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.
Coniston Bluebird is one of the most beloved beers of the Lake District: almost as ubiquitous as Jenning’s Cumberland Ale, but for my money, much more interesting. I’ve had quite a few pints in my time of both it and its American-hopped counterpart, Bluebird XB, in my time; however I’d never tried a side-by-side comparison and thought it was worth the exercise, so I bought a couple of bottles in Beer Ritz for the purpose of doing so.
Coniston Brewing Company Bluebird Bitter (4.2%)
Distinguished, the label says, with “unusual quantities” of Challenger hops, this bottle-conditioned version had very little aroma and what there was came across slightly bready. There was a small amount of bread as well in the slightly tart bitterness, with a slightly oily mouthfeel. I also noticed a chalkiness in the taste.
Coniston Brewing Company Premium XB Bluebird Bitter (4.4%)
The XB version adds the “new wave American hop variety Mount Hood with robust citrus aromas“. Certainly this resulted in a much more interesting nose, with more citrus and perhaps even a slight fresh, herbal mintiness in there as well. The citrus carries through to a light, gentle lemony flavour, but one that seems to meet head-on with the chalkiness I noted in the standard Bluebird. As a result, the first impression I got was of the bitterness that you experience when drinking orange juice just after brushing your teeth.
Mulling it over more, I think this alkaline chalkiness has always been present in Bluebird. It might just go to show that I’ve tended to drink it without analysing the taste and the beers both contained some surprises when I really applied my attention to them. Although I think I prefer the cask version of each, I did quite like both bottles and, given the choice, might tend towards the lighter notes and stronger aroma of the XB version.
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