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Summer Saturday: Marble vs Summer Wine at the Slip Inn, York

June 26, 2011 9 comments

Rivalry is a spur to progress. Brian Wilson may not have been inspired to create the heart-breakingly beautiful Pet Sounds if he hadn’t heard Rubber Soul and wanted to best it.  Of course, Wilson loved The Beatles and The Beatles loved The Beach Boys. For example, Mike Love suggested the lyrics about “Moscow girls” and “Ukraine girls” in Paul McCartney’s Beach Boys pastiche Back In The USSR whilst they were at a hippy retreat in India. Basically they were all in this together, similarly pushing the envelope but in different ways.

This is also the case amongst brewers. From what I’ve seen, the craft brewing industry in the UK is generally characterised by a collegiate and friendly atmosphere, and any rivalry stems solely from pride in one’s own product and desire for it to be the best.  The Marble and Summer Wine  “Battle Of The Breweries” event in The Slip Inn in York on Saturday was a good example. Eight great beers from each brewery were available to enjoy in the beer garden of a fine little pub outside the city walls, in the presence of the brewers, as well as an array of bloggers, publicans and other brewers.  York has seen many battles, but none so friendly.

The event had been suggested by the publican of this great little beer pub.  As well as the sixteen beers (dispensed from the main bar and in a shed at the end of the beer garden) there were some live folk and blues bands and a barbecue selling burgers and steak sandwiches.  Naturally, with that many beers, the food was much-needed.

The beers were fantastic: there was the malty/bitter Rouge Hop, the delicious coffee Barista Espresso Stout and fiercely bitter 7Cs, all from Summer Wine; the great Tawny No 5 and Lagonda IPA from Marble; and a superb range of hoppy sessionable pales from both (Odyssey and Zenith from Summer Wine, Pint and 3.9 W90 from Marble).  In very general terms, the Marble beers were nicely balanced and the Summer Wine ones gave you a bit more of an exhilarating slap in the face, although both obviously occupied the same ground, tending towards hop-forwardness, with some dark chocolate, ginger and coffee thrown in on the edges.  I didn’t try a beer that I didn’t like.

The small redbrick pub and beer garden were crammed to the gills with people enjoying the beer, music, barbecue, sunshine and company.  Beer, at its best, is a social drink. Enjoying this number of great beers on a rare warm June day in one of the greatest cities in England, chatting with friends and listening to a folk musician play “The Bear Necessities”, was one of those moments I’ll look back on fondly when the nights close in.

We all know that beer is a product and brewing is an industry.  However for the individuals behind small breweries it must seem, at times, that there would be very many easier ways to make ends meet.  But for the lads from Marble and Summer Wine who were there, chatting with fellow brewers and drinkers and enjoying each other’s beers, it must serve as a useful reminder of why their hard work is worth it, and why beer and summer go together perfectly.

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North Sea Scrolls: The Olde Ship Inn, Seahouses, Northumberland

June 23, 2011 7 comments

Last year, when Kate and I spent a weekend in Northumberland, we saw three ships.  One was The Ship at Low Newton-By-The-Sea, a seaside gastro- and brew-pub beloved of Guardianistas; another was The Ship on Holy Island (Lindisfarne), which would have been a satisfactory place to get stranded after the causeway was enveloped by the tide.  The third was The Olde Ship at Seahouses, and we returned to it last weekend.

Bamburgh is a really very beautiful village on the Northumberland coast.  The enormous and largely intact Norman castle stands on a basalt outcrop overlooking an idyllic village cricket green on one side and a beautiful, enormous beach (when the tide’s out) on the other, peering over to the Farne Islands.  We stayed in a hotel in the village and walked the three and a bit miles down the beach south to Seahouses.

Whereas Bamburgh is lovely, it’s clearly a middle class weekender destination: with delis selling locally-produced biltong and local beer, it seems oddly quiet for such a nice place, which suggests it’s entirely populated by well-off holiday-homers and people who work in the hotels.  Seahouses is a more traditional resort, with a working harbour, ice cream parlours, crazy golf and fish and chip shops.  “Grockleised”, as a friend put it, slightly dismissively, but I would say that it has all of the essential components of a fondly-remembered childhood seaside holiday, including the rain.

It was raining by the time we walked into Seahouses, but I didn’t mind at all as I was looking forward to the pub.  The Olde Ship Inn, with its cod-Olde Englishness, is an awful name for a good pub.  It’s been a licensed premises since 1812; which is some time ago but, I would suggest, a while after people stopped spelling “old” with an “e”.

The pub was busy (as it always seems to be) although we got a seat in the corner.  The public bar is full of the most amazing array of nautical tat: lobster pots; gas lamps; mascots; helms; compasses, barometers; fishtanks; flare guns; model ships; photos of salty tars; and a painting of the interior of the pub itself.  Irish theme pubs, with their road signs and bicycles, look positively restrained and minimalist in comparison.

The beer selection is good too.  There was a needlessly comprehensive selection of mainstream cask bitters that would keep your father happy: Black Sheep; Theakston; Old Speckled Hen; Courage Director’s Bitter; Ruddles County.  However they also had a few local beers that were worth trying.  Farne Island Bitter from Hadrian & Border is a solid and refreshing English-hopped pale ale with a good level of bitterness, just right after a walk on the beach. 

Two beers from High House Farm Brewery were interesting: Auld Hemp had a malty, leathery earthiness and Nel’s Best was a mellow blonde. Finally, Hadrian & Border Gladiator Bitter was an amber beer with a slightly salty smokiness to it.  After a few drinks we decided to get the bus back to Bamburgh to avoid the rain, before a hot shower and out again for dinner.  The rest of the night had a Hadrian & Border Tyneside Blonde and a Mordue Workie Ticket in store.

It all added up to a few good drinks of reasonably local beers for a warm, damp June day in the North East, surrounded by the remnants of Vikings, Normans, Anglo-Saxons, fishermen and Grockles.  I like to think that all of them drank a beer and then looked out on the North Sea from this wonderful beach as some light, salty drizzle fell on their faces; all feeling a little more peaceful to be staring at the edge of the world.

Closing The Book Of Joshua: Tetley’s Brewery 1822-2011

June 16, 2011 2 comments

Tetley’s means a lot to Leeds, but probably less to me. I’ve never really been a huge fan of the beer, which always seemed to me to be a pleasant if unexciting traditional English pale ale principally identifiable by a strong sulphurous, almost chemical taste – a very snatchy Burton Snatch, given the beer is from Leeds. Nonetheless, it was always a good pint, in the absence of a more exciting option.

It is a terrible shame, of course, that the brewery is closing tomorrow, after 189 years and causing the loss of 170 jobs. The history of the place means a lot to natives of Leeds, but I never saw the dray horses, who were retired in 2006, delivering to pubs around the city. I wish I had. My wife-to-be lived in Clarence Dock, overlooking the brewery and keg store, throughout our courtship; the pleasant smells and less enjoyable early morning noise of industry served as a backdrop to it. The steam rising from the brewery in front of the red neon lights of the sign was a regular feature of walks back to hers on dark nights.

The Adelphi, a Victorian pub near the brewery, was described until recently in the Good Beer Guide as the unofficial Tetley’s brewery tap. I was in last year, shortly after they stopped serving Tetley’s in favour of Leeds Pale. A solitary man of advanced years came in and ordered a Tetley’s, only to be told that it was off, forever. He was visibly taken aback. It was probably his regular drink, and had been for years.

Personally, I don’t really like Leeds Pale and would take a pint of Tetley’s any day. The Adelphi seems to have disappeared from The Guide, which seems a bit of a shame, as it’s a decent Nicholson’s pub with a good atmosphere, that gets a lot of young trendy drinkers into a very lovely old building.

The last time I had a pint of Tetley’s was in the bar of the Queens Hotel in Leeds City Square, by the train station. The Queens is a massive art deco chunk of a thing, constructed in 1937 and which gives off the general appearance of an Eastern European totalitarian palace when lit up at night. It seemed appropriate to enjoy one Leeds institution inside another. The bar wasn’t perfect – a little bit too purple and tarted up – but fine nonetheless. The beer, whilst the try-hard glass also gave the impression of sucking in its stomach, was a good pint.

Tetley’s will almost certainly remain a good pint when it’s brewed exclusively in Wolverhampton: brewing is a science. It just won’t be from Leeds, and for many drinkers that means everything. The city itself will suffer, at least in the short term, from another disused site, to go with the empty spaces where the stalled skyscrapers were promised to be. Another hole in the heart of the city.

Categories: Beer Tags: , , , ,

Small Beer: Micro Bar, Unit FC16, Arndale Food Market, Manchester City Centre

June 14, 2011 6 comments

At 11.17am on Saturday 15 June 1996, a 3,300lb bomb in a Ford Cargo lorry exploded on Corporation Street in Manchester, injuring 212 people.  The bombing was part of a renewed Provisional IRA campaign to cause massive economic damage on the mainland, which had been kicked off four months previously with the truck bomb at Canary Wharf in London that ended the 1994 ceasefire.  This spasm of violence (likely prompted by a stalemate in peace negotiations and a power struggle within the PIRA) was fortunately short-lived, and the Good Friday Agreement was signed less than two years later.

The vicinity of the bomb site at the Corporation Street side of the Arndale Centre has, in the last 15 years, been regenerated into the posh end of Manchester shopping. In fact I was in Manchester a few weeks ago looking in Harvey Nichols and Selfridges (both post-1996 additions) for a wedding suit.  More of a one-off expense for me; but this is just the place to spend your money as a well-paid footballer, or more likely a footballer’s wife or girlfriend (of whom there would seem to be a very much larger number than footballers).

Having picked suits with my brother, and with him having spotted a Manchester City keeper buying designer clothes (I’d never heard of him), we decided to get a drink.  On this wet day (it seems to rain an awful lot in Manchester), I didn’t want to go to the Northern Quarter or up the Rochdale Road, and The Good Beer Guide app on my iPhone had mainly identified a number of uninspiring-sounding Wetherspoons pubs in the area.  However it also mentioned the following interesting possibility.

Micro Bar is in the Arndale Food Market, at the other end of the shopping centre from the regenerated bling of Manchester Exchange.  It’s currently owned by Boggart Brewery  of Newton Heath (birthplace of at least one empire) and is, as the name suggests, a tiny bar and beer shop surrounded by the other food outlets, including both prepared food and a excellent-looking fishmongers and butchers.  This small stall/bar has apparently been going for some time under the control of Paradise Brewery (no, me neither) although Oh Good Ale and Tandleman’s reports suggest that it has improved massively under Boggart.  

The selection on the  five or so hand-pumps was varied and we tried Dark Star Saison (very pleasant and an interesting style to try on cask) and Pictish Brewer’s Gold.  The bottled selection was also good; obviously not as comprehensive as much larger shops such as Beer Ritz in Leeds or The Bottle in York, it did have a solid variety of American craft beers (Brooklyn, Flying Dog, Goose Island, Sierra Nevada, Anchor) and Belgians, as well a very interesting range from smaller English breweries.  These included some I’d never seen in bottles before, including Kirby Lonsdale.  Usefully these also had little brown paper luggage tags with descriptions.

Anthony Bourdain, in his most recent book Medium Raw, suggests that well-made street food is the way of the future in the West.  Arndale Food Market doesn’t quite have the feel of Borough Market in London or the rather wonderful Mercado San Miguel in Madrid, and despite the football cash Manchester, like most of the North, probably still leans more towards Greggs’ pasties than freshly-made tapas.

However, it’s still a good start, and Micro Bar makes me wish Kirkgate Markets in Leeds had somewhere similar, to drink a good beer whilst either considering your shopping list for that night’s dinner party, or simply munching on a steak bake.

Zythogeography: The Jerusalem Tavern and The Gunmakers, Clerkenwell

June 10, 2011 8 comments

There’s a great feeling of history to certain parts of London, much of it lumped together incongruously. Smithfield is a good example: the hygenic but necessarily gory work of butchers and poulterers in the covered market goes on as it has on the site for 1,000 years, just beside the nightclub Fabric; the site of the Carthusian monastry on Charterhouse Square; the 900 year old but extant St Bart’s Hospital; and the sprawling ’60s brutalist Barbican complex.

I decided to walk back from the City to Kings Cross after a meeting this week, taking in a bit of London on a warm June evening. I walked through Smithfield’s Grand Avenue when the stalls were very much closed (Smithfield is a hive of refrigerated lorries full of carcasses and traders trading in the very early hours) and up into the area where everything from the Michelin-starred restaurant, to the street names, to the presence of a striking museum shows the name of St John, because of the Priory of St John of Jerusalem founded here by the Knights Hospitallers in Clerkenwell in the 12th century.

Another remnant of the monastic order is the name of the Jerusalem Tavern on Britton Street, a pub which, as Martyn Cornell explains in the post that inspired me to visit, only dates back to 1996 but recalls the St John of Jerusalem Tavern on a site around the corner. The building however is much older than the pub (c.1720), and is decorated with a pleasant wooden austerity, with Hogarth prints on the wall (Beer Street and Gin Lane included, of course). Oh, and a stuffed fox.

It’s run by St Peter’s Brewery from Suffolk, who I generally think of as having nice bottles but unmemorable beers. However I did enjoy an Old Style Porter from the attractive cask-themed tap on the back bar. It had a surprisingly dry hoppy freshness paired with a cocoa powder sweetness.

Moving on, I wandered North West through Clerkenwell to find The Gunmakers on Eyre St Hill. I don’t know if The Gunmakers is a historic pub, or has any links to The Worshipful Company of Gunmakers, one of 108 livery companies that you see referred to in names and buildings (such as Plaisterers Hall) across the City of London: the various Worshipful Companies of Butchers; Poulters; Vintners; Brewers; Apothecaries etc.

The landlord of the Gunmakers is Jeff Bell, aka ex-beer blogger Stonch. It was a bright, airy pub inside on this summer teatime, with a selection of four beers on the handpumps, including Purity Mad Goose. I was obviously struggling to decide at the bar and was offered a taster if I liked. I tried Ascot Ales Gold Cup, and liked it enough to order it and a homemade Scotch egg.

The Gold Cup was in great condition and had a nice light red apple and orange flavour to the bitterness that made it a good pairing with the Scotch egg and English mustard. I decided that I really liked the Gunmakers, which seemed to have a good, welcoming and chatty atmosphere, just the place to relax for a while with a crossword or chat with friends over a few pints of a nice pale ale. The full menu looked appealing too.

With just a single pint of beer in me, I had to get back to Leeds, so wandered up towards Kings Cross. I found out that I’d been lucky in deciding to walk it and explore a bit of London, as those who had rushed to get back had been caught up in the delays caused by a lineside fire in Doncaster. Fortune favours the leisurely.

Underage At 23: Scientific Evidence For Raising The Drinking Age?

I don’t want to spout off about the scientific basis for neoprohibitionism, as I’m not a doctor and don’t presume to have a clue about such things.  However, I think it is worth noting that Dr Aric Sigman, who has suggested that the legal drinking age should be raised to 24 due to the effect on brain development, has some form.

Dr Sigman has previously published a number of tabloid headline-grabbing reports including that watching television causes autism and triggers the early onset of puberty in girls; and that social networking causes cancer.  Those shock headlines have doubtless helped the sales of his previous books, just as this story will help his just-published Alcohol Nation: How to Protect Our Children from Today’s Drinking Culture fly off the shelves and out of the warehouses.

Helpfully however, we have people like Ben Goldacre to point out that Dr Sigman may have cherry-picked evidence to suit his conclusions, in the context of the social networking story at least.

So I’m not prejudging whether Dr Sigman is correct in this instance, and whether there would or wouldn’t be overall health benefits of increasing the drinking age to 24, taking into account the difficulty of enforcement; driving more young people to drink in potentially unsafe environments; and all the other social factors involved.  However, I would say that I’d rather hear it from someone who has historically been less keen to win column inches in the Daily Mail and flog pseudoscientific potboilers.

Not, of course, that scientific evidence of some level of overall harm or benefit means you should immediately legislate.  But you know this already; you’re all grown-ups.

Categories: Beer

Summer Wine On Keg: 7Cs IPA

Being interested in new things doesn’t mean that you think old things should cease to exist.  It is possible to enjoy both a roast dinner and molecular gastronomy; to admire both Michelangelo and Picasso.  But if you have any real interest or passion on any subject, you will naturally be interested in exploring, if not mere novelty, then certainly variety and innovation.

James and Andy from Summer Wine Brewery are interested in innovation.  Their many plans for the next few months involve four different saisons, which will appear in keg and bottle only “as we feel saison as a style is best suited to an elevated level of carbonation to bring out that zesty, spicy, estery freshness“.

Their desire to choose the best tool for the job, from ingredients through to the method of dispense, is also reflected in their first (unfiltered, unpasteurised) keg beer: 7 Cs IPA, which debuted at the bar at Mr Foleys yesterday evening, on their new dedicated UK craft keg tap.  Doubtless to the disappointment of many Queen fans, 7Cs isn’t a rye beer.  Instead it’s a style very much suited to keg dispense: a big, bitter, hoppy IPA with (in a UK context) a relatively high ABV of 7%.  The name refers to the seven C-hops it’s made from: *deep breath* Columbus, Centennial, Chinook, Citra, Cascade, Crystal and Cluster.

The beer was a great one to have after work on this hot Friday evening: cool, pale, fresh and solidly, pleasantly bitter. It was on the bar next to O’Dell IPA on keg, one of my all-time favourite beers.  I was happy to keep alternating between the two: the O’Dell providing the rounded mango sweetness and the 7 Cs holding its own with its bitter hit.

The beer was actually served from a corny keg, although in future Summer Wine will be using real, no wait, actual kegs.  Mr Foleys will also have one of their Nerotype black IPAs on keg, and have some cask 7Cs in the cellar for comparison.  As I mentioned previously, the imported bottled selection also continues to improve whilst remaining reasonably priced and their cask range remains unbeaten in Leeds.

I want variety and novelty.  Pubs like Mr Foleys and breweries like Summer Wine continue to interest and excite because of variety and novelty.  They provide the possibility that your next beer could well be different to anything you’ve ever had, or might even the best you’ve ever tried.  And that is a good thing.

I should also say thanks to Dean for being an excellent host once again, and to Andy from Summer Wine, Leigh from The Good Stuff, Neil from Eating Isn’t Cheating, Tom and Ol from Roosters, Mr Foley’s chef and new beer blogger Tyler,  Adam, Mark from North Bar and Sir Zak Avery for a night of fun, if increasingly drunken banter.

Categories: Beer Tags: , , , , ,
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