Saturday, February 28, 2009

CAMRA Pub of the Year

Since I had a little time on my hands I thought I would take a trip across to Sheffield and visit the newly crowned CAMRA pub of the year, the Kelham Island Tavern. The pub is in the centre of the Kelham Island industrial estate, and was refurbished a few years ago with an extension to the rear, offering more space and seating. The main bar faces the front door and features seating in an L shape.

Opening times are from 12 every day and the pub offers food and several real ales at competitive prices. At the time of my visit there were the 3 regular beers on the bar (Pictish Brewers Gold, Acorn Barnsley Bitter, and Bradfield Farmers Blonde) along with a selection of guests from around the country including Cottage, Nottingham, and even a Mallinsons. The ones I tried were in fine fettle.

Although a pleasant pub, and judging by the amount of custom when I visited, a successful one, I could not see exactly why it has been crowned in preference to other equally worthy establishments. I have visited plenty of pubs that would fit the bill, though I have no criticism of the quality or range of beers on offer here. Incidentally there is no connection between the Tavern and the Kelham Island Brewery whose tap, The Fat Cat, is just around the corner.

If you have never visited this part of Sheffield, now may be the time. There are several good pubs within easy walking distance in addition to the Tavern and the aforementioned Fat Cat, including the Harlequin, (which I think is the premier pub in the area), The Wellington (formerly the Cask & Cutler) and the Hillsborough Hotel. All provide fine ales and some do very reasonably priced good food too.

To reach the Tavern, the easiest way is to take the train to Sheffield, tram from the station to Shalesmoor, then cross the road by the traffic lights and follow the signs for the Kelham Island Museum. The pub stands on the right after about quarter of a mile.
(pics courtesy of the pubs' websites)

Old Names New Beers?

As well as visiting the Kelham Island Tavern on my trip to Sheffield, I also called at the Fat Cat, where to my delight, the pub was hosting a Sheffield beer festival. In addition to several beers from the Kelham Island Brewery there were two on the bar which particularly caught my eye. Older drinkers will remember Stones and Wards - both originally brewed in Sheffield and both victims of brewery closures - so I just had to try them!

Stones was brewed at the city's Bass Charrington plant when I first encountered it way back. It was not my favourite beer, being pretty unremarkable except for the headache it left the following morning! The beer is now apparently brewed by Everards in the Midlands but is still unremarkable, with very little hop or malt character - it does have a nice pump clip however!!

Wards was an independent Sheffield brewery and their bitter was one of the maltiest beers I have drunk, with a head that always broke up in the glass. The newest version (I have seen it brewed by others previously) is from the Maxim Brewery in the north east and has a tight head with none of the maltiness of its predecessors - indeed a particularly poor substitute for the original. I'm unsure whether the recipes have changed, or that the different water simply cannot replicate the original taste, or even if they aren't just completely new beers - but whatever the truth is, neither can be described as a success.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Riverhead Revisited

One or two recent cosmetic alterations to the Riverhead Brewery Tap were the reason behind this latest update. But any old excuse to visit this beautifully refurbished ale house will do me! Located centrally in Marsden, Ossett Brewery's eighth pub acquisition four years ago also included the purchase of the brewery and both have continually been improved upon in that time.

Issues with the beer quality now appear to have been ironed out with the appointment of enthusiastic brewer Joe Kenyon of CAMRA's Heavy Woollen branch - and some very interesting stuff has been cropping up on the bar recently such as Cherry Mild and a massively hopped 6% American IPA.

Upstairs, the award winning restaurant has remained popular with locals and tourists alike, providing the template for similarly successful projects at the White Horse, Emley and the Silver King in Ossett.

Overseeing the entire set-up is manager Vicky Stagg, who has been at Riverhead since pre-Ossett days, providing the necessary continuity to appease the locals as well as having an understanding of the requirements of Marsdens many visitors. For further details or to book a table, Vicky can be contacted on 01484 841270 (Pub) or 01484 844324 (Dining Room). (map)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Now for the Bad News

As readers of this blog will know the writers try to search out the best pubs and beers around, and this week we have found one of the very best ales of the year. 1425(v2) at 5.9% is brewed by Marble of Manchester and has been available at the Star for £2.60 a pint.

The beer is wonderful, with an aggressive mix of three New Zealand hop varieties, and as expected did not last long. This led one of my more enthusiastic drinking companions to make the trip across to the Marble Arch to continue sampling its undoubted delights.

Luckily he found some on the bar at the brewery's tap but what diluted his pleasure was the additional 60p (that's £3.20 a pint!) he paid for the privilege - he was so amazed he even brought the till receipt back as confirmation!

This seems totally bewildering. The beer prices in Manchester, although not cheap, are normally nowhere near the £3 a pint mark as in some other parts of the country. This beer after all has only to travel from the cellar of the pub to the bar, and therefore accrues no carriage or distribution costs as it does to cross the Pennines.

Is this the shape of things to come? I for one will think hard about visiting the Marble Arch if this is to become their norm. The pub is a must visit on the Manchester drinking circuit but at these prices may end up being an occassional treat. A real shame since the beer and the pub are both excellent, but if this is the start of the big increases we drinkers have been concerned about then it really is time to start worrying.

(with thanks to Tim Wright for the information)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Drink to a Local Success

In June 2008 the first beer from the Mallinsons Brewery in Huddersfield appeared on the bars of local pubs. Called 'At Long Last...' it was the fruition of Tara Mallinson's desire to become a brewster.

Tara was always a beer enthusiast. I remember vividly a beer that she brewed at John Eastwood's brewery in Elland to celebrate her 5000th beer tick. Going under the name of 'TJ5K' it displayed the knowledge and use of hops that would hold in good stead when she started brewing professionally.

She brews in a converted garage in Lindley with her partner Elaine, and having overcome many problems with the premises and the council, she eventually realised her dream. From the small beginnings last June Tara is now producing beer that can be found far and wide. I have seen it on festival lists in Wiltshire, on bars in Birmingham, and she even brews a house special for the New Oxford in Salford, where her other beers can often be found - much to the delight of the Lancastrian locals.

Her range has been quite phenomenal. Most beers can be described as light and hoppy but she is not afraid to try other styles, as 'Mild Thing' (obviously a mild), and 'Hazy Fantayzee' (a wheat beer) will testify to. There are also a number of dry hopped versions of her usual offerings showing a flair for the use of different hop flavours.

It has been overheard that the beers can be rather one dimensional, a comment obviously made with no appreciation of the finer points of brewing and one which can only be described as 'Poppycock' - the name of Mallinsons latest offering incidentally!

This weekend will see a veritable Tarafest in her home town. 'Northern Brewster' will be on the bar at both the Slubbers and Star with the latter also doing 'Ephesus' and 'Derby Double' (dry hopped to celebrate Town's recent double success over Leeds). And if that's not enough you'll find 'Cleos Asp' and 'K2' at The Grove, so why not get out and share in this success story today!

Tara maintains an up to date website, detailing her beers with tasting notes, under the banner of 'drinkmallinsons' should further information be required.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

2nd Bower Beer Festival

Okay so it's ages away but the thought of drinking ale outside in the sunshine again is a good one to hold on to right now. And whilst winter seems set to continue for a good while yet, just remember the excellent beer and weather we were blessed with at Hall Bower last summer and note the following in your diaries...

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Hop, Wakefield

A rather belated pictorial on this latest enterprise from Ossett Brewery but then it has been snowing. Billed as a live music and comedy real ale venue (that's stand-up, not funny beer!) The Hop is an unusual hybrid pub/club that when complete will comprise bars and stages on two separate floors plus a restaurant.

For the time being though all the action happens at ground level in the front room where a trademark arch divides the bar from the mini stage area. An additional room to the rear provides an alternative to the noise when it's turn night, though you will have to make a mental note of what beer's available as the serving area is little more than a hatch at the moment.

Stylish surroundings enhanced by quality decor are typically Ossett and the courtyard out front will be a real bonus come the summer months with it's massive jumberella. Eight pumps featuring mostly Ossett and Fernandes, plus the now obligatory Fullers London Pride, are your ale options whilst entertainment is currently scheduled for comedy once a month with twice weekly music nights. (map)

All Kinds of Tastes

Over the weekend the unsuspecting drinkers of Huddersfield were assailed by beers of all sorts of flavours to challenge their taste buds. On Saturday the Star provided 3 of the them, Art Barn 'i beer', Boggart 'Dark Rum Porter' and Coach House 'Pink Grapefruit'.

The Art Barn brewery from Bridport is unusual around these parts and their 4% beer was bursting with vanilla taste, a very unusual beer and not necessarily to everyone's taste. Boggart from Manchester is more common, but the same cannot be said of it's 'Rum Porter'. It was obviously dark, weighing in at 4.6% with loads of rum flavour, but it was hard to tell if it boasted real rum or just essence. Either way, it was generally well received (except by me!!)

Coach House is a well established brewery and often brew fruit flavoured beers. Their 'Blueberry' is excellent but the 'Pink Grapefruit' did not reach those heights, though was light and refreshing - albeit a little sweet - plus the nearer the bottom of the barrel, the sweeter it got.

On the bar in the Rat on Sunday Saltaire managed to get in on the act with their 'Raspberry Blonde'. It did exactly what it said on the pump clip and at 4% delivered a light coloured ale full of raspberry flavours. It too was a little on the sweet side for my liking - maybe the sign of raspberry essence rather than the real thing. Nevertheless 4 beers showing what can be done when the brewers stray from the usual recipe of malt and hops and give the town's drinkers some unusual flavours to savour.

Friday, February 13, 2009

That Blue Moon Moment

On one of my trips to the Star in Huddersfield I noticed the pump clip for Pictish Blue Moon sitting tantalisingly behind the bar. As discerning drinkers know, Pictish is an excellent brewery and Brewers Gold is regularly on the bar at the Star, and occasionally at The Rat as well. Their beers are generally superb and mostly well hopped, and brewer Richard Sutton has recently produced a selection of single hopped beers to showcase the attributes of each individual hop variety.

Anyway, back to Blue Moon. It is a 6% offering, described on the Pictish web site as "a strong IPA style, with lingering bitter aftertaste and a massive spicy hop aroma". First brewed in November 2001, it won the Best Premium Bitter award at the Bradford Beer Festival in 2004. Basically, it's just one brilliant beer!

For those not astronomically minded, a blue moon is a 2nd full moon in a single calendar month (this occurs only once every two and a half years or so), and it seems February is one of those months, hence its appearance now after such a long absence. Thank heavens for Google !!!

So there it is....hunt it out, enjoy it and treat it with is not a beer for the faint hearted but is one that cries out for a 2nd pint, and a 3rd and so on .... Just remember the phrase 'Blue Moon Moment' was not coined for any old beer.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

White Cross Beer Festival

The first local fest of the year at Bradley is always eagerly anticipated, not necessarily for it's beer list but more for the way in which the pub provides a well organised, friendly event that it's locals really appreciate. The quality of the beer at this busy free house is second to none and it's continued presence in the GBG tells you all you need to know about it's dedication to real ale.(map)

The festival kicks off tomorrow and here's the list, with big thanks to David Litten:

Fernandes Beat The Crunch

Naming your latest brew after the current financial downturn has it's responsibilities, as Fernandes of Wakefield recently discovered. After all nobody's going to be very impressed if your Recession Ale or Laid Off Bitter isn't marked down just a little to help out the impoverished drinker.
Credit Punch (3.6%) - a beautiful light and fruity beer with masses of taste and bitterness - was distributed throughout the Ossett estate last week, but without the all-important pricing instructions. Apparently the beer should have been sold at £1.90, that's 15p less than the usual cost of a pint at this strength, which is certainly a generous discount and one that few if any would have expected.
Anyhow, by the time the error had been realised many of the pubs had already sold out, but rather than keep schtum, all those unfortunate enough to miss the bargain price were refunded! Now I know I do tend to rattle on about this brewery and it's pubs and it's beer ad nauseam - but doesn't that just warm the cockles?! Nice one Ossett - now let's see a few other breweries doing their bit!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Tap, Ossett

It took Ossett Brewery ten years to finally acquire a pub in it's home town but it was worth the wait. The former Masons Arms was transformed into the brewery's tap during January and February 2007 and celebrates it's second anniversary under the continued stewardship of landlady Alison Dean later this month.

Last year saw the opening a new extension and beer terrace, further enhancing the pub's charm. A real fire and the typically comforting Ossett furnishings make The Tap the place to sample both the company's brewing and design skills.

Eight handpumps deliver the three staple Ossett's - Excelsior, Silver King and Pale Gold - whilst Fernandes, Riverhead and Fullers occupy the rest, with occasional guests from local micros. (map)

Monday, February 02, 2009

Travellers Inn, Hipperholme

The fifth addition to Ossett Brewery's estate was this fine example of a mid-nineteenth century country inn. The pub was in need of some serious renovation but a comprehensive refit restored this gem to it's former glory in a little under two months.

With flagged floor and rebuilt bar the Travellers today really looks the part. The tasteful decor, including historical prints of the local area and comfortable rustic furnishings, makes it unquestionably one of Calderdale's finest ale houses.

The four distinct drinking areas make your experience as inclusive or as private as the mood takes you, but the quality and choice of beer is always assured. For further details, including opening times, please visit the website or phone manager Tracey Fawcett on 01422 202494. (map)

You Must be Joking!!

After all the hoppy beer drinking this week, my thoughts, in a sort of drunken rambling kind of way, turned to food - in particular snack products in pubs.

Locals will no doubt be aware of The Grove's bizarre selection of nibbles, ranging from the almost normal spicy pickled duck eggs, to the down right stomach-churning crickets and larvae, via biltong and many other curious things (check the website if you don't believe me !!).

It seems they may have competition though from Walkers, the crisp makers. Apparently they have had their customers selecting flavours they most want to see in their foil snack sacks. Some are fairly straight forward like Fish & Chips, but others are more unusual - Chilli-Chocolate, Builders Breakfast and Onion Bahji varieties spring to mind. The most bizarre though must be Cajun Squirrel. I've no intention of trying it, but would welcome some tasting notes if someone could oblige. Not even sure if there is such a thing as a Cajun Squirrel, or if so, what it's thoughts would be about becoming a crisp flavour. Oh for the simple joys of a pork pie!!!

A Great Week

Last week was an exceptional one for hop lovers in Huddersfield. In every pub one was able to sample a decent range of different beers crafted from a diverse variety of hops - the only problem being that they never stayed long enough to try more than once.

The Kings Head gave us two beers from the Red Lion brewery at Ossett, Chardonayle (5.1%) and Bohemian Rhapsody (4.5%) along with their usual light & hoppy fayre whilst The Cherry Tree provided Elland Enigma (4.4%). The Grove always seems to run out of their paler beers when I visit but Kelham Island Grande Pale (6.6%) was a wonderful example of a strong hoppy pale ale and ran off swiftly, though not as swiftly as the Mallinsons Great Giza (4.3%). Not to be out done, the Rat and Ratchet provided Leeds Pale, Pictish Brewers Gold and the formidable Fernandes Heartbreaker (6.0%).

The best selection seemed to be at The Star. Starting with Windsor Castle, One Stop Hop (3.7%) through Goose Eye McGander (4.2%) and Abbeydale Deception (4.1%) then followed at the weekend by 2 Mallinsons beers, Iains Brew (4.3%) and Golden Tree (3.9%), neither of which lasted a single session! Just hoping this week is as good.