Fair to middling

Annual public post, for reviews from the Oxford Beer Festival. This year most things were fine to pretty decent. Few stood out as exceptional discoveries, but none were truly terrible. Good fun.

Atlantic of Treisaac, Cornwall
Blue, 4.8%
A dark ruby porter, alternating smells of smoke and sweet coffee on the nose. Light to drink if dark(ish) in colour. Notes of biscuit dough towards the end. 8/10

Loose Cannon of Abingdon, Oxfordshire
Abingdon Bridge, 4.1%
A repeat from last year, when it had been a finalist in the LocAle category. Innocent smell but fuller flavoured than last year. Crisp and slightly floral bite (not a million miles from a strong New Zealand Sauv Blanc) trending into a heavy, spicy finish. 7/10

Hook Norton of Hook Norton, Oxfordshirel
Hooky Mild, 2.8%
Practically non-alcoholic by real ale standards. An easy-drinking glass of autumn silk. It is what it is, shut up and drink it. 7/10

Brass Castle of Malton, North Yorkshire
Hazelnut Mild, 4.2%
A sipping mild, starts excellently with flavours of liquid Snickers, and a sweet breadcrumb finish. Diminishing marginal returns so hard to score – 9/10 for a half, probably 7/10 if ploughing through a whole pint.

Bodmin Vegetable and Pepper Pasty - tick, very good.

Silver Street of Bury, LancashGreater Manchester
Porter, 5%
This could be the beer that saved Christmas. A rich roast smell and a note of spiced plums. Taste of alcohol a little obvious for this type of beer, but no other significant complaints. 8/10.

Chiltern of Terrick, Buckinghamshire
300’s Old Ale, 4.9%
Possibly the official beer of UKIP ConfereMerrie England. I feel pretty guilty drinking this out a glass with no handle, let alone dimples. What does it taste like? Can’t really tell over the delicious spicy tomato crisps. Sort of as if someone had homebrewed some builder’s tea, I think. Nice, anyway. 8/10

Wychwood of Witney, Oxfordshire
Pumpking, 3.8%
If Silver Street Porter was Christmas, this is obviously Wychwood staking their claim to the Hallowe’en market. Brewed with pumpkin and mace apparently, which you can sort of tell, or it may be the power of suggestion. Decent with a crisp finish, pleasant but unremarkable. 7/10

Big Clock of Accrington, Lancashire
100, 5.3%
Bold and red, smelling slightly of a pub the morning after the night before. A little too hoppy for me but with a pleasant aftertaste hinting at nutmeg. 6/10

Compass of Carterton, Oxfordshire
Baltic Night Stout, 4.8%
Listed as a black beer in the programme, I can’t fault them. It’s heavy and black with very little fizz, and does indeed smell a lot like Mather’s former product (died of VAT, 2012). The smell of sweet coffee and dark chocolate gives way on tasting to the sharper flavour of cold black coffee with later notes of roast herbs and strong cheese. Well, I like Unicum, but this wouldn’t be for everyone. Nice in its own way but I’m not sure I could manage a whole pint so 6/10 – but likely to be polarising.

Loose Cannon of Abingdon, Oxfordshire
Porter, 5%
A mistake to go straight here from the black beer. Full with similar shades of chocolate, but more on the cake batter side than the dark. Again a slight hint of cheese, but more the wild honey of the dales than the toasted ripeness of France. For that reason, probably good with a Ploughman’s lunch. 7/10.

Bridge Farm of East Chinnock, Somerset
Sweet Cider, 6.5%
Classic scrumpy nose, and a reasonable sweetness without being cloying (by which I mean I could have stood for it to be sweeter – still, marked up as a 5+ on the 1-7 scale). Easy drinking despite the strength, and an excellent pairing for another packet of spicy tomato crisps (think Tabasco bloody mary). 8/10

Totally Brewed of Nottingham, Nottinghamshire
Papa Jangles Voodoo Stout, 4.5%
The beer of the festival for me. Impenetrably dark even held up against an electric light. Coffee, but the opposite end of the scale from the others – smelling of percolation rather than chilled final product. Quite a head for a real ale, another Christmassy drink with a strong hint of sweet rum. Complex flavours which provided an interesting mix for another Cornish pasty. 9/10

XT of Long Crendon, Buckinghamshire
XT13, 4.5%
Very similar to the Big Clock 100, if a little more delicate and floral – to the point of a hint of air freshener, but take that charitably – another beer to pair with a New Zealand White. Not bad, but not really for me. 6/10

Hecks of Street, Somerset
Medium Blend Perry, 6.5%
Very hard to distinguish on the nose from the earlier sweet cider. Another easy drinker belying its reasonable strength; reasonably sweet and a potential falling-down juice. 8/10

Wild about Mild

Tasting notes from the 2013 Oxford Beer Festival

At which for all the duplicate barrels in the world, they had run out of festival glasses by the time I arrived, which suggests an underestimate of the number of people attending, or keeping them, or both. The whole thing may be going upmarket - the Cornish pastie seller was still there, but so were a company claiming to be the foremost consultants on pairing chocolate with alcohol - samples available.

Anyway, to business. Almost everything felt fizzier than usual this year - it may be the fashion.

Adkin of Wantage (Oxfordshire)
Alfred's Honey Mild, 3.2%
A nostalgic mild, with the smell of a woodland stream in autumn. Gently honeyed but dark and rich, easy drinking with a faint aftertaste of pipe ash. 8/10

Amber of Ripley (Derbyshire)
Chocolate Orange Stout, 4%
This does what it says on the tin - a nose in the glass feels exactly the same as unwrapping the chocolate orange from a Christmas stocking. Lighter though than the average stout, and less orange in the taste than the smell, but overall well balanced. 9/10

Buckingham of, er, Buckingham (Buckinghamshire, surprisingly)
Mild, 4%
Strong coffee smell and roast hazelnuts in the background of this ruby mild, another beer that feels like it may be announcing the approach of Christmas with a faint taste of chocolate and mince pie - a pleasure to drink but I can see it not being to everyone's taste. 8/10

Dark Star of Partridge Green (Sussex)
Art of Darkness, 3.5%
One of only two beers this year that I didn't find fizzier than I expected. I have nothing bad to say about it, nor anything particularly remarkable either - immediately after the Buckingham Mild it was hard to see it as much more than a darker, softer (though oddly more obviously alcoholic despite being weaker) version of that. 7/10

Dunham Massey of Greater Manchester (Disputed Territory)
Dunham Dark, 3.8%
A pure Pennine dark mild, whether you think Trafford is in Greater Manchester, Cheshire, or Lancashire. A smooth beer which would go well with, or at a push in, a Sunday roast. Unwelcome vague aftertaste of food but not enough to ruin the overall effect. 7/10

Five Points of Hackney (London)
Hook Island Red, 6%
No, which was a shame given I like red. Bucking the fizzy trend, smooth trending syrupy, and served at London prices (£3.90 a pint, well above the festival average). Roast flavours were sadly verging on burnt, which the official notes charitably rendered as 'peppery'. The wrong type of bitterness and little compensating character, with a faint hint of washing up liquid. On the plus side, not overpowering given the strength. 4/10

Vale of Brill (Buckinghamshire)
Gravitas, 4.8%
A real head on here, golden bordering on straw - a mix of flavours but hanging well together - floral bordering on fruity but with a dry finish. 7/10

Loose Cannon of Abingdon (Oxfordshire)
Abingdon Bridge, 4.1%
Finalist in the LocAle category and I can see why - a beer-lover's beer, the sort of thing people might set about describing as 'good session ale' if not forcibly prevented. Taking the place of Flagship from last year - and a bit less alcoholic, which is perhaps a relief. Metallic smell but pure bitter taste, tastes like about half of everything I've ever drunk at the Bree Louise. 8/10

Notes from a Small Festival

Or quite a large one. Oxford Beer Festival yesterday. A bit on the crowded side, not helped by the use of one half of the hall for serving, and the other half of the hall for beers-in-waiting. I guess it reduces the required number of staff, but... well anyway. Here's what I drank.

Bateman (Wainfleet, Lincolnshire) Salem Porter: Smooth drinking, hints of Nutella, could have gone for a few pints of this.
Bellingers (Grove, Oxfordshire) Original Bitter: Smelt like marker pens, tasted like bicycle grease. Delicious all round.
Boggart Hole Clough (Manchester) Coffee Porter: Had just eaten a Cornish pasty and fancied a porter for dessert. More coffee than porter, this, to the extent I got a caffeine rush. Interesting all the same.
Bushy's (Braddan, Isle of Man) 1874 Ruby Mild: Another one I could happily spend most of an afternoon drinking, nice enough if a little bit on the dull side.
Holdens (Woodsetton, West Midlands) Black Country Mild: I think I had this last, I recall it being nice but I didn't keep any notes.
Hook Norton (Where do you think?) Flagship: "IPA Style", apparently. My notes say "Beer, with a hint of beer". If you want an entry in the encyclopedia for ale, this is it.
Rich's Farmhouse (Watchfield, Somerset) Sweet Cider: Christmas in a damp house. Spiced apple, cinnamon, and a hint of socks. Very nice.


I like making these. Sometimes I'm right, no promises. Anyway, things which will happen by Summer 2013. At some point along this list, the European Central Bank will start printing money and giving it to distressed Eurozone Governments, at which point the game changes and the predictions no longer apply.


1) The Greek Government will fall.
2) There will be no Greek referendum.
3) There will be Greek elections.
4) New Democracy will win, but without a majority.
5) The Communist Party will double their number of MPs. The Greens will get some MPs too, and the Orthodox bunch probably more.
6) Italy will run out of money and negotiate a bailout.
7) Spain will run out of money and negotiate a bailout.
8) The capitals of the Mediterranean will burn. So will Paris, just because they like joining in.
9) A far-left terror group will execute, or come credibly close to executing, a bombing in Brussels.
10) At least two countries will leave the Euro.

I did mention, I think, once or twice, that this wasn't a very good idea.

Get your cards

I have done a number of things over the last few days to avoid working on my dissertation. Despite this, I have a first draft done and dusted and with my supervisor for comments. Possibly the most timewasting thing I have done is to download the software from Objectif Tarot and play a few hands of Tarot (which apparently in English is called "French Tarot"). Well, a few; 93 so far.

I'm pretty good. Most of you probably aren't familiar with the game, but in brief it's essentially contract whist with a separate suit of 21 trumps (except that, in common with Bridge and unlike contract whist, you are aiming to maximise, not satisfice - so more like Solo Whist I guess). My game turns out not to have changed since the misspent youth that made me a decent player in the first place - I'm a nearly unbeatable attacking player (of the 93 hands I have attacked in 26 and won 20 of them) but my defence leaves a lot to be desired. Life imitates art, perhaps. Also if I get the King of Clubs I am guaranteed to lose, in attack or defence, for no obvious reason, it's always been that way. It probably helps that I'm playing late in the evening when everyone else is an hour more tired than me, too.

While canonically played four-handed, like Bridge, the highest bidding player in each deal takes on the other three, meaning you don't get nonsense coded messages in the bidding process, which is what I've always hated about Bridge - though the FFT have introduced some basic 'meanings' to the first card each player plays, which has annoyed me somewhat. In the five-handed version the bidding player 'calls' a King, and the holder of that King forms a team of two against the other three - with the twist that until it is played, nobody knows who it is. If you're cocky, you can call a King in your own hand and play one against four, sowing fear and suspicion, that's always fun.

Arguably I'm better at this than I am at chess (I'm not, in truth, terribly good at chess), but I don't like the level of luck involved in card games. It's too easy to blame bad cards, rightly or wrongly. It does make me wonder, though, it's always been a pretty popular game within France, but never made the leap. I suspect the need to invest in a specific deck (the fortune telling kind is not really playable) and the fact that (unlike Bridge, in practice) a deal can result in no high bid and therefore a redeal, often a few times in a row, are responsible. Both problems the internet gets around, but it does make me wonder - there are supposedly over a quarter of a million French people in London, and as far as I can find out on the internet, nobody plays. Not even a club, never mind a league. Odd.

Feeling Gloomy 20/11/2010 Setlist (Pulp Night)

Early one for me, playing mainly to the early birds and the people who had stayed after the Bowie tribute band.

Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
X Japan - Crucify My Love
Gladys Knight - The Way We Were
Propaganda - Wound In My Heart
Leo Sayer - Orchard Road
Mary Black - Past the Point of Rescue
Carpenters - It's Going to Take Some Time
Last Town Chorus - Modern Love
All Seeing I - Drive Safely Darlin'
Alison Moyet - All Cried Out
Aha - Crying In The Rain
Pulp - Styloroc (Nites of Suburbia)
Pulp - The Mark of the Devil
Pulp - She's a Lady (live version)
Suede - One Hit to the Body
Smiths - Last Night I Dreamt
Pulp - Stacks
Gin Blossoms - Follow You Down
Pet Shop Boys - What Have I Done To Deserve This
Pulp - My Lighthouse

Today's office game

Occasionally when we're doing something tedious in the office, usually stuffing envelopes addressed to MPs, we play the relations game. You take people you are contacting, and consider to whom they might be related. It's best to start off with something quite sedate and believable, for example;

"I wonder if Caroline Dinenage is related to Fred Dinenage?" (Answer turns out to be yes)

Then something plausible sounding but unlikely;

"I wonder if Daniel Kawczynski is related to Jarosław Kaczyński?"
"I wonder if Keith Simpson is related to Homer Simpson?"

Then all bets are off, with bonus points awarded for surrealism.

"I wonder if Mark Spencer is related to Marks and Spencer?"
"I wonder if Norman Lamb is related to a lamb?"
"I wonder if Louise Bagshawe is related to Bagpuss?"
"I wonder if John Mann is related to the Mister Men?"
"I wonder if William Hague is related to the International Criminal Court at The Hague?"

You can join in if you like.