Monday, June 27, 2011

Moving House: The Good Stuff 2011

Well, it's happened. After falling in love with it whilst using it for Culture Vultures, I've moved The Good Stuff onto Wordpress.

My new address is and you can check it out here.

If you'd be as kind as to update your links, that'd be grand.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Thornbridge and Dark Star's Coalition Old Ale

Brewed in 2009, Coalition Old Ale (7%abv) is the result of a collaboration between the Thornbridge and Mark Tranter from the ever-excellent Dark Star . I first tried this beer a few months back, at one of our fabled bottle-swaps, courtesy of those kind chaps Andy and James of SummerWine Brewery. As I sat and tasted mine, I was very aware of how I'd probably need another chance to try it to really form an opinion of it; I certainly wasn't expecting the kind of beer that it actually is. Not sure why, I just expected something darker, smokier, and stronger in alcohol.

Luckily, Hopzine Rob and Baron Orm rushed to my aid, and I managed to get my hands on another bottle - and I'm glad I did. Coalition Old Ale is an exercise in subtlety; a real class act. Firstly, there's that colour - hazy Amber, bright and...well, vibrant. Not the look of a beer dormant since 2009. The lasting, substantial head is the only giveaway to the age; slightly tobacco-hued, not quite white. The taste is softly sweet, with only the slightest hint of resinous wood (pine?) floating around underneath.

There's a little spice - Cinnamon, perhaps - and then comes along those flavours you'd more typically associate with 'Old Ales'; some raisin, some bitter cherry, a hint of almond. The finish ramps up the bitterness, and the beer ends up with a really satisfying Orange note, drying the palate and making it a surprisingly moreish beer. The alcohol is only gently warming, and Coalition is well worth seeking out if you can. A beer to be sipped and savoured, for sure.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Philly Cheese Steak Adventures

...Despite spending at least one drinking session a week at Mr Foley's Cask Ale House, it occurred to me recently that I don't really drink from the fridges. I couldn't explain why; I do in other joints, but that row of pumpclips usually takes up 110% of my attention. At the same time, Dean had been recommending their new Philly Cheese Steak (strips of steak, cheese, bell pepper on a baguette roll) ; crafted lovingly by new-ish chef Tyler Kiley. Fast-forward a few weeks and you've got me and my erstwhile drinking buddy (and wingman on many excursions you may read about on TGS) Chris, and a clear mission; find a match in those fridges for a Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich.
So, we rocked up and took four bottles, with four clearly different styles; Goose Island's 312 Urban Wheat, Odell's 5 Barrel Pale Ale, Victory's Prima Pils, and Sierra Nevada's Torpedo. The food arrived, and we got stuck in.

Although Goose Island's 312 Urban Wheat (4,2%abv) was pleasant enough, it faded into nothingness when faced with this kind of food. More a 'Wheaty Pale Ale' than a true Wheat beer in my opinion, it quenched our thirst alright - but did nothing to enhance or cut the food. We finished the 312 quickly; it's such an easy-drinking beer and one I drink a lot of in the Summer. Give me this and a bowl of Calamari or Fried Whitebait laced with Lemon, and I'd be in heaven.

Victory's Prima Pils (5.3%abv) was just weird. It claims to be a 'Pils' but for me hits nowhere near the mark - it's refreshing enough when served cool but has so much flowery hoppiness up-front that it just bulldozes your palate as opposed to the classy, herbal hop attack that good Pilsners or Lagers have. It accompanied the amazing chips well enough, (more on those later) but in this set-up it just didn't work at all. I've enjoyed this on Keg before; but the bottles have just left me cold. Chris agreed, and I actually finished his!

Luckily, Odell's 5-Barrel Pale (5.2%abv) saved the day. Basically a standard, well-brewed US Pale, the sweet, boiled candy-led body matched the cheddar and beef perfectly; the caramelised bell pepper finding perfect bedfellow in this sweet, softly hopped beer. Nothing overpowered; nothing fought for your attention. That's one of the great things about matching beer and food; beer previously thought slightly standard just find another dimension. We sank into our chairs, chatted with Tyler and patted our full bellies.

Sierra Nevada's Torpedo (7.2%abv) rounded things off nicely. Very much a classic US IIPA, it's closeness to the Odell (in layman's terms, a 'hoppier version of') made it an excellent partner; almost a sister to the food and beer. It gave a strong, sweet closing note to the evening. I personally think Torpedo is probably the best overall beer SN have made for some time; a welcome addition to their stable.

The food was great, too. Tyler's a talented chef when it comes to tasty, unfussy bar food packed with flavour. He's finding his feet in the beer world, too, broadening his horizons as he goes when it comes to beers from the UK (he's just started his own blog). At the end of the day, any chef that understands that killer home-made chips are key to any pub's food offering knows his stuff. Do drop by and check out the chips at least; triple-cooked sticks of joy. And if you try the Philly Cheese Steak; go for an Odell 5 Barrel and finish off with a Torpedo. Or don't; go on your own beer and food matching journey and let me know how you get on.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Quick Pea and Ham Risotto with Birra Del Borgo Genziana

I love Risottos. Cheap, easy to make, they can be as complex as you want them to be; a quick storecupboard supper, or a sumptous feast to be labored over on the stove-top. This week, time was at a premium, so quick and easy it was. Pea and Ham, that old classic, doesn't need boiled ham hock to make it perfect.
All you need do is make sure you have some good quality, off-the-bone ham left over that can be shredded. Make your regular Risotto base by coating Arborio Rice in butter and olive oil and stirring over a low heat until translucent. When this happens, simply pour chicken stock over, bit-by-bit, until it gets creamy and begins to look like Risotto.
Here's where you modify; shred the ham in, and add a handful of frozen peas. Let the meat warm and the peas cook; and season with black pepper and mint. The mint is essential, as it lifts everything up and gives this Risotto a lightness. Grate in some Parmagiano Regianno, and a hit of black pepper. Finally, stir in a knob of butter. All done.

We enjoyed this with a bottle of Birra Del Borgo's Genziana (6.2%abv), which is a funny beer to categorise; the word 'herbal' was the first that sprang to mind. Saison-esque and wheaty, with an estery profile, it's refreshing and slightly citrussy, but with a distinctive Herbal note within that matched really well with the Mint in the Risotto. Sweet, it's one of those beers that probably comes to life a little better with food that without.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Lightside/DarkSide: St Austell Proper Job & Proper Black

It's taken me a while to post this up; I just had to wait to do a side-by-side comparison when a brewer makes a light and dark version of the same beer. St Austell, that Cornish bedrock of the eponymous Tribute, have always had a few secret weapons up their sleeve; Admiral's Ale is a fantastically complex drop, and you'll find a secret fan club for Proper Job.

What makes Proper Job (5.5%abv) a little special is the fact that it's almost unashamedly non-commercial; a truly English IPA that manages to be both tasty and assertive enough to satisfy traditionalists and hop-heads alike. There's smooth, wheaty malt, sure, but over the top there's a marmalade-heavy juiciness; and on top of that richness comes zingy grapefruit notes both in the aroma and the taste. The bitterness is, as the label states for a change, powerful, and supremely rising in it's assertiveness. This is not a crowd-pleaser; Proper Job manages to tread that line between mainstream and 'different' very well indeed.

Proper Black (6%abv) arrived to very little fanfare when the world was going crazy for Black IPA; and again, there's a great balance here. Tasting the two side-by-side almost makes me want the same beer but different colours (even the label is a negative version of the original), but Proper Black manages to be even more assertive, if you ask me. Black as night, the body of the beer is massively different to it's lighter sister. Massive roasted notes, milk chocolate, drying coffee (Latte? Espresso?) give the beer a full yet rounded body; and all those bitter-end-of-the-scale flavours give PB a dry, dry finish. To counter this, the hop profile seems almost twice a big as PJ; Grapefruit upon Grapefruit upon Orange pith. Big, Brash and Powerful; Proper Black is one beer not to be messed with.

Whilst we are on the Black IPA channel, Buxton's wonderful Black Rocks is on at North Bar this weekend, alongside Moor Top, Kinder Sunset and the awesome Axe Edge IPA. Put this alongside Proper Job and you've got a very different prospect: BR is much, much fruitier; tropical fruits, Lychee and Strawberry dominate, and the body of the beer is light enough to lift those up but roasty enough to make sure you know it's a dark beer. Fruity, Smooth and with a real depth, Black Rocks is one of the most balanced, drinkable BIPA's I've tried.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

LS6 Beer Festival

...Just a quick note to remind you that this weekend sees the second LS6 Beer Festival in The Left Bank, Burley/Hyde Park (depending how you look at it). It's all in aid of charity - Village To Village - and has a great beer selection of truly local beers from the likes of Burley Street, Ilkley, Rooster's, Abbeydale and Beartown amongst others.

There are bands playing throughout the day, and it's very much a 'Music and Beer Festival', so if you like to see local talent thrashing away with your pint then you know where to be this weekend. The website advises tickets and arriving early. Directions, the Beer list and Band Roster can be found here....

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Copper Dragon Conqueror

I'd been hearing incredibly positive whispers about Copper Dragon's new beer for a few weeks now, so when it popped up on the bar at Veritas, I had to get my hands on some.

Conqueror (3.6%), on the surface, looks like your bog-standard pale ale; tight white head and soft amber colour, vaguely medieval pump clip*. But when you lift it to your lips, you realise it's a whole lot more. Mango, Lychee and even a hint of Strawberry float up your nose, and on the taste, Conqueror reveals itself to be a wonderfully balanced, supremely quaffable Pale Ale, with a seriously clean finish. There's so much flavour for such a low abv, and the it's simply a top-notch beer.
We all know that Oliver Fozard will soon be (if not already) ensconced in his new role at Rooster's; his parting gift to Copper Dragon turns out to be their finest yet. I'm one person hoping Conqueror hangs around untouched and untCheck Spellingweaked; and I'm sure after you drink it, you will too. It's on at Veritas now.

*And yes, I know it's William the Conqueror. But you get my point.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sausage and Bean Stew & Pelforth Brune

Christ, where did that sun go? Yorkshire's been battered by winds, rain and the air has turned almost Autumnal; fresh, crisp and decidedly chilly. Pavlovian, almost, thoughts turn to heartier fare than I should really be eating at this time of the year.

To whip up a quick Sausage & Bean Stew, begin by sweating down a large onion in some Olive oil and a knob of butter to avoid burning. Add to that some lardons or chopped, smoked Bacon. When the bacon has cooked a little, add a touch more oil and some Sausagemeat. I recommend popping two types out of their skins; a rough-textured, herby one - such as Lincolnshire, and then a spicy one; any Tuscan, Merguez or Chilli sausages will do. Split out into little balls, and cook them until they brown. Finally, add some chopped Mushrooms.

When the Sausage is cooked, add a couple of tins of Chopped Tomatoes, 2 tins of Butter Beans (or indeed any beans you like) and stir well. Add 5 large cloves of minced or pressed Garlic, a squeeze of tomato puree, salt, black pepper, and some chopped Sage. Simmer until the sauce has thickened to your liking and serve with some suitably Rustic bread.

To drink, we put away a couple of bottles of Pelforth Brune (6.5%abv). Pelforth were founded in 1914 in France, but now resides comfortably in Heineken's stable, alongside the likes of Affligem and Zagorka. Get past the impossibly-cute 25cl bottle and the even-more-impossibly cute Pelican label, and you've got a sweet Belgian Brown ale, with Vanilla, Oak and Roast coffee on the nose. It's a smooth, very sweet beer, with the same hints of oak in the taste but with a slightly drying, black-cherry note at the end of the sip. It's not massively refined by any means, but a pleasant enough beer and more than a match for the robust flavours of the stew. There's a Blonde in the range too, but I found that incredibly thin and bland; not The Good Stuff at all!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Kirkstall Land Award

....Just a quick note to let you all know that Kirkstall Brewery's Black Band Porter was crowned 'Beer of The Festival' at the Skipton Beer Festival last weekend. Rightly so; it's a fantastic beer, well balanced and massively tasty. Well done.

I'm sure this will be a regular occurrence for Dave Sanders and his crew, and a sign of things to come for such a new brewery to win an accolade so soon after their inception. You can get Kirkstall's beers at Mr Foley's and North if in Leeds. Let me know if I've missed any other outlets out.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Thwaites Indus IPA

Thwaites continue on their journey with new beers and styles with Indus IPA (4.6%abv). Named after a ship that very well may have journeyed eastwards whilst Daniel Thwaites was alive, Indus may not satisfy fans of US-Style Hop-Bomb IPA's, but there's plenty to recommend.
Brassy Amber in colour, it's a vibrant, well-conditioned bottle. The nose, as you'd expect, is Citrus-led but with Orange or Tangerine being the dominant note. That softness continues into the sip; a well-rounded toffee sweetness that is stopped from being slightly too sweet by another bitter Orange/Lemon sharpness hit at the end; a full, sweet finish rather than drying.

Thwaites' beers are usually well-made and solid; Indus IPA is another beer that hits that mark, and is definitely worth a look.

Apologies for the stock picture. Strangely - and it's something I have never done before - I deleted the original picture before use. Must be getting old.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Dinner With Thornbridge

...So last night we dined with with Thornbridge at The Cross Keys. Given how awesome the Flying Dog event was a few years back, I've been waiting for one of these nights to come up again, and after missing the last few, I was pleased that Thornbridge had been lined up. The staff at The Cross Keys do these events very well; pleasant, knowledgeable staff, and fantastic food. As the courses came out, we were guided along by Caolan Vaughn, one of Thornbridge's brewers.

We kicked off the evening savouring Jaipur (or 'Jaips', as I have been led to believe is the correct name for it 'on the street'). Smoked Nidderdale Trout and Chive Mousse, nestled on a small pastry case, provided some light snackage, giving a little more sweetness to Jaipur's (5.8%abv) wonderfully rounded, soft bitterness. I always find smoked fish a bit tricky to match beer with, and it certainly provided a little inspiration.
Tender-as-you-like-it Asparagus with a Mint Hollandaise and a Poached Egg arrived at our table next, and again the accompanying Wild Swan (3.5%) proved a simple yet effective bedfellow; lower in complexity and strength than Jaipur and working well with the subtle mint notes of the Hollandaise. I'm a fan of Wild Swan; a great quaffer when the weather gets a little warmer.

Chilled Cucumber Soup didn't hit the mark for me; it was over-seasoned and nowhere near cold enough. Luckily, Chiron (5%abv) provided an ample distraction. Again, one of those simple-yet-perfectly-balanced Pale Ales that Thornbridge do so well, it was on excellent form; a slight Orange Zest coming in late to provide a bit of a different angle to the bitterness.

The ace in the pack was undoubtedly the Slow Roasted Pork Belly with Crushed Peas. Served with a scattering of perfectly crisp Skin, sitting on a bed of Mashed Potato and slathered in Honey and Mustard Sauce, it cried out for an excellent beer to go with it. The pork was meltingly tender, and the salty crackling and sweet-yet-piquant sauce worked wonders. Colorado Red (5.9%abv) proved to be the perfect partner for it.
This is a great, great beer. Brewed with Doug Odell, it does a Trans-Atlantic feel about it; Rich Red colour, that trademark US sweetness in the body; all toffee, hard candy and brown sugar, but finished with a really peppery, almost noble hop aroma as opposed to the citrus hop attack you almost expect. The body's not as rich in mouthfeel as you think, and it's incredibly easy to drink. I do feel that Odell's beers - although generally excellent - are moderately 'safe' and a little 'straight down the middle' - and CR is a great little twist on their style, something a little different. Colorado Red and the Pork were made for each other, and it truly hit the spot. I almost don't want to say it; but I'd really like to try CR on Keg, too.

After all that sweetness, a little Lemon Tart freshened things up; only to serve as prelude for the main dessert: Bitter Chocolate Mousse served with a Honey Biscuit, and washed down with Bracia (9%abv). I say 'washed down' but that's not entirely accurate; one doesn't 'wash down' Bracia. The chocolate mousse served only to enhance the rich, bitter chocolate notes of the beer, and the Honey Biscuit just put a sweet edge to that slightly smoked, slightly phenolic note that it carries. Glass-coatingly thick, Bracia put a rich, decadent end on the evening. I certainly slept well last night, and that's high praise indeed.

Thanks to all involved for a great evening.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Greek Marinated Chicken; Or How To Have A Virtual Holiday

I'm not going on holiday this year. This saddens me deeply - but the urge to move house means that all the usual holiday funds are being ploughed into that. Whichever way you look at it, stumping up for Solicitor's fees and endless tins of paint is simply not fun.
We normally go to the Med; Greece is a particular favourite, with Samos and Kefalonia being the best recent Grecian breaks. It's the food that gets us; insanely fresh, hearty, tasty, rustic fare, served in the sun in harbour-side tavernas, with a warm breeze blowing away memories of work. Bliss. The simple blue-and-white Taverna, the chilled lager and simple, slightly flinty white wine is my first-class ticket to relaxation.

Last weekend, I made a simple supper to enjoy in the garden; the weather wasn't great but it was warm enough to sit out. Chicken pieces had been marinated in Olive Oil, Oregano, Black Pepper and a little Mint; five or so hours in the fridge. Shoved onto Skewers, these went onto the smoking-hot Griddle-Pan for a couple of minutes each side until they turned slightly golden and sticky. Doused liberally - and I mean liberally - in lip-stinging sea salt and lemon juice, we cracked open a couple of ice-cold Mythos and chowed down.

The first bite; the crunch of salt, the bite of lemon, the succulent, herbed chicken and the smooth, cold lager. I close my eyes. For a second - a fleeting, blissful second - I'm there. I'm on my precious, much -needed, Greek holiday. The power of food and beer to transport should never be underestimated.

It might surprise you to read me enthusing about Mythos but it's one of my favourite beers simply due to the reasons above; the context in which I enjoy it in. I know I'm not alone either, there's been love for Mythos for the same reasons from Mark and the Real Ale Reviews Chaps. So there.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Black Sheep Imperial Russian Stout

I finally managed to get in gear and taste Black Sheep's Imperial Russian Stout, which has been (and probably still is - just) on at Veritas on Great George Street. At 8.5% abv, it's not quite on the massive 'Imperial' side of things, nor is it your average bar-top stout, but I must say I enjoyed it.
On the nose there's hints of cherry and smoke, along with a decent 'oakiness'. That smoke dies somewhat on the taste, but the oak and fruit remains, with with fruit coming more to fore; raisin, almond, and digestive biscuits all battling it out before that drying coffee and black chocolate note comes in at the end to wrap things up.

The alcohol is up front - it does taste 8.5% - but that's only a minor detraction for me. I enjoyed the beer; and as with their Porter , I'm really pleased to see Black Sheep branching out. I hope we see more of this sort of thing from them. Oh, and by the way - the pump clip rocks. Nice artwork, Black Sheep, thumbs up from me!

I wasn't the only one to enjoy the beer - here's Ghostie's take on proceedings. Oh, and by the way - if you choose to eat at Veritas, I can recommend the Duck Liver Pate. It's Awesome.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Skipton Beer Festival and Kirkstall Brewery

The weekend of the 19th of May sees the Skipton Beer Festival, one of my favourites. Why? Well, it's small, but perfectly formed; and when you're done tasting and ticking (if that's your thing), you can grab a pork pie or 4 and head down to The Narrow Boat, my favourite Market Town Tavern. The Beer list is here, and I'll take a moment to point out what I'd be looking for (assuming you're interested, which you must be, otherwise you wouldn't be reading, right?). Durham's Magic IPA is one of my beers of the year, so that's on the list. As is Dark Horse's Hetton Pale; a fantastically balanced-yet-rich pale ale. Five Towns are also always worth a looky.

But the main Brewery I'll point out is Kirkstall Brewery, Dave Sanders' (Elland) new venture. I paid a flying visit to the brewery this week, and Dave has high hopes for Kirkstall. Their Porter is one to try - wonderfully balanced, swirling with milk chocolate and drying coffee, and stupidly drinkable. Kirkstall's beers are filtering through this week, and Foley's and North will be serving them this week at some point.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Turkey & Brie Turnovers with Gadds' No 3

These little beauties are a little twist on the classic Turkey and Brie sandwich, and take no time at all to make if you've got some pre-made or frozen puff pastry. They're also a great way to use up leftovers. First, Heat your oven to 200c. Roll your pastry out onto a floured surface, into whatever shape you like - triangles or circles will work best.
Then,take your leftover Roast Turkey or cooked, sliced Turkey, and lay in the middle of the pastry. On top of that lay some thick slices of Brie, and then finish that with some slices of either cooked, cold, bacon, or smoked cooked ham.Fold over the pastry to make your pasty shape, then crimp the edges and egg-wash. Bake until golden, and serve with such treats as Chilli Jam, Spicy Chutney or Sweet Onion Relish.

As for a cheeky beer to wash this down with, Gadds' No 3 hits the mark. This classic Pale Ale (5%abv) is brilliant-gold in colour, there's that familiar English-hopped green-earthiness going on on the nose and finish which doesn't overpower the smoky/sweet food; the beer is bright enough just to cleanse the palate but has a decent enough malt backbone to remain satisfying. Gadds' beers are generally excellent, and I find No 3 to be a really versatile, simple, beer that goes with a number of dishes. Do check them out if you haven't done so already.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

One To Watch: RedWillow Brewery

OK; full disclosure time. I met Toby McKenzie (Head Honcho at RedWillow) last year, when the brewery was in its infancy, and subsequently ended up helping him out with various tasting notes for his (then large and very much experimental) batch of beers. It's the first time I'd done anything like that and was a fun project to do.

Even more fun, however, was seeing the brewery take shape and grow, see those first beers get refined and then finally brewed up and sent out. Seeing as though RedWillow's beers are now trickling over the Pennines into Yorkshire and beyond, I felt that now was the time to drum up some more support. Ageless Double IPA (7.2abv) is now gracing the bar at Mr Foley's, and I understand The Grove have some, too. I needn't have worried about the end product not being as good as those test brews; it's even better. Thick, lasting head, a lovely burnished-golden colour and a thick mouthfeel that gives way to a blast of Citrus that lies somewhere between Mango and Pineapple; and the finish is long and thirst-quenching. Way more drinkable than the 7.2%abv would suggest, it's a wonderful beer and I strongly suggest you go try it now. Because ultimately, the more people we get to drink it, the better it sells, and the better it sells, the more we will get. Simple.

The blog is called The Good Stuff. No matter in what capacity I've helped out, this is not a case of nepotism and that's why I came clean at the start - Ageless DIPA is a wonderful beer, and knowing the kinds of people who read this blog, I'm sure you'll agree. It would be a crime for me to shy away from ever featuring Toby's work here; especially given the hard work Toby and his family have put in, all in the name of great beer.

If you've not done so already, check out RedWillow's blog. It's one of those rare beasts; updated regularly, honest, and interesting.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Pints & Prose on Culture Vultures

...If, like many of us, you enjoy a beer in a quiet pub with a good read rather than a mobile phone, do head over to Culture Vultures and check out a piece I've just posted there in collaboration with Jess Haigh.
Do let us know what you think by way of a comment in the discussion, and let us know you're out there. By the way, Tavern Tales is the page I edit for CV, and is primarily interested in the social and historical aspects of Pubs in Yorkshire. Do let me know if you'd like to get involved by contributing.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Durham Something Blue

Ok, it's a little early for a 'Royal Wedding' beer review, but given that I'm going to be in Liverpool on a stag do all weekend, I may indeed miss the chance. Although I'm not interested at all in 'Royal Wedding Specials', Durham's caught the eye for a number of reasons.
Firstly; a 10%abv Barley Wine is not your average re-badged, pun-titled offering. Neither does it have an awful label (I'm looking at you, Castle Rock). In fact, you wouldn't even know it's a 'Royal Wedding Beer' unless you bought it and read the tiny note on the label. So - What's it like? Well, if I had to boil it down to one word it's this: Powerful. Hopped entirely with Fuggles - which is interesting enough - this is an absolute bruiser. Dark Amber in colour, there's a massive alcohol nose, some faint citrus, and a little spice; more akin to a Christmas cake cinnamon/clove sort of vibe than serious heat. On the sip, it's tongue-coating and sweet; rounded enough but quite heavy. There's more of that cakiness, but the finish has a strong undercurrent of Orange and Tangerine. Finally, that alcohol smacks you in the mouth at the end.
It's not a bad beer at all; but it's big, big, big and one for sipping, for sure. However, I take my hat off to Durham for not cashing in using all the typical hooks, and brewing a beer that would sit alongside their core range to celebrate the nuptuals.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

More Bang For Your Buxton: Buxton Brewery Pt2

Ok, ok, enough with the puns. Time to crack on with more Buxton appreciation. Axe Edge (6.8%abv) is now an award winner - it picked up 'Best Strong Ale' in this years Bradford Beer Festival, which goes some in way in boosting the image of tastes of us Northern Folk. To be honest, it would only have been a matter of time before it did scoop a plaudit, simply because it's a great beer. The hop profile tells you all you need to know; it's like a great big tropical fruit juice party in the top of the glass courtesy of loads of Amarillo, Citra and Nelson Sauvin. Lychee, Mango, Strawberry, Grapefruit and sweet Orange dominate the nose, and yet despite it's heft in terms of abv, the sip is deceptively light, with only a slight warming alchohol note coming through late on. It's well balanced and fruity, refreshing and substantial; a great beer simply. The bottle I tried contained some really fresh beer too - the best aroma on a beer I've tried since these.

Axe Edge's little brother, Moor Top (3.6%abv) is a corker too. Again, the boundaries of 'Pale Ale' lead you to believe you've tried them all, but along comes another one that just knocks you over and makes you appreciate simple, yet tasty beers. Straw pale in colour, the nose is pure Grapefruit, as you'd expect for a Chinook-hopped beer. The body is smooth and light, although it finishes crisp and with a surprisingly high, late, Grapefruit/Lemon bitterness. As with the other pales, Moor Top is a long, long beer and I could happily drink about 6 of them in the sun. Gimme More.

This is my first set of Buxton Ales, and they've really been a pleasure to drink. As a person, I like the juxtapostition of complex flavours, but carried out well so that each element stands out; Buxton certainly tick that box. Easy drinking, light beers with complex noses are the way to go with Pale Ale, and Axe Edge and Moor Top will probably go on to do great things. Buxton's latest Beer, Black Rocks, is garnering interest too (as you can see from the comments in Part 1 below), and the lads are brewing at full capacity, which is always good to see. Keep an eye out.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Buxton Stops Here: Buxton Brewery

This weekend I've been enjoying beers from Buxton Brewery. Although still a relatively young outfit, they are brewing at capacity and quickly collecting plaudits and awards as they go. Head Brewer James Kemp used to brew for Thornbridge, and he's clearly shown himself as a brewer with one eye on tradition, and the other on progression. What you end up with is a really strong core range of beers, with some gentle twists along the way. That's a quality I really like in brewing.

First up was Kinder Sunset (5.0% abv), named after the Kinder area of the Peaks. Red-Mahogany in colour, there's a complex aroma going on; slight hints of almond-cakiness topped off with a note of Pine. That Pine aspect carries on to the taste - Kinder Sunset has a digestive-biscuit body that suggests sweetness but actually finishes grassy, Piney and with an almost minty, herbal note. There's a tart, sour-cherry notes just running under everything that makes Kinder Sunset a much more complex, refreshing beer than the 'Traditional ale' tag it has on the label. Lovely.

SPA (Special Pale Ale) features hop du jour Citra entirely; and in many ways you know what you're going to get. Perfect for this kind of weather, SPA (4.1%abv) is uber-pale, with a much thinner mouthfeel that the Kinder Sunset. All that Citra gives you sharp, pithy tartness with a strong Lemon and Tangerine aroma and taste. It's surprisingly bitter for it's strength, too - the high bitterness hits the back of the tongue and and makes you want another sip. A long, long pale ale that hit the spot perfectly as we ate in the sun this weekend.

Stay tuned for some more Buxton madness over the next couple of days. If you want to keep up to date, you can follow Buxton on Twitter and Facebook; jump over to their blog for more details.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ossett Treacle Stout

I love this stuff, I really do. It's got tonnes of latte-like coffee creaminess on the nose, which is followed by a more intense coffee hit. Within the deceptively rounded body there's that sweet milk-chocolate note, which ends up super-sweet, courtesy of the treacle -and a slight hint of liquourice lurking in the background. You really can taste the bonfire-toffee treacle in there, but the red-fruity, slightly dry finish stops it being too cloying. If you're after a fantastic stout - one that packs a lot of flavour into a modest 5.0% abv, this beer is for you. Lovely.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Say Goodbye To Tetley's With Leeds

Leeds Brewery will be saying goodbye to Tetley's by holding a Festival at their flagship pub, The Midnight Bell, on the 10th-12th of June. As well as food and music, Leeds will be brewing some one-off beers for the event -including one that can be named by you before the festival. Not only that, but Leeds will be holding a beer trail through the city on the 3rd-10th June where you can pick up a card, wind your way through the pubs of Leeds drinking their wares, and enter into a prize draw.

You can keep updated with Leeds's plans as they prepare for life after Tetley's (big plans, I'm sure) here. Tickets for the festival will be available from the Brewery's pubs (The Bell, PIN, The Garden Gate & The Brewery Tap). Whilst on Leeds, the kit at The Brewery Tap seems to be firing up again, and there are currently a range of single-hopped beers coming through for your tasting pleasure at the aforementioned bar. Do try.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Smutty Saturday

I had a Smutty saturday yesterday. I've been curious about Smuttynose for ages - ever since I saw their label in 'Beer' by Michael Jackson years ago. There's something quintessentially American about that cute little Seal-and-Mountain device that just makes me smile. So, imagine my joy when their wares showed up on these shores. I think the labels are brilliant - simple to the point of absurdity, and almost Lynchian in the way they depict small-town Americana.

The Beer? Oh yeah. The Beer. Well, first up was their famous Old Brown Dog (6.5%abv). It pours a lovely shade of Auburn, and there's a familiar plummy aroma that turns out to be the first thing you taste on the sip. The body is full and rounded, with some cinnamon-cakiness (yes, that's an official term), raisin, and an ever-so-slight touch of smoke hanging around in the background. The hop attack is only gentle and noble at that, which is good because OBD has a light, lovely balance between sweet and dry. It's a lovely, lovely beer and fans of sweeter English browns such as Worthington's Celebration or Theakston's Old Peculiar should give this a go.

South Island Single (5.8%) really hit the spot with the sun streaming down as it did yesterday. Belgian - Pale Hybrids are an idea that I really like, and this one is different to the sweeter ones I've had in the past, but successful. There's distinctly Hefe notes on the nose; coriander seed, lemon zest and an estery note that you'd want to be there. The aroma actually builds the beer up to much more complex than it actually is; what you get on the sip is a refreshing blonde with a dry finish and that lightness that seems to be a Smutty trademark. Good job too; I could probably drink quite a few of these.

The Final beer in this trio is pure and simple IPA (6.9%abv). Light amber in colour, there's lemon and lychee on the nose, finishing with a hit of Pine - as you'd expect from a Simcoe-hopped beer. The body is certainly big and sweet; juicy malt to balance the hops. Again, even a little Pine comes through in the taste, as the bitterness builds up to a fresh, clean, citrus finish. In many ways the IPA is personification of what I perceive the Smutty style to be - big on flavour but surprisingly light and drinkable on the sip. The two guys on the label, chilling on their lawn with some beer, is an apt image to use.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Crack Out The Pales!

I've been decorating during the last few weeks; a truly, truly heinous job that I genuinely loathe. Even worse is when the sun decides to come out as it has done in the last few weeks. The only thing that gets me through evenings of painting ceilings and glossing skirting is the thought of a throat-cooling Pale Ale chilling in the fridge to revive a flagging soul. Here's the pick of a bunch that I've been enjoying.

First up, Theakston's Lightfoot. Named after a Brewery in Masham that the family took over in 1919 (rather than Gordon), Lightfoot (4.1%abv) is sunshine in a bottle. Straw in colour and pleasingly smooth due to a good dollop of wheat in the Grain Bill, this Blonde has cereal and digestive biscuits in the body before mellowing out to a sweet, lemon-tinged finish. Lightfoot is stupidly easy drinking and a welcome departure for Theakston's. It's good to see one of Yorkshire's larger breweries bringing out new wares (it should start appearing on bars fairly soon, I am told) and I start the vote now for Lightfoot to remain a permanent brew. Try it.

Plumbing similar furrows is Wye Valley's HPA (Hereford Pale Ale). At 4%abv this is even easier-going that the Theakston's, and uses only Styrian Goldings. Lemon sherbert and a touch of tangerine round off the nose, but the body is as light as a feather. I really rued not saving this one for some Calamari or Barbecued Chicken - this is a perfect pale for subtle, sunshiny foods.

Titanic's Iceberg (4.1%abv) is advertised as a Wheat beer; although as with the other two, it's not Wheat as you'd expect. Pale Ale with a hefty touch of Wheat is much more accurate, but what sets Iceberg apart is the hoppiness - it's a bitter beer, no doubt about it. A smooth, vaguely almond-laced body just rises and rises with citrussy bitterness that gives it a long finish. It actually seems a great deal more aggressive than it's draught counterpart - but that could just be me. Clear glass being used in bottles is not something I like to see, though.

It's not all bottled action, though. Last week I got to try a good few of Liverpool Organic's beers. Again, perfect for this time of year, Rakau displayed a clean, firm body and a sweet, graperfuit/melon finish. Shipwreck IPA (6.5%abv) was golden in colour, with a lasting head, and masses of sweet malt in the body which offset the generous hop attack at the end of the sip - slightly peppery, slightly spicy, then finishing off with the familiar tropical fruit flavours. I really enjoyed this, and highly recommend it.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Don't Fear The Smoke

The Fear. We all have it; we all get it - something, often nondescript, that just sets our arm-hairs on edge. Spiders. Fox News. Grant Holt. Yes, they all rank up there, but for me, Smoked Beer was the daddy.

When 2011 came to be, I decided that this was all utter nonsense - some beers I'm capable of just not getting, of course, but there's all the signs were that I should love Smoked Beer. I love smoke; mostly on meat, or cheese - and especially fish - I'll take it, please. There's something about the depth of flavour that smoke adds that has always appealed. So I bit the bullet: bought one of the big daddies -Schlenkerla Rauchbier - and got stuck in.

Ok, I cheated. I bought it to use in a recipe, some Smoked Pulled Pork, but I couldn't let it pass me by. My palate has changed since that ill-fated day circa 2005 when I tried a swig of a friend's pint and declared it 'tasted like bacon.' So I used the beer in the recipe, and drank the other half of it whilst cooking. Guess what? I liked it. Really, I did.

Schlenkerla Rauchbier (5.1%abv) has got a whole lot more going on that that lovely, familiar Gothic label. It pours a lush, deep amber with a majestic Tan-hued head. Obviously the nose is powerful - layers upon layers of woodsmoke; underpinned by a sweet-oak sort of note that gives you a clue as to what the body of the beer will taste like. The beer itself is as sweet a Marzen as you're likely to taste, but flipped round so that heavy smokiness sits under the grain, rather than on top of it. For a 5.1% abv beer it drinks nowhere near, and I have to say I enjoyed it a great deal. I've drunk a couple more since, and I can't beleive I've let it go so long ruled by past prejudices.

Of course, this led me to trying to get my hands on more Smoked Beers. Bierbrouwerij Grand-Café Emelisse Rauchbier is a whole different beast to Schlenkerla. Where Schlenkerla is muscled and powerful, Emelisse Rauch is sinewy and lean. At 6.5%abv it's stronger, yet again hides that abv below loads of flavour. That familiar, sweet smoke is there on the nose, but this time there's a hint of wildness, of almost sour malt. The taste is again unexpectedly light, and with an unusual int of pine on the finish. There's a slight echo of Goudenband in the Flemish, rangy sourness that runs through the beer, but the smokiness really works and you end with an interesting beer.

I really wish I'd not been so slavishly following my previous prejudices all these years. Palates evolve, and if I have one moral to this story it's this; try everything. Again and again and again and again and...

You can see my recipe for Bamberg Pulled Pork over at Beer Reviews, curated as always by Andy Mogg. He may support a godawful football team, but he's one of the good guys and does some great things with food and beer. My recipe didn't win, but the one that did made mine look like Neanderthal fumblings; so it's all good. Please do hop on over there, forthwith.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Brewing Cuckoo (pt 2)

Dann Paquette and his wife Martha are the creative force behind Pretty Things – a cuckoo brewing pair who refer to PT as a ‘Project.’ Inspired as much by Yorkshire (where Martha hails from) as their USA homeland, Dan certainly feels that – for the time being, anyway - there’s only one way they can brew; Cuckoo. ‘One great thing about this sort of brewing is that you can fold shop up neatly and move on with your life if you want to. There are no tanks to sell, no debt. Not that we’d want to! But that is a thought we've had at the back of our heads throughout this business - we can fail and walk away not having lost anything. That allows us to be out on a limb like we are.’

Dann’s clearly passionate about Pretty Things’ interesting, rustic beers but tempers that passion with solid, almost-obvious clarity. ‘I'd much rather have my own brewery. But we started this business for $9,000. You can't build a brewery on any scale for that.’ When I asked whether he would recommend it as a choice, the reply was firm: ‘No. I would recommend the traditional route which allows you to be completely in control. At the end of the day we're guests in someone else's brewery and only have limited influence on how that brewery works. A brewer's nature is to want to be in control.’

Despite that, PT seems very much a ‘family’ operation; albeit one without a permanent home. ‘Martha and I brew and oversee fermentation. We also have all of our own relationships and purchase raw materials. Lastly, we draw all of our labels ourselves. The host brewery lets us use their brewhouse and they package the beer for us.’ Cuckoo Brewing seems just as hard a task as regular brewing; but some still seek out the Cuckoo way regardless of the toil.

Mikeller’s Mikkel Borg Biergso has been cuckooing since 2007 – in fact, it would be hard to imagine Mikeller doing things any other way; Cuckooing is very much Mikkeller’s trademark. Mikkel says the secret of his success is simply hard work. ‘It’s a lot of logistics. I work A LOT and I work with good people. But it’s hard sometimes to make everyone happy.’ So, I asked, why not get a permanent home?’ It’s not as much fun.’ Mikkel replied. He refers to his trade as ‘Gypsy’ – a term which I actually prefer; simply due to the implied romance of it. Implied or not, the romantic view clearly dissipates once it becomes clear how difficult it is to keep a lid on the operation. Despite it’s hardships – and bear in mind the size of Mikeller’s operation – Cuckoo Brewing is still the only way to go for Mikkell, and behind those experimental gems we’ve come to expect form Mikkeller sits sheer hard work and a level-headed resolve to make sure all the ends meet, the planets align and the Beer ends up in your glass. ‘I like the freedom. With the loads of work my life is very different than my brewing. I really have to stay focused to work it all out.’

So what does the future hold for our brewers? For Steel City - more brewing, and perhaps a departure from the style that’s made them infamous. ‘We want to try some more styles; we're looking at an Alt and a Kolsch in the summer, and maybe a Weissbeer in the Autumn. Although we're known for our pale hoppy beers, our stouts actually get better feedback than our pales! We're building up a solid base of repeat customers, and we're looking at palletised deliveries to London in a couple of months. We've also bought some keykegs to export our beer to Italy and eventually USA. Our mini-kit (basically a 10-gal boiler and fermenter) means we can brew single firkins, so we can brew more extreme styles without worrying about selling a whole brewlength - so far we've done an 8% imperial stout, and are currently brewing a series of single-hop IPAs.’ In fact, a Black IPA brewed in collaboration with Otley should be being brewed as you read this.

As for Revolutions, their 2011 should hopefully see a permanent home; and along with that expansion in beers, distribution and a (if you ask me) a growing reputation. Ditto for Pretty Things; although they will remain Cuckoo for the time being. ‘We're trying to keep up with demand and keep it fun at the same time. Lots of great seasonals are coming back like Fluffy White Rabbits, Babayaga and American Darling. We've also got a really interesting historical beer in our "Once Upon A Time" series coming out in May.’

Steel City, Mikkeller, Pretty Things and Revolutions are planning ahead, there’s no slow-down here despite not brewing in the traditional way. Perhaps therein lies the beauty of this way of working: whether Full-Time brewer, Cuckoo Brewer, or even Homebrewer – that buzz, that tingle of pride as someone enjoys your beer, is the true spirit of brewing.

Pretty Things Picture courtesy of Carolyn Fong. Dann & Martha will be pouring thier beer at The Cornshed in Sexhow on July 8th & 9th. Keep an eye on their website for details.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Brewing Cuckoo (Pt 1)

Cuck-oo: A grayish European bird (Cuculus canorus) that has a characteristic two-note call and lays its eggs in the nests of birds of other species.

Cuckoo Brewing has always interested me; there’s something about the cuckoo way, throwing such minor shackles such as, well - not having your own kit - aside and brewing just for the hell of it. It’s like Beat poetry; without form, practised by free spirits and producing one-off, off-centre beers. Or is it? My own view seems overly romantic. After all, Brewing is hard work – and once you throw in the business side of things, you’ve got a company like any other. So I decided to ask around and see what made people brew the Cuckoo way.

Andy Helm and Mark Seaman of Revolutions Brewing Company weren’t planning on Cuckooing. Their hand was forced due to simple economic spanners being thrown into their works; put simply, their kit took longer than expected to be available. Regardless, the pair decided to forge ahead. ‘The concept of cuckoo-brewing was unknown to us until circumstances led us to look for a way we could put our ideas into action and get our product to market as early as possible.’, says Andy. ‘We made the decision to set up a micro-brewery in August 2010. We quickly decided to buy a new (rather than second hand) brew plant and our initial discussions with the brewing consultant revealed a 7 month lead time for fabrication and installation. Once we knew we wouldn't have our plant until June-11 we saw an opportunity to turn this potential setback into an opportunity to test our ideas, expand our knowledge and hopefully earn some revenue.’

Using another brewery as a testing board seems like an excellent idea. Luckily, other brewers in the area seem to agree, and were happy to let Revolutions hijack their gear for a little while to get their hands dirty. ‘We eventually found Richard Billington, one of the co-owners of The Brass Monkey Brewery in Sowerby Bridge. Richard was very accommodating and encouraged us to try a couple of brews in November to tap into the Christmas market. Our original intention had been to start in January. He even allowed us to use some spare casks which meant that we didn’t have to purchase our own for a few months.’

For me, this is a perfect example of the willingness to help that seems to pervade the independent brewing industry as a whole. Is it a surprise that the concept of Cuckoo exists in Brewing, but isn’t prevalent in many other industries? Is it too romantic to say that The Beer is King, and even helping others make unique, new brews and get established brings reward other than financial? Maybe.

Andy outlines their basic arrangement. ‘For us it's a great way to make our beer and get it out to market without having the overheads of rent and rates. We pay our share of water and electricity as well as all the cleaning chemicals so the cost per brew is a reasonably good reflection of the marginal brew costs we will face under our own steam. As we make a little profit on each of the brews we can reinvest in new casks and things we will need for our own brewery. Over a period of 6-7 months of cuckooing we can reduce by about 10-15% the total amount we need to put into the business to buy the plant, cask washers etc. and fit out the unit.We are brewing fortnightly at Brass Monkey. This fits in with their current spare brewing capacity and is about as much as we could do without hitting issues of storage space for casks. We have 100 of our own casks which, if we manage them tightly, are just about enough for a fortnightly brew length of 25-26 casks. Cuckooing does have its natural limits unless your host has ample storage space for casks. We are lucky that Brass Monkey is in a large old mill. Other hosts might not have the space.’

The simple logistics of it all has also been a barrier, as Andy outlines, for Gaz Prescott and Dave Szwejkowski of Steel City Brewing. Steel City was born out of Dave and Gaz simply wanting to brew beer how they like it – Pale and super-hoppy. It’s a niche that has worked well for them, and the majority of people who drink their refreshing wares are pretty impressed. In fact, Ben McFarland recently deemed them worthy of inclusion in the ‘Breweries to watch in 2011’ alongside such forward-thinking outfits as Thornbridge, Kernel, Marble and Gadd’s. ‘When we started out 18 months ago, it really was a case of doing it to simply brew the beer we like, because no other bugger would do it!’ Dave and Gaz state proudly. ‘Since then there's been a real growth in our sort of beer - not that we're taking the credit - from the likes of Brewdog, Summer Wine and Mallinsons along with some more established names such as Pictish. However, we only brew once a month, so there's no way we could cover the cost of our own premises and kit’.

However, it took a little moving around before our intrepid hop-heads could find a permanent home. ‘After 2 test brews at The Brew Company, we've set up long term at Little Ale Cart. This worked out well, as LAC could offer us weekend brewing which The Brew Company couldn’t do due to increasing demand for their beer. The first couple of times at LAC, Gee (Resident brewer) was on hand to help and show how things work - but now we just get on with it. We find Cuckoo is a lot less hassle in the main. No maintenance issues; we pay one monthly brewery hire fee which includes kit, electricity, gas, peripherals (finings, cleaning fluids, etc). The only downside is that obviously we don't have exclusive access; but that’s only been an issue once, when we couldn't brew because 'our' fermenter was in use. Our current arrangement works well - Little Ale Cart brew during the week, we go in on a Saturday’.

For me, that’s one of the key points about Cuckoo Brewing that Dave makes; the arrangement works well. You don’t even have to suffer too much when the inevitable occupational hazard occurs. When I asked Dave whether he thought all this hassle was worth it, he replied ‘Of course, there's times you just feel like giving up and going home - last month we had about 20% of our brew wasted because for some reason they were popping their shives, and that wiped out the profit for the brew. At the same time we managed to break an expensive hydrometer, so there’s more money down the drain. But that can also happen with your own kit, it's not exclusive to cuckoo brewing - and when it's your livelihood it's even more frustrating! But, 95% of the time, it's fun. We don't brew often enough for it to become 'just a job', a chore, and there's a real satisfaction to seeing your beer on the bar, seeing people enjoy it, seeing people actively seeking it out’.

Dave’s brewing partner, Gaz Prescott, also points out that the freedom – at this level – to brew what you want is liberating. ‘Our beer is never what you'd call "market friendly" and, I think, is some of the most extreme in the UK but in a good way! It's not really our mission to make undrinkable beer - and definitely not stupid beer for a cliquey few. But we do want to explore the mish-mash of UK and foreign cultures by mixing it up a bit and seeing what comes out.’ He also reinforces the point made earlier about having people on hand to help out and, if needs be, pinch ingredients from. ‘One good thing is that there's always someone else we can ring for advice, help or to borrow something like a kilo of roast barley or some hops! Other brewers can do this with neighbouring brewers but we can do it with the two other in-house teams!’

In the next part, we’ll get another side of the Story from some Cuckoos from across the Pond. You can catch Revolutions Brewing Co at The Hop in Leeds on Sunday night (27th). A Meet the Brewer event will run from 14.00-17.00 and will be followed by music from Sarandon and others.