Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Swansong Of Two Local Breweries - But Its Not All Bad News

Its been an odd week in the world of Timbo, mainly due to the weather scuppering my original plans to visit and write about the new(er) pubs of Bradford. It meant that I had to stay fairly local, but I did pick up some useful gen on local stuff on my travels that I thought I ought to share with you.

My first port of call was 'The Sportsman' on Wednesday. Here I found a Sportsman Brewery beer on the bar. Their '5' was a collaboration with Outstanding that had been produced for the pubs' fifth birthday and John, the landlord, had found a stray barrel hiding in a dark corner of the cellar.

A conversation about the beer revealed that the Sportsman kit had been mothballed and the brewery was effectively closed. The barrel on the bar being the last of the line. I cannot deny that they were not my favourite brewery but even then it is a shame that Town has lost one its breweries. 

When Friday came round I was laying in bed wondering how to spend my day when a reminder on my phone reminded me that this weekend was the Barge and Barrel Beer Festival. It seemed a good way to while away a couple of hours and was not too far from home.

The festival itself was held in the brewery at the pub. The barrels kept in the cold store, and the rest of the brewing equipment on show, and labelled so one could follow the brewing process. That sounds good I hear you say. Except this was another ex brew pub. Brewing here had finished a few months ago and their flagship beer made by Milltown in Huddersfield (admittedly to the Barge recipe). The closure put down to economic factors here. 

On the plus side I have heard on the grapevine that 'The Bridge' at Holmbridge has finally managed to get a couple of their test brews on the bar at the pub after a long wait. Again, weather conditions were not conducive to my tripping up the Holme Valley to check this out, but as soon as possible I will try and confirm this.

I have also heard that there will soon be bottled versions of Hand Drawn Monkey beers, as they have outsourced their bottling and kegging operations to another localish brewery.

So, after a spike in local breweries in the last couple of years, is this the start of a levelling out. No doubt time will tell. But we will be there to advise you too.   

Saturday, January 24, 2015

InterCity drinking: The between trains pint

The King's Head on Huddersfield Railway Station.
Picture: Steve Goodwill
Say what you like about the snow-induced travel chaos, for me it has opened up a window of unexpected ale opportunities.
My motor has been snowed or iced in for the best part of a week so I've been indebted to Northern Trains for getting me about in West and South Yorkshire.
On the way home from work I have to catch two trains, which has given me the chance of beer pit stops between trains.
My one-pint travel odyssey began on Monday in the King's Head where like Tim I heard about plans for the grand unveiling of the domed ceiling.
Now, this pub is among my favourites in Huddersfield and I often call in for a dark beer before heading home.
This time it was pretty much a pale affair with the exception of Golcar's Guthlacs Porter and Empire's Moonraker Mild, both of which I'd had recently.
So, with only 50 minutes on my travel clock,  I had to whittle down the choice to two beers from a host of Lancashire, Yorkshire and Derbyshire breweries.
First I chose a beer I hadn't had for a while, but which I think is a staple at The Kings Head, namely, Magic Rock's Ringmaster. I can't remember the last time I tried it, maybe before the name change or it could've been the NZ variant. But little did I know what I've been missing.
This 3.9% sessioner is described by the brewery as their flagship pale which you could drink every day. Sometime the tasting notes of breweries don't live up to the hype, but this was more of a tickable check list.
I would've been quite content to have had another half but I felt I had to move up through the gears.
My next beer was another that I hadn't had in ages - Thornbridge's Jaipur, 5.9%.
I try to judge beer on its merits and not be influenced by talk that Thornbridge, and particularly, Jaipur aren't as good as they used to be. But I have to say it wasn't a patch on the Magic Rock and was quite disappointing. There was nothing wrong with the way it was looked after as the King's has an excellent cellar, I just felt there was something lacking in taste for such a high ABV beer.
But I found it in spades on day two of my station to station trip. This time I found myself with a paltry 20 minutes between trains in Barnsley, which is just enough to hoof it to the Old No7 on Market Hill.
I have a soft sport for Acorn's New World hopped beers, which they do every couple of years or so. But I've missed quite a few of these 5% IPAs this time round, but I finally caught up with the eighth in the series, Rakau IPA.
Acorn's specials showcase New Zealand hops
Now, I'm not as knowledgeable as Tim about hop styles and characteristics so I had to look it up. According to Hopunion's website it's "well suited for new world styles where brash fruity character and big, but well constructed bitterness is desired" and its aroma is of "fresh orchard fruits, specifically apricot with some resinous pine needle characteristics are noted".
I'm not sure my palate is discerning enough to pick out "pine needle characteristics" but resinous, brash and fruity it sure was.
I didn't know it at the time but this was my beer of the week and pipped a firm favourite of mine (more of which later).
It wasn't a beer to rush but I just had time for a pint and to see it was alongside another Antipodean beer, AllGates Victoria.
AllGates Victoria is made from Ella hops
I came back the next night to try it and luckily it was still on the bar. This 4% pale showcases Ella hops, which were apparently first bred in Victoria, Australia in 2001. It's the more subtle sister of Galaxy, nice but not so much in your face.
Again this was a pleasant pint to savour and not one to clock-watch the timetable with.
As I said to Tim in a text, InterCity drinking is a bit like Twenty-20 cricket - all the highlights of the beer experience without the pleasure of watching a session unfold. In the quick form of the game have to be decisive and expect a dud innings once in a while.
But The Old No 7 was high up the batting averages, I scored a six and a four from the deliveries I faced. I just had enough time to glance at at the taunting pole before heading for the strange-looking pavilion that is Barnsley Interchange. 
Beers to come include, I think, another from AllGates and two from the consistently excellently North Riding, of Scarborough. So it should be worth checking out if you are in the area or can't face the interminably long journey from Huddersfield to Sheffield.
The final day of my Northern Rail weekly jaunt took me to Wakefield and Huddersfield.
I had a more leisurely 30 minutes this time before the train so I headed to Harry's Bar just off Westgate.
Harry's Bar, off Westgate and Smyth Street, Wakefield
This is my favourite pub in Wakefield city centre and I wish I could get here more often. So I had to make the most of my half-hour here. The choice was between Five Towns' Harry's Beer (on permanently and a big draw card here), a couple from Pendle, one I didn't catch, Revolutions Happy Families and Kelham Island's Pale Rider. I went for halves of the last two.
Now I am a big fan of Revolutions darker beers, particularly the Manifesto stout, but I've not seen much of their pale beers on cask lately.
The brewery's website tells me that Happy Families, 4.5%, is made with hops from three continents: England, USA and Australia. Incidentally, its name is inspired by Blancmange's debut album. The beer is straw-cloured and is designed to reflect "one big global, hoppy, happy family".
I have to say I didn't find it overly hoppy and was surpised by the ABV when I took a look at the pump clip. It drunk more of a light sessioner volume. Not an unpleasant beer, just a bit more subtle than I was expecting given the Yankee and Aussie hops in it.
My final half in Harry's was an old favourite, Kelham Island's Pale Rider, which I think was among the first real ales I ever drunk.
I haven't sampled it for a while and don't recall ever having it outside its Sheffield heartland. Unlike the Jaipur I'd had earlier in the week, I felt this beer lived up to my fond memories. It was excellent and only marginally eclipsed by Acorn's Rakau, which was the best beer I've drunk all week.
But I haven't quite done quite yet. I rounded the trip off where it began - in Huddersfield.
I had about 25 minutes to kill before heading home, so I nipped down to HDM Beer Shop on Wood Street, which is a short hop from the station.
HDM Beer Shop, Wood Street, Huddersfield.
Picture: David Litten.
Here I saw a raft of Hand Drawn Monkey beers on cask and a line of keg fonts. I saw my favourite Magic Rock beer, High Wire, which I've never had on keg before.
So I ordered a third. I've only had the cask version before and it is a beer I really enjoy, so I was keen to find out what it tasted like on keg.
A friend of mine, let's call him 'anti-keg', would probably have described it as 'cold and fizzy'. Not a beer to toss back when you only have minutes to spare. I was half way down Wood Street - thinking that perhaps keg beers didn't lend themselves to quick-format drinking - when the taste hit my palate. Fantastic, and the taste lingered from station to station down the line home.  A fitting end to a week of train travel.
Magic Rock's High Wire 5.5%

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Kings Head Nears Completion

Drinkers who use the Kings Head in Huddersfield, the pub at the right hand side of the railway station, will have been well aware that there have been building works on going there for several months, in an attempt to reveal the ornate domed ceiling in the pub.

I have been advised that the great unveiling will take place sometime next week. The pub will be closed on Monday and Tuesday (26th and 27 January) to allow the old ceiling to be dropped and they will hopefully reopen on Wednesday. Naturally 'A Swift One' will make an early visit - with a camera hopefully - to bring you an early sighting.

Another new Hophead hits Town

Dark Star is a brewery that has been around for quite a while, starting brewing in 1994 in the Evening Star in Brighton. It has grown gradually since then and moved sites a couple of times, and I have always appreciated the beers. They are often seen around our local pubs, and for a time there was a dedicated pump at the Grove showcasing the ever-changing range. 

In the recent past however they have been a little more difficult to find, so when I came across one of the brewery's distinctive pump clips on the bar at the Sportsman  it would have been churlish to pass it by. A closer examination revealed some thing a little special though. It was not just the usual 'Hophead' but a pinky-purple clip with the word 'Vic Secret' strap-lined across it. It was in fact one of the occasional 'Hophead' specials made with different hops. Even more reason to sample it.

The beer was excellent, as expected, and the hop interesting. I had never heard of it. Vic Secret is apparently a new variety from Victoria in Australia. It has been in production since 2011 but only grown large scale since 2013, and is of the same style as Galaxy and Topaz (in fact it's parents are the same as Topaz). 

Tastewise it is fruity and has hints of fresh pine but I detected a background earthyness, and for those who may need to know, it has a high alpha acid content of around 15%. 

So if you are a 'Hophead' maybe this is another to add to your list, and may be we will see it used more widely in the future. In the meantime should you wish to try it, get off down the Sportsman before it runs off, or before I get back there. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Meet Here Be Monsters' brewer at The Sportsman in Huddersfield

Following on from Tim's Here be Monsters post, we hear The Sportsman has pulled off a real coup by announcing a meet the brewer event with Huddersfield's latest ale maker.
Details are sparse at the moment, we just know it will be on Tuesday, February 17.
But we are told more details - times and tickets - will be released soon.
St John's Road, HD1 5AY

Monday, January 05, 2015

Holmfirth gains another brewery

Towards the end of 2014, another micro brewery started in the Holme Valley, this one in Holmfirth. 'Here Be Monsters' have started to appear in local stockists in the last few weeks. The brewery is a one man band that is presently concentrating on bottled beers. I must admit to having a bottle or two (courtesy of Robinthetrain) but have yet to sample them. 

The brewery website is quite comprehensive and details five beers, covering most styles. There is a dark beer 'Black Annis' with chocolate malt, and licquorice and mocha notes; a red beer 'Red Fury' which is malty based and dry, with a combination of three hops, and three light beers.

'Siren' is blonde but is said to be the most traditional, and lowest abv beer that is brewed. 'Blonde Fury' has a malty backbone but again three hops give a strong citrus taste. The one I really want to try (and I do have a bottle!) is 'Cyclops Citra'. This is the first of a series of single hopped beers, using the same background malt profile, but using different hops each brew.

At present the beers are not too easy to find, and as I say, bottle only, but I have seen them in the Sportsman in Huddersfield and Bargain Booze in Holmfirth - so lets get out there and support our newest local brewery if we can.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

2015 - a retrospective

2015 arrived much as 2014 left - but with no buses to get me anywhere, so when Mrs Timbo suggested that we went to visit her daughter in Bolsover it seemed a good idea. There is a bus service from there to Chesterfield, and some decent pubs  - but I had overlooked the Bank Holiday factor. No buses here either. Buggery. Anyway I sat there sulking until a kind soul suggested I took the car down to grab a couple of beers in the Town Centre.

Bolsover is not well blessed with good beer, even though there is a reasonable Wetherspoons. However there was nothing there to inspire me. But I had a plan B. Between Bolsover and Chesterfield on the main A632 is the Arkwright Arms - a pub owned by Raw Brewery and one that usually provides me with some 'ticks' from local breweries. And this visit was no exception.

Anyway, now I have set the scene, on with the post. One of the beers posed me a small problem regarding its provenance. I found a Good Beer Guide and resolved that issue, and  found several older beer guides on the shelf too. I picked up the 1985 version of the guide, and how enlightening it was.

I started with the pubs section for West Yorkshire, and Huddersfield in particular. Six were listed in the town, but only one of them is listed in the current guide - The Star at Lockwood. (Incidentally it was missing the following year - I checked). The other five were something of a surprise, and one is not even a pub now. Two in the town centre were the Boy and Barrel on Beastmarket and the College Arms on Queensgate, and out of town the Sands House at Crosland Hill, Highgate Oakes at Oakes and the Jolly Sailor at Dalton. Not exactly a list I could have guessed! And I cannot be sure that most of them actually sell real ale these days.

My interest whetted, I started checking the brewery list too. This also provided some surprises. Only six breweries listed in the county, and three of them are now extinct. Of course Timmy Taylors are there, and Clarks of Wakefield. Goose Eye are listed but I think this may have been the Turkey Inn version of the brewery. I got excited when I saw Five Towns, but then realised it was in Hanley, so that obviously did not count. The ex breweries included Tetleys, Trough and the West Riding brewery. Checking the brew pubs I found three - Linfit, Station (at Guiseley) and Fox and Newt at Leeds.

So what a difference - nowadays we have lots of decent pubs and lots of good breweries in West Yorkshire - we don't realise how lucky we are. So make a 2015 resolution and get out there and sample the local pubs and drink the local beers, we have a lot to be grateful for.