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Brave New World: Northern Monk Brew Co New World IPA (6.2% ABV)

Craft beer has recently become, if not ubiquitous or always readily available, then certainly a trend of which people are increasingly aware.  There are a number of examples of mainstream breweries and retailers, with varying success, attempting to capitalise on that popularity.   There are also some new breweries that, on closer inspection, give the impression that they don’t quite “get” what is special about craft, but think that the concept might sell.

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Against that context, and admitting that craft is an amorphous concept at the best of times, it might be easy to overlook genuinely interesting new breweries in all the noise.  However, even before trying any of their beers, I was already reasonably confident that Northern Monk Brew Co would subscribe to my own concept of craft because of the involvement of David Bishop, familiar to beer blog readers and Tweeters as keen homebrewer and blogger @broadfordbrewer.  You can read about David being approached by a prospective business partner and his progress with the brewery on his blog.  You can also read an interview with co-founder Russell on This Beer Blog.

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Their first beer is an IPA which was brewed in cuckoo/gypsy manner at Hambleton, which will be the provisional arrangement, along with some interesting collaborations, before an actual Northern Monk brewery is complete.  Northern Monk had a launch party last week at The Sparrow in Bradford.  I wasn’t able to attend, but did pick up a couple of bottles from Friends Of Ham in Leeds.

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IPA is basically the core craft style and I’m happy to say that New World IPA is a great example of what it is intended to be.  The first impression is excellent, with a lovely fresh aroma of pine and apricots.  The taste is well-balanced, with a nice mix of fruity sweetness and a good lasting bitterness.  It’s tasty but not so characterful that it wouldn’t seem “sessionable”, which could be a little dangerous for a 6.2% beer that doesn’t come across as that strong.

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Regarding his short term ambitions, David has said:

So what do I want to achieve?  I want to support my family and I want to do that by getting paid to do the thing that interests and excites me: brewing beer.   How I go about doing that is also important to me and I need a game plan.  Over to Stuart:

“The apparent conflict between idiosyncrasy and balance brings me to the question which I ask myself today. Am I trying to get a number one single or win the Turner Prize? Does there need to be a compromise?”

As a brewer just starting out I want to brew decent, tasty beer.  I want the beer to be good enough to allow us to brew a second beer and so on.  Don’t get me wrong, I want to do the best I can, but I’m not aspiring for a number one single.  Not yet!

So now that we have that first beer, it’s gratifying that it tastes good, the branding looks good and the blurb is refreshingly free of utter marketing bollocks – the reality is that for a new brewery the branding is probably almost as important as the beer.  The bottle isn’t covered in geeky detail about ingredients and IBUs but that’s all on the website.

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On this evidence I’m very happy to say that Northern Monk’s first beer is more than good enough to ensure that people come back for the second.  I very much hope that they do, not just because I like David and want him to make a living doing what he loves, but because, more selfishly, I want to drink more of his beer.

See another (better) review of New World IPA on Booze, Beats and Bites.  Details of the first places that you might find Northern Monk beers in bottles and on keg are on their Twitter (@NMBCo) and Facebook pages.

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Beer For Birds: The Sparrow Bier Cafe, North Parade, Bradford

May 19, 2011 7 comments

Bradford, for me, is an unknown quantity, an undiscovered country.  Despite living in Leeds for 7 years I’ve only been to the centre of Bradford a handful of times.  I know it has some good curry houses, a Media Museum and an IMAX cinema, however I’ve never felt the need to go to Bradford for a drink, in the way that I might get the train to Huddersfield specifically to visit the Grove.

However there’s now a very good reason to visit Bradford: The Sparrow Bier Cafe.  Started by Les Hall and Mark Husak, it officially opens tomorrow, but a little bird invited a few of us for a preview last night.

The bar is on North Parade, close to Forster Square station but also walkable from Bradford Interchange (map).  From the outside it looks minimal and sophisticated, with an elegant dark green frontage and a dapper little sparrow logo (called “Hercule”).  It’s actually a bit bigger inside than it looks, with a second seating area in the basement.

The ground floor was yet to be completely finished, with the floors still needing to be laid.  However you can see that it’s a classy looking place, with the kind of calm colour scheme and unifying design that the Port Street Beer House in Manchester has, and promising a selection of art similar to North Bar in Leeds.  There’s a good selection of music (I remember Love and Nick Drake) which adds to the atmosphere but doesn’t impede conversation.

The selection of beer is very good, including a wide range of American, Belgian, German and other bottles, some of which are regulars and others guests.  It’s also very cheap for what you get.  For example, a bottle of Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout is £4.15 and Silly Saison is £2.20.  By way of comparison, they would cost at least £3.50 and £5.85 in equivalent cafe bars in Leeds.  The train fare was starting to look like an investment.

There are six keg lines and four handpulls.  The kegs included two Meantime beers and three Bernard beers, including the really nice, bitterly noble hoppy Unfiltered.  The cask on this occasion included Thornbridge Jaipur, Ikley Stout Mary, Dark Star Original and Saltaire South Island Pale.  Again these were all very reasonably priced and you can look forward to seeing some exciting new UK craft beers on keg and cask in the future.

 

Beyond the excellent and reasonable beer menu there’s also a good selection of food: sandwiches, pork pies and olives amongst others.  It’s probably sensible to have something to eat because you’ll find yourself not wanting to leave until you’ve tried quite a lot of beers, some of which will probably be of considerable strength.

It was good to spend a few hours drinking and chatting with Rob from Hopzine, Fletch from RealAleReviews, Neil from Eating Isn’t CheatingKeith Wildman from Sabotage Times, Martin Bell and Ian Garrett.  As is evident from Rob and Neil’s posts, we were all pretty taken with the place and didn’t have a bad word to say about it.

I wish Mark and Les all the best with The Sparrow.  You can see that they’ve put a lot of effort, thought and love into the place and it deserves to succeed.  You owe yourself a visit.

Pub Walks: Leeds-Liverpool Canal, Leeds to Saltaire

March 2, 2011 3 comments

Feeling quite unfit and not a little stressed, it was good to take a couple of days off last week and go for some long walks. One of the benefits of living in Yorkshire being able to walk long distances relatively easily along canals, where there tends to be interesting scenery, history, wildlife and, of course, pubs!  It’s all very well climbing Ben bloody Nevis, but is there a pub up there for a self-congratulatory pint?  If so, it’s not in the Good Beer Guide.

On Tuesday morning I set off on a grey morning from my house in Moortown intending to walk the 14 or so miles to Saltaire.  I walked through Meanwood and Headingley to join the Leeds-Liverpool canal near Kirkstall Abbey, a few miles from its start.  A couple of miles further on I met the first pub, The Abbey Inn at Newlay.  Unfortunately the Abbey wasn’t open yet so I went on.  I do like the Abbey: it’s a good honest pub with anaglypta on the wall, good local beers and enormous portions of food.

A little while further along the canal I came to Rodley, where I decided to stop for my first drink.  Rodley has two GBG pubs opposite each other: The Rodley Barge and The Owl.  I decided upon the Barge due to its proximity to the canal, and had a nice half of something pale and sessionable called Ale Gate by the Oldershaw Brewery in Grantham along with a packet of Brannigans.

Having stopped only for about ten minutes or so, I pressed on along the canal for the remaining eight miles to Saltaire.  I passed the Saltaire Brewery, which would seem to me to be strictly based in Shipley rather than Saltaire itself, before leaving the canalside at Salts Mill.

I thought I’d give The Boathouse a try, close as it is to the canal.  I immediately felt a bit out of place in the shiny wine bar surroundings in my boots and mud-flecked jeans.  However there was a reasonable beer selection (albeit more quantity than variation, really: Black Sheep; Golden Sheep; Tether Blonde; Saltaire Blonde; Old Peculier) so I ordered a half of Saltaire Blonde.  It had a slightly lemony soapy smell and an alright mouthfeel but not enough taste.

I walked up Victoria Road, past Victoria Hall (venue for last weekend’s Bradford Beer Festival) and around the corner to Fanny’s Ale House.  Attempting to give the impression of being much older than it actually is (the pub only opened in 1997, although the building is of course older), Fanny’s is nonetheless a nice-looking, welcoming pub with open fires and similar.

It had a fairly wide selection of beers on, including a couple of Timothy Taylors beers and Rooster’s Yankee.  However, adopting what is increasingly a ticker’s attitude to new beers, I ordered a Salamander Dr Awkward.  This was supposed to be pale and hoppy.  There was a general lack of aroma that carried through to a disappointingly weak watery taste.

Bored by pale session beers with no oomph, I then went for the terribly-named Fernandes Double Decker Pecker at 6.5%.  This smelled bitter, citrussy, hoppy and light.  It tasted unapologetically bitter in a dull, slightly gritty and caustic way, with little or no sweetness or other tastes to balance it out.  I thought it was interesting but I didn’t like it that much, on the first attempt anyway.

Regardless of the two beers I tried (as noted, there were good beers on which I knew I liked), Fanny’s is a great pub with a good selection and well worth a visit if you’re in Saltaire.  It was even worth walking 14 miles for.

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