It’s easy to look backward as well as forward for a brewery of a certain size. If you’re lucky enough to be part of one with a substantial body of work behind it – such as Shepherd Neame or Fuller’s for example, then you’ve got at your hands a treasure trove of ideas and recipes gathering dust in some vault somewhere, waiting for the likes of John Keeling or Richard Frost to pull them, blinking, into the modern sunlight and give us all a taste of the past.
You can dismiss beers such as Shepherd Neame’s new Brilliant Ale (4% abv) – the latest in a short rerun of older Sheps recipes – as raiding the storecupboard when you’ve got nothing fresh in for dinner. Fuller’s managed to avoid this trap with the excellent Past Masters range by simply putting their money where their mouth is, creating beers that not only stand up in their respective categories, but in most cases exceed them. Shep’s don’t seem to enjoy the same kudos as Fuller’s do, but deserve applause at least for thinking of other things to keep us interested.
Yes, they’ve installed the Pilot Plant, following the likes of Brains, Bath Ales and – my personal favourite – Thwaites – to flex a few unused muscles in terms of brewing ‘off-menu’, but realistically people will always, no matter how hard they try, see these ventures as only satellites orbiting the big-brand planet. Like I said, it’s not a bad thing at all, but doesn’t feel quite authentic to me. Playing on heritage is the one ace in the pack that these guys do have, no matter how far removed those beers can sometimes end up from those halcyon days.
I like these beers. They feel cosy in many respects – even after reading up on Brilliant Ale and understanding that actually it’s a complete update, using Cascades rather than EKG’s, but hey – at least it’s their recipes to mess about with. IPA was pleasantly robust and sweet, with a decent bitterness and yes, a ‘British’ feel about. Double Stout was an oaky, roasty mouthful that – again – felt like a big hug. Brilliant Ale is simple, sure; light – almost flintily lager-esque in the nose, slightly sweet with a decent, dry finish - but it’s good. I’d buy it over Master Brew and Spitfire any day.
Plus, it may be anathema to some to even mention it, but the labels are excellent; even up close the attention to detail is gorgeous. Brown bottles only seal the deal. You see pump clips like these on the bar, and you’re likely to buy it.
…And I’m glad that Shep’s are giving me that chance. These beers don’t feel ersatz or bandwagon-jumping. I want my big brewers to give me something different – something that the newer guys can’t. A story, perhaps – not just endless interpretations of newer styles which will always feel exactly like that. Novelty. They are widely available and offer a glimpse of heritage to the layman; which I think is really important. The average drinker is probably not going to get too hung up on authenticity but buy into the idea of beers like this – reconnecting in a whole new way with the brewery in the process.
I’ll be watching to see what crops up next. There; you have my attention.
Disclosure: I was sent the bottle of Brilliant Ale by Shepherd Neame, but bought the rest.
Well, get yourself over to CAMRGB, who have very kindly launched a bit of a giveaway with the book and a spiffing CAMRGB T-Shirt, to boot.
Head on over if you want to take part.
As you all know, I spent a large part of 2012 spending time in the pockets of brewers around Yorkshire whilst writing Great Yorkshire Beer. One of the things I learned early on – in stark relief – is that things change incredibly quickly in this business. It seemed that almost as soon as copy was filed, changes were happening; rebrands, changes of personnel, new premises being sought. So, with that in mind, I’m going to catch up with the brewers involved for a series of short updates over the summer.
A couple of weeks ago I was invited over to The Fleece in Otley to celebrate Wharfebank’s 500th brew. It’s been somewhat of a steep progression for Martin Kellaway and his crew recently; Wharfebank are now a bustling, thriving modern brewery with a couple of local pubs, a small core of staff and beers in cask, keg and bottle. For the 500th brew, they’ve teamed up with Ken Fisher (the man behind Grateful Deaf Beer) and…well, I’ll let Martin explain:
‘I wanted our 500th brew to be special but also a lot different from what our other 499 brews had been. Tony Jenkins (Business Support and all-round go-getter at WB) has met Ken on many occasions whilst working together at the GBBF and we quickly agreed that some of Ken’s wonderful style of beers could form the basis of our celebratory beer. Combining Ken’s style with that of Jayne Hewitt, our very own Master Brewer, we together created ‘D’ -our 6.6% 500th brew. It’s got 6 distinctive hops with a IBU of 65 – it certainly is special.’
So, something a little different for Wharfebank’s fervent army of followers across the region. That’s not the only change; Wharfebank’s new brewer is actually taking on his first commercial job. Steve Crump is an award-winning homebrewer, who is being welcomed into the fold to bring fresh ideas to Wharfebank. Without going into too much detail about what lies ahead, Martin is as excited about the appointment as Steve is.
‘Steve is a brilliant home brewer, and he joins our team to create new beers that push our range even further, whilst building on the successes we already have.’ beams Martin. What I like about Wharfebank is that, despite their solid reputation for no-nonsense beers, Martin and the team keep a close eye on what’s going on and want to be part of progression – in their own way – with no risk of trying to be something they aren’t. For example, building a partnership with The Harewood Estate to use their fresh hops each year. ’One or two of our experiments haven’t worked, but it’s the benefit of brewing on our small scale that enables us to try new ideas. We are ahead of where we planned to be but we can always do better, and every day we strive to improve.’ adds Martin.
Wharfebank’s bottled range (purely an idea when interviewed for GYB) is now available, and I can personally recommend the IPA and SPA in particular. Not only that, but Wharfebank’s experimental foray into the Spanish market has been incredibly well-recieved, and remains an opportunity for export success.
We spent the evening in The Fleece, which is a fantastic pub (with one of the best beer gardens around) on the riverbank in Otley. The team there really do get the food right - the menu was incredibly well-paired with the beer on offer. Acquiring The Fleece -and The Half Moon in Pool – has always been high on Martin’s agenda, and I asked him how the two were performing. ‘The pubs have all traded well, despite the poor spring weather.’ he says.
‘The Fleece has gone from strength to strength with the new management team of Oliver Renton and chef Simon Miller. Oliver runs front of house and Simon was recently a quarter finalist on BBC Masterchef The Professionals.’
‘The Half Moon in Pool-in-Wharfedale has traded well, with great support from our local community. Fred and Heather are our managers and are a doing a fine job. We’ve introduced simple, locally sourced and freshly prepared pub food, along with our refurbishment of 5 letting bedrooms. We are also building the cask sales so that the introduction of guest ales should become a permanent feature very soon’. The Half Moon is a cosy village pub, and one worth stopping at if passing through Pool.
Most recently, Wharfebank joined forces with Castle Rock to take the reins at The Rook and Gaskill in York. It’s a different proposition from the other two, as Martin explains. ‘The Rook is run by Steve Bradley, who also runs the thriving Fulford Arms. Since opening in late 2012, we’ve has created a beer range on cask and keg that is proving really popular. The recent introduction of The Yorkshire Lager – from the Great Yorkshire Brewery – has also been very well received to compliment Freedom Pilsner, Titanic Stout and the 10 ales we have on. There’s always 2 beers from WharfeBank and 2 from Castle Rock the bar, always a LocAle from the York region plus many fantastic rotating guests. Food has slowly been introduced – which is a unique offering of Caribbean! Music and events are also driving trade, so yes, overall a very positive outlook.’
SO, overall, a productive and positive year for Wharfebank, with some real focus and attention on the places that you can enjoy their beer in as well as the quality of the beer itself. Behind the bar, they’ve also launched a Master Cellar Club, which provides a strong link between brewery and publican, providing training, special beers and general support. This idea is one that I think sums up Wharfebank very well – a small regional brewery thinking like a larger one, especially when it comes to that area we all love between brewery and consumer – The Pub.
I spent some time last night on Twitter doing one of those ‘virtual tastings’ that are proving quite popular at the moment. It was for Booths, the northern food outlet, and they’ll be stocking Great Yorkshire Beer in their Ilkley Store if you’re local. The main reason behind it was to launch their Beer and Cider festival, which is running right now until the end of May.
Up here, Booths have a somewhat cult following for those who like beer. Their range is excellent, and more importantly, local to that specific store, which means that no matter where you are it’s always worth popping in and seeing what treats you can find. Doing virtual tastings and the like is helped immensely by the fact that the beer’s so damn good; especially the two corkers from Cumbria that were sent along to comment on.
Festival Ale is brewed by Hawkshead – who have had a long-standing relationship with Booths – and weighs in at a lithe 4%abv. Fresh, zippy, incredibly light of body but finishing with huge mouthfuls of lemon and grapefruit pith, it’s a Pale Ale that you really want to try to get your hands on if you are a fan of Windermere Pale and NZPA (and who isn’t?). It’s a limited edition brew, but I start the move here and now for Booths to stock it permanently. Wonderful.
Stringer’s Delta V (6.5%abv) is a big, bold, brutish UK IPA. Burnished Amber, the nose was incredibly vibrant with fresh, peppery hops – with more than the usual citrus default going on. On the sip it’s thick with boiled-sweet sugar and a big, boozy warmth appears at the end; just before a long, long, long bitterness kicks in, reminding you that this is a beer to respect. It’s lovely; another home run from Stringers.
Anyway, check out the festival for northern treats and don’t miss these two. You can also check out Baron Orm’s (who took part, too) ratings here. Also, in a stroke of coincidence, Dave Bailey has recently blogged about getting Hardknott listed in Booths - and it’s worth a read.
So, a short blast of summer sun and I already want meals that reflects it; light, tasty, mostly Mediterranean -inspired food. An invitation extended to family for ‘Sunday Dinner’ becomes problematic when you don’t want the full ordeal of a Roast – so – what to do?
Cheese-stuffed Chicken wrapped in Bacon is a bit of a simple crowd-pleaser, especially if you use really good ingredients. I’ve made this a thousand times before and it’s a perennial favourite. If you make the sauce in advance (which I would always recommend you do) then it’s really just a case of keeping an eye on the oven; while you have a beer, of course. So, to start, make the tomato sauce: One large bottle of Passata goes into a saucepan with a glug of Olive Oil, Black Pepper, three cloves of Garlic (chopped), a pinch of Sugar, Basil and Oregano. Stir well, and simmer gently for only five minutes. You can turn off the heat and leave it to stand, covered.
To make the filling, empty one tub of Ricotta Cheese into a bowl, and add to that a little grated Cheddar. You could also use Parmigiano or Pecorino; the idea is simply to spike the Ricotta with something a little more punchy – as it can be quite bland in itself. Season with Black Pepper and a little Salt. Place in the fridge to cool back down and stiffen slightly for another 20 minutes.
Take Chicken Breasts, and slice a pocket in the largest part, being careful not to slice through the chicken. Stuff the cavity with the filling, and then wrap in bacon. The bacon’s got to be good; I used C&K’s excellent Beer and Black Treacle Bacon (which they kindly sent me after I drooled over it on Twitter) but otherwise I would use any smoked bacon – the deeper the smoke, the better.
When I wrap the bacon around the chicken I tend to fix it with toothpicks. Your chicken will have cheese bursting out of one side, and if you can ‘seal’ that side with bacon, you’re onto a winner.
All wrapped up? Cool, turn your oven on to 175c. Whilst that’s warming up, you need to seal the wrapped chicken in a pan, turning over on all sides and watching to make sure the cheese doesn’t leak out. Again, I find doing this helps the cooking process along and helps keep the cheese inside the chicken once it goes into the oven.
Once browned on all sides, transfer the breasts to the hot oven and cook for about 20-25 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. You may get some liquid escaping from the cheese and chicken; if that happens, drain it off – you don’t want the meat standing in it.
Serve with the sauce and some herbed roast potatoes; use Rosemary and Thyme. Beer-wise, you don’t want anything too hoppy as I feel it makes the tomato sauce taste a little strange; something with a hint of sweetness in the body is what you want. Adnam’s versatile Spindrift (5% abv) is a good choice; light, refreshing and jaunty, perfectly quaffable. In fact, pick up a few and enjoy them in the garden after enjoying your dinner.
Black IPA: Booming a few years ago, only to recede ever-so-slightly when Saison usurped it at the head of every brewer’s experimentation list. I’m not mocking here at all – it’s had genuinely been a while since I’d tried a really good Black IPA – and then recently, as happens, a few landed in my lap. I do like the style, to be honest, and when done well the balance between dark grain and bitter hop can be a mesmerising one; either cancelling each other out in harmonious fashion or seemingly amplifying the effects of both.
First up, Salopian Vertigo (7.2% abv); a beer I was very much looking forward to tasting after experiencing such ephiphany with Darwin’s Origin a few months back. What stands out for me the most is the unexpected in Vertigo; the sugary, fruity notes in the nose that remind me of a cut strawberry, the undertow of sticky pine reminding you there’s hops in those woods. A body of Licqourice and molasses follows, with rising bitterness at the end of the sip that manages to wrap its arms around both the citrsussy cut of Orange Peel and the drying bitterness of espresso coffee and roasted malt. It’s another home run from Salopian all right; not all about hops and in excellent condition too.
Buxton’s Imperial Black IPA (7.5%abv) is a whisker stronger in terms of alcohol and yet feels like a bruiser compared to Vertigo, swaggering into the ring and delivering a knockout blow to a promising young fighter, just to remind him who’s boss. It’s a much more straight-ahead beer, too – but no less wonderful for it; deep, biscuit-and-bread roasted malt in the body, laced with bitter chocolate and boiled sweets. The finish is another stroll in that pine forest, put-your-head-in-the-hopsack deal; sticky, green and – when fresh, as I’ve had the pleasure of tasting this - incredibly vibrant. Another quality beer from the boys from Buxton.
Beavertown’s Black Betty (7.4%abv) again illustrates how a beer with a similar abv can feel so different; it’s much lighter in mouthfeel than the Imperial Black IPA. Tasty and moreish, it’s sweet and silky in the body, slightly oily (in a good way) and with a more ‘woodshop’ aroma than the usual coffee – which does appear, although in a muted fashion. There’s pine, of course – that seems to the theme for this tasting – alongside a big citrus punch at the finish. It doesn’t dry out the palate, and you’d probably want more than one; which I often find to be the acid test for Black IPA’s.
Finally, we have a beer that was sent to me earlier in the month; one of collaboration. Hackney’s Sebright Arms have been working with Redchurch Brewery and local artist Pure Evil to create, well, Pure Evil Black IPA. Coming in at 8% abv, its the strongest of the lot and it shows; it’s big and incredibly bitter – perhaps a little too bitter for me, to be honest. The aroma, however, is pungent and fresh with grassy, minty, herbal hops, with an undertow of Parma Violets in amongst that roasted, flapjacky (is that a word?) malt that’s not unpleasant at all. That Parma Violet note pops up again in the sip, before being obliterated by an espresso rasp and high, rising bitterness.
Like you BIPA’s big and bitter? This is your man – although it’s a one-off, I’m afraid. Still, I like the spirit in which the beer was born, which is the main reason I accepted a sample. The Sebright appears to be building a community around it through beer and food, and that brings a smile to my face.
Doesn’t sound at all pleasant, does it? Yet bitterness is the flavour – the experience – that perhaps most excites beer geeks. Whether it’s the high, Quinine-esque rasp of a good Gueuze or Berliner Weisse, or – more often than not – a tastebud devastator of an IPA, bitter is the flavour we crave. Hell, even a really, really good G&T… If our lips ain’t puckered, then it’s not bitter enough.
For me, there’s always moderation (How very you, I hear those who know me proclaim…) – but how did ‘Hop-Bombs’ become so damn popular? Is it the bitterness, or the aroma that packing a beer full of hops brings? Both? Why do we love IPA so? You could argue for the tastes of an underground; a niche, a subculture not truly represented in the wider drinking view of the UK. Then again, the effect of said ‘hop-bombs’ in the general brewing world (up to a point), is hard to deny. Difference, I guess. Difference to what was out there.
It’s easy to get desensitized to extremes of flavour; it’s easy to get desensitized to most things if you try them enough. So when something like Hilden’s Twisted Hop came along, it fair knocked me off my chair. It’s not an IPA; but smacks you square in the jaw with green, lime-sherbet bitterness. Sharp as a razor, spiky as a cactus, it lays those barbs of bitterness over a mesa of boiled-candy, sugar-sweet, orange-jelly body that disapears in the middle of the sip, only to surface again at the end, to stop too much of a dry finish. It’s a 4.7% abv Pale Ale, remember; not an IPA. That would have been too easy.
And so the beer becomes entirely memorable purely for the surprise package; the promise of a Lisburn Pale Ale and the resultant shock of such a crisp, zippy one at that; a reminder of what can be done with perhaps one of the broadest formats in Beer. I drank this on the train after a day out in Nottingham, a present brought back from Belfast by my erstwhile drinking buddy Chris, and one that recharged a jaded palate at that. I’d tasted Hilden’s wares before, a few years back now – but was mightily twisted by this Twisted Hop. More, please.
To see only a cross-section of what IPA in this country means, check out this wonderful exception to the usually predictable list blog over at BeerCast. It inspired me to finally get this recent review online. That’s what good blogging’s about, no?
Three grown men, myself, Stewart Ross (of The Flying Mallard Pub & Wharfedale Brewery) and Lee Pullen (erstwhile Landlord) sit there, beers in hand, admiring the grey-steel radiator. Like something from Metropolis, it hangs on the wall in pride of place; practically an ornament. Which is exactly what it is.
‘It doesn’t work.’ laughs Lee. ‘It’s from Joshua Tetley’s son’s house in Roundhay. We bought it and the fittings to use as a feature.’
This may all seem a little over-the-top; but for Lee and his wife Linda, The Old Cock deserves such attention to detail. A real labour of love, I don’t think I’ve ever met a landlord who can honestly say he built the pub. Let’s go back a little.
In 2007, after many licensing wrangles and planning squabbles, Lee and Linda finally procured the empty building, which was then being used as The Sugar Street Bistro. Lee had the sole intent of turning into a pub; and, with his background in construction, had no fears about taking the job on himself. Built in 1755, the building clearly had charm – it had been two little cottages at one point – but a pub it was not. The cellar had been filled in; new windows were needed – and that was just the internal works. Externally, the roof and pointing all needed replacing. This was no makeover job; this was a solid project with a pub for the community springing into life at the end of it.
The work took a little over two years to complete. The aforementioned cellar was dug out entirely by hand, reinforced, then concreted. Again, as with the radiator, you’ve got to appreciate the details; the cellar is tiny but impeccably designed, with everything in its place and a place for everything.
As Lee takes us round the building, the story of how the pub blossomed into life out of a construction site comes into focus. Lee and Linda spent hours going up and down the country, scouring auctions and eBay for pub mirrors and breweriana such as acid-etched glass to use in one of the snugs. The bar is made out of wardrobes, and even the table we are sitting at was made by him. I know it sounds corny, but when Lee says that he’s probably laid his hands on every surface in the pub – every brick, every roof tile, every pipe – he’s telling the absolute truth.
As you’d expect, it wasn’t easy. Money was tight, credit was racked up and wrung out of every avenue they could find, but it didn’t matter. Lee and Linda were building their pub. Thier pub.They christened the pub The Old Cock; both a nod to the hens and cocks that the couple keep at home, spiced with a little Yorkshire cheek. ‘The regulars say it’s named after the Landlord’ Lee chuckles, quite happy to help perpetuate the myth. ‘People stand outside the sign sometimes and take pictures of the blokes stood underneath it – before coming in for a pint.’
Opening weekend went by in a blur, but Lee remembers that his first beer pulled was, interestingly, a Tetley’s bitter – with some Wold Top on the bar to keep it company.Now, the focus is very much on local beer and a minimum of beer miles being used up. The likes of Briscoe’s, Rooster’s, Wold Top, Naylors, Copper Dragon, Ilkley, Goose Eye and Rodham’s make regular appearances; joined by beers from further afield that Lee seeks out to add a little colour. Dark Star, Ulverston, Bristol Beer Factory, Hawkshead – as well as independent Ciders – all make guest appearances. It was rightly awarded Leeds CAMRA’s pub of the year in 2011.
‘It’s not just local beers for the sake of it, though.’ Lee asserts. ‘We want our beer to be varied and popular. It’s not unusual for us to sell out of a certain beer in an afternoon in busy times, and I think that proves how going the extra mile to get something good in pleases the customers.’ He won’t, for example, always go for the crowd-pleasers. ‘I tend to not stock the bar with just ‘Pale and Hoppy.’ he laughs. ‘I like to have all styles covered; a stout, a porter…and a mid-colour beer!’ he muses. ‘I love chestnut-coloured beers, but they can be hard to find, but we love ‘em here.’ Now there’s something you thought you’d never read; think on, brewers.
It’s well appreciated by the locals – at 1400 on a Tuesday afternoon, the pub is pleasantly busy with drinkers ranging from your typical CAMRA types to your couples resting their bones after a meander through Otley. The beers we drunk during the afternoon were in tip-top condition; Little Valley’s Stoodley Stout smooth and silky, leaning toward on the bramble/fruity side of stout than dry and roasted; Rooster’s Fort Smith effortlessly bold and brassy, and an interesting ‘Cask Pilsner’ from Copper Dragon (Silver Myst), that ended up being simply a really crisp, grassy Pale Ale.
The Old Cock is the kind of pub you want to bump into when visiting a market town like Otley. There’s plenty of pubs in Otley – and many with history – but The Old Cock is a perfect example of the kind of pub you’d like to run if you did one yourself. Building it brick by brick? That’s special indeed.
You can see more pictures of the project on The Old Cock’s excellent website here. Also, if you feel like taking a ride over to Otley and spending the day there, there’s an excellent new project called The Otley Pub Club which will give you all the info you need for a day’s drinking around the town.
Just a little self-promotion - here’s a link to a little Q&A I did with Max Brearley at The Pub Diaries this week. There’s a couple of nuggets about Great Yorkshire Beer within, and if you’ve not visited TPD before, it’s a mix of pub and beer life commentary from London to Australia (where Max lives). There’s an interesting piece about Meantime’s ‘tank-fresh’ beer, and the recent controversial ‘Stella Video’ to watch, too.
Jump through, if you’re interested. Max writes some cracking stuff, so visit for the Q&A, stay for everything else!
Duck: a bird I love, yet find incredibly difficult to cook. I can’t count the amount of Ducks I’ve roasted, only to find that instead of crispy skin and succulent, moreish meat within, i’ve ended up with dry, tasteless fowl. I don’t buy whole ducks anymore. They scare me.
Meanwhile, I have been able to nail fool-proof (and the above statement should qualify me as a duck-fool) breasts, and when put with a beer with high fruitiness such as Madame Rose, it becomes a bit of a wonder. Basically, it’s about heat.
Take your breasts and score heavily on the skin side. Rub with Salt, and a little five-spice powder (which normally contains Star Anise, Cloves, Cinnamon, Pepper and Fennel) and get a heavy frying pan hot. Very hot. Don’t put any oil in, and when you’re happy with the heat, lay the breasts in, skin side down.
Now, keep an eye on them. The amount of fat that comes off them is staggering. After 90 seconds or so, drain the fat out of the pan (careful!) and return the breasts. Do this a couple of times until there’s a minimum of fat. Turn the breast once, and colour the flesh side. Your skin should be nice and brown, crispy yet succulent underneath. When the breast is firm to the touch, and to your liking, take them out and rest them. All in all, you’re looking at about 6-7 minutes cooking time for a medium-sized breast.
Whilst they are resting (and it’s massively important you do rest them; don’t even think about skipping that part), make a little pouring liquor by gently heating dark soy sauce, a little Madame Rose, a pinch of brown sugar, one minced Garlic clove and little rice-wine vinegar. Lob a fresh Star Anise in there, and when the liquor has thickened ever-so-slightly, you’re done.
Slice the duck, pour on the sauce, pour your beer, and serve with noodles or rice, accompanied with a little chopped Coriander and Spring Onion. The meat should be crispy-skinned and seductively pink in the middle, the sauce sweet and savoury.
Beer-wise, Madame Rose (7.1%abv) isn’t massively complex on its own; plenty of acid, a hint of funk, and an underlying cherry note that’s more akin to cherry-skin than juice – bitter and crisp. Pair it with the sweet, smoky flavours in the duck and sauce here, though, and that magic thing happens where all of a sudden everything becomes tastier; cutting through the richness and pairing perfectly.
If you don’t want to be perhaps as obvious as the duck-and-cherry combo, I would probably experiment with a robust IPA from the likes of The Kernel or Magic Rock – or even one of Wild Beer Co’s bitter and woody Saisons.