I spent Thursday judging (with excellent company – you know who you are) the Northern section of SIBA’s Annual Beer Competition, and as is usually the case, a few beers really stood out for quality. The overall winners were:
Gold: Hawkshead’s Windermere Pale
Silver: Three B’s Stoker’s Slake
Bronze – Marble’s Manchester Bitter
You can see the category winners here, and I’d like to extend my congratulations to all; not the least RedWillow Brewery, and local buddies Kirsktall & Ilkley. All entirely deserved and it was great to catch up with you all.
Windermere Pale is a more than worthy winner; one of the true benchmarks in Pale Ale. If you’ve not tried it yet then you’re doing yourself a disservice; and there isn’t enough room here to contain my never-ending love for their New Zealand Pale Ale. Simply stunning beers; don’t miss out
What a difference a day makes. Today; grim, cold, grey and drizzly. House-clothes and cups of tea. Yesterday; brilliant Autumn sunshine, spit – roasted pork, and great beers. York Beer Festival goes from strength to strength.
As it happens, this year was a bit of a first for me – I was doing a spot of judging. Along the way I’d co-opted Dean Pugh (Mr Foley’s) into joining me, and we in turn hooked up with Ally Shaw (Impy Malting, if you don’t know) as well. The three of us donned our sticky name-badges, stocked up on water and cream crackers, and got cracking.
I don’t want to dwell too much on the judging itself – but I will say that the experience furthered my interest in blind-tasting beers and, in turn, challenging your palate. It was fun, different, and I keep learning. I thought – at one point – that I knew what beer one of them was, but it turned out not to even be at the festival. Good. If I’d have nailed it, I’d have been too smug for words.
Anyway, onto the festival. There’s a real variety to the beers on the list at York. It’s just the right size, and if the weather is great (like it was yesterday) then the outside area comes into its own. Pies, HogRoast, Curry and Beer in the sun make for a heady combination.
Stomachs suitably lined with pulled pork, the beers came thick and fast – here are the ones that stood out. Of course, Brass Castle’s Bad Kitty (5.5%abv got a lot of attention as it won Beer of the Festival; all the more reason to celebrate as they’ve only been brewing a matter of weeks. Bad Kitty’s a rich, lush Vanilla Porter, all chocolate-cheesecake and biscuity goodness. It’s very drinkable and very sweet, but did stand head and shoulders above the rest in the judging. Based up the road in Pocklington, Brass Castle are a brewery I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot about in the months to come.
Derby-based Raw and Steel City collaboration IPA, Raw Steel (6.2%abv) was sweet enough to carry the hops; deep amber in colour, thick mouthfeel and a pleasant hop bite at the end. It was actually a little tamer than I expected, but that’s no bad thing. Raw’s Pacific Ghost IPA (5.9%abv) is well worth seeking out too – much paler but with a lovely lychee/mango note to it.
Another first for me was Tempest Brewery, all the way from the Scottish Borders. Emanation Pale Ale (4.5%abv) was a super-clean, refreshing Pale ale with a nose and finish of Lemon pith and subtle pine. I could drink a whole load of this, and hopefully other people will think so too and we’ll get some more down here.
Ilkley’s IXB (4.5%) was a festival first – but will be on sale throughout Yorkshire in the upcoming weeks. It’s an interesting beer; mid-amber, quite sweet in the body but with a really interesting, juicy-fruit aroma. Imagine a really tasty, really fresh, Zingy Best Bitter and you’re kind of halfway there. Do try it when you see it – I will be.
Brodie’s Hackney Red IPA (6.1%abv)was up next – and proved to be an inspired choice. This stuff really is good; Terracotta-Red, with a big, sugar & candy-sweet body (something I’m developing a real taste for in hoppy beers of late) and a gorgeous, herbal, grassy nose. The alcohol was hidden somewhere in the depths, but I couldn’t find it. Wonderful. Brodie’s are a brewery I’m starting to seek out first of all when perusing a beer fest list, these days.
Another (yes, another) Roast Pork Sandwich was washed down with Welbeck Abbey’s Henrietta (3.6%abv), and I was impressed with the beer – easy-going Pale Ale, with a lovely floral finish. I could see this doing very well in the warmer months, and I’d like to try more of their range.
Finally, a couple of darker beers rounded the session off. Matuska Black Rocket (7%abv)is a beer I’ve read a lot about, and missed out on at GBBF; no fear at York as those wonderful Pivo chaps were manning their usual bar of treats. I really enjoyed Black Rocket – full of roasty/coffee notes and a wonderfully fruity, rounded heart that gave a pitch-perfect Cherry Bakewell note to proceedings. This is one beer I’ll probably have to take on every time I see it, now.
Revolution’s Propaganda finished things off in some style. An Imperial Stout at 7.8%, it’s a protest beer at the new higher duty rate that is coming in during October that will, no doubt, put some brewers off brewing stronger ales. I’ll let Andy from Revolutions explain further.
‘The duty rate change makes no sense to us. It will, it is estimated, put about 40p on the price of a bottle of Belgian beer (e.g. Duvel at >8%) and we believe will put 25-30p on the price of a half of one of our 7.8% beers. The new wave of popular craft beer bars in our towns and cities and the specialist bottled beer off-licences will suffer. The customers who frequent these outlets are genuine beer aficionados who do not over-indulge and commit acts of anti-social behaviour. The new duty rate will have very little impact on the price of cheap, poor quality, high strength alcohol sold in supermarkets and corner shops and which IS bought by younger, less socially responsible individuals intent on getting drunk as quickly and as cheaply as possible and who generally end up a drain on the emergency services.’
It’s a shame because Propaganda is a lovely, lovely beer – one of Revolution’s best yet. Super-smooth, with smoke, fruit and sweetness all living in harmony in the glass. I’ve implored them to bottle some up for aging, and – I’m not sure if it was the beer – but they seemed receptive. Anyway, watch this space – and do try the beer when it pops up at selected pubs during the next few months.
Judging – and drinking – at the York Beer Festival was a pleasure this week, and it’s a firm fixture in my calendar now. If you haven’t dropped by yet, today’s the last day. Also, there’s a pretty darn good food festival in York at the moment too – check them out.
Thanks to Dean, Ally, Andy and Mark Revolutions, Chris and Richard Ilkley and Simon Ridgeside for being good company at varying points throughout the day; normally with a fistful of pulled pork.
Firstly, SIBA’s Great Northern Beer Festival runs from 27th to 29th of October, at The Ramada Picadilly in Manchester. The beer list isn’t up yet, but with 250-ish beers on offer, it’s likely to be an excellent display of Northern Brewing. Speaking of Northern Brewing, there’s still time to get your plan in order to visit Saltaire’s next beer festival on the weekend of the 16th September. Stupidly popular, there will be lots of Saltaire’s finest on offer, plus the usual interesting guests that the Saltaire crew are very good a procuring on offer.
If you can’t make that, just down the road in Bradford, The Sparrow are hosting a couple of weeks of Oktoberfest-inspired fun. Kicking off on the 17th of September, expect lots of German Keg, German influenced English Cask and bottles, all the cheese and meat you can handle – and none of the insane teenage crowds that the annual Leeds Christmas Market debacle offers. Check here for the beer list, and get yourself down to this fantastic Beer Bar and join them. I am.
If you’re out and about in the great Northern wilderness during October you could do a lot worse then checking out the Beer n’ Bangers site for info on which venues will be taking part this year. Basically, Pubs and Butchers in the South-West Lakes collaboarate over the 7th to 9th of October, offering great local ales, and tasty local sausages to accompany them. I love this idea, and wish we had more of these kinds of beer festival going on. Jump over to the site for tasty info.
Finally, York Beer Festival is running at the Knavesmire between 15th and 17th of September. Now, obviously I;m biased because a) I love drinking in York and b) I’m judging this year – but I really do rate York Beer Fesitval. It’s in a great location – even better if it’s a nice day – and the beer list is excellent. Take a look at it here if you don’t believe me – there’s some great -soudning beers on offer. My tips would be Ilkley’s new IXB, Revolution’s Propaganda (more on that later), and Raw collaboration with Steel City, the cunningly – titled Raw Steel. I’m sure it’ll be a hop-monster, knowing those guys.
See you there!
Chris and I stood there, unblinking in the bowels of the stadium. Feet ached from morning’s walking. Throat dry; muscles twitching in anticipation of refreshment. In front of me; veteran drinkers of all shapes, ages, colours and trainer size. Behind; more. Way more. The Roar of the crowd, outside. Stomach jumps in excitement as the door opens and daylight floods the waiting area; a friendly tap on my shoulder – the ghost of Bremner. ‘Whatever happens out there today lad, Keep fighting… Keep Fighting.’ As pure as lambs we shuffle forward into the arena, holding our tickets in front of us like shields…
Well, not quite, but you get the picture. GBBF is clearly the land of the pro, the international, the amateur and those with a penchant for silly hats alike – and this was my first one. Forgoing the trade day in order to get the true, first-hand experience, it certainly left an impression. It’s big; I was prepared for size but it was bigger than I expected. Earl’s Court seemed, at first, to have a lot of dead space, but as the evening wore on and more people flooded in, that space was welcome.
My usual festival practise is to get an initial beer – an amuse bouche, if you will – and seriously peruse the programme, which we did, mentally ticking off where ‘our listed beers’ were. Obviously. Lists are majorly important at GBBF; this much was apparent when confronted with the choice. This time, however, the leader on the list was one of my most sought-after beers; Birrificio Italiano’s Tipopils (5.2%abv). Being somewhat of an Italian beer nerd, I was very aware that this seminal beer had not touched my lips, and I was really, really happy to put it right. Chilled, the beer was nectar to a dry throat; long, flinty but with the slightest peachiness on the nose. I could have quite happily drunk it non-stop all day, to be honest.
Sipping Tipopils, we wandered about and took it all in. The stalls looked great, the food selection varied at least, and the beers were beginning to flow. Personally, I was a bit ‘hopped out’ over the weekend. There just seemed to be a massive range of ‘Pale and Hoppy’ from brewers from all over the world, with not a lot to distinguish them from each other. Mostly Pale ales with no real quality in the malt bill, hoping that a shitload of high-alpha hops at the end and a high IBU count will suffice. No – for the first time in a long time, I made a decision to stay away from ‘Pale and Hoppy’ as much as I could.
So what did I drink? Well, here are some potted highlights. Pivovar Broumov’s Opat Tmavé Třešňové (3.5%abv) was a revelation; crisp, bitter lager with an undeniable aroma of Cherries and Almonds. Imagine a really good, unfiltered lager with Black Forest gateaux on top and you’re close. Wonderful and surprisingly unique. I want more of this, and would be wonderful with some salty, smoky Ham. Thornbridge’s Craven Silk was another ‘flavoured’ beer, this time with an addition of Elderberries. Smooth, subtle golden ale with just the slightest fruity top, it was a great change of pace when we needed something to calm the palate a little. Speaking of Golden Ales, Morland’s Old Golden Hen (4.1%abv) did the job, too. Nothing fantastically complex, but refreshing enough and very, very clean in the finish. Keep an eye out.
After a brief chat with a super-affable Des De Moor, he poured us some De Molen Hout & Hop (4.6%abv) – after all, who could resist those De Molen casks? Takes a stronger man than me. It turned out to be my beer of the day; wonderfully light in the body, with orange peel, lemon pith and more than a whiff of wild herbs in the aroma, finished with a huge dollop of funky Brettiness, this is one great beer.
Back over to Italy and some kegged (well, some sort of kegging contraption) Revelation Cat West Coast IPA (6.5%abv). Operating in a semi-gypsy way, Revelation Cat were a first for me, tasting-wise, and the West Coast IPA didn’t disappoint. In much the same way as Meantime’s South Pacific Pale, it managed a slightly different mixed-bag of aroma; not the usual Grapefruit juice. Mango, Strawberry Lychee, pineapple and underlying sweetness from the (fairly hefty) body. Super-drinkable. That’s not to say it can’t be done right; Boulder’s Mojo IPA (7.2%abv) was lovely (and, as it happens, a recommendation from a CAMRA guy behind the bar who said that it was his beer of the festival); clear, well-balanced and still delivering that dry, grapefruit and apple IPA hit without killing you. I could taste other beers after it, and that’s what I wanted.
As the day wound on, Baird’s Kurofune Porter (6%abv) made an appearance, given my growing obsession with Japanese beers. I expected a solid show and that’s pretty much what I got; smooth, decent balance of coffee/chocolate and red fruit in the body, no real hop aroma, but a lovely, smooth porter. Keeping things dark, we sampled an Amber Ales Chocolate Orange Stout (4%abv) did that rare thing; actually tasted of chocolate, and smelled of orange. Like cracking open a milk Terry’s Chocolate Orange, it was a real surprise. I’d love some more of this.
Overall, I loved GBBF; the staff were smiling, knowledgable and happy to chat, and my only minor quibble would be how the bars are set out – but really, just because I found it a little confusing doesn’t really amount to much. I’ll be going again next year, and many more, I’m sure. I personally ticked off two or three beers that I’ve been after for a while, and could have stayed for another day. Food-wise, I must mentionThe Crusty Pie Company – Yorkshire lads who are festival stalwarts now. Always serving with a smile and handing out wonderful pies and scratchings. Top lads. Also, the cheese boards served up by Chris at The Truckle Cheese Co were top, top-notch. Despite being on her feet all day and suitably busy, Chris took time out to ensure we tasted before we chose, and chose an excellent hits-the-spot cheese board for us to soak up the beer. Do check them out, and I can recommend the London Ale Relish heartily.
Ok, I’m readying myself for some heavy beer-sampling in London next week at GBBF; but if you’re hankering for some southern action you could do no better than heading over to North Bar on August the 17th to raise a pint to some of our southern cousins. We don’t get beers from the likes of Windsor & Eaton and Brodies up here often, so don’t miss out.