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.
Yep, you heard that right. Serlo. Not Chris. I’ve done that pun a lot since tasting this beer, and I can assure you it’s not as funny as you think it may be. It turns out Serlo De Burgh was actually a powerful baron, who built Knaresborough Castle (where Roosters are based – Knaresborough, not the castle…) and he’s has been chosen by the brothers Fozard to lend his moniker to their latest bottled event.
I say event, because when Roosters bottle, it generally is. Not only should you expect a great package – all heavy glass and photogenic label – but something a little different on the inside. Roosters on the bar normally means Pale Ale par excellence – bottled it means you’re very lucky indeed. Expect something a little more.
Serlo De Burgh weighs in at 6% abv and boasts a hop for every point. The beer pours amber and has a thick, sweet mouthfeel with rock-candy notes, underpinned by a lively spritz that provides a much-needed lift. It’s not heavy, but certainly not sprightly either. The nose is fruit-basket; Pear Drops, Pineapple, Mango and Strawberry; sticky-sweet rather than overly citrus, which makes a refreshing change. The bitterness that’s needed to make it moreish comes on late, fresh and green.
The end result is a lush, richly rounded beer that should satisfy the IPA-Idiot and Pale Ale Pariah in us all. You know it will be good – as reliable brewers can provide that reassurance – but it’s still a relief to find that it doesn’t disappoint. Roosters have recently undergone a re-branding, which you should start to see filtering across the UK. It certainly gets the thumbs-up from me, and you can check out the new look here.
…Just a quick one to point out (in case you haven’t seen it) that there is now an up-to-date list of attendees (so far) for May’s EBBC in Leeds. There’s also confirmation of some key sponsors – Magic Rock, Brains and Williams Bros to name a few.
Also, seeing as though the Magic Rock tour is pretty full, those hard working guys over at EBBC have managed to secure another tour for the Sunday – Roosters. Based in Knaresbrough, Rooster’s don’t open their doors often to tours, so here’s a real chance to see where some of those iconic pints of Wild Mule and Yankee are brewed.
There is only 20 spaces for the Rooster’s tour, so please contact EBBC through the website (not me!) if you want to get involved. You will have to arrange your own transport to the train station (with Rooster’s picking up from there) on this occasion, however – check the ‘Logistics’ part of the website for more details.
Finally, in terms of Bloggers, there are still some scholarship places available, and if you’re a brewer – or even local food producer – and want to know about sponsorship, there are still opportunities to be had there.
See you there!
Well, just as I’d finished drafting this post, The Golden Pints were announced for 2011. Given that I’d already done this, I’m going to post it up anyway in lieu of a Golden Pint list, with a few additions. Anyway, I like lists, and it’s been fun running through what beers I’ve particularly enjoyed over the year. By way of a cop-out, I’m not going to rank the best beers this year, because I think they are all fantastic. What’s even more exciting is that I’m sure I’ve missed loads; which means 2012 will have to rectify that.
So, what about a Brewery of the Year? A difficult one. When I think of Breweries that made 2011, three stand out for me; Magic Rock, Buxton and Red Willow.
Given the shared experience of the people involved – both from a brewing and a retail point of view – Magic Rock would have had to have really worked hard to fail. Their relatively small core range covers every base, their pumpclips catch the eye; and their beer tastes good. When you really get into the range, the beers are deceptively simple, too. They’ve worked their arses off; doing countless Meet The Brewer nights all over the country, brewing to capacity, and even introducing a couple of new beers in Rock Star and Bearded Lady. But that Yorkshire grit and no-nonsense approach is still there. No fuss - just taste – and lots of it.
Buxton pull a similar ‘one foot in each camp’ trick but go even further. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a brewery combine fairly hop-forward, or ‘big’ beers such as Axe Edge or Tsar, and yet appeal to the average ‘pub-bound’ drinker. Buxton do this by again turning down the fuss, and just brewing tasty, tasty beer. People that know me know that I’m a Pale Ale freak, and when Moor Top emerged – just a single-hopped, simple Pale Ale – it blew me away (See also Hawkshead’s superlative Windermere Pale and NZPA). You think you’ve seen it all from a style, and then another taste comes along that make you realise that the genre is not dead. Buxton are a brewer for all camps, and one that’s already been popping up on many ‘best of’ lists already.
Finally, I have to mention RedWillow. I know how hard Toby works, and trust me, the guy is a machine. A tired, Oyster-shucking machine – but a machine nontheless. Red Willow flip the previous statements made about Buxton and MR around; simple-sounding and looking beers that reveal hidden depths and innovation when tasted. Fathomless – turns out to be an authentic Oyster Stout. Ageless – turns out to be one of the most aromatic, juicy-tropical-fruit bombs tasted all year. The awards have slowly, slowly begun to trickle in for the Macclesfield brewer, and I’m sure 2012 will only result in a bigger award cabinet being needed.
Beers of the Year
Ok. As I said above, I can’t pick one, really. Here are the ones (in no particular order) that I really enjoyed, from reasons such as taste, to simply being the right beer at the right time. If your beer is on here, then thank you for brewing such Good Stuff.
York Micklegate Porter – Magic Rock Human Cannonball, High Wire & Rapture – Maui Big Swell IPA – Rooster’s Iron Man IPA – Buxton Moor Top – Buxton Axe Edge – 8 Wired IRA – RedWillow Ageless – Sierra Nevada Juniper Black – Brodie’s Hackney Red – Rooster’s Baby Faced Assassin – Oakham Citra & Inferno – Brewdog Bramling Cross IPA – Revolutions Night Porter & Propaganda – Hawkshead NZPA & Windermere Pale – Durham Magic IPA (Bombay 106) – Odell Mycernary – Redemption Big Chief – SummerWine Rouge-Hop – Marble Summer – Kirkstall Three Swords Pale – Raw Pacific Ghost IPA – Ilkley Smoked Witch – Cropton Yorkshire Warrior – Camden Helles – Hardknott Light Cascade – Black Isle Porter – Stroud Amber Ale – De Molen Op & Top – Five Towns Schneider V2 – Birrificio Italiano Tipopils – Williams Bros Joker IPA - Great Northern Wheat IPA – Theakston’s Lightfoot … and the list goes on….
Of course, I’ll have missed some out. It’s impossible not to. If your beer has ended up on this blog, however, then it’s The Good Stuff, rest assured.
I’d also like to take the opportunity to thank Mark and Andy for organising the year’s Twissups, and Luke Downing at Dough Bistro and Nick and Vickie at Homage to Fromage for opening their businesses and kitchens to the possibilities of Food and Beer. Dean Pugh at Mr Foley’s remains a constant source of info and orchestrator of some excellent bottle-swap nights (and Wing nights, and NFL nights!), and IPA Day was a great (and quite drunk) event. We are very lucky indeed. Of course, all the staff at BeerRitz have been stars, as always. We are lucky to have such a place in Leeds (and we almost didn’t for a while; thanks again, Zak!)
Blogs? Well, there’s been some great blogs starting up or coming into their own in 2011. For me, Ghost Drinker and Beersay deserve special mentions, as they bring an enthusiasm and exuberance about beer onto the screen that is sometimes sorely missed from blogs. On the other side of the coin, ATJ’s and Zak’s blogs always provide food for thought from inside the industry and I’m glad they’re still churning out quality content after all these years. I appreciate how hard it can be to blog these days when juggling (a number) of jobs and when I see others doing it, it just spurs me on to quit moaning and get writing.
Finally, I’d just like to thank everyone that reads TGS, and that I’ve had the pleasure of sharing a few beers with over the year. You’re a good bunch, and despite the bickering (which makes it interesting, let’s face it) I’m happy to be part of such a vibrant, varied and passionate community. Hopefully, 2012 will be an interesting year for me, and I hope to be able to contribute to UK Brewing in a way that I know many of you do, day in, day out.
Ok, I wasn’t going to blog about this beer, because I know it’s not available for everyone and, quite frankly, it’s not fair. However, it’s so damn good, and other people have already, that I’m going to give in. What can I say – I’m weak. Beer Weak.
Anyway, Rooster’s Baby-Faced Assassin is what you get if a crack homebrewer (and I’m sure Tom won’t mind me using that term; he’s really good) gets his hands on a real brewplant. In fact, that Brewery is now his – he and his brother Ol (formerly of Copper Dragon) have taken over at Rooster’s and are guiding the reins admirably thus far. When I heard this news, my first question was ‘Are you going to brew BFA?’, so was I taken by it when I first tasted it earlier in the year. Some non-committal answer was given, the subject changed and I consigned myself to never tasting it again. Needless to say, I was beside myself when given another chance to sample it – brewed at Rooster’s, this time.
Let me remind you, at this juncture – that I’m talking about a Homebrew.
I admit, it’s a bad word ‘Homebrew.’ I can understand why people disparage it, given how much awful stuff there is out there (I’ve brewed a few, trust me). However, you’re selling yourself short because many brewers start life as Home Brewers, and it just follows a natural curve. The really good ones just get bigger and grander in their efforts, until that leap is taken. It’s a leap of faith, obviously, as starting any business is, no matter what your output.
If you look down on the efforts of homebrewers, then you’re ignoring the fact that this seam of experimentation has probably (really – the odds are that high) given birth to the beer you’re drinking next in some way. Thornbridge have even recently held a competition to find a unique homebrewed beer to brew themselves recently. Economies of scale mean that there’s some excellent beers out there, if you’re lucky enough to know a committed homebrewer.
Besides, it’s a great way to learn about beer. I’ve said it before, but I really learnt more brewing four or five all-grain beers in my kitchen during the last couple of years than nosing my way through any number of books. You really get inside raw materials, flavour, properties, and recipe formulation. Process, style, genre – all there to be explored. Yes, there’s a little outlay at first, but it really is fun. If you happen to know a brewer, get in there for a day. Dig out a mash tun. Do some cleaning (which accounts for about 80% of brewing). It’s hard, physical work – but I bet you enjoy dipping your toe in.
There’s plenty of help out there; countless forums (I can recommend Jim’s and Beoir in particular) and groups such as Northern Craft brewers to help you out if you get stuck – if in Yorkshire, obviously. In fact, Zak Avery has just launched his own Leeds club with a few other like-minded chaps, which are holding their inaugural meeting soon. Attending will be James and Andy from SummerWine – another brewery birthed of fanatical homebrewing.
Anyway, enough of this waffle; onto the beer. Baby-Faced Assassin (6.1%abv) pours hazy-orange, with a creamy white head, and is just Tropical Fruit Punch in a glass; Lychee, Sweet Pineapple, Mango and Strawberry all swirling around in both the nose and the taste – which is so soft and restrained that it brings an instant smile to your face. It’s just so drinkable, it’s stupid. A true fruity, somewhere-between-West-Coast-Pale-and-IPA if ever there was one.
Here’s hoping it gets a wider audience. No pressure there, guys.
Beer always finds a way to kick me in the ass. Just when I think I’ve got a handle on something – a brewery, or as in this case, a hop, something comes along like a bolt out of the blue to challenge my opinion. And – in most cases – turn it around. This happened twice to me in the space of last week.
I was lucky enough to visit Rooster’s Brewery last Friday and during that visit, Sean Franklin and the team took some of us through a tasting session. It wasn’t blind, per se – but we didn’t know what beer we were drinking. Apart from being incredibly good fun to sit and talk about taste without such leading elements as label and brewer’s history affecting your judgement, sessions like this are a real workout for your tastebuds.
A wheaty, pale beer arrived at our hands. Light, slightly Bretty, and with plenty of wild character sitting just beneath a fluffy head. In terms of hops there was a light, spritzy citrus – nothing that leapt out as any particular hop, to me. Overall I enjoyed it; sort of Saison – Wheat – Geuze – Pale. If that makes any sense.
As it turned out, it was Brooklyn’s Sorachi Ace (7.5%). I was gobsmacked. Sorachi Ace, to me, was so unique, so different to other hops with that bubblegum/mint/ultra-pine that I assumed (after tasting the BrewDog single-hopped IPA) that I would be able to pick it out anywhere. Not so. Thinking back, what I didn’t take into account that BD IPA and this are so different stylistically that the brewers are setting out to achieve entirely different beers. So – lesson #1 - when trying to get your head around hops, take into account the style of beer you’re drinking, not just the hop!
Fast-Forward to the next day, and I’m standing in Beer-Ritz piling beers into my basket (as usual). I see a bottle of Oakham Citra (4.2%abv) and snap it up, along with another Citra-hopped beer (that shall remain nameless). I had read nothing but positive things about Oakham’s take on the Citra theme, and bought the other one purely for comparison. You see, I have a confession; I’m not massively into the hop.
You see, when such a pungent hop falls into trend, you get a groundswell of brewers buying it up, and rushing out beers just to get them onto the bar. This, for me, created a rash of really average Citra-hopped beers during the last 12-18 months, and only a few (such as Kernel’s superlative IPA) coming across as real stand-outs.
But Oakham’s Citra really was something. Wonderfully conditioned, created a prickly swell of lemon across your tongue, balanced out with a fantastically fresh, bowl-of-fresh-cut-lemon-and-tangerine aroma and a Zingy, balanced finish. Not acrid. Not overpowering. In fact, positively soft. Wonderful – I loved it. The other beer, by the way, was conditioned so badly it resembled washing-up water. Complete with Fairy Liquid.
Lesson #2 – don’t write off a hop. Chances are, there is at least one brewer out there handling things with a supremely deft touch.
For more on Citra, check out Nick’s excellent round-up from a few weeks ago on Beer Prole. And, if you’re in Leeds and fancy some Brooklyn Sorachi Ace, North have some – so get up there.
After spending the last few hours tasting IPA’s in Mr Foley’s, the one thing I would stress is this: IPA is a diverse style, and one that – albeit popular – has more than enough variance to keep things interesting. I’m currently typing this from Mr Foley’s - so a live blog it is – and have some great, great beers in my belly.
So – what to go for? Well, Dean’s put together a great beer list this evening, showcasing some great IPA’s from the UK and the states. If I can direct your gaze to the fridges, you’ll find Maui’s Great Swell (6.2%abv); which is a really, really interesting beer – I expected a load of grapefruit but got a deep, earthy pineyness which almost makes the beer English in nature. It’s not too sweet, and not too heavy, despite the abv. I certainly recommend this US Import.
Another US import that demands your attention is Odell’s Mycernary (9.5%abv). Yes, it’s strong – as a lot of IPA’s are – but the subtlety here is wonderful. A deep marmalade-orange note hits the nose, and that note carries through to the taste, which is sweet, rounded and gently warming; a fantastic beer ,and one you don’t want to miss.
Anyway, enough of beer from our US Cousins, we can do IPA here, too. Summerwine’s 7C’s of Rye is a nice twist on their recent 7′c’s - imagine the same fruity, grapefruity/lemony hop attack but with a good dollop of sweet,spicy Rye to balance things out. Available on Keg, it’s a great UK IPA. As is Kirkstall’s Dissolution, which tones things down a little with piney notes in the nose and a clean, drying bitterness. Two sides of the IPA coin, displayed really well side-by-side. Also, Rooster’s UnderDog has nice, undelying herbal note – can you guess what it is? I think I’ve figured it out, but can you? I’m not going to say – have a taste and see what you think…
RedWillow also have Peerless on Cask, and Ageless in bottle – the first being a solid, lemony-led IPA, with the bottled Ageless being a little thinner and more refreshing with Lemon/Lime hints running through it. Don’t miss out on tasting RedWillow’s wares – they are going to be around for a while, very local, and very tasty.
Buxton’s awesome Axe Edge is on cask, and Magic Rock’s Human Cannonball is one not to be missed either – a tropical fruit bomb, courtesy of Huddersfield’s finest. If you want a break from all-out hop attack, give Hardknott’s Code Black (5.6%abv) a go – a surprisingly restrained, malty IPA with loads of red fruit and chocolate on the nose, finishing with a drying, coffee and black – chocolate note. Just another example of how much variance can be found in the IPA world.
Anyway, if you’re in Leeds and want to partake in IPA Day, get down to Foley’s. Now. IPA is not just about US-Style hop-bombs; there’s so much subtlety within the genre. foley’s will also be serving delicious (and I really, really mean this) Delicious food from Manjit’s Kitchen throughout the evening, so get down here!
Well, you folks in Leeds are lucky if you love the old IPA’s. Foley’s Cask Ale House have just announced their lineup for the day (August 4th) and it’s a stormer. In Dean Pugh’s Words:
‘At Mr Foleys we will have some of the finest examples of the style from some of Britain’s best brewers. Our beers will include four keg IPAs; two from Brewdog and one each from local West Yorkshire breweries Summer Wine and Magic Rock. We will have six cask IPAs coming from Thornbridge, Buxton, Kirkstall, Roosters, Hardknott and Red Willow. If that’s not enough for you, we will have a dedicated IPA fridge serving you some of the best from America, as well as a some rarely- seen British brews.
‘Still not enough? We will have brewers or brewery representatives from every brewery mentioned above and each will be holding mini ‘meet the brewer’ segments to promote their beer to the assembled crowd. We will also have guest appearances from beer writers Zak Avery and Mark Fletcher, who will be talking you through the history of IPA, why they love the style and some of their favourite beers.
‘With all this beer we will be in need of food. Details are still being ironed out, but we are hoping to have some top quality Indian cuisine available as we feel it not only fits the history of the beer, but that beers big in bitterness and hop character are the perfect accompaniment for spicy dishes’.
So, there you go. I’ll be blogging a preview live from Foley’s during the daytime (probably in a post-GBBF state, but there you go) so if you’re still not sure about IPA, I’ll tell you where to look. Bring it on.