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