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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!

Live & Dangerous: Live Beer Tasting at The European Beer Bloggers Conference #EBBC12

May 20, 2012 4 comments

Below is a collection of my tweets and photos from the live tasting and beer blogging event at the European Beer Blogger’s Conference yesterday afternoon.  Let them serve as an example of why:

  • tweets are of the moment, best tossed into the ether never to be seen again;
  • I’m a woeful beer taster; and
  • after 10 beers in an hour, I’m an even worse beer taster than I am normally.

Thanks to all the brewers for the beer.  The conference was great fun and there will be further posts to come, even though they’ll be perfect examples of the type of incestuous intrablogger back-slapping that proper writers like Adrian Tierney-Jones warned us against at the conference itself.  Although Adrian didn’t use the term “back slapping”…

Northern Sole: Imagining a life with only Northern English beers

February 21, 2012 26 comments

The other night I was thinking about how many Northern English breweries consistently impress and surprise me, and how many of them are relatively new.  Thornbridge Brewery seems like an established veteran of UK craft brewing, but it’s only seven years old.  Marble Brewery is positively neolithic in comparison to most, having started in 1997.

It is trite to say that the new wave of breweries in the UK owe a lot to the American scene.  However, the enjoyment with which I’ve been drinking hop-forward beers like Buxton Wild Boar, Summer Wine Diablo or Magic Rock High Wire makes me wonder if I even really need to buy American beers any more.  Certainly these English beers haven’t acquired either the age or the price uplift of their imported American inspirations by the time they make it to my shopping basket.

Then I wondered whether I really needed to drink beers from anywhere else at all.  Between them, Marble and Thornbridge have been working their way through the canon of Northern European beer styles recently, from Vienna lager through wheat beers to Kolsch, saisons, dubbels and tripels.  Summer Wine have also paid tribute in their own irreverent way with the Lime & Coriander Saison I’m drinking right now and the mind-bending but superb double Belgian Rye PA Cohort.  Sure, I’d miss Orval, but I could certainly attempt to console myself with Durham Brewery’s Bombay 106.

This is not to mention the excellent quality of both traditional English beer styles and those newer styles which, although influenced from abroad and made with New World hops, are nonetheless peculiarly British: the barley wines; the strong stouts and porters like Hawkshead Brodie’s Prime; the cask session pale ales like Roosters Yankee, Ilkley Mary Jane or Hawkshead Windermere Pale; and yes, even the brown bitters that sell by the gallon.

After a bit of thinking, looking at Google Maps and (frankly) gerrymandering, I concluded that, if it came to it, I could probably cope with drinking only beers brewed within a 75 mile radius of my house in North Leeds.  Provided, of course, that they had access to hops flown from the other side of the world.  (I should note I hadn’t even considered Burton and it ended up within the area quite by accident – I was pushing north east and north west). That would allow me to enjoy beers (inter alia) from all of the following breweries:

Acorn, Black Sheep, Buxton, Coniston, Cropton, Daleside, Durham, Goose Eye, Hambleton, Hardknott*, Hawkshead, Ilkley, Kelham Island, Kirkstall, Leeds, Little Valley, Liverpool Organic, Magic Rock, Mallinsons, Marble, Ossett, Red Willow, Revolutions, Ridgeside, Roosters, Saltaire, Sam Smiths, Stringers, Summer Wine, Thornbridge, Timothy Taylor, and York.

Whilst I would scrape by on these riches, in quiet moments I would find myself yearning for Orval, Brooklyn Lager, St Bernardus, Sierra Nevada Torpedo or even Jever.  I’d certainly miss Kernel and Brewdog; it would sting on a positively existential level to never enjoy another Irish stout.  The worst would be to travel and not enjoy local beers: cursed to stick to the Watney’s Red Barrel in “Majorcan bodegas selling fish and chips […] and calamares and two veg“.

But I think this exercise has helped me to realise that one of the best things about beer is that someone in the smallest unit of an industrial estate in West Yorkshire can buy foreign ingredients and build on the innovation and tradition of other brewers, cultures and traditions, to make the some of best beer in the world, right on my doorstep.  It’s a credit to those American, Belgian and other brewers that they have inspired them to do so.

You can’t say that about wine.  As they say in Doncaster: bollocks to Terroir.

*Just about: I might have to add an extra half a mile…

Update: For a reply from Southern England, see Mark Landell’s blog.

Dubbel Trouble, Tripel Threat: Marble Manchester Dubbel & Tripel

September 14, 2011 4 comments

I took (dragged, really) my brother and my father up the rather unpicturesque Rochdale Road in Manchester recently to get to the wonderful Marble Arch pub. Whilst we were there, I couldn’t resist buying Marble’s two new special large bottles, although they set me back about £23 in all. I’ve been impressed by Marble’s previous big bottles, including Utility IPA, Stout Port Stouter Porter Stoutest (or similar), and their version of De Molen’s Vuur & Vlam.

These two new bottles were especially appealing, as their take on a Belgian dubbel and tripel coincided with my increased interest in Belgian beers following my trip to Bruges. Although they were both probably suited to cellaring (shoving in a cardboard box in the spare room), I decided to open them both over the last weekend.

I popped open the Manchester Dubbel (8.5% ABV) in front of In Bruges on DVD, with Colin Farrell mocking “gay beers”, swigging Leffe from the bottle and being fascinated by dwarves. This turned out to be a good version of what I consider a dubbel to be. It had a huge, persistent head, and a really sweet and bitter dark chocolate smell. In the taste, the dark chocolate snuggled down with some licquorice and an obvious booziness to make a warming, comforting beer, especially after the fizziness had subsided. Unsurprisingly this paired well with some dark Belgian chocolate.

The Manchester Tripel (9%) is an interesting one: Pouring again with a large head, this dispersed much quicker than the Dubbel’s. It smells and tastes richly of citrussy American hops with a nice medium maltiness to match the cloudy gold-to-amber colour. The hop bitterness builds up over the course of the drink to a quite acidic taste, and the malty sweetness eventually accumulates as well, suggesting the beer is best drunk with food (cheese) or shared (Kate didn’t like it). Having said that, it hides its 9% well (although I say that so often I may be suffering ABV Shift) and I really enjoyed the beer.

However I really enjoyed it as a US-style double IPA, rather than a “tripel”. As a term, “tripel” does seem to be a bit contentious; style icon Michael Jackson said differing things about the word in different publications, but this is the definition on the Beer Hunter website:

Dutch-language term usually applied to the strongest beer of the house, customarily top-fermenting often pale in colour, occasionally spiced with coriander. The most famous is made in Westmalle, Belgium.

Regardless of this (probably necessarily) rather wide definition, I have a view of what a Tripel is from those I’ve tried, including Westmalle, Karmeliet, Straffe Hendrik, Corsendonk and De Garre. They’re all strong blonde beers with varying degrees of hop flavour.

The Manchester Tripel may or may not be “on-style”: I’ll leave that question for more knowledgeable writers. It isn’t the beer I expected it to be, however, with the powerful New World hop flavour overpowering any noticeable “Belgian” qualities. I wouldn’t have had that reaction to a very enjoyable beer had it been described in a different way, perhaps as a “Belgian-style IPA”. But that’s my problem and many people will enjoy having their expectations defied, or simply appreciating the beer for what it is, rather than what it isn’t.

Categories: Beer Tags: , , ,

Summer Saturday: Marble vs Summer Wine at the Slip Inn, York

June 26, 2011 9 comments

Rivalry is a spur to progress. Brian Wilson may not have been inspired to create the heart-breakingly beautiful Pet Sounds if he hadn’t heard Rubber Soul and wanted to best it.  Of course, Wilson loved The Beatles and The Beatles loved The Beach Boys. For example, Mike Love suggested the lyrics about “Moscow girls” and “Ukraine girls” in Paul McCartney’s Beach Boys pastiche Back In The USSR whilst they were at a hippy retreat in India. Basically they were all in this together, similarly pushing the envelope but in different ways.

This is also the case amongst brewers. From what I’ve seen, the craft brewing industry in the UK is generally characterised by a collegiate and friendly atmosphere, and any rivalry stems solely from pride in one’s own product and desire for it to be the best.  The Marble and Summer Wine  “Battle Of The Breweries” event in The Slip Inn in York on Saturday was a good example. Eight great beers from each brewery were available to enjoy in the beer garden of a fine little pub outside the city walls, in the presence of the brewers, as well as an array of bloggers, publicans and other brewers.  York has seen many battles, but none so friendly.

The event had been suggested by the publican of this great little beer pub.  As well as the sixteen beers (dispensed from the main bar and in a shed at the end of the beer garden) there were some live folk and blues bands and a barbecue selling burgers and steak sandwiches.  Naturally, with that many beers, the food was much-needed.

The beers were fantastic: there was the malty/bitter Rouge Hop, the delicious coffee Barista Espresso Stout and fiercely bitter 7Cs, all from Summer Wine; the great Tawny No 5 and Lagonda IPA from Marble; and a superb range of hoppy sessionable pales from both (Odyssey and Zenith from Summer Wine, Pint and 3.9 W90 from Marble).  In very general terms, the Marble beers were nicely balanced and the Summer Wine ones gave you a bit more of an exhilarating slap in the face, although both obviously occupied the same ground, tending towards hop-forwardness, with some dark chocolate, ginger and coffee thrown in on the edges.  I didn’t try a beer that I didn’t like.

The small redbrick pub and beer garden were crammed to the gills with people enjoying the beer, music, barbecue, sunshine and company.  Beer, at its best, is a social drink. Enjoying this number of great beers on a rare warm June day in one of the greatest cities in England, chatting with friends and listening to a folk musician play “The Bear Necessities”, was one of those moments I’ll look back on fondly when the nights close in.

We all know that beer is a product and brewing is an industry.  However for the individuals behind small breweries it must seem, at times, that there would be very many easier ways to make ends meet.  But for the lads from Marble and Summer Wine who were there, chatting with fellow brewers and drinkers and enjoying each other’s beers, it must serve as a useful reminder of why their hard work is worth it, and why beer and summer go together perfectly.

The Cream Of Manchester Part 2: Marble Beer House, Chorlton

April 4, 2011 4 comments

After visiting The Port Street Beer House on Saturday afternoon a couple of weeks ago, we stayed the night in Chorlton-cum-Hardy with my brother and his girlfriend.  Chorlton seems to be a relatively affluent, but also young and alternative suburb with elements of places like Chapel Allerton, Stoke Newington and Hebden Bridge.

As such, it has a range of pubs from tapas bars to more traditional ones, and even a brewpub in the slightly unlikely mock-Tudor The Horse And Jockey.  The Marble Arch pub on the Rochdale Road, famous for its own fantastic beers and beautiful listed exterior and interior, also has a spin-off pub here in The Marble Beer House.

I really like Marble beers and it makes sense to have an outlet in what appears to be quite a buzzy residential suburb.  The Beer House is decked out more like a cafe bar than the more traditional Marble Arch.  However it’s still a very nice pub, with a frontage displaying Marble’s simple and iconic logo and an interior with bookshelves and some appropriately Mancunian photos of urban decay and smartarse grafitti. All of which lends itself to chatting with friends or a drink over the paper in the afternoon.

The beers on offer were naturally great, including the fantastic Manchester Bitter and Pint.  My brother enjoyed Marble Chocolate and I couldn’t resist buying a bagful of beers to take back to Leeds, including Lagonda IPA, Dobber and Utility Special.  Guests included Hartington Ale from Whim, who recently collaborated on an IPA with Marble.

My brother tells me that the place does get quite busy in the evenings and I can see why.  However my only criticism is that on the particular quiet, suburban Sunday afternoon we visited, some music would have done a lot to cut through the slightly nervous, hungover silence. 

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The End Of The Beginning: Marble Driscoll’s End

At the Twissup in York a few weeks ago, I was speaking briefly to Dominic Driscoll whilst waiting at the bar in Pivni. Dominic was one of the brewers at Marble Brewery in Manchester until recently, when he moved to Thornbridge.

That pedigree speaks volumes about Dominic’s passion for great beer and innovation. Marble and Thornbridge are unqualifiedly excellent breweries; standing either side of the Pennines, both have established a reputation for quality whilst refusing to rest on their laurels.  Dominic’s also a lovely chap, as just after I’d been telling him how much I enjoyed the last beer he brewed for Marble, Driscoll’s End, he gave me a bottle of it that he’d bottled himself.

I’ve just got round to drinking it and it’s superb.  It smells like the most welcoming beer in the world: a rich sweet tropical nectar.  The sweetness carries through to the first taste and then a rush of welcome but uncompromising bitterness flows over the tongue.  From the bottle, rather than on cask as I’d had it before, it tastes like the best US Pale Ale you could hope for.

So thanks very much to Dominic for the fantastic beer and please keep up the good work at Thornbridge.  Dominic has taken over blogging duties from Kelly Ryan on his departure from Thornbridge, and can be kept up with here and also on Twitter: @thornbridgedom.

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.

The Grand Old Twissup Of York

February 27, 2011 2 comments

In the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, Ford Prefect buys four packets of peanuts from a pub just before the world is destroyed, as you need the salt and protein after going through a matter transference beam.  However Kate and I realised that a day’s drinking in York with beer bloggers and brewers from as far apart as Kent and Glasgow would require a Wetherspoons breakfast in Leeds station at the very least.

We met Dean, Leigh, Adam, Martin and Rob on the platform and headed to York, where Dean led us to the York Brewery.  Whilst we were waiting Dean cracked open his new homebrew, a superb, fruity black IPA called Devil In Disguise (following the Elvis theme after the previous “All Shook Up”).  After everyone else showed up we enjoyed some cheap drinks in the York Brewery bar, where the dark, coffee, chocolate Centurion’s Ghost and light, hoppy seasonal beer First Light seemed to go down best, and everyone started chatting.

We were treated to an entertaining and informative free tour before heading back for further discounted drinks at the bar.  After a short while we moved on to the Market Town Taverns bar Brigantes on Micklegate. A lot of people seemed to enjoy Hambletown Nightmare whilst I went for Baboon by The Brass Monkey Brewery in Sowerby Bridge.  It was a slightly peculiar pale but oddly smoky beer.

We then moved on to Pivni, the diminutive but proud father of the Sheffield and Euston Taps and, I’m informed, expectant parent of The York Tap!  A great selection included BrewDog on cask (Riptide, 5am Saint, Trashy Blonde, Edge) and 5am Saint in Keg, Camden Pale Ale and Bernard beers.

I quite liked Camden Pale Ale although it did taste somewhere between an IPA and a light pilsner.  Bernard Special Ox was a sweet, relatively high ABV pilsner.  5am Saint was great on keg, although I didn’t try the cask version and Hardknott Dave pointed out that it had a slight taste of silverskin pickled onions.  I wasn’t too excited by the cask Riptide, although it was fine.

What was interesting though was when Dave, Ann and, er, Sooty from Hardknott treated us to a sneak preview taste of two variations on Aether Blaec, one in Balvenie casks and another in those of another whisky whose name now eludes me.  They were both really nice.

After staying in  Pivni for a while, we decamped to various places for food (Kate, Dean and I got much-needed but tooth-shattering pork and crackling baps from a hogroast shop) and then came together with some others in The White Swan, a big Nicholson’s pub on Goodramgate.  I had two slightly disappointing beers: Kelham Island Pale Rider and Thornbridge Jaipur, which for some reason was far less interesting than usual.

We went on to The House Of The Trembling Madness above The Bottle on Stonegate.  It’s a favourite of mine: a hidden hunting lodge-themed bar with a good selection of imported bottled beers and meat and cheese platters secreted above an excellent off-licence.  I had an O’Dell 5 Barrel Pale Ale before we decided that it would be sensible to draw a line under the day whilst all was well and we could face the train back to Leeds with a brave face.  At this point people were headed in the direction of the Rook and Gaskill, which is a great pub, but one that we might have found diffcult to leave.

The House Of The Trembling Madness does have a clever setup where you walk out, slightly inebriated, through a shop full of great beers and of course I ended up buying three big Stone bottles: Arrogant Bastard; Cali-Belgique and Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale.  And this is on top of the bottle of Driscoll’s End that Dominic himself had very kindly given me earlier in the day after I told him how much I enjoyed it on cask.

Once again it was a great day  and it was lovely to meet loads of people whose blogs I read and a few whose beers I drink, and everyone was really nice and welcoming.  Thanks very much to Andy and Mark for organising it and to everyone else for being so friendly: see you on the next one!

This Is Euston Tap

February 15, 2011 3 comments

An early finish following a day of work in London and a pre-booked railway ticket left myself and a colleague at something of a loose end. Fortunately I had a plan B, and it involved The Euston Tap, the relatively new, tiny craft beer bar at the front of Euston station from the people who brought us The Sheffield Tap and Pivni in York.

From Euston Square I dragged my reluctant colleague through the pouring rain to the porterhouse stone building at the front of Euston proper. Unimpressed as he was by the almost entirely male clientele, even he was forced to admit how great the little bar looked, with the big copper-coloured back bar with American taps and peculiar, CAMRA-baiting unpumpable hand pumps. With little room or no room to sit downstairs, we shared a minor grumble over the lack of coat-hooks under the bar.

On each side of the bar there were fridges of European (on one side) and American (on the other) bottles. “Not cheap”, my colleague noted, and his Northern intuition was in this case correct: these are fancy imported beers with prices to whiten the hair of casual drinkers. He balked at a £20 bottle of Mikkeller, and double-balked at a £43 bottle.

The excellent selection of casks ale was much more reasonably priced, especially for That London, so I recommended a couple of pints of Marble’s Driscoll’s End. Impressed with this, a really robust, hoppy cask ale, we moved onto two keg beers, an O’Dell 5 Barrel Pale Ale and a Matuska Raptor, a Czech IPA.  After starting with a pretty severely hoppy beer (again), it took me a while to appreciate the finer nuances of the Raptor.  An earthy, lavender taste melted into a solid bitterness in the aftertaste.

My colleague went to meet a friend, leaving me to try Sierra Nevada Celebration on keg, which had a oddly cold, flat mouthfeel.  However it did have a nice solid malty, astringent bitterness.  Next was  Thornbridge Brock on cask, which was dark, with a creamy mouthfeel and smoky, bready flavour.  I then had a half of BrewDog Alpha Dog, which, after the pounding my tastebuds had already taken, came across initally a bit like a boring brown beer with barely any aroma, but did have a very nice finish.

Just like in the Sheffield Tap, it’s very easy to go a little bit mad in the Euston Tap, but I did manage to drag myself away with only a couple of bottles of Stone Oaked Arrogant Bastard and a bottle of Lupulus (by, erm… some Belgians, I think), after a slightly confused (on my part) conversation with the helpful barman.  I happily and purposefully strode out through the rain back to King’s Cross for the train north.

As it turned out, the entire train network had collapsed in a gibbering heap that evening, so I ended up drinking one of the Oaked Arrogant Bastards accompanied by a Tunnocks Caramel Teacake, which was the only thing I could afford from a vending machine whilst stranded for a time in Doncaster station.  They went pretty well together actually.  It certainly beat the usual can of John Smiths Smoothflow on the East Coast service.

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