Birmingham Beer Bash

988543_504585336279325_346701567_nTomorrow is a very special day for some very brave, committed and probably slightly bonkers friends of mine, for they have done something that I have longed to do.

Last year changed my perception of what a beer festival should be like forever.

Commencing with Hawkshead who were the first for me who had opted for the all-embracing approach of good beer served how the brewers intended, be that cask, keg or bottle. Mixed with fine food, a warm friendly atmosphere and surely the prettiest location. Then I visited the De Molen Borefts Festival which had the most eclectic mix of the worlds finest beers under one (two) roof/s I had ever experienced, it and was my first introduction to bitterballen. Finally we saw the birth of IndyMan who for me still hold the bar as the UK’s finest and in doing so have a lot to live up to themselves in 2013, a fact I’m sure they are relishing in trying to achieve.

But the competition is hotting up…

This year we’ve had similar events popping up all over the UK which is a great thing, I’m not against CAMRA festivals in any way you understand, but what I love about the likes of the above and Liverpool Craft Beer Expo for example is that the thinking is different, a fresh approach without the constraints of a rule book which needs a bloody good overhaul.

BPypgP3CMAAJ7WpEnter stage left David Shipman or Otherton Ale Man as he is also known, father to Birmingham Beer Bash and leader of a fine body of folks of a similar mind. Reading back over Dave’s blog you can see how this has slowly come together after a lot of hard work, scary meetings and dedication.

Having recently organised a much lower key Twissup event in Macclesfield even without the massive finical implications of they have had to content with, I have some idea how he and all of the other organisers are feeling right now.

A mix of excitement, a screaming impatience and mostly, fear.

BOrCrd8CQAAs-8_Will folks turn up, will the beer be ok, will anything go wrong and a thousand other little niggles and doubts will be swirling around heads tonight and I doubt a lot of sleeping will happen.

Knowing these guys though the fears will all fall away when the doors open and folks flood in. The beer list they have pulled together is impressive to say the least, again with no rulebook shackles imposed so as to bring something for every taste and opinion. There are side events of break out seminars and beer/food matching dinners etc too. Finally the guys have brought street food vendors of various cooking styles in house for those of you who’d prefer to munch as you go. Check the bookable sessions out here and here.

I have tickets for the Friday evening and Saturday afternoon sessions personally, so if you are about come and say hello, lets drink beer and support what promises to be a brilliant weekend of beer.

If you’ve not yet got tickets you need to act fast, some sessions are already sold out and you REALLY don’t want to miss this one. Tickets available here ->

BP9AsDgCAAQ-R4QBirmingham Beer Bashers, I salute you and wish you the very best of luck.




Hawkshead Summer Beer Festival

Just back from a mammoth two-day stint at Hawkshead Brewery‘s Summer Beer Fest. Time is extremely tight as we do a quick turnaround for tomorrows jaunt across the Channel, but I couldn’t let the moment pass and miss the opportunity to pass the praise this event deserves and to post a few photographs to give you a flavour of what you missed.

There was something here for everyone, a fantastic well thought out beer list set across three bars, with food and entertainment served up in the open central courtyard. The weather was kind to us too, with dry sunny weather being the order of the day making an afternoons drinking extremely pleasant in idyllic surroundings.

Top three beers for me were the Marble-Hawkshead collab Little Evelyn available on cask and keg, Hawkshead’s always awesome NZPA and the absolutely superb whisky barrel aged Brodies Prime making a triple podium finish for the boys from Staveley. That in itself is a measure of how good this festival was with the home brewery pulling out the stops to get something special on the bars.

Further top marks for the inclusion of a keg bar, YES you read that correctly a KEG BAR at a festival, with FREE entry too, how novel..

We had a thoroughly enjoyable couple of days in the company of some great people to numerous to mention, but you know who you are.

A little stunner


Hmmm a keg bar and wait, doesn’t that bloke

Stupendous beer list, with directions on where to find it

A member of the Lymestone Brewery Fan Club

The emporium of NOM

Brodies Prime sausage with lashings of fried onions and chilli sauce, washed down with Hawkshead Damson and Vanilla Stout..

This should read Phils BAR. Mmmmmm KEG

Cheers guys!

UPDATE: See further reviews of this great festival from Nick at The Beer Prole here and Andy from Beer Reviews here.

Hawkshead “Well Hopped” well done!

Several weeks ago I was lucky enough to be sent three sample bottles of Hawkshead Brewery‘s “Well Hopped”range. They look great, I love the simple, clean branding, it shouts HOPS!” to your subconscious, let’s see how they are on the inside.

Windermere Pale is the big brother of the regular session version of the same name only stronger at 6% abv compared to the cask quaffable 3.5%. The aroma is big on grass and nettles with hints of fennel. The taste is fresh, crisp and very bitter, a little like an under-ripe Galia melon crossed with a Bramley apple. Strangely though, although the bitterness is long-lasting the finish brings sweetness that makes this really drinkable, much like its sibling but far more dangerous.

Cumbrian Five Hop is as far as I know a completely new beer featuring a blend of 5 traditional and modern hops, Fuggles, Goldings, Bramling Cross, Citra and Amarillo. This one is a very different animal altogether, the nose is far more mellow for starters. Light lemon and grapefruit is the order of the day suspended in sweet caramel. It’s more of a savouring beer, being more full-bodied with less of a sharp bite, although that’s not to say it’s not an easy drinker as it also hides the 6% abv very well. Juicy citrus fruits, kiwi plus a little aniseed form the main taste sensation recipe with a soft chewy malted body drying nicely to a pithy bitter finish.

*Update: The brewery contacted me today to say that Cumbrian Five Hop was not a completely new brew although is so in it’s newly “well hopped” form. It was created roughly two years ago for release in J D Wetherspoons and was called Citrillo, from there on in it took the new name.

New Zealand Pale Ale (NZPA) is no stranger to my taste buds. I first came across it when visiting the Hawkshead beer hall last year, was lucky enough to drop in as Matt Clarke (Head Brewer) was just about to take a special guest on an impromptu tour, I joined them and had an NZPA as company for the duration. It remained one of my top beers last year and shows no change in 2012, I’m just so glad it’s part if this range now so that more people get to try it.

NZPA is a massive green incredible hulky hop beast of a beer and is an equally big mouthful as that description. Grapefruit, gooseberry, lime and grape form the basis of this flavour explosion, invading nose and palate with equal vigour, all blend together beautifully in a light biscuit and light pine resinous body that just screams DRINK ME. I really wondered if I’d feel the same about this beer after trying the others, I do and it still sits firmly atop the Hawkshead tree in my opinion. A true classic!

The beers are available at various fine beery outlets and at the Hawkshead Brewery Shop. Better still get yourself down to the Hawskhead Summer Beer Festival, I really can’t wait, if you are going be sure to say hello, see below for full details.

A big thanks to Gemma for sending me these, really appreciated.


The Duke William Charity Pie and Cask Festival

I went to check out a local beer and pie festival last night at a pub the town (Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent). After all why wouldn’t I, beer & pie, it’s a match made in heaven!

The pub in question is the Duke William, which stands proud overlooking the mother towns main square. The Duke was one of my favourite haunts many years ago before becoming vacant for several years and almost falling derelict.

The current owners took the place on and worked absolute magic to restore it to former glory whilst keeping the original character features, also making a few improvements too along the way. These including a fabulous restaurant area serving top quality food made fresh in-house. The food area doubling up as a conference suite, party/band venue and as with now an extended bar for the beer fest.

The extra bar being built in readiness..

What I like about The Duke is their willingness to embrace beers of some of the newer breweries, bringing the likes of Magic Rock, Red Willow, Buxton and Mallinsons into the area which I have to say is quite rare. Also giving some smaller local micros a chance too. Indirectly following my own personal philosophy of “put them on and people will come”, they have done just that largely thanks to bar manager Jason and seen the benefits as the new beers turn over quickly and increases the repeat demand from visiting punters.

You can see this reflected in the beer festival menu with some lovely beers on show:

*Note some of these beers may have changed due to availability, most though as I recall are correct.

So how were the beers?

As you can no doubt imagine I tried one or two, some old favourites some new. Hawkshead’s USPA is absolute stunner (I went back for seconds), with Magic Rock’s High Wire and Curious needing no introduction. Other favourites on the night were Oakham’s Green Devil, Mallinsons Chinook (big marzipan flavours) and Abbeydale’s Cask Paint. All in cracking condition with the only minor flaw being those not cellared seemed slightly warm. Hopefully another night on the cooler will sort that out though.

This is no ordinary pie and peas supper either, with a selection of absolutely stunning home-made pies.

  • Snake and Pygmy – Steak and Kidney
  • A Bit Of All Right – Meat and Potato
  • Summer Fayre – Spring Minted Lamb and Root Vegetables
  • Tasty Tilt – Beef, Stilton and Stout
  • Pickled Porky – Pork in Cider
  • Drunken Duck -Duck, Rosemary and Merlot Wine
  • Early Christmas – Turkey, Stuffing and Cranberry
  • Cock-a-Leeki – Chicken, Leek and Potato
  • Ale to the Beef – Steak and Ale
  • Curry in a Hurry – Beef Madras
  • Roosters Revenge – Chicken and Wild Mushroom
  • Sunburnt Cow – Beef in Merlot Wine
  • The Romping Donkey – Beef, Guinness and Port
  • Billy The Kid – Goats Cheese, Caramelised Red Onion and Cherry Tomato
  • Desperate Dan – Peppered Steak

All sounded delicious but we only tried the two, Roosters Revenge and Romping Donkey, both were really tasty and packed to the lid with lean meat and veggies etc.

* I‘d be interested in hearing some beer and pie pairing suggestions from you guys out there, stick them in the comments and I will try to amend for future visitors.

The festival is running from 7th to 10th of June, so you still have a few more sessions if you fancy going along to drink some good beer and get well fed. Don’t forgot you’d be also supporting the events two charities, Help For Heroes and The Rainbow Trust.

Have a great weekend, cheers!

52 Week Beerday present

Parcels come and go at regular intervals in our household at this time of year, what with beer orders, a touch of wine and lots of online Christmas shopping deliveries. Yesterday was no different, with a large box which was instantly recognisable as being from My Brewery Tap arriving mid morning.

I glanced at the address and saw it was addressed to the wife and so instantly put it down again thinking it was something for me that I shouldn’t really be gawping at.

So there it sat, all alone in the cold porch all day until Rach arrived home from work and announced,”it’s for you ya plonker (in typical semi cockney tones), it’s your 52 week beer club case”.

“WHOOPEE”!! Said I, in probably far too a high pitched screech than would be passible under current health and safety regulations…

To explain, Rach ordered/enrolled me into the UK 52 week beer club for my birthday last year, hence her name being on the parcel when it arrives. What I like about it so much, (apart from the contents of course), is that I never quite know when it is going to turn up and as such it always comes as an extremely welcome surprise. As a receiver of presents lover it’s an absolute dream, as you get to celebrate your birthday four times a year, even old Queenie can’t manage that! 😉

The 52 week club is a great idea, basically you get one bottle of hand crafted ale per week from breweries spread right across the UK. It’s then sent to you in a case of 13 for each season or once a quarter, this means that you get to try lots of beers that under normal circumstance you might never come across.

The beers are normally seasonally biased, so for example this quarters case has a real dark winter ales sort of focus, although it’s not ALL stouts, strong ales and porters. So what’s in the Winter selection?

  • Ilkley Brewery – Stout Mary
  • York Brewery – Yorkshire Terrier
  • Oakham Ales – Hawse Buckler
  • Inveralmond Brewery – Santas Swallie
  • Wensleydale Brewery – Black Dub
  • Fyne Ales – Vital Spark
  • Derby Brewery – Business as Usual
  • Hawkshead Brewery – Brodies Prime
  • Woodenhand Brewery – Cornish Buccaneer
  • Buxton Brewery – SPA
  • Marble Beers – Manchester Bitter
  •  Black Isle Brewery – Scotch Ale
  • McMullen – Hertford Castle.

For me it’s a mix of old favourites, some from the wants list but have not tried yet and I’ve never heard of, but that’s the exciting part as it’s all a bit of a mystery.

Of course there’s always the odd one that you don’t like so much, but that’s no different to a pub night out on the guest ales or at a beer festival, all part of the experience.

It’s been a great Beerday present that’s just kept on giving and giving, as you can probably tell, I’ve loved it.

Thanks My Brewery Tap and the wife of course..

Cheers 🙂

P.S You can join the UK 52 Week Beer Club 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

Eskdale via Hawkshead & Victory Breweries

We took a short weekend break to Cumbria this weekend, destination The Woolpack Inn and the village of Boot in the Eskdale valley. It’s around a two and a half hour drive from Stoke with the options of a safe but longer route around the south of Lake Windermere, or a shorter and for the more adventurous, the route around the top of Windermere, then taking on the often treacherous Wrynose and Hardknott Passes.

Always up for a challenge and being a lover of all things Hardknott, we went for the latter. During the planning stages I noticed that our journey took us to within four miles of The Hawkshead Brewery and Beerhall, they had beer, good food and most importantly were “dog friendly” (which tended to drive most of our decisions) all boxes ticked, RESULT.

The brewery is located in the little village of Staveley not Hawkshead as the name may suggest, nestled in the middle of a small industrial estate is this little gem of a place.

The all new shiny beer hall looks to have been an addition to the older brewery main building, it compliments it perfectly though and clearly been built with large amounts of visitors in mind having loads of parking and plenty of outside tables too, although these weren’t in use as it was piddling down with rain in true Lakeland style.

Inside the beer hall it’s a large modern room with plenty of seating and a generous bar area where several Hawkshead beers were available. There is also a decent beer shop too with a good choice of foreign bottles available from Europe and the USA as well as Hawksheads own selection.

As I was driving I had to make a choice although I’d love to have tried them all, so I opted for half of the lovely dark roasted malty Brodies Prime whilst Mrs H went for Lakeland Lager which is described as “It’s Lager, but it’s tasty”.. 😉

I can vouch for the food to it was delicious. We both opted for the sirloin steak and caramelised onion ciabatta sandwich. The steak was beautifully cooked, buttery onions and a lightly toasted bread, Brodies Prime suited it perfectly.

Knowing we were calling in I’d made contact with Matt Clarke the head brewer at Hawkshead earlier that day, he’d kindly offered to meet us on arrival I just had to message him on Twitter and he’d pop around from the brewhouse. Sounds perfect until you hit Cumbria where all forms of mobile telecommunication ceases to work. Meeting Matt was going to prove difficult, I had no idea what he looked like so I couldn’t try and spot him. After a while one of the bar staff kindly pointed Matt out to me, but he was deeply engrossed in conversation with an American guy who clearly knew a thing or two about beer and brewing.

I’d taken a couple of beers along from our area that I thought Matt would like, Lymestone Stone Brood and Buxton Axe Edge, so I hovered before jumping in and taking my chance to introduce myself, thinking I would leave them to it and head off. It turns out that this particular American was not just a beer enthusiast, it was Jim Busch, Director of Victory Brewing Co.

Better still they were just off for an impromptu tour of the brewery and I was invited along, BONUS!

*Apologies for the poor picture quality

It was a brewery tour like no other, Matt asked and I agreed that he dispense with the normal beer tour basics, but it was then really interesting to watch Jim and Matt talking about brewing kit and how much things differed, sticking noses into this and that, generally getting excited about beer and brewing.

Twenty minutes later we were done and back in the Beer Hall tasting the wonderful Hawkshead NZPA, keep an eye out for this as it’s not currently a regular beer, it should be, it’s THAT good. It’s made using four New Zealand hops, Green Bullet, Riwaka, Motueka & Nelson Sauvin and is a real hopfest in a glass.. 🙂

Refreshed then and extremely happy we left Matt and Jim chatting away and set off for The Woolpack and the passes…

If you are in the area and want a haven from the normal touristy stop off points in the Lakes, I couldn’t recommend Hawkshead enough, even dogs and the kids are welcome. Better still stay in the area to take full advantage of the beers on offer, there is camping nearby and a range of B&B’s too.

Lastly keep an eye on their website for news of the onsite beer festivals, having sampled what’s on offer I know I will be.

Big thanks to Matt and everyone at Hawkshead for making us so welcome.