Saturday, December 26, 2015

Two cities and one town

Never let it be said that A Swift One doesn't give you value for money.
Disregarding the point that it is actually free anyway, I spent last weekend doing my bit for the pub industry.
'Mad Friday' saw me in Huddersfield among some very sensible souls - although I could have sworn I saw Santa in The Grove. And no I hadn't been drinking at that stage.
Here I sampled an excellent Mallinson's Summit  Pale Ale (3.9%) and Atom's Half Life IPA (5.2%), which I found a bit too floral for my taste. Which is unusual as I normally rave about their beer.
Next port of call should have been The Rat but it was rammed so I diverted to The Star where I saw
Mallinson's Nelson Sauvin and some friendly faces I had not seen for a while.
I was a little bit preoccupied catching up with Star regulars to get a reliable note of all the beers but I remember beers from Five Town's and a dark beer near the strong pump which was excellent.
Mad Friday, for me, was an enjoyable experience but not too beery as I knew the second part of my beer odyssey was just around the corner.
Jacob's Ale House. Picture: GBK
Last Saturday saw me saddle up with the Five Town's posse for a ride out to Jacob's Ale House in Bradford, which was staging a winter ales in the wood festival.
I'd never been there before but it's just across the road from the National Media Museum.
We took up residence in the snug, which has a cracking view of Bradford Town Hall clock.
Bradford Town Hall
The bar tender informed us that only three beers were available in the wood: Oates Jonah (4.8 %), Abbeydale Black Mass (6.66%) and Five Town's Biere d'hiver (7%) but there was plenty on the bar (in wood, keg and cask) to go at.
I started with Welbeck's Kaiser (4.1%) a German hopped pale beer, which I quite liked but the group of ale experts I was with seemed to prefer the Glamorgan Welsh Pale.
I was drinking thirds so it wasn't long before I was trying the Malcolm's Belgian-style beer and The Oates. I always find it interesting drinking in the company of brewers, especially when they tell you what the ingredients are.
I think Malcolm was hoping the cherry flavour was more pronounced after having put five kilos in, but a chap sitting nearby, who knew much more about beer than me, said he could just get the cherry taste. A friendly conversation ensued about which stage of the brewing the cherries should go in for maximum effect, but being a poor chemistry pupil I headed back to the bar for more practical science.
This time saw me going for Great Heck's session bitter Navigator (3.9%) XT Four, a 3.8 % amber ale and Baildon's Raven (a 5.5% porter). I'm not a great fan of amber beers or bitters but I thought I'd take advantage of drinking thirds and would challenge myself. But I'm afraid my prejudices were confirmed on this occasion. It looks like I need to work on my appreciation of such beers.
The Baildon, however, was right up my street as was the Black Mass, which followed.
Other beers tried by our group included Titanic Stout and a clementine and coriander beer on keg from Bad Co Brewery. I only had a sip but I may have found a coriander beer that I like.
So ended a fine pub session, but not the end of our trip.
We headed back to Wakefield where we had pit stops in Harry's Bar and in Fernandes.
In Harry's I opted for a rye beer from Tiger Tops, which I particularly liked, while Malcolm and Gingerbeerking were impressed by Ilkley's Crossroads, a 5.4% West Coast IPA.
A swift pre-curry pint ensued in Fernandes where we supped a pale ale from Raw and a terrific Snake Mocha Stout from Ossett Brewery, 5%.
So ended a fine beer weekend in good company.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Christmas Is Coming....At Least According to The Brewers

It seems Christmas is on the horizon. Funny, I seem to recall this happening about the same time last year as well. And the year before et seq, et seq.

I am not a great fan of the festive season as you may have guessed. Especially in the way it upsets my drinking habits. Pubs are full of drinkers, most are over 'enthusiastic' but others are part time. Both are a pain and get in my way when I want to order a beer. There are changes to opening times, bus times and both make organising my pub visits more complicated. And then there are the beers as well..and the festive names that they are lumbered with.

I am fan of the light, hoppy beers. And a simple name to go with them. But it is the time of year when brewers seem to want to empty the contents of their spice cupboard into their mash tun. I am happier if these concoctions are well signed on the pump clip - then I can avoid them. I am less happy when there is a beer called 'Happy Christmas' or whatever, with absolutely no warning of its contents. It sneaks up on me and I end up with a mouthful of cloves, cinnamon, or some other equally inappropriate spice, which I do not want and buggers my taste up for the rest of the day.

They should come with government health warning. Or be sold only to once a year drinkers, that should sort them out.

Even the beer names this Christmas seem to have been rather uninspired (or should that be un-mince-pired!!). 'Jolly Holly' sounds pleasant but was uninteresting, 'Mistletoe' was scarily green, 'Spice Cracker' was what it said on the tin, and 'ChristmasKitty' was downright wrong. I have not found a really impressive name this year (yet) , and certainly none than is as good as 'It Looks Like Rain Deer' (looked better on the pump clip admittedly but think you get the picture), which was about a few years back.

Anyway enough of this drivel. Hope yu all have a hoppy Christmas and an even hoppier New Year. And Santa brings all the bottle conditioned beers you need to keep you going over the festive season

Monday, December 14, 2015

Pump Clips - the old chestnut revisted

Before I start I feel I ought to apologise for my lack of content lately. Effectively I have been suffering from 'writer's block' - I have started posts that I have not been happy with and scrapped them because they have been boring or rubbish, and I do try to pride myself that I am writing something interesting, useful, or witty. These were none of the three. Anyway, after a chance conversation with BT, the editor of 'Ale Talk' I may have seen the light at the end of the tunnel. This is the result. 

Long time readers of 'A Swift One', (and Steve G. especially) will be aware that one of my bete noire are pump clips. The brewery's point of sale on the bar. The thing that attracts the punter to make his decision as to how to spend his hard earned sheckles. And of course there are good and bad ones.

Recently I have been more than impressed with the rebranded Elland brewery clips; simple, clear and effective. They provide all the details that the drinker requires. The brewery name, the beer name, the abv of the beer, and a brief description of the beer. All in fonts that are clear and easy to read. On a background that is uncluttered. Mallinsons are another local brewery that do something similar. You know what to expect from the pump when you order the beer.

In the last week I have come across at least 3 clips which seem to totally disregard one, or all of the above, and heard of one brewery trying a rebranding and whose new clips are a step backwards from what they have now. It is not usual habit to name and shame, but on this occasion I will make an exception.(except for the brewery,I will wait and see the final result there).

My first sinner is 'Magic Rock'. I am not a great fan of their clips but they do have all the necessary information,except ....I came across a beer called 'Coffee Grounds' at least I think it was. It was a new beer to me, so I wanted as much information as I could. The clip is bronze and reflective with black lettering, and is frankly awful to read. I had to take it off the pump to read it and move it around in the light to get the abv, and even then I was unable to read some other text on it. It is just not good.

Another that ought to know better are Yorkshire Heart. They have been around a while and usually their clips are easy to read. That was until they decided that their 'Yorkshire Blonde' - at least I think that is what it is - should have a yellow pump clip. No problem, it stands out from the rest very well. But why use white lettering on it. It is virtually unreadable.

My third brewery are a new starter from Bradford called 'Hedgerow' .(I was a little surprised by this as I never thought of Bradford having hedgerows but what do I know ?). They have gone for clips that reflect the brewery name, and very pretty they are. The only problem is that they are so 'busy' with flowers and foliage that to try and extract the necessary information is a little of a chore, to say the least.

So brewers please think about us poor drinkers that have to try to read your clips across crowded bars in less than perfect lighting. Make them bold, and above all, make them clear. After all, you do want us to buy the stuff you brew don't you.


Sunday, December 13, 2015

A wet day in Sheffield with Wee Beefy

Lord Nelson, Arundel Street, Sheffield
On Saturday I caught up with someone who really knows the Sheffield beer scene.
I may have gone to school and walked the hills there for more years than I care to admit to, but I'm a novice in the Valley of Beer's vast geography when compared to master cartographer and Steel City blogger Wee Beefy.
The Beer Engine, off London Road
Yesterday, despite the deluge, we did a tour of six city centre pubs. Three of them were new to me: The Lord Nelson, on Arundel Street (close to The Rutland Arms), The Beer Engine on Cemetery Road and Portland House on Ecclesall Road, which is Welbeck Abbey Brewery's first bar.
All six had something different to offer, not just in beer but in terms of drinking experience. I thought it was an excellent mixture of something old and something new.
Wee Beefy even threw in a free art show as we trudged the sodden streets.
A fine write up about all the places we visited and what we drank can be found over on Wee Beefy's site. Click here
Street art near the Lord Nelson

Monday, December 07, 2015

Writing a book about a unique pub – "From Junk to Junction"

The Bloke from Hull with Junction landlady Maureen Shaw.
All pictures courtesy of  Peter Broomfield
The Bloke from Hull writes...
In July 2015, The Junction pub in Castleford - now widely known as the ‘home of beers from the wood’ - celebrated its fifth anniversary under the stewardship of Maureen Shaw and Neil Midgley, becoming nationally revered as the major player in the revival of wood casks in the beer industry. From early 2014 the pub has served an ever changing range of guest beers from a multitude of brewers only from its own wooden casks, uniquely the only pub in the country and probably the world to do so.
In March of this year I decided that, having previously written many articles for CAMRA magazines, I would attempt to write something rather longer which turned out to be a book about my favourite pub. With the blessing of Maureen and Neil I began to think about how to write it. It was not going to be a straight narrative but something based around topics. A chance meeting in Sheffield with Sophie Atherton, a freelance journalist and beer sommelier (a trained professional who works in the hospitality and alcoholic beverage industry specializing in the service and knowledge of beer) got me under way. She advised me to use plenty of quotes from people to give it the personal touch. And that was where the process began. 
I visited the pub many times during the next few months (as if I needed any excuse) to talk to as many locals as I could. I also interviewed Master Cooper, Alastair Simms and several of the brewers who provide the beer, most notably Mike Hiscock from Elland Brewery. Unfortunately, the brewer who first dared to share the dream of “beer from the wood”, Simon Bolderson (to whom the book is dedicated) from Ridgeside Brewery in Leeds died last year. But his wife Sally kindly came to my rescue and valuably provided key information. Local broadcaster and writer Ian Clayton not only provided important advice but also supplied a foreword, details of the local beer scene in Castleford prior to the Junction reopening, an anecdote and much more. I also obtained contributions from the Chairman of the Wakefield branch of CAMRA, Albert Bradbury; the Chairman of the West Riding branch of the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood, Ian Cole; and from Bill English from the SPBW National Executive Committee. Not happy with that I asked renowned beer writer and editor of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide, Roger Protz to write a foreword for me knowing that he had visited the pub on a couple of notable occasions. He agreed and by this point I had a vast amount of information.
Writer and broadcaster Ian Clayton
However, by early September I still had no idea how I was going to bring everything together. The only thing was to start writing. Suddenly the light went on and all the chapters began to fall into place. With the project now reaching the reality level the next step was to decide how to find a printer, refine the content, and gather funding. Friends Chris Peat and Rich Jones together with Neil joined me as advisers and the plot thickened!
I approached a number of printers for quotes based on around 80 pages and although not the cheapest, but by far the most helpful, I decided to run with local firm Harris Brothers in Featherstone as recommended by Ian Clayton. They advised that the maximum number of pages for assembling by the cheapest method was around 100 so that was now my target. No one has as many photographs connected with the Junction as me and many that I had taken with nothing particular in mind became most relevant. Together with others supplied by Maureen and helpful friends (particularly of the early days), the number of pages grew to around 130 pages. With serious editing I decided to limit the number of photographs to 50 of the best and the target size reduced dramatically.
Next up was the proof reading. I had plenty of offers and accepted them all, with perhaps the most careful of the scrutinizers being Richard Coldwell and John Grant Gibson.
Meanwhile funding became an issue. Maureen and Neil had selected the Alzheimer’s Society as their chosen charity. Generous friends, breweries and businesses all chipped in and the result was that these contributions almost fully covered the cost of printing enabling most of the sales to go straight to our charity. Good on you folks. Much appreciated.
Several proof copies came and went with many changes and even after the last one I still took the risk of making 30 more changes without any outside assistance. With this burden on my mind plans for the launch had to be made. We don’t do things by halves when it comes to the Junction and this was to be no exception. I arranged with Mike at Elland Brewery to organise a special beer with a book related name – Codex. Neil sorted out some special rare beers aged in the wood from Cheshire Brewhouse (Govinda) and Kirkstall Brewery (Herzblut). I asked Maureen not to get sandwiches in but to prepare her pièce de résistance – Cas Caviar (if you don’t know what that is, purchase the book or call in at the pub). Noted beer writer Barrie Pepper and local broadcaster Ian Clayton agreed to say something and Rich Jones offered to lead the renditions of the pub anthems accompanied by glorious Colin Williams on the piano.
Barrie Pepper on book launch night
And so to the launch night evening of November 26. Maureen and Neil had been donated a display case for the pub just a few days earlier and I put it to good use setting out my wares. The lighting inside even worked. I could not have planned it better. Friends, brewers and supporters from CAMRA and SPBW came from all over Yorkshire to add their support to that of the locals – it was unbelievable – Bradford, Doncaster, Halifax, Keighley, Leeds, Selby, Wakefield and all points between. There must have been somewhere between 60 and 80 happy souls in attendance. We drank the beers, made the speeches, sang the songs and ate the snap. Most importantly, quite a few books were sold in aid of the Alzheimer’s Society.
In closing, considering that I have never written at such length before, I would like to thank Maureen and Neil for trusting me to write about them. A special partnership providing us with the most unique pub for special beer, while at the same time creating a fabulous place for the many locals summed up by one of their number as "the heart and soul of the community. The Junction is just like going into your auntie's front room and all your family are there" and by another as "a pub with soul. A real pub for real people".
Books are still available from either the pub or myself in person at £7.50 or by mail order from me for £10. Contact via facebook, twitter or e-mail: littendavid@littendavid.karoo.co.uk

Saturday, December 05, 2015

A return to Huddersfield

A familiar sight at The Star. All pictures courtesy of Gingerbeerking
Cliche has it that absence makes the heart grow fonder.
I won't bore you with the tedious non-beer reasons why I've been absent from Huddersfield pubs for the last few months, but last weekend I finally got my act together and got a taste of what I've been missing.
The lure of The Star's beer festival drew me back to town and also provided an opportunity for long-overdue visits to The Rat and The Grove (of which more later).
I was curious to see how the festival would work in the absence of the marquee bar, particularly on a busy day like Saturday.
Personally, I liked the extra hand-pulls in the main bar and no tickets format. A nominal £2 charge got you a glass for the festival bars and a programme. £1 of which was refundable if you gave your glass back. 
The festival bars were in the recess to the right of the main bar. It was like the Mallinsons mini-festival event a few years back but with choice from far and wide. Timbo has covered this elsewhere on the blog (see his last two posts) so I'll just pick out a few of my highlights: Kent's Citra (as recommended by Adam on the bar) and Loch Ness's Saaziness (as suggested by Timbo). Both terrific beers. I enjoyed a good session with the Gingerbeerking and it was well-kept beer all the way.
Picture:Gingerbeerking

Yes, the pub was more crowded than usual and we had to stand for a short while, but it was pleasantly busy rather than chock-a-block. We were all served promptly by Sam and her skilled team.
We soon grabbed a table and sat back to admire the well-run set up.
I'll be interested to see whether this is the new template for all future Star festivals or just the winter one. Whatever the format, I'll be there: good service and great beer - it's a winning formula.
It was difficult to leave the festival but we managed to tear ourselves away and headed up to The Rat and The Grove for pint-stops.
The Rat seemed to have a function on because there was a fantastic spread of food on. After both opting for Abbeydale's Wilderness we were told to help ourselves to food. I apologise unreservedly for monopolising the beef and onion sarnies. They're my favourite and you can't beat a bit of topside!
Away from the culinary delights, the taunting pole revealed Jarl, which pointed the way to more ales from Fyne  in The Grove.
By this point in the evening we were pushed for time, so Gingerbeerking quickly ordered Thornbridge's McConnel's vanilla stout, which met his immediate approval.
As normal I dithered over my choice but mercifully the bartender's in The Grove know their beers and they soon put me on the right course: thirds of Mallinson's Hop Tzarina and two from Fyne Ales.
The Fyne  beers were Superior IPA and a brown ale named after guitarist Richard Benson.
Alas time defeated me mid glass on the latter, and I legged-it for the train mumbling the words, 'Got to go, the beer is too good in Huddersfield'.