Sunday, August 28, 2011

Dark Star does it again

One of the better breweries about is Dark Star from Sussex, I have written about them before singing their praises. Their beers are not difficult to find round these parts, 'The Kings Head' often has 'Hophead' on the bar, and 'The Grove' has a pump dedicated to their beer, which is often their seasonal or special beers.

Recently there I encountered their July special 'Carafa Jade'. I thought it a bit of strange name for a beer so a bit of digging on their website explained all. the name is a combination of the malt and hops used in the beer. Carafa from the German malt used that gives it a rich bronze colour, and Jade from Pacific Jade, the hops from New Zealand, that give it a bit of zing. I must admit it was not my favourite beer of theirs but it was certainly interesting and well worth a pint.

Their August special was a totally different creature. Their first fruit beer. Called 'Seville', the clue to the taste is in the name. Another bronze coloured beer, it makes use of a hop called 'El Dorado' which is new to me, but its real flavour comes from a maturation with Seville oranges. And does it taste of orange! If you like your marmalade rich and chunky this could be the beer for you, rich and powerful. Another classic from an excellent brewery.

In future months there are a couple of IPA's to look out for. September provides the 6.2%, 'India Pale Ale' and November 'Green Hopped IPA' a monster at 6.5%. I, for one, cannot wait.

Bob's Back in The Hot Seat

This weekend has seen the publication of Huddersfield CAMRA's Real Ale magazine, 'Ale Talk'. Nothing special about that you may say, but actually it marks a watershed in its publication.

Regular readers may notice a few changes. Firstly, it has colour pictures, admittedly only of the chairman presenting awards to Marsh Liberal club, but it is step in the right direction. Secondly, the publication is now based solely on Huddersfield and district, the Heavy Woollen branch have split and will be bringing out their own version of the magazine soon, so there is more room for comprehensive pub news. And thirdly, 'Ale Talk' is back in the safe hands of its long time editor Bob Tomlinson, who a couple of years ago had to give up the reins for various reasons.

It is not a large publication, handy enough to slip into your pocket and carry around on a trip around to give you pointers where to drink, but packed full of useful bits and pieces that are Bob's trademark. It even has a cider section written by Dave Kendall-Smith, complete with a recipe, what more do we need ?

Its good to see 'Ale Talk' back on form. Credit must to due to those who stepped into the breach when Bob was unavailable to keep it going, but hopefully, we can see it going from strength to strength and giving the town a publication it can be proud of. Thanks Bob.

Should you so wish, there is a facility on Huddersfield's CAMRA website to read 'Ale Talk' on line and the picture above comes courtesy of that website.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Another Festival Weekend

This weekend gives us the opportunity to visit at least three festivals locally and many others, should you wish to travel out of HD.

From 1100 am on Friday The Sportsman on St. Johns Road offers us the chance to sample 10 of their brewery's 'experimental' brews, along with beer related food and brewery tours, according to their flyer. The festival will go on until Sunday.

The Nook at Holmfirth will also be having their Summer Beer Festival between Friday and Sunday, with 40 real ales on offer, with beers from around Yorkshire and Lancashire. Unfortunately we have no details of the Friday opening times at this moment. (list on facebook)

The Durker Roods Hotel at Meltham is also hosting their beer festival, from noon on Saturday through till Monday with 20 ales available. £2 gives you a festival glass and entry with all beers at £2.90 a pint.

If you fancy travelling further afield, there are 60 beers promised at the 'Brewers Pride' in Ossett. This starts at 1730 hrs on Friday through until Monday. It promises live music on Friday and Saturday nights, and Sunday and Monday afternoon. All beers will be cellar conditioned.

A trip across into Manchester will provide festivals at The Smithfield on Swan Street, and at the Mark Addy, down towards Salford.

So plenty to go for to fill in the Bank Holiday weekend. No doubt we will manage some of them and let you know.

Monday, August 22, 2011

IPA or not IPA, that is the question

One of the most overused terms in the beer drinking dictionary is 'IPA', and now it seems to be spawning even more bizarre offshoots as anyone who has read the previous post may have realised.

Although 'pale ale' has been around in England since the 17th century, the term 'India Pale Ale' was not coined until 1835, and basically described a beer that had been well hopped. The strength was not really a factor, and it is possible that the stories about strong pale ales being brewed to survive the trip to India may just be a myth. It was the hopping, and the greater fermentation of the wort, thereby leaving less residual sugars that preserved the beer, not the strength. It was a beer suited to the tastes of India at the time, hence its name.

The 'Bow Brewery' was one of the first to export beer to the sub continent, benefitting from the brewers connections with the East India Company. Gradually, other brewers became involved and several from Burton also exported their beer to India as other markets declined throughout the 19th century. Other North American breweries were also brewing their takes on the beer style before the end of the century, again using the term 'IPA'.

But what of the 21st century? As I have pointed out earlier, there is nothing in the history to say an IPA has to be strong, so there is no problem with the 3.6% Greene King IPA being referred to as such. Any light hoppy beer can theoretically be classed as an IPA, and plenty are. The suggestion that IPA's should be strong seems to be a product of the American market of the 1930's. These were known in England at the time as 'Double' or 'Imperial' IPA's, but that gradually went into decline through the 20th century and have only recently made a comeback.

So there we have it. At the moment we can find half IPA's, double IPA's, American IPA's, or Imperial IPA'S, and even Belgian IPA's. All they have to do is vaguely fit the original brewing style of the early recipes. I am not so sure about Black IPA though, surely a black pale ale is a contradiction in terms. Unless you know better.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Its a Steel City Invasion

Well I may have over exaggerated a bit. The lucky drinkers of Huddersfield, this weekend, will be able to sample not one, but two beers from the Steel City Brewery of Sheffield. Based at the Little Ale Cart Brewery in Sheffield, it is not unusual to find their beers in our town, they are sometimes lurking on the bar in the Star or the Sportsman, but this time they have reached the Grove and the Rat.

It is becoming fairly commonplace for some brewers to collaborate over brewing beers, there have been many examples at the Wetherspoons festivals for example. However the two beers that Steel City have in the town are both very different. One a collaboration with one of the best regarded breweries about at the moment, and the other with a couple of guys from Spain.

If you have never come across their beers before (shame on you !), you will soon understand their mantra 'We Know What Hops Are For'. Don't expect a wishy washy subtle brew. What you get is a massive hop hit from their blending of various varieties, usually American or New Zealand to give superbly interesting beers.

This time we have been treated to a 3.2% offering, I know its not their usual strength but hang on. They have brewed this for flavour, not strength. The beer contains Columbus, and Warrior hops in the early part of the brew and later they have added Sorachi Ace, Columbus, Simcoe, and Citra. If they can't get a bit of flavour from this lot then they aren't really trying. They call it 'Blanes Half IPA' and it should be available in the Rat, provided my namesake hasn't beaten me to it and had it all ! This is brewed in collaboration with the 'Marina Cervesa' brewers from the Catalan region of Spain.

When you have had your fill of this then why not trek up to The Grove and see what they made of a collaboration with Derbyshire brewers, Raw. The beer is 6.8% 'Raw Steel Ipa'. This time a totally different hop range has been used in the beer with Nelson Sauvin, Apollo, Herkules and Pacific Gem included, and the beer promises a massive hop kick, with the strength to back it up. They say it is touch darker than their usual brews, more amber-ish than light.

There are only about 20 barrels of each brew around, so get them now before it's too late. Or before little Tim, or big Tim, beats you to it !!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Fat Cat Reaches 30

One of Yorkshire's iconic and best known pubs reaches its 30th birthday this weekend and has a four day festival to celebrate the fact. The 'Fat Cat' in Sheffield, sitting in the back streets of the Kelham Island quarter, has always been one of the must visit pubs in the city, both for its range of beer and its quirkiness.

The place is a little like a tardis. The bar itself is small, but offers around 8 beers sourced from far and wide, usually with one or more from the associated 'Kelham Island' brewery. It is often full, both of regulars and visitors, but there are plenty of other rooms to sit in and while away your time, and even a large room upstairs to cater for overspill. It is one of those pubs that when you get inside time stands still and you become reluctant to leave. A quick pint becomes two, then three, then .... etc. It is also well regarded for its reasonably priced, home cooked food, and its pies are excellent - almost worth the trip itself without the great beer range.

It has recently been overshadowed in the awards stakes by 'The Kelham Island Tavern', just around the corner, but the certificates on the bar wall bear testimony to the high regard in which the pub is held. If you have never visited Sheffield before and want one pub to call at, this would be my choice.

As I said earlier it has been serving the city's drinkers since 1981, and to celebrate the fact, they are opening the doors on a four day beer festival tomorrow. Thanks to 'The Bloke from Hull' we have been able to see a sneak preview of their beer list, and what an interesting selection they have provided. There are beers on an outside bar as well as in the pub itself, many are unusual or new breweries, and some are one off festival specials for the event. So if your brewery list is lacking offerings from Landlord's Friend, Geeves, Black Paw or Cleveland this is the place to put that right.

It looks the perfect pub to settle down in over the weekend and sample some decent beer, and I will certainly be adding it to my list of places to go. Why not try it too. (map)

PS sorry about the photo, the scaffolding has gone now, but cannot say the same about the punter near the door !!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Is this the first of many?

It will possibly have not come to your attention that this weekend was the Grantham Beer Festival, to be honest it had slipped off my radar too. However, it obviously was not overlooked by the guys of Magic Rock, whose 'High Wire' was named as beer of the festival there.

I believe this is their first such award and hopefully will not be the last. It just shows how far the brewery has come in a very short space of time. We offer our congratulations.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Give Saaz A Go

When I managed to drag myself away from the myriad delights of the food and drink festival yesterday and turned up at The Star, I was pleased to find a new Mallinsons beer on the bar there, and what a pleasure it was !

The 21st of their single hopped beers was brewed with Saaz hops, and on tasting it I found it one of their best efforts yet. Their website described the beer as 'pale gold with a fruity nose and a lightly bitter fruity taste and a medium bitter finish'. But this does not do it justice. It is a wonderfully crafted beer, the malt balance is perfect, allowing the subtlety of the hop to shine. Maybe it is not a beer for the hop monster as it does not have the hop character one finds in beers brewed with Citra or Nelson Sauvin. But if you like your beers less aggressive and more rounded then this could be the beer for you. Several people who find Mallinsons beers a little too hoppy for their liking were more than impressed by it.

Saaz hops are rarely found in English beers. It is one of the 'noble' range of hops, and although some come from the USA, mostly it is grown in the Czech Republic - indeed its name is German for the Czech city of Zatec. Most of the hop production goes in brewing pilsners due to it having a very low alpha acid content and therefore is not considered a bittering hop, bringing a herbal and grassy aroma and flavour to the beer. The American version does have a higher alpha acid content, and presumably more bitterness, but the one used by Mallinsons is the Czech variety.

Other breweries have used the hop as well, Pictish brew a single hopped 4.1% version for example, but this version is the best I have come across.

So, if you see it, give it a go. I cannot say it will be definitely to your taste, but it certainly hit the spot with me. I am just waiting till opening time to try it again, and again etc etc !

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Huddersfield Food & Drink Festival 2011 starts today

Should you be visiting Huddersfield by train in the next four days you will probably be amazed to find outside the station a small town all by itself, as the 11th Huddersfield Food & Drink Festival opens its doors for business in St. Georges Square.

There is a mass of small tents (I am told its ok to call these tents!), selling everything from cheese to venison and from honey to curries plus continual demonstrations and sampling sessions, including workshops and entertainment for children.

Our local pubs and breweries have not been overlooked either as stalls from The Star, The Sportsman and The Kings Head rub shoulders with those from The Nook, Little Valley and Elland,all 6 selling real ale through handpumps and selling bottles as well.

So, if you have a bit of time on your hands, get down there and have a wander around, I am sure you will not be disappointed.

The festival runs until Sunday with late night opening on Friday and Saturday.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Rename or not to rename, that is the question

As a beer enthusiast, one of the things that I find slightly annoying, and somewhat confusing, is the reluctance of certain breweries to call a 'regular' beer a different name when it has clearly been brewed using different ingredients.

Two of the four ingredients in beer are often subject to yearly changes. Hops and barley are both at the whim of the weather, some years they have better harvests than others and subsequently some times there are more available than other years, or the price, in a poor year becomes prohibitive for the brewers to use them. Others are then substituted. Often the beer name is unchanged and there is no information that the ingredients have changed. All we get are drinkers saying that their beer does not taste like it did, either for the better, or worse.

The other ingredients may also change. Yeast is often used from one brew to the next, building up its own taste and giving beers from certain breweries a distinct flavour. To lose a yeast strain is a devastating loss for a brewery, and again the change of yeast changes the beer character.

Water is the fourth ingredient. We all know breweries who have moved brewing a beer from one part of the country to another, and the resultant beer is nothing like the original. No doubt there are changes in the water supply to some breweries too, that may be they are not even aware of, and I have little doubt this will subtly change the taste too.

My concern is mainly with the first two changes that the brewers try to hide from us. Let me try to explain. A beer is made one year with hop or barley 'a', this suffers a bad harvest and is unavailable the next year and 'b' is substituted in its place. Surely this is a different beer, but often they retain the same name. Even without any reference to the change at the point of sale. Is this misleading the drinker? I personally think so. But maybe the marketing man for the brewery has different ideas. He spends thousands of pounds promoting a beer, only for the taste to change. Will he start a new campaign for the new taste? I doubt it.

Is the answer to give every beer in which there is something different a different name? It is not an easy question. It depends on the brewery and their outlook and marketing. Some breweries will name most beers differently, others steadfastly retain their time honoured beer names despite how different they taste. I must admit I prefer the former method, but there again I am a 'ticker'. At least that way it is transparent that the beer is different and it saves any doubt over a change of taste. I suppose the idea of brewing is to make money, and whichever way suits the brewery best is the way they take whilst drinkers have to accept that, no matter what we feel about it.

And please don't get me started on the same beer name with different abvs, or the same name for the beer moved around the country, life is too short!

Thursday, August 04, 2011

International IPA Day at The Grove

Worldwide, today is India Pale Ale Day. And here in Huddersfield, that famous institution of 'if it ferments, we stock it' is marking the very first IPAD with a special celebration.

This evenings promotion at The Grove (7pm) is set to be a sell out with a £5 ticket entitling the bearer to 4 x third pints of the super-strength ale plus food and an introduction to IPA by top producers Buxton Brewery.

The full IPA list is as follows:

Thornbridge - Geminus *new* 8.5% (Rye IPA)
Thornbridge - Raven 5.5% (Black IPA)
Thornbridge - Jaipur 5.9% ('nuff said!)
Buxton - Axe Edge 6.7% (double IPA)
Buxton - Black Rocks 5.5% (Black IPA)
Buxton - Wild Boar *new* 5.7% (IPA)
Quantum - Motueka IPA 5.5%
Gadds - South Pacific IPA 6.5%... maybe
BrewDog - Hardcore IPA 9.2%
Magic Rock - *new* Human Cannonball IPA 9.2%
Flying Dog (USA) - Raging Bitch 8.4% (Belgian IPA)...unlikely
Great Divide (USA) - Titan IPA 7.1%
Beer Here (Denmark) - Dark Hops 8.5% (Black IPA)
Red Willow - Peerless 5.2% (English IPA)
Stone Cali-Belgique 6.5% (Belgian IPA)

Thanks to Groveman Brian Dickson for the list. (map)

CaskFinder App Review

Having used the excellent mobile version of CAMRA's Good Beer Guide for over a year now I was intrigued to see whether Cask Marque's app for iPhone & Android could offer anything more.

Being free was a good start and the layout and navigation simple to figure out. The mapping of CM accredited pubs on CaskFinder is good on the whole though not that precise in some cases - a concern if you're on foot I would think. The GBG app is not foolproof here either as my searches for Norfolk pubs have often ended in recommendations in Sheffield for some reason!

A Beers & Brewers database is incorporated too, which I thought when loading seemed rather ambitious. In fact just over 200 breweries are featured along with notes on their core ranges but I'm assuming as a brewer you need to sign up and pay for the advertising (it is a free service after all). Still, the larger independents and many newer producers are here and the information is quite adequate with a link to their websites in most cases.

A feature I didn't expected is the Festivals calendar. Although not sortable by region, this seems quite a comprehensive list, not just confined to the larger CAMRA events. A quick tap on the fest that interests you will bring up a map along with details, if available. Some hundred or so were listed for the month of August alone, although I did notice a fair bit of repetition. A very useful service indeed though.

The Beer of the Week function is not, as I hoped, somewhere to note your newly found favourite ale but rather a recommendation by the software. This week it's Harvest Pale from Nottingham. There's a bit of history about the brewery and the beer plus the opportunity to rate it once you've tried it. The only advice you get on your quest is, 'worth a trip to Nottingham!' - but then it can hardly be expected to find the stuff.

Finally the Beer Blog icon. This doesn't unfortunately lead you here, but instead to Pete Brown's musings. This is not a bad idea though and is certainly preferable to reading what Cask Marque have been up to this week!

One other icon I haven't mentioned is the Beer Scanner, and that's because it doesn't work. It appears to be a straightforward bar code reader but unfortunately it wouldn't recognise anything I pointed it at. Perhaps this is in readiness for the new generation of scanable pump clips?!

In conclusion this is a very worthwhile addition to your app collection and, with more functionality planned, is set to become as indispensable as the Good Beer Guide.

For the iPhone version visit the app store and search for CaskFinder, Android users should visit the Android Market and do likewise.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Barred, With Bells On!

In these days of political correctness, David Litten has brought to our attention what must be one of the daftest things I have heard for a very long time.

Last Saturday the 'Slubbing Billys' morris dancing troupe from Slaithwaite were on tour in Durham when they visited 'The Swan and Three Cygnets'. They were actually dancing in the nearby Market Place and fancied a beer so they retired to the pub, owned by Sam Smiths, for a quick wet. Two of the group were served, but when two of their female members tried, they were asked in no uncertain terms to leave, as the bells on their toes were in contravention of the brewery's no music policy.

Luckily the group managed a pint at a pub round the corner. Surprisingly, no one at 'The Swan' was available for comment. So, if you are around the Sam Smiths pubs of Durham, and start to rattle your change, or your mobile goes off, you could find yourself out on the street - be warned!

A Do at The Shep and IPA at The Grove this Thursday

If you are in Dewsbury on Thursday evening (4th) and at a loose end, a trip to the Shepherds Boy on Huddersfield Road (right) may be the thing. It is a year since Katie Green took over as manager of the pub and in honour of the event she is a arranging a 'bit of do' there, with food available from 7pm - so why not call in and celebrate her achievement.

Should you be a fan of IPA then maybe an evening at The Grove in Huddersfield will be more to your taste as they celebrate International IPA day. £5 will qualify you for 3 x 1/3rds of any of the draught IPA's on offer, 1 x 1/3rd of a keg IPA, and some food. Also included is a talk from the Buxton brewer on IPA. Sounds like a bargain.

Champion Beer of Britain 2011

Yesterday CAMRA selected its 'Beer Of Britain 2011' and sprung yet another surprise on us. The winner was a dark mild from Essex. Mighty Oak's 'Oscar Wilde Mild' at 3.7% took the ultimate accolade, with Marble 'Chocolate' runner up and Salopian 'Shropshire Gold' coming third.

Mighty Oak is a brewery rarely seen about these parts and the beer is one I have yet to sample, but it has been around for some 10 years. It is described in the 'Good Beer Guide' as 'a roasty dark mild, with suggestions of forest fruits and dark chocolate. A sweet taste yields to a more bitter finish'. The brewery website calls it 'a mellow, nutty, moreish dark mild, brewed with Maris Otter pale, crystal and dark malts,and gently hopped with Challenger'.

Roger Protz, chairman of the judging panel commented, ‘It’s a beer with great depth of character, and for the style has a lot of hop bitterness as well. It proves that a dark beer can be refreshing even in very hot weather.’

The number of Yorkshire beers in the final categories was disappointing with only two contenders in the running. Both came second. Rudgate 'Ruby Mild' was runner up in the mild section and Salamander's 'Golden Salamander' in the golden beer section.

Nevertheless I am still convinced that Yorkshire brews some of the best beers about, it is just a shame that they have failed to get the recognition they deserve on the national stage.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Where Did All The Pubs Go?

A few years ago, a good few years ago I must admit, I sat down in one of my quieter moments and worked out how many pubs Huddersfield had within the Ring Road, I came up with 41, which was a fair amount for a town of its size. Strangely, I used to visit quite a lot of them too, but that was before the 'real ale revolution' took off and I was less selective in what I drank.

Seeing the Food & Drink Festival Real Ale Trail pub list set me thinking about how many we have lost in recent years, maybe some were not a great loss but others defined the town centre, and in a way, my drinking history. I know older readers will remind me of the ones that we have lost in the name of progress, with the building of the Ring Road, the Piazza, and the Civic Centre but those are only a distant memory to me. What about the ones I remember ?

What about those that went with the arrival of Kingsgate. 'The Ship' on Bradley St for example, or those on King St, 'The Globe', 'The Royal Unicorn' or 'The Burns Tavern' ? 'The Painted Wagon' on Market St that made way for Sainsburys, or the iconic 'Pack Horse', (the pub in which everyone seems to remember starting their drinking) that was scandalously demolished in the name of progress for 'The Pack Horse Centre'.

Others just did not last the march of progress and either closed their doors or changed their usage. Cross Church St had 'The Minstrel', 'The White Lion' and the 'Ramsden Arms'. Queen St had the brew pub 'The Courthouse' for a short time. 'The Crescent' on Northumberland St has gone too, along with the 'Dog & Gun' round the corner. 'The Shoehorn' on New St is a thing of the past as well.

I know that the town still has plenty of good pubs to offer, the 'ale trail' is testamony to that, but what would the town be like if the planners had not got hold of some of the pubs and razed them to the ground or if circumstances had not forced some out of business. We have lost a major part of the town's history, that can never be reclaimed, the only plus point is that plenty of other pubs have taken their places and Huddersfield is still one of the best drinking towns in the north.