Friday, March 29, 2013

A Tale of Two Beer Festivals

To corrupt a literary phrase: “Down these mean streets a man must go to two beer festivals in one night.” A gap in the train timetable allowed brief trips to the Old No7, Barnsley and a longer visit to The Junction’s beers in the wood festival in Castleford.
Both town centre pubs are reigning local CAMRA pubs of the year and share the same train line. First stop was the Old No7 for a half of Acorn’s Smaragd IPA. It’s one of the brewery’s European hops series, described as a “rich golden coloured ale with a floral, fruity aroma and hints of orange/lemon marmalade”.This was a fine beer and should have led to more but the train to Cas was looming.
The Junction on Carlton Street promises five beers from multiple award-winning brewery Five Towns, seven from Ridgeside, four from Kirkstall, two a piece from Concertina and Gun Dog and one from Old Bear (Hibernator). Five Town’s Mango Junction (6%) caught my eye as did Ridgeside’s Stargazer, made from Citra hops. But dark beer fans should check out Five Town’s Ponte Carlo Stout.
Unfortunately, it was soon time to clamber back on the train. Yet this presented a chance for another all too brief visit to the Old No7 in Barnsley. I went for the other Acorn special Tarnlife, a 4.5% light straw coloured bitter “packed full of American Cascade and Centennial hops”. I just had enough time to scan their 30-beer list, which featured six beers from the Acorn range and many more guests. There were, to name a few, Jarrow’s Red Ellen, The Rat’s Ratatouille and beers from Redemption, Elland, Lymestone and Black Iris’s West Coast IPA, which also had mango in the tasting notes and brought things full circle.
The Old No7 festival on Market Hill runs until Easter Monday.
Staff Copy

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Imminent Beer Festival at Acorn’s Mighty Pub

This Thursday sees the start of a five-day beer festival at the Old No7, Barnsley. The pub on Market Hill is Acorn Brewery’s tap. The beer list wasn't available when I called yesterday to buy the new Barnsley guide and take some photographs. Alas my lens skills are not the same as the two David Bailey’s who run this blog. So go and see the pub for yourselves.
As documented elsewhere, Barnsley wasn't a renowned ale town. Yes, it had Barnsley Bitter but that has come and gone and come back again. It’s a bit much to say Barnsley was a total ale wasteland. There were places where you could find a decent pint like the Good Beer Guide stalwarts The Huntsman (Thurlstone) and The Market (Elsecar). But such places were on the outskirts and there wasn't much to keep you in town.
However, the brewing landscape has changed over the last few years. Acorn and Oakwell have now been joined by two fine micro-breweries, Two Roses (Darton) and Geeves (Stairfoot). But there was still something lacking: a great centrally-located pub to tempt the Huddersfield and Sheffield bound lot off the train for a pit stop. It arrived in 2011 in the form of the Old No7, which in its short history has won a number of local and regional awards.
The bar boasts at least eight cask conditioned ales, split between Acorn’s range and guests. The main bar is at street level but there is also a cellar bar, which comes into its own at festival time.  Speaking of which there is one from Thursday 28th to Easter Monday, with 30 plus beers on offer.What I like about this pub is the friendly staff who care about what they serve you. Can you ask for anything more?
The Old No7 is a few minutes walk from Barnsley Interchange. It is easy to find. Leave the bus station near the escalators, go left at the cinema along the main road, turn right shortly afterwards into the Victorian arcade. Go up and you’ll see the pub over the road.
Staff Copy

Barnsley Real Ale Guide

There was a time not so long ago when Barnsley-based real ale drinkers faced a tough choice in their quest for new beers: turn right for Sheffield or left for Huddersfield. But a new book reveals that the  ‘ Tarn ’ has gone from being a bit of a beer desert to a budding oasis in next to no time.
Local CAMRA enthusiasts have produced “The Barnsley Real Ale and Cider Guide” – a route map to over 100 pubs and clubs. It costs £3 and is a steal. As veteran Barnsley Chronicle journalist Ian Harley says in the foreword: “Commendably it’s also available for little more than the price of a pint.”
An early chapter looks at the fluctuating fortunes of Barnsley Bitter, which dates back to 1858. But by all accounts the revered beer declined in the late 1950s following a takeover. Brewing ceased in 1976 but Oakwell Brewery brought it back 20 years later. Then Acorn Brewery arrived in 2003 and made their version from the original recipe and yeast strain.
The guide’s other chapters look at the availability of cider in the town, a lost pub, an argument about the meaning of your ‘local’ and a curious piece about black pudding! Then we get into the meat of the book – the pubs. Good mapping shows where you can get a can and can’t find real ale in Barnsley, and where the breweries are sited.
The town centre section shows that a real ale trail is emerging, with more and more pubs taking craft beer. There are also established real ale houses like the Keel Inn, Canal Street, off Old Mill Lane (turn right out of the bus station). It's walls are adorned with Barnsley Bitter memorabilia. There is also award-winning Old No7 on Market Hill (turn left) where you buy a copy of the new guide and plan your itinerary for Barnsley ’s burgeoning real ale circuit.
The £3 guide is also available at Geeves Brewery’s tap, The Anglers Rest, Park Street , Wombwell, at other pubs and on Barnsley ’s indoor market.
Book cover image courtesy of its editor Nigel Croft, of Barnsley CAMRA,

Staff Copy

Monday, March 25, 2013

There's a Storm Brewing at the Head of Steam

A battle of the brewers is set to commence at The Head of Steam this Thursday night.
The pub, on Huddersfield Train Station, is pitting home town ale producers Empire (Slaithwaite) and Milltown (Milnsbridge) against the likes of Pheasantry (Notts) and Dukeries (Worksop). Each brewery has one beer available. Pick up a voting slip and cast your ballot for the best. The competition runs from 7pm to 9.30pm on March 28.
Then on Friday – just a railway bridge away– The Sportsman is going international, but on the musical front.The event is billed as “Kola Gypsy Jazz”featuring Robert Gabor, from Poland, on violin, guitar and double bass. Entry is free and the music kicks off at 8.30pm. The press release from the St John’s Road pub states: “Jazz standards and a couple of Roma/Gypsy tunes in a tight expressive unit”.
Now, I’m no music journalist but music nights down The Sportsman tend to be a bit special. I was there around Christmas time listening to the Jazz Dawgs, sinking a few jars of Mallinsons and missing at least one train home!
Staff Copy

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Its goodbye from me.....but not for ever

Sadly this will be the last post that I write from Huddersfield, as I am on the move. Next week I am moving to Newcastle, or North Shields, to be more exact. And in the middle of the month, when I am internet connected I will become the 'Swift One's' north east correspondent. 

I am born and bred in Huddersfield, and leaving the town and its excellent selection of breweries and pubs will be a big wrench. I have enjoyed every minute of my time researching both, and attending local festivals, ostensibly for information to use on the blog. Nevertheless, there is beer in the North East, and plenty of good pubs as well so I will not be out of circulation for long.

My drinking goes back to the days of the Mews bar at the Pack Horse in the mid 1970's, my discovering of 'real ale' at the Barge & Barrel in Elland, and drinking my way around the 'Good Beer Guide', into the later years when Huddersfield became a real ale mecca, with some of the best pubs in the country, and some of the best breweries too. It will be a strange time. 

I did manage a quick crawl to revisit my favourite haunts yesterday, but was curtailed by the snow. Even so, I can confirm there is still plenty of good beer to be drunk around the town, in a selection of different pubs. So whatever your needs, Huddersfield can provide.

Anyway, those of you who are cheering at my departure can stop. I am not away for ever. I am returning every other weekend to work in my favourite pub. I have made no secret that I am a great fan of The Star, and it has been a great privilege to work there for the last few years, and this will continue as far as practicable. And I can still keep up my passion for Mallinsons beers. So I will still be in contact with the local beer scene and local beers.

If my ramblings on 'A Swift One' have informed, or entertained you over the last four years I have done my job and will continue to do so, and hopefully, a couple more contributors should make it even more current and entertaining. Thanks to Will for giving me the chance to write and you for reading, and thank you to every one who has helped me out, either consciously or unconsciously. I hope to see you soon    

Its that old moan again !!

Regular readers will know that one thing that particularly irritates me is brewers putting things in beer,  no, not things like hops or malt but things that ought not to be there. I called in The Grove yesterday and found two perfect examples.

Cast your minds back a good few years. There, now try and recall Kitchen Brewery. Got it, what do you remember them for. That's right. Rob used to make beer with every fruit and vegetable imaginable. Seems that Redwillow has taken a leaf out of their book and made a beetroot stout. I have no issue with stouts, but with beetroot !! That's weird and not right. The problem is that although they have called it a beetroot stout, it does not actually taste of beetroot. Whether that is good or bad depends on your feelings about beetroot I suppose, but I would have expected at least a hint at least.

My other gripe concerns Raw 'Citra Black Ale'. I know I said in the first paragraph, I had not objection to brewers adding hops to beer, but in this case I do. It is a waste of time to call something a citra beer, when it does not taste of citra. Apart from misleading the drinker, it seems a waste of the brewers time and money. A fellow drinker made the comment 'Why not just call this a black ale ?' I agree, it is succinct and to the point, the punter knows what he getting, and is not searching his taste buds to try to get the citra taste. 

So brewers, please, either stop putting things in beer that should not be there, or try not to mislead the drinker by suggesting there are things in the beer that cannot be tasted.It does no one any favours. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Winter wonderland of beer festivals in the run up to British Summer Time!

Beer festivals are coming as thick and fast as today’s snowflakes. If you can get to them safely there are at least six ale showcases in the next week.
First up is The Nook’s Spring Beer festival in the centre of Holmfirth. There are 40 plus beers and a War of the Roses theme. It runs from today until Sunday.The Nook’s brewery, Milltown, Ossett, & Acorn etc are lining up against some of Lancashire finest like Leyden (Bury) and Allgates ( Wigan ). The trans-Pennine face off also extends to cider with Holmfirth’s Pure North (Deanhouse) going up against Dove Syke Cider from Clitheroe in the heart of the Ribble Valley.
If Holmfirth is too snow-clad for you then there is another Friday to Sunday alternative at Fernandes Brewery Tap in Kirkgate, Wakefield this weekend. The festival at the Avison Yard based ale house will feature 20 plus beers from its brewery downstairs.
Then on Thursday (March 28) Wakefield CAMRA’s reigning pub of the year, The Junction at Castleford, will host a three-day festival featuring “at least 20 beers from the wood”. Expect nine beers on opening day and more on Friday and Saturday. No beer list as yet but Ridgeside (Meanwood, Leeds) and Five Towns (Outwood, Wakefield ) are popular brews at the pub on Carlton Street , which is just a few minutes walk from Castleford railway station.
Another CAMRA pub king champ – The Old No7, Barnsley – will host a test-match of beer from Thursday to Easter Monday. The pub on Market Hill, which has won back-to-back Barnsley CAMRA POTY awards and was runner up in Yorkshire competition, will be serving over 30 cask ales and lagers, plus cider, perries and bottled beer.
There are also festivals at The Old Ship at Brighouse, a four-dayer from Thursday. And The Old Cock at Otley is spreading its festival over five days from Thursday, with beers from Newcastle and Sheffield .
So that’s beers from Lancashire, Yorkshire, and Newcastle all in the space of six days.

Staff Copy

Friday, March 15, 2013

Its spring, it must be the Star festival

Wednesday evening, is there a better place to be than the marquee at The Star? As readers will know well I have visited the odd one or two Star beer festivals in the past but this time Sam has managed to get a superb selection of beers for us thirsty punters to get to grips with. The set up is the tried and tested arrangement, 46 beers all sold through hand pulls and all cellar cooled, with the beer selection coming from all over the country with plenty of breweries new to the area, and plenty of varied beers to suit every palette.

As usual it was a problem to know where to start once I had sorted myself out with tokens and the essential pink printed glass, (not salmon I have been advised !). Well that is not strictly true, I always start with Mallinsons as I know they will be good and it gives me a little thinking space. Their 'Super Chinook' does what it says, a massive hit of American hops, and their 'Star Trinians' was worth it for the pump clip alone ! Take a look and see what I mean. 

That was where things got a little difficult, there were so many new beers and new breweries for me that it was just a case of sticking a pin in the programme and taking a chance. Settle 'Light' was 3.4%, and an excellent quaffing beer for its strength, if maybe lacking a little body. Toolmaker 'Razamataz' came highly recommended, and I was not disappointed; pleasantly balanced, and another classic beer from Sheffield. Barley Bottom 'The Man from Dunkel'  just did not do it for me, but I am not really a fan of the style, but one has to try.  Likewise the XT '13', an American red ale, well crafted but not quite my thing. However Otley '07' was a superb wheat beer that I had difficulty avoiding a second try of, but the 5% strength made my mind up for me.

Elland 'New World' was another excellent beer from a consistent local brewery, again light and very drinkable, likewise with the single hopped Pictish 'Aurora'. But time was catching up with me, and it was time for my final beer of the night. Another of my favourite breweries and another recommendation, and if Sam says its good, who is to disagree? Five Towns 'Kirsch Stout' was as good as it gets, dark and rich and full of fruit flavour. 

So, that is a brief snapshot of what is available, or more honestly, what I had. There is still plenty to go for, and plenty of time to do it, with the festival going on, Thursday evening, and all day Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I will be there, hope you will be too.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Star Festival List for March 2013

Festival starts 1700 hrs Wednesday, and 1700 hrs Thursday, and from 1200 noon
Friday, Saturday and Sunday...
Beers 1 -46 in outside marquee, 47 etc in the pub changing as and when on bar..
1. Elland - New World - 3.8%
2. Mighty Hop - Golden Cap - 4%
3. Five Towns - Kirsch Stout - 4.6%
4. Mallinsons - Star Trinians - 4.1%
5. XT - 5 - 5.5%
6. Salamander - Charlie Bravo - 3.8%
7. Cheshire - Galaxy Blues - 5.2%
8. OMB - Bell Hop - 4.2%
9. Kennet and Avon - Pill Box - 4%
10. Toolmaker - Apprentice - 4%
11. Goose Eye - Goose Eye Gold - 4.2%
12. Otley - 07 (weissen) - 5%
13. XT - 13 (Pacific Red) - 4.5%
14. Golden Duck - Lunnys no8 - 4.8%
15. Portobello - Star - 4.8%
16. Barley Bottom - Man from Dunkel - 4.5%
17. Gower - Power Gower - 5.5%
18. Bellville - Chestnut Porter - 4.9%
19. Kennet and Avon - Dundas - 4.2%
20. Bridestones - First Admiral - 4.2%
21. Yorkshire Dales - Attermire - 3.8%
22. Mighty Hop - Vallences Stout - 5%
23. Spitting Feathers - Red Rose - 3.8%
24. Bellville - Battersea Brownstone - 4.8%
25. 4Ts - Apollo - 4.2%
26. Caledonian - Dry Dock - 4.1%
27. Gower - Lighthouse - 4.5%
28. Frys - Maiden Blonde - 3.9%
29. Settle - Light - 3.4%
30. Great Heck - Dispensible - 4.5%
31. Goose Eye - Tillis Temptation - 3.8%
32. Gower - Black Diamond - 4.2%
33. Toolmaker - Razamataz - 4.2%
34. Pictish - Aurora - 4.5%
35. Roosters - True Grit - 3.9%
36. Rudgate - Cask Master - 4.2%
37. Cheshire - Engine Vein - 4.2%
38. Settle - Main Line - 3.6%
39. Mallinsons - Super Chinook - 4%
40. Walls - Explorer IPA - 4.7%
41. Walls - Gun Dog Bitter - 3.8%
42. Yorkshire dales - Drovers Arms - 3.9%
43. Portobello - APA - 5%
44. Caythorpe - Dover Beck - 4%
45. Lincoln Green - Sherwood EPA - 4.4%
46. Kite - Side Step - 4.4%

47. Hay Rake - Dawns Hopping Mad - 3.8%
48. North Yorkshire - Temptation - 3.8%
49. Roosters - Londinium - 5.5%
50. Otley - 04 (Columbo) - 4%
etc etc

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Festival time at the Drop

The first of what seems to be a lot of Ossett group pub festivals started a couple of days ago at the Drop in Elland, I 'dropped inn' {clever eh !!) yesterday to take a look. The Drop is a pleasant enough pub in the back streets of Elland and its very location seems to separate it from the rest of the Ossett estate and the town centre. Nevertheless I have been to several festivals here in the past and I am usually impressed.

On the bar on my arrival were about 14  hand pumps, in the main and smaller side bars, with a selection of all styles of beer. I was in a light beer mood so I eschewed the porter and the stout and started with Great Yorkshire Brewing company 'Yorkshire Pale', my first thought was that I had been given the wrong beer but a quick chat with the landlady put me right, this was their interpretation of a pale ale. And she advised me that what I thought was a new brewery for me was actually Cropton renamed. Not an auspicious start, an the beer was average as well. Time to be more careful with my beer choice. Irwell Works ' Big Whistle Ale' seemed a sensible strength, and I was presented with a light, hoppy number packed with flavour. A good antidote.

Shiny was a new brewery for me coming from Derbyshire, I had heard of them but never encountered their beer before and the '4 Wood' was 4.5% and could best be described as a work in progress, and not to my taste at all. Just time for one more beer, and this had better be a good one. Usually I leave Ossett beers as I expec to find them elsewhere, but I overheard that the 'Rhubarb Blonde' was one of only 9 barrels brewed so it seems a shame to overlook it. It was light, 4.7% and excellent. But sadly did not have the tart fruit background I expected.

So leaving behind plenty of other beers, a couple new to me, and some old favourites, it was time to go. It sounds as though the beer range was poor, that was not the case, it was just that I chose badly, and should you be a fan of the light, hoppy stuff there is plenty of good beer there, and some decent dark stuff to tempt you too. And with no entry fee, and beer at £2.50 a pint, it is a good enough festival to pass away an hour or two in the wet weather we are promised.      

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Pie Week at The Hop

Those who love a pie with their pint of ale will doubtless be aware that 4th -10th March is national pie week. And with that in mind, regulars at The Hop in Leeds ('shtudentsh' to thee and me) have needed little, if any, coaxing into signing up to a team speed-eating competition at the venue.
Sponsored and judged by Huddersfield's own award-winning growler maestro  Andrew Jones  (right), the rules are simple and involve getting as much meat and pastry down the hatch as quickly as possible in the hope of scooping the top prize - as it happens six months supply of PIES! Oh, and a little cash that might go some way towards funeral expenses.

Now and again I get asked to do some really silly stuff by Ossett Brewery (though never silly enough to involve product testing for some reason), but photographing last night's gluttonous heat stages was something I thought I'd share here.

Many thanks to events manager Jess for my beer and the opportunity to witness an occasion that might just get me taking 'healthy living' a little more seriously from now on.
Turning green and leaving most on your face was frowned on by the judges
Coaching your team mates proved a good strategy 
                            The two handed approach

                             Trying to psych out the pie 

Regurgitation was inevitable - I have refrained from publishing what happened here next in the interests of decency!

The finals of this year's munch-out take place tomorrow evening (Thurs 7th) from six, and if you fancy a flutter - The Piedophiles look hungry!

Saturday, March 02, 2013

So English hops can do it !!!

A visit to The Grove yesterday, for research purposes only you understand, answered one of the questions that has been baffling us beer drinkers for some time. Why can't the English make a decent IPA out of English hops ? Well let me tell you, we can. And to prove it I have actually sampled the result.

Ramsgate Brewery, or Gadds as they like to call themselves, brew an IPA every year using the new seasons hops. Naturally, being from Kent, these are East Kent Goldings and this year's beer, obviously using last years hops, is a stunner. I never knew that English hops could give that much flavour but the EKG used matched anything that America or New Zealand can produce. 

'Kent Pale Ale' is 6.5%, so obviously has a fair amount of body, and has a background of pale malt, but the hops give a massive hit, resinous, and juicy with citrus to the fore. For the discerning hop drinker it is a classic and dispels the myth that English hops are second best to imported ones. Get it while you can, before Will and I finish it all!!! 

Friday, March 01, 2013

Back in the toon again

This week I had chance to revisit the North East and check out a few of my favourite pubs, and some others that are new on the scene as well as trying to catch up with one or two of the new breweries there. This is a snapshot of what I found.

I was based in Whitley Bay for my stay so at first chance I called in at the 'Briardene' on the seafront. I had been before and was impressed by the pub and  beer range. The pub was how I remembered it, but sadly the beer range was a little boring; there were a couple of local breweries represented amongst the big brewery beers but the Ouseburn Valley that I sampled was average at best.

Never mind, a quick trip on the Metro and I was able to check out what Newcastle itself had to offer. My first stop was at 'The Bodega', a pub with a unique glass domed ceiling. Here the beer range was excellent, but the problem was the strength. It was a hard decision, a weaker beer I had tried before or a strong one new to me. Soon I was sipping away at my 6.4% 'Tempest' Step Back, a good light coloured beer that did not taste its strength though sadly lacked a bit of flavour. The next pub was new to me but came well recommended. 'The Town Wall' is just a couple of minutes from Central Station, and well worth a call. It's a massive pub which looks deceptively small on the outside with a square central bar which serves seating on all four sides. Here there was plenty of beer choice with all sorts of strengths and styles. I chose a stout from Sonnet 43, a new brewery to me, of Co. Durham and was pleasantly surprised - a really mellow taste that brought out the background flavours in the beer excellently.

People who know me may have heard me wax lyrically about 'The Central' at Gateshead, the pub at the south side of the High Level bridge. So after a quick trek over the river it was a chance to revisit and see whether my enthusiasm had been misplaced. I was  not disappointed, it was just how I remembered it, a friendly pub, long and thin but geared for the real ale drinker. Around eight beers were on offer, but strangely the only one new to me was from Cornwall, Skinners ' Cornish Trawler'. It was good, but not exceptional, though the pub and the craic made up for that. Back over the bridge and into the 'Bridge Hotel' in the city. If you like your Yorkshire beers this could be the place for you in the next few days, with what appears to be an Ossett Brewery takeover. Both some of their beers and plenty from the Rat Brewery are due on the bar. I opted for the house beer, 'High Level Ale' from Hadrian, which unfortunately was a bit too malty for me, but overhearing the landlord, sounded to have been brewed to his taste.

My next stop was another of the must visit Newcastle pubs. 'Bacchus' is a short walk away and generally has  a wide range of beers from near and far. Not so on this occasion when the pub had been taken over by the beers from the 'Highland Brewery' with what appeared to be their whole range on offer. A good way to scoop the beers but not quite what I expected as I usually find some interesting breweries here. Fortunately, a fellow ticker told me about the 'Lady Grey' just round the corner, a pub I had never heard of, let alone visited. A bit on the foody side it did have a decent selection of beers on offer though, and I settled down with Tempest 'Cascadian', a nice hoppy alternative to the maltier beer I had tried earlier.  Too soon it was time to return to the Metro and back to Whitley Bay.

As usual, Newcastle was an  excellent place to sample  a few beers and visit some excellent pubs, it was just a shame that I could not find some of the newer breweries that have recently appeared in the area. Never mind, will just have to visit again!!!