Monday, December 27, 2010

The Good Stuff 2010 Review

Ok, here’s my roundup of what floated my boat in 2010. Personally, I’ve had a pretty cool year. I got married, which was great fun and I can recommend to anyone thinking of popping the question, and I also decided to come out from behind the laptop and meet some of you. I’m glad I did; what a cracking bunch of chaps and chapesses you all turned out to be. You know who you are. Thanks for some great beers and banter.

Ok, here we go -
Overall Beer of the Year – a bottled one this year – BDB/DFH’s’s My Antonia. 2010 was the year I finally got to taste some Italian Craft Beers, and this was one hell of a jumping-off point. Aroma spilling out of the glass, thick with herbals and citrus, this Imperial Pilsner left some mark on my consciousness. Still, and I suspect will be for some time, my favourite BDB beer – albeit a collaboration.

Beers of The Year - Brewdog Edge/5Am Saint. I’ll whisper it; I’d fallen out of love a little with Brewdog in 2010. Too much high-abv, freeze-distilled antics for me; just personal taste. Then just when I’d wrote them off – BANG – Edge appears, being quite possibly tastiest pint for it’s abv I’d had. Masses of red fruit, plummy, malty, refreshing – but all with an abv of 3.8%. Then, my lazy ass picks up 5AM Saint, which must be one of the best aromas I’ve experienced for quite some time – strawberry and lychee all the way, sitting on top a very respectable, sweet Amber ale. Welcome back, BrewDog - I’ve missed ya.

SummerWine BreweryProject 6 IPA Series. If there’s one think I love in anything – be it writing, comics, music or indeed beer – it’s one-off’s. Exciting little diversions from core ranges, beers to actively seek out and savour. SWB’s P6 IPA’s have been pretty much the beer of my summer; waiting until the next one comes out, and trying hard to pick out the combo of hops in this particular edition. Simply excellent, fragrant, British IPA’s with a sense of adventure. I’d say check them out – but they’ve gone now; and therein lies my point.

Other memorable pints
Highland’s Orkney Blast – Strong Pale Ale par excellence – woody, earthy but sweet and aggressive English-hopped Strong Pale Ale.
Abbeydale Last Rites – A late entry, Last Rites slipped under the radar a little with its release this month. Super-easy drinking for its 11% abv, this richly golden Barleywine was smoother than Swiss Tony and satisfyingly rich, all without being cloying. Can we have some bottles of this, Abbeydale?
Wharfebank’s CamFell Flame – It’s not all about strong beers, and WB’s Camfell Flame is rightly the most lauded of their range. No-nonsense, it’s a rich, malty, warming pint with a lovely cinder-toffee profile.
Baladin Open – Wow. The stand-out beer of my honeymoon in Italy, and even the better for the fact that my bottle was given to me as a gift from a beer-loving barman in Garda. Again, aroma is what sets Open apart, loaded with Strawberry, Pineapple and Lychee.
Williams Bros Joker IPA – Williams continue to innovate and pleasantly surprise with a clean, refreshing, super-balanced IPA; restrained in hopping and yet all the better for it.
Marble Dobber – A great beer with that grapefruit led nose that I’ve come to expect from Pale Marble beers. This is one more about context; it was the first beer of the day on the Twissup and over it I finally met the likes of Baron Orm, the Hardknotts, Rakebar Glyn, Andy Mogg etc etc...
Ola Dubh 30 – on Cask at The Angel, Manchester, was not only one of the most pleasant surprises of the day (Twissup) but perfectly fit the mood of collaboration; a beer to be savoured and even shared – mouth-coatingly rich, loaded with chocolate and a whisper of whiskey heating everything up. Wow.
Thornbridge 2009 Halcyon. Green. Fresh. Refreshing. Moreish. Wonderful. Thanks, Stefano and the lads.
Crown Brooklyn Heights - IT constantly amazes me how much milage the Pale Ale style has, especially when this strong, sweet and floral Pale Ale hit my lips. Wonderfully hoppy, well-brewed, Pale Ale. Simple as that.

..And as ever with lists, there were so many more – but these are my ones, these are the pumpclips I want to see in my 2010 pub. Speaking of pubs, my pub of the year goes to The Grove in Huddersfield this year. I’d never actually been until 2010 and I rue that fact dearly. Pleasant, informative barstaff, great beer (and lots of it) all in a nice space. The Grove is one of the few pubs I would get on a train specifically for, so Thanks, Brian. Those that know me know I spend a lot of time hanging out with Dean in Foley’s – so I don’t want to over-egg the point for fear of being acused of nepotism – but Dean and crew at Foley’s deserve my thanks for really improving their beer range. In the past few months drinkers in Leeds have been spoiled with offerings from Summer Wine, Crown, Hardknott and Dark Star to name a few, as well as championing newer faces such as Revolutions. So I guess, a ‘Much Improved’ sort of award!

Finally, I just want to mention a couple of blogs. HopZine I love; clean, clever design and - more importantly – ratings I trust. That’s the key. Rob and Matt know their beer and bring the more esoteric beers to my attention, so for that, HopZine go as my blog of the year. They are both bloody nice blokes, too, which helps! I’d also like to throw some kudos out to Beer.Birra.Beer. Mark’s style appeals to me, it's knowledgeable and, more importantly, balanced. Again, another blogger I trust. Keep up the good work, Lads.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


The dilemma I often have when buying beer online - in fact, buying beer full stop, is how much of something to buy. I often have to go online or drive up to Beer-Ritz to buy beers that particularly come from the south, and this means it's usually quantity over quality, so to speak.

There's always one beer I wish I'd bought more of. Moor JJJ IPA (9.5%abv) is one of those beers. Jesus, this is a good beer. Burnt amber in colour, there's a nice, heavy mouthfeel that totally befits a beer of this gravity; a real tongue-coating sweetness that lays a rock-solid foundation for the bitterness that occurs towards the end of the sip. Pine, Lemon Sherbet and Orange Peel leave the finishing hop attack very much leaning towards the familiar fresh citrus, despite the nose giving away a little biscuity malt and a more herbal, black-pepper-like feel.

It's a big, big, beer and to be honest, I like to think of it more as a hopped barleywine than an IPA - simply due to that massive body. However, when all is said and done, JJJ's balance and complete harmony won me over. Big, but tasteful. Brash, yet subtle. I do wish I'd bought some more.
Do jump over to Moor's website, it's a great-looking site and I, for one, love Moor's design. It's pretty safe to say that Moor's wares will feature heavily on TGS during 2011!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Leeds Gyle 479

Leeds Brewery have created a one-off beer for the seasonal period, Gyle 479. It's an itteresting point in itself that Leeds have created a special like this; despite being incredibly popular in Leeds (thier popular, rapidly-expanding Pub portfolio serving as a case in point), they do normally keep things simple and straighahead - a strong core portfolio of beers with now-regular seasonals.

So, is this foray into experimentation any good? In short, yes. For some reason I assumed it would be a stout-esque beer, but it's not; Venkatesh (Head Brewer) described it more as a 'Vintage Ale', and he's spot on. The base beer was brewed in the summer, and then matured in Bruichladdich Whisky Casks until now.

Sitting in the brewery, all neatly in a row, the Casks certainly impose. Cask-ageing of beer is the perfect flavour profile for this time of year, and I'm at a loss to even begin to explain the variances of taste that every single cask can add to a uniform base beer. The beer itself pours a rich mahogany colour; when held to the light there's a lovely plummy red hue shining through. There's some estery fruity-yeastiness going on in the nose, alongside a subtle vanilla note that you'd expect from a cask-aged beer, and a slightly smoky, treacle-like sweetness underpinning the whole thing.

Gyle 479 is smooth; and very easy to drink. Rounded sweetness, full of cherry and sultana, turns slightly spicier as the sip finishes, and that finish is unexpectedly dry - which makes it surprisingly moreish.

Very seasonal, Gyle 479 is a lovely beer, and I'm happy to see Leeds experimenting a little more like this. Venkatesh certainly seems very proud of his creation - and so he should be. It would seem that Leeds don't plan to let the casks sit idle, so I'll be keeping an eye out in the future. If you're thinking about cracking one open to eat with lunch over the yuletide period, I could'nt help but think that a nice slab of rare beef with horseradish would be a match made in heaven for it; in fact, the more I think about it, the more I think that that's exactly what I'm going to do. It's available from The Brewery, Beer-Ritz (Headingley), or Latitude Wines in Leeds.

Thanks again to Venkatesh, Sam and Michael to taking time out of thier busy day to speak to me yesterday. Hopefully next time I come over it'll be warmer out, and my feet won't be frozen!

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Week in Beer: Heretics and Dogmen, Yarrow and Vinyl

There's been some really interesting beers knocking around in Leeds this week. Whilst in The Adelphi for lunch last Monday I spotted a bright orange pumpclip advertising North Peak Brewing Co's Vicious American Wheat IPA. Wheat? IPA, you say? Count me in. It turned out to be terrifically hopped, all the usual pine-led and grapefruit accented hop bitterness that you'd expect from an IPA, and was in good condition. The addition of wheat however, smoothed things out and rescued the beer from being too astringent, adding sweetness and a bit of body. A good beer - not sure if I could drink a lot of of, but one for hopheads to seek out, for sure. And any pumpclip with a 'Dogman' on it gets my vote. Did anyone else catch this?

Next up, I was pleased to see Sharp's Abbey Christmas Ale (4.6%abv) on. I wasn't expecting a great deal from it given my usual aversion to 'Christmas' beers, but this really was a great pint. Tonnes of caramel and spicy, peppery notes on the nose, the beer has a really big, rounded, fruity body - like a lighter, tasty dark mild on steroids. It's brewed with an Abbey yeast, which does add a little more wild fruitiness to the already moreish proceedings. Easy to drink, and as moreish as Mince Pie, this is one Christmas ale that really is worth trying. It's got Yarrow in it, too, but I couldn't even begin to describe what this even tastes like, so it passed me by completely. A great beer. You can read what frame of mind Stuart Howe was in when he brewed it here. On a personal note, it's nice to see Sharp's beers on offer in Leeds.

Moving back to my more usual haunt for lunch today (and by lunch, I mean Beers), Foley's, I finally got my mitts on Revolution Brewing Co's 45 Porter (4.5%abv). Raisins and biscuity malt dominate the nose as opposed to the smokiness that I, for some reason, was expecting. The beer is light, and has a great balance of creaminess and gentle, dry bitterness on the sip. There's a slight hint of milk chocolate as the sip finishes, and overall it's a very easy-drinking, moreish Porter. An auspicious start for the new boys on the block at Revolutions. See below for an interview with the lads.

And lastly, but by no means least, comes SummerWine's latest foray into beers to make you sit up and take notice, Heretic Black IPA (7.2%abv). Those used to SummerWine's style and the P6 IPA project will immediately recognise the hallmarks; a big, rolling hop attack both on the nose and the sip, although Heretic's hoppiness is only gently fruity and more on the herbal side than a grapefruit bomb. The addition of darker malts does lend a little more sweetness to the body to keep things balanced. I know that one of the aims of the beer was to seem like a regular IPA if you closed your eyes - and I think that James and Andy succeed in this. There is none of the smokiness or chocolate notes that you'd expect from darker malts, and in return you get...well, a great IPA that just happens to be black.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Rooster's GCB (Bottled)

In the Summer I attended a colleague's wedding, which took place in a well-known (but not to be named in case they read this) castle in North Yorkshire. To be honest, I had steeled myself for a day on the wine, but my spirits lifted immensely when I saw that the token cask ale on offer was GCB, brewed by Rooster's.

GCB (or Good Cheer Beer) proved to be exactly that, and by the time the day was over I had switched four (yes, four!) of my lager-guzzling colleagues to sample copious pints of GCB. Not surprisingly, I count this as the major success of the day. And yes, we did drink it all. Because at 3.7%abv, you can. Judging from the label ('Crack open a Conversation'), Rooster's simply want GCB to be a relaxed, easy-going beer to be drunk whilst catching up with buddies or dissecting the weekend's football results. And in that respect, it succeeds; and yes, I'm talking about a session ale.

The dreaded 'S' word. Sessionable beers, especially good ones, should be the ultimate test of the brewer's art; and I disregard any comment around 'Session' automatically equalling 'Boring'. It's a boring argument that has some credence due to the amount of bland beer out there. But show be a good brewer and I will show you at least one good beer in their range that you would describe as 'Sessionable'. Brewers that make boring session beers usually make boring beers, full stop. Anyway - GCB is a vibrant copper-yellow colour, and has a hint of wet straw on the nose, alongside a digestive-biscuit note. On the sip, you've got a surprisingly assertive yet well-rounded flavour; that sweet malt-biscuit body again and a lemon/lime bitterness, which fades out with another pithy, grapefruity note.

All in all, a great beer to stock that fridge with. Rooster's have made waves this year with the likes of Mocha Stouts, Jasmine IPA's and Pumpkin Ales to choose from alongside the usual Pale range. Now, if only we could get more bottles....

The question on the back of the bottle asks: 'Beatles or The Stones?'. My answer? Both. Sorry. what mood I'm. Although Revolver takes some beating any time of the day.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Asahi Black

Asahi Black. A somewhat arcane beer that I'd seen a few times when reading old, old beer books with titles like 'The Worlds Greatest Beers' or 'Beer: An Aficionado's Guide' and usually written by Jackson or Protz circa 1990. I don't mind Asahi, as It goes, as long it's it's colder than cold and there's something suitably fiery food-wise that's it's dousing down. But Black? Never had it.

Not until Foley's Dean alerted me to the Leeds branch of Gerry's, a pretty good wine and whiskey merchant that's opened up in Leeds. Aside from Wine and Whiskey, they have a decent beer range - so drop by if you want to buy some decent beer in Leeds City Centre.

Anyway - back to the beer. Asahi Black. Looked great in the fridge, with that cool gold label, and it somehow fits this weather, being all lager-y but also a bit roasty. And...well, that's about it. With a tawny head and a great red streak coming through the glass it if you hold it the light, there's a slight hint of Liquorice on the nose. There's not much body to speak of, just that dry Asahi sort of graininess. The finish has a little bitter chocolate, and a weird lactic creaminess to finish. It doesn't taste 5%, but you wouldn't want loads of the stuff.

Would I try it again? Probably, yeah, but I wouldn't go out of my way to. Still, that's another one from the vaults that I can 'tick' off.

Gerry's is just next to North Bar; and if you don't know where that is, you shouldn't be reading this blog!

Monday, December 06, 2010

A Chat With Revolutions Brewing Co.

It's not often that concept - rather than the beer - hooks me into a new brewery, but when I landed on the Revolutions Brewing Co site via Twitter a few weeks ago, I found myself reading every page on there.. I liked Mark and Andy's attitude so much that I contacted them for a quick chat. Plus, anyone who listens to Interpol, The Smiths, Decemberists and The National when brewing automatically becomes 'my kind of people'.

Leigh: How did you guys meet? Andy: We met in 2008 at a business seminar. It was quickly obvious we had a number of shared interests, particularly cricket, beer and music. We have managed to combine two of these in our brewery theme. The requirement to get up early on brew days is currently hampering our efforts to stay up late and listen to the Ashes coverage! I worked for 15 years as a transport planning consultant latterly concentrating on demand forecasting work for train companies. It was varied and interesting work but there comes a time when spreadsheets and macro-economic models no longer quite generate the passion. I've travelled quite a bit over the years and seeking out local brews and learning the local word for beer is top of my list of travelling tips.
Mark: Formerly I worked as a Quality Systems Consultant, most notably in the Middle Eastern country of Bahrain, where I was an advisor to their Government. Contrary to common opinion, alcohol is widely available, but 14 years of getting by on draught Heineken / Amstel and cans of Boddingtons / Tetley’s made the all too rare trips to pubs on holidays in Britain a great treat!

How did you get into Brewing?
Mark: Since my return to the UK in 2008, I’ve been more a consumer of beer than a brewer. I have a little experience of kit brewing and recently full mash brewing, but fortunately Andrew has long been a keen home brewer. Andrew: I've been home-brewing for over 20 years and for the past 4-5 years full mash brewing in what has become known as the Headingley nano-brewery. I went on the Brewlab introduction to brewing course in 2007 and the idea for the micro-brewery took shape there – it just took 3 years for the theme to come together!

So what, or who, inspires you to brew?
Mark: We are inspired to brew by the prospect of providing pleasure to beer drinkers. There really is nothing more to it than that. Andrew: Whilst totally agreeing with Mark's comment, I'd add that for me the idea of bringing in ideas from other countries – beer styles and ingredients – is quite inspiring. I feel that there is far too little coverage given to beer choice and style in the quality press and I will feel very satisfied if we can do our bit to broaden the appeal of craft beer/real ale in the UK.

Tell us about your beers, then...Our beers are inspired by and make reference to music through the ages, with our core “Original” beers being named 33, 45 and 78. Primarily however, our beers will be inspired by post punk and new wave music. We feel there are parallels between this music and modern craft brewing – both have changed the landscape of their respective fields. We hope to contribute in a small way to continuing this. We're particularly keen to have dark beers available regularly as it is a style we both enjoy and we believe there is ample scope for interesting experimentation.

Beer Geek time - What's your 'Desert Island' Beer? Mark: Having lived on a desert island for 14 years, I can honestly say I always looked forward to a Timothy Taylor's Landlord on my return to the UK for a holiday. Now having returned permanently, it is rare that I pass on a Thornbridge Jaipur or an Acorn Gorlovka if they’re on the bar. The beer that sticks in my mind as the best I’ve tasted in 2010 would be My Antonia by Birra del Borgo / Dogfish Head. It’s rather rare though, so to take a whole cask of it to my desert island might be construed as rather selfish. Andrew: The first beer I can remember drinking outside the UK and falling in love with was Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. It will always be a favourite. Here in the UK, I too think Acorn Gorlovka is pretty special and in the past few months as Mark and I have been engaged in some serious 'research', Dark Star Hophead and Grainstore Rutland Panther have both registered strongly with me.

How are things going so far then? Good feedback?
It’s being launched this week. We live in hope! What we can say is that the trial brews we've done at home have gone down very well with friends so we're optimistic that we'll get a similar reaction when our commercial brews hit the pumps.

Where can we get our hands on your wares in the next few months?
This week we are launching at The Shoulder of Mutton, Castleford. Also available in York, Huddersfield, Wakefield, elsewhere in Castleford and around Halifax. Once the winter relents we expect to have it in Leeds, Sheffield, Pontefract and Doncaster before Christmas.

Revolutions Brewing Co Launch event is on Thursday evening (9th Dec) at The Shoulder of Mutton in Castleford from 7.30pm though their beers will be on for most of the day. Music will come courtesy of harpist Fiona-Katie Roberts from 8.30pm. Do check out thier website and blog for the full lowdown on thier range and the ethos behind them.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Open It! JW Lees Harvest Ale 2007

Here's my entry for the Open It! weekend being hosted by good buddies Mark and Andy. The concept is simple; find a bottle you've been hoarding, and Open It. Then tell everyone about it. I love it. Plus, we all know beer geeks are hoarders at heart.

JW Lees's 2007 Harvest Ale is my choice. I know that in the grand scheme of things, 2007 is hardly a great vintage - only three years - but in many ways, the beer represents a watershed for me. 2007 was the year that I took the plunge with all this 'Real Ale' that I'd been sniffing around, and finally gave up the Chrome font for the Pumpclip. Not only that, but I wanted to tell people what I'd found; how good these beers were, and why I think they should stop pissing around with Carlsberg and put their money elsewhere. A rabid technophobe, I discovered Blogger, and the rest is history.
Buying beer then meant going up to BeerRitz, and stocking up. If I had never seen it before, it went in the basket. Although leaning heavily towards US brews in the early days, this bottle caught my eye. It had a nice-looking Autumnal label. It looked a little...hand-crafted. Plus, it had a date on it; I knew then this meant it was special. So in the basket it went, and before long it was sitting in the Beer store, ready to be enjoyed. Or not. Thousands of beers have shared JW's living space since then. Compatriots from all over the world; in, out, in, out...JW must have been either really pissed off, or breathing a sigh of relief at being spared one more time. In truth, I couldn't open him -he was from one of those nascent, cherished trips to the BeerRitz where I knew nothing. Fast forward to Manchester, earlier this year. Having a chinwag with Mark over Marble's wares in The Marble Arch, and discovering he had an even older Harvest Ale. I decided pretty much there that it was time to Open It.

So - a snowday yesterday and a free evening to relax and enjoy the beer. Was it worth the wait? Yeah, of course it was. Truly seasonal; the 2007 Harvest Ale poured toffee-amber, without much of a head. As some of the yeast settled, I took a whiff and got a noseful of alcohol warmth and residual sweetness; toffee, raisin, biscuit, vanilla - in fact, at one point I convinced myself it smelled of Bakewell Tart.

On the sip it's much smoother than expected; a thick mouthfeel was offset by a faint prickle of carbonation which lifted the beer away from being too cloying. Like I said, the taste is filled with masses of Dundee Cake and Brown Sugar, with hints of smoke, a touch of cherry and a faint hit of chocolate - or is that the vanilla again? Despite its' strength, it remained balanced and easy to sip and with the snow falling outside this made an excellent companion to the evening.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Black Sheep's Porter; Copper Dragon's Three Kings and Stouty Ham Besides...

I've been watching the progress of Black Sheep's Wooly Jumper Porter (4.0abv) for a good month or so now; simply due to the fact that they don't brew seasonals, specials, or one-offs all that often. Thanks to the wonder of Twitter I found out that Veritas in Leeds has snagged some, so I trudged through the snow on Tuesday to sample it. I'm glad I did. It's a great beer; although I must admit, I didn't really know what to expect. However, I'm pleased to report that Black Sheep have done a really good job. When held up to the light there's a lovely red hue coming through the black, as all good porters should have (if you ask me).

Through the tan collar there's not a great deal going on in the nose apart from some lovely woody smokiness; which sort of sets you up for a sweet beer - but it's not. There's a little almond-biscuityness in there, the aforementioned hint of woodsmoke, and a nice, dry bite at the end. Kudos to Veritas, too - the pint was in tip-top condition too - very clean, very moreish. All in all, it's a really good beer, and one that I hope Black Sheep sell enough of to make it a regular; I think it would be a valuable new addition to their tried and tested, familiar range. Give it a try if you see it about.

Another of the 'bigger' Yorkshire brewers who are adding a new seasonal offering to their range is Copper Dragon, who have rolled out Three Kings Ale across Yorkshire this week. I've not tried it yet, but I hear it's inspired by German Altbier and Red Ales rather than the usual 'Christmas Pudding in a Glass' efforts. It sounds good and certainly worth a try, so if anyone hears of any being spotted around my manor, give me a shout. Finally, staying in Yorkshire, I've been told Lishman's Butchers of Ilkley have cured one of their Christmas Hams in Ilkley's Stout this year - so if you're up that way (visiting Booth's, perhaps?), then drop in and see if they've got any left.