Friday, 31 December 2010

A quick half at the Wellington.

After leaving the Harlequin, my drinking companion had a need for a pale hoppy number from the Little Ale Cart Brewery. So off we scampered to the Wellington at Shalesmoor, where they make these fine ales on the premises.
This is perhaps my favourite pub in Sheffield. It is at the other end of the spectrum to the likes of the Harlequin. The Wellie is a cosy pub where one can have some of the finest beer in the country in intimate surroundings. I was really pleased to see they had a Blue Monkey ale on tap, which I felt compelled to order.
Blue Monkey brewery Nuts (4.6%). A dark mahogany coloured best bitter with a thin head. This tasty beer has a slightly fruity nose – tones of prunes and lovely full bodied character. Nuts has a complex flavour with great length and a lovely woody flavours. A smashing beer from one of my favourite breweries – 7/10  
Little Ale Cart Brewery Hertfordshire (4%). There is a very fruity nose from this pale ale. Grapefruit and apricot flavours make this a really easy drinking and pleasurable ale. 6.5/10

Lunch at the Harlequin pub in Sheffield.

For lunch on New Year’s Eve I decided to go to the Harlequin on Nursery Street which is near some of the other fine ale house in the Kelham Island area.
Upon arrival the pub was busy with a wide range of clientele. This ale house is not just for the CAMRA real ale types, but is also very approachable to people looking for a nice drink or some good simple homemade food. The pub is quite bright and airy inside with a long bar where food and drinks are ordered. The pub is perhaps lacking in a particularly strong identity which is often associated with the real ale style of pubs. This is no bad thing, as it is very clean and presentable, and is somewhere where no one would be put off from going.
The bar staff are very friendly and are more than happy for me to try a few beers before I make my selection. There are probably about 10 real ales and 10 real ciders available, plus a host of specialist bottled beers. Simple and very reasonably priced food is also served. I opted for their homemade steak pie with chips and a half pint of Porter.
The pie with hand-cut chips, peas and carrots is priced at £4.00 and is a real bargain. Naturally, it is served with the proverbial Henderson’s Relish. The pie is very good, and the hand-cut chips are some of the best I have had for a very long time. I also saw some lovely looking sandwiches and chip butties leaving the kitchen, which looked equally tasty. For home made well priced food, it does not come much better.
The first beer I chose was Revolutions brewery, the Original 45 Porter (4.5%). It is obviously a very dark beer with a medium head to it. On the nose roasted coffee tones dominate. Upon tasting, flavours of chestnut combine with the coffee to make it a tasty easy drinking porter. 6/10.
Whilst at the Harlequin I also tried a pale ale called Cougar from the Fat Cat brewery. This golden beer has an excellent citrusy nose coming from the American hops used in its production. Sadly the flavour didn’t quite live up to the wonderful nose, but it is still a nice beer. 6/10.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Cock and Magpie, Chesterfield

Ask most people what they know about Chesterfield, and you will likely be regaled with an account of the ‘Crooked Spire’ – the twisted and warped spire of the parish church, which looms over eastern edge of the town centre. Chesterfield’s fame, it seems, is owed entirely to its incompetent church-builders. Had those artisans constructed the spire with properly dried-out wood, the resulting edifice would have pointed straight into the air; but the little Derbyshire town would have been robbed of what little notoriety it now possesses.

In point of fact, Chesterfield has a handful of ancient buildings, some of which have interesting historical associations. Chief amongst those is Revolution House, situated in the suburb of Old Whittington Moor. At that little cottage, in 1688, a few English aristocrats hatched the plan to invite a Dutch prince, William of Orange, to invade England, and depose the reigning monarch James II.
Next door to Revolution House is the Cock and Magpie. I visited that establishment on a cold, overcast, weekday in October. To my surprise, I found that the place was packed to the rafters. At every table, in every snug corner, and throughout the conservatory, silver-haired diners were tucking in to their lunch. As you may have gathered, the reason for the pub’s popularity was its ‘senior menu’, which offered pensioners a two or three course meal at a discount price

My companion and I did manage to find a table, opposite the bar. The smartly dressed staff were very polite and attentive, and our food was quickly served to our table, despite the ubiquity of other diners. I washed down my roast turkey sandwich and chips with a pint of Jennings Sneck Lifter – though I do not recall the nuances of its flavour, as my mind was elsewhere, distracted by the Toby Jugs, brasses, and other pseudo-antique paraphernalia with which the pub was decorated.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Johnson Arms Beer Festival Day 1.

I trundled down to the Johnson Arms with three friends in tow for the first day of their beer festival. The first days beers focussed on the Blue Monkey brewery, which is one of my favourite breweries. It was good to see that the Johnson Arms was very busy including a large contingent of the University of Nottingham Real Ale society.

Here is my brief review of the Blue Monkey beers that were available.

Blue Monkey Original (3.6%). It is a dark amber/copper coloured ale with a thin head and sweet nose. Fruity chestnut flavours can be tasted in this smooth drinking beer, which finishes with some tobacco. It is perhaps a bit too sweet to drink lots of and I would like a bit more bitterness at the end. A nice beer, but usually I expect more from Original - 6/10

Blue Monkey BG Sips (4%). BG sips is a pale golden beer with a thick creamy head. It is a lovely hoppy ale with very nice floral and citrus (grapefruit) flavours. The body is light and it is very easy drinking. 8/10

Blue Monkey Evolution (4.3%). Light amber colour with a malty nose. Grassy flavours can be tasted as can floral tones. It has a good bitterness, but is not as complex as the batch I tried at the Notts beer festival. 6.5/10

Blue Monkey 99 Red Baboons (4.2%). Dark ale with malty gingerbread, and slight coffee flavours. It is a very smooth beer which has a warming character. 7/10

Monday, 25 October 2010

October Beer Festival at the Victoria, Beeston.

I went on the first day of the Victoria’s October beer festival to try some of the ales they had to offer. The theme of the festival was CAMRA Champion Beers of Britain (and runners up) plus Local Favourites. In total about 60 different ales would be available over the weekend.

After a brisk walk to Victoria I was after something refreshing to start me off.

Kelham Island Brewery Pale Rider (5.2%). This infamous Sheffield beer was an obvious starting point for me. My history with this ale goes back many years and was my drink of choice in my days based in the city of Steel. This batch of Pale Rider is quite different from what I would normally expect. It has a nice floral nose, but it has a heavy malty finish. Flavours of caramel can be tasted, but it is lacking bitterness at the end. It is also missing the citrus flavours normally associated with Pale Rider. This is a very full bodied malty version of Pale Rider lacking in bitterness, and it is much poorer than I would expect. 6.5/10

York Brewery Yorkshire Terrier (4.2%). Dark Amber beer with a very unusual nose – cream like tones. It has a malty flavour but is lacking in hops and character. 5/10

Castle Rock Meadow Brown (4.8%). Light Brown ale with a coffee nose. For an ale of this colour, it has the strongest flavour of coffee I have ever come across. It is very smooth drinking, but too much coffee dominated for me. 6/10

Dark Star American Pale Ale (4.7%). Golden beer with a thin head. Very very hoppy with slightly floral and grassy flavours. 6.5/10

Oakham Attila (7.5%). Golden beer with a slightly floral nose. Very sweet flavours which make this beer too rich and sickly. Extra sugar must be added, making it too sweet. 4/10

Amber Ales Chocolate Orange Stout (4.0%).  A very black ale. The first half of the flavour is orange fruit (a bit like Terry’s Chocolate Orange) that then goes to chestnut and coffee flavours. It is quite hard to drink a pint of it. 6/10

Monday, 18 October 2010

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, London,

As a rule, establishments that prefix their name with ‘Ye Olde’ are anything but old. Who but the most gullible – or the most irony loving – tourist would fall for the charms of ‘Ye Olde Coffee Shoppe’ or ‘Ye Olde Pizza Parlour’? Yet, for all our sophistication, there is one institution that owes at least some of its popularity to its penchant for anachronism and bogus antiquity: the English pub. Unsurprisingly, therefore, many a landlord has attempted to bolster the historic credentials of his alehouse by adopting a cliché of pseudo-archaic language.

There are, nevertheless, a few genuinely ancient pubs that may use the term with impunity. One such place is Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, of 145 Fleet Street. Situated a few yards from Dr Johnson’s House in Gough Square, the pub occupies a seventeenth-century building and some even older vaults. There is one bar upstairs, in a dingy flagstoned room with antiquated wooden panelling. Downstairs through the gloomy vaults is another bar, which is host to most of the establishment’s seating. Naturally, it is decorated with engravings of the various venerable historic personages who ‘may’ have drunk in the place at one time or another.

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is owned by Samuel Smith’s, the brewery from Tadcaster in Yorkshire, and serves a large selection of lagers, stouts, beers, and ales. However, real ale fanatics should be warned that, aside from the perfectly respectable Best Bitter, nothing is served from the cask. As with all Samuel Smith’s pubs, the prices are extremely reasonable, and the beverages are tasty and attractively branded.

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese can be proud of the fact that it sells pint of decent bitter for £1.99 in a historic pub with a central London location. However, it ought to be ashamed of its food. All meals are microwaved or fried, and the pie I ordered was almost as good as those served at football grounds around the country.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Nottingham Beer Festival day 2

Thinking it would be very busy at the beer festival tonight, we decided to go early to ensure we could try some of the ales on our wish list. It was 4.30pm when we arrived and it was busy! By 6.30pm it was extremely busy with everyone packed together like sardines. Of the two days I preferred the Thursday as it was less hectic.

Here are some of the beers I tried:

Fyfe Nagnum IPA (4.5%). This Scottish IPA had a pretty poor nose of sweaty socks and the taste was no better as although it was quite malty it was bland and dull. 3/10

Blue Monkey Infinity (4.6%). So it was then that I went to one of my favourite breweries. Infinity is a very light golden beer.  It has a floral nose and lovely citrusy flavours, which combine with a nice bitterness to make this a great easy drinking ale. 7.5/10

Blue Monkey Evolution (4.3%). Evolution is darker than Infinity and has a subtle nose to it with hints of grapefruit. It is more malty compared to Infinity and has a lovely complex flavour with great length. Slight caramel and violet flavours make this a perfectly rounded ale. 9/10
Blue Monkey Infinity (Left) and Evolution (Right)

Poachers Lincoln Best (4.2%). This is a dark brown bitter with lots of roasted malt and coffee flavours. It is easy drinking and would be nice on a winters day. 6/10

Allgates Motueka Gold (4.2%). Light golden colour with a thin head. The New Zealand hops used make this a really refreshing beer with citrus and floral flavours and a nice bitterness. 7.5/10

Vale VPA (Vale Pale Ale) (4.2%). A well balanced golden beer with a citrus nose, good body and nice bitterness to it. 7.5/10

Strathaven Aleberry (4.6%). This Scottish beer is infused with damsons and you can really tell as it has a very fruity taste. It is easy drinking, but it is a bit too dominated by the fruit. 5.5/10

Backyard Brewhouse Nipin (4.6%). Light golden American style pale ale. It has a slight citrus nose and almost vegetable flavours. Initially it seems a sweet beer, but it is bitter at the finish. 5.5/10

Botley Gringo’s Gold (4.5%). Light golden beer with a thin frothy head. It has a sweet nose with flavours of nectarine. It is very easy drinking due to the sweetness, but it is not complex enough. 5.5/10

Hogswood Broken Piston (4.2%). A nice brown beer with sweet coffee flavours. It is easy drinking and settles nicely in the stomach. 6.5/10

Loddon Ferrymans Gold (4.4%).This amber beer has a floral nose/taste and a good length. 6.5/10

Great Oakley Tailshaker (5%). Another amber ale with a frothy head. It has nice malty and floral flavours and is very smooth to drink. 7/10

Green Mill Zenith (4.5%). Golden ale with a complex nose and hoppy citrus taste. It is a well balanced drinkable ale with good length. 7/10

Blue Monkey 99 Red Baboons (4.2%). This very dark beer has a slightly sweet nose and raisin like flavour. An unusual and really tasty beer. 8/10

Once again the beers had been superb. The highlights had to be the fantastic beers from Blue Monkey. Well done to them.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Nottingham beer festival day 1.

I printed out the beer list for this fabulous event a week before it opened. The list is impressive with over 800 different ales. Leading up to the festival I highlighted a few ales that I wanted to try.

I walked from my office with a colleague in tow to the city centre arriving at about 6.45pm. The beer festival is in the grounds of Nottingham Castle right in the city centre. This excellent location is one reason for the beer festivals success over the last few years. A wide range of people come to the beer festival but it seems to do very well with students and young people due to the approachability of the location. Upon arrival we got our tankards and entered the marquees. It was already very busy. Even by this time one or two barrels of ale had already sold out!

I did pretty well being disciplined enough to stick to my predetermined list. Here are the beers I tried:

Buxton Moor Top (3.6%). A light blonde beer with a thin head. It has a citrus nose coming from American hops and grapefruit taste to it with a good bitterness. 6/10

Bristol Beer Factory Acer (3.8%). An amber beer with a creamy head and a fruity nose. There is a good flavour of sweet malt and kiwi, which make this a smashing ale. A very well balanced beer – 7/10

Alcazar New Dawn (4.5%). A golden pale ale with a frothy head. On the nose there is sweaty socks. It has a complex flavour involving leather and green vegetables like asparagus. 6/10

Isle of Sky Fruit Beer (Rowan berry) (4.5%). Amber beer with an incredibly fruity nose of red berries. It has a good bitterness/dryness to it with fantastic flavours that remind me of picking raspberries. It is a lovely complex, well rounded beer with good length. 7.5/10
Isle of Sky Fruit Beer (Rowan berries)

Shotover Prospect (3.7%). Light brown bitter with a thin coarse head. Even though this beer has plenty of hops I found it very dull and disappointing. 2.5/10

Steel City Masters of the Spooniverse (4.2%). A light golden beer with a fruity nose. A tasty beer with grapefruit, good malt and a nice dryness. 7/10

White Rose Get that Focke Down (3.5%). Very light gold colour with a thin head. Lovely citrusy nose, light fruity body but nice complexity. A great session beer 7/10

Brewdog Edge (3.2%). This is a mild but with a lot more hops than you would normally find. It is of couarse a dark beer with a frothy head. It has an interesting nose that gets you excited, but I did not like the flavour. It is far more bitter than a normal mild. It has a bitter coffe flavour which I found dull, unexciting and to be a mono-flavour beer. 3/10

Saltaire Cascade (4.8%). This is an American style pale ale with a big bubbly head. It has a fruity (apricot), floral aroma and a sweet body which makes it easy drinking. It has a very good bitterness to the finish which makes it a flavoursome well balanced beer. 7/10

Two Towers BSA (5.4%). A strong amber ale with a thin head. It has a malty nose and is a good example of a classic strong bitter. It is a tasty ale, which is surprisingly easy drinking. 6.5/10   

Castle Rock Alan Sillitoe (4.2%).Light golden ale with a hoppy citrusy nose and grapefruit flavour. Clean and tasty beer 7/10.

So summing up the first day of the beer festival, it was a great crack with plenty of tasty beers. Beers from Sheffield were excellent, but my highlight was the Rowan berry ale from the Isle of Sky. I look forward to the next instalment…

Thursday, 7 October 2010

A few quiet ales in the Victoria, Beeston.

Having a bit of spare time on my hands, I wanted to do a bit of reading, so the taproom of the Vic seemed a good place.  It was a quiet night in the Vic taproom with only about 10 other people in there. The other patrons had a similar idea as me, with quite a few there only in the company of some reading material.

Drink 1. Half pint Caythorpe One Swallow (3.6%). The Caythorpe brewery is based locally behind the Black Horse Inn at Caythorpe, so it seemed a sensible first drink. One Swallow is Amber in colour and has a very thin fine head. The nose is malty and hoppy and is promising indeed. It has a nice malty palette which has a good clearing bitter finish. It is not the most complex ale, but it has good grassy flavours.  6/10

Drink 2. Half pint Ufford Golden Drop (4.3%). The Ufford brewery is based near Stamford and has been in operation since 2005. Golden drop, naturally, is golden in colour and had a thick creamy head. It has a light citrus nose, but it is quite a dry ale and I found it lacking in character. 4/10

Drink 3. Half pint of Durham Magus (3.8%). The Durham brewery was launched in 1994 at the Durham beer festival. Magus is their best selling beer and is a pale a beer as you are likely to find. IT has a citrus nose and a creamy head. It is easy drinking, well balanced and tasty. A good quaffing beer. 6/10
Drink 4. Half pint of Castle Rock Harvest Pale (3.8%). If you are from Nottingham, or appreciate ale, then you will know about Harvest Pale. Today I was disappointed with the Harvest Pale. How it was drinking was a clear example of how batches of ale can vary. It was clean drinking but it was not as zesty as I would normally expect and had a bit more bitterness. Slight floral and cardboard tones could be tasted.  5.5/10

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

The Red Deer, Sheffield

Owing to its situation on the eastern side of the Pennines, Sheffield is not blessed with a temperate climate. Even so, on the day of my sojourn in early October, the weather in this wet and windy northern city was peculiarly dire. I had planned to walk through the town centre, from the pseudo-bohemian Devonshire Quarter, to the partially ‘regenerated’ district around Kelham Island, where the old steel works have lately given way to modern flats and a number of excellent real ale pubs. However, the torrential rain then afflicting the city was enough to make me change my plans, and take refuge in the nearest hostelry, rather than complete my journey to Kelham Island. That pub was the Red Deer, which lies in the midst of the sprawling Sheffield University, between West Street and the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

The Red Deer is a longstanding favourite of students and academics alike, and has lately been refurbished by its new managers. The smell of wet paint was still discernible when I stepped inside; though I daresay its interior decoration is currently incomplete, since it has not yet been filled with the anachronistic nick-knacks and old signs that adorn most English pubs.

Although the Red Deer contains nothing more than tables, chairs, and a quiz machine, it is still a cosy and comfortable place to while away a few hours. There are no bar flies; instead the somewhat cerebral clientele huddle round the small tables, discussing the finer points of economics, folklore, civil engineering, and other scholarly subjects. At the time of my visit, there were five cask ales for sale, including Easy Rider, Black Sheep, and Harvest Pale. The latter was excellent, as usual. There was also a small lunch menu of sandwiches and chips, which could be had in conjunction with a pint of beer for the very reasonable price of £5. The bits of potato skin still visible on the chips evidenced that they had actually been cut by hand, rather than reconstituted from potato dust in some far flung factory – quite a revelation, in the field of cheap pub fare.

Monday, 4 October 2010

A visit to the Wellington in Sheffield.

The Wellington is a fine ale house situated next to the Shalesmoor (not so) Super Tram stop. The building is simple to look at, being red painted brick from about the turn of the last century. It is what is inside that is more exciting about the Wellington. As you enter, the bar is in front with seating to the right and a second room to the left. The interior of the pub is quite tired but simple and no-nonsense. Behind the bar the boards shows what ales are on sale, normally about 8. Two of the beers are from the Little Ale Cart brewery which to quote is made “in the brick shed out the back”. The Little Ale Cart beers tend to be blonde, hoppy and very tasty! The bar staff at the Wellington are very friendly and patient. It is fair to say that the facial hair of the landlord must be some of the best in Yorkshire! Other regular beers come from places like the Millstone brewery and the favourite of the ‘Spectator’, the West Berkshire brewery.  The quality of ale here is outstanding.

When it comes to Sheffield beer and beer in general it does not get much better than the Little Ale Cart brewery. The beers from here really are gems. I can think of one close acquaintance who believes this is the “place for him”.

The Wellington is probably the pub in Sheffield where you are most likely to enter conversation with either bar staff of other patrons. The clientele come from a wide range of backgrounds, but have one thing in common; that they are well informed about ale. On my visit I got talking to some locals as well as helping out some guys from Birmingham who were on a real ale pub crawl. The friendly family feel of the Wellington was confirmed by the sign behind the bar giving details of baby Beatrix who was born 3 days earlier at 7lbs 3ozs. Not long after we got sat down, baby Beatrix was brought round the pub. Clearly the Wellington is a very friendly pub

It is the easiest choice of what beers to try first – the made on the premises Little Ale Cart ales.

Drink 1. Little Ale Cart Bayardo (4.4%). Light golden ale containing Centennial, Amarillo, Chinook and Columbus hops. The beer is citrusy with Orange flavours. It is sweet, aromatic, easy drinking and has great length. A lovely beer – 8/10

Drink 2. Little Ale Cart Lady Rowena (4.0%). Once again this is another hoppy golden ale. The nose of this one is more floral with plenty of elderflower. It is not as sweet as the Bayardo, but it is amazingly well balanced with a nice bitterness. It is a complex beer with once again great length. It has so much flavour for a 4% beer. Fantastic example of what low production volume real ale should be like – 8.5/10

Little Ale Cart brewerys fine Lady Rowena (left) and Bayardo (right)

After having these two beautiful beers, we decided to try some of the others available at the bar.

Drink 3.  Millstone Brewery Baby Grit (4%). This is the house bitter at the Wellington. The Millstone brewery was setup in 2003 at Mossley. It is a golden bitter with a nice slightly green/hoppy nose. On the palette one can taste caramel in this easy drinking beer which goes down nicely with a lemony/citrus finish to it. A very tasty bitter – 7.5/10

Drink 4. Cannon Royal brewery Uphampton Gold (4%). The Cannon Royal brewery is based in Upton, Worcestershire and starting making ale in 1993. Gold has an unusual flavour with lots of caramel and also some vegetable tones. Compost, and vegetable stock flavours were detectable which combined with the good body to make this a nice beer. 6.5/10

I had a wonderful time at the Wellington. A Friendly environment combined with the fantastic Little Ale Cart beers make this my favourite ale house at the present time.  

A quick half or two at the Chesterfield Arms.

Since its reopening in March 2009, the Chesterfield Arms has rapidly gained a reputation in the area for serving real ale and ciders. The interior of the pub is kitted out in a modern traditional manner. By this I mean that many of the ‘nick-nacs’ and furniture are modern, probably made in China, but trying to appear like they are over 100 years old. When I was there it was nice to have a proper wood fire roaring away, which gave off a wonderful aroma. The interior of the pub could be described as clean, cosy and comfortable.

There is a very good selection of beers available, about 8 with a guide to show if they are pale, brown or dark. Two halves are ordered, Thornbridge Kipling and Butcombe Gold.

Thornbridge Kipling South Pacific Ale (5.2%). Kipling is a golden blonde beer with a thick creamy head. The Nelson Sauvin hops used in the ale are apparent immediately with a strong grapefruit and passion fruit nose. When tasted apricot and peach come to the fore in the extremely fruity beer. I find it a little over the top in terms of fruit and it has an almost artificial flavour to it. I also think it has a bit of a bitter finish. I think this is a hard beer to drink much of. An interesting nose, but fruit dominates the beer too much – 6/10.

Butcombe Gold Bitter (4.4%). Butcombe brewery was set up in 1978 in the village of Butcombe, which is 10 miles south of Bristol. It took until 1998 for Butcombe to brew its second beer, Gold. Butcombe Gold has a dark golden colour to it and a thick head. The nose is quite weak, but lemon can be detected. Upon drinking the smooth texture becomes apparent along with a complex flavour containing shortbread, butterscotch and nice malt. Butcombe Gold is a very nice English beer with only British Malt and Fuggles hops used to make it. A flavoursome, easy drinking beer - 7/10.  
Butcombe Gold

Friday, 1 October 2010

A trip to two ale houses in Beeston, 30th September 2010.

It is another walk from the University Park into Beeston, but this time with the spectator and another acquaintance in tow. Bellies are rumbling, and the perfect antidote is a combination of dinner and a beer at the Victoria. In the Vic we are claim our seats before ordering refreshments. To me the Blue Monkey Amarillo leaps of the blackboard into a handle glass.

Drink 1. A pint of Blue Monkey Amarillo (3.9%). Amarillo is an orangey gold beer with a thin head. The nose is sweet with honey accents. It is easy drinking but has a great balanced bitterness to it. The Amarillo hops give a nice citrus and floral flavours. A another great beer from a great brewery 8/10.

Blue Monkey Amarillo
Following our refreshments at the Victoria, it is the short 5 minute dash to the Crown Inn. The Crown is a lovely pub that was recently refurbished. The interior is of a very ‘traditional pub’ style. A great selection of beers are on offer, normally at least 12.We approach the hatch at the side of the main bar and after tasting about half the ales available we take our chosen drinks into the parlour.

Drink 2. A pint of Peakstones Crown ING glory (4.2%). It is a red brown colour with a thick head. The nose is toffee and upon tasting coffee and roasted malt flavours come through. 5.5/10

Drink 3. A pint of Leatherbritches CAD (4%).The Leatherbritches brewery has been going since 1993 and is based in Ashbourne at the back of the Bentley Brook Inn. This is a bargain ‘house beer’ at £2 a pint. The beer is dark brown with a thin head. It is a tasty bitter with smoky tobacco flavours as well as hints of raisins. 6.5/10.

Leatherbritches CAD

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Harvest Pale v Easy Rider at The Johnson Arms

The Johnson Arms, Dunkirk, 29th September 2010

Leaving the University Park at 8pm it is a ¾ of a mile walk east to The Johnson Arms pub in Dunkirk. I enter the pub whilst talking on the phone, but as I go to the bar only a passing quick glance at the 5 different beer clips is necessary. My good comrade asks what I would like to drink and a little tap on the bar towards Kelham Island brewery’s Easy Rider starts the evening off. We take our drinks to a table in the corner away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the pub. The Johnson arms is a great place which holds many happy memories for me, as I used to live round the corner from it. If I was to describe it, friendly would be the word. Cain, Zoe and Kay who run this fine little establishment are lovely people, who are very passionate about serving great beer as well as quality simple pub grub. The patrons of the pub cover a diverse group of people, from students, to doctors at the nearby QMC, to a slightly older local cliental. The one thing that can be said about everyone in the pub is that they care about quality ale.

So back to the beer, and why was the choice so ‘Easy’?  I am from the fine (former) city of Steel and the draw to a beer from the sensational Kelham Island brewery is strong indeed! The Kelham Island brewery has been at the centre of Sheffield’s rejuvenation as possibly the finest Real Ale town in the UK.

Drink 1. A pint of Kelham Island Easy Rider (4.3%). The Kelham Island brewery is situated in the old industrial part of Sheffield by the River Don. Easy Rider is a premium strength Pale Ale brewed as an easier drinking version of Kelham’s legendary Pale Rider. On the nose you get sweetness and a hint of orange. The beer has a lovely creamy body to it and it is wonderfully drinkable. Easy Rider goes down very nicely indeed. There is a nice biscuit malt character to it combined with a great aromatic bitterness. Floral tones come from the American Willamette hops, as do lovely fruity orange flavours, which make the beer balanced to perfection.  You will not find a better drinking beer. A sensational 9/10.

Easy Rider (left) and Harvest Pale (right)

Drink 2. A pint of Castle Rock Harvest Pale (3.8%). The Castle Rock brewery is another fantastic producer of ale. Castle Rock and Kelham are certainly in my favourite few breweries. I have been a big fan of Castle Rock since my arrival in Nottingham 6 years ago. Harvest Pale is the breweries most famous beer and it was my beer of choice in Nottingham for many a year. This year Harvest Pale was crowned champion beer of Great Britain which added to some of its other prestigious awards. Harvest Pale is another Pale Ale so a comparison with Easy Rider is inevitable. The nose of Harvest Pale does not excite when compared to Easy Rider. The beer has a lighter body and a less creamy head. Once again American hops are used which give Harvest Pale a zesty nature, with grapefruit, lemon and lime tones coming through. Harvest Pale is not as smooth as Easy Rider, but it does have a nice sharpness to it. It is a very nice beer but in my opinion is not to the same standard as Easy Rider. 7.5/10.

I feel that I am a very lucky chap to be able to compare these two great beers in one night, with the company of the finest friend one could hope to find. The night was still young, so a little bit more banter and a wee bit more ale is called for. So I go to finish the night with a darker beer.

Drink 3. A half pint of Moorhouse’s Black Cat (3.4%). The Moorhouse’s brewery is based in Burnley and has a long history going back into the mid 19th century. Black Cat Mild is probably Moorhouse’s best known beer and is another Supreme Champion beer of Britain (2000). Black Cat is a very dark ale with an attractive light brown head. The nose of has nice earthy and coffee aspects to it. It has a light body which leaves malty tastes of treacle, molasses and chocolate. It is a good clean drinking beer which is surprisingly refreshing. 6.5/10.

Moorhouse's Black Cat Mild.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Types of beer

Bitters were developed towards the end of the 19th century as brewers developed beers that could be drunk after only a few days storage in cellars. Bitters originally came from pale beers, but tend to be a bronze colour due to the use of slightly darker malts. Some bitters still tend to be golden in colour (eg Nottingham Rock Bitter tasted the other night). Bitters fall in the 3.4%-3.9% alcoholic range. ‘Best’ bitters have alcoholic strengths of 4% and above and strong bitters have alcoholic levels above 5%. Best and strong bitters will have a more malty and fruity taste (the Fullers ESB I tried in the Vic is a classic example of a strong bitter).

Mild is one of the most traditional styles of beer which is currently enjoying a rejuvenation in popularity. Mild’s tend to be a very dark brown due to the heavily roasted malts. They are less hopped than bitters, but have a nutty, chocolate, coffee character to them. Mild’s are often in the 3-3.5% alcoholic range. Mild has always had a great popularity in the industrial North and Midlands of Britain. In Scotland 60/- ale is comparable to mild.

Indian Pale Ale or IPA
IPA’s were first brewed in London and Burton-upon-Trent in the early 19th century for the colonial market. The industrial revolution allowed brewers to use pale malts to make beers that were golden in colour.  IPA’s were strong in alcohol and contained high levels of hops. These characteristics helped keep the beer in good condition during the long sea journeys to Britain’s colonies. IPA’s will have alcoholic levels above 4% and will often have a very hoppy character with citrus flavours.

Pale Ale
Beers with less alcohol and hops than IPA’s were brewed for the home market and became known as Pale Ale.

Golden Ale
In the 1980’s some brewers developed this pale, hoppy beer in order to win back custom from the larger brands. Golden ales are often thirst quenching and are served cool.

Porter and Stout
Porter was a beer style developed in London in the 18th century. The name comes from the popularity of this beer style street and river porters of London. A strong porter was called stout porter which eventually got shortened to just stout. Porters and stout are very dark in colour and have a strong roasted malt character, with coffee and treacle flavours, finishing with a hoppy bitterness. The darkness in Porter comes from the use of dark malts, unlike stout which utilise roasted malted barley. Porters will tend to have a complex flavour with an alcoholic range between 4-6.5%.

Scottish beers
Traditionally Scottish beers tend to be sweeter, less hoppy and darker than English beers. The classic styles are, Light, low in strength and so-called even when dark in colour, also known as 60/-, Heavy or 70/-, Export or 80/-. These names come from the way in the 19th century that beers were invoiced according to strength using the now defunct currency of the shilling.

What is Real Ale

The term Real Ale was brought about by CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) in the 1970’s as a way of distinguishing between traditional beers and mass produced “bland” beers that was being pushed by the major breweries. Real ale’s can also be known as cask-conditioned ales or cask beers.

Real ale is an unfiltered, unpasteurised beer which is conditioned (second fermentation) and served from a cask without additional nitrogen or carbon dioxide. Real ale is a living product due to the second fermentation that occurs within the cask (or bottle if it is bottle-conditioned). It has a limited shelf-life and it needs to be kept at a controlled temperature and looked after in pub cellars in order for the beer to develop to its full potential. Non-real ale beers are chilled, filtered and pasteurised to make it sterile in the brewery. The removal of yeast and pasteurisation means that the beer will never have as much flavour and aroma of a real Ale.

The ingredients that go into ale include malted barley, hops, yeast and water, although sometimes ingredients such as fruits, spices and wheat are added. The sugars in the malt are converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide by the yeast. Hops are added to add bitter, citrus and floral flavours. The use of different style hops, malts and yeast can mean that beers of with different characters can be produced.

Monday, 27 September 2010

A trip to the Victoria Hotel in Beeston

Victoria Hotel Beeston 26th Sept 2010.

7.30pm on a Sunday evening the 2 mile walk in a South-West direction starts from University Park. It is is a well trodden path which helps build up an anticipation and appetite for what awaits. As I walk into Dovecote lane I see the Victoria at the end of the road and a train pull into Beeston station next to it. The Vic is traditional 19th century station hotel opposite the old Beeston brewery. On entry to the Vic I take a right turn into the cosy taproom. The interior obviously has a ‘classic pub’ feel to it, but the walls are covered with ancient brewery paraphernalia.
                Next to the bar is the list of drinks available, which includes 13 real ales – decisions, decisions. In the end it is quite an easy decision for the first drink, as I am a big fan of the Blue Monkey brewery from nearby Ilkeston.

Drink 1. A half pint of Blue Monkey 3.6% Original. Blue Monkey started brewing in 2008 and I have always been a fan of everything they have produced. This combined with the relatively local nature of the brewery meant a half of Original was an obvious starting point for the night. Colour-wise Original has a dark amber or aged-oak look to it. It is wonderful session ale, with warming malts along chestnut tones balanced beautifully with a slight hint of citrus. It has a great length which leaves you wanting another sip immediately. Hop-wise it contains Pilgrim and Styrian Goldings.  It is an extremely satisfying drink for any occasion. A finer bitter as you will ever find. 9/10.

Drink 2. A half pint of Nottingham Rock bitter (3.8%). Wanting to keep to local breweries it was to the Nottingham brewery which is based in Radford at the back of the Plough Inn. Rock Bitter is a different beast than what most first time drinkers would expect from a bitter. Rock bitter was first brewed in the 19th century as an easy drinking ale for Nottingham factory workers. It is a light gold in colour and was a forerunner to an IPA (Indian Pale Ale) style of beer. Upon tasting the Rock Bitter is drier or greener and more bitter than the Blue Monkey Original. It has very little nose at it is first served. It is very drinkable, but doesn’t have the cosy nature that would want to make you drink it on a winter’s day sat by a roaring fire with a steak pie – what a good bitter should do. Flavour-wise, you get hints of caramel and floral notes. It is a solid easy drinking beer, but I feel it lacks character. One point to note that as the drink warmed up it improved remarkably. I feel it was served at too low a temperature. As it warmed a sweeter nose came to the fore which made it a far more enjoyable drink. 6/10.

Drink 3. A half pint of Oldershaws Regal Blonde (4.4%). The Oldershaws brewery is Grantham based  and has been running for nearly 15 years now. Regal Blonde is very light in colour with a hint of a floral nose. It is brewed with Czech German hops to make a larger style of beer. I very much liked the beer when first tasted, but was left slightly disappointed as I would have hoped for some hop excitement at the end. It is an uncomplicated larger style beer, which would be a great introduction into real ale. 5.5/10.

Drink 4. A half pint of Hopback GFB (3.5%). The Hopback breweries history goes back to 1986. I normally associate drinking beer from Hopback with my trips to the New Forrest normally within a few miles of their Downton brewery. GFB stands for Gilbert's First Brew and was first made in 1996. GFB is a very golden beer. It is blonde but with bitterness. It has that very distinctive Hopback character, which I associate with a dry finish to their beers. In GFB’s case, it comes from the use of Kent Goldings hops. The beer has an unusual slightly smoky character to it. 5/10.

Fullers ESB

Drink 5. A half pint of Fullers ESB (5.5%). ESB is a dark amber colour and has a fruity nose; most notable on the nose is prunes. On the palette dates and prunes continue with tastes of bonfire toffee to make a wonderfully complex warming bitter with hints of sweetness. The length to the beer is fabulous. It is no surprise that ESB was originally brewed in 1971 as a winter brew. At 5.5% it is not a session beer, but it is very drinkable and something that you will stick to once you have started drinking it. It also strikes me as a beer that would be wonderful to cook with, for example a rich stew.  It is a lovely unusual dark beer which has a Christmas or wintery nature to it. 8/10.