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Chapel Allerton Arts Festival: Live At North Leeds

September 6, 2012 1 comment

Chapel Allerton Arts Festival is an event held each summer in the North Leeds village (suburb), during which Regent Street is closed off, a stage is set up, and local businesses set up food stalls. It’s run entirely by volunteers and the entry fee is an optional donation of £3.

Previously Roosters used to run the beer stall that supplements the overstretched Regent, but this year the festival bar was especially good and diverse, featuring local cask beers (mostly suitably summery pale ales) from Kirkstall, Ridgeside, Wharfebank, Leeds Brewery as well as Roosters. They even had kegs of Leodis Lager and Kirkstall Framboise.

On the Friday night, whilst Hope And Social played an appropriately optimistic and community-spirited set, I had a Ridgeside Desert Aire and Kirkstall Three Swords, which were very tasty if, unavoidably given that the temporary bar had just been set up on the street, still a bit green.

If Friday was nice, Sunday was brilliant: the sun had come out, the New York Brass Band (more accurately the new York brass band) were playing horn covers of A Message To You Rudy, Take On Me and Sweet Dreams, the Sukothai stall was doing mixed skewers and ribs for a fiver and Kirkstall Dissolution IPA (a robust IPA that takes quite a few sips to adjust to how good it is) was in absolutely perfect condition at £3 a pint. People’s clear enjoyment of the whole weekend was a tribute to the health of Leeds’ local breweries as well as the hard work and good taste of the volunteers.

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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!

Themes of #EBBC12: Bad beer, free beer and bad free beer

One of the points that emerged from the panel and group discussions, and indeed Stuart Howe’s very funny keynote speech at the European Beer Bloggers Conference was that opinion is split as to whether blogs should ever be truly negative about a beer or a pub.  Some believe blogging can give pubs and brewers useful feedback about possible improvements, or just a much-needed kick up the arse. Others believe constructive criticism should be fed back privately.

Some people can’t be bothered to write about bad beer and mediocre experiences. Sometimes, it can be fun to read (or write) a really scathing review; certainly restaurant critics and their readers seem to relish it. Similarly, reviews of bad music and awful films (see for example Kim Newman’s Video Dungeon in Empire) can be more entertaining than those of good ones. Furthermore, being warned off a bad experience can be as useful to the reader as being tipped off about a good one.

This discussion has some relationship with another major theme of the weekend: free beer.  Does receiving free samples from a brewer undermine a blogger’s objectivity?  Most people seemed to agree that accepting and (honestly) reviewing free beer is acceptable, although many also considered that it was poor etiquette to ask for it, or at least that the thought of doing so made most people uncomfortable.   Having said that, one of the reps from a multinational brewer said they had lots of free beer to give away and were happy to give out samples when asked, so if you want to dismount your high horse, there’s a gravy train to catch.

My own view on this is that if there’s free beer being handed out, far be it from me to turn it down.  I’ve been sent free beer from St Stephanus (SAB Miller) and more recently Hawkshead, which I intend to review shortly.  Along with all the other attendees of various moral standpoints, I also had an awful lot of good-to-excellent free beer at the conference, from producers as large as Molson Coors to as small as Roosters.   However I would never ask a brewer for free beer if they weren’t already in the process of doing so.

As regards free beer that turns out to be bad, I probably wouldn’t write about the beer if it was going to result in an outright scathing review (rather than, say, a middling one).  But I tend not to do that in any event as, particularly in the case of small and independent brewers and pubs, I appreciate that their jobs are difficult and many of them have invested a huge proportion of their time, sweat and imagination to actually create something real in the hope that others will enjoy it.  In that context it seems cheap and easy to point out a few things I might regard as failings or contrary to my personal taste, just to get some moderately entertaining writing out of it.

I’m also aware that my criticisms might derive from teething problems or a blip. Using hypothetical examples, if I feel aggrieved enough criticise the quality of Orwell’s Wallop or the service at the newly opened Damp Satellite Artisanal Beer Emporium, I’m reporting an actual experience, but one that will hang around on the internet and search engines for some time.  My half-litre of Wallop might have been from a bad batch or a new manageress of the Damp Satellite might lick it into shape, but there’s still an indelible stain on a server in San Francisco.

I’ve only ever been truly negative about a pub once on here, and that reflected some appalling service that both gave me a real sense of grievance and the view that people would benefit from knowing about it. Even then, when I see that particular post still getting hits many months later, I wonder if people still need to be “warned”. Perhaps more to the point, I also wonder if I’m still as annoyed as I was at the time.

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.

Ruling The Roost: Roosters Brewery Visit

August 21, 2011 7 comments

A quick break from my series of posts on Bruges to say thanks very much to Roosters Brewery for Friday afternoon.  As most of you probably know, Sean Franklin started Roosters in 1993.  Since then it has acquired a strong and deserved local reputation for aromatic pale session ales such as Roosters Yankee, usually available on cask.

In January this year I wrote a post about XS, 2XS and Oxymoronic Black IPA, limited edition bottles that had been produced by Sean’s son Sam before emigrating to Canada.  In April Sean and his wife Alison announced that they were also emigrating, selling the brewery to Ian Fozard of Market Town Taverns and that Ian’s sons, Ol (previously of Copper Dragon) and Tom (previously of Beer Ritz), were joining Roosters. 

On Friday I was very privileged to be invited along with a small selection of beer industry folk and bloggers to an event at the brewery.  Sean and Ol gave us a guided tour before we sat down to try a number of great and interesting beers as listed below, whilst Sean discussed what we and he thought of them.

The beers we tried were:

Roosters YPA (a Roosters classic pale ale)

Roosters Iron Man IPA (a very nice new beer made with Citra)

Birrificio Ticinese Bad Attitude Hobo IPA (an interesting if oddly sour Swiss take on an IPA)

Green Flash West Coast IPA

Phillips Amnesiac Double IPA (from British Columbia)

Roosters Dark Arts (an oak-aged porter)

Birrificio Ticinese Two Penny Porter

Deschutes Black Butte Porter

Deschutes Dissident (sour brown ale with cherries)

Brooklyn Sorachi Ace (a really nice unfiltered saison-style beer, which I’ve wanted to try for some time)

Estrella Damm Inedit (a pilsner brewed with Ferran Adria, which was nice if not spectacular)

After that we mingled for a bit before sitting down to a fantastic feast that had been put on for us, before a few of us headed back to Leeds for a couple in North Bar, with a little present under our arms: a bottle of Baby-Faced Assassin, a homebrew originally conceived by Tom in the back room of Beer Ritz.  I always wondered what went on in there.

It was great to meet Sean and to hear him share his knowledge and thinking about beer.  At the same time, even though Sean and Alison are leaving, it’s clear that the brewery and beers are in safe hands and that what Sean has built here will persist in his absence.  The beers currently being brewed as Sean prepares for the handover are as good as ever, and I would recommend the Iron Man IPA in particular.

Apart from the beer though, it was also a lovely, friendly day and I’m very grateful for the generosity of spirit and otherwise of all at Roosters.

Categories: Beer Tags: ,

Mr Foley’s Wonder Emporium

May 13, 2011 6 comments

Dean Pugh, the manager of Mr Foley’s Cask Ale House in Leeds (and in his spare time, homebrewer, beer geek and good bloke), has been working to build on and improve the range of beers on offer at Mr Foley’s for some time now, and recently I’ve really started to notice how this Mitchell’s Of Lancaster pub has evolved into a beer bar worth getting properly excited about.

You can tell a really good beer bar (for me at least, and probably beer geeks generally) because you go in and find it really hard to make a decision; not because of the lack of choice, but rather because there are too many things you really want to try, like on the first day of a good beer festival. This has been my experience of Mr Foley’s recently, whose support for cask beers from interesting local microbreweries in particular does a real service to West Yorkshire’s beer scene.

I went in last Thursday after reading Leigh’s mention of RedWillow Ageless Double IPA on his blog. However when I saw what was on the bar, I also wanted to try the other cask beers I hadn’t tried before: Revolutions’ Smiths-themed non-royal wedding beer “…It was really nothing”; Elgood’s Pageant Ale; Hardknott’s Atomic Narcissus; York Brewery’s Pride Of York. That wasn’t even the limit of the selection, which included a total of nine cask ales, the remainder being Burton Bridge’s Burton Porter; and York’s Ghost, Terrier and Guzzler.

And that wasn’t the end of it, because the keg selection is really quite impressive as well. A recent addition is a permanent BrewDog pump, which had both IPA Is Dead Nelson Sauvin and New Punk on; other pumps included Leffe, Amstel, Marston’s Oyster Stout, Erdinger and Pilsner Urquell.  Then you could move on to the fridges, which include a lot of interesting craft bottles including 4 BrewDog bottles; 6 fruit beers; at least 8 US craft beers before getting onto the Belgian, German and Czech ones.

I think Mr Foley’s can confuse people a bit as to its identity: it’s quite a large pub in the old Pearl Assurance offices, spread out over at least four assorted levels.  It has bigscreen TVs often showing sports. The telly brings (well behaved) sports fans in for football, Super League etc., but manages not to keep the (pro-quiet pub) CAMRA types away: the ticking is too tempting. You also get the after-work crowd from surrounding council and professional offices, society meetings in the back room etc. It’s usually pretty buzzy and with a wide range of people.

On the subject of beerticking, on this occasion I went for the Hardknott Atomic Narcissus: a “pride”-type best bitter at 4.2%. It had a solid amber to brown colour with a creamy head. There was a rich forest fruit to slightly savoury aroma I can’t quite place. It had a definite but mellow bitterness, with a solid malt base. The RedWillow Ageless Double IPA at 7.2% had a really lovely tropical citrus aroma, a smooth, rich mouthfeel and a good lasting bitter aftertaste.

As if to emphasise that the great range of cask beer isn’t just a happy coincidence, the pumpclips behind the bar showing upcoming beers are pretty exciting too: a selection of beer from Summer Wine; Hardknott; Mallinson’s; Rooster’s; Hopback; Elgood; and Castle Rock.

Now, if I’ve not convinced you with enough lists, you can head over to Mr Foley’s It’s Your Round page to see what’s on the bar right now. Just remember not to take Mr Foley’s for granted: it’s unquestionably the best pub in Leeds for cask ale and now it’s got a few more strings to its bow.

UPDATE: Dean has subsequently informed me that there’s a further expansion of the range about to take place in the coming weeks, with more than 30 new bottles in the fridges and two new keg lines, one each for US and UK craft keg.  The US keg line will host the likes of O’Dell, Sierra Nevada, Victory, Brooklyn and Anchor (which would be wonderful) and, even more excitingly, the UK keg should include Summer Wine and Magic Rock! 

For more on Mr Foleys see this post from Ghost Drinker.

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