Saturday, February 25, 2012

Bradford Beer Festival

As a beer enthusiast, [that's a new word for it, I hear you say !], I go to festivals for all sorts of reasons; obviously for the beer, but also for the chance to meet up with old friends, enjoy the craic, or while away a wet afternoon somewhere different. I'll let you decide my reasons for tripping across to Saltaire yesterday.

The Bradford festival is not held in Bradford at all, but a few miles out of the city towards Keighley in the Victoria Hall at Saltaire. A good venue despite this being a multi roomed hall on several levels capable of holding a large amount of people, ideal for a festival. But sounding ideal, and working in practice are two different things. I will try and explain. The Friday lunchtime session opened at 1130 am and was free to Camra members or £3 to pay on the door. £10 then supplied you with a beer ticket and a festival glass and you were up and running to sample the beer. I got there a little after 1140 am, and although the queue outside had dispersed, the place was already on its way to being packed. 

Anyway, I managed to fight my way through the crowd to order my first beer. The problem then was where to go to get chance to read the programme and work out what I wanted, and where to find it. Seating was at a premium in the downstairs hall so I made my way upstairs. Here it was a little less crowded, and I came across some of the other hardy tickers who had made their way from all over the country to sample the beers that Bradford had to offer. But still the seating was a problem, and I only managed to sit down when someone else left to get a beer. Also there were no tables, which meant hanging on to your glass, or placing it on the floor, a risky business with people walking around, whilst trying to read the programme. As I said, the hall is multi roomed, and there were four bars in operation, all well staffed, it was just a question of working out which beers were in which rooms. Again, a fairly logical plan was in place with breweries in alphabetical order, mostly, so that I could start upstairs, have what I required there, and then move downstairs and do the same in the other two rooms. 

Beer was sold in thirds, as is CAMRA policy, and prices were reasonable, being graded according to gravity.  I was soon into my stride, picking up new breweries, (happily 3 of them started with 'B' so no need to run up and down to collect what I needed). The beer was mostly served on stillage but some was handpulled, and although a lot of what I chose was not to my personal taste, it was in good condition. I was soon into the swing of the festival, taking advice from my fellow drinkers about what was good and what to avoid. However, after a few beers the need for toilets became urgent, and this entailed a trip down to the basement to the gents, effectively 2 floors down. 

Nevertheless, I managed to combine the trip with a visit to the downstairs bars for some other beers I wanted but the crowd in the main bar had multiplied in my absence and getting to the bars was often a real struggle, and more than once I found a beer I wanted had not been sent and had been replaced by another, (there were notices to that effect but I only saw them on leaving). Thankfully, one of the staff took pity on me when I ordered one beer, and offered me a taster before pulling my third, it was awful, or in his words 'an acquired taste', (where have I heard that before !), so I tactfully declined. 

Food was served in the main hall, and there were a few tables in an area there, but not enough to prevent me being knocked into by people struggling with glass in one hand, and pie and peas in the other, and as time went on my tolerance was wearing a little thin. My beer ticket was running out, and as I wandered around the bars to select my beer I started to notice some beers being turned round. The Bradford dipstick strikes again ! My pet hate at Bradford was always that they kept back beers for later sessions, so not all the beer you wanted was available. It seemed this was starting again. And it was my cue to leave.

As I left, there was a line outside of people waiting for others to leave before they could go in, so no doubt someone was happy with my decision to quit early. 

All in all, a curate's egg of a festival, good in parts, but sadly the sheer volume of people made drinking a chore rather than a pleasure, and the lack of seating made it an uncomfortable experience. There were some decent beers on offer though, and even for the most hardened ticker, some unusual breweries. I was happy with what I had, so maybe the afternoon was not a wasted trip after all.           

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Its a hop - not an aftershave!

This week another new hop has come to my attention, this time not from any of the traditional hop growing regions but from France, or to be more precise, from Alsace. Well, if the French can grow grapes, why not hops? It is called Aramis, and as yet I have only knowingly come across one beer with it in, and I believe that it was combined with others hops too, so it is difficult to give my own tasting notes. But a bit of research has provided other people's views.

Mallinsons have managed to get the first batch I have heard of in the UK and have used it to hop their recent beer 'Lance'. This must be something of a coup for the brewery because the first reference I have come across is it being used by Stone brewery of the USA, and that was from June last year when they believed they were the first Americans to take delivery. Apparently it is a variety bred from Strisselspalt and WGV, and is a medium alpha acid hop, with some fruity, herbal and grassy flavours coming through. It seems as though its use will be in  lighter or blonde beers, may be towards the lager styles, rather than more aggressive hoppy beers. Mallinsons tasting notes suggest their beer has citrus and floral notes, and a bitter finish.

Not only have they used it in 'Lance', which is an excellent beer, but also in the upcoming 'Aramis Cascade' which is a dual hop beer where it has been used in conjunction with Cascade (obviously), but I have yet to come across this yet. No doubt, other brewers will be aware, or may have used the hop, so it should be interesting to see how it fares, and may be it will spark a glut of hops from France. Time will tell!       

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Shakespeare - another addition to Sheffield

A pub I had heard great things about is the Shakespeare in Sheffield, I have only managed a quick visit previously so the chance to revisit, and catch a beer festival at the same time was too good an opportunity to miss. It is an old pub, recently reopened, on Gibralter St, not far from the famous 'Valley of Beer' and a stone's throw from the Kelham Island quarter, and if yesterday is anything to go by, is a worthy addition to the city's pubs. A many roomed pub with the main bar just inside the front door, the decor is somewhat basic, but putting that aside, the beer range is excellent.

The festival was held on two floors of the pub, downstairs the main bar promised about 10 'Locale' beers with beers from Bradfield, Clarks and Steel City to name but three, all handpulled. They were complemented by another 20 or so, on stillage from breweries near and far, and around a dozen ciders.

A quick half of Clarks '1A08 is 0509 Plymouth to Paddington', a strange name for a beer but quite acceptable, while I set about scanning the beer list. What I had hoped to be a decent festival suddenly became an excellent list when I realised how many breweries were new to me. The only problem was if I could manage them all before time defeated me. (and if I could manage to carry them down a steep flight of stairs without spilling them !).

First up was Rough Draft from Leeming, their 'Leeming Gold' was malty, with a bitter finish, and Treboom from outside York, whose 'Kettle Drum' was again mid brown, with a taste of a traditional English bitter. Pennine 'Amber Necker (sic)' followed, but at 3.5% was a bit thin and tasteless for me. Jo c's 'Bitter Old Bustard' was too malty for my taste, and Landlord's Friend ' Stupid Cupid, was another mid brown beer and sweet. That was all my new breweries sorted but none seemed to hit the spot. Better things came later from Liverpool Craft ' Tame Mahuta' which was certainly bitter, and Ouseburn Valley 'Elderflower Gold' which was a refreshing beer but with no discernible taste of elderflower. Time was catching up and I had to choose a final beer, Harwich Town ' Bathside Battery Bitter' was another mid brown beer, and tasted again of English hops. 

So there it was. A selection of beers and breweries new to me, all of which were acceptable, but few with the wow factor that would have me going back for more. I ignored the range of black or darker beers as well, in the hope I would catch them later on bars elsewhere. May be I just made the wrong choices, after all, other beers on the list that I had had previously were probably more to my taste, but one can not drink everything in a short space of time. Nevertheless, it was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon, no admission fee, beer costing between £2.40 and £3.20 a pint depending on strength, and butties at a bargain 60p, it did not break the bank. And hearing that more festivals are planned throughout the year, it looks like a place I will be revisiting in the not too distant future.    

Monday, February 13, 2012

Time for a new hop - or two !

As readers of 'A Swift One' will know we love hops.This weekend I have been fortunate to find a couple of new varieties to try out, unfortunately for me, not side by side but within a short time of each other. One came as single hopped beer, the other as a dry hopped addition to a beer. What were they like?

To be completely honest I have come across 'Celeia' before but that was around 12 months ago and I have not knowingly drunk it since. This time it was used to dry hop a Rat beer, of the same name. It is bred from Styrian Goldings, and Aurora and is said to be best used as an aroma hop, especially in lighter beer, and is good for late hopping. Sounds ideal for dry hopping then. It is a relatively low alpha acid hop, and consequently not very astringent, but its character brings out a fresh tasting, citrus flavour with some background grassiness (if that is a word). May be not flavoursome enough for a single hopped beer but it does give something unusual to a beer, that other hops fail to do. I was impressed by it, and would be interested to try it in other beers if anyone knows of beers that is has been used in.

The next beer was one of Pictish's single hopped variety beers. I expected 'Dana' to be a beer with all kinds of everything in the taste, (sorry, couldn't resist !). It is another Styrian variety, grown in Slovenia, that can be used for bitterness and aroma in the beer. It is a fairly high alpha acid hop, and imparts a bitterness to the beer one would expect, along with a hoppy aroma; the whole thing being balanced and flavoursome. Trying to pin down one flavour that predominates is difficult, there is something of a biscuity taste to the beer, but that could be from the malt backgound . There is a fresh flavour that comes through, clean, and again with some grassy notes and with apple, rather than citrus hints in it. These give the beer an unusual taste, that is possibly not to everyone's liking. I enjoyed it though and found it a pleasant antidote to some of the more aggressive hops that seem to be the norm nowadays.

So if you want to try something a bit different look out for these two, no doubt they will be appearing in more beers in the not too distant future, you can make your own mind up.          

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Rat Festival - the punters view

As the previous post suggests, there is a festival at the Rat and Ratchet this weekend, showcasing beer from the Rat Brewery, (and a handful of guests as well). Eleven Rat beers are on offer, mostly showing off their core range, but there are three (I think) specials on the bar as well.

The core range covers beers of many styles, from the light easy drinking 'White Rat', to the dark and equally easy drinking 'Black Rat'. Even stronger beer fans are catered for with 7.4% 'Ratsputin' on the bar, also  available as the brewery's first bottled beer, should this be your thing. The two new ones to me were both 3.8% beers, 'Love Rat' and 'Centennial' (the latter being a single hopped beer), and both fitted well into the Rat stable, if that isn't a contradiction in terms.

To make the festival even better, every pint comes with a 50p discount to card carrying CAMRA members, making most of the beers around the £2 mark, or  less in some cases. And visitors today can view the brewery downstairs between 2pm and 5pm and meet the brewers.

Seems like a good way to pass off a chilly afternoon.  

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Rat festival this weekend

Noon on Friday sees the start of a weekend beer festival at the Rat and Ratchet, in Chapel Hill, promising about 15 of their beers, specials, regulars, and the odd Rat beer not to have appeared previously at the pub. There should be some guest beers available as well. The festival goes on till Sunday, or until the beer runs out !


Monday, February 06, 2012

Little Ale Cart Brewery

Sheffield has always been one of the north's foremost brewing centres, and even though their historical heritage has been ripped out, there are plenty of newer breweries that have taken their place. One of these was the Port Mahon brewery. Based at the Cask & Cutler, that famous north Sheffield ale house, it started brewing in 2000 and stopped in 2006 with the sale of the Cask.

However brewing restarted in August 2008, at the same premises, but under the name of the Little Ale Cart brewery. Initially, the beer was only available at the Wellington, (as the Cask and Cutler had become), and the company's sister pub in Worcestershire but in the recent past due to some cask swaps their beers are appearing in some pub around our home town.

Little Ale Cart beers are easy to identify on a bar, they are the one's with the picture of railway engines on them  and blokes standing in front arguing about where the picture was taken, or whether it is an A3 or A4, (foreign language to me as well !). But don't let that put you off, the beers are excellent. The vast majority I have drunk, and on trips to Sheffield I have had a few believe me, are light coloured hoppy beers. Most of the beer in the free trade are usually around 4% but I have come across plenty of weaker and stronger ones. The beers often use a combination of hops to give a result, rather than straight single hopped beers, and rarely have I found one that has not impressed me. (If you do get to the Wellington, they give details on their tasting notes of the hops used). The taste is usually rounded and balanced, rather than aggressive, and it seems that one pint is never enough ! 

The brewery has made the occasional darker beer, and their stout is equally as good as their lighter beer, but they don't seem to come outside the pub. Nor do their range of 'Harley's Dog Dinner' beers, which are reputed to be made from a combination of their brews.

The brew plant at Little Ale Cart never seems to be idle because along with their own massive range of beers, which rarely repeats a brew, Steel City and White Rose also use parts of the plant to brew their beer. I must admit, I am struggling to think of 3 other breweries, independent of each other, who use the same premises to brew.

Their beers can occasionally be found at the Sportsman, Rat & Ratchet, and the Star. There is one on the bar at the latter now should you fancy trying it, that is if you get there before me !   

Apologies for the dodgy photo, seems I need to update my collection a tad !   

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Brodies - save yourself a trip to the capital

As readers will be aware, one of the favourite breweries of the 'Swift One' team is Brodies from London. It is not the easiest beer to find outside the capital but due to a change in their distribution strategy it is appearing more often in pubs in the North. However, drinkers at the Grove in the next week or so should be in for a treat as rumour has it that they have a number of barrels of their various beers and this weekend they are starting to come on the bar there. 

For those who have never experienced their output, this could be a revelation. I have yet to drink one that has not been excellent, and they brew beers right across the spectrum from their 3.1% 'Citra' (which we have previously commented about), through best bitters, wheat beers, old ales, IPA's to Russian style stouts of 11% plus. 

So to save yourself a trip to the capital, why not instead have a trip to Springwood and see what is offer there, I am sure that I will be taking a look now and again, and again, and again, and......If you cannot wait for them to come on though, and you are making the trip down to watch the blue and white Brazil play Orient next week, the brewery tap is in Leyton and generally has a massive selection of their beer available. But wherever you drink them, enjoy - they are one of the best breweries around.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Dr. Morton's Duck Baffler 4.1%

One of many people's favourite beers of 2011 is back again - and better than ever. This time more red grapefruit than the passion fruit alluded to in Abbeydale's tasting notes, but who's gonna quibble!

Simply one of the finest session beers available this, last or any other year. Oh... and it's currently going down very well at The Huntsman  in Chidswell. Catch it while you can.