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In Pictures: The Second Leeds International Beer Festival

September 6, 2013 5 comments

I went to the opening day of Leeds International Beer Festival yesterday evening. With the caveats that I’ve never been to Indy Man Beer Con, GBBF or the Copenhagen Beer Celebration, and the fact that I’m not actually that keen on traditional beer festivals, it was definitely the best beer festival experience I’ve had. It’s on a grander scale than last year and the organisers, bars and breweries involved have put a lot of effort into making it really special, as can be seen from the photos below.

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There was a greater use of the possibilities of the Town Hall this year, with the food vans, Friends of Ham’s teepee, the Brooklyn truck and Flying Dog caravan out front. One hidden gem was North Bar’s pop-up “Atomium” in the old cells under the Town Hall, where The Day The Earth Stood Still played on screen whilst drinkers downed shots of tequila and pickle juice.

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If you get a chance to attend over the weekend I would highly recommend it. Tickets can be purchased from the city centre box office.

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El Bareto: Throwing Cider In Chapel Allerton

September 4, 2012 2 comments

I don’t know an awful lot about cider, but I do know that I like the cloudy, interesting, farmhouse end of cider more than the clean, clear, sweet, macro ciders.  Oh, and that Americans call apple juice “cider” and refer to actual cider as “hard cider”.  By that logic, wine should be “challenging grape juice”.

As for Spanish sidra, my entire experience is limited to a visit to an Asturian-style sidreria on a backstreet in Madrid in 2009.  Kate and I ordered two small sidras, whereupon the barman took out a 70cl bottle, attached it to something that looked like a hatstand, and poured a thin stream of cloudy, tart, still sidra into a small glass in a holder a metre below.  I subsequently realised that this was a method of traditionally aerating the sidra by “throwing” it, and it seemed to add to the taste and liveliness.

When we were in El Bareto, my favourite Leeds tapas bar, I decided to try the new “Spanish cider” mentioned on the board.  The barmaid produced a device that looked like a barrel with a car aerial attached to it, maybe some form of steampunk torture device.

It was actually a plastic, battery-powered cider throwing device, which you inserted into your bottle and, when you pushed your glass against a button, spurted a stream of aerated sidra into your glass.  It seemed to work and the sidra, which I suspect was probably fairly unchallenging as the drink goes, went well with the delicious pimientos de Padrón, croquetas and Chorizo a la sidra.

Although I should say that the buzzing (like a battery-powered fan, an electric toothbrush or, um… similar) when you poured a glass did detract a little bit from the romance.

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!

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!

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