Back in 2010, my trusty drinking partner Chris and I were blown away by Nottingham Brewery’s Rock Mild at a beer festival. Earthy, rich and full of blackcurrant-juice character, it remained glowing in our memories since then. We resolved immediately to go to Nottingham and try it, plus others, from the source. One day, we muttered with steely resolve. One day.
That day took almost three years to arrive but when it did, it was worth it. A New Years’ resolution to see more of the UK’s pubs led us to our first day out in Nottingham, a place that’s always intrigued me in terms of pubs and beer. I knew it was a hotspot, but couldn’t really pin down where the city actually was. For a boy from Leeds, used to being able to hotfoot it from north to east in under an hour, cities like Nottingham (such as Manchester and Sheffield) take a while to imprint on my radar. Besides, we had an agenda: The Plough Inn.
Yes, I’ll gladly travel two hours to get to a certain pub, thank you. Often, it’s good, but rarely does it exceed expectation. Situated just outside of Nottingham centre in Radford, The Plough sits proudly in the middle of a huge estate, proclaiming the brewery that it serves in huge gold letters across the front. Our taxi driver just a speck in the distance, we stood outside, peering into the brewery yard. It wasn’t quite opening time.
And it was cold. Very cold.
We tried the door; it opened. ‘Hello?’ I asked, half-fearing the response.
‘Hello’ came a cheery voice from behind the bar. ‘You’re a little early.’ remarked the landlady.
Ever polite, and perhaps a little too English and uptight, we immediately offered to wait in the car park until the clock hit 12. For this, we were told in no uncertain terms not to be stupid, and get inside. Minutes later we were nestled in a warm corner, frothy pints of Rock Bitter at our hands and having a good old natter with Mel (the aforementioned landlady). Assuming we were there for the football, it soon became apparent that we a bad joke writ large: A Leeds supporter drinking in a County pub with a Forest supporter being served by a secret Liverpool fan. she kept the beer coming with a little backstory each time – and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Our pints of Rock Bitter disappeared in almost record time; golden and rich with digestive biscuit in the body, finishing dry, long and surprisingly assertive. It was about as much of a thirst-quencher as we needed after our journey. Rock Mild (3.8% abv) was not so much of the Blackcurrant-fest that we recalled but fruity and plummy nontheless – and boasted an older sister in Foundry Mild (4,7%abv), all toffee and gentle smoke. Extra Pale (4.2%) freshened things up with soft, wheaty notes in the body and a peachy, stone-fruit finish. Legend (4%abv) proved to be the real surprise package; amber in colour with a super-smooth body full of bonfire toffee and a remarkably grassy twang on the finish.
All simple beers, fresh from the brewery all of 10 yards away, and all packed with flavor. Worth the trouble? Absolutely. Mel made sure that, before we left, we tried a sample of Sooty Stout, which was just getting ready to go on the bar – don’t miss it. A luscious Oat stout, the nose is thick with Milk Chocolate and Cappucino and the sip laced with fruity, bitter liquorice. A real treat.
Our day was only beginning, but as the glasses stacked up around us, the pub slowly filling with drinkers both alone with papers tucked under their arms and couples whispering conspiratorially in the corner, we both realised that we wanted to stay. Our session had achieved what it set out to – to experience the full Nottingham Brewery / Plough Inn story – but delivered a special sub-plot; one of a warm welcome and local knowledge. The couple of hours we spent there felt like a couple of weekend-lunchtime pints with mates rather than a geeky beer pilgrimage. I’m so glad we took the effort to visit a care-worn but much-loved pub, as comfortable as a pair of slippers even to a couple of interlopers from across the border. The kind of pub experience that you often read about, but rarely find.
Buoyed by the excellent start, we moved on after some farewells and effusive thanks. After all, we had another couple of Nottingham Breweries to try and distill into an afternoon pint.
Thanks Mel – we’ll see you again soon.
As I type this draft up, Dea Latis are hosting a Beer & Chocolate guided tasting at The Brewery Tap, Leeds. Without making a sweeping generalisation about the fairer sex (of course not!), it’s looking incredibly successful. A lot of people like Beer. But everyone likes chocolate.
Thus, the two are best of buddies. There are some truly world-class Chocolate beers out there – Brooklyn’s Black Chocolate Stout and Young’s Double Chocolate Stout (and people say that’s not as good as it used to be) being the first two that spring to mind – but, as with the dark beer/coffee tryst, there’s a lot of poor ones out there too. As a flavour, it’s a case of approximation. The delightfully Wonka-esque-named Chocolate Malt doesn’t really impart a chocolate flavour to me; more of a burnt/roasted note. So what do you do? Add Cocoa? Steep the beer on Cacao Nibs? Syrups and Essences? All of the above, it would seem, judging from a quick scan of the ‘net.
I must admit, I do like an occasional chocolate beer hit – but I generally get it from chocolatey stouts and porters, rather something with the specific word chocolate on the label. I also like Chocolate with beer: stouts, brown ales, porters and krieks are delicious at times with a little nibble of chocolate on the side (Ooh, get me, I bet you’re thinking. Don’t worry, this is a practice I only carry out at home, proudly wearing my ‘beer git’ badge).
One that I enjoy often is Saltaire’s Triple Chocoholic, which lasts about three seconds wherever it appears on cask. A bittersweet stout swirled with Chocolate Syrup and giving you an instant hit of Maltesers and Toblerone, it’s the kind of beer that you feel you shouldn’t enjoy but do; which is ironic, given that that’s how most of us feel about chocolate. And maybe that’s the key to the style’s popularity; it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure.
I picked up an armful of Yorkshire’s current chocolate-themed beers for an Easter blowout. First up, Rudgate’s York Chocolate Stout (5% abv). Of course; York. The home of Rowntree’s and Terry’s; the home of Northern chocolate treats like KitKats and Chocolate Creams. Now, the chocolate-making is done by small companies like York Cocoa House – who teamed up with the ever-reliable Rudgate Brewery to produce this stout.
It’s pretty well-realised, actually. Dark but with the merest hint of Ruby within, the nose is all caramel and milk chocolate – Mars Bars, perhaps, being your reference point. There’s some mocha in the body, which is light, and it finishes with some toasted bread notes that gets increasingly bitter as the finish goes on. The chocolate flavour in here is pleasant and well-balanced; and I actually think it could do with a little more ooomph (official term) in the body, to enhance that even more. Still, a really enjoyable beer and it passes the chocolate beer test – it’s drinkable.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Sam Smith’s Organic Chocolate Stout (5%abv). Expectations were high; wonderful, classic Smith’s label, and an amazing aroma to boot – the best of the bunch. As I poured, the room filled with deeply nutty notes; all Walnut praline and Coffee-cake frosting. But it tasted way too sweet for me – tooth-jarringly so. I couldn’t drink much of it.
Next up, Brass Castle’s Bad Kitty (5.5%abv) – a beer I’m more than familiar with, having judged it not long after its inception at York Beer Festival in 2011. We crowned it winner that year, and rightly so; my memory of it was that it was head and shoulders above the rest on the day. Not a chocolate beer per se but a Vanilla Porter, I’ve included it as it’s in the same family, if you will.
Bottled, it surprised me with its drinkability. Bad Kitty is a pitch-black moggy with a deep, rich vanilla sponge aroma that’s backed up by lashings of roasted, toasted malt notes. The almost over-sweetness that the nose sets you up for never really appears. Instead you get a smooth, suppable porter that begins with vanilla cream and finishes fruity and moreish; laden with Blackcurrant and digestive biscuit. If you like Vanilla Porters – or that particular flavour in Beer, seek this out.
Giving the usual Easter Eggs this year? Seek out a chocolate beer instead – at least it’s different!
I only enjoyed one stout on St Patrick’s day this year – not that I’m one for that particular ritual – but by god, what a good one it was. It seems St Austell had gone on full offensive and fired a few bottles of these out for review over the week, and opening it brought a broad smile to my face. When you’re talking gifts, it’s not often that the beer you get lives up to expectation.
By all accounts, St Austell unearthed a recipe dating back to 1913 for this stout; launching it at the Beer & Mussel festival in St Merryn. Reading that, as I drunk, only had me salivating – a pint of this with a bowl of plain mussels, some crusty bread….
Anyway, enough of that particular daydream. If I could sum up the 1913 Cornish Stout (5.2% abv) in one word, it would be ‘Classy.‘ A slightly metallic nose, all earth and bark, followed by a juicy, raisin-laced body with hints of smoky malt in the sip. There’s a really interesting, moreish bonfire-toffee note running through the whole thing, too. The beer then blossoms into a sweet, silky and almost milk-chocolate-laced finish. You think it’s finished fairly sweetly until a rising bitterness appears in your throat, reminding you that it is, after all, a Stout. It’s a really interesting beer.
It’s probably one of the best, most well-balanced stouts I’ve tasted – and those of you who know me will (hopefully) know I don’t say those sorts of things just because the beer was free. I’m off to buy some more, and that says it all.
Yet another cracker from Saltaire that launched to little fanfare, and yet deserves much more. When it comes to Saltaire’s bottles – compared to what they have on cask – it’s a limited offering. Blonde and Triple Chocoholic dominate the shelves; and so they should. Both are tasty and incredibly, incredibly popular – especially round these parts.
But, as with the Hazelnut Porter and Cascade, Stateside IPA is a class act, and a beer I hope to see more of. Wearing the stars and stripes on its sleeve, it manages to remain resolutely trans-Atlantic and mix the best of UK and US IPA leanings. A not-shy 6% abv and amber in the glass, it’s all juicy Seville Marmalade on the nose, with an even deeper fruitiness on the sip – think Dundee cake and earthy spice. Mid – sip it switches round, getting thinner, crisper and with a pronounced bite that will satisfy the US IPA freaks out there.
It’s big, warming, smooth and sweet and, simply , a great beer. I’ve not tried it on cask (if it’s available on cask), but Stateside has quickly shot up there with New World Red and South Island Pale as must-drink Saltaire beers.
Ps: Despite only launching Gold on Keg a few months ago, it picked up a Gold at the recent International Brewing Awards. No mean feat, and entirely deserved. Well done, Saltaire, well done.
It’s always a pleasure to drink beers from a brewery who are comfortable in their own skin; brewing beers that appeal to everyone, without bells or whistles. Flavour, you feel, is king in Shropshire. Salopian have been around for some time now (they appeared in 1995) and produce a range of beers that have never let me down; they are often the first name I look for when attending beer festivals. These two bottles are no example to that rule.
Shropshire Gold is one I’m familiar with; a zippy golden ale with masses of lime and lemon rind on the finish and a body of smooth sweetness. The beer is clean, refreshing and everything you want in a light (3.8% abv) session ale. It holds its own against other personal favourites in this style such as Hopback’s Summer Lightning, Ossett’s Yorkshire Blonde and Hawkshead’s Lakeland Gold.
Darwin’s Origin is – frankly – brilliant. Very much a ‘cult’ beer – in so much as that not a lot of people talk about it, yet everyone seems to rate it – it has endless capacity to surprise. Weighing in at only 4.3% abv, it manages to pull off that trick that Oakham do so well – brewing lighter beers that are jam-packed with flavour.
Darwin does it all with grace; copper-coloured and full of sweet fruit on the nose – Seville orange marmalade , mango, strawberry. After marveling at the aroma for a while, you finally taste it and are immediately rewarded with light, shortcake sweetness which transforms mid-gulp into high, dry grapefruit and pine needle at the end.
I should have got more of these, I rue. An entirely modern beer wrapped in a plaintive, traditional jacket, you wonder if Darwin’s Origin is being overlooked by those seeking more modernity from their branding and ethos. More fool them. If you’ve not tried this beer, then rectify that immediately.
Both beers are available at Best of British Beer – whose details are on my ‘retailers’ page.
In a tenuous link to the last post, I tasted Harbour’s collaboration with Arbor (that gets confusing after a while…), 1B. Clocking in at 7.4% abv, it’s not one to be trifled with. The label proclaiming it to be a Belgian Brown Ale, conceived during Arbor’s ‘Freestyle Fridays’, where essentially they take a day off and brew what they want.
More on that later. 1B is slightly Dubbel-esque inasmuch as it’s big, brown and boozy – although the formula has been distilled down to the bare bones of the style. There’s brown sugar, raisin and some banana on the nose, and that overall profile carries onto the taste – which is smooth, sweet and rich. Some alcohol heat makes an appearance at the end, which brings the abv into sharp relief -but overall it’s a fun, boozy beer. Seek it out if that’s your thing but be quick.
Bristol-based Arbor have been brewing since 2007 by all accounts, but I was only made aware of them early last year; their quirky range of largely single-hopped beers recalling a southern Mallinson’s to my Yorkshire eyes. They seem to work with what’s available and, the occasional underconditioned bottle aside, make good, solid beer with excellent hop presence. Looking back , they’ve collaborated with other local breweries and generally had fun.
Given the variance that the range has there’s almost no point now – the beers simply won’t be around. Aramis, Full of Beans (A smoky, smooth dark mild with coffee), Brigadier Bitter and Olympic – themed Black IPA 2012 were all guzzled with varying results, but Yakima Valley IPA was wonderful – and the one I’ve picked up every time I’ve seen it since. Sweet, amber and full of boiled-sweet body and a wonderfully floral/grapefruity nose makes it incredibly familiar and satisfying. If you’re going to choose one Arbor Ale to seek out, make it this one.
Arbor are currently undergoing a rebrand, and they are certainly one UK brewery that I think will come out on the other side of that stronger for the effort. The potential is there; and with a business (which is what a brewery is, let’s not forget) that’s half the battle. One to monitor.
We used to spend holidays in Cornwall with our Grandparents when I was a child; it seemed like it took years to get there in the family car, stopping off along the way countless times to stock up on Ribena and boiled sweets, rewarded finally with countryside that seemed sort of like ours in Yorkshire, yet entirely different. The beaches and the sea always seemed a little more picture-postcard than our often wild Yorkshire coast, a little more glamorous perhaps. Despite being in the UK, Cornwall always felt a little foreign to me.
Beer-wise, it’s another blind spot of mine. I last visited on a stag do to Newquay in 2008 -ish; a fun weekend in a ropey place. Newquay was not what I expected, but we did the usual and gorged ourselves on Doom Bar, Betty Stogs and beach bottles of Wooden Hand and Tribute. Only one pub got repeat visits; a bluesy music – and – real- ale place near the infamous Bertie’s Surf Shack. I can’t quite recall its name – can someone help? Could it have been Leadbelly’s?
Anyway, the crisp lines and monochrome labels of Harbour Brewing portray a different kind of Cornwall, perhaps. The website looks excellent – sleek and moody, with an almost David Lynchian shot of a wind-battered harbour on the landing page. Rhys Powell and Eddie Lofthouse seem to know exactly who they are already in terms of beer – and Skinner’s they are not. Bright labels which evoke old coffee cans (to me) adorn the core range, and the silver-and-black treatment (perhaps echoing the photography on the site) dresses the specials, which is what I’ve got my hands on.
Double India Pale Ale No 3 (7%abv) pours a lovely russet-amber shade; more akin to that of a rich Scotch ale than an IPA, and promises some serious malty action. That creamy-yet-clean biscuit note does indeed underpin the nose, which abounds with Orange peel and grassy pine needle. On the sip, there’s additional lychee fruitiness which is then washed away with a little ripple of effervensence, leaving behind a green, fresh – but altogether restrained – bitterness. It’s a smooth, gently sweet IPA, and has me wondering (which I don’t say often) whether it’s a little too restrained?
Overall, it’s a good beer, and manages to shoehorn in flavour and vibrancy without overloading you with alcohol and heat.
Porter No. 6 (6.8%abv) shows a similarly restrained hand but with the dark malts involved, and is a hell of a glass of flavour for it. It’s a lovely ruby-blackcurrant colour, with a nose that evokes Autumn and woodland; all leather, burnt wood and earthy, black pepper notes (apologies, got a bit Goolden there!). The flavour is powerful without being strong – waves of digestive biscuit and hazelnuts at the start, then bitter chocolate and espresso notes at the end. It’s like a box of Black Magic in beer form and a perfect fit for the snowy afternoon that I chose to drink it in.
Harbour certainly seem to be doing a good job in getting their beer up and down the country, and I’m looking forward to picking up more of them. The beer is flavourful and balanced, and quintessentially British, which appeals to me greatly. There’s no feeling that Harbour are trying to be something they aren’t, and long may that continue.
The name of the game here is richness; rib-sticking cheese and bacon – so don’t make too much of this. You won’t need lots! Begin by getting your Pancake batter mixed and ready in a bowl; sift 4oz of plain flour and a pinch of salt into a bowl. Break two eggs into the middle, and begin to mix into a stiff batter. Slowly add milk until you get to the consistency of single cream.
You can leave that in the bowl as long as you like – overnight if needed – whilst you fry off smoked bacon lardons in a frying pan. Once done, drain on kitchen paper. Finally, make a cheesy béchamel sauce by simply melting butter in a pan, stirring plain flour into it until it becomes thick, and then again adding milk slowly until a rich silky béchamel is formed. To this, add a generous grating of strong cheddar cheese, and a small dollop of English mustard.
Heat your grill. Assemble the pancakes and then add more strong cheddar on top, and briefly grill. When everything is melty, you’re good to go. Like I said, don’t overestimate this – it’s a rich, rich dish.
Beer-wise, you want something malty and strong to go with the smokiness of the meat and creaminess of the cheese. Quantock’s Royal Stag (6%abv) is a good choice; plenty of firm, nutty, biscuity malt and sweetness in the body, finished with a medium-dry, floral finish. This dark-amber beer is robust enough to cope with all the flavour of the cheese and Pancake, yet drying enough to cleanse the palate.
A suitably unfussy beer for an unfussy snack.
I was drinking in Leeds ages ago (getting on for early Summer last year) when I first came across Windsor & Eton. It was one of those moments of beer serendipity that I like to collect so much; discussing in one pub how I had ‘heard good things about them, but not tried them’, only to come across a refreshingly fruity pint of Knight of the Garter in the next. Thank you, Ninkasi.
Interest piqued, I picked more up as the year went on, and present my findings here. Republika (4.0%abv) really is a top-drawer lager; initially brewed with the input of Tomas Mikulica of Pivovarski Dvur. Perhaps a little darker in colour than one would expect, it packs a lot of flavour into the glass – a creamy, distinctly biscuity foundation in the body topped off with a fresh, grassy, flinty nose and a snappily crisp finish. I’ve enjoyed Republika perhaps the most since the initial taste, finding it popping up at tastings and dinners as ‘the lager offering’ – and rightly so. Good stuff.
Where to start with Conqueror 1075? The steroid-taking older brother of Conqueror, 1075 is one of the best black IPA’s I’ve had the pleasure of tasting. It’s a gift that just keeps giving, new nuances and aspects hitting you each time you sip, or indeed from bottle to bottle. Weighing in at 7.4%abv, it pours jet-black and unleashes aromas of Cedar, Pine and deep woodsmoke as your pour, giving the nose an immensely deep, satisfying nature. The beer itself drinks way too easy, mostly due to an elegantly refined, smooth mouthfeel that takes those woody notes and cleans them up around the edges with more pine and an odd-yet-brilliant fruitness that reminds me, oddly, of parma violets. With more front that Kate Middleton on a french holiday, a touch of alcohol heat pops up at the bitter end, and you’ll be kicking yourself for only buying one when you finish the glass. I was, anyway.
W&E are known for getting behind the Royal connotations of their name, which could turn some of the more fervent amongst you off – but do so at your peril. Windsor Knot, a 4.5% beer brewed to celebrate the marriage of William and Kate, is so much more than a novelty beer. In fact, it’s now one of their regulars, and rightly so. This amber beer is a great example of US and UK tastes coming together; massively sweet belgian-candy notes in the body, rounded out with more subtle fruit sweetness (think raisin and almond cake) and a high, bitter finish with plenty of pithy citrus rind that dries as it fades, leaving you wanting another before you’ve even swallowed.
It reminded me of super-fresh Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (a beer that I’ve found recently has gone right ‘off a cliff’ in terms of flavour) – all sweetness and hops, smooth and moreish. It’s crying out for a plate of quick-sauteed Prawns with Garlic, or some slices of sweet, smoky Chorizo. A bold, tasty beer that you shouldn’t miss out on if you haven’t caught it yet.
Finally, two ‘Jubilee’ beers. Hitting up the empirical connection, Treetops (4.4%abv), named after a safari lodge frequented by the Queen, just missed the mark for me. A stout with ‘Yams, Millet, and Sorghum’ to bring the African connection in, Treetops was just not to my taste. Very sweet, with a rough, grainy, burnt coffee nose that reminded me of the Greek coffee I drink on holiday, the body has plenty of milk chocolate swirling around but there’s an inherent graininess that I can’t escape. You know Hershey’s chocolate? Like that, to my taste. An interesting beer if you like your stouts, however.
Kohinoor (5%abv) is named after one of the Queen’s diamonds and comes across as a cousin to Windsor Knot; those same boiled-sweet and fruit jelly flavours abound in the body, and it’s topped off with a nose of Seville marmalade and slightly herbal, grassy notes. The whole package is lovely; tasty, full of flavour and incredibly light for the abv. I’ll be seeking this out in cask, where it enjoys a slightly lower abv.
Overall, W&E are the kind of brewery that make me want to live nearer to them to drink more of their wares; a brewery quietly going about their business with little fanfare. Reviving brewing in Windsor (according to their site, the last brewery there was Burge’s in the ’30’s.) it’s sleek, elegantly refined brewing that has a massive hit rate within their core range.