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Friends With Benefits: Friends Of Ham, 4 New Station Street, Leeds City Centre

Friends Of Ham is a new bar in Leeds city centre, on New Station Street close to The Brewery Tap, Layne’s Espresso and, um, Yates’. It’s the labour of love of Claire and Anthony Kitching, who decided to move north from London and open a craft beer bar-come-deli in West Yorkshire.

The slightly enigmatic name relates not to the comrades of the biblical Ham, the son of Noah who was disowned and cursed for seeing his drunken father sprawled in the nip. Rather (if I recall correctly) it’s a pun on a Spanish tapas bar called something like “Amigos Del Jamon”.

The bar itself is over two levels and is remarkable. A small shopfront ground floor has legs of ham hanging from hooks above the bar. The basement, whilst cosy, must be twice the size and contains sofas, long tables, a porcine gallery and a shuffleboard table. The decor is eclectic, welcoming, quirky and thoughtful.

Whilst the bar is full of little touches that signal a unique attention to detail, the selection of food and drink shows similar care and a particular attitude. Those of us who have been following Friends Of Ham’s progress on Twitter and Facebook know that there has been a dedication to finding the best products from the best suppliers that has involved a number of gruelling tasting sessions and advice from experienced Leodensians such as staff member Tyler Kiley (formerly of Mr Foleys) and Neil Walker of Eating Isn’t Cheating (who has posted about the bar here).

Cask beers on the preview night included Red Willow Smokeless and Quantum Bitter and the keg beers included Kernel Amarillo IPA, Magic Rock Clown Juice (a delicious wheat IPA), Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, Lakeland Lager and Delerium Red (a Kriek). The back bar had a box of Ampleforth cider and the fridges contain a great range of interesting beers, from Orval to Redchurch East India Pale Ale. Interestingly the licence application included their decision not to stock spirits at all.

The food appears be good, simple and tapas style, will include a range of excellent meats, cheeses and, most excitingly for me, Scotch eggs from the Handmade Scotch Egg Company, including their amazing black pudding version, “Black Watch”. Bascially, exactly what you’d like to eat whilst enjoying an Orval, an Ampleforth cider or a glass of red wine.

Friends Of Ham is a bar and an idea that deserves to find a devoted following. It will be enjoyed by beer geeks, wine buffs and foodies. It is also a welcoming and stylish space that should appeal to a wider demographic that enjoys socialising in a relaxed atmosphere but finds little of interest in the microwaved meals, worn carpets and skidmarks of many traditional pubs.

Read more about Friends of Ham from David at Broadford Brewer here, from Mark at Opportunity Hops here, from Zak at Are You Tasting The Pith here and from Neil at Eating Isn’t Cheating here.

[UPDATE – Friends Of Ham is open as of 10 July 2012 and will be building up to offering the full food menu.   Currently it’s selling a range of meats and cheeses.]

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!

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.

Winter Wonderland: Anchor v BrewDog v Corsendonk v Bush v Dupont v Flying Dog v Sierra Nevada

December 21, 2011 5 comments

Seasonal beers; and what season is more seasonal than the season we’re in right now, eh?  Even the food is all about the seasoning, and so are a lot of the beers: spicy and warming.  Not usually what I look for in a beer. However, ’tis the season.

Anchor Special Ale 2011 (5.5%)

Even though it’s not a preferred style, the annual edition of this beer is something I’ve come to look forward to like the new Beano Annual.  The empty bottle will join its brothers on my shelf.  It can be proud in the knowledge that it smelled of nutmeg and berries; tasted as deep and comforting as its dark brown colour, not too sweet or strong, but with a warming spicy bitterness.  This is a very good Christmas beer indeed.

BrewDog There Is No Santa (4.7%)

Ever the pseudo-contrarians when it comes to marketing, I wonder if BrewDog think there is no Santa just because they’ve been very naughty boys and never get any presents. The slightly Scrooge-like beer name doesn’t hide the fact that they’ve gone into the Christmas beer market with both paws this year, also releasing Christmas Porter, a spiced version of Alice Porter.  The aroma is very Christmassy: sweet and spicy, with noticeable cinnamon.  It’s similar in appearance to Anchor’s style, and inhabits the same ground as a warming spiced brown ale, with  a relatively moderate ABV for the time of year. A very nice beer in the end: Dog bless us, every one.

Bush de Noël (aka Scaldis de Noël) (12%)

Yikes.  The foil label doesn’t do subtlety or sophistication (Ghost Drinker compared it to the foil on cheap chocolate decorations) and 12% suggests real overindulgence.  It is the Christmas version of “The Strongest Belgian Beer” and has a big, very sweet marzipan, cakey aroma.  It’s thick on the tongue with some spiciness but a lot of burnt sugar indeed.  I decided that what the situation required was some cheese, and some Blacksticks Blue and spiced apple chutney allowed me to appreciate the bitterness on the finish, when the burnt sugar subsided.

Corsendonk Christmas Ale (8.5%)

No more classy in its get-up is the similarly Belgian Corsendonk.  This one smells like a sweet spicy dark Belgian beer, and has a lot of sweetness, although a much lighter variety.  Again this benefited from raiding the fridge for cheese and a very pleasant bit of Reblochon helped me to appreciate it much more.  It was still very, very fizzy though.

Brasserie Dupont – Avec Les Bons Vœux De La Brasserie Dupont (9.5%)

Less a Christmas ale than a Christmas present (formerly exclusively for Dupont’s best clients), this is a very special beer.  It’s a nice light saison (come Tripel, maybe?) with a perfectly balanced hoppy character (a little grassiness) which drinks about half its weight. Admittedly this has become of my favourite styles of beer this year, but this is an instant favourite, and a new Christmas tradition if I have my way.

Flying Dog K-9 Cruiser (7.4%)

This Winter Ale is portrayed less as a Christmas ale than some sort of tribute to pet dogs who aren’t allowed to go snowboarding with you but are still up on the slopes with you in spirit.  Or something.  Poor Ralph Steadman. A slightly boozy nose and chestnut colour, then a malty beer which wasn’t too sweet or heavy, with a pleasant and relatively restrained spiciness on the swallow. Quite enjoyable, but not exactly The Beano Annual.  The Topper Annual, maybe.

Sierra Nevada Celebration 2010 (6.8%)

Ah now, this is last year’s Celebration, with an October 2011 best before date.  So, whilst it’s not the lovely fresh hopped winter IPA it once was, there is the ghost of Hopmas past lingering on the swallow, after the light caramel sweetness.  A little bit of dryness on the finish too, building on the longer swallows to a dry, slighty woody, piney taste.  A slightly withered, but still celebratory Christmas tree.

So these disparate winter and Christmas seasonals, of various styles, contained some real crackers and not a single turkey; and there are certainly no leftovers  Most of them are available were I bought them (the superb Beer Ritz), and I’d encourage you to visit your own local independent beer shop this Christmas.

Gastrophysics: Town Hall Tavern, Leeds City Centre

July 6, 2011 2 comments

Anthony Bourdain in his article “A Drinking Problem” (collected in The Nasty Bits) entertainingly ranted about an imagined London pub that had just “gone gastro”.  Good food and good beer, he said, should be nowhere near each other.  Pernicious foodies ruin traditional English pubs.  He has since retracted this view, but it’s a commonly-held one.

My own view on gastropubs is divided.  I like good restaurants that serve decent beer; and I also like good pubs that do good food.  What I don’t want is for a good pub to become merely a restaurant-in-pub’s-clothing;  one of those places that you get in London where you walk in, order a pint and the manager glares at you like a spent scratchcard for refusing to order food, a poor return on his investment.

The Town Hall Tavern in Leeds is a relatively historic pub (1926) which has recently “gone gastro”.  A Timothy Taylor house opposite the courts, I used to come here on an irregular basis for a well-kept pint of Landlord or one of the less widespread Taylor’s beers such as Ram Tam.  Beyond that, the old pub didn’t have an awful lot going for it: certainly friendly enough but with too much pine, too much carpet, a fruit machine and pointless televisions.  Because it’s opposite Leeds Combined Court Centre it historically had a lot of legal clientele; but I think when Veritas opened, with its wine list and charcuterie boards, that was more the type of place suited to today’s counsel and solicitors.

When the Town Street Tavern was revamped I was initially sceptical.  The new exterior looked like it was trying too hard: a bit art deco with some unfortunate purple strip lights.  But inside it’s surprising and also considerably improved: floors stripped back to the wood, new green tiles on the walls, no more televisions, a blackboard, some old Timothy Taylor’s ads, and photos of old Leeds, alongside random pub ephemera including (of course) Beer Street and Gin Lane prints.  There are some self-consciously quirky teapot lampshades, memorably described on The Apprentice recently as an “idea” rather than a “concept”.

What is perhaps most surprising is the selection of beer.  Whilst the cask range is, as before, exclusively Taylor’s (Landlord, Ram Tam, Golden Best), the keg beer includes three from Staffordshire’s Freedom Brewery.  They’ve even opted for Freedom’s pleasant roasty Stout in preference to Guinness.  The fridges have an interesting selection of imported bottles from Beer Paradise, including O’Dell Cutthroat Porter, Sierra Nevada and Flying Dog Pale Ales, Jever and Tripel Karmeliet.  There are also cocktails and a wine list.

The menu looks attractive and I opted for a simple fish and chips, which was very nice indeed and came in suitably gastro-sized portion (“feed not fill”).   You can check out more about the food on the website and this mouthwatering Leeds Grub blog post.  I should also mention that the service was excellent.

So overall I’m happy with the makeover and it will make me visit more than previously.  Whilst the Town Hall Tavern is not quite a destination beer bar to rival Mr Foleys or North Bar, it is a much-improved pub where you can eat and drink well.

Importantly, on a Friday evening it didn’t seem to me that there was too much pressure to order food rather than simply drink.  That puts it in a pleasant category with a few other places like The Adelphi (and indeed Veritas) where you might have a few good beers, see another table tucking into some very well-presented food and decide to stay for a light or full meal.  That gastro Goldilocks zone where it’s not too restauranty, not too pub grubby, but just right.

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.

Leodis Weekend

December 13, 2010 2 comments

Phew, it’s been a challenging weekend for my liver.  On Friday I went to The Grove in Holbeck for the leaving drinks of my friends Tom and Holly, who were regulars there but are now moving to Masham.  Fortunately I understand that it’s not hard to get a beer in Masham, so I’m looking forward to visiting.

I started with Moorhouses’ Premier Bitter, but wasn’t entirely convinced so moved on to Elland El Divino, a “blonde premium bitter” which was excellent.  Good beer, food and chat in a great pub.

Saturday night found me out on Lower Briggate and Call Lane, the latter swarming with underdressed posers.  However the Smokestack was reasonably good fun and surprisingly had bottles of Anchor Steam and Liberty Ale in the fridge.  Then on to Call Lane Social, a relatively new bar opposite Oporto which had decent music and both Brooklyn Lager and Anchor Porter in the fridge, but was crammed to the rafters.

Two nights that had ended in the purchase of kebabs should sensibly have been followed by a quiet Sunday in front of the Antiques Roadshow (or indeed Last Of The Summer Wine).  However Dean from Mr Foleys had invited Kate and me out for a few drinks with James and Andy from Summer Wine Brewery.

With just a bacon sandwich to recover with, I had Crown Brewery HPA; Summer Wine Blizzard and Heretic Black IPA; and Revolutions The Original 45 Porter in Mr Foleys.  Dean’s clearly been buying in a lot of great beers recently and has nefarious plans for lots more.

Summer Wine’s Heretic is a fantastic example of the black IPA style, with only a very slight roastiness at the start and a pleasant wallop of bitterness.  Great as it is, James said that they’re going to tweak the recipe for the next brew. 

The Original 45 Porter is Revolutions’ first commercial beer, and it’s a very promising start.  I’ve had a lot of porters in recent weeks and this is one of the best.  Worth keeping an eye out for.

On to the Victoria, where nine pumps were rapidly dwindling to three.  I had a North Peak Vicious American Wheat IPA, which seems to be in every single M&B pub in Leeds just now (Palace; Adelphi, Scarbrough).  It was an unusually hoppy wheat beer – not as big and punchy as Schneider Weisse Tap 5 but at the same time less thick and sweet, seeming less than 6%.  It was very good but due to the limited choice we moved on to North Bar.

North had O’Dell IPA on keg, which James and Andy informed me uses Citra hops.  I’ve liked this beer for a long time and it’s great on keg.  Another example of knowing something’s great but not knowing why.  Andy came back from the bar with a bottle of De Dolle Stille Nacht, which was 12% and incredibly bubblegummy.

After a Leodis Lager in The Brewery Tap and a final Timothy Taylor’s Landlord in the Scarbrough Taps (both had slightly disappointing selections), we headed home.  It was very kind of Dean to invite us along and it was great to chat with him, Andy and James about beer and pubs.  I have a lot to learn about brewing but once again they were really friendly and their passion for exciting beer is infectious.  Thanks lads!

After all that, I should be ready for the Christmas party season…

(For much fuller and more informed notes on some of the beers above, see Leigh’s latest post on The Good Stuff, in which he tries Heretic, the 45 Porter and Vicious.)

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