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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!

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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.

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