Sunday, September 30, 2007


A couple of very brief visits to The Red Rooster's Septoberfest in Brighouse this weekend was all I could manage but incredibly dropped on the legendary Thornbridge Jaipur IPA again. No sign forever and a day then two come along at once - no complaints though apart from having to limit myself to a solitary half on this occasion!

Over fifty ales had been assembled for this quality event with some real favourites appearing along side newer less familiar brews. In addition to the coveted Jaipur, the delicious Hopback Summer Lightning, Chardonnayle from Bob Hunter's Ossett brewery and Bee-wyched (the best honeyed ale I've ever tasted) from Wychwood were the outstanding beers for me.

The outstanding drinking feat of the festival apparently involved a group of ten blokes who saw off three nines between them during the Saturday session - including all of the Harvistoun! If you do the math that's some serious suppin'!

(click on menus to enlarge)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Holy Grail?

The search for the perfect pint that keeps all ale-heads on the march from festival to festival from cradle to grave took an unexpected leap in the right direction for this beer badger today. A tip-off from a local drinking acquaintance had me scurrying through the door of Dewsbury's West Riding Refreshment Rooms (Yorkshire's current pub of the year) on a promise of something rather special.

I have never been what beer people refer to as a 'scratcher' (one who trawls the land seeking out previously unsupped ales), but there are one or two almost mythical brews out there whose very mention quickens the pulse when recounted in hushed tones by seasoned imbibers in darkened corners of nicotine stippled snugs.(?!)
At 5.9%, Jaipur IPA from Thornbridge Hall in Derbyshire is such a brew. As you will tell from the ABV this is a proper India Pale Ale, one capable of surviving the couple of months at sea it took to reach the sub-continent back in the days of empire - although this afternoon my money wouldn't be on it surviving more than a couple of hours on the West's bar! Looks wise it is a pale golden coloured beer with a light long lasting head. The beer is crisp and crystal clear with a real sparkle to it. The aroma is predominantly hoppy with a lemony citrus edge and just a hint of freshly mown grass for good measure! There is also a slightly sweet nose reminiscent of that candied peel you can buy for cake decoration. The texture is a little syrupy, but beautifully smooth with a very pleasant mouthfeel. In addition to the citrus notes the taste includes some honey and rounds off to a long lingering bitter finish. This is a complex and exceedingly well balanced beer and probably as close to heaven in a glass as I've ever been outside the USA - indeed even the Fitger's El Nino IPA (see February post) would get a good run for it's money from this puppy.So is it the perfect pint you ask? Well of course not... at least not quite! What I mean is that after nearly 25 years there's no way that my quest is going to end on a damp September afternoon in dingy Dewsbury of all places - let's get real here! Next!

(pics:Thornbridge Brewery & beerintheevening)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Pleasant Valley Sunday

There's nothing quite like the arrival of the new good beer guide for pricking the conscience where matters of neglected local hostelries are concerned.

The Sycamore, Holmfirth

This morning's visit to Holmfirth's food & drink festival then provided a welcome opportunity to seek out a couple of regular Holme Valley guide entries I've been inexcusably ignoring of late.

The eye-catching Sycamore on the A635 'twixt Holmfirth and New Mill served a refreshing drop of Oldershaw's 4.4% Regal Blonde (a lager style brew using Czech & German hops) which sat surprisingly well on top of an earlier full English! The other guest here was the 4.8% Old Boy by the same outfit alongside the regular Tetley bitter.

The atmospheric interior of this comfortable pub I imagine lends itself well to the regular blues and folk nights it hosts and as for food, the very tempting lunch menu might well have had us staying a while longer had it not been for the big breakfast! Being about a mile out of the town centre there are no problems with parking or coach loads of tourists, who incidentally still descend on Holmfirth in great numbers despite the now redundant nature of that embarrassing TV show. The Sycamore comes highly recommended!

The Railway, Berry Brow, Huddersfield

Despite the signage The Railway at Berry Brow is no longer in the hands of the East Yorkshire Old Mill Brewery though does retain a couple of it's beers. This spotless gem of a pub, tucked away in the hillside above Armitage Bridge in the Holme Valley is well worth seeking out for it's great range of ales and friendly welcome from management and locals alike. The exceptional view of the valley from the back of the pub is set to become an even more engaging feature if plans to build a terrace are given the go ahead. Also in the pipeline is a mini beer and shrimp festival set to happen around a month from now so keep a look out for details. This afternoon's ales, all at £2.20 a pint, were from Acorn and Old Mill, plus Derwent's Late Summer (4.0%) & excellent Hansi's Oktoberfest (4.1%) in addition to the ever popular Kelham Island Pale Rider . The Railway also does Sky Sports so if you've been looking for somewhere to watch the match whilst enjoying a fine selection of quality real ales away from the busy town centre then here it is. Another highly recommended beer mine!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Festival Month

It's approaching the time of year when local festivals come thick and fast, often clashing with one another and playing havoc with your average ale hound's social calendar - if he or she is (un)lucky enough to have one that is!
A hectic six weeks will see beer bashes in Batley and Brighouse, emasculating inebriety in Elland and 'Ebden Bridge and I'll be going crackers in Crimble! Plus don't forget Huddersfield's Oktoberfest which will be setting the pace from 4th-6th. Details of all these fine festivals will be appearing here soon.

[Birstall Cricket Club are hosting their second annual one day beer fest tomorrow (22nd) with beers from Old Spot, Anglo-Dutch and Red Rose amongst the ten on offer. £2 admission includes a festival glass.]

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Michael Jackson Tribute

Stonch's Beer Blog
I am thankful to Mike Roebuck (local CAMRA) for bringing this seriously good beer blog to my attention and this article in particular.

A national toast in honour of the late great beer writer & Yorkshireman Michael Jackson would be poignant enough in this part of the world but especially so as Jackson cut his journalistic teeth working for the Huddersfield Examiner no less. Follow this link for details of how to take part or simply raise a glass a week on Sunday in recognition of the man who championed beer like no other.

Shep Scoops Seasonal Award

And about time too!! Somehow local CAMRA had managed to overlook Dewsbury's Shepherd's Boy whilst selecting their recent seasonal favourites (some bizarre rule in place? who knows) - almost to the point where it was becoming laughable. Sure there's often good beer on at the Savile Arms and the Cellar Bar, but one's had plenty of recognition down the years and the other's far from being the finished article. If campaign branches really want to get away from their 'cronyism' image then recognising quality and endeavour and rewarding them without hesitation might go some way. Huddersfield got it right with The Grove so come on Heavy Woollen no dawdling in future!

Steve Bamford receives the Summer Pub of the Season Award from Heavy Woollen District Chairman Mike Roebuck but did CAMRA take their eye off the ball?!

In the meantime it's a big well done to Steve and all his staff for producing and maintaining the best drinking environment and keeping the finest ale in town. Hopefully this well deserved award will be the first of many!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Rat & Ratchet Beer Festival

The success of a beer festival is dependent on a number of things - not the least of which is good ale of course! And not just good - it helps to have an imaginative selection, examples from new brewers, plenty of different styles and at least as much choice as your neighbouring pub had at their last fest! Now if your neighbour happens to be The Star Inn at Folly Hall, and it's doing three festivals a year and it's averaging sixty odd beers a time and it's sourcing them from every corner of the UK then you might, just might justifiably feel that it's really not worth the effort trying to compete. Well at the risk of sounding like one big (unpaid) commercial for Ossett Pub Co. on this blog recently, I have to say that the management at the Rat & Ratchet (Chapel Hill, Huddersfield) has shown in the last eighteen months that not only does it want to out-do it's stable mates (it's still the only one of the ten Ossett pubs to stage a beer festival) but take on it's illustrious neighbours too. A successful first festival last September sandwiched between two popular mini mild fests, then mild pub of the year has seen the Rat pull it's paws out of the gutter shake off it's slimy lethargic image and dash headlong to capture the holy grail - that freshly deposited pool of pavement pizza, that dropped carton of half-eaten curry (or whatever it is rats prize above all else) - the highly coveted and much merited CAMRA Huddersfield Pub of the Year Award. Of course it's one thing being bestowed with these accolades but quite another keeping them coming, as consistency and goodwill are always the watchwords in the fickle world of pub popularity. This weekend's festival was therefore going to be the acid test for Kendal-Smith and crew as they attempted to live up to their rapid rise to fame and firmly establish the pub at the top of the local real ale tree. So down to the serious business of ale tasting and having plenty of time to spend at this 'do' I decided to get through all the unfamiliar beers during my first session and leave old favourites and the very tempting array of ciders (if they survived) until the back end. A quick glance at the list gives you the lowdown on the ABV spread, with a slight bias toward the stronger ales which is as it should be given that a guarantee of body and flavour (in most cases) will shift the beer quicker under festival conditions. Of the previously untried sub-4%ers then the outstanding beer for me had to be Fernandes (can these people do any wrong at the moment?!) Pathfinder at 3.8% whilst Brown Cow Silver Cascade, Skinners Betty Stogs and Westerham William Wilberforce Freedom Ale were IMO the best of the premiums. New brewers Leeds sent their 4.8% Midnight Bell which was my clear winner in the mild category with Atomic's 5.0% Halflife topping the strong beers.
I apologise for always mentioning the weather on here but it has been rather an issue this summer as I'm sure you're aware. Well for those not living locally I have to report that it's been nearly two weeks since we had any rain in this part of Yorkshire (which is a bloody miracle in itself), and on Friday afternoon we could all actually enjoy our beer alfresco! By the time the stronger stuff was being sampled the outdoor drinking had to be abandoned as the rising temperature was not doing me or the beer any favours. And of course there comes a point at any mass sampling when over-loaded taste buds simply stop reporting an accurate picture of what's really going on to the brain. At this stage I've even known people to rave about John Smiths, having unknowingly been fetched one from the bar (good trick this if you ever need to bring some clever-dick CAMRA bigwig down to earth)!
So to the Verdict. Was the festival a success? Did it live up to expectations? Was it an improvement on last year's? Did I get to sup some wonderful ales and have a great time? And, like a good turn on the X-Factor, it's got to be four yeses. Well... what else am I going to say - it's my local for Christ's sake!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Fernandes Brewery Tap, Wakefield

Although the new continental style cafe bar is a long way from being finished I decided it was high time for a first swill at Fernandes since the Ossett takeover. Previous experience of the pub is limited to a handful of visits in the mid-nineties to sample the then new brewery's highly praised ales - though I can't remember being overly impressed at the time. Recently though - in fact since around the time the buy-out was announced - the quality of their beer has made me sit up and take notice. Admittedly not a lot of it was seen around (Greater) Kirklees until the Ossett interest was confirmed, but the likes of Wakefield Pride, Empress of India (voted best beer at last year's Rat & Ratchet festival) and Ale to the Tsar have been a revelation.

The miniature gin bar at Fernandes serving continental draught beer - a theme to be continued downstairs?... let's hope so!

As with the Rat the location of the pub is just outside the city centre effectively excluding it from those dreaded binging circuits, though still close enough to the restaurants, theatres and clubs etc. Inside very little has altered in the original bar, with the kind of decor that you would naturally associate with Ossett anyway i.e. subdued colour schemes, beer art posters and assorted memorabilia offering a very pleasant drinking environment, though with only one window the lighting does need some improvement. A note to smokers: being located on the top story of the building with just the one long stairwell and no balcony or rooftop area it could be a real headache going for a quick fag, though the exercise might be beneficial!

Regular Ratters enjoy Ossett's latest

But now to the crux.... how does the ale behave? Well the choice was more or less as expected with Ossett's own beer featuring prominently in it's various guises, and let's face it with three breweries now producing under the banner, the number of outside guests, especially at their smaller pubs, is going to drastically reduce. Thankfully there is enough variety of styles and flavours from the three (IMO) for this not to be a big concern - although the scratchers and non-Ossettiers amongst you may beg to differ! The guests today were Mauldons Mole Trap & Black Adder (stout) plus Oakham JHB, but it was the excellent Fernandes Ale to the Tsar which held my attention until home time. We were also treated to a mini-tour of the brewery and a quick look at the work in progress, followed by a courtesy chocolate liqueur dispensed from my favourite Fernandes feature, the eye-catching gin bar. Friday 5th October is the provisional date for the opening of the first floor cafe bar which I will confirm in due course. And don't forget this will be the first time the company has produced a new bar from scratch so prepare to be totally amazed!

The paucity of pictures with this post incidentally is down to the scale of refitting both inside and out at Fernandes - photos of scaffolding's not what I'm about! (External pic: