Thursday, 19 August 2010

Is Beer Glassware Important?

ThisIsLeicestershire has an article about women and younger drinkers getting a taste for real ale.

The main picture (above) is of a young lady drinking a pint from a good old-fashioned dimpled jug. My question is whether anybody cares about the glassware that is used today.

There are many designs of beer glassware around and with the increasing popularity of stronger craft kegged and real ales is it not time to provide punters with some attractive alternative glassware?

There are fluted glasses, goblets and chalices, tuplips and all sorts of different designs.

Please enter your poll selections in the main blog window.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Why Mafia II Nearly Killed Me

It was the monitor's fault - a massive 20inch hulking monster that nearly gave me a hernia. Ok, so I could probably buy a decent 22inch flat screen monitor for under £100 (can I? I haven't even looked) but is it worth it if my PC gaming life is coming to an end?

The original Mafia (screenshot left) had a really nice feel about it and the driving especially was great fun and SO much better (IMHO) than the arcadey driving style of the GTA games. And so I thought that Mafia II would be worth a look.

So a demo arrived the other day (screenshot to the left) and I eagerly downloaded it through the very competent Steam. As is fairly typical with PC games, it ran but my TV just displayed a black screen. The game was running (I could hear it in the background). So I guessed the TV (a new Panny) couldn't hack it. It was easier (so I thought) to move my old monitor to where my PC is now. And that's when I nearly got a hernia. But the game worked fine. In fact a very respectable 50fps for a lowly Pentium overclocked to 3GHz and with a 2 year old ATI HD4800 graphics card, all running through the ancient XP. (Note:- framerate was only 40fps through Vista).

So the game played great, with demo-time-hacked et al and with what looks like a great driving engine. But will I buy the full game? Probably not; unless I move my PC back to where it belongs (rather than being next to the TV) OR I shell out some dosh for a decent monitor...

Monday, 2 August 2010

GBBF Friday Competition - Name these 9 Bottled Beers

This competition is for 1 person to win the following 2 tickets for Friday (6th August) at the GBBF. The tickets are 1x FRIDAY NON-MEMBER and 1x FRIDAY 1:30 TASTING NON-MEMBER. Please read ALL of the rules.

1. Accurately name the breweries who make the 9 pictured beers.
2. Accurately name the 9 pictured beers. If the name is preceeded by the brewery name you don't have to include the brewery name. If a beer name is an abbreviation, I want the abbreviation.
3. As a tie breaker you must tell me the total (IE cumulative) ABV of the 9 pictured beers. I know some of these beers will have a varying ABV. The total I want is for the 9 beers that I have in my posession.
4. My decision is final; no correspondence will be entered into; if I die before the competition closes there is no prize...etc...etc...etc
5. Email your entry to; please include name,address,telephone and/or mobile numbers (these details will be deleted from my computer after the winner has been selected and contacted)
6. One entry per person and no duplicate sender email addresses will be allowed (sorry!); if multiple entries are sent I will keep the first one and bin the rest
7. CLOSING DATE/TIME IS THURSDAY 5th AUGUST 08:59 BST. Any entries received after that time (as displayed by the "date" attribute of the received email) will be binned; no allowance will be made by me for slow email systems etc...etc...
8. Winner to be notified on Thursday when we will arrange prize handover; winner will also be identified in the blog.

Good luck!

Friday, 25 June 2010

England vs. Germany. The Fitness Factor.

I think there is one aspect of Sunday's game which will have a critical affect on the outcome. And its all about fitness. Here are the relevant facts:-
  1. The ground is at Bloemfontein. This is 4,600 ft above sea level;
  2. Bloemfontein average day-time temperature is 17degC; the forecast for Sunday is a sunny 21degC;
  3. the average age of Germany's national team is 25 years with 12 players under the age of 25; the average age of England's national team is 28 with 5 players in the squad under 25.
There are some key players in the England team whose fitness is a big question for Sunday. First, James Milner, whose cross provided England's second goal of the campaign on Wednesday afternoon, is still recovering from a virus and is unlikely to last more than 60 minutes. Gareth Barry, whose defensive midfield duties will also be important, is also trying to attain match fitness. I suggest we won't see very much of him in the attacking half of the pitch on Sunday. Then there's the biggest question mark yet - Wayne Rooney. He just hasn't looked right in the last 3 games. Whether this is an injury, a lack of confidence, a lack of a willingness to get stuck in (due to the perceived risk of being sent off) or just a lack of general fitness, I have no idea. Rooney's lack of form is the most disappointing aspect of England's performances to date in South Africa.

Hence, whatever happens in the rest of the game, I envisage that the last quarter will belong to Germany purely because they will have a massive fitness advantage over England.

Not wishing to sound all doom-and-gloom, I believe England can beat Germany and the good news is that Germany knows this. Here's my "dream" scenario:-
  1. England go all out for a first half lead; ideally 2-0;
  2. Rooney is allowed off his leash; even if he is red-carded hopefully it will be after a goal and I'd rather see a Rooney who tears Germany apart for 30 minutes compared with his previous performances;
  3. England under siege in the last quarter of the game; substitutes used MUST be able to either win and/or hold the ball in this last stage of the game
  4. Final score 2-1 or 1-0
You will notice that I haven't mentioned penalties. That was deliberate. The less these are talked about the better. I don't want to see penalties. I want to see England go for a win in 90 minutes, or as I have suggested, in the first 45 minutes when they will be most able to match the fitness levels of the German team.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Copenhagen Carlsberg Free Zones - Part II

BrewPub was actually the first pub we went to (Mikkeller was shut unfortunately). It's just off the start of the main shopping drag (Stroget) and, in my view, definately a better place to be (that's compared to shopping, not Mikkeller). It was very quiet (lunchtime Monday) but we sat in the courtyard so we could catch the sun's rays (when they decided to shine). Despite nobody being there the barperson was of the stroppy variety and when we scanned the drinks menu she decided to wander off.

We tried the William Wallace "Skotsk" and the Cole Porter. The 80/- ale was just ok; at 4.5% it was quite light bodied with a low carbination. Seemed a bit dull to me. Taste was sweet and sour malt with a bit of fruit and smoke.
The Cole Porter was much more to my liking. At 5.2% is was nice and black, thinnish with a tan head. Malted and smokey and with some liquorice - reminded me of cough mixture. Strange how some things you hated as a kid can be so warm and nice when you're older.

We visited Norrebro Bryghus on a rather wet and windy day after a couple of hours in the National Gallery of Denmark. Cunningly this was about 10mins (ok 15) from Norrebro but we approached it with fingers crossed (that is was open). Again, on entry the place was pretty dead. No brewing was taking place so straight to the beer menu. We sampled the following over a rather extended lunch (well, the weather was poor):-
  • Stuykman Wit. A 5.3% wheat beer. Usual refreshing fair - great after a museum slog;
  • Pacific Summer Ale. A 5.6% golden/blond. Again great refreshing peach and elderflower;
  • Catenillo (American) IPA (5.7%).
  • Mocha Porter (5.5%). I'm not a great fan of coffee flavoured beers but, as they say, you've gotta give them a go. Toffee, chocolate and coffee, finishing with a cold coffee. Not my cup of tea;
  • Imperial Porter (Cabernet barrel 9%). A nice rich porter with oaky wine overtones; a great end to a great lunch.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Copenhagen Carlsberg Free Zones - Part I

Let's get the money bit out of the way first. Copenhagen, like most of Scandinavia, is not a cheap place for us Brits. The average cost of a (small*) half pint is about £4. But we're not talking about your average Carlsberg swill here. Oh no, we're talking about the new wave of small craft brewers that have invaded Northern Europe in the last few years, and specifically in this blog, in Copenhagen.

We were travelling through Copenhagen and so hastily planned a visit to 3 establishments, Mikkeller Bar, BrewPub and Norrebro Bryghus

Right, on to the serious stuff. Mikkeller just happened to be a couple of minutes from our hotel (excellent planning Mike!) which itself is 5 minutes from the Central Station. It's in the red-light district which is supposed to be cleaning itself up. But it's still pretty grim. The strange thing to me is how ordinary people go about their normal lives with this around them. But safe enough provided you're not on your own. The bar itself can be easily missed as it's in a basement. But once inside you can relax. Nice and clean, if minimally decked out. This is a beer geek's paradise as was evidenced by the number of beards and laptops. There are 6 tables and seating around the bar and one wall. The only food on offer was, rather oddly, Tyrrell's crisps, but at £4 a packet I saved my money for the beer, of-course.Loads of beers on draft (how do they keep them?!*). Beer#1 was the Vesterbro Pilsner. Well you've got to start somewhere and rather than jump straight in at the heavy end I was in need of travelling refreshment and this hit the spot! Beer#2 My partner had the Vesterbro Wit (wheat beer) which, again, was extremely refreshing with a very (overwhelming?) lychee flavour. But she loved it.

Suitably refreshed, straight onto the big boys. Beer#3. Victoria. An 8.8% porter. Well, despite the pleasure of Beer#4, this was my favourite of the night. Not too sweet, coffee and chocolate and I also had fruit. Anne liked this (no coal-tar in this porter!) It's a shame she still prefers porters in Christmas puddings though!

Finally, Beer#4 - George. A 12.12% super-heavyweight imperial stout. I don't know if a dreamed this or not but the "George" is of the Foreman variety and 12.12% is equivalent to 12 stones and 12 pounds which was one of his starting fight weights. But I don't care and neither should you. Full-bodied, smooth and a cure for the common-cold (well, not quite, but it postponed mine for at least 24 hours). It had a very low carbination which I don't mind at all, velvet oil with a dark brown head. I struggled a bit with the taste (which is why I preferred Victoria) but the usual suspects applied, albeit with little fruitiness. Nectar.

So a great start, and I even managed to squeeze a second visit to Mikkeller the following day. A review of the other 2 "Carlsberg Free Zones" later...

Small. Half a pint is 28.4cl. A "half" in Europe is normally 25cl hence the "small" half. Note that some pubs chose to serve their beers in 20cl measures or "super-small" to you and me.

How do they keep them?! If any bright spark can summarise how these beers are different from cask-conditioned stuff I'd like to know. One obvious difference to me is that they are kept and served cooler than cask beer. Does that help keep them longer? Answers on a post card to...

Sunday, 25 April 2010

In Praise Of Hardware Series... Cheap Satellite Navigation

A gadget that has become ubiquitous over the last decade is the Satellite Navigation device or Sat Nav. Having reached a price level whereby every car driver in the UK now appears to own one, I'm going to have a quick look at what makes this gadget more useful than just for navigating by car.

Many Sat Navs, even the cheap ones, have a "walking" mode. This is fine if the default set of instsalled maps include all public footpaths but this isn't the case. Note that I'm restricting this discussion to cheap Sat Navs. I'm aware that there are many other GPS enabled devices out there for handling car and on-foot navigation but their cost of ownership, in my opinion, is high enough to make them true luxury devices.

So, the good old cheapo Sat Nav. Ebuyer is a good starting point for value models. If you pick a model carefully, it can be a fairly simple task to then install additional software (after all this is just a computer) and a useful example with OS maps is Memory-Map.

The final part of the jigsaw is an external battery pack. Value Sat Navs have a serious flaw when it comes to being used on foot and that is their battery is not designed for out-of-car use. An external power supply from somebody like Portable Power Supplies will provide a reliable backup. An example of this kind of device is shown in the main picture.

So a value Sat Nav does its job in the car and can easily double-up as an emergency on-foot location finding device. Only time will tell if these simple and cheap GPS devices will be superceded by bloated multi-function devices but until then they are an invaluable asset for the road - and footpath - roaming punter.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Like Beer? Vote Lib Dem

Well do you need a better reason? This letter sent to local CAMRA from the Surrey Heath Liberal Democrat candidate:

RE: Beer Drinkers and Pub Goers Charter

Thank you very much for writing to me about the CAMRA campaign for real ale, real pubs and consumer rights.

I am proud to be a signatory to the charter and to help bring attention to the much-needed support required for well-run community pubs, local brewers and consumer rights which all contribute to community life and boost the local economy.

Well-run pubs are important to tackling alcohol misuse, they are not part of the problem. Government policies, such as continually raising duty on beer and refusing to reform the beer tie, have led to a situation in which more than 5 pubs a day are said to be closing. It is hugely important that we stand up for the pub industry during these difficult times.

Liberal Democrats will continue to push for fairer alcohol taxation. We believe it should be levied in such as way to discourage irresponsible drinking but this should not be done at the cost of penalising responsible drinkers and hurting local industries.

Thank you once again for taking the time to contact me on this important matter. If you require any further information or assistance with this or any other issue, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Yours sincerely

Alan Hilliar
Mr Alan Hilliar
Parliamentary Candidate
Surrey Heath Liberal Democrats

Aldershot Road
Guildford Surrey GU12 6PD

PS. The image comes from, rather appropriately,

Friday, 16 April 2010

In Praise Of Hardware Series... The Multifuntion Printer

The introduction of the new Apple iPad, which we shall look at in a future Blog post, reminds me of another multifuntion device - the All-in-one Printer (or AIO for short). A typical such device is shown above.

An AIO typically perform 3 functions: printing, copying and scanning. The most useful also includes wirefree connectivity. This is a multifuntion device which has peaked in terms of usefulness, ease of use, size and last but not least, price. I picked one of these devices up from Argos the other month for £35. What a bargain!

You'll probably think this is one of the most boring devices around. And you'd be correct. I vowed never to buy a scanner just because it would be used once a year, if that; it would have been a complete waste of space. But the AIO solves that problem straight away. Some of the AIOs have additional facilities like faxing and email. Some have card readers which allow instant preview and print of card images. But in general the add-ons are few and far between and have never proved that popular.

So the multifunction printer is a prime example of a multi-funtion-optimised peripheral that fits into the home and workplace without being noticed because it does the jobs it's designed to do and no more.

In future blog posts we'll look at devices that haven't quite got the balance of functionality over usefulness right.