Sunday, November 13, 2011

Off To London

As many of my friends know, I have been going to London on an annual basis for many years. I came close to missing a trip this year but I recently found a deal. It also confused me, and my friends can tell you that is so easy to do. US Airways put out an e-saver list on Wednesday morning. They offer flights to selected cities at a discount. They recently had flights to London that were good (about $550RT, less taxes and fees) if you wanted to go within the short time period permitted. I chose not to take the saver and did what I always do. I waited them out. If you are flexible (I am 58 so not so much anymore) you can catch a real deal. As my work schedule is not very restrictive I can leave any time I desire. I plan months ahead and try not to get desperate. They placed some really low fares on their schedule but for a limited and select period of days. I am landing at Gatwick on 1 December for five days. My ticket is $448 and with taxes and fees it comes to $630. I paid $610 for my March 2010 trip.

Sorry to say that I was not able to go at the beginning of October or I would have been able to drink some of Matt Cole’s beer that he brewed at the Shepherd Neame Brewery in Faversham, Kent. He is head brewer at the Fat Heads Brewery in Cleveland and a Pittsburgher. He also studied brewing in England some years ago. It would have been a blast to drink his beer that he made in England, in England.

It looks like I will miss out on drinking a Pittsburgh beer(s) in London during my trip. In a pleasant surprise I found out that East End Brewery (Scott Smith) sent Black Strap Stout and Big Hop IPA. Shelton Brothers recently sent a limited quantity over but looks as though it will be gone by the time I walk into the Cask Pub and Kitchen in Pimlico. Scott got positive feedback from London via Twitter so this may give him and the brothers reason to send more over. But lads, please check with my schedule first!

So yes, these are exciting days. Unexpected cheap flight to London with a chance to drink some local brews there. Ok, so the local beer will not happen. But who knows what I will find when I land? I will be blogging from my IPAD whenever I find a free wifi spot. So after December 1st keep checking my blog every minute of every day for updates. (my site)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Wenlock Arms Pub

Steve Barnes and Will Williams bought the pub in 1994 after securing a loan from A Brewing. They made money and repaid the loan to make the Wenlock Arms a free house. That enabled the to buy the beers they wanted and did a wonderful job of building a strong and loyal customer base. I would like to think that I was one of them. My annual London holiday would not be complete without a visit to one of London’s earliest real ale havens. I saw many pubs in London offering two or three real ales at best but the WA had a nice array early on. I was able to try exciting beers from across England and until recent years this was very rare for London.

Planning approval for five flats with commercial space one the ground floor. Times change and nothing lasts forever it seems. There is a movement on to save the pub but can this happen? Just have somebody buy it and run it for 17 years like Steve and Will have done. It’s that easy. Well, maybe not. Maybe that’s why it is for sale? And who should blame Steve and Will for wanting to retire with something to show for all that they have done for almost two decades of their lives? All the chatter on the web is about saving the Wenlock Arms. Ha sit occurred to anyone to give thanks?

I felt a loss when I first found out the Arms was closing but I took the time to reflect the good times I had there and the great beers available to me. It became one of my destination pubs and one that I told others to seek out. I may never see Will or Steve when I get back over but should I have the opportunity I would like to say two words to them: Thank You. Thank you for giving me years of memories and the chance to meet some interesting people. A pub with dogs aloud and Eddy the Fat Controller. Yes, I am happy that I was able to be a part of all that for all these years. Thank you Steve. Thank you Will.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Good Pub Guide

It seems there is a good pub guide that may have good bad. Well, some people seem to be in disarray with a change in how entries are placed within the guide.

Pubs to be entered were anonymously inspected by the editor, deputy editor, or both prior to entry. My 1996 edition listed Alisdair Aird, editor; Fiona May, deputy editor, Robert Unsworth, research officer and Karen Fick, editorial research. Alisdair and Fiona are listed on the current cover but Fiona appears to be married now.

The article in the Daily Mail suggests that publicans can gain entry to the guide (new for the 2012 edition) by supplying cash. At most this could be misleading and appear to be unethical. It is not illegal. There are two ways to look at guides. I post a page on my site for bars in the South Side (of Pittsburgh, Pa.).

I note that it is not a review and only a directory. I do not accept advertizing or cash, although I have never been offered any. Perhaps it is a testament to the greatness of my post? All the work is mine and I write what I want. CAMRA puts out a Good Beer Guide that lists pubs that must adhere to one basic policy note that the Pub Guide does not require: serving of real ale is a must. Any publication can set its own rules as long as it makes them clear to the people buying the publication.

What the Good Pub Guide is doing is not advertizing. But is does seem to be moving away from its original goal of supplying first hand information about pubs. The 2012 issue will do what my site does; help you find a pub. It will no longer guarantee a “good” pub as a “good” pub that has not paid may be excluded but a “bad” pub will be included. As long as you know money has been given for entry, are you fine with the book? Would you buy it for its intended purpose implied by the title? What about the Good Movie Review or Good Food Restaurants? Has the guide’s credibility been tarnished? Only you can decide.

One more thing: if a pub is going to pay, should the pub have something to say about content? Do pubcos pay more for greater control of content and editorial criticisms? When does the guide loose all control? Having money coming in to this can be a game changer.


Good Beer Guide from CAMRA

Good London Guide from me

Monday, September 19, 2011

Matured Cask Ale at Piper's Pub

I popped into Piper’s Pub tonight (19 September 2011) for a bite to eat and the cask ales. Well, a bite to eat was almost secondary to the beer but it was a good drizzly night for Sheppard’s Pie. My last beer was my favorite: Rivertowne Brown Eyed Finley. This beer on cask tonight was the best example to define the difference between matured beer and off beer. A beer that is off has a sour taste, or flavors other than malt: butterscotch, cardboard, whatever. Finley was matured at Piper’s in the cask cellar and although as it was a bit sour it was not off.

As I took my first sip I was instantly stopped. What was this I was drinking? Was it bad? No! It was what English Brown Ale was meant to taste like. I told Hart, the bartender about my experience and he said: “you are an English Brown Ale drinker”. Decades of drinking in England paid off.

In reading what brown ale once was in England, I seldom found any to comply with the old descriptions: lactic sourness (unlike bitterness). This was not Newcastle. It had a pronounced, yet pleasant tang that gave the beer an exciting difference to ordinary bitter or IPA. It was a textbook example of authentic English Brown Ale of days far gone. The Finley did not start out this was but as it sat in a cask with a soft spile, it oxidized over time. This isi one reason caskbeer can’t sit forever like keg beer. A spile is a wood peg driven into cask to permit carbon dioxide gas to escape, or to stop it. As this beer matured over time it did have a slight, but noticeable tang to it. To be sure, this was not a bad flavor but one that should be relished, as I did tonight. It gave the beer a nice mouth feel and excited my taste buds. It was though my buds were having sex with beer.

Original porters (an off-shoot of brown ale) were matured in the same manner causing a lactic sourness to differentiate it from other beers of the day. As a young beer, brown would be void of any real flavor until it matured. Sadly, in today’s market the maturity would be short lived. The Finley sitting in a cask for nine days came to adulthood this night. I hope it comes back to Piper’s cellar, as the way it was conditioned was the prime example as how a beer should be handled. Thank you Drew and the cellar men (and to Hart) who know how to handle real beer. What a shining example of well-made beer handled properly by people who know proper beer.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

London Bus Live Departure Times

I updated this on my Good-London-Guide as follows:

Transport for London has a new (albeit beta version) page that allows one to see the arrival time of your next bus at ANY stop in London. It is located here:, and some stops may be inaccurate. It is to be officially released by TfL in the fall of 2011. The site also shows you recently viewed stop by you and allows you to add your favorites so you can see without re-entering locations each time.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Pot Plants - Not What You Think

Imagine my surprise when I saw the headline in The Telegraph on 20 August 2011: Pot plants in firing line as Goldman Sachs cuts cost. Why would a company allow such a thing to happen? Isn’t this illegal? Would the Met Police strike force come charging in once phone hacking becomes old news? If you are wondering why my eyes are bulging out and my mouth is dropped open, please let me explain.

In the American vernacular, a pot plant is a “pot plant”, if you know what I mean. It is something to be cultivated, processed and then smoked, if you know what I mean. They are usually kept out of sight of law enforcement and prospective clients. Had the story appeared in American news it would have read: Potted plants in firing line as Goldman Sachs cuts cost. These are what we see as plants placed in pots to grow and brighten up rooms. Not something the Crown Prosecution would be concerned with.

It is interesting that we both use the same alphabet and yet assemble them into words that have different meanings applied. Some examples: cash resister – till, cookie – biscuit, elevator – lift, going drinking – gone down to the pub. You know what I mean!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Travel Writers & Bloggers

Just a note to all you other travel writers and bloggers out there. I have a small bone to pick with you guys. In as much as the Internet is replete with false information I have also noted that there is an abundance of misleading and omitted information. My day job, which pays my bar tab, requires me to keep accurate information. A key factor in this is the date stamp on all files, documents and printed matter. The month-day-year (or day-month-year to the Brits) is essential and always foremost in my daily routine. I see many websites that lack dates and the most disturbing omission is always the missing year. When I find information on trade shows, conferences or events, the lack of a full date confuses me (easily done) and I don't know if the event is past or up-coming. So please, all you writers out there, please ad a full date when posting something that has an expiration date.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

St. Pancras Hotel London

St. Pancras is set to reopen next month and BBC has presented this slide show that illustrates the beautiful restoration of the building. When thinking about how life was like in the old days it can be eye opening to read how things were done differently then. The lady's smoking room at St. Pancras is one such example. The fact that people were able to smoke in doors as a right is so foreign these days. Actually it was probably deem a privilege granted by men that women were able to smoke at all. See the show on the BBC site.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

London Ambulance Concern

The BBC reported on a London Ambulance crew that refused to take an ill woman to hospital. She died later that day. This should be a concern for all who live in London and I think a formal inquest should be considered. This is what I get as I interpret the story: A crew refused to take her because she soiled herself. She was stricken with sickle cell anemia and could not move. A second crew was called and took her to hospital.

Here are questions that need to be answered. Why was the first crew allowed to not take the woman? If you are seriously ill and can’t walk what procedures are in place by LAS that permits a crew to deny services? How did the second crew decide to transport? Where there changes in the woman’s condition? I have to think that all communications between the landlady who called and all radio transmissions are recorded. Are they to be made public? And what of the woman’s family? Do they not deserve to know why LAS preformed the way they did? At any time was a supervisor called or monitored the situation?

I find this entire situation upsetting and you should too. The government has put in place a program to protect the public. The police, fire and ambulance service are trained to respond to situations to prevent death and destruction. Should something go wrong, an investigation needs to be started. In this case one is by LAS but a person has died and an independent investigation may be in order. Maybe I am over reacting but this could have happed to anyone and everyone should believe that those working to protect are doing so.