What's your favoured flavour?

Like most beer drinkers, if pressed to name my favourite beer I wouldn’t be able to. There’s a whole host of mitigating factors, time of day, time of year, weather, drinking company, drinking venue...the list goes on. However there are beers that if I'm lucky enough to find them on the bar I will make them my first pint. They’re beers that I’d happily drink 2 or 3 of in a row without feeling a pressing need to try something new. They’re beers that I would leave one pub for if I knew they were available somewhere else. I call these my benchmark beers. I find myself judging all other beers in the style against these stalwarts of my beer portfolio

I think the first bar that I realised had reached this benchmark status was Butcombe Bitter. A perfectly balanced classic English beer, mid amber in colour and well balanced bitterness and sweetness. I was surprised to find that Bristol airport serves cask ale and was excited to find it was Butcombe. Is it affected by the fact it was the first ale I tried? Perhaps. It could equally be that the proximity of the brewery to my home town and a loyalism to my county. Pete Brown has his Acorn Barnsley Bitter and I have Butcombe Bitter.
Yours Truly drinking Butcombe Bitter in Bristol.

Greene King XX mild is another beer I’ve left a pub to get a pint of elsewhere. Very few GK pubs sell this any more; so if you are lucky enough to find it then get a pint or three. My preferred dispense point is The Junction Inn in Southampton, hop off the train at St Denys and there are three pubs in close vicinity but The Junction does food and invariably it'll be GK mild that does the job.

Some of my favourite beers have been lost in recent years. Pride of Romsey IPA was lost when the Hampshire brewery went under in 2007. Here’s hoping someone resurrects it. The IPA benchmark spot currently remains empty though there are some serious contenders.

My benchmark stout is Hopback Entire Stout, an opinion it seems I am not alone in holding as it won Champion Winter Beer of Britain 2011. My benchmark porter is Ringwood XXXX, when I can find it!

Of course like all good beer geeks I’m keen to try as many different beers as possible but I always get the butterflies in stomach excitement of finding a benchmark beer on the bar and the anticipation of that favoured flavour passing my lips whilst waiting for the pour.

I’m sure I’m not alone in this tendency so tell me your benchmark beers!


About the Blogger

Okay third post; so it’s probably about time I told everyone a bit about me. Thank you to everyone who has read my blog so far or even followed me.

Who are you?
I’m Steve Lamond aka Stephanos, 24 year old born and bred in Yeovil, Somerset.

Where are you now?
I currently live in the arse-end of nowhere in Cookstown, Northern Ireland after graduating in chemistry at the University of Southampton in 2009.

Why blog about beer?
Why not?! I’ve long had an interest in all things beer from the technical side, to the enjoyment of it and probably spend far too long trying to convince others that beer drinking is a worthwhile pass-time! People often tell me I should write a zine* about beer. I haven’t got round to it so far but decided to blog in its absence. Until recently I’d kind of skipped over the fact that there were a whole load of blogs about beer and it was a link on the CAMRA website to a vlog by Pete Brown and Peter Amor at National Winter Ales Fest that led me to his blog, ordered his books and got me hooked on a whole host of blogs (see right). The lack of decent beer pubs where I live has meant I've increased my mail-order drinking and drinking alone isn't much fun; so I'll use the internets as my virtual pub.

What are your “credentials”?
I’ve been drinking beer (largely real ale thus far) for 8 years now** and have been a CAMRA member since 18, helping out at the Southampton Beer Festival, GBBF and Belfast Beer Festival. I re-founded the Real Ale Society at university because nobody else seemed bothered and have organised a number of “piss ups in a brewery”. But like most humans I’m opinionated and want to share them with other people in the naive belief that they may be influenced to agree with me.

Favourite Beer?
Not something I can answer definitively, there are obviously some beers I prefer over others but I like to try anything new. I’m just as likely to go for a mild as for an imperial IPA.

Anything else we should know?
I love cheese. Beer and cheese matching evenings were commonplace in the Steve house during university. I also love spicy foods and have just started growing chilis this year.

Hopefully people won’t begrudge me a self-indulgent post. I may take these questions and feature other bloggers from time to time as I’m nosy and want to know what makes other people tick too!

*independently published magazine, like a CAMRA newsletter but less narrowly focussed.
**yes, if you can add up that does mean I was drinking under-age...naughty Steve


A confession

I have a confession: I love JD Wetherspoon. Not that any of their pubs would be in my top ten, but who ranks pubs in order of preference anyway? 

Wetherspoon as a pub chain will always have its detractors – in part due to its success at a time when still 25 pubs a week are closing their doors for ever. In 2009 they announced they’d open 250 new pubs and create 10000 new jobs. This year they went even further with chairman and founder Tim Martin announcing his intention to double the size of the company in the coming years.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Wetherspoon pubs. As a student in an unfamiliar town I knew I would at least be able to get a pint of decent ale from them. Moving to Northern Ireland 18 months ago would have been a lot harder had it not been for the fact that Wetherspoon pubs are dotted around the province. Without them the only place I could get a pint of cask beer would be Belfast. The food menu is varied and consistent from one place to the next, which is handy for a vegetarian as I know there are dishes I can eat. But it goes beyond that. Wetherspoon more than any other pub chain I can think of make the effort to be appealing to the full range of possible pub customers. From the early morning coffee gulpers to the lunchtime pinters to the full-on session fanatic. Its somewhere I could comfortably take both grandparents and grandchildren* and know they would be welcomed.

Aside from the community pub aspect Wetherspoon does a lot to promote good beer. They hold twice annual festivals with 50 beers from up and down the country.  When the festivals aren’t on they make an effort to support local breweries and at all times they allow people to try before they buy. They also pioneered the use of third pint glasses for sampling during beer festivals which is a great way to discover new favourite brews. Recently they’ve also been making an effort to reach beyond the borders of the UK with brewers being flown in from far flung corners to brew for their festivals.

People might bemoan the fact that as a larger company they can demand prices close to the cost of production for breweries, but they are able to take beer close to spoilage that other pubs wouldn’t touch with a bargepole because they know they can shift it. Their nationwide presence means that any beer that gets onto the seasonal list can be sure of plenty of promotion up and down the country. Being able to buy the beer for less means that they can sell it for less and if people see that they can get a pint for cheaper they’re more likely to give it a go. There’s still a huge proportion of the UK that have not even tried real ale, but if even one percent of these can be persuaded to try real ale and one percent of those (that’s 0.01% fact fans!) go on to further explore beyond the confines of mass-marketed lager brands then that surely can only be a good thing.

Other people do not like the atmosphere, describing them as “soul-less drinking barns” this may be the case with some but I’ve also found some very warm and welcoming pubs within the chain too. They also make an effort to preserve historical exteriors and convert buildings to pub use (see photo), something that should be applauded with pubs being demolished left right and centre. The lack of background music (which yes, is probably a cost saving on broadcast license) means that you can have a good conversation with your neighbour without having to shout.  There are generally plenty of tables too, how many town centre pubs/bars can boast that these days where vertical drinking has become the norm.

The Old Court House, Coleraine, a conversion to pub use.

Yes, Wetherspoon are not perfect. They are frequently understaffed but I find those staff that do work there to be well trained, professional and polite. There’s always room for improvement. I’ve had some dire pints in Wetherspoon pubs but no more so than in any other pub up and down the country. I’ve equally had some of my best drinking experiences in a Wetherspoon pub. Every year the Belfast Bridge Bar organizes a two-day coach trip around the Northern Ireland establishments to sample beers during the beer festival. This is free for participants and includes breakfast each morning too. I fully intend to go along this year too (stay tuned for the blog in November).

People are fully entitled to their opinion about Wetherspoon. CAMRA members who receive discount vouchers don’t have to use them. I don’t want to hear about your self-righteous non-use of them at the AGM or any other event.  It’s your right to choose not to frequent Wetherspoon pubs but equally it’s our right to make up our own minds without hearing all of your negativity.I for one will continue to frequent their fine establishments.

So fellow bloggers, what‘s your take on Wetherspoon?

*I’m not even a father yet.

full disclosure: I am a CAMRA member but am in no way affiliated to JD Wetherspoon