Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Barnsley Beer Festival (May 2-5)

Barnsley Beer Festival kicks off on Friday from noon.
The event, which will feature more than 70 real ales, is based at the Elsecar Heritage Railway.
The theme, topically, is the LNER (London and North Eastern Railway), so expect beers from near and far.
The location is also very handy transport-wise, about ten-minutes (steepish) downhill from Elsecar Railway Station. It's on the Leeds/Huddersfield to Sheffield line, but check the timetable first to make sure it's a stopping service.
Alternatively, take the frequent 66 bus from Barnsley Interchange, which I think drops you outside the venue.
The festival runs until 7PM on Bank Holiday Monday.
Good luck to everyone at Barnsley CAMRA and thank you to Nigel Croft (and the BFH) for providing the poster image.  
Link to beer list:
http://www.barnsleycamra.org.uk/beerfestival/Beer_Wish_List_140427.pdf

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Beer in the wood is on the up

The Bloke from Hull offers a fascinating insight into the world of a cooper:

The ancient trade of making traditional casks from wooden staves for beer, wine, cider and spirits took on a new lease of life last year when Master Cooper Alastair Simms returned to God’s Own County to establish the White Rose Cooperage Ltd on the Thorp Arch Estate near Wetherby. 
Alastair, the last remaining Master Cooper, who, together with three Journeyman Coopers, preserves the ancient craft of making wooden casks bound by metal hoops for the brewing industry.
Born in Masham, North Yorkshire, Alastair became an apprentice cooper at Theakston’s Brewery in his home town in May 1979. Following a six-month trial period he signed his indentures and went on to undertake his four-year apprenticeship under the supervision of Master Cooper Clive Hollis. 
He successfully completed his training in 1983 with the “trussing in” ceremony and became a Journeyman Cooper. In 1994 he became a Master Cooper following the completion of his training of Peter Coates as a Journeyman Cooper. 
A year later, after sixteen years at Theakston’s, Alastair moved to Wadworth Brewery at Devises where he took over from the retiring Eddy Hodder. Meanwhile, at Theakston’s Clive Hollis passed away and his apprentice Jonathan Manby completed his apprenticeship under the guidance of Alastair in 1999. 
And 11 years later in 2010 he was admitted as a Liveryman to the Worshipful Company of Coopers which dates back over five hundred years.
Master Coopr Alastair Simms
After 18 years at Wadworth, Alastair returned to his native Yorkshire to establish White Rose Cooperage at Thorp Arch on his 50th birthday in May 2013 as the country’s only independent commercial cooper. 
When he began back in the 1970s, there were still around one hundred coopers in the UK but the advent of metal casks in the 1960s saw numbers decline resulting in the craft almost fading away but for the handful of skilled craftsmen existing today.
However, the amazing growth in numbers of real ale microbreweries in Britain as a whole and Yorkshire in particular has meant that there is hope and the revival of demand for wooden casks is already taking place. 
Leading the way are Maureen Shaw and Neil Midgley at The Junction pub in Castleford, West Yorkshire where only wooden casks are now used for real ale. 
After purchasing the run down, empty, failed pubco pub, not only have they transformed it into a wonderful traditional local with many unique features but have backed it up with the gradual introduction of wooden casks. Now “wood only” is their mantra and people are taking notice of this revolution. 
Neil and Maureen have invested in over 100 casks from Alastair and have around 10 local breweries supplying beers in the wood on a regular basis. The first and most regular supplier is Simon Bolderson and his Ridgeside brewery located in Leeds. 
Together, the pub and the breweries have proved that great beer can have that extra dimension if stored in wood. They have experimented with spirit casks and have also had great success with “Ageing in Wood”. 
Not only do wooden casks add a depth of taste to the stronger, darker beers which metal casks cannot provide but successful recent trials with lighter beers also show that they certainly add that something extra to them too.
Several progressive brewers in Yorkshire and a few from around the country have also take note of this great revival and have already purchased casks or placed orders from White Rose Cooperage. Alastair has also carried out contracts and orders from more pubs (e.g. Engineers Arms at Henlow), traditional cider makers and produces custom made bespoke furniture. From the beer and cider perspective, perhaps the most interesting creations are the glass head casks which enable the viewing of the activity and changes that occur when traditional real ales are clarified in wooden casks.
Alastair is hoping to take on an apprentice and wife Julie also plans to join the business. The long-term aim is to buy a few acres of land to build a cooperage and visitor centre so people can learn about this historic trade and watch coopers at work.
Back to the future - long may it continue.

Further information for Alastair can be found at
and on The Junction's website:

Friday, April 25, 2014

Its Festival Weekend !!

It is that weekend which has been eagerly anticipated by the drinkers of Huddersfield. We do not have one beer festival this weekend, but two. There is the Sportsman Fifth Birthday celebration at one end of town and at the other the Rat and Ratchet festival. I managed a sneak preview of both yesterday.
I started at the Sportsman. They promise 8 beers on the bar, all from local breweries, and all specials for the occasion. They are also advertising music and food, at various times over the weekend should this be your thing. But I was there for the beer, so what did I find ?

I started my trip down the bar with Briggs Signature Ales 'Five Down', a 3.7% dry hopped special. It was a good starting beer, light coloured, pleasantly hopped but not overly aggressive, an excellent session beer. I followed this with its stablemate Mallinsons 'V - The Fifth', another dry hopper and what one would expect from a Mallys beer. Another winner.

Time for a change of colour. Golcar 'Pentium Mild' was what it said. Darker and stronger at 4.3%, and a little disappointing. I had hoped for more flavour but is seemed a little bland to my taste. Anyway there were other beers to sample so next up was the Sportsman's own addition to the festival called 'Quaff' . Another 3.9% light beer and although pleasant was not exceptional. Empire 'Sports/sam' was a bit stronger but still light and hoppy, and a typical Empire beer.(Its strange to think that we can now identify local breweries by their taste alone !)

Riverhead 'Pink Grapefruit' came in at 5.5%, and promised much in the way of flavour, but I failed to get any of the promised grapefruit taste sadly unless this was because I had the first beer from the barrel.Anyway two beers to go - Outstanding and Sportsman had collaborated over '5' - a 5% light beer and very drinkable but not especially hoppy but none the worse for that. My last beer was possibly the best of the day though. Nook 'Hoppy Fifth' was only 3.8% and for some reason I had missed it on my trip down the bar. I was very impressed by the light beer, there was certainly some bitterness and hoppiness there, but balanced by a very pleasant malty background. I was almost tempted to have a second.

Good luck Sam and congratulations from all at a 'Swift One'. It does not seem 5 years since the doors opened at the Sportsman, and it has become a firm fixture on the Huddersfield beer scene having won many accolades along the way.

I then made my way along to The Rat to see what they could offer for their festival. They started their event last evening with a meet the brewer event and a tutored beer tasting, and today the festival proper starts with a bar full of Rat beers with plenty of old favourites rubbing shoulders with new beers. There are beers to suit all tastes (even Julie's !!) ranging from traditional beer styles to Imperial Russian Stouts, from the weak to the strong and from the almost see though to the very dark. The full list is available on our facebook page but all the beers are not on the bar at once.

I  particularly wanted to try the 'Giant Rat'. I must admit I had not read the small print, as I expected a strong beer. It is actually a 3.8% English style bitter, named after the local rugby team, and an excellent example of its style - hopped with Bramling Cross - my favourite English hop. The strong beer turned out to be 'Mutant Rat', at 5% 'White Rat's  bigger brother and if you like White Rat I expect you will love this. Bursting with Amarillo hops.'Maori Mouse' is 3.6% Southern Hemisphere hopped beer, subtle and very drinkable, 'Rata Nui' is 5% and similar but using different hops and more aggressively hoppy.

For the dark beer drinker 'Dirty Rat', 'Black Rat' and 'Mother Rat' are all promised, being a mild, a porter and a milk stout respectively. I tried the Mother Rat but found it a bit sweet for my taste.

There is 'A Monkey' as well. Not a Rat name - well a bit of Cockney slang here. It is the Rat's 500th brew. A 6.0% red ale with lots of flavour, and just to tempt us a little more, some of it has been sent off to be aged in whisky casks for a later date. That will be worth waiting for.

The festival starts at midday today and goes on all weekend, so you will have plenty of time to get down and try all that is on offer.

Having seen the weather forecast it seems just the way to idle your weekend away. May see you there. 

 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Reminders and other news


This is just a quick reminder about two beer festivals which start in Huddersfield town centre tomorrow (Thursday).
The Sportsman on St John's Road is celebrating its fifth birthday with celebratory beers from local brewers like Summer Wine, Empire and Golcar.
And The Rat and Ratchet on Chapel Hill is staging its third annual Rat Inn-Fest with 20 plus ales. It is hosting a meet the brewer tutored beer preview at 7pm on Thursday. The festival kicks off in earnest on Friday.
Check out these link to a previous post for more details:
http://www.aswiftone.com/2014/03/a-spring-shower-of-beer-festivals.html
http://www.aswiftone.com/2014/03/sportsman-to-celebrate-fifth-anniversary.html
http://www.aswiftone.com/2014/03/fancy-brew-punslinger.html
In other news I had a very enjoyable trip on Easter Monday to two other beer festivals.
My highlights at The Junction's beers in the wood festival in Castleford were Elland's 1872 Porter, aged for 12 months in a whisky cask, and Five Towns St George's Ale.
I also made it to the final stages of The Old No.7's Easter beer and cider festival in Barnsley where I stumbled across a new beer. To be precise, Hooded Ram Brewery's Fat Ram Colonial Not So Pale Ale, 4.5%.
The tasting notes revealed the beer from the Ilse of Man outfit was an "American Pale Ale which turned out to be darker than intended. Hops from America and Australia with British Malt provide a full malt feel and a big hop finish".
It lived up to the billing and lingered on the palate long after the train home. I complimented the brewery via twitter and they told me: "They are our first beers off the Ilse of Man!!"
It turned out they'd had six beers on at the Old No.7 festival as had compatriots Bushy's Brewery.
It's a real pity that I didn't get to this festival sooner, which also featured beers from various Barnsley breweries.
The moral of this (Manx) tale is to not to leave beer festivals until the last minute!

Monday, April 21, 2014

The summer sound of bat on ball

Scholes Cricket Club
They came clad in padded jackets, wore hats and gloves, and had blankets draped over their knees for the start of our summer sport.
But I've got a soft-spot for cricket, particularly in this neck of the woods as I owe it a real ale debt. 
A long walk on sultry day in Slaithwaite in May 2005 led me into the pavilion in search of refreshment. There I found a good ale on the bar and I have been coming back to the Drakes League every year since.
So on Saturday I took in two games on opening day, plus a few pints.
Now conditions at the home of champions Shepley CC were far from summery. The opening paragraph of my post isn't exaggerated but true.
I cut across the square before a ball was bowled and headed for the glazed clubhouse where I hoped they would be serving Elland. Had weather forecasting been an exact science I think the Shepley steward put on a nine of warming 1872 Porter.
Shepley CC and its Elland connection
But instead he opted for Elland's Bargee, a 3.8% session bitter.
Looking back at a Shepley post Will wrote on here five years ago, Bargee appears to be a popular choice in the club's now newly decorated bar.
I ordered a pint (£2.90) of this pleasing beer and whiled away an hour watching Shepley bat.
The bus timetable dictated I had to then catch a bus to New Mill for the short but steep walk up to Scholes Cricket Club.
Here, like last year, they had three handpulls on. I was directed by one of the helpful committee members to Scarborough Brewery's Chinook. This was only the second Scarborough beer I'd had and it was pure class in a glass. I might have to take myself off to Yorkshire County Cricket's August HQ in search of more of their beers and some of North Riding's!
Next I tried what will be the permanent house beer.
JW Lees MPA, 3.7%, was an easy sessioner but my palate was still singing with the chinook, which was likened to a Mallinsons beer.
I finished with with Grainstore's malty Triple B, which helped me brave the elements outside. All three beers were in good nick and a bargain at £2.50 a pint. Nearly as good value for money as the bakewell malteser cake also on sale in the clubhouse, which has something for everyone.
So ended a fine start to the season. 
But I think I'll alter the format a bit this year by reviewing some of the pubs near to the grounds to see what they have to offer, and in the vain hope someone can simply explain the Duckworth-Lewis (rain- affected) method to me (whether sober or inebriated).

Friday, April 18, 2014

Leeds Continued - part 2

I left you a little while ago in the Leeds Brewery Tap. Next port of call was a pub I had not visited for six years when I had my retirement do there. And how it has changed ! 'The Scarborough Taps' (just across the road from the railway station used to be a pub that seemed to be full of male office workers who hogged the  bar and drank copious amounts of Tetleys. Now all has changed - Tetleys is still on the bar, but is not the  beer it was. The pub is light, airy and full of comfortable seating and its clientele seems a mixture of suits, travellers and lots of 'ladies that lunch'. The interior has changed but I could not quite work out how but certainly for the better. And since it is part of the Nicholsons group, it was part of their beer festival.

I managed to lay my hands on the festival programme here and selected another couple of beers from the list. There were fifty available thoughout the festival, with around eight on the bar here. Adnams 'South Town' and Peerless ' Down Under' were the choices here. The latter being excellent with a good blend of southern hemisphere hops. The former again being southern hopped but a red ale, which gave it a more of nutty taste.

The Bar In Tapped
Anyway time and beer waits for no man. So it was onwards and outwards again. This time to 'Tapped' on Boar Lane. My first attempt to find it was fruitless, but I must have walked straight past without realising as it is a pretty imposing sight. And that is just the exterior. Inside it is something totally different for the city. It has lots of brewing paraphenalia on one wall and a brass fronted bar on the other. I was a little concerned as I could see no hand pulls but once my eyes had become accustomed to the lighting I found a list of draught beers on the wall to the right hand side of the bar. I think twelve in all. I had really hoped for a beer from their sister brewery in Sheffield but was out of luck. There were plenty of Yorkshire beers on offer, I eschewed the Mallinsons in favour of Atom 'Camomile' which was a tea infused beer appaently. Pleasant but not exceptional. And again £1.75 a half.

Next up was Mr Foleys Ale House on the Headrow. Another pub that has been facelifted since my last visit. In fact this had been done earlier in the week and included a new bar, new beer lines, and a new doormat of which the staff appeared unusually proud. Being a York Brewery pub there were 4 of their beers on offer, but I overlooked these and instead opted for Roosters 'Revolution ' and the  beer with the best name of the year 'Misunderstood Starfish' from 4 Thorns. Both decent beers but I was still itching for more festival beers and I was just across the road from another Nicholsons pub.

'The Victoria Family and Commercial' is on Great George St just behind the General Infirmary, and is a wonderful building. A perfect antidote to the modern bars that have recently sprung up in the city. This is all dark wood, high ceilings and small intimate booths. And around 10 hand pulls with festival beers.
I selected Brains 'Rye Catcher' - a mistake. It was either running off or a very weird beer, or both. Luckily I found Trumans 'Tom Ditto IPA' on the bar as well and this was very pleasant, very fruity and according to the list a collaboration between the brewery and writer Danny Wallace. It even included a new hop from the USA which is not even named yet.

By this time the beer meter was showing close to full, and although I knew there were other pubs to visit, I did not feel this was the day to do it. But having ignored the promise of Leeds for some time, it will not be too long before I return and check out the rest of those I missed out and revisit those I especially enjoyed.

Revisiting Leeds - two years on (part one)

One of the cities I seem not to visit often is Leeds. In fact, checking earlier posts on 'A Swift One' shows it was a couple of years since I, personally, visited there and wrote about it. Yesterday seemed to be a good day to redress the balance and take a look at some of my old favourite pubs and catch up with some of the new kids on the block.

As those of you who know me are already aware, I like to combine my beer trips with a bit of 'bus bashing' so my first call is usually The Palace down by the bus station just off Kirkgate. I have written about here before, and will not repeat myself except to say that on this visit I encountered a beer festival - in fact a festival that covered all the Nicholsons pubs and since there are three in the city, led me to rearrange my route a little to check out as many beers as I could.

The arrangement here was similar to that of Wetherspoons beer festivals, with the beers being available on the bar at the respective pubs, and with several specials brewed specially for the festivals. I did discover that thirds of a pint were available - but not until the third pub - and unlike 'Spoons - the prices were a little on the steep sid e. I started with Acorn ' Dead Gold' a 4.5% special, and followed this with Brains 'Three C-Son' brewed on their test plant. A pleasant version of the style, with plenty of fruit flavour and a good hop hit from the trio of American hops used. I saw flyers about the festival but did not get a programme here.

My next visit was the 'Duck And Drake' on New York St. This had changed a bit since my previous visit. And the door has moved - to my confusion as I thought the pub was closed. The pub still has its bare boards and ale house feel but a very knowledgable landlord and strangely the only other customer when I visited was from Huddersfield ! Sadly the Ossett beer I wanted to sample was unavailable for line cleaning but there was plenty of other choice, mostly sourced from Yorkshire breweries, but sadly from my point of view no 'ticks'. The Ossett 'By George' I sampled here was in good form however.

Plenty of more pubs to try - so it was onwards and upwards to New Station St, and the 'Friends Of Ham'. A pub I had heard good things about from my librarian namesake and I was keen to try. The bar itself is at street level and is fairly small but there is a large seating area downstairs. A 'pub' - I use the term loosely - that seems to pride itself on its eclectic food choice and choice of interesting beers. There are 3 pumps available and they do serve thirds. I opted for a Magic Rock/Hawkshead collaboration ' The Illusionist'. It was a 3.5% dark beer but allegedly a pale ale. Confused - you bet I was. But it was a pretty decent beer as would be expected from two class breweries. I followed this with a third of Fell Brewery 'Tinderbox IPA' which was a well crafted beer from a brewery I rarely encounter.

Fortunately this was just round the corner from my next port of call. The 'Leeds Brewery Tap' is somewhat similar to 'Ham' and appears to be trying to attract the same clientele, with a good food menu. Here the beer range is weighted towards the breweries own beers as would be expected. I chose a half of Brass Castle 'Burn Out'. Decent but not quite to my taste, neither was the cost which I found a bit steep at £1.75, but I was in the 'posher bit' of Leeds. Time for an advert break.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A champion beer of Britain in the wood

 Junction landlord's Neil Midgley's wooden casks. Image: BFH
One of the first posts I wrote for this blog was about a "beers in the wood" festival in Castleford.
Well a year has gone by and The Junction is now staging its 2014 event from noon on Friday (tomorrow) to late on Sunday.
And landlord Neil Midgley and landlady Maureen Shaw have put together another fine Bank Holiday selection.
There are beers from pub favourites Ridgeside, Five Towns, Walls and Old Bear.
Wentworth, Axholme and North Yorkshire Brewery also feature.
But the one that caught my eye was the champion beer of Britain, Elland's 1872 porter, available in both wine and whisky casks.
Neil has had the beer in a wine cask for about three months. He also managed to get a pin of the championship winning gyle, and that has been in a hogshead whisky cask for longer.
And if you like the idea of beers from the wood then raffle tickets will be on sale during the festival to become a cooper for a day.  
The other thing that impressed me about this ale event was the mix of beers styles. I would've expected a top-heavy stock of pales given that summer is allegedly round the corner. But milk stouts and porters are well represented. 
So what what better way to spend the Easter Holidays than enjoying a few dark beers before the pale brigade start invading our pubs, not that I'm complaining much because I'm a hophead for about 75% of the year!
Getting there:
The Junction is situated on Carlton Street in Castleford town centre. It is an actual two-minute walk from Castleford railway station.
The festival may run into Monday, which is good news for rugby league fans attending the Castleford Tigers and Warrington Wolves game.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Coach and Horses reopens

The 'Bloke from Hull' lets us know that The Coach and Horses at Linthwaite will reopen tomorrow night (Wednesday) under the care of Jonny Holmes and Michelle. 

Those of us who know Jonny have been waiting with anticipation for this announcement, he has been a champion of real ale and real pubs, initially in the Colne Valley at The Swan at Crimble, and the Commercial at Slaithwaite before changing valleys and helping to set up Brambles at Holmfirth. 

No doubt a place to check out in the none too distant future.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Three Pigeons Refreshed

A chronological refurbishment programme is underway at the Ossett estate it seems. In September we saw ratification in Huddersfield (pub 2) and last night it was histoplasmosis eradication in Halifax (pub 3).


The Three Pigeons once had the distinction of winning the English Heritage/CAMRA Conservation Pub award for one of the best art deco interiors in the country and with it the burden of responsibility.


That was eight years ago now and the 'pigs' has frankly had a bumpy ride through recession, not to mention the odd CGAS manager. Definitely time for a complete moult then.


Although a very nice tidy up, highlight of the evening was the unveiling of the former storeroom at the back of the pub (above). This tiny addition has been stylishly converted and with its cast iron stove will be the snuggest of snugs come winter.


The additional space now means six distinct drinking areas are available to the visiting hostel historian, each creating it's own atmosphere and providing a drinking experience quite unlike any other locally.


Outdoors and the once blackened stonework has been extensively cleaned, about time you might think - but not everyone's happy. The local council have approached the brewery about darkening the building again as apparently it's not in keeping. Actually Calderdale, it's called inn keeping, and revolves around attracting custom in order to make a living. Seriously!


Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Hudds' old & new pubs of the year

The King's Head is Huddersfield CAMRA's pub of the year. Image Steve Goodwill
Sitting in The Sportsman scoffing a brisket sarnie, I learnt the pub had lost its three-year stranglehold on Huddersfield CAMRA's Pub of The Year title.
I was on Sunday's 'First' group trip of town pubs - more of this in a later post - when tour leader Steve Goodwill said we would soon be off to the newly crowned King's Head.
But before we take the short trip under the viaduct to Huddersfield Railway Station, first a quick word about the outgoing champ.

The outgoing champ: The Sportsman. 
There was a good selection on the bar when we walked through the door on Sunday. But the beer that caught my eye was the star of the show at Huddersfield Oktoberfest 2013, Mallinsons Nelson Sauvin, 3.8%.
I missed that beer at last year's festival so I wasn't going to make the same mistake twice. It was without doubt, and there were some strong contenders on Sunday, my beer of the day.
I followed it up with a slightly weaker strength pale beer, Moor Top from Buxton at 3.6%. In hindsight, I drunk these two beers the wrong way round. I failed to pick up the advertised citrus and grapefruit notes of the latter because my taste buds were still wrapped around the NZ hop of the former.
So after a pint and some lunch we headed of to the 'Jimi Hendrix' signed pub on the station.
Here I spotted beers, among others, from Pictish, Golcar, Abbeydale, Magic Rock and Wood Street Brewery.
The last two were side by side and had a connection. Magic Rock's Stuart Ross formerly brewed for Crown Brewery, which used to work out of the Hillsborough Hotel, while the newish Wood Street Brewery is named after the road that runs down the side of the pub.
I went for the Sheffield outfit's Ebony Stout, 5%, which was a perhaps was a pretty odd choice for my third beer out. But maybe it was conditioning as the King's Head is always my final stop for dark beer on the way home.
So, given that my beer radar was a bit wonky I shall leave you in the more expert hands of Ale Talk editor Bob Tomlinson.
Bob said: "I can confirm that the King's Head (formerly The Tavern) is Huddersfield CAMRA's Pub of the Year. 
"The Monkey Club is the Club of the Year and the Rat & Ratchet is the Cider Pub of the Year.
"There was a lot of competition from the main town centre pubs and the vote was fairly evenly spread out, but when it went to a second vote the King's Head won outright.
"A number of factors went in its favour. It is a regular entry in the Good Beer Guide and has won a number of pub of the season awards – a good pedigree to start with. 
"It serves a wide section of the community and is not secular like some pubs. The beer range encompasses a selection of national, regional and local ales providing a range for both beer novices and aficionados. 
"The beers are always served with good grace and in tip top condition by attentive and willing staff.
"There is handpumped real cider and occasionally a perry to supplement the beers. Food is basic and is typical travellers and workman’s fare – sandwiches and pies.
"The King's Head is a grade II listed building which restricts extensive conversion work to the interior of the pub. The décor is a strange mixture of late Victorian and late 70’s style, with the mosaic floor pattern the most prominent feature. 
"Bruce Travis, the licensee, has secured funding from the railway heritage fund to start restoration of the side room, toilets and the ceiling to reveal the ornate Victoria roof.
"So, these are just a few comments why it was awarded Pub of the Year 2014."
Postscript:
Many thanks to Bob for giving us the inside track on the judging process. 
And congratulations to Bruce & staff on taking the crown.
Long live The King!

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The 'Spoons Festival gets a Bit Fruity !!

I have previously spoken about the current Wetherspoons festival, which continues until this weekend, and since there are 50 beers available throughout, I still keep coming across new beers as they appear on our local bars. This weekend seems to have had a surfeit of 'weird' beers though. Let me draw your attention to a few.

I will kick off with Batemans 'Springtime Oatmeal Biscuit'. The pump clip is a clue - it has a pile of oatmeal biscuits on it. Not that I have any issue with them per se, I just don't want them in my beer. Raw cane sugar, oats and malted barley combine to give a sickly sweet concoction that masquerades as a beer. Not for me I must confess.

Saltaire 'Juniper Rye' sounded promising. Another let down. There are some decent hops here but they are masked by the taste of malted rye, and whole juniper berries, making another odd tasting beer. Thank goodness I did not order a pint.

Surely my next choice would be better. Sadly my choosing was astray again. This time it was partly my fault though. The pump clip does say that Green Jack 'Red Herring' is a smoked beer - a style I dislike with a passion - and it is a very smoky beer. I missed that vital part of information so the oak and beech smoked malts in this red beer came as a bit of shock. Another catastrophy.

By this time I was getting desperate for some hop taste, and I still had a couple more beers to try.I read the tasting notes on the Lancaster 'Raspberry Rose'. Wheat and Slovenian hops with the subtle spring hint of raspberries. If this is what a 'hint' tastes like...well ?? At least I was getting my five a day in without leaving the bar !

I eschewed the Elgoods 'Plum Porter'. By this time I had learned my lesson. Daleside 'Sea Fever' had a couple of decent hops in it, and thankfully, did taste of hops, and was clean and refreshing without a suggestion of any odd flavours. It made my day. 

Of course there will be drinkers out there who will love the beers that I disliked otherwise they would not be brewed, and of course, I was unlucky to find all these beers in the same pub at the same time. One I could overlook - five was a step too far for me. Just wished I could have found the Hawkshead 'El Dorado' rumoured to be the best beer at the festival. 

Monday, April 07, 2014

The Nook stages a grand depart of beer

Allez, Allez to The Nook beer festival
If you have been living under a rock for the past few months then it may have escaped your notice that the Tour de France will roll through Yorkshire this summer.
Those towns, cities and businesses lining the route look set for an economic bonanza when the world's greatest cycle race hurtles through in early July.
Beer-wise we've already seen some enterprising efforts from Little Valley's Stage Winner beer dedicated to British cycling trailblazer Brian Robinson to five-time Tour winner Bernard Hinault holding a pint aloft in The Robin Hood in Cragg Vale.
But a Holmfirth pub is getting to the start line slightly early on Thursday with a Tour de France themed beer festival over four days.
Rather than me picking out some cycling themes beers from the list, we thought we would ask The Nook Brewhouse's office manager Sam Parker to give us the low-down on its event via an email Q&A.
Ale Ambler: I can see from your festival poster and some of the beers on the list, that the Tour de France is the theme of this Spring beer festival. Please can you tell us how you went about sourcing the beers and are there any particular ales you are looking forward to trying?


Sam Parker: We have good relationships with many breweries, mainly around Yorkshire and the North West, who we swap casks with regularly so all the beers we source for our festivals are swapped.
Trying to find Tour de France or cycling themed beers has been a little tricky this early in the year as many breweries are brewing specials to coincide with the main event in July but we have a few that I am looking forward to trying. Particularly Pedal Power from Harrogate and Allgates’ Yellow Jersey I’m also looking forward to trying beers from some new breweries and breweries that are new to our festival like Squawk Brewing Co and Trouser Town IPA from The Hebden Bridge Brewing Co.

AA: Following on from that, please you tell us how big a deal it will be for your pub when the world's greatest bike race comes to Holmfirth in July?

SP: It’s a really big deal having such big sporting event pass through your town. I think it’s a bit like Fifa announcing they are going to hold the world cup final at the local recreation ground and they are giving the tickets away for free. The Tour de France is the biggest free sporting event in the world and even for people who aren’t cycling fans It will be spectacle and an event they will want to say they were there. Hopefully all the die hard fans who will be coming from all around the world will want to watch the race with a pint of real Yorkshire ale.

AA: What will you be planning for race day?

SP: Obviously we will be very busy in our two brewery taps The Nook and Carniceria and I think it’s fair to say we will serve quite a bit of beer over both bars but we are also hoping to have a bar right next to the route. 
I went to see the location the other day and it will be a great vantage point for the crowd who will be able to see the riders pass by right by them then there will be great views across to the opposite hillside as the peloton climbs up to Holme Moss summit. There are also events happening all weekend in the centre of Holmfirth that we will be involved with like a special Food and Drink Festival and the regular Farmers Market.

AA: Turning back to this week's festival, I note you will have quite a few ciders on. I'm trying to improve my woeful cider knowledge, what can you tell me about the range of ciders you will have on?

SP: The ciders at our festival are both made By local producers Pure North from Deanhouse and The Little Badger Cider Co from Brockholes both within about three miles. Again we have great relationships with both producers.
Pure North create wonderful natural ciders from apples grown in their own orchard and this year we will have, amongst others, the brand new Appily Honley: a pale light cider full of fresh apple flavours made with a blend of five apples. 
Little Badger specialise in ciders flavoured with exotic fruits like mango and we will have their Holme Moss Monster Mango which may be tricky to say after you had a few.
Picture courtesy of The Nook Brewhouse
Post script: Many thanks to Sam for the insight into The Nook's Spring Beer Festival, which runs from Thursday, April 10 to Sunday, April 13. The pub is on Victoria Square, Holmfirth, HD9 2DN
Anyone wanting to know the inside track on Little Valley's Tour beer should read Leigh Linley's post on the subject:

Friday, April 04, 2014

A question & answer session with Abbeydale Brewery's sales chief

Image courtesy of Abbeydale Brewery
Abbeydale Brewery director Dan Baxter has kindly been in touch to answer some questions thrown up by my recent trip to the Sheffielder's latest enterprise, The Devonshire Cat.
So as a companion piece to my earlier trip report here is a question and answer session with the sales manager and brewer.
Ale Ambler (AA): When & why did you take over the Dev Cat on Wellington Street?

Dan Baxter (DB): We took over the Devonshire Cat from January 3, 2014. Abbeydale are always on the lookout for other pubs to buy but we are very specific on the premises. We'd always look at free hold leases ie. not tied to any pub co. & any place that has a good reputation. The fact that Dev Cat is a city centre venue was the icing on the cake. 

AA: What is the usual mix of Abbeydale/Dr Mortons and guests on the bar. I didn't see any Acorn specials which I normally associate with the pub?

DBThe mix of cask beers is relatively simple. I gather all "guest" beers through swapping with other breweries. It's a good business model. Some local breweries don't swap though so unfortunately we couldn't keep all the previous range on.
Our Deception has always been a strong seller so it made sense to keep that on. The Devonshire Cat Bitter (previously Bradfield Brown Cow Bitter) we replaced with our best bitter Daily Bread and replaced Thornbridge Jaipur with our Absolution.

We set up a deal with Blue Bee Brewery where we swap beer every week in order to keep their Lustin' for Stout on which is re-badged as Devonshire Cat Stout. So, four "house" beers - three of which are our own. 
As for Acorn, we swap often and take all their new IPAs that they brew but ultimately that has freed up another guest pump for us so they have eight rotating guest pumps now & we can showcase our own weekly Abbeydale/Dr. Morton's specials.

AA: One beer that caught my eye was your first keg beer, Pale Ale #1. I loved it & I'm well & truly a cask man. Please can you tell me why you ventured into the keg market & what's in the beer?

DB: We call it "craft keg" which for some reason rubs a lot of CAMRA folk up the wrong way. They say "What's craft anyway!" My response so far has been, "Anything which is hand made." It may even be in the dictionary saying something similar. 
It's also unfiltered meaning we've kept all the impurities (hop, yeast & protein matter) & when dispensed at lower temp will appear hazy.
The fact that it's Keg just distinguishes how it's packaged. It's the same beer, the only difference is how it's dispensed in the pubs cellar using Co2. 
We transfer beer out of fermenter, into a "Bright beer tank" (the same as we do with cask intended beer) but allow it to lager for 14 days on hops. Thus increasing the amount of dissolved Co2. Superior shelf-life aside, reason for kegging? Cos it's cool! We now have an additional product to sell to existing customers who may like to replace something on their bar with a more local alternative.

AA:  Finally, What are your plans for the pub, I've heard talk of a refit?

DB: Yes, we will be making some small changes here and there. We are currently planing a complete bar re-fit in an attempt to tidy up the keg offering.

Post script: Many thanks to Dan for taking time out to answer my questions. Here is a link to the earlier post on The Devonshire Cat:

A trip to Abbeydale's Devonshire Cat

The Devonshire Cat, Wellington Street, Sheffield, S1 4HG
A successful Sheffield mission buying snooker tickets and Waterall's pork pies left me standing in The Moor considering my beer options.
Should I turn left for The Rutland Arms on Brown Street (been there recently) or plough onwards to The Broadfield on Abbeydale Road (not enough time available to do this acclaimed pub justice)?
But the Abbeydale thought planted a seed in my mind. I recalled the brewery has taken over The Devonshire Cat on nearby Wellington Street.
So I turned right through the demolition site and headed for the Devonshire Quarter, aka 'studentland'.
Now, I should state I have no problem with students, I was one myself many moons ago, but I make reference to it because these glass-fronted large-scale pubs are a different drinking experience to a Kelham Island crawl.
I figured I hadn't been in the Dev Cat for many months, possibly a year or two, so I was keen to see what Abbeydale had done with it.
On the surface it looked pretty much as I remembered, but on closer inspection there were some subtle changes (beer range/decor/menu). 
A selection of Dr Morton's clips
As I was only wanting a quiet session I stuck to Abbeydale beers rather than the guests (Blakemere's Hit & Run, Derby's Hop 'til you Drop etc).
First came the Devonshire Cat Bitter, which through its colour and taste suggested this was Abbeydale's own Daily Bread. The bar staff confirmed this and were perfectly open about a re-badge, which I think is the right way.
As I was paying up I caught sight of a chalkboard, which immediately grabbed my attention.
A half of Abbeydale's first kegged beer

It said: "Pale Ale #1, Abbeydale's first keg beer." So I was keen to try that next. Now, I'm traditionally a cask ale man but I'm not blinkered about keg. I tend to prefer the safer four percenters, which bracket this beer was in,  rather than the experimental high ABV key keg efforts.
The beer was cool, got tastier as it warmed up a little and turned out to be the best of the three beers I sampled there last Saturday.
It will be interesting to see if Abbeydale keep kegging or if this was just a toe in the water.
I finished with a pint of Abbeydale's North American IPA 6%.
At the time this three hopped Yankee beer split my opinion. First, I thought it was way too sweet, then it began to grow on me. Later I discovered the sweetness was deliberate.  
On their website - http://www.abbeydalebrewery.co.uk/ - Abbeydale say: "Columbus, Centennial and Mosaic hops flavour this IPA while Munich malt added in the malt grist gives a sweet and full-bodied mouthful.
"Dry hopping during the conditioning process means lemon and citrus flavours dominate this golden ale with floral and piney aromas in abundance. Munich malt has been added for extra sweetness giving a warm and full bodied mouthful."
Sunk halves of Dev Cat Bitter, Pale#1 with North American IPA
So ended a relaxed two-pint session. Sadly, there was no time for food, which the pub is well-known for. Maybe next time?
More information: The pub has a regularly updated Facebook page where you can find what's on the bar, tasting notes and links to upcoming events.
https://www.facebook.com/devcat
And here is a link to an email interview we've just done with Abbeydale's sales chief Dan Baxter:
http://www.aswiftone.com/2014/04/a-question-answer-session-with.html

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Spoons Fest - the first wave

As promised, I have managed to get around a few of the local 'Spoons outlets to see what I could find available from their Spring Beer Festival list. We are lucky that we can actually get to a few fairly easily round these parts, so I have been able to sample the wares in Huddersfield, Brighouse and Halifax, just for the price of a bus ticket.

There are plenty of new beers to me on the list - I think there are only 3 or 4 I have encountered previously - so I had loads of opportunity to find stuff that I had never drunk before. And a bonus for these festivals, the pubs serve 'thirds'  of a pint, provided that you buy 3 beers, and you are charged at the price of pint, a pretty sound idea when you see the strength of some of the stuff at the top end of the list.

The actual list is quite well set out, going from the weakest at no1 to the strongest at no50. And there is a hand pocket sized guide to the beers on offer with brief tasting notes, and details of the hops used in each beer.

Anyway enough of the background, what about the beers ?

The first beers seemed to drip into the pubs, and it seemed that the first beers on offer were those collaborations with foreign brewers, which was quite handy since those were the ones I really fancied trying.
I must admit to being fairly underwhelmed by some of them, I expected more from the Belgian 'Hildegaard's' written up as a fruity saison style - and the Spanish 'Fermin Red Ale' - both of which flattered to deceive and were fairly average. Likewise the Nogne 'Brown Ale' and the Australian 'Young Henrys Real Ale'. That was four of the collaborations and nothing there to tempt me to  try them again - thank goodness for thirds !

But then the IPA's started to appear on the scene. The USA 'Cigar City Sirens Song Session IPA' was a definite improvement, it should have been though when I checked out the hops used. A good dose of centennial, citra, columbus, mosaic, and summit certainly gave it a hop hit. I followed this up with Yeastie Boys 'Gunnamata Tea Leaf IPA', a bit hefty at 6.5% but again with a decent set of hops, this time being New Zealand varieties, but what made it stand out was the 'dry leafing' - the tea equivalent of dry hopping - with Earl Grey. It gave an interesting hoppy beer, with a dry finish and a slightly unusual taste.

From the rest of the list there have been plenty of beers I would call 'OK', not superb but nothing wrong with them but there are a couple which I have found exceptional. Banks 'Czech Mate' is brewed with three Czech hops and lager malt and at 4.4% is a very drinkable, refreshing beer that makes Carling taste like water - sorry, more like water ! And Brains 'White Out' is 4.0% and brewed in the style of a Belgian wit bier, but with a hit of American hops blended with the spicy background of a wit bier, should this be your thing.

There are still plenty to go at. I have yet to encounter the plum porter, the Surfing IPA, or  the Chocolate Slug Porter - hopefully without real slugs ! - but there is a quick turnover of beers and every day brings something new, so today could be the day. Who knows ?