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.