Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter Festivals (Part 2)

This was the first of Suddabys spring festivals and was a scaled down version of the popular summer and winter events with just 22 beers available (around half the usual offering). After two full-on days at The Star I didn't honestly hope to find much to excite the by now jaded senses - but how wrong I was.

Although only a two hour stay was possible there was barely a dull moment with quality session beer from Roosters and Glentworth lighting the way to some truely stupendous strong ales. Cream of the crop for me were the awesome Oakham Haka, originally brewed for last year's rugby world cup and the incredibly dry, hoppy, moreish and beautifully bitter The Afro from Mordue of Workie Ticket fame (which simply must find it's way back to Huddersfield soon!) The 5% Roosters was another class act in this category - a true IPA if ever there was one.

Dark beers were well represented too with the outstanding Fullers/Gales Festival Mild just pipping Cairngorm's delicious bitter/sweet offering for me. I'm sure if time had permitted that the Titanic and both Ellands would have registered big scores too but sadly they'll have to wait. Hopefully this mini-fest will become a regular feature at Suddabys but I do hope it manages to avoid the Star next time 'cos this rushing about between festivals is not the most relaxing way to spend a weekend!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Festivals (Part 1)

Another blinding pair of beer bashes thankfully put paid to any ennui that could easily have ruined a bank holiday set at this ludicrous time of year. Easter in March has always been a daft idea and this year in particular it looked and felt more like Christmas than any spring festival. Indeed I've seen more snow this weekend than in December, January and February combined - though on the up-side I reckon I've drunk more great beer this weekend than in December, January and February combined, so no real complaints I guess!

The heroes at the Star in no particular order were:
Hornbeam Tears of Angels - newish Manchester brewery at the top of their game with this moreish well balanced pale quaffer.
Coach House Blueberry - gimmicky as usual but you can't fault the quality. I've had a craving for muffins ever since!
Pictish Orion's Belt - a return to form for the Rochdale outfit who always seem to pull something a bit special out of the hat for this festival.
Brew Dog Edge - a real triumph of flavour over strength from the Scottish cult brewers.
Fulstow Coitus Interuptus - not only a great name and outrageous pump-clip but a truly outstanding dark traditional ale. Not normally my cuppa but this rocked!

And the villains:
Brew Dog Hop Rocker - wanted so much to like this but even after four separate attempts I couldn't get past the sour edge. Hopefully the Star will continue to feature their beers at future festivals though 'cos they certainly surprise!
Cherwell Valley Larkrise - came highly recommended and even had a great clip but that's as far as it went for me.
Coastal Merry Maidens Mild - was one of two offerings from the newest Cornish brewer but both failed to excite and I'm normally a great fan of beer from this region.
Cairngorm White Lady - sure I've had this before and I'm sure it was better than this. I expect the earth from this magnificent brewery and so when it doesn't deliver it's double the disappointment!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Brew Dog Back In Town

After reading about Brew Dog's 2.7% dark mild on Stonch's blog recently it was with a degree of excitement that I learned of this brew's imminent arrival on the Star's beer festival bar this week. Edge, to quote the guru, 'astonishes with it's richness and complexity ... and from a beer that barely registers on the alcoholic Richter scale. There are strong espresso notes bundled in with a whole bag of fruit and a surprisingly full body.'

It has to be said that I would have preferred to sample one of the brewery's sh*t-kicking IPAs or even get another chance to enjoy last year's superb Hype but this does sound like an interesting beer to say the least and not one that will hang around for very long either. The Star opens it's festival doors at 5pm Wednesday (19th).

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Halifax Steam Brewing Co.

I finally found time this afternoon to pay a swift visit to the Cock O' The North in Hipperholme, Halifax Steam Brewery's tap. Not your average boozer this one, resembling an on-site construction company portakabin rather than somewhere to enjoy fine ale - but first impressions are often deceiving in the weird & wonderful world of micro-brewing. Indeed once inside I imagined being on board a nineteen twenties ocean liner with the dark panelling and subdued lighting complementing the somewhat art deco style - all quite surreal!

Due to it's size, an inevitable intimacy is created - aided and abetted by the hardcore of friendly regulars sat at the bar. A glass door leading through to the plant itself is a great touch, especially as how immaculate everything looked - a little like brew pubs in the States where you're never quite sure whether it's just for show or not!

Twelve beers, all home grown, grace the bar at any given time and would seem to offer something for everyone. In fact one reason for this visit was due to several recent reports of how good the ginger beer was. This particular style has always been a firm favourite so imagine how I felt finding two ginger flavoured concoctions available. The 4% Jamaican had a subtle finish of stem ginger and was balanced to perfection with just the right amount of lingering bitterness. The 5% version was really in your face and a bit over the top for my taste but I'm an enriched human being for the experience!

We were introduced to Ramsden's Lilly Fogg 4%, the good old pale refreshing staple and it didn't disappoint with it's delicious lemony zest. In fact this is the one to sustain you on a protracted session and whilst we didn't have time to sample all on offer, it get's my top vote so far. Cock o' the North at 5% was arguably the most accomplished ale, having a little something to please all comers though would probably appeal to 'traditionalists' the most. Marilyn was another pale quencher at 4% and only Toga at 4.4% was a disappointment, but by that time it really had too much to live up to!

According to chief Dave Earnshaw, Halifax Steam's watchword is flavour rather than bitter so don't expect to get your tongue skinned here - instead just sit back, enjoy the brewer's craft and forget where you really's a lot easier than you might imagine!

An organised visit to sample all the stuff we missed is now in the pipeline and with it some more pictures and notes hopefully.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Festival Time Again!

The year's first serious round of beer festivals kicks off this week with Leeds, quickly followed by The Star in Huddersfield and Suddaby's of Malton. I've not managed a Leeds fest in ages as firstly I'm not struck on the venue (which hasn't even been in Leeds for years) and secondly it always seems to clash with something more local. This year I've no real excuse other than I feel a great need to prepare for the Easter brace by lying low for a few days - my stamina not being what it once was!

The Star has as usual listed a few of it's expected 70 beers to tempt the fence-sitting tickers/ scratchers/ scoopers (or whatever the popular slang is at the moment) to venture forth, though I doubt most will need to think twice. Of the fifteen published on the website, the following are must meet ales for me: Iceni Pilgrim 4.2%, Cairngorm White Lady 4.7% and Grafton Packet IPA 5.2% and I shall endeavour to get in depth interviews with all three! The first session gets underway at tea time Wednesday 19th by the way.

No details have emerged from Suddaby's, other than the musical menu, but expect in the region of 45 beers over the four day event which starts on Thursday (20th). More info on all three festivals can be found in the calendar on the sidebar or alternatively click the pubs' links and here for the full skinny.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Trust In Castle Rock

Not a lot of Nottingham's Castle Rock beer has been seen in these parts for a while so to suddenly find a veritable infestation of the stuff in the local Ossett Brewery pubs is nothing short of bloody marvellous. I became a big fan whilst living in York when some sort of deal with York Brewery meant plenty of Nottingham Gold and Elsie Mo in all their tied houses.
Sadly it's been a rare delight since those days but catching up with the Sheriff's Tipple 3.5% (formerly Nottingham Gold) at the Shepherds Boy in Dewsbury last week and now the beautiful Harvest Pale 3.8% and stunning Hemlock 4.0% at the Rat & Ratchet has meant Castle Rock is no longer just a beery reminiscence.

I was also delighted to see that the brewery is still supporting the chronically under-funded Wildlife Trust and drawing attention to threatened species with it's Natural Selection range. Those who read my other blog will know I enjoy spending a lot of time waiting for the pubs to open at my local Wildlife Trust reserve, so the latest in this special range, Great Crested Grebe 4.2% (which is currently waiting to go on at the Rat incidentally!), is anticipated with some eagerness!

As far as I'm aware the Notts WT is hoping to acquire another big chunk of Sherwood Forest for re-planting as part of it's latest campaign, so why not do your bit for wildlife by tracking down Castle Rock today and enjoy some mighty fine tasting ale into the bargain!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Are The Welsh Revolting?

Is it just me and a strange series of coincidences or is there really something of a brewing revolution going on in the valleys? It seems that every topical ale publication I leaf through at the moment carries a piece on what the Welsh are up to with their blasted malt and hops, and to be honest, because I can't even pronounce Cwrw or Brady'r or Chwaden Aur (let alone know what they mean), I've tended to consciously skip these articles and move on - you know, adopt the typically English "they're just doing it to feel better about themselves bless 'em" attitude.

Anyway it seems I'm not going to be allowed to get away with this inexcusable crypto-racist indolence any longer. And the reason is? Well ... Wales, it seems, has come to Huddersfield big time! The good old Grove (left) has turned every one of it's twelve guest pumps over to our daffy-loving, leek-shoving cousins this week. Fortunately most regulars at this multi award-winning boozerama are in the habit of ordering their beer Chinese take-away style anyhow, so embarrassing pronunciation attempts won't be an issue. (If we can cut corners in Hudders, we'll cut corners thank you!)

All being well I shall return to this very page with one or two tasting notes and hopefully some thorough recommendations from what promises to be a rather unusual weekend's supping. In the meanwhile I shall leave you with the old adage - Mai 'ch beunydd fedda 'ch bîr. And that better mean what I hope it means Inter-Tran or I'm suing!

The logo above is that of the Evan Evans Brewery - one of the few I don't have difficulty saying!

Update: Only six were still available by Saturday afternoon but here are my findings:
Conwy - Honey Fayre 4.5% Disappointing as a honey beer as it was difficult to discern any aroma let alone taste of honey but was big on (Challenger?) hops providing a very dry & bitter though unfortunately short-lived finish.**
Plassey - Fusilier 4.5% The initial good fruit & malt balanced the surprisingly long bitter finish of this full-bodied and thoroughly satisfying tawny beer.***
Bragdyr Nant - Chwaden Aur 4.3% A complex and very different beer to anything else tried today with plenty of subtle flavours popping up, though brandy snap is what made it for me. The finish is very long and bitter and the whole experience is tremendously moreish.***

Conwy - Celebration Ale 4.2% Another sweet and biscuity mid-brown ale that stopped rather short of the excellent balance of the Plassey leaving me rather underwhelmed.**
Brains - Bitter 3.7% Have always rather liked the SA from this bunch but this standard session was rather thin in all departments and a long way from satisfying.*
Bullmastiff - Welsh Black 4.8% This award winning brewery has produced a stunning strong mild with this one. There are chocolate, marshmallow, biscuit and strawberry jam flavours aplenty and if the bugger hadn't run off I'd probably have stayed all afternoon. Disappointingly the brewery's Son of a Bitch 5% had just gone before I arrived but by all accounts was superb too. Shall be keeping an eye out for anything from these folks from now on.****