But when I think of that visit – in a dour, rainy 2003 Autumn, I think of one thing; the kindness of strangers. I was there to see one of my favourite (at the time) musicians – Ben Harper, the Californian master of proto-slide guitar, he who navigates his deep, rumbling Weissenborn slide guitar through oceans of blues, folk, reggae and rock before landing on your shore in a heady, intoxicating mix. I’d been a fan for a while, and when the chance came to see him and his band – the Innocent Criminals – at the legendary Brixton Academy, it was too good an opportunity to pass up.
So we (my girlfriend and I – later to become my wife) travelled down with a gang of mates and spent the weekend in London, taking in some sights and – if I remember correctly – eating some fantastic noodles in Greenwich. Anyway, gig time arrived and we – us gang of awed northerners – arrived in the cavernous space of Brixton Academy.
After a support band that suffers every support band’s worst nightmare – to be ultimately forgotten – Ben Harper and his troupe of revivalists took to the baroque stage, hitting us with hit after hit after hit…and Louise couldn’t see any of it. She’s is only just five feet tall, you see. She’s petite. This leads to a clear line of sight being something hard to come by at a gig, even on Brixton Academy’s gently sloping floor.
Still, she’s a veteran of gigs by this point -, and used to it by now. Tip-toes are the order of the day, mixed with a near-constant jockeying for position in the assembled throng. Yet at this gig, something odd happened. A chap in front of us turned around, recognised Louise’s’ predicament and…well, made way.
Not only did he sit down, he encouraged his friends to. His friends asked their friends… and soon, we had a space in front of us – ensuring a great view of the stage and the band. People around us asked if ‘we were ok’ and ‘if we could see‘. It was something I’ve never seen since and doubt I will again. Now, I don’t want to cast aspersions on the average fan of Ben Harper, but it’s fair to say there was a lot of Red Stripe consumed and even more pre-gig smoking going on. But still – intoxicants aside – when I think of Brixton, I think of these awesome people and what was one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to. Not so much the great band, more the night. The people of Brixton – and beyond, I dare say, made it. It was a night when faith was restored in humanity, and we talk about it still.
…and it’s that that I think of when I spy these bottles – amongst others – sitting on the shelves of Sourced Market this week. A warm glow of recognition nudges my hand and so I buy them, hoping upon hope that they’ll won’t let me down.
I’m glad to say they don’t. It’s easy sometimes to dismiss the look of craft – much like the oft-cited pornography argument – but when the odd outfit creeps through that celebrates provenance and links into the community like Brixton have done, it makes you realise that there’s still great work happening in the capital. The labels ‘pop’ with vibrant screams of colour, the names of the beers celebrate Brixton’s multicultural history and tie them to the postcode. In a time of seemingly identikit London brewers, Brixton rise above the din for this writer. They seem a little more considered, a little more thoughtful.
Still, the proof is in the tasting; Electric Avenue IPA (6.5% abv) offers that familiar, modern IPA punch in spades; thick, chewy mouthfeel, amber in the glass, and plenty of sweet fruit – mango chutney, perhaps – in the nose, finished off with a surprisingly clean, almost herbal (grassy, minty) bitterness at the finish. The hops in the aroma are pungent, and the beer disappears way too quickly accompanied by a punchy, spikily hot Pepperoni Pizza. High praise, indeed.
Atlantic APA (5.4% abv) may boast Simcoe and Citra hops but I mis-diagnose the presence of Nelson Sauvin (before reading the label), such is the fresh, green grape and gooseberry notes in the aroma. Golden, refreshing despite being quite sweet, this pale ale is a beer I could drink a lot of. This bottle suffered from a touch of oxidisation, but no worry – this only became apparent toward the end of the glass and I would buy Atlantic APA again in a heartbeat. Vibrant, cool and light.
Windrush Stout (5% abv) was the real winner, though. I chilled it for an hour or so prior to drinking – purely due to the heat outside – yet I was still presented with an aroma of burnt malt, malt loaf and blackcurrant; the body remained light and incredibly fruity. I kept expecting a little vanilla to pop up but it never did – just waves of red fruit, a whisper of woodiness, and a long, clean bitterness. As the beer warmed, a little bready yeast note came into play, just to fill things out. Named after the ship that brought the first waves of West Indian immigrants to London, Windrush is a seriously good beer.
I enjoyed all these over a gorgeously balmy early summer evening – accompanied by a few Ben Harper CD’s and fair amount of reminiscing, of course. That’s beer at its best, if you ask me.
Wharfedale Brewery – the smart microbrewery sitting at the back of The Flying Duck, Ilkley – have continued their commitment to boost their local pub community by launching The Dales Way, a pub guide to pubs in the surrounding Wharfedale area. The guide has been produced with the Pride of The Dales bus service in mind – something that the team behind the brewery are keen on.
‘Whilst encouraging more people to visit the pubs and use the bus company with added frequency, the ale trail is intended to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace which should allow people plenty of time to visit the many wonderful shops, café’s and restaurants as well.’ says Jonathan Shepherd, Wharfedale’s Managing director.
I know that, since setting up last year, one of the goals of Wharfedale Brewery has been to support the businesses around it, which isn’t something you hear much on today’s ‘mission statements.’ The iconic ‘Dales Pub’ – all stone flags, welcoming open fireplaces and impeccably-kept cask ale isn’t a myth either – but they are open all the time. They aren’t theme parks – and they need patronage all year round.
Looking down the list, I’m mentally ticking off the pubs which are personal favourites; The Red Lion at Burnsall, complete with the gentle curl of the Wharfe just outside the front door, a popular stop off for us when taking the dog out for the day. The Craven Arms at Appletreewick – where I recently enjoyed a pint of Dark Horse’s Hetton Pale that can only be described as transcendent. The Fountaine Inn at Linton, The Buck Inn at Buckden. The Blue Bell Inn, Kettlewell. All perfect stop-offs this summer if you venture into the Dales.
You can also complete the ‘crawl’ in full, picking up stamps as you go to recieve a t-shirt at the end, if you wanted to tackle all of them. It’s a lovely idea; if you find your self enjoying a pint in the Flying Duck this summer, pick up a map and go see one of the others, too.
…Apologies for the lack of posts recently – that thing called real life has gotten in the way somewhat of late and between working on the follow-up to Great Yorkshire Beer, preparing for the arrival of our first child in late August and the demands – which are many – of being a full-time slave to a maniacal Border Terrier, there’s not been much time for TGS.
Still, distractions are most welcome and a pleasant one came in the form of an approach in the new year from Craig Heap and Chris Hall (later joined by Ruari O’Toole and Matt Curtis) to come and pitch in on their latest commission from Future Publishing – Craft Beer: The 100 Best Breweries in the World. I’d really enjoyed the first one, so jumped at the chance. I wrote the profiles for the Yorkshire contingent, such is my calling these days.
So, here’s the plug. Why should you buy it? Well, it’s a good read, to be honest. Obviously I would say that, but there’s still that moment where you don’t know what the end product is going to end up like when you do something like this. To open the copy and realise that it’s pretty darn good mixes relief and joy in equal measure. Know someone just starting out in exploring beer? This would make a great gift.
…and yes, I realise it’s another list-type affair – and that means you *have* to leave people out. And really, you have to believe us when we say that we almost got into knife-fights about inclusion. I got the same comments following the publication of GYB, as I expected. But we do stand by what’s in there, and believe me when I say the positive feedback we’ve had far outweighs the odd grumble. It’s published on a major scale, promotes great brewing, and reclaims a little shelf-space from the myriad wine and food magazines.
I’m still amazed that there isn’t room in the market for a quarterly magazine about beer. I also sense, in a way, that the time has passed for us to prove that, now. One-offs like this are the closest we’ll get – in my opinion – to something for the mainstream. Demand was there, and we were happy to fill it. Rest assured – the gang put a hell of a lot of work into it.
So, you can read accounts from Matt, Chris and Craig (including some nice ‘bonus content’ from Chris) if you’re still interested in how a group of bloggers got the chance to be involved in something a little more permanent. Do check them out – they’re a good read. As is the bookazine itself.
You can pick up Craft Beer: The 100 Best Breweries in the The World at WH Smith’s and online here.
A few weeks back, I was invited along to Saltaire Brewery to judge the annual NCB competition. I haven’t done any judging for a while but I jumped at this one, as I’ve been an advocate of homebrewing for a while now. The link between the grass-roots community and the ‘pros’ is plain to see; not only that, but my interest was piqued by the sheer range and quality of the entries. With homebrew being judged and supplemented by even more homebrewed beer being served from cask and keg in the bars, this was a mini-beer festival with a difference – one for the conference leagues, so to speak.
Throughout the throng of brewers and entrants stood one man; Shane Swindells, brewer at Cheshire Brewhouse. Despite being ably hosted by Saltaire Brewery, Shane was the man in charge, corralling the 10-strong judging team through the day and onto the awards. Having been impressed by his incredibly balanced, easy-drinking beers, I had a chat with Shane to get the lowdown on Cheshire Brewhouse. He’s a man of many talents.
‘In a previous life, I was the son of a Pub Landlord, so I’ve been around beer since I was six years old. But when I left school I did an apprenticeship in mechanical engineering’. he says. ‘I didn’t like it very much though – so tried several other jobs, after leaving including selling novelty items in Blackpool tower, working the pubs and clubs as a semi-professional singer and running a motorcycle salvage company, amongst other things. I fell back into engineering though after a number of years and retrained in electrical engineering.’
In 2005, Shane joined Molson Coors at Burton Brewery as a multi-skilled Engineer. It was here that his interest in beer resurfaced. ‘I ended up building a one-barrel brewery at home purely so I could learn how yeast and fermentation worked… so I could be a better engineer at Burton. I learned a great deal, as well as finding that I could also brew pretty good beer to boot! ‘
He then joined the Northern Craft Brewers. ‘(Joining) The NCB was very important as I could take my experimental brews to people who had brewed for many years & were very knowledgeable and take their advice. I was also able to develop my palate by trying the many different styles entered into the many competitions they organised. I was subjected to possibly every beer fault possible through helping to judge the smaller competitions we ran. Our ex Chairman Bill Lowe has been a “National Guild of Wine and Beer Judges” Judge for many years and tasting beers with him and many of the other members enabled me to learn a lot about appreciating beer better – and brewing better – in a relatively short period of time.’
Although he doesn’t brew at home any more, Shane finds time to come back to the group and offer his knowledge to the masses; which brings us right up to date.
Cheshire Brewhouse was born in 2012, built of home-engineered kit and recycled parts – as much a matter of necessity rather than anything else. ‘I decided that as I had next to no money – and because I worked as a multi-skilled engineer on and off for 23 years – that I would source and fabricate the brewery myself. My copper came from a trout farm in Abergavenny, and I have (re-used) dairy tanks from Cornwall, Huddersfield & Scotland. I’ve chopped and changed things over the last 18 months to improve the process as I go along. The only things I haven’t had a hand in are the pumps and heat exchanger – pretty much everything else is my own work. My T.I.G welding skills have improved no end as a result!’ he laughs.
All very romantic and quintessentially Heath-Robinson, but the beer that Shane makes is testament to his focus and commitment to doing things his way. Cheshire Brewhouse has a small but perfectly-formed core range with an English streak a mile wide.
‘I think there are far too many blonde, hop forward, citrussy beers brewed with foreign hops in the marketplace!’ he says, almost surprisingly in the age we live in. ‘I also found it increasingly difficult to find balanced cask beers – so that’s where I started.’
‘My light Pale ale – Cheshire Gap (3.7% abv) – is hopped with plenty of floral Bodecia & East Kent Goldings. Engine Vein is a 4.2% abv copper-hued best bitter hopped with a decent late charge of First Gold and balanced with biscuit malt. Draft Burton Ale – or DBA (4.6% abv) – is a Burton-style strong bitter hopped with Target & Styrian Goldings. Finally, my stout, Lindow (4.5% abv) is lightly hopped with Target hops & balanced with a hint of vine fruit from the malts.’
Despite the fact that Shane cites Ken Grossman as a major inspiration (Those guys are just amazing…. what Ken Grossman has built up – from his eco-friendly values to his exceptionally high quality beers – is amazing…), another tenet to Cheshire Brewhouse is Shane’s effort to be part of his local community in terms of reach and sourcing ingredients.
‘I source the hops and malts for my 4 core brews from companies in England, with malt and hops grown & malted in east Anglia & Worcestershire. At least 80% of my current production is sold direct to independent pubs and bottle shops within 35 miles of the brewery. Even my my bottles, packaging and label stock from within 20 miles of the brewery. I am also part of a Cheshire Brewers Co-operative where we try to help each other out with shared deliveries, collecting each others’ casks – that sort of thing. Small is good.’ he laughs.
He’s also working on an interesting-sounding, home-smoked porter as we speak. ‘The malt is being smoked for me at The Cheshire Smokehouse, and I’ll also be using some more unusual fruit sugars as an adjunct to add to the background complexity.’
In short, if you want to try Shane’s cask ales, you may have to go direct to the source – which isn’t a bad thing, if you ask me. From his first beer going on sale at The Lord Mountbatten in Congleton, you can find Cheshire Brewhouse regularly at The Young Pretender, The Lion & Swan; and a little further out in The Beer Emporium in Sandbach or Beer Dock In Crewe.
When I think of Summer Wine Brewery, I think of my early meets – way back when – with James Farran and Andy Baker; listening to the duo as they rhapsodised about brewing, cars, biking, philosophy, films, music…anything, in fact. When they get going, they don’t stop. Summer Wine’s beer is an extension of that; singularly produced, as they want to, how they want to.
For example, ramping up production to levels that, by rights, should have ground their tiny brewery into the ground. It’s only recently that all that hard work seems to have pushed the boys from Holmfirth to the level that they should be at. I’ve been tracking them since day one, and I’ve noticed the change. A more balanced core range. Session-strength pale ales like Pacer appearing – ones that may dial down the IBU’s and alcohol but not the bones of Summer Wine on which all of that hangs. Adding to the brewing staff. Setting up export deals to mainland Europe and beyond. Experiments with cask-ageing. All happening without fanfare; in short, a quiet revolution in the hills of Holmfirth.
They say every cloud has a silver lining. Last year, Head Brewer James Farran suffered a pretty bad fall whilst mountain biking. Actually that’s an understatement. It was nasty. Bones had to be broken and re-set, titanium-plated cheekbone kind of nasty. And – in typical style – once he was able, James used the downtime to overhaul Summer Wine’s image; unchanged since 2009.
‘… It gave me time away from the brewery, and a chance to gain perspective on the brand & other things. So the brand was born at home in the peace & quiet on my Mac.’ says James, who – you might be surprised to learn – is the man responsible for the brewery’s new look.
‘The old brand was eye-catching, contemporary & got us noticed in the early days. But we’ve now settled into our own skin and the way we do things. We’re really happy with the beers we’re brewing & very confident in our wares – and we’ve matured as a brewery. We’ve left our adolescent phase behind & this is the older, more sophisticated, fun Summer Wine.’ he adds.
I completely agree. Summer Wine’s previous livery was bold, it was eye-catching – in colour and shape. But the new artwork manages to retain that bold, primary-colour feel and shake in a little hod-rod Americana, a touch of Coop, and a pinch of comic-book art. Of all the recent re-brands that many, many breweries are undergoing as they surf the wave of new markets opening before them, I have to say that this is one of my favourites.
‘The idea for the design was to create a distinctive, fun and – most importantly – an engaging look.’ James says. ‘You’ll also notice the amount of information on the bottles is a stark departure from our old labels. This level of information including malts, hops, yeast (are in the beer) tell a story of the beer and give the consumer some ‘ownership’ over what they are paying good money for. We have included IBU’s and EBC’s so people can make an educated choice when they select the beer. Being upfront about everything in the beer is an extension of our confidence as a brewery.’
And that’s important for a brewery now exporting to 15 countries on a regular basis. The labels will be appearing on bottles as we speak, and should filter through to pumpclips and other branding the year progresses. It’s great to hear that James is back at work and brewing like mad – it’s going to be a busy summer.
This week’s treats come courtesy of four breweries joining forces. Or better, actually, two gangs of two. Rival gangs, I’d like to imagine, on a flight of fancy. One of each is based in Yorkshire (of course, come on, you know what blog this is, right?) and the others have jetted in from afar to bestow some foreign exotica onto proceedings.
Well, if you can call Brighton exotic, that is. Upon arriving in Yorkshire, those chaps from Dark Star Brewery made a beeline for Saltaire, put their heads together with the crack brewing team there and came up – interestingly – with a Bock. Pouring a magnificent shade of mahogany – almost purple in places; the same purple that you occasionally catch on a pint of Old Peculier – the nose is loaded with bramble, mild coffee and just a hint of toasted malt.
For such a powerful, warm aroma you expect a suckerpunch of alcohol (its a reassuring 5.6% abv) in the taste itself but it remains balanced, despite that latent strength appearing in a warming finish. With a rounded, softly sweet body that manages to remind me of both Dundee cake and milk chocolate at the same time, it’s a beer crying out for a cheeseboard to sit alongside it.
Meanwhile, up in Knaresborough, Rooster’s teamed up with Pretty Things Ale & Beer Project to conjure up Saint Robert, a 4.5% abv ‘Abbey Style Ale’. Named after a hermit who resided in a cave not far from the brewery, Saint Robert’s got a lot going on in the nose; a little bubblegum, some black pepper, a touch of baked brown bread…expecting heft, the beer turns out to be light and airy – all raisin, plum and a touch of bonfire toffee.
My initial fear of lack of alcohol remained unfounded; where I thought the beer could be flimsy and overpowered by the malt bill, it turned out to be a balanced showcase for more complex flavours in lower-strength brown ale. An ultimately harmonious blend of styles and flavours, Saint Robert proved to be a rewarding, moreish pint.
So, two winners. And kudos to all four for trying something a little different. You can read more about Rooster’s back-story (and there is one) with Pretty Things here and here, and get the lowdown on Saltaire and Dark Star’s supergroup here. They’ll be collaborating again in July – keep an eye out.
Both beers are available right now.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for someone who likes to waffle – especially when carried away with a subject I’m passionate about – I find getting to the point sometimes difficult. The phrase ‘Good things come to those who wait‘ may have been cleverly co-opted by the big stout men few years ago but it’s a tenet I like to live by. I generally find it to work out, too.
I can signpost lots of events in my life through TV Shows – I’m as interesting in TV writing as I am books. The little box in the corner of the room needn’t be the devil – although that entirely depends on your viewing taste, I guess. I’ve my parents and grandmother to thank for my affectation towards Forteana, and I’ll watch most things with a hint of the supernatural about it, or stories wrapped in darkness. First came shows like The Twilight Zone, Eerie Indiana and Dr Who; later The X – Files, Millennium and the daddy of them all, Twin Peaks. TV shows – good ones – offer slow-burn and involvement on a level that film can’t. Not better, per se – but different. You have to live your lives with these people; especially if you tune in week on week as opposed to binge-watching.
True Detective is my latest obsession. If you’ve not seen it, it centres around a murder case investigated by two Louisiana state detectives in the Nineties that has repercussions on their lives as they grow older. Carrying more than a whiff of the occult and and a fist-full of menace throughout, it’s involving stuff and a show that improves if watched at night. It’s finished now, but I can’t recommend it enough. But it’s not a show that you can dive in and out of; you have to be present… be involved.
The same is true of two beers I purposefully chose to enjoy whilst watching it over the last few weeks. First up, a mutant brother to an old favorite; Big Job by St Austell. Taking the already potent Proper Job and throwing in even more hops and strength, Big Job is a beast; weighing in at 7.2% abv yet remains fairly light in touch. The aroma competes with any of the US-inspired IPA’s out there, all tropical fruit and soft red fruit but with that candied-peel sweetness that Proper Job has as a little reminder of its familial roots. The finish could be a little longer, granted – it does make an exit quite cleanly (which isn’t particularly desirable for an IPA), but the latent strength ripples underneath it all, waiting to catch you out.
Staying in the south, Adnam’s Jack Brand Innovation (6.7%abv) was a Silver award winner in 2013’s Stockholm Beer Festival. Pouring burnished gold, the nose transports you to the countryside ; all meadows, wildflowers and malt floor. It’s the malt bill that leads the charge here; a thick, generous body of ginger biscuit and gentle, warming spice. Add a little marmalade to that – and a finish that’s only fleetingly sweet before drying right out with a resinous citrus – and you’ve got a beer you don’t want to rush, lest you miss some of its charms.
Much like the best television.
There’s something about the term Farmhouse that just gets me. True, I am a hopeless romantic, easily swayed by such terms – especially when it comes to beer and food. Label something rustic, homely or plain old-fashioned and I’m yours. I’m an old-fashioned soul, a Luddite, in fact. Which is why, dear reader, I picked up this bottle of Farmhouse IPA. I’m glad I did.
As the backstory on the website goes, Stuart Ross headed to the wilds of Stavanger ( I have no idea if it’s wild, by the way, it just sounds like it should be. My only previous knowledge of Stavanger is when Leeds United play pre-season games there – we have a voracious Norwegian following) to brew with locals Lervig Aktiebrygerri. The result was this Farmhouse IPA; a typically fresh IPA dosed with Belgian and Brettanomyces yeasts.
Fast – forward a few months and I’m sitting in my garden – wholly unexpectedly – under blue skies and unseasonably warm weather, drinking it. It’s a corker – and the aroma alone elicits groans of pleasure; pale gold in colour, all lemon sherbert sweets, forest floor and that hard-to-describe in writing Bretty note. Barnyard. In a good way. Earthy. On the sip there’s champagne-like effervescence, bubbles carrying more pithy citrus and sweet, honeyed notes all the way through the sip.
The bitterness lasts and lasts, reminding you of its hoppy credentials – although it tastes nowhere near its 6% abv billing; the package is almost ethereal in weight. All in all, Magic Rock and Lervig Aktiebrygerri should be proud of what they’ve done here. It sounds simple, to dose up an IPA with Brett or other funky yeasts – but as we know, to pull it off well is another matter entirely. I wish I’d have bought a couple to lay down and compare in a little while , in fact. If you see it about, fill your boots – spring is only around the corner, and this is when this Nordic beauty will really come into her own.
First up, Woodie’s in Headingley has transformed – via a very swift refurbishment – into a self-styled ‘Craft Beer House’. Owned by Greene King, Woodie’s is one of Headingley’s old-school and now sits alongside Arcadia in offering Real Ale and, well, craft beer. I haven’t visited yet, but Ghost Drinker has.
Speaking of refurbishment, Cooper’s (Market Town Taverns’ Guiseley outpost) has also increased its Cask Ale offering and added even more keg lines. Whether the new look gets rolled out across all of its pubs remains to be seen, but given MTT’s hit rate and expertise at creating well-stocked, attractive alehouses, I’d wager it’ll be a success.
Sticking with bars and pubs, Leeds heavyweights North Bar won ‘Best Drinks Selection’ in last week’s Publican Awards. Richly deserved too – as the blurb states, Matt, Kath, Jim and the team work incredibly hard to keep North delivering hit after hit. If you’re in Leeds and want to toast them, they are currently holding their annual Lowlands event. Not that you need much excuse to drink in North.
Leeds Brewery also beat off competition to bag the ‘Best Microbrewing Pub Company’ award at the same event. Leeds’ pub estate is a true success story; the recent opening of The Duke Of York marking the brewery’s first foray outside of Leeds. I’d imagine it won’t be their last. Well done all.
The Nook Brewhouse in Holmfirth are hosting a suitably Tour De France themed Spring Beer Festival, kicking off on the 10th April. Pictured is their stunning poster, which was too nice not to post up here. You can check out details of their new monthly specials – including a collaboration Breakfast Stout with Grumpy Mule Coffee. Also, there’s a new independent Beer Festival on the scene – Wakefield’s Festival of Beer. It takes place in May, and keep an eye here for more details as they appear.
Speaking of monthly specials, Ilkley have created a eye-catching yearly Mayan calendar to help you figure out what’s coming next.
…And finally, Great Heck Brewery will be hosting a meet the Brewer event at Northallerton’s Tithe Bar. Denzil Vallance, Great Heck’s self-styled overlord, tweeted last week that the brewery will be expanding in 2014, which is testament to the popularity of his beers, both bottled and on cask.
‘It tastes…’ I stop, mid-sentence, and take another sip. I’d committed that naive sin of just lobbing the first sip of this new beer down my throat, trying to keep up with the conversation rather than taking time out to enjoy the beer. The beer, deeply gold in the glass, aroma all yeasty spice, pear-drop aroma and muscular, warm sweetness, has knocked my senses sideways a little. I take another sip. ‘It tastes a little like…Duvel?’ I’m conscious that I’ve inflected the word Duvel upwards; completely underestimating the beer at hand. The beer at hand, by the way, is Brass Castle’s Heretic; a saffron-infused strong golden ale in very much the Belgian tradition. And it’s wonderful.
Quite a few of these moments occurred during the afternoon spent at BeerTown in Malton this weekend. Pleasant surprises, little re-adjustments of your senses, those ‘I’m glad we came‘ kind of moments. It’s not unusual to be enjoying good beer in this small Ryedale town; Suddaby’s, sitting behind the Crown pub, had been serving solid, tasty beers for some time. But Suddaby’s is no longer in Malton itself – and punters waiting for a new brewery to champion since then now have two to crack on with.
Malton – sitting just north of York and 30 miles or so from the long shadow of Tadcaster, was home to both the Rose, Russell and Wrangham breweries – with Russell’s being founded in 1771. As is often the way, mergers and buy-outs led to the demise of all three, and Malton became one of these towns whose residents get used to saying that brewing ‘used to be’ part of life here.
I say this with authority, but I’m happy to admit that I hadn’t heard of the Wrangham or Russell breweries before. I steal the Bad Seeds themselves – Chris Waplington and James Broad for a quick chat over the small -but- perfectly-formed – exhibition of salvaged breweriana in one of the rooms just away from the hustle of the main festival, and soon realise that…well, I’m not alone.
‘We just wanted to bring something back to Malton,’ smiles Chris. ‘Malton is a beer town, and hopefully we can be part of it in the future.’ It’s as simple as that; but it’s one thing to say it, and another to do it – Brass Castle and Bad Kitty all deserve a pat on the back for making it happen. Chris and James shoot off to carry on working, and leave me (and Chris, my beer-buddy) to pore over the tin adverts for Roses’ King’s Ale, dark, regal and forthright in a cut-glass goblet, and listen to how Russell’s were told to stop using a triangle logo by a certain Burton brewer – settling on a much less litigious horseshoe instead.
So what of the modern Beer Town?
Pleasantly busy without being cramped all afternoon, Malton seems ready for a new celebration of beer. Try as I might to find a demographic here, it’s pretty tough – young and old, male and female, cask and keg. Again, this itself shouldn’t be a surprise; Malton hosts one of the most talked about food markets each month, and prides itself on being a ‘foodie’ town. And having Bad Seed and Brass Castle in residence , teaming up to bring you some of their favourite beers as well as showcasing their favourites, only heightens that. It’s the missing part of the jigsaw.
Since the success of Bad Kitty (a multiple award-winning porter doused with Vanilla that doesn’t last long whichever bar it appears on) a few years ago, the Pocklington brewer, now relocated to Malton, have become a local hero of beer drinkers in north Yorkshire. Part of me wants to say that Brass Castle play to a different audience than Bad Seed, but after tasting Heretic and their accomplished Brass Lager (Vienna style; all subtle breadiness and grassy snap to finish), I don’t think I can. Phil Saltonstall and Ian Goodall have taken every step of Brass Castle’s development in their stride, moving from solid cask ales to kegged esoterica without losing any of the initial promise and quality that Brass Castle promised.
Bad Seed – all hand-printed labels and primary colours – stand out a mile off on the bar. But, as we all know, eye-catching design ain’t worth a damn if the beer ain’t good. We don’t have to be concerned about that; Bad Seed’s beer is very, very good. They may not have the reach or profile of many of the region’s young start-ups, but thier hit rate is scary. Bad Seed Saison is one of my favourites in the UK, all crackle, zip and zing; South Pacific Pale Ale a fresh, gooseberry-led pale ale that is impossible to stop at one with. Hefeweizen in a triumph of sweet lemon, banana and clove wrapped up in a crisp, refreshing jacket.
I could go on. There wasn’t a bad beer in the bunch, to be honest (well, the Spiced Blueberry Oat Ale was a little rich – a good Christmas beer, perhaps, guys?) – and rest assured, dear reader, I did sample judiciously. Celt Experience’s Native Storm (4.4% abv) put the bitter in Bitter with an all-out attack of super-fresh cut Seville Orange slapping you in the chops. Liverpool Craft Beer Company’s Hop Beast (4% abv) turned out to be a gently floral, sweet and well-brewed amber ale with the potential to be a real summer sessioner.
Weird Beard’s Little Things That Kill (both sating my thirst and taking me back to my teens) and Tiny Rebel’s Full Nelson are as reliable as they are tasty – both in cracking condition, too – and a thumb to those who say that lower-strength Pale Ales are dull. Magic Rock’s Salty Kiss leaves the lips tingling (no sniggering at the back, please) and palate re-charged.
Add in brass bands, impromptu bluegrass concerts, delicious baked goods (always a bonus!) and excellent staff (well done, all) and you’ve got a local beer festival that’s a cut above. One that Malton deserves? Yep, I think so.