Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Slurping about

One of the newest breweries about is Wellcross based in deepest Lancashire near Skelmersdale,  the 2.5 barrel plant only starting up in August this year. I have only encountered two of its beers 'Hops' which does what it says on the tin, and 'Slurp' which is - to put it mildly - a bit unusual.

Not that it is a bad beer, it isn't. It just does not taste like beer. I have no idea what ingredients the brewer has used to create the taste, but the 4.1% beer (if you can find the abv hidden on the pump clip) seemed to taste more like cider than beer in my opinion. It is light coloured, and looks like beer but the more I drank, the more it tasted of fresh apples, a very clean, appealing taste I must admit, but not quiet what I expected.
Maybe I need to try it again to give it a proper judgement and I will. If you come across it it is well worth a pint, see if you agree, or if my taste buds have finally given up the ghost (seeing as it's Hallowe'en!). which starting brewing.

I have read Jibber's comment and may be I have giving the wrong impression, especially as I have drunk several pints of it since writing this post. It does not really taste of cider as I suggested but more like green apples, and not in a badly brewed way. I have tasted beer, as Jibber rightly says, that is too young or has some sort of infection, this is not the case here. It is just an interesting taste, that admittedly, you either love or hate, there seems to be no middle path The hops used, I have since learned are Atlas, which does not, or has not previously, give the taste I have tried to describe, so may be we looking at the yeast. Who knows, I just like it !!   

Further Spooning about

I know readers will have hardly been able to contain themselves since my last post, so here is an update on the Wetherspoons festival. It seems that 'Spoons have used the same approach as they have used at previous festivals and released the range of beers in 2 drafts, so one seems to find more or less the same beers at each venue, give or take the odd one here and there.

Luckily I have managed to find the Liberation 'Rouge', the first beer I have encountered from the Jersey brewery, but I was somewhat disappointed. It was a fairly ordinary red beer, which is not my favourite style either, I must admit. In fact very few of the beers have had the 'wow' factor, many being mid brown and lacking in something.
Admittedly, I have not tried many of the collaborations with foreign brewers which seem to be everywhere at present, preferring to try the efforts of the British brewers. however, one of them that did appeal was the Wadworth/Cambridge brewing 'Heather Ale'. The brewer came from Massachusetts  and for some reason best known to himself used Scottish heather and herbs and honey to produce a very pleasing 4.0% ale which was certainly distinctive and different, and well worth another try if I come across it again.

The only other beer that I would try again was the St Peters 'Fruit Beer' which had a decent strength at 4.7% and a massive hit of fresh grapefruit, and judging by the amount being sold in the 'Cherry Tree' yesterday seemed well received by everyone.

Having said that, the value cannot be faulted, costing £2 a pint for any of the festival beers, even up to 6.5%. So get down and try something different, it goes on until mid November.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Autumn Festival at 'Spoons

I always await the Wetherspoons festivals eagerly, they generally have a decent range of breweries on offer, with foreign guest brewers doing their stuff on British plants plus an interesting selection of beers brewed in Britain on offer too. So when the festival opened yesterday I made my way to 'The Cherry Tree' with quiet anticipation after seeing the list, I was frankly disappointed with what was on offer.

Unluckily for me there were only two of the festival beers available on the opening day. Maxim's 'Double Maxim', not the most inspiring of beers, I must admit,  and of the foreign collaborations Tree Brewing from Canada 'Thirsty Beaver' was there - brewed at Caledonian brewery, and not bad although a bit too sweet for my liking. 

I tried 'The Lord Wilson' (Lloyds Bar) too, but that was even more disappointing. Even though the festival is heavily advertised, there were no festival beers on the bar at all.

What was I hoping for ? Well, there are 50 beers on the list from a mixture of breweries. 10 of them are either pure foreign beers, from Palm in Belgium, or foreign collaborations brewed in British breweries by brewers from abroad. Of the remainder there is plenty of variety, and a range of styles and strengths to suit all tastes, from a 3.5% bitter to Lees 'Moonraker' at 6.5%. 

Personally I am looking forward to Mordue 'Lubelski', a hop I particularly enjoy, St Peters 'Fruit Beer' which I had years ago and has a massive grapefruity hit, and Liberation 'Rouge'. This is a brewery from Jersey that I never expected to see on the mainland, let alone at a Wetherspoons festival.

The festival runs until 11th November so I should have plenty of opportunity to hunt them down, and part of the interest at 'Spoons festival is to get to those places in their estate that I never usually visit to see what is on offer there. So armed with the festival programme and a bus ticket it is onwards and upwards. And at around £2 a pint for the weaker beers it is not going to break the bank.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Lies, damn lies and statistics

I am not sure if the title is a correct quote, but it doesn't really matter. It just goes to illustrate a point that occurs when lots of people get together and vote. For anything, not just elections. It just happens that this occasion refers to beer, (well, obviously, or it would not be on 'A Swift One' )

I was messing with my mobile telephonic device, (see Timbo reaches the 21st century) when I came across a list of the 50 favourite beers in England. Bearing in mind these have been voted for independantly by a group of beer minded individuals from across the globe and do not relate only to draught beer but also bottled beer they have sampled, the results were a little confusing in my eyes. 

The voting covered between 2854 and 27 samplers, each of whom rated each beer in various categories to achieve an overall score. The overall scores were averaged out to rate the top 50 beers overall. So far so good. But when I looked at the outcome I became a little concerned.

My worries started when I discovered 'Mackeson' at no 50 in the list. Why ? I cannot recall having seen it for years and it is not a beer I would consider in the best 50, so who did  ? Well, apparently 990 people. This made me look a little deeper. There was a disproportionate amount of dark beers, especially Imperial Stouts or Barley Wines on the list, and a few India Pale Ales to provide a balance. Some of the beers were the same beers but aged in sherry or whiskey barrels, presumably bottled versions rather than cask.

Another thing that surprised me was how up to date the list was with our local brewery 'Magic Rock' featuring  3 times, with an imperial stout and  a black IPA, the former having an entry from being aged in a bourbon barrel. Another surprise was to find JW Lees there, with 4 entries, until closer inspection revealed 3 of these were different aged casks of the same beer. I was beginning to see a theme here. Sam Smiths, The Kernal and Marble all had multiple entries, often for versions of the same beer casked differently. I am not saying there is anything wrong with beers, but there seems to be a certain bias in the voting.

It was getting a bit difficult to find something that I could consider in my favourite beers but after a lot of searching I discovered Oakham 'Asylum' at no 46, but had only been tasted by 32 people. There was no hint of Pictish, Mallinsons, Newby Wyke, or Abbeydale. Maybe this was just a case of a lot of like minded people sitting around a table, drinking the same bottled beers and voting. It certainly appeared that way. 

I know that you need to vote for a beer to get it recognised on the list, and obviously the more and higher votes it gets, the higher up the list it gets, but if someone says to you that the best beer in England is Old Chimneys 'Good King Henry Special Reserve' ask them where they got their information from or were they one of the 273 that voted for it. I for one am a little dubious, I have never even heard of it, let alone drunk it !! So it wasn't me. I will be starting to vote for sensible beers though and see if I can make a difference as the  political polls always say. Lets get some light, hoppy beers represented, at a decent strength.

When I said this poll was up to date I did not realise how up to date it was. When I tried to explain to Will what I was on about, I checked the site again and there were different results, no Mackesons for example, and Moor JJJ Ipa there. All in the space of 12 hours. Maybe I have been a bit harsh....but I don't think so....if you want to check for yourself, 'ratebeer' is the place to look.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Dutch Dave

It is with great sadness that we hear of the passing of David Barnsdale. Affectionately known as Dutch Dave, the 54 year old from Leeds was a regular visitor to the pubs of Huddersfield and oftentimes contributor to 'a swift one'.
With trademark orange jacket, his unwavering motor-mouth enthusiasm for real ale was infectious and made for a colourful character in more ways than one. We shall miss him.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Key Keg... is it really worth it?

A comment made a few days ago by Jibber made me think, is key keg really the beer of the future ? Well, we have already had a discussion about this, and more learned and erudite people than me have made their points, both for and against, in various publications, and I do not intend to go over old ground again. Suffice to say, that for the moment at least, key keg appears to be here to stay.

My concern is not the method of dispense on this occasion, but rather the price we are having to pay for the privilege of drinking it. We all have a limited amount of money to spend in the pub, and it is up to the individual as to how he spends it, I accept this. But as a person, with an interest in beer of all types, I feel that the producers of key keg are in some cases 'ripping me off'.

If we ignore foreign kegs,  which will obviously attract a higher price due to their rarity value and import costs and concentrate on those brewed within our isles, it seems that to buy a key keg product is generally more expensive than their cask cousins. Taking them side by side it is often the case that the cask is a third or sometimes a half cheaper than the keg product. What I cannot see, or accept, is why this should be the case.

The product is the same, although packaged differently, and obviously dispensed differently. Is the punter paying through the nose for the packaging of keg rather than cask?  If so, why? Surely a plastic ball and cardboard packaging is no more expensive than a metal or plastic cask.

Only one brewery, 'Hawkshead', seems to price its keg and cask similarly, others seem to make a large hike on their prices when selling their keg products. If the brewers see key keg as the way forward, which some obviously do, then why not make them as affordable as cask. Or is it another way of showing that they wish to be classed as 'craft breweries' and are therefore pricing themselves to reflect that they consider 'keg' to be their premium product?

I have not spoken to any brewers to try to clarify this difference, or explain why it should be, but I as a drinker will continue to shy away from many beers that I should like to try because of the prohibitive price placed on them. Come on brewers, make them more affordable, and maybe more of us will try, if not convert, to your 'keg' products.

Armageddon has finally arrived

Yesterday's 'Daily Mail' had an article about beer. If you missed it let me paraphrase it for you. What do we consider a 'strong beer' ? Well, personally, anything above 5% makes me think a bit, but I have tried beers on draught up to 14.5%, and lived to tell the tale. But the latest beer, believed the world's strongest, makes that look a boys bitter.

'Armageddon' tips the scales at 65% , thats right, I haven't missed a decimal point. It is brewed by a couple of guys in Aberdeenshire, called 'Brewmeister' and their bottled beer has just been released onto the market. It will cost around £80 a bottle in the free trade, although direct, will be cheaper. 

There has been a recent history in trying to have the title of the world's strongest beer. Twice 'Brewdog' have held it but each time it has been wrested from their grip by European breweries. The latest being a Dutch one  with a beer called 'Start The Future' at a mere 60%. That was in 2010. Now the title has returned to Scotland.

The beer itself is brewed by freezing the beer, removing the water content, but not the alcohol. This makes a smooth beer, obviously massively alcoholic but retaining the basic taste of beer, because the base ingredients are still the same with hops, and malt and yeast. Apparently, and bear in mind I have not tasted it, it does look like beer, tastes bitter with a background maltiness, and is slightly viscous on the tongue. 

As I said, each bottle will cost £80. Obviously a beer for sharing, and savouring. The high price reflecting that around 85% of the brew is discarded during the freeze process. So, if you want something a bit unusual, this could be your thing. It certainly won't be mine, not unless those six numbers come up anyway!!  

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Dark Star does it again

Regular readers of 'A Swift One' will know that the editors, or at least of them, has a soft spot for beers from the Dark Star brewery. Consistently good, consistently well crafted and always interesting, it is the first beer I try if I see a new one on the bar. And in Huddersfield we are lucky that we have some pubs that have a regular supply to keep us happy.

Their excellent 'Hophead' is usually available at The Kings Head, it is so good there that Philip Charlesworth, the 97 year old stalwart of CAMRA, travels down daily to get his two pint fix. The Grove has a rotating Dark Star pump, no I mean the beer rotates, not the pump, so we are usually able to sample their specials here. Occasionally other pubs dip their toe in the water too, and this weekend we have been treated to one of my beers of the year at The Star.

'Kiwi' is their September special. It is brewed with three New Zealand hops, Nelson Sauvin, Motueka and Riwaka, which are all added at different stages in the brewing process and finally, after fermentation, the beer is left to rest over Kiwi fruit to complete the process. Sounds good. But it tastes even better. The hop blend is superb with none predominating but all adding to a fresh fruity flavour in a light coloured masterpiece. Admittedly I could not recognise the Kiwi fruit, but that hardly matters. It was very easy drinking at 4% and another classic from the Sussex brewers.

Totally different was their August offering. This time a Belgian inspired beer, using Belgian yeast, Saaz and Hallertau and Styrian Goldings hops. Again a light coloured beer, but this time 5.8% 'Ardennes' uses wheat and pale ale malt to fashion another wonderful beer. Another I could not get enough of, it was one of the best takes on a Belgian beer brewed over here I have drunk, so they must have done something right.

I can hardly wait to see what specials the rest of the year brings.  

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Holderness Hotspots

The hotspots in question are pubs rather than wi-fi, though a little info on the latter would have been useful last week as we struggled big time to connect. Modern communication issues aside, the area east of Hull has one or two pleasant surprises hidden amongst it's charmless villages and ever-growing forests of wind turbines.

First up is beer guide regular The Plough Inn at Hollym (below). The pub effectively acts as the brewery tap to nearby producers Great Newsome, whilst during our visit Bradfield Bitter, GK's OSH & St Edmunds also featured with permanent Tetleys completing the line up. Make sure to decipher GBG's opening hours for this place before setting off. If you are fortunate enough to gain entry, the welcome and quality are spot on. At £2.70 a pint, pricing here is good for the region.      

Patrington is a large village and able to support three hostelries, two of which can be found in CAMRA's guide. The third, The Hildyard Arms, is possibly the most attractive inside and out but seems to have fallen under the GK banner with just the IPA available. Last year I could swear we were treated to a decent drop of York here but signs of any recent guests were nowhere to be seen.

Across the road is The Holderness Inn which has York Guzzler on as a perm along with Tetley Bitter and the excellent Wye Valley HPA. Cornish St Austell was also on the bar to add further west country interest but at £2.75 the Wye steals the show here. A varied and very reasonably priced food menu plus Sky Sports complete the picture at this friendly village hub.

Just outside Patrington is the recently refurbished Station Hotel. A very attractive bar area was serving a couple of guests alongside the Black Sheep Best. Both priced at £2.80, Blue Bee Nectar Pale & Saltaire Blonde were available though neither was in the sort of condition we've come to expect. Without exception the lunchtime crowd were supping BS and smoothflow, so perhaps a lack of interest is the problem. Food looked very good here and priced very reasonably.

Finally I've included the Crown & Anchor at Kilnsea as due to it's proximity this was the most used. No guest policy here but a fine pint of Taylor's Landlord albeit at a hefty £3. Tetleys is also available as is a very good and nicely priced selection of hot and cold food. So should you find yourself waiting for better weather or at a loose end and fancy a beer, then Holderness  isn't exactly the end of the world, just the county. 

Girl power does it again !!

No, not those girls . This time I am writing in praise of another couple of up and coming brewsters, whose beers have always impressed me. Wilson Potter are a brewery based in Middleton on the outskirts of Manchester and have been brewing there for a year on a 6 barrel plant.

From small beginnings, test brewing in their kitchens, Kathryn and Amanda have sought advice from other brewsters and been on courses until finally their dream reached fruition last October when they produced their first commercial offerings 'Cascale' and 'Making Progress'. I first became aware of their beers at beer festivals, and was impressed by their 'In The Dark' and 'In The Light'. Both are 4.2% and both part of their core range of five beers. The former, a dark beer obviously, they class it as a stout, with licquorice and malt dominating the after taste, but pleasantly smooth and easy drinking. 'In The Light' is a fruity and fresh light coloured beer, and again very moreish.

In the last year I have come across several of their beers, their website shows 17 in all, and am usually impressed, especially by their use of hops in the lighter beers. Sometimes single hops, sometimes subtlely blended (sound a bit familiar !) they always seem to hit the spot with me. However yesterday I managed to sample their 'Brewers Gold' which is a single hopped beer at 4%. Brewers Gold is a hop often used by brewers and usually results in a fruity, clean tasting beer but their version has taken the hop to a new level. Maybe it was the strength which just added a little more body, or the malts used that accentuated its characteristics (thanks for the tip Elaine) but their version was one of the best beers I have drunk for some time and judging by its popularity and how quick it flew off the bar in the Star, I was not alone.

If you want to try it, or any of their range and cannot find the cask versions available, all their beers are bottled and available at HDM in town. So hunt it out and give it a try. It is well worth the effort, believe me.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

A tale of two festivals

It is unusual to find two Camra beer festivals in close proximity at the same weekend but this is what has happened this weekend with both Huddersfield and Sheffield festivals taking place. It seemed too good an opportunity to miss, so over the last couple of days, myself and my younger namesake went out to compare and contrast.

In broad terms both were similar. Held in large halls near the Centre of the respective towns, they were ideal for the purpose with plenty of seating and light and airy. Admittedly Ponds Forge was bigger, and because of this maybe a little soulless but there was none of the elbow to elbow drinking that occurs at other venues. The cost to enter both was the same,and one can hardly complain about about £3 entry and a refundable glass. Both adhered to Camra policy and served 1/3 pints so that the 'ticker' could enjoy as many beers as possible, and the beer price was not bad, a pint costing less than £3 usually. But there the comparison ends.

To take Huddersfield first, the beers on offer, 90 in all, were mainly from the Yorkshire area, with a few sourced from further afield. It showcased the first beers from Rob Allen's 'Hand Drawn Monkey' brewery. These have been initially brewed on other brewery's plants until he gets his own up and running and we were treated to 'Inceptio' brewed at Mallinsons and 'HDM 4 CC IPA' brewed at Golcar, both decent beers. Mallinsons were also responsible for the festival charity beer, 'Mrs Bloke', brewed to commemorate Dave Litton's late wife, Maggie, who died earlier this year, and an excellent beer it was too. I selected several different beers in several different styles, the quality was always good, and the condition likewise. I was impressed with 'Sand House' the first beer I had sampled from the Doncaster brewery,  Rat Brewery 'Green Hop Ale' was different but packed with fresh flavours. Wentworth 'South Island Ipa' was full of New Zealand hop notes, likewise Ironbridge ' ANZ Bitter'. Obviously plenty of beers had to fall by the tasting wayside so this is only a small snapshot of what was available.

Sheffield Beer Festival
However,  with the taste buds refreshed, the following day saw the Tims take on the massive beer list at Sheffield. Again there were plenty of Yorkshire breweries on offer, with several duplicated from the Huddersfield list. But this time there was an emphasis on beers from the South West which are rarely seen in our area, and therefore several brewerys new to me. One criticism was the beer list which in several cases was incomplete with several beers and the odd brewery missing from the list I had previously downloaded from their website. It took a little while to sort out the beers on offer, but gradually the system became clear and likewise what was available. This time we adopted different approaches, Tim the younger trying beers from his preferred breweries, being particularly impressed with the 'Steel City' beers, whereas I was sampling the new South West breweries. Some were good, some less so, and Garage 'Radiator Spring' just downright strange. Again, I encountered a variety of different styles from dark to light, from milds to Ipas. Unfortunately many lacked condition and consequently a bit of a zing. One that did have condition and bucked this trend was Dancing Man ' Pilgrims', a clean tasting light bitter. Unfortunately for me, but not my namesake Pixie Spring ' The Boss' ( a collaboration with Steel City) ran off before I could try it but was so good that Tim tried it twice. We did both agree that  XT 'Four' was among the best beers there, along with their darker offering 'Eight'.
Oddly, for those who think that beer festival are purely for hopheads, the first beers to run off there were a wheat beer and a chocolate and vanilla stout.  

So in the space of 24 hours we had sampled a vast array of different beers, with plenty of variety and plenty of new breweries to try. Thanks must go those Camra workers who had worked tirelessly to create both festivals and those who offered their services free to man the pumps. Roll on next year !! 

Monday, October 01, 2012

Get it while you can !!

A few days ago, I hinted that the Grove had a few Brodies beers lurking in the cellar. Well, that hint has come to fruition and a quick visit yesterday revealed four of the London brewery beers on the bar. I know that I often complain about one brewerys beers dominating a bar but on this occasion I will make an exception. It would have been rude not to have sampled them all, purely for quality control purposes.

If you are unfamiliar with the brewery's output, I am not too surprised as they very rarely seem to leave  the capital, but the Grove is now onto its second batch, so successful was the first. The brewery started in August 2008 at the William IV pub in Leyton, and has brewed around 150 beers covering every style from malty to hoppy, weak to strong, dark to light. 

What of my sampling though ? Starting with the weakest 'Shoreditch Sunshine'. A 3.9% perfectly balanced quaffing beer, it would have been ideal for a hot summers day, but seemed to hit the spot on a wet autumn Sunday as well. Light and hoppy, it was a real gem. Despite the temptation to try a second I was being drawn to a clutch of their stronger offerings. 'Amarilla' used to be a session strength single hop variety beer, it now weighs in at 5% and tastes even better at this strength with the powerful orange flavour of the Amarillo hops coming through. Next up was 'Old Street IPA' at 5% again, and another light beer with a powerful hop taste  but a very pleasant malty background. The quartet was completed by 'White IPA', this time 5.1% and the hops here were perfectly balanced by the wheat used in the mash. A strong wheat beer I suppose, but I enjoy the style and this was one of the best I have ever come across.

If you have never tried Brodies before, a quick call to the Grove in the next week of so should remedy that, but beware, the quick call may extend into a long session. I just feel sorry for those poor souls who have taken themselves off to the coast for the week !!