Friday, August 29, 2008

La Birra di Meni

The last thing I was expecting whilst slurping on wine and sucking down cheese in a remote corner of Italy last week was to learn that a micro-brewery had recently started up in the next village. The local bars had provided typically continental fizz (mostly Austrian Adambrau) plus the much more enjoyable Furlan (a wonderful sunset-hued aperitif taking it's name from the people of Friuli and consisting of white wine, lemonade and Aperol) but nothing to seriously session on or extol the virtues of here. This discovery then induced the kind of adrenaline rush not normally experienced outside of Folly Hall during festival week and led to a rare excursion from Fanna to sample the brews in nearby Cavasso Nuovo. (photo: La Birra di Meni website)

According to the largely uninterested locals, who in all honesty will never be turned away from their vino in a month of monkeys, the whole idea of a village brewery is a somewhat eccentric indulgence that they dismiss with smiles, head-shaking and typically Latin hand-flapping gestures - in fact the same sort of reaction I get when they find out I'm there to photograph their wildlife! Anyway it transpires that local born Domenico Francescon became obsessed with beer at college (a pisshead student in other words) before getting down to some serious scientific study of the subject in Germany, culminating in this now four month old project.

The brewery was as far removed from any I've seen, being housed in a large purpose built dwelling at the end of a residential street, incorporating shop, car park and living accommodation for Meni himself I guess. Our late afternoon visit saw the little shop on the point of closing but not before a quick photo-session and the purchase of a few bottles. The girl in charge showed us a sample of the ingredients used and explained a little about each brew and the various styles available - which surprisingly included a stout. Annoyingly we weren't the first white-rosers across the threshold as a passing tourist from Yorkshire had popped in to sample the wares only a few weeks earlier - consequently there was nothing about smoked ferret and blood pudding she hadn't already heard.

Michaela pretends to search for vital Yorkshire beer news. (Innspeak: You're welcome to this one!)

Five beers are permanently brewed, the majority of the output being bottled, with an occasional seasonal special as and when. We were able to get our hands on the latest of these, a cherry ale with added chestnuts(!), which at a whopping 7.8% was very much along the lines of a Belgian fruit beer. The most popular seller was Siriviela, a similar strength pale ale using lager malts which was unfortunately let down by a powerful soapy finish that saw our neighbours that evening quickly back on the pinot nero!

Our local in Fanna did average euro-fizz but excellent Furlan

I was rather hoping there would be something around the 4% mark to chug on but of course like virtually everywhere outside the UK it wasn't to be and in fact the 4.7% Pirinat (stout) was the weakest abv beer available. Whilst being a very good effort at this largely unknown style here, with coffee and chocolate notes and plenty of bitterness, it's very much something to go with your food rather than quaff on. The thing is when your food is essentially pasta, cheese and prosciutto I think I'd rather stick with the wine! Good luck to the guy though - at only twenty-five it takes some balls to try and educate people in the ways of malt 'n' hops, especially in a partisan wine producing neighbourhood like this.

Further info on La Birra di Meni here.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Head of Steam, Huddersfield

Mention real ale and Huddersfield in the same breath and most will automatically think of the pub on the station platform. There are of course two pubs on the station platform and both serve real ale, but the Head of Steam is the one they mean. The King's Head (formally Station Tavern) is remarkably little-known, even amongst locals, but finds it's niche with ale aficionados and music fans - but that's it; those weary travellers wanting a cuppa or a bite to eat won't be there. No, this is a place where people come to live, breathe and worship real ale with the sort of hushed reverence normally encountered in church. Indeed with it's spartan decor and mosaic floor the King's Head almost has the feel of a place of prayer, with little to distract you from the focal point of your religion - until the band starts up that is!

At the south end of the platform it's a different world. The Head of Steam provides more or less everything for everyone - not always the recipe for success - but it doesn't do a bad job. From a quick cup of coffee while waiting for your train to a three course meal or maybe a browse through the railway memorabilia then on to the impressive range of beer - the experience is one no visitor in need of refreshment should miss. The difference between the two pubs couldn't be more stark then, but they happily co-exist, each offering it's own interpretation of a waiting-room tavern - both popular, both vital.

So how is it that The Head of Steam has the wider reputation? Well the pub's nothing if not pushy. It's involvement in the town's major festivals together with it's own relentless promotions mean it's never out of the news for long, and let's face it, there are few more comfortable or interesting places to sit and drink beer locally.

I have to admit that I've probably been through the doors of The Head of Steam just once for every five visits to the King's Head, but then I'm a great fan of the predominantly pale and hoppy beers to be found there, and usually by the time I'm through, the desire for more ale is on the wane. However, using the HoS's current Festival of Fruit Beer, Cider & Perry (23rd-30th August) as a platform (please pardon the pun) I decided to redress the balance and make an effort to get more familiar with the place. And after chugging (sorry!) my way through some splendid offerings from the likes of Coach House (try their Passion Fruit beer for a real treat!), Westons and those awesome perry producers Broadoak, I'm very glad I did. The standard of poured ale was spot on as was the service and atmosphere. Although more cosmopolitan than most places I frequent, with it's groups of itinerant keggers and assorted teetotallers, The Head of Steam doesn't have any pretensions, being welcoming and courteous to all - and surprisingly relaxing.

In a town with so much going for it beer-wise it's all too easy to overlook some of the more established venues, especially if their popularity extends beyond a reputation for cask ale. But there it is, at the very heart of Huddersfield's phenomenal real ale scene, The Head of Steam - groundbreaking, vibrant, hard-working and still the name that trips off everyone's tongue.

The pub's calendar of events can be be found on their website.

More details of the available beers, lagers, wines & ciders will appear in the pub profiles section shortly. Decent outside pics of the pub are impossible at the minute with the work going on in St. George's Square but they will be added the moment it's finished.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Italy Bound (& gagging)

They'll be nothing new here for a while as I'm off to sample wine, cheese, grappa and doubtless lots of other unpalatable stuff somewhere in the Italian Alps. Next post due 25th/26th August.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Fruit & Cider Fest at The Head of Steam

THE HEAD OF STEAM at St Georges Square, Huddersfield, began a FESTIVAL OF YORKSHIRE ALES on Yorkshire Day, August 1st, intending the ales to stretch over 2 weeks. But... "I hope we don't upset anyone but we are about to run
out of the beers, after just over a week" said Ian Kilpatrick, Manager of THE HEAD OF STEAM; " We know a Yorkshire ales festival is always successful, but we are surprised with the brilliant customer response this time, given the state of St Georges Square and the start of Huddersfield's traditional holiday period" he said.

However, fans of the unusual do not have to fear!! A Festival of FRUIT BEERS
AND TRADITIONAL CIDERS AND PERRIES is due to start 22nd August and last till

The line up of ALES (to be served through the handpumps) is expected to be -

Old Bear Brewery (Keighley) -
Currant & Raisin Ale (ABV 4.6%)

Coach House Brewery (Warrington) - all ABV 5.0% -
Passion Fruit
Pink Grapefruit

"We tried to get Grapefruit beer from St Peters brewery in Suffolk, but they
had none available - shame; we may get some later" said Ian Kilpatrick.

Blueberry is a regular beer at the company's pub THE HEAD OF STEAM at Lime
Street, Liverpool.

The line up of traditional CIDERS - alongside Westons 'Old Rosie' (ABV 7.3%)
which is regularly available on handpump - is expected to be -

From Wales -
Springfield med-dry cider (7.2%)
O Sir med-dry cider (6.3%)
Gwyntyddraig med cider (6.5%)

From England -
Broadoak - Moonshine (8.4%) Biddenden med-dry (8.0%)
Cornish Orchard (7.6%)
Westons - Organic Vintage (7.3%) - Traditional scrumpy (6.0%)
- 1st Quality draught (5.0%)
- Bounds Brand scrumpy (4.8%)


From Wales -
Troggi (6.1%)
WM Watkins (6.3%)

From England -
Uren (7.0%)
Broadoak (7.5%)
Westons Country Perry (4.5%)

"We thought the idea of featuring Welsh ciders and perries was a nice little
extra attraction, as these are extremely rare and therefore hard to get hold of" said

The ciders and perries will largely be dispensed from barrels behind the
bars - no more than 40 pints of each available, so get in quick!

More information from:

Tony Brookes
The Head Of Steam Ltd

office - 01434 607393
mobile - 07803 124508

Note: I have prepared a pub profile on The Head of Steam that will appear here on my return from holiday.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Yorkshire Day Beer Fest

The Green Cross in Huddersfield is marking Yorkshire Day with a mini beer-fest this weekend. A mouthwatering assembly of some of the county's finest ale will be available by rotation (six at a time) over the five day event. All the fun started at 12 o’clock today with landlord Andy (below right) reading the oath of Yorkshire at the front door of the pub. Full details can be found here.

Update: A couple of visits over the weekend allowed me to sample eleven of the Yorkshire selection at this popular and friendly fest. As I expected it was the York Ay-Up! (aka Nelson Sauvin) that stood out for me - a blockbusting hop-shock of an ale with it's aroma of cat-pee on privet and the astringency of a West Coast IPA - all at a remarkably manageable 4%abv. This was the first to run off, so it's not just me that finds this in your face style of beer appealing. Following closely behind was the excellent Yorkshire Rose, one of two brews from the Yorkshire Dales brewery to feature. Another very good effort from Mallinsons with their Headingley Long Hop completes my top three so far, 'cos with a couple of days and a handful of beers still to go it's not over yet!

If you did make it to the Green Cross this weekend don't forget to vote for your favourite beer on-line here.

The Green Cross will showcase up to fifteen beers from the Acorn Brewery of Barnsley for as long as they last, commencing Friday 12th September.