No 10: Arkell’s Ales

No 10: Arkell’s Ales

24th March 2020

Well listeners. This Swindon in 50 Drinks post No 10: Arkell’s Ales, is something of a milestone. Not because it’s the 10th post in the series. Oh no. Rather, it’s because today is the day after our current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, put the country into a condition that is lockdown in all but name. The reason for that being the pandemic Covid-19 – also known as the coronavirus.

It’s all rather frightening TBH. And of course it’s curtailed my plans to progress this series of the blog – for obvious reasons. But – I happened to have a couple of bottles of Arkell’s in my store. Thus this post – the last for a while.

Me on YouTube with a rather unfortunate stop point!:

About Arkell’s Brewery

If you’ve got a copy of Swindon in 50 Buildings you’ll be familiar with Arkell’s. If you haven’t got a copy – why not? I have some – get in touch. 🙂

The Arkell’s website’s history page has an informative timeline of their history – it’s well worth a look – and a detailed history.

Here’s a small extract:

‘John Arkell was a remarkable man. Born into a farming family in 1802 in Kempsford, South Gloucestershire, he emigrated to the New World in his late twenties and took with him a group of local people who sought a refuge from the tough conditions endured by agricultural folk at that time. It was a brave step.

They arrived in Canada and established the small community of Arkell – which still exists today – but three years later, John returned for love. His fiancĂ©e preferred to live in England so he came home to marry and set up home in Stratton St Margaret, near Swindon, where he grew barley on his farm.’

The step from there to brewing beer was an obvious one. At that time, many pubs and even private homes, brewed beer. But John Arkell’s foresight saw the potential for supplying beer to a string of other pubs along with his own, recently-bought Kingsdown pubs.

With immaculate timing, he picked a moment when Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Swindon’s founding father, chose Swindon to site his GWR Works. Thus the once-sleepy market town was already growing into a thriving – and thirsty – industrial heartland.

The Beers – No 10: Arkell’s Ales

It’s clear that Arkell’s have a rather large selection of beer – and I only have two of them. The two that you see in the picture below.

When we’re in better and Covid-19 controlled times once more do visit their grain and grape warehouse:

No 10: Arkell's Ales

The Malthouse Craft Lager

They describe this beer on their website thus:

‘Since its release in 2013 to celebrate our 170th anniversary, our lager, 1843 Craft Lager, has become one of our most popular, award-winning brands. 

This is a classic ‘craft’ lager brewed using pale malt with some wheat added for extra body and mouth feel and traditional lager hops. It is gradually fermented at a much lower temperature and matured for 3 weeks in tank at an even lower temperature to produce a pleasant, light, refreshing beer. 

This year as part of our 175th anniversary and after consulting some of our loyal drinkers we have decided to update its name to Malthouse Craft Lager, named after the old Malthouse that was built here at the brewery by our founder John Arkell in 1877.’

And that’s it for now, for #swindonin50rinks See you on the other side I hope!

No 9: Italian Beer

No 9: Italian Beer

A recent visit to Da Vinci – the Italian restaurant down on Fleet Street gave me the perfect opportunity to do a Swindon in 50 Drinks post on Italian beer. Well two of them anyway. Peroni and Moretti.

Italian beer - Peroni and Moretti

Peroni Nastro Azzuro

Peroni - Italian beer

From the Peroni official website we learn that the Peroni family conceived this beer in 1963. A beer to embody Italian values of quality and craftsmanship. They describe the beer as being brewed through three generations of master brewers. According to them: ‘Peroni Nastro Azzurro uses only the finest ingredients, including our exclusive Nostrano dell’Isola maize.’

Thus, they say, they deliver a beer that is crisp and refreshing with a delicate balance of bitterness, citrus and spicy aromas with a fast, clean finish. I have no sense of smell so can’t comment on the aroma part.


The maize used by Peroni they obtain from the small town of Bergamo in northern Italy. The town produces the maize only for Peroni.

Lying in the Lombardy region is a fertile plain, between the rivers of Adda and Brembo, known by the locals as the ‘island earth’. Here are perfect conditions for growing maize. An absence of frost, the cilmate and the soil – irrigated by melted snow from the Alps – creates this ideal environment.

The Peroni Brewery

To learn about the Peroni Brewery visit Beer and Brewing.Com They say: ‘Peroni Brewery, founded as the Birra Peroni Brewery in 1846 by the Peroni family in Vigevano, Italy. In 1864 Giovanni Peroni moved the brewery to Rome, where it soon began to prosper. The first advertising for Peroni beer appeared in 1910 and helped popularize the brand …

… The second largest brand is Nastro Azzurro, meaning “Blue Ribbon” in Italian. Nastro Azzuro is a premium lager at 5.1% ABV launched in 1963. 

Birra Moretti

Italian beer - birra Moretti

First brewed in 1859, this beer is made with a blend of quality ingredients and a barely-changed brewing process. According to the Beers of Europe website what you can expect from this beer is a delicate citrus hop base and a top note of wholemeal bread. All I know is that it’s a tasty and refreshing 4.6%.

Heineken bought the company in 1996. Nothing is what it seems eh?

As for the label on the bottle: It appears that, in 1942, Moretti’s nephew noticed a dapper chap in a restaurant in Udine. He asked if he could take the man’s picture. The diner said ‘yes’ in exchange for another beer. From that day to this he adorns every bottle of Moretti beer.

The Da Vinci Restaurant and Pizzeria

These Swindon in 50 drinks posts are more about the drink than the venue. But I have to say, I have a soft spot for this place. The food is good and good value. The staff are friendly. And – you get a tablecloth and linen napkin. A rare treat these days. If you’ve not been then give them a try.

Here’s their Facebook page:

Da Vinci in Swindon
No 8: Hot Chocolate

No 8: Hot Chocolate

The on-the-ground research for this Swindon in 50 Drinks post about hot chocolate necessitated a return visit to Los Gatos, on Devizes Road in Old Town.

(See also N0 7: Sherry_at Los Gatos – and for all the Swindon in 50 Drinks posts so far go here.

A blustery Saturday morning, in a series of seemingly endless blustery/gale force/wet days in early 2020, saw four female friends gather for coffee, a warm chocolate drink, churros and chat.

hot chocolate in Los Gatos, Swindon

Hot Chocolate History

Drinking chocolate is a delight almost as old as the sun itself. It certainly dates back to The People of the Sun – the Aztecs.

They gave high-regard to cocoa beans for their culinary pleasures and traded in them too – using them as currency. During cultural festivities and ceremonies, they exchanged cocoa beans as gifts.

The Aztecs began roasting fresh cocoa beans and making a chocolate drink from it. But their recipe is miles apart from the drink we know today.

The Aztecs took their chocolate drink cold and blended it with chill peppers and even mulled wine. Indeed, chocolate with chill in it has become popular in recent years.


Back in the early part of the 15th century, the explorer Cortez, discovered chocolate and introduced it to Europe. In Spain they took the chocolate as a hot beverage, sweetened and without the spicy additions. For over a century the Spanish protected their drinking chocolate recipe.

The superiority of chocolate (hot chocolate), both for health and nourishment, will soon give it the same preference over tea and coffee in America which it has in Spain.” — Thomas Jefferson

NB: Los Gatos serve churro (one churro – multiple churros) on Saturday mornings from 10am – to about 11.30 am I think. After that it’s lunches. Dipped into a cup of hot chocolate, this Spanish spin on doughnuts is divine. It gets busy so go early.

A Chocolate Timeline

This article from one of my fave chocolate brands, Hotel Chocolat, has a timeline of the 3,500 year evolution of drinking chocolate.

And this piece from The Londonist details the history of drinking chocolate in London.

According to them, Samuel Pepys infamous diary holds an early record of drinking chocolate. He writes, after the 1661 coronation of King Charles II, he used drinking chocolate as a stomach settler following his liberal libations of the previous night.

‘Drinking chocolate was also available in the new-fangled coffee houses (coffee only arrived in London around five years previously), but this was often an inferior, watered-down version. Plus, most coffee house visitors were there for the caffeine, which cocoa didn’t offer in such quantities.’

No 7: Sherry – Fortified Wine of Spain

No 7: Sherry – Fortified Wine of Spain

Hello listeners. Here I am taking one for the team and continuing my tour round Swindon in 50 Drinks. If your perception of sherry is the dark, somewhat sweet stuff you remember your granny drinking in a schooner at Christmas – prepare for a surprise. Because there’s as much variety with it as there is with other wines. The fortified wine you associate with grandma and Christmas is more than likely Harvey’s Bristol Cream or something similar. And you might be even more surprised to know that chilled is how you should serve it – according to them.

The merchant William Perry founded Harveys, in Bristol, in 1756. During the 19th C, Harveys turned themselves into one the biggest importers of sherry, from the Bay of Cadiz to Bristol.

In 1882, John Harvey II and his brother Edward created Harveys Bristol Cream from a blend of Fino, Oloroso, Amontillado and Pedro Ximenez grapes. If, like me, you can’t bear this stuff, rejoice! For there’s a world of sherry to explore. And the best news is that you can do your exploring right here in Swindon, at the Los Gatos tapas restaurant in Old Town.

What is Sherry?

A treasure of the wine world aside, according to Wine Anorak, sherry is ‘a fortified wine made from vineyards in the far south of Spain, where extreme heat—summer temperatures regularly exceed 40 ÂşC—is countered by cooling breezes from the Atlantic.’

Map of sherry country in Spain

Sherry Basics

With thanks to Los Gatos for some useful notes.

Sherry comes only from one small Spanish region. 50 million bottles are produced each year from 7000 hectares of vineyards. After the Spanish themselves the UK is the largest sherry consumer – 30%. No surprises there methinks.

Most sherries come from the Palamino grape variety. And doesn’t that sound like a horse? Only Palamino, Moscatel and Pedro Ximinez can be used for Sherry.

Every bottle has the Jerez or Manzanilla stamp and a unique number.

A Sherry Sampling Session

Myself and my chum Jo Garton, are both somewhat partial to a drop of the Spanish stuff. So not long back we two and a third friend headed to Los Gatos on Devizes Rd for a little libation. Or two. Chilled to perfection and with a bowl of salted almonds there are few things finer.

My friend Jo favours a Pedro XimĂ©nez – the darkest one in the pictures above. That’s still too sweet for my palate. I like a Fino. Or, my fave, a Manzanilla – the middle one you see. I believe Amontillado is the third sherry in the pictures.

Sherry Tasting Notes

Los Gatos kindly gave me some tasting notes about sherry to use in this blog, so what follows is thanks to them.


  • Only produced in the town of Sanlucar
  • Very pale, straw-yellow colour.
  • Pungent, yeasty nose with hints of almonds and camomile.
  • Dry, fresh, delicate and nicely bitter on the palate, with salty notes.
  • Always serve well chilled.
  • Great with seafood


  • Amber to pale mahogany colour
  • Slightly pungent, with a deep, complex, nutty nose.
  • Full and smooth on the palate, with a dry finish and a persistent aftertaste.
  • A good all rounder with cheese and meat

Pedro Ximénez

  • Extremely dark mahogany colour and dense, syrupy appearance.
  • Deep aromas of dried fruits (raisins), gaining complexity with ageing: toffee, liquorice…
  • Very sweet taste, with a smooth, velvety texture. Very long aftertaste.
  • Great with bitter chocolate desserts or poured over vanilla ice cream
No 6: Hop Kettle Pilsner Lager

No 6: Hop Kettle Pilsner Lager

For this post and this drink, Hop Kettle Pilsner Lager (brewed for the Eternal Optimist) we make a return visit to The Eternal Optimist bar on Devizes Rd above Los Gatos.

See also in this series, No 5: Gin & Tonic for more on the Eternal Optimist.

Love these glasses! And the contents was pretty tasty too.

Two halves of Hop Kettle brewery Pilsner lager and the Timbers Pizza menu. The BEST pizza ever.

Pilsner Lager in general

According to the Beerwulf website, lager is bottom-fermented – whereas ale is top fermented. So ALL lager is beer but not all beer is a lager.

Lager, the website tells us, is a collective name for many bottom-fermenting beer styles. The colour of them can vary from dark brown to light blonde and the alcohol percentage can range from alcohol-free to over 10%.

Origin of the word Lager: the word’s root is in the German word lagern – meaning ‘to store’. Bottom fermentation beers need a longer rest period after the main fermentation that occurs in cold conditions (around 0 degrees) compared to top fermenting beers. This rest period (or storage) is called lagering and that is why we call all these beers lager.

See also:

The difference between lager and Pilsner: Pilsner is a type of later. It’s named after the Czech city of Plzen. Bavarian brewer Josef Groll first brewed Pilsner in 1842, when the good folk of Plzen asked him to brew a good, stable beer. He brought with yeast from Bavaria – the yeast used to brew lagers.

The Hop Kettle Brewery

Hop Kettle Pilsner Lager  - the tap in the eternal optimist

You can find out more about the Hop Kettle brewery on the About Us page of their website here.

Founded by Tom Gee, the brewery is based in Swindon and Cricklade.

The Pilsner that we drank in The Eternal Optimist is a special brew for the bar. And, I have to say, it’s jolly nice. I’m not an expert at all but I thought I detected a malty hint to it. Either way, I liked it a lot.

The Hop Kettle in the Ether


No 5: Gin & Tonic

No 5: Gin & Tonic

I have a confession to make. I loathe gin. And I’m not a fan of tonic either. Which is as bit of a bummer given that every bar in the land is awash with every variety of Mothers’ Ruin you can imagine. And, I daresay, some you can’t. So I can’t tell you how pleased I was when my good chum, Jo Garton, volunteered to take one for the team and write a few lines about her gin & tonic experience at Old Town bar, The Eternal Optimist. And more on that in a bit. Their Facebook page is here.

Meanwhile, I remain eternally optimistic that Sherry or Rum – two drinks I do like – will soon have their moment in the sun.

Gin & tonic - bottles of gin

Mother’s Ruin

gin and tonic - drawing of drunk man holding bottle of gin

I referred above gin’s other moniker: mother’s ruin. You’ll many of you be familiar with the famous Hogarth engraving of the baby falling from its inebriated mother’s arms. This article from Historic UK about Mother’s Ruin shows it. As the article explains – if you think modern drug use is bad it had nothing on the gin-drinking habits of mid-eighteenth century English society. The drink even started as a medicine – thought to cure gout and indigestion. But by far its biggest attraction was its cheapness.

What is gin?

Well according to that fount of all knowledge (sort of) Wikipedia – ‘gin is a distilled alcoholic drink that derives its predominant flavour from juniper berries. Gin is one of the broadest categories of spirits, all of various origins, styles, and flavour profiles, that revolve around juniper as a common ingredient.’ They also say:

‘The earliest known written reference to jenever appears in the 13th-century encyclopaedic work Der Naturen Bloeme (Bruges). The earliest printed recipe for jenever dating from 16th-century work Een Constelijck Distileerboec (Antwerp).

The physician Franciscus Sylvius was falsely credited with the invention of gin in the mid-17th century. That said, the existence of jenever is confirmed in Philip Massinger’s play The Duke of Milan (1623), when Sylvius would have been about nine years old. It’s further claimed that English soldiers who provided support in Antwerp against the Spanish in 1585, during the Eighty Years’ War, were already drinking jenever for its calming effects before battle. It’s thought the term Dutch courage stems from that.

According to some unconfirmed accounts, gin originated in Italy.’

Back to Gin & Tonic at the Eternal Optimist

On her experiences at the Old Town bar Jo writes:

Do you like your gin and tonic in a European style glass with an unexpected blueberry in an achingly hip environment? If so, then The Eternal Optimist may be for you. Well, I say ‘achingly hip,’ but I’m a dumpy, 55-year-old in comfortable shoes and an anorak, so you could be correct in thinking I may not be the best judge. 

Perhaps I should offer some evidence for the hip credentials. Firstly the beard count: fourteen bearded to four unbearded men. It seemed churlish to count the women. The Eternal Optimist is up  well-worn wooden stairs, nothing so suburban as stair carpet.

Then there is the decor, which is a blend of vintage 70s- breadfruit plants for example and the, very now, industrial lighting and jumble of empty gin bottles. The walls are grey with arty swirls of black, which might put you in mind of your stomach lining if you drink too much.

They have an impressive range of craft beers on the wall,as they are partnered with the Hop Kettle Brewery. More to my taste they have some interesting gins, many off the beaten track. I went for Boe Violet, but I’m keen to explore more of the range. they also have an extensive range of tonics, no bog-standard here. If I might make one small criticism, a black plastic straw is not in keeping with the ecological zeitgeist. My beloved, very much a creature of habit, went for the house wine, which he found extremely acceptable. 

Gin & Tonic at The Eternal Optimist.

A somewhat, as is fitting, blurred photograph of a G&T with ice and a slice and a glass of house red at The Eternal Optimist.

The seats are, as you might expect, very random. Long tables with wooden chairs for larger parties and a couple of very comfy winged armchairs for a more intimate conversation.

All this and they offer home baked pizza three nights a week from the relocated Pizza Man – Timber’s Pizza. I’m sure they are, as Born-Again Swindonian tells me, delicious, but I fear I must avoid them in order to avoid my beloved’s lengthy conversations with said Pizza man, about the relative benefits of varieties of dough. Not a problem that most of you will have in this quirky hideaway bar in the midst of Old Town.

What a tonic

And finally a word about tonic water. According to Medical News Today, tonic water is a soft drink containing quinine. It’s that which gives it a bitter taste. Quinine is a common malaria treatment – thought also to help with leg cramps and restless legs syndrome.

If you’re looking for some info on what’s good in the world of tonic water then check out this article from Olive magazine, as they’ve done a tonic water taste test. Read that and you’re all set for a great gin & tonic.