Martin’s 2015 in Review

La Belle de Thongue
La Belle de Thongue

Hullo there ale fans! How are you doing? Had a nice winterval? Before I get going reviewing any more interesting beers, I thought I’d just share a little about the year that’s just passed.

A personal highlight of mine has been going to France in the summer. I’m lucky enough to have family living out there in Espondeilhan who invited me out for a week and, since I’d just left employment, it was a good time to take in some French culture. It was an even better time to try some French beers, though! There’s a wee brewery in the village, called ‘La Belle de Thongue‘ [pictured] that we went in. I tried three of their beers [which was all they did, apart from a Christmas one], ‘Blanche’ [5.8%], ‘Blonde’ [6.0%] and ‘Ambree’ [5.8%]. The first two had refreshing creamy lemon carries [a la Vedett White and summery saisons], whilst the third reminded me of a fresh brown ale, not entirely dissimilar to Newcastle Brown [and that’s one I like – don’t hate!]. They’re genuinely of a better-than-average quality, very tasty and, above all, perfect in the Languedoc heat. After the brewery trip we visited Wanagaine, a newer addition to the town, a cafe-restaurant-pub which is only a hundred metres from the brewery and the perfect place to sit and down enjoy more of these Belle beers, especially during a ‘tapas fete’ they had on one night. I’m still there somewhere, enjoying all that laid back beauty…

Some of the worst news this year has been the massive flooding across parts of the country, and my thoughts continue to be with those affected. We’re fortunate here in Morecambe that power cuts were the worst of it, but just down the road in Lancaster there has been a lot of flood damage. It damaged so much of the town, including a variety of different businesses. Two of my favourite ever pubs [in my top five, surely] have been badly hit [that’s The George and Dragon and The Bobbin], along with music hot spots The Yorkshire House, The Stonewell Tavern and The Juke Joint along with, love it or loathe it, one of the go-to meeting spots The Green Ayre, of Wetherspoons ownership. I know the landlord of The George and Dragon closely [he’s a lovely chappy] and helped him a little bit in clearing out his cellar. The damage could be sickening to look at, and the effect on earnings very depressing [it’s really not a high-rolling industry. You have to make it look and feel like a party, but it’s bloody hard work and can be a thankless task], but in characteristic fashion, he found positives to take from it [i.e. that the cellar needed a clear out anyway] and there has been encouraging support from locals. In fact, he’s already got ale back on hand pull, having only had to rely on bottles for a small while, so passion finds a way. The places that are open in Lancaster are doing a good job in that respect, making do with what they can and continuing to serve the pub-going folk in the area. I raise my glass to them all and encourage the public not to assume that places will be closed – your local businesses are very resourceful! And speaking of service – this story of what one local landlord has done for the historic city is really touching.

In terms of beers, the most disappointing beer I’ve had this year is Odell Footprint [to be reviewed later]. I paid a lot of money for it and have heard that other people really enjoyed it, but the actual tasting of it was worse than underwhelming… On the other end of the spectrum though, I had my favourite IPA of the year, and definitely one of the all-time greats. You’ll never guess where it came from either. Go on, have a go. No. Haha, no, not there either – have another go. Definitely not there! No, it was actually Sweden! Yes, Gotlands Bryggeri brew a wonderful IPA that I’ll review at some point in the future. They also do a Pils and a pale, which I looked at thinking ‘ok, I was surprised by the IPA, but that Pils will be boring, and the pale’ll be lame’. Not a word of it. Both also brilliant. My mouth’s watering just thinking about them, so I’ll either stop that, or start buying more. Come on pay day!

Christmas day itself was entirely beerless [in terms of presents, that is!]. I know Paul got some, but on the twenty-fifth I got something I enjoy about as much as beer – a Beatles book! On a side note, I really enjoyed it, and if you’re a Beatles fan, or know someone who is, then it’s well worth a look. It taught me a lot, entertainment me too and is suitable for a wide age range. Luckily, as well as reading material, a friend of mine who couldn’t get his present to me until a few days later had bought me beer, so I ended up with two Christmases really. He got me three groovy Spanish ales, and if you want to read about them then watch this space! I’ve already tried the one brewed with rosemary and – wow – I’ve never had anything like it before!

Looking ahead, there’s both foreboding signs, and bright hope. My favourite pub in the world, that happens to be my local, is closing at the end of January. Yes, the Ranch House will be turned into another soulless Brewer’s Fayre type thing, of which we already have at least two in town, and another candle of individuality is to be stamped out for little other reason than corporate blindness. I urge you, wherever you are in the world, to try and come down and sample the atmosphere and wares of a wonderfully English pub, a true heart of the community, with a commitment to quality and affordability, before it closes on the 31st. The excellent news is that the landlord will be opening up a new place on Regent Road, not too far from The Ranch, so let’s look forward. Also, if you’ve already been to The Ranch and want to take part in commemorating its glory, there are opportunities via the memories page on Facebook, and via photo sessions happening in the pub.

Lastly, I want to say that there are a few times a year where doubtlessly well-intentioned charities try to, whether strongly or not, demonise drinkers. Events such as Cancer Research‘s ‘Dryathlon‘ [that calls drinking a sin in its ad] and Macmillan Cancer Support‘s ‘Go Sober for October‘ [that has called sobriety ‘heroic’] aren’t bad ideas for gathering money for charity, but often use judgemental language, as I’ve pointed out. Helping out charities is great, but so is helping local businesses. Thusly, I want to spread the word about Tryanuary. If you like a drink, or you want to participate in a local team, or you like watching sport, setting up new societies or whatever, then try your local pub, which probably has a lot of events on that you don’t even need to drink to participate in. Also, I remember many times, particularly at good community hub pubs [like all the ones mentioned in this post and beyond], where landlords go way beyond merely putting a charity collection box on the bar, and host well-structured nights – sometimes putting personal pride on the line to raise a little extra cash – in order to help causes close to their heart. Is it fair that these charities should now use expensive marketing campaigns to, probably inadvertently, cause already struggling business more woes, based on the fact they sell booze? No.


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