The Oakwood and Me

He awakens from this dream unable to remember exactly what it was, or much at all beyond the simple fact that he has dreamed about being a child again. …He thinks that it is good to be a child, but it is also good to be a grownup and able to consider the mystery of childhood…I will write all of this down one day, he thinks, and knows it’s just a dawn thought, an after-dreaming thought. But it’s nice to think so for awhile in the morning’s clean silence, to think that childhood has its own sweet secrets and confirms mortality, and that mortality defines all courage and love. To think that what has looked forward must also look back, and that each life makes its own imitation of immortality: a wheel.
Or so Bill Denbrough sometimes thinks on those early mornings after dreaming, when he almost remembers his childhood, and the friends with whom he shared it.”
Stephen King, IT, 1985

 
“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…. they paved paradise and put up a parking lot”
Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi, 1970

 

                                                                                *
As in most summer childhood memories of the early 1990’s, it’s hot. Really, really hot. Hard, powder-blue sky, short shorts and sweaty polyester replica football shirts. Ice pops dribbling neon sugar-water down your wrist. Leeds United are playing – or have played, actually – and have won. I know this even though we’re playing in the car park of The Oakwood pub with a rapidly-deflating ball. We’ve all been assigned the requisite personas: Speed, Strachan, Chapman, Dorigo et al. Everybody wants to be Gary Speed or Lee Chapman, of course. It’s less of a football game, more a Battle Royale with a 99p football. The radio’s on in the bar and the odd explosive cheer emanates from inside when the double doors to the beer garden swing open, kicked by a guy doing trying to port three pints of Skol to his mates outside. The terrace adjacent to the car park is full, and pints upon pints of gold-hued lager are being necked with almost as much ferocity as the mid-day sun beating down on this corner of Leeds. Cars rolling up and down Easterly Road are beeping their horns and through the tree-line to the dual carriageway beyond I can see the odd flash of a white, yellow and blue bar scarf draped down the side of a nearly-closed car window. We play. The sound from the pub and the terrace is just chatter: low, grown-up talk humming under the cranked commentary, sailing on that ashen crown of cigarette smoke that pubs had in those days.

 

Thomas Dutton and Co at The Salford Brewery was founded in 1799 and thrived as one of Lancashire’s early major brewers. In 1897 they changed their name to Duttons Blackburn Brewery and in 1928 they began to acquire neighbouring breweries and their pub estates, which fuelled Dutton’s growth in the following years. Around 1936, they built The Oakwood Hotel in Oakwood, Leeds.

 

Oakwood 1939

The Oakwood Hotel, circa 1938.

Blackburn Brewery Company, Volunteer Brewery in Bolton, Penrith Brewery, Leeds’ Kirkstall Brewery and Adlington’s Mercer’s (of the famous Mercer’s Meat Stout, brewed with meat extract) all ended up in the arms of Dutton’s. At one point they owned well over 600 pubs and off-licences, radiating outward from Blackburn and across Lancashire and Yorkshire.
This carried on until 1964 when Duttons – and their estate –  was purchased by London brewer Whitbread. Dutton’s name was obliterated a couple of years later, becoming simply Whitbread West Pennines.

 
Since the close of the second world war, Whitbread had also been expanding their operations by acquiring smaller, less financially stable regional breweries. By purchasing Dutton’s, Whitbread added another 764 pubs to their already growing estate. By 1971, Whitbread had bought another 26 of these breweries, including the likes of Rhymney, Liverpool’s Threlfall Brewery, and Brickwood, who were housed on the south coast.

 
The new playground was amazing. When the weekends came, we couldn’t wait to get up there; turn the corner and be faced with a brand-new, multi-level slide and swing set, all standing proudly atop fresh, still-damp wood chippings. I still catch the smell of those chippings in garden centres to this day; deeply earthy, sweet forest floor. When I do, I’m transported straight back to that playground.
The slide; shaped like a fort with two levels that begged to be transformed through the alchemy of an adolescent mind into a rocket, castle or den. Something to be defended. Somewhere to hide.

 
…And the swings – oh, the swings! The never-ending tournament to see who could go ‘All the way round’ –  or, jump off at the highest peak, sail through the air like Eddie the Eagle and land on two feet – began in earnest that afternoon, I’m sure. Ringed by the bushes, which ran the edges of the beer garden and concealed within a labyrinth of dens and hiding places, you had a first-rate world to play in. The pub – boxy, white, stern – lingered in the background like a playground monitor. That was where your parents were. Or –  even worse – other adults. A source of pocket money, yes, but this was not their world. This was ours.

 

                                                                                  
The years that followed were prosperous, and Whitbread became a gargantuan operator. Despite buying off-licences and starting a considerable spirits and soft drinks division, when the ‘70’s rolled around, there was another market that Whitbread had their eye on: casual dining. Founded in 1955 by Frank and Aldo Berni, Berni Inns had had proved immensely popular. Their mock-Tudor restaurants catered in ‘quality’ steaks, indulgent desserts and – perhaps most famously – prawn cocktails – at prices keen enough to keep families coming to dine there once a week.
Beefeaterold

So, with the opening of the Halfway House in Enfield in 1974,  The Beefeater Inn was born. Whitbread had been testing the steakhouse concept in the north with Trophy Taverns and Dutton’s Grillhouses but had pulled them all under the Beefeater Steakhouse umbrella by 1979. There was a new gang in town, armed with as much steak, deep fried scampi and black forest gateaux as you could handle.

 

By  1984 there were 150 Beefeaters in Britain, with Scotland following and a fraught expansion into Germany. Beefeater was a success, and remained a bedrock of Whitbread’s retail division throughout the 1980’s. The Oakwood became one, and remained one right through the 80’s.

 

As for the pub itself, the memories are vague; really vague. As i sit and type this, at 38 years old,  I’m wondering how much of my memory is construct, how much genuine. But, I’ve visited it enough in my mind-palace in talked about it with relatives to assert that regardless of how much truth lies within, I’m happy with it.

 

The Oakwood didn’t seem like a gloomy or dark pub.  Windows ran most of the way around the bar and let plenty of that aforementioned glorious 90’s sunlight in. The carpet was standard-issue red floral, the mouldings faux-brass and the wood stained mahogany, as was the norm in those days. Entering the pub you were faced with a long, glass-backed bar along one wall, with raised seating areas straddling the back walls, behind you. The odd, multi-level design made the pub feel larger than it probably was. Cigarette machines abutted the doors, and probably did a brisk trade on the days the man with the bag full of ciggies didn’t come around, stopping at each table.

 
But the bit that made it interesting was where the kids ate. The Oakwood had a grotto.
The grotto is strange to comprehend, even for my young mind.  Plastic walls molded to look like a cave, green and blue lighting, a bridge that you had to cross to get into it. Piped music; pixie lullabies, perhaps. I remember a booth – a small one, child-sized. Must have been hell for the adults to sit in it. I can hear water. I do remember, clearly, the food. A white, branded plate, laden with steak-cut chips, peas, and chicken nuggets. Burgers with splodges of ketchup dead-centre in the middle of the bun. Orange fish fingers. Ice-cream in little metal bowls. It’s all good. Actually, better than that – It was magical. We must have eaten here loads, but these are the only things I recall of the grotto at The Oakwood.

 
My Mother worked for a short time behind the bar at The Oakwood. Her recollection of the bar layout matches mine but offers a little more on the grotto: and village: ‘To the right of the bar, as you walked in, there was a step leading down to the grotto, which contained little houses with actual windows, doors, and tiled roofs. Each house contained a table and seats and, as you can imagine, the lighting was dim. Before you got to the houses there was a stream with a bridge and a tree. There was a water feature inside that trickled water into the stream. It was like a cave with lights.’
Katie Hargrave, who grew up nearby, has kindly passed on a few of her family’s’ pictures for use in this piece. Although not dated, you can see the tiled roofs of the little huts. In one, the railings of a well, which also contained running water. She recalls enjoying birthday parties with Mr Men cake. A munchkin village inside a pub, indeed.

 

 

Oakwood 1.jpg

Photo courtesy of Katie Hargrave. Note the well in the background.

Poster Valerie Clapham on the Leodis Photographic Archive is also on the birthday party trail: “I can remember when this pub was done out, they created a children’s room like no other I ever seen, at least in this country. They had a stream running through, there were trees and plants, it was brilliant. You could book the room for parties, both my two had their Birthday parties there. That would have been in the late 1970s”

 

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Photo courtesy of Katie Hargrave. Looks like a Mr Men cake to me…

Distinguished Leodensian beer writer Barrie Pepper- who also lives nearby –  recalls: “ I visited it when it was a fish restaurant a couple of times. The food was ok but it was a bit pretentious! (Later) it had streams running through it with dinky little bridges…’
As Barry attests, the area where the grotto stood in those days was, for a long time, a fish restaurant – which may seem like an odd choice as a bolt-on to a suburban boozer but for the upwardly mobile residents of Oakwood it was popular enough.
I can’t find any other references to the ‘Grotto’ design being used elsewhere; the thought of the Leeds one being the only one is a comforting one, at least.

 
It’s Christmas Day. As usual, we’re at our grandparents. Despite my uncle’s slightly ruffled appearance due, no doubt, to Christmas eve excesses, it’s been suggested that the younger men of the house decamp to The Oakwood for a beer or two whilst dinner’s being prepared. My dad, brother, uncle and I trudge up Oakwood Lane to find a buzzy, slightly lairy Oakwood pub and spend a pint or so  – forced, I’m sure, in my uncle’s case – catching up before walking back home and (hopefully) finding a fully-cooked Christmas dinner prepared and ready. I had received a Walkman that very morning and was besotted with it. Orange-foamed headphones, the lot. Gunmetal gray with yellow detailing, along with a double cassette of Now ‘91. (I didn’t remember the year or full tracklisting – I’ve just looked it up. Heh, memories). I was obsessed with The Scorpion’s biggest hit ‘Wind of Change’ – it’s haunting, whistled refrain and unabashed power-ballad chorus coupled with just the right amount of mystery peppering the lyrics really hit me where I lived in those days. I sat with my coke, drowning out the yuletide pre-lunch topers, spongy headphones on, lost in a world of German power ballads.

 
The 90’s, however were a different matter. In his 2014 book,  Brewers, Brands and Pubs in Their Hands, Tony Thornton writes “….With Whitbread’s propensity to experiment and introduce new restaurant concepts, observers wondered whether it (Beefeater) was being starved of investment.” The brand became a little dated and declined – hardly helped by the BSE crisis that hit the UK livestock trade in the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s. A site restructure meant that 50 sites, including The Oakwood Beefeater, was sold.

 

 

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The Oakwood McDonald’s April 2018. Aside from the signage and golden arches, the building itself is more or less the same as it was then.

Word spreads like a summer heat-rash on the streets. The Oakwood is no more. It’s going to be ….a McDonalds.

We can’t believe it.

It’s like all of our christmases have come at once. McDonalds was the sole preserve of ‘town’; a pre- or post- cinema treat. Soon, those salty-delicious fries and squishy, saucy burgers are going to be on our doorstep. What a life.
Except, when it opens, we’re all a little too old to really care. We go, of course. A couple of our friends have actually gained employment there – tales of food allowance if you work a certain amount of numbers astound the gang. Free McDonalds!

 

Planning permission documents place the Oakwood Pub becoming a McDonalds in 1998. In 2006, a further 239 sites (mostly ones not attached to a Premier Inn) were sold to Mitchells & Butler, who still operate the brand today.

 

The Oakwood was a compass, a turnpike in our young world at the time. The green and yellow Yorkshire Rider buses which took us to ‘town’ (Leeds City Centre) stopped there, headed westward and – as is the way of a lot of pubs on roundabouts –  the stop was referred to as ‘The Oakwood stop.’ To the north of the roundabout, Roundhay Park lay with it’s vast, green spaces, lakes, ice cream vans and concerts – perhaps the place that encapsulates my childhood the best. To the south lay our house and that of of our grandparents, as well as our schools. Friend’s houses dotted all around the vicinity. With the opposite parade of shops boasting a chinese takeaway (The New Dor Bo – still there) and Big Mama’s pizza, a launderette (Soap Opera – still there), my second-cousins Butcher’s shop (seriously; when i say the meat trade runs in the family I mean it) a real, reach-out-and-grab-the-produce grocer (Fruit Bowl), two newsagents (one which was, almost retro-futuristically called ‘Candylines’), a branch of Threshers (Also owned by Whitbread at one point – RIP) and, for a short time, an grimy, dark independent video rental shop which had a couple of tatty arcade machines – The Oakwood roundabout was pretty much the centre of the world. And presiding over it all was the art-deco grandeur of The Oakwood pub.

 

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The rear of the pub. The terrace/beer garden is still standing, but the back left-hand side looks to have been extended. The playground was where the writer is taking the photo from.

It’s only later – much later – that I realise that I never got to drink beer in The Oakwood. I never got to catch up with the gang as adults, buying a couple of rounds or lingering over a boozy lunch. Our kids won’t play in that playground, the source of so much happiness for me, my brothers and sister, and our pals. Yes, everybody drifts away – such is life – but the Oakwood looms large despite me never enjoying it on its own terms. Our timelines didn’t align, our stories just fell out of sync. I’d have loved my first underage pint to have been in there.

 
But it’s still there, in a way. I can visit McDonalds, and feel strange; like I’ve slipped into another dimension and there’s only me who knows it. I can order a burger, and mentally draw up where things used to be. The girl serving me wouldn’t have even been born when it was a pub. I can eat my burger, feeling odd, like a temporally-displaced character from a Philip K Dick story.  I can drive past it, and point it out to my daughter and wife, then spend the next ten minutes recounting the stories I’ve just told you. At least there’s that. Despite the golden arches, it still looks like The Oakwood.

 

The Oakwood and me: we parted on good terms.

 

A memory:  I’m working on Saturdays now, in my grandfather’s Butcher’s shop. I get home around five and am old enough to kind of do what I want. I have a friend – who lives over the road – whose mum lets him watch Horror movies. He’s a little older than the usual gang, and I’m a little older now, too. I go over to his house, knowing that Saturday night is film night. I knock on the door. He’s eating, and could I come back later? asks him mum, wearily. So I take myself up to the chinese takeaway and buy what, to me at the time, represented the absolute pinnacle of self-sufficient comfort food: New Dor Bo’s Fried Rice. I ask for a fork and with my steaming aluminium carton in tow, cross the dual carriageway to sit on The Oakwood’s wall. I gobble my food, knowing that when I’m finished I’ll wander back towards home. I’ll call for my mate and we’ll watch Halloween and The Thing in the dark, scaring ourselves witless. Easterly Road is busy, people getting home after work, readying themselves for the weekend. The sun’s setting. Behind me, kids play in the playground. Our playground. They look young.

 

I don’t know them.

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Great Yorkshire Bottled Beer

9780992819361.1Well, here it is: the follow-up to last year’s Great Yorkshire Beer. One of the few reasons that posts have been light this year on the blog! Let me tell you a few things about it.

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.

About Tyne

onebestway_TBB001_pumpclip_v8_Silver DollarTyne 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.

IMG_2074Now, 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.

Bundobust, Leeds

IMG_2165Well, 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.

IMG_2166 …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.

IMG_2167Decor-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.

Beer & Balls: Yorkshire Meatball Co, Harrogate

IMG_2030We’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.

IMG_2046Yes, 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.

IMG_2042Carried 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.

 

Festivals and Pub Openings

hemsworth_festival_logoHemsworth 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.

K6T1tKuO_400x400Now 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.

 

 

Beer in Audio & Video

microphone….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.

Ilkley Brewery: Pedal Power & Passion Fruit

photoIt’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. 

Brew Britannia by Jessica Boak and Ray Bailey

brew_britannia_3d_mockupI 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.

 

A Perfect Fit: Truefitt Brewery

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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.

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