Monday, August 30, 2010

Birra Del Borgo/Dogfish Head - My Antonia

I've been looking forward to My Antonia for a while - not only because I've never tried an 'Imperial Pilsner' before, but it's also my first Italian Craft Beer. For some reason, ales from Italy have passed me by of late.

Birra Del Borgo and Dogfish Head are the fathers (Awww ain't it cute, Sam!) of this wonderful beer, and given that I have no reference point, I'd go as far as to say it has one of the most unique aromas I've ever had the pleasure of smelling; floral, bright, sweet and with a vibrant, green hop character. I expected a bit of citrus in there, but no; the profile is almost herbal, all wildflowers and spice.
Gold in colour and sporting a thick, billowy head, the mouthfeel is thick, and the masses of juicy malt lay down a sweet-enough foundation for that late, long bitterness, which make My Antonia a supremely refreshing beer, despite having an abv of 7.5% and a lot of flavour. There's a liquorice note in there too, which is surprising but works; and in summary I'd say that of the whole package - the label, the bottle, the flavour - all works. IPA fans will ave something to latch onto, Golden Ale and Belgian Blonde fans will have something to latch onto. This is new beer, from a brewery that is growing within a scene that is growing. I loved this, and I'll be getting whatever else I can get my hands on from BDB.

This leads nicely to the fact that I'm taking a little time off - and this will be my last post until October. I'm getting married at the weekend, and then spending a much-anticipated honeymoon in the Italian Lakes, where I'm hoping I can try some more luscious Italian Craft Beers - here's hoping. I'll still be tweeting and all that jazz until next week - but as for blogging - I'll speak to you all in a month's time.


Friday, August 27, 2010

SWB P6 Brew #3

...A bit late, this one, but I had to get it out there. SummerWine's IPA project continues apace, with Brew 3 landing last week at Foley's.
Gold-hued, there's a strong Lime and Grapefruit note here. I also found it a little less sweet than Brew 2, which made the beer just a touch thinner and lighter. Balance is still the key word here, however, and it's an incredibly refreshing, juicy IPA that tastes nowhere near it's 6.6%abv.
Brew 4 is in the Cellar now, apparently - so get yourself down to Foley's for a taste.
SummerWines new blog can also be found in the links section - it's well worth a read. >>>

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Greek Lamb Pasties

This is a recipe I've had kicking around for a few weeks now, back when the sun was out (remember that - I think that was our Summer? Whenever I have leftovers, or want something simple but tasty to eat, I generally think of putting things in pastry and making a Pasty. Simple, yes, but that's how I work. To follow my Spanish Pasties from last year, these beauties are thier Greek cousins.

If you want to make your pastry, then a classic shortcrust is what you need – take 200g of Plain Flour, and add 50g of Butter. Add 50g of Lard and a pinch of salt, and rub together with your fingers to make a mix that will resemble breadcrumbs. Add luke warm water slowly – you won’t need a lot, really – until it binds. Wrap in cling film and leave in the fridge for at least 15 minutes before using. If not, then you can buy perfectly good pastry frozen these days.

For the filling, sweat down one large red onion in a couple of teaspoons of Olive Oil. Add Lamb Mince – about 500g – and brown with the onions. Add to this 4 minced cloves of Garlic, 100g of Chopped Olives, and a good few handfuls of torn spinach leaves. Season with black pepper, and the herbs that give it a flavour of Greece; Oregano and Mint. Fresh is always better – chop the leaves and add to taste; but dried will also do – just be generous with the seasoning. Stir in a tablespoon of Tomato Puree to thicken the juices in the pan, and leave the filling to cool.

When ready to cook, pre-heat your oven to 200c. Roll out your pastry and, using a plate or side saucer (depending on how large you want the pasties) and fill one half of the circles with the cooled filling. Before folding over to make the pasties, top the mix with crumbled Feta Cheese. Fold over, crimp, and place on a greased baking tray. Glaze with beaten egg and cook for about 25-30 minutes, until the pasties are golden. Baste a couple of times as you go for a great golden colour. And there you go. Filling pasties that are big on flavour. What's more - they taste even better cold, the next day. Try it.

Total disclosure time - I made these a few weeks ago, with WharfeBank's excellent CamFell Flame in mind. I was lucky enough to get a sample of it from WharfeBank to take home and enjoy - and that's the version that will appear in the next CAMRA New Full Measure magazine (You'll have to get yourself down to a pub to get it, bottle-boys).
However, I'm fully aware that that option isn't open to most of you so in terms of beers to enjoy with it, so try to go for something with a rich, sweet body to contrast with the sharp cheese and bring out the lamb; I've since enjoyed some of this batch (frozen, of course) with Brooklyn Lager and Ringwood's Old Thumper. On top of that, I'd recommend trying out Rudgate's Battle Axe, Butternuts Porkslap Pale (could'nt resist - you can buy it in the UK now!), Cain's Raisin Ale, Meantime Union or Cameron's Strongarm. Off the top of my head.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Trio of Pales; Ilkley, Acorn and Wentworth

Since the football season started again, my intake of Pale ales has shot up dramatically. I don't know why, but when watching the footy I almost always go for a Pale - Stouts, Porters, Wheats, Wits...other styles just don't cut it. I suspect it's due to their easy-going nature, but that's not to underplay Pale ale. It's my favourite style, as much for the varying interpretations of it out there, as for it's sessionability. Pale Ale really is a blank canvas. Here's three that have really hit the spot of late.

First up is Ilkley's Mary Jane (3.5%abv). MJ's a beer that I've enjoyed on draught a few times now, but it's a rarity for me in that I think I prefer it's bottled counterpart. MJ's orange-grapefruit aroma really comes alive in the glass, and the slight carbonation means that it's got a softer, more mellow mouthfeel than some bottled pales have. It's clean, thirst-quenching and exactly the sort of Pale we seem to like these days - hopped with C-hops, and with a decent bitterness. American-influenced, if you will. Ilkley are a relatively new brewery but are filling the trophy cabinet already and becoming a firm favourite on the Yorkshire brewing scene. Keep up the good work, lads.

A brewery that needs no introduction (on TGS, anyway) is Acorn - purveyor of consistently high-quality beers. Blond's (4%abv) no exception - a grainy, cereal-tinged body gives way to a lemony aroma and surprisingly dry finish. In fact, it's this dry, crisp finish that makes Blonde a success in my opinion. It's super-pale, but packs in a lot of aroma. Another one for Acorn completists to have a bash at, I think.

Finally, staying in Yorkshire (thanks lads!), Wentworth's WPA (4.%abv) is well worth a try. Straw-coloured, it's got an amazingly vibrant apple/pear nose; one that you really don't expect. Well-balanced, with an excellent bitterness at the end of a very long sip, it's one to drink a lot of, for sure. I'd love to try this on draught and compare the two - I really didn't expect much out of the ordinary from WPA, but was surprised at its depth of aroma. A pleasure to drink.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Garden Gate, Hunslet, Leeds

When Leeds Brewery announced they were rescuing The Garden Gate in Hunslet from dereliction, a cheer went up across the Leeds beer community. It seemed like a match made in heaven, and one that was warmly welcomed at the time – but, a few months on, has it worked?

After spending an entirely pleasant lunch there, my answer would be a resounding yes. I’ll be honest – I’d never been here before. I’d been aware of the building’s importance in Leeds folklore as one of the original Tetley Heritage houses -built in 1903 and grade-two listed - and seen many a picture of its outstanding tiled facade, but it had remained just that bit too far out of town for me to venture toward. I won’t make that mistake again.

The building is jaw-droppingly beautiful, and my pictures don’t do it justice. There’s a warmth to the building that invites you to venture inside - and that is partly down to its new owners, who have kitted the bar out with Leeds’s solid, ever-dependable beer range, and wisely kept every feature about the pub intact, creating an incredibly welcoming atmosphere. Not that they’ve had much choice - the mosaic floor, the tilled bar, the acid-etched glass partitions; before, you would go in just to gawp at the tilework – now there’s a quality of beer to be had, too. It’s a deceptively large pub, and has one bar serving two rooms. Leeds Pale, Midnight Bell, and Best were on (and all in excellent condition, I might add), along with one guest Leeds beer per month and a couple of guests - Tetley’s Dark Mild and, on this occasion, Lancaster Blonde.

As I sat with my beer and chatted with the new hosts, Adam and Ciara, the one thing that struck me was the reverence for the building. Yes, they are young; but they are more that aware of the history of the pub, and the task they have on their hands. Currently working all hours, the two (and their entrancing dog, Diesel) are committed to making this work. Previous pub companies have treated the GG with a fraction of the respect it deserves, and Leeds, along with Adam and Ciara, seem determined to make sure that isn’t that case again. Given the situation, I don’t think Leeds could have given the task to a more suitable couple.
This attitude epitomises how I feel about Leeds Brewery.

Through buying up a varied selection of pubs and bars across Leeds, they’ve catered for all tastes and become firm fixtures in Leeds’s drinking circuit. The Midnight Bell may be full of modern, clean lines, but it’s still an old-fashioned ale-house at heart. Pin may tout cocktails and music as its USP, but it bears well-used pumps for Pale and Midnight Bell. And as for the Brewery Tap – well, it does have the cities’ only on-site lagering facility (when it’s up and running), and is always a good bet for a decent pint before that train home. Despite producing solid, dependable beer, Leeds have been quietly buying up an eclectic range of premises in which to enjoy them in - and for that, they should be praised.

What you have here is one of the most unique drinking experiences in Leeds. A building that has to be seen to be fully appreciated. Sure, it’s all of four bus stops outside Leeds, but it’s no excuse at all - visit the Garden Gate for a beer, and you’ll have drunk in a rich part of Leeds’s beer heritage. Catch it while you can – the BBC are filming here later in the year, and there’s a tour of the building next month for Yorkshire Heritage. This is one of Leeds’s most important pubs, and there’s no reason for you to ignore it now.

To give you a snapshot of what might happen when you do ignore buildings like this, here’s a shot of the once-proud Sun Inn on Kirkstall Road – a sister pub to the Garden Gate, if you will. It hasn’t served cask ale for a while, and now the pubco in charge of it has seen fit to let some bloke sell furniture out of it. A sad end to a building of genuine importance. I don’t claim to be a saint – I haven’t set foot in the place in years – but the pub companies have got to give us a reason to go in the first place. Leeds have done that and more with The Garden Gate – maybe The Sun Inn is ripe for a rescue?

I got to The Garden Gate on the No 12 Bus, caught outside the Corn Exchange. Once in Hunslet (about ten minute's journey), get off at Morrison's, and go across the small courtyard to the right of the shopping centrereach the pub - it is hidden away somewhat. There's a good source of information about The Garden Gate, The Sun Inn, and a number of local Heritage pubs here. Visit the pub's website for further details of promotions, opening hours etc.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sausages. Beer. That's It.

Fresh pork sausages from Kirkgate Market, fried in tonnes of onions, eaten whilst still hot with a jar of mustard for dipping. A robust, malt-led beer to accompany - Bevan's Bitter from Rhymney Brewery. That's it. Thank You.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Old Friends

One of my favourite things about Beer is its ever-changing face; seasonality keeps the pool fresh with new beers to look forward to every year, with their ever-so-subtle differences in last year’s batch keeping us intrigued. With new releases, limited editions, new trends (for example, the recent explosion in ‘Cascadian Dark Ales’ or whatever they are called this month) and collaboration beers constantly hitting us, it’s a good job there’s a lot of beer to go round. It keeps us on our toes, and I for one never cease to be amazed at new ground broken.

With all this going on, it’s easy to lose memory of those influential, classic or downright special beers. The ones that got you started. The simple ones, the ones that have dropped so far down the pecking order that the last time you drunk them you didn’t have facial hair (in my case, anyway!).

I've enjoyed two beers recently that I'd let fall into that category. Worthington White Shield first; what a beer. Although brewed by Coors, and purists may sneer, it’s still a great beer and one that I genuinely regret forsaking for so long; incredibly balanced, sweet as hell but with enough bright, citric bite to wake the tastebuds up. The bottle conditioning gives you that distinct ‘yeasty, fresh basked bread’ nose, and a liveliness that only makes it more refreshing. A wonderful Burton beer, and one that I enjoyed so much I went and bought another two bottles the next day. And I shouldn’t have been so readily willing to miss the Burton Twissup; lesson firmly learned.

Sam Smith’s Organic Best Ale was the next beer to take me back in time. I drink Sam Smith’s beers all the time, so much so that I will happily admit that I’m quite blasé about the whole brewery. I do love their whole image, that of arcane and proudly traditional brewers*, and the White Rose of Smith’s is as familiar to me as the Triangle of Bass, but for me, Smith’s represented ‘normal’. And we all know that ‘normal’ often means ‘ordinary’. So I cracked open the heavy, wonderfully-labelled bottle without a second thought; one to quaff whilst watching the football.

How wrong I was. After one sip I was concentrating fully on the beer; Crisp, with a caramel-led body that gives way to a gloriously fruity, apricot-tinged finish, I was in heaven. There’s an estery, sour note in there that gives it a wild, rangy edge, yet - as usual with great beers – everything is balanced. A masterful beer indeed; and a true example of how complex a ‘Yorkshire Best’ can be. So – new resolution time. Every few weeks, I promise to re-visit an old favourite. Looks like there’s been a whole seam of beer enjoyment there I’ve been ignoring for far too long. I don’t put this post up to educate about the beers, but to hopefully ask you; have you been ignoring an old friend for too long?

*There's not much out there about Sam Smith's, but Zak Avery wrote an excellent profile in October 2008's now-defunct Beers of The World Magazine, if you can track it down.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Grozet & Ebulum

It was my birthday on Friday, and some colleagues of mine bought me one Williams Bros's Historic Ales of Scotland boxes. Although familiar with Fraoch, I'd never tasted their Grozet (5%abv) before, so it was with some curiosity that I cracked it open and dove in.

Super pale, with a really green, apple-like flavour, I was quite impressed. It was chilled, but I think this only enhanced its dryness. The accompanying leaflet states that someone descrbed it as 'Pale Ale with Champagne' - I'd probably agree with that. There's not much on the nose but its a satisfying beer nonetheless.

Despite sounding like a tropical disease, I really enjoyed Ebulum (6.5%abv). Pitch-black in colour, it has loads of raisins and plums on the nose which follow through into the body of the beer along with a touch of smoke. It's strength is a little more pronounced, but it has real fruit-led depth and is sweet to enhance that even further. I didn't really get the elderberries, though - sorry, Williams Bros. Fans of darker, stronger beers should give this a go, and I will probably seek some out once the nights start turning colder.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Clams with Celis White

This is what I'm doing to console myself for not being able to attend the GBBF (too close to wedding, funds won't allow!). Clams are great right now, fresh and so much lighter than Mussels. For the easiest beer/food match, into a large pot chop a shallot and saute in butter until slightly golden. Pour half a pint of white wine, salt, pepper, and a swirl of olive oil onto the onions and simmer for 4/5 minutes. Add 3 cloves of chopped or minced garlic, and tear up some fresh basil to add at the last minute.Throw your clams in, wait until open, and serve with crusty bread. The Basil gives this dish a fragrant twist.

I know I do this sort of stuff often but I love it. So quick, so tasty. Clams are really good with Celis White, which I prefer to Hoegaarden if you can get your hands on it. Pierre Celis obviously needs no introduction (but I've attached one anyway) to beeronauts, but I find his white much fruitier, lighter and maybe a little drier than other Wits. I could drink it all day, really. An ideal summer beer with an ideal summer supper.