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BrewDog Leeds: The best-laid schemes o’ dogs an’ men…

February 29, 2012 14 comments

Loiners are quite blessed when it comes to the craft beer on-trade, what with the North Bar group, Mr Foleys, Arcadia and the other Market Town Taverns, and the Leeds Brewery pubs. Nonetheless, it was exciting to see that BrewDog were hoping to open a small Leeds bar behind the Corn Exchange, especially given how much I enjoyed visiting BrewDog Glasgow.

However, as you may be aware, BrewDog failed to get their licence at a Licensing Sub-Committee hearing on 6 February. Thanks to the Council Website (and @ewanmitchell pointing me in the right direction), you can read the outcome of the hearing here.

In short, the reasons for the refusal were given as follows:

Whilst the concept of the bar and style of operation were welcomed, it was noted that the premises were within a violent crime hotspot within the Cumulative Impact Policy area. The Sub-Committee were regrettably not persuaded that the application would not add to the impact in the area, despite the undoubted experience of the operator.

This followed submissions from the West Yorkshire police that:

The premises was located in a violent crime hotspot within the Cumulative Impact area which was not covered by the Leedswatch CCTV system. Whilst much work had been done to try to address this, there were many problems and issues in that area. An additional concern was that Brew Dog would be likely to attract different people to it rather than those already using the area, therefore drawing additional people into the area which could exacerbate the problems there.

And @brewdogbarbruce‘s address to the sub-committee:

Mr Gray addressed the Sub-Committee in relation to his style of operation, indicating that he would hope to be a positive influence on the area by educating people to a different way of drinking. He informed the Sub-Committee that staff training was extensive and thorough and that customers were not allowed to become drunk.

Bruce’s witness statement also expands on the ethos of appreciation and education regarding beer, whilst noting that one of their other bars, BrewDog Edinburgh on Cowgate, is in an area associated with heavy drinking and a crime hotspot. Bruce’s statement is especially interesting in this comment regarding the Camden application:

…the local council were hesitant to grant the application, however once our concept was discussed with them the opinion (of both the police and the Committee) was that our concept is far more likely to decrease excessive drinking and antisocial behaviour than contribute to existing problems and hence the variation was granted. We have since had a great response both from local residents and Police.

I don’t intend to comment on the matter myself, but I think there’s an interesting debate to be had here: does an ethos of beer appreciation simply mitigate the damage done by another premises selling alcohol in an already-busy part of town, or can it actively improve the area? Does the calming influence of the beer geek pour hop oil on troubled waters?  Or, several thirds down, are we really just as antisocial as the rest, as this story might suggest?

From a selfish perspective, I admit to being a bit miffed that (at present) it appears I won’t be able to enjoy the BrewDog beers and other interesting imported beers that BrewDog Leeds would have stocked whilst claiming my Equity For Punks discount. At the same time I will admit that I probably wouldn’t have been visiting on a Saturday night very often, simply because I don’t find that end of town a particularly nice place to be when it’s packed with weekend revellers.

UPDATE: BrewDog appealed the decision and won at a hearing in Leeds Magistrates Court on 6 September 2012, as discussed here.  The bar opened in March 2013 and my review from the first week is here.

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Northern Sole: Imagining a life with only Northern English beers

February 21, 2012 26 comments

The other night I was thinking about how many Northern English breweries consistently impress and surprise me, and how many of them are relatively new.  Thornbridge Brewery seems like an established veteran of UK craft brewing, but it’s only seven years old.  Marble Brewery is positively neolithic in comparison to most, having started in 1997.

It is trite to say that the new wave of breweries in the UK owe a lot to the American scene.  However, the enjoyment with which I’ve been drinking hop-forward beers like Buxton Wild Boar, Summer Wine Diablo or Magic Rock High Wire makes me wonder if I even really need to buy American beers any more.  Certainly these English beers haven’t acquired either the age or the price uplift of their imported American inspirations by the time they make it to my shopping basket.

Then I wondered whether I really needed to drink beers from anywhere else at all.  Between them, Marble and Thornbridge have been working their way through the canon of Northern European beer styles recently, from Vienna lager through wheat beers to Kolsch, saisons, dubbels and tripels.  Summer Wine have also paid tribute in their own irreverent way with the Lime & Coriander Saison I’m drinking right now and the mind-bending but superb double Belgian Rye PA Cohort.  Sure, I’d miss Orval, but I could certainly attempt to console myself with Durham Brewery’s Bombay 106.

This is not to mention the excellent quality of both traditional English beer styles and those newer styles which, although influenced from abroad and made with New World hops, are nonetheless peculiarly British: the barley wines; the strong stouts and porters like Hawkshead Brodie’s Prime; the cask session pale ales like Roosters Yankee, Ilkley Mary Jane or Hawkshead Windermere Pale; and yes, even the brown bitters that sell by the gallon.

After a bit of thinking, looking at Google Maps and (frankly) gerrymandering, I concluded that, if it came to it, I could probably cope with drinking only beers brewed within a 75 mile radius of my house in North Leeds.  Provided, of course, that they had access to hops flown from the other side of the world.  (I should note I hadn’t even considered Burton and it ended up within the area quite by accident – I was pushing north east and north west). That would allow me to enjoy beers (inter alia) from all of the following breweries:

Acorn, Black Sheep, Buxton, Coniston, Cropton, Daleside, Durham, Goose Eye, Hambleton, Hardknott*, Hawkshead, Ilkley, Kelham Island, Kirkstall, Leeds, Little Valley, Liverpool Organic, Magic Rock, Mallinsons, Marble, Ossett, Red Willow, Revolutions, Ridgeside, Roosters, Saltaire, Sam Smiths, Stringers, Summer Wine, Thornbridge, Timothy Taylor, and York.

Whilst I would scrape by on these riches, in quiet moments I would find myself yearning for Orval, Brooklyn Lager, St Bernardus, Sierra Nevada Torpedo or even Jever.  I’d certainly miss Kernel and Brewdog; it would sting on a positively existential level to never enjoy another Irish stout.  The worst would be to travel and not enjoy local beers: cursed to stick to the Watney’s Red Barrel in “Majorcan bodegas selling fish and chips […] and calamares and two veg“.

But I think this exercise has helped me to realise that one of the best things about beer is that someone in the smallest unit of an industrial estate in West Yorkshire can buy foreign ingredients and build on the innovation and tradition of other brewers, cultures and traditions, to make the some of best beer in the world, right on my doorstep.  It’s a credit to those American, Belgian and other brewers that they have inspired them to do so.

You can’t say that about wine.  As they say in Doncaster: bollocks to Terroir.

*Just about: I might have to add an extra half a mile…

Update: For a reply from Southern England, see Mark Landell’s blog.

Ilkley Beer Festival: Cask Ale, Abbey Cider, Tasty Pies and Craft Keg

February 12, 2012 17 comments

Ilkley Beer Festival is one of those events that I always hear about before the event itself, but after tickets have sold out.  In the past I’ve tended not to mind too much, because it’s a festival organised by the Ilkley Round Table rather than CAMRA: what could the Round Table know about beer that CAMRA doesn’t?

However, having had the chance to go to the festival on Saturday afternoon as a friend had some spare tickets, I can say that they did an excellent job, and I’ll be quick to snap up tickets for next year.  This is partially due to the long list of corporate sponsors for the charity event: local solicitors, accountants, architects, bankers; the great and good of this predominantly middle-aged, middle class, West Yorkshire spa town which lies in the commuter belt for Leeds and Bradford.

However having a lot of money to throw at a beer festival doesn’t in itself lead to a good festival.  The venue’s pretty good: the King’s Hall in Ilkley is a good size and ornate, certainly a step up from certain other festival venues I’ve been to. The festival also benefits from a stall from the local butchers, Lishmans, which offers hot pies, sausage rolls and “Yorkshire pasties” for a voucher (£1.25) each.

Oh yes, I meant to mention the beer.  I would find it hard to put together a much better list of English cask ale breweries, including Buxton, Mallinsons, Roosters, Thornbridge, Marble, Oakham, Bristol Beer Factory, Dark Star, Red Willow, Hawkshead, Magic Rock, Brodies, Revolutions, Stringers and of course Ilkley Brewery.

I most enjoyed Brodies Citra (on the recommendation of @misterfrosty), a great beer for 3.1%; Hawkshead NZPA and Buxton Wild Boar IPA, both excellent strong, citrusy IPAs; and Revolutions’ Milk and Alcohol, a silky milk stout that Leigh and Dean had a hand in. Another highlight was the superb Ampleforth Cider, as made by a German monk in North Yorkshire, which was a steal at £1.25 a half, given that it’s 8.3% and usually costs upwards of £7 a bottle.  I’m afraid I missed the whisky cask-aged cider from Udders Orchard.

One interesting footnote is the “craft keg” section of the beer list, which had a single British keg offering from Ilkley Brewery, alongside two American (Brooklyn Lager, Flying Dog Pale Ale) and two German keg beers (Jever, Flensburger). All but the local Ilkley beer would have been “permitted” by CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival as “Bières Sans Frontières”, which does seem a little odd.

However I think we’re in real danger of making the term “craft keg” look absurd pretty quickly if we start using it to refer to Jever: a very tasty lager from a large scale brewery which is part of the Oetker Group, the food processor which also owns “a maritime freight business, a bank, a publishing company, an insurance outfit […] and a number of high-class hotels all over Europe”.

4×4: Quads Compared – La Trappe v Ommegang v Straffe Hendrik v St Bernardus

February 5, 2012 8 comments

In general, one does not associate Belgium with extremism, but they have given the world some wonderful strong beers. Zak Avery says in 500 Beers that “the journey up the intensity scale from dubbel to tripel must logically conclude with quadrupel”.  However, reading about the style you could be forgiven for thinking the debate about “black IPAs” is merely a little local difficulty.  Much of the literature (excluding Zak, of course) displays a weary disapproval of the naïve, American-influenced neophyte, fooled into drinking and enjoying an inauthentic beer style.

One struggles to find a proper definition, and Ratebeer would seem to suggest that there are two distinct styles or sub-styles: dark, maltier Abts (eg Westvleteren, St Bernardus) and paler “peachy” Quadrupels (eg that of the Dutch Trappist brewery, La Trappe).  Other accounts would have it that “Abt” (“abbot”) or “12” is merely the original Belgian designation for the style described as “quadrupel” elsewhere, the latter term originating with La Trappe.

However,  reading about beers is a poor substitute for drinking them, and I had accumulated four quadrupel/abt style beers.  Given the pleasing symmetry, I thought they were worth trying and comparing over a few nights.

La Trappe Quadrupel (10% ABV)

Pours russet, with a large dense, lasting cream-coloured head. Sweet malty aroma. A rich taste with a lot of sweetness up front quickly revealing a toast (actual buttered toast) and caramelised sugar flavour. Not especially bitter, perhaps just enough to add a bit of definition to the finish. Although it has a thick, oily mouthfeel, it’s actually quite mellow and enjoyable in a warm butter croissant way, although I was left wondering whether there was anything to distinguish it from an English barley wine.

Brewery Ommegang 2011 Three Philosophers (9.8% ABV)

This American quadrupel is actually mixed with 2% cherry kriek. The big head is slightly fluffier and a touch more nicotine-stained than the La Trappe. The aroma shows off a tart sour fruitiness at the edges of the sweet maltiness. In colour it’s slightly darker and redder than the La Trappe. In comparison the taste is still sweet but less so; deep and drier with a kriek tartness. I’d like to try a version without the cherry, but suspect the flavour would be more elusive.

Straffe Hendrik 11° “Brugs Quadrupel Bier” (11% ABV)

When we did the brewery tour in Bruges last summer, they told us that this relatively new beer had been suggested by their American distributors.  The very big fluffy loose head has a bit of yellow to it. This is obviously a much darker beer than the previous ones: deep reddy -brown that looks beautiful held up to the light. There’s not really much of an aroma, perhaps slightly of malt loaf. The taste is immediately warming and alcoholic, a tingle in the mouth.  The sweetness is vinous but tart: almost a hint of brandy, perhaps fortified red wine, and a little dark chocolate. It’s really very enjoyable, a warm bath of a beer.

St Bernardus Abt 12 (10% ABV)

St Bernardus is brewed by the commercial brewery that held the licence to produce St Sixtus beers, before this was withdrawn and the “Westvleteren” beers, including “Abt” (Ratebeer’s best beer in the world) were taken back in-house, or rather in-abbey.  As to how similar the equivalent Westvleteren and St Bernardus are, see this post from Boak & Bailey.  St Bernardus scores very well on Ratebeer too, although it commands less mystique than the hard-to-find Westvleteren.

St Bernardus pours with a relatively light-coloured head, the beer as dark in colour as the Straffe Hendrik, but less red. The aroma is more upfront, signalling the sweet, dark, vinous maltiness within. It has a similar character to the Straffe Hendrik: a little bit of red wine, some dark chocolate, raisins. There’s something else there though, a little spicy, lifting the taste: vanilla, maybe even cardamom.  This, and a less thick body than you might expect from the ABV, makes it very drinkable.

In conclusion it does seem to me that there is a definite difference between the La Trappe Quadrupel and St Bernardus Abt 12, most evident in the colour, but also the taste.  My personal preference is for the darker, deeper “Abt”, and it’s a style/sub-style that I’ll definitely be coming back to.

For another comparison of this style of beer, see this post from Mark Dredge, the comments to which display some of the best and worst of online beer discussion.

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