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Grove Is In The Heart: An Afternoon In The Grove, Huddersfield

January 24, 2012 11 comments

From the train station, we walk through Huddersfield in the wind and the rain, passing under the ringroad via an unappealing underpass before arriving at The Grove.  We go into the left-hand bar, uncertain of whether this is what locals do, or whether the locals will care, whether there are codes and rules we may be violating.  But the Grove only looks like that type of pub from the outside.  Inside, no-one seems to notice, and in there we meet the familiar, welcoming faces who we have arranged to meet on this Saturday afternoon: the chef (who arranged it), the barman, the not-actually-a-beer-blogger.

Soon others will come – the brewer, the student of brewing, the cynic.  There are other beer geeks here – from Scotland, no less.  Kenny’s down for the football, others have popped over on the train after visiting the big festival in Manchester.  At the bar I speak to a German with a shopping list of English beers half-crossed out in ballpoint pen.

We all pore over the taps, the blackboards and the bottle list.  Each of us is excited by the choice, amazed by the prices, concerned about what we’ll get to try before we reach our limit, or have to go for the last train.  I foresee my own lack of restraint, not enough water, the usual well-meaning but drunken overenthusiasm, the wrong words in the wrong order, “Shit, is that the time?”, and perhaps cold sweat and quiet misery as my body fights overindulgence on the train home.  Still, it could be worse – the unfortunate barman has to go to work this evening.

Fortunately we have limited ourselves to a couple of hours in this place before we go for dinner, a 6pm reservation. This turns out to be wise.  You need a reason to leave The Grove.  So in the meantime we start buying beers, sharing and tasting, talking about them, exchanging news, getting to know people who were Twitter friends – but in reality strangers – until today.

The bar gets dark, the lights go on.  Amongst the astonishing bottle list, the excellent cask ales from as close as West Yorkshire and as far as Kent, the exotic but bargainous keg beers, we are all excited to learn that in the fridges (but not yet on the list) is the new black IPA that we’ve all read about from the excellent new brewery down the road.  We smell it, we taste it and the table’s opinion changes.  A good first impression from the nose shifts as the beer reveals itself to be – whilst fruity – also unexpectedly roasted, smokey and liquoricey.

What is the purpose of a black IPA and does this deliver?  The consensus is probably not – the malt is too dominant.  You couldn’t trick a blindfolded beer geek into thinking it might be a pale beer (the Turing Test of black IPAs; not that you’d actually want to).  Other black IPAs are hurriedly purchased for comparison – one from the Peak District, another from underneath a railway arch in South London.  The London version smells and tastes of Starburst.  It’s everyone’s favourite.  Is the new, local beer miscategorised?  I think it’s an interesting beer in its own right; but no, it’s not a new favourite. Not yet, anyway.

After two and a half hours we leave for the restaurant, only a little late.  For all the strong beers I’m doing pretty well, but can see that tipping point wasn’t far off.  I’m happy and enthusiastic about the pub and the company, old friends and new friends. Overenthusiastic, maybe – like I said, that happens when I’ve had a couple of drinks in good company.  But even in the morning I’m smiling.  Until I remember that I forgot to buy a carry-out.

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Rock & Roll Circus: Magic Rock Launch Night at North Bar

July 1, 2011 9 comments

I was very excited when I first read about Magic Rock Brewing Company on Mark Dredge’s blog in February. Stuart Ross had been brewing some excellent, hop-forward beers at Crown Brewery in Sheffield, including the outstanding well-hopped porter (explicitly not a black IPA) Brooklyn Black.

With Magic Rock, he was teaming up with Jonny Burhouse and  Richard Burhouse of MyBreweryTap.com, the Huddersfield-based online beer shop that sells a great selection of the best modern British and US craft beers.  So the new company has quite a lot of talent when it comes to both brewing and marketing.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend the first launch night at The Grove Huddersfield (as documented by Neil here), but happily North Bar had another event this week. Manager Matt and the staff had gone all-out for this one, following the theme of the really good-looking labels to dress up themselves and the shop as a circus. Matt (of course) was the ringmaster and there were even stilt walkers and a contortionist. I did feel sorry for Jim in his lion suit though.

In a short time I managed to sample all of the beers, but I basically stopped taking detailed tasting notes after an array of bloggers and tweeters arrived. However, you would be better off reading Neil’s and Leigh’s blogs for that in any event. I can tell you that Curious is a nice, stridently hopped pale ale with a more bitter than sweet flavour that punches well above its 3.9%.

High Rise is a very good citrussy West Coast pale ale whilst Rapture is an absolute stunner of an amber/”red-hop” IPA; an instant classic. Cannonball was a great strong IPA on keg, the match of its American counterparts. Finally (back on cask) Dark Arts is a really nice rich and complex stout with good berry notes.

It doesn’t take a fortune-teller to predict a bright future for Magic Rock. Their attitude to hops and dispense will chime well with beer geeks whilst their elegant and unique branding and quality beers should hopefully win over the wider public.  You can buy their bottles from MyBreweryTap.com, unsurprisingly.

Matt and the staff at North did a fantastic job of making the night a lot of fun and once again reminded us why North is and has been such an asset to the UK beer scene. Upcoming events include their annual US Beer Festival from 4-15 July 2011, which was a real education in beer for me last year.

Read Leigh’s post about the evening here.

Big Pilsner Contest: Bierkeller v North Bar v The Grove

January 11, 2011 4 comments

There’s a new German Bierkeller which has opened on Park Row in Leeds, in the cellar of the building that also houses Shooter’s Sports Bar and the new “Park Row Bar & Brasserie”.

I haven’t ventured in yet, but I will in the near future. It offers an Oompah band on Fridays and Saturdays, serves their beers on tap in steins (if you fancy it) and would seem to promise the rowdy fun of the big beer tent at the German Christmas market in Millennium Square in Leeds, but all year round.  Whilst it’s not selling itself as a great place for a quiet, contemplative drink, much like the Christmas market I think it’ll probably lend itself well to an evening out with a large group of friends; birthday parties etc. 

I enjoy the atmosphere of the Christmas market (see picture above), but the beer selection isn’t that extensive. Kate pointed out that the Bierkeller’s website claims that they have “the largest German beer selection in the North” and expressed some doubt at this. I decided this was worth investigating.

This is the Bierkeller’s list of beers from the website:

On Tap
1. Paulaner Munchen Lager
2. Paulaner Hefe-Weisebier
3. Paulaner Dunkel Lager
X. Rosarda
4. Kaiserdom
5. Flensburger
6. Haus Bier

In Bottle
X. Timmermans Peche
X. Timmermans Kriek
X. Timmermans Frambois
7. Fruh Kolsch
8. Erdinger Schneeweisse
9. Schneider
10. Schlosser Alt
11. St Georgebrau

That’s quite a good selection, with some fruit beers (“Schooner of strong imported US craft keg for the gentleman; half of fruit beer in a branded stem glass for the lady” is destined to be the catchphrase for Al Murray’s successors). However all the fruit beers (Timmermans and Rosarda) are Belgian, so that leaves 11 German beers. A decent turnout – 11 Germans are generally considered a pretty formidable opposition – but surely at least one bar in Northern England can boast a larger selection?

I thought North Bar would be a likely competitor in Leeds. Bearing in mind that their online beer list doesn’t include the regularly changing guest beers, their extensive permanent selection contains the following Germans:

On Tap
1. DAB
2. Fruh Kolsch
3. Erdinger Urweisse
4. Guest German Wheat Beer
5. Schlenkerla Rauchbier

In Bottle
X. Fruh Kolsch
6. Jever
7. Kostritzer
8. Schlenkerla Rauchbier
9. Schneider Aventinus
10. Schneider Weisse
11. Weihenstephanan Kristall

That’s 12, but I’m afraid one of the Fruhs has to be disqualified as it turns up both on tap and in the bottle and the guest is, um, a guest. So Bierkeller probably holds out as unbeaten, at least for the best permanent selection of German beers in Leeds. Although someone may correct me on that; Mr Foleys has a fairly extensive selection of imported beers in the fridges these days.

Of course North also has a fantastic selection of US, Belgian and other great beers so it probably wouldn’t be interested in this particular scrap anyway. However the next challenger is a heavyweight in all categories: The Grove in Huddersfield [insert big fight entrance music here].

The Grove’s astonishingly extensive beer and cider menu is here. Amongst those 9 remarkable pages of small print you’ll find the following Germans:

On Tap
1. Erdinger Urweisse
2. Früh Kölsch
3. Jever

In Bottle
4. Schlösser Das Alt
5. Aecht Schlenkerla Eiche (Oak Smoke) Doppelbock
6. Erdinger Pikantus Dunkler Weizen-Bok
7. Neuzeller Bockbier
8. Schmucker Rose Bock
9. Schneider Aventinus Weizen Eisbock
10. Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock
11. Erdinger Pikantus Dunkler Weizen-Bok
12. St Georgen Brau Kellerbier
13. Kuppers Kolsch
14. Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen
15. Neuzeller Kirsch Beer (Cherry)
16. Veltins
17. Aecht Schlenkerla Eiche (Oak Smoke) Doppelbock
18. Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen
19. Schlenkerla Rauchbier Weizen
20. Erdinger Acoholfrei
21. Erdinger Pikantus Dunkler Weizen-Bok
22. Erdinger Weiss Dunkel
23. Maisel Weissbier Dunkel
24. Maisel Weissbier Hell
25. Paulaner Hefe-Weisbier
26. Schneider Aventinus

So there you go. The Bierkeller doesn’t have the best selection of German beer in the North, nor indeed in West Yorkshire.

To be fair I think any challenger in the North generally would have a hard time beating The Grove for selection in any category of beer. But then again, Bierkeller has more on tap; I don’t think I could cope with more than 11 steins of beer in one sitting; and I bet The Grove doesn’t have a house Oompah band.

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