Times change. Many people said I’d struggle to keep a blog with a newborn baby, and I’m beginning to realise that they weren’t just joshing. But that’s just one part of the jigsaw which, ultimately, means that TGS as we know it will be wound down over the next few months.
Don’t panic yet though. Let me start at the beginning.
I started The Good Stuff a long, long time ago, and the change in the beer scene has been fuller than I ever expected in those early days. Things that our (much smaller then) circle of drinking buddies used to talk about – acceptance of keg beer, sharper branding to bring in the ‘younger’ crowd (like us! they’re just like us!), an end to sexist (and, on occasion, mildly racist) artwork adorning beers, greater collaboration between brewers and communities, more choice in pubs and bars, inclusive beer festivals that appeal to men and women, young and old, greater links between our food and beer culture and an end to beer constantly being compared to wine have actually happened. It’s a great time to be a beer drinker – it really is – and I am happy to assert that blogs have contributed hugely to that. We’re the grass roots movement that never stopped banging the drum.
We’ve told the stories of the brewers operating at a level that means that they can’t advertise, and in many cases given free, vital feedback to new brewers that has helped them shape and hone their beers into real success stories. I’m not bragging here, either – I’ve been told this by many brewers over the years. Remember when the first Magic Rock artwork hit our screens, courtesy of Pencil & Spoon? Remember the first twissup? Remember BrewDog’s first bar, denuded of cask beer? Remember the first Independent Leeds Beer Festival, so small yet already swaggering with a feel of the new? I do, and much more besides. Beer Blogs documented those events, dropped the pebble into the pond and watched the ripples flow outward.
We’ve come a long way.
And with that, blogging is now the norm. Everyone has one, yet blogging still remains a fantastic forum to share views and find out about beer. Beer Blogs have also provided the foundations for professional writers to build upon and use their considerable reach to bring beer to markets that bloggers just can’t reach; in fact, bloggers often canvassed for opinion see them end up in print media, with little or no credit. Conversely, the spotlight now being shone by journalists on beer means quality writing about beer (and let’s fact it, that’s the key here) is now much more available. True, it’s early days, still – but it’s there. In my opinion, some of the best beer writing over the last five years has appeared on blogs. There are some fantastic amateur writers out there.
Which brings me to The Good Stuff. Over the last few months, as I’ve raced to deadline to finish Great Yorkshire Bottled Beer, it became apparent that I simply did not have the time to create the quality or breadth of work on the blog that I wanted to read. Beer reviews may have become the bones of TGS but I’ve always intended to tell the story behind the beer – and that simply wasn’t happening. Increasing work pressures, paid writing commitments – and on top, a newborn baby – meant that I was simply stretched too thinly. I even felt, on occasion, that I was letting people down. You should never put out work that you’re not happy with, and I’ll be honest enough to say that I’ve trashed many, many drafts in a true ‘frustrated writer’ cliche this year.
Great Yorkshire Bottled Beer is out now and is a fantastic sister publication to Great Yorkshire Beer, if I say so myself. I’ve managed to pull together Yorkshire’s first bottled beer guide, and it includes over 150 beers from over 60 breweries. It’s been a pleasure to work with all of our bottle-producing brewers, some of which have displayed such gusto for the project that you really can believe the much-maligned claim of ‘passion’ when it comes to brewing. It’s been a pleasure to work on and will be my beer-writing focus over the next few months.
In many ways, it caps off one part of a journey through Yorkshire Beer that I started when I set up this blog all those years ago.
So, in the weeks leading up to Rosa’s birth, I was pondering my place in the beer blogging world, and the beer community in general. The end of the line was looming, and I knew it. What next? The universe, as it often does, ended up answering the question for me.
I keep my personal life quite separate from the online one; not many people will know that I’ve spent the last 14 years working for a bank, then a major insurance company. I’m a manager of people, processes and projects and although it’s provided security, it doesn’t particularly interest me. So when the opportunity arose earlier in the year to transfer those ‘hard’ skills into beer and consider becoming General Manager at Wharfe Bank Brewery, it caused pause for thought. A few weeks later, I accepted the post and will be changing career next week after serving a lengthy notice period over the last few months.
Martin Kellaway and his team have some really interesting plans for Wharfe Bank’s progression over the next few years, and I’m looking forward to joining that team and helping the brewery realise them. I’m also looking forward to contributing to the beer industry in Yorkshire rather than simply reporting on it.
So, in the end, the answer was presented to me. I don’t want to have my subjectivity questioned whilst talking about other brewers on here, so activity on TGS will slow right down. I still have Great Yorkshire Bottled Beer to promote, so there will be posts on here, but they will be specific to the book, rather than simply reports on what I have enjoyed that week, or something that’s cropped up for discussion that suits the audience here. I would never consider taking the blog down, as I’d like to think it still represents a useful archive. I’m sure writing inspiration will continue to strike in the next few months, anyway; the few people in the industry that I’ve spoken to in the last few weeks who work in a similar environment have all confirmed that, anyway.
It’s not the end for my beer writing. I have a couple of long-form projects that I still aim to explore and publish myself in the upcoming years. Self-publishing has progressed a lot in recent years, and in the time it will take for me do this , will progress even further. So I’ll still be around, lurking, as I have done for nearly eight years now. You won’t get rid of me that easily!
So – it’s not an end, but perhaps a new beginning. I’m looking forward to the next chapter, and I hope you guys are too. After all, it was you guys who made TGS what it became, and kept reading. Let’s see what happens next, shall we? Oh and I’m not the only one at it; BeerCast’s Richard Taylor has gone through a similar (in fact, spookily similar, right down the amount of years spent working and month changing career) journey this Autumn, and you can read about his new role here.
Leigh, November 2014.
The book itself is partly a response to reader feedback following the publication of Great Yorkshire Beer; both individually and in the book trade. Readers wanted more breweries, they wanted a more usable ‘guide’, they wanted something with more scope. The idea of a bottled beer guide wasn’t my first thought when the chance to write another book came to me, but I soon warmed to it. Why not? Why not catalogue the bottled beer being brewed right now in Yorkshire? Why not celebrate the diversity of brewing in the region – much like that in the UK in general – from Sam Smith’s to Magic Rock? Plus, drinking my way round the region would be fun, I thought.
And it was; I tasted beers new and old, discovering new breweries such as Harrogate Brewing Company and Atom, alongside reappraising the likes of Samuel Smith’s, Black Sheep and Timothy Taylor. I learnt new things about breweries that I thought myself familiar with, and made countless new friends in the process. It features beers from every brewery regularly producing bottled beer at the time of writing; over 150 beers from over 60 breweries.
There are no interviews this time – just a short biography of each brewery and tasting notes, alongside some notes on storing beer, common faults, a little food matching, and a list of recommended beer retailers. Simple!
We’ve intentionally published it in time for Christmas, not only to hit the peak time of the year in terms of bookselling but also in response to another bit of feedback, which was that these books make great gifts. I’m really pleased with it, and it’s a great little sister publication to Great Yorkshire Beer. So if you want a little present for the beery person in your life this Christmas, there are worse avenues I could point you down!
Great Yorkshire Bottled Beer is published on 27/10/2014, and is available for pre-order now from Great Northern Books and all other good booksellers. If you’re a store, bottleshop or other business and want to stock the book, drop me an email (on the about me tab) and I will point you in the right direction.
Tyne Bank’s beers have popped up in Booth’s recently, alongside new listings for the always excellent Harbour and Camden, who are settling nicely into the ‘reliable’ slot in the beer shelves. Notably, this doesn’t come long off the back of a rebrand for the Newcastle-based brewery, who, for me, possess that rare quality of, well, quality. there’s a lot to be said for consistency of quality these days – in fact, there’s there’s been a lot of noise recently about how it must be the cornerstone of a brewing business – and Tyne Bank’s beers have never been less than excellent every time I’ve tried them.
Silver Dollar (4.9% abv) takes me back to drinking it at Mr Foley’s Cask Ale House. When it first appeared, the barman at the time raved about it’s sheer ‘drinkabililty’; pints were duly ordered and sunk with the ease at which they’d been suggested. Now, it’s a bit of a poster boy for where my tastes lie right now; I’m craving body these days – searching for beer (particularly pale ale) with backbone.
Centennial and Amarillo are a hop combination you can’t go far wrong with ‘s , but Silver Dollar’s strength is, well, it’s strength of flavour – rugged, crunchy malt that even brings a little gingery cake – spice to proceedings. Combine that with a briskly citrus finish and round, sweetly fruity aroma and you’ve got a winner that fans of other ‘big pale ales‘ such as Bristol Beer Factory’s Independence, Salopian’s Darwin’s Origin and Oakham’s Scarlet Macaw should find comfort in.
That ginger-biscuit snap in the heart of the beer is evident again in Moteuka (4% abv), the palest beer of the trio. Again, it serves to bring sweetness and smoothness to what could have been too dry a pale ale, too rasping to be truly thirst-quenching. As you’ve guessed, it’s a showcase for Moteuka hops; all lime sherbert in the aroma and lifting the finish a little. Bittersweet rather than dry, it’s another beer you could happily sink all afternoon.
Now, who doesn’t like the way the word ‘Cherry Stout’ sounds? What a comforting, attractive pairing of words. Somewhat of a cult favourite on cask, my bottle of Cherry Stout (5.2% abv) certainly didn’t give too much away on the rather muted aroma: just a roasted, toasted malt note underpinned with a little liquorice. Luckily, I needn’t have worried about the flavour – deep within those black northeastern depths swum woody, perfumed flavours that brought a smile to the lips.
Those fruity notes balanced sweet and sour, rich and tart, with a floral note – not unlike Parma Violet, to my taste – but perfectly balanced with the stout. Begging to be poured alongside roast duck or beef, Cherry Stout is an endlessly interesting, rewarding beer that will give Stout freaks something to ponder.
Well, with Great Yorkshire Bottled Beer all packaged up and sent to the publishers, I ventured out of my cave this week – and with a brand-spanking new bar to visit, too: Bundobust.
I’d been intrigued about this bar after hearing the concept – still at embryonic stage then – given to me by Marko Husak during this interview. It seems so long ago now, but upon walking through the doors to this fine establishment, I realised that although it may have taken Marko and his team a little longer than expected to execute their audacious idea, the wait was worth it.
Why? Well, it’s simply unlike anything that’s currently trading. Much like Friends of Ham before it, the concept seems so simple, yet no-one had really picked up the baton and ran with it before. This is not a restaurant; it’s a bar, serving great beer with great food.
The food is the ace in the pack here. You can trust the creative team behind The Sparrow to ensure that the beer is ‘on point’ without any doubt; shiny keg fonts and two full fridges showcase Yorkshire heavyweights (Saltaire, Kirkstall, Magic Rock),with US and Euro imports providing backing vocals to give plenty of stylistic choice to accompany your food. At the time of my visit, you could have opted for a smoked porter, Vienna lager, pale ale, weissbeer, fruit beer, IPA and pilsner at any one time – if you were so inclined, of course. Beer and food matching isn’t pushed here; it’s just a matter of course, casually dangled in front of you rather than pushed under your nose.
Courtesy of Prashad (the Drighlington-based, award-winning family restaurant), the menu is short, tidy and incisive, ranging in price between £3 – £6, depending on your hunger levels. Think of it as South Indian tapas (I’m loathe to use the term Street Food, given that you’re not on the street) and you’re in the right ballpark – but what food it is. Small, manageable pots of deliciousness that have you wondering what you’re going to try next before you’ve finished the one you’re enjoying. When you’re a committed carnivore – the son and grandson of a butcher – vegetarian menus can provide little comfort, but there’s nothing to fear here. Flavour, texture and variety flood the senses, and if you’ve been canny about your beers, you’ve got a unique and vibrant meal on your hands.
…and that’s perhaps a good word to use here. Vibrant. The whole bar is vibrant, with chatter and murmurs of approval, laughter and hustle from the kitchen; the staff attentive and friendly. Our dainty stack of Bhaji – held together with a sweet and sour chutney - redefined Bhaji in my book: dense yet light, the perfect blend of cauliflower, potato and spice, quite unlike the deep-friend, gram-flour heavy cannonballs usually served up. Alongside a crisply floral Coriander Pilsner (the house beer, such is its popularity), that little pot defined the menu; tasty, easy, keenly priced.
Mikeller’s bright, light US Pale disappeared in pints (and so it should, given its 2.4% abv) yet provided the perfect backdrop to a frivolous pot of popcorn and crushed poppadum doused in garlic and coriander oil. Finger – lickin’ good. Bhel Puri was the definition of moreish; cold yet strangely warming given the afterglow of heat that followed each mouthful – a pot of cold, snappy rice and vermicelli noodle, sweet chutney and chili spice. Camden Pale doused the heat here, and provided a little sweetness to balance the sour heat.
Decor-wise, you’re looking at a long room with a bar at the end, including an open kitchen and a pleasant alley outside to sit in the sun. Sure, there’s some long expanses of wall that could perhaps do with some art on them, but its early days yet. You order at the bar – food and beer – and this could cause delays on busier times. But these are minor quibbles, and ones that I’m sure the team will sort out as they find their feet. Bundobust is a welcome and well-executed breath of fresh air to Leeds’ dining scene, and they’ve scored another patron in me on the strength of a single visit. If you’ve not been, I recommend you go now before the mainstream press pick up the chatter and descend to ‘discover’ it, as I am sure they will.
The thing is, you could go here to solely to drink, such is the bar. But I know that when I go back – and I won’t leave it as long this time – I’m going to find it hard to resist ordering a little portion of Bhaji to go with my cold one. And therein lies the beauty of Bundobust.
We’ve had a couple of days off last week; purely to catch up on home stuff (ie getting ready for our new arrival in late August) and, on a more selfish note, have a couple of days out. Which, as you all would have guessed, mostly involves eating and drinking.
So, we visited Harrogate - the main reason being our interest in the Yorkshire Meatball Company. In these times of ‘Yorkshire’ everything, it seems (and don’t worry, I know i’m perpetuating that beer angle as much as anyone…), I was genuinely interested to see what this young restaurant had to offer. I mean, who doesn’t like Meatballs? Exactly. But can you base a whole business around them?
The restaurant itself is bedecked in rough wood; light to dark, pine to mahogany, and the welcome was warm and informal. As we perused the menu (which we’ll get onto in a second) our eyes were drawn to the chandeliers; cheese graters and colanders clustered around bare bulbs. Nice touch. Overall, it’s a lovely space to dine in; a little acoustic music in the background, and friendly staff in branded t-shirts giving an attentive yet chummy service. Perfect for lunch.
One major angle that the YMBCo gets right is the provenance of their ingredients; it’s all from Yorkshire. Fish from Ramus. Yorkshire cheeses, wine from Yorkshire Vintners and bread from Hughes. The meat comes from Sykes House Farm and the beer list is provided by Yorkshire Ales.
Yes, there’s a beer list, and perhaps now you can guess that I had an ulterior motives for coming here; I wanted to see what a restaurant with a decent beer list did with it. Well, there’s plenty to choose from; Yorkshire Ales have picked two beers from most of the major beer styles so, if you so wish, you have a decent course-by-course range. You can expect to see beers from Saltaire, Geeves, Great Yorkshire/Cropton, Bradfield, Treboom, Wold Top, and Wensleydale amongst others – plus a smattering of Cider.
So far so good; if you’re a little informed or reccgnise some of the breweries on the list. As it happens, the waiter saw that I was opting for lighter beers and recommended a new arrival from Wold Top (Hello Velo) to guide my hand a little, but perhaps some notes or even recommendations on the menu would be good, too. Still, it was a good shout from our waiter and the kind of thing I want to see; a little helping hand for those who want to try things out.
As we happened to be visiting during the week that a cycle race is coming to the county (really? I wouldnt have known!) there was a slightly truncated menu; served with a Gallic flavour rather than the regular smorgasbord of Meatball delights. We chose beef and pork balls in a Bourguignon sauce; the balls meaty yet succulent, the sauce winey, rich and packed with softly sweet root vegetables, bacon, pearl onions and garnished with mash.
Alongside that, we picked white bean and lemon balls, crumbed and deep fried, sitting in a Provençale sauce with creamed lentils on the side. The balls – crunchy then yieldingly soft, sung with high lemon and fresh coriander notes – kind of like a European falafel, if you will. Where the beef balls were robust and hearty, these bean balls were zippy, light and moreish.
Carried away by the flavour of the food, I ordered a Wharfe Bank Yorkshire IPA for the bean balls; my thinking being that the slightly asian herbing would lend itself to the punchy IPA. It didn’t; the two flavours fought on the palate, cancelling each other out. Instead, Great Yorkshire’s bittersweet Yorkshire Lager (which I’d ordered as an aperitif) cleaned up perfectly; the more neutral flavour scrubbing the palate and readying me for the next course. Lesson learned.
Which was cheesecake. Vanilla cheesecake balls with a raspberry coulis, to be exact. Oh yes.
Now, here’s the thing. If you offer a range of beer – and your guests indulge themselves in it – these little discoveries happen. My smooth, buttery cheesecake, chilled and drizzled with tart berry sauce, were perfectly complimented by the Wharfe Bank IPA. Smooth, strong and carrying and aroma of orange jelly, the IPA’s long, bitter finish lifted all the cream without dominating it, as well as dovetailing nicely with the tart berry. Beer and dessert? Yup, no problem.
So there you have it. A good meal, a beer and food preconception busted – and a resolve to go back and try the full menu. Which, as a new business, is all you can ask for, really. YMBCo also deserve a pat on the back for offering a decent, local beer range, too – hence this post. It fits their ethos, and looks completely natural alongside their menu.
Oh, and in answer to my question at the start around basing your whole business around them, it would appear so. I hear new Yorkshire Meatball outposts will be appearing across the region shortly, so keep your eyes peeled.
Hemsworth brewer Hamelsworde are holding their own beer festival in late July at Hemsworth Community centre. With an overall aim to promote the use of British hops, the list of breweries taking part is excellent – a Yorkshire-centric list including Geeves, White Rose, Revolutions, Imperial, Bad Seed, Atom, Wharfe Bank, Five Towns and Great Heck amongst others. It’s certainly worth checking out – I’ve been impressed with what I’ve tried from Hamelsworde recently. Colin Brown ale is a robust, raisin-led strong brown ale with rounded sweetness and a nutty finish – and if you’re in the mood for something lighter I can recommend the range of new-world hopped beers they are currently exploring - fresh, zingy pale ales.
All the details for the Hamelsworde Festival are here.
Now enjoying it’s third year, Leeds Independent Beer Festival is a must-attend for beer-hunters in the north. Before that hits in September, however, the gang behind it are holding a ‘Carnaval’ to celebrate the Grand Depart on the 28th and 29th of June. Although more of a food and drink festival than the beer festival proper, the European beers on offer in particular look excellent. North and Magic Rock will also be hosting a permanent bar under the town hall - The Magic Spanner - which opens on the 27th June.
Finally, the 27th also sees the opening of The Hop Saltaire, Ossett’s latest pub acquisition. Formerly The Tramshed, this cavernous pub will no doubt benefit from Ossett’s guiding hand, as most do! So if you’re up in Saltaire, do pop in. It’s not the only pub Ossett are opening this month, either - The Fox in York has enjoyed a refurbishment and also opens this week.
….Just a quick post to highlight a couple of blogs I’ve been watching and listening to this week whilst writing. First up, Sarah Warman’s YouTube channel shows the green shoots of a talent for talking about beer in front of a camera. Sarah works for BrewDog by day, but her own videos are a breath of fresh air in the ‘lone person talking to a camera drinking beer’ format that most video reviews use. However, the ace up her sleeve is the handful of videos that she’s created for the Jamie Oliver-sponsored Drinks Tube Channel.
Benefiting from the channel’s slicker editing tighter production and pacing, these videos are exactly what I want to see from a ‘beer’ section on a mainstream TV channel; an engaging, unpatronising presenter, a good length, pitched at (and the is the most important bit, people) a level somewhere between ‘novice’ and ‘curious’, and featuring beers that are obtainable without being the norm. If there’s any producers out there looking for a new ‘talking head’ for the screen, Sarah’s your girl.
Second is Jeff Pickthall’s long-term podcast project Beerlines. Weighing in at a good half hour-long, it’s much more along the Radio 4-type of programme (which is the intention), and in many ways it’s the other side to the same coin as Sarah’s videos; packed with detail, colour and background, engaging and reverent to the subject. Although it’s only one episode in, Jeff deserves a pat on the back (or a pint, perhaps!) for bringing this all together. The hosts (who, in this episode are Jeff, Des De Moor and John Duffy) certainly read with aplomb and have picked interesting subjects to kick things off. One to watch. Or listen, perhaps.
It’s pretty difficult to avoid the Tour de France in Yorkshire at the moment. Yellow is everywhere – and when I say that, I mean it. I can’t remember the last time a whole region pushed something with such fervour. And i’m sure it’s wonderful if you’re a cyclist. I’m not – but I am a beer drinker, and that means lots of specials and cycling- themed one-offs to try.
We’ve still got a month or so to go yet, but it’s probably easier to list the breweries who aren’t promoting it than those who are. And why not? Beer excels as a promotional tool or reason to go off-piste in these kinds of situations.
Obviously it helps when the brewery itself is on the route, and Ilkley Brewery are one of the many that those lean men in lycra will be powering past come the Grand Depart. Ilkley’s ‘Tour Beer’ – Marie Jaune (4.5%)- is one that certainly deserves a mention. Why? Because although following the (it must be said) well-worn formula of pale, french-hopped or continentally-yeasted (is that even a word?) beer that 99% of breweries are opting for, it carries a much fresher, lager-esque quality to it. In fact, after an afternoon’s chilling in the fridge, it could have subbed for a lager; straw-pale, lively, a tight, white head, and that flinty, almost mineral quality on the nose that I look for in beers like this. Sweet, then grassy to finish, Marie Jaune will be an absolutely blinding thirst-quencher if you’ve queued all day to watch Froome, Cavendish and Contador zoom by.
It’s a little different from the norm (in much the same way that the continental, spicy-yet-wheaty- coolness of this beer won me over) and much the better for it. In fact,it’s on the list already to (whisper it) fill my fridge to enjoy the upcoming World Cup - with apologies to the cycling purists.
Another little gem that Ilkley have brewed of late is De Passie, a 7.8% abv (deep breath) ‘Imperial Passion Fruit White IPA‘, which they concocted in collaboration with Rooie Dop and Oersoep Breweries. Now, if you’re given a bottle of this, your first thought is ‘Ok.. this had better taste of Passion Fruit or you’re on a hiding to nothing‘, but I’m happy to say that the Yorkshire/Dutch team have nailed that quibble – and more besides.
The aroma is heady with fresh passion fruit and mango; so much so that it’s akin to a carton of Rubicon Mango juice. Pouring brilliant gold, a few quick swirls reveal a pear-drop complexity sitting under all that fruit in the aroma that brings a smile to my lips immediately. Light in body yet bursting with that tropical fruit personality, De Passie is a joy from start to bitter, pithy finish. In my opinion, it’s one of the tastiest, most balanced beers Ilkley have produced, and, alongside Mary Jane’s French penpal, it’s out there now.
Disclosure: both beers were given to me by Ilkley along with their submissions for the follow up to Great Yorkshire Beer, which I’m currently working on.
I don’t often review books on here (purely because I’m published…it feels kind of odd) but it’s an understatement to say that I have been waiting for this book to appear for some time – so I’m going to anyway. I’ve been following Boak and Bailey’s progress with it since they announced the deal, and the subject matter interests me greatly; my beer culture, in my lifetime.
Given the range of the posts which have been appearing on B&B’s blog since they started work on the book – a torrent of offshoots, loose ends and interesting nuggets found during the research for Brew Britannia – I was expecting a dense, fact-rich tome, much more akin to Martyn Cornell’s cornerstone book Amber, Gold and Black. Instead we get a almost breezy, fast-paced romp through modern, thoroughly British beer culture set amongst the sociological and economic backdrops of those times.
The ease at which the book the book can read – whilst packing in a fair amount of data – is the book’s strength, and testament to the duo’s writing chops. Focusing – to me, anyway- on the people behind the beer rather than ‘the numbers’ is the real ace in the pack, however. Peter Austin, Sean Franklin, Brendan Dobbin and David Bruce all deserve their own books – let alone chapters – such is the richness of their tales of reform and rebellion.
The genesis of CAMRA is told in a refreshingly frank way, something that’s perhaps been missing in print up until now. Sure, plenty of writing about CAMRA is out there, but there’s always seems to be ‘an angle’ to it; either pro- or anti-. Here, the interviews with the likes of Michael Hardman are ‘as they are’, and seem much more honest as a result. The inclusion of an appraisal of the Society of Preservation of Beers from the Wood (both past and, in a poignant coda, present) shines a much-needed light on them at a time when many people simply don’t know they exist.
The chapter on BrewDog seeks to smash a few myths – albeit ones created by Watt and Dickie themselves – and offers some interesting lines of thought on the Scottish brewer’s indelible contribution to modern beer in the UK. Despite feeling a little rushed towards the end, the final third does well to bring the whole story up to date. Again, much like CAMRA, I wonder if anyone will finish the book down with a new perspective about BrewDog and their place in our beer culture? Likewise Tim Martin’s JD Wetherspoon’s empire – which is, surprisingly, only mentioned fleetingly.
The events in the decades that it spans all have very real, very tangible imprints on today’s beer culture in the UK, and as a beer blogger in these times I found the chapters and mentions regarding people I have met - Stuart Ross, Sean Franklin, Zak Avery, Barrie Pepper – a real cause for celebration. By bringing this book out now rather than in ten year’s time, B&B have created a very ‘live’, very workable document for those wanting to explore the stories of the people within. This is a rare quality for a ‘traditional’ publication to have – and I have to commend Aurum for showing a little faith in the book’s story at a time when publishers only seem to want conscise guides and how-to books (trust me, I know – this is an area I know all too well!).
I’ll leave my review at this, veering off-track slightly: a few months ago, I left some comments on an excellent blog by Chris Hall about the denigration of ‘Beer Hipsters’, something that, at the time, I personally felt was becoming a little bit out of hand. I stand by my comments today – that I’m, at heart, a traditionalist; a modern drinker who is scared that, in a few years’ time, a whole seam of beer drinkers who have helped bring beer to audiences that it has struggled to in the past, simply up an leave in favour of something new. That there’s a family of drinkers who won’t go visit a pub that only serves cask ale, or will maybe even never touch cask ale, or – even worse – certain beers purely because of the branding.
…That there’s a group of drinkers who have no interest in the truly inspirational pioneers who fought, gambled and took huge personal risks to transform beer into something new or simply make sure it never dies. That there’s journalists out there who are being sent from their desks by panicking news editors to ‘get across this craft beer thing‘ to ‘put the tick in the box’, and doing the brewers and beers a disservice by doing so with poor work despite vital mainstream column inches. Social media and blogs makes us all experts these days, as in food, fashion and pretty much anything else. How useful that actually is remains to be seen.
Brew Britannia is the perfect book for these times, for this audience. To understand where it all comes from, and how everything, much like a Pete Frame Family Tree that the authors are so enamored by – is connected. Welcome publicity is given to minor yet-significant milestones such as Mash & Air, Passageway Brewing, Belgo, and my own beloved North Bar. Without one, you don’t get the other. Brew Britannia is an excellent book; investigative, frank, even-handed and, above all, vital to both the beer geek and the neophyte alike.
Beery surprises. Everyone loves them, right? That little thrill of finding something new and having your expectations turned upside is surely what enjoying beer is about; always knowing that somewhere out there is a brewery you just might be missing out on. Despite constant reminders from Andy Mogg that Truefitt Brewery’s beers (more or less his local brewery, as well as doing the design work for them) were very good – and indeed, getting better – it’s still taken me a while to actually get my hands on some.
Matthew Power’s beers bear all the hallmarks of ‘local hero’ brewing; a full range of the best-selling styles, beers named after his environs, strikingly colourful pumpclips which certainly stand out from the crowd. Most importantly, the beer is good. Very good. Truefitt beers carry a weight – in the body particularly – that recalls Oakham and Five Towns Breweries. Hops are sprinkled liberally throughout, of course - but these are really, really balanced beers.
Take the 4% abv North Riding Bitter. Not one to get excited about, you might say, but I defy you not to enjoy this ruddy-cheeked gem. Sweet, with tonnes of freshly-baked brown bread flavour in the body and finishing with complexity that comes as a complete surprise – hints of coffee and berry fruit – I immediately wanted another. And then possibly another.
Erimus (3.6%) is a light, summery Pale Ale with a mild-mannered nature and sweet finish, whereas Truefitt Trembler (a double IPA weighing in at 7.4% abv) may be the beer that hop-heads are overlooking in favour of more exotic, imported fare. Fiery amber in colour and boasting a reassuringly thick, tongue-coating mouthfeel, the nose is all strawberry jam and oily pine needle, which translates almost identically into the finish, adding long, rolling bitterness and a touch of alcohol as it fades away. Matt tells me the hops in this recipe are a moveable feast; he uses what’s available to him at the time. All the more reason to drink a bottle of this every few months, if you ask me.
Overall, I’ve been impressed with Truefitt’s beers. Perhaps it’s time for them to start travelling a little further up and down the UK; not that Matt is resting on his laurels. Last weekend saw the opening of the Truefitt Tap, so if you’re in the wilds of Northallerton, you could do a lot worse that drop in and get acquainted. Good luck, Matt.
These beers were given to me for inclusion in the follow up to Great Yorkshire Beer, which I’m working on as we speak.