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SIBA North Beer Competition – And The Winners Are…

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

Fun & Games at York Beer Fest 2011

Judge Dread

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.

Sorry, Vegetarians.

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.

 

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