• Frocester Beer Festival 2017 – The Review!

    Thank you to the organisers of Frocester Beer Festival for another excellent weekend of boozy entertainment. We’ll gloss over the decision to replace glass pint pots with plastic (please, never again) and we won’t dwell on the choice of closing band*, simply being grateful that the problem was dealt with.

    Instead we’ll remember the perfect Saturday drinking weather – warm and sunny but with enough passing light clouds to avoid fried skin – and the greatest ever line up of beers.

    The highlight of the day was a setting sun, casting a pink and orange glow across Gloucestershire’s gently rolling hills, which prompted festival-goers to fold their beer lists into paper planes and launch them into the colourful sky, creating a silhouetted display of a hundred swooping, dipping and crashing aircraft. All this to a background of fiddle and banjo folk and the happy chatter of beer-talk.

    For the second year running Rich had better things to do** so again the task of picking out the festival’s best beers fell to me, aided as always by my drinking pals…

    Frocester Beer Festival 2017: Five Best Beers

    Anarchy, Smoke Bomb, 3.9%
    Smoked beers divided our group between me (I like them) and everyone else (not fans). They’re not easy to get right, but this pint was mightily impressive. Dark, but not heavy, with a fresh grainy sweetness and enough smoke to be always present without killing the rest of the flavours.

    Marble, Frazzle Rock, 5.9%
    One drinker in our group, Rory, decided to work his way through every porter and stout at the festival.*** For most of the day Blue Monkey’s Guerilla Special (a chocolate amaretto stout) was top choice until he noticed he’d missed out an entire section of the drinks list that included a smoked porter from Marble.**** It instantly had everyone purring with admiration: a thick, creamy beast with lovely chocolate flavours and such a subtle lick of smoke that they all decided smoky beers aren’t so bad after all. Good work, Rory.

    Roosters Rockefeller, 4.4%
    This Yorkshire booze wasn’t even on the list, only showing up as a last minute substitute for a failed cask. And what a bonus booze it turned out to be – an easy drinking pale ale that was gratefully guzzled at a time when the palette began to get a little weary. My even wearier tasting notes describe it as having ‘an unusual fruit lipsalve flavour’ which I’m certain was meant to be a compliment.

    Woodforde, Once Bittern, 4%
    Frocester’s very English Cotswold cricket ground setting demands at least one very traditional English style beer, and Norfolk’s Woodforde provided the best of these. A malt forward brown booze, sweet on the tongue, with floral and nutty notes mingling with the hedgerow hop flavours. Owzat!

    Cronx, Nektar, 4.5%
    One of the great things about Frocester’s beer menu is the huge number of boozes from breweries I’ve not even heard of. Cronx was one of them and I was mightily impressed with their pale ale. That menu correctly described it as possessing blackcurrant favours and aromas which were presented in a modern, fresh and juicy kind of way, with soft malt and a spicy finish to complete the piece.

    camping at frocester cricket club

    My tent, pitched next to the cricket ground. After 20 years of service, and much patching up, it finally broke beyond repair while taking it down. A splendid innings.

    *Guitar noodly, misery-laden songs with an Eddie Vedder impersonator on vocals. Perfectly acceptable in a dingy bar; totally wrong for beer-swilling revellers desperate for something to dance to. They soon exited stage left and were replaced by a mix tape.

    **Erect a polytunnel, a chore that elicited much swearing, no doubt including phrases that started “If only…” and ended “…beer festival instead.”

    ***When finished he switched to the cider menu. None were worthy of a mention.

    ****I made an instant beeline for Marble, one of my favourite breweries, starting the day with their excellent Manchester Bitter… but we’re not allowing two beers from the same brewery in this top five.

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  • Review: The Mini Polytunnel

    We often find ourselves drooling over the numerous polytunnels that can be found dotted over our allotment site, and dream of owning our very own to grow fruity exotica and hothouse veggies (and to maybe fill with the junk that we can’t fit in our shed). As luck would have it, First Tunnels recently contacted us and offered up one of their rather natty ‘mini tunnels’ to test. We put our name down for a 10 ft x 4 ft tunnel, which arrived promptly after ordering.

    After waiting for the summertime rain to subside (approx three weeks after receiving the tunnel) we finally got round to hauling the constituent parts over to the allotment for assembly. And here are our thoughts…

    You’ll want to enlist a friend to help put this polytunnel together and set aside at least half a day, as it’s deceptively DIY intensive: holes need to be drilled, wood needs to be cut to length, screws need to be lost in the long grass, swears need to be bellowed. We would also heartily recommend reading the instructions first* before heading off down the allotment as you’ll need a few tools at hand to do the job. A cordless drill is a must; you’ll need a saw for cutting the timber to length, a big old hammer, and a heavy duty stapler for fastening the cover into position.

    The frame fits together relatively easily and is held firm by some of the BIGGEST nails you have EVER seen**, coupled with four sturdy corner brackets that are bolted onto the joists. The biggest challenge was covering the frame with the poly sheet – it requires a certain amount of skill to keep the cover taut whilst stapling it to the joists and adding the retaining batons. Tying up the end sections in a neat fashion was also particularly fraught; an aptitude for wrapping Christmas presents would come in very handy during this stage of proceedings. Sadly, it’s a skill we lack, hence the rather shoddy looking result pictured below. In our defence – it was getting dark and was nearly tea time***, so we rushed it a bit.

    When fully constructed, our mini poly tunnel stood firm and proud and glistened magnificently in the fading sunlight. It’s a pretty weighty unit, so hopefully it’ll be able to repel the cross winds**** that tend to whip through our allotment. We’ve often watched***** fellow allotment holders’ compost bins take flight and crash through other peoples plots, but we’re counting on our tunnel to remain steadfast.

    We are slightly apprehensive on the amount of ventilation that the tunnel will be able to provide – there are fold down legs that the unit can stand on for heat relief during hot spells – but we’ll have to wait until next year to test this out properly. For now, our tunnel is being used to house prematurely harvested pumpkins that were rescued from our mildewy pumpkin patch, and we can report that they are ‘orange-ing off’ nicely. Next year we will be stuffing our tunnel with hot chillies and maybe a melon or too, but for now, so far, so good…

    *An unnatural act which goes against all our principles.

    ** See top picture, top right. Admittedly not the best indicator of scale. For all you know, I might have minuscule, Trump-esque hands that make tiny nails look MASSIVE.

    *** Sausage, chips, beans.

    **** and we’re not talking about the old chap on the allotment who bugles the ‘Reveille through his bum cheeks every time he bends over to to tend his onion sets.

    ***** Watched, laughed, taken photos, then retrieved.


    Our poly tunnel was supplied by First Tunnels.
    Price: from £90

    Go here for more info


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  • Great Newsome: the family brewery that grows its own barley

    Great Newsome Brewery is a family run business located on the East Yorkshire coast near Hull. The brewery’s farm home has been managed by four generations of the same family and produces the barley that goes into their excellent beer. I’ve been guzzling their beers and have picked out my favourites from their range, but first I caught up with family member Matthew Hodgson (who, according to the brewery’s website, ‘cracks the whip’) to find out more about the farm, the beer and how we might go about growing our own barley.

    Your family has been arable farming for many generations – what made you decide to add beer brewing to your workload?
    Farmers love to grumble – either it is too wet, too dry or prices for their crops, livestock etc are too low. Back in the late 90’s this was the situation we found ourselves in and, as a small family farm, we wanted to diversify into another business that could work alongside our farm. As children we holidayed down in the south west a lot and our parents would seek out the beers they couldn’t sample at home. Around that time, to make a viable business of it would have been hard, so we left the idea alone. Fast forward to 2005/06 and things had started to change, people were wanting to try local food and drink, and a number of pubs became free houses nearby so we took the plunge.

    How long was it from setting up the brewery until you were happy with the beer you were producing?
    It was certainly a good year before we got a settled core range together that we were happy with. I am somewhat a perfectionist and am always keeping an eye on quality and consistency, so there is always room for improvement. That said, the ultimate test is the customer and with the positive feedback we are getting at the moment we can be satisfied with what we are producing.

    Your range is quite traditional, with a few modern twists thrown in. How did you go about deciding what beer styles to brew and what plans do you have for future beers?
    In the first place we had to make money, so we looked at what styles would sell well. Talking to publicans and trialing a selection of beers from another brewery in local pubs certainly helped. The evolution of our beer style has been driven by what our customers have asked for and this has lead us towards classic British beer styles. Our aim has been to keep the whole process as simple and consistent as possible from the selection of raw materials right through the brewing process. As for the future, we want to continue to produce beer that is not reinventing the wheel but a drink that you can enjoy all night without even thinking about it – to me that is the sign of a good pint.

    You grow the barley on your farm that goes into your beers. What varieties of barley do you grow and what makes them right for your beer?
    The main variety at the moment is Concerto. It suits our farm and its heavy clay soil. Concerto is a modern variety that the maltsters want as it makes very good malt. For brewing we find it has a good bold grain, so it’s easy to mill and generally we get good extract from it. It imparts a good flavour and, in most years, has low nitrogen levels which helps prevent beer hazes forming.

    How much of your barley goes towards the brewery?
    We grow more than we require at the moment as this year we have planted 40 hectares, which should produce about 300 tonnes. We probably won’t require more than a 1/3 of this but it is growing year on year.

    Where do you get the barley malted and how involved are you in the process?
    We have all of our barley sent to Muntons at Flamborough just up the road from us. Concerto barley seems to be generally used to produce a good light ale malt and we talk to Muntons about what specification we require for our brewery. Obviously there is some seasonal variation but it is pretty consistent.

    Do you have any plans to grow other brewing ingredients on your farm, such as hops?
    We have some hops in the ground now which we planted last year. We are quite far north but hops should grow up here and have done so in recent years not too far away. We have grown four varieties: Challenger, Celeia, Boadicea and First Gold. The first year they did not do so well, which we sort of expected, but with a dry spell in spring they don’t seem to be establishing themselves quite as well as I had hoped. Both Challenger and Boadicea seem to be growing the best so far. So we are using them more as a marketing tool to show visitors but, when the time comes, I hope we will be able to brew a green hop beer with them.

    Rich is planning on growing some barley on his allotment for brewing purposes. Do you have any growing tips for him?
    Nitrogen levels in the soil must be relatively low to prevent malt that gives you hazy beer, so don’t plant it after a legume plant such as peas or beans. Try planting it after a crop that uses a lot of nutrients, such as potatoes, and don’t use manure on the soil before planting. When harvesting, make sure it is nice and dry, you don’t want damp barley to grow moulds that again will affect the quality.

    How much will he need for a pint?
    For an average strength beer I would suggest 15g, it doesn’t sound much does it.


    Great Newsome Beers – the taste test

    Seeing as Great Newsome is a family brewery I decided to share my haul of their beers with my Dad, Jim, each picking out our favourite from their range

    Sleck Dust Beer Bottle Review

    Sleck Dust, 3.8%
    Chosen by Nick’s Dad
    This is an easy drinking, straw coloured blonde ale with a citrus hop freshness which had my dad exclaiming “hip hoppy hoorah!” on first sipping. “Smooth beer, this one” he continued, “with a subtle hint of fruit. It’s up there with the best.” Praise indeed

    Frothingham Best Bottle Beer Review

    Frothingham Best, 4.3%
    Chosen by Nick
    A proper brown beer that perfectly shows off the slightly sweet, slightly nutty malt and has a decent, but not overpowering, level of bitterness. The kind of pint that’s refreshing in the summer and comforting when cold nights close in – and one that you can get stuck into over an extended session…

    To find out more about the Great Newsome Brewery and their beers visit greatnewsomebrewery.co.uk

    Main image: June on the Great Newsome farm.
    Left to right – Matthew Hodgson, Ruby (the springer spaniel), Donna Hodgson, James Hodgson, Nick Broadhurst, Nick Hopper, Doreen Hodgson, Laurence Hodgson, Rachel Spruce, Jonathan Hodgson.

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  • How to survive a German Oktoberfest

    The Germans are coming! Taking over our drinking venues with their crude folk songs, dubious leather fashions and barrel loads of foamy beer. Such is the surge in popularity of German beer festivals within the UK that even our local city, the normally sedate poshville that is Bath, has succumbed to their rowdy appeal and, in late September, we’ll be hoisting steins and slapping thighs with the Somerset masses at the Komedia Oktoberfest.

    Having both lived and worked in the beer festival mecca of Munich we like to think we know how to get through a proper German beer festival so, for any novices out there, here’s our five point plan for survival…

    1 Beer Expectations

    Unlike most British beer festivals, where the aim is to sample as many different ales as possible, German Oktoberfests usually feature beers from just one brewery (or if it’s a multi-brewery event, such as the Munich Oktoberfest, then the various beer halls will each be operated by a single brewery). This means the choice of beer is likely to be between a lager, a wheat beers and possibly a dark beer or specially brewed festival beer. Bath’s event will be served by our mates at Krombacher so, like most authentic festivals, the beer will be excellent.

    2 There Will Be Drunkenness

    At many of these festivals you’ll be swigging from vast steins of booze – or pint pots with jugs of booze on standby for constant refills – and be egged on by everyone around you to get caught up in the general drunken revelry. Getting at least a little bit schnockered is almost inevitable, but do try to pace yourself – we’ve seen too many people set off like a rat up a drainpipe only to come out the other end looking like they’ve been chewed up and spat out by a hyena, forcing them to leave early with their dishevelled tails between their wobbly legs. Our tips to stay the right side of inebriated mess include: don’t drink on an empty stomach; avoid getting into rounds with booze-crazed nut-jobs; and do all the other things in numbers 3 to 5…

    3 Be Sociable

    Us Brits are often a bit shy when it comes to sitting next to a stranger, especially if they’re wearing their great grandfather’s buffed lederhosen*, and will maneuver tables and chairs to avoid such seated mingling. The long tables at German beer festivals make this impossible, so plant your arse on a bench and strike up an immediate conversation with your drinking neighbours. You will also find that talking to your new friends is a good distraction from drinking too much beer.

    4 Eat The Meat

    Most Oktoberfests provide food, to be consumed at your table. Generally the meals consist of heavy going, greasy forms of meat:** perhaps a roast chicken; maybe a plate of cured charcuterie; or, most likely, a large lump of pork. If you have the option of food, take it. It will be the ideal accompaniment to heavy swilling, tastes great and, again, will provide a welcome distraction from drinking too much beer.

    5 Sing

    Your German beer festival will almost certainly feature live music, possibly performed by a band dressed in dodgy Bavarian fashion, playing mostly German drinking songs designed to be sung along to. Don’t worry about not knowing any words or tunes as their repetitive nature means you’ll soon get the hang of them. And make sure you join in – losing your inhibitions so you’re hollering and grunting with the rest of them is part of the appeal, helps to improve the social aspect of the event and besides, all that singing and swinging is a desirable distraction from drinking too much beer. Prosit!

    The Bath Okoberfest is on Friday September 29th at Komedia. Find out more information and order your tickets here – we’ll look forward to seeing some of you there!


    *In Germany it’s tradition to hand down leather pants through the generations. Do not give your Grandad a call and ask if you can borrow his used Damarts.

    **These days you can usually expect a vegetarian option as well, and not just chips.


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  • Win! Tickets for Toby Buckland’s Harvest Festival

    Fancy winning tickets for this Autumn’s HOTTEST gardening event?


    We’ve managed to rustle up two pairs of tickets for Toby Buckland’s inaugural Garden & Harvest Festival, which will be held at Forde Abbey in Somerset on Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th September.

    It promises to be an Autumnal jamboree of talks, tours, workshops and demos – some of the highlights include…

    Celebrity Speakers!
    On Saturday, Charlie Dimmock will be taking the stage and bringing her practical panache and water gardening expertise. Toby Buckland, Jim Buttress and Alan Down will also be pitching in with garden chit-chat. BBC One Show’s Christine Walkden will be appearing on Sunday to dispense her irreverent, down-to-earth knowledge.

    Practical Demos!
    Learn from top-notch nursery exhibitors and garden experts who will be sharing inside knowledge on how they grow, propagate and care for plants – all in the stunning setting of Forde Abbey’s Kitchen Garden.

    Buy Stuff!
    Splurge the contents of your wallet on nursery plants, West County crafts, foodstuffs and booze. Cheese! Gin! Meat! Pickles! All will be present.

    Meet us!
    Admittedly, not the greatest of propositions, but never the less, we’ll be there on Saturday with our cider press, squishing apples and trying to flog our book. There’s also a rumour that we’ll be giving a talk in ‘Toby’s Big Brown Tepee’*, so that might be good for a laugh (at our expense).

    To stand with a chance of winning a pair of tickets, simply log into Twitter, make sure you are following @tobygardenfest and @thirstygardener, and retweet our Toby Buckland competition tweet with the hashtag #ciderwithtoby

    All names successfully completing the criteria above will be plunged into our ‘Demijon of golden delights’, and the winners fished out randomly on Saturday 9th September 2017.

    Check the Ts&Cs below, set the satnav to Forde Abbey, and GET TWEETING!

    Terms and conditions
    Entries must be submitted by midnight, Friday 8th September 2017. The winner will be selected at random from all entries fulfilling the criteria as stated above. The decision of the judges is final and no correspondence will be entered into. The winner will be drawn at random from all entries received by the closing date. Should the Promoter be unable to contact the winners or should the winners be unable to accept the prizes, the Promoter reserves the right to award the prizes to an alternative winner, drawn in accordance with these terms and conditions. The prize does not include travel between the winner’s home and Forde Abbey, accommodation, food and drink, personal expenditure or incidental costs.


    * We imagine it’ll be like ‘Emus Big Pink Windmill’, minus the dancing and aggressive puppetry.

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