Edinburgh jaunt

We recently visited Edinburgh for a couple of days and after taking lots of recommendations from folk (thanks @davomanic and @ckdsaddlers), managed to hit quite a few new places both on the beer and coffee, food and beer front. (We found a few bloody awful places too, but we won’t dwell on those) No in-depth reviews of any here really, a few words at most, plus photographs taken hastily, often blurry, using my iPhone of some of the most interesting.

First on my hit list was The Hanging Bat and indeed it was to there we headed immediately after dumping our belongings at the nearby Premier Inn on Lauriston Place, which I have to add was ideally placed to put a lot of places we hoped to try within easy walking distance. The Hanging Bat didn’t disappoint in any way, a lovely looking venue with the aroma of smoke mixing with brewhouse niffs. The beer list was tip-top and I was really happy to find a few new Scottish breweries making the beer list, Pilot and Fallen both hitting the spot several times over the weekend.

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Food was trickier as Mrs H (the wife) doesn’t really like smoked food, which here does not compute, I had the ribs with Vimto glaze which was absolutely beautiful, but left my fingers with a lingering smell of smouldering oak. This is fine until about 3am when you wake up gnawing at your knuckles dreaming about beer post beer munchies..

I was also really impressed by Blackfriars, tucked away a stones throw away from Brewdog and easy to miss unless you know what it is and where it is. Split in two on the ground floor with a restaurant one side and bar the other, but linked at cellar level sharing a kitchen and restrooms. The decor is bright and modern and had a cracking little beer list ably served by cheery knowledge staff.

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The bar, in case you hadn’t guessed…IMG_2869

I have no idea what this was, other than it was sour, murky and very drinkable.
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Stephen….(seagull)

Moving away from beer, Caffiene Drip was very much a Mrs H find and I have to admit on first impressions I was sceptical as we headed in for our first breakfast visit. However all that changed as we went down into the cellar serving and café area which had a really cool “in the know” kind of feel, with rows of small tables set in coffee sack clad walls. The menu was very coffee-deli like, but set at such a high standard.

IMG_2889 IMG_2888I went for the three egg and enormous toast, “pick your own” breakfast, with three superbly seasoned eggs (obviously), toast made from bread to die for and paired it with tasty bacon and local sausage. Such a great feed and extremely filling which is  good thing, but sadly I couldn’t face any of the delicious looking cakes, granola and pastries also available. Of course fresh coffee washed it all down well with the long black my cup of choice.

We spent far more time in Brewdog on Cowgate than I expected and no doubt than was healthy. Despite being small and a little tired compared to some of the new establishments, the beer list was excellent, no doubt aided by the Ballast Point tap takeover we had just missed. It was great to try some of those.

IMG_2873 IMG_2872 IMG_2875One slight disappointment being that nobody had a clue what was in the AB’ bottles in the fridges, consequently I didn’t but any, however the “Mills & Hills” collaboration between Fyne and De Molen plus the Ballast Point “Victory At Sea” amply made up for that loss, both being absolutely beautiful.

I had hoped to write a bit more at this point, but a WordPress “no save” disaster put paid to that as now I am running out of time and about to go for a few days away with the good lady wife. I’ll leave you with a few more pics though and wish you all the best until next time.

 

CHEERS!

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SPIT/FIRE

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Castello Coffee

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A gardening trapèze artistiering genius

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As sampled at Hanging Bat

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As sampled at Hanging Bat

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OX184

 

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Beyond The Velodrome

Leaving home for Manchester yesterday, I had to confess I did so with a hint of trepidation. Not beating around the bush, I’ve felt more than a little let down with some of the CAMRA led beer festivals I’ve attended recently, which is not a dig at CAMRA nor the fabulous volunteers that organise and run these events, it’s hard work and a thankless task at times I know. More a wish that the guys choosing the beers to serve would be a little more “adventurous”, rather than sticking with the same beverages once used to champion the fight against Watneys Red Barrel 😉

Anyway moving on, that uneasiness was not helped by a few comments I’d picked up about Wednesdays opening session which were less than complimentary for various reasons. But, I am very, very happy to say that those feelings proved most thoroughly unfounded on my experience, perhaps first night teething problems on Weds?

IMG_1467Getting to the venue was an absolute breeze, once we established the right Metro platform (which became obvious from those gathered there already), £3 return, ten minutes and bosh, direct link to the festival.

Wisely opting for a quiet afternoon session, there were no queues and with minimal fuss we are in and looking our first brewery bar. Jointly hosted by OffBeat, Blackjack, Ilkley, Bridestones and already I am spoiled for choice, but wasting little time I picked the tongue in cheekly named “Copyright Ingingement” from Blackjack to christen my stemmed half/third glass which gets another tick from me.

We wandered then down the stairs that lead under the track to the main beer hall. As you emerge, although you are in what is basically a bloody big sports hall, it is still an awesome sight as the velodrome opens out before you. The gracious sweeping curve of continuous pine is just stunning, a real first for me and worth the trip for that alone.

IMG_1471Watching Team GB training too was an absolute privilege, where else can you sample wonderful beers with such a spectacular backdrop. The speed at which these athletes storm around the track is at times dizzying, but never stops drawing the eye throughout the day, which could be very dangerous after too many samples..

IMG_1474As I explored the venue further the more I liked it, the main hall is well spread out, with lots of tables, although as usual folks set up camp and close ranks on those for the duration, however it doesn’t feel cramped and the bars are well manned making choice and purchase a breeze. To add to this there are bars spread all around the periphery of the trackside, adding to that feeling of space and with the added bonus of seating opportunities aplenty for those weary or wobbly beer legs. Great views from up there too.

IMG_1476Throwing a negative in here at this point, as you’d expect from a moaning old bugger like me, the food… I’m sorry but very poor, perhaps apart from the ploughman’s stall which at least looked appetising. The Mexican buffet, a row of six or seven tins on warming platters that looked like they had been there all day. A curry and pie area which reminded me of a school dinner hall,  and the Teppanyaki sushi and noodle bar. The latter being our selection of choice for both meal and late afternoon snack, and perhaps where the poor description is slightly unfair. The food itself here was actually very nice, it just wasn’t hot which for a style of food preparation based on show cooking was really disappointing. As a tip for the organisers next time, assuming you have choice and are not forced by venue contracts, look at what IndyMan Beer Con do, surely in Manchester there are plenty of top quality food retailers who would do you proud and be glad of the opportunity to showcase their talents.

IMG_1478In true “kiss, slap, kiss” style, back to the beer, and where this event excelled, going some way to restore my faith and hope for future CAMRA beer festivals. What a really wide ranging interesting selection, it just seemed to cater for everyone. There is hope beyond the velodrome!

Yes there were the old faithful standards, some safer bets so to speak, but clearly a lot of folks enjoy them so fair do’s. But there were also a good proportion of newer breweries and some more adventurous brews too.

IMG_1472We were also treated to not one but TWO foreign beer bars ,with a huge, top quality range on draught and in bottle. Highly unlikely I know, but wouldn’t it be great to have another bar, selling the best of British keg at next years bash, to let folks make up their own minds on this most controversial of subjects? (hides behind the sofa)

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IMG_1468I can honestly say, with hand firmly on heart, that I did not have a beer that I didn’t enjoy all day and came away with many more that I would loved to have tried if time had allowed. From memory, these were my choices….

Blackjack – Copyright Ingingement
Tiny Rebel – Dirty Stop Out 12 month BA Brett
Hawkshead – NZPA
Marble/Hawkshead – Beer Matts
Marble – 125 Barley Wine
Tapped Brew – Mojo
De 3 Horne – Kerselaere
NMBC – New World IPA Dry Hopped
NMBC – Monacus
Opat Kvasnicak – Coriander
Andechs – Dunkelweisse
Wild – Yankee Sandwich
Oersop/Oedipus – Flavoured Saison
Ramses – Den Dorstige Tijger

Well done to all involved in that selection process and to those who set up served them to the multitudes. There were also some top folks errr, ‘supervising” too..

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A quality day out, a serious big thanks and well done to all involved. See you next year and I promise I won’t wear lycra..

“We all need another beer-oh
We don’t ever want to goooo home
All we want is to be back, at the Velodrome..”

Sorry…I’ll get me coat…

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Golden Pints 2013

Igp2012-225x300t’s Golden Pints time yet again, only this time I hope that my excruciatingly annoying use of Untappd has paid off, allowing me to actually remember all (or at least a damned good proportion) of the beers I’ve sampled. The only negative side of that fact being that if I can remember or recall more, the bleedin’ choices are now much wider and decisions therefore more difficult to make…grumble, grumble, grumble…
Here goes….

Best UK Cask Beer

Well, that has immediately buggered up my new “foolproof system”, as Untappd only logs the beer and not the dispense method. To add to my pain, I’m a bit of a keg-head generally as and when it’s available and drink shit-loads of bottled beers. I “think” I can remember which ones were cask, but if I get this wrong and you brew and KNOW it was keg only please don’t crucify me, it was still obviously a memorable beer. Even then, taking all my excuses into consideration I still can’t pick one winner and I’m edging towards three, with several runners-up..(Decisive I know, you should see me ordering a meal)

Roosters 20th Anniversary IPA  & Marble Old Manchester both sit fondly as being excellent in the memory with Roosters Baby Faced Assassin a very recent and most welcome third front-runner. All three followed very closely on the heels by the Red Willow/Offbeat collaboration Shapeless, Thwaites “Craft” 13 Guns, Weird Beard Mariana Trench and the ever-present and always stunning Buxton Axe Edge and Hawkshead NZPA. Dare I also mention Marble Decadence…? (Hides under table)
Wow and I thought cask was tough, these next two categories are going to be killers..

Best UK Keg Beer

There are SOOOO many contenders for this, 2013 has been absolutely amazing for keg, new beer festivals embracing it, new bars opening and showcasing it, even specialist beer shops peddling it in store and by the growler, all of which suits me absolutely fine. The Wild collaboration “Shnoodlepip” and Arbor/Moor “Double Dark Alliance” were both superb at the Birmingham Beer Bash and I can’t forget the Bitches and Black Jack collab “Isosceles” I helped with for the Macclesfield Twissup, I may be a little biased here but it was pretty darned good. For once though I am going to stick my neck out with one beer that has stuck in my head as being top dog, that beer was Buxton “Wild Boar”, as sampled at the Euston Tap, funnily enough during the Wyoming Sheep Ranch launch tap takeover.

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer

As with keg, there has been an explosion of bottled beery goodness this year and it’s getting so much more accessible too which is grand, with more and more high street and internet retailers fighting for thirsty drinkers pound notes. Without a doubt the bottled beers I’ve drunk most of were some in the Great British Beer Hunt, Harbour IPA and Porter, Thwaites Crafty Dan, Hardknott Infra Red and Williams Bros Hipsway being notable mentionables. I also was lucky enough to get a super fresh case of Buxton Axe Edge earlier this year too and immediately decided then that this was my bottled beer of the year. However, there have been developments, new beers, different beers, all of which have clouded my mind along with old favourites that have prodded me in the ribs to remind me “I’m still here”.. Of those I have to give credit to Red Willow Ageless, always impressive. Wild Beer Co for Ninkasi, surely one of the most beautiful bottles of beer, inside and out ever, and finally Salopian Automaton, Kashmir, Black Ops, Boomerang (basically all of their other recent stuff) what the hell has happened at that brewery, they were always pretty good but these new additions are just brilliant!
Still, there has to be one winner, but despite wittering on for ten minutes it’s none of the above, although I stand by them all regardless. This years top banana bottle award goes to The Kernel for Double Citra, a stupendously flavoursome and aromatic beer I wish I had more of..

Best Overseas Draught Beer

We spent almost two weeks in Europe this year for one reason or another, most of it exploring Gent, Antwerp and Bruges, but also another two wonderful days in Bodegraven for the De MolenBorefts” beer festival. So you can believe me when I say I’ve done the rounds in terms of sampling foreign draught beer in 2013. With the latter particularly I could rattle on for hours about the seemingly endless selection of new and interesting beers on offer, with absolute certainty more than I can remember or noted. Outstanding efforts of note include “Rime of the ancient mariner’ and “Hot & Spicy Naga Jolokia” both from De Molen, “Mademoiselle Aramis” Brasserie Du Mont Salève, “Ot the explorer” and “Utrecht Strong” by Rooi Doop and “Buffalo Trace Barley Wine” from  Emelisse. There were others you can read about here, but not all were draught and so don’t meet the criteria.. Another notable mention must go to Troubadour Magma Galaxy, as supped at Cafe Rose Red in Bruges..mmmmm.
However…we do still have a winner and it’s as big a surprise to me as no doubt it will be to you as it’s nothing new, or weird or rare etc.. I’m giving this to Houblon Chouffe Dobbelen IPA Tripel as served to me at “Het Waterhuis aan De Bierkant” in Gent earlier this year. The sun was blazing and we sat outside by the waterside, the beer arrived and was as fresh as I’ve ever tasted it and on banging good form, smelling and tasting it was just perfect, so perfect that I had a couple more. (You can’t beat “the beer moment”)

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer

Another bloody tough call this, but for once I’m keeping it brief. Toccalmatto have been outstanding, Bedda Matri Barley Wine Marsala Wine BA and their Russian Imperial Stout (aged in Sagrantino di Montefalco red wine barrels) being two that stand out, the latter being one of the best presented beers I’ve ever seen, I’d love to get my hands on either of them again. Also De Dochter Van De Korenaar, new beers on my radar, but all so far have been delicious. But, the “White Label, Buffalo Trace BA Barley Wine” from Emelisse just pips Toccalmatto to the post for me, a deserved first place. It tastes like bottled molten Crunchie on boozy steroids…

IMG_7921Best Collaboration Brew

Surely 2013 has to be the “year of the collab”there have been so many it’s hard to keep up and the standard beyond belief. Wild/Good George/Burning Sky with their wondrous concoction Shnoodlepip,  Weird Beard/Elusive with a particular favourite Nelson Saison, the Red Willow/OffBeat Shapeless and Bitches/Black Jack Isosceles, both absolute belters, the latter of which I assisted with and chose the hop additions (proud of that). The highest accolade though goes to Thornbridge and St. Eriks Brewery for the sublime Imperial Raspberry Stout, rich and dark with that cutting tartness of raspberry goodness..Mmmmm

Best Overall Beer

Always difficult, this year almost impossible, the standards have been incredible. In the CAMRGB awards I voted for the Kernel Double Citra as mentioned above and it would be so easy to stick with that. Zona Cesarini too rocked my world in bottles I’ve had a few of and really wish I’d got to try on cask at Indyman. However I do think the best overall beer needs to be something accessible, a beer that you can and want to return to again and again which takes me back to Buxton “Axe Edge”. It’s still a beer that makes my eyes light up and my heart sing if I see it gracing a bars hand pumps, keg taps or bottle fridges.
IMG_7961STOP PRESS: As if I haven’t procrastinated enough, I’ve had three new beers this week that I feel deserve a mention as being “must try more of” material. Moor – Hoppiness, great value and absolutely stunning. Pressure Drop – “Pale Fire” as seen on keg at Red Willow Bar very recently and finally “Ogham Oak Exotic Belgian Triple’ by The Celt Experience, a whirlwind or flavours and aroma.

Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label

I’m pretty sure this is almost the same as last year, Harbour, beautiful branding, highest quality labelling ever. New entry for Weird Beard, inventive, beautiful, entertaining, fun and tasty to match. Top dog though is again Red Willow, simple but stunning logo on complimentary contrasting coloured backdrops. The labels and pump clips are instantly recognisable and look second to none on a shops shelves in my opinion, something I revisited earlier today at one of the UK’s largest specialist beer shops.

The Craft Bandwagon award for successfully reinventing themselves as such

😉 …goes to Thwaites “Crafty Dan”. Hands up, I moaned about them jumping on the “C” bandwagon last year and have been made to eat (drink) my words. The new brews have all been delicious and the new bottles look ace. As for the worst, well there have been a few, with Greene Kings TV advertising bringing the biggest guffaw, other candidates shall remain nameless although it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to work them out

Best revitalised brewery

Salopian, unlike the all others, just “quietly getting on with it” as their website states and launching beer after superb beer in the new black bottles, not shouting about it, but gathering pace all the same…2014 watch out!! #DoffsCap

Best UK Brewery

Tough call, Magic Rock have been ace but are rarely seen around these parts, as are Kernel, Summer Wine, Tiny Rebel. I’ve really loved the Weird Beard bottles I’ve sampled this year too, along with lots of specials at various festivals etc too. I think though I have to declare this one as a draw between Buxton and Wild Beer Co.

Axe Edge still sits as one of my favourite beers ever and as I said earlier that fresh case I supped was outstanding, then of course we have Wild Boar, Wyoming Sheep Ranch and Colin “Stronges Extra Stout. Whilst Wild Beer Co have just been so inventive and got away with some stunning concoctions. Ninkasi, Wildebeest, Madness IPA, Epic Saison and Modus Operandi, and not forgetting the fine collaboration brews Shnoodlepip and Cool As A Cucumber  

russian-imperial-stout-toccalmatto-b000275Best Overseas Brewery

Toccalmatto, no arguments, although I have to add that it has been fantastic to see more European countries (and beyond) with emerging new breweries where before all seemed desert like, with only yellow tasteless fizz lapping at their borders. I love the Toccalmatto branding, the labels leap out at you screaming buy me, and you are very rarely disappointed with a range of interesting delicious brews. Great guys too.

Best New Brewery Opening 2013

Weird Beard, hmmm maybe not new this year but not far off and thankfully still going great guns. Northern Monk Brew, yes, new and bristling with beery magic and mystery. But I reckon I’m going to go for Siren Craft Brew as leading the pack of brand spanking new masters of the mash tun.

IMG_6369Pub/Bar of the Year

I could quite easily pick The Grove in Huddersfield in this category but as I haven’t made it there this year, a fact which both surprises and disappoints me I can’t really do so. As normal I’m splitting this in two and choosing a pub AND bar as both are very different places to drink in my view.
The Wharf in Macclesfield still sits as firm favourite for me with it’s mix of a homely welcome, pleasant atmosphere and superbly presented beer (in fact it’s worth noting that two of the three top cask beers were supped here) making it top dog on the pub front. Port Street therefore takes the crown on the bar front, I love the atmosphere, the staff are amazing and friendly folk and the beer list goes from strength to strength. Another fine year for both.

Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2013

No brainer, Toby and Caroline Mckenzies “Red Willow Bar‘ in Macclesfield.
20131112-192254.jpgI never thought I’d see the day that would see a venue serving 15 ever-changing keg beers, 5 cask and 50 gins a short 15 minute train ride from my home. I fills me with hope that Stoke will soon catch on and follow suit. Everything in the place has been nailed down to the finest level of detail (I know this as I was lucky enough to watch it grow), again the staff are brilliant, knowledgeable, friendly and welcoming. It’s hard to choose to go anywhere else these days. One to watch next year…

9rlfhvBeer Festival of the Year

As with beer in general 2013 has seen a most welcome explosion of new and exciting beer festivals, happy to embrace fine brewing in all it’s guises. Sadly due to unforseen family issues I had to miss Indyman Beer Con this time around and so as with The Grove, she’s out of the running which is a real shame as I’d love to have made that comparison. However it’s also quite a happy thing as it gives me the greatest of pleasure to give this nomination to Birmingham Beer Bash, an event conceived and run admirably well by good friends of mine. I had two fabulous days in Brum this year and can’t wait to see what the guys come up with for 2014.
Overseas, no brainer again, De Molen Borefts, the one fest to rule them all. Relaxed, no barriers, no security, just the most stupendously good beer list you can imagine, combined with tasty food and the worlds finest beer folk. If I could choose to go to one place each year it would be here.

Supermarket of the Year – Although none are really worthy I think Tesco’s larger stores fair better than most.

Independent Retailer of the Year

Cotteridge Wines, I think I have to be a shareholder by now? 😉 In all seriousness I really don’t know how Jas and Kal manage it, two of the most hardworking passionate blokes I’ve ever met. An Aladdin’s Cave for any beer lover.
I also have to give credit to three local retailers who are also growing fast and are a most welcome site in these parts, Brewtique in Macclesfield, The Beer Emporium in Sandbach and Beerdock in Crewe. God help my wallet… Plus of course not forgetting Beermoth in Manchester, a must visit on every Mancunian beer trip.

Online Retailer of the Year

Being honest because the high street presence has grown and the standards above have been so high, I haven’t used online so much in 2013, but when I have then Beermerchants have been my go to click of choice. Honourable mention goes out to another local business Best Of British Beer. I’ve got to know these guys well in the last few months and have been really impressed by what they are doing and have done over the last year or so. Another one to watch for 2014.

Best Beer Book or Magazine

Great Yorkshire Beer by my good friend Leigh Linley. I love Leigh’s writing style anyway and it early comes across well in this mix of venue and brewery guide, with fine recipe ideas to pair it with. GYB kept me entertained this year during a short hospital stay, although it didn’t help that I was on a “nil by mouth” regime at the time.

Best Beer Blog or Website

Leigh, again with his online persona “The Good Stuff” (Leigh send the tenner to the normal address please…) After that anyone that keeps me entertained, light hearted, fun writing hopefully with a humorous edge, Oh Beery Me, Pencil and Spoon, Are You Tasting The Pith being some that immediately spring to mind.

Best Beer App

Untappd, although it’s flawed and I do think creates friction in some circles, it’s a great tool as a memory aid and I’m intent on trying to keep that restricted to the app whenever possible next year.

Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer

I, as many others no doubt would want to award this to Simon himself this year, he used twitter as it should be, with cutting wit and sarcasm alike if needed. Not afraid to take the piss out of himself as well as others, but always with dignity and the craft of a master wordsmith. I’d rather one tweet a day like that any day of the week than a deluge.
Winners of this most prestigious award this year are, Dave, aka “@broadfordbrewer” who always makes me smile and I’m so glad to see him back online after a short absence. Plus of course my partner in crime Chris aka “@ckdsaddlers“, my partner in crime, the Staler to my Waldorf, an entertaining drinking partner and a bloody good egg, even when he’s talking Wolverhungaristonian.
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Best Brewery Website/Social media

I don’t spend a lot of time looking at brewery websites to be honest, but I’d say I’ve visited Weird Beard more than most and enjoy their blogging too. I also quite like a cheeky voyeuristic peek at the Magic Rock chaps via their webcam.

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year

Various beers along with loads of cheese, bitterballen and these mahoosive molten cheese filled sausages at Borefts has to be mentioned.
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But I’d go a long way to find better than Cheshire Brewhouse “Bondi Blues” paired with Great North Pie Co’s “Isosceles Breakfast Pies” at the Treacle Tap during this years Macclesfield Twissup. That was an amazingly good combo.
That’s it, decisions made and committed to cyberspace forever.. Many thanks to Andy and Mark for hosting this again, and a massive thanks to all the brewers who’s beers I’ve drank in 2013 and to all the bars and retailers I’ve bought them from.
MERRY CHRISTMAS!

What makes a great beer city?

Following on from my post about the lack of availability of British keg beers other than the normal run of the mill bar toppers. Quite a few folks mentioned that they wouldn’t like to see the decline of cask ales in favour of keg. That is exactly how I feel, I don’t want to see one replacing the other, on the contrary they compliment each other, it’s great to see how one stacks up against the other and can be a welcome distraction when all across the bar is boring, bland or even too warm for the weather.

Take Magic Rock High Wire as an example. I was lucky enough to be at one of the first launch events last year, High Wire was there on cask and was an absolute stunner. However the next time I got to taste it other than in bottled form was at the meet the brewer event at Port Street Beer House, on keg, the environment was warm and humid the beer lightly chilled with that extra kick of carbonation and it just sang. I said then that I’d like to see that on bars across the country as a real alternative to mainstream continental beers.

It extends further than keg though as even the rising brewing stars of cask seem to be largely passing us by here in the Potteries. Take Buxton Brewery as a classic example, widely regarded as one of the UK’s most exciting newish breweries, SIBA award winners and only 20 miles away. To date Stoke beer festival aside I’ve seen their beer here once and heard about it again in the singular, why?

Take a look at the Tweet below from serial beer traveller @6TownsMart, he’s talking to @kempicus, head brewer from Buxton Brewery:

It’s bonkers, Axe Edge one of if not the best beer from Buxton gracing the walls of one of London’s finest beer pubs as their beer of the year, yet I’ve never seen it personally in Staffordshire (although rumour has it that it once graced the pumps of The Congress, CAMRA Staffs pub of the year 2011).

I mentioned in my last post “forward thinking beer centric cities”, what I meant by that was a city or town that really seems to embrace new and exciting beer. Places like Craft, Mr Foleys, Port Street and The Grove exist and brewers are queuing up to showcase their new beer launches there.

Stoke does not seem to want to fall into that category and in my opinion we are as far from it as supping space beer in capsulated form at the far side of Cygnus X1.

It seems though we are not alone, even in the UK’s much debated second city things are seemingly similar as detailed in this post from Otherton Ales, “Where is the Birmingham Tap“. I’d sort of decided not to post this until I read about the similar plight in Brum. What is most annoying about that, is we are a city of beer drinkers, we have some great breweries and fantastic pubs in and around the Stoke area, with Buxton, Macclesfield, Burton, Shropshire, Stone, Cheshire etc all no more than about 30 miles away.

So I ask again why, is it the publicans, the breweries or the general supply chain, there are a few exceptions to the rule who manage to get the odd gem, so clearly it is possible?

Surely it’s not because the drinkers of Stoke are not interested in trying anything new, perhaps the local CAMRA guys can shed some light on that?

Why does one area thrive, whilst another seems happy to plod along ordering what they have always ordered because it sells, how long can that last??

I look at places like Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle Upon Tyne and am at times green with envy, meet the brewer events, home brew and bottle share meets and Leeds even bagged the European Beer Bloggers conference.. I can hear the crescendo of local voices saying “sod bloody off and live there then“, (don’t be like that). Yes it’s a whinge but I only want those things here because I’ve experienced them first hand and believe me, they are good.

The Saggar Maker Public House, Burslem by Steven Birks

Sadly, locally in the Mother Town we have seen the sad demise of many good pubs in recent years (although I hasten to add we still have some excellent ones) many have closed their doors forever and we now have perhaps only a handful of places where you are guaranteed a decent pint of cask beer in pleasant surroundings.

Sadder still is the fact that by far the busiest pub in town is The Saggar Makers, owned by the Last Orders chain and there’s not a pint of real ale to be seen.

Is that how you want your local drinking town to turn out?

I know I certainly don’t and I’ll be doing everything I possibly can to highlight anything and everything new and exciting to my local publicans. After all I want them to thrive, to grow and maybe be the catalyst to drive more folks away from supermarkets and back into the pubs of The Potteries and a city near you.

Vive la Révolution, sadly it’s not reached us yet?

I was going to use “Brewdog Stoke” as the title of this post, in fact I may still list it as a tag to see how much the search term is used out of interest. This was to try and gauge how many people particularly from the Stoke and surrounding areas would sit up and take notice if that started popping up on twitter, Facebook and Google search results. Craft keg, in Stoke, surely not?

Instead I used a quote or a slightly amended Twitter quote from James at Summer Wine Brewery:

This was my tongue in cheek response:

People who know me may be puzzled by my reply as they know that I love Belgian beer, in fact it was my love of their fine brews that ultimately led me to start blogging. The thing is though I am not against Belgian beer on keg, I embrace it with open arms as it deserves a place on British bars, I love to drink it and I’m sure James does too. What riles me though is the general reluctance in all but the most fashionable bars in beer centric drinking cities to put British beer on a keg line which I’m sure forms the basis of James’s point.

Can I just say here that this is not an intent to start the craft keg v cask debate again, far from it. CAMRA seem to be now at least openly considering the possibility of change in response to its increasing popularity (as written here by Tandleman). As a CAMRA member myself I obviously love cask real ale, I’d just like the opportunity to choose now and then but not have to travel 50 miles in order to make that choice.

Locally to me almost every decent pub has keg lines, I mean proper premium keg lines not those spewing out “beverages” at £1.50 a pint. We get Leffe, Staropramen, Timmermans, Blanche De Bruxelles, Babar, Budvar, St Feuillien, Gouden Carolus etc etc, I could go on and some would say we do pretty well, I’d have to agree but “why no British craft keg“!

Some of the best beer I’ve had this year was kegged, Magic Rock “High Wire”, Summer Wine’s Cohort and Saison series, Brewdog 5AM Saint and Kernel IPA all stand out as exceptional easy drinking and full flavoured beers that would shake some pubs to their very core, maybe even convert the odd lager lout along the way.

Of course I’m generalising here and speaking as it feels personally from my own back yard. We have several pubs in these parts that could bite the bullet and give it a try but seemingly won’t or can’t. I have asked the question on several occasions with varying responses, “it’s too expensive”, “people wouldn’t drink it”, “it’s not available to us”. Well it should be, make it your business to get it and stand out from a crowd as being the first, how do you know people won’t drink  it if they’ve never had the opportunity?? “Stock it, people will come…”

What’s it like where you live, do you have a choice? Is it always imports or are you one of the lucky ones who gets worldwide keg including those from our own shores?   

If you are one of the latter I’d love to hear how it all started for you and how it went down initially, it may come in useful in converting more folks in the area.

We need a craft beer truck, touring the UK bring new and exciting beers in keg bottles and of course cask to cities and towns across the country. It would be like that famous Coca Cola commercial that everyone comments on in early December. You’d first see it coming around the corner “Craft on Tour” in flashing neon and instantly get that warm feeling inside, Christmas has come early…

Vive la Révolution 😉

Generation Ale – Shepherd Neame

There’s always a sense of anticipation I feel when a brewery has taken the time to tissue wrap and seal a beer, it shows they are proud of their creation and want to present to their customers in tip-top condition.

When they go a step further and encase it in a wooden box, complete with clasp and seal it yet again, you’d hope for the moon on a stick moment when you finally get it to the glass, luckily this one delivers.

Generation Ale is the brainchild of Stewart Main, Senior Brewer at Shepherd Neame. It was brewed just over 12 months ago using a blend of five malts and five Kentish hops in celebration of the fifth generation of the Neame family to own the business. It has then been matured at the brewery for twelve months before being bottled, wrapped and sealed into it’s wooden case, there to lie in wait until the next lucky drinker comes along to release it in all it’s glory.

So what of the beer out of the bottle I hear you impatiently cry?

Well the crown cap fizzes with the escape of light carbonation as it’s cracked. Generation Ale, free at last from its wooden casket, careful sealed tissue wrap and dark brown embossed glass bottle pours silky smooth into the glass, settling in the colour revealed as a dark ruby brown topped with thin open head.

The first smells are of light burnt toffee, stewed winter fruits with an underpinning of booziness, this is a little too cool though and may develop. The first taste, it’s fresh and light with a pleasant amount of carbonation, the flavours are fruity, a sort of candied fruitiness dancing across the taste buds.

It’s warming now and developing with each sip, that fruit is pears maybe caramelised pears with hints of creamy chocolate. Quite out of nowhere there is a really powerful black pepper note, lots of pepper developing in aroma too with heady sweet pears in the beginning fading fast as the pepper builds.

The beer begins lightly carbonated when first poured but that quickly drops away in the glass leaving a full on mouth coating feel that turns almost brandy like as the glass warms it in the palm of your hand. Once downed it leaves a bitter black liquorice aftertaste with a warming alcohol burn that goes right down the throat into your belly, that bitterness is long-lasting and dwells on the tongue for a good while.

As you’ll see from the video later Stewart recommends pairing this with a nice creamy cheese, I opted for a Snowdonia Black Bomber extra mature cheddar. It has a strong cheddar bite but is really creamy in the mouth too which went wonderfully well with the ale.

I’d love to have a another bottle or two to hide away for a few years to see how the flavours  develop, they are really complex now and change often as you drink your way through the 750ml bottle. I’m not sure if that is something in the pipeline for Shepherd Neame as this was a beer designed for a specific occasion, but I’d love to see this develop into a range not dissimilar to Fullers Vintage Ales.

To close I’ve attached a video link to a review recorded by Simon of The Real Ale Guide, he just happened to be visiting the brewery when Generation Ale was in progress.

In it he chats to brewer Stewart Main who explains the concept behind the beer and how he created it. Both get to taste the beer direct from the tank in its final stages of maturation, lucky blighters… 😉

As far as I know this the first review of the finished article ever so that’s quite exciting in itself as I’m sure it will not be the last. Cheers

Summer Wine Brewery at Port Street Beer House

First off apologies to the guys at Summer Wine Brewery and Port Street Beer House for the delay in posting this, I’d normally hope to have a post ready the day after the event, but work commitments and a dodgy Apple iMac scuppered any chance of that…

The day started poorly on an otherwise gorgeous sunny hot afternoon, I caught an extremely slow train and then got lost in Manchester, but it was soon improved with a couple of halves of Marble Breweries “Dobber IPA”, at their very own 57 Thomas Street bar. It’s a lovely little modern bar with a few tables set outside on the pavements where I soaked up the sun and the IPA’s thirstily with @6TownsMart & @jamesbwxm before heading off to Port Street for the main event.

On arrival were met at the door with a set of five raffle tickets which were to be exchanged for the beer samples, one for a free SWB from the established range, the other four for the new beers that were form the rest of the tasting. It was here that I solved my extra ticket dilemma, (a friend of mine had dropped out at late notice so I had two). Two lots of samples it is then I thought, (VERY) happy days! 🙂

As the crowds gathered we had the choice of either the Valencia Pale Ale or Teleporter, the latter was the better choice from the two in my opinion, with a rich dark roasty complexity from the 10 malt varieties used, followed by the lovely hoppy finish expected from SWB. As we drank James and Andy from the brewery were mingling and chatting to the assembling crowd, taking a brief photo call with the rather impressive (and tasty) Summer Wine Brewery branded pork pie before taking to the “stage”.

The guys then held an informal tasting where we got to try four new brews Rouge Hop, a revamped version of 7 C’s of Rye, one of their new range of keg Saisons, Nettle and Ginger and the fresh to keg Diablo IPA.

Now having being left in the unfortunate position of being forced to drink double samples, I’m sure you can forgive the lack of any meaningful tasting notes, (I was a little “sleepy” when I got home, but I did try to share, honestly). That said, from memory I can confirm that each one was bloody delicious.  The Rouge Hop as the name suggests was a red hoppy beer, definitely one that I’d drink regularly, I also loved the Diablo. I personally am a big advocate of beers having options on how they are served, I love cask beers but sometimes especially in the warmer months I think with keg you just get that extra zing required to refresh. I just hope they make it to Stoke sometime very soon.

On the night though the beers I found most interesting were the 7 C’s and the Saison. The 7 C’s of Rye I had tried before, the night before as it happens at my local The Bulls Head in Burslem. Although both versions were delicious, the new incarnation just tastes slightly more balanced, both are true hopfests but the bitterness is now a little less “in your face”.

I really liked the Saison, it’s just the perfect summer beer for me and this was surprisingly subtle despite the two strong sounding flavours in the title. I’d never tasted nettle anything before and was expecting a real herbal taste reminiscent of the smell you get from them when out walking, I was reliably informed though that it isn’t which rang true in the beer, very much like a mild hop in taste. With the ginger element too, at first taste you think it’s not there, but there it is, gingery goodness quietly buzzing away in the background, a slow warming gingerness in the finish long after your last gulp. I can’t wait for these to develop and will look forward eagerly to tasting the other flavours planned including Lime and Coriander.

Overall a great night was had by all and here’s a big hello and thanks to friends old, new, but too numerous to mention, great company and conversation to match the beers, great to meet you all.

Port Street Beer House is a cracking place, bright, modern and uber friendly. They have some really exciting beers available and more superb events coming up, including another meet the brewer event on 3rd August where Matt Brophy from Flying Dog Brewery will be talking lucky punters though a selection of samples, if you get the chance it’s not one to miss.

Cheers