Since their launch last summer – on a very, very hot day in Bradford – happenings at Northern Monk Brewing Co went a little quiet towards the end of last year. Russell Bisset and Dave Bishop’s beers were launched and sold out, rebrewed (in a cuckoo fashion at Ripon’s Hambleton Ales) and tweaked, before David left the partnership. Then, early this year, a new pale ale – Monachus – appeared, alongside a collaboration with county neighbours Bad Seed Brewing. Northern Monk were back – but is it to stay, this time?
It’s fair to say that those monks have not been spending time relaxing; although some contemplation has certainly taken place. Behind the scenes, Russell and his team have clearly been putting in the hard yards – and traversing the steep learning curve that anyone who sets up their own business inevitably has to become acquainted with.
First thing’s first – the nomads now have a permanent home. Situated in Holbeck Urban Village in Leeds – a stone’s throw from The Cross Keys and Leeds Brewery’s Midnight Bell. We’ll get to that later – first, let’s meet the new members of the Northern Monk fraternity.
Maggie Cubbler – who you’ll all know from Loaded Kitchen), joins as Events and Refectory manager. Brewing is being handled by Brian Dickson, who needs no introduction to drinkers in Yorkshire from his 6 years behind the bar at The Grove (Huddersfield) and his stint moonlighting as Bitches Brewing, creating one-off brews with the likes of Quantum and Black Jack Breweries. Brian cut his teeth with Eddie Gadd at Gadds’ Ramsgate Brewery, as well as periods shadowing the brewers at Dark Star, Thwaites and Red Willow amongst others, and he’s raring to get started on his own beers.
Maggie recently called time on her excellent beer and food blog, Loaded Kitchen. You can read her last post here, which touches on her decision to work with Northern Monk. Maggie explains exactly what she has in mind. ‘From the get-go, we’ve taken many chances to present our beer alongside food. There are a lot of talented people doing some great stuff with food and beer out there, and I’m here to put The Refectory at Northern Monk Brewery on that map too.’
‘Once The Refectory is up and running, I’ll be hooking up the likes of beer-and-cheese events, pairing evenings, and maybe even an event devoted completely to desserts and how well they go with beer. (Just one ticket available for that one though, and it’s mine)! Also, in line with our ethos of collaboration and community, it’s also my responsibility to arrange events outside of The Refectory. Whether it’s beer pairing dinners, tap-takeovers, meet-the-brewers, or whatever, I’m excited to showcase our beer in some of the best restaurants, taprooms, and pubs out there.’
Russell explains the story behind his brewery’s new, permanent home.
‘When we set out to find a property we were really keen to find somewhere where we could have a small tap room and that tied in with the other elements of what we’re about in terms of history and character. It took some time – and I now feel like I’m fairly familiar with pretty much all the industrial units between Bradford and Manchester! We finally narrowed it down to two properties and almost ended up at Dean Clough in Halifax – which is a fantastic development but the location and character of the site in Holbeck Urban Village really won us over.’
So – another brewery for Leeds it is, then. ‘The interior has been stripped back to reveal its former glory, complete with Yorkshire stone flags, red brick walls, arched ceilings, and iron columns that run throughout.’ Russell continues. ‘…The Refectory will house our tap room, bottle shop, and kitchen. We’ll have at least 10 Keg and 4 Cask lines, and our focus will be on showcasing some of the best beer in the North. We can’t wait to get beers in from the likes of Magic Rock, Summer Wine, Rooster’s, Buxton, Kirkstall, Ilkley, Saltaire, Quantum, Hawkshead, Bad Seed and so on.’
It all sounds pretty exciting and once up and running, I’m sure The Refectory will be a great addition to the drinking scene in Leeds city centre, bringing another business to an area of Leeds that still feels somewhat underused – and with plenty of potential. Russell says that The Refectory will appear eventually, but the brewery build is the focus. So much so, in fact, that no more beers are being brewed ‘Cuckoo’ until their kit – a 10BBL set-up fabricated by Burton’s Malrex – arrives and they can do it on their own terms. In fact, Russell’s realised that brewing Cuckoo – full stop – isn’t what Northern Monk is about anymore.
‘Unless you have sacks of cash, nerves of steel or just want to produce ‘accountants’ beer, don’t cuckoo brew in the UK!’ he laughs. ‘I don’t think the cuckoo brewing model is a viable long-term option here. It’s easy to look at the likes of Mikkeler and Evil Twin and think that it’s possible to produce bolder beer styles using a cuckoo brewing model. In reality they work with breweries like De Proef that are truly world-class and have third-party production as their bread and butter. But they also have 12 month waiting lists to work with.’
‘That being said, we owe big thanks to the guys at Hambleton, we wouldn’t be where we are without them. It’s also important to give major credit to David Bishop. He’s left us with some great beers – and what a legacy Strannik is.’
Ah, the beer. What can we look forward to drinking in 2014, then?
Russ is understandably coy about going into too much detail about the upcoming beers that he and Brian are formulating, but he does mention a couple of IPA’s called Dark World and 822, a fearsome-sounding triple IPA named Vesuvius – and some barrel-aged Strannik Imperial Stout, which was certainly popular last time it appeared. For the time being, you can still get your hands on some of the Salted Lemon Wit brewed in collaboration with Bad Seed Brewery, and Brian confirms that New World IPA and Strannik will be retained and refined once up and running on the new kit. In his own words, Brian can’t wait to brew beers “…that are not just packed with flavour but have a balance to them as well, a sessionability that has you willing to go back for another”.
So; cuckoo is out but brewing collaboratively is still very much on NMBC’s radar. It’s fair to say there are some interesting partnerships being worked out as we speak; working alongside Saltaire, Bundobust and Gateway Brewing (yes, in Mumbai), to name but three. I agree that working with other breweries and fostering a community around them is a theme that’s nice to see developing at Northern Monk; it nicely links their past with their future.
That being said, you get a sense that the team are dusting themselves off after a very hectic start, getting used to that aforementioned learning curve, and feeling good about having solid foundations underfoot at last.
‘The next few years will be about honing and refining – and I think consistency, quality, and control will be key more than ever before.’ says Russ. ‘They’re certainly going to be the things at the very core of what we’re about. It’s an incredible time to be in the UK beer industry both as a beer drinker and brewery founder; I think we’re on the cusp of a truly golden era with so many fantastic breweries and beers in the UK.’
Last month’s post about Homebrewing certainly drew a response, both on WordPress and on Twitter. There’s a genuinely good feeling about homebrewing (or Amateur Brewing, if you like) at the moment, whether you are simply enjoying doing it yourself and getting close to the process, or whether you simply think that knowledge is power – and that’s all good.
The likes of Nigel Poustie’s Sunbeam Ales should serve as another success story in that case. Walking on a path previously tread by Rodham’s and Five Towns Brewery, he’s managed to get his beers on the shelves of Beer-Ritz from his house in Leeds. I can imagine that sharing shelf – space with Leeds Brewery, SummerWine (another brewery borne of avid Homebrewing) and Ilkey feels pretty sweet. Under the Sunbeam moniker, his beers have a rustic, simple charm and – most importantly – are pretty damn tasty.
Picking up an armful, I went with a wild card in Honey & Lavender (4.9%abv), purely to set a benchmark. Although popular, I’ve never really been that enamoured with Honey in beer; it misfires so often – brewers failing to get any of that essence of Honey’s flavour into the beer without making an over-dry or sickly mess. Add Lavender and …well, it could end in tears.
I close my eyes. I gulp.
It’s delicious. Really, it is. Not only does this straw-coloured Pale Ale carry genuine Lavender notes in the nose, there’s definate sweet Honey in there; lifting the whole beer with a floral, wildflower note that’s pretty arresting. There’s a hint of root ginger in there too, with a fresh, lemon-rind tinged finish. Refreshing and packed with flavour, the whole package leaps out of the glass like a Yorkshire Saison or Biere De Garde; but one unlike any I’ve tasted. It’s been a while since a beer surprised me like this.
Next up, Extra Special Ale (5.2%abv) ; a style that I always like to see and appreciate a solid version of; and that’s what I get. A deliciously tawny colour, with a tan head and a slight echo of chocolate in the nose and body, the beer is nutty and moreish; my tasting notes say ‘Malt Loaf’, and as an overall picture, that’s not far off. Drinking this made me wish I had a cheese board to hand.
Sunseeker IPA (5.7%abv) was my least favourite of the trio; a good-looking beer with burnished gold notes and a really intriguing nose of Pear Drops and Citrus; but those notes didn’t really translate to the taste of the beer. Don’t get me wrong, it was still a really drinkable IPA, but a bit of a let-down after the promise of the nose.
One theme that all of Nigel’s beers had was body; a rich, robust body that is often missed in Homebrew, such is the focus these days on a beer’s aroma (if you ask me, obviously). Sunbeam’s Ales are a real treat, and I wish Nigel luck in the future. I, for one, will be buying more of his wares.
…I was having a little chat with Sam Moss of Leeds Brewery at the weekend, and in passing he mentioned that Leodis Lager had switched production from the test/pilot kit at The Brewery Tap, to the main site in Hunslet. Being a fan of Leodis (and Lager in general), there was only one thing to do –taste the new version.
Now, I’ll get something out there straight away; in the past, I’ve found the quality of Leodis to vary massively gyle-on-gyle. Of course, when drinking it in The Brewery Tap, it’s coming straight from the tanks upstairs, and maybe this has resulted in a little variation. Always drinkable – and an excellent edition to Leeds’s roster – it hasn’t been the most reliable of pints.
2012 Leodis (Tried at The Midnight Bell) is massively improved. Much, much crisper, and a lot less sweet than previous incarnations, you can tell straight away that it’s a lighter lager; it’s super-pale, thumbtack-sharp and massively drinkable for a 4.6% beer. There’s a little creamy malt backbone, but the finish is clean and pleasantly citrus-edged. Perfect for the hotter weather that (surely!?!) must be on the way. That inherent malty sweetness that has maybe pushed Leodis away from ‘Lager’ in the past has now been banished, and the result is a real improvement.
Meanwhile, at The Brewery Tap, there’s two new variations on a theme going on. I only had time to taste the Wheat (4.7%), which had all the notes jumping out of the glass that you’d like to hear singing from a Wheat Beer; a little tinge of coriander seed, some Pithy citrus, and a Wild note that I still can’t quite describe after all these years – all wrapped up in a golden-orange package. There’s also a Dunkel version on offer, too.
Check them both out, anyway. I’m always intrigued to know what’s going on behind the scenes; recipes being tweaked, new hops being added, beers being messed around with. Sometimes for the worse; sometimes for the better. It just goes to show – the brewer’s job is never done.
(Adrian Tierney-Jones had an encounter with Leodis Dunkel/Dark Lager in 2010 – you can read about it here.)
Ok, a bit of shameless self-promotion is coming your way. As Zak explains on his blog, I’m collaborating with Beer-Ritz next month to try and get beer – through food – out to an audience old and new. So, on February the 6th, I’ll be setting up stall in the shop, with a little array of baked goods and some samples of beers that you can enjoy with them.
The menu is always subject to change (if I have any kitchen disasters the day before, for example), but I plan on taking a Vanilla Cheesecake (which will be matched with a Stout, Porter or Dark Mild), Chocolate Brownies (which will be matched with fruit beers) and Banana and Toffee Muffins (which we are going to try with a Dunkel).
It’s free, informal, and if you’re curious about Beer and Food, then this is the opportunity for you to come to Leeds’s specialist beer shop (I hear Ghostie will be my trusty wingman, Iceman to my Maverick) and talk to staff about where to start. The point isn’t to show off my baking skills (Honestly!) but to try and expand the reach of Good Beer and Good Food beyond the beer-blogging fraternity. That, after all, is what we are about, no?
Hopefully, this will be the first on a series of nights where local food producers and Beer-Ritz can come together and share their expertise. Stay tuned for more details as the year rolls on.
People of Leeds – it’s all systems go in February. Revolutions Brewery will be taking over Foley’s on February the 10th, and our Milk Stout (Milk & Alcohol) has been brewed, fermented and is ready for your attention. I can assure you that Dean, myself and the lads from Revs slaved over a hot mash tun all day with only a bellyful of Pork Pies and 80’s New Wave Classics (Belouis Some, anyone?) blasting out of the brewery in order to bring you this delicious beer. Details are on the previous link above. Do come and join us, if Music and Beer is your thing. Love Music, Love Beer.
Finally, there’s a bit of an Invasion of the Brooklyn-Snatchers happening at North on February the 1st. Expect to see a myriad of Brooklyn’s finest on tap and in bottles; including rarities such as Blast, Winter, Monster, Pennant (my main ‘tick’ for the night) and another, mythical beer that, if you look closely enough on their poster, you’ll be able to try. Do pop down.
When Doug Odell visited Leeds at the back end of Summer, he swung by Kirkstall Brewery to get a brew on, as they say. It would seem brewers brew even on their holiday. The result, with more than a little help from Dean Pugh at Foley’s, was Aquitaine (8%abv), an old ale-style pint aged since then in Bordeaux casks.
So-called because of the association with the wine-producing region of Bordeaux, Aquitaine turns out to be perfect for this time of year. It smells – frankly – of Red Wine. There’s a hint of vanilla in there, some wood, and that intense red-fruit-cherry-skin one gets from good Reds. On the sip, the beer is at first sweet; full of biscuity malt and heavy body, but then evens out with an intense, dry, green-hop hit. There’s a pleasant oily-pine note running through it, like a seam of freshly cut wood, but it’s really well-balanced for the abv, and one to savour rather than gulp.
We all know Kirkstall don’t put feet wrong with their interpretations of solid styles such as Three Swords Pale and Black Band Porter. Aquitaine hints at mastery behind the scenes, and the promise that seasonals and one-offs could be just another card up Kirkstall Brewery’s sleeves.
Aquitaine is currently on the bar at Mr Foley’s. Do hurry if you want to try it – it won’t be on for long.
Well, just as I’d finished drafting this post, The Golden Pints were announced for 2011. Given that I’d already done this, I’m going to post it up anyway in lieu of a Golden Pint list, with a few additions. Anyway, I like lists, and it’s been fun running through what beers I’ve particularly enjoyed over the year. By way of a cop-out, I’m not going to rank the best beers this year, because I think they are all fantastic. What’s even more exciting is that I’m sure I’ve missed loads; which means 2012 will have to rectify that.
So, what about a Brewery of the Year? A difficult one. When I think of Breweries that made 2011, three stand out for me; Magic Rock, Buxton and Red Willow.
Given the shared experience of the people involved – both from a brewing and a retail point of view – Magic Rock would have had to have really worked hard to fail. Their relatively small core range covers every base, their pumpclips catch the eye; and their beer tastes good. When you really get into the range, the beers are deceptively simple, too. They’ve worked their arses off; doing countless Meet The Brewer nights all over the country, brewing to capacity, and even introducing a couple of new beers in Rock Star and Bearded Lady. But that Yorkshire grit and no-nonsense approach is still there. No fuss – just taste – and lots of it.
Buxton pull a similar ‘one foot in each camp’ trick but go even further. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a brewery combine fairly hop-forward, or ‘big’ beers such as Axe Edge or Tsar, and yet appeal to the average ‘pub-bound’ drinker. Buxton do this by again turning down the fuss, and just brewing tasty, tasty beer. People that know me know that I’m a Pale Ale freak, and when Moor Top emerged – just a single-hopped, simple Pale Ale – it blew me away (See also Hawkshead’s superlative Windermere Pale and NZPA). You think you’ve seen it all from a style, and then another taste comes along that make you realise that the genre is not dead. Buxton are a brewer for all camps, and one that’s already been popping up on many ‘best of’ lists already.
Finally, I have to mention RedWillow. I know how hard Toby works, and trust me, the guy is a machine. A tired, Oyster-shucking machine – but a machine nontheless. Red Willow flip the previous statements made about Buxton and MR around; simple-sounding and looking beers that reveal hidden depths and innovation when tasted. Fathomless – turns out to be an authentic Oyster Stout. Ageless – turns out to be one of the most aromatic, juicy-tropical-fruit bombs tasted all year. The awards have slowly, slowly begun to trickle in for the Macclesfield brewer, and I’m sure 2012 will only result in a bigger award cabinet being needed.
Beers of the Year
Ok. As I said above, I can’t pick one, really. Here are the ones (in no particular order) that I really enjoyed, from reasons such as taste, to simply being the right beer at the right time. If your beer is on here, then thank you for brewing such Good Stuff.
York Micklegate Porter – Magic Rock Human Cannonball, High Wire & Rapture – Maui Big Swell IPA – Rooster’s Iron Man IPA – Buxton Moor Top – Buxton Axe Edge – 8 Wired IRA – RedWillow Ageless – Sierra Nevada Juniper Black – Brodie’s Hackney Red – Rooster’s Baby Faced Assassin – Oakham Citra & Inferno – Brewdog Bramling Cross IPA – Revolutions Night Porter & Propaganda – Hawkshead NZPA & Windermere Pale – Durham Magic IPA (Bombay 106) – Odell Mycernary – Redemption Big Chief – SummerWine Rouge-Hop – Marble Summer – Kirkstall Three Swords Pale – Raw Pacific Ghost IPA – Ilkley Smoked Witch – Cropton Yorkshire Warrior – Camden Helles – Hardknott Light Cascade – Black Isle Porter – Stroud Amber Ale – De Molen Op & Top – Five Towns Schneider V2 – Birrificio Italiano Tipopils – Williams Bros Joker IPA – Great Northern Wheat IPA – Theakston’s Lightfoot … and the list goes on….
Of course, I’ll have missed some out. It’s impossible not to. If your beer has ended up on this blog, however, then it’s The Good Stuff, rest assured.
I’d also like to take the opportunity to thank Mark and Andy for organising the year’s Twissups, and Luke Downing at Dough Bistro and Nick and Vickie at Homage to Fromage for opening their businesses and kitchens to the possibilities of Food and Beer. Dean Pugh at Mr Foley’s remains a constant source of info and orchestrator of some excellent bottle-swap nights (and Wing nights, and NFL nights!), and IPA Day was a great (and quite drunk) event. We are very lucky indeed. Of course, all the staff at BeerRitz have been stars, as always. We are lucky to have such a place in Leeds (and we almost didn’t for a while; thanks again, Zak!)
Blogs? Well, there’s been some great blogs starting up or coming into their own in 2011. For me, Ghost Drinker and Beersay deserve special mentions, as they bring an enthusiasm and exuberance about beer onto the screen that is sometimes sorely missed from blogs. On the other side of the coin, ATJ’s and Zak’s blogs always provide food for thought from inside the industry and I’m glad they’re still churning out quality content after all these years. I appreciate how hard it can be to blog these days when juggling (a number) of jobs and when I see others doing it, it just spurs me on to quit moaning and get writing.
Finally, I’d just like to thank everyone that reads TGS, and that I’ve had the pleasure of sharing a few beers with over the year. You’re a good bunch, and despite the bickering (which makes it interesting, let’s face it) I’m happy to be part of such a vibrant, varied and passionate community. Hopefully, 2012 will be an interesting year for me, and I hope to be able to contribute to UK Brewing in a way that I know many of you do, day in, day out.
My previous encounter with Human Cannonball (9.2%abv) was on the way out of Mr Foley’s IPA Day celebrations. Having finished the ‘live blog’ I did, I was about ready to pack up and go home when Dean reminded me that I had yet to taste the kegged Human Cannonball that was gracing the bar.
Already on the way to being tipsy (Hey – IPA day was not a day for weak beers!), I thought ‘Of course. Can’t miss it.’ Away I went, goblet brim-full of souped – up, Gonzo Cannonball. Something More Human Than Human, to paraphrase Rob Zombie and The Tyrell Corporation. A mutant beer, a freak.
Whilst drinking it, you really don’t get what’s coming. The flavour is exactly that same as Cannonball; A lush, marmalade-hued IPA, tongue-coatingly sweet in the body, of the American persuasion as are all of Magic Rock’s beers. Lift your glass up to your nose and take in those tropical-fruit aromas wafting up; Mango, Strawberry, Lemon and Tangerine. It’s glorious – really, it is – and deserves to stand side by side with Kernel’s best in the aroma stakes.
So you drain your glass, put it on the bar, and set off. About half an hour later – possibly when you’re on your next beer – you hear a quiet, yet creepy sound in the distance. A boom. A rumble. Hear that? It’s coming for you – and there’s no point running, because it will catch up with you. That’s the alcohol; somewhere, somehow hidden in the original sip like a bandit. It hits you and hits you hard. Welcome, dear drinker, to the true Human Cannonball Experience. It’s at this point you realise that the Human Cannonball is you. Frazzled, hot-to-the-touch, and very, very happy.
Obviously, this is only a cautionary tale. I strongly urge all who have not yet tried to outrun the Human Cannonball to try and do so, as soon as they can.
I do like superstitions and routine, and one that I have firmly lodged in my mind is that my first beer in The Euston Tap simply has to be a Camden -Just because that’s the place my addled mind associates them with. It was I first tried them and so far, it’s worked. If I ever have anything else there, it won’t feel right.
Damn you, routine.
I’ve got to admit, I’m a massive fan of the guys down at Camden. Not only do they make good beer – they make my kind of beer. Clean, crispy Pales, perfect for sunny drinking or banishing the dust from the throat and ridding the fatigue of a hectic afternoon riding the tube. Now that they are well-established bottle-wise, it just means I can enjoy thier beers all year round.
Both Helles (4.6%abv) and Pale (4.5%) are simple beers, well executed. Take your time over them and there’s more subtlety than meets the eye; and both remain stupidly easy to drink. Pale pours a vibrant gold with a tight, ice-white head, those bubbles zooming up the glass and dying in the head with a reassuring fizz. Fresh Grapefruit on the nose; and the body is ever-so-slightly grainy. It finishes dry, and surprisingly bitter. It’s not too sweet, not too bitter – perfectly poised, and wonderful bottled. One of the best Pales about? In my opinion, yes, but you can probably guess from the paragraph above that I’ve got a real love affair with Camden Pale.
Helles is even paler, but sports the same brilliant white head. There’s a much more herbal, more noble-hop prescence on the nose, and the body is much softer and sweeter than the Pale. The finish is softly citric (a hint of Peach, maybe?) and moreish. Again, a wonderful, simple beer that I could drink way too fast if I put my mind to it.
In a perfect world, my go-to beer fridge is well stocked with Camden’s wares. Football, a couple of these and some good snackage. Heaven.
If you’re interested, another beery superstition I have is Old Peculier on Christmas Day – it has to be the last beer of the day, no mater how much I’ve imbibed beforehand. Do you have any Beer routines you’d like to share?
Well, almost – because we all know it didn’t really go away. The term ‘Brown Beer’ as a disparaging one is wholly unjustified, yet seems to fit what it’s often used for so well. Brown. Dull. Ordinary. It’s always puzzled me why we don’t apply this term to US beers – where ‘Brown Ale’ is a rich, robust, rustic term that only denotes simple tastiness (such as Brooklyn Brown or Smuttnose Brown Eyed Dog). Again, I’d assume because, using the law of averages, there’s simply a lot of flavour-light, identikit Brown Beers in the UK Market. Or is it just a natural progression from Black IPA – mixing high-alpha hops with darker, more complex malt bills? It’s one of those things that seems like such a no-brainer that you wonder why it’s not been done sooner on a similar scale.
Maybe ‘Beige’ would be a better term, because recently there’s been a bit of a resurgence in Brown beers; or rather, Brown Beers mk 2. In the past week, I’ve tried no less than three of these kinds of beer; simple, malty beers with a bit of interest in the nose.
Thornbridge’s Browne is a showcase for Stella hops (now that’s poetic – what next – Foster’s malt? Coors yeast? I’m being flippant, of course), and a quick jump over to Thornbridge’s excellent blog tells you what the lads were thinking. “With Browne we have created a medium intensity beer in both flavour and aroma. It has a juicy fruit and floral aroma upfront but nice hints of roasted and caramel-like aromas come through. This juicy aroma comes from the use of a single hop called Stella which we used exclusively in the hopback – or as we know it the Hopnik and we developed this beer so that 90% of the total bitterness would come from our Hopnik addition. It is 4.3% abv with 38 IBUs of tastefully balanced bitterness”
Reading between the lines you’ve got a very straight-down-the-line beer – medium intensity, medium abv. But it’s incredibly, incredibly tasty. We sampled some in Pivo York a couple of days back and it was in perfect condition; subtle, caramel-sweet in the middle, smooth as hell but with a gorgeously floral aroma. And yes, you could drink a couple of them without tiring.
For a lighter riff on a similar theme, Thornbridge’s Kill Your Darlings in currently doing the rounds. Vienna Lager this time, and brewed to celebrate Kid Acne’s new art show of the same name. I hope he appreciates what they’ve created done because KYD is bloody good; all burnt toffee in the body and a crisp, clean finish. I need to get some bottled so I can enjoy it Pizza and Burgers, Chops and Ribs.
Great Heck and Zak Avery recently collaborated to brew Heckstra Ordinary, a 5%abv Best Bitter. Ordinary? Brown? Well, no and yes – much like Brown it’s got a great, satisfyingly malty body, topped off with a tropical-fruit nose that just lifts everything into something else entirely (does that even make sense?). A little dryer and more bitter than Browne, it’s yet another riff on a theme that I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more of in the months to come. Ilkley’s IXB (see previous post) is already proving to be a tasty cousin to both these two great beers, so don’t miss them if you catch them on your bar.
It’s been years since I’ve had anything from Bristol Beer Factory. However, much like buses, three have showed up at Foley’s this week.
Milk Stout (4.5%) is a multi-award winner and is a welcome sight – Milk Stout’s not a style you see a great deal of. BBF’s version is super, super smooth, with a sweet, roasted malt nose. Upon tasting that smoothness is the first thing you get, and then the underlying creamy, lactic note you’d be looking for. It is very sweet – perhaps a little too much so for my tastes – but perfectly drinkable. A welcome change from the usual Stout gang.
Acer (3.8%) is a deep gold-hued pale ale; a solid backbone of biscuity malt and a huge, green-hop finish. It’s very clean, dry, and perfect for this little early-autumn sunshine we seem to be enjoying. Surprisingly assertive, it’s an interesting variant on the Pale Ale theme – IPA Fans could do worse than seek out this Pale; it’s anything but plain. And at 3.8%, anyone who thinks you can’t put flavour and vibrancy into lower-strength Pales needs to taste this.
Saison (4.8%), for me, is the pick of the bunch. The aroma is crazy – massively perfumed, tonnes and tonnes of Coriander, and – I swear – Sandalwood ( I know, it’s all a bit Jilly Goolden but I don’t want to leave anything out!) . To be honest, the nose alone makes you wonder how it’s going to taste, but upon sipping you get all those flavours but really toned down and balanced out – thank god. It grew on me; it’s light, refreshing and different. Do try it while you can.
As it happens, I recently had a brush with Southville Hop. Whilst finishing up for the night at The Euston Tap a few weeks ago, I spied two bottles in the fridge, and nabbed them both. After a heavy couple of days on the Beer whilst enjoying GBBF, SH really refreshed a jaded palate – it is super-hoppy, but with such body and balance behind it that you forget the hops alone and appreciate the beer as a whole. Grapefruit and Lemon abound, and it’s a different kind of Hop Flavour to Acer’s green, almost herbal note. Although this was bottled, Southville Hop is currently residing in Foley’s cellar and will be on soon; so keep an eye out.
One final note – take a look at those pumpclips. Note the succint, easy-to-grasp tasting notes on the bottom there, ready to tell the uninformed drinker what to expect. No fuss, perfectly pitched. Credit where its due – Fantastic design work from Bristol Beer Factory.