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Pub Walks: Leeds-Liverpool Canal, Shipley to Skipton

March 6, 2011 1 comment

After doing the Leeds-Saltaire section of the Leeds-Liverpool canal last week, I decided to complete the journey to Skipton this weekend.  I got off the train at Shipley and walked through Saltaire again through a very pleasant section of canal to Bingley where, despite my lack of real interest in canal architecture, the 237 year old Five Rise Locks are still impressive.

I kept going on to Riddlesden, near Keighley where I made my first pit-stop at The Marquis Of Granby on the canalside, about six miles into the walk.  This clean, traditional-looking pub has exposed beams from which jugs and china plates hang, telly showing the sports and an unusual amount of England flags hung above the bar.  The St George’s cross theme extended to the pump clips, where Wells Bombardier draped itself in the flag alongside the more reserved John Smiths Cask and Theakstons Mild.  I enjoyed  a half of the Theakstons – a slightly sweet mellow dark mild – whilst some decent music (New Order, Led Zep) played in the background.

The walk gets a little more annoying after this stage, where large stretches of the towpath are merely mud and grass that show a lot of use by cyclists.  I stopped at around the 9.5 mile point at Silsden, at The Bridge Inn.  Up some steps by the canal, this slightly tired pub unfortunately only had one ale on its five pumps when I went in, although to be fair it was earlyish on a Saturday and presumably the others went off the previous evening.  The one ale on was Abbot Ale, which was sweet, bready and slightly sulphurous, with a slightly bitter to sour aftertaste.  Not unpleasant, but not in any way interesting.

I pressed on in earnest through some nice countryside and past some pleasant villages along the towpath, which remained slightly muddy and unfortunately for a large section runs alongside a main road.  Near Bradley I passed a grand and unusually well-tended memorial to seven Polish airmen who died in a Wellington bomber crash in 1943. 

At around the 15 mile mark and a mile outside the centre of Skipton I came off the towpath and walked onto an industrial estate to the Copper Dragon Brewery.  The brewery has a good, pleasant and modern-looking bar/bistro in the centre of the building which has an emphasis on really nice food.  They were gearing up for a busy evening with a lot of reservations, but were happy for me to sit at the bar. 

Almost everyone’s favourite Copper Dragon beer is Golden Pippin, a nice, pale, hoppy, low ABV session ale in the same category as Ilkley Brewery’s Mary Jane.  However I tried Challenger IPA, which had a bready, slightly citrussy alcoholic smell. It had a traditional taste with less bitterness than you might expect.  I wasn’t entirely convinced it was what I wanted from an IPA.

Scotts 1816 had similar aroma with perhaps more orange peel. There was a dried apricot sweetness in the taste.  Owzat once again had a similarly subtle aroma, with the same creamy mouthfeel but more lemon in the taste.  It was my favourite of the three.  The lady who served me told me that it was the same beer as their Freddie Trueman ale (see photo below) but they changed the name as it wasn’t selling in Lancashire.  I said that was remarkable, and she said it was either that, or a good story.

It was a bit early for me to eat so I went back to the towpath and walked into town in the fading light.  The Narrow Boat, down a back street near the canal, is a professionally-run bar with helpful staff, a good selection of mostly local cask beers and a good fridge selection alongside an appealling menu.  You’d expect as much from the first of the Market Town Taverns, which has now been open for 12 years.

After not really being too excited by a taster of Thwaites Hit The North, I opted for a pint of Ilkley Mary Jane.  It’s a really nice beer, with a light lemon/lime aroma carrying through to a refreshing, light, slightly sharp lime taste with satisfyingly bitter aftertaste.  Also, I know this is a beer blog and not a potato-based snack blog, but ham and mustard Real Crisps are bloody brilliant.

I decided to have a final half before creakily walking to the train, and went for Naylor’s Magnum PA.  Initially put off by the label, which appears to flirt with intellectual property issues, I was quite impressed by the light, subtle, citrus aroma, similarly delicate, fruity lychee taste and bitterness.  It was probably a little too sweet to enjoy a large volume of it, but it’s a nice beer.

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Into The Mild: Brewdog v Tetley’s v Leeds Brewery

November 3, 2010 3 comments

I’ve just started reading Martyn Cornell’s fascinating book Amber, Gold & Black: The History Of England’s Great Beers. So far I’ve learned an lot about each of the styles covered and their history, which seems inseparable from the beer itself.

A style which has always confused me is mild. I simply didn’t know what it was. This wasn’t helped at all when I tried a bottle of Banks Mild recently, which is a light chestnut colour, and tasted completely different to the predominantly dark milds I’d tried before. Even in relation to dark milds I’m not sure where the dividing line is with porter.

I now realise, from Cornell’s book, that this variation comes from mild’s historical definition as simply a beer meant to be drunk young.  Mild is not monolithic, although many modern examples are dark.  It seems that modern milds are either a persistence through history of variations on a style that wasn’t rigidly defined to start with, or a retrospective recreation of something mostly lost.

I decided to put theory into practice and compare a few different cask milds. It was an ideal time to do this as Brewdog have released their own take on a weak mild, Edge.  It’s available in many JD Wetherspoons now as part of their ale festival, but I tried it in Nation Of Shopkeepers on Great George Street, where for some reason it monopolised three of the four handpumps.

Brewdog Edge is a 3.2% dark mild, which made it easier to excuse a whole pint at lunchtime. It was a lively pour with a creamy head, but one that soon disappeared. It tasted quite… er, mild; and thin the point of watery.  There was a hint of cola as it tingled on my tongue and left a roasted bitter aftertaste.

Compared to Brewdog’s core range and expensive specials – and indeed their recent press releases – Edge is completely contrary. It’s a weak cask beer, that lends itself to drinking in considerable volume.  It’s a pleasant enough drink but I can’t imagine anyone getting too excited about it.  But how does it compare to the local competition?

I went to Leeds Brewery’s Brewery Tap near the train station after work, as I knew it would do both Leeds’ own Midnight Bell and Tetley’s Mild, the latter of which may or may not currently brewed by Marstons for Carlsberg (according to Wikipedia it is, but there seems to be some debate).

I confess to confusing myself over the similar looking halves on the way to the table, but when I tried them it was easy to tell them apart.  Tetley’s Mild has the same dominant taste as Tetley’s Cask Bitter, that almost chemical sulphur taste that I presume comes from the “Burtonising” salts, albeit in a pair of beers traditionally from West Yorkshire.

Beyond that taste, there wasn’t much to the beer at all.  It was similarly thin, and perhaps even more watery than Edge.  It was refreshing enough and there were some puny roast flavours struggling to compete with the sulphur in the aftertaste, but failing.

I’m not completely sold on Leeds Brewery.  They have nice branding and some good pubs, but their beers tend not to be particularly exciting (relative to the local competition such as Roosters and Saltaire) and I’ve been left quite disappointed by a few dodgy pints recently.  That said, the Midnight Bell was by far the best of the three milds for my tastes.

It had more of a smell than either of the others, mostly cocoa.  That came through in the taste, which was a nice balance of chocolate and mildly roasted coffee.  More than anything, it had a much creamier feel in the mouth, and seemed much more satisfying than the others.

However, it’s worth noting that the Midnight Bell is described by Leeds Brewery as a 4.8% “premium dark mild”.  This is 1.5% above the Tetleys and 1.6% above the Brewdog. I suspect any comparison should not be regarded as like-for-like.

However, Cornell makes it clear that, at least just before WW1, there were some very strong milds.  Moreover, former “Champion Beer Of Britain” Rudgate’s Ruby Mild (which I’ve previously tried and liked) is 4.4%.  So, with the qualification that my tastes probably tend towards stronger milds, I’m happy to declare that on this occasion I enjoyed a Leeds Brewery beer more than a Brewdog one.

(Rigorous experimentation over, we stayed for some dinner.  The Midnight Bell also tastes very good in the Brewery Tap’s steak and ale pie.  However, I ordered a stout and Kate a pale ale, both from Abbeydale.)

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