Thursday, September 29, 2011

Macbeth Comes Good

I have never really been a fan of Scottish beers. They have always been too malty and sweet for my liking, I know that has been the style of brewing from North of the Border, but it has rarely hit the spot with me, preferring my beers to have more hop flavours. There have been exceptions, Harviestoun seemed to buck the sweeter trend, and 'Bitter & Twisted' has always been one of my favourites, along with 'Schiehallion' but few other Scottish brewers seemed to take the hint. That is until recently, when a wave of excellent beers seem to have come down from the North to prove to us Sassenachs that their brewers can produce anything to equal  the English.

I am not talking of Brewdog here, they have always been too hyped for my liking and although the odd beer in their portfolio has appealed, they have been few and far between. However in the last few months I have been able to sample some of the better, up and coming breweries that our local pubs have had on the bar, and my opinion of  Scottish beer is gradually changing. No longer do they taste like porridge in a glass but some brewers have started to make use of foreign hops with amazing results.

Take 'Fyne', from Argyll, for example. Their 'Jarl' is a stunning beer for a 3.8% session beer, crammed full of hop flavours, and 'Avalanche' is 4.5% and packed with wonderful citrus taste. They can still turn their hand to the more malty, traditional stuff as well but these are well worth hunting out. Atlas 'Latitude' is another session bitter that appeals, maybe not as hoppy as Jarl but still a clean tasting beer with plenty of hop flavours in the background.

I have managed to catch up with some of the 'Highland' brewery range in the past few weeks (be careful not to confuse them with their fellow brewery on Orkney)  and was particularly impressed by their 'Orkney IPA', at 4.8%, a dangerously drinkable beer. Not quite hoppy enough to be an IPA but very well balanced and full of hop and fruit background. Their 'Orkney Blast' is a 6%  strong bitter, again with a rich hop background that cuts though the sweetness. I would have tried their 'Island Hopping' but that was so good that it flew off the bar  before I could get to it.

The one brewery that I have been unable to sample yet is Tempest, but that will hopefully change in the next few days, as there are some of their range promised at The Grove. I have heard great things of this Kelso brewery, who do not appear to be scared to be innovative with their use of hops. I just hope that they meet my expectations.

Of course there are still plenty of Scottish breweries that brew their more traditional style beers, but gradually the tide may be turning, and their malty beers may be augmented with more hoppy ones, as new innovative breweries come on stream. 

All I can say, is that is you see a beer from over the borders on a bar, give it a try, you may be surprised like I have been. Long may it continue.


Have heard from a few of our readers that they have had problems accessing the site in the recent past, this has been due to an unforeseen technical problem which we hope has been ironed out by our highly trained engineer. Apologies for any inconvenience this may have caused.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Get out and about this weekend

This weekend sees two of the regions better CAMRA beer festivals, at Hull and Sheffield.

The Hull festival starts on Thursday, (12.00-1700,1700-2300), Friday (1200-1600,and ticket only at 1700) and Saturday (12.00-20.00), at the Mortimer Suite at Hull City Hall. The list looks a good one, showcasing two new local breweries, Wellington and Big River. There are plenty of other beers to whet the appetite of the ticker and plenty of ciders, no doubt ordered under the knowing eye of 'Bloke from Hull'. (List is on our Facebook page.)

The Sheffield festival again runs Thursday through till Saturday but 1200 till 2300 each day, with admission free at all but the Friday evening session for CAMRA members. The festival has a new home, no longer in a wet field near a cemetry but rather at  Ponds Forge, on Sheaf Street just up the road from the station. I have yet to see the list for the festival but 200 plus beers are promised.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Rat Brewery Comes On Stream

Saturday saw the return of one of Huddersfield's iconic brewing names. Some of us who are old enough can recall Andy Moorhouse's 'Rat & Ratchet' brewery that closed when Andy sold the Rat to Ossett Brewery, so this was its rebirth, now simply called 'The Rat Brewery'.

As we have previously reported, Ossett have made great efforts to get both the brewery and the range of beers  right and this was our chance to sample the fruits of their labours. I must admit a feeling of nostalgia walking down Chapel Hill and smelling the malts drifting up from the brewery, taking me back years. But enough of my ramblings, what of the beers?

There were five on offer, covering every style, and giving the packed pub chance to sample everything from weak to strong, and light to dark, in fact something to suit everyone's taste (except for the odd person, and I mean odd, drinking a brewery launch!!).  The only beer not from the regular range was 'Lab Rat', a lightish coloured 4.6% beer, not overly hoppy but very drinkable, and well received according to comments I heard. 'Black Rat' was a  4.5% black beer,oddly enough, full of flavours from the four malts used, with just a hint of bitterness in the background .

'Brown Rat' is a typical English style bitter. Darker than some we are used to from the Ossett stable and tasting far more traditional, using English hops at 3.8%. The contrast with that and the 'White Rat' was very marked, as this is a very light coloured, aromatic and flavoursome beer. It is 4% and brewed with American hops to give a fresh, clean taste and a hoppy finish. The final choice was 'King Rat', 5% and full of Nelson Sauvin hops to give it a great hop hit but with a subtle maltiness behind it. All of the beer was on good form and all contrasted well with each other.

The well produced information leaflet gave details of the three core beers that were not featured at the launch.  'Dirty Rat' is a 3.5%, mild; 'Golden Rat' a 3.8% golden session bitter, and 'Rattus Rattus' a 4.3% German style wheat beer. No doubt they will appear on the bar in due course.

For details more details the post of 14th September incorporates the Ossett press release about the brewery.  

It is great to see 'Rat' beers on the bar at the 'Rat' again and it is equally good to sample another brewery coming out of Huddersfield, which is rapidly becoming  the brewing capital of the North. Long may it continue.           

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Rat & Ratchet Brewery Launch

If you are at a loose end on Saturday afternoon about 4pm, we think we may have just the answer for you. The new Rat & Ratchet brewery will be having its launch at the pub about then. There are five of their beers promised on the bar, I am not sure which ones but think 'King Rat' and 'Black Rat' will make an appearance.

All are welcome to attend, and there will be some free beer too to whet your appetite. Why not give it a go, sounds better than shopping in B&Q !!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Good Beer Guide 2012

It is that time of year again, when lots of drinkers around the country get really excited at the sight of the brown package dropping through their letterbox  containing their copy of the new 'Good Beer Guide'. Mine duly arrived this week and a quick scan through it at the usual suspects showed no changes around my favourite drinking haunts. This year it seems to have been printed on better quality paper though. The brewery section has reached around 230 pages, about 25% of the guides content, and  there is a section on the pubs that have been made 'Pub of the Year' by different Camra regions. But why do I feel it is time for a change?

Really it depends on your use of the beer guide. If you want a copy to carry about in your car (or canal boat!),  it is ideal, giving you a heads up about pubs in areas unfamiliar to you. If you work in a pub and want to check on the provenance of that unusual brewery then again, I have no problem with it. It does what it sets out to do, and does it well. There is everything there that you want - area maps, opening times, bus routes and availability of food, and these are all things I have used in the past, and no doubt, will do again. But it is now just too bulky and possibly a victim of its own success.

It does not easily fit into any kind of pocket and constant use often breaks the spine leading to the pages  becoming dislodged and scruffy, or even falling out. It is heavy to carry, and for those of us who like to travel light, it usually means taking a bigger bag.

Maybe it could be time to make the guide regional. A few years ago Cumbrian CAMRA produced a wonderful guide, based on the good beer guide but including more pubs and more details, in a pocket sized format that was spiral bound to prevent the spine breaking. It was handy enough to slip in your pocket and very easy to carry about.

So would it not be possible for CAMRA to produce regional guides, still containing all the relevant information, with town plans (how often do you see groups of enthusiasts with print outs from google wandering around town?), with local brewery information, and transport details to serve the itinerant enthusiast, whilst combining them into a large beer guide for home or car use should you want one for the whole country?

No doubt someone will say, why not get the mobile version, or get the e-book format, both will serve the purpose, but I am a dinosaur and prefer hard copy to add my own comments to the Guide. I am not being critical, I still find the guide a useful tool, I could just do with it more Timbo friendly!       

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Rat Brewing Again

'Following an interval of seven years, brewing returns to the Rat and Ratchet pub in Huddersfield this September. The brand new plant will have a brew length of six brewers barrels (24 firkins), and with three fermenters the plant is capable of producing 72 firkins per week.

A range of seven core beers are to be produced, supplemented by special and one-off brews as demand dictates. The core beer range includes something for everyone:

Dirty Rat (Mild) 3.5% abv
Brown Rat (Brown Ale) 3.8% abv
Golden Rat (Golden Ale) 3.8% abv
White Rat (Extra Pale, Hoppy Ale) 4.0% abv
Rattus Rattus (Wheat Beer) 4.3% abv
Black Rat (Porter) 4.5% abv
King Rat (IPA) 5.0% abv

The Rat and Ratchet itself will be the primary outlet for the beers, with any excess being sold as guests through the rest of the Ossett pub estate as well as local free trade.

The pub was originally established as a brew-pub in 1994, however brewing had already ceased when Ossett Brewery bought the pub in 2004. In early 2011, with Ossett Brewery nearing full capacity, the Rat and Ratchet with its large and under-used cellars was identified as an ideal location for Ossett’s fourth brewing site.

The Rat joins Ossett Brewery (200 brewers barrels per week), Fernandes Brewery (12½ barrels per week) and the Riverhead Brewery (10 barrels) as the newest brewing site, with an initial capacity of 18 barrels per week. Future expansion to produce 120 firkins per week is possible should the need arise.

Under the supervision of Ossett Head Brewer, Paul Spencer, the Rat Brewery is run by a team of three working in rotation. Lisa Handforth, a Brewster who has worked at the Riverhead Brewery for two years prior to joining the Rat team; Graham Stead, who has been at Ossett Brewery since 2007 as part of the brewing team; and also Rob Allen who became Landlord of the Rat and Ratchet in 2010 and was one of the main drivers behind returning brewing to the pub.'
(Ossett Brewery Press Release - 08/09/11)

Happy Birthday Denis

It is unusual for 'A Swift One' to do birthdays. But this Thursday sees the 70th birthday of one of the stalwarts of the Huddersfield drinking and jazz scene as Denis Simpson reaches the milestone in his usual unassuming manner. He wanted no fuss or bother. In fact he didn't really want anyone to know. So how could this momentous event be marked?

Well, obvious really. Mallinson's have brewed a beer to celebrate. So Denis, happy birthday from all your mates. Just hope you pass the day in the way you deserve - a nice quiet pub, jazz in the background, the Telegraph crossword at hand and a few ticks on the bar. You are one of the best!   

Sunday, September 11, 2011

It's getting like Masterchef!

As regular readers may be aware, one of the things that does not really hit the spot with me is brewers messing about with beer. In my opinion, for what its worth, beer should be made of a combination of malt and hops, and things such as vanilla, mint, sage and chilli are better left in the kitchen. This weekend though, the more adventurous amongst you can try out a couple of attempts at mixing different tastes with beer and see what  the brewers have come up with. 

Visitors to The Grove can sample Thornbridge 'Summer Ale', nothing unusual about that you may say, until you read the pump clip and discover the beer is brewed with ginger and sage. Ginger blends well with beer, and many brewers brew their take on ginger beers, but to add sage as well....I know Thornbridge are an innovative brewery but I think this is taking things a bit too far. I have tried it, and I don't think it quite works. The ginger is subtle, and not overpowering but the sage seems to be lost in the mix and the beer is not one of Thornbridge better efforts. (Incidentally, if you do make it to The Grove, the excellent Dark Star 'Seville' may  still be on the bar, a beer I wrote about a few days ago).

Doing the rounds at the moment, and on the bar at The Star is Wentworth 'Chilli and Chocolate Stout'. Wentworth have previously done a range of stouts, presumably using the same base (at least they were all the same strength) with other flavours added. I have tried liquorice, vanilla, and chilli and I think chocolate orange may have also made an appearance. The previous chilli stout was subtle, with just a hint of chilli in the background. The new one, at 4.8%, certainly does not skimp on taste. A massive hit of dark chocolate, and an even bigger hit of chilli. It is one of those beers that divides opinion right down the middle, you love it or hate it. Yesterday, some raved about it and had a couple of pints, others tried it and binned it. You can guess which category I fell into! If your tastes are Bourneville chocolate and Scotch Bonnet then this is the beer for you.The best suggestion I heard though was to bottle it and marinade meat with it. Now there's a thought for dinner.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Dropped in at 'The Drop'

It was not really part of my planning for the weekend to call at 'The Drop Inn' Festival in Elland, but circumstances meant I managed a quick visit yesterday afternoon. The pub is one of the Ossett Brewery chain, and probably the one  most overlooked due to its location. But this GBG entry is a nice little back street beerhouse, which is larger than it looks from the outside and boasts a pleasant outdoor drinking area. 

As for the festival - well I found that a little disappointing. There were around 15 beers available from the list at any one time, all handpulled and served from the bar itself at £2.50 a pint. No entry fee and no festival glasses, but on my visit the range of beers was nothing out of the ordinary for a  'ticker'. It should cover everyone's taste though, from Elland's '1872 Porter' down to Woodforde's 'Wherry' with Kelham Island 'Pale Rider' and Roosters 'Elderflower' thrown in the mix.

I settled down with a Wensleydale 'White Heather', an unremarkable beer, and my companion with the 'Wherry', which I have tasted on better form. I followed this with Mauldens 'Dickens', an old beer that I rarely see, though a little too malty for my taste, followed by Amber Ales 'Summer Bock' which was just weird. Sadly, neither of the Citra-hopped beers from Oakham and Acorn were on the bar, nor  the Saltaire 'Cheeky Kriek' which had the description 'pink' in the programme.

All in all, as I said,  a bit of a let down, but should you just be visiting to sample a different range of beers then I am sure there would be something to appeal and make your trip out worthwhile. (List) (Map)

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Fancy a Trip Out?

In addition to our local beer festivals, should you fancy a trip up north this weekend,  the 'Tynemouth Beer Festival' could be the place to visit.

The list has been put together by Neil Harvey, who can often be found drinking in West Yorkshire and his trips south seem to have paid dividends with his contacts at various breweries. The list has 60 beers on it, with many from  our region or Derbyshire. Plenty of beers available are new to me, and I am sure most will be new to drinkers in the North East.

If you want beers from Owenshaw Mills, or Revolutions they are there, rubbing shoulders with offerings from Leeds Brewery Tap, Kirkstall and Burley Street. Locally, Milltown, Magic Rock, Nook, Summer Wine, and The Sportsman Brewery are represented, and Mallinsons have provided Neil with a festival special (lucky man!). He has also made a coup in getting the first Cap House beers I have seen on a festival list.

From Derbyshire come Derventio, Black Iris, Rowditch and Wentwell, and from further afield plenty of beers from the Marstons stable.

The festival is open all day Friday 9th and Saturday 10th at the Tynemouth Cricket Club in North Shields. (map)

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

More Festivals to Visit

Even though the summer is drawing to a close, the range of beer festivals in our area is showing no signs of slowing up with plenty to keep us going throughout September. We have selected just a few to whet your appetite.

This weekend sees the Reindeer Festival, at Overton near Wakefield, easily accessible from Huddersfield on the 232 bus. It opens at 5pm on Friday but is open all day Saturday and Sunday. Around 30 beers will be available, mostly local breweries, with some promised from the new Cap House Brewery and the fairly difficult to find Imperial Brewery from Mexborough. (map)

The following weekend promises several festivals. The Navigation at Mirfield, just round the corner from the railway station, starts their autumn festival on Thursday evening with full day opening Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Around 30 beers will be on offer, all handpulled and cellar cooled. (map)

Friday evening and all day Saturday also sees a festival at the Saltaire brewery in Shipley. It starts at 4pm on Friday which is ticket only, but Saturday is pay on the door. The £5 entry fee gets you a glass, programme and your first pint. (map)

Should you wish to stay closer to home then there is a festival on that weekend, (Saturday 17th and Sunday 18th) in the courtyard of the Lawrence Batley Theatre on Queen Street in Huddersfield with 20 beers promised, along with studio tours, artist performances and Caribbean food. This is sponsored by The Sportsman, so expect to find some of their beers there. (map)

If cider is more your thing, The Hop in Leeds is having a cider and music festival between Friday 16th and Sunday 18th with around 25 ciders and perrys on offer. (map)

This is just small selection of what is available, so get out there and enjoy them. I am sure we will.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Empire Brewing

Courtesy of Empire Brewery (c)
One of the local breweries that often seems to slip under our radar is Empire of Slaithwaite, may be because it was one of the breweries that we have been so used to seeing around our local pubs that we had just become complacent about it. The brews were always competent but rarely hit the heights that other local breweries did. The brewery is never afraid to experiment though, as the vast number of different beers produced goes to show.

Brewing started in premises behind the Fieldhead Pub at Quarmby around seven years ago where the brewer Russ Beverley was also the landlord, before moving to larger premises in Slaithwaite in April 2006 after giving up the pub to concentrate on the brewery. The plant, a five barrel affair, with lots of personal input from Russ, is sited next to the Huddersfield Narrow canal in the village.

Empire still brew some regular beers, 'Strikes Back' (as in the 'Empire Strikes Back') comes around fairly regularly, as does 'Golden Warrior', but most of the beers we find locally are one-offs, often with a military theme at present. Empire are also responsible for the house beers at the Commercial at Slaithwaite, and Dirty Dicks in Halifax to name but two.

I have always enjoyed their beers but often found them a little astringent for my taste, but the more recent ones I have sampled have been excellent. Whether that be due to a change in the brewing process, new equipment, or different ingredients I cannot say but they are becoming a brewery I will actively search out. They are not difficult to find, often on the bar in 'The Sportsman' in town, or a trip out to the aforementioned 'Commercial' will often provide a special or two as well as the 'Commerciale' and the dark 'Moonraker Mild' which are always on the bar (and reasonably priced as well).

So if for whatever reason you have overlooked Empire beer recently, this is the time to give it a go - I don't think you will be disappointed.    

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Watch out for this one!

Sitting on the 'taunting pole' in The Grove at the moment looks to be one of those beers that is unmissable. Hawkshead Brewery has always been one of my favourite breweries and seems to be one that can turn it's hand to any style of beer and produce a winner. They can turn out light and dark alike and have even recently brought out a key-keg lager that is excellent (also available at The Grove presently).

The beer taunting us is 'New Zealand Pale Ale'. It promises much, with a strength of 6% and a blend of four different hops, Nelson, Riwaka, Motueka, and Green Bullet. If they get this right, and on past experience there is no reason why they should fail, then this weekend we could be in for a winner. Just cannot wait for it to get onto the bar to sample it. 

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Strong Beer to Suffer

Cast your mind back to the Spring Budget, you can't, well you are not the only one. This bit of sneaky taxation had passed me by until a certain Leeds brewery brought my attention to it.

On October 1st there will be an increase in taxation on beers above 7.5%. For those of us who are not accountants, and who is?!, this will lead to a rise of around £10 per barrel in the cost of beers supplied to customers. It is assumed that the price will be passed on to the customer, and then the consumer. So if a usual barrel produces 70 pints, I will leave you to do the maths, but take it from me the drinker will suffer, as usual.

This increase will only affect the stronger beers, but plenty of those brewers in the 'craft' beer market (sorry Elaine!) brew beers of a strength that will fall into that category. It will also hit the foreign bottled beer market apparently. This will obviously impact on the new wave of pubs and bars whose market is primarily based on the stronger, specialist beers, and hit those drinkers who enjoy, sensibly I may add, stronger beer or foreign classics.

Yet another short sighted bit of government legislation that is hitting the wrong people and driving more to the supermarket, away from the pubs and bars just when they are just starting to get their acts together. Thanks a lot Mr Cameron.