Pubs with Personality

For me the phrase ‘pub personality’ conjures up all sorts of ideas. Pubs are full of personalities, local characters bursting with stories, landlords and landladies, bar staff, chefs, pub dogs, pub cats all contributing to the pubs overall personality, the personality of the building, the bricks and mortar that thrive on the larger than life people bowling through the doors everyday. If walls and bricks and mortar have a memory just imagine what they could tell us. Can they remember the people that have brushed past them over the years? Have they absorbed a little of each of their personalities? Do they have their own personality? Pete Brown philosophises about the essence of the pub and whether or not it is just bricks and mortar in far more detail in ‘Shakespeares Local‘.

Every pub is different, each has it’s own feel, it’s own niche, it’s own community to serve and each pub does that in it’s own way. The pub is a chameleon, adapting itself to our different needs: a quiet pint after work; a lively night with friends; a celebration; a consolation; a romantic meal; a game of pool; an evening out; a long lunch; a coffee break; a game of crib – and the list goes on. Inevitably each pub reflects the people at the helm, the landlord and landlady, the staff and of course the pub dog but I feel it’s own personality is something bigger than the sum of all of these parts. I remember the pubs I have worked and drank in over the years as old friends. Fond memories are triggered by a song, a smell, a beer or a recipe. Handcut skin-on chips take me back to my first job in a pub kitchen at The Red Lion, Great Bowden, ‘Out of Time’ by Chris Farlowe whisks me away to my first bar job at the neighbouring Shoulder of Mutton. Dues Brut des Flanders to The Dovetail in Clerkenwell & Hopback Summer Lightening to The Flask in Highgate Village and the musky smell of proper farmhouse cider quantum leaps me to The New Harp Inn in the Wye Valley sitting in the beer garden on my day off with a pint of Broome Farm Rum Cask.

Whilst I’ve been helming the Thatchers Arms I have been lucky enough to have some wonderful experiences. Just this past year I have been a beer judge, a barman, a writer, a chef, a web designer, a HR manager, a cellarman, a refrigeration engineer, a sound technician and a pirate (to name a few) I have also spent a day filming with Heston Blumenthal as part of his ‘Great British Food’ series [apparently due to be aired in March]. To top it off I am utterly flattered and honoured to have been voted and nominated by my peers in the industry for Imbibe magazines ‘Pub Personality of the Year’. I’m short-listed alongside seven other great publicans and, together with a host of amazing people from across the drinks industry, I’m very pleased to say we’ll be celebrating each others successes in a pub on Monday night.

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Heston’s Great British Food & Badger Pies…

Beef & Adnams Pies at The Thatchers

One of the best selling things on the menu at The Thatchers is our pie of the day. We make proper pies, pastry all the way around, usually a shortcrust base and a flaky top. They’re filled with something different everyday, sometimes a classic like steak and kidney or chicken, ham & leek and sometimes more adventurous venison & beetroot or coq au vin. Thanks to our love of pies, a little luck, and a tip off from a good friend of my sisters I was recently lucky enough to spend a day filming with Heston Blumenthal for his latest series ‘Great British Food‘. The first episode on fish & chips (catch up on 4oD) was on last night which has made me even more eager to see the pie episode which I was invited along for, sadly we’ll have to wait until the new year. It was an incredible experience and after the show is screened I may write some more about the day… until then I’m sworn to secrecy!

Before you get too excited about the title of this blog though, I should mention that I have never eaten a badger pie, we have never made one at The Thatchers, and neither (to my knowledge) has Heston. However, Badger Brewery – Hall and Woodhouse have launched a competition “What’s the big pie-dea?” and with all this pie action happening simultaneously it felt like somebody was telling me to write a blog.

Badger aren’t local to East Anglia, but when I’m down on the south coast I love nothing more than popping into the Black Rabbit in Arundel for a pint of Hopping Hare or Tanglefoot. Badger Brewery’s Collectors Edition ale which they produced last year is absolutely stunning and I can’t believe I have managed to leave a bottle of it in my cellar to age for over a year! (It may not last much longer…) Apologies though, I digress. I really wanted to write this blog to bring your attention to their rather generous little competition from a rather talented little brewery…

You could win a prize package that includes having your pie professionally produced and launched as a ‘special’ in selected Hall & Woodhouse public houses next autumn; a two-night beach break for two at The Lulworth Cove Inn, including breakfast and dinner on both nights and exclusive sampling of the winning pie; a VIP brewery tour with Head Brewer, Toby Heasman with lunch at their Visitor Centre; a Badger Countryside Sett gift box; and £200 travel and subsistence. Not bad eh! Oh and the rest of the finalists will win a Badger Countryside Sett gift box and £50 worth of Hall & Woodhouse vouchers.

All you have to do is come up with a stonking pie recipe (which includes one of their delicious ales) by the end of January and enter on their website or through their Facebook page…

What’s your big pie-dea then?

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What will you be drinking on Christmas Day?

December rolls around again, the countdown to Christmas begins and households around the globe start meticulously planning one big glorious day of family, friendship and festive food. Once you’ve agreed which in-laws to invite, ordered the turkey, put the sprouts on to make sure they’re ready for the big day, got stuck in traffic at Bluewater/Lakeside/Westfield Stratford [delete as appropriate] and finally spent a small fortune buying gifts from Amazon & eBay there is just one more important job to do, choose the booze.

Christmas is a special time of year and deserves something special to toast with family and friends. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with the traditional bucks fizz for breakfast, midday pint at the local, lashings of red wine with dinner followed by a wee tot of whisky or glug of port before a nap on the sofa, but there are some lovely alternatives and I’d like to share my thoughts…

Breakfast, brunch, elevenses

Deus Brut des Flanders

If you want to start off slowly then how about Wild Beer Co. Cool as a Cucumber [available from The Thatchers £7], only 2.9% this 750ml bottle is perfect for cracking open before the sun is over the yardarm and for sharing. It is utterly delicious with smoked fish, especially salmon, an ideal breakfast beer.

Feeling slightly more indulgent? Then try a Champagne beer, one of the best known Belgian examples Deus Brut des Flanders [available online from Beer Ritz £19.03] also goes beautifully with smoked salmon and ensures a real decadent start to the day.

Adnams Solebay Celebratory

There are a few British ‘Champagne beer’ alternatives, and we sell two of them at The Thatchers. First up Adnams Solebay Celebratory beer [£15.25 from The Thatchers], first brewed in 2009 to celebrate 350 years of brewing at Solebay, hazy gold with a luscious white head, Solebay has Nelson Sauvin hops and a touch of lavender and it is matured for 6 months before bottling, this is a delicate and delightful beer. My final choice is Wild Beer Co. Ninkasi [£13.00 from The Thatchers], named after the Greek goddess of beer this also has New Zealand Nelson Sauvin hops with the addition of Somerset apple juice, wild yeast and finished with Champagne yeast, this would be equally at home with a cheeseboard at the end of the day.

Join us at The Thachers from 12pm – 2pm for a Christmas drink and a few mince pies, we’ll have mulled wine or cider and the usual Crouch Vale Brewers Gold and Adnams Southwold as well as hopefully some Tally Ho if you don’t drink it all on Christmas Eve!

Lunch, dinner (or tea if your from further North)

I know I’m going to have to work hard to tempt you from a big bold French or Aussie red, but have you considered drinking beer with Christmas dinner?  I don’t mean cans of cheap supermarket fizz or even traditional brown bitter, but something rich and elegant packed with flavour… A Belgian ale? A full bodied stout? Perhaps even an American IPA. Aside from being less alcoholic than most wines leaving you room for another few drinks later, choosing an example of each from our cellar I’ll see if I can convince you.

St Stefanus

St Stefanus [6.5% £3.75] is a rich golden Belgian ale, drink it with the yeast in to enhance the herbal bitterness, it’s delicate enough not to overpower the turkey with enough sweetness to pair with the cranberry sauce and those herbal earthy notes will wash a plate full of sprouts down delightfully.

The Kernel Export Stout [7.2% £4.80] is jet black with a caramel head. The unctuous black beer will work wonderfully with thyme roasted root vegetables and rich gravy, and if you’ve chosen duck or beef for your table it will quite simply steal the show.

Lagunitas IPA [6.2% £3.90] is hazy orange with buckets of bitterness balanced by sweet malt and fruity hops. This Californian IPA typifies the style and cleanses the palate after each mouthful making sure you’re always eager for the next bite or final helping of seconds.

Christmas pudding, after dinner, Eastenders Christmas special

Wild Beer Co Wildebeest

If you really want to make sure you fall asleep before hell breaks loose in the Queen Vic then you’re going to enjoy this little selection. Big bold fruity drinks to enjoy with your Christmas Pudding, cheeseboard or on their own if you already had one too many stuffing balls.

Wild Beer Co. Wildebeest [11% £4.80] is an Imperial Stout laced with Cocoa nibs, coffee & vanilla. It’s hearty, sweet and sticky, you won’t even need any Christmas pudding, perhaps just a jug of brandy cream on the side.

Domaine Pinnacle Ice Cider

If you usually prefer your dessert wine to your barley wine though, perhaps you’ll enjoy the drink I am most looking forward to at my Christmas table. Domaine Pinnacle Ice Cider [12% £25 from selected Marks & Spencer stores including  Bluewater]. I have been lucky enough to try a tiny taste of this before due to the generosity of Worlds Best Cider author Pete Brown. It is rich, complex, sweet, fruity and sticky with a delicate acidity to balance it all out. This really is the cream of the crop when it comes to cider. The juice of around 80 apples is crammed in to each 375ml bottle, the Canadian producers recommend it with rich blue cheeses or even fois gras. You may balk at the price tag, but you’re not supposed to swig this in a pint glass over ice, think of it more as a rival to ice wine or a fine Sauternes and it’s pretty good value for money.

Give the gift of Christmas beer…

Throughout December we are offering 20% discount on off sales when you buy three bottles of beer, wine or cider and we’ll even chuck in a handy gift box making a great present.

Many of the drinks above are available and the trio of 750ml beers [Wild Beer Co Cool as a Cucumber, Ninkasi & Adnams Solebay] comes in at under £30, our three Christmas dinner recommendations [St Stefanus, Kernel Export Stout, Lagunitas IPA] are under a tenner or choose a trio of local ales for around £8.50.

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Worlds Best Cider Launch & Tasting

worlds best ciders

Saturday 2nd November 7pm

We are very lucky to have the affable Mr Pete Brown (current Beer Writer of the Year) back for another visit, this time to launch his latest book.  A slight departure from his usual literary subject of beer, ‘Worlds Best Cider’ was produced in conjunction with photographer Bill Bradshaw.  They have traveled the globe in search of the story of cider, from an honest thirst quencher for farm workers to it’s place on the table as a rival to beer, wine and even champagne.

Joining Pete will be eighth generation Aspall cyder maker Henry Chevallier Guild. Over the course of roughly an hour our two witty hosts will regale stories of cider ‘the misunderstood drink’ and guide us through a tasting of several ciders paired with nibbles.

Pete & Henry will be on hand afterwards to answer any questions and you will of course be able to buy copies of the book and get them signed!

We hope to have the following ciders during our tasting, although don’t be surprised if we change the line-up, it can sometimes be difficult to guarantee supply from smaller producers…

Aspall Festival of Britten
Aspall Premier Cru
Ty Gwyn Dabinett
Etienne DuPont
Once Upon a Tree Blenheim Superb

Tickets are £7.50 and bookings are essential

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Berliner Weisse

The Kernel Brewery – London Sour 3.3% ABV

“Sour beer?” I hear you say in a Peter Kay “Garlic. Bread?” or “Cheese. Cake?” tone of voice…

Well, it IS the future, I’ve tasted it.

Actually, strictly that’s not true. I have tasted it, and in my opinion it’s delicious. However, sour beer has been around for years, so it’s not technically ‘the future’, although it is currently enjoying a small revival thanks to both beer drinkers and small breweries happy to experiment.  Admittedly a beer with sour characteristics is often showing signs of off flavours, it maybe be past it’s best, infected or just poorly made. Intentionally sour beers are difficult to produce, the uncertainty of the effects of wild yeast strains or bacteria mean that a great deal of skill and experience is required, the beers are often aged and blended in order to produce a consistent product.  Until recently it has been predominantly Belgian breweries making sour beers, Lambic, Gueze and Flanders Red Ales brewed by established breweries such as Rodenbach with years of experience and tradition behind them. One notable style of sour beer from outside of Belgium is Berliner Weisse, a sour wheat beer around 3% ABV dating back to the !6th century and historically brewed in Northern Germany, typically Berlin. At it’s peak around the 19th century it was the most popular alcoholic drink in Berlin being produced by over 700 breweries. Whether drunk on its own, mixed with other beers or drunk with added fruit syrups, Berliner Weisse can be an acquired taste.

The Kernel London Sour

One of my favourite UK breweries, The Kernel, from Bermondsey in London has recently widened it’s repertoire with a selection of sour beers. Their London Sour – Berliner Weisse is very much in keeping with it’s German cousins. When I asked brewer Evin O’Rourdan about pairing his beer with food the succinct and tongue in cheek response was simply “I like it with everything.  I often pair it with other beers.  Makes them more palatable“.

A pale hazy beer with a thin white lacy head. The initial aroma is surprisingly clean, crisp citrus with only a gentle undertone of the typical farmyard or ‘horse-blanket’ nose associated with sour beers. The first sip is puckeringly sour, sharp and tart like a barrel aged farmhouse cider. Almost no bitterness but a lovely gentle spritz to scrub the palette.  On it’s own this beer isn’t going to be for everybody, but pair it with seafood, especially ceviche and it’s an entirely different experience. Alternatively add a drop of blackcurrant, cassis or even Chambord and the beer is transformed, the sweetness from the fruit dulls the aggressive sourness and you’re left with something reminiscent of a delicious Belgian fruit beer, sweet and sour, the beautiful beer equivalent of yin and yang.

The Kernel Berliner Weisse is currently on sale at The Thatchers, there is only a limited amount though, so if you want to taste the future, you better get down here, sharpish.


Beer & Food Matching – Saturday 21st September

This Saturday as part of our Septembaaaaarfest Mitch is hosting a seven course Beer and Food matched menu. Diners will be guided through the courses on the freshly prepared tasting menu and through the beers which have been chosen to compliment each dish.

The evening starts at 7.30pm (first course served at 8pm) and costs just £30 for all seven courses including a 1/3 of a pint of beer with each course. Bookings are essential so we know numbers to cater for. We are also able to cater for vegetarians or any dietary requirements providing we know in advance.

Spoiler alert – If you’d rather keep the evening a surprise don’t look down!

The Menu

‘Bone Soup’ Beef Consommé
Adnams Gunhill

Scallop & Marsh Pig Chorizo Beignet with Tartare Sauce
Wild Beer Co Epic Saison

Roast Okra Creole (V)
Adnams Ghostship 

Gilthead Bream, Red Onion & Chilli Ceviche
The Kernel London Sour Berliner Weisse 

Salt Beef, Cornichon & Sour Dough Bap with Skinny Fries
Milestone Black Pearl Oyster Stout

Banana Sticky Toffee Pudding with Rum Soaked Raisins
Tutt’s Clump Rum Barrel Cider 

East Anglian Cheeseboard
Piraat Belgian IPA

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Long live the Great British pub

The Good Pub Guide has suggested that it is a good thing that 4000 pubs are expected to close this year stating “These are pubs at the bottom of the pecking order, the bad pubs. It’s high time they closed their doors.” I believe this is a naive and misleading statement.  Each and every pub services a different element of it’s community or offers a different environment depending on our mood. Sometimes we may want a gourmet meal, other occasions call for good home cooked food or somewhere we can afford to take the whole family. Sometimes we want a good choice of beer, somewhere to watch the football or a refuge from the hustle and bustle of daily life, the after work pint or late evening nightcap. Each of these pubs is different, has different standards, staff and styles of service, none are ‘bad’, just different.

I’m not quite sure what was meant by “bottom of the pecking order”. There may be some pubs who could benefit from small improvements in the standard of their beer, food or service, but leaving them to close and letting people lose their jobs and part of their community is not the answer. Help is. Training, business support, investment, reduced VAT for hospitality businesses or for ‘community assets’, all of these could be supported by breweries, pubcos and the government. Meanwhile it would be especially helpful if the guide which is supposed to champion our pubs could stop berating the struggling ones or charging them £200 a time to be featured in a book where “only the very best pubs make the grade”.

The UK is still recovering from massive global economic problems. VAT is at 20%, employment costs, utilities and beer prices are all rising seemingly above inflation and many are declaring ‘the end is nigh’ for the Great British pub. I believe that rural pubs are particularly badly affected with many villages having lost their pub in recent years. As well as ‘leisure pound’ spending being down and on trade booze sales being far cheaper, rural pubs face difficulties due to their sparsely populated catchment areas, increased awareness of drink driving (thank goodness) and cultural changes in our drinking habits all ultimately resulting in lower footfall and lower turnover.

Whilst I can’t pretend that trading conditions are easy at the moment I am very happy to say it isn’t all doom and gloom. We have had a great summer at The Thatchers and I have witnessed several other rural pubs bucking the trend recently. This is down to hard work, events, different ideas, adapting and changing the offer to suit the customers needs. One notable success was a pub beer festival I just about managed to sneak out to over the busy Bank Holiday weekend.


Seen on the White Horses Facebook page this morning "A Horse is for life, not just for Eddyfest!"

Seen on the White Horses Facebook page this morning “A Horse is for life, not just for Eddyfest!”

The Edwardstone White Horse is serviced by a single track road in rural Suffolk. It is not easy to find and not exactly on the way to anywhere either. As well as the essentials, good beer, food and company they have an on-site brewery, where I have brewed with Tom Norton, a campsite with great amenities some rather impressive green credentials. Their Eddyfest is now well established, and well attended by many of our regulars too, but for me this weekend was my first visit.

The makeshift car-parking field was packed, the field next door crammed full of campers and the beer garden and day to day car park transformed for the weekend with a huge beer tent, over 60 beers and two stages for live music. The atmosphere was incredible, happy smiley people everywhere, a buzz of conversation and excitement. The back to back live music using the two stages was brilliant and kept the attention of the crowd. The food offering was better than you may expect from a festival, good quality burgers and a decent chilli to name just two. Putting on events like this is hard work, and can require a reasonable amount of investment. However, pubs don’t have to start big, they can build on the success of each event making it bigger and better month on month or year on year.

The pub trade has changed, long gone are the days of opening the doors and waiting for a flood of drinkers to descend after work before you sit back and count the till at closing time.  As our culture and habits change so must the Great British pub.  I don’t believe their is a single publican who doesn’t believe this, but perhaps there are some who could do with some help adapting before they are forced to close and lose their homes while we lose another piece of our history forever.



Talk Like a Pirate DayOur next beer festival runs for five days from the 18th – 22nd September and includes International Talk Like a Pirate Day, yes it IS a real thing…

We decided it would a fun theme that had legs (albeit wooden ones).  There will be some swashbuckling surprises and some lovely grog for your land lubbers to enjoy.  the beers will have a pirate theme but we’ll still be keeping the standards high so you get the best beer for your hard earned pieces of eight…

So far we have Adnams Ghostship, Oakham Scarlet Macaw, Gadds Black Pearl Oyster Stout, Colchester Brewery Jack Spitty’s Smugglers Ale and a few others in mind, but the full list is still a work in progress and will be announced at the beginning of September.  Meanwhile if you have any suggestions we’d love to hear them.

We are hoping to have a folk night including some Sea Shanty singing, live music from Tequila Mockingbird who had their live debut at our last festival, a beer and food matching evening and more…

Including a charity cinema evening, a screening of the Sound of Music for you all to dress up and sing along to! Watch this space for more details.


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Footprint Awards Finalist…

Footprint Awards

Footprint Awards Community Vote Finalist 2013

Some of you may be aware that we have been shortlisted for the 2013 Footprint Awards ‘Community Vote’.  The Footprint Awards represent ‘the annual celebration of the work that organisations in the Foodservice industry are doing to in some way redress the balance for the benefit of themselves, their community and the industry at large. It is a celebration of initiative and innovation, of commercial imagination and endeavor’.  Finalists for the Community Vote were first nominated by the general public, then voted for by peers and customers to reach the final shortlist of ten.  I believe our commitment to local producers and low food miles as well as our use of sustainable fish especially our ‘Fish Fight Friday Specials’ stood us in good stead.  The winner was announced at a glitzy awards ceremony in London on 23rd May, sadly we weren’t there as it was the start of our Beer Festival… we didn’t win, but came an extremely respectable runner up! [more info]

Co-incidentally around the time we found out about being shortlisted for the Community Vote Adnams announced their new beer ‘Fat Sprat’ which supports The Marine Conservation Society. So we decided that it would make a fabulous addition to our festival line up in celebration of our achievement.  Fat Sprat will be on sale from the bar for the duration of our beer festival, it’s a 3.8% amber summer beer with grapefruit and spicy notes from the Columbus, English Goldings, Cascade & Chinook hops.  It’s fantastic with fish like our line caught beer battered fish and chips or many of our sustainable fish specials.

If you want to know more about sustainable fish then have a look at Hugh’s Fish Fight, if you want to know who wins the Community Vote and the rest of the Footprint Awards follow them on Twitter tomorrow night, and if you want to support the environment and The Marine Conservation Society come along to our beer festival and enjoy some delicious sustainable fish with a crisp fresh pint of Fat Sprat (or any one of the other lovely beers we have on during the festival).

In true awards ceremony style I’d like to finish with a few thank you’s… Firstly all of our local suppliers, too many to mention individually, but a special thank you goes to Michelle at Direct Seafoods of Colchester who sources the best sustainable fish for our menu and specials.  Secondly our chefs who continue to support our ethos putting innovative new dishes and great local suppliers on the menu.   Thirdly the rest of our staff and our customers who support us and the local produce we use.

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Beer & Food Matching Saturday 25th May

I’ve been busy brainstorming with the chefs for our next Beer & Food Matching evening on Saturday 25th May. I have learnt a lot recently, especially from my recent bout of moonlighting at Galvin Cafe a Vin,  I have to say it is one of my favourite menus so far…

We kick off at The Thatchers at 7.30pm for a seven course menu, we’ve chosen a different beer to pair with each course, all for £30 a head (including beers!). Bookings are essential and can be made by email or on 01787 227460

The menu may change slightly due to availability of beers or produce, but currently we are looking at the following*…

Home Smoked Duck, Mango, Blackberry & Gem Lettuce with Raspberry Vinaigrette
Williams Bros Roisin (Teyberry Beer)

Southern Fried Chicken with Fennel Coleslaw
Brooklyn Lager (Vienna Lager)

Cumin Roasted Local Asparagus with Pearl Barley & Spiced Raisin Salad
Wild Beer Co Bliss (Apricot Saison)

Beef Rendang Curry with Jasmine Rice
Williams Bros Joker IPA (American IPA)

Farmer Bills Grown Up Chocolate Ice Cream Float
Harviestoun Old Engine Oil (Porter)

Banana Bread & Butter Pudding with Wheat Beer Caramel
Tryst Zetland Wheat (Amber Wheat Beer)

British Smoked Cheeseboard
Arran Dark (Heavy)

*we are happy to arrange alternatives for vegetarians or any other dietary requirements as long as we have prior notice.

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A heartfelt ‘thank you’ to George Osborne

So the 2013 Budget has been announced, not only has the Beer Duty Escalator been scrapped, but duty on a pint has actually been decreased by 1p, the first reduction in beer duty since 1973, hooray!  CAMRA, among many others, have been campaigning to stop this punitive tax for some time, I have written to both George Osborne and my MP Bernard Jenkin on the matter.

Bernard Jenkin MP Pouring a pint of Adnams

A few weeks ago got the opportunity to put my point of view directly to Mr Jenkin as he poured pints behind my bar.  It is a great relief that all the hard work of those campaigning has not been in vein, a huge heartfelt ‘thank you’ goes out to Mr Osborne and the current Government for listening to the plight of the pub and believing in us.

We campaigned for the escalator to be stopped because we believe less duty per pint will in fact increase sales and in turn provide greater duty revenue.  We believe the increased sales will increase jobs in the industry, in particular with younger persons, currently the worst affected by unemployment. This will also help to reduce the strain on the Government in terms of unemployment benefits. We also believe that by encouraging customers to drink beer in a social, monitored environment such as the pub instead of drinking often stronger alcoholic drinks at home we can help to reduce alcohol abuse and related crime rates.   The budget wasn’t good news for the whole of the alcohol industry, cider, wine & spirits all saw rises in duty, so was the beer duty reduction just for the headlines? I don’t believe so, higher taxation & pricing on higher ABV drinks will hopefully encourage more drinkers to opt for beer, better for our health & a boost to our British brewing industry.

Since the Duty Escalator was introduced in 2008 beer duty increased by 42% leaving brewers and publicans squeezing their margins each year to keep the cost of a pint down for our customers.  However, according to CAMRA, 5800 pubs have closed since 2008 proving that this isn’t sustainable. Is a 1p reduction in duty going to change things overnight or even follow through to a 1p reduction at the till?  Possibly not, but this is a glint of hope for an industry recovery, offering a small amount of breathing space, a chance to stem the closures. Here is an opportunity to regain our profit margin to help pay for the other increased costs we have seen over the past five years including general food prices, brewers increases, energy rises, fuel duty hikes, increased minimum wage and holiday pay for staff, higher business rates and the whopping 20% VAT rate.

Courtesy of @mrmikeberry on twitter

All of the increases have left us less than competitive against supermarkets and peoples sofas where alcohol consumption often isn’t in a social environment and isn’t monitored or regulated by a responsible licensee. Many of our customers, also feeling the pinch, have understandably taken the cheaper option, especially when deals for 4 litres of 7.5% cider at £5 can be found in off licenses. How can we compete with more than the weekly recommended number of alcohol units for a fiver!

The abolition of the duty escalator is a step in the right direction, the start of something good for pubs.  We still have a lot of obstacles to overcome and hopefully this budget is a sign that we will gain more Government support to help us though them. Somehow we need to stop supermarkets offering such irresponsible deals and close the gap between pricing in the pub and the retail giants. Personally I don’t believe minimum pricing is the answer, a reduction in VAT for hospitality is. If we can hold true to our forecasts for increased duty revenue following the scrapping of the escalator perhaps they’ll listen to us when we say the same will happen if VAT for hospitality is reduced too…

Want to know more about Jacques Borel’s VAT reduction campaign? We pulled together as an industry over the escalator, if we can do it again over the next 12 months who knows what we can achieve. Who’s in?


The George, Southwark

Inspired by Pete Brown’s latest book ‘Shakespeare’s Local’, I decided to make the small detour to Southwark on my latest trip to London in order to visit the main subject of the book The George Inn. At a recent book reading at The Thatchers Arms Pete asked who had visited The George, I was sad to be in the minority who hadn’t.

As I made my way through the streets between London Bridge Station and The George I find myself recalling portions of the book, Borough has always been a hive of activity, the entrance to the city of London and the last stop before leaving. The constant hustle and bustle, locals, tourists, commuters, students, cars, busses, trains, Boris bikes all whizzing past with the dull whirring blades of a helicopter hovering over the borough, nothing has changed.  The smells of a dozen cultures pour out of cafes and restaurants. The Shard looms dominantly overhead keeping a watchful eye on its new Kingdom while tourists flock with cameras to capture the glassy protrusion. Round the corner on to Borough High Street and just up ahead, a small sign ‘The George’. I turn into the courtyard with its balistrades and benches and the whirring and whizzing stops, replaced by the hum of conversation, the sounds of a dozen languages instead of the smells of their cultures. Men and women, old and young, drinking wine and beer, coffee and soft drinks, a bar snack, a meal,  The George services them all just as it always has.

I write this as I sup a pint of their eponymous ale, not bad, pretty good actually, nothing to write home about in itself, but it shouldn’t be, the pub is the star, afterall it  has been here since… well it’s complicated, you’ll need to read Pete’s book to find that out.


Cider vs Wine & Food Matching Evening

Cider vs WineOk, so this isn’t about beer, but it was a fantastic evening and we’d love to share the results with you.  At the beginning of February,  in conjunction with Susanna Forbes from, we hosted what we believe to be the first cider vs wine & food matching battle.  Diners were treated to a five course meal and enjoyed a wine & a cider with each course.  Each match was voted for ‘Ready Steady Cook’ style with different coloured cards.

Cider was represented by Henry Chevallier-Guild, eighth-generation cider producer at Aspall, and Pete Brown Beer Writer of the Year and author of Shakespeare’s Local.  In the wine corner, River Café Sommelier and the 2012 Best Sommelier of the Year, Emily O’Hare, teamed up with the Dan Probert, manager of Adnams Cellar & Kitchen store in Holt, Norfolk.

Whilst cider had a 4:1 victory, it was a lot closer than it may seem with one course only having 1 vote in it!  Offshoot Films Film Club members Ashley and Dominic produced a short video of the evening which captures the great atmosphere and the results.  If you’d like to see the full menu then scroll to the bottom of the page… enjoy.

And a very special thank you goes to Aspall for donating the welcome drink of Cuvée Chevallier and Billecart Salmon Champagne for supplyling their Rosé Champagne free of charge.

See some other accounts of the evenings events:


Brocolli & Parmesan Soup with Homemade Chilli Foccaccia
17        Vallobera Rioja Blanco, Rueda, Spain; £7.99, Adnams
44        El Gaitero, Spain; £1.55 33cl;, Waitrose 

Mackerel Fillet with a Fennel, Mint & Parsley Salsa & a Pont Neuf Potato
43        Gougenheim Torrentes 2011, Mendoza, Argentina; £6.99, Adnams
18        Aspall Premier Cru, Suffolk; £2.59/50cl; Aspall, Adnams, Waitrose 

Slow Roast Blythburgh Pork Belly with a Homemade Duck, Pork & Sage Sausage & Tomato & Mixed Bean Cassoulet
30        Quinto do Crasto, Crasto Tinto 2010, Douro Valley, Portugal; £9.49; Adnams
31        Henney’s Vintage 2011, Herefordshire; £2.09/50cl; 

Eddy’s Sour Cherry Cheesecake
21        Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé NV Champagne, France; £52.99; Berry Bros & Rudd, selected independents
32        Aspall Imperial Cyder, Suffolk; £3.08/50cl; Aspall,
5  Cheesecake; 3  Abstentions 

Suffolk Gold & Binham Blue Cheeses with chutney & biscuits
3          Gonzales Byass ‘Vina AB’ Amontillado, Jerez, Spain; £13.59; Adnams
58        Once Upon a Tree Blenheim Superb 2011; Herefordshire; £16/37.5cl; Once Upon a Tree

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Dear Bernard Jenkin MP, help stop the duty escalator

Below is a letter I have sent to my MP, Bernard Jenkin, to encourage him to prompt a useful discussion when the ‘Stop the beer duty escalator‘ petition reaches 100,000 signatures and a parliamentary debate is put on the agenda.  If our MP’s aren’t made aware of the crippling effect that the escalator is having on Great British Pubs then we face a short shrift 20 minute back bench debate and all of our hard work getting 100,000 signatures will be wasted.  Please find the time to write to your MP and lobby them to support pubs.

Dear Bernard Jenkin,

As a publican within your constituency I wrote to you and to George Osborne prior to the last budget regarding the Alcohol Duty Escalator.  I received a short response from the treasury stating that the contents of my letter had been registered with no further action or correspondence.  I also received a short dismissive letter from your office stating that neither a reduction in duty, a halt to the duty escalator or a reduction in VAT for the hospitality industry were on your agenda.

Since that time the planned 2% above inflation rise in duty has happened and business within the pub industry has not grown any easier.  There are many factors affecting trading in these tough economic times with the crippling Alcohol Duty being a major contributor.  We pay more alcohol duty per unit of alcohol than any country in the EU.  I would like to suggest that this punitive taxation is not helping to increase treasury revenue as despite the increased sum of duty per unit you are losing vast amounts of VAT.  This is partially because supermarkets are selling alcohol cheaply, many bulk buy deals are still under or around the 40p per unit price proposed for minimum pricing.  A 40p per unit price should net the government coffers around 8p in VAT, however as they are selling below price it will be affecting their profits and in turn reducing their overall tax bill.  The vast difference in price between the below cost alcohol sold in the supermarkets and the responsibly served drinks in pubs means more people are choosing to drink at home in these auspicious times.

As the average price of a pint in a pub is around the £3 mark, and the average pint (at 4% ABV) contains 2.3 units, the average unit of alcohol is being retailed up and down the country at £1.30 in pubs.  This results in 22p per unit in VAT nearly 3 times that of the supermarket prices.  Pubs also have a higher staff ratio than supermarkets meaning that if there are busier pubs we will be employing more staff per unit of alcohol served.  This not only helps to decrease unemployment and reduce our vast benefits bill but will actually increase Government revenue through increased contributions to NI and income tax.

Standard Government reasons behind the duty escalator are two fold, firstly revenue, which I have just covered and shown to have flawed logic.  The second reason that is flouted is for health benefits.  As I have already discussed the increased duty and other pressures on pubs have made the safe, supervised drinking environment too expensive.  We now have more and people drinking at home, drinking on the streets, drinking without any supervision.  This can only lead to more health problems and more alcohol related crime. The money they were spending in the pub now gets them almost three times more booze to drink at home. Pubs are still closing at an alarming rate, forced out of business by the high prices they are required to charge to cover the ever increasing overheads.

I write this letter as the petition to scrap the Duty Escalator nears 100,000 signatures prompting a discussion in parliament.  I write hoping that you take my points on board, that the 100,000 signatures we have collected result in more than a dismissed 20 minute backbench debate.  Not only do pubs have the potential to raise vast amounts of tax revenue but we’ll do it while responsibly serving and monitoring those who drink within our establishments.  We’ll do it while creating jobs, creating communities, creating entrepreneurs. We’ll do it while raising hundreds of thousand pounds for charity and while becoming a home from home for people from all walks of life, we are the backbone of your ‘Big Society’.  We are well equipped to serve rural areas and the elderly generation ensuring that the community spirit brought about over the past year with the Jubilee and our summer of sport lives on.

In truth there are actually three things which will help pubs and in return help tax revenue.  Abolition of the duty escalator and reduction in duty, reduction in VAT for hospitality businesses, as has happened across Europe with positive effects, and a minimum price on alcohol of at least 60p forcing supermarkets to sell alcohol more responsibly and above cost.

Please take a stand on behalf of all of the pubs & pub goers in your constituency; please take these points to parliament. I ask this of you as a resident, a business owner and a parish Councillor within your constituency.  On behalf of my neighbours, my staff, my colleagues within the industry and my parish I hope you are listening.

Mitch Adams

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An open letter to George Osborne

To readers of my usually up-beat blog about beer, food and the happy marriage of the two of them, apologies, but I felt this rather serious matter required some attention. Please share this with your twitter followers, your Facebook friends, your colleagues, even your MP, especially if you live you live in Tatton.
[Update: I received a response (albeit unremarkable) to my letter from the Treasury which I have posted below]

Dear George Osborne,

When you failed to mention the Great British Industry of brewing whilst promising to support other  industries such as medicine & Aerospace I had a feeling that I wouldn’t like the rest of what you had to say. The brewing & pub industries employ around 600,000 tax paying people (numbers courtesy of Brew Wales blog) producing & serving a truly unique British product which is served responsibly in over 52,000 business rate paying establishments.  These jobs & establishments alone have the capacity to provide massive amounts of cash for the government  coffers, especially when you consider the VAT & Duty paid on the alcohol produced & sold as well as NI, Employee Tax, Small Business & Corporation Taxes & Business Rates. By continuing to severely & irreparably damage this industry on an annual basis you will inevitably, if not already, be reducing your income significantly.

Your rapid fire announcement of the continuation of the duty escalator was cowardly and clearly intended once again to fool most of the general public. By saying “No change on alcohol duty set out by my predecessor” many will have barely heard you and only understood “no change”.  You labored over cartoon characters Wallace & Grommit for longer than you did the crippling 2%+ inflation rise is Duty on Alcohol that you are imposing for yet another year.

You may make noises about health, alcohol abuse and misuse, but do you really think that supermarkets and off licenses will be affected in the same way as pubs?  Each year the gap widens between the price a responsibly served pint costs in a supervised environment like a pub and the cheap can or bottle of imported spirits that is available without monitoring in supermarkets. People who are misusing alcohol do not do so in a pub,  they do so from the comfort of their own sofa with the ease and affordability of home deliveries meaning they can continue to buy alcohol even if they can’t walk.

The Great British Pub is at the heart of its community, creating jobs not only for staff, but also local suppliers and brewers, pubs also raise vast quantities of cash for charities each and every year and act as a social hub where people meet, talk, make friends and embody the spirit of The Big Community you keep trying to persuade us you are in favour of.

After over 100 MP’s signed a petition to scrap the Duty Escalator I was approaching the budget this year with slight optimism, how foolish. Thanks again for the stab in the back to two Great British institutions, the pub & the brewery. A can of beer in the supermarket costs 50p, a pint in a pub around £3. Have you actually spent more than a few nano seconds thinking about which would you prefer 20% VAT from?

Incidentally I have signed the e-petition to Stop the Duty escalator, I have encouraged my peers & customers to do the same and I have written to my MP previously with the same issues and a plea to reduce VAT for the hospitality sector to 5% if not only for the Olympics. People within the media and the beer industry with far more clout than myself have also been campaigning for the above issues. Not once do I feel that myself or any of the rest of the industry have been listened to properly, and I cannot understand why such a rich part of our countries history is being treated with such disdain from each and every Government over recent years.

I’m sure most of my fellow licensees alongside industry employees, brewers & pub operators would join me in wishing you and your cowardly cabinet barred from every pub in the country until you start to support us with reduced Duty, VAT or business rates, anything truly would be a start.

Noose Loaf

A George Osborne Noose Loaf

Ever hopeful,
Mitch Adams
The Thatchers Arms

p.s. My chef baked this lovely loaf of bread for you, lets say it represents the ever tightening pressures you place on my margins and my business in which I employ nearly 20 people. and pay over £1k a week in VAT alone.

Update: I received the carefully considered and thoughtful response below on the 26th March, 5 days after sending a copy to the Treasury

Dear Mr Adams
I am writing on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government to thank you for your email of 21 March. 
Ministers are always keen to receive feedback from people up and down the country, so it is very good of you to take the time to write and to let them have your views. Please rest assured that the contents of your letter have been registered by the Treasury. 
Thank you, once again, for taking the trouble to write to us with your views. 
Yours sincerely 
Miss HM Lewinson
Correspondence and Information Rights Unit
HM Treasury 


Celebrity Beer vs Wine & Food Matching Evening

Friday October 28th 7:30 for 8pm

Which is the best match for your meal, beer or wine? At the Thatchers Arms, Mount Bures, we are hosting a Beer vs Wine & Food matching evening to find out. We are lucky enough to have Saturday Kitchen’s Tim Atkin & Beer Writers Adrian Tierney Jones & Melissa Cole to help us decide over a five course menu. Each of the courses will be served with a wine and a beer. The experts will talk us through their choices and leave it to the guests to decide.

The five courses costing £30 including beer & wine are kindly supported by Adnams & with the food being supported by Direct Seafoods & John Colemans Butchers, All of the proceeds will be going to the charity of the winners choice. The five course Set Menu will be prepared by the Chefs at The Thatchers Arms and includes Venison Carpaccio, Home Smoked Mackerel, Sri Lankan Curry, Lemon Tart & Petit Fours. Vegetarian alternatives are available on request.

If Beer wins the diners vote then Help for Heroes will be collecting the profits, and if Wine wins the hearts of our foodies then Amnesty International will be winning the cash!

The evening is taking place after speculation on Twitter instigated by Dave Bailey & Neil Bowness that the very British product beer doesn’t get a fair share of TV coverage on shows like Saturday Kitchen. Wine is always matched with food when sometimes beer can do just as good or an even better job of pairing with the flavours in foods. Tim leapt to the defence of wine on Twitter agreeing to help host the evening convinced that wine is more often than not a much better partner to food. Adrian & Melissa, beer aficionados, both with books on the subject are keen to help beer receive it’s fair share of media coverage and will be choosing the beers to pair with the menu.

There are limited spaces available for the event, booking is essential.

Contact The Thatchers on 01787 227460 to book your seat.

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Black Pale Ale…

I used to work in a pub known as The Blue Red Lion, ‘Red Lion’ as in one of Britains best known pub names and ‘Blue’ because the building had been painted bright blue by a previous landlord with adventurous taste in masonry paint. The pub hasn’t been blue for many years now, but when Tiny Rebels ‘Flux’ confusingly labelled as a ‘Black Pale Ale’ arrived in our cellar I reminisced back to my first pub job in the kitchen of the paradoxically named Blue Red Lion in Great Bowden. I was just sixteen and mainly responsible for the salad garnishes that were served with most meals. Whether you ordered the steak, the mixed grill or the fish & chips a salad which boasted, at the height of summer, up to fifty ingredients was hastily put together by yours truly. A veritable feast in itself comprising of significantly more than your five a day.  Ingredients included: several types of lettuce; red onion; white onion; pickled onion; sweetcorn; tomato; pepper; coleslaw; cucumber; melon; grapefruit; strawberry; orange; a whole host of things I can’t remember and finally a dollop of cold baked beans. Whilst the ethos serving food fresh and cooked to order has stayed with me through my career you’ll be pleased to know that we don’t serve cold baked beans at The Thatchers Arms.

Still, I digress. I was supposed to be writing about ‘Flux’ produced in Wales by the slightly offbeat chaps at Tiny Rebel Brew co. The idea behind the oxymoronic beer style is that it has all the malt of a black ale, dark rich roasted malts like a stout or porter, but all the hops of a pale ale, bold fragrant fruity hops and a big dry bitter finish. Black IPA’s, Black Pale Ales, Cascadian Dark Ales, whatever you want to call them (and I’m not sure I like any of the names) are damn tasty. We have Flux on sale right now [Sat Oct 19th 2013] and a few more beers from Tiny Rebel coming up so if you see a pumpclip with a bear resembling Pudsey bear after a heavy night out on Halloween then don’t be scared, give them a try!

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Midweek Meal & a Matched Drink £10!

Starting today at the Thatchers is a new midweek offer…

We’ll be serving a different meal from our specials boards each day with a carefully chosen paired drink for just £10. “Mitch’s Match of the Day” will be available Tuesday – Friday lunchtimes and Tuesday to Thursday evenings.  One meal from our specials boards will be paired with a beer, cider or wine and if served together they’ll be just £10.

Cider vs Wine

At The Thatchers we hold regular beer & food matching dinners and have also hosted several vs matches between beer, cider and wine. I write about beer, cider and food matching for the trade press and thought this would be a great opportunity to share my love of food and drink pairing with you.

Today [Wed 16th October 2013] we’ll be serving a rich lamb & corriander curry with a pint of Adnams Ghostship, maybe tomorrow we’ll have Kerridges Grandfather Sausages with Calvors Dark Lager. We might have Coq Au Vin with a glass of Merlot or Mussels cooked in Aspall Cyder with a glass of the same. We’ll change the meal and the match every day, but the price stays the same, £10. Just watch out on Twitter & Facebook to see what we’ve got each day…

Of course you’ll be able to have the meal without the drink, but we think you’ll be missing out! A wise man once said “Food comes in a wide variety of flavors. Beer comes in a wide variety of flavors. And, if you pair them correctly, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”  Garrett Oliver. I think to this applies to any carefully considered match and hope you’ll try some of ours…

Also don’t miss our tutored cider and food tasting on Nov 2nd with Pete Brown & Henry Chevallier for the ‘Worlds Best Cider’ book launch.worlds best ciders

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T’ winners o’ our grog festival competition

Ahoy there landlubbers!

We ran a little competition t’ see how creative our customers were… £20 o’ vouchers for t’ best pirate photo, video, poem or haiku on our Facebook or Twitter stream, here be t’ winners!

All o’ t’ pirates below have won £20 t’ spend on grog at our festival this weekend, come and claim your booty!

1) Our first entry…

Cap’n Graham James Birks


2) A stunning sea shanty performed and sung by Trevor Parrot (yes that’s actually his name)

3) A fine beard for a cap’n…

Cap’n Casey Dale Parker

Bretts says arrrrrrrrrrrrrr

4) A jolly ‘ol poem

Cap’n Clive Gilham
We’re hoping that a picture of Bacchus in a patch
Will be enough to impress the judges at the thatch(ers)
We need some pieces of eight to go towards our beers
And to raise a glass to septembaaaaaa and all say cheers

5) And finally, the only haiku…

Cap’n Peter Harper
Pirates seek their kin:
Under grey september skies
Home port calls – Mount Bures

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