Monday, January 17, 2011

Now is the Winter of our Content

With apologies to Will, (the Bard that is, not the blogger !!)

In the first two weeks of January, generally a quiet month for the beer enthusiast, we have been privy to beers from at least five new breweries at The Star. And pretty good some have been too.

In these days it must be a brave man who sets out to make a living out of brewing beer, especially having the courage to open up a new brewery. We have mentioned several that have started recently in West Yorkshire, but at the moment they are proving elusive to track down. However, we have been treated to some recent additions from Cheshire, Lancashire and Derby and if their first offerings are a sign of things to come we should be in for a treat when they really get going.

The first up was Offbeat Brewery from Crewe with their 'Outlandish Pale'. Admittedly it did divide opinion a bit, but personally I was happy with their 3.9% offering. Light coloured and a decent session beer, it seemed a pretty fair first attempt. The Cheshire connection continued with Happy Valley Brewery who gave us the 4.2% 'Lazy Days' (a fruity bitter) & 3.8% 'Sworn Secret' (another light coloured and very drinkable session bitter), and Redwillow Brewery who bucked the light trend with a darker beer. 'Feckless' was a 4.1%, the clip called it a winter ale, but it was not lacking in hop character, although more malty that the previous beers.

Irwell Valley, from Ramsbottom, provided a mid range bitter, 'Steam Plate', which started with lots of promise but sadly started to fade towards the bottom of the glass. The real star (if you will excuse the pun - been drinking with Denis for too long!), was Dancing Duck 'Ay Up'. Another light beer at 3.9% but packed with flavour and far too drinkable. It lasted less than an evening, not bad for a new brewery.

On the subject of beers from over the border, there is also Phoenix 'Low VAT Bitter' doing the rounds. I have been a fan of the brewery for a long time and this does not disappoint. Only 3.5%, but packed with flavour. Who needs a strong beer when you can get taste like that in a weaker one? (By the way, if you see their 'Lancashire Pale' give that a go, another classic)

A year that started with promises of gloom and doom from every angle has suddenly picked up. If these few beers are a snap shot of things to come then 2011 could be a classic year for beer drinkers. Lets hope so.


Leigh said...

Some cool-sounding brews there, will check them out - only tried the RedWillow before! Thanks for the headsup!

Jibber said...

Sorry to pour petrol on the flames of doom and gloom but I'm not convinced that an influx of new breweries is necessarily a good thing.

The past few years have seen several excellent new local breweries formed. In particular, Mallinsons, Bridestones, Nook, Ilkley, Golcar, Empire- goodness I could go on for ever - have done wonderful things for the local brewing scene.

But...and there is a but....every new brewery dilutes the trade, and profitability, of the established players.

So why do I say that? If that was the case a few years ago then breweries such as Mallinsons simply wouldn't have bothered. But that was then. This is now.

Money is pretty tight, people are pulling their horns in and beer prices are only going one way (Uncle Bruce - sorry, the Kings Head - is still remarkably good value at £2.30/40 a pint, but the £3 is worryingly near in more than a few local pubs). Even if, as the evidence suggests, real ale is bucking the trend of decreasing beer sales, how many more new breweries can the market stand? And are their products going to be that different to really make them worthwhile?

I can understand new breweries wanting to set up. There are good incentives around for small brewers and money to be made. Perhaps we're fragmenting to the time when, as in days gone by, every pub has its own brewhouse. Somehow I doubt it.

At present we've more choice on the real ale front than our dads, granddads, or any of our predecessors have ever had. But I'm beginning to think that you can actually have too much choice. I wonder if the real ale scene has reached that point.

Brian said...

the Offbeat design looks fantastic. The beers will have to live up to that billing now.

Timbo said...

Jibber, I take your points, but surely if these people have the courage of their convictions to set up a brewery, then it is up to the punter to make his choice. It is obviously becoming a more cut throat market place, and only the good,or best will survive. But every brewery needs to start somewhere and sometime,it is good to see these new breweries showcased in the free trade rather than at a festival, where their quality of product can be variable at the least. I am all in favour of more choice for the consumer, but like you rightly say, the product has to be of a decent standard otherwise there is no point.
Its a bit like football really, everyone deserves the chance to play in the Premiership, it is just whether they have the product to get there, the support the sustain them, and the ability to progress. Sounds a bit like Burnley really !!!

Steveg said...

I'm sure that most beer tickers will want to know the answer to the following the "EY UP" beer from Dancing Duck the same beer as the one you portray in the picture ("AY UP"). Perhaps the brewery has a problem with their vowels? Who knows? More Importantly, doe's anyone give a "Dancing Duck"!

Jibber said...

Fair comment, Timbo. Why should it matter to beer drinkers. If the beer's good, we'll buy it, if it isn't the brewery will go under. As long as people know what they're letting themselves in for and have the knowledge, skill and drive to succeed.

I suppose I'm thinking of the parallel in pub ownership. How many times have people said they'd like to run a pub, sink all their redundancy pay or whatever into a pubco joint venture, only to lose the lot.

As long as you've done your research and have a sound plan then ok. If you're just dreaming a dream, you might care to look at for a list of breweries mainly closed since the 1980's.

Re Burnley - I must let Alex know! I hope I didn't throw you with the Uncle Bruce reference - that's what we all call him here in the Calder Valley!

Anonymous said...

As the brewster I can confirm that Ay Up and Ey Up are indeed the same beer. We found there was debate as to the spelling, the people of Derby seem to favour "Ay" wheras if you go a little further North or East people are adamant it is spelt "Ey". We didn't think it was up to us to decide so have had both pump clips produced and offer the choice to the landlord or lady (if your Duck has got to you via a distributer it was 50/50).