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Taste Cumbria Beer Festival, Cockermouth and Pete Brown

September 30, 2012 3 comments

Having explored quite a lot of Cumbrian beers recently, it was good to cap it off with a visit to the Beer Festival at Taste Cumbria.  The CAMRA-run festival at the Jennings Brewery was part of a programme full of exciting food events in Cockermouth.

Because there was so much on, we only got to spend a few hours at the festival, but enjoyed a few of the range of Cumbrian beers and got to talk with some luminaries of the Cumbrian beer scene including Neil Bowness and his other half Sharon, Jeff Pickthall,  Hardknott Alex and Coniston’s Ian Bradley and Helen Bradley.  The beers were a good representation of the Cumbrian beer landscape and included some excellent examples from the progressive fringe, including Hawkshead NZPA, Hardknott Code Black, Coniston Infinity IPAConiston No 9 Barley Wine and Stringers Furness Abbey.

In addition I got to try a couple of beers from breweries that were less familiar to me.  Hesket Newmarket Scafell Blonde was a pleasant light blonde of which it would be easy to sink a few pints after a long summer walk.  Great Gable Yewbarrow from Egremont was a great beer hiding behind an unassuming pumpclip: a 5.5% strong dark mild that was packed with flavour.

We also got to chat with Pete Brown at the festival, and on the Sunday we went to his talk and tutored tasting.  We tried a perry, cider and five beers from the festival, which Pete talked us through in an engaging and informative manner.

He also did a couple of readings from his books, including his new one, Shakespeare’s Local, about the history of The George Inn in Southwark.  It sounded like it should be as fascinating and funny as the rest of his books, an exercise in studying the wood by looking very closely at a single tree. The book is released on 8 November and will be a Radio 4 Book Of The Week in December.  Pete also talked about his new project surveying international ciders and perries for a world cider guide, which sounds like it should be an interesting survey of an drink that isn’t usually considered in a global context.

Sadly, I missed a few of the other beer events, including Jeff Pickthall talking about the more esoteric beers of Cumbria (although Jeff very kindly gave us a bottle of his aged stock of No 9) and Pete and Jeff’s pub quiz on the Saturday night.  But it has been a fantastic weekend and everybody involved, especially including Neil and Sharon, deserve a lot of thanks for the work they put in to showcasing the best of Cumbria’s beers prominently alongside the best of its food.

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The Westmorland County Show, Hawkshead Brewery and the Hawkshead Beer Hall, Staveley

September 27, 2012 Leave a comment

A couple of weeks ago we went to the annual Westmorland County Show. I’ve never been to an agricultural show before but it’s difficult to describe how much fun it was without sounding like an enthusiastic three year old: “There were sheep and really fat pigs and massive bulls and weird chickens and ferrets and huge owls and men with chainsaws and kids Cumberland wrestling and great cheese and lots and lots of tractors…” It was amazing though.

The bar for the show was provided by Hawkshead Brewery, and it was good to see that, alongside their standard Bitter (which is a very enjoyable example of a safe style), they were also selling a lot of Windermere Pale, which is packed with Citra, all for £2.50 a pint.

It struck me that what you might assume to be the most conservative of audiences was taking very well to such a modern beer style, in the same way that Coniston seem to be able to sell Infinity IPA and Bluebird XB in traditional pubs in remote market towns. Whilst unexciting brown bitters seem to be the norm in most Cumbrian pubs, perhaps they needn’t be.

We also managed to squeeze in a trip to the Hawkshead Beer Hall at the brewery in Staveley, for another Windermere Pale (it’s great to have a really nice session strength beer when you’re driving) and a scotch egg, pork pie, sweetcorn fritters and mushrooms and stilton on toast. We also picked up a fancy numbered bottle of St Austell Royal Diamond Jubilee Imperial IPA to take away.

I’ve written about the Beer Hall before, but I mention this just to emphasise that Hawkshead Brewery in particular seems to be pulling the Cumbrian beer scene up by its bootstraps, both through its beers and also its brewery tap.

Cumbria Way Pubs: The Old Crown, Hesket Newmarket and Hesket Newmarket Brewery

September 26, 2012 5 comments

For our final night of the Cumbria Way we originally intended to stay in Caldbeck, the traditional stopping point before the final 14 or so miles to Carlisle via Dalston, through flatter countryside. Although we had decided not to do that section we thought we might spend a night in the area anyway. Ultimately though, the place we had booked was really quite tatty, so we didn’t, although the owners were at least good enough to give us our deposit back.

We therefore went back to Kendal after an afternoon of pootling about in the car, no harm done and otherwise having had a good day. However, the one shame about the experience is that we didn’t get to have a pint at The Old Crown in Hesket Newmarket. This pretty pub on a picturesque but very quiet village green looks like it might find it hard to survive commercially, and indeed that seems to have been the case, because the website states that it was the first pub to be taken over and rescued by a village cooperative.

The pub is also the brewery tap of Hesket Newmarket Brewery, whose bottled beers I recall trying with little excitement merely due to their conservative styles, but I was very happy to give the wider cask range a chance. It seems that a small brewery’s bottled beers are often the safe styles that sell well, whilst their more interesting experiments are played out on cask. The brewery is similarly owned by a cooperative, and mentions local climber Chris Bonnington and his wife on the website.

The reason we didn’t get to try the beers or the pub was that it doesn’t open until 5.30pm on a weekday outside of peak summertime, which seems sensible given how quiet the village was at 4pm. However having seen the idyllic pub covered in bunting and peered through the window at the wide range on the bar, I’d love to go back to give Hesket Newmarket beers a chance and to see a real community-run pub in action.

Cumbria Way Pubs: The Mill Inn, Mungrisdale and Hartley’s Cumbria Way Ale

September 25, 2012 1 comment

Although our walk along the Cumbria Way had ended in Keswick, meaning we would miss the last thirty miles from Keswick to Carlisle, there was nothing to stop us exploring the area by car.

After a morning in which we drove to Penrith to see the Tour Of Britain riders pass through at high speed, we got lunch in a nice country pub in Mungrisdale, which is the opposite side of Skiddaw to the route of the Cumbria Way, but close to the A66.

The Mill Inn is a Robinsons pub, so the beer selection was limited to their beers and those of Hartleys, an Ulverston brewery name that Robinsons seem to own. They had Hartley’s Cumbria Way on, so I had a half, which seemed appropriate. It was a decent beer, if it did taste a little like the kit Yorkshire bitter I made on the one occasion that I have done anything like homebrewing: basically a rough-around-the-edges Black Sheep.

The service in the Mill Inn was incredibly friendly and accomodating, and there was a steady stream of customers coming in for lunch after 2pm (they serve all afternoon). I had a very tasty burger and chips and Kate enjoyed a generous roast beef sandwich.

Fundamentally, the Mill Inn is a pub that knows what it needs to do well, which is to offer tasty, good value food, and to do so with a smile.

Cumbria Way Pubs: Rosthwaite-Keswick; Keswick Pubs; Keswick, Jennings and Cumbrian Legendary Ales

September 23, 2012 5 comments

Some scaling back of our ambitions for the Cumbria Way was required after Kate’s injury. After completing the Yorkshire Three Peaks a few weeks previously, I was determined that walking is something to be done to increase happiness, not to endure misery merely for the sake of achievement. So we decided that we weren’t going to complete the Cumbria Way on this occasion, but we would do one more relatively flat section, to take us to Keswick.  This involved skipping the section between Elterwater and Rosthwaite (much of which we had done before) to avoid the ascent and descent of Stake Pass.

After being dropped off in the village of Rosthwaite, another relatively sunny morning meant that we had a lovely couple of hours walking through farmland, woodland, by caves and over disused slate quarries alongside the River Derwent, before we got to the foot of Derwent Water. From there there was a pleasant lakeside walk for a few miles before the Cumbria Way leaves the lake for a less interesting walk through managed woods and through the village of Portinscale before entering Keswick.

I wasn’t entirely enthused by what I’d read about the pubs in Keswick, but we wanted a pint and some food at the end so we first tried the Dog & Gun, the only Keswick pub in the 2012 Good Beer Guide. It turned out that the pub wasn’t so much dog-friendly as seemingly run entirely for the benefit of dogs, with posters all over the place for doggy treats sold in “a new poo-bag for you to use afterwards”.

The range of beers was fine if not amazing, with Cumbrian Legendary Ales Loweswater Gold and Keswick Landlord’s Choice both pleasant and refreshing enough. The Dog & Gun wasn’t serving food any more so we moved on to try The George Hotel (looked fine, but had stopped serving food and was therefore empty by 3pm) and eventually the Oddfellows.

The Oddfellows only had Jennings on cask, but a Cumberland Ale and Sneck Lifter were both sufficiently satisfying to accompany our cheesy chips. The service was good and the food came quickly, although the pub, covered in horse-racing memorabilia, looked a little tired and had that oddly quiet, sombre atmosphere traditional pubs can have on a weekday afternoon, despite having quite a few customers in.

Our couple of hours in Keswick reminded me that the majority of pubs are merely alright, and that great pubs, like the Black Bull in Coniston or the Britannia Inn in Elterwater, should be appreciated.

Beer Reviews Andy has subsequently suggested the Bank Tavern as another option in Keswick.  If you have any tips for good pubs in or around Keswick for Cumbrian Way walkers, please let me know in the comments. 

BrewDog Leeds: Appellant Alchemist

September 19, 2012 16 comments

Further to my previous post on the initial licensing decision and as you may have read elsewhere, BrewDog were successful in their appeal of the initial refusal to grant a licence to their Leeds premises, and the new bar is intended to open in early 2013.

The initial decision concentrated on the crime figures linked to the existing late night economy in the immediate area. The District Judge was apparently rather more convinced by BrewDog’s submissions about promoting the educated appreciation of craft beer and their discerning clientele. I found the following paragraphs of District Judge Anderson’s* decision particularly interesting:

No doubt when the 2003 Licensing Act came into being, no-one foresaw the emergence of an operation such as Brewdog. They are a Scottish company specialising in craft beers with a devoted clientele. They do not operate large public houses selling cheap lager or cheap food. They have outlets in other cities including in cumulative impact areas where they operate well and without police objection. Now they seek to come to Leeds. […]

The company takes a didactic approach, with books on brewing, and customers invited to watch instructional videos playing at their premises. Their customers could be described as “alcohol geeks.” They are not run of the mill or everyone’s cup of tea, but there is a demand for outlets selling a good quality of beer. […]

If I accept, as I do, that the enterprise sells expensive beers in expensive measures, then I think I can conclude that the people likely to be attracted are not “get it down your neck” drinkers but rather better heeled customers. The type of clientele a premises attracts has a material part to the play in the decision, because if I am not worried about their clientele and am impressed by the running of their bars elsewhere, it follows that it is unlikely that their clientele will have any adverse impact on the area here.

Personally I’ll be glad that BrewDog has a presence in Leeds, if only so I can claim my shareholder discount, as a moderately-heeled alcohol geek who will buy expensive beer in expensive measures, provided I can convince myself I’m getting a bargain.

*Not to be confused with Judge Anderson.

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Cumbria Way Pubs: Coniston-Elterwater, The Britannia Inn, Coniston Britannia Inn Special Edition and No 9 Barley Wine

September 19, 2012 9 comments

Day two of our Cumbria Way walk started with a filling breakfast at the Black Bull in Coniston: thick bacon and poached eggs for me; an almost Germanic cold ham and cheese platter for Kate, before we started the walk up and out of Coniston in the rain. The first few miles of the walk were mostly gently ascending through pleasant farmland and woodland, with some spectacular views of cloudy fells beside and ahead of us. Despite the showers, the walk up to Tarn Hows was a very pleasing introduction to an area with some of the most striking views in the Lake District.

Unfortunately, at that point, Kate’s knee started to cause her a lot of pain. However, using two walking poles she valiantly struggled through the rest of the walk on access roads and through woodland to Skelwith Bridge. The walk from there along Elterwater (from the Norse for “swan lake”) was thankfully relatively easy and flat, so we decided to end the day in Elterwater village, rather than continue on for the last three or so miles to Dungeon Ghyll.

This meant that we were able to end the day’s walk in the Britannia Inn, an excellent coaching inn in the beautiful village of Elterwater. Three quarters of the residences in the quiet village are holiday cottages, but the Britannia Inn is a real pub and one of the best places to drink in the Lake District.

Unlike some other pubs, it continues to serve a small selection of warm food to hungry walkers and tourists between lunch and dinner service. We enjoyed a decadent basket of chips with melting mature cheddar, along with a couple of pints of Coniston Brewery’s Britannia Inn Special Edition Ale. The helpful description on the pump described it as Coniston’s take on a beer with the profile of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord, and so it is: a solid, satisfying, robustly-hopped English best bitter.

After enjoying that and waiting for our lift, I decided to have a half of Coniston No. 9 Barley Wine, which I’d had in bottle the night before at the Black Bull, but which the Britannia Inn had on cask. It was even better from a handpull, adding to the existing smoothness, balance and warm drinkability of the strong beer that I’d enjoyed in the bottled version. The barman came out for a chat to see if I was enjoying it.

The Britannia Inn is one of those warm, well-stocked, happy pubs that you could cope with being stranded in for hours (or even days) if the weather happened to turn. Just so long as the beer, and cheesy chips, didn’t run out.

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