Friday, January 25, 2013

Elland takes the title

This years winner of the Champion Beer of Britain at the Winter Ales festival in Manchester came from Elland brewery. Their '1872 Porter' scooped the award for the second  time, having won the award in 2010 as well. A superb version of the style, based on an 1872 recipe (get it!) which has all sorts of interesting flavours going on, with coffee, and chocolate blending with the more traditional tastes.

A well deserved award for Nick who continues to brew excellent beer, whether they be the old favourites or new recipes, he just seems to go from strength to strength. And long may it continue.

Rabbie Burns does us proud

The first beer festival of 2013, and one of my favourites. This weekend the Navigation at Mirfield has opened its doors to a Scottish beer festival. I took a look to see what was on offer. I did not exactly get what I expected. I thought that there would be a few common Scottish beers intermingling with other beers from around the country. I was gobsmacked to see, on my arrival, nearly 40 beers from breweries all over Scotland. From breweries old and new, and with beers of all styles represented. All the beers were on hand pull, all were cellar cooled, and irrespective of  strength, all were priced at £2.60. Which is far cheaper than they would be on their home soil.

All I needed now was where to start. Generally, I start with the weaker beers or the new breweries. I had plenty of each to choose from. Fallen Brewery was the newest and their '1703' was an excellent starting point, light, hoppy and 3.9%. I followed this with 'Due South' from Strathbraan. Another light beer with citrus undertones. Nothing of the typical Scottish styles yet then. These new breweries seem to know how to use hops. Beers from Alechemy, and the Kinneil Brew Hoose were sampled and were again in good form, and had plenty of hop character. It was time to go a bit stronger and darker, and having heard good things of both Loch Lomond 'Silkie Stout' and Tryst 'Double Chocolate Porter' I opted for the former. A very good stout, from another brewery new to me, and silky smooth. My beer of the festival was from another new brewery, Demonbrew. They have been brewing in Prestonpans since 2011, and their 'Pacific Kick', at 5.4% the strongest beer I sampled, was a revelation. With a hoppy nose, it promised an astringent hop hit, but it tasted perfectly balanced with the malt and hops coming together in a superb IPA style beer.

Well, I had exhausted my new brewery list. I had only had six. So it was time to try out some of the other offerings. There were 10 beers from Tryst and 9 from Kelburn, so it seemed churlish to overlook them. I sampled 'Hop Trials' and 'Pils' from the former, and 'Misty Law' from the latter, and all reinforced my opinion that these Scots can certainly brew. All that was left was to sample another beer before my train, and I selected another Strathbraan offering 'Head East', which was excellent.

The festival runs through until Sunday, being open from 1200 noon each day, and is well worth a look.  There are a couple of Caledonian beers if you want the traditional Scottish style, and plenty of Theakstons as well if that is your thing !! Thanks must go to Kev for his selection of beers, and Tryst, who helped him source them, and the team at the pub for making it such a friendly event. All I need now is an excuse to return !  

Friday, January 18, 2013

Hop Growing On the East Coast

Put 'East Coast' and 'Hops' into Google and you will get loads of hits, but all seem to relate to the East Coast of the USA. I was interested to learn more about an article I had recently read about hop growing on the east coast of England, or more specifically in East Yorkshire. I know that sounds impossible but apparently it's true.

Matthew Hall was a home brewer who'd bought a patch of East Yorkshire land that was too good to build on because of the excellent soil quality, so he decided to try his hand at growing hops there. It is still a work in progress having started less than 12 months ago with initial trials growing four variety of hops - Challenger, Goldings, Northdown, and Progress.

The first shoots appeared in April and by July all four were growing well. By harvest time he had had a very successful crop, so successful that the result was brewed as a green hopped beer by Big River brewery of Brough. As a result of the first year trials Matthew has decided to grow Challenger and Progress in the second year with the addition of First Gold and Sovereign.

All we can do is wish him all the best and hope that we may come across his hops in beers for many years to come, and that Yorkshire hops may become as famous as those from  Kent and Herefordshire.

(with thanks to Tyke Taverner) 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Upcoming Beer Festivals

The festival season seems to be starting earlier every year. Here are a couple of dates for your diary for local events in the next month.

The White Cross at Bradley has its festival starting on Thursday 7th February at 1800 hrs then likewise on Friday and all day Saturday. A preview of the beer list shows an interesting selection of breweries from around the country with a couple of rare ones included.

There is also a festival at Marsden Mechanics Hall starting at 1800 hrs on Thursday 21st February and likewise on Friday, followed by an all day session on Saturday but with a 1300 hrs start. This one promises beer at £2.50 a pint and several local breweries will be producing specials for the festival. Entry is free and Friday will be a meet the brewers night.

And one that I had  previously overlooked.

Navigation at Mirfield between Thursday 24th and Sunday 27th times available but pub opens at 1200 noon daily and believed to include a selection of beers on a Scottish theme.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Vulcan goes from strength to strength

One of the Town Centre pubs that I often overlook is The Vulcan in St Peters St. I do not really know why, it just seems to be in wrong place for me, but I tripped down there yesterday to take a look at what they had on offer. I was pleasantly surprised, especially after the concerns about another pub that I expressed last week. (incidentally that pub is still trading, albeit with a slightly lessened beer range). 

To return to the Vulcan. It still maintains its commitment to real ale, so much so, that its beer range has now increased to six handpulled beers, often strangers to the area, and all kept in good condition and sold at a very competitive price. 

If you fancy somewhere different to go at the bottom side of town, give it a go. The food menu is basic but again very competitively priced, and you may collect a new beer or two if that is your thing. I will certainly be adding to my must visit list for 2013.      

Snow is already here

A quick wander around town yesterday showed that brewers have already beaten the weathermen with a number of snow and winter related beers.

 Pictish have got 'Snowblind' on their beer menu, Castle Rock have 'Snowwhite', and Five Towns 'Snowflake', incidentally, all are excellent light beers. They are joined by Elland's 'Iceic-Ale' (get it !). They are joined by Bobs 'Winter Lion' and Raw 'Winter Solstice' so it seems that the wintery theme may be here to stay. 

All we can hope is that the threatened snow does not prevent us actually getting out to the pubs to drink them.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Another mad idea - but it works

Those regular readers who will have read my rantings last month, will know that I am not in favour of people 'buggering about with the flavour of beer'. So imagine my horror when I came across a pump clip for a beer from Roosters of Knaresborough that contained jasmine green tea . Anyway, in the spirit of adventure, and because it was there I had to try it. I was suitably impressed.

The beer is not strictly a Roosters beer; it has been released under their 'Outlaw' brand name which they use for their experimental products, and what could be more experimental than this. It is a collaboration between Melissa Cole, the beer writer and the brewery. And for some reason best known to themselves they decided it had to include green tea. Enter Taylors of  Harrogate who provided the expertise in the tea field. For those not in the know, jasmine tea has been around in China for centuries, made from a blend of fresh picked jasmine flowers and green tea, and is the local beverage of the Chinese city of Fuzhou, which stands in the province where the best jasmine is produced. (cue Mastermind question !)

The beer brewing process does have some similarities with tea brewing so that was a good start, all that mattered now was to get the balance right. The finished product shows that the skills of all sides have come to the fore. The beer is strong at 6.2%, a quaffing beer rather than a session beer, and has a pleasant aroma from the jasmine, the tea, and the hops. The taste is likewise a very rounded, balanced experience with subtle hints of each rather than a massive hit of any of them. From starting as a one off experiment, it became a two,three etc pint session. I really enjoyed it. And just cannot wait for the next of the Outlaw range to come out.  

Spoons - bring on the new

Whatever you or I may think, one of the success stories of the 21st century must be Wetherspoons. It actually started in Muswell Hill in 1979, and has now grown to an estate of over 800 pubs. It must be doing something right.I personally have no objection to them, I go somewhere different, do not know the pubs but if I come across a 'Spoons I know at least I will find real ale and decent food. 

One of the charms of the chain however is their conversion of older properties into bustling, functional pubs. Many of them worth visiting for their historical character alone. The 'Richard Oastler' in Brighouse being a local one that proves the point. Who would consider that a converted methodist chapel could be made into a pleasant, airy drinking establishment. Who knows what its previous residents would think about it though?

Recently I have come across a couple of new ones which seem to buck that trend. The beer and food are still there, as is the commitment to quality, but the buildings themselves leave me cold. Functional rather than comfortable, modern rather historic, these seem to be more in the style of an airport lounge and not somewhere I particularly want to relax and spend time.

 The newest one I visited is the 'Percy Shaw' in Halifax, and previous to that the 'Cuthbert Broderick' in Leeds. Both are new buildings ,or are in new buildings in the case of the 'Percy Shaw' and seem to be a monument as to what can be done with glass and steel. The trouble is that neither of them possess what I class as 'soul', a place to meet and move on.

The 'Percy Shaw' is part of the Broad St complex, a new build, across from the Bus Station, and on the first floor of that complex, so to get to it involves a climb up a lot of steps. It does have 10 beers on handpull, and a view across the valley, it is clean and bright and fresh. But sadly, it is not for me. The same applies to the 'Broderick' which is at the top side of Millennium Square. Another prime situation, but another lacking the wow factor.

It is possible that I have been unlucky and the latest two pubs in the chain, have both been new buildings, but I much prefer the older, more comfortable conversions of previous years. Surely there must be empty buildings out there just crying out for a 'Spoons conversion, I certainly hope so. But no more converted bed shops please !!! 

Don't overlook the obvious

Like lots of things in England, it seems that even hops come in to and out of, fashion. One of those hops that seems to be used less and less is the good old Fuggle.

Seen as the architypical English hop that have been around for around 150 years, first being recorded in  1861 but first propagated in 1875 by Richard Fuggle in the South East. It became synonymous with the area with around 3/4 of the English hop production coming from there just after the 2nd World War. However, disease struck the crop and now it accounts for less than 10% of the total hop yield and most of it comes from the West Midlands nowadays.

It seems to have been overlooked by the new breed of brewers who look further afield for their hops, which admittedly do give a different taste to beer, but surely there is still a place for the Fuggle in modern brewing. It is easily recognisable when used in brewing giving a typical 'English' taste to beer. Low in alpha acid, so not imparting a great bitterness, it has an distinctive earthy aroma and taste, which admittedly does not suit every beer or every pallet.However, used well it can produce a beer with a robust body, maybe, more suited to  darker styles of beer, or the more traditional types of bitters. But surely it still has a place in the brewing industry. So come on brewers, take a gamble, look to a British hop once in a while and see what you can produce. We may all be surprised.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Hope this is not the norm for 2013

Yesterday, I thought I would call at an old favourite pub to sample a few beers and catch up with people I had not seen over the holidays. I was in for a bit of a shock. The pub was still there, but things were not right. I would guess from the state of the place and the minimal range of beers available that it was on the verge of closing. I will not name the pub in case of embarrassment if I am wrong, but it got me thinking a bit.

I cannot recall any of the pubs I care about actually closing. Some have changed licensees, for better or worse, but I have not been in this one when there has been such a sense of desperation in the air. It is always a shame for a pub to close, but it is more than that. The landlord will move on, either inside or outside the trade, but the ones that really suffer are the customers. They have treated the pub as a second home, somewhere to catch up with friends or to take a few minutes away from the madding crowd. Where do they go? If they're lucky there are other pubs close by that they can move on to, but without the feelings of belonging they have had and without being part of a community that a pub engenders. Thankfully the pub in question is not in a village, where to lose the focal point would be a tragedy for all concerned, but it is sad to see nevertheless. 

All I can hope is that I am wrong and the place remains open and goes from strength to strength, but I left with a feeling that I had just witnessed the end of an era. Not a pleasant feeling to welcome in the new year with.