Sunday 17 November 2013

Barngates Brewery

As a brewer (maybe 'former brewer' would be more appropriate), one of the first questions you're asked when you meet someone new is "Go on then, what's your favourite beer?"

Of course, we all have our classics that we return to time and again, there are a certain number of beers that will always hold a special place in my heart, for sure. However I spent yesterday with a little concept bubbling in my mind; having a crush on a beer, so to speak.

A couple of weeks back, I visited The Drunken Duck Inn, between Ambleside and Hawkshead up here in the Lakes. The Duck is known locally for three things; firstly, top quality food and hospitality; secondly, one of the most rewarding and beautiful views in the entire county (maybe even country) and thirdly, Barngates Brewery. John Lloyd began brewing 16 Years ago in the out buildings of the pub and slowly built demand for his range of flavoursome and consistently well-brewed beers from the outset. The kit has grown considerably in the intervening time and now John, together with partner Lucy, has a core range of seven beers ranging from renowned premium ale Red Bull Terrier (4.8%) to the newer additions to the range Goodhew's Dry Stout (4.3%) and the superb Pale (3.3%), which is the beer that has me smitten...

My own picture. Remind me to clean the camera lens on my phone...

On the occasion of my visit back in October, I was shown around the brewery and given a brief potted history, as well as the ambitious future plans that John and Lucy have for evolving the brand. This included developing this year's new beers as mentioned above. I was fortunate enough to try Goodhew's Dry Stout on cask that day and even more fortunate to try the new Pale in the form of a couple of bottles, given to me by John.

This really is one of the finest low ABV beers I've tasted. The bitterness is present but restrained, it's crisp and refreshing without drying the palate too much, it has an overall air of delicate transatlantic hoppiness which doesn't club you to death with a full on citrus and tropical overload nor leave you wanting more, it strikes a beautiful balance. If you like Thornbridge's Wild Swan and Hawkshead's Windermere Pale (and let's face it, who doesn't?), this beer should be right at the top of your must-try list.

I was invited back up to the Duck yesterday for Barngates' celebration of their re-launch, which also includes fantastic new branding from Plain Creative. A free bar was very kindly laid on for those attending from neighbouring CAMRA branches and other fellow beery types in the area. Pale, Goodhew's, Red Bull Terrier and Cracker, their traditional bitter (4.0%), were all in great demand and on stunning form. I managed to polish off the best part of a gallon throughout the afternoon, mostly comprised of Pale, it must be said. My beery crush became a fully fledged romance.

Picture nabbed from Barngates' tweet.

All present were tipping Barngates for greatness over the coming year, myself included. Well-deserved it would be too.

Disclaimer, while the samples I've mentioned and described above were all given to me for free, I've since purchased a case of Pale. I couldn't resist it!

Friday 26 July 2013

Bradford's Bouncing Back.

As you may have guessed from my Twitter handle, I'm a proud Yorkshireman. Over and above that, I'm a proud Bradfordian. My home city suffers a degree of ridicule in the national recognition, as the poor neighbour of Leeds, as a failed example of multiculturalism. If that is your impression of the place, I'd urge you to visit. It isn't the vibrant, northern urban centre that the likes of Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool have come to represent, but it teems with glorious architecture, all hewn from true Yorkshire sandstone in the traditional fashion. The place still has a buzz I remember from my youth, a sense of pride that stems from its previous life as Britain's richest city, home to the wool trade, a time dominated by Samuel Lister and Sir Titus Salt.

Salt's Mill, from the northern bank of the Aire. Photo by Jon Farman via Wikimedia Commons.

The visit I paid to Bradford recently was enlightening, even to me. There are Subways and Tesco Express stores where I remember pubs and independent stores.* There are housing developments where I remember open fields, even as recently ast 13 years ago, when we left Bradford for Cumbria. But beyond that, and much more importantly, there are the fruits of the new Bradford, borne of seeds laid long ago in the hearts of men and women like me, who wanted more for their home town. My priorities were somewhat changed when I moved away, but there has been some amazing work done in Bradford recently and not one but two of these examples were the very reasons I was in town.

The Sparrow Bier Cafe, on North Parade, recently celebrated its second birthday. There's much I could say about the short history of the place, the drive and commitment of its owner-operators and what a great place it is to go and drink in general, but much of this has been said already by the great Leigh Linley, over at The Good Stuff. In the interview he gives Leigh, Mark (Husak, co-owner) states his passion for the city and upon meeting the fella, which I have done on a few occasions now, this becomes abundantly clear.

The vision for the Sparrow is clearly rooted in the long-established craft bar scene. The size of the place brings to mind North Bar, or The Rake, with a beer selection that was well-judged, well kept and sold by knowledgable and friendly staff. Even the soaring temperatures on the evening I was there didn't affect my enjoyment, it was simply a case of ordering another pint of Bernard Light, Pivovar's stunning 3.8% pilsner.

The reason I had made this pilgrimage was for the launch of a new brewery, Northen Monk, and their first beer, New World IPA. Northern Monk is the highly anticipated arrival on the commercial brewing scene of Bradford's own David Bishop, multi-award winning homebrewer, who is now working with business partner Russell Bisset on this new venture. I've only had the pleasure of one of Dave's beers before, DamNation, a Belgian-style strong golden ale. Needless to say it was brilliant, understated with a lovely balance of light, wispish malt, bold (without being aggressive) hopping and a luscious estery yeast, in perfect complement to the style. All of this prior knowledge made it essential for me to attend on the night and taste the new output for myself.

New World IPA did not disappoint. The malt character provides a strong backbone for the generous amount of hops, which effused tempting aromas of mangoes, gooseberries and freshly cut limes. I found it to be brief but full on the palate, while being cleansing, refreshing and all too drinkable (especially in the heat!). The bitterness was low and gentle, wringing the most life out of aroma hops and delivering a resolute, fruit-laden flavour that is well deserving of that same hallowed ground currently trodden by Jaipur, Dobber, High Wire and Diablo.

Much like The Sparrow, I suspect these Northern Monks will be around for some time to come.

*Here I was ready, to lament the demise of Frizinghall Model Railways, a place where many happy hours were spent with my Dad in my childhood looking at the beautifully made up displays and set-ups, only to find that no such demise exists. It isn't where it was, but that is because FMR has moved into larger premises and has established a thriving online shop, truly bringing the business into the 21st century. More power to them!

If you're a tweeter and not already doing so, may I recommend following The Sparrow, Northern Monk Brewing Co., David Bishop and Russell Bisset. There's more reviews of New World IPA out there by Simon at CAMRGB, Nick at The Beer Prole, Leigh at The Good Stuff and Boak and Bailey.

Sunday 23 December 2012


That was the year that was, eh?

I decided not to do a Golden Pints this year. I haven't blogged much at all this year, not for lack of inspiration, but because I didn't feel I could do myself justice.

The European Beer Bloggers Conference, held in Leeds in May, was a bit of an eye-opener for me. Being in the company of writers I've held in very high esteem was great, but when it came down to brass tacks, I realised I don't have the commitment to writing that they do. I'd love to be able to write 80,000 words a year and make cogent and reasonable arguments to join the debate, but I just don't feel like I have the skill or the time.

So, a brief post on what I've enjoyed this year and so forth...

Professionally speaking, brewing with John Keeling was fantastic. He has a friendly and open nature, and we found him keen to share his not inconsiderable brewing knowledge with us. Not only was the day informative, it was fun too. Signing the wall at The Rake was amazing too.

The Rake - now cosiderably less valuable than it was on 5/8/12

Event wise, Hardknott have been to Port Street a couple of times this year and I was lucky to go along on both occasions. I also went down for the Roosters night. All three were marvellous occasions. PSBH is the without doubt my favourite place to drink here in the UK, my only regret is that I can't get down there more often.

 Port Street - nice bit of chalkmanship

I've already mentioned EBBC, add to the list a jaunt to Leeds for the International Beer Festival in September, with the notorious Tyler Kiley as my guide, discovering Friends of Ham and Whitelocks as well as the excellent Festival itself. I'm definitely looking forward to Leeds in 2013.

 Tyler and Leigh - besht maytsh

The last event of the year for Hardknott was the Taste Cumbria Christmas Fayre at Muncaster Castle. We ran a Beer Hall in the Old Laundry function room, which was great. We served six beers, all on keg, blew a few minds, and enjoyed some of the best weather of the winter.

 Muncaster Castle and the lower Esk Valley - beautiful in the winter sun

Beers of the year... the big one... In terms of what I've made myself, the new Hardknott Azimuth has become a personal favourite. I was also very proud of my homebrewed IPA, "Fitzroy", which people have been very kind about. Going beyond the narcissism... Buxton Axe Edge, Hawkshead NZPA, Stringers Mutiny and Furness Abbey, Dogfish Head 75 minute IPA (thanks to the good folks at North Bar for sharing with us at the time!), Coniston No.9, Roosters Baby Faced Assassin, Duchesse de Bourgogne and Lovibonds Dirty 69. All beers that have, at various times, floated my boat. All exceptionally well brewed, all packed with flavour. Special mention should also go to Dave Bishop, Broadford Brewer, who very kindly gave me a bottle of his DamnNation Belgian golden strong ale. This was every bit the equal to Duvel and Delirium Tremens, it was difficult to believe I was drinking a homebrewed beer at times. The end of the year has brought the sad news that Dave has been made redundant from his day job. He's an extremely talented brewer and would be an asset to any brewery who are looking to hire someone.

One thing I'd like to see less of in 2013 is the emergence of "craft" microbreweries that are owned and operated by larger, regional brewers*. The dull, piss-boring dishwater you peddle at £43 a firkin is the reason there is a craft movement in the UK now. You are akin to a horse who wants to hitch a lift in the carriage you're meant to be pulling. Cos y'know, that happens all the time.

Turned into a bit of a rant, hasn't it. What doesn't, I guess!

The warmest of seasons greetings to all and I wish you the very best for 2013.

*A little disclaimer, not all regional brewers are turning out the kind of beers I described above, Fullers and Adnams are producing some great beers and some of Jennings offerings are quite palatable. But there some terrible beers we have to put up with here in the Lakes, simply because they are too cheap for the landlord to ignore. Only my opinion, but there you have it.

Thursday 19 July 2012

Desk Job

I'm now the proud owner of my very own desk, in an office, at my place of work. As if the occasion wasn't momentous enough, HardknottDave has very generously now also furnished it with a working computer too.

I thought I'd mark this turning point in my career by writing a blog.

Anyway, I haven't a right lot to say just now, as I'm supposed to be writing a HACCP plan.

So that's it really. Toodle pip.

Saturday 19 May 2012

Live Blogging #EBBC

I live-blogged the speed tasting event on Twitter, so below is a collation of all those tweets in one place.

"Beer 1. #EBBC12 Otley Oxymoron. Light and slightly citrus aromas, the Sorachi hops jump out at me, pleasant malt backbone."

"Oxymoron: bitterness is very pleasant, lingering and nice back-of-the-tongue bite. #EBBC12"

"Beer 2: Brains Dark. Hints of chocolate and coffee on the nose. Slightly caramel-tinged. Understated hops, in style for a mild."

"Beautiful tobacco smoke hint and tasty liquorice. Liking this. #EBBC12"

"Beer 3: Marble/Emelisse Collab. Aroma is minimal but fruity & pleasant. Medium bitterness and a really nice bergamot-tannic flavour. #EBBC12"

"Made with tea, this fact is very evident! Really nice, full flavoured. #EBBC12"

"Beer 4, Roosters Baby Faced Assassin............. #saynomore beautifully soft, fragrant, served from cask this is an absolute winner."

"Beer 5: Great Heck Stormin' Norman, nice aromas, good fruit and tasty lingering yeast notes. Really drinkable for 6.5%..."

"Beer 6. Slater's Top Totty. Slight lemony touch, but an overall malt-led affair. Not as bitter as I'd like. Well brewed but not for me."

"Beer 7: Camden Hells USA... Unfiltered, lovely light flavour, malt shines through with the gentle balance of US hops. Superb. #EBBC12"

"Beer 8: Adnams Ghost Ship. Fruity Caramel nose. Nice malt character, really full & lingering, balanced beautifully by new world hops #EBBC12"

"Beer 9: Innis & Gunn, Scottish pale oak aged. Pine and toffee nose, fully hoppy flavour, but the oak aged, vanilla and toffee notes dominate"

"That's not my bag (in a pale beer) I'm afraid. Sorry I&G."

"Beer 10: Leeds Hellfire. Pleasant nose, nice body but it feels a bit beaten up. Bitterness doesn't jump out like I'd hope. #EBBC12"

"I get the feeling this would be a great beer if BC'd."

"I admire Leeds Brewery guy's marketing outlook, he's got it right. But pasteurising hasn't treated this beer well, IMHO. #EBBC12"

The event was great and it was superb fun to meet the guys from each brewery, hear their stories and learn a little bit more about what motivated them.

Beer Glasses - why it matters.

For me, one of the most interesting sessions at EBBC so far has been the beer tasting with glass comparison, hosted by Spiegelau. Our hosts clearly know their stuff when it comes to glassmaking, but they've only been at it for 500 years or so, deep in the heart of Bavaria.

My time working behind bars made me well aware of the fact that a certain type of beer needs a certain type of glass. This was especially true of my time at The Masons Arms, where our range of 60 different beers tested the knowledge of our bar team daily.

However, as much as I have always stressed to people how much the shape of the glass matters, I was completely bowled over by Spiegelau's presentation. Taking as an example Camden Brewery's excellent Wheat beer, a sample was poured into each of Spielgelau's tall wheat beer glass, their tall but slender pilsner glass and finally the joker glass, a tulip pint such as those found in nearly any pub in the UK.

The wheat beer glass really accentuated the nose of the beer, the subtle notes that define a good Hefeweiss drifted gently from the glass. A good, soft head was well retained in this glass.

The pilsner glass, while not dissimilar in shape to the wheat beer glass, is a more narrow, slender affair. The aroma was present, but much more concentrated. It was a sudden burst of atonal noise, rather than all the notes playing out their gentle melody in turn. Again, this glass gave good head, but the mouthfeel was more aggressive, the carbonation was fuller and tighter.

The joker glass, with it's rolled lip, thicker walls and slight discolouration, gave very little - if any - aroma. The head disappeared almost immediately and the taste was metallic and ever so slightly sulphurous. I wondered if the glass I had was in need of renovating, the difference was that marked.

It's worth noting that the joker glass would retail ordinarily for between £1-2, where the Spiegelau glasses would retail for at the very least £7 each (the glass set we were very kindly given would normally retail for £30). The ordinary tulips, while thickness is part of the problem in tasting beers, is obviously more hard-wearing. Spiegelau's technique of blowing the glass, rather than moulding, results in a thinner, clearer glass, which is cut with a laser for a finer finish. The official line is that these glasses are built to withstand 1500 dishwasher cycles - 4 years if used everyday - however I would be surprised if they weren't broken before then, even by the most careful of beer geeks.

Friday 18 May 2012

Free Beer

The subject came up briefly during the second session of EBBC, in which Adrian Tierney-Jones and Simon Jenkins were offering generous advice on how to improve beer writing.

It's a hot topic at the moment and has led to Dave running the little "competition" in which a number of lucky bloggers who responded to our Rhetoric with reasonable integrity are taking home a bottle.

I was chatting with Neil Walker of Eating isn't Cheating yesterday in North Bar who provided the best example of how to go about requesting beer from a brewery that I've encountered so far.

"If I know I can't or won't be able to get hold of the beer in question locally, I simply send a polite email asking that should the brewery happen to be sending out beers for review, please would they consider sending me one."

As Adrian said in his talk, it's up to the blogger as to how they conduct themselves and indeed up to the brewer to decide how they'd like to respond.

Our point of view has been made clear by Dave, who believes that - as it stands - bloggers make up a large part of our target audience, it doesn't make any sense in business terms to give your product away that easily.

I'd certainly be more open to requests, were it to come down to my decision, if the requests were as polite as those outlined here.