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Friends With Benefits: Friends Of Ham, 4 New Station Street, Leeds City Centre

Friends Of Ham is a new bar in Leeds city centre, on New Station Street close to The Brewery Tap, Layne’s Espresso and, um, Yates’. It’s the labour of love of Claire and Anthony Kitching, who decided to move north from London and open a craft beer bar-come-deli in West Yorkshire.

The slightly enigmatic name relates not to the comrades of the biblical Ham, the son of Noah who was disowned and cursed for seeing his drunken father sprawled in the nip. Rather (if I recall correctly) it’s a pun on a Spanish tapas bar called something like “Amigos Del Jamon”.

The bar itself is over two levels and is remarkable. A small shopfront ground floor has legs of ham hanging from hooks above the bar. The basement, whilst cosy, must be twice the size and contains sofas, long tables, a porcine gallery and a shuffleboard table. The decor is eclectic, welcoming, quirky and thoughtful.

Whilst the bar is full of little touches that signal a unique attention to detail, the selection of food and drink shows similar care and a particular attitude. Those of us who have been following Friends Of Ham’s progress on Twitter and Facebook know that there has been a dedication to finding the best products from the best suppliers that has involved a number of gruelling tasting sessions and advice from experienced Leodensians such as staff member Tyler Kiley (formerly of Mr Foleys) and Neil Walker of Eating Isn’t Cheating (who has posted about the bar here).

Cask beers on the preview night included Red Willow Smokeless and Quantum Bitter and the keg beers included Kernel Amarillo IPA, Magic Rock Clown Juice (a delicious wheat IPA), Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, Lakeland Lager and Delerium Red (a Kriek). The back bar had a box of Ampleforth cider and the fridges contain a great range of interesting beers, from Orval to Redchurch East India Pale Ale. Interestingly the licence application included their decision not to stock spirits at all.

The food appears be good, simple and tapas style, will include a range of excellent meats, cheeses and, most excitingly for me, Scotch eggs from the Handmade Scotch Egg Company, including their amazing black pudding version, “Black Watch”. Bascially, exactly what you’d like to eat whilst enjoying an Orval, an Ampleforth cider or a glass of red wine.

Friends Of Ham is a bar and an idea that deserves to find a devoted following. It will be enjoyed by beer geeks, wine buffs and foodies. It is also a welcoming and stylish space that should appeal to a wider demographic that enjoys socialising in a relaxed atmosphere but finds little of interest in the microwaved meals, worn carpets and skidmarks of many traditional pubs.

Read more about Friends of Ham from David at Broadford Brewer here, from Mark at Opportunity Hops here, from Zak at Are You Tasting The Pith here and from Neil at Eating Isn’t Cheating here.

[UPDATE – Friends Of Ham is open as of 10 July 2012 and will be building up to offering the full food menu.   Currently it’s selling a range of meats and cheeses.]

First Fifteen: Celebrating North Bar

June 28, 2012 3 comments

North Bar is 15 years old, so it can finally rent Air Force One on DVD, which came out in the year of its birth. North Bar opened in Leeds at the same time as British rule ended in Hong Kong and since then has become an integral part of the renaissance of the UK beer scene. You can read a more indepth article about North’s founders and history from The Good Stuff’s Leigh Linley on Culture Vultures here.

North’s official birthday is Sunday 1 July 2012 and I’m looking forward to going to the party. In the run up that, They’ve been putting 15 very special beers on the bar, a new one each day, many of which were brewed specially for the event and some even with manager Matt Gorecki and the staff. You could almost put them to the tune of the 12 days of Christmas. Except it would have to be the 15 days of Northmas. Hmm…

On the first day of Northmas, the barman gave to me: Roosters North Pale Ale ,
On the second day of Northmas, the barman gave to me: Lindeboom Special Pilsner,
On the third day of Northmas, the barman gave to me: BrewDog Belgian Pale Ale,
On the fourth day of Northmas, the barman gave to me: Thornbridge General Sherman Imperial Red Ale,
On the fifth day of Northmas, the barman gave to me: FLYYYYYYYYYYY-ING DOOOOOG! Kujo Coffee Stout,
On the sixth day of Northmas, the barman gave to me: O’Dell Milk Stout,
On the seventh day of Northmas, the barman gave to me: Nøgne Ø Oak Aged Sunturnbrew,
On the eighth day of Northmas, the barman gave to me: FLYYYYYYYYYYY-ING DOOOOOG! In De Wildeman Farmhouse IPA,
On the ninth day of Northmas, the barman gave to me: Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast,
On the tenth day of Northmas, the barman gave to me: Marble Aged Little Jim,
On the eleventh day of Northmas, the barman gave to me: Cantillon Gueuze on Cask,
On the twelfth day of Northmas, the barman gave to me: Sierra Nevada Solar Storm,
On the thirteenth day of Northmas, the barman gave to me: Kernel IIPA,
On the fourteenth day of Northmas, the barman gave to me: Gaffel  Kölsch from the wood…
 

That’s the makings of a veritable first XV from some of the most exciting British, European and American breweries, especially considering the strength of some of them. In the interests of surviving until North’s 30th birthday, I’ve managed to be fairly restrained and have tried just four so far: the O’Dell Milk Stout was lovely, the cask Cantillon was a wonderful experience (acidic pear/apple clean sourness, oddly drinkable), the Thornbridge General Sherman stands out as a superbly fresh hopmonster which tastes a lot less than 8.3% and the Gaffel Kölsch from a wooden cask had a wonderfully smooth mouthfeel and a crisp herbal bitterness.

North is a bar worth celebrating and these beers are worthy of toasting it with. What’s more, there’s still at least one more to come. See you there!

Arty Hard: Dada, Sheffield City Centre

December 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Don’t get me started on Sheffield.  I spent 2 years there (September 2002 – June 2004) when there were (to my knowledge at the time) a few good pubs with decent beer selections, such as The Fat Cat, Kelham Island Tavern and The Devonshire Cat.  However two of those were in Kelham Island, which was a fair distance from where I lived and also a pretty overt red light district.  As a result I spent most of my time drinking in a few nice pubs with a passable beer selection (The Cobden View, The Hallamshire House) as well as a few rubbish ones, as students do.

So I’m slightly irked by the gall of the place; becoming such a beer Mecca after I left.  One of the main culprits is Thornbridge Brewery, which set up its 10 barrel plant in 2005, 17 or so miles to the south west of the city.  Not content with conspiring with Pivovar to establish up the annoyingly good Sheffield Tap in the railway station, their pub estate in the city then expanded to include The Greystones and even, to rub salt in the wound, the refurbished Hallamshire House!  The pub that was literally behind my house in my first year in Sheffield is now a Thornbridge craftpalace!

I did the pub quiz in the Hallamshire House on a regular basis! I’m pretty sure the burglars who robbed our house three times in a month used to “case the joint” from there!  Now, its almost certainly full of students guzzling down Halcyon like it’s snakebite and black.  It probably even does great Scotch Eggs, or pork pies you’d swap your LLB for.  I don’t want to know.  It’s dead to me.

Nowadays I don’t get to go to Sheffield very often, but we were down for a few hours on Saturday for a trip to John Lewis to buy some dogs’ heads for Christmas.  We decided to go to Dada for lunch, yet another Thornbridge pub that just opened at the end of October on Trippet Lane, in the building that used to be Trippets Wine Bar.  I liked the decor, with its mixture of quirkly artiness (objet trouvé bucket lampshades) and glorifications of the pantheon of Sheffield’s music scene (Cocker; Hawley; Turner; him off of The Human League).  The link between Dadaism, music and Sheffield is Cabaret Voltaire, but I don’t think that the reason really matters.  Dada is “the abolition of logic … the abolition of memory“.

There was obviously a great range of beer on cask, keg and in the fridges (Buxton, O’Dell etc).  However I had to drive later, so we only had a meat and cheese platter and a couple of halves.  I restricted myself to a 4.3% Thornbridge Browne: an “Australian Brown Ale” which had the sweet citrus and light caramel taste of C&C brown lemonade (spot the Northern Irishman) with some hops thrown in.  Kate, who thought that the Browne’s flavour was like what kids imagine their father’s bitter to taste like, was able to go for the 7.2% Thornbridge/Kernel Coalition Burton Ale, a lovely hoppy, more viscous rich ale.

So yes, yes; da, da.  Dada is good.  As the Dadaists would have it:

Dada comes from the dictionary. It is terribly simple. In French it means “hobby horse”. In German it means “good-bye”, “Get off my back”, “Be seeing you sometime”. In Romanian: “Yes, indeed, you are right, that’s it. But of course, yes, definitely, right”. And so forth. […] How does one achieve eternal bliss? By saying dada. How does one become famous? By saying dada. With a noble gesture and delicate propriety. Till one goes crazy. Till one loses consciousness.

Dada Manifesto (1916, Hugo Ball)

For more on Dada, see Reluctant Scooper.

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The Black Dossier: Black Rocks v Proper Black v Kernel Black IPA v Raven v Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale

July 13, 2011 14 comments

I’ve avoided tasting posts recently, as I realised some months ago that it wasn’t my forté.  However, with five black IPAs in the fridge, it seemed a shame not to do a little experiment, so here we go:  five black IPAs enter the ring; only one will emerge victorious. With a style this nascent, but already verging on passé in some quarters, it’s worth seeing what it really has to offer, eh?

Buxton Brewery Black Rocks 5.5%

Prior knowledge: Nice on cask, from a very promising new brewery who specialise in hop-forward but drinkable beers.  I met the guys from the brewery at North Bar recently and they were lovely.

Label-derived facts: Contains Columbus, Cluster and Southern Cross hops.

Blackness: Pretty bloody opaque to start off with, in a full glass. Not priest-sock black, but cola-like round the sides as it gets to the bottom.

Aroma: Nice light citrusy aroma. Bodes well.

Taste: Good, very slightly oily mouthfeel. Acidic, citric taste (unspecific fruit) and a little blackcurrant, some background espresso roastiness. Is light roastiness good or bad in a black IPA? Bad for the illusion, but when you boil it down, perhaps this is the genre’s USP?

Turning to the dark side rating: 7/10. A good very, drinkable beer and a fine example of the form. Smells great, but I would prefer a more malty US-style IPA or a pale ale with some fresher fruitiness. For more on Black Rocks, see Hopzine.

St Austell Proper Black 6%

Prior knowledge: Black version of Proper Job, which is an excellent bold IPA and arguably the best widely-available cask beer in Cornwall. Original beer named after some Cornish regiment’s involvement in quashing the Indian Mutiny, presumably explaining the strikingly bitter aftertaste.

Label-derived facts: Brewer’s Gold, Chinook, Centennial, Cascade hops. Their own yeast. You can’t have any of St Austell’s yeasty goodness. Their mycoculture is their castle.

Blackness: Less opaque than above, but black enough. At least as black as Guinness Original, I reckon.

Aroma: Less than the Black Rocks, light and citrusy but slightly bready too.

Taste: Thinner and certainly more savoury and traditional on the tongue, much more like an English pale ale. Fizzy with larger bubbles, despite also being bottle conditioned. Not exactly kicking my arse with the bitterness, immediately following the Black Rocks. More dark chocolate than coffee in the roastiness, as well as a little bit of nuttiness.

Turning to the dark side rating: 6/10. A pleasant beer but not one that really shows off the appeal of the style. Faced with this and a Proper Job, I might choose either depending on my mood, but would go for the Proper Job 66% of the time.

The Kernel Berwery India Pale Ale Black 7.2%

Prior knowledge: I like this. Glyn from the Rake collaborated in the brewing of it. Kernel are basically this one bloke who sold cheese at Borough Market and developed his home-brewing into his job.  Blessed are the cheesemakers.

Label-derived facts: It’s a black IPA from Kernel. It’s bottle conditioned. It’s best before March 2013 (really?).

Blackness: Quite black. It’s got a lot darker since I opened the first bottle so difficult to say. Basically they’re all dark brown really, but Dark Brown India Pale Ale isn’t as compelling a name for a style.  None of them are “priest-sock black”.

Aroma: Stunning. Big, heady aroma with passion fruit, lychee, all that tropical stuff that you get in cans of Rubicon.

Taste: A slightly fizzy mouthfeel that merits a bit more swirling to knock the bubbles out. After that much smoother. The rich and lasting tropical citrus bitterness is great and pretty much eclipses any roasted malt flavours until the death, where there is a smooth chocolatey whimper in the night.

Turning to the dark side rating: 8/10. Really nice, but I still prefer some of Kernel’s non-black IPAs. The brilliant distinguishing hoppy freshness of the Kernel range is very slightly cut short by the underlying roastiness. It is very lovely though. Mmmm…

Thornbridge Raven 6.6%

Prior knowledge: The first Black IPA I ever had, from cask in the Narrow Boat in Skipton on the day before my 30th birthday. It was sensational then, but I’ve rarely had it since and never from the bottle.

Label-derived facts: Nelson Sauvin, Centennial and Sorachi Ace hops. Maris Otter, Black and Chocolate malts.

Blackness: Espresso-coloured.

Aroma: Right from the first smell you get the roastiness along with the pine and fruitiness.

Taste: This mixture of flavours comes through to the taste. There is much more coffeelike maltiness than the previous examples, but it still doesn’t dominate and the fairly complex-tasting varieties of hops come together into a wonderfully sweeping mixture of bitterness. Not too bitter though, but a drink to really savour, with the warm booziness more obvious than the Kernel.

Turning to the dark side rating: 9/10. Suddenly Black IPAs make sense: a fantastic beer all round. There’s a good malt flavour in here that is perfectly balanced with the rich bitterness and solid ABV. However, it could easily be described as a light hoppy porter; you definitely would not mistake this beer for a normal IPA if you closed your eyes.

Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale 8.7%

Prior knowledge: 100/100 on ratebeer. Crikey. This one’s a bit old, unfortunately. Big hoppy Stone beers seem to be slightly past their best when they get to us in the UK and then I went and sat on this bottle for a couple of months. Idiot.

Label-derived facts: Blah blah blah “first brewed in 2007 as the Stone 11th Anniversary Ale” blah blah blah “thusly” blah.

Blackness: Black, ruby notes around the edge when held up to the light.

Aroma: Woah! Big, strong malty high-ABV US IPA smell, with even more molasses.

Taste: Dark, liquorice, bitter, very richly flavoured indeed; really big and viscous. Calls out for some food and a glass of water to break it up a bit. There’s a lot of slightly acidic bitterness, but no obvious fruitiness. Loads of dark fiercely bitter chocolate malt.

Turning to the dark side rating: 7/10. Perhaps less fresh than it should have been, this bottle is an enormous, dark, malty, bitter and interesting drink to sip slowly. It’s not an IPA though… or not any more, anyway.

The Black Gospel

Firstly I should say that I felt that I got value for money for each of these bottles.  They were all, at the very least, good beers from great breweries.  I think that I should caveat the above by saying the Stone beer was older than it really should have been, so don’t let me put you off a fresh bottle.

After trying all of them over a few nights, it’s clear there’s a balance to be struck with Black IPAs.  You can pretend that there’s no dark malt involved at all and try to surprise people, or you can embrace a limited amount of roastiness and make a great beer with [Greg Wallace voice] big hop flavours [/Greg Wallace voice].  That’s what Thornbridge Raven is: a wonderful, sophisticated, superbly balanced beer that expertly exploits the best features of the style.  But what else do you expect from Thornbridge?

The Cream Of Manchester Part 1: Port Street Beer House, Northern Quarter

April 1, 2011 3 comments

The English are terribly competitive when it comes to their cities. Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle and Birmingham would all love to be considered England’s second city, but certainly in cultural terms Manchester swaggers to the front of the queue wearing a zipped up parka, nods at the bouncer and gets in before the rest of us.

A trip to Manchester has been a treat for the beer geek for a number of years. A wander up the Rochdale Road to The Angel and The Marble Arch is far from picturesque but more than made up for by the hoppy delights within. Now there’s another destination in the Northern Quarter, Port Street Beer House.

The pub itself has a spare sophisticated cafe vibe with uncluttered dark green walls and a strongly designed theme and logos, which carry through from the menus to the glassware to the art. Appropriate music at a reasonable volume adds to the atmosphere whilst you peruse the excellent beer menu and pump clips.

Following my trip to The Rake a couple of weeks ago and the recommendation of Mr Jonathan Queally and others, I was excited to see Kernel S.C.C.A.N.S. IPA in the bottle fridge. This was a fantastic beer: a brilliant, searingly crisp fresh tropical fruit smell carried through into a lovely fresh taste, a mouthfeel which felt far less than 6.8%, and a lovely bitter finish.  Kate had a bottle of Kernel Citra, which I had raved about previously, and I think the S.C.C.A.N.S. is even better.

We also tried three thirds of the cask beers. Leadmill Niagara had a bready, malty smell, a nice mouthfeel with a subtle toasted malt taste. There was then a slightly sour raspberry bitterness on the swallow. Prospect Hop Vine Bitter had no hop smell, a creamy bland sort of taste and a bitterness on the aftertaste that required some searching out.  Hardknott Interstellar Matter had a rich coffee roasted smell and a nice roasted, slightly musty taste that made for a very good dark mild.

I also tried a Caldera Pale Ale, a 5.5% canned US import. This wasn’t as huge as the Caldera IPA I’d previously had, but was a lovely beer to drink, with good citrus bitterness.

We only popped in for an hour or so on a Saturday afternoon, but for me the Port Street Beer House is definitely worth a special visit, especially given  the opportunity to combine it with The Angel and The Marble Arch.

However, I did note one glaring omission from Port Street’s comprehensive beer menu: Marble beers. It seemed odd to me that such a great menu would include beers from such gems of the UK craft beer scene as Kernel, Thornbridge, Hardknott and Brewdog yet ignore the jewel in Manchester’s brewing crown. I wonder whether this absence resulted from the competition between the two pubs.

For a better review of Port Street Beer House, please read this entry from Called To The Bar.

Uncommon Market: The Rake and Brew Wharf, Borough Market, Southwark

March 19, 2011 4 comments

A trip to London for work means an early start, a lot of train time and usually a fairly hectic day (or couple of days) of work when I get there, and a late finish. However every cloud has a head on it, so I decided to use the opportunity to explore the beery delights of Borough Market, which was less than a mile’s walk from my hotel near St Paul’s.

After a picturesque walk across the Millennium Footbridge that runs between St Paul’s and the Tate Modern, I followed the South bank of the Thames to London Bridge. The first place I came to that was on my list was Brew Wharf, a large, spacious, minimalist modern bar under railway arches.

It was quite busy, so I took my half of their own 1 Hundred IPA and went to stand outside. It was a malty, US-style strong (6.3% or thereabouts?) IPA, but on cask. It was quite amber and malty in the way a lot of US IPAs are, and had a nice piney, furniture polish bitterness. It was a very tasty beer indeed, but… Sacrilegious as it was to think, on this of all days (being the 40th anniversary of CAMRA) it probably would have been slightly better on keg.

I then wandered around slightly lost in an enjoyable kind of way, in the shadow of the half-built Blade-Runneresque Shard that now overlooks the street food vendors of Borough.  I popped my head into The Market Porter, a pretty, large, traditional pub with a wide selection of cask ales, but it was also a bit full for a solitary visit.  After a while I finally found The Rake, which must actually only be about 20 metres from Brew Wharf.

The tiny and neat bar had a wealth of incredible bottles, as well as two Sierra Nevadas (Bigfoot and Celebration) on keg and a few cask ales. However, I’d come here for the Kernel. I bought a bottle of Kernel Citra IPA to drink and another to take home, along with a Kernel Export Stout, a Kernel Black IPA and a can of Caldera Ashland Amber Ale, also for the bag.

I went out to the beer garden at the side (which probably more than doubles the size of the tiny pub) and sat down on a bench to enjoy what turned out to be a wonderful beer. On the Twissup people had mentioned how amazingly fresh Kernel beers taste, and on the evidence of this first one, they weren’t wrong. It was a truly lovely, refreshing, bittersweet beer, like the cool morning dew on a mango tree.

I went back to the bar for a De Molen Hel & Verdoemenis (“Hell & Damnation”), which was my first De Molen beer. The closest I’d come to De Molen before was Marble’s take on Vuur & Vlaam. Hel & Verdoemenis was a very nice imperial stout with all the warm, dark, roasted coffee flavours that lend themselves to contented contemplation. However, it was also very drinkable relative to its strength, which is well over 10%, and it probably went down a little quicker than intended.

I had sat down next to a table of gents talking in an informed way about beer and ended up being brought into the conversation. It turned out that I was sitting next the owners of The Rake and Utobeer (Richard and Mike), Nigel from the drinks importers James Clay & Sons and Gildas from Chimay’s export team. They were all very friendly and happy to talk about beer, the legend that is Jeff Pickthall, the Lake District, the interelationship between monasticism and clericalism etc. You know, the usual. I must remember that I owe Nigel a drink if I see him again.

As it was getting late and I was getting tipsy, I decided to head back to Brew Wharf, which had calmed down a bit. I sat at one of the long tables and enjoyed a plate of sausage and mash and another Kernel bottle, this time the Pale Ale South. This was another very, very nice beer, not quite as mindblowing as the Citra but with the same wonderful freshness.

I’d had a fantastic evening and enjoyed some great beer. I was only sad that Kate wasn’t here to enjoy it with me, but at the very least that gave me an excuse to come back soon with her.

As I walked back, my heavy bag clinking with local beers on my back and the huge, baroque dome of St Paul’s dome shrouded in mist looming over the river, I thought that London wouldn’t be such a bad place to live. But perhaps I wouldn’t appreciate it as much if I did.

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