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 lager¬†ūüôā

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 ūüôā

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.¬†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, and 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.¬†“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 the¬†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. Sports¬†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.

Toby Carvery, Loughborough

Formerly known as the Forest Gate. The first pub I ever visited in Loughborough, all the way back in October 1992. I stayed in The Holt in my first year, which is just across the road from this establishment. The Holt is much improved from my day. Back then it was still temporary wooden accommodation, erected in 1974, with paper thin walls and a distinct Prisoner Cell Block H feel to it. A character building start to University life.

At some point, it changed its name from the Forest Gate, to just the Toby Carvery, as did most of their properties. As with most chains, you’ll know what you’re getting and what’s on the menu from before the moment you walk in. Inside it hasn’t really changed in the last 24 years. And the same can be said for the outside. I’ve only ever once seen a dog on top of the roof. How it got up and down I’ll never know, but it was definitely up there. The dog was sighted in the afternoon, not after a long session drinking inside the establishment.

First things first. The service at the bar. It is so slow. There are always staff around, mostly working the restaurant area. But it always takes ages to get served at the bar. Bar customers are very much second class citizens. I’ve seen 4 or 5 people behind it and none of them pay any heed to bar customers.

So, when you eventually get served, there’s plenty of standard stuff to choose from. They are primarily a carvery, so roast meat in a baguette or bap is the main sandwich offering, alongside a few other sandwiches, full roasts, and other related items. The accompaniment to your roast beef baguette has varied over the years, and is currently some coleslaw, a large romaine lettuce leaf, half a tomato and a few slices of cucumber. Earlier in the year, the accompaniment was a large Yorkshire pudding and a couple of roast potatoes. There was a time when the meat was pretty bad but it’s now reasonable stuff and a good portion most of the time.

Finally, the ale. There’s usually Everards Tiger (local) and a couple of other beers, such as Brakspear bitter and Pedigree or London Pride. But it is almost always badly kept. There was a period when they had some interesting and well-kept guests, but on my few recent visits they have all been terrible. It’s a situation where the people you are with are more important than the pint.

So I’m afraid there’s no MOFAD approval here. It serves a purpose for a good value sandwich and a chat. Proximity is its friend, not much else is.

The Castle Inn, Bakewell

It’s health and safety gone mad!

We were in Bakewell for the weekend, camping on the nearby (very near in fact) Bakewell Showground. It had been raining all afternoon, so we headed off to our intended pub (The Wheatsheaf) where there was an event on (which we were planning on attending). It was absolutely rammed due to the event so we decided to eat elsewhere and return later to catch up with friends.

We popped over to the Queen’s Arms, on the basis that they were dog friendly (our sometime companion Suzy Bonce, the extremely well-behaved dog was with us) but they were not serving food. A few steps away was The Castle Inn, part of Greene King’s Old English Inns chain, with a large sign outside¬†proclaiming its dog friendliness. It was pretty busy (a Friday night in the summer holidays, in a town with a few hundred extra people in it) but we located a few tables for our party of seven plus dog, and sat down. We wandered to the bar, ordered some drinks, studied the menu, and then wandered back to order some food. Then back to the bar again after discovering that there was no chicken tikka. Mrs MOFAD is a curryholic, and even after a good curry last night could not resist the temptation of a pub curry. However, this was not to be. A replacement was ordered. Back to the table. And then back to the bar to order a few more drinks. Not exactly stealthy diners (this comment will make sense shortly). A pint of Morland Best Bitter kicked off the evening, standard Greene King fare:-


Followed by a Nottingham EPA, a very pleasant pale ale:-

After some good chat, our food arrived and we all tucked in. A predictable choice for the Minister, the burger topped with pulled pork, which was fairly standard stuff, but did the job:-

Mrs MOFAD opted for chicken supreme, stuffed with tarragon and brown mushrooms,
with sea-salted-&-thyme-sautéed potatoes, roasted cherry tomatoes, peas, broccoli, sugarsnap peas and a rich red wine & tarragon sauce. This was a very nice dish indeed.


We all enjoyed a good¬†meal, with much debate about the spiciness of the beef chilli (Charliee maintains it was not spicy, other opinions were to the contrary). The plates were cleared away, and one of the bar staff even said hello to Suzy Bonce who was snoozing under the table. However, a few minutes later, one of the other staff members (who had served us all our meals in the first place) suddenly opened his eyes, and proclaimed that it was “against Health & Safety rules” for dogs to be in the carpeted area of the pub! Apparently they are only allowed in the stone floor areas.

Across the road in the Queen’s Arms, this is clearly stated as you enter the pub. Fair enough, no problem. Your rules are clear. In The Castle Inn, it is not mentioned anywhere, so this proclamation was the first we’d heard of it. Apparently we “should have been told this when we entered” so we must have sneaked in Suzy the ninja hound, who had been with us for about 90 minutes at this point without any problems. Apparently there would be a “big problem” if health & safety turned up. As Mark pointed out, let’s just hope they don’t make a special trip out to Bakewell on a Friday night. We carried on with¬†our drinks, and then moved to another table to join some other friends who had just arrived. We ordered more drinks and played a game or two of Uno.

If the dog/carpet interface is such an issue (and remember that we live in the age of the Miele C3 Cat & Dog vacuum cleaner), a couple of simple signs on the wall will solve it at a stroke.

We then wandered back to The Wheatsheaf¬†for a couple of drinks and a natter with some more friends. A good time was had by all, and the amusement of the “Health & Safety police” later gave us our team name for the next day: Team HSE!

For the odd and inconsistent behaviour, the Castle Inn is not MOFAD approved.

Hook Norton Brewery

The brewery. A great place to start the day. We were camping just down the road at Merryweather Farm camp site, just on the outskirts of Chipping Norton. Two of our number were turning up late (for the third time in a row this summer), so we had a couple of hours to spare. It was a simple decision to nip down the road to the Hook Norton brewery for a bit of a mooch about, and maybe the odd purchase or two. Or three. Or fifteen.

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After you make your way down the little narrow lane that leads to the brewery, you get to a nice little car park out the back, and then step into the visitor centre/shop/tasting room. From here you can go on brewery tours, or just wander around the little museum, or buy stuff, or any combination of these things.

As well as the obvious range of beers, there are also some nice food products, including mustards and chutneys made using Hook Norton beers as well as local honeys and jams, and some cheese, meats and pies in the fridge just off to the right of this photo. There’s also a range of clothing, bags, tankards, glasses and other souvenirs. And of course, you can taste beers at that little bar at the end, or eat food in the cafe.

Lots of interesting old stuff to nose around in the museum:-

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Outside, you may even spot some remnants of the brewing process:-

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It is a lovely looking building:-

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However, back to the shopping. You can buy most of their ales in bottles, as well as certain ones in larger volumes to take away. There are also mixed cases on offer, as well as single bottles of some of the more obscure ales that you might not have spotted out in pubs. And you even get free bottle carriers:-

With careful planning, you can leave with around 15 ales for less than ¬£30, which is not to be sniffed at. There’s something here for everyone, from a mild to an IPA, a double stout to a red rye.

A quick taste of the mild and I can confirm that it is a nice malty mild. Still lots more to try yet!

Hook Norton brewery is certainly 100% MOFAD approved!