Sunday, November 29, 2009

Get it while you can

This weekend Huddersfield is a mecca for lovers of the Rochdale brewery Pictish. The Star, in addition to the regular 'Brewers Gold', still a bargain at £2.00 a pint incidentally and in superb nick, has their 'Saaz' on the bar. A 4.1% single hop variety beer made with Eastern European hops, it is crisp, clean and full of flavour - a classic.

If you can drag yourself away, then a short walk to the Rat provides their 'Z Rod'. This is a stronger beer which I have not seen about for ages but, if my memory serves me well, is another brilliant Pictish recipe. Hopefully it will still be on the bar for me to try, unless my fellow editors get there first and drink it all, in which case they can do the tasting notes!!

Just for good measure, the taunting pole at the Star shows two new up and coming Mallinsons, 'Trabant' and 'Gator', offering an ideal way to spend a wet Sunday.

I will never complain about price again !!

I have just been reading Scoopgen (a website for beer enthusiasts) and have come across a couple of entries from some displeased people from London. Apparently they visited an Old Ale festival in a pub near to Fuller's brewery and were asked to pay £7.00 for a pint of Fullers 'Old Ale'. I know its a strong beer but surely someone is taking the punters for a ride here. Long live Northern pricing policies.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Black Side

This week seems to have attracted several beers of strength and darkness to Huddersfield, all of which are interesting and different in their own way and all of which are worth a try. Thankfully they are spread around different pubs giving you the chance to walk off their not inconsiderable strength.

The Kings Head provides Yorkshire Dales 'Blackstone'. At 5.9%, a thick black stout that goes down a treat like most of the breweries beer, and provides a useful benchmark against other dark beers showing me why I think a lot of darker stuff, especially milds, taste so thin. To be dark and tasty I feel they need strength to carry off the malts used, and to allow some of the hop character to show through. This one certainly scores on all counts.

If you make your way to The Grove, they provide three dark beers at present. The Brentwood 'Marvellous Maple Mild' is 3.7%, and not marvellous but I cannot dispute it being a mild, but lacks body. There is also Wentworth 'Short & Stout', which at 4.5% is certainly stronger, but again I expected more as it was thin and short on flavour. The third is Thornbridge 'Raven' at 6.6%. Unfortunately I feel Thornbridge beers are not what they were, and this offering seems to fall between two stools. It is a dark beer certainly, but the clip describes it a 'Dark IPA', which I would think could be a deliberate contradiction in terms! There are plenty of hops but they are masked by the malts and the whole offering tasted unbalanced to me.

The Star does offer a couple more variations. The Bridestones 'Whisky Dark Mild' comes in at 4.5% and was not to my personal taste, but those who know their Highland malts say that there is an underlying peatiness which characterizes the breed and translates well into the beer. It is certainly different. The pick of the bunch along with the previously mentioned 'Blackstone' is the Crown 'Django Reinheart'. This is a 6.3% 'Damson double porter' whatever that means. It does have the body that others lacked and has plenty of fruit flavour, but does not overpower, making it far too drinkable for a beer of its strength. In short, it is a dangerous beer!

It is well worth a wander about to try these beers as your opinion may well be different to mine - I just hope you find some that you enjoy. And on the subject of dark beers, look out for Mallinsons 'Oatmeal Stout' which has now started to appear in bottles - a great Xmas present for the dark beer lover.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Load of B*******s

A short time ago I was flicking through my copy of GOBBS guide, (a beer guide for serious beer tickers, if that's not a contradiction in terms) when my mind wandered to the names brewers give their beers and the themes they loosely hang these names on.

Locally we have Brass Monkey, using their Monkey theme with names like 'Capuchin', 'Silverback' and the like; Empire, where Russ seems to come up with winners like the Goon Show series, or daft names from comedy programmes, 'Eccles' and 'Ooh Matron' being examples; and Mallinsons where Tara has themes ranging from Not so Classic Cars to Yorkshire Follies. Going further afield, Will mentioned Cotleigh and their bird themes a couple of posts ago, whilst Moorhouses stay true to their roots in Burnley with their Witch beers, and Yorkshire Dales seemed to have named beers after every conceivable part of the North Yorkshire Moors. And how many know that Ossett 'Silver King' was originally part of a railway series?

Talking of trains, it seems the norm rather than the exception for brewers to name their beers after old steam engines. Cottage do a lot, but Little Ale Cart has a massive range of named engines on their clips. Being a bus enthusiast, I seek in vain for bus related beers, just the occasional 'Routemaster Red' makes its appearance on the bar.

It used to be usual for brewers to call their beers 'Best', 'Mild', or 'Strong'. At least the unwary drinker had a clue what sort of beer he was getting. It is now equally common to name beers after the hops used. Pictish for one has a massive range of single hopped beers, (check their web site for proof, and see how many hops you have never heard of). For some reason, there are very few beers named after the malts in the beer though.

But it's the really daft names that seem to attract the attention. Who for instance can forget 'The Dogs Bollocks'? And just whose idea was it to name it such? A flick into the Halifax Steam archives shows beers called 'Child Catcher', 'Christmas Crapper', 'Extra Pillows' and 'Luftkissenfihrzeug' (don't tell me I spelt it wrong, I copied it from the book!). As an aside, this must have been the longest pump clip in history covering about 2/3 of the bar!! Inveralmond have taken up the challenge as well, as 'Inkie Pinkie', 'Llama's Lament' and 'Rocking Horse Poo' all illustrate.

Talking of the daft, who at Northumberland decided that to name beers after footballing legends of the Tyne would be a good seller; obviously not in Sunderland, as they have now produced a range of footballing legends(?) - sorry, Iain! - from the Wear to balance it out and hopefully sell some beer south of the Tyne as well.

Anyway must stop, have to get to the Star festival and sample some 'Folly's Dog Collar Blues', 'Viva Cas Vegas'and 'Firkin Dark', to name but three. All I can say is keep the names coming, it always creates a talking point at the bar.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Star Does It Again

Last night the doors opened at the Star Inn's 8th Winter beer festival, and again it has gone from strength to strength. Sam and her team have provided another wonderful selection of beers for us to try, both in the marquee and on the bar, from breweries near and far (I didn't mean that to rhyme but never mind; I could write the rest of this in limerick form, or as a sonnet but I don't think my brain could cope with it at this time in the morning !! - anyway, back to the beer).

On the outside bar came the usual suspects. A couple of dry hopped Mallinsons, two Goose Eyes, three from Yorkshire Dales plus beers sourced from further afield. From Williams, Atlas and Devon ales in Scotland, from Box Steam, Hidden and Two Bridges in the South West, and Montys in Wales. It is easy to see why this is such an interesting festival for the 'ticker'.

The range covered all sorts of beers from the light and hoppy, to the dark and chocolatey via ginger beers, ruby beers and winter warmers, in fact beers to suit every taste. Of the one's I tried, the Mallinson's stood out, (no surprise there I hear you say) but the real star of the show, no pun intended, was Yorkshire Dales 'Hit For 6'. Not an indictment of the English cricket team but a light beer crammed with New Zealand Nelson Sauvin hops. The dark beer lovers seemed to be well impressed with Great Heck's ' Dark Star' weighing in at 5.5%.

If you want something a little different for a Christmas present, there are Mallinsons gift packs with 3 bottled beers, and all varieties of cheese, along with some Christmas cakes with beery themes. Why not make time to call in, the festival runs all day Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and see what a good, well run pub festival should be. Congratulations Sam, you have done us proud again. (map)

Star pooch Folly prepares to declare the 8th Winter Beer Festival officially open!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Great Oakley On Song

I'm always going to get a little giddy if I spy an attractive bird on the bar - it's just instinctive you see. Having spent/wasted the better part of my life fascinated by all things feathered, it's not easy to ignore avian themed beers whilst touring my favourite locals. More often than not though the ale turns out to be nowhere near as interesting as the artwork advertising it - but I'm never deterred.

And so it was with great good fortune that, whilst perusing the line up at the King's Head on Huddersfield's station platform this afternoon, I bumped into Great Oakley's knockout 3.9%er, Wagtail. Brewed, according to the GBG notes, with New Zealand hops, this beautifully scented and perfectly balanced award-winning session ale would easily make my top ten beers of the year, even without the exquisitely detailed motacilla alba on the pump clip.

From the wonderful initial lychee aroma to it's final lingering bitterness, this ale has all the hallmarks of a classic - very much in the mould of Roosters Yankee back in the days when that particular revolutionary beer destroyed all in it's path. Seldom have I been so impressed with a beer I had little prior knowledge of - the only negative being that the rest of my day was all downhill taste-wise!

Although largely unfamiliar with this four year old Northamptonshire brewery's output, I did note that birds aren't a recurring theme as they are say at Cotleigh, so I guess there's probably a story behind this particular brew. Whatever that is, I'm inspired enough to put together a list* of my all time favourite bird-themed beers, possibly by Christmas, so watch out for that. In the meantime go get your lips around a wag, it most certainly won't have you spitting feathers!

* Note to Timbo: Your Castle Rock recommendations (Sparrowhawk in particular) need not apply!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Festival Update

In addition to the New Charnwood in Heckmondwike (see previous post), this weekend also sees festivals in Sheffield and Slaithwaite (pronounced Slathwait or Slawit but NEVER Slaythwait incidentally!).

Having attended the last two Lions Club fests I can wholly recommend this friendly, well organised event, especially as the recently reopened Commercial just a couple of hundred yards away has made a visit to Slaithwaite even more rewarding for the ale connoisseur. The Moonraker Beer Festival is held in the first floor function room of the Conservative Club on Britannia Road (map).

Another popular festival, a little further afield, is at Sheffield's Harlequin on Nursery Street (map). At least forty beers from all over the shop can be sampled here this weekend including plenty from new and lesser known producers. See below for the full list and the sidebar calendar for dates.

New Charnwood Beer List
Moonraker Beer List
Harlequin Beer List

A Fistful of Hops

Last night the drinkers at the Star in Huddersfield were treated to a hop extravaganza.

On the bar were Mallinsons Motueka at 3.8%, a single hopped beer with the aromatic New Zealand hop showcased to perfection; Pictish Pioneer (4.8%), another single hopper but this time with far more body and bitterness and finally Steel City's Hop Manifesto again at 4.8% and massively hoppy with American hops this time.

In addition, Goose Eye provided Gooseville at 4.6% but after the other three this tasted more of caramel. It was just hard work to drag myself away from the bar!!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sail Ale Trail?

A little out of town this one but quirky enough to merit a line or two I think. Being a frequent visitor to the north Norfolk coast I like to investigate any new GBG entry, especially if the pub is somewhat out of the ordinary and/or Woodfordes Wherry is involved. The Albatros scores big time on both counts.

Moored in Wells-next-the-Sea's little harbour and serving an excellent pint of the norky nectar, this one hundred year old Dutch sailing barge is also available for charter when not gainfully employed as the town's most popular real ale venue. Two beers are generally available on gravity and both usually supplied by the Woodbastwick brewery.

The single below-decks drinking area also finds room for regular live music (god knows how!) and an interesting (though pricey) menu full of locally caught produce might persuade you to tarry a while. Just getting down to the bar is challenge enough though and I would imagine returning to the quayside after a session on the Nelson's Revenge is downright dangerous!

The Albatros is great fun and immensely popular with families - a must visit if touring this beautiful coastline! More about the history of this remarkable old vessel can be found here.

Interestingly this is the only CAMRA beer guide entry for Wells in the latest edition, with last year's Edinburgh Hotel failing to meet the criteria despite being the busiest I've ever seen it and serving a larger selection of ales than before. Round the corner The Globe was suffering from poor quality Adnams and an identity crisis!

Monday, November 09, 2009

New Charnwood Beer Festival

The New Charnwood is Heckmondwike's saviour these days and with so many once popular ale houses in the town going the way of iced-cider (is any one still drinking that?!), I'm absolutely delighted, as an ex-Hecky resident, that the pub is getting good support from Heavy Woollen CAMRA along with local ale fans.

And this is just what we've been lacking recently, a local pub festival with an attitude problem! Well I'm game - and whilst it seems deliberately timed to begin on that most-feared day in the (superstitious) calendar, we can only hope that any 'disaster' that befalls the Charnwood this weekend is confined to running out of beer a little early!


Tuesday, November 03, 2009

It's a Firkin Shame

Whilst Will has been getting all sentimental about his early drinking days in Dewsbury, an article in the CAMRA magazine 'Beer' this quarter has left me thinking of bygone times too. The article was about the chain of Firkin pubs and what happened to their brewing equipment when those fine establishments closed down. There is one local mention and that is of the 'Halifax Steam Brewery' who sourced their plant from the chain and continue to use it to this day. Huddersfield did for a while have its own none brewing Firkin pub on Zetland Street, but I cannot recall its name. They did sell 'Dogbolter' so it was always worth a call. However I digress.

The reason for this article is to remind people that a local brewery did indeed benefit from the demise of Firkin, when Andy Moorhouse, erstwhile landlord of the Rat & Ratchet in Chapel Hill decided to try his hand at brewing.

He, with a couple of other regulars, tripped off to Surrey one day and returned with the brewing kit from the Firkin in Crawley - and if I can't remember the name of the local Firkin I am unlikely to to remember the name of one 200 miles away am I!

He managed to cram the brewing kit into the cellar at the Rat and started brewing in late 1994. He would be offended if I called the brewery a 'Heath Robinson' affair, so I will say that it was a tribute to his engineering and skill that he managed to fit all the gear into such a small area and before long beers with rodent names were appearing on the bar (below). Usually light and hoppy, they were a tribute to his ability and it was always a pleasure to walk down Chapel Hill and smell the brewing process wafting up the hill towards you.

Andy not only used his ingenuity in the brewery, his search for rodent names provided some of the most memorable beer names ever. 'Silver Shrew' and 'Rattus Rattus' were easy to explain, 'Lord Derby's Flying Squirrel' and 'Splinter' less so. Nevertheless, the brewery went from strength to strength and I recall his pleasure, or maybe amazement at being awarded the 'Beer of the Festival' at Woking one year. (Suppose, light hoppy beer was a shock to Southerners!!).

Anyway all good things must end, and Andy decided to turn his hand elsewhere and the brewery was sold on. Firstly to the Fantasy Brewery in Nuneaton, which was a fairly short lived affair and then on again. I believe it was the basis for the Ashover Brewery in Derbyshire but I could be wrong. They are still brewing, so if you come across their beers it is entirely possible that they have come from the original Rat plant.

Andy did brew again, using Golcar's plant, where he produced a handful of beers under the 'Sidecar' name. However, his real success came at the Rat with beers that attracted attention from far and wide. Who can forget 'Infestation', a beer that is still talked about to this day. It just shows what a good brewing pedigree Huddersfield has, and is a tribute to Firkin that their kit has lasted the test of time to still produce good beers over 20 years on.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

The Shepherds Boy, Dewsbury

My personal real ale trail began in Dewsbury back in the '70s when a pint of Tetley Bitter at the Market House was as good as it got - and believe me it was good - though I doubt it was ever just a 'pint'! Sadly the Market House is no more, betrayed by a generation of drinkers who attached more importance to gloss than substance - and as for Tetley's...well, we all know what happened there!

These days the town boasts four entries in CAMRA's Good Beer Guide offering local ale fans some serious choice. Included in that list is the Shepherd's Boy which reopened under the Ossett Brewery banner in the spring of 2006. Situated a little out of the town centre on the Huddersfield Road, the pub underwent a comprehensive refurbishment under it's new owners resulting in one of the most attractive hostelries for miles around.

Eight handpumps feature four beers from the hosts leaving plenty of room for an ever changing barrage of quality guests which always include a mild or stout. The latest landlady Katie Green, formerly of the Rat & Ratchet in Huddersfield, organises an annual beer festival around October/November time, often with a theme, always with cider & perry available. 

This is indeed a far cry from the old spit 'n' sawdust, one beer (a mild if you're lucky) Market House but thanks to pubs like the Shepherd's Boy, drinking the real thing has never been as much fun as it is today - let's just hope that future generations treat this fine gem with a little more courtesy!