T’ales of the unexpected… Coniston Brewing

Tales of the unexpected, a programme I used to love from many years back. If you remember too, it you will also no doubt remember that iconic image of the silhouette of the apparently naked dancing woman during the opening titles, its’ certainly the first thing that popped into my head as I thought of this posts title. (She was quite raunchy for TV in those days)

That’s where I’m afraid all talk of naked ladies ends I’m afraid, although you can jump straight to the end if you like for a brief trip down memory lane if you must, but please come back…

These beers arrived quite unexpectedly to a point. I’ve been speaking to Ian from Coniston for some time now, we first chatted about this time last year or thereabouts as I recall as I was planning a visit to the Lake District and was looking for a place to stay, good beer being one of the top priorities for booking. We “almost’ booked into The Black Bull, the Coniston Brewery tap, I say almost as after crossed wires sadly the room was double booked and we headed off to The Woolpack instead. From there we’ve kept in touch through twitter and several weeks ago got talking about the Coniston No9 Barley wine. To cut a long story almost short Ian said he’s send me a bottle of No9 to try from the bottle and an Infinity IPA too (which was what he was drinking at the time).

As the weeks past I put the thought of their impending arrival aside thinking it was perhaps just the result of a late night conversation after too many beers until I’d completely forgotten. Then, on a particularly bad day and during the onset of man-flu they turned up out of the blue, a real tonic (although as we know it’s strictly a no-no to say that about beer)…

The tale of unexpectedness continued with the Infinity as it’s a bit of a changeling. I served it chilled from the fridge after allowing a few minutes to warm slightly, once in the glass it was darker than I expected too. Initially there wasn’t much aroma to speak of, floral notes but extremely light. The first taste delivered more surprise as I got a burnt biscuit flavour more in keeping with a much darker beer, imagine a crunchy cheesecake base made from dark chocolate cookies. The thing was though, it was at the same time it was balanced out by a wave of really fresh fruit, not tropical more orchard, think Granny Smith apples.

As I said earlier though this beer is a changeling, as it warmed from chilled to cool and warmer still so altered the character of the beer on the senses. The closer it got to room temperature, so those initial flavours diminished, being replaced by a warm comforting tastes and aromas of caramelised orange and citrus. The only constant throughout is the continuous bitterness of those hops, Mount Hood, Challenger, Golding and Amarillo combine together to blast their way across your palate clearing away all before to dominate long after each mouthful.

Chilled or not this beer just works, I can really understand why the brewer recommends serving cold as it’s most definitely a refresher. I reckon this would be great on keg on a summers day so I’ll be keeping my eye out for that when I’m out and about. I also think that it also works at the other end of the serving spectrum too though just in a different way, try both and see what you think.


OK, OK here’s the naked lady…. (don’t worry it’s not rude) šŸ˜‰

Woolpack Inn & the pubs of Boot

When looking for accommodation for a quiet weekend break in the Lake District region, our main list of criteria read, good location, good beer and dog friendly in no particular order. It had me thinking back to a beer festival in a place called Boot in the more remote area of the Eskdale Valley. I’d looked into going last year but couldn’t make it, however I did remember that there were places in the village that would meet our needs.

After much mooching around and with a lot of help from @HardknottAnn we decided that The Woolpack Inn was the way to go. So after many a scary mile last Friday we pulled up here:

The signs were good, it looked rustic but exactly how I imagined it would. The Inn also sits in fantastic surroundings, where apart from the odd car on single track road out front, all you can hear is the sound of running water from the river and many streams and waterfalls all around the valley. How many pubs do yo know that have views like this on their doorstep?

Inside we were met by one of the current owners and taken to our room, where it was explained that all rooms were all in the process of being renovated, as is the whole building. It was smallish but as you would expect in a country Inn, a little dated as per the explanation, but on the whole comfortable (after I’d caught & removed several spiders that had taken up residence).

The downstairs area is split into two distinct parts, so much so you could be forgiven thinking they were in completely separate establishments. The dining area and lower bar are very much old world country pub.

As opposed to the main bar which is ultra modern chic, more in place in a fashionable city bar.

I have to confess to being a bit bemused by this, although the modern area is still homely with a comfy leather sofas, a roaring log fire and a mahusive TV, it just doesn’t seem right in the pubs surroundings. I just don’t get the fact that people come to the area for places like this. If it was in my town I’d absolutely love it, loads of choice, good food, beer and a vodka selection to be proud of, just not here…

It is work in progress and obviously the new owners have a vision, so I’ll be keen to see how it all turns out in the end when all the renovations are complete. Until then on the decor at least the jury is out.

Where The Woolpack really do excel is on the bar and food fronts. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable bringing a really happy buzz to the place. We ate at the Woolpack both evenings and the food was very good, they have a reasonable selection of dishes to choose from and also an authentic wood fired pizzeria on the premises too. All the beers I had (and I tried most of them) were served well and in good condition.

There is a but though.

As you can see The Woolpack is still billed as the home of Hardknott Brewery.

If I had one criticism, it’s about the lack of Hardknott beer on show. I personally had made the choice to stay in The Woolpack partially based on the history behind the Inn, but also at the recommendation of Hardknott Brewery themselves as a place to find their beers.

Although there was a mighty fine cask Hardknott beer on every night, I found out at around 10:55 pm on my last night that they had a full bottle selection in the on site shop. That shop is situated at the back of an office and cannot be seen from the pub, plus the bottles were not chilled. The bar person took me to look around and offered to put a bottle in the wine chiller, but to me it was just too late.

Now ordinarily I would have bought several bottles and most likely have drank them there and then had they been on show in the bars bottle cabinets, sadly they weren’t so I ordered some online at home instead. An opportunity missed..

Note to Woolpack folk: Get them in the fridge or display a point of sale, it’s in your interestsā€¦ šŸ˜¦

Despite my minor grumbles though, we really enjoyed our stay here, we will be going back and a certainly recommend giving them a try. (Just don’t forget where the beer is ;))

Out and about away from the Woolpack is the little village of Boot, it’s just under a mile away but is a steady generally flat walk taking about 15 minutes. Here you will find two further great pubs, The Boot Inn and Brook House Inn.

The Boot Inn typifies what I would have expected here, it’s a buzzing friendly local. Outside there are large gardens and seating areas which were always busy with the many passing walkers that also frequent the place. It’s a tied Robinsons House and I have to confess Robbies is not normally top of my drinking list.

However all the beers I had were very good, with Young Tom (Old Toms younger sibling) turning out to be a lovely drop, everything you like about Old Tom but in an easy drinking session beer. We didn’t eat here at all but the food looked really good which was bourn out by the staff scurrying around with huge plates of food for most of the time we were there. Again friendly welcoming staff all round, with a particular hats off to the landlord for staying cheery despite his team getting a five nil drubbing by Man Unitedā€¦ šŸ˜‰

The Brook House Inn sits on the junction into Boot village and is actually the first pub you come toĀ along the road walking from either direction, (it’s about 300 metres from The Boot Inn).

We very nearly didn’t go in as from the road it looks into quite a formal looking dining room, as we had been walking plus had a very damp dog, we thought it unwise..

We did give it a quick go though on the second day, the public bar area is a nice big space and is dog friendly. The staff seemed friendly and the beer selection looked pretty good, it’s a free house so a mixed bag of six or seven real ales. I can’t remember the name of the beer I tasted as it was only a quick half, but it was enjoyable.

What is of interest here is the massive collection of malt whisky’s they have. The webpage lists 170 but I’m sure when we were there it said over 200. Very interestingā€¦. šŸ™‚

Eskdale and Boot is a cracking place to visit, great walking, great beer, lovely people so you really should pay them a visit.

As an added incentive as if you need one, you could make it for the annual beer festival held here which I mentioned earlier on. Held collectively between the three pubs listed above, for 2012 it is scheduled forĀ Thursday 14th June Sunday 17th June.

Plenty of local accommodation and a very handy campsite close by too, so what are you waiting for, stick it in your diaries and I’ll see you there?


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 Ā Eskdale Valley comes into view for the first timeā€¦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.

TheĀ EskdaleĀ 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 asĀ your rite of passageĀ 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! šŸ™‚

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