Saturday, January 30, 2016

Master cooper finds his apprentice

Successful candidate Kean Hiscock

By The Bloke From Hull...
After a successful summer advertising campaign for an apprentice, Master Cooper Alastair Simms finally got his man in October. The story of his business and his requirement for new blood to continue his ancient trade had gone viral in the local and National press. He was interviewed by Vanessa Feltz one lunchtime on Radio 2 and a further evening interview took place across the syndicated National local radio network. However, top of the shop was an appearance on the ITV National News. 
Hundreds of job applications arrived from near and far on Alistair’s physical and electronic mats. Following a considerable amount of sifting and narrowing down, six candidates remained by the final interview day on October 17, 2015. 
It was a bright and sunny Saturday lunchtime when they began to arrive, all agreeing that it was great to have the opportunity and a privilege to make it so far along the selection process. All bar one had previous experience of working with wood in one form or another and this was to prove crucial in the selection process which consisted of two elements, a regular sit down HR type interview and two practical aptitude tests. 
Two tasks were shown to the candidates before they were invited to “have a go”. The first was raising a cask, which in layman's terms is putting the hoops on staves while the second was dressing out - smoothing out the inside of the cask once assembled.
Two of the six candidates were well ahead of the others in these tasks and there was not much to choose between them. However, from the duo Alastair chose Kean Hiscock for a couple of reasons. Although he’d no serious experience with working with wood, Alastair saw some something of himself when he was young in Kean. He also felt that he was the embodiment of a blank canvass which could be crafted into shape.
During the practical tasks Kean showed the correct attitude. He paid full attention to the demonstrations and showed great concentration, competency and hand/eye coordination. Alastair also noticed that Kean had the same sort of dry, cheeky humour that coopers require and display.
Kean has grown up in West Yorkshire and as well as a good formal education has also excelled in an inherited family gift - sport, representing Yorkshire at Under 19 level at Rugby League. As such his ambitions had initially lain in the sporting path as a PE instructor. However, the chance of a lifetime to learn the rare skill of the cooper was a unique opportunity to strive for. He had learned of the job vacancy by word of mouth and realised that if successful it would be a massive skill to attain. He did his research in preparation and gave the impression of being a confident young man, despite later admitting that he was nervous.
When Alastair rang him later on interview day, he thought that it was going to be bad news but it was quite the reverse. He later stated: “I hope to work in the business for many years, thereby keeping the trade alive”.
From left: Wine cooper Cassandra Phillips, master cooper
Alastair Simms  and new apprentice Kean Hiscock
Prior to Kean’s appointment, Alastair’s order book was at bursting point with an ever increasing demand for his services not only to make and repair casks for beer but to also maintain and service large vats at a number of large independent breweries and cider makers. He had already taken on South Australian wine cooper, Cassandra Phillips but an apprentice was vital.
There are no technical college courses with day release facilities for learning the “art of the cooper” and Kean will learn “on the job” with one-to-one practical training. Kean’s apprenticeship has now begun and will last for four years, covering not only all practical aspects of the business but also interpersonal skills in day to day interaction with customers and clients together with learning the art of giving demonstrations and lectures to various groups around the country.
The apprenticeship is being funded externally by the London based livery company, the Worshipful Company of Coopers, which is extremely keen to encourage and support the current revival in the country and Yorkshire in particular. 
After just a couple of months at the White Rose Cooperage in Wetherby, Kean has shown a considerable aptitude to learn so many new skills and has already successfully assisted in the completion of several contracts including several vat repair jobs and lecture outings to London. When asked recently about his new job Kean stated: “It is very interesting hard work, both enjoyable and rewarding.” For his part Alastair said: “I am more than pleased with Kean’s attitude and temperament. He is making great progress.”
Long may it continue.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

North Riding Brewery Takeover

Every month The Sportsman tries to have a brewery takeover, with the entire bar being dedicated to the breweries beers and a tutored 'Meet The Brewer' tasting session. January's 'victim' was Stuart Neilson of the North Riding Brewery in Scarborough.

I didn't manage to make the evening session but an early visit to the pub yesterday revealed that the whole beer range was still available, so all was not lost,

The brewery has been going for quite a few years, initially at the eponymous hotel in Scarborough's North Bay (well worth a visit in it's own right incidentally) and because of demand the brewery enlarged and moved to an industrial estate outside the town in March last year. The pub does still brew  but the beers that I sampled were all from the new brewery.

There were 8 on offer in total, seven light, one dark. Three of them were from the brewery core range, the others being part of a session series. To take the core ones first it seemed sensible to start with the weaker and go stronger.

'US Sessions IPA' was what it said on the tin. A light, hoppy beer made with Citra, Chinook, and Willamette hops (obviously all from the US) and 3.8%. And a fine session beer it is. The next two were both single hopped 'Citra Pale (4.5%) and 'Mosaic Pale (4.3%). Citra used to be my favourite hop, and this brew was very acceptable with a decent body to showcase it, but when taken side by side with Mosaic it tasted a little - dare I say - boring. The Mosaic was bursting with fresh hop flavour and has overtaken it in my league table.

The specials also included three single hopped beers. 'Azzacca' is a newish Amercian hop. At 4.3% at decent but not outstanding beer, likewise was '484' another experimental Amercian hop. I would like to sample more of this to make a proper judgement but on this sample I would say that it may be better used in concert with other hops rather than as a single hopped beer. 'Centennial' was another single hop beer. Another old favourite and it was easy to see why, with plenty of fruit in the taste and a more bitter taste than the previous samples.

The last light beer was a 'proper' IPA; this time 'NZ IPA' - 5.5% and showcasing Nelson Sauvin hops. This was a more rounded beer that the weaker ones I had tried before, it did drink its strength but it did show off the hop excellently. But the real star of the show, which I had not really expected was the single dark beer 'Black Horizon'. Fair enough,it was 6.7% and had enough body to make it a great beer, but the balance of malt and hop was superb and the result was a beer I would gladly drink more of, but at the end of a session, its flavours would overtake anything coming after.

So what did I learn? Quite a lot actually. It was good to sample several single hopped beers side by side and it brought out why I liked certain hops over other ones. It also reinforced my opinion that Mr Neilson is one of the best brewers about, and I thank him, and John at the Sportsman for the chance to sample the range.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Wakefield CAMRA's top pub: Robin Hood

Robin Hood at Altofts. Wakefield CAMRA'S pub of the year
A chance remark last week led to a rather memorable Saturday session.
I was in Wakefield for a planning meeting for East West Fest II (May 12-14 at the Red Shed) planning meeting when I casually said to Gingerbeerking, 'Please let me know when you are going next to the Robin Hood at Altofts."
"Saturday" was the fired back reply.
Not being ones to stand on ceremony we agreed to meet up there. But we took different routes to Wakefield CAMRA's newly crowned pub of the year.
Mine was the direct one, a 15-minute walk uphill from Normanton Station whereas GBK had the rather more circuitous and interesting route, checking the Locale provision in several rural Wakefield pubs.
I arrived to find him checking the beers/breweries on the bar. They were all the requisite LocAle distance of being within a 21-mile radius of Wakey.
There was Mad Dog & Englishmen from Empire, Old Moor and Barnsley Bitter from Acorn and Topaz from Geeves.
All four were in good nick and, I believe representatives from Acorn had been in the night before and given their own beers the official seal of approval. But it was another Barnsley based beer that grabbed me from the off,  Geeves' Topaz. A single hopped session beer at 3.8 per cent. 
Sessions seem to be becoming a bit of a recurring theme for me of late. I think my days of gallivanting here there and everywhere in search of something new may be becoming more infrequent.
May be it's an age thing, but I'm more minded to let the beers come to me these days. This was the third good pub session I've had in a row (Jacob's in Bradford, The Kelham/Shakespeare's in Sheffield and now Robin Hood, Altofts).
The latter warded off some stiff competition to claim the district pub crown after only 11 months of the new management team being in charge. The Junction, Harry's and The Black Rock were all in the running.
So what singles it out? Well, I'm not a member of Wakefield so I don't have any inside track. But based on my sole visit, I'd say it it's a combination of factors: beer quality, service and attention to detail.
As far as I understand it the pub is run by a team with no previous experience in the ale trade, but when you put together their individual talents in retail, business acumen and a Doctor of Chemistry then it's a pretty heady brew.
Forgive the pun, but that leads me to another aspect. The pub will become a brew pub when on site microbrewery Tarn 51 Brewing cranks up shortly. 
There is also talk of some hot food being introduced. But nothing is being rushed, each aspect seems to being honed before the next one is introduced.
GBK and me had the privilege of drinking in the company of brewster Dr Haley and co-owner Rob, who told us of their hopes for the community pub. Judging by the number of people who kept funnelling in on Saturday, I'd say they are well on their way to achieving their ambitions.
We were in the snug/tap room where I believe Hayley's forthcoming beers will feature, bringing the number of handpumps up to six.
No date was given as to when that might be. I get the impression the team will want everything to be just so before the eagerly anticipated ales hit the bar.
So this post is very much part one of two. I shall leave you with a few pints of Five Town's Middle Un, which came on just before I left. It made the trudge back to Normy Railway Station in the snow like walking on air.
The Robin Hood is based at 10 Church Road, Altofts. It is on or near a number of bus routes. 
The pub is on Facebook and on Twitter: @RobHoodAltofts as is the brewery: @Tarn51brewing.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Bringing balance to the force

Dark side & or the light side?
A post Star Wars session has finally got my #tryanuary underway.
A combination of family illnesses, public transport holidays and poor planning on my part had prevented me from taking a ring-side seat by the bar.
But a trip to Sheffield to see The Force Awakens a week ago gave me the chance to get my 2016 ales campaign underway.
As far as I understand it, Tryanuary is a campaign promoting new beer discoveries throughout the month, It is in response to the the #dryjanuary pledge for charity. 
I'm not going to get political here by adopting a pro or anti stance. I did an un-planned dry month last year and know a bit about the health benefits and the loss of income to pubs by such initiatives.
But this year I've been keen to take part having seen the breadth of ales being tried by some of my friends on twitter.
However, I had to wait until the credits had rolled on the latest Star Wars instalment before I could jump on the bandwagon.
The idea was to catch the tram to the Hillsborough Hotel, and then walk on to the New Barrack Tavern, the Gardeners Rest and The Harlequin - all places I hadn't been for a while.
But a tailback of traffic forced me to bail out at Shalesmoor and adopt a fairly well worn route.
The Fat Cat was the first port of call where a half of Tiger Tops was my pick. I couldn't get to the pump clip but the words hop and nearly five per cent spring  to mind. Whatever I had, it was another fine beer from Barry Smith.
A short walk to the Kelham Island Tavern saw me spoilt for choice, so I ended up drinking in thirds. The first was Brass Castle Borderline Euro IPA (5.7%) and the second was Acorn's Christmas beer The 13th Noel, which is a dark ruby coloured ale at 6%. I thought I might have had it before but I'm still getting used to Acorn's re-branding, so I wasn't sure. The clip said it was part of their signature series and the guest brewer was one S Claus - he gets around! 
The Brass Castle was first up  and was soon was a thing of history, The Acorn wasn't too far behind it, such was the quality of both ales.
My last third was an old favourite, Brass Castle's Bad Kitty, a 5.5% vanilla porter.
To be quite honest I could have quite easily stayed in The Kelham all afternoon but my eye was on the clock and Shakespeare's around the corner.
Here, I had three beers ranging from a lighter shade of pale to red.
First was Tempest Brewing Co's The Pale Armadillo at 3.8%. I thought my taste buds might have been altered by the dark beers but not a bit of it. This may have been the weakest beer - in terms of ABV-  I'd tried but it punched well above its weight.
Following on from that was Cloudwater Bitter at 4.3%. It's part of their winter range, apparently. I think this was only the second Cloudwater beer I've ever had and I think the first was in Shakespeare's too. It was very nice and I can see what the fuss on social media has been all about.
My last beer beer, given where my day started, was obvious - Blue Bee's Revenge of The Geek. This was a red mosaic beer at 4.5%. It confirmed my view about red beers, I like them when they've got plenty of hops in. This one had that in abundance.
That Star Wars themed bitter should have been my last one of the trip. I'd had a magnificent seven beers and supped just three pints in all - enough to keep the surgeon general and the  Tryanuary folk equally happy.
But the small matter of a handy bus stop outside Shakespeare's ruined my symmetry. It left me with time to kill at the Sheffield Tap. I wasn't going to cave in until I saw a couple of beers from Kelburn on the bar, which evoked fond memories of The  Navigation's Scottish ales festival a few years ago, which was a bit of a revelation for me.
I couldn't catch the name of the first Kelburn beer for the number people at the bar, but the line opened up in front of me to reveal Dark Moor,  4.5%, which was the champion beer of Scotland in 2014. 
A fine finish to a faultless session.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

A New Bottle Shop Opens In Huddersfield

This is just a brief post to advise readers, especially those of a bottled beer disposition, that a new bottle shop has opened on Station Street in Huddersfield town centre.

It is called 'Arcade Beers' and is situated - not in an arcade - but on the right hand side of the street (coming from St Georges Sq) almost opposite Mitchells Butchers. I called in briefly yesterday and can confirm it seemed well stocked with English and Foreign bottles, as well as having a couple of keg beers on draught.

Time constraints prevented me taking a proper look but I will be back to give readers a decent overview of what is on offer.

It is closed Sunday and Monday. Open from 1100 - 2000 hrs every other day, except for Friday and Saturday when it will close at 2300 hrs.

Good luck to them.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Snippets of beer news

Good news, courtesy of Geoff Wignall, in tonight's Examiner about Mallinson's plans for a brewery tap in Huddersfield town centre.
Apparently, it will be called The Corner and former Sportsman landlady Sam Smith will be the front of house.
Geoff tells us, via the paper's beer page, that it will be in the Imperial Arcade. The new venture hopes to open around March.
We wish all involved the best of luck and look forward to paying a visit.
In other news Wakefield CAMRA announced its pub of the year last night. It is the Robin Hood at Altofts. Congratulations to the team behind the pub on Church Road and to Alverthorpe WMC, which is Wakey CAMRA's club of the year.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Vocation Brewery - A Calderdale success

We regularly speak of Huddersfield breweries on 'A Swift One' but in my opinion, one of the better breweries in the area that has arrived in the recent past is from over t'hill in Calderdale. Vocation Brewery are based in Cragg Vale, in Calderdale. If that means nothing to you, it is that bloody steep hill that the Tour de France used when leaving Hebden Bridge.

Lets face it, its about time Hebden Bridge had something positive to talk about, rather than their continual flooding. But enough of this...why do I like their beer ?

Its a bit simple really. It is because it is good, is excellent. Every beer I have had of theirs, and I have had a few, has been crisp, fresh, brewed well and very moreish.

My last post bemoaned the lack of anything exception in the beer world last year, I must have overlooked Vocation because I happened across three of their beers in the Victorian Craft Cafe in Halifax a couple of days ago and was blown away.

Their regular range has a 3.9% session beer, 'Bread & Butter'. Hoppy, flowery and full of citrus fruit taste. I have had it before and it never disappoints. This time I was spoiled though as two of its stronger brothers were on the bar. 'Chop & Change' is an ever changing 4.5% bitter which seems to use the same base but every brew has a different hop, this one was with Topaz and was excellent, and I would have gladly had a second had not 'Pride & Joy' (see a theme here !) been on the bar as well.

This is a 5.3% American style pale ale. On previous occasions I have found it it has been as it said on the clip, but this was extra special, with Simcoe featured. It was brilliant, may be the best use of the hop I have ever had, certainly in the recent past. I was almost a case of leaving the car and just getting stuck in, but I relented. But guess where I am returning today ?

There are three other beers in the core range, covering every base and all equally as good. 'Divide & Conquer' is a  6.5% black IPA - very good, but not quite my thing. 'Life & Death' is again 6.5% but amber and a mix of fruit flavours, hops and malt, very complex and very interesting. 'Heart & Soul' is more of a strong session beer at 4.4% but still brings a lot to the table.

They are certainly a brewery that has hit the ground running. They have a excellent website and if you cannot locate their beers on cask, they do can their beers, so you can sample them in the comfort of your home, so why not search them out and give them a try.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Happy New Beer

Happy 2016 to all our readers.

It is traditional to look back over the past twelve months at this time of year and pick out the highs and the lows. Strangely, for me, 2015 was a rather average year. I did find some good beers, and no doubt had some poor ones but I am unable to recall any by name.

My favourite breweries are still going strong, but sometimes their beers are getting slightly more difficult to find. And talking of breweries - Huddersfield has carried on producing more new ones whilst losing one.

On a personal note I have had to become more local in my beer drinking this year, and trips out of Yorkshire have been few and far between. But the flip side had meant that I have had the chance to become more familiar with the pubs of Halifax and Bradford especially. The latter has gone up miles in my estimation with a very good beer route.

I have not yet managed to sample enough 'beer in the wood' (as championed by the Bloke from Hull) but it is a failure I hope to rectify this year. But I have tried more key keg in the recent past. It seems to have stopped being the elephant in the room for beer drinkers (maybe not all though) and most seem willing to try some. And most are quiet acceptable, albeit a little pricey.

So 2015 has left, 2016 is here. Onwards and upwards. And we will try to keep you informed and entertained throughout.

Cheers. Timbo, Ale Louse, Ale Ambler.