Wednesday, October 31, 2007

'Fear Keller'

Whenever I've been to a themed beer festival I've spent two minutes going 'yeah that's clever' or 'nah this is dumb' then gotten stuck into the ale and never given it a second thought - I mean I'm here for the beer right? So arriving at The Cellar Bar in Batley this evening and expecting nothing more than a bunch of gimmicky beers, I could have plotzed when confronted with the amazing transformation from plush pub to creepy covenstead! The effective use of a few candles, some pumpkins and strips of black cloth had me reaching for my crucifix rather than the beer menu - well not quite, but it did look good!

The pool table had given way to 'The Spooky Bar' where six of the ten spine-chilling brews could be found, whilst a couple of 'non-themed' ciders (now satanic scrumpy - there's a thought!) kept them company. Even the Black Sheep Bitter (the pub's only perm) was in on the act with probably the most gruesome of all the pumpclips - so terrifying I can't begin to describe it - sufficeth to say I'll think twice before walking unaccompanied around Marsden again!.

With just ten ales featuring over the four days it's easily possible to go through the menu twice (just to make sure!) and still have time to practice your hexing skills on the locals - 'ye shalte notte suppe lagere!!!'
My fave beer was the rather impotent (for the occasion) Hell & Heaven (3.9%) from the Red Rose Brewery, but I do intend to return for some of the stronger stuff - the devil willing!
In the meantime it's a big pointy hats off to Rob, Sarah & the Cellar Bar staff for creating this fun fest and let's hope it's the first of many!

The Hallowe'en Beer Festival ends Saturday 3rd.
Apologies for the camera shake on the right hand menu pic - I was obviously more scared than I thought!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Swan Beer Festival, Crimble

This is exactly how I like my beer festivals - low key, easily accessible by train, no silly ticketing, stamping or complicated CAMRA style voucher systems, all ales hand-pulled and everything, regardless of strength, £1 a half. Absolutely the best value entertainment going on a miserable wet Saturday afternoon bar none!
The somewhat brief visit (under 3 hours) to this well organised little bash failed to find any truly great beers hiding away but there were several very fine session ales amongst the twenty brews available. My personal favourite was Landlady from Empire, based just down the road, and IMO the finest example of the Slaithwaite brewery's output since the early days of 'Strikes Back' (their first beer). Very few 'stronger' ales were available but of these, Eastwood's Diabalo at a potent 5.6% was very tasty and proving to be one of the most popular beers at the festival.

Although unlikely to win any design awards The Swan is nonetheless a comforting experience (and we all need some of those from time to time!) due to the friendliness of staff and locals, and is now well on it's way to achieving a deserved reputation for quality beer in the valley. Whether the pub will continue to do two festivals annually remains to be seen but this successful debut year has certainly ensured my return to Crimble whenever possible.

NB Slaithwaite Conservative Club holds it's annual beer festival over the weekend of 16-18th November.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

a swift couple...

I regularly get to The Huntsman at Chidswell just north of Dewsbury (once a week for lunch in fact) but being an out of the way sort of place the beer can be pretty hit and miss. Four pumps serve permanent Taylor's Landlord and Tom Woods Chidswell (a specially brewed but rather bland house ale) plus two guests, though at least one is usually dry through the week.
Today then was quite a coup, finding Leeds Eager Owl at 4.0% along side Northumberland's 4.3% Newcastle Pride, both on form (at least I presume!) and both a fine accompaniment to a hot roast beef sarnie and chips!
Leeds beers seem widely available considering the brewery only opened in June (obviously a good marketing team/strategy - or is it the free 18!), and I've been more than a little impressed with their output, especially the Midnight Bell. However it's probably safe to say that they're just warming up, and that with the launch of Hell Fire (a 5.2% fiery pale bitter) next month we'll see what this local outfit is really made of! On this occasion my tasting tackle gave the nod to the Geordies with their more rounded biscuity flavoured brew - but it was a damn close run thing and I might just have to pop back after work to make sure!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Busy Weekend Part 3 - Barge & Barrel Beer Festival, Elland

By the time I made it to Elland the best stuff had gone, but a couple of hours spent sitting by the canal in the sunshine enjoying (or not) a few of the remaining brews was still very pleasant. Wyre Piddle's 'Piddle in the Cold' 4.5% (Worcestershire) was the best of what was sampled and tasted a lot less like piddle than several I could mention!

Looking at the list there'd obviously been some very good beer on offer during the four days but it's pointless getting upset over missing out. Just as there'll be another World Cup to try for and another motor race to win, next week will see another beer festival to enjoy! KBO

Busy Weekend Part 2 - The Cellar Bar, Batley

A three week refit has seen a welcome transformation of this basement bar opposite Batley railway station and at long last it's possible to again enjoy a beer at one of my favourite former haunts. I first used this bar some twenty five years ago as a prelude to nights in the Xclusive Club upstairs when I would doubtless have been swilling Red Stripe lager and wouldn't have given a toss about the cleanliness of the place or whether the decor was in keeping with the architecture etc etc.(Jesus what happened to me!) Going back even further, to the early seventies in fact, it was my father I believe who got the bank to loan the Longley brothers enough to convert the property into the original and very successful Pentagon club, and I distinctly remember being taken along aged about 12 to look at the finished interior with it's five-sided tables, chairs, dance floors etc - all very kitsch, but innovative kitsch in those early days of the discotheque! But enough of the nostalgia - the incredible thing is that in all that time the Cellar bar has hardly changed at all. Now I'm not a great advocator of change for the sake of it but there does come a time in every pub's life-cycle when a lick of paint, some re-upholstery and a general good sprucing becomes necessary - and believe me it's been a long time coming to this place!

After an all too brief spell indirectly tied to the Hambleton brewery near Thirsk, The Cellar Bar is now the latest venture of Dewsbury's West Riding Refreshment Rooms boss & Anglo-Dutch brewery supremo Mike Field. The pub has already been recognised by local CAMRA this year picking up the Spring Pub of the Season Award and is now set to go from strength to strength with it's new invigorated image.

The layout is essentially unchanged but some very nice features have been incorporated, especially outside where the new signage and patterned windows mirror the building's well preserved stone carved figures. Inside, the pool table has been retained, albeit in a much more pleasing setting, whilst the stone floor, beams and tasteful decor create the kind of comfortable drinking environment that until now only Ossett has managed to create locally - Copper Dragon, like Wetherspoons IMHO, seem to miss the point completely with their somewhat brash approach.

Beer wise there are a total of four pumps on the cask end of the bar offering an ever changing range, many from local micros but expect Black Sheep on pretty regularly. Our visit was perfectly timed to coincide with a new barrel of the outstanding Chardonnayle (5.1%) from Bob's Brewing at Ossett and very good it was too. The keg end of the bar should satisfy all other tastes with a decent selection of premium continental lagers plus a cider.

The official re-opening last week is to be followed by the bar's first ever beer festival at the end of the month thus offering a very good excuse to come and look at what's been achieved whilst sampling a larger than usual range of quality ale. Not to be missed!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Busy Weekend Part 1 - Fernandes Bier Keller, Wakefield

What a hectic end to the week this is turning out to be with a couple of new pub launches plus a beer festival too! And it won't be helped by a packed sporting weekend that will surely handicap my chances of spending some meaningful time at these events. But enough idle chat - here's my three ha'pence worth on the newly built Fernandes bar.

Fernandes BO (Before Ossett)
The new look Fernandes - it could be Bavaria!

Ossett's first non-cask bar opened it's doors to an invited few this evening and thanks to a little rescheduling I was able to get there for a few pictures moments before the guests arrived. The outside of this impressive brewhouse is unrecognisable after the rendering and paintwork and really does look every bit the authentic Deutsche deal. An incredible transformation!

Sandwiched as it is between the brewery and the pub, the interior of this first-floor former brew shop manages to convey a kind of hushed intimacy partly due to the low ceilings, columns and small windows, but also because it feels as if it shouldn't really be there - like a speakeasy if you will, illegal yet exciting. My original vision had been of a more 'modern', brighter bar with plenty of mirrors and chrome etc but then I guess this is probably more eurothentic [sic] - though I do speak from limited experience both on matters of prohibition and continental pub-crawling!

Moving on to the beer and I noticed that it isn't a totally cask-free bar after all as there's a single handpump dispensing the brewery's flagship ale Silver King - I would imagine to prevent parties of mixed drinkers having to go their separate ways every so often! The line up of draught continental brews looks impressive and though most of it is way beyond my tolerance level I am intending to educate my taste buds in the ways of 'die kraft' just as soon as I can! There's also a long menu of imported bottles for the real connoisseur, which to be honest intimidated me a little. I love choice - but too much choice and I just have to run and hide!

The new bar unfortunately shares the upstairs pub's toilet facilities so there's no getting around the dreaded staircases I'm afraid. It's always been my philosophy that the fewer things there are to trip over when having beers, the longer I'll stay alive - and looking at the strength of what's on offer here, I wouldn't fancy my chances of remaining in one piece for very long!
The Verdict: Well bearing in mind I don't drink very much European style beer I will probably be spending more time in the equally charming cask bar upstairs but, as I hope you can tell from the pictures, this new bierkeller has certainly got bags of style and hats off to Ossett brewery for embarking on such a unique and courageous venture.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Some lovely weather accompanied this year's Oktoberfest in Huddersfield which always helps, as being stuck inside The Irish Centre when it's busy is not my idea of fun.

Due to it's size the club is not an ideal venue for this very popular event so being able to step outside and use the terrace this afternoon was very good news indeed.

click to enlarge

My mission at this festival was to set about the inexplicably large showing from Norfolk micro-breweries especially the newer ones like Beeston, Bull Box & Fat Cat. Since there was a lot of familiar local representation it was easy enough to concentrate on the East Anglian stuff and I picked out Fat Cat's Marmalade Cat (from the multi-award winning Norwich pub) and neighbouring Winter's Gold as personal favourites. Many more beers should and would have been tasted but for the onset of a bout of 'man-flu' which had rendered my taste-buds next to useless. A rare weekend off next week so there should be enough time for a full recovery before Elland!