A couple of weeks ago we went to the annual Westmorland County Show. I’ve never been to an agricultural show before but it’s difficult to describe how much fun it was without sounding like an enthusiastic three year old: “There were sheep and really fat pigs and massive bulls and weird chickens and ferrets and huge owls and men with chainsaws and kids Cumberland wrestling and great cheese and lots and lots of tractors…” It was amazing though.
The bar for the show was provided by Hawkshead Brewery, and it was good to see that, alongside their standard Bitter (which is a very enjoyable example of a safe style), they were also selling a lot of Windermere Pale, which is packed with Citra, all for £2.50 a pint.
It struck me that what you might assume to be the most conservative of audiences was taking very well to such a modern beer style, in the same way that Coniston seem to be able to sell Infinity IPA and Bluebird XB in traditional pubs in remote market towns. Whilst unexciting brown bitters seem to be the norm in most Cumbrian pubs, perhaps they needn’t be.
We also managed to squeeze in a trip to the Hawkshead Beer Hall at the brewery in Staveley, for another Windermere Pale (it’s great to have a really nice session strength beer when you’re driving) and a scotch egg, pork pie, sweetcorn fritters and mushrooms and stilton on toast. We also picked up a fancy numbered bottle of St Austell Royal Diamond Jubilee Imperial IPA to take away.
I’ve written about the Beer Hall before, but I mention this just to emphasise that Hawkshead Brewery in particular seems to be pulling the Cumbrian beer scene up by its bootstraps, both through its beers and also its brewery tap.
I’ve been messing about a bit on Twitter recently regarding my increasing appreciation of Scotch Eggs. Joking aside though, they’re a pretty superb bar snack: they can be bought in fresh from a good local supplier, kept in a fridge and sold to hungry customers with the minimum of serving time and presentation, but the maximum of stomach-filling proteiny goodness. This is why I write the name with two capital letters: out of respect.
Bascially if you can serve cold pies in your pub, you can serve Scotch Eggs. And frankly if you can serve pies and Scotch Eggs to drinkers, there’s pretty much a moral duty to do so. This has been picked up on by a number of the new wave of craft beer bars, including Craft Beer Co and The Gunmakers in London and the Hawkshead Beer Hall in Staveley.
When I tweeted about this at the weekend, @CarsmileSteve informed me of the remarkable range of Scotches available at Sourced Market in St Pancras Station, alongside their range of Kernel and other great beers (which they refuse to put in the fridges, instead reserving that space for several varieties of uninteresting lager. Who wants to drink a shelf-warm IPA?). When I was down in London this week I took the opportunity to pop in and buy a couple of “Black Watch” eggs, made with black pudding; which must be the Black IPA of the Scotch Egg world.
I love black pudding, to the extent that it’s a starter at our wedding. I love Scotch Eggs, to the extent that we’re going to Scotchland for our honeymoon. I am therefore pretty much ecstatic with the tasty starter I had yesterday evening: warm black pudding Scotch Eggs with homemade picalilli and a bottle of Hawkshead Brodie’s Prime. The Scotch Eggs at the Hawkshead Beer Hall are made with Brodie’s Prime, but a glass of it was an even better pairing with these: the dark roasty beer and sharp hoppiness both matched and cut through the earthy, savoury, fatty black pudding.
I considered for a fleeting moment changing the name of this blog to “The Scotch Egg Prole” and becoming number one on the Wikio Scotch Egg Blog Rankings, but @unclewilco pointed me towards Forever Eggsploring, a truly remarkable and comprehensive study of the Scotch Egg that transcends the term “Scotch Egg Blog”. It even has interviews on the subject with such celebrities as Dom Joly, Tom Kerridge and our own Dame Melissa Cole.
Not coincidentally, it appears that Craft Beer Co and Sourced Market get their classy Scotch Eggs from the same supplier: The Handmade Scotch Egg Company Limited. Have you seen their selection? Chilli Scotch Eggs; Ginger & Apricot Scotch Eggs; Scotch Whisky Eggs; Scotch Eggs rolled in crisps…
You should really be able to find a Scotch Egg fit for any beer there, from barrel-aged imperial stouts to double IPAs, with some (vegetarian? smoked salmon?) stretching the bounds of the genre. Is this the start of a craft bar snack revolution?
For further beer and Scotch Egg related larks see this post by Mark Dredge.
Last week Kate and I did The Dales Way, in reverse and slightly foreshortened, when we walked from Kendal to Ilkley. We were extremely lucky with the weather and it was a truly beautiful walk over 5 days of 12-16 miles a day. I was looking forward to enjoying a few beers along along the way, and at the end of a long day we certainly felt that we’d earned a drink. In my next few posts, I intend to cover the pubs along the way, for those who are doing the walk or are just in the area.
Before starting out on our walk we stayed in Kendal for a couple of days. The Dales Way doesn’t actually run through the centre of Kendal, but does pass through the nearby villages of Staveley and Burneside and a lot of trekkers will stay in the area on their final night before tackling the last section of the full Dales Way, in the usual direction to Bowness.
Kendal town centre is pretty good for beer generally, and you can usually find some Cumbrian beers from Coniston, Jennings and Hawkshead breweries. Burgundy’s in Kendal (sometimes referred to as “The Wine Bar”) is a fairly regular visit for me when we visit Kate’s parents. It has a few (four?) handpumps with a range of local beers. It’s a decent size, spread over three levels, and a rooftop smoking area/beer garden and is usually fairly busy.
However when we visited last week the pub had expanded even further into a new area on the lower ground floor. The new bit includes a brewkit behind glass, as in The Brewery Tap in Leeds, and it will be interesting to see what their own beers are like. We were lucky enough to visit in a week where they had set up a temporary bar downstairs for a Cumbrian Beer Festival, expanding the range to around 20 beers.
We tried quite a few of the beers, including Stringer’s Yellow Lorry, Dent Brewery Baas & Stripes (an American-style pale ale with a typically painful name) and Ulverston Laughing Gravy. On a warm spring day, we were in the mood for golden hoppy beers and there were two very good beers in that category in Hardknott Continuum and Hawskhead Citrillo. The last two beers were from the two most interesting breweries in Cumbria that I’ve had a lot of exposure to; although I should mention that I’ve only tried a couple of Stringer’s beers, although I did have a Stringer’s IPA from MyBreweryTap recently and it was excellent.
The Hawkshead Citrillo did stand out as the best beer of the day. Presumably made with Citra and Amarillo, it’s a big, bitter, fruity pale ale in all the right ways, on a par with Thornbridge Jaipur and Marble Dobber, and coming across like the tough big brother of Hawkshead Windermere Pale, which also uses Citra and is almost certainly the best 3.5% beer in the country at the moment.
Burgundy’s won’t always have such a wide range, but it usually has a good one and if there’s nothing on the pumps to interest you, there is a well-stocked beer fridge with probably the best selection of imported bottles in the town centre, including a selection of Belgian beers and even Goose Island IPA.
Other good beer bars in Kendal include The Vats Bar in The Brewery Arts Centre (near the youth hostel) and The Rifleman’s Arms on Greenside, near a lot of the B&Bs. It would be foolish to pass through Staveley without visiting the superb Hawkshead Brewery Beer Hall (but check opening times in advance) or as an alternative The Eagle & Child.
Having walked the six miles from Kendal in pouring rain and driving wind, we arrived through the doors of Hawkshead’s new Beer Hall in Staveley Mill Yard looking like an especially windswept Atlantic trawler crew. After stripping off the waterproofs and sitting down in two comfortable leather armchairs, we felt that we definitely deserved a beer.
Hawkshead beers are always something to look forward to when I go to the Lake District: consistent and reliable in terms of quality but also interesting. After the long walk the first beer we went for was Windermere Pale, a lovely light juicy pale made with Citra hops. Unusually for Citra beers this was only 3.5% and I enjoyed it to the point that I wanted to buy some bottles to take home. However, unfortunately I was told that it was too weak for bottling.
After the walk I would have been quite happy to knock back three pints of Windermere Pale and be done with it, but there were four more beers to try. Next up was Brodie’s Prime, a deliciously fruity, bitter, slightly smoky porter. The complex citrus taste with a decent level of bitterness reminded me of Crown’s recent Brooklyn Black, a highly-hopped porter which might be mistaken for a black IPA.
The previous, smaller Beer Hall at the Brewery had relied on the cafe Wilf’s next door for food orders but now they have their own kitchen serving a selection of “beer tapas”. With the Brodie’s Prime we had a great Brodie’s Prime Scotch egg and picalilli and a nice chunk of Lancashire cheese with chutney and pickled onions.
I’m afraid I drank the beers in entirely the wrong order for a serious tasting, but next we tried the Hawkshead Bitter, a slightly sulphurous bitter with a floral elderflower taste. Hawkshead Red is an amber beer, dominated by a woody dryness and maltiness. Finally, Lakeland Gold, made with Cascade and First Gold, swept the pine and grapefuit into a rounded creamy bitter finish.
Whilst all the beers we tried were very good, the Brodie’s Prime and Windermere Pale were real standouts. Off-sales include a number of Belgian and other imported bottles as well as Hawkshead bottles, minikegs and even beer-in-a-box. I bought a few Lakeland Lagers to take away, which had a nice floral taste.
If you fancy going to the Beer Hall – which you definitely should for great beer and great food in a great pub – it’s open from 12 noon every day but is only open into the evenings on a Saturday, when they often have live music. They’re having a Winter Beer Festival on 18-20 March 2011 and a Summer Beer Festival on 21-24 July 2011.