Last week Kate and I did The Dales Way, in reverse and slightly foreshortened, when we walked from Kendal to Ilkley. We were extremely lucky with the weather and it was a truly beautiful walk over 5 days of 12-16 miles a day. I was looking forward to enjoying a few beers along along the way, and at the end of a long day we certainly felt that we’d earned a drink. In my next few posts, I intend to cover the pubs along the way, for those who are doing the walk or are just in the area.
Before starting out on our walk we stayed in Kendal for a couple of days. The Dales Way doesn’t actually run through the centre of Kendal, but does pass through the nearby villages of Staveley and Burneside and a lot of trekkers will stay in the area on their final night before tackling the last section of the full Dales Way, in the usual direction to Bowness.
Kendal town centre is pretty good for beer generally, and you can usually find some Cumbrian beers from Coniston, Jennings and Hawkshead breweries. Burgundy’s in Kendal (sometimes referred to as “The Wine Bar”) is a fairly regular visit for me when we visit Kate’s parents. It has a few (four?) handpumps with a range of local beers. It’s a decent size, spread over three levels, and a rooftop smoking area/beer garden and is usually fairly busy.
However when we visited last week the pub had expanded even further into a new area on the lower ground floor. The new bit includes a brewkit behind glass, as in The Brewery Tap in Leeds, and it will be interesting to see what their own beers are like. We were lucky enough to visit in a week where they had set up a temporary bar downstairs for a Cumbrian Beer Festival, expanding the range to around 20 beers.
We tried quite a few of the beers, including Stringer’s Yellow Lorry, Dent Brewery Baas & Stripes (an American-style pale ale with a typically painful name) and Ulverston Laughing Gravy. On a warm spring day, we were in the mood for golden hoppy beers and there were two very good beers in that category in Hardknott Continuum and Hawskhead Citrillo. The last two beers were from the two most interesting breweries in Cumbria that I’ve had a lot of exposure to; although I should mention that I’ve only tried a couple of Stringer’s beers, although I did have a Stringer’s IPA from MyBreweryTap recently and it was excellent.
The Hawkshead Citrillo did stand out as the best beer of the day. Presumably made with Citra and Amarillo, it’s a big, bitter, fruity pale ale in all the right ways, on a par with Thornbridge Jaipur and Marble Dobber, and coming across like the tough big brother of Hawkshead Windermere Pale, which also uses Citra and is almost certainly the best 3.5% beer in the country at the moment.
Burgundy’s won’t always have such a wide range, but it usually has a good one and if there’s nothing on the pumps to interest you, there is a well-stocked beer fridge with probably the best selection of imported bottles in the town centre, including a selection of Belgian beers and even Goose Island IPA.
Other good beer bars in Kendal include The Vats Bar in The Brewery Arts Centre (near the youth hostel) and The Rifleman’s Arms on Greenside, near a lot of the B&Bs. It would be foolish to pass through Staveley without visiting the superb Hawkshead Brewery Beer Hall (but check opening times in advance) or as an alternative The Eagle & Child.
At the National Winter Ales Festival, Jeff Pickthall, the hairy godfather of Cumbrian beer, kindly gave me a bottle of Cumbrian Legendary Ales‘ Croglin Vampire to review. I’ve tried Cumbrian Legendary Ales’ beers only once before when I had their Loweswater Gold in Burgundy’s in Kendal. I found it to be a very light, pale, drinkable beer but not quite interesting enough to merit a second pint.
Croglin Vampire can’t be accused of being uninteresting. An 8% doppelbock, it pours a reddish brown and gives off a rich port smell. The yellow head dispersed quickly. It had a rich, tongue-coating viscosity. The rich taste is of a deep maltiness containing sour fruits and a slightly iron-like, appropriately bloody quality.
I have to confess that I’m not entirely familiar with the doppelbock style, and have yet to try Paulaner Salvator, for example. Wikipedia informs me that, “Historically, doppelbock was high in alcohol and sweet, thus serving as “liquid bread” for the monks during times of fasting, when solid food was not permitted.” I would not recommend having Croglin Vampire on an empty stomach, for it may induce either beatific visions or, more likely, darker consequences.
This made me think that I’d like to explore the style more. It also made me want to try the rest of Cumbrian Legendary Ales’ range, which include a Cascade-hopped bitter called Dickie Doodle. For the life of me I don’t know why this isn’t the house beer in Dickie Doodle’s in Kendal. They’re missing a trick.
Thanks very much to Jeff for the bottle.
Having walked the six miles from Kendal in pouring rain and driving wind, we arrived through the doors of Hawkshead’s new Beer Hall in Staveley Mill Yard looking like an especially windswept Atlantic trawler crew. After stripping off the waterproofs and sitting down in two comfortable leather armchairs, we felt that we definitely deserved a beer.
Hawkshead beers are always something to look forward to when I go to the Lake District: consistent and reliable in terms of quality but also interesting. After the long walk the first beer we went for was Windermere Pale, a lovely light juicy pale made with Citra hops. Unusually for Citra beers this was only 3.5% and I enjoyed it to the point that I wanted to buy some bottles to take home. However, unfortunately I was told that it was too weak for bottling.
After the walk I would have been quite happy to knock back three pints of Windermere Pale and be done with it, but there were four more beers to try. Next up was Brodie’s Prime, a deliciously fruity, bitter, slightly smoky porter. The complex citrus taste with a decent level of bitterness reminded me of Crown’s recent Brooklyn Black, a highly-hopped porter which might be mistaken for a black IPA.
The previous, smaller Beer Hall at the Brewery had relied on the cafe Wilf’s next door for food orders but now they have their own kitchen serving a selection of “beer tapas”. With the Brodie’s Prime we had a great Brodie’s Prime Scotch egg and picalilli and a nice chunk of Lancashire cheese with chutney and pickled onions.
I’m afraid I drank the beers in entirely the wrong order for a serious tasting, but next we tried the Hawkshead Bitter, a slightly sulphurous bitter with a floral elderflower taste. Hawkshead Red is an amber beer, dominated by a woody dryness and maltiness. Finally, Lakeland Gold, made with Cascade and First Gold, swept the pine and grapefuit into a rounded creamy bitter finish.
Whilst all the beers we tried were very good, the Brodie’s Prime and Windermere Pale were real standouts. Off-sales include a number of Belgian and other imported bottles as well as Hawkshead bottles, minikegs and even beer-in-a-box. I bought a few Lakeland Lagers to take away, which had a nice floral taste.
If you fancy going to the Beer Hall – which you definitely should for great beer and great food in a great pub – it’s open from 12 noon every day but is only open into the evenings on a Saturday, when they often have live music. They’re having a Winter Beer Festival on 18-20 March 2011 and a Summer Beer Festival on 21-24 July 2011.
Kate’s parents live in Kendal, so quite often we end up spending the weekend in the Lakes, enjoying a walk during the day then going out for a drink in the evening. The two places that we end up in most often are The Brewery Arts Centre (disappointingly no longer a brewery; just a very good arts centre) and Burgundy’s.
The Vats Bar at The Brewery Arts Centre is relatively expensive, but does usually have a few ales from around the Lakes on, notably their excellent house beer Ale N Arty from Hawkshead. Burgundy’s similarly has a range of around four local cask ales at a time, often including Coniston beers, as well as a good bottle fridge with Orval, Trappistes Rochefort and even the odd bottle of Goose Island IPA.
The Rifleman’s Arms is a less obvious choice. It’s on a nice green, after what on the first climb appears to be a horrendously steep walk up the hill from the main street, appropriately called Beast Banks. Postman Pat was conceived in the imagination of children’s author John Cunliffe when he was living on Greenside, a few houses up from The Rifleman’s Arms and the former Beast Banks sub-post office.
The Rifleman’s is a pub which has reportedly gone through a few shakey moments in recent years but now seems to be on the path back to good health. On a Friday night it seems busy with locals playing dominoes, darts and also in the side room, pool. Posters advertise a weekly knitting circle and the new landlady/manageress seems to be involved in a number of events on the green and keeping the pub involved in the local community.
They have beer from the SIBA list and when we were in two weeks ago that included Ossett Spellbound and Moorhouses Pendle Witches Brew, alongside the Tetleys and Abbot Ale which seem to be the standards. Spellbound in particular was a nice pale ale to enjoy by the gas fire on a wet windy night, whilst the dominoes clattered in the background. However it was served in incorrectly branded glasses. Hardknott Dave would not approve.
Perhaps symbolic of the decline and resurgence of The Rifleman’s is the literature on offer. On a sideboard by the toilets (pictured) is a complete collection of Good Beer Guides for the years 1995-2003. This might be indicative of when the management lost interest. But now they have up-to-date copies of CAMRA’s “Beer” magazine and the local CAMRA newsletter, “Lakes & Ale”.
There’s just one thing though, which is a bit jarring when you go to relieve yourself in the (clean but typically freezing) toilets after a few: the urinal has lumps of coal in it. Coal. Moreover, I am informed that exactly the same lumps have been there for years. Coal apparently gets rid of odours and I assume that’s what they’re for. But I’ve never seen this anywhere else. Have you?
The Rifleman’s Arms, 4-6 Greenside, Kendal, Cumbria LA9 4LD