Friday, December 19, 2014

Briggs Signature Ales and Mallinsons news

This weekend sees a couple of monumental events in the careers of both Briggs and Mallinsons beers.

It is the first anniversary of Briggs Signature Ales, and to celebrate the event what better way to do it than take over the bar at the Star, in company with his collegues at Mallinsons. This will happen tomorrow night (Saturday 20th) from 7 p.m. We are promised some special beers unique to the event from each brewery. Congratulations Nick!

And, just in time for Christmas, Mallinsons will be opening a bottle shop at their Lockwood Road brewery. It will open from Monday 22nd December between 10am and 4pm. At present it is cash only, and they ask you to be patient in their answering of the door, it depends where they are in the brewery. Guess where I will be at 10.05 on Monday!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Manchester before Christmas

The Marble Arch, Rochdale Road, Manchester M4 4HY
The Christmas music piped up just as we piled off the train at Manchester Victoria.
But this blast of brass was the closest some of us got to the festivities all day. Not that we are entirely Bah Humbugs on this blog, it was just a bit chilly out and there was surely a pub with a roaring fire waiting for us somewhere.
The idea behind the 'First' group's monthly outing was to combine Manchester's Christmas Market with a tour of the city's pubs.
A few hardy souls did stick to the game-plan but let's say the majority weren't singing from the same hymn sheet.
The splinter group's first stop was a fine sight. The red granite exterior of The Marble Arch in Ancoats was bathed in wintry sunlight, giving it an almost holy glow.
Inside was a revelation too, with a sloping tiled floor leading inexorably to the bar. There we found a wide range of Marble Brewery on cask and some keg beers from other breweries.
I was ready to be cliched and drink Manchester Bitter, one of my favourites. But it wasn't on, and I saw a new beer from Marble, Antipodean: a New Zealand Pale Ale.

This four percenter won unanimous praise from the Christmas market naysayers and turned out to be beer of the day for many. There was no hop info on the pump clip but Neslon Sauvin came out top in our guess the hop competition.
The perceived wisdom in beer circles is that Marble beers are not quite as good as they used to be. Although we only tried one beer and it's difficult to make an informed decision from that, the evidence before us suggested otherwise. I have never closed my eyes to Marble but I shall look forward to more of their beers based on this experience.
After much purring over Antipodean on cask, it was time for the keg debate to rage. Our group consisted of the keen, undecided and the anti-keg.
Two beers were kindly shared among the group, one from Beer Moth, a 7% plus percent affair, and a collaboration involving Magic Rock at a shade over 6%.
The Beer Moth was cold and fizzy, while the Magic Rock combo was less lively and more like normal temperature. 
I think the consensus was for the Beer Moth but our keg dissenter liked the other beer.
After a promising start, I was a little underwhelmed by the next two pubs: The Angel up the road and The Smithfield. Both bars seemed to have little for me on this occasion and I chose badly instead of sitting them out.
Crown & Kettle, Oldham Road M4 5FE
But The Crown & Kettle  was a return to form, both in look and beer.
I'd been instructed to marvel at the ceiling but not to be alarmed if a flake or two fell on me. You see, one side of the chandelier clad beauty was scraped back, while the other was beautifully decorated in claret and gold. Both were covered by netting.
After observing the architecture - including the church-like windows and arches - I returned to beer-blinkers mode.
A scan down the bar revealed a collaboration from the Riverhead and Rat breweries, involving coriander  and something else; Ossett's Nervous Turkey; Arbor's A Winter's Pale and a beer from the mysterious Vagrant Brewing Company.
I was tempted to try the latter but I am a bit of an Arbor junkie so I went for their Aussie Pale Ale. This 4.7% trip to the New World was my beer of the day by a whisker and we had some good ale that day.
The pub was busy but we found a table in the back room and settled down to talk beer.
One of our enterprising group went to enquire with the bar staff about Vagrant. The bartender promptly went on the Internet and told us all about this cuckoo brewery who work out of Black Jack.
I don't know which site she used but I suspect it might have been this informative Q&A on Manchester Ale News
Later, when we did a trip 'wash up', The Crown & Kettle and The Marble Arch stood out for welcome, helpful bar staff and beer.
Next up was a Robinsons pub, The Castle Hotel on Oldham Street. Here another splinter group formed, those who filed into this beautifully brown-tiled Grade II listed pub and those who sloped off down a side street for a chip or fish butty.
Castle Hotel, Oldham Street, M4 1LE

Suitably nourished, but miffed not to have seen the Holland's Pies until it was too late, we headed out 
of the Northern Quarter to the Port Street Beer House.
Port Street Beer House, Port Street M1 2EQ.
Last three pictures courtesy of Steve Goodwill
I wondered if we were going to the dentists when we suddenly turned 90 degrees off the street into a pastel-hued hallway. But my fears were allayed when we bore right into a packed ground floor bar.
Here the choice, for me, was between two more Arbor beers, Oyster Stout or a saison with clementines. Bus as the light was fading, it was time for a dark beer. It continued the remarkable run of Arbor beers I've had.
The only gripe I and others had was the price of our different beers. I think mine was £1.90 for a 4.6% and a First colleague complained to me about not getting much change out of a tenner for four halves.
But I can't say I wasn't forewarned as the excellent Manchester Pub Guide, published by CAMRA, told me it was a "rather expensive experience". 
From here we went to the first of two food orientated bars. The first was Pie & Ale, which lived up to its billing.
Pie & Ale, Lever Street M1 1FN
But these weren't any old meat and potato pies but pigeon, game and a horse pot. I abstained but never have I heard so many people enthusing about knowingly consuming horse meat.
After a veritable Grand National sized field of horse puns, we got back on track to beer. I think all of us were looking forward to Mallinsons Citra but it promptly ran off as we were about to order. Then I think another beer went, so my choice was between the house beer, brewed by Wells & Young's, and a pilsner.
I went for the pilsner, I can't remember who it was brewed by. All I recall was that it was OK and it's the second pilsner I've had lately which has left me nonplussed. It's normally a beer style I tend to favour but I wonder if I'm growing out of it. Time will tell.
We talked long and hard about staying for another as new beers were coming on the bar, like Summer Wine Brewery's Hit Man.
We were tempted but it was time to go to our final destination: Common on Edge Street.
It was another food and drink type place.
The pub, which is basically a series of converted shops, is known for its artwork. But it was packed when we visited on early Saturday evening, so I don't recall looking at the walls.
One of our group stumped me with a question as we were standing at the crowded bar. We could see the ABVs for the cask and keg beers but no percentages for the cocktails, which were advertised prominently on a sign hanging over the bar.
Later as I watched one being made - and saw all the combinations of spirits and liqueurs going in - I guessed they don't tell you the strength as you may need some algebraic formula to work it out or they don't want to scare you with a 45% plus monster.
Beer-wise we were all delighted to get a second chance at Summer Wine's Hit Man, only for it run off before our eyes. Some opted instead for a golden beer from Prospect, of Standish.
Looking around, the clientele here tended to be of the younger hipster end. They seemed to be enjoying the food, which seemed to be of the burger and nachos variety.
Inevitably, talked turned to planning the January expedition. This had been prompted by a text from aswiftone contributors Aliain who had suggested a Wakefield district trip to the likes of The Junction in Castleford, the newly re-opened Robin Hood at Pontefract and the bars of the Merrie city itself.
I suspect we will combine it with a mini tour of Leeds, taking in Northern Monk's Refectory in Holbeck and maybe the pubs of Water Lane.
Well, the world is your oyster on a West Yorkshire day rover.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Bah Humbug - again !!

Those  of you who have been following 'A Swift One' over the years may recall I have visited this subject previously, but I make no apologies for visiting  it once more . It is THAT time of year again. The time when the world seems to go mad, and the shops and pubs are full of people whose one intention seems to be to get in my way.

My gripe is not with Christmas per se, although I would prefer it to be staggered throughout the year, so maybe different parts of the country celebrate it in different months and I could move around and miss it. My gripe is with the brewing industry. Not all of it, but just those brewers who mislead me into drinking beers I do not like, and had I been aware, would have avoided.

Let me explain. I do not like my beer messed about with as a rule, and especially not so with spices. Many brewers seem to think this it is a tradition to make beers with such things at this time of year. Lets face it, if I wanted a Xmas pudding (which incidentally I don't) I would buy the real thing. I do not want to order a beer and suddenly find it has all the ingredients of a pudding in my glass.

Before you start and say it is my own fault for being a 'ticker' and 'needing' to score the beer anyway, let put you right. I am happy to be given the choice so if I see a beer called 'Noel' or 'Christmas Cracker' I roughly know what to expect and it is up to my feeling at the time whether to subject myself to it or not. What I object to are those breweries who disguise their Christmas beer under names that give no clue as to what is to come.

I had a trip around Leeds yesterday, and came across a couple of beers that perfectly fit that description. 'ECB' - what is that ? Ah English Christmas Beer, my fault for not reading the small print maybe. However, 'Nippy Nights' - no clue there. But a spicy concoction. Strangely 'Miseltoe Myth' which I expected to be of this ilk, was light and hoppyish. Some were a little easier to work out admittedly using words like Christmas, Santa, elves etc. etc so I knew to avoid them. But I got to the point of treating every beer I had never previously encountered with suspicion. Thankfully I did not get my fingers bitten again but I will be very pleased when January comes and we can see the back of the Christmas pudding mix.

So please brewers if you are going to make a Christmas beer with spices, and I have no objection if you do, can you call if something I can associate with spices, so I can avoid it if I want and don't inadvertently end up with a beer the taste of which lingers for hours.

Friday, December 12, 2014

West Riding LRR Celebrates 20 Years in The Guide

Time really flies doesn't it? I remember walking into The West at Dewsbury station for the first time as if it was yesterday. Goodness knows where it all went - though not sure I want to. Two decades is a slice though, and to maintain standards consistently enough to be recognised without interruption by the Good Beer Guide is truly impressive.

Last night a special presentation by Andy Kassube of  CAMRA was made to Mike Field & Sarah Barnes, whose latest venture at The Old Turk we reported on just last month. The West Riding, it has to be said,  doesn't look any different all these years later - and incredibly neither do Mike nor Sarah! 

For many of us mere mortals - ravaged by relentless time and good beer - the pub played an important role in bringing us an endless stream of quality ale from all over the UK, right at the start of what was to blossom into a full blown brewing revolution. And for this more than anything, we are truly grateful. Cheers - and here's to the next twenty!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Empire Brewing Award at The Commercial in Slaithwaite

Huddersfield Oktoberfest 2014 - Mild of the Festival 

Now in it's fifth year since reopening, The Commercial at Slaithwaite has firmly established itself as the village's top attraction for ale lovers. In beer terms it's anything but commercial, with the emphasis very much on small brewery output,  in particular the locally produced Empire range.

The very keenly priced Commerciale is always to be found here but it's the award-winning Moonraker Mild that has brought in the crowds this evening. The Huddersfield Oktoberfest best mild award has found it's way up the Colne Valley this year and into the deserving hands of  Russ & Lorraine Beverley (pictured below with Bob Tomlinson). 

Our first experience drinking Empire was one Sunday lunchtime a few years back in the Fieldhead at Quarmby where a certain Strikes Back was being served. And what an impression that made! If memory serves, a similar award was bestowed on the brewery that autumn - and very few could argue. The beer set a standard to be followed up by the likes of Mallinsons, Summer Wine and Magic Rock, breweries that have since put Huddersfield very firmly on the map - and the rest, as they say.... 

Monday, December 08, 2014

The Junction at Castleford

Reasons for taking so long to visit the 'home of the wooden cask' have been mainly a combination of idleness on my part and the somewhat scant availability of my tour manager (who could never be accused of dragging his feet incidentally).

But getting to Cas has been greatly simplified since my job-switch to Wakefield in the summer, so when an opportunity arose recently to join the ubiquitous Bloke (or Blerke if you're coastal) From Hull at The Junction, it was time to board the badlands express.

Whilst not a complete stranger to the town, I had never done any drinking in it, or eating for that matter - a situation soon rectified, in no small degree on both fronts, by my inestimable colleague.

There's lining your stomach before a few beers and then there's getting totally pie-faced at the Pop-Inn cafe on Wilson Street. No short measures here. £3.50 for a mountain of pie, mash, veggies and Yorkshires was the best value anything I've ever had I reckon. And top quality too - just be sure to skip breakfast.

The Junction has had a remarkable transformation recently and though waiting to have it's exterior buffed up, the bar and snug are quite something. And the attraction here is far more than just the experience of having all the real ales drawn from wooden casks, this really is the sort of pub I would happily spend more time in than is good for me if it was at all local.

Hosts Neil Midgley & Maureen Shaw (above) are at the heart of things and quite justifiably proud of this extraordinary oasis in a town  predominantly doing keg and a handful of cask from the giants. The beer choice is their's, and right now allegiances are strongest with Ridgeside (with whom the pub struck up an instant bond when the brewery formed) and Elland. 

Our beers on this particular chilly afternoon couldn't have been better scripted. The award winning 1872 Porter from Elland for the man, and for me, the indescribably beautiful Coda (a 5.6% IPA) from Ridgeside - the late and much-missed Simon Bolderson's lasting legacy.

A tour of the cellar, an extra pint, a brief history from Neil, another unscripted beer, a chat with the locals by the open fire, more extra-curricular ale, all resulted in two missed trains - and it could easily have been three. And it's not often I lose track - which probably says more about this pub and it's regulars and it's relaxing atmosphere and it's great beer than anything else.

If you're thinking about going - just do it. David Litten is probably on some sort of commission at both pub and cafe - though won't admit it - so contact him through the usual channels if you need a guide - just make sure you put aside plenty of time. 

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Star Winter Festival Review

Last night the doors opened on the 13th Star Winter Beer Festival, obviously 'A Swift One' was there, and this is a quick resume of what we found.

I won't bore you with the technicalities, the system is the tried and tested one, with 46 beers on offer in the marquee. But what of the beers available ? There were beers from all over the country with plenty of unusual Yorkshire breweries represented, along with a few from the North East, and a couple from Scotland and Wales as well. It was just a problem where to start.

I did have a bit of help here actually, when Bad brewery's 'Comfortably Numb' was recommended to me. A very impressive beer, full of flavour, and very moreish at 3.8%. This is a new brewery to me and led me to try their second beer 'Love over Gold' which was equally as good. Whilst I was in new brewery mode I tried Twisted 'Conscript' - a fairly traditional tasting bitter and The Olde Potting Shed 'Swanee River' which was similar but stronger.

Time to take a look at some of the local specials, and they don't come more local than Mallinsons whose brewery is just over the road from the pub. Their 'Elved' was a dry hopped version of one of the beers and was excellent, I would have tried another had not research got in the way. But 'Super Calypso' was another good choice, with a massive fruity hop hit. Since I had tried them it would have been churlish to overlook the Briggs beers. 'Symphony no3' was a quad hopped (whatever that means!!) special, and 4.6%, and very pleasant. I must admit to have been less impressed with 'Christmas Carol', a 5.5% dark beer with hints of cherry. But it was not my style of beer unfortunately.

There were still plenty of beers to sample and I tried my best. Everything I tried was in good condition, and there were plenty of good beers available, but I still managed to save some of the interesting sounding ones for later in the week. Great Heck 'Mount Mosaic' sounds good, Pictish 'Away In A Mash Tun' is apparently a typical Pictish offering, and the Three Daggers beers sound interesting.But before you leave take a look at the main bar, and if you have the capacity have a try of the North Riding/Five Towns '281 DIPA'. Admittedly it is 8.5% but it is my beer of the festival so far packed with hop flavours (but is is only a 4.5 gallon barrel, so you will have to be quick !)

So if you fancy a weekend away from the Christmas shopping get down to the Star, and give it a go yourself. Thursday night is another of the festivals 'Bake Off's - this time Christmas themed, and on Saturday night the 'Monotones' play live.