Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mild Month Is Here Again

This weekend sees the arrival of May and with it CAMRA's Mild month. A chance to try out all those milds that you may have avoided all year. Where would be the best place to start ? Why not visit the Rat & Ratchet where Sam Birkhead, the licensee, promises something for everyone at his mild festival.

The festival is on Saturday and Sunday and all the 20 milds on offer will be served through pumps on the main bar. I spoke to Sam yesterday and although being coy about the actual make up of the festival list he did tell me that there are some festival specials, so expect offerings from Mallinsons and Goose Eye, plus some hard to find milds that have travelled from afar.

There will be a few light milds as well as the usual darker fayre and a range of strengths from the weak to the strong, but, as he said, it has not been possible to source any around the 4% range as they do not appear to be brewed at this strength apart from the champion beer of Britain, Rudgate's Ruby Mild.

So if mild is your thing, or you have an afternoon to spare, call in and see what the Rat has to offer.


At the same time, Rob at the Shepherds Boy in Dewsbury is having a mild trail and showcasing several milds on the bar at the pub, and is well worth a call to see what a variety of milds are available.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Sportsman Celebrates!

Has it really been just a year since The Sportsman reopened? So quickly has this re-invented pub become established as one of Huddersfield's finest real ale houses that it almost seems like it's been with us forever.

It's popularity and success haven't come without hard work though and Sam Smith and her team must be congratulated for keeping the pub very much at the forefront of the local ale scene. Imaginative and often innovative ideas, using popular social networking sites to spread the word, have ensured The Sportsman is rarely out of the news, seizing any and every opportunity to promote itself - a necessary and admirable quality in these depressed times.

Naturally then, the first anniversary of this remarkable revival won't be allowed to pass by without some little celebration. Starting at noon on Friday 23rd April there will be a weekend festival with outside bar, including five beers specially brewed for the occasion! Loads more beers will be on inside plus of course the sort of food fayre for which the pub is now famous.

Friday & Saturday night's festivities will feature live music and we understand there will be a sale of some local brewery stuff during the three day festival. If it all sounds too good to miss then it probably is, so come along and thank Sam for giving us another good reason to be proud of our town's great pubs and the incredible choice they offer.

Just to check the Sportsman out for quality control etc.etc, 3 of the editorial team met up there Friday afternoon and I, for one, was impressed with the range of beer on offer. Specials on a newly set up bar at the back of the pub from Empire, Golcar, Anglo Dutch, Fernandes and Acorn along with Mallinsons were all good, and in the latter two cases excellent. On the bar were 8 beers from Yorkshire breweries and all were interesting. The only draw back was the payment on the outside bar which was ticket only and there was no information as to how to obtain tickets but this is a minor gripe. A good little festival and one that showed how far the Sportsman has come in its short life. (Ps if anyone knows the hops used in the Acorn special I would be glad to hear from you, it was a stunningly different beer) ...Timbo.

Check out The Sportsman's website for details of this and all up-coming events.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Unfair or not

Before I start this article, I should make it clear that is not a criticism of any one individual nor of an organisation in general but is rather my view on a situation which I find unfair.

I have recently spoken to the Chairman of Huddersfield Camra, of which I am also a member, but I should stress, due to reasons of my own, a non active member. Part of the conversation was the way that the local branch selects its pub and club of the year, (and also its pub of the season).
My belief is that the members of the branch, who attend a certain meeting are allowed to vote for their choice on the night and the pub gaining the largest number of votes on the night is duly elected ' Pub of The Year'.

I can see many reasons for this being unfair. All sorts of factors come into play. I accept that to vote one has to be a Camra member and I have no issue with this, but it is possible for a certain pub to rally its members to attend that one meeting to boost its chances of winning. It depends where the meeting is. Surely if the meeting is held at an out of Town pub, then it would be difficult, due to the geography of the town for supporters of other pubs to attend to cast their votes. There is the very nature of the pub trade which means that often members are working in their own pubs on the night of the meeting, and also members often work shifts which make attending impossible. The system of voting is disenfranchising its members and as such, I feel the system is unfair at worst and unreliable at best.

There must be a fairer system. In the days of computerisation would it not be fairer for all members, whether active within the branch or not, to be sent an e mail listing the possible choices for them to select, thereby reaching a wider range of members and getting a chance of a more fair election. I know all members do not possess computers but most do, and those who do not could be canvassed for postal votes. All that is required, as far as I can see, is a list of names from the membership secretary and either e mail addresses or home addresses for the details to be sent out.

The local branch produce their newsletter, 'Ale Talk', which is accessible to most of the membership who drink in pubs. Is it not possible to include a voting slip in there and allow the membership to post their vote back to the branch. I know that non members read it too, but all that is required for the application to include the Camra membership number to confirm that the member is eligible to vote.
This would reach a far greater number of people than the current system and would give everyone, not just those attending the meeting, their chance to vote. It seems obvious and fair to me but may just involve a little more work at branch level to send out and count the votes.

All I am concerned about is that the system be made fairer to all, to both the members and the pubs. Surely 'The Pub of the Year' is an important enough award not be left just in the hands of those who have attended a meeting ?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Little Ale Cart reaches the Star

Visitors to the Wellington at Shalesmoor in Sheffield will already be aware of the Little Ale Cart brewery who brew on the pub site and their beers, usually light and hoppy are available at the pub but not usually elsewhere.

I use the word usually in its loosest sense because I do know that they have travelled outside the pub on previous occasions, often to the Welly's sister pub in Worcestershire and they have been seen on the bar at The Foxfield in Cumbria too according to one of their regulars. It would be truer to say they do not enter the free trade, and are made available by swaps with other brewers.

This is how a barrel of 'Pretty Polly' appeared on the bar at The Star on Sunday afternoon. Tara swapped a barrel of Mallinsons with Little Ale Cart and this was the result. It had been sited on the taunting pole about a week ago and the discerning regulars could hardly wait. It was worth it though.

A typical Little Ale Cart beer, weighing in at 4.3% and very light coloured but nevertheless packed with hop flavours and very moreish. Its name came, as usual from the brewery, from a railway engine, and since this is not my specialism will leave it at that, no doubt someone (Iain) will be able to explain more about its ancestry.

Lets hope this is not a one off and we are able to get more beers from this excellent brewery into Huddersfield for us to sample, if not, this one was well worth the wait.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

No4 - Goose Eye

Goose Eye are a well established brewery from the Keighley area of the county but their beers travel far and wide and can be found throughout the region. Generally they are light and well hopped, but they do brew dark beers which are equally as good.

To the best of my knowledge, they are a family firm, and the third generation is now working at the brewery. The core range brewed includes Barm Pot,(light and hoppy), Over & Stout (an excellent example of the type) ans Pommies Revenge (a strong bitter, with loads of flavour and very moreish).

Their strength seems to come from the amazing amount of specials they brew, many are very similar strengths at 4.2% and 4.3% but are invariably excellent.

The regular beers are fairly easy to find, but as you would expect, the specials are less so, but often appear on the bar at the Star and occasionally in Wetherspoons in the area.

Another brewery in the county well worth hunting out.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Locale At the Sportsman

On Monday a visit to the Sportsman revealed a whole bar devoted to Yorkshire beers. Whether intentionally or accidentally I cannot say, but it gave the opportunity to try beers from the region that often are not seen together.

Apart from Taylors 'Dark Mild' which is a staple on the bar, along with 'Landlord' all the others were guests of varying strength but all bar one, were light and hoppy, and my style of beer.

Anglo Dutch 'Special' came in at 4%, and was a refreshing starter, and did not have the background taste that often makes me shy away from their beers. They also provided my last beer, their 6% 'Tabitha' which I consider a classic, and which is dangerously drinkable for its strength. Incidentally, this seems to be more of a regular brew than previously and is not too difficult to find at present.

Brass Monkey also provided two beers, and in my opinion, were two of the better beers they brew. (I have never really been a fan of their beer but they seem to have become more consistent lately, and these two are worth trying if you come across them - I have read the former will not be brewed again until later in the year because of the lack of the necessary hops however). First came the 3.6% 'Son of Silverback', which is full of citrus hop flavours and very light in colour, and this was followed by 'Cheeky Monkey' at 4.2% which again is crammed with hops and very moreish but marginally darker.

These rubbed shoulders on the bar with Black Sheep 'Ale' which I think is a far superior product to the rest of their range but is less easy to find. It seems to be Black Sheep's attempt to break into the golden ale market, and although it does not have the pronounced hop flavours of the other beers mentioned, it is quite acceptable.

To round off the locale beers came the Elland 'Nocturne' which is a dark, almost black beer but crammed with flavour and again far too drinkable for its 5% strength.

All in all, a good showcase for what beers Yorkshire can provide and with most of them brewed within a short distance of Huddersfield, it showed how privileged we are to have such easily accessible, good beer on our door step.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Meet the Brewer - guess who?!

Last night saw the Sportsman in Huddersfield hosting it's first meet the brewer night. Appropriately enough Mallinsons was the chosen brewery, and in amongst the 20 guests to enjoy the event were the 'Swift One' editorial team. This is my take on the evening.

We gathered in the back room at the pub and after a brief introduction were soon off to the pub cellar to continue our education, armed with beer to bring Tara's explanations of brewing processes to life. She managed to do this without us actually seeing the brewery and covered everything from the hops and malt used, through the brewing itself, to the effect different yeasts had on her beers. Armed with the tools of her trade, well actually little tubs of hops and malt, everything became clear and easy to understand, and the more she and Elaine grew in confidence the more she relaxed into her task. Maybe the 6 beers we had to compare and contrast did help as well.

We went from the basic brewing process explained with the help of 'Station Bitter', into dry hopping with 'Brewsters Special' which showcased her love of Nelson Sauvin hops, then into 'Grand Canyon' with its different style of malt and the way a different use of the same hops in beer produce different results. By this time the evening was becoming more mellow and the group understanding more about the beer that we were drinking, helped along by the comprehensive handout of tasting notes and Tara's famous spreadsheet of every beer the brewery has ever brewed.

We went through naming beers with 'Bettisons Tower' and its strange history, (I won't spoil the fun, try googling it, or ask Tara !!), 'Murray-Darling' (the hard to find beer) which explained the distribution of the beers, and finished with 'Bit A Black' which was obviously a dark beer but in the style of a stout rather than a mild.

Tara and Elaine's enthusiasm for their brewing shone through and their teaching experience came to the fore in explaining each part of their brewing life. I would be surprised if any of us did not leave knowing more than when we came in, both in terms of brewing in general and Mallinsons in particular.

To round off a superb evening we were treated to some of landlady Sam's legendary pie and peas, each containing Mallinson's beer, and whilst we were being educated in the cellar, the usual customers in the bar freed up a pump allowing us to sample another new Mallinson's beer, 'Akitu'. A fine end to an excellent evening, and one which I hope will give Tara, Elaine and Sam the confidence to repeat.

Next on the list is rumoured to be Kelly Ryan from Thornbridge showing off his talents at The Grove in early June - he has a hard act to follow.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Think about the glass for a bit

We drinkers tend to be very concerned about the product we drink. Is it the right temperature, does it taste right,does it look right etc. etc. What we often fail to think about is what it is served in.

History seems to show that drinkers in the past seemed to like the old handled, barrel type glass, which seems to have fallen out of favour in recent times. They are heavy and solid and look the part, but in recent times they have been superceded by other, thinner, glasses without handles, and which are often imported from abroad.

Often beer festivals have half pint handled glasses, screenprinted for the festival and so it was a pleasant change to visit the Star festival last month and be treated to a new style of glass for the occasion. These were Jubilee style; pint glasses, easy to hold, tapering to the heavy base from around 3/4 of the depth of the glass and very easy to hold, partly because of their shape and partly because of their weight. They were screen printed and made a welcome addition to a glass collection full of smaller handled glasses.
I have managed to speak to Graham of 'Festival Glass' who supplied them and he was happy with the outcome, explaining that the style of glass allowed him greater freedom to add all the details he wanted on the outside of the glass, to showcase what he is capable of.

Of course there are many other styles of glass available, a quick look at the 'Festival Glass' website has examples of several. Many of which I had never seen before.

The most common glass I come across is the 'Tulip' style glass, fairly basic and thin, but which increases in width from the base and tapers off towards the top. This allows the drinker to get a decent grip on his pint and the head seems to remain throughout the drink. My observations are that the more they are used and cleaned in the dishwasher, the more the glass seems to dull or scratch.

My favourite style of glass in common usage is the 'Conical' style. Starting from a heavyish base the width of the glass increases consistently to the top of the glass. I find them attractively styled but simple and easy to hold. Many pubs do have some but The Grove's pint glasses are all of this style, and are slightly over-sized so you can see you are getting a full pint for your money. They are also the style used by 'Mallinsons' for their presentation packs and look very stylish with their simple screenprinted logo. (there, you knew I could Mallinsons into this blog somehow!!).

All in all there are loads of different styles of glass to choose from. A trip to a pub selling foreign beer will often produce a different glass for each product, ranging from the wooden based 'Kwak' glass to those produced especially for gueze or fruit beers.

Next time you have a pint, just take a second to think about the glass, after all it is part of your drinking experience.

(Thanks to Graham from Festival Glass for his help with this blog, and the use of his website for information and pictures)

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Spoons Festival Again

Tomorrow sees Wetherspoons open its doors to its annual beer festival, and if its previous festivals are anything to go by it should be well worth dropping in. It is not like other festivals the blog has featured. This one promises 50 real ales which are available throughout the companys estate between the 7th and the 25th April. Not all the beers are available at any one time in any one pub so to sample all 50 means several visits to 'Spoons' or visits to several of their outlets, which is quite a cunning marketing policy.

They have produced a comprehensive programme so that all 50 beers are showcased with tasting notes and the variety of hop used in each beer, along with informative articles on brewing and brewers.

In the selection are 6 beers either from abroad or brewed in England by guest foreign brewers which are also available at the festival. This year we have selections from Chicago and Hawaii, from the Czech republic and South Africa and closer to home, Belgium and Holland.

From England there are plenty of festival specials along with rarely seen seasonal beers that cover every style of beer, from the light hoppy bitter to the dark and flavoursome porters. Beers have been sourced from all corners of the UK and you may find offerings from Cornwall on the bar with beer from Scotland or the South East. Looking on the map, the greatest concentration of beer has come from the North West, but Yorkshire is showcased by Roosters, Saltaire, Daleside and Theakstons.
Not the greatest selection of local breweries but decent enough.

So, if you have a bit of time to spare, call down at the Cherry Tree in Huddersfield, or the Richard Oastler in Brighouse, or the Barum Top in Halifax and take a look. All have about 10 pumps so there should be something to suit every palette, and at less than £2 a pint should not break the bank.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

The Charlie Memorial Tour

On Good Friday, after a lot of planning, a group of hardy souls from Huddersfield set off on the 'Charlie Memorial Tour' to sample the delights of Sheffield, around the pubs that Charlie was well known for visiting. With us, we took his photo that was displayed for a time at each venue, and halves were drunk in his honour.

Our first port of call, at opening time was the Hillsborough Hotel, reached by a tram ride from Meadowhall, for most of us at least, young Tim managed to get waylaid and missed the tram but by a bit of ingenuity and speedy walking had managed to catch up before we had downed the first half. The Hillsborough offered 5 beers from their own Crown brewery and a couple of guests and most chose the light, hoppy 'John Coltrane', continuing the Charlie theme and his love of jazz.

Next came the long walk to the Gardeners Rest, much revamped after the closure from the 2008 flooding and a pleasant airy pub. Here the beer of choice seemed to be Green Jack 'Orange Wheat' but on the bar were 4 Sheffield Brewery beers and some interesting guests from Graffiti and Beowolf to name but two.

A quick pit stop at the Riverside and a choice of White Rose beers was followed by the Harlequin. I have made no secret that this is my favourite Sheffield pub and again we were not let down. The beer range was interesting, and the staff were willing to do cellar runs for some of the other beers to come added to the variety. It was busy but not heaving and we settled here for a while to grab a sandwich and sample a few of the ales. I managed a Coastal beer which to my horror was hopped with green bullet and a Salamander offering but there was also Acorn and Glentworth beers on the bar if my memory is correct. The beer range here does not seem as inspired here since Hannah left but there is still a good variety to go at.

From here a short stroll to the Fat Cat. Here we split into 2 groups, some staying at the Cat and others trying the Kelham Island Tavern round the corner. Both pubs were very busy and noisy and trying to get a seat was not easy. Apart from 'London Calling' by Empire I cannot recall any other beers in The Fat Cat, as our splinter group moved on to sample the delights of the KIT. Beers from Yorkshire Dales, Sheffield and Keystone were the order of the day here, but I managed to select 3 dark beers not especially to my taste. My other half did manage a Thornbridge which was excellent and which I forgot to write down !!

The problem with the KIT was a group of loud lager drinkers, what makes lager drinkers drink in real ale pubs ??? So we left there is search of peace and quiet at the Wellington, (I still think of it as the Cask & Cutler), only to find the group of cretins from the KIT had beaten us there. We did manage to take over the back room and it was reasonably peaceful there. Here most of the group stuck to the Little Ale Cart beers brewed on the premises but there were offerings from Ludlow and Mighty Oak on the bar as well.

From here it was a quick tram back to the station and a visit to the Sheffield Tap. Another very busy pub but we managed to get served fairly quickly . There were 8 Thornbridge beers and between us all I think we sampled them all.

All in all a good day out and a fitting tribute for Charlie, who I am sure would have been impressed by our choice of pubs and hopefully the choice of beers available in them. We have already pencilled in next Good Friday for the return visit.