Saturday, February 26, 2011

What has London to offer in 2011 - part 2

When we left you we were in Borough Market, and around the edge of the market there are three pubs, all different but all good in their own way. Our first call was the 'Rake' , a decent enough pub, really small but without anything that really made it special, either beer wise or pub wise. A swift half al fresco and onto the ' Brew Wharf'. This is a massive modern pub with an in house brewery, so worth a visit just for that, but really seems to geared for food rather than beer and is full of glass and stainless steel. A bit of a contrast to other places we visited. We did find two house beers on the bar though, a 3.1% Stout and a 6.3% beer made with centennial hops, and even more centennial hops reading the description. The first was acceptable, the latter was a disappointment, as it promised much and delivered little. Never mind there was always the 'Market Porter' to try round the corner.

This is one of the must visit pubs for a beer enthusiast in London and again, it offered a decent selection but nothing really stood out to try, but we tried the 'Art Brew' Lemon which was an interesting flavoursome beer. But again time waits for no man, so it was back north again, this time by a combination of underground and bus.

Our next pub was a revelation. 'The Southampton Arms' had been recommended to us by Kevin and since he knows what he is talking about, we thought we would give it a go. It is in Highgate Rd, at Kentish Town, conveniently just on a bus stop. Easy enough to recognise, it is another tiled pub, which is long and thin. No pretentiousness here, just a good old solid boozer, full of locals with a good craic and an interesting selection of beer. Here we selected another Brodies beer, 'Polska' at 6.5%, and a ginger beer from Hardknott, settled down and enjoyed the atmosphere. There is no denying the place is basic, and could do with decorating but that would take away some of the character,(to add the character the gents is outside in the yard at the back !!). We were just about to leave when a chance conversation pointed us towards a couple of Camden beers at the end of the bar. Another new brewery. A quick change of plan, a couple more halves. Another unusual thing about the pub I had failed to notice till then was that all the beer was served in barrel glasses both pints and halves, a rarity these days.

Time was beginning to catch us up now, and we had plans to visit another couple of places nearer Kings Cross. Well we had plans, our visit to the Euston Tap was swift indeed. A quick look through the door and out again, it was again a very small pub, full of Friday revellers, and with nothing on the bar to tempt us from its selection of 8 beers we made for the 'Bree Louise'.

The 'Bree' is on a side road near Euston Station, and again was full when we arrived, but we selected a beer, (another Brodies beer, 'Romanov' which weighed in at a massive 12%) and settled at a table outside, only to discover ourselves chatting to a lady who was born in Marsh, small world!!

We still had a bit of time before the train was due, and nothing else in the 'Bree' took our fancy. There is a bar on the station at St Pancras, so we though we would try there. 'The Sir John Betjeman' is upstairs, at the end of the concourse, and is again mainly a lager and food pub, all glass and metal, but it does have a couple of beers on draught and the 'Adnams' Ipa was in good form. So it was a final half, and off for the train back North.

So what did we find ? Lots of good pubs, the 'Southampton Arms' being the pick of the bunch; lots of good beer, Brodies had the edge with their 'Kiwi' being my beer of the day. And we proved that with a bit of planning it is not difficult to criss cross London by bus, nor too expensive with a travel card. All we need now is another rail offer to do it all again.

What has London got to offer in 2011, part 1

As is well known, Yorkshiremen love a bargain, so seeing Grand Central were running an offer for £25 day return to London, with around 10 hours in the capital, it was too good to miss. So two intrepid travellers, armed only with a London beer guide, a London bus map, and a Zone 1 and 2 travel card set out for the 'Smoke'. This is what we found.

Robin and I had made some plans before we set out, of which pubs to visit, and how to get there. We decided to take in some of the less well known pubs, and where possible travel overground to combine a bit of 'bus bashing' with visiting the pubs.

The first call, at 1100, (about a hour after the train arrived), was a Brodies pub, the 'Old Coffee House' on Beak St, just off Regent St. Neither of us had encountered the brewery before but had heard good things about it, and we were not disappointed. Armed with halves of 'Kiwi' and 'Amarilla' we settled gently into the day. The pub is a classic, set on a corner down a back street near Carnaby St, with a tiled exterior and a wonderful interior, with plenty of old wood and mirrors. The bar had 4 offerings from the host brewery and a guest and the 'Kiwi' was a superb beer, full of New Zealand hops. The rest of the day had a lot to live up to.

Next we set off to Pimlico, and another pub we had heard lots about. The 'Cask' on Charlwood St was easy enough to find, a few minutes south of Victoria. It was covered in scaffolding so did not seem to promise a lot from the outside, but inside was a another beer drinkers paradise. Totally different to the previous pub, it seemed more like a cafe - bar but the pumps promised a selection from Dark Star, Otley and plenty of Brewdog, but we opted for another new brewery; our halves of Kent 'Black Gold' were very acceptable but cost us £1.85. We were somewhat surprised to see 7 Summer Wine beers on the beers to come list, seems we were not the only ones to have made the journey south ! Nothing else on the bar was new so it was up and off again.

Back North again and in search of 2 pubs in Covent Garden. We found one, but my intended visit to the Camra 2011 pub of the year, 'The Harp' was in vain. I knew it was not easy to find, but this became impossible when I realised I had foolishly forgotten to write the address down !!! Nevertheless, the 'Cross Keys' on Endell St, was an adequate compensation. Another Brodies pub, again ornately tiled, this one felt more like a local. It has a long,thin interior, and seating was at a premium at lunchtime but we succeeded in squeezing into a table with 2 more beers from the house stable, 'IPA' and 'English Best', both decent beers but lacked the zing of the previous two we had tried. Again a very acceptable price of £1.60 a half though. After a quick chat with the barman, who seemed to think we were a bit weird in our quest we headed south of the river.

There is a very convenient, although poorly advertised, bus service, RV1, that goes from the edge of Covent Garden down to Tower Gateway. We managed to find the stop and were greeted by the sight of a hydrogen powered single decker. Another tick. So off to sample the pubs round Borough Market. So far, we had not travelled underground at all.

Borough Market was heaving and we were assailed by a myriad of smells and sounds as we wandered through. We grabbed some food and Robin came across a bottled beer stall which nearly kept him there for the rest of the afternoon such were the delights on offer, but he managed to make a selection and we were off again in search of pubs.....but more of that next time.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Catch up with Kevin

This weekend saw the return to town, albeit only for the weekend, of Kevin Yelland. I managed to catch up with him to see what he was up to now.

For those who do not know him, Kevin was the erstwhile barman at the Rat & Ratchet in pre Ossett days, (the one with the pony tail and beard who supported Wolves !) and he brought his brewing skills to the old Rat brewery on occasions. He then moved on to pastures new in St Albans, where he managed a pub there and brewed himself under the 'Alehouse' name. Should you have come across his beers he liked his hops, and often his beers were very innovative for their time, packing masses of hop flavour into each brew, often using new hops before other brewers learned of their qualities. He also maintained an interest in foreign beers, especially American, with a leaning towards the West Coast brewers.

He has left the pub now and is effectively a free lance brewer but does brew on his old kit at St Albans, under the name of 'Verulanum' and still promises that his beer will be full of hops, he just getting into Citra but still uses his trademark Simcoe. The only problem for us northerners is that the beer does not often get into the free trade and if it does it rarely makes it as far as Yorkshire, so if you want to try it it means a trip to its home town.

He maintains all his enthusiasm for brewing, but the old ponytail has gone. It was good to catch up with him again, one of the old brewers from the town that has spawned so many good brewers recently. I, for one, owe him a debt of gratitude for showing me what hops are really for.

The Burley Street Brewery

If you happen to be in Leeds and have an hour or so to spare why not take a trip out to the Burley St Brewery tap and sample what they have to offer, I called in last week and was pleasantly surprised.

For those unfamiliar with the place it is a reincarnation of the old Fox & Newt Brewery, brewing on the same premises at the pub. Since the old F & N days, it has has has several different guises and often the beer there has been less than perfect, but on my visit they seem to have got a brewery that has got it right.

It is fairly easy to get to, about a 10 minute walk from the town centre down the Headrow in the direction of the Magistrates Court and keep walking towards Park Lane College, or the less energetic could catch the no 49/50 buses that stop almost outside.

The pub itself is a two level affair with plenty of comfortable seating in the lower part, and wooden chairs in the upper level around tables. The only draw back was the over loud music. Ok at night time but a bit intrusive for a lunchtime drink. It is open at 12 noon and does serve food. On the small bar I found the 3 staple beers from the pub brewery along with a few guests, that seem to cover every sort of beer taste. The house beer was competitively priced around £2 a pint which for Leeds is very good.

On my visit there was their 'Monza Mild' at 3.5%, a mid brown mild, inoffensive and quite tasty; 'The Brickyard', a 3.7% bitter, which reminded me of the old style of Yorkshire bitter, a bit darker than I like but still very drinkable; and their lighter 'Laguna Secca' which came in at 4.0% and was my personal favourite, even though I have no idea what the name means. In addition, there were other guest beers but except for a Saltaire offering I cannot recall what they were on my visit.

If you have a bit of time to spare, then I would suggest you call in. It is certainly different to other Leeds pubs and value for money as I have said, and is well worth the walk.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Must Have Book for Pub Lovers

I have recently bought a copy of CAMRA's 'Yorkshire's Real Heritage Pubs' (pub interiors of special historic interest in Yorkshire and Humber) . It is the best £5 I have spent in a long time. Nearly 100 pages of information on glossy paper full of information and pictures. It is a book that anyone who loves the pubs in the area should not be without. It fits handily in a pocket so you can carry it about and check out the pubs as you drink in them.

It is set out with an introduction that charts the growth and history of the pubs in the area, and follows this with a guide through each of Yorkshire's four counties, pointing out the best examples of each style of pub in each area. It is easy to use, set out alphabetically through the towns and villages in the counties, giving pen portraits of the pubs listed and often backs them up with quality illustrations of the pubs , with ground plans of some of them, and street maps to get around those places with a few pubs listed.

Huddersfield gets several mentions, 'The Sportsman', 'Shoulder of Mutton', 'Albert' and the 'Victoria' all feature, as do some of my favourite out of town pubs. The 'Three Pigeons' in Halifax is there, as is the 'Garden Gate' in Hunslet, 'Nellys' in Beverley, and 'The Blue Bell' in York. All are well described and their features explained, as well as their context within the scheme of pub history.

It is well written and easy to read, ideal for just dipping into but just as good for reading cover to cover. A great little book to carry about with your 'Good Beer Guide' if you are out for the day. It does not cover the beers currently served in the pubs but that would not be expected, rather concentrating on each pubs external and internal features.

On a personal note there are some omissions. I am surprised that neither 'The Sair' nor the 'Dog & Partridge' feature for example but that is a minor complaint when compared to the places that are included. As I said, it is well worth £5, and unlike the 'Good Beer Guide' will not date. It is available in some local pubs or direct from CAMRA.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

They are springing up all over !!

If you happen to be about on the East Coast this summer it may be worth your while to call in the North Riding Hotel in Scarborough. No only do they usually have a decent selection of beers on, often with Yorkshire Dales predominating, they have now taken the step and started brewing themselves.

The brews will not be regular, only one brew of 7 firkins a week at the moment, from a brewery in the cellar of the pub. Initially they will only be available at the pub and occasional beer festivals, they promise to cater for the drinker who likes his beer light and hoppy, so may be a call in on a hot summer's day may be just the thing. We will let you know !!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Hawkshead Brewery

One of the better breweries to come out of the Lake District is Hawkshead, whose beer seems to becoming more widely available around our region in the recent past, in fact The Grove has 3 of their beers on the bar at the moment, all showcasing the different styles that the brewery produces, and all worth a try.

The brewery started in its home town in 2002, but was forced to move to larger, purpose built premises a few miles away in Staveley in 2006, which incorporate a state of the art brewery combined with a large visitors centre. The new brewery is capable of a 20 barrel brew length and a weekly output of around 100 barrels, which is mainly concentrated on their core range of beers with just the occasional special being brewed.

Currently on the bar at the Grove are 'Windermere Pale' - a 3.5% beer, light coloured and not over hopped, Maris Otter malt and a touch of wheat give the base and a hop medley give its fresh, subtle taste, with a hint of Citra recently added. This is joined by 'Red' - 4.2% and more malty, with its colour coming from the dark crystal malt, and the malt tends to override the hops. The third beer is the 8.5% 'Triple XBJ' - a very dark beer reminiscent of a winter warmer, masses of flavour, but at its strength, a beer to be treated with respect.

The rest of the brewery range is spread across various styles and colours. 'Lakeland Lager' 5.0% and hard to find in cask, but if you see it it it is worth the wait. A great example of a cask lager.
'Bitter' is a 3.7% beer, refreshing with an elderflower hint; 'Gold' is a multi award winning beer with First Gold and Cascade hops; 'Brodies Prime' is 4.9% and their premium beer, with plenty of fruit flavour from the mixture of English and American hops used; 'Organic Stout' is what it says, a stout brewed with organic barley and hops and an excellent take on the style.

As I said, now and again, the brewery does brew specials but we rarely see these in our part of the world in cask form, although sometimes they do appear in bottles, and the bottles are often more easy to find than the cask versions.

So, if you fancy something a bit different, get up to the The Grove in the next day or so and compare and contrast the beers on the bar and sample what one of the better Cumbrian breweries has to offer.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Beer Of The Day, 10th February

One of the local breweries that does not feature often in our postings is Summer Wine. There are many reasons for this but one of the most obvious is that it often not easy to find their beers in their home town. This post is the result of a search for the 'holy grail'.

I have sometimes come across their beers in The Head Of Steam or the Cherry Tree; the former showcased their 'Project 6' series, ( a collection of 6+ % beers brewed using different hops but with apparently the same malt base), and the latter often gets their darker beers, I recently sampled their 'Treason' treacle stout there. But I have never managed to find their 'Diablo'.

That was until yesterday, when on a trip out to the Harlequin in Sheffield I found it waiting for me on the bar. I had heard other drinkers make very complimentary comments about it, and I was sure that it was a beer worth hunting down, but it always eluded me. It either ran off before I could order a pint, or the clip sat there taunting me for a visit on another day. When it invariably had been and gone. Well the wait was over. There it was, in all its glory.

I ordered one, and sat down to see what all the fuss had been about. It was a 6% offering. Light and appealing. A quick sniff told me I would not be disappointed. It gave off a burst of tropical fruit flavours and the first taste confirmed it was a classic. A massive hop hit followed by the release of all the flavours that the nose of the beer had given me. There is some sweetness there but that underpins the mango and lychee taste that burst in the mouth. Full of intense flavour but not excessively bitter, I knew I was holding a great beer, I suspected, (and had it confirmed from their web site) that this was yet another superb use of 'citra' hops.

If you see it around, don't pass it by, or take my word, give it a try. It is one of the classic beers of 2011. Just wish I could find it closer to home.

*** As if by magic, I called in The Grove yesterday and found it on the taunting pole of beers to come, looks as though it could be on either Saturday or Sunday - typical !! ***

And true to form it had run off by Sunday lunchtime....!!!!

Monday, February 07, 2011

The Dog & Partridge, Sowood

On Sunday, an intrepid group of drinkers curtailed their usual town centre meanderings for something a little more adventurous and set off, in various ways for the Dog & Partridge at Sowood. For those unfamiliar with the pub, the easiest way to get to it is by bus from Huddersfield, the 536 conveniently stops outside the pub and gets there just in time for 1200 opening, but be warned it is only a 2 hourly service. There are other ways to get there of course, and others in group were more daring and walked there,or in one case ran, in the teeth of near gale force winds to sample what was on offer.

The pub itself sits high above Outlane, surrounded by fields,and commands wonderful views over Kirklees and Calderdale, but this was hardly a day for sampling them. All we wanted was to get out of the rain and wind and sample some beer. It is a unspoilt gem of a place, with just 2 rooms, our group managed to fill the bar, leaving the bewildered locals to graciously take up residence in the smaller side room. It has been in the Collins family for many years, previously being run by Mabel, and after she passed on, by her son Frank. It is still known to many as 'Mabels'.

To say the 21st century has not reached here is something of an understatement. It is one of the few pubs I have visited that does not possess a till for example, a beer glass making a more that adequate replacement. It does however have a reputation for great beer, and on our visit had Taylors 'Landlord' and Black Sheep on the bar, supplemented on our visit by Mallinsons 'Lindley Pale'. We had promised Frank, we would drink the barrel before we left, and we managed that in around 2 hours, with the help of some of the locals who seemed to like it so much that a deal was struck for more Mallinsons to be delivered as soon as possible.

After settling in we had chance to check out the pub. Full of quirky memorabilia and pictures on the walls reflecting both the history of the pub and Frank's own interests. The smaller room has 4 cases of model buses should that be your thing, and a piano, which Frank took time out from serving to play for a while, and pretty good he is too.

Even when the Mallinsons and Landlord ran off, he still managed time to change one of the barrels for a Springhead beer, no doubt supplied by one of the regulars, Lord Baume of Elland.
Too soon it was time to bid farewell and head back into town and continue our drinking in more familiar surroundings but all who visited spoke of being impressed by the place, and vowed to return. Hopefully in better weather.

Thanks to Frank for putting up with the sudden influx of customers, and for his generousity in allowing us to take his pub over for a few hours. It was much appreciated.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Pump clips - another whinge

I know I have visited this subject before, but after coming across a couple of gems I thought it was worthy of a further whinge.

What do we want from a pump clip? Personally, I am happy if tells me the brewery, the beer name, the ABV and maybe the style of beer, if it is not obvious from the name. But maybe I am discounting the obvious. It is useful to be able to read the thing as well! That, I have discovered is not always the case, and to back this up two guilty beers were on side by side in a pub last night. One was full of so much information that it took ages to find a name and an abv, the other was printed in such a colour that only by removing the clip and squinting under a good light was the actual beer name apparent.

I am not into naming and shaming, but the two breweries in question were Steel City and Thorne. There is never any problem in identifying either brewery from their clips if you have come across them before. The former brewery provides all the usual information a drinker needs, but unfortunately a lot he doesn't really want or understand. Why do we need to know the IBU (international bitterness unit) for example? Or a code to tell us where it was brewed?

Yes I know (before I am on the receiving end of a Dave U... rant) that this is vital information for tickers, but the average drinker does not have that specialist interest. The description of the beer on the clip tells us it is a black IPA so we expect hops in it and bitterness, but I do not have a guide to tell me what IBU means what, so that is really irrelevant. The same applies to the colour guide on the clip - without the scale, this information is worthless.

However this is small beer compared to the Thorne clip. Whoever decided that lilac would be a good colour for a clip when combined with black lettering ? It does not not stand out, in fact it is unreadable. The bar is full of people squinting at the pump clip trying to work out what it says.

If you are trying to sell a product, surely the main thing at the point of sale is to make it attractive to the consumer. What applies to cornflakes, cat food and books, must surely apply to beer as well. It needs to catch the eye, not to have so much information as to confuse the customer nor be in such a colour as to put the customer off. I must say these are two unusual examples. Most are easily readable and simple to understand, but please, if you are going to the effort of brewing something you want people to drink, at least make it attractive enough for people to want to buy it.

(in assocation with Steve Goodwill rants!!)

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Star Spring Festival Dates

The dates for The Star Inn Spring Festival have been released with the doors opening at 5pm on Wednesday 16th March running through till Sunday 20th March 2011. Full day opening on Friday through Sunday. Get your time off work booked now and we hope to see you there, you know it makes sense !!

Magic Rock Brewing

(courtesy of 'Pencil and Spoon')
Yesterday Huddersfield's latest brewery, 'Magic Rock' was announced. It is a joint venture between the Burhouse brothers and based at Quarmby in their mill complex, famous for it's importation of rocks and crystal (hence the name). They have installed a 12 barrel brew kit at the premises with two fermenters initially and acquired the brewing services of Stuart Ross, formerly of the Crown brewery in Sheffield.

The intention is to brew five core beers (listed below) with other seasonals based on the style made famous by craft brewers from the USA but tweaked to suit the English pallette. So watch out for beers with loads of hop flavours.

Preparation work has started at the brewery with the intention that brewing commences next month - the first brews will be released as cask beers but with bottling an option for the future.

The intended core range is:
Curious - 3.9% pale ale
Rapture - 4.5 % red hop ale
High Wire - 5.5% West Coast IPA
Dark Arts - 6.0% stout
Cannonball - 7.4% IPA

I, for one, cannot wait to see them on the bar in pubs around here, certainly the pump clips make them stand out from the crowd. If Stuart produces beer of the standard that he made at the Crown Brewery then Huddersfield has another wonderful addition to it's current crop of brewers and long may it continue.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Newby Wyke - A hidden gem from Lincolnshire

One of my favourite breweries, but one that is very rarely seen about, is Newby Wyke. I did happen to come across a couple of their beers last weekend at the Kings Head in Huddersfield however, and having tried them, was reminded what a good brewery they are.

Newby Wyke was set up in 1998 in Little Bytham near Grantham, moving to larger premises three years later, and again in 2009. The beer is fairly easy to find near their home town but rarely seen further afield, however should you spot any, they are always worth a try being invariably good and often excellent. For those interested in beer names; Newby Wyke is itself named after a trawler, and many of their beers reflect the fishing heritage of the area, with some named after warships of various types.

The brewers seem to be very careful who gets their beer. They like to exert some control over the quality of their product at the point of dispense, hence their scarcity in the free trade, preferring to use tried and tested pubs where quality will be maintained. Luckily, the Kings Head seems to meet their criteria.

The beer range is wide, but rather than brewing one off brews (although they occasionally do), they prefer to remain within a core range with re-brews of seasonal specials. Most of their beers are light and hoppy, although of various strengths. My favourites are the single hopped 'Kingston Topaz' and the stronger 'HMS Warrior' with its balanced citrus flavours. 'Chesapeake' contains 8 different hop varieties and is packed with taste.

Like I said earlier, their beers take a bit of finding so unless you happen to be around the Grantham or Stamford area, then keep trying the 'Kings Head' as they appear there fairly regularly. Also a trip across to Greetland may be worth it as their supplier also gets to a couple of outlets there. If you do manage to hunt them down, I am sure you will not be disappointed.