It’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.
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.
And so; It arrives. IndyMan; the most eagerly-anticipated beer festival of the year. Well, if you’re from the North, anyway. The hour came where you could finally put away those drool-inducing PDF’s of beer lists, let the hype from the breweries involved finally get to you, and get involved. After all, the essence of the entire festival seemed to be to get involved.
Was it good? Of course it was. It was better than that; it was...really good. There was a strong whiff of teamwork and community coming from the organisers since day one, an insistence that this was actually your festival, that we – the movement of craft beer – have been building up towards. This is our revolution. This, it was felt, was something that has been missing from Beer Festivals of late.
However, that’s another story for another time.
The location was excellent; Victoria Baths is a lovely, crumbling old Queen of a building full of nooks and crannies that are interesting enough before you’ve even thought about sticking food and beer in there. I don’t think I’ve ever spent time before drinking a drop of beer at a festival tip-toeing around with my drinking buddies, marvelling at the bright Autumn sun illuminating the stained glass windows and speaking in hushed tones lest the jade-tiled walls amplify up our disbelieving gasps at the sheer grandeur of it all. Yes; let’s have more festivals in interesting places, please.
Onto the pick of the day’s beer; Brodie’s Stepney Green Steam was first up; less a California Common than a silky, elegant Pale Ale with a strong leaning towards Kiwi Fruit and Gooseberry. A long, dry finish made sure that you were thinking of another before you got halfway through your first. After reading ATJ’s recent piece on Wild Beer Company I couldn’t resist sampling Modus Operandi; a real statement of a first brew. An old ale in a modern jacket, it was strong, smooth and awash with mild vanilla, cherry-skin and an undertow of nutty, almond-cake notes. My tasting notes read ‘Old Peculier on steroids‘ – if you’re a fan of the titular Yorkshire Strong ale and want to try something that progresses those flavours, but adds a feral note, then Modus Operandi is the one for you. Wonderful.
Lovibonds are a brewery that, as a Yorkshireman, I’d never tried before, but I wasn’t going to miss out on trying. Henley Gold proved to be all that I’d read; a superbly balanced, clear-as-a-bell Wheat beer, with every knob dialled down to ‘smooth’; creamy malt, estery Banana notes and a refreshingly sweet, graceful finish. It would have been easy to drink this all afternoon, but decorum would simply not allow.
Onwards to Rooster’s Dry-Hopped Yankee; a firm favourite re-imagined with a sprinkle of Hops in the cask and – wow – what a difference it made. All those notes you’ve come to expect from Yankee are there alright; digestive-biscuit malt and a dry finish; but overlaid with a superbly fresh, peppery-herbal-then-fruitbowl aroma. This kind of experimentation – producing one-off, tweaked beers – was happening all over the festival, and was one of the things that piqued my interest from the start.
Keeping things in Yorkshire, Ilkley’s Green Goddess surprised; purely for not being what I expected. What I expected was a crisp, clean Pale Ale that showcased the green hops that went into it; but a dose of Belgian yeast saw off any real hop aroma and replaced it with those wonderful woody, estery notes that we all know and love. A very good Pale Ale/Belgian Pale hybrid – don’t get me wrong – but not what I expected at all.
Summer Wine’s Aoraki Red IPA didn’t disappoint in the assertiveness stakes; a full-bodied, sweet IPA with a wonderfully full, herbal/ pine-needle nose and a long, long, long bitterness that eased before bringing a touch more sweetness to the palate – I’d like to have some more of this at home to ponder over. Kernel’s Topaz re-wrote the sweet IPA rulebook by providing masses of Orange-pith and Lychee aroma with a relatively easy-going 6% abv; and served colder due to the keg dispense, ended up being ruinously drinkable.
Despite all these big-hitters, my beer of the weekend was a humble little 3.6% abv brew called London Sour from those guys and girls at Brodies. Uber-pale, light as a feather and lip-puckeringly sour, this is the little Berliner-Weisse that could, for sure. Supremely thirst-quenching, packing all the lemon-pith and bone-dry finish of fresh Tarte Au Citron and blending it with the high dryness of the freshest G&T you could imagine, this beer is more fun than a basket of lemons and twice as sharp. I had three; and I could have drunk more. Bravo, Brodies. You’re welcome in the North anytime.
IndyMan managed to pack great beer (Cask, Keg, Bottle), tasty food that is borne out of the same independent spirit and thirst for flavor over profit that the breweries possess, and pride at the city’s civic buildings into one great weekend. The traders, cider-makers, tea-makers, pork-pullers (oo-er!), coffee-grinders, hot-dog conjurers, speakers and tasting-session hosters, brewers and staff of the likes of Common, Port Street Beer House and The Grove should be very, very proud of. The atmosphere was great; friendly, reverent without being preachy, and inclusive. Community, indeed.
UPDATE – There’s another great roundup and some lovely pictures here.
At the heart of brewing, it seems, lies collaboration. Chris has mused on it over in his excellent piece on The International Arms Race, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about recently, too. Obviously I’m biased, but is there any other industry that actively encourages such behaviour between brewers? Essentially, brewers are business rivals, but collaboration is truly win-win for all involved.
New audiences can be cross-pollinated. Techniques, expertise, raw materials can be shared. Not only that, but the shackles come off; collaborate and all of a sudden the ethos of each brewery involved can be shaken off, the creative aspect of brewing comes to the fore, and you can spread your wings. People often forget that brewing is a commercial venture – and although brewing a full brewlength of Borage-Mugwort Black IPA might not be feasible all the time, do it once a year on a smaller scale and get someone else in to help share the load and it becomes…well, fun. And we all like to have fun, right? Right?
Collaborations appeal to the inner ticker (or, if you like geek) in the beer drinker as it’s a one-off, a new taste, something unique. Not always bottled; you have to go to somewhere to try it. Make a trip especially; in this day and age, this can only be a good thing.
Ilkley are very good at this. Not only incredibly inclusive as a brewer – they are constantly out and about sponsoring events, supporting homebrewers, hosting tastings and tours – they will happily open their doors and involve others where possible. Involving Pete Brown and Melissa Cole in the beers that launched their Origins range made complete sense; even better that the beers involved were actually excellent. The risk you run of a lot of your casual drinkers now knowing (or caring) who the collaborators are is negated as long as the beer is good.
Weighing in at 5.9% abv, this amber-hued gem boasts a nose of wheaten cereal but finished off with tart, sharp fruit. The Rhubarb lends a juicy, sour/sweet streak and a eye-poppingly tart finish. In the sip, that tart fruit fades into the background, letting the smooth, smooth biscuity malt and hints of vanilla come to the fore. It is boozy, for sure, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s a good, complex beer and one that has been as popular as pretty much every one of Ilkley’s beers ( ie very). I’d personally prefer a slightly higher carbonation in the bottles just to lift out some more aroma, but that’s purely personal taste.
When fresh, Siberia offers a different take on Saison or fruit beer; one to try, one to take home and think about, one to cook with (Siberia Sorbet, anyone?), and one to enjoy as the nights draw in (yes, its that time) whilst at the bar.
On a related note (and by way of a little self-promotion) I spent a Saturday a few weeks ago brewing with Andy and Mark over at Revolutions in Castleford. As you can probably tell from the overall feel of this post, I’m all for collaboration (as long as it’s done for the right reasons) and this came about in the best way for me, personally. For The Session a few months back, I posted about my perfect Session beer. Andy and Mark read it, liked the sound of it, and asked if they could make it – and of course, why don’t I come over and help, too?
EP was the result, and it should be hitting bars soon in Leeds, York and the like (it’s all sold out, as far as I’m aware). If you perchance upon it, please let me know what you think. As per the brief, it’s a low-abv (3.9%) session pale – pale being the operative word. Without giving anything away, we’ve gone for a soft, smooth mouthfeel and an only moderate bitterness. I’ve tasted it, and (I would say this, though, right?) I couldn’t be more pleased, really!
Edit – Since this post was drafted, a lively, lighthearted thread was raised by ATJ on his Twitter account about collaborations with beer writers (as in proper, professional beer writers). Check it out here…
Further Edit – That Twitter conversation lead to another post from Boak and Bailey with an interesting discussion afterwards….
It’s that time of year when hop merchants up and down our fair Isle are pulling those bines in, and breweries are getting to work on green and fresh-hopped beers for us all to enjoy. Seasonality is one of the unique things about Real Ale, and it’s times like this that breweries really prove this.
Of local interest, Ilkley have one in the pipeline (another collaboration with Melissa Cole, brewed yesterday as far as I can tell), but Wharfebank are letting you get behind the scenes at Harewood House, where they are getting their fresh hops from. They’ll be brewing Harewood Gold with them, and on the 22nd September you’ll be able to tour the Garden where the hops are grown, guided by head gardener Trevor Nicholson.
A tour of the brewery and meal follows and – of course – a beer tasting. You can get the full story here.
If there’s any other Yorkshire brewers doing Fresh Hop beers this month, drop me an email and let me know.
Ok, a few interesting things to point out right now. First up, Leeds International Film Festival is getting close to kick-off; and it’s been made even better this year with a pop-up bar; courtesy of those top guys at North and Kirkstall Brewery. The bar will be at Leeds Town Hall from the 3rd-20th November. So, if you like your film – and like your beer – you’re in hog heaven. Staying with North and her sisters, I’d like to extend an official congratulations to The Cross Keys for gaining yet another mention in The Observer’s Food Monthly Awards this year – for ‘Best Sunday Lunch’. In Leeds, we all know The Cross Keys is one of the jewels in our crown; a great pub with fantastic staff and great food – so it’s a joy for this to be recognised nationally. Well done, guys.
TGS Favourites Ilkley Brewery are helping out Leeds Women’s Aid with a fundraiser in November. Held at Leeds Seventeen Restaurant and Suites, there will be food, comedy, and a beer-tasting session held with our friends from the brewery. If you want example of how breweries can connect with local causes to raise both awareness and community, then look no further than this event.
You’ll be able to get more info shortly on the LWA website here, and follow them on Twitter @LeedsWomensAid.
Finally, a couple of things from Leeds Brewery. Pin has had a refurbishment; which was welcome news for me as I always thought it had all the atmosphere of a school canteen – so drop by this weekend to check it out. The food is excellent at PIN, so have a leisurely lunch with your pint of Leeds Pale or Midnight Bell – I definately recommend it. Leeds Brewery have also launched their own app, so check out the App store for more info on that. The Midnight Bell are also having a ‘Midnight Feast’ on the 29th – so expect plenty of late-night Halloween treats from 18.30 to 02.00am! It’s all systems go at Leeds!
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.