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Atmosphere: BrewDog Manchester

It should come as no surprise to anyone who regularly reads this blog (hi, you two) that one of my favourite pubs is Mr Foley’s in Leeds.  As I’ve mentioned before, the careful selection of interesting cask, keg and bottled beers that makes Mr Foley’s what it is, has until now been down to the manager Dean Pugh.

In a trans-Pennine transfer, Dean has now moved on to manage the newly-opened BrewDog Manchester, becoming @BrewDogBarDean in the process.  A few of us went to see the new bar at 35 Peter Street on Saturday.

I was impressed.  If you’ve been to one of the other BrewDog bars (I’ve visited Glasgow and Edinburgh) you’ll know what to expect: an interesting range of keg beers, no cask beers, an excellent selection of imported bottles, good music and a stylish slightly industrial decor using reclaimed materials.  Manchester is over two floors, and I think it’s probably one of the biggest of the bars.

Kate and I enjoyed a few great beers.  On keg we had:

BrewDog Dead Pony Club, the rew 3.8% session ale, which had a lot of fruit flavour with a significant amount of grapeskin;

BrewDog Dogma, a pleasantly sweet dark honeyed Scotch ale; and

Mikkeller 19, a deliciously sweet and complex IPA using 19 single-hopped beers (and a successor to Mikkeller 10).

The bottles we enjoyed were:

Mikkeller Belgian Tripel, a pleasant example of the style brewed with coriander and orange peel;

Mikkeller Single Hop Citra, a single-hopped beer that Kate found enjoyable in its own right (rather than just a tutorial on the characteristics of the hop);

Port Brewing Mongo, a big, citrus-fresh Californian double IPA; and

BrewDog Anarchist Alchemist, the new 14% “triple IPA”, which tastes like Hardcore IPA with a bit more barley wine character, but not so much as to be overpowering.

With all those strong beers, it’s a good job that there’s some food on offer, and the burger and pizza menu (three of each) designed by Masterchef winner and occassional BrewDog collaborator Tim Anderson, is very tempting.  I tried a slice of a tasty veggie pizza with breaded aubergine and had a Milwaukee burger: an excellent pork burger with pickles and sauerkraut.

Manchester is already well-served with great pubs, from the Marble Arch to Port Street Beer House.  But if I were a Mancunian I would be very happy to welcome BrewDog to the city: a nice place to spend an afternoon with some great beers and good company.

Following the visit, I’m pinning my hopes on the BrewDog Leeds licence application being successful.  The recent AGM presentation suggests that, if it the licence is granted, BrewDog Leeds will open in September 2012.

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The Food Programme: The New Beer Frontier

I mentioned in my post regarding the Garrett Oliver lunch at Mr Foleys that there was a journalist from BBC Radio 4 present.  The episode of The Food Programme that he recorded was broadcast today and will shortly be available on iPlayer here and also as a podcast from this page.

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Whilst there are a couple of slight slip-ups and the odd oversimplification for those who are paying attention, it’s a wide-ranging and interesting programme, including contributions from Pete Brown, James Clay, Neil from Eating Isn’t Cheating, Rob from Hopzine and breweries such as Bristol Beer Factory and Camden Town in the UK and Harpoon and CBC in the US.  It’s certainly one of the most up-to-date and least clichéd mainstream programmes I’ve heard about beer and a good recognition of the US craft influence on UK breweries.

Oliver’s Army: At The Brewmaster’s Table With Garrett Oliver

March 15, 2012 5 comments

As you may have already read on David, Leigh and Ghostie’s blogs, I was amongst a fortunate few West Yorkshire bloggers invited to lunch with Brooklyn Brewery Brewmaster Garrett Oliver at Mr Foley’s this week. Given that Garrett is basically the patron saint of beer and food matching, it must have been a pretty daunting experience for chef Tyler Kiley to put together a menu for him.

However, Tyler knocked the ball out of the park, with a very tasty and substantial meal to go with the beer.  Here’s a quick summary of what we had:

Brooklyn Blast, an 8% IPA made with both American and English hop varieties (including Goldings, Target, Challenger) and usually draft-only, was served bottle conditioned from a “ghost bottle” and paired with some chicken wings with a fruity but robustly spicy sauce.

Brooklyn Mary’s Maple Porter is a 6.9% Porter made with an enormous amount of maple syrup. It was a perfect match for Tyler’s labour-of-love pulled pork sandwich, home-made sauce, coleslaw and thrice-fried chips.

For dessert we enjoyed a truly decadent Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout float, which you can read about on Leigh’s blog. The only thing that’s better than a delicious 10.6% Imperial stout is a delicious 10.6% Imperial stout with a scoop of ice cream in it.

The Companion was a 10% wheat wine brewed in collaboration with Garrett’s collaborators on The Oxford Companion To Beer, Horst Dornbusch and Thomas Kraus-Weyermann, to celebrate the launch of the book. It was a really interesting beer, as strong as a barley wine but kept light and refreshing by the wheat.

Finally we enjoyed a very special beer: “Cuvée De La Crochet Rouge Rose“. This experimental beer isn’t for sale at all; as Garrett said, “If you’ve had this beer you’ve almost certainly met me“.

What it is, if I can recall correctly, is Brooklyn’s strong Belgian pale ale Local 1 aged in a bourbon barrel with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay lees (yeast and other deposits from the process of winemaking). The “Crochet Rouge” bit is because the lees was from Red Hook Winery in Brooklyn, and the “Rose” part is because a slight pink hue has been added to the beer by the Pinot Noir lees.

What results is a truly remarkable beer: at first very slightly sharp and acidic like a gueuze, with some pink champagne character and a little Brett whilst remaining very light and drinkable.

So some wonderful food and beer, but what I’ll take away from the day is what an inspirational ambassador for craft beer Garrett is. He spoke assuredly and compellingly about the possibilities of beer, the importance of drinkability and balance and, despite the “big beers” we tasted, his belief that sessionability is an important and growing movement in American beer. He talked about the influence English and Yorkshire cask ales had on him before he started home-brewing and noted that Americans still struggle to get cask ales to the customer in good condition.

It was also really interesting to speak to Brooklyn General Manager Eric Ottaway (who had flown in from Helsinki that morning), particularly about the business side of craft brewing. Brooklyn has always contract-brewed a large proportion of their beer at FX Matt Brewing Company in upstate New York, and indeed started out in 1987 solely with contract brewing. It’s worth considering that if a UK craft brewery is going to meet the increased interest and demand from supermarkets, pub chains and foreign buyers, they will have to adopt these models, but at the same time maintain the consistency and quality that made their name in the first place.

Part of the lunch was recorded for BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme, and speaking to the media is par for the course for Garrett. I think it’s a shame that we don’t really have an equivalent to Garrett (or even Sam Calagione) to be the public face of British beer to the mainstream media: not just a beer writer or CAMRA spokesman, but actually an inspirational brewer with an inclusive, positive and thoughtful attitude who has the personality and authority to shape people’s opinions of beer and make them really think about it, in the same way that a celebrity chef can do for food.

Thanks very much to Dean, Tyler and all at Foleys; to Garrett, Eric and James Clay; and also to the usual suspects for keeping the party going into the evening to the Brooklyn/Nøgne Ø meet the brewer(s) at North Bar.

Our Wedding Beer: Summer Wine Covenant

November 10, 2011 13 comments

I’ve already written about the origins of our wedding beer, Summer Wine Covenant, and how grateful Kate and I are to James and Andy for suggesting and following through on their very kind and thoughtful idea.  After the brewday we had tentatively left it in James and Andy’s capable hands until collecting two casks on the Saturday before the wedding.

Driving up to the venue, The Plough at Lupton, all I wanted to do was try the beer, but knew that we wouldn’t be able to do so until we were married.  I knew what we intended the beer to be like; I just didn’t know if it would turn out as I imagined or whether our guests would like it.  It was always a bit of a concern that we had to walk a line between a beer that Kate, James, Andy and I would be interested in, but that wouldn’t be too extreme for our guests to enjoy from the first sip.

We had made Covenant a central part of our wedding.  The beer was free to all guests, but I wanted to make sure people knew about it and tried it.  So I wrote a bit of blurb explaining the background to the beer and even a bit of a fingers-crossed tasting note (referring to “a rich citrus fruit aroma and medium bitterness“), which ended up on two blackboards in prominent positions in the venue, along with some photos of the brewday.

We also named the tables after the ingredients (eg: Amarillo; Crystal; Carafa; Chocolate; Godisgoode – because you can’t call a table “Yeast”) and the top table after the beer itself.  We had told the priest about the beer and given him a bottle of Summer Wine Barista to try.  He went on to mention the beer during the sermon, making reference to the Marriage At Cana.

The beer even ended up being represented in icing on the cake, decorated brilliantly by Kate’s sister Tess, as you can see.  So it’s fair to say that we placed a lot of emphasis on Covenant and only later did I begin to worry a little about how much of a damp squib it would be if it wasn’t quite right for the occasion.

However, when I had my first taste about an hour into our marriage, it wasn’t in any way disappointing.  Covenant, thanks to James, is a triumph.  It’s a beautiful vibrant amber/red colour and has a superb aroma.  Possibly because of the range of hops used (it uses an unusual number of hop varieties, although all were American), the smell doesn’t immediately conjure up one dominant descriptor to point to, but instead it has a wonderful and unique mix of fresh, fruity citrus and a little pine.

I was certain that the beer was going to smell good, because we deliberately asked for a low bitterness but a good aroma, so James put the emphasis on late and dry hopping rather than bittering.  However I was a little concerned that it might be all nose and no teeth.  Fortunately the beer didnt disappoint in this respect either, as it has both a great lightness of taste and just exactly the right amount of satisfying bitterness on the finish.  It ends the experience perfectly, like a satisfying “ka-chunk” as a car door closes.

I was actually expecting a lower bitterness, but in the end I think it probably is considerably more restrained in that respect than a lot of Summer Wine beers, but perhaps on the more bitter end of what more mainstream British drinkers might be used to.  But it’s just right for the beer and as a result our guests, who were not all experienced ale drinkers, reacted really very positively to it.

For a 5.2% beer with a strong aroma and flavour, it’s a very drinkable beer, in all the right ways.  My friend (whose favourite beer is the excellent Moorhouses Pride Of Pendle) commented that I didn’t understand session ales, but our beer drank like a session ale.  After having enjoyed beer all night at the wedding and again this week at Mr Foleys (with some work colleagues, Dean and Neil), I’d have to agree.  It’s a beer that is meant to be consumed in long, refreshing mouthfuls; a great fruity waft at the front and a satisfying kick at the end.

My wife and I (*wait for applause*) think that Covenant is a great beer and are incredibly grateful to James and Andy for brewing it for us. It added a very personal note to our wedding day, which our family and friends really enjoyed.

Covenant’s been on already at Mr Foleys and I know it’s in a few pubs around the country including the Free Trade Inn, so look out for it at #Twissup.  With all the weddingness Kate and I won’t be able to make it to Newcastle, but please do let us know what you think of it if you get to try some.   Also, if you’re quick you may also be able to buy some bottles from the new Summer Wine shop!

BEER is proof that CAMRA loves us and wants us to be happy

November 8, 2011 2 comments

Kate and I are back home after our honeymoon in Scotland, all wed up.  The wedding went pretty much perfectly, as did Summer Wine Covenant, but I’ll come on to that in a separate post.

One thing that’s taken the edge off returning to Leeds after a very relaxing 10 days in Scotland is the new Winter 2011 edition of BEER magazine which was waiting for me, with a snowscene cover as festive as the Christmas Radio Times.  I’ve enjoyed BEER since I first bought a copy in Borders a couple of years ago, with its quality beer writing and clean design, so I was very glad to be able to respond to a Twitter appeal for a few hundred words on “My Local” with a short piece on Mr Foleys.

I’m thrilled that they published it and was surprised when they sent a photographer to take some photos of me in the pub to go with the article.  It was a bit daunting to see that the photographer, Will Amlot, had taken portraits of Nelson Mandela and Kofi Annan for publications such as the Sunday Times Magazine.

As Dean can testify, Will had me in quite a few poses for a number of hours getting the photos right.  It included flipping beer mats; catching slopping pint glasses slid along the bar; and even pretending to have pork scratchings for claws.  I asked whether Will had given the same treatment to Mandela, but apparently not.  Certainly a man of Mandela’s age would probably have felt even worse after the afternoon drinking (for art’s sake) than I did.

I think it’s mainly down to Will’s excellent photography that they ended up with three pictures of my awkward, doughy face in the magazine.  My little article was knocked off in less time than this post after work, but it reflects that there are no shortage of good things to say about Mr Foleys.

I’m just glad to have a bit of writing published in a beautiful magazine alongside that of a writer of the quality of Adrian Tierney-Jones, not to mention a few of my favourite bloggers in Simon Johnson, the CAMRA-shy Mark from BeerBirraBier, and Bailey of Boak & Bailey.  It’s a lot more than I could have hoped for a year ago when I started this blog.

BEER magazine is free to all CAMRA members either in hard copy or online (which is reason enough to join CAMRA), or you can buy a copy in some larger newsagents.  However you can’t get it in the WH Smith in Oban, where two shop assistants, due to a conflict of accents, thought Kate was asking for “Bear” magazine (about teddies) and then, increasingly red-facedly, “Bare” magazine: “Och, no hen, we dinnae stock that sort of magazine” (or similar).

Covenant: Wedding Beer Brewday at Summer Wine

September 25, 2011 9 comments

Last year, soon after Kate and I got engaged, we were out on a pub crawl around Leeds with Dean from Mr Foley’s and Andy and James from Summer Wine Brewery.  Andy said that as a wedding present, he and James would brew a beer for the wedding.  We would decide what it would be and come to the brewery and help brew it.

It was one of those extremely generous offers that you think is a very nice thought, but don’t really think will be followed through in the cold light of day.  To their credit, and our gratitude, James and Andy remained keen to do it and we arranged to brew it this weekend, for our wedding at the end of next month.

Kate and I had been batting around a few ideas about beer styles, with the special problem of trying to conceive one that would be of interest to James and Andy and ourselves, without being so bitter that it would be overly challenging to the palettes of our guests, who are not, in large part, seasoned hopheads.

We considered a few options, including a session pale and a stout, but ultimately, with James, decided on a red/amber ale made with New World hops, with the aim of producing a beer which was autumnal in appearance; had a decent malt body for a level of sweetness and balance; and hopped in a manner that created a lot of American hop aroma without being very bitter.

James took this quite sketchy brief and came up with a recipe which he had ready for us when we arrived early on Saturday morning.  We spent the next eight hours helping James brew the beer.  Well, “helping” in the way a toddler “helps” their mum cook.  Digging the mash tun was hopefully useful. The beer already has a wonderful colour and, we think, shows a lot of promise.  Although I’d been to breweries before and brewed from a kit, this was the first time I’d actually seen a whole brewday on a commercial level.  It was fascinating how much I didn’t already know.

It was also great to spend the day with James and Andy talking about beer, their plans for the future and what they’d achieved over the last three years.  Summer Wine is a business built entirely from ambition, knowledge and very hard work.  It would be a cliche to say that they produce “uncompromising beers”, but their whole way of working reflects an ethos of producing the best beers they can and continually improving them.

Their new bottles reflect this.  Having had, and observed, unhappy experiences with bottle-conditioning in the past, and being unable to find a contractor to bottle in the way that they wanted, they have installed a new and unique bottling system for unfiltered and unpasteurised, precisely carbonated, non-bottle conditioned beer.

Towards the end of the day we got to try some of the new bottles, which are currently available only from their online shop, which launched on Friday.  All four of the initial line  (Barista, Diablo, Kahuna, Rouge Hop) are great and in particular I think that their flagship IPA, Diablo, and their espresso stout, Barista, transferred very well indeed.  The Barista benefits from a restrained carbonation whilst Diablo has retained its superb aroma.

Our beer, which we’ve named Covenant, is now fermenting away on an industrial estate in Holmfirth, awaiting dry hopping.  As well as being on cask at our wedding reception, it will also be sold into pubs.  It will hopefully be available in Mr Foleys and, very excitingly, may also be in Newcastle for Twissup in November.  Let me know if you get to try it.

Beer In Bruges: Halve Maan Brewery, Brugse Zot Unfiltered, Straffe Hendrik Tripel and Quadrupel

August 17, 2011 4 comments

Brouwerij De Halve Maan (“The Half Moon Brewery”) is the only working commercial brewery in Bruges, “Brugge Tripel” actually being produced by Palm in Steenhuffel, near Brussels. Although the brewery building has a history dating back to at least the 1850s, it was closed in 2002 and reopened by the Maes family in 2005, owing to a complicated corporate backstory involving Liefmans and Duvel Moortgat that I still don’t quite fully understand.

I’d tried Halve Maan’s flagship beer Brugse Zot (dating back only to the reopening in 2005) in Mr Foleys in Leeds, and had found it to be a pleasantly drinkable Belgian blonde, but not massively interesting. We decided to do the tour based on personal recommendations and the fact that it was good value at only €6 with a free beer thrown in. In fact it turned our to be really quite lively, funny and refreshingly lacking in the bullshit and myth-peddling that guided tours tend towards.

The excellent guide – a lady with the energy and no-nonsense attitude of a hockey coach – ran us up and down the stairwells of the old brewery like it was The Crystal Maze, explaining its history (much of the building is no longer in working use) and the wonders and pitfalls of beer. During the tour we were also taken out onto the roof of the brewery, which allows for interesting views across the rooftops of the city.

After the tour we sat down to lunch in the brewery tap. There’s a nice courtyard outside but we moved in as it was a bit showery. I enjoyed a rich Flemish beef and beer carbonnade/stew which came with chips, whilst Kate had an interesting beer and vegetable soup. We also tried a couple of beers.

At the brewery they sell an exclusive unfiltered version of the blonde Brugse Zot (6% ABV) and you get a free glass of it at the end of the tour. I was aware from the tour that it contained coriander and used four different hops including East Kent Goldings and Saaz. Nicely cloudy in appearance, it’s a pleasant and easy-drinking beer with a refreshing taste including coriander and orange peel.

Next I tried Straffe Hendrik Tripel. This brand, originally produced at the Brewery in 1981, was bought back from Duvel Moortgaat by the present owners in 2008. This 9% tripel had a pleasant orangey-gold colour a fairly typical Belgian yeasty smell with an enjoyable orange and reasonably hoppy taste, although I should note that the bottle was quite cold.

On the final afternoon of the holiday we went back to the Brewery for convenience, as it was only around the corner from our hotel from where we were about to get a coach back to the Eurostar station at Lille and, unlike a lot of other bars, it was open on a Tuesday afternoon. I had a Straffe Hendrik Quadrupel, a relatively new beer that, as the guide had previously explained, was produced following demand from their American importers.

It was slightly cola-coloured, although more brown than red around the edges. Again the bottle from the fridge was really quite cold and fizzy and it improved greatly on being left to warm up a bit. After doing so it had a nice chocolatey sweetness and a slightly licquorice bitterness. It remained very easy to drink for its strength (11% ABV) but made for an enjoyable, slightly vinous beer that went very well with some nice dark chocolate we’d just bought from The Chocolate Line.

I would strongly recommend the Halve Maan brewery tour to anyone visiting Bruges (so long as they can cope with the steps) and their beers are very enjoyable as well. I’d also prescribe the quad to help you nod off on a coach journey, but it does carry the risk of spending your remaining Euros on a Christmas tree decoration which looks like a sparkly gherkin.

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