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Taste Cumbria Beer Festival, Cockermouth and Pete Brown

September 30, 2012 3 comments

Having explored quite a lot of Cumbrian beers recently, it was good to cap it off with a visit to the Beer Festival at Taste Cumbria.  The CAMRA-run festival at the Jennings Brewery was part of a programme full of exciting food events in Cockermouth.

Because there was so much on, we only got to spend a few hours at the festival, but enjoyed a few of the range of Cumbrian beers and got to talk with some luminaries of the Cumbrian beer scene including Neil Bowness and his other half Sharon, Jeff Pickthall,  Hardknott Alex and Coniston’s Ian Bradley and Helen Bradley.  The beers were a good representation of the Cumbrian beer landscape and included some excellent examples from the progressive fringe, including Hawkshead NZPA, Hardknott Code Black, Coniston Infinity IPAConiston No 9 Barley Wine and Stringers Furness Abbey.

In addition I got to try a couple of beers from breweries that were less familiar to me.  Hesket Newmarket Scafell Blonde was a pleasant light blonde of which it would be easy to sink a few pints after a long summer walk.  Great Gable Yewbarrow from Egremont was a great beer hiding behind an unassuming pumpclip: a 5.5% strong dark mild that was packed with flavour.

We also got to chat with Pete Brown at the festival, and on the Sunday we went to his talk and tutored tasting.  We tried a perry, cider and five beers from the festival, which Pete talked us through in an engaging and informative manner.

He also did a couple of readings from his books, including his new one, Shakespeare’s Local, about the history of The George Inn in Southwark.  It sounded like it should be as fascinating and funny as the rest of his books, an exercise in studying the wood by looking very closely at a single tree. The book is released on 8 November and will be a Radio 4 Book Of The Week in December.  Pete also talked about his new project surveying international ciders and perries for a world cider guide, which sounds like it should be an interesting survey of an drink that isn’t usually considered in a global context.

Sadly, I missed a few of the other beer events, including Jeff Pickthall talking about the more esoteric beers of Cumbria (although Jeff very kindly gave us a bottle of his aged stock of No 9) and Pete and Jeff’s pub quiz on the Saturday night.  But it has been a fantastic weekend and everybody involved, especially including Neil and Sharon, deserve a lot of thanks for the work they put in to showcasing the best of Cumbria’s beers prominently alongside the best of its food.

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Stringers Sharp & Dry Damson Beer with Damson Cobbler

September 16, 2012 8 comments

I’ll be putting up quite few posts about Cumbria over the next couple of weeks, following a week’s holiday there and an only partially successful attempt to walk the Cumbria Way. The full 72 mile Cumbria Way starts in Ulverston, and it seems appropriate to mention Stringers, the excellent brewery based there.

Presumably only due to Stringers’ capacity, we don’t get a lot of their beers in Leeds, but you can buy their very satisfying Amarillo-hopped bottled IPA in Booths and recently North Bar did a tap takeover event. I managed to pop in to North for a couple of halves after work and picked up two of their special bottles to take home with me, one of which was a damson beer.

Damsons are small plums and are particularly associated with Westmorland, specifically the Lyth and Winster valleys near Kendal. Unfortunately there has been a particularly poor crop in Cumbria this year, so I’m not sure if this beer was actually made with local damsons.

To go with the beer, we (primarily Kate) made a damson cobbler/crumble from a recipe by Dan Lepard. The small, sharp damsons that we used were from Kent and had been bought from the new fruit and veg stall that has recently filled a greengrocer-shaped hole in Chapel Allerton.

The beer itself is billed as being sharp and dry, to make it clear that although it is a fruit beer, it won’t be sweet. Pouring as dark as a Belgian dubbel, it had a crisp blackcurrant nose and a dry, tart and, in fact, slightly lambic, gueuzey sourness.

I enjoyed the beer a lot, but I think the sweet, sharp damson crumble wasn’t necessarily the best match for it. Next time I have one of these beers I think I’ll try it with a nice creamy hard cheese, perhaps a Lancashire, to balance the acidity.

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