Wednesday, February 20, 2008

SIBA Finalists & Punk Ale

The Society of Independent Brewers has been busy judging fifty six of the UK's finest micro ales at the Barrels pub in Hereford this month. The seven beers in each of the eight categories had won through their regional heats in January to vie for SIBA's national beer awards, the most coveted of the year for small brewers.

The final list has now been whittled down to just sixteen brews with the outright winners to be announced at SIBA's annual conference in York on 7th March. Amongst the lucky few is the staggeringly beautiful Cairngorm Trade Winds, possibly the best beer out of Scotland since Harviestoun's Schiehallion (until recently that is) although it doesn't get out nearly enough for my liking!

I say 'until recently' because my first and so far only encounter with Fraserburgh based Brew Dog's stupendous ale at The Star's winter festival last year was like some sort of religious experience. Their 'in your face' style has certainly raised the standard of Scottish brewing to a new level, with the sort of audacious flair more commonly associated with US west coast brewers. The Scots of course, unlike other gaelic nations, have always been able to produce good beer and it was no surprise at all to see so many outfits from north of the border making SIBA's shortlist.

What did surprise me however was the absence of Brew Dog from even the regional finals - I mean how on earth can that happen? Then it dawned on me. These guys must be The Clash of the micro-brewing world! Indeed I have visions of them deliberately snubbing the establishment and doing it their way, like not appearing for the media lest accusations of selling out be levelled, or refusing to dilute their product in the face of ever increasing prices - even though everybody else is at it!!(??) In any event, sampling as much of their ale, whether critically acclaimed or not, is one new year's resolution I'm determined to keep - that and replacing my worn out copy of London Calling of course!

In the meantime don't forget to check back at SIBA's website next month to discover just who's won what 'cos there's bound to be a surprise, though I sincerely hope it doesn't involve St. Austell.
But that's another story!

For any of you yet to sample Trade Winds from Cairngorm or anything from Brew Dog's stable, may I recommend making the pilgrimage north to alleviate your dire situation asap. Aviemore Beer Festival (7th-9th March) should do the trick or failing that April's always a good month up there - I'm booked in already!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Suddaby's Add Easter Festival

Suddaby's Crown Hotel in Malton is holding three beer festivals this year with the usual summer and winter events being augmented by a four day Easter bash (19th-22nd March). The dates, unsurprisingly, coincide with several other fests not least of which is the mighty Star's spring 'do' in Huddersfield, resulting in the mother of all beer bothering weeks to look forward to!

Do take a gander at Suddaby's completely revamped website from where a range of bottled beer and various brewery memorabilia can be ordered. Information on all upcoming events, music nights and the like can also be found there plus accommodation details for those necessary festival stop-overs!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Festival Calendar

I have just added a Google Calendar in the side bar where details of Yorkshire & neighbouring county beer festivals will gradually be entered.

Of course if anyone has dates etc of forthcoming events, however small, that are not yet included then please leave as much detail as possible in my Comments. Thanks.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Festival of Champs

The White Cross Inn at Bradley, near Huddersfield is giving ale chasers a chance to feast on some of the best beer ever produced. Twenty one legendary GBBF Champions will rotate this weekend (and undoubtedly longer) on the main bar, lending their considerable weight to the pub's fifth annual beer festival. And if that's not enough a further fifteen wannabes, most of which hail from the north of England, will vie for drinker's attentions on the temporary bar upstairs.

The 'Champions Bar' will feature such greats as Fullers ESB, Coniston Bluebird, Crouch Vale Brewers Gold and Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted though several visits may be needed to connect with your favourites.

A sample of the lesser known brews revealed a star in the making from the four year old Stationhouse Brewery of Frodsham in Cheshire. Their delicious 1st Lite was a wonderous rollercoaster of juicy fruit and malt culminating in a breathtaking long dry finish - one of the most 'together' beers I've tried in a long time.

George Wright's Pipe Dream would be another contender for beer of the festival again featuring plenty of fruit and a long lingering finish. On the dark side the ubiquitous Leeds Brewery has it's excellent Midnight Bell up for grabs whilst the ludicrously satisfying Sarah Hughes Ruby Mild will certainly not go the distance! (map)

Apologies for the lack of photos on this assignment - thought I'd packed a camera but hadn't!

Leeds Make Good Copy

Following hard on the plagiaristic heels of Atlas Mill Brewery and their Gwinness Stout (complete with harp motif) comes this latest offering from new(ish) boys Leeds. Using Tetley's livery, and looking similar to the original bitter (even the ABV's the same), you'll need a second glance to make sure whose ale it is you're ordering. This is clever marketing and will ensure brisk sales in and around the city where the Tetley name is still held in great reverence.

A strategy of this kind would doubtless come unstuck in certain quarters with law suits flying left right and centre, but seeing as Leeds have yet to put a foot wrong in their short but explosive time on the scene, I'm guessing this will be yet another monster success story! Let's hope they've managed to copy the taste of the original stuff though and not what passes for Tetleys these days!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

An Unholy Alliance?

I like Ossett Brewery. I've always liked them, from their early days operating in little more than an out-house at the back of the Brewers Pride producing some experimental ground-breaking beers, to their recent emergence as pub owners. I like them for the important role they've played in the local real ale revolution and for reintroducing comfortable, stylish yet traditional environments in which to enjoy beer. I like the people they employ, their managers, their admin and not forgetting their knowledgeable and entertaining bar staff. I also like the way they've unswirvingly established the Ossett 'brand' by developing a very distinctive style of ale, and not least, I like them for the enormity of their balls in realising (just before everyone else) that their name is a perfect anagram of 'Worst Beers Yet' - but going ahead with it regardless. Yes - I like them a lot!

However there's something disturbing afoot. A cursory glance along the bar at any of the brewery's ten pubs will reveal a quiet infiltration taking place - and unnervingly, it's from those not so jolly giants, Greene King. I have no idea what the deal is between the breweries and doubtless there'll be a very simple and probably innocuous explanation as to why GK have arrived on the scene at this juncture. And I'm sure(ish) that if it's beneficial to Ossett then it should benefit us patrons too - but, like anyone who's followed or read about Greene King's aggressive growth strategy over the years, I can't help feeling ever so slightly apprehensive.

Then of course there's that beer. I've spent a fair amount of time in Suffolk & Norfolk and gotten used to the peculiar smell and taste that permeates everything from the illogically named IPA, via the once fabulous H&H Olde Trip and Morland Speckled Hen (amongst countless others), to the over-rated flagship Abbot Ale. I've even managed to enjoy some of it when needs must. But then it feels and tastes right down there. It just doesn't up here. It could well be a sparkler issue, it might possibly be to do with the water or even the air pressure due to altitude above sea-level (it can make a difference you know!) but Greene King beer I'm afraid is something northern drinkers struggle with. Personally I already begrudge it depriving local micros of valuable space on the bar and consequently, regardless of my affection for Ossett, will not be drinking the stuff in their pubs. It seems to me we've managed perfectly well without GK in this neck of the woods for long enough so please Ossett, for heaven's sake, don't go doing anything rash - 'cos I'm not sure I could ever forgive you!

On a more up-beat note Ossett Excelsior (5.2%) won top spot at SIBA's northern region final last month and now goes forward to the national competition on Valentine's Day, where five years ago it ran out overall supreme champion. Read the brewery's roll of honour here.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

It's Official - We Serve the Best Beer!!

Those of you that drink your beer in Huddersfield shouldn't have to be told that you're supping the finest ale in the world in the best pubs in the galaxy! But just in case you are in need of a little assurance, then take a look at which town Cask Marque (the independent quality assessor of cask conditioned ale) has just handed it's award to for the best served beer in Britain. And to think I was convinced they never knew what they were doing!

Huddersfield scored a near perfect 19.5 out of a possible 20 in Cask Marque's scoring table just pipping Truro, Twickenham and Exeter for the top spot. The town has also been voted the most sort after place to live in the UK recently not to mention a poll of residents last year that found them to be the most content people in the north of England - and now we know why!

One pub with special reason to raise a glass is the legendary Ossett Brewery owned Rat and Ratchet (above) at Chapel Hill, Mild Pub of the Year 2007 and current holder of the local CAMRA Pub of the Year award.

Manager Sam Birkhead, 24, took over from the previous landlord three months ago and is pleased that the area has been recognised for its pint-pulling prowess.
He said: “There are a number of great pubs in and around Huddersfield and it is no great surprise that the town has been recognised with this award.
“I suppose as the town’s Pub of the Year we are leading the way, but as the cliché goes, you are only as good as your last pint.
“The Rat and Ratchet has a long history of good cask beer, and we want to continue that tradition.”

Nationally Cask Marque assessed a total of 9,403 pubs and rated about 28,000 pints (now there's a good job to have!) during its research throughout 2007.
Its inspectors say the perfect pint must be served between 11 and 13ºC in a spotlessly clean glass.

"The beer should have good clarity, a fresh aroma and a refreshing aftertaste. Cask Marque director Paul Nunny said: “For pub goers to really enjoy and appreciate their ale it has to be served just right. We were extremely impressed by the consistent quality of pints being pulled in Huddersfield and offer our congratulations to local publicans, many of whom have already gained Cask Marque accreditation.

“Cask ale is unique to British pubs and when it is well kept and well presented there is nothing else quite so refreshing and flavoursome.
Get it wrong, however, and you run the risk of putting the consumer off for life!”
...or at least until the next pub! I can only surmise that their 'tour' of the town included the Big Four (Rat, Star, Grove & Station) and largely ignored the rest - but who's complaining!

The Top 10

1 Huddersfield
2 Truro
3 Twickenham
4 Exeter
5 Northampton
6 Bristol
7 Lancaster
8 Plymouth
9 Southampton
10 Leicester

Interviews & stats courtesy of the Huddersfield Daily Examiner