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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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Brave New World: Northern Monk Brew Co New World IPA (6.2% ABV)

Craft beer has recently become, if not ubiquitous or always readily available, then certainly a trend of which people are increasingly aware.  There are a number of examples of mainstream breweries and retailers, with varying success, attempting to capitalise on that popularity.   There are also some new breweries that, on closer inspection, give the impression that they don’t quite “get” what is special about craft, but think that the concept might sell.

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Against that context, and admitting that craft is an amorphous concept at the best of times, it might be easy to overlook genuinely interesting new breweries in all the noise.  However, even before trying any of their beers, I was already reasonably confident that Northern Monk Brew Co would subscribe to my own concept of craft because of the involvement of David Bishop, familiar to beer blog readers and Tweeters as keen homebrewer and blogger @broadfordbrewer.  You can read about David being approached by a prospective business partner and his progress with the brewery on his blog.  You can also read an interview with co-founder Russell on This Beer Blog.

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Their first beer is an IPA which was brewed in cuckoo/gypsy manner at Hambleton, which will be the provisional arrangement, along with some interesting collaborations, before an actual Northern Monk brewery is complete.  Northern Monk had a launch party last week at The Sparrow in Bradford.  I wasn’t able to attend, but did pick up a couple of bottles from Friends Of Ham in Leeds.

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IPA is basically the core craft style and I’m happy to say that New World IPA is a great example of what it is intended to be.  The first impression is excellent, with a lovely fresh aroma of pine and apricots.  The taste is well-balanced, with a nice mix of fruity sweetness and a good lasting bitterness.  It’s tasty but not so characterful that it wouldn’t seem “sessionable”, which could be a little dangerous for a 6.2% beer that doesn’t come across as that strong.

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Regarding his short term ambitions, David has said:

So what do I want to achieve?  I want to support my family and I want to do that by getting paid to do the thing that interests and excites me: brewing beer.   How I go about doing that is also important to me and I need a game plan.  Over to Stuart:

“The apparent conflict between idiosyncrasy and balance brings me to the question which I ask myself today. Am I trying to get a number one single or win the Turner Prize? Does there need to be a compromise?”

As a brewer just starting out I want to brew decent, tasty beer.  I want the beer to be good enough to allow us to brew a second beer and so on.  Don’t get me wrong, I want to do the best I can, but I’m not aspiring for a number one single.  Not yet!

So now that we have that first beer, it’s gratifying that it tastes good, the branding looks good and the blurb is refreshingly free of utter marketing bollocks – the reality is that for a new brewery the branding is probably almost as important as the beer.  The bottle isn’t covered in geeky detail about ingredients and IBUs but that’s all on the website.

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On this evidence I’m very happy to say that Northern Monk’s first beer is more than good enough to ensure that people come back for the second.  I very much hope that they do, not just because I like David and want him to make a living doing what he loves, but because, more selfishly, I want to drink more of his beer.

See another (better) review of New World IPA on Booze, Beats and Bites.  Details of the first places that you might find Northern Monk beers in bottles and on keg are on their Twitter (@NMBCo) and Facebook pages.

Brooklyn, Barges, Boaters and Booze: Garrett Oliver in Rodley

July 20, 2013 1 comment

This week I went to an evening of rare Brooklyn Brewery beers organised by James Clay in advance of their pop-up bar opening on The Calls. The new venue isn’t ready yet, so the event was held in a beautiful open air location by the Leeds-Liverpool canal in Rodley, on an amazing sunny July evening.

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It was one of those occasions that documenting might have got in the way of enjoying, so I won’t give you tasting notes for the various barrel-aged Brooklyn “ghost bottles” we tried or attempt to recount Garrett’s stories. He was in great form though: as charismatic, passionate and funny as ever, even leading a sing along with the bluegrass band.  I did manage to get a few photos though, so here you go.

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Full disclosure: the beer, cheese and entertainment for the event was provided by James Clay and Brooklyn. One of the owners of North Bar paid for my taxi home.  Free scintillating conversation and tolerance of my inebriated ramblings was provided by members of the Leeds on- and off-sales community and other bloggers.   Basically I’m a complete freeloader.  Garrett Oliver’s hat appeared as itself.

See a selection of more artistic photos from the evening by Mike Watson here.

Brooklyn Brewery Pop Up, 20-24 The Calls, Leeds City Centre

June 19, 2013 10 comments

James Clay, importer of some of the best American, Belgian and German beers to the UK, have succeeded in an application for a licence to open a “pop up” Brooklyn Brewery bar in a warehouse on The Calls in central Leeds, despite police objections.

The bar will be in a currently empty warehouse at 20-24 The Calls, about 50 metres from BrewDog Leeds and 100 metres from The Stew & Oyster (Calls Landing).  The licence application documents, which can be read here, show similar objections from the police as were made in the BrewDog licensing saga, to opening any new bar close to “an area which is an alcohol related crime hotspot, Call Lane” and the same “appreciation versus inebriation” arguments.

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The Yorkshire Evening Post reports that representations were made to the sub-committee that the bar was to attract, “the well-behaved and “discerning” drinker, prepared to spend £7 or more on a pint of speciality beer“.  A representative of the West Yorkshire Police stated that, “People with money still have the ability of causing trouble when inebriated.”  Surely not

The bar is stated to be temporary, although it is not clear for how long it is expected to operate.  The licence is restricted to Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.  Interestingly, it was stated that the bar is “a temporary arts and cultural space used for the purpose of marketing“, that it is primarily an exercise in promoting the Brooklyn brand and may operate at a loss.  However, at £7+ a pint I assume the loss won’t be made on the beer.

I’ll be interested to see how this pans out and whether the set-up will offer something different to the existing craft beer bars in Leeds.  When I read about it, I initially thought of the regular Friday evening “happy hour” sessions held in the brewery in Williamsburg when we went there in 2010 (see photo), with  picnic tables, plastic glasses, beer vouchers, pizzas delivered to the front door and ultraobscure beers.  I assume that this new venture, “pop up” as it is, will seem a little more permanent, but who knows? Spit and sawdust can be pretty hip.

Black Ops: Is Snakebite Illegal?

April 1, 2013 8 comments

I was in a pub yesterday when one of us, who had been abstaining from alcohol for the duration of Lent, wanted to break her fast with a snakebite and black.

For the uninitiated, snakebite is a mixture of (usually) half and half cider and pilsner, often taken with a dash of blackcurrant cordial. It’s sweet and refreshing and is especially popular amongst students and younger drinkers. I sold thousands of them when I worked in bars in St Andrews, sometimes asked for as “diesel” or, ahem, “pinky pees”.

It was therefore slightly surprising when the barman informed us that he could not serve snakebite and black, as it was illegal. As a compromise, he sold us the component parts separately.

It is not illegal to serve snakebite, as far as I can determine. Weights and measures legislation in the UK requires that draught beer or cider can only be served in quantities of one third of a pint, two thirds of a pint, a half pint, or multiples of a half pint, “except when sold as a constituent of a mixture of two or more liquids”.* That doesn’t prohibit anyone from serving a pint of half & half snakebite. It also appears to me that a half-pint wouldn’t be a problem under the exception for mixed drinks, but I’m happy to be corrected in the comments.

It seems that a number of pubs, perhaps including Wetherspoons, refuse to serve snakebite on the grounds that it is drunk primarily by younger drinkers who tend to drink it too fast. This seems to be an odd distinction for places that have posters in the window advertising discounted jägerbombs. Nevertheless, the “illegal” excuse seems to be used by staff in these circumstances as one of those catch-all, blame-shifting excuses, like “health and safety” or “data protection”, when the law in question has nothing to do with it, which is then passed on to others as fact.

My favourite story about this is from the Harrogate Advertiser in June 2001. It’s not recorded whether this particular customer was thought to be a potential troublemaker or whether the member of staff just accepted the myth as fact:

At about 11.45am, seven serious looking security agents had banged on the door of the pub, flashed their warrant cards, and requested lunch for the former president of the USA. […]

“But we let them in and after they’d searched the building in walked Mr Clinton himself. He came to the bar and introduced himself, and then there was the dilemma of what to drink.

“So I gave him and his aide a taste of a couple of real ales we have here, but he decided on a diet Coke.

“He did ask for a snakebite after one of his security men did, but we kindly refused him. It’s illegal to serve it here in the UK you see.”

Welcome to Yorkshire, Mr President.

* See The Weights And Measures (Intoxicating Liquor) Order 1988 para 2(1) as amended by The Weights and Measures (Specified Quantities) (Unwrapped Bread and Intoxicating Liquor) Order 2011 para 2.

BrewDog Leeds: The Father, The Son and The Holy Ghost Deer

March 15, 2013 5 comments

BrewDog Leeds opened this week, seemingly against the odds. I’ve previously discussed the difficulties this bar had obtaining a licence, which raises its own issues as to whether all drinkers should be tarred with the same brush.

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In the time since it was announced, I’ve had several doubts about BrewDog Leeds. It’s a terribly small site. It’s at an end of town that’s already loud, boisterous and overcrowded on weekend evenings. It’s just another bar in a chain.

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All of those things are true. First, the size issue: I think it would be uncomfortable to have more than around 60 people over the two floors. But there are a couple of nice booths upstairs, comfortable stools, shelves to rest a beer dotted around and, overall, the space is used to its full potential. And cosy can be friendly: on the shareholder night, we chatted to our neighbours about the beers and got to know people we hope to see again, as the trains rolled by outside the windows.

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It is at an overcrowded end of town. However there are good places to eat nearby and some pretty decent bars on Call Lane, although five year-old memories of others do still make me shudder.

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It’s also not a million miles away from North Bar and you could easily do Leeds’ new holy trinity of small craft beer bars (North, Friends of Ham, BrewDog Leeds) in an evening and still make it back to the last train.

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And yes, it’s a part of a chain. This one looks exactly like the others: reclaimed gym floorboards on the walls, brick bar, stripped-back grey industrial chic. But that works well and right now the BrewDog bars remain a great chain with an ethos that credits its customers with an interest in and enthusiasm about good beer.

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I’ve not been to a BrewDog bar that I didn’t like, where I didn’t get excellent service, or where I wasn’t a little excited by the selection of beers, particularly the imported ones. On the opening night, I enjoyed beer from Ballast Point, Mikkeller and De Molen, and even managed to squeeze a couple of BrewDogs in around the edges.

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So if you live in Leeds, be sure to add BrewDog Leeds to your list of regular haunts. If you happen to be visiting Leeds city centre for a few beers, that holy trinity of North, Friends of Ham and BrewDog Leeds is worth the pilgrimage.

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Next month I’m going to Sweden and should be there for the opening week of BrewDog Stockholm, provided the ship full of gym floorboards and trendy beards makes it through the Øresund strait. It’ll be another bar in a chain, but I still can’t wait.

See also: Rob’s post at Hopzine and this interview with manager Sophie at Leeds List.

BrewDog Leeds, White Cloth Hall, Crown Street, Leeds, LS1 7RB @BrewDogBarLeeds

BrewDog Leeds: Appellant Alchemist

September 19, 2012 16 comments

Further to my previous post on the initial licensing decision and as you may have read elsewhere, BrewDog were successful in their appeal of the initial refusal to grant a licence to their Leeds premises, and the new bar is intended to open in early 2013.

The initial decision concentrated on the crime figures linked to the existing late night economy in the immediate area. The District Judge was apparently rather more convinced by BrewDog’s submissions about promoting the educated appreciation of craft beer and their discerning clientele. I found the following paragraphs of District Judge Anderson’s* decision particularly interesting:

No doubt when the 2003 Licensing Act came into being, no-one foresaw the emergence of an operation such as Brewdog. They are a Scottish company specialising in craft beers with a devoted clientele. They do not operate large public houses selling cheap lager or cheap food. They have outlets in other cities including in cumulative impact areas where they operate well and without police objection. Now they seek to come to Leeds. […]

The company takes a didactic approach, with books on brewing, and customers invited to watch instructional videos playing at their premises. Their customers could be described as “alcohol geeks.” They are not run of the mill or everyone’s cup of tea, but there is a demand for outlets selling a good quality of beer. […]

If I accept, as I do, that the enterprise sells expensive beers in expensive measures, then I think I can conclude that the people likely to be attracted are not “get it down your neck” drinkers but rather better heeled customers. The type of clientele a premises attracts has a material part to the play in the decision, because if I am not worried about their clientele and am impressed by the running of their bars elsewhere, it follows that it is unlikely that their clientele will have any adverse impact on the area here.

Personally I’ll be glad that BrewDog has a presence in Leeds, if only so I can claim my shareholder discount, as a moderately-heeled alcohol geek who will buy expensive beer in expensive measures, provided I can convince myself I’m getting a bargain.

*Not to be confused with Judge Anderson.

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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.

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.

Sheffield’s Isle of Wonder: The Fat Cat and Kelham Island Tavern, Kelham Island, Sheffield

August 8, 2012 5 comments

The Kelham Island Tavern and the Fat Cat are two bastions of real ale that stand on Kelham Island, an area of Sheffield that now has a number of modern apartments but is still slightly haunted by the empty engineering works dotted around it.

The Kelham Island Tavern, dating back to 1830, has won many CAMRA awards since it re-opened in 2001, and has been CAMRA National Pub Of The Year twice, in 2008 and 2009. It was reasonably quiet on the weekday afternoon when we went in: a couple in the corner drank whilst a man with Doc Marten boots, who I think was an off-duty bailiff, discussed legal matters with the barman. A cat slept on a bar stool bathed in the afternoon sunlight.

After some helpful guidance I ordered a Pictish Brewer’s Gold, in lovely condition. The place livened up a little when three middle-aged tickers arrived and started excitedly discussing the selection. I noted that some of the beers at least seemed to be served without sparklers, but not to their detriment.

When we moved on to the Fat Cat around the corner, the atmosphere seemed a little more warm and relaxed, perhaps a bit less male, even though Kate and the bartender were the only ladies in the public bar. Surrounding the compact and ornate wooden bar itself, two groups sat on the benches and carried on a friendly conversation with each other, whilst the bar also offered baskets of pork pies and a big bottle of Sheffield’s iconic Henderson’s Relish to go with them.

The Fat Cat has a great history as well: dating back to the mid-19th century and originally called the Alma (it stands on Alma Street, named after the first battle of the Crimean War), it was a Stones pub from 1912 until 1981. In that year it was bought by Dave Wickett and Bruce Bentley and started its life as a free house.

Dave, who passed away recently, is justly regarded as one of the heroes of British beer, and he founded the Kelham Island Brewery here in 1990. As Roger Protz notes in his obituary for the Guardian, Dave was a consultant to Thornbridge during its inception, even recruiting Martin Dickie, which can be seen as a fitting passing of the torch, given the mark that Thornbridge has made on Sheffield in recent years.

I enjoyed a taster of Kelham Island White Rider, a cask wheat beer, but decided to have Pale Rider, an excellent US-hopped pale ale, CAMRA Champion Beer Of Britain in 2004, which made me fall further in love with this slightly aging pub and its informal, welcoming atmosphere.

The Fat Cat seems well-worn and comfortable, like a faded armchair that has gone slightly out of shape and is indented with the form of the sitter’s body, but is still the very best at what it does. I think that, if ever I had to try and explain the attraction of “the English pub” to a foreign visitor, I would bring them here.

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