Twissup and an impromptu beer tasting..Sharing the love – #7point5

Arriving late, we made a bee-line for Bacchus

Twissup, what a fabulous thing. Pick a city, spread the word and get beer lovers from all over the country to gravitate towards Newcastle upon Tyne (in this case), at a set date and time.

Then get some of the country’s finest brewers and breweries involved, so that they too can use the occasion to showcase the best they have to offer to an eager captive audience.

Finally, get local beer geeks, enthusiasts, bloggers and publicans to arrange a top notch itinerary, making sure that the finest establishments the city has to offer are stocked and visited to complete the mix, making it a day to remember.


The view from The Free Trade Inn

That’s where I was on November 12th, where I had too many fine brews to mention.

However two in particular stuck in the mind because they were particularly special, in fact they were two of the additional reasons why I was really looking forward to going so much.

These were Summer Wine Brewery‘s “Cohort” and Hardknott Brewery‘s “Vitesse Noir“, both new additions to each breweries range, two big bold beers and both available for I believe the first time anywhere, on the bar of The Free Trade Inn. Each one was as I expected, fabulous, so good in fact that I had three Cohorts, but sensibly stuck to one glass of the seriously savour-able Vitesse Noir.

Being at Twissup, sharing and talking about fabulous beers, rekindled a spark of an idea, it’s something that I have wanted to do and hopefully progress for quite some time. That is introduce some of my friends, drinking buddies and general Stoke on Trent pub going folk to something new, beers that a good proportion of them probably would never have heard about yet and probably never would. To share the love of geek beer if you like.

I’d very kindly been given a bottle of Cohort from Andy and James from SWB at Twissup, also as part of the BETA test team of Hardknotts new online store too, I’d been allowed early access to bottled Vitesse Noir. So fast forward exactly one week from Twissup and I’m setting up a mini tasting session in my local, The Bulls Head. Nothing official, formal or fancy, just a bottle of each spread out over three glasses between three small groups. (After all we all have to start somewhere)

Up first was Cohort, a roasty “Double Belgian Rye PA” at 7.5% abv.

Pouring a black is pitch you could see a few folks doing a double take and giving me the “I know I’m not going to like this” look. Then they took a sniff and the first sip before that expression changed to a sort of perplexed “I thought I wasn’t going to like this” face, then finally (after lot’s of OOOH’s and HMMM’S) we reached critical mass, the smile broke out and I got the reactionary comments, “WOW”, “what the bloody hell is that”, “SOOO much flavour”, “it’s lovely”, “I want some”. Popular then I thought, you get the picture…. 😉

We then progressed to Vitesse Noir, a Triple Imperial Vanilla Mocha Stout at 11% abv and a very different animal indeed. I had tasted both and in my mind I thought Cohort was always going to be enjoyed by a wider audience. The former being lighter in both alcoholic strength and easier to drink, whereas Vitesse Noir is in my opinion a beer to be savoured at length, perhaps late in the evening or after dinner (or with desert), having an intensity and alcohol levels that would perhaps simply frighten some people off

Therefore as this was by no means intended to be a test of one against the other, when serving I wanted to make that distinction clear from the outset, so this time I opted to serve the beer in brandy bowl style glasses. Basically as this was how I imagined myself drinking it at home at my first tasting, slowly warming away in a cupped hand as an indulgent treat.

The tasting passed in a similar fashion to Cohort, only this time I think people were ready for me. There were one or two that screwed their noses at it, too strong, too sweet, to much chocolate and coffee, but that was to be expected, this is a BIG beer and just a step too far for some. Generally though another resounding success, with lots of contented oooh’s, aah’s and extremely happy faces.

In truth I could have taken half a dozen bottles of each and still not had enough to go around as each went down equally well for different reasons, with folks asking where they could buy them or would I get them some when next I ordered. Of course I’ll oblige as I want to keep that interest bubbling away. We’ve already got a food and beer pairing night in the planning stages, I have big ideas for beer and cheese too.

Above all though I want to get something regular like this going, whether that be more informal tasting sessions or if possible a bring a bottle night where folks bring along new and interesting beers that they want to share in return for friends doing likewise. I see that happening all the time in other cities like Leeds, London, Manchester and indeed the Newcastle-upon-Tyne AKA “The Toon”, where everyone has a great night out whilst chatting over really interesting beery treats.

So what about it Stokies?

You can order Cohort and other beers from Summer Wine Brewery’s online store HERE.

You can order Vitesse Noir and other beers from Hardknott Brewery’s online store HERE

Incidentally, if you are in Manchester tonight 23 Nov 2011, Dave and the Hardknott gang will be at Port Street Beer House for an official launch of Vitesse Noir, entrance is free so get yourself on down there, details HERE

The Cumberland Arms, our Twissup accommodation and a great friendly boozer too.

Please sign the petition in support of #7POINT5 which unfairly targets high strength beers:

#7point5, what’s that all about?

Please sign the Government petition against unfair taxation on beers over 7.5% ABV, click HERE


Hardknott, a rite of passage

Before you read on I’ll be honest as not to dissapoint, this is not a post about beer…

It is related to beer in terms of a journey to and a dispenser of said beverage. It also has links to beer by association to the fact that it formed the basis of how Hardknott, one of my favourite breweries came to be.

To cut a long story short and to stop you clicking close out of the sheer tedium of my witterings, it simply documents in a mainly photographic form, the journey across quite easily the most thrilling road and through truly spectacular countryside I’ve ever come across in the UK.

So I hope you’ll forgive the transgression and stick with me today, there will be more about the pubs at final destination later on this week.

In my last post our journey first took us to the Hawkshead Brewery in Staveley, from there we had to drive around the top of Lake Windermere and take the route through the Wrynose and Hardknott passes. Taking this route as an option is not one for the fainthearted. To try and some it up, it’s a little like being on a fairground ride. That ride being a hybrid combination of the Wild Mouse and Pepsi Max at Blackpool pleasure beach crossed with Alton Towers Oblivion, only in a car. It’s just plain crazy, the road twists and turns dramatically. You turn one way and you are climbing through a 90 degree turn looking skyward, the wheels struggling for grip and shuddering away merrily beneath you. You reach the brow of many a hill and cannot see what is to come. Like that moment you reach the ascent of a roller coaster and have that moment when you know what is coming, you’re afraid, but left hanging for the briefest but at the same time long lasting second ever before the inevitable drop comes into focus.

Then there’s the descent, it’s no different, make no mistake you do not want to try this road in winter, imagine driving your car down a spiral staircase, on ice..

The crazy thing was there were cyclists racing up and down this thing, this fella wasn’t one of them, but hopefully by the look on his face you get the picture… But at the end of it you reach that final point when it all is made worthwhile, when the beautiful  Eskdale Valley comes into view for the first time…a nirvana moment. I suppose it’s down to the individual as to whether what you have just been through was a pleasurable experience or one of sheer nerve jangling terror, for me it was a mixture of the two. The adrenaline was certainly pumping first time around but it did not stop me from making the journey back, in almost gale conditions.

The Eskdale valley truly is a wonderful place, a hidden gem of peace and tranquility away from the usual tourist hustle of the Lake District. It is the spiritual home of Hardknott Brewery, The Boot Beer Festival as well as being a walkers paradise.

For those reasons though, there should only be one way into the valley, you have to cross the Hardknott Pass, think of it as your rite of passage to all the rewards the valley has in store for you…

Even now looking at the photographs, they don’t do the passes justice, sure they offer a glimpse but it’s not enough. I’ve posted a couple of videos below too, one by car, the other a Harley Davidson, watch one watch them both, but if possible get out there and do it! 🙂

Smart Roadster Version:

Harley version:

If you run or know of a site that this post would suit better than a beer blog I’d be happy to have it posted as a guest piece or via a link, just give me a shout.

Cheers for reading

Chimay Chilli

Another experimental beer related recipe, this time a chilli dish made with a lovely Belgian Trappist Ale Chimay Blue.

The idea came from a couple of guys talking today about making a slow cooked chilli earlier today, this wasn’t slow cooked but I think it would work really well cooked slow as an alternative.

After much discussion about which beer would add something to the dish several beers were suggested. These including Saltaire Triple Chocolate Stout, Leffe Brune, Ginger Tom, and Hardknott Dark Energy amongst others. I decided on the Chimay as it was easily accessible not just for me but anyone wanting to try it. Also the fact that I was trying to keep away from the chocolate-chilli connection. Oh and the name worked…


500g of lean steak mince

1 Sweet pointed red pepper chopped

1 coarsely chopped onion

250g button mushrooms (whole or cut in half dependant in size)

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 small bottle of Chimay Blue

1 teapoon of chili powder

Half a teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 tin of chopped tomaoes

1 tin of mixed beans in spicy tomato sauce

1-2 pieces of high cacao dark chocolate (to your taste).


1. In a large saucepan or wok brown the mince draining off the fat, there should be none if the mince was lean.

2. Add the garlic and onion, cook until softened.

3. Add the chopped pepper, mushrooms, chilli powder, smoked paprika, coriander, chopped tomatoes and mixed beans. Stir well.

4. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer, covered for at least an hour, longer if possible. (Alternatively place the whole mix in a slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours)

5. Taste the sauce to see how it has mellowed to see if the beer you have chosen has added enough background sweetness. Then add the chocolate to your personal taste, one block at a time tasting all the way. Stir into the chilli and simmer for an additional 5 minutes.

6. Serve with fluffy white rice and maybe a little soured cream.

So did the experiment work? Well yes it was lovely. In terms of the Chimay addition though I have to concede that I’m not sure it was the right choice. The chilli and smoked paprika overpowered the beer slightly, so as options maybe opt for unsmoked paprika instead and double up on the Chimay. Especially if you are slow cooking to give you a little extra liquid to reduce to a nice sweet sticky sauce.

Alternatively maybe make it with a good strong Imperial Stout.

For a beer to serve, I think I’d go right back to the beginning and opt for a Saltaire Triple Chocolate Stout. lots of chocolate taste to go with the chilli without the chocolate sweetness some chocolate beers have.

Hope you give it a go, if so let me know what you think?

Big thanks to these folks for their input today:


IPA Day Thursday 4th Aug 2011

A Celebration of IPA, IPA DAY 4th AUGUST 2011 – #IPADay

This is just an update really from a post created a few weeks back to remind you that it is International IPA day TODAY and there’s still time to get involved.

As far as I can find out there are no events planned in the Stoke On Trent, Staffs or local Cheshire areas, which is a damn shame, especially if you look at some of the other fantastic things organised in places like Mr Foleys Bar in Leeds as an example.

Sadly I can’t get to this as we have an early start on the 5th, when we’re on a mission to hit GBBF, so it looks like a night in with my own IPA collection, but I’m open to ideas…

What will YOU be doing?


The following is the extract of the piece from Raise The Bar:

Announcing International #IPADay: A Social Celebration of Craft Beer 
Attention all craft beer evangelists, brewers, bloggers, and suds-savvy citizens! OnThursday, August 4th 2011, you are cordially invited to participate in the largest international craft beer celebration and virtual conversation the world has ever seen.
International #IPADay is a grassroots movement to unite the voices of craft beer enthusiasts, bloggers, and brewers worldwide through social media. On Thursday August 4th, craft beer drinkers across the social sphere and across the globe will raise pints in a collective toast to one of craft beer’s most iconic styles: the India Pale Ale. This celebrated style represents the pinnacle of brewing innovation with its broad spectrum of diverse brands, subcategories, and regional flavor variations – making it the perfect style to galvanize craft beer’s social voice.

#IPADay is not the brainchild of a corporate marketing machine, nor is it meant to serve any particular beer brand. #IPADay is opportunity for breweries, bloggers, businesses and consumers to connect and share their love of craft beer. Getting involved is easy; the only requirements are an appreciation for great beer and the will to spread the word. Anyone can participate by enjoying IPA with friends, making some noise online with the #IPADay hashtag, and showing the world that craft beer is more than a trend!

Tips on How to Take Part:

1.       Organize an #IPADay event at your brewery, brewpub, restaurant, bar, home, or office (Ex:  An IPA dinner/cheese pairing/comparative or educational tasting/cask night/tap takeover…). Share your events on the official #IPADay forum at

2.       On August 4th, share your photos, videos, blog posts, tasting notes, recipes, and thoughts with the world. Be sure to include the #IPADay hashtag in your posts Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, WordPress, RateBeer, Foursquare, Gowalla, Yelp, Untappd or any other social media site.

3.       See what other people are saying by searching “#IPADay” on Google,, et cetera…

4.       Track down your favorite IPA’s, ones you’ve been meaning to try, and ones you’ve never heard of; share them with friends and share your thoughts with the world.

5.       Have a good time and know that by sharing your experiences online, you’re strengthening the craft beer community at large.

We have managed to team up with some of the UK’s top craft beer outlets, The Port Street Beer House, Manchester, The Free Trade Inn, Newcastle, The Rake, London, The Southampton Arms, London, Mr Foleys, Leeds & others TBC…  To run #IPADay events, mini fests, live blogging, tastings & more! Also being the week of The Great British Beer Festival what could tie in better with the UK’s largest beer festival than a day dedicated to the world’s most loved beer style!

You are encouraged to share links, blog & tweet about the event & above all use all types social media to promote International IPA Day on August 4th. The twitter hashtag is #IPADay.

Get involved in this Worldwide collaboration & give IPA it’s very own day!!

Register Yourself on the Event Brite IPADay Page.

It’s been a Hardknott Dave’s night..

…well not just a Hardknott Dave, it’s more of a “@HardknottDave@HardknottAnn, @HardKnottSooty, @HardknottAlfie and @HardknottSarah‘s days night”, as this brewery seems to be a truly full family embracing business. Check them out on Twitter and Facebook, there’s always one, two or all of them chattering away to beery folk, generally about beery things.

I first fell in love with Hardknott beers after tasting the marvellous Æther Blæc. It’s an Imperial Stout aged in Whisky casks to add some wonderfully complex flavours to the beer. There are two of these, each aged in 27yr and 28yr casks respectively and both bottled in small numbered batches. I had intended to do a bit of a taste off after aquiring a bottle of each, but then my good friend @GhostDrinker had the same thought and completed the task in fine style using his in depth knowledge of both beer and whisky. Check out the results here, they make a great read, but don’t just take our word for it, get some Æther Blæc and try it yourselves, it’s superb.

Those done, I decided I’d opt for a full night on the Hardknott stuff with these four beers, Dark Energy, Infra Red, Queboid and Granite.

Dark Energy – 4.9%

Dark Energy is listed on Ratebeer as a stout, although as far as I can see on the bottle it has no mention of that fact. It looks like a stout, pouring black as pitch with a brown foaming head that thins quickly, but there’s more there too, which is probably where the quoted description comes from, “as complicated as an astrophysicist’s equation”.

Aromas are quite light, wafts of milk chocolate with hints of smoke. The initial mouthfeel is quite thin for a stout but in a very quaffable way that doesn’t disappoint. It has flavours of smokey burnt malt, dark bitter chocolate & coffee, but then more, there’s a sort of IPA fruitiness too with hints of orange & dates. This is a lovely dark beer in true Hardknott style.

Infra Red – 6.5%

I had tried Infra Red once before, but wanted to revisit and review this beer as it was so good the first time around. It’s a rich ruby coloured IPA from Hardknott.

Infra Red is full on from the word go. On opening the bottle you get sumptuous aromas of strawberries, fruit salad chews & sherbet, a veritable kid in a sweetshop variety of smells on the nose. The big flavours follow very much in the same vein, but with a rich malty mouthfeel, there’s a citrussy zest in the background and a long balanced bitter finish. One of my beers of the year, I urge you to try this very soon.

Queboid – 8.0%

Hardknott get all European here with Queboid, it’s their take on a Belgian style Imperial IPA.

Queboid pours a lazy, hazy sunset red. Aromas are typically hoppilly tropical fruity, maybe some orange and even banana. The mouthfeel is resinously rich and full, with deep, strong flavours of orange marmalade and bitter citrus peel. Alcoholic strength is evident but not too in your face masked by the wonderful flavour battle going on in the mouth. A heartwarming slow sipper..

Granite – 10.4% 

As I was considering opening the Granite, I consulted with the First Lady at Hardknott towers @HardknottAnn. I needed guidance on whether to drink it or store it after reading the advice on the label.

“Hide it away in your deepest darkest cellar to avoid the temptation to consume before it’s best.”

“A long maturation on dry hops ensures a big beer that will continue to improve rendering the best before date an irrelevant contradictory semantic.”

Ann kindly duly obliged:

Who am I to argue, let’s get it on….

Granite is luxuriously rich barley wine and I was drinking bottle number 200 out of 504. On pouring the colour is a deep, dark chocolate brown, dense to almost black. The aroma is smoky, mocha, there’s a hint of Stilton cheese too, hitting the nose as soon as you crack off the crown cap. Once in the mouth it’s smooth, thick & sweet, with slightly oily texture. There is a smokey almost burnt toast taste at first, then you get that Christmas cake fruit sweetness, dates, more Stilton and undertones of citrus. A full on festive meal in a glass, with the warming alcohol after dinner glow that normally goes with the occasion.

After tasting this now, I’m definitely going to grab a few more bottles to age as suggested to see what flavours develop. Watch this space in about 4 years for updates…..

In summary I can honestly say that these are all superb beers in their own right, my personal favourite overall was definitely the Infra Red, it has massive flavours without being overly strong therefore allowing me to drink more. 😉

If you’d like to get to know a little more about Dave the brewer and his rise to his current levels of brewing prowess, check out @BeerReviewsAndy‘s website where he has a meet the brewer section. Dave from Hardknott appeared back in January 2010 and although a lot has undoubtedly changed since then, it is still all good reading.

To get a more up to date view, Dave also has his own Hardknott blogspot page where he shares his words of wisdom, the latest brewery news, sparks in depth debate and generally imparts his accumulated beery knowledge to the masses. Another cracking read too, check it out.

So where can I find some? At various good pubs, bars and beer festivals for starters, but also at quality online and local specialist beers shops too. I’ve listed a few below for info:

My Brewery Tap

Ales By Mail


If you enjoyed reading this post please spread the love, Facebook share it, RT on Twitter or send on by email. I’d love to hear your comments and shared experiences too in the comments section of this page. Cheers Phil