Sunday, May 27, 2007

Barge & Barrel Beer Festival, Elland

The Barge & Barrel in Elland does a couple of fests each year and I've managed to miss them all since 2004 due to holidays or something, so it was good to get back in this thriving Calderdale boozarama. An extra bar and live music are easily accommodated here whilst regularly updated aleboards keep the fest-goers in the know.

Beer apart it was pianist Mad Andy Stones that I was really keen to see in action. Once a regular at the Black Bull in Liversedge, he only seems to pop up now and again at local beer fests, but is well worth tracking down if only for his version of Bohemian Rhapsody. A seriously funny man!

Another impressive selection of ales and the usual enthusiastic turn-out made me wonder how I'd managed to avoid so many of the Barge's festivals recently. This is truely great stuff and what every real ale pub should seek to emulate at least once a year!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Fox & Goose Beer Festival, Hebden Bridge

Two more festivals to report on this Bank Holiday weekend, both outside Kirklees but hey, only just!

The Fox & Goose in Hebden Bridge has always had a formidable reputation for good beer and yet this was my first visit! Not a place I pass from one year to the next but returning from the Forest of Bowland today it was nowt but a minor detour.

Fox & Goose Spring Bank Festival

This is one of very few pubs I've visited that doesn't stock (English) L*g*r, and consequently gets top marks from me - I wish a few more would be brave enough to follow suit! [Of course not all real ale folk are saints but the vast majority of the truely feckless in our pubs are to be found clutching some species of this unswillable dreck. The TV plays a huge role in brainwashing as we know but I always figured that the ad campaign that goes "I bet he drinks C**l**g" showing some l*g*r shifter being clever, would have been much more realistic with some pissed-up bin-bashing little snot parcels, verbally abusing every non-tracksuit wearing passer-by from their park bench - just a personal observation you understand!]

click on menu to enlarge

Being their fourth anniversary the theme was "Four Nations Ale" which was fairly ambitious when you consider having to source enough stuff from Ireland to make it work. The festival surpassed all expectations though and it was just unfortunate that I was en-route 'cos I could have stayed all day. Next time there will be a plan in place for this one!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Swan Festival, Crimble

Another mini-excursion to the Colne Valley for The Swan's first beer festival in the tiny hamlet of Crimble was a last minute switch due to poor weather scuppering plans to visit Norfolk.

Thirty two beers plus the Eddie Grange Pork Pie Range and collectible souvenir glass was a winning formula and I'm already looking forward to the next one - probably in September according to the landlord.

Most of the beers were familiar but of the less recently encountered ones, I picked out the Hambleton Goldfield 4.2% as my personal favourite with Lancaster Duchy 3.9% a very close second.

Unfortunately it was a rotation system so multiple visits would have been necessary to get through the entire menu, having said that, ten out of ten for effort and putting The Swan on the valley's ever increasing list of good ale pubs!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Rat & Ratchet Mild Festival

The Rat's second annual mild festival took place this weekend and proved even more popular than the first with some sixteen brews on offer from far and wide. The style of beer is not to everyone's taste with many likening mild supping to drinking a glass of cold coffee! But to the credit of the organisers there were plenty of different types available including some pale offerings to entice those that drink with their eyes.

My personal favourite was one such from Boggart Hole brewery that would definately give Taylor's Golden Best a run for it's money. At the time of writing the final votes hadn't been counted but there were three or four in the running with the rum and blackberry flavoured Leatherbritches and the award winning Rutland Panther probably favourites.

Cleverly organised to coincide with the festival was the presentation by CAMRA of the Huddersfield Pub of the Year Award. This is the first recognition the pub has received since the Ossett take over, and well deserved too.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Riverhead Revisited

I wasn't expecting to be back in Marsden quite so soon, but an invite to a pre-launch meal at the Riverhead Brewery Tap Dining Room was too good to turn down. With the upstairs conversion now complete, and opening night just a few days away, it was guinea pig time at Ossett Brewery's new eatery, and for one night only, I turned food critic! Unfortunately I know nothing about food, except that it mostly comes in cans or newspapers, but I can say something about the decor in this twelve cover first floor restaurant. As I mentioned in my last piece on the pub, I was looking forward to judging the Riverhead after dark to see what kind of atmosphere would be created, 'cos whilst many people aren't especially bothered about ambiance when popping in for a pint or two, sitting down to a meal is a very different thing.

First impressions were good though and even before reaching the table a particularly comfortable, even up-market feel told you that this would be an enjoyable hour or two - food permitting of course! Continuing the theme from the bar, the walls feature the works of local landscape photographers, and very inspiring they are too - well to me anyway! A small bar stocking wine and bottled beer doesn't interfere with the layout too much and the sturdy dark stained tables and chairs are well enough spaced to allow waitress access together with a degree of privacy. The staff were smart (everyone in the company's embroidered black shirts) and very courteous too although inexperience showed through on a couple of occasions.

I suppose it might be reasonable to expect one or two unusual local delicacies to pop up on the menu from time to time, like Cuckoo pie perhaps, but with sooo many fresh sheep around these parts I personally wouldn't need to look any further than a good old rack of lamb (and it will be featuring on the full menu so I'm promised!) Our limited sample menu tonight included a rich liver pate made with Ossett's own Treacle Stout (which has also found it's way into some special edition sausage so I believe), Pork Fillet served with a plum, ginger and white wine sauce and a homemade strawberry cheesecake plus comlementary bottle of house wine. Presentation was pretty without being over-fussy and, with the exception of the vegatables which were a little mushy for me, the preparation spot on. I expect that should you require a pint from the main bar to complement your meal that there will be someone on hand to fetch it, but I didn't test this - it was a freebie after all and I didn't want to push it!

For me personally a night out drinking a few decent ales rarely goes hand in hand with a three course meal but here you have the choice all under one roof with the emphasis on quality. The appeal will be across the board in Marsden, with an afternoon menu for the walkers and something a little more substantial for those in the evening who prefer to be away from a busy main bar. It wouldn't work everywhere of course and I don't expect any of the brewery's other pubs to follow suit, but in this part of the world it can't help but succeed. Viva the reinvented Pie & Ale House! It could be the new Starbucks!

Apologies for the lack of decent photos this time, I got rather carried away with the food and wine and basically forgot to pick the camera up. Shalln't be giving up the day-job obviously!