Archive for January, 2011

Leeds Brewdog Show: North Bar Single Hop IPA Event & Mr Foley’s Brewdog Taps

January 31, 2011 5 comments

Following my post on Alfred Bar yesterday, I don’t want to spend too much time praising the North Bar group, but Jings, Crivvens an’ Help ma Boab, this is exciting:

According to the message sent to North Bar’s Facebook group:

There will be, in the near future, a very special unique occasion at North, Brewdog are launching their brand new range of Single Hopped IPAs. We will have ALL FOUR IPAs on for one night only, as well as lots of other Brewdoggy goodness […] sign up to our mailing list for more news here:

Read more about the “IPA Is Dead” project on the Brewdog Blog:

IPA is dead showcases 4 killer hops varieties from 4 different continents. The result is 4 radically different single hop IPAs. Each IPA contains the same malt backbone and is brewed to be 75 IBU and is enthusiastically kettle hopped and dry hopped with Citra, Bramling Cross, Nelson Sauvin or Sorachi Ace.

Leeds Brewdog fans should also be excited that Mr Foley’s has recently installed a permanent Brewdog tap, with two changing keg Brewdog beers on at any one time as well as a load of bottles in the fridge.  The 5AM Saint was especially good from keg.  According to their It’s Your Round page the ones currently on are Punk IPA and Zeitgeist.

UPDATED: The date of the IPA Is Dead launch has been confimed as Wednesday 16 February.  I should be there, with any luck.

Alfred Bar, Meanwood: What’s It All About, Alfie?

January 30, 2011 2 comments

I’m a big fan of the expanding North Bar mini-empire, which now stretches to the original in Leeds city centre; Further North in Chapel Allerton; and the Cross Keys in Holbeck (which is more gastro but does so brilliantly).  Oh, and an ice cream van full of beer.  I’m informed that The Reliance is no longer under the same ownership, but it remains great for booze, food and service nevertheless.

On Saturday at 5pm they opened their new pub in Meanwood, Alfred, and I popped in for a pint at the end of a long walk.  Opposite Waitrose and the new Market Town Tavern, East Of Arcadia, these seem symbolic of the gentrification of Meanwood. 

On Alfred’s twitter feed they’ve been keeping us up to date with the renovation of what used to be Tropical Nosh.  It’s all paid off in spades, and the pub looks great.  If you’ve been to Further North you’ll be familiar with the multiplicity of unmatched lampshades hanging from the roof, the welcoming glass frontage and classy understated sign.

It’s bigger than Further North, but not massively so; I counted about 30-40 seats whereas I reckon Further North has about 20-25.  The bar area has room for a whole three staff, a coffee machine and a decent amount of fridge space.  Needless to say the bottled beer selection is good; a wide but sensible range with enough to excite most tastes without attempting to rival the huge range of the original North Bar.

Three handpumps were christened with Elland 1872 Porter, Marble Ginger and Roosters Wild Mule (who seemed to have dropped the “Outlaw” brand).  I went for the excellent 1872 Porter (6.5%) and Kate had the Wild Mule, a nice hoppy pale ale which is effectively the house beer in North.

They also had Brooklyn Lager on keg, but rather than reciting the whole range, I took a photo of the menu, which you should hopefully just about be able to read if you click on it.  You’ll see that the prices tend towards the upper end of average, with the cask beers all £3.10 a pint.  There’s also what seems like a decent range of wines, if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

Like North, Alfred is going to have a small range of food, stretching to cheese and bread; meat and bread; and possibly pies.  This suits the small space and the cafe vibe, and if you want a big plate of sausages and mash, East of Arcadia is only a few seconds down the road.

A special mention should go to the loos.  Unlike Further North, there are seperate gents’ and ladies’ bogs, with quirky wallpaper.  The ladies’ has saucy 1950s pin-up art (so I’m informed) whereas the gents’ has some great 1970s-style boy’s bedroom football wallpaper, with footballers to represent Scottish, English and Northern Irish (but not Welsh) international players.  However, their poses, down to the web-slinging hand gestures, seem to have been traced from Spider-Man comics.  Perhaps George Best was once bitten by an alcoholic spider. 

I was only there for one pint (and a free bun!) on the first day, but Alfred seems to be a great little cafe bar, with excellent beers, friendly staff and a lovely interior and exterior.  It was worth the license application difficulties and the hard work, and Meanwood suddenly seems like an option for a nice evening out.

For more info on Alfred Bar check out their website, Facebook page and Reet Good Leeds.

Alfred Bar, 6 Stonegate Road, Meanwood, Leeds LS6 4HY

M&S IPA: Marstons v St Austell v Adnams

January 27, 2011 4 comments

Working reasonably long hours, I often find it difficult to get to the shops on a weekday, and as a result end up spending slightly over the odds in the Marks & Spencer Simply Food in Leeds station.  Whilst M&S is typically quite expensive, it does have a reliable range of beers commissioned from decent breweries, including Cropton’s M&S Yorkshire Bitter and a Meantime M&S London Porter.

When I noticed that they had three different IPAs from three different breweries, I thought it was worth comparing them:

Marstons M&S Staffordshire IPA (5.5%)

This beer is sold as a hoppy traditional Burton IPA.  It has very little nose with perhaps a slight biscuity smell.  It has a refreshing flavour with a slightly acidic, broadly fruity hoppiness coming through into the aftertaste.  It’s quite a light-tasting beer for 5.5%, but has a nice mouthfeel.

Initially not a particularly interesting beer, it grew on me as I got towards the bottom of the glass and the bitterness started to build up.  Probably good for a session, if you can cope with a few at this strength.


St Austell M&S Cornish IPA (5%)

A slightly weaker beer, this immediately smells much more interesting, with a fresh, piney, grapefruity smell that carries through into a wonderful wash of bitterness.  Unlike the Staffordshire IPA this beer is bottle conditioned, resulting in smaller, more delicate bubbles that perfectly compliment the balanced but powerful American hop taste.

St Austell’s Proper Job – a lovely, unusually oily IPA made with Williamette, Cascade and Chinook hops – became one of my favourite cask beers when I was on holiday in Cormwall last summer.  Without a bottle of Proper Job to compare the Cornish IPA to, this nonetheless seems like a very similar recipe, although it is 0.5% stronger*.  A very nice beer indeed and one that I often pick up when I buy my dinner in Marks.

Adnam’s M&S Southwold Winter IPA (6.7%)

I was pleasantly surprised to see such a strong IPA in M&S, and suspect that a number of well-to-do wives may inadvertently find their husbands in a slightly more louche mood at the end of the evening.  This beer has a slightly boozy smell, a viscous mouthfeel and wheaty maltiness that leaves you at risk of missing the hops, which are apparently Boadicea, Columbus and Styrgian Goldings.  An interesting beer, but not quite as enjoyable as the St Austell one.

These are all good beers and it’s a credit to M&S that they bring these beers to the middle class, but you do have to consider the price.  £2.19, £2.39 and £2.39 respectively is a fair amount to pay for a 500ml bottles to take away.  Nonetheless I remain happy to part with my cash for the Cornish IPA in particular, which is the most expensive and the weakest at the same time.


* This is the cask strength Proper Job.  Dean from Mr Foley’s has pointed out that the bottled one has a higher ABV.

Hit The North: National Winter Ales Festival 2011

January 20, 2011 5 comments

Yesterday I had the good fortune of going to the National Winter Ales festival in Manchester.  I was especially lucky to get trade tickets and also to go with a few brewers and bar folk.  After getting the train over from Leeds I met up with James and Andy from Summer Wine Brewery and Dean from Mr Foleys in the Marble Arch on the Rochdale Road.  A great pub connected to a wonderful brewery, yesterday the beers included the spectacularly hoppy Utility Special IPA and the great Driscoll’s End, Dominic’s goodbye beer to the Marble brewery, before he heads across the Pennines to sunny Thornbridge.

It was good to meet members of the beer literati who we hadn’t met before, including Rob from Hopzine, Matt from Hawkshead (who had been judging) and Brian from The Grove, Huddersfield (along with a whole posse of Grovers).  Even as a newcomer, it was a really nice, friendly, festive atmosphere, before we even got to the venue.  Unable to resist, I bought myself two big Marble bottles before we left: a Utility Special and a Stouter Port Stout.

At the venue, which is a perfect size for the purposes, we were also introduced to more titans of the beer world from darkest Cumbria, the legendary Jeff Pickthall and the semi-mythical Hardknott Dave.  Jeff was kind enough to give me a bottle of Croglin Vampire to review.  We also bumped into Matt, Jim and some of the other staff from North Bar, as well as Matt’s wife Alice, now immortalised as the namesake of Brewdog’s Alice Porter, brewed with Matt’s input.  We were even able to witness the elusive Tandleman working diligently at the festival, apparently unconcerned by the lack of Northern Methods Of Dispense despite the Mancunian setting.

Of course the beers were good too.  Although the general view is that most of them were a bit on the fresh side, it being the first day and all, everyone who tried it seemed to be very impressed with James and Andy’s Diablo, a great IPA with dominant Citra flavours (although it also contains Centennial).  Thornbridge’s Hark was a very nice beer, and was a little more interesting than Merrie, which was by contrast merely good.  It was good to enjoy Hawkshead Brodie’s Prime on cask and Thornbridge St Petersburg was also very good.  I liked the Fuller’s Brewer’s Reserve too.  I enjoyed festival champion Entire Stout by Hop Back, although it wasn’t necessarily the most interesting beer I tried.  I’m sure the other beers I tried will come back to me over the next few days.

Of course after all that it was very clearly time to get a taxi back to Piccadilly for the long, challenging train home to Leeds and the struggle to recover adequately for work the next morning.  Nevertheless the day was very enjoyable and well worth the hangover. Thanks to Tandleman and the rest of the organisers, but as I say, I was especially happy to meet so many friendly members of the international brotherhood of beer, who were far more welcoming to a mere prole than they had any reason to be.  I’m looking forward to Twissup, by which time I should almost have recovered.  Cheers!

There’s two days of NWAF left, so get along to the Sheridan Suite on the Oldham Road if you have the remotest opportunity.  Check out the rest of the winners here.

Strangford Lough Brewing Company: A Quare Bunch Of Lads (and Girls)

January 19, 2011 1 comment

I’m off to the National Winter Ales Festival this morning, so just a quick note to say thanks to Grace from Strangford Lough Brewing Company for sending me through these three beers for review.

After Christmas I grumbled in a fairly mean-spirited way about a bottle of their St Patrick’s Best which I’d bought out of date and I thought tasted a bit dodgy.  Although this was entirely my fault and that of the shop, Grace got in touch to offer to send me a few more beers for review.

I’m looking forward to trying these but in the meantime I just thought a thank-you was in order. It’s nice to see they’re keeping an eye on what people online think of their beer and they’d be both generous and confident  enough in the standard of their beers to give me another shot.

Bottled Roosters: GCB, XS, 2XS & Oxymoronic Black IPA

January 18, 2011 3 comments

Of the number of local craft breweries that regularly sell their beers in Leeds pubs, one of the most consistent is Roosters.  They have a particular bent towards pale, nicely hoppy ales in the vein of (what I suppose is) their flagship beer, Yankee, which is getting on for 17 years old.

The cockerel logo on their pumpclips is, for me, a badge of quality.  Although they appear to have been brewing some more experimental beers recently, I don’t think I’ve ever had a pint of any of their range that I didn’t like.   I especially enjoy being able to enjoy their beers outside with friends at the Chapel Allerton Arts Festival every year. 

Roosters GCB (3.7%)

However, Roosters beers don’t seem to have been sold in bottles until last year, when  I picked up a bottle of their GCB (“Good Cheer Beer”).   This beer is described as a “pale Yorkshire bitter – a happy marriage of upbeat fruitiness and moderate bitterness“.  It had a slightly biscuity smell, quite a lot of carbonation, a relatively thin mouthfeel and a light lemony bitterness in the aftertaste.  Like the cask version, I think it’s at the safer end of their pale ale spectrum and is probably good crossover beer which can be given to lager drinkers with relative impunity.

However, it was very exciting indeed to be able to pick up one 75cl bottle of each of three experimental beers Sam Franklin (son of founder Sean) made at the end of last year.  There were only 30 bottles of each sold.  Given that they have been reviewed by Zak, Leigh and Rob, it would appear that over 10% of the beers went to beer bloggers!  Whilst I encourage you to read/watch their more expert reviews, this is what I thought of them:

Roosters XS American Pale Ale (5.5%)

The label describes this beer as an American-style IPA/pale ale with 60IBUs and, “hopped at an excessive rate, using Chinook, Citra, Crystal and Simcoe from the US and New Zealand’s Riwaka hops, all as late kettle additions.

After a satisfying pop when the cap came off, the beer poured a pleasant orange colour with a slight cloudiness.  It gave off a fantastic mango smell and had a rich, slightly oily mouthfeel. The punchy dry fruity bitterness in the aftertaste made my mouth water.  This was a very lovely beer which I enjoyed with a curry from Mumtaz, which it suited perfectly.

Roosters 2XS India Pale Ale (7.1%)

The big bad brother of XS – excessive in every way imaginable.  Hopped using Nelson Sauvin, Cascade, Chinook, Citra, Crystal and Simcoe.  It weighs in with a whopping 100+ IBUs and certainly isn’t a beer for the faint-hearted!  Continuously hopped during the brewing process to create a smooth but powerful bitterness.  We then dry-hopped the beer in the fermenter and conditioning tanks to give it a strong and aggressive hop aroma.”

Again pouring a slightly cloudy orange but perhaps a little darker, this gave off a rich piney mangoey aroma.  The mouthfeel was thicker and the fruity, bitter taste deeper and more rounded but slightly less punchy and fruity as a result.  Again this was a great beer, which went nicely with Cajun Chicken.

Roosters Oxymoronic Black IPA (6.5%)

American-style India Black Ale – big, black and bitter, this American-style Black IPA is a shock to the senses.  Your eyes say stout but your tastebuds scream IPA!  A jet black appearance, with little roast flavour, is backed up with a serious bitter finish.  Packed full of citrus hop aroma, brewed and dry-hopped with 100% Simcoe hops.  The citrus content of this beer might even count as one of your five a day!

It’s difficult to expand on the fairly comprehensive and unusually informative label text, but this black IPA had a very tart but not completely juicy passionfruit taste, resulting in a slightly champagney dryness.  The dryness results in a shorter finish, as if the fruit becomes totally absorbed into the (very slight) roastedness.

The black IPAs I’ve had on cask (and all enjoyed) include Summer Wine’s Heretic; Thornbridge’s Raven and Saltaire’s Cascadian Black.  In Peculier Pub on Bleecker Street I also got to try 21st Amendment’s Back in Black on keg.  However this is the first time I’ve tried a bottled black IPA, and it worked very well.

All three of these beers were excellent, and the XS in particular is a beer I would be happy to buy on a monthly basis for the rest of my life if it was an option.  There’s always a bit of a thrill in having something that’s so rare, but fortunately the hoppy nature of these beers meant it would ruin them to try and keep them for ages, which is always a risk with me. 

Although I understand that Sam Franklin has flown away over the pond to Canada, I would welcome it if Roosters decided to reprise all three of these beers.  I’m only sad that the good proles of Leeds might not be amongst the first to try Sam’s next brew.  Blame Canada!

Big Pilsner Contest: Bierkeller v North Bar v The Grove

January 11, 2011 4 comments

There’s a new German Bierkeller which has opened on Park Row in Leeds, in the cellar of the building that also houses Shooter’s Sports Bar and the new “Park Row Bar & Brasserie”.

I haven’t ventured in yet, but I will in the near future. It offers an Oompah band on Fridays and Saturdays, serves their beers on tap in steins (if you fancy it) and would seem to promise the rowdy fun of the big beer tent at the German Christmas market in Millennium Square in Leeds, but all year round.  Whilst it’s not selling itself as a great place for a quiet, contemplative drink, much like the Christmas market I think it’ll probably lend itself well to an evening out with a large group of friends; birthday parties etc. 

I enjoy the atmosphere of the Christmas market (see picture above), but the beer selection isn’t that extensive. Kate pointed out that the Bierkeller’s website claims that they have “the largest German beer selection in the North” and expressed some doubt at this. I decided this was worth investigating.

This is the Bierkeller’s list of beers from the website:

On Tap
1. Paulaner Munchen Lager
2. Paulaner Hefe-Weisebier
3. Paulaner Dunkel Lager
X. Rosarda
4. Kaiserdom
5. Flensburger
6. Haus Bier

In Bottle
X. Timmermans Peche
X. Timmermans Kriek
X. Timmermans Frambois
7. Fruh Kolsch
8. Erdinger Schneeweisse
9. Schneider
10. Schlosser Alt
11. St Georgebrau

That’s quite a good selection, with some fruit beers (“Schooner of strong imported US craft keg for the gentleman; half of fruit beer in a branded stem glass for the lady” is destined to be the catchphrase for Al Murray’s successors). However all the fruit beers (Timmermans and Rosarda) are Belgian, so that leaves 11 German beers. A decent turnout – 11 Germans are generally considered a pretty formidable opposition – but surely at least one bar in Northern England can boast a larger selection?

I thought North Bar would be a likely competitor in Leeds. Bearing in mind that their online beer list doesn’t include the regularly changing guest beers, their extensive permanent selection contains the following Germans:

On Tap
1. DAB
2. Fruh Kolsch
3. Erdinger Urweisse
4. Guest German Wheat Beer
5. Schlenkerla Rauchbier

In Bottle
X. Fruh Kolsch
6. Jever
7. Kostritzer
8. Schlenkerla Rauchbier
9. Schneider Aventinus
10. Schneider Weisse
11. Weihenstephanan Kristall

That’s 12, but I’m afraid one of the Fruhs has to be disqualified as it turns up both on tap and in the bottle and the guest is, um, a guest. So Bierkeller probably holds out as unbeaten, at least for the best permanent selection of German beers in Leeds. Although someone may correct me on that; Mr Foleys has a fairly extensive selection of imported beers in the fridges these days.

Of course North also has a fantastic selection of US, Belgian and other great beers so it probably wouldn’t be interested in this particular scrap anyway. However the next challenger is a heavyweight in all categories: The Grove in Huddersfield [insert big fight entrance music here].

The Grove’s astonishingly extensive beer and cider menu is here. Amongst those 9 remarkable pages of small print you’ll find the following Germans:

On Tap
1. Erdinger Urweisse
2. Früh Kölsch
3. Jever

In Bottle
4. Schlösser Das Alt
5. Aecht Schlenkerla Eiche (Oak Smoke) Doppelbock
6. Erdinger Pikantus Dunkler Weizen-Bok
7. Neuzeller Bockbier
8. Schmucker Rose Bock
9. Schneider Aventinus Weizen Eisbock
10. Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock
11. Erdinger Pikantus Dunkler Weizen-Bok
12. St Georgen Brau Kellerbier
13. Kuppers Kolsch
14. Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen
15. Neuzeller Kirsch Beer (Cherry)
16. Veltins
17. Aecht Schlenkerla Eiche (Oak Smoke) Doppelbock
18. Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen
19. Schlenkerla Rauchbier Weizen
20. Erdinger Acoholfrei
21. Erdinger Pikantus Dunkler Weizen-Bok
22. Erdinger Weiss Dunkel
23. Maisel Weissbier Dunkel
24. Maisel Weissbier Hell
25. Paulaner Hefe-Weisbier
26. Schneider Aventinus

So there you go. The Bierkeller doesn’t have the best selection of German beer in the North, nor indeed in West Yorkshire.

To be fair I think any challenger in the North generally would have a hard time beating The Grove for selection in any category of beer. But then again, Bierkeller has more on tap; I don’t think I could cope with more than 11 steins of beer in one sitting; and I bet The Grove doesn’t have a house Oompah band.

Raj Against The Machine: Burton Bridge Empire Pale Ale

January 10, 2011 Leave a comment

I had a solid 14 hour day in the office today so it was good to come home to the arms of a strong comforting beer.

Burton Bridge Empire Pale Ale claims, “Wherever Victorian men served in the Empire, the pale ales of Burton were alongside them. Light in colour, strong and heavily hopped to survive long journeys over sea and land, the beers helped to preserve social life after sunset. This brew is a recreation of those famous ales that should equally soothe and sustain you after a hard day in the Urban Jungle.

Sounds about perfect. This bottle-conditioned beer poured quite flat, with little or no head, so judging by the huge persistent heads boasted of by reviewers on Beer Advocate, I think I might have (not for the first time) been a bit unlucky with the bottle fermentation.

However, regardless of that, there was a nice punchy alcoholic sour fruit smell as suits the 7.5% ABV. This carried through to the taste of an amped-up version of a classic IPA with a good traditional English hop bitterness in the aftertaste. I think there’s a bit of the sulphurous Burton water taste in there, but there’s a good amount of heady, sweet strength enveloping it.

The beer was a much-needed warming and relaxing end to a long day, but I have to say that the thing I like most about it is the label, which references the iconic, if anachronistically insensitive, Camp Coffee labels. Regardless of the truth of the IPA myth on the label, which is disputed by people interested in such modern fripperies as facts, evidence and historical accuracy, I’m very glad this beer exists along with its playful label.

Northern Irish Beer: Whitewater Brewery

January 6, 2011 2 comments

After the disappointment of the Strangford Lough and College Green brewery bottles – beers that had been difficult to find but uninspiring to drink, although in one case probably due to the expiry date – it was good to come back to Whitewater Brewery.  Whitewater bottled beers are increasingly easy to get hold of where I live in County Antrim: they’re in the big supermarkets as well as the better off licences.  This is impressive in Northern Ireland.

Whitewater’s been going since 1996 and is based in Kilkeel in South Down.  Although three of their beers start with the word “Belfast”, in Northern Irish terms that’s a fair distance from the capital.  However, they do seem to make reference to using yeast from an/the old Belfast Brewery.

On New Year’s Eve Kate and I decided to have a quiet night in, cook a nice dinner of salsa and garlic chicken and enjoy these beers in front of a real fire.

Whitewater Brewery Belfast Lager (4.5%)

The label says “crisp and full flavoured, this refreshing continental-style premium lager is brewed with the finest Saaz hops giving a beer rich in aroma and taste“.  It poured a light golden colour with a white head that dispersed quickly.  The smell was a malty lager one with a little sweet bubblegum.  It had a satisfying clean refreshing taste with a crisp lemongrass bitterness.

My brother enjoyed this beer a lot over Christmas and it could easily win over lager drinkers generally to local craft beer.  A very good crossover beer that doesn’t dumb down.

Whitewater Brewery Belfast Ale (4.5%)

A dark amber ale with a wonderful rich malt flavour and earthy aroma, brewed with three different hop varieties creating a distinctive bitterness and smooth finish”.

I had originally considered this the least interesting of Whitewater’s beers.  The appearance and taste is of caramel.  It has a slight sweet malty bitterness with a subtle fresh hoppiness.  It reminds me of Smithwicks with a bit more malty body and a more satisfactory amount of hops.  Again, this seems like a clever and competent improvement on a style that is already reasonably familiar to a fairly inexperienced market.

Whitewater Brewery Belfast Black (4.2%)

Now if there’s a style Northern Irish beer drinkers are familiar with, it’s stout.  This stout has a roasted smell which carries a smokiness through into the dry taste.  It’s not a very powerfully tasting stout, less viscous and sweet than stronger examples.  However it’s a more interesting drink than Guinness Original at the same ABV and that seems to be what it’s aiming for.

Whitewater Brewery Clotworthy Dobbin (5.0%)

Clotworthy Dobbin was an accomplished Belfast brewer making the finest of ales back in the early 1800s.  Clotworthy’s tradition continues today in the heart of Ireland’s famous Mountains of Mourne at the Whitewater Brewery … Made using the finest natural ingredients taken from the Mountains of Mourne and yeast from the Old Belfast Brewery itself, this wonderful russet coloured ale with its signature fruity aroma would surely be worthy of Clotworthy himself.

There’s only one Northern Irish beer in 1001 Beers You Must Try Before You Die and Clotworthy is the man himself.   It pours a deep reddish brown with a creamy yellow head.  It smells of rum and raisins and tastes of a rich, malty syrupy spiciness, with a burnt sugar bitterness.  It’s not as thick and spicy as a Theakston’s Old Peculier (which is slightly stronger), but it’s a very good winter beer.  I strongly recommend having it with a homemade mince pie and maybe a bit of mature Coleraine Cheddar.

It really is very heartening to find a brewery in Northern Ireland which appears (from the availability) to be succeeding on the basis of a solid range of traditional-style beers, all of which are as good or better than the comparable products of the big boys.  It’s only a shame that, due to the very limited availability of cask generally in Northern Ireland and near where my parents live in particular, I’ve not had time to hunt out and try more of their cask beers, which also look interesting and branch out into less traditional styles.

Northern Irish Beer: Strangford Lough and College Green Breweries

January 5, 2011 4 comments

Back in Northern Ireland over Christmas I decided to try and find some local beer, without venturing too far from the snow-battered tundra of South Antrim.  Happily it’s becoming relatively easy to find something to satisfy your needs in Northern Ireland if you want a good Scottish/English beer or even a bottle of Sam Adams Boston Lager.  However Northern Irish beers have been harder to find.

In recent trips home I’ve found Whitewater Brewery beers in my local, unusually good off licence in Ballyclare (Grape Expectations); Asda in Ballyclare; and Tesco in Newtownabbey (which also had Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Brewdog Punk IPA but not the Tesco Finest Imperial American IPA).  However I’ll deal with Whitewater in a later post.

But I was also interested in tracking down beer from other Northern Irish craft breweries: Hilden/College Green; Strangford Lough; Clanconnel; Inishmacsaint, none of were available in those places.  I didn’t find any trace of the latter two, but in Donard Wines in Newcastle, County Down, I did find three bottles.  After a very nice stop-off at The Cuan in Strangford for mussels and a Guinness (no Northern Irish beer being available in the pub, as usual) before getting the ferry across the lough, I got home and tried them:

Stangford Lough Brewing Company St Patrick’s Best (3.8%)

I’ve never seen Strangford Lough beers before but had heard of them.  The Good Beer Guide seem to think their beers are brewed under contract by an English brewery and there’s some discussion of that here.  Interestingly their website states: “We are currently selling licenses for the remaining territories in North America to qualified entrepreneurs who will then brew our beers to the high quality standards we specify, and then market and supply them in their individual territory“.

Regardless, the label describes St Patrick’s Best as a “session best bitter” with “a classic Irish malt and hops aroma“.  I would be interested to know which classic Irish “session bitter” they’re referring to that has any hop aroma.

The beer poured golden and had a fairly bland taste, with some slight chocolate maltiness.  There was no discernable hop bitterness but there was an acidic, slightly vinegary taste that made me suspect the beer was past its best (no pun intended).

In fact on checking the bottle the best before date was 17 November 2010, so it was almost 6 weeks out of date.  Although it’s probably unfair on the beer,  there was nothing there that would inspire me to try it again, given the option of a fresher bottle.

College Green Belfast Blonde (4.3%)

College Green brewery was apparently established by “the younger generation of the Scullion family” behind Hilden Brewery, and is based at Molly’s Yard restaurant in Belfast.  It’s not clear to me whether the beers are actually brewed in Belfast or at the Hilden Brewery in Lisburn, but I suspect it’s the latter.  In 2008 I made a special trip to the brewery Lisburn and picked up a selection of Hilden and College Green beers, none of which stuck in my mind.

Belfast Blonde is described on the label as “A clean tasty pale beer with a pleasant and distinct hop character lingering at the end“.   It poured a light straw colour with a thin white head which disappeared quickly.  It had hardly any discernable smell and the taste was a bland acidic lemony sweetness.  I got very little hoppy bitterness and overall found it pretty disappointing.

College Green Headless Dog (4.2%)

I had higher hopes for Headless Dog to pull it out of the bag for College Green.  This was described as “A pale hoppy ale produced with North American cascade hops and Munich malt“.

I thought the US hops would make this a great beer like Saltaire’s Cascade Pale Ale.  However, it was remarkably tasteless.  It looked like cooking lager and there was perhaps a little light hoppiness in the aftertaste if you really looked for it, but not even as much as a decent pilsner.

All in all this was a poor show for Northern Irish craft beer.  The Strangford Lough beer, which may or may not even be properly considered Northern Irish, was probably off and therefore my lack of enjoyment may simply be the fault of the shop and myself for not noticing the best before date.  The College Green beers, by contrast, were both well within date (by 8-10 months) and were both deathly dull.

Fortunately the more easily available Whitewater Brewery beers are a happier story, which I’ll come to in my next post.

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