Beer of the month, July 2015

A tricky month when it comes to choosing a beer of the month. Two visits to breweries, the Thornbridge beer festival, and a handily placed farmers market whilst away camping (another handy mixed crate of beer picked up). So, on with the contenders…

Harveys Elizabethan Ale – malty and sweet, with lemon and ginger flavours. This is a very regal ale indeed and could have won in another month.

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M&S Double Hopped Citra IPA – double hoppiness means double happiness. A classic citra sweet and sour balance – this one is brewed by Oakham Ales.

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Cumbrian 5 hop – five American hops and Maris Otter barley, this is a golden wonder. Better than so many things that attempt to pass as an IPA (it’s lack of paleness would probably qualify it as an American IPA). Another that would have won in another month.

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Hawkshead NZPA – what a surprise, another hoppy monster of an ale, I am so predictable.

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However, up against all these hoppy monsters, we come to the winner, Cocoa Wonderland from Thornbridge, sampled in the sunshine at the Thornbridge beer festival, an explosion of chocolately loveliness. As with other winners, this would make a brilliant Xmas ale, full of flavours of the season. A worthy winner, especially against all of these hoppy beasts!

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Billericay Brewery & Micropub, Essex

We were camping just down the road at Barleylands for the weekend, and camping needs beer. Luckily, there is a brewery on hand to help, with a shop and “micropub” available to sell you some nectar. In this case the “micropub” has that “someone’s front room” feel about it. A few tables dotted about, a small bar, a couple of fridges, and several shelving units full of beer. And a friendly welcome too.

Sadly we didn’t have time to stop and sample a few pints, but instead we filled several boxes between us, with pretty much the full Billericay Brewery range, plus a few from neighbours Brentwood Brewery, some other London brews and a couple of Belgian fruity numbers. They have a very good selection indeed. This photo shows some of them, plus others from another shopping trip in Suffolk:-

Several beers needed to be sampled straight away, including the “Mild With No Name”:-

This only makes me think of this clip though:-

Another one to keep it local, this was a very nice golden ale:-

And then something from a little further afield, just your standard, every day, vegan lagerĀ šŸ™‚

And this, which was definitely not an IPA (and also available in Waitrose next door):-

And a few from the Billericay crew, including this nice session ale:-

And this nice golden ale:-

The Billericay Brewery is definitely recommended if you’re in the area. And you can park in the Waitrose car park and do a bit of shopping at the same time if you need to šŸ™‚

Pub of the month, July 2015 – The Blacksmith’s Arms, Loughborough

First up this month, one of the last places that we visited – Billericay Brewery & Micropub – a quirky little place that feels like someone’s front room, with lots of bottles available to buy and several beers ready to try on tap.

I bought one or two…

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In second place, on the hottest day of the year, The Marquis Wellington. After spending all day interviewing, then spending time on a train with broken air conditioning, a nice dinner and a cool pint were required. A Brazillian ale no less – appropriate for a sweltering day. Accompanied by a nice burger, it’s always a shame that we don’t have more time to stop here as we are invariably off to the theatre.

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To the winner, the rejuvenated Blacksmith’s Arms in Loughborough. Our third visit this year after we rediscovered it back in February. It was a bit of an unplanned night out, with MOFAD regulars Karon & John. A couple of nice ales and a burger topped with pulled pork and onion rings, proper home made chips and roasted cherry tomatoes. A great pub that is currently thriving.

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When catering goes wrong…

A lovely summer evening in Essex. Hundreds of people in a field. Hungry people. Waiting for dinners that they pre-ordered months ago. Identical dinners. What can go wrong?

Well, if one of your giant catering ovens breaks down, quite a lot. This is the brief tale of such an occurrence. We were at a massive camping event in the aforementioned field. On offer was that local classic, pie’n’mash. There are four constituent parts. Pie. Mash. Gravy. Peas. Easy stuff. However, if an oven breaks down, you can’t cook as many pies at a time as you would like. Queues start to build up. Tempers start to fray. People start to get shirty.Ā It’s not needed, but people like to get on their high horse and complain to already stressed staff. Those stressed staff try to placate with offers of refreshment. Most people happily accept this.

Was it worth the wait? No. The pies were poor, the mash was poor, andĀ the peas and gravy were approaching average. At least the free beer was tasty.

Whisky hilarity

A couple of amusing videos that came my way this week…

A man trying to flog a blended whisky “for the sophisticated”. In the words of Bruce, “hire a scotsman to try and give yourself some authenticity then write a script that makes him sound like a second hand car salesman anyway”. Do watch to the end, because then you’ll find out why this video will probably be taken down as I suspect they’ve not got copyright clearance for “Star Wars (Main Theme)”.

And if that wasn’t enough, here is the same man’s guide on how to drink whisky.Ā “Don’t knock it back like a cowboy”…

Free beer!

If there’s anything better than beer, it has to be free beer. As part of Beer Day Britain, I was tweeting some bits and pieces, and one of those tweets just happened to win me this impressive mini-keg of beer from Wadworth brewery. 

These have been around for a while and are a great way to enjoy your ale. A small, pressurised keg which pours a very nice pint. This one went camping in Oxford, and was enjoyed by all. #CheersBDB

In praise of TK Maxx

TJ Maxx, sometimes referred to as TJs, is an American department store chain. You probably know it better as TK Maxx, because when theĀ first European store opened in Bristol in 1994 the name was changed to TK Maxx to avoid “confusion with the established British retail chain TJ Hughes.” I’m still not sure where any confusion would have arisen, but there you go.

They are distributed around this sceptred isle, we have one in town, as well as two others nearby in Thurmaston and Leicester. If ever I’m in town, I’m usually to be found there. They sell pretty much anything they can get their hands on. Socks. Pants. T-shirts. Shirts. Trousers. Shorts. Bike locks. Paella pans. Sunglasses. Phone chargers. Headphones. SportsĀ equipment. Book ends. Pet toys. You get the picture.

My usual reason for visiting is for food (this is probably fairly obvious given the subject matter of this site). They get hold of all kinds of random stuff. Chutneys from Africa. American hot sauces. French jams. Norwegian smoked salt. Spanish paella spice mix. Italian tomato sauces in beer bottles. Himalayan salt. Here’s a quick snap of my current stock:-


It’s the kind of stuff that you have to buy when you see it, because when you go back a week later it will have gone, and you’ll probably never see it there again. All of those products have been acquired over the last 12 months or so, and have never been seen twice, with the exception of the 4 plastic spice grinders which did make a second appearance at some point.

While you are there, you can also pick up some of those other items that I mentioned earlier, e.g. a paella pan which you may have seen in an earlier post:-

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That cost about 5 quid and has been going strong for a couple of years. And that’s the other thing to note about TK Maxx. The items are almost always keenly priced, so you are always happy to take a gamble on a random South African peach chutney. If you saw it for 6 quid, you’d leave it on the shelf. For 2 quid, it’s got to be worth a try. And it will probably end up in the next batch of chutney chicken. Whilst it’s always nice to explore random places and nice little tucked away delis and farm shops, for a wide range of interesting and exotic foods, look no further than your local TK Maxx.