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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. 

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.

A New Look for Summer Wine Brewery

DIABLO NEWWhen 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.

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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.

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‘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.

Joining Forces: Rooster’s and Pretty Things, Saltaire and Dark Star

IMG_1749This 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.

IMG_1763My 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. 

Celebrating a Stage Winner with Little Valley

IMG_1569It may seem already – a few months away from the Grand Depart – that Yorkshire is already packed to bursting with Tour De France posters, bunting and promotional events, but mark my words: it’s only going to get worse. Whether you’re into cycling (and it seems everyone except me is these days) or not, you can’t deny it’s a coup for the region; those lucky businesses along the route will enjoy a bumper weekend in terms of takings, and visitors from all over the country get to see the best of what Yorkshire has to offer.

Breweries are just one of those types of businesses looking to support the Tour as only they can – by brewing themed beers. Some may see them as novelty, but as I mention here, there’s no harm in it. Events like this should be commemorated in beer;  why not? Especially when that beer happens to celebrate the life of one of Yorkshire’s cycling heroes.

Brian Robinson was born in 1930 in Ravensthorpe, and later his family moved to nearby Mirfield.  In 1952 (as an amateur cyclist) he entered an early version of the Tour – the Route de France – but struggled on the mountain races; his own roads on the Calder Valley, as steep as they are, were no match for the Pyrenees. With typical determination, he persevered and represented Great Britain at the Helsinki Olympics the same year.

The year after he took on Cycling professionally and the years that followed saw his efforts improving. He was eventually picked up by Aston’s Hercules Cycle Company to form part of their racing team and, alongside his team-mates, became one of the first Britons to finish the (now) Tour de France in 1955. The team enjoyed mixed success on the continent and, in 1958, Robinson became the first British rider to win a stage of the tour –  a feat he then repeated the year after.  Not bad for a lad from Huddersfield, I think you’ll agree.

L-R, Wim Van Der Spek, Sue Cooper, Brian Robinson

L-R, Wim Van Der Spek, Sue Cooper, Brian Robinson

Sue Cooper of Little Valley Brewery (which itself sits atop of a monstrous climb) spoke of seeing ‘riders zooming past the brewery window’ on a regular basis, until one day one of them popped his head in. It was none other than Brian, asking if he could have a look around. When Sue and head brewer Wim Van Der Spek, decided to brew a beer for the Grand Depart, their first thought was to involve Brian.

Chance encounters seem follow Sue and Wim around. Sue and Wim themselves are both keen cyclists, and actually met whilst both cycling in Nepal. That chance encounter led to a relationship, a relocation to Yorkshire, and the birth of Little Valley Brewery. Meeting Brian eventually led to the brewing of Stage Winner; a 3.5% pale/blonde ale that’s softly sweet and boasts a dry, floral finish. As Brian said to me at the launch, it’s the kind of beer you want to refresh yourself before getting back on the saddle, and I couldn’t agree more.

Wim described the simple thought behind the beer in typically romantic fashion. ‘Brian’s a gentle guy.’ he said, ‘So I wanted to brew a gentle, soft beer.’ Yesterday – despite the inclement weather – was the first day of Spring, and the beer is spring in a glass, in my humble opinion.

LVB_stage_winner_01I couldn’t agree more. Stage Winner  – resplendent in its King of the Mountains livery -was launched last night at Brasserie Blanc in Leeds and will be appearing in both bottle and cask across the region during spring. Keep an eye out for it, and if you do see it, raise a pint to Brian. He’ll be watching the race with interest  – hopefully with a pint of his own beer in his hand.

 

You can read more about Brian’s exploits here and here. All you need to know about the Grand Depart, which takes place on the 5th of July, can be found here.

Wharfe Bank Brewery Unveil New Look for 2014

WB Full Logo with Border (2)Pool-in-Wharfedale’s own Wharfe Bank Brewery have started 2014 with a rebrand and new identity to match their expanding business. Reflecting thier geographical location – and a subtle name change – the brewery hopes that the new look will serve them well as they progress from the brewery that begun in the basement brewery at The Fox and Newt Brewpub, to one that’s known both nationally and internationally.

From the press release, MD and founder Martin Kellaway credits new brewer Steve Crump with bringing the best out in the WB Range, as well as bringing new ideas to the table. ” (Steve) was appointed Head Brewer in 2013, and was instrumental in the enhancement and evolvement of the beer range and key to developing the exciting new series of rotating beers using unusual ingredients and modern and diverse brewing techniques. Steve will bring inspirational flavours to the local and international market with limited edition beers.”

“Steve is already bringing his flair and talent to the fore. I am proud that Steve can deliver the new brewery vision and make it a reality with the passion he brings to the brew house.”

wharfebank-all01-smallIn October 2013 Wharfe Bank showcased its new and impressive range of beers at the world’s leading food fair, Anuga, in Germany.  Taking a modern taste of Yorkshire to an international market place, the brewery trialled  Yorkshire XPA -now named within its permanent range of keg beers as Crystal Rain (a 4.3% pilsner -style beer) – and the complete bottled range. In competition with more than 460 drink exhibitors, 139 of which were from the UK, Wharfe Bank secured a raft of international sales enquiries from 12 different countries and this success has supported a new sales strategy to expand Wharfe Bank’s export business across Europe, Asia and America.

Martin concludes, ” Our success so far can be attributed to a genuine passion for beer, and the new dedicated team have the talents to bring about a new Wharfe Bank for 2014 and beyond.”

 

Here’s to Yorkshire Bitter

Best-Yorkshire-Bitter-209x300Alongside Mild, Bitter is the beer style that probably troubles people the most; the definition is broad, somewhat cumbersome and with no ‘sexy’ aspects to it. Yet Bitter defines a UK region like no other, such is the proliferation of other styles today. No-one calls Joker IPA an ‘Alloan IPA’, nor is Marble’s Lagonda a ‘Manchester IPA.’ But Marble do (proudly, I might add) brew a Manchester Bitter, and you can’t deny you’d call Harvey’s Sussex Best the epitome of, well, Sussex. But as the question was posed to me a while ago, I’ve been asking myself: what is Yorkshire Bitter? Is is still around anymore? And what does it mean to me?

Well, It’s a beer of the pub. There’s something about a pint of Bitter that speaks of draught beer; a dimpled mug on a stained beer mat in a library-quiet inn, contented in etched glass and dark wood in those times inbetween dinner and post-work rushes. A cliche – and one that could exist in any county in the country – I know,  but one worth trotting out when thinking about what the beer means to me. Bitter is unfussy, strong of heart and backbone, and the best – when fresh – are defiantly bold, and as forthright in flavour as a Yorkshireman’s political views.

I’d perhaps cite the Yorkshire Square as a key element to what makes our Bitter ours. But the fact is, there’s Yorkshire Bitter out there being produced by our enterprising brewers without the aid of those slate (or, mostly these days – steel) squares. Still, we have our own regional fermenting method – and that’s always worth giving a nod of the flat cap to. In fact, only Black Sheep and Sam Smith’s use Squares these days; one wonders in this age of interest in all things fermentation, whether the square could be seen as a niche instrument for fledgling brewers looking to find a little space in the current booming market. It is, after all, a type of open fermentation.

So, let’s consider those knee-jerk emotional responses, shall we? When I think of Manchester Bitter, I think of a beer lighter in colour than its counterpart from the White Rose county, and perhaps with a clean, smooth body and a sharp, bitter finish. Yorkshire’s Bitter, on the other hand, makes me think of brown; autumnal amber, always served with a tight collar of foam and a nutty, sweeter body underpinning a slightly bready, subtly floral aroma.

I think of slabs of my uncles’ Stones Bitter, unfashionably orange, piling up in the kitchen at Christmas, or that smiling Huntsman glaring at me through his monacle on bartops across smoky pub rooms visited with my parents. The way that, travelling from Leeds to Haworth to see my mum, the pub signs change from red-brick Tetley’s to the green and gold sandstone of Timothy Taylor’s once you hit Shipley. The intimidating red neon of the Tetley’s sign drawing our gaze as we walk to The Adelphi. It’s powerful stuff, for sure.

Problem is, once I start codifying it like that, I’m struck by the Landlord conundrum.

products_landlord_bigpicFellow Yorkshireman Michael Jackson described Landlord (in his usual, wonderfully florid terms) in 1992 by remarking ‘…that barley-sugar maltiness is never cloying; that resiny hop character offers the perfect edge. They are deftly balanced without cancelling each other out. This is more the balance of the fighter versus the boxer. Or the Featherstone Rovers’ loose-forward versus the Keighley scrum-half.’ Landlord is one of (alongside Black Sheep’s Best,Theakston’s Best & XB and Sam Smith’s Old Brewery Bitter – which is perhaps hamstrung by generally only being available in Smith’s pubs on draught) the major Yorkshire Bitter on our bars now, and enjoys perhaps a more artisanal feel than Tetley’s did post-Carslberg. As you know, Landlord is anything but ‘fudgy’ – pale, loaded with sweetness, and a soft, rolling bitterness.

It’s brewed with 100% Pale malt, but it’s a Yorkshire Bitter. More quenching that Tetley’s, I feel Landlord is the beer that illustrates the region’s diversity in bitter. The fact that I think of it Pale Ale doesn’t really matter; it’s semantics. It’s all Bitter. It just so happens that one of the most popular in Yorkshire is one of the most different.

Can a bitter still define a brewery in Leeds, Huddersfield, Hull, Wakefield or Sheffield in 2013? Has it really been usurped by paler, hoppier cousins? Is it still the sole interest of the older generation? Is it difficult to market? I once had a pint of Tetley’s that, simply, was trancendent. It was in the Victoria pub, and remains not too dissimilar to this in terms of being knocked off your feet by simple, plain beer. I’ve not drunk it since it left Leeds, and although I don’t want to concentrate too much on Tetley’s here (what’s done is done) – it defined Leeds for a long, long time. As we all know, however, there are some promising heirs to the throne, if you will.

932376Leeds Brewery’s Sam Moss still thinks there’s something to the term – hopefully the pavlovian equivalent of a hug; a tug of a string that’s tied to many a Yorkshireman’s past. ‘I think that for many drinkers in Yorkshire – and perhaps this is becoming an increasingly older demographic – a ‘pint of best’ is still the ‘go to’ choice as they walk into a pub. Maybe this is something which is a peculiarly Yorkshire phenomenon, but I think that there is something endearingly reassuring and comforting about settling down over a great pint of Yorkshire Best Bitter.’ he says. 

Yorkshire Bitter is the bedrock on which our region’s fantastic beer culture sits; a style we once held proud but perhaps don’t shout about as much any more. Richard Boston said of us in Beer & Skittles (1977) ‘Yorkshire people, chauvinists about beer as about everything believe they have the best beer in the country.’ It was probably our Bitter that we were espousing. He also said of Theakston’s Bitter ‘…Is a pale yellow, and its taste arouses controversy between its admirers and detractors.’ What Boston meant by that, I’m not sure; there’s a suggestion that the beer wasn’t quite playing ball – perhaps too light, too strong, too mild or too bitter. A controversial bitter? There’s a thought.

Bitter is worth fighting over, too. Roger Protz has done a great job of telling the battle of Barnsley here.

downloadI’m going to pin my colours to the mast here:  i’m incredibly fond of Acorn’s Barnsley Bitter. A simple, tawny pint with a hearty, rousing profile, it’s a modern classic as far as I’m concerned and, in that frame of mind, I contacted Dave Hughes (Acorn’s head honcho) and asked him how he felt about such an unassuming pint; how it was born and whether it was important to Acorn these days. The answer was fairly emphatic.

‘Barnsley Bitter is the reason Acorn Brewery was born.’ Dave states, matter-of-factly. ‘Back in 2003 I was working for Elsecar Brewery, but the business closed and production of their Barnsley Bitter was moved to Blackpool. I was made redundant along with everybody else. The thought of Barnsley Bitter being made in Blackpool and also the thought of returning to my former profession as a chef drove myself and my wife, Jude to open Acorn Brewery. ‘

‘We brew our interpretation of Barnsley Bitter using the original Barnsley Bitter twin yeast strains.’ he continues. ‘…We also use the finest Maris Otter malt, crystal and pale chocolate roasted malts and have used English Challenger hops – purchased directly from the same hop farm – for the last 10 years.The consistency of the raw materials have helped us to create a Yorkshire bitter that we are very proud of. It accounts for 30-40% of our trade and highlights to us that there is a great market still out there for a classic Yorkshire bitter amidst the ever growing popularity of golden ales and IPA’s.’

Bu it’s not just Imperial Stout, Saison and barrel-aged oddities nipping at the heels of Barnsley Bitter. There’s…well, other bitters, actually. It’s like stepping through the looking glass; the term might be getting dropped in favour of ‘Amber‘ and ‘Classic‘-type terms, but it’s still there. Take Ilkley’s Joshua Jane (a nod, of course, to the Hunstman and Ilkley’s moor-wandering heroine), which began life as a trial brew of a Leeds Homebrew competition winners (by Matt Lovatt and Dave Broadford, who have gone on to brew for Kirkstall Brewery and Northern Monk respectively) and has recently made it into the permanent bottled range.

8080133174_b1a15670ea_zSlightly dryer than you’d expect , loaded with biscuit and bread and a zippy finish of grassy hop. It’s a great example of a Bitter brewed in 2013, and I asked Chris Ives how it sells. ‘Joshua is a permanent beer and volumes brewed have been steadily climbing all year. We brewed it because (we felt) there were too few good examples of a contemporary Yorkshire Bitter.’ I would place emphasis on the contemporary. JJ does boast a sprinkling of New World hops, and as a result takes a more modern twist in the finish. One wonders how many of Ilkley’s more image-conscious drinkers realise they are enjoying a bitter? Semantics, again…

…And of course it sells. Good beer always will, Bitter or not. When interviewing Lee Pullen, landlord or the excellent Old Cock Pub in Otley a little while ago, he confessed that ‘…I love chestnut-coloured beers, but they can be hard to find. We love ‘em here.’ , in response my remark about how his bar was well-represented in the color range. Wharfebank’s Martin Kellaway said something similar in my interviews for Great Yorkshire Beer – how Slinger’s Gold would cater for those customers who absolutely want a bitter – not pale, not dark. Brown. Fruity. Softly tangy. It was in demand, and lo, it was brewed.

Leeds Best is one of the few that’s not been renamed. Sam Moss elaborated:  ‘Although Leeds Best doesn’t sell anywhere near as well as Leeds Pale, it has a really loyal following of drinkers across Yorkshire and always sells well in our pubs so we have no plans to delist it anytime soon. I think it’s an important part of our range and a brilliant beer – in fact I have had many conversations with people who think that it is our best product. Interestingly, Leeds Best in bottles absolutely flies off the shelves.’  Last Christmas Leeds Best was Sainsbury’s best selling small brewery bottled beer in their Yorkshire stores; it’s has just won a listing in Tesco. Saltaire Pride – Saltaire Brewery’s Bitter – also won a listing in Tesco in the summer.

If you were to line up (for example) Leeds Best, Black Sheep Best , Acorn Barnsley Bitter, Sam Smith’s OBB, Theakston’s Best and Timothy Taylor’s Landlord, the wealth of flavour and variety that you would find in those beers would be as remarkable as any that you would be likely to find in a line up of the any other style. All in my very humble opinion of course – although Martyn Cornell puts it much better in Amber, Gold & Black : ‘The best Bitter beers leave the drinker satisfied and yet still happy to have more. The harmony of complex flavours that the finest examples contain, even at comparatively low alcohol strengths,  is one of Britain’s greatest contributions to bibulous pleasure.’

Theakstons-barI will say this much, however; perhaps the days where a brewery would see a Bitter as a flagship beer are gone. Those seeds were sown before the ‘craft ‘ boom – I can certainly recall a time where ‘Pale n’ Hoppy‘ was the default style for flagship beer for a nascent Micro before the “Craft Beer Revolution”. The difference was, they’d eventually pop a brown beer into the range. These days, a whole generation of brewers are probably thinking that brown does equal boring if you’re not talking about a hybrid style – and a true Bitter or Best  – as completely superfluous to their needs.

I, for one, wouldn’t want to see Bitter as a style being taken for granted – but in Yorkshire at least, it isn’t. Bitter is alive and well up North; so here’s to Frothingham Best, Saltaire Pride, Copper Dragon’s Best, Kelham Island Pride of Sheffield, Kirkstall BYB, Mallinson’s Stadium Bitter, Rudgate’s Battle Axe, Theakston XB, Hop Studio XS, Revolution’s Reward, Bradfield’s Brown Cow, Great Heck Navigator…. and all the others knocking around. 

Here’s to Yorkshire Bitter.

Ironically, this weekend has seen the soft opening of The Tetley, the new ‘art space’ that’s now housed in the shell of the brewery. This post was part of Boak & Bailey’s Longreads weekend – I’m sure there will be a round-up of the other posts on their blog in due course. 

Bad Seed Saison: Faith Restorer

photoWhilst in Edinburgh this summer I embarked – over a breakfast, of all things – on a rant about the proliferation of Saison and ‘Quasi-Saison’ into the market this year (apologies still to Craig, Chris and Sam who had to sit through it). I don’t rant much (on here, anyway), but I had gotten a little sick of the tang of Saison yeast being thrown into anything (especially IPA) and the beer being labelled as such. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for bending the rules from time to time, but the core of my rant was that I just craved tasty, simple, herby Saison. It may be a matter of semantics for some, but for me it was as simple and as selfish as that.

In fact, it got me down so much I was actually avoiding beers with the ‘S’ word on the label or pumpclip. Until Bad Seed’s Saison (6%abv) arrived in my hand and gave me my faith back. The beer pours cornfield gold; and I sat and took in the aroma for what seemed like an age – lemon rind, a hint of vanilla, the citrus-spice of raw ginger. On the sip, it was smoothly sweet until a rush of dry, coriander and pepper heat swipes the malt away at the finish, which is gentle; risingly bitter with a fresh, grassy herbal note. The alcohol is well hidden although there’s a faint warming note after the sip, which only adds to the robust-yet-light feel of the beer. Complex? Yes. Easy – drinking? Certainly? Well-brewed? Resoundingly so. No bells and whistles; just a bloody good Saison.

Bad Seed are based in Malton (famous for its food festival – and of course being the birthplace of my dog, Wilson!) and haven’t been going that long – James Broad and Chis Waplington only set up in the summer – but their beers are already garnering some formidable buzz. What struck me the most – once I’d gotten past the initial pleasure of the beer in the glass in front of me – was how clean the beer was; how well brewed it was. Small needn’t be a byword for lazy in terms of the condition of your beer, no matter how ‘innovative’ it may be in terms of flavour. No such qualms from Bad Seed. Go buy some.

Easing Back with Kirkstall’s Dissolution Extra IPA

Kirkstall IPAWell, I’m back after a *lovely* hiatus. Despite spending the last few weeks lounging around the Italian Lakes, eating way too much food and drinking far too amazing wine, I do find myself looking forward to a decent beer when I get back home. Getting my mitts on this beer in particular –  Kirkstall’s Dissolution Extra IPA (6% abv) – was high on my agenda when I strode into BeerRitz last weekend.

Why? Pure, honest to goodness anticipation, that’s why. We’re used to being made to wait for limited editions, one-offs, collaborations, but simply having the first bottle from a brewery that I’ve watched grow into such an integral part of my own beer scene is just as exciting – if not more. To cap it off, we get a new (ish) beer – a slightly stronger version of the already-deceptively-strong Dissolution IPA.  It’s been released to almost no fanfare; so I’m here to put that right.

Extra IPA ramps up the abv by a percent, yet remains incredibly focused for an IPA. There’s real depth to it; and the condition of the bottle was immaculate. Pouring Amber-Gold, the aroma is subtle; stone fruit, a touch of blackcurrant, and loads of zesty Orange marmalade all vying for attention as you inhale. It’s the taste where the magic happens, however – it’s incredibly light at first, all bready grain and rich cereal. As it dries, all that fruit jumps in, a prelude to a long, long rasping bitterness that not only slaps your palate into shape, but reminds you of the abv and the style you’re currently (immensely) enjoying.

Warming alcohol makes an appearance as you gear up for another gulp. All in all, you’ve got a beer of distinct grace and brawn; qualities that all IPA should possess. The flavour profile is perfectly British, and Kirkstall have set off on their bottling journey with an incredibly impressive beer.  Buy it.

 

Treboom Brewery: Banging The Drum

YorkshireSparkleThe first time I heard  about Treboom was (somewhay aptly, given the music connection) in the office of Revolutions Brewing, taking a break (Tea, Pork Pie, Mini Babybel) from brewing a beer with them. They’d been doing some beer swaps, and Treboom’s pumpclip stood out on a table strewn with them.

“Ah…Treboom…” said Andy Helm as I eyed the clip, conspiratorially. “Good beer. Really good, actually. Check ’em out.”

So – not one to ignore advice from brewers – I duly did. It took a while (I was to later find out that Treboom’s beers generally don’t last long on the bar) but I soon became acquainted with Yorkshire Sparkle; a crisp, super-pale-ale that begs for a sun-drenched beer garden, a packet of Salted Crisps, and excellent conversation. Too late to include in Great Yorkshire Beer, Treboom joined the likes of Hop Studio, Hand-Drawn MonkeyCollingham and Brass Castle in breweries (well, HDM is kind of a brewery) really gaining a cult following in Yorkshire of late. When Jon Chappell (York Tap) and I put our heads together to decide what we were going to put on the bar for the book launch, Yorkshire Sparkle wasone of the first non-book-included beers on the list.

I finally managed to have a natter with John Lewis at the launch. As is often the case, Treboom is a labour of love between one couple – John and his wife, Jane Blackman. “We set up (Treboom) because I lost my funding as a research scientist at the University of York, working on Prostate Cancer.” says John. “We had always wanted to do something together and, as  I had been a homebrewer, a microbrewery seemed the obvious choice as is quite scientific!”

They started in early 2012, making beer in Cask for pubs within a 30 mile radius of York. A little investment and a grant from DEFRA later, and Treboom’s beer is enjoying a charmed life in the myriad pubs of York and surrounding areas. “Things are going very well – people are enjoying our beer. Yorkshire Sparkle is our best seller and won silver at the York CAMRA Beer Festival last year, and Baron Saturday also came top in a York Battle of the Breweries.’

It’s not all classic styles of beer though. John firmly ascribes to the tried-and-tested method of using seasonals to supplement the core range with something a little different. “Yes, we’ve made some interesting seasonals including a green hopped beer called First Draft and a Wheat Beer using Bog Mrytle from the North Yorkshire Moors.” Bog Myrtle, eh? That’s one to try.

Next week Treboom are throwing open their doors for their first Brewery Beats festival. With a connection to drumming (a Treboom is a drumming term), Jon and Jane have assembled drummers from all over the world to come and provide entertainment to guests while they in turn get to know the brewery.

“Two groups of drummers came to us independently because they had seen the logo – one of them actually practices in Shipton where we are based. They suggested doing something together and Brewery Beats is the result. We have Japanese Drummers, African Drummers, Egyptian Dancers and a band called The Eclectic Sparks playing.”

BreweryBeatslogoBut wait – there’s more. “Jane is a ceramicist and so we decided to invite some artists along too.  There will be 12 artists here in total with work ranging from painting, printmaking, ceramics, photography and jewellery”.

Food is taken care of, too. John explains. “The festival really combines all our interests into one package -art, food, music and beer!  Harrogate Preserves will be there – they use our Kettle Drum Best Bitter in their chutney – Haxby Baker produces artisan bread and is going to use our beer to make some bread. Butterfly Chocolates are going to use our porter (Baron Saturday) to make some truffles. We’re very excited about it – and there’s going to be a cheesemonger so, along with our beer, there will be the makings of a Ploughman’s!”

The festival’s completeness sums of what I’ve learned about Treboom in a short space of time; a brewery that clearly wants to be of a community; one spoke of a great wheel that encompasses more than beer. “The event is really to introduce people to Treboom and show them what we are about and where our interests lie.  We want to make good quality beer and do interesting things along the way rather than become a beer factory.”

That’s an admirable cause, indeed.

You can get full details of the festival here. You can also read Gavin Aitcheson’s excellent profile of Treboom over at York Press here.

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