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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.

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!

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.

Summer Saturday: Marble vs Summer Wine at the Slip Inn, York

June 26, 2011 9 comments

Rivalry is a spur to progress. Brian Wilson may not have been inspired to create the heart-breakingly beautiful Pet Sounds if he hadn’t heard Rubber Soul and wanted to best it.  Of course, Wilson loved The Beatles and The Beatles loved The Beach Boys. For example, Mike Love suggested the lyrics about “Moscow girls” and “Ukraine girls” in Paul McCartney’s Beach Boys pastiche Back In The USSR whilst they were at a hippy retreat in India. Basically they were all in this together, similarly pushing the envelope but in different ways.

This is also the case amongst brewers. From what I’ve seen, the craft brewing industry in the UK is generally characterised by a collegiate and friendly atmosphere, and any rivalry stems solely from pride in one’s own product and desire for it to be the best.  The Marble and Summer Wine  “Battle Of The Breweries” event in The Slip Inn in York on Saturday was a good example. Eight great beers from each brewery were available to enjoy in the beer garden of a fine little pub outside the city walls, in the presence of the brewers, as well as an array of bloggers, publicans and other brewers.  York has seen many battles, but none so friendly.

The event had been suggested by the publican of this great little beer pub.  As well as the sixteen beers (dispensed from the main bar and in a shed at the end of the beer garden) there were some live folk and blues bands and a barbecue selling burgers and steak sandwiches.  Naturally, with that many beers, the food was much-needed.

The beers were fantastic: there was the malty/bitter Rouge Hop, the delicious coffee Barista Espresso Stout and fiercely bitter 7Cs, all from Summer Wine; the great Tawny No 5 and Lagonda IPA from Marble; and a superb range of hoppy sessionable pales from both (Odyssey and Zenith from Summer Wine, Pint and 3.9 W90 from Marble).  In very general terms, the Marble beers were nicely balanced and the Summer Wine ones gave you a bit more of an exhilarating slap in the face, although both obviously occupied the same ground, tending towards hop-forwardness, with some dark chocolate, ginger and coffee thrown in on the edges.  I didn’t try a beer that I didn’t like.

The small redbrick pub and beer garden were crammed to the gills with people enjoying the beer, music, barbecue, sunshine and company.  Beer, at its best, is a social drink. Enjoying this number of great beers on a rare warm June day in one of the greatest cities in England, chatting with friends and listening to a folk musician play “The Bear Necessities”, was one of those moments I’ll look back on fondly when the nights close in.

We all know that beer is a product and brewing is an industry.  However for the individuals behind small breweries it must seem, at times, that there would be very many easier ways to make ends meet.  But for the lads from Marble and Summer Wine who were there, chatting with fellow brewers and drinkers and enjoying each other’s beers, it must serve as a useful reminder of why their hard work is worth it, and why beer and summer go together perfectly.

Summer Wine On Keg: 7Cs IPA

Being interested in new things doesn’t mean that you think old things should cease to exist.  It is possible to enjoy both a roast dinner and molecular gastronomy; to admire both Michelangelo and Picasso.  But if you have any real interest or passion on any subject, you will naturally be interested in exploring, if not mere novelty, then certainly variety and innovation.

James and Andy from Summer Wine Brewery are interested in innovation.  Their many plans for the next few months involve four different saisons, which will appear in keg and bottle only “as we feel saison as a style is best suited to an elevated level of carbonation to bring out that zesty, spicy, estery freshness“.

Their desire to choose the best tool for the job, from ingredients through to the method of dispense, is also reflected in their first (unfiltered, unpasteurised) keg beer: 7 Cs IPA, which debuted at the bar at Mr Foleys yesterday evening, on their new dedicated UK craft keg tap.  Doubtless to the disappointment of many Queen fans, 7Cs isn’t a rye beer.  Instead it’s a style very much suited to keg dispense: a big, bitter, hoppy IPA with (in a UK context) a relatively high ABV of 7%.  The name refers to the seven C-hops it’s made from: *deep breath* Columbus, Centennial, Chinook, Citra, Cascade, Crystal and Cluster.

The beer was a great one to have after work on this hot Friday evening: cool, pale, fresh and solidly, pleasantly bitter. It was on the bar next to O’Dell IPA on keg, one of my all-time favourite beers.  I was happy to keep alternating between the two: the O’Dell providing the rounded mango sweetness and the 7 Cs holding its own with its bitter hit.

The beer was actually served from a corny keg, although in future Summer Wine will be using real, no wait, actual kegs.  Mr Foleys will also have one of their Nerotype black IPAs on keg, and have some cask 7Cs in the cellar for comparison.  As I mentioned previously, the imported bottled selection also continues to improve whilst remaining reasonably priced and their cask range remains unbeaten in Leeds.

I want variety and novelty.  Pubs like Mr Foleys and breweries like Summer Wine continue to interest and excite because of variety and novelty.  They provide the possibility that your next beer could well be different to anything you’ve ever had, or might even the best you’ve ever tried.  And that is a good thing.

I should also say thanks to Dean for being an excellent host once again, and to Andy from Summer Wine, Leigh from The Good Stuff, Neil from Eating Isn’t Cheating, Tom and Ol from Roosters, Mr Foley’s chef and new beer blogger Tyler,  Adam, Mark from North Bar and Sir Zak Avery for a night of fun, if increasingly drunken banter.

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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.

BrewDog @ North Bar: IPA Isn’t Dead. It Just Smells Funny.

February 18, 2011 13 comments

On Wednesday night Kate and I went to North Bar for their IPA Is Dead launch night. BrewDog have released four single-hopped IPAs, all with the same level of bitterness (75 IBU) and using the same base beer, a 7.5% “mini-Hardcore”. North Bar had all four on keg and it was £7 for a taster tray, in which you got a third of each.

I was particularly interested in this project as it really serves to showcase the hops, one of which I was very familiar with (Citra) and three less so. All of the beers were relatively sweet with a light carbonation. Kate (who has a more sophisticated palate than me generally) also took some detailed tasting notes.

Citra

The Citra IPA had a strong, sweet mango nose. The taste was the fruity bitterness as expected although I think the finish was more sweet fruitiness than sharp hoppy bitterness. The slightly cloying sweetness gave an overall impression of cheap sweeties.

Sorachi Ace

The second IPA I tried had a much more subtle nose, but Kate thought it was flowery. The principal taste I got was a tingling black pepper flavour. Behind the pepper there was a lemony, herby base. As well as the lemons, Kate noticed peaches and lychees.

Bramling Cross/Bramling X

A really noticeable blackcurrant nose and a rounded, sweet, almost Ribena taste. Kate also detected a cakeyness that reminded her of blackcurrant crumble. She also noticed a slightly chalky mouthfeel.

Nelson Sauvin

I’d had Mikkeller’s Nelson Sauvin Single Hop IPA before and this came across as really quite similar. It had a sweet and sour aroma, by which I mean a smell that was both sweet and sour, rather than smelling like Chinese food.

I got a strong, sour, white winey, but really quite meaty flavour. The combination of sweetness and meatiness made me think of those tropical plants that smell like rotting meat to attract flies. Kate noted that the rotten grape and umami reminded her of the things she dislikes about white wine.

The Citra was a bit too sweet for both my and Kate’s liking without a stronger bitterness to balance it out, possibly as we’ve tried a lot of very good Citra beers recently (Summer Wine Diablo, Hawkshead Windermere Pale, O’Dell IPA).

The Bramling Cross was perhaps also a bit less to my tastes, due to the berry flavour, but was a very interesting beer. The Sorachi Ace and Nelson Sauvin were the most complex and rewarding to drink and I opted for another half of the latter.

Speaking to Rob, Matt and others there did seem to be a general consensus forming that Nelson Sauvin was the best, although Kate plumped for the Sorachi Ace, which was a close second for me.  All of them were good, interesting beers and I would be very happy to drink each of them again.  I’d buy the bottles if they turned up in Beer Ritz so I could avoid the postage.

As well as the IPA Is Dead beers we got to try some unique Alice Porter that Matt had bottle-conditioned himself, which tasted less punchy than when it was on cask but nice and rounded.  Alice Porter contains both Bramling Cross and Sorachi Ace.

I also brought along a couple of cans of new Punk IPA which I’d just received in the post. It had a really fruity nose but lacked bitterness both in the initial taste and the aftertaste: I would concur entirely with The Beer Monkey on this.

However, having not tried the new Punk in bottles or otherwise it’s difficult to know if it’s the new recipe or the canning process.  However again this is a minor niggle and I do have another 10 cans to get through, which I don’t consider a hardship.

All-in-all it was another nice, friendly night at North trying great beers and chatting to beery people I already knew and some I didn’t (Tunks, Tuff).  Again, Twissup in York in a couple of weeks looks like it’ll be great.

Things to look out for at North Bar in the coming months include a Belgian Beer Festival in March and a very exciting Thornbridge event where their core range will be available on keg!

For another take on the North Bar event see Eating Isn’t Cheating, and for a similar event at the Euston Tap see Maltjerry.

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