Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Week in Beer

It's been an uber-busy week at work, and although I've not found much time to post, I've certainly found time to enjoy a few quiet pints whilst on the road.

First up was a leisurely lunch at Porterhouse in Covent Garden, where I found Porterhouse Red to be a decent accompaniment for my lunch, full of body and a sweet/smoky nose. I love Irish Reds, probably because I don't get to taste a lot of them in Leeds, so this is always a treat. Despite the brickwork and brass bringing back memories of a Hersbrucker Pils-fuelled hangover(a vicious one at that), I always try and visit PH when I can. At least I know one place to get a decent pint in London.

Curiosity got the better of me when it came to dropping in at The Betjeman Arms in St Pancras. I was expecting a brick-hewn, cosy pub - instead I walked in a gastro-palace of labyrinthine proportions, full of iners and a much-depleted range of beers. Likewise, Sharp's Betjeman Ale (what else?) turned out to be a thin, crisp, refreshing pint with more than a hint of spice on the nose, rather than the standard 'brown' beer I was expecting. Although pleasant enough, I walked away from the Betjeman feeling slightly unfulfilled, both in environs and beer quality/range.

Luckily, Crouch Vale's excellent Brewer's Gold came to the rescue when further north. A gorgeous pale-yellow in colour, it bursts forth with citrus and grass-led hop aroma, which follow through to the taste. A great session beer, and one that I could drink all night, especially when the nights get balmier.

Further north we had the chance to sample Mallinson's Volga Porter - which, despite being a little thinner in body than I like my porters - turned out to be a smooth, chocolate-led pint that warmed and satisfied in equal measure. Mallinsons may turn out brews at a stunning rate, but I'm yet to taste a bad beer from them. Consistency is key, guys, consistency is key.

Monday, February 22, 2010

An Outstanding Stout

....Or, to be more precise, Outstanding Brewing Co's Stout (5.5%abv). These Lancashire lads have been making beer for a couple of years now but this is the first of their wares that I've tasted - and I was impressed.

A simple beer that simply ticks all the boxes: a thick, tan head that lasts until the end of the pint, and masses of liquorice on the nose - along with a hint of cola. The body of the beer isn't too thick, with a long, dry taste - roasted malt up front, with a hint of sweetness at the end, and then drying out to a tongue-tingling bitterness. The slight carbonation that this bottle-conditioned beer shows actually benefits, I think; OB's Stout is a big, big tasting beer, yet remains light. Very nice indeed. Must search out some more.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Fish And Derks

Ok - not something I do often - but this is pretty much non-beer related post. This story in The Sun yesterday really brought a smile to my face, however, so I thought I would share. Plus, I know that all of you who read and comment on TGS are foodies as well as...well, beeries. People of taste, basically...

Anyway, the gist of it is that some boffins have surmised that the humble dish of Fish and Chips is keeping regional language dialects alive. Mundane? No, I don't think so, and neither do the boffins at Leeds University and The British Library, who are all in hand-wringing agreement.

I know there's a lot of regional differences in how we all dispatch an order of Fish and Chips, but I didn't know there was this many. I've had plenty of arguments with mates (non-Yorkshire-born mates, I might add) who argue that 'Scraps are weird' or that a Breadcake is, in fact, a Barm (or possibly even a Stottie). This article is pure pub banter, as we argue over whose term is best - or even who does the best. Again; mundane? Well, that's what passionate people do.

Anyway, Fish and Chips does link in with beer. Although personally I prefer a cup of tea with mine when at home, Fish and Chips is usually the first on any self-respecting Gastropubs' menu - the epitome of hearty fare, sitting alongside such chalkboard staples as Pie or Sausages and Mash - although usually encased in a beer batter, of course. It's comfort food - and not a dish to be taken lightly, as I found out when I managed to bend the ear of Peter Scott of Bretts in Headingley.
Not only did the man make us some of the finest Fish and Derks (see what I did there) I'd tasted in a while, he took me round the kitchen and explained his secrets - from what fish to use and where from, to the exact temperature of the fat used to fry the fish. This lively man was happy to talk fish and chips all night, and a great night it was.

Oh - and before you ask - I do refer to Fish and Chips as 'Fish and Derks' - although not when ordering. I've never called them 'Nerks' . It's just a bit of eye contact and a firm exclamation of 'Once' or 'Twice' to be heard over the din of the fryers. Mushy Peas? Optional, for me. I do, however, find it hard to believe that only 27% of 'Londoners' have tried a chip butty. Really? I think some 'Londoners' are keeping up appearances there - surely?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

In Praise of Context

If there's one theme that I keep returning to when it comes to beer (and food) it's context. The simple can be elevated to the divine, if the context is right.

Like many of us, I have a pretty stressful job. I manage people, and have to keep a number of balls in the air at any one time. On one hand, I like my job; I'm in a good position, with a good rep and with prospects in front of me. On the other hand - i'm not really passionate about it. What I am passionate about - writing and beer - gets an airing here.

Last week I had a rare day off. I took a little lunchtime walk to a pub in Bramley, where I live, called The Old Unicorn. It's a Taylor's pub, and very much a 'local' atmosphere going on. Depending on the day, it can be dead or busy - on this day, there was a fair old crowd in there. I picked up a paper, ordered a sandwich and a pint of Landlord, and sat down.
Taylor's Landlord. A beer risen to near mythical heights outside of Yorkshire, and normally a beacon of quality no matter where you drink it. Living in Leeds, I've spent many a night in Bradford, Keighley and Haworth supping this archetypal ubiquitous pale bitter. Despite the legend, it can be ordinary (very ordinary) when served in bad condition.

But this pint wasn't. It was bang on. Fresh, floral, malty, sweet, with a tight, everlasting head, it brightened my mood so much that it vanished in four gulps and another was ordered. I wasn't in glamorous surroundings, nor supping some imported US gem - this was plain old Yorkshire in a glass, with the sports pages open in front of me (dissecting our loss against Carlisle the night before) and a Club Sandwich to fill my stomach. This was heaven. This was four days ago, and I can still taste that pint now.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Caldera Ashland Amber

OK, here's a first for 2010 - my first craft beer in a can. Caldera's range seems to be can-friendly, like fellow compatriots Buckbean, but I have to admit that when I get the can of Ashland Amber out of the cellar, it's all a little rinky-dink for me. I stifle a little grin; it just looks like pop, is all.

The beer itself - which, packaging aside, is the main event - isn't bad at all. Amber Ale seems to have been taken to by our American Cousins, and in many ways I can see why. Ashland is smooth, sweet, dark amber in colour and with enough hops on the nose to suggest something 'craft', and a tight, tan head. It's just a touch lacking in body, but for a regular drinker it's not bad at all.

There's just something in the can that I can't quite get my head around. It's still so alien over here that to me, it does detract slightly from the product inside it. I know that only purists will argue about taste - to me, this beer had no different taste to a bottled beer - but that initial visual counts for a lot. I appreciate that we can get canned beer, but will that stigma of being 'the cheaper option' rather than 'The Good Stuff' ever disappear? Across the pond, more breweries are looking to canning as an option - Avery recently announced that they were dipping their toes in, alongside big hitters like Oskar Blues. Maybe in 12 month's time, we'll have to take notice of this quiet revolution.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

The Leeds-Dortmund Connection

As a young scamp, meeting your mates in ‘town’ in the eighties and early nineties meant only one place – ‘The Fat Man with The Barrel’. We didn’t care who he was, with his mercurial grin and smiling eyes poking out from under his cap, and we cared even less. He was just ‘the’ place to meet and tower over us as we plotted how to get our underage selves into The Odeon cinema to watch Tim Burton’s Batman.
Given that I see the rotund fella most days as I travel to work, I started thinking only recently about his connection with Leeds – and how that connection is Beer.

Leeds was twinned with Dortmund in in 1969, and to celebrate ten years of partnership, we were presented with the bronze Dortmund Drayman, which was sculpted by a chap named Arthur Shulze-Engles.
In my mind, the beer connection hits home straight away. Whereas Leeds has beer, with Tetley’s in particular propping up its history, Dortmund has its Pale ale. Dortmunder Union were, as the name suggests, a cabal of smaller, local brewhouses who joined forces to brew a new, pale, pilsner-style thirst quencher for the factory workers, and became the largest exponents of the style in the process. The beer became known simply as “Dortmunder Union” and the rest is beery history. This refreshing, crisp pale ale was so popular that Dortmunder Union became Germany's largest brewery for a while. Although dwarfed by Pils sales these days in the homeland, the style has its fans and remains somewhat cultish over here.
I’ve sipped Dortmunder Union many a time at North Bar – in fact, it was a bit of a staple when I was younger and didn’t know enough to make an informed decision when faced with North’s kaleidoscopic beer list (They have DAB on tap nowadays). To me and my buddies, ‘Union’ was a clean, crisp lager sophisticate, and it certainly helped those long hot summers (that we don’t get anymore, it would seem) go by a lot faster. Purists would argue that DU is a style in itself, something that I personally don’t agree with, but I’m glad we are twinned with a city with something of interest to me- and I hope that others agree with my notion that ‘The Fat Man with the Barrel’ should stand proudly (but thirstily) side by side with our glowering Black Prince in terms of sights to see in Leeds.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Meantime's Winter Warmer

Yesterday's fresh flurry of snow reminded me that, despite a few gloriously bright days over the weekend, we are still in the grip of a rough, northern winter. Not that I need much of an excuse for something with a bit more body in the glass - and Meantime's Winter Warmer (5.4%abv), very much leftover from my christmas stash, fit the bill to a T.

I love Meantime's beers, I really. I'm yet to find one I haven't thought was excellent. We don't get them a great deal up here, especially on draught. Winter Warmer doesn't disappoint either - a real bottle-conditioned beauty. The body is smooth for a stout, with a rich, vinous undercurrent of vanilla, which only adds to the overall silkiness of it. There's bitter chocolate in the nose and on the tongue, smoothing out to a creamy coffee note, but not harsh at all. Think latte, rather than espresso. More smoke on the nose, but again in restrained amounts. All this richness amounts to another seriously refined beer from Alistair Hook and his cohorts. I really do need to get to London and seek this out on tap this Christmas.
Meantime are currently working on thier new visitors centre, which promises to be very modern and very swishy indeed. Something tells me that, like thier beers, it will be an effortlessly classy affair.