ve not been writing much you may have noticed.

    It all started before Christmas when the time came to start our homemade wedding invites, and the dark evenings were extended long into the night, firstly on photoshop, and then cutting, sticking, glueing and tying our handiwork.

    Then came Christmas with all its trimmings and travelling, and before there’d been time to play with presents January arrived, and a daily stream of RSVPs for ticking off came through the letter box.

    In February I was made redundant and for a few days the world caved in.

    Immediately a big red button was pressed in my head and, soaring on adrenalin and tea, I was rushing around interviews, sign on meetings and ‘catch ups’ in a whirlwind of quickly learned answers and soul destroying niceties.

    I crashed on my stag do, asleep in a Berlin ping pong bar at 11pm on the first night, uncertain if I could afford a wedding and exhausted from running on empty.

    My head finally stopped spinning only two weeks after starting a new job in March. I realised how much I had loved my old job, grieved, and the year which had stalled dramatically started to rev and pull away again.

    Not for long. Four days before the wedding day, I received another job offer, one that meant the days before marriage were not so much a reflective calm before the storm, but a pensive, anxious period of conjecture, most minutes spent second guessing a future of vivid pathways to self destruction.

    Decision made; now it was time to head to Nottingham to be wed, and amidst a year of much grey hair growing was the best day of my life.  Followed by a honeymoon of exploring Icelandic landscape and cuisine with my new wife, and trekking through the commuters and skyscrapers of New York hand in hand in the first sunshine for months.

    Which brings me to today. Four weeks after arriving in Reykjavik, I’m sat on the first day of my second week of my third job of the year.

    I don’t know whether the renaissance of this blog will last beyond this post. These few words could be an acorn, they could mark the end of the line. Only the rollercoaster knows, and this year I’ve learnt to just jump aboard and worry about the bends later.
    photo by Joe Stenson

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    March 4th, 2013olikenyonBeer Reviews

    Sacrebleu! Even ‘King Eric’ is talking about hops. If you haven’t seen it yet, the new Kronenbourg 1664 ad stars French football legend Eric Cantona masquerading as a hop farmer. The commercial is set in an Alsace village where the local crop growers are treated like soccer stars for producing the hops “that make Kronenbourg so special”. Cracking marketing no doubt, but perhaps a kung-fu kick to the face of beer geeks everywhere courtesy of the Heineken owned company.

    It came just days after Beck’s (an arm of American brew giant Anheuser-Busch InBev) launched its new 6% ‘Sapphire’ beer during last Sunday’s Superbowl commercials; the main selling point – other than its fancy black bottle and singing goldfish – the use of ‘German Sapphire hops’, apparently to aid their “smoothest Beck’s yet”.

    The ads themselves have been well received on social networking sites for their humour, however gimmicky; though I’m not sure the feeling is shared amongst real ale and craft beer aficionados. Independent brewers of specialist, hoppy beers face enough competition from their peers without the big boys and their huge advertising budgets muscling in.

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    February 6th, 2013FletchtheMonkeyStout & Porter

    I’d love to know if Courage Imperial Russian Stout tastes anything like the dark stouts that circumnavigated the Baltic coasts on it’s blustery journey towards the courts of nineteenth century Russia.

    I’ll never know what those early imperial stouts tasted like, no matter how many historical accounts I read or how many experts I ask. Even if an antique bottle surfaced and I could tease a tiny drop from it’s degraded cork, it would be no fair representation of the dark liquid that in the nineteenth century became more than just a stylish beer, but a style of beer.

    The story of Russian Imperial Stout is somewhat disputed – better blogs cover that here and here – but don’t the best histories always have a few enhancing evolutions over the years? Whether you prefer rousing stories or raw statistics there’s little doubting the Russian penchant for strong dark English beer that worked it’s way along the Baltic trade routes.

    Courage was not the first to brew an imperial stout for Russia (that was most likely Thrales), and the brewery no longer exists, but as I’m sat peering into a Courage Imperial Stout late one Sunday night you could easily convince me otherwise.

    The aroma fills the curves of the rotund glass and becomes thick enough to breathe in and bite. Did the drinkers of the Russian court swill it around in expensive glass vessels and take long drawn out sniffs? Did they compare the rich chocolate notes to a creamy latte or recognise cranberries in the fruity flavours? They definitely won’t  have thought ‘dashes of Nutella’ and scribbled down excited tasting notes.

    Nor would they have had Proustian memories of a homemade pear and chocolate upside down cake left in the oven a little too long. They might have exhaled in satisfaction at the way the fruity and coffee flavours are wrapped up in a tobacco cuddle like a friendly beer cigar.

    The Russians would probably think I’m mad (you might?) but then again I don’t have large volumes of my favourite beer imported by sea from hundreds of miles away across cold, heaving channels, just because I can’t be bothered to make it at home.

    Thank Gambrinus for Courage and this dark, smoky bundle of history. It’s a real treat with a great story.


    Courage Imperial Russian Stout


    Catherine would be pleased

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    January 31st, 2013FletchtheMonkeyLagers

    A cyclist eases along the uncluttered embankment; a couple stand contentedly at the waters edge peering towards their future; a couple of suits stroll happily in the yellowing evening light towards an ice cream van sat under the shade of a riverside tree.

    So is printed the scene on every bottle of Meantime London Lager. I imagine the inky outlines slowly awakening into a perfect city portrait, rustling and rising to the cafes and bars for a peaceful drink.

    The reality is more likely to be Boris bikes avoiding brisk paced briefcases and couples cringing into cameras, tensed outstretched arms aiming backwards to frame faces in front of famous skylines; seagulls, crisp packets and gust-strewn hair swirl and swoosh in an orchestrated effort to ruin the shot.

    Luckily I can gaze at the winning shot hanging on the wall whilst sipping a brisk and fizzy lager, reminiscing on our recent trip to the capital (the winner was the best of a bad bunch). The creamy body, cornflake flavours and subtle lemony scent are a picture perfect beer, a long way from the stereotypical lager of crummy pubs and industrial processes. Even the bitterness feels calm and natural, light and transient like the crunch of celery.

    The London Eye creeps skywards over the serene label edge. The only way to enjoy this surreal version of the city is to jump aboard; and with that I grab another bottle of this seductively crafted (and marketed) beer.


    A Meantime Picture of London

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    January 25th, 2013DavidMayhallDesert Island Beers

    Back in September ’12 we started a ‘Kiwi & Oz’ series on Desert Island Beers saying these were exciting times for New Zealand and Australian brewers, with both countries experiencing major growth in “craft” beer sales and the number of “craft” breweries. With this major growth as background we will have featured nearly twenty of our Kiwi & Australian brewing and blogging cousins when the series finishes in the next few weeks.

    There is however a similar story closer to home as one of the great things about being a beer drinker in London at the moment is the vibrancy of its beer and brewing scene. We have therefore planned our next series of castaways on Old London Town.

    London, from Greenwich

    The growth in London breweries in recent times has been nothing short of amazing. When in 2011 Des de Moor published his excellent guide, London Brewers and Beers he reckoned there were thirteen operating breweries, an increase from the eight that remained after Young’s left Wandsworth in 2006. He now reckons there are thirty six breweries operating in London, including ten brewpubs, with at least a further eleven under development, including three brewpubs. And with some of these projects well advanced its likely there will be over forty by the summer!

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    January 23rd, 2013FletchtheMonkeyBeer Reviews, Bitters

    I’ll wager right now that you won’t find a more attractive bottle of beer in the supermarket. The thick curvaceous bottles of St Peter’s Brewery stand out like a vintage medicine vessel, reminiscent of a simpler, more authentic age.

    Vintage is one way of describing the brewery’s heritage. Housed in a medieval hall deep in rural Suffolk, St Peter’s deliberately leverage their location to their advantage. And whilst their history may be less rich (incorporated 1996) the supermarket shelves are enhanced with their marketing angle.

    The bottles are modelled on a US gin bottle from the eighteenth century and this particular fake is temporary home to 500 millilitres of St Peter’s Best Bitter that’s working it’s way towards my sensory system.

    This is a bristly bitter beer; colour the epitome of amber, taste the epitome of England; caramel and pepper flavours whilst the linger is all hedgerow and moorland bitterness.

    The thick green gin bottle, the faintly herbaceous aftertaste, the hanging logo embossed with subtle confidence into the glass. I’ll wager right now you won’t find a better looking beer in the supermarket. You might not find many better at representing the East of England either.


    St Peter's Best Bottle

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  • Orval

    January 9th, 2013FletchtheMonkeyBelgian/Trappist

    Stroll through an ageing orchard, take a gulp of the musty air at the defunct pressing room door. Continue past the old farm cottage to the door of the dirty whitewashed inn where the drip trays need emptying. The fruit in the bowl near the window has seen better days, and through the yellowed single pane of glass the smoke rises from the chimney in the monastery opposite. A calm shadow sneaks across the cobbles dodging wooden stools and deposits freshly baked bread with the rotund innkeeper, a silent nod the only interaction before the mysterious robed shape is gone.

    Order briskly but politely and then pause to acknowledge the peppery scent, which laces the pyramid of froth in top of the brooding liquid. It glows with some kind of knowing soul. Perhaps it was the confident almost challenging pour, the beer dispatcher from curvaceous glass to angular chalice with an unexpected deftness. Sip the slightly sour, herbaceous barley juice that’s so different to it’s contemporaries. It’s no wonder those monks believe in heaven, they just don’t realise it’s closer to home than they think.

    The above is a figment of imagination. Orval was the muse.




    Orval the muse

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    January 9th, 2013FletchtheMonkeyBeer Reviews, IPA

    Hercules Double IPA lives up to it’s name from the first overloaded sniff. To paraphrase The Boss (and a bit of Bob too) the hops hit you like a freight train running through the middle of your mouth; this beer was definitely born in the USA.

    Hercules is bursting at the seams with tangy grapefruit bitterness, and he ram raids my tongue and the back of my throat. Pow. He’s strong too and thumps me in the head with a 10% alcohol punch. Kaboom.

    Balance isn’t Hercules’ strong point. But it’s not supposed to be. This is not a session beer, at least not in the English sense. This beer is a drinking challenge, like the multi-meat vindaloo hiding at the bottom of the menu with a caption ‘invented by our favourite regular, Lucifer’.

    And it’s well named. A brute force hop monster dominated by bruising bitterness, seeping resin and slowly bleeding booze; a hedonistic but messy mix of crazed pine cones and hyperactive barley.

    Hell if hops could spontaneously combust this beer would be on fire.


    Hercules, the Hop Warrior

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    January 7th, 2013FletchtheMonkeyDesert Island Beers

    As soon as he could legally drink beer Dean Pugh joined Wetherspoons and has showed no signs of his passion for malt and hops diminishing since then. Especially for hops.

    Dean undertook Wetherspoons management training after leaving university, and in 2007 joined York Brewery, helping them to open their first pub outside the old city walls, Mr Foley’s Cask Ale House in Leeds.

    Dean grew ‘Foley’s’ from scratch, managing it from new kid on the block to Leeds Pub of the Year in 2009 (as voted for by the local brand of CAMRA). Set in a grade-II listed building opposite the iconic Leeds Town Hall, the pub has become a magnate for geeks of all kinds, whether that’s football (telly screens and comfy sofas), beer aficionados (bottles and cask ales aplenty) or weekend art critics (the bar is a stone throw from Leeds Art Gallery and the Henry Moore Institute).

    Dean was integral in encouraging the growth of beer lovers in Leeds, with Foley’s well known as a place to find well kept real ale and interesting bottled beer from around the globe. Under Dean’s stewardship Foley’s has hosted many beer focused events, from Meet The Brewer evening with the local lads at Summer Wine or Kirkstall, to making Leeds centre stage in the UK celebration of IPA Day. Most recently Foley’s hosted a lunch with Garrett Oliver as he toured the UK at which Radio 4 were present to interview Garrett and the beer bloggers of Leeds.

    Sadly after five years Dean hung up his boots at Foley’s and jumped onto the BrewDog ship, becoming manager of the all new BrewDog bar in Manchester. The people of Leeds have lost a good man, even if he is (undeniably) as passionate about Sunderland FC as he is about beer.

    Dean Pugh at his new spiritual home, BrewDog bar Manchester

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