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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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Sheffield’s Isle of Wonder: The Fat Cat and Kelham Island Tavern, Kelham Island, Sheffield

August 8, 2012 5 comments

The Kelham Island Tavern and the Fat Cat are two bastions of real ale that stand on Kelham Island, an area of Sheffield that now has a number of modern apartments but is still slightly haunted by the empty engineering works dotted around it.

The Kelham Island Tavern, dating back to 1830, has won many CAMRA awards since it re-opened in 2001, and has been CAMRA National Pub Of The Year twice, in 2008 and 2009. It was reasonably quiet on the weekday afternoon when we went in: a couple in the corner drank whilst a man with Doc Marten boots, who I think was an off-duty bailiff, discussed legal matters with the barman. A cat slept on a bar stool bathed in the afternoon sunlight.

After some helpful guidance I ordered a Pictish Brewer’s Gold, in lovely condition. The place livened up a little when three middle-aged tickers arrived and started excitedly discussing the selection. I noted that some of the beers at least seemed to be served without sparklers, but not to their detriment.

When we moved on to the Fat Cat around the corner, the atmosphere seemed a little more warm and relaxed, perhaps a bit less male, even though Kate and the bartender were the only ladies in the public bar. Surrounding the compact and ornate wooden bar itself, two groups sat on the benches and carried on a friendly conversation with each other, whilst the bar also offered baskets of pork pies and a big bottle of Sheffield’s iconic Henderson’s Relish to go with them.

The Fat Cat has a great history as well: dating back to the mid-19th century and originally called the Alma (it stands on Alma Street, named after the first battle of the Crimean War), it was a Stones pub from 1912 until 1981. In that year it was bought by Dave Wickett and Bruce Bentley and started its life as a free house.

Dave, who passed away recently, is justly regarded as one of the heroes of British beer, and he founded the Kelham Island Brewery here in 1990. As Roger Protz notes in his obituary for the Guardian, Dave was a consultant to Thornbridge during its inception, even recruiting Martin Dickie, which can be seen as a fitting passing of the torch, given the mark that Thornbridge has made on Sheffield in recent years.

I enjoyed a taster of Kelham Island White Rider, a cask wheat beer, but decided to have Pale Rider, an excellent US-hopped pale ale, CAMRA Champion Beer Of Britain in 2004, which made me fall further in love with this slightly aging pub and its informal, welcoming atmosphere.

The Fat Cat seems well-worn and comfortable, like a faded armchair that has gone slightly out of shape and is indented with the form of the sitter’s body, but is still the very best at what it does. I think that, if ever I had to try and explain the attraction of “the English pub” to a foreign visitor, I would bring them here.

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