Saturday, January 24, 2009

Shepherd Neame Winter Hop Ale

One of the upsides of being known for having a love of beer that ventures into obsession is that I get a lot of beer bought for me. People go to new places, they bring me back beer. My partner is now trained so highly that if she is visiting somewhere and sees beer that she's not seen me drink, she picks it up. I really couldn't ask for more.
Of course, Christmas meant a bumper crop of beers to swell my cellar. Among all the treats nestled this Shepherd Neame offering, Winter Hop Ale. Now, something of a secret. It went to the back of the queue because - and this may shock - but I'm not generally a fan of SN's beers.
Don't get me wrong, I've been known to enjoy the odd Spitfire on draught, and who hasn't cut their teeth on Bishop's Finger - but it's exactly that for me. Surely my palate is...more refined now to go back to these hoary old beers of my youth?
Apparently not. Because I really enjoyed Winter Hop.
The only clue to it's 7% abv was an entirely pleasant chest-warming sensation: not overpowering at all. Although the head disappeared faster than Usain Bolt, this light mahogany-shaded beer remained well-balanced until the end. Smooth, caramelly maltiness dominated the mouthfeel, but that trademark SN peppery hoppy note lingered on the nose. Boiled sweets came to the fore at the back of the throat, and i don't mind confessing I've actually bought another bottle of this since. It's surprisingly smooth and a pleasure to drink; although I would not pick it up specifically as a 'winter warmer'.
My lesson had been learnt. Write off breweries at your peril.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Good Weekend

Yeah, in general. A Good Weekend. Firstly, Leeds United finally won a game and - more importantly - kept a clean sheet away at Brighton. Cue a collective bout of fist-pumping (oo-er!) and fratboy style high-fives in the household.
As if that wasn't enough, we'd decided to treat ourselves to a Tapas supper at our Mediterranean joint of choice, Dos Amigos. And it didn't disappoint - although it never does. Deep-fried whitebait dunked in pungent Aioli, Salt-Cod Croqetas, Bread getting soggier by the second due the amount of crushed tomato and garlic smeared on top, a luscious ragu of slow-cooked, rosemary-tinted pork belly, prawns in a chili sauce...the dishes just kept coming. /all washed down with a few pints of draught Cruzcampo, a lager I never tire of. The Best tapas in Leeds, and don't let anyone else tell you otherwise.
Waking up this morning with that still in mind, I slung a bottle of Otter Bright in the fridge to chill to obscene levels (something I wouldn't ordinarily do) whilst I whipped up a spanish-inspired fish stew.
In a pan went one tin of plum tomatoes, which I simmered down with a pinch of salt, some chili flakes, a massive splash of olive oil, a pinch of sugar and a squirt of tomato puree. Next, a small fillet of Cod (any firm white fish will do: I've made this with Monkfish and got good results) was chopped and added to the sauce to cook. In a separate pan I then lightly sauteed some sliced chorizo sausage - just enough to leach out that lovely, saffrony pork fat - then dumped the whole pan into the stew along with a handful of chopped, pitted black olives. Simmer all together for five minutes and serve in a suitably rustic bowl with warm bread and Tabasco to taste.

The Otter Bright chilled down well, and added an inoffensive fruity coolness to the rich, hot stew. and what do you know - as we were eating, the sun came out. Lovely.
Dos Amigos
68/70 Abbey Road, Kirkstall,
Leeds, LS5 3JG. Telephone: 01484 720338

I did try to take some pictures of the food at Amigo's but for those who don't know it, it's very dark and very cosy. I didn't feel like taking a flash to ruin the atmos for the sake of the blog. You'll just have to go to find out what it's like!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Freedom Dark Lager

Interesting stuff, this. I was drawn to it simply because I had never heard of it, which I often find a great tactic to use when buying beer. Turns out that Freedom have been around for a while - since 1995 - and seem to have the vegan/organic lager market cornered, producing only three brews - Lager, Dark Lager, and a Pils. I opted for the Dark Lager, given that's where my tastes lie.
...And it wasn't bad at all. The label said it had an underlying toffee note lurking within, and it did; a distinctly American burnt-caramel sweetness. Despite being fairly thin body-wise, it was a nice, rounded beer that belied a 4.7% abv. There was nothing outstanding happening here, but when teamed with a home-made pizza it sang a little higher and held up the beer end, so to speak.

The pizza was made with a simple dough (Strong Flour, Yeast, a dash of Olive Oil, tepid water and some salt), topped with a plain sauce of chopped peppers, a tin of cushed tomatoes, a generous hit of tomato puree, some black pepper,sugar and Basil - with a load of garlic going in when reduced. I find that putting the Garlic in any sauce at the end rather than the start gives a stronger but more balanced Garlic hit. I then topped this with some Mozzarella, some ends of cheddar I had left over (which gave a nice, sharp contrast to the Moz), some Parma Ham and a couple of slices of peppery, zingy Salami. A good Pizza makes a good partner to beer - a lot of the time.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Timothy Taylor's: Chasing The Havercake Dragon

You have to face it; Timothy Taylor’s beers are seen as somewhat untouchable in certain parts of the country –and for good reason. Landlord is viewed by many as a high-water mark in Brewing, and is without a doubt there Holy Grail for Homebrewers (of which I am one). Ram Tam has attained almost cult status in Yorkshire; one of the few beers in the country truly worth travelling for. Timothy Taylor’s humble brewery is one of beer’s unassuming gods.

I was certainly excited when they announced, early in 2008, that a brace of new (or rather, one new and one re-imagined classic ale) beers would be brewed to coincide with their 150th Birthday. Havercake Ale, named after a nickname for the Duke of Wellington’s 3rd Battalion for which Taylor had an affinity, would be brewed for only the third time in Taylor’s history, alongside Celebration Ale, a new recipe. I must, absolutely must, taste these beers, I thought at the time.

But then, as often happens, real life got in the way. A hectic period of work meant that the trip to my favoured Taylor’s inn – The Fleece, in Haworth, had to be delayed by a week – and this was disastrous. When I finally got there, the barmaid apologetically informed me that all the Havercake and Celebration Ales had run dry. In fact, had just run dry. Excursions to other Taylor’s pubs yielded similar results. I was running round Yorkshire, always one step behind this elusive beer. I gave up. I resigned myself to the fact that I had missed the boat. Lesson learned, young drinker.
Fast-forward a few months to October 2008; we’re in Haworth again. After a pleasant stroll through Bronte country, we popped into The Black Bull for a pint of Ossett’s Silver King, and then, purely out of habit, dropped into the Fleece. Whilst lifting my lips to the first sip of fresh Landlord, my eyes caught something on the back of the bar. A box. A presentation box. With a bottle each of Havercake and Celebration Ale gleaming within. I felt like Indiana Jones faced with the Crystal Skull. Needless to say, it was bought and promptly cellared; kept away for a special occasion: the first beer of 2009.

Celebration Ale poured a clear-as-a-bell amber colour, and the main difference between it and other Taylor’s beers, in my opinion, was the nose: sweet honey and floral hops all round. A robust, typically Yorkshire biscuit malt body gave way to a long bitterness as you’d expect to find in bottled Landlord. Celebration Ale is a much easier-drinking, almost summery beer, and one that I can heartily recommend to Taylor’s nerds.

Havercake Ale, upon pouring, doesn’t seem that different, but the nose gives it away: much less hop profile, and an almost soapy note hang in there. The head did not hang around long on my sample; but the beer itself was malt all the way, with a much softer, less assertive bitterness than the Celebration Ale. As it turns out, quite a contrasting beer.

I understand both beers to have been a success around the country and I think they’ll be popping up now and again in the future. I hope so.