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since 03/08/2001


Spire Brewery Twist and Stout 21/04/2010

You know you make me want to Stout!

Spire Brewery Twist and Stout I thought I was probably well overdue for another beer review, so here is a write up of one of my favourite beers at the moment. It’s from a brewery that is local to me and is a really good Stout. Let me introduce you to Spire Brewery’s Twist and Stout! ~~~THE BREWERY. Spire Brewery have been brewing now for four years and are based in a couple of industrial units in Staveley, not far away from where I live, in Chesterfield, Derbyshire. Head brewer David McLaren, partner Sarah West and their excellent team have in just a few years built up a successful brewing business and have already won several awards with their range of beers. As well as a core range of regular beers Spire produce some interesting seasonal and one off beers – you can even order a special beer for special occasions by visiting their website! Beers to look out for in pubs national (they are part of the SIBA – small independent brewers association – scheme that allows pubs to order beers from microbreweries) include Sgt. Pepper Stout (a gorgeous and unique stout brewed using black pepper at 5.5% ABV), Britannia Cream Ale (a strong beer with marmalade flavours at 6.4% ABV) and Coal Porter (a smooth dark beer at 4.6% ABV). ~~~THE BEER. ***A Bit of Background*** Like a lot of Spire Brewery beers the inspiration for the name of this beer is musical. In this case a play on the Beatles song Twist and Shout! ***Vital Statistics*** Twist and Stout weighs in at 4.5% ABV and is brewed ...

I Believe In Unicorns - Michael Morpurgo 16/04/2010

The Magic of Books!

I Believe In Unicorns - Michael Morpurgo I Believe in Unicorns wasn’t at all what I was expecting it to be. I thought it was going to be a fairy story set in a magical realm. It is, however, a magical tale of a different kind. The setting of a library also means something to me (I work in one), so I was definitely hooked from the beginning to the end. Written by the talented, award winning author Michael Morpurgo, I Believe in Unicorns is a beautiful story book. It is illustrated by the equally talented Gary Blythe. Both have great track records for producing excellent books, so I was expecting great things from this collaboration. Thankfully I was not disappointed. It is impossible to really review this book without giving away certain plot details, so if you really want to find out for yourself I wouldn’t read any further and just take my word for it that this is a book that any child would love. Morpurgo’s text is as always perfectly written and Blythe’s watercolour, slightly sketchy illustrations really bring his words to life. I Believe in Unicorns was originally written as a short story that was published in the Sunday Times. It was then expanded into a short, but involved story set in a war torn town in eastern Europe. The intended age of the reader it is aimed at is seven years upwards. I would say that they may be a little low because anyone very young may find the vocabulary a little difficult in places. The subject matter is also not for the really young as it deals with war and does get a ...

Dolphin Boy - Michael Morpurgo 14/04/2010

Swimming with the Fishes!

Dolphin Boy - Michael Morpurgo I was down in the Children’s library the other afternoon and yet another lovely book came back for checking. The front cover illustration grabbed my attention immediately and, when I saw the names of not only one but TWO of my favourite children’s authors on it I knew I HAD to read it! The book in question is Dolphin Boy, written by Michael Morpurgo and illustrated by Michael Foreman. Dolphin Boy is a children’s picture book aimed at the younger reader. The amount of text and the vocabulary used is probably aimed at the slightly more confident younger reader, rather than a real beginner. Some of the words may be a little hard, but, as a bedtime story book, or one to read with your child and assist with understanding bits they don’t recognise, it would suit any age. As the title suggests this is a story about a boy and a dolphin! Sounds very simple, but there’s a little more to it than that. Dolphin Boy charts the friendship between a boy called Jim, who lives in a small Cornish fishing village, and a dolphin who comes to swim in the sea around the coast. The village isn’t doing great economically; the fish have all gone and there is no longer any work for the fishermen. The story sees Jim and the villagers as they rally round to help the dolphin and the way the dolphin breathes life and restores community spirit to the village. I was pleased to say that there was some depth to the plot of the story too. The social aspect underpinning the book is a good addition and ...

Brampton Aspire 26/03/2010

Fruit Beer? It's the Future!

Brampton Aspire Fruit beer? Fruit beer? It’s like Peter Kaye’s reaction to garlic bread! Fruit beer is different and could, most probably, be the future. Brampton Brewery have managed to combine beer and fruit in a way that, until now, only really Belgian beer manufacturers have managed in my humble opinion. Some British brewers have put fruit flavours in their ales, producing a sweet, slightly sickly affair that doesn’t really taste like beer at all. Others offer us the promise of fruit and then don’t deliver….disappointing and not great at all. So, when the folks at Brampton said they were going to put pomegranate in a beer I was understandably a little dubious. ~~~THE BREWERY~~~ Brampton Brewery were launched back in December 2007 and are based in the old East Midlands Electricity Board offices on Chatsworth Road, Brampton, Chesterfield. The launch of the brewery was the realisation of a dream to see the Brampton Brewery name back on the bar around fifty years since the closure of the previous Brampton Brewery, which occupied a site not too far away from its present incarnation. Since their official launch in December 2007 their beers have fast gained popularity and have already won awards at their debut at Chesterfield Beer Festival in February 2008. Look out for their brews in pubs in the East Midlands area and also further afield via the SIBA (Small Independent Brewers Association) scheme that allows pubs owned by pub companies to buy beers from microbreweries. I have so ...

Ashover Brewery Coffin Lane Stout 16/03/2010

That's your Funeral!

Ashover Brewery Coffin Lane Stout As many people know I am a fan of Real Ale. I am also a big fan of supporting local microbreweries and of dark beer. So…when I can bring ALL these things together and drink a dark Real Ale, from a local microbrewery AND in a local pub, I am happy as a happy person on a happy day! …the beer in question is Coffin Lane Stout, brewed by Ashover Brewery. ~~~THE BREWERY~~~ I’m pretty sure most people in the Chesterfield area have heard of Ashover Brewery. But, for anyone outside of Derbyshire, they brew in an outbuilding to the rear of the award winning Old Poets’ Corner pub at Ashover. They did their first brew in January 2007 and, since then, have brewed a selection of beers in a variety of styles. Their beers are always available at the Old Poets’ Corner and at their sister pub, The Poet and Castle at Codnor, as well as at beer festivals and pubs in the area. Look out for Liquorice Alesorts (a lovely dark beer with a real liquorice kick at 5.0% ABV), Malthouse Mild (a malty Mild at 3.5% ABV) and All Saints (a Belgian style coriander flavoured beer at 5.5% ABV). ~~~THE BEER~~~ ***A Bit of Background*** Coffin Lane Stout weighs in at 5.0% ABV and is named after a lane in the village of Ashover. This was the lane that the coffins were transported down to the village church for burial. The pump clip shows a traditional horse drawn hearse with a top hatted driver. ***Look, Aroma & Texture*** Looks wise, Coffin Lane Stout is a very dark brown, ...

Rose Blanche - Ian McEwan 25/02/2010

The White Rose!

Rose Blanche - Ian McEwan When I came across this beautifully written and illustrated book I just HAD to write about it. Dealing with the extremely emotive subject of the Second World War, Rose Blanche gives us a view of war through the eyes of a young girl. From the outset the reader knows this is not your usual factual account of the conflict – instead it is written in the form of a picture book, but with enough words to show it is aimed at a slightly older audience. At the beginning of the story we see the start of the war; the mood is light, with flag waving, speeches and optimism. We see that although Rose Blanche is unaware of the seriousness of the events that are unfolding in front of her she still knows enough to tell that something different is happening. As the text says “When wars begin people often cheer. The sadness comes later.” She shivers with excitement at the scene, but is more caught up in the spectacle than she is in the reality of the situation. The war gradually impacts on the life of Rose Blanche. To begin with it is just in the inconvenience of having to queue for food; food which often isn’t there. Mostly her life isn’t altered at all. She still does her homework, goes to school and carries on pretty much as normal. That is, until she sees a small boy trying to escape from a lorry; one of the lorries that nobody knew where they were going! “Some said they were going to a place just outside town.” It is at this point that the war isn’t all flags, speeches and cheering ...

The Birch Hall Inn, Beck Hole, North Yorkshire 04/06/2009

Small but Perfectly Formed!

The Birch Hall Inn, Beck Hole, North Yorkshire Whenever we go to North Yorkshire we try and pop over to the village of Goathland. Unlike many of the tourists there, we are not on a pilgrimage to see the sights of Heartbeat, or try and spot a cast member. We are there because it is close to one of the best (and possibly smallest) pubs you are ever going to visit. It is not only in a beautiful setting, it is also an amazing little building and the centre for the little community it is housed in. THE LOCATION This pub is the Birch Hall Inn, nestling at the bottom of the hill from Goathland, in the lovely village of Beck Hole. Beck Hole is around nine miles south of Whitby and a mile or so down the lanes and paths from Goathland. The Birch Hall Inn is pretty much the only amenity you will find in Beck Hole – there are a couple of B&Bs and guest houses and the mobile library visits every now and again, but apart from that it is the beautiful countryside that draws people to Beck Hole. From Goathland Beck Hole is signposted, but the walk down (and more importantly back up again) is VERY steep, although exceedingly pretty. We generally walk down and then con the other halves into going and getting the car! THE HISTORY The pub comprises of two previously separate buildings which became one larger entity in the early 19th century. The earliest of these buildings dates from the 17th century, while the other is a century or so later. The pub now consists of the “big bar” (which actually isn’t very big either) and the ...

Thornbridge Katipo 31/05/2009

Blowing Raspberries!

Thornbridge Katipo I am a big fan of dark beer, so when I heard that the award winning Thornbridge Hall Brewery had produced another one, I just HAD to give it a try. This new beer was Katipo (pronounced Kar-ti-paw). THE BREWERY Thornbridge Brewery are based in Ashford in the Water, Derbyshire, in the grounds of Thornbridge Hall; a small, but perfectly formed stately home. Set up in October 2004, many of their beers are brewed using local ingredients, or often feature an interesting twist. Since their foundation Thornbridge have built up an impressive portfolio of beers and an even more impressive array for awards for their outstanding products. Beers you may come across include Jaipur IPA (strong and tasty golden beer at 5.9% ABV), St Petersburg Stout (dark, strong and rich at 7.7% ABV) and Kipling (packed with tropical fruit flavours at 5.3% ABV). THE BEER ~~A Bit of Background~~ A short while ago the brewery issued a challenge to their brewers; each of them had to produce a unique beer to showcase their skill, talent, style and taste. Through a variety of means (via the ratebeer website and in pubs for example) a winner was announced. Kelly Ryan, the brewery’s resident brewer from New Zealand had come out on top with Katipo! Kelly named his beer after a small, but pretty deadly spider from his native New Zealand, ~~Vital Statistics~~ Katipo weighs in at 5.4% ABV and is brewed using raspberries from Belgium. It is brewed in the style of a Porter – dark, not too heavy. ...

Titanic Stout 11/01/2009

It Goes Down Well...

Titanic Stout I am a big fan of dark beers and am really impressed when I find a pub stocks a good stout, porter or mild. When these dark beers turn out to be great tasting and make me want to come back for more this is an extra bonus. So when we were out for a drink at the Britannia, New Tupton (not far from Chesterfield and conveniently placed on a bus route) a couple of weeks ago we found TWO excellent stouts and a mild to sample. Choices, choices….. I must admit to trying them all and, as I've already reviewed the other two (Sgt. Pepper Stout and Dark Side of the Moon) I decided that it was long overdue to tell you about Titanic Stout! January and February are also the months when CAMRA (the CAMpaign for Real Ale) tries its best to promote Stouts, Porters and Old Ales - three styles of beer that are often overlooked. For this reason I thought it was doubly important to review a Stout to bring it to people's attentions. The fact that it is a GOOD Stout is, of course, a bonus! THE BREWERY. Titanic Brewery started its life in 1985. It is based in the Potteries area of Stoke on Trent, in Burslem. The name of the brewery comes the fact that a short distance away is Etruria - the place where Captain Edward John Smith (Captain of the ill fated Titanic) was born. Among the excellent range of beers brewed you will find most have names that relate to this nautical connection. These include Iceberg (a refreshing wheat beer at 4.1% ABV), Wreckage (a strong winter ale at 7.2% ABV) and ...

Wychwood Dog's Bollocks 08/12/2008

The Angle of the Dangle.

Wychwood Dog's Bollocks I was just thinking the other day that I hadn't had a pint of this particular beer for ages. Then…low and behold…I was on a beer ratings trip where we happened upon some lurking on the hand pumps of Clowne Social Club! This beer is one that you should always get someone else to order (because it's funny) or just take the bull by the horns (or the dog by the dangly bits) and order a pint of Dog's Bollocks (furthermore to be written as Dog's…because I'm lazy NOT embarrassed). THE BREWERY Wychwood Brewery was set up in 1983, in the Oxfordshire market town of Witney. The brewery is named after the Royal Forest of Wychwood, which was recorded in the Domesday Book in 1086. The medieval forest theme carries through to the Wychwood branding and many of the beer label pictures show characters from various forest myths and legends; look out for witches, goblins and beasties! In 2002, when the Brakspear Brewery closed down, Wychwood took over production of their brands too in a dedicated Brakspear brewing area, increasing the Wychwood portfolio and output to over 50,000 barrels per annum. The brewery uses water from the nearby River Windrush, and yeast from the old Morland Brewery, to produce a range of interesting bottled and cask conditioned beers. Names to look our for include the infamous Hobgoblin (a ruby red, fruity beer at 4.5% ABV), Winter's Troll (a chocolaty winter beer at 4.8% ABV) and BeeWyched (a seasonal blond honey and fruit beer at 4.2% ABV). THE ...

Old Hushwing - Alan Brown 04/08/2008


Old Hushwing - Alan Brown Some books are a joy to read and give pleasure to those who open their pages and peek inside. They take you into the world of the characters and transport you into other places, with other people. When you find a book like this you have to share and pass it on to others to experience the wonder you have found within the binding. Old Hushwing is one of these books. It is a truly beautiful children's picture book that would be a welcome addition to any child's collection. Written by Alan Brown and ably illustrated by Angelo Rinaldi, this is one of those favourite storytime books that is a popular choice among our customers in the library. THE PLOT The plot is simple, but if you don't want to know then please avoid this next paragraph! - It is the story of a young boy called Billy who lives in the countryside. Billy finds that there is a barn owl living in the old barn near his house and he is thrilled by watching it and is excited because he thinks it is his little secret. He lies in bed at night listening to it swooping and hunting. The problem begins for him when he finds out the barn is to be converted to make room for Billy's extending family - his mum is having a baby and they need more space. Billy is very upset and, although the builders make sure there is a high up place for the owl in the conversion plans, the work scares the owl away. Billy isn't happy, but time passes and his attention is taken for a while helping with his new little sister Hannah. As spring ...

London Pub Walks - Bob Steel 14/07/2008

Capital Pub guide!

London Pub Walks - Bob Steel Following on from reviewing the Peak District Pub Walks book I decided to dip into one of his other books again. This one uses the city as its base and gives beer fans a guide to walking around the nation's capital. London Pub Walks is produced by CAMRA (CAMpaign for Real Ale) and can be purchased via the CAMRA website ( or from bookshops (either online or on the high street). Written by Bob Steel, beer enthusiast and author, London Pub Walks is a pocket-sized guide to some of the nicest and historic pubs in London. The book covers the whole of the city and allows you to tour sections of the city, while always being within easy reach of a decent pint of Real Ale. It includes 30 walks around over 180 pubs. The walks are easy and include all the necessary information you need to enjoy your visit, including which tube or train stations to get off at, architectural details about the pub, opening hours and what beers you will find on the bar. Each walk is prefaced by a colour map, with the pubs numbered on it. The walks are described in enough detail to prevent even me getting lost! There are full colour photographs of some of the particularly interesting pubs interiors and exteriors - linking to a section in the book about the CAMRA National Inventory of pubs of historic importance. Another excellent thing is that it tells you roughly how long each section of the walk takes (not just the distance) which helps you plan your journey well to make sure you ...

Spire Dark Side of the Moon 07/07/2008

Feel the Dark Side!

Spire Dark Side of the Moon We are quite fortunate to have quite a few local breweries near to us is Chesterfield. One of these local beer producers is Spire Brewery. They have a brewery tap (a pub that is tied to them and serves their beer) in New Tupton, not far from Chesterfield, called the Britannia. It is here that we usually get to sample some of their excellent beers. One of our favourites at the moment is Dark Side of the Moon. THE BREWERY. Spire Brewery Ltd is based in two industrial units in Staveley, near Chesterfield, Derbyshire. The owner and head brewer is David McLaren, an ex secondary school teacher and member of the Her Majesty's Scots Guards. He was a home brewer before finally taking the plunge and starting up as a professional brewer; brewing their first batch of beer in March 2006. Since then their 10 barrel plant has produced some great beers and have gained fans all over the UK. Spire use only natural ingredients - only malt, hops, yeast & water and no artificial additives. They are also as environmentally friendly as they can be - they are as energy efficient as possible and mainly supply beers to local outlets to cut down on transport (known as low beer miles). They produce a range of regular, seasonal and special beers, mostly in cask form, but some can also be purchased in bottles too. Of their range you may see Sgt. Pepper Stout (a rich dark stout with real pepper at 5.5% ABV), Land of Hop and Glory (a golden hoppy ale at 4.5% ABV) and Nocturne Porter (a smooth ...

5 reasons why I think I'm strange 12/06/2008

Strangely Enough!

5 reasons why I think I'm strange I read a review in this category the other day, and was very tempted to reveal MY five reasons why I think I'm strange! It's a strange (how many times can a person use that word in one review?) thing to admit, but I actually think that being slightly strange is a healthy and good is not taking yourself too seriously! no particular order.... 1; I HAVE to eat certain foods in a particular way! Take, for example, a simple snack food like the Jaffa Cake. These need to be eaten by first eating the spongy layer, then the chocolate needs to be carefully trimmed off with the teeth, leading to the final eating of the smashing orangey bit in the middle. Any deviation from this pattern means diminished enjoyment levels and a wasted Jaffa Cake. Jammy Dodgers and Wagon Wheels are subjected to a similar regime! Bags of Mini Cheddars have to be consumed in the order of broken ones first, followed by the whole ones and salted peanuts are eaten whole ones first! Told you I was odd! 2; I don't have children and don't particularly wish to thanks very much! I did at one point think it would be part of my life plan to have a family, but this was not to be. Now I have gone past the feeling inadequate, and stopped crying because the years of trying didn't pay off, I don't want to keep being asked why I haven't produced yet and when it is "my turn" to have a little bundle of joy. Call me strange (go know you want to), but small babies do not make me ...

Peak District Pub Walks - Bob Steel 27/05/2008

In Search of Beer!

Peak District Pub Walks - Bob Steel It was with great interest that I picked up a copy of one of the latest books to come out of the CAMRA (CAMpaign for Real Ale) bookshop. As a beer drinker and someone who loves the area I live in, it was the perfect book for me to read! Written by Bob Steel, beer enthusiast and author of the popular London Pub Walks, Peak District Pub Walks is a pocket-sized guide to some of the best pubs and walks in the Peak District. The book features 25 walks of varying lengths and levels; all with ONE thing in common - the offer of a few decent pints of Real Ale on the way! As well as interesting walks, the guide also offers useful information on local pubs and breweries and explores local history, heritage and attractions. Peak District Pub Walks has easy to use Ordnance Survey maps, cycle routes, bus information and pub listings. These pub listings are really good because they are complete with opening hours and meal serving times; in fact, everything you could need to experience a great day out in our beautiful countryside….with a beer thrown in for good measure! The book is well presented in full colour, with stunning photographs of the local landscape. There are also some pictures of pretty stunning pubs too! On opening, you will find the book is divided into sections. It starts with a useful overview, about how to use the guide and how to get the most from reading and using it. Before you get to the actual walks themselves there follows a brief introduction, followed by ...
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