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The Carlsberg Experience, Copenhagen: Art, Craft, Tradition and Ruthless Capitalism

May 30, 2012 3 comments

Whereas J.C. Jacobsen, founder of the Gammel Carlsberg brewery, had a great interest in science, his son Carl left his mark as a patron of the arts.  The Ny Carlsberg Glypotek, an art museum in the centre of Copenhagen, was established by Carl and built around his collection, which had originally been housed in a gallery on the brewery site.  The Ny Carlsberg brewery buildings that he commissioned also reflect his interests.

The most striking feature of the brewery is the Elephant gates, where four granite elephants hold up a tower like Hindu world-elephants, or more recently the giant elephants who stand on the back of an even more enormous turtle to support Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.

One of the elephants wears a swastika, as can also be seen the wheels of Thor’s chariot, on a dramatic statue on the roof not far away.  As Carlsberg is at pains to point out, this innocent use of a Norse/Sanskrit good luck symbol as a trademark was abandoned by the merged Carlsberg brewery when it became tainted by associations with Nazism at the time of the war.

As the people of Leeds know, the recent history of Carlsberg can also be characterised by cold rationalisation.  It closed the Tetley brewery in Leeds last year, but not before decommissioning the historic breweries in Valby in favour of a brewery site in Frederica, on Jutland.  As a result, the Carlsberg district was oddly quiet when we visited on a weekday morning.  However there are still healthy-looking cart horses in the stables, unlike the Tetley dray horses, a 184-year old traditional Carlsberg did away with in 2006.

However, unlike in Leeds, at least Valby is left with its architecture and a visitor’s centre.  Further, there’s even a “speciality” brewery on site (read “macro-does-craft”): the Jacobsen Brewhouse.  After we wandered around the Old Brewery, we claimed our two free drinks each in the Jacobsen bar.  Jacobsen Dark Lager had a rich apple and red berry smell, if a relatively muted taste.

Carl’s Special was another dark lager from the group, presumably brewed at Frederica.  It was easy-drinking, slightly sweet and nutty, but nothing to write home about.  A standard Carlsberg pilsner was as refreshing and slightly watery as you would remember.  In fact the standout of the four beers was a Tuborg Påskebryg (Easter brew), a strong pilsner with a tongue-tingling spicy hop character. It went well with the marmitey beer-roasted almonds.  Carlsberg bought Tuborg in 1970; the original Tuborg brewery in Hellerup area of Copenhagen was closed in 1999.

There wasn’t a guided brewery tour on offer when we arrived.  Much as I enjoyed the visit and the beer, I did come away with the impression that the visitors to the Carlsberg Experience probably have slightly more esteem for the heritage of the brewery than has recently been displayed by the Carlsberg Group itself.

Closing The Book Of Joshua: Tetley’s Brewery 1822-2011

June 16, 2011 2 comments

Tetley’s means a lot to Leeds, but probably less to me. I’ve never really been a huge fan of the beer, which always seemed to me to be a pleasant if unexciting traditional English pale ale principally identifiable by a strong sulphurous, almost chemical taste – a very snatchy Burton Snatch, given the beer is from Leeds. Nonetheless, it was always a good pint, in the absence of a more exciting option.

It is a terrible shame, of course, that the brewery is closing tomorrow, after 189 years and causing the loss of 170 jobs. The history of the place means a lot to natives of Leeds, but I never saw the dray horses, who were retired in 2006, delivering to pubs around the city. I wish I had. My wife-to-be lived in Clarence Dock, overlooking the brewery and keg store, throughout our courtship; the pleasant smells and less enjoyable early morning noise of industry served as a backdrop to it. The steam rising from the brewery in front of the red neon lights of the sign was a regular feature of walks back to hers on dark nights.

The Adelphi, a Victorian pub near the brewery, was described until recently in the Good Beer Guide as the unofficial Tetley’s brewery tap. I was in last year, shortly after they stopped serving Tetley’s in favour of Leeds Pale. A solitary man of advanced years came in and ordered a Tetley’s, only to be told that it was off, forever. He was visibly taken aback. It was probably his regular drink, and had been for years.

Personally, I don’t really like Leeds Pale and would take a pint of Tetley’s any day. The Adelphi seems to have disappeared from The Guide, which seems a bit of a shame, as it’s a decent Nicholson’s pub with a good atmosphere, that gets a lot of young trendy drinkers into a very lovely old building.

The last time I had a pint of Tetley’s was in the bar of the Queens Hotel in Leeds City Square, by the train station. The Queens is a massive art deco chunk of a thing, constructed in 1937 and which gives off the general appearance of an Eastern European totalitarian palace when lit up at night. It seemed appropriate to enjoy one Leeds institution inside another. The bar wasn’t perfect – a little bit too purple and tarted up – but fine nonetheless. The beer, whilst the try-hard glass also gave the impression of sucking in its stomach, was a good pint.

Tetley’s will almost certainly remain a good pint when it’s brewed exclusively in Wolverhampton: brewing is a science. It just won’t be from Leeds, and for many drinkers that means everything. The city itself will suffer, at least in the short term, from another disused site, to go with the empty spaces where the stalled skyscrapers were promised to be. Another hole in the heart of the city.

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A Life In The Pub Part 2: Pounding Shilling For Pence

December 14, 2010 Leave a comment

One of the things I intended to do with this blog was to explain how I’d got here from there in terms of beer.  Specifically, how I gradually started to like interesting beers and real ales from a low base, coming from a drinking culture dominated by kegs of Tennents, Harp, Guinness, Bass and maybe the odd Smithwicks, and with no pubs that I knew of that offered cask beer.

I’ll get back to the Northern Irish beer culture of my youth later, as I want to address the next stage.  In 1998, when Kate and Will was still doing their respective GCSEs, I went to St Andrews University to study Modern History, International Relations and Individual Alcohol Tolerances.

As I never really liked lager, I was drinking a lot of Guinness at this stage, but also a lot of nitro kegged/smoothflow beers such as Caffreys.  However it must have been in that first year at St Andrews that  I started drinking my first real ales.

I started on 70 shilling beer, which I found largely similar to the smoothflow Caffreys. In fact Tennents Velvet seemed to be a smoothflow version of 70/- (someone may correct me here), and filled the same place in the market as the nitrokegged John Smith or Tetleys.  It was creamy, easy to drink and unchallenging to my admittedly unsophisticated tastes.

However, over time, Caledonian 80/- became my drink of choice during the four years I spent in the Kingdom of Fife before they reluctantly admitted I was a Master of the Arts (second class).  It was available everywhere (see the Beer Monkey’s view on Caley’s ubiquity in the capital here) and just tasted that bit more interesting than the 70/-.  I remember deciding that McEwans 80/- tasted horrible in comparison.

Moreover, those of my Scottish friends who liked beer (mainly as something to drink early in the night whilst you discussed whisky) seemed to consider that Caley 80/- was a respectable thing for a man to drink.  Whilst I liked 80/-, I think I liked the pubs I drank it in more: Aikman’s; the Whey Pat; the Central.  I’ll hopefully deal with them in a future post.

I haven’t had Caley 80/- in what must be about five years, and I don’t recall the parting being unbearable.  But in the interest of historical analysis, I’m currently drinking a bottle, which for student authenticity I picked up for a quid.  It’s not a fair test because (1) It’s a pasteurised bottle, not a pint from cask and (2) it was cheap because it’s slightly out of date and (3) it wasn’t bought with a quaint Scottish pound note.

Nevertheless, I can report that it’s a pleasant but unexciting drink.  It smells and tastes malty and sweetly sour, like raspberries.  It might just be the age of this bottle, but as I get towards the bottom (without the benefit of a deep-fried pizza/crunchie/haggis/Englishman to match the taste) it’s beginning to get into the thinner, milder end of fruit beer territory.

I can see why I liked it.  I think I preferred it over the 70/- mainly for the maltiness – it took me a while to really like pale ales.  It’s not bad at all and a hell of an improvement on Caffreys, but it’s not exciting enough to want to drink it for another four year stretch.  My tastes have definitely moved on.

The Rifleman’s Arms, Greenside, Kendal

November 9, 2010 4 comments

Kate’s parents live in Kendal, so quite often we end up spending the weekend in the Lakes, enjoying a walk during the day then going out for a drink in the evening.  The two places that we end up in most often are The Brewery Arts Centre (disappointingly no longer a brewery; just a very good arts centre) and Burgundy’s.

The Vats Bar at The Brewery Arts Centre is relatively expensive, but does usually have a few ales from around the Lakes on, notably their excellent house beer Ale N Arty from Hawkshead.  Burgundy’s similarly has a range of around four local cask ales at a time, often including Coniston beers, as well as a good bottle fridge with Orval, Trappistes Rochefort and even the odd bottle of Goose Island IPA.

The Rifleman’s Arms is a less obvious choice.  It’s on a nice green, after what on the first climb appears to be a horrendously steep walk up the hill from the main street, appropriately called Beast Banks.  Postman Pat was conceived in the imagination of children’s author John Cunliffe when he was living on Greenside, a few houses up from The Rifleman’s Arms and the former Beast Banks sub-post office.

The Rifleman’s is a pub which has reportedly gone through a few shakey moments in recent years but now seems to be on the path back to good health.  On a Friday night it seems busy with locals playing dominoes, darts and also in the side room, pool.  Posters advertise a weekly knitting circle and the new landlady/manageress seems to be involved in a number of events on the green and keeping the pub involved in the local community.

They have beer from the SIBA list and when we were in two weeks ago that included Ossett Spellbound and Moorhouses Pendle Witches Brew, alongside the Tetleys and Abbot Ale which seem to be the standards.  Spellbound in particular was a nice pale ale to enjoy by the gas fire on a wet windy night, whilst the dominoes clattered in the background.  However it was served in incorrectly branded glasses.  Hardknott Dave would not approve.

Perhaps symbolic of the decline and resurgence of The Rifleman’s is the literature on offer.  On a sideboard by the toilets (pictured) is a complete collection of Good Beer Guides for the years 1995-2003.  This might be indicative of when the management lost interest.  But now they have up-to-date copies of CAMRA’s “Beer” magazine and the local CAMRA newsletter, “Lakes & Ale”. 

The Rifleman’s isn’t in the Good Beer Guide at the moment, but it is a friendly local on the edge of town, with a relaxed atmosphere and some good beer.

There’s just one thing though, which is a bit jarring when you go to relieve yourself in the (clean but typically freezing) toilets after a few: the urinal has lumps of coal in it.  Coal.  Moreover, I am informed that exactly the same lumps have been there for years.  Coal apparently gets rid of odours and I assume that’s what they’re for.  But I’ve never seen this anywhere else.  Have you?

The Rifleman’s Arms, 4-6 Greenside, Kendal, Cumbria LA9 4LD

Into The Mild: Brewdog v Tetley’s v Leeds Brewery

November 3, 2010 3 comments

I’ve just started reading Martyn Cornell’s fascinating book Amber, Gold & Black: The History Of England’s Great Beers. So far I’ve learned an lot about each of the styles covered and their history, which seems inseparable from the beer itself.

A style which has always confused me is mild. I simply didn’t know what it was. This wasn’t helped at all when I tried a bottle of Banks Mild recently, which is a light chestnut colour, and tasted completely different to the predominantly dark milds I’d tried before. Even in relation to dark milds I’m not sure where the dividing line is with porter.

I now realise, from Cornell’s book, that this variation comes from mild’s historical definition as simply a beer meant to be drunk young.  Mild is not monolithic, although many modern examples are dark.  It seems that modern milds are either a persistence through history of variations on a style that wasn’t rigidly defined to start with, or a retrospective recreation of something mostly lost.

I decided to put theory into practice and compare a few different cask milds. It was an ideal time to do this as Brewdog have released their own take on a weak mild, Edge.  It’s available in many JD Wetherspoons now as part of their ale festival, but I tried it in Nation Of Shopkeepers on Great George Street, where for some reason it monopolised three of the four handpumps.

Brewdog Edge is a 3.2% dark mild, which made it easier to excuse a whole pint at lunchtime. It was a lively pour with a creamy head, but one that soon disappeared. It tasted quite… er, mild; and thin the point of watery.  There was a hint of cola as it tingled on my tongue and left a roasted bitter aftertaste.

Compared to Brewdog’s core range and expensive specials – and indeed their recent press releases – Edge is completely contrary. It’s a weak cask beer, that lends itself to drinking in considerable volume.  It’s a pleasant enough drink but I can’t imagine anyone getting too excited about it.  But how does it compare to the local competition?

I went to Leeds Brewery’s Brewery Tap near the train station after work, as I knew it would do both Leeds’ own Midnight Bell and Tetley’s Mild, the latter of which may or may not currently brewed by Marstons for Carlsberg (according to Wikipedia it is, but there seems to be some debate).

I confess to confusing myself over the similar looking halves on the way to the table, but when I tried them it was easy to tell them apart.  Tetley’s Mild has the same dominant taste as Tetley’s Cask Bitter, that almost chemical sulphur taste that I presume comes from the “Burtonising” salts, albeit in a pair of beers traditionally from West Yorkshire.

Beyond that taste, there wasn’t much to the beer at all.  It was similarly thin, and perhaps even more watery than Edge.  It was refreshing enough and there were some puny roast flavours struggling to compete with the sulphur in the aftertaste, but failing.

I’m not completely sold on Leeds Brewery.  They have nice branding and some good pubs, but their beers tend not to be particularly exciting (relative to the local competition such as Roosters and Saltaire) and I’ve been left quite disappointed by a few dodgy pints recently.  That said, the Midnight Bell was by far the best of the three milds for my tastes.

It had more of a smell than either of the others, mostly cocoa.  That came through in the taste, which was a nice balance of chocolate and mildly roasted coffee.  More than anything, it had a much creamier feel in the mouth, and seemed much more satisfying than the others.

However, it’s worth noting that the Midnight Bell is described by Leeds Brewery as a 4.8% “premium dark mild”.  This is 1.5% above the Tetleys and 1.6% above the Brewdog. I suspect any comparison should not be regarded as like-for-like.

However, Cornell makes it clear that, at least just before WW1, there were some very strong milds.  Moreover, former “Champion Beer Of Britain” Rudgate’s Ruby Mild (which I’ve previously tried and liked) is 4.4%.  So, with the qualification that my tastes probably tend towards stronger milds, I’m happy to declare that on this occasion I enjoyed a Leeds Brewery beer more than a Brewdog one.

(Rigorous experimentation over, we stayed for some dinner.  The Midnight Bell also tastes very good in the Brewery Tap’s steak and ale pie.  However, I ordered a stout and Kate a pale ale, both from Abbeydale.)

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