If I only got to drink one style of beer for the rest of my life it would be India Pale Ale. I think that’s probably the case for a lot of beer bloggers. It certainly seems to be the beer that geeks are made of, at least in its US incarnation. The IPA that got me really excited was a British-made but US-influenced IPA, Thornbridge Jaipur, and it’s gratifying to see that it was also a watershed beer for Kelly Ryan who brewed it for some years.
In case you haven’t noticed, Thursday 4 August 2011 is International IPA Day, details of which are here. Pubs and breweries in a number of countries will be staging events and David @broadfordbrewer Bishop pulls together details of events at The Sparrow in Bradford, The Grove in Huddersfield and Mr Foleys in Leeds here.
As for myself, I’m very much looking forward to attending Mr Foleys, where they’ll not only have an amazing range of IPAs but also a choice of two curries from Leeds’ most exciting secret curry ninjas Manjit’s Kitchen. There will be brewers or representatives from many of the breweries whose beers will be on and also talks from Zak Avery and Mark Fletcher of this cyberparish.
I think the range of beer is incredibly exciting, as previously set out on Neil’s blog and lazily copied and pasted here. Please note that it may be subject to minor changes:
Magic Rock ‘Human Cannonball’ 9.2% £5.50/£2.75
Summer Wine ‘7C’s of Rye’ 7% £3.20/1.60
Brewdog ‘Hardcore IPA’ 9.2% £5.00/£2.50
Brewdog ‘Hello, My Name Is Ingrid’ 8.5% £5.00/£2.50
Buxton ‘Axe Edge’ 6.8% £3.30/£1.65
Kirkstall ‘Dissolution IPA’ 5% £3.00/£1.50
Roosters ‘Underdog IPA’ 5% £3.00/£1.50
Red Willow ‘Peerless’ 5.2% £3.00/£1.50
Hardknott ‘Code Black’ 5.6% £3.10/£1.55
Odell ‘IPA’ 7% £4.20
Stone ‘Cali-Belgique 2010’ 6.9% £6.00
Victory ‘Hop Devil’ 6.7% £4.00
Victory ‘Hop Wallop’ 8.5% £5.00
Dogfish Head ‘90 Minute IPA’ 9% £6.00
Sierra Nevada ‘Torpedo’ 7.2% £3.80
Maui ‘Big Swell IPA’ £4.30
Goose Island ‘IPA’ 5.9% £3.30
Brewdog AB:06 11.5% £15.00
Brewdog ‘Punk IPA 5.6% £3.40
Brewdog ‘Hardcore IPA’ 9.2% £4.50
Red Willow ‘Ageless Double IPA’ 7.2% £4.00
On 12 July 2011 the winner of a Yorkshire Post/Welcome To Yorkshire vote to name “Yorkshire’s Favourite Pub” was announced at The Great Yorkshire Show. The winner, by public vote, was The Shibden Mill Inn, near Halifax.
The shortlist of 12 was as follows: “The Adelphi, Leeds; The Angel Inn, Hetton; near Skipton: The Anvil Inn, Sawdon, near Scarborough; the Black Swan Inn, York; The Black Swan, Driffield; Durham Ox, York; Farmers Arms, Upper Swaledale; George and Dragon, Hudswell, near Richmond; The Milestone, Sheffield; One-Eyed Rat, Ripon; Shibden Mill Inn; Shoulder of Mutton, Harrogate.”
What I find interesting is that, unlike a lot of the other entries, the Shibden Mill isn’t actually in the current edition of CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide, according to my iPhone app. I wonder what it was that meant that a public vote for a favourite pub selected a Cask Marque pub which serves real ale (“a wonderful selection of cask ales”) and yet has been overlooked by CAMRA?
The thing that sticks out to me from the website, having not actually visited, is that it looks like a very nice place to go for dinner, or to stay in one of the rooms. Basically it sells itself more as a venue for eating than for drinking, and perhaps this is the reason that it’s not included in the Good Beer Guide, with the Halifax/Huddersfield area offering quite a few excellent pubs that are obviously pubs. I would assume that most of the other finalists have a good bar menu as well.
This might be indicative of a general disconnect between the general public (or perhaps casual pub-goers) and CAMRA/beer geeks. Many of the casual pub-goers go to the pub once a week for a hearty weekend meal and one or two pints of a beer at a sensible ABV, perhaps before driving home. By contrast, I imagine most of the latter group (whether at the CAMRA or bloggerati end of the spectrum) would view The Grove in Huddersfield as close to a Platonic ideal: a huge, ever-changing selection of good beer, some bar snacks and staff who know their stuff. Essentially, we want Dave and Barbara to refer us to the blackboard.
I may be reading too much into it, and it’s simply that the average Yorkshire Post reader wants different things from the pub than an average active CAMRA member. Another illustration might be my reaction to the recent Leeds Bar & Club Awards 2011, where my favourite Leeds pubs were largely overlooked in favour of what I would class as weekend music venues. It’s probably just the case that the people who voted (including Leeds Guide readers), unlike myself, view a Saturday night on Call Lane as something other than the third circle of hell.
I think my conclusion is the rather mundane one that different groups of people frequent different types of pub. Our idealised view of the pub as a place where the whole community comes together, the ultimate “Third Place“, is probably a fallacy. There have always been different drinking venues for different people: working men’s clubs, political clubs, gentleman’s clubs, student’s unions. The “local” wasn’t always welcoming for all and many people would never have been seen dead in one.
Basically, what makes a good pub for me is probably not to a lot of other people’s tastes. When people talk about “the pub” they can mean vastly different things. I’m fortunate that, at the moment, there appear to be enough like-minded people who are interested in variety and what I regard as good beer to keep the places I love going, and that these pubs in turn support a thriving craft brewing industry.
A good Sunday, on which we went to Sheffield to walk around John Lewis with a scanner to assemble a wedding list. This turned out to be less of a chore than it might have been (“Yep, if someone wants to buy me one of those, that would be nice”) , and we got a free pot of tea and cherry Bakewell bun each in the John Lewis cafe for our efforts.
Afterwards I was rewarded for good behaviour with a trip to the splendid Sheffield Tap for a few beers before the train back to Leeds. A bottle of Thornbridge Versa, the brewery’s new Weisse Beer, was very nice: pleasant and banana-ey, basically a well-crafted and unimpeachable version of a style that doesn’t really excite me. Magic Rock High Wire was on solid form on cask and Thornbridge Raven, also on cask, remains a truly great beer. A bottle of Urthel Hop-It (9.5%; crikey) was a nice blonde hoppy Belgian, but far from being the US-influenced double IPA that I had expected for no good reason. Note for the future: if you want a US double IPA, just order one.
The main point of this blog post, however, is to ask your opinion on a matter of some recent concern to me: pewter tankards. Beer can be drunk from pewter in the Booking Office bar at St Pancras, as well as the Fox & Anchor at Smithfield. In both North and Further North in Leeds, regulars have their own pewter tankards hanging on the wall by their names.
But are they really any good? Do they add or detract from the drinking experience? You certainly see less of the beer, but does it taste more metallic? Do they keep the beer colder than glass? I’m thinking of adding a Sheffield-make tankard to my wedding list and your comments would be a great help.
If you ever go to New York I recommend having a Prohibition Punch (as modelled by Kate, below) at The Campbell Apartment in Grand Central Station. The apartment, previously the luxurious private office of John Campbell, a jazz age financier and railway tycoon, was reopened as a bar in 1999 with a suitable cocktail menu.
Our previous trip to the Campbell Apartment was one of the reasons I wanted to visit the new Booking Office bar at St Pancras. The recently-opened Renaissance St Pancras Hotel occupies part of the huge and ornate Midland Grand Hotel (1873-1935) as designed by Sir Gilbert Scott, after whom the new fine dining restaurant headed by Marcus Wareing is named. A lot of thought has gone into recreating the glamorous history of the building, from the décor to the historic recipes in the restaurant.
The Booking Office bar, which was the old ticket office, stands between the hotel lobby and the first floor platforms from which the Eurostars run to Paris, beside Carluccio’s and The Betjeman Arms. The room itself has a hugely high ceiling. On what was a very warm summer’s day it was a nice, cool place to relax before the train back to Leeds.
We ordered a couple of cold beers to start with and had a good light lunch: a chicken and avocado sandwich for myself and salmon fishcakes for Kate. They had a number of Meantime beers on keg including their very pleasant London Pale Ale. The beer came in pewter tankards, which was a first for me. I’m not entirely sure if it added or detracted from the beer, but it definitely looked good and kept the lovely crisp pale ale cold and refreshing.
In common with the recipes used in The Gilbert Scott, the drinks menu in The Booking Office is intended to hark back to the era of the original Midland Grand. The beers may ruin this theme slightly by being on keg rather than cask, but they are of good quality (Meantime, Harviestoun). Meantime attempts to replicate old beer styles so the method of dispense perhaps shouldn’t matter quite so much.
However where the focus lies is the cocktail and punch menu. I had a Billy Dawson Punch Rocks, a nicely boozy punch which came in a small copper mug with fruit floating in it. Kate had a nice lemony concoction made with egg white, the name of which escapes me.
Of course the bill was a bit steep, but The Booking Office is a very special place to sit for a while, soaking up a little bit of glamour and a nice punch. As railway waiting rooms go, it definitely beats the first class lounge in Kings Cross.
The Black Dossier: Black Rocks v Proper Black v Kernel Black IPA v Raven v Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale
I’ve avoided tasting posts recently, as I realised some months ago that it wasn’t my forté. However, with five black IPAs in the fridge, it seemed a shame not to do a little experiment, so here we go: five black IPAs enter the ring; only one will emerge victorious. With a style this nascent, but already verging on passé in some quarters, it’s worth seeing what it really has to offer, eh?
Buxton Brewery Black Rocks 5.5%
Prior knowledge: Nice on cask, from a very promising new brewery who specialise in hop-forward but drinkable beers. I met the guys from the brewery at North Bar recently and they were lovely.
Label-derived facts: Contains Columbus, Cluster and Southern Cross hops.
Blackness: Pretty bloody opaque to start off with, in a full glass. Not priest-sock black, but cola-like round the sides as it gets to the bottom.
Aroma: Nice light citrusy aroma. Bodes well.
Taste: Good, very slightly oily mouthfeel. Acidic, citric taste (unspecific fruit) and a little blackcurrant, some background espresso roastiness. Is light roastiness good or bad in a black IPA? Bad for the illusion, but when you boil it down, perhaps this is the genre’s USP?
Turning to the dark side rating: 7/10. A good very, drinkable beer and a fine example of the form. Smells great, but I would prefer a more malty US-style IPA or a pale ale with some fresher fruitiness. For more on Black Rocks, see Hopzine.
St Austell Proper Black 6%
Prior knowledge: Black version of Proper Job, which is an excellent bold IPA and arguably the best widely-available cask beer in Cornwall. Original beer named after some Cornish regiment’s involvement in quashing the Indian Mutiny, presumably explaining the strikingly bitter aftertaste.
Label-derived facts: Brewer’s Gold, Chinook, Centennial, Cascade hops. Their own yeast. You can’t have any of St Austell’s yeasty goodness. Their mycoculture is their castle.
Blackness: Less opaque than above, but black enough. At least as black as Guinness Original, I reckon.
Aroma: Less than the Black Rocks, light and citrusy but slightly bready too.
Taste: Thinner and certainly more savoury and traditional on the tongue, much more like an English pale ale. Fizzy with larger bubbles, despite also being bottle conditioned. Not exactly kicking my arse with the bitterness, immediately following the Black Rocks. More dark chocolate than coffee in the roastiness, as well as a little bit of nuttiness.
Turning to the dark side rating: 6/10. A pleasant beer but not one that really shows off the appeal of the style. Faced with this and a Proper Job, I might choose either depending on my mood, but would go for the Proper Job 66% of the time.
The Kernel Berwery India Pale Ale Black 7.2%
Prior knowledge: I like this. Glyn from the Rake collaborated in the brewing of it. Kernel are basically this one bloke who sold cheese at Borough Market and developed his home-brewing into his job. Blessed are the cheesemakers.
Label-derived facts: It’s a black IPA from Kernel. It’s bottle conditioned. It’s best before March 2013 (really?).
Blackness: Quite black. It’s got a lot darker since I opened the first bottle so difficult to say. Basically they’re all dark brown really, but Dark Brown India Pale Ale isn’t as compelling a name for a style. None of them are “priest-sock black”.
Aroma: Stunning. Big, heady aroma with passion fruit, lychee, all that tropical stuff that you get in cans of Rubicon.
Taste: A slightly fizzy mouthfeel that merits a bit more swirling to knock the bubbles out. After that much smoother. The rich and lasting tropical citrus bitterness is great and pretty much eclipses any roasted malt flavours until the death, where there is a smooth chocolatey whimper in the night.
Turning to the dark side rating: 8/10. Really nice, but I still prefer some of Kernel’s non-black IPAs. The brilliant distinguishing hoppy freshness of the Kernel range is very slightly cut short by the underlying roastiness. It is very lovely though. Mmmm…
Thornbridge Raven 6.6%
Prior knowledge: The first Black IPA I ever had, from cask in the Narrow Boat in Skipton on the day before my 30th birthday. It was sensational then, but I’ve rarely had it since and never from the bottle.
Label-derived facts: Nelson Sauvin, Centennial and Sorachi Ace hops. Maris Otter, Black and Chocolate malts.
Aroma: Right from the first smell you get the roastiness along with the pine and fruitiness.
Taste: This mixture of flavours comes through to the taste. There is much more coffeelike maltiness than the previous examples, but it still doesn’t dominate and the fairly complex-tasting varieties of hops come together into a wonderfully sweeping mixture of bitterness. Not too bitter though, but a drink to really savour, with the warm booziness more obvious than the Kernel.
Turning to the dark side rating: 9/10. Suddenly Black IPAs make sense: a fantastic beer all round. There’s a good malt flavour in here that is perfectly balanced with the rich bitterness and solid ABV. However, it could easily be described as a light hoppy porter; you definitely would not mistake this beer for a normal IPA if you closed your eyes.
Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale 8.7%
Prior knowledge: 100/100 on ratebeer. Crikey. This one’s a bit old, unfortunately. Big hoppy Stone beers seem to be slightly past their best when they get to us in the UK and then I went and sat on this bottle for a couple of months. Idiot.
Label-derived facts: Blah blah blah “first brewed in 2007 as the Stone 11th Anniversary Ale” blah blah blah “thusly” blah.
Blackness: Black, ruby notes around the edge when held up to the light.
Aroma: Woah! Big, strong malty high-ABV US IPA smell, with even more molasses.
Taste: Dark, liquorice, bitter, very richly flavoured indeed; really big and viscous. Calls out for some food and a glass of water to break it up a bit. There’s a lot of slightly acidic bitterness, but no obvious fruitiness. Loads of dark fiercely bitter chocolate malt.
Turning to the dark side rating: 7/10. Perhaps less fresh than it should have been, this bottle is an enormous, dark, malty, bitter and interesting drink to sip slowly. It’s not an IPA though… or not any more, anyway.
The Black Gospel
Firstly I should say that I felt that I got value for money for each of these bottles. They were all, at the very least, good beers from great breweries. I think that I should caveat the above by saying the Stone beer was older than it really should have been, so don’t let me put you off a fresh bottle.
After trying all of them over a few nights, it’s clear there’s a balance to be struck with Black IPAs. You can pretend that there’s no dark malt involved at all and try to surprise people, or you can embrace a limited amount of roastiness and make a great beer with [Greg Wallace voice] big hop flavours [/Greg Wallace voice]. That’s what Thornbridge Raven is: a wonderful, sophisticated, superbly balanced beer that expertly exploits the best features of the style. But what else do you expect from Thornbridge?
I do like beer festivals. CAMRA are subject to a lot of criticism (some of which is justified) and stereotyping (some of which is hard to disprove), but the organisation and volunteering behind local beer festivals is a testament to a common interest that these people are willing to sacrifice their time pursuing and promoting.
So, in Chorlton-Cum-Hardy at the weekend, I went to a beer festival in a churchyard and tried a lot of nice beers, the best of which (to my mind, and of those that happened to be still on in the four hours I was there) was Moor Illusion, a nice hoppy porter/black IPA (Who knows? It smelled great and tasted really good).
I sat outside on garden furniture; chatted with my brother and his girlfriend; listened to some live light jazz; witnessed a dramatic moment when a plastic gazebo was destroyed by the wind; ate a roast pork sandwich; saw two friendly vicars; used a chemical toilet of only moderate eurgh-ness; and was surrounded by people who were having a good time.
Chorlton-Cum-Hardy seems very Nigel Slater: jute bags; yummy mummies; designer cupcakes; and yoga. I live in a not-dissimilar (but not quite as marvellous) area of Leeds. Days like this, and the Chapel Allerton festival in Leeds (not strictly a beer festival, but usually served by a Roosters stall) help us think that we live in villages even though we don’t: we live in cities and arguably, in both cases cited, unrepresentative middle class enclaves inside those cities.
We actually live in a massively complex overlapping Venn diagram comprised of electronically-connected diasporas of shared social and economic interests, rather than simply geographically proximite communities. As such mutual interests go (knitting; yoga; accountancy; battle reenacting; comics; medicine; death metal; crown green bowls; dogging), beer is a good one for me, and I’m very grateful for the volunteers that allow us to enjoy and share such an interest, in the sunshine with friends, on days like this. Because we all need to feel like we belong, and a good beer or four helps that process immensely.