Brentwood Brewing Company, May 2017

The next door neighbour of Calcott Hall Farm Shop (and hence I usually visit one after the other), Brentwood Brewing Company moved in to this, their third premises, during 2013. Not many breweries find themselves in an old potato barn, but this is a perfect site, with so much passing trade from the farm shop, where their beers are also on sale if the brewery is closed.

Their are tours and events on certain days, or you can just turn up and buy some bottles, like I did. The door might be locked, just ring the bell, there’s someone always lurking somewhere during opening hours.

Today I went to pick up some new bottles from their new “rebellious offspring” Elephant School Brewing. A British East India Company elephant training school was based in Brentwood and this remained an active army base as a depot for the Essex Regiment until 1959, when much of the site was redeveloped as the European headquarters of the Ford Motor Company.

The beers from this offspring are not your traditional cask ales, so there are plenty of different styles on offer, and they are always on the look out for new recipes…

Today’s haul contains:-

Sombrero – 4.5% – a burst of passion fruit and hint of mint start a fiesta in your mouth that you won’t want to stop. Tipping its wide brimmed hat to its European saison roots, its flavour transports you to Mexico for a party that lasts to the bottom of your glass.

Cheru Kol – 4.5% – a glorious embellishment of flavours brought together in this collaboration of styles from Belgium and England. The honeyed sweetness of the figs wrapped around the spicy, piney tang of the rosemary combine with the eccentricities of the Belgian yeast.

Porter in a Storm – 4.9% – for a taste that will have you singing in the rain, this rich porter showers your tastebuds with waves of chocolate, fruity and bitter with successive sips. Porter in a Storm is one to pour down your throat if you’re caught in a downpour or any time you want a great beer.

Looking forward to trying out this haul soon…

Powderkeg – Cut Loose – Happy Pils

It’s time for the third visit toThe Needle & Pin Craft Beer Club – selection box #4. The winner of the World’s Best Lager in 2016, this is a traditional pilsner pepped up with a touch of the Motueka hop from New Zealand. This gives a dry, satisfying lager with invigorating citric fruitiness.

Lager is a dirty word. It shouldn’t be, as when it is done well, it is a very pleasant drink. A tastily hopped pils, very clean, very crisp, and a hint of citrus from those hops. If your last experience of lager was some fizzy nonsense from a global megacorp, try this instead.

#RaiseAToast to Toast

Toast is an award winning beer brewed using surplus fresh bread that would otherwise be wasted. All profits go to the charity Feedback to tackle food waste. 44% of bread produced in the UK is wasted – Toast’s mission is to change that.


Toast brew with fresh, unsold loaves from bakeries and the heel ends of loaves not used by sandwich makers. They add malted barley, hops, yeast and water, and bread replaces around a third of the usual grains. They worked with Hackney Brewery in London on the recipe for the Pale Ale and have continued to refine it with their current brewer Hambleton Ales in Yorkshire, using only British hops.

In their first year, they’ve brewed with over 2 tonnes of surplus fresh bread, and their ambition is to save more than 100 tonnes of wasted bread within 3 years. To do this, they want to expand their range beyond the current Pale Ale. So they have started a crowd funding campaign to develop and brew two new beer styles – a Session IPA and a Craft Lager.


There are several levels of reward for you to choose from, starting at beer mats, moving through different sized cases of beer, prize draw entries (Grundig have moved into the refrigeration market apparently!), and lunch with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, a supporter of the project (remember not to call him Huge Furry Wishing Stool).

See more in their video:-

If you want to support them  (I have), you can raise a toast here:-

All images copyright Toast.

John Cooper’s Restaurant & Bar (JCs), December 2016

A student bar? Whatever next?

During the years 1992 to 1996, I spent a great deal of time in this particular one. It looked quite a bit different. There were certainly no craft beers back then, just Woodpecker cider and Harp lager (99p a pint!), and things like Castaway and Diamond White (that could be combined to form a “Blastaway”). I could spend a lot of time talking about the past (K “Cider”, the purple nasty, Hooch, Two Dogs, Mad Dog 20/20 and other nastiness) but this is all about now.

There was much uproar in 2016 when JCs was refurbished to wipe away any trace of the old cheap student bar that once stood here. There’s no horseshoe bar any more. There’s still a slight feel of spit and sawdust about it, and any visit to the facilities will soon remind you that you are in a Student Union bar, but they have tried to glam it up a bit with some “pre-distressed” panels.

It would be nice to show you a photo from 1992, but we didn’t have camera phones permanently attached to our fingers back then, so photographic records are sparse.

Back to the present day, and a glance through the menu shows plenty of lunch options, such as a selection of sandwiches (BLT, cheese, ham & cheese, club, steak), as well as burgers and pizzas.

Before we get on to the food (and the wait won’t be as long as the wait that we had), here is one of those aforementioned craft beers.

Nice glass, although the IPL (India Pale Lager) didn’t really live up to its name. Still the nicest lager I’ve ever drunk in 24 years of visiting this establishment though. About four times what I used to pay though!

On to the wait.

Still waiting.

We were dining in a large group (12). We were asked to pre-order. We did that. Once again, that seems to have served no purpose, as the food took ages to arrive, with big gaps between dishes coming out, a confusion over a couple of pizzas, and the longest wait was for my crispy duck pizza. I think they were trying to catch the duck.

I do like a crispy duck pizza, but so often they skimp on the duck. That was the case here, and they skimped on the hoisin too. Sprinkling the green bits over the top at the last minute doesn’t really work either, because they fall off when you pick up each slice.

It’s a student bar, so set your expectations accordingly. I think we expected too much.

Festive Cheeky Nando’s, December 2016

You can read more about Nando’s (if you want) in my review from September. Today we were out for a small group festive meal. We had booked in advance, as like most places at this time of year, it was going to be absolutely packed. And it was. The queue to order was enormous. Nando’s policy is that it’s up to each individual restaurant manager to decide if they take bookings or not, and they don’t have a central list of who does and who doesn’t, so you have to ring your local and find out.

The menu remains the same as the last visit, with the addition of two festive specials. One is Peri-Orange Wings, the normal flame-grilled Peri-Peri chicken wings, basted to your taste and topped with a sticky orange glaze.

The other is my choice for today, the Peri-Berry Burger. It’s essentially the normal burger with some sparkly berries (cranberry sauce with edible glitter). A Peri-Peri chicken breast fillet and a flame-grilled chicken thigh topped with glittery Peri-berry sauce, with baby spinach and creamy mayonnaise – all served in a “Portuguese roll” (crusty bap).

Accompanied by extra hot sauce of course. As we established last time, Nando’s sauces are not stupidly hot, so the extra hot won’t set your mouth on fire, just give you a nice hint of chilli. The sweetness of the berries works well with the heat of the chillies. This festive special was washed down with some 2M, that rarest of things, a beer from Mozambique.

A very nice festive chicken feast. Just remember to book at this time of year!

Beer of the month – September 2016 – Foreign Extra Stout by Dancing Cows

It’s another month featuring only bottled beers, and only one of them from a bar or pub. This is another “a few drinks at home” month, with a few others at a camp site with friends.

We start with a Spring + Summer Session IPA Simcoe Enigma by Cloudwater Brew Co.


A very good gentle session IPA, full of happy hoppiness but it lacks the pleasing punch of the DIPA series such as DIPA v3

Another DIPA next (you’ll know that I do like some hoppy beasts). This one is Mr. President by BrewDog, described by them as “an All-American gung-ho of a beer, the first amendment in full on, full tilt flavour. A star spangled banner of big fruit. A Cadillac of chewy toffee malt rolls down the interstate and accelerates hard into relentless bitterness, with sniper bursts of apricot, mango and pine. The Defcon I of IPAs. An all-out bedrock patriot, hell-bent on global domination.”


Piney, sweet and resinous but lacking the big hop hit you might expect from a BrewDog beast, particularly with all those big words to accompany it. Dare I say that it needs more hops?

We venture out for our next beer, a Spreadsheet Ninja Citra Pils by Weird Beard Brew Co. (who love a comedy beer name). Aromas of melon, peach and zesty citrus are met with bready malts and caramel. Similar flavours appear in this lightly sweet yet balanced lager.


Hoppy pils! Yes please! This was very nice and further proof that lager can be good and not just associated with the F word.

We now take a trip to the camp site, for a couple of campfire beers with friends.First, an Imperial 15 by Red Cat Brewing, full of coffee, molasses, chocolate and dried fruit. The balance of flavours belies its strength.

This month’s winner is Foreign Extra Stout by Dancing Cows, a deep, complex and strong stout, perfect for sipping on a cool evening outside.


Fruity flavours, roasty flavours, coffee flavours, smoothness. A very worthy winner of beer of the month. Delicious!

Cheeky Nando’s, Loughborough, September 2016

I’ve been talking a lot about chains recently, with three posts in August looking at various chains. During the visit to The Moon & Bell, I mentioned the arrival of several new chains in town. The American citizen-confusing meme machine that is Nando’s is just one of them. If you missed the BuzzFeed article I’m referring to, or you too have no idea what a cheeky Nando’s is, enlightenment awaits here…

Nando’s has a history that confuses most. Because they self-style as a chain with food from Portugal and Mozambique (a former Portugese colony), most people think they come from Portugal. Nando’s comes from South Africa (good pub quiz question that), when a Portugese born audio engineer took a friend out for some piri piri chicken at a local restaurant. In a Victor Kiam style, they liked it so much, they bought the restaurant and renamed it.

What? My Victor Kiam reference passed you by too?

It’s a chicken restaurant. Wall to wall chicken dominates the menu. Wings, quarter chicken, half a chicken, chicken thigh burger, chicken breast burger, chicken wraps, chicken pittas. Chicken everywhere. There are a couple of beef options, some salads and three different vegetarian burgers. Mostly though, a lot of chicken. Here is a chicken burger with a side salad:-

Part two of the Nando’s experience comes next. You select the peri peri sauce that you want your food marinated/cooked in. There are five levels:-

Extra mild – no added spice
Mild – lemon & herb, mango & lime – the tastiest ones
Medium – a touch of spiciness
Hot – described as “highly combustible, proceed with caution”
Extra hot – “like tackling a ferociously fiery dragon” says the blurb

A chilli sauce (peri peri is an African bird’s eye chilli) is quite a subjective thing. There are so many out there now just designed to be scorchingly hot without any real thought about flavour. I do like a good chilli. Last year I mentioned the joy of eating nachos with whole roasted chillis in the Swan “beer car park”. Very tasty. Chillis should not be about stupid heat, but warming flavours.

Nando’s think theirs are stupidly hot. They are not. They are tasty sauces with a decent hit of capsaicin to invigorate the taste buds. If chilli is not your thing, stay down at the low end of the spectrum. If you like a little warmth, go for the extra hot. It’s perfectly pleasant, and nothing like that fiery dragon in the description. Everyone in our group tried it (and I’m probably the only real chilli head) and no-one’s mouth exploded with fire.

If you are not a frequenter of the chilli, stay down the lower end of the scale, but if you like a nice chilli warmth, you can go straight in at the top without fear. It has plenty of flavour.

One other thing that you won’t find in most places, is this beer from Mozambique. It’s nothing to write home about particularly, just light and refreshing, which works with the spicy fun on the plate. If I was in charge, there would be some big hoppy beasts to take on the chilli, but it’s just lagers and a poor cider. Like I said, it’s all about the chicken.

Just time for a final story. We had just sat down after ordering (you take yourself off to the till to place your order). Our lovely waitress was bringing over some glasses (to fill up at the soft drinks machine) and some beers. A glass was balanced on a bottle. Balance was lost and the glass shattered everywhere, with some beer being spilt. No-one was hurt, apart from some waitressing pride.

We were moved to the next table whilst they cleared up, and when they brought our food out they offered us extra drinks and side dishes from the menu to make up for the incident, so we sampled some peri-salted chips (nice) and “macho peas” which are peas with mushy peas, parsley, mint and chilli.

Unexpectedly good service that, and one of the reasons why I’d be happy to go back for another cheeky Nando’s…