Saturday, June 30, 2012

The First of many festivals

As Alain mentioned in the previous post, the festival season is here and they are coming thick and fast. The first one I sampled was the Navigation at Mirfield. Always a favourite of mine this one seemed one not to miss with its theme of South Western beers.

It opens at 11.30 am, which is handy for a train from Huddersfield, 8 minutes away. So before noon I was into sampling mode. And there was certainly plenty to sample, with many rarities on the bar, along with some old favourites from that part of the world. All the beer was £1.30 a half, with around 30 beers available on the makeshift bar all on handpull.

I started my sampling with a couple of beers from the Penpont brewery, one I have only come across once before. Both light coloured,  'Cornish Gold' and 'Cornish Arvor' were a good introduction to the beers from the area. Neither massively hoppy but very pleasant beers. I decided to stick with the light theme, and tried Dartmoor 'Friggin', which again was a well rounded beer with plenty of taste, and ST Austell l 'Trelawny', which at 3.8%, was a slightly more amber session beer, but managed to pack loads of fruit flavours into it to make a really good session beer.

Another rare brewery was Hunters from Ipplepen, and their ' Pheasant Plucker' was another amber offering, that did not quite hit the spot, but my next beer did. Blindman's 'Russian Roulette' was 4.5%, a tad lighter, and well balanced. Cotleigh are another brewery I particularly enjoy, and 'Owlzatt' was the first beer that really had a pronounced hoppy taste, with plenty of citrus notes in the flavour. Next up was another Dartmoor beer, coming highly recommended by the barman and the only dark beer I tried. 'Dragons Breath', was 4.4% and had a lot going on with a hint of smokiness that did not detract from its subtler tastes. However I saved the star of the show for my final beer. Blue Anchor brewery beers at Helston rarely travel outside the pub so to have 'Spingo' on the bar was a real coup, and a excellent beer it was. It drank its 5% strength and once I had overcome the unusual taste I warmed to the beer and it became decidedly moreish, so much so I eshewed another tick for a second half.

Sadly it was time to leave, but there were plenty of others to take up the mantle, the pub being full on my departure, and the pumps were constantly in use. If you want to take a look, it will be well worth the trip, especially since most of the beers available  are not often seen in the north. The festival going on till Sunday. Thanks to Kevin and the team for another excellent festival and a great range of interesting beers.   

Friday, June 29, 2012

This Weekends Festivals (and more)

If you are looking for somewhere to shelter from the monsoon like conditions our summer is supplying, the Huddersfield area has two beer festivals this weekend. At Marsh, the Liberal Club festival starts today and continues through Saturday, a mile out of the town centre or a bus from Westgate every few minutes, and in Mirfield, the Navigation festival started yesterday and runs till Sunday. The Navi. is next to Mirfield station, where there is a decent train service from Huddersfield, Leeds and Manchester (Calder Valley line).

Next weekend, July 7th/8th we have the Monkey Club festival at Armitage Bridge (frequent Metham bus from bus station and alight at the Valley garage). Huddersfield Camra's club of the year is a small venue and the festival bar is outside, so here's to a proper summer next weekend.

Just to keep the momentum going (and the bank account dry), the Star at Folly Hall (less than 10 mins. walk from town) starts their festival at 5pm Wednesday the 11th July, finishing at close of play Sunday 15th.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

HDM Opens

Sorry about the delay in reporting this, been having a small technical problem.


Anyway, on Wednesday Rob Allen's vision of opening his own real ale shop finally came to fruition when HDM Beer Shop, on Wood Street started trading. It ostensibly does was it says on the door, it is a shop that sells real ale. But not just bottled beers, he has a licence, temporary at present, to sell beer inside the premises too, so the place has the feel of a cafe bar rather than a shop.

This weekend he has a licence from 12 noon to midnight to enable him to sell beer, there are two handpumps on the bar, both selling Mallinsons on my visit; and three keg fonts with Summer Wine beer and a Gadds/Bitches beer. There is a very local feel to the place with plenty of bottled beers from the town's breweries also on sale. Of course there is Mallinsons, Summer Wine and Empire, but also Bridestones and Cuerden, Golcar and Elland, and from across the Pennines a full bottle range from Wilson Potter.

There are around 60 English bottled beers and they are augmented by beers from around the world. Plenty of American, Belgian, and German ales are available along with some from New Zealand and Australia and an impressive range from Norway's Nogne brewery.

At the moment there are seven draught ciders, all local, but the intention is to gradually increase this to 12 over time.

Should exotic snacks be your thing then this could be the place for you. Rob, formerly manager at the Rat & Ratchet, has assembled a collection of 23 different types that can be mixed and matched into a tapas style menu, or made up into lunch or salad boxes. They comprise a mixture of meat, cheese, olives and chillies, and of course, pork pies.

The prices are competitive, and the shop will be open normally between 9am and 9pm. If you have a problem finding it, it is on Wood Street between Northumberland Street and St Peters Street.

We all wish Rob well with this interesting new venture.  

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Who needs the European Championship....

.....when you have hops?

It will not have escaped the football follower that both Poland and the Czech Republic have bowed out of the European championships at an early stage, however the ardent hop follower will have seen both countries make a considerable leap forward this year in the varieties that they are producing. And true to a football theme (not!) two more new single hopped variety beers graced the bar at the Star yesterday.


We have been aware of the Czech 'Saaz' hop for some time, used mainly in lager style beers but I have never encountered 'Premiant' before. It is a Saaz style hop, higher in alpha acid and therefore more bitter than Saaz but gives a clean, fresh taste to beer reminiscent of lager. The version I tried was from Pictish and 4.2%. Well worth hunting down and sampling.

Next to it on the bar was Glenworth 'Junga Rock' a 4.3% beer, again single hopped, this time with Polish 'Junga'. Primarily a bittering hop, from a combination of Northern Brewer and Marynka, it imparts a unique flavour to the beer. Not as bitter as I would have expected from a hop with 13% alpha acid content and again fresh tasting, it is another winner.

Maybe the central European hops do not have the universal appeal to the 'hop monster' that some of the American or Southern hemisphere ones have but the one's I have come across certainly make for some interesting beers. They do tend to be more subtle and possibly more suited to single hopped beers where their character and flavours come through than being used as a combination in a beer. I am certainly impressed with what Central Europe has to offer on the hop front. Who cares if they are not too cracky at football, their hops are a winner. 

(PS - for the hop nerds amongst us, the picture is a Maryka hop!)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Recession - you must be kidding !!!

In these days of economic unrest, with tales of financial gloom and doom, one part of the economy looks to be doing fairly well, in fact exceptionally well. Real ale brewing seems to be on the increase.

This month's copy of the 'Imbiber' shows, as it does every issue, the number of new breweries that have started out since the last copy of the Good Beer Guide was published.  I have counted 128 new breweries that have started in the last 12 months, with several more likely to come on stream in the next few months.

I am not saying all these breweries are going to be good, and some of them will only be serving a small part of the beer world, maybe only one pub, but there are plenty of people out there prepared to risk their money in creating breweries, and brewing beer.

The problem that I can envisage is that although we can applaud their desire to brew, and hope they succeed, is there enough spare money about to make them successful? Disposable income is shrinking, we are all having to make savings, and one of the areas that savings will be made is in a person's social budget. The price of beer is continually rising, that does not mean the real ale drinker will stop drinking, just that his well earned pennies will not stretch as far. It means that he will not trip out as often as previously, whether that be to his local for a couple of pints, or to different towns to sample what's on offer.

Not only that but these new breweries are on top of the 1000 or so breweries already in existence and all are fighting for an ever decreasing slice of the customer's money. Obviously all think they will do well or they would not have invested in the equipment or ingredients to start up. And I hope they do succeed; for as we all know competition is a good thing, and I for one, enjoy walking into a pub with a selection of beers I have never come across before and sampling breweries new to me.

All we can hope is that the ambition of these new brewers is not misplaced, and that in a few years time these new breweries have gone from strength to strength, and we will all have benefitted. But I am not so sure, sometime the bubble will burst, and the market will level out. I just hope that we are not bemoaning the loss of 128 breweries then.      

Battle of the brewers approaching

Next Saturday sees another of the famous 'Battle of the Brewers' to be held at The Slip Inn in York. It is not usually our policy to promote events so far out of our region but this one is somewhat special in that the brewers involved are Roosters, and our very own Mallinsons.

Both brewers have provided a range of their beers and go head to head in the tasting stakes. The proposed range from Mallys includes 4 of their single hopped beers, (one of which is now called 'Alias' to prevent any confusion with Inbev's fizzy lager !) along with Chocolate Stout, Castle Hill, Station and Steeple Lodge. Roosters again have included some of their regulars but also a porter and a 6% collaboration with the American brewers 'Odells'.

So if you want to support the girls and show that Huddersfield does indeed brew the best beers about get yourself across there and down a few pints. It looks like an afternoon not to be missed.

(Ps apologies to Roosters, couldn't download your new pump clip)

Monday, June 11, 2012

What makes a great pub - then and now

Picking up a copy of Merseyale last week (if you have never read it, it is one of the best Camra mags about) I was reminded of an article written by George Orwell, he of '1984' and 'Animal Farm' fame. The article was written for the 'Evening Standard' in February 1946 and described the 'Moon Under Water'. A fictitious pub that used to describe his favourite things in a pub. I have abridged his article, but have things changed over the years ?

The pub is 2 minutes from a bus stop, and because it is a side street, drunks never find their way there.
The clientele consist mainly of regulars, often in the same place every day, and go there as much for the conversation as the beer. It has 'atmosphere'.
It is unashamably Victorian, with polished wood,mirrors and cast iron fittings rather than sham roof beams, and fake panels. The layout means everyone has plenty of space.
In winter it has a blazing fire serving the three bars. A saloon bar, a public bar, and a ladies bar, games are only played in the public bar.
There is no music, the only sound being the customers talking.
The barmaids know all the staff by name, and are all middle aged. If they don't know your name they call you 'dear'.
There is a snack counter, with sandwiches, mussels, cheese, pickles and savoury biscuits.
They always serve draught stout, often in a pewter mug, but also use china mugs or handled glasses.
They have a beer garden ideal for families with a children's play area, and whole families are encouraged to go to the pub.

For an article written as I said over 60 years ago, Orwell was remarkably up to date. Most of the things he identifies in his 'ideal' pub I would wish to see in mine. Maybe I am just fortunate, but I think I drink in plenty of pubs that George would have approved of even now. 

Next time you are sitting at the bar, listening to the craic, raise your handled glass to Mr Orwell and celebrate the fact that his vision is not that far away from yours !          

Friday, June 08, 2012

Blackjack brewery - success on the cards ?

A couple of weeks ago I heard about a new brewery that had opened in Manchester, and was intending a trip over there to see if I could track some down. However those nice people at the Grove managed to beat me to it and some has appeared this week on the bar there, and pretty good it is too.

The history of the Blackjack brewery is tied to the Marble brewery, from where the 4.5 barrel plant originated, and it has been set up in Gould St, Manchester, a stones throw from the Marble Arch. The brewer is Rob Hamilton, who cut his teeth at the Marble.

Beers started to appear in the brewery's home city and from what I read seemed to be getting a good reception from those in the know, tasting something like Marble beers, not unsurprisingly. But what did I think of the couple I have managed to try.

The first one was a 3.9% offering. Shuffled Deck.Light and pleasantly hoppy, in fact far better than any of the Marble beers I have recently come across, and somewhat moreish. It was obvious that the brewer knew his business, and the beer had none of the tastes sometimes associated with new breweries. I was impressed,  to say the least. Since then I have come across another of their beers on the bar, this time 5.5% Aces High.Again a pleasant light beer, and with a good hop balance, with more body than the first I tasted, but drinking no where near its strength, it slipped down far too easily.

So should you come across their distinctive pump clip on a bar, with a couple of playing cards on it. Give the beer a go, I think you will be impressed too.  

Monday, June 04, 2012

Last weekends local festivals

Due to circumstances beyond our control, neither myself or Will managed to get around the local festivals that were on this weekend, but fear not, our roving reporter 'The Bloke From Hull' managed to get round them and this is what he found

Kirkburton Scouts - basically South Yorkshire beers with a special beer from Brew Co. They said they had a busy night on Friday

Brockholes - small family run festival, but a decent do. There were 2 beers from the new Two Crowns brewery, 10 Bob and Jubilee. Both were well received.

Fieldhead - busy pub festival, made better by the stunning views over the valley

Thanks Dave  

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Its That Time again

This weekend sees the start of a couple of months of excitement for us beer tickers, with the Queens Jubilee, followed by the football Euro 2012 championships, and then the Olympic Games. Plenty of opportunity there for brewers to come up with new beers especially for the occasion. Or is there ?

It's that old chestnut again. Is the beer I am drinking a new beer, or merely an old beer rebadged to fit the event ? How do I know ? Often I just have to trust the brewer. If they say a beer is a new beer who am I to dispute this ? Let's face it, they are not likely to say this is usually called 'Best Bitter' but to up our chances of selling it we are calling it 'Jubilee', or 'Olympic Beer' are they ? I know most small brewers are  honest in what they do and each new beer gets a new name, but I am sure that a percentage will brew one beer and rename it three times.

Nevertheless, it should be a good time for 'tickers'. I have already had a beer called 'God Save The Queen', suffered one called 'Street Party' and am eagerly awaiting one called 'Beth's Bitter' and that is just for starters. Let's hope there are plenty of new beers about to whet our appetites through the next few weeks, and the nation's microbrewers can do us proud and show why Britain's brewing industry is the best in the world, whatever the beer is called.