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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. 

Heretics, Bad Seeds and Roses: BeerTown, Malton

IMG_1583‘It tastes…’ I stop, mid-sentence, and take another sip. I’d committed that naive sin of just lobbing the first sip of this new beer down my throat, trying to keep up with the conversation rather than taking time out to enjoy the beer. The beer, deeply gold in the glass, aroma all yeasty spice, pear-drop aroma and muscular, warm sweetness, has knocked my senses sideways a little. I take another sip. ‘It tastes a little like…Duvel?’ I’m conscious that I’ve inflected the word Duvel upwards; completely underestimating the beer at hand. The beer at hand, by the way, is Brass Castle’s Heretic; a saffron-infused strong golden ale in very much the Belgian tradition. And it’s wonderful.

Quite a few of these moments occurred during the afternoon spent at BeerTown in Malton this weekend. Pleasant surprises, little re-adjustments of your senses, those ‘I’m glad we came‘ kind of moments. It’s not unusual to be enjoying good beer in this small Ryedale town; Suddaby’s, sitting behind the Crown pub, had been serving solid, tasty beers for some time. But Suddaby’s is no longer in Malton itself – and punters waiting for a new brewery to champion since then now have two to crack on with.

Malton – sitting just north of York and 30 miles or so from the long shadow of Tadcaster, was home to both the Rose, Russell and Wrangham breweries – with Russell’s being founded in 1771. As is often the way, mergers and buy-outs led to the demise of all three, and Malton became one of these towns whose residents get used to saying that brewing ‘used to be’ part of life here.

IMG_1584I say this with authority, but I’m happy to admit that I hadn’t heard of the Wrangham or Russell breweries before. I steal the Bad Seeds themselves –  Chris Waplington and James Broad for a quick chat  over the small -but- perfectly-formed – exhibition of salvaged breweriana in one of the rooms just away from the hustle of the main festival, and soon realise that…well, I’m not alone.

‘We just wanted to bring something back to Malton,’ smiles Chris. ‘Malton is a beer town, and hopefully we can be part of it in the future.’ It’s as simple as that; but it’s one thing to say it, and another to do it – Brass Castle and Bad Kitty all deserve a pat on the back for making it happen. Chris and James shoot off to carry on working, and leave me (and Chris, my beer-buddy) to pore over the tin adverts for Roses’ King’s Ale, dark, regal and forthright in a cut-glass goblet, and listen to how Russell’s were told to stop using a triangle logo by a certain Burton brewer – settling on a much less litigious horseshoe instead.

So what of the modern Beer Town?

Pleasantly busy without being cramped all afternoon, Malton seems ready for a new celebration of beer. Try as I might to find a demographic here, it’s pretty tough – young and old, male and female, cask and keg. Again, this itself shouldn’t be a surprise; Malton hosts one of the most talked about food markets each month, and prides itself on being a ‘foodie’ town. And having Bad Seed and Brass Castle in residence , teaming up to bring you some of their favourite beers as well as showcasing their favourites, only heightens that. It’s the missing part of the jigsaw.

IMG_1585Since the success of Bad Kitty (a multiple award-winning porter doused with Vanilla that doesn’t last long whichever bar it appears on) a few years ago, the Pocklington brewer, now relocated to Malton, have become a local hero of beer drinkers in north Yorkshire. Part of me wants to say that Brass Castle play to a different audience than Bad Seed, but after tasting Heretic and their accomplished Brass Lager (Vienna style; all subtle breadiness and grassy snap to finish), I don’t think I can.  Phil Saltonstall and Ian Goodall have taken every step of Brass Castle’s development in their stride, moving from solid cask ales to kegged esoterica without losing any of the initial promise and quality that Brass Castle promised.

Bad Seed – all hand-printed labels and primary colours – stand out a mile off on the bar. But, as we all know, eye-catching design ain’t worth a damn if the beer ain’t good. We don’t have to be concerned about that; Bad Seed’s beer is very, very good. They may not have the reach or profile of many of the region’s young start-ups, but thier hit rate is scary. Bad Seed Saison is one of my favourites in the UK, all crackle, zip and zing; South Pacific Pale Ale a fresh, gooseberry-led pale ale that is impossible to stop at one with. Hefeweizen in a triumph of sweet lemon, banana and clove wrapped up in a crisp, refreshing jacket.

I could go on. There wasn’t a bad beer in the bunch, to be honest (well, the Spiced Blueberry Oat Ale was a little rich – a good Christmas beer, perhaps, guys?) – and rest assured, dear reader, I did sample judiciously. Celt Experience’s Native Storm (4.4% abv) put the bitter in Bitter with an all-out attack of super-fresh cut Seville Orange slapping you in the chops. Liverpool Craft Beer Company’s Hop Beast (4% abv) turned out to be a gently floral, sweet and well-brewed amber ale with the potential to be a real summer sessioner.

IMG_1591Weird Beard’s Little Things That Kill (both sating my thirst and taking me back to my teens) and Tiny Rebel’s Full Nelson are as reliable as they are tasty – both in cracking condition, too – and a thumb to those who say that lower-strength Pale Ales are dull. Magic Rock’s Salty Kiss leaves the lips tingling (no sniggering at the back, please) and palate re-charged.

Add in brass bands, impromptu bluegrass concerts, delicious baked goods (always a bonus!) and excellent staff (well done, all) and you’ve got a local beer festival that’s a cut above. One that Malton deserves? Yep, I think so.

 

BeerCast was also in attendance, and you can read Rich’s version of events here. There’s some bits and bats on Malton brewing here. And Mart – if you’re reading – it was great to catch up. 

 

 

Old Friends: Brown Cows, Goldfish and Arctic Explorers

Graphic1Years ago, when I was meekly attending beer festivals with a notebook in hand, dragging my wife along with me (I didn’t really know anyone in ‘Beer’ then), most of the beers I chose were chosen purely because of the pumpclip, or the scant tasting notes offered by the festival guides. I had no real awareness of what I wanted, what was ‘good’, or even what the liquid inside those barrels, jacketed and reclining on stillage, would offer.

I resorted to something I might still do to some extent today; if there’s a link to something that appealed to me, I’d pick it. Something football-based, perhaps. Horror films. A brewery that I knew was near me. Something with a dog on the label (rich pickings in the world of real ale, I’ll tell you). Or, like this week’s beer, one named after a goldfish. Well, kind of.

Years ago, when we first started ‘courting’ (I do like that term. It’s warm, fuzzy. Nice.), Louise and I bought some goldfish. Nothing too high-maintenance, we thought. One –  mine – was a bold, boisterous white guy called Morrissey. Louise’s was a more graceful, demure golden variant called, oddly, Captain Oates. Despite her naming it after a character’s horse in The OC – a show she liked at the time – it wasn’t until later that we found out that Lawrence Oates, a Londoner who famously met his end on the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica , served in the West Yorkshire Battalion; so there was an unintentional link there.

It was the pumpclip – named after my goldfish, it would seem – that made me choose Captain Oates Mild (4.5%abv), brewed by Susan and Keith Simpson at The Brown Cow Brewery near Selby. It was delicious; one of those beers that really, really stays with you. It’s a multiple award-winner, and I have to say I’ve passed it up on previous beer festival trips since then. It was ‘ticked’, done, tasted. It was good. It was recommended.

So a recent shopping basket of beers from Yorkshire Ales brought a bottle of it into my palm again. All those memories of that festival, the link with the pet, Louise excitedly spotting the name and imploring me to try the beer, came flooding back. The beer didn’t disappoint; topped with a creamy, tan head, the near-black ruby beer carries a nose of bitter chocolate, mild coffee and digestive biscuit notes. The body is smooth, comforting and throws a little nut character into the mix; almonds, to be specific. Sweet, then smooth, then subtly drying in the finish. A moreish, creamy dark mild with an award list as long as your arm, it was immensely satisfying to return to a beer after all those years and find it better than your memory serves. Often it’s not the case, when it comes to beer.

thriller-in-vanilla-2011-2I paired it with  Mrs Simpson’s Vanilla Porter. Subtitled ‘Thriller in Vanilla‘ , this 5.1% abv Porter is as satisfying as the previous beer, if not more so. Black again but with an almost purplish hue when held to the light, the aroma bursts with cream, some oakiness, rummy truffle-led notes and more of that signature chocolate digestive-biscuit personality that the Captain Oates had. It’s a heady mix, and one that prepares you for a muddled taste but it never happens – the taste is light and graceful – a fruity, rich porter with black fruit notes and just a swirl of cream at the end to live up to its flamboyant billing.

Brown Cow are one of those breweries that don’t make a fuss and brew a small range of beers incredibly well; practices honed after years of getting the recipe ‘just right’. It’s also great to link up with a beer from the past again and find it in rude health. I hope they continue, and I hope our paths will cross again – sooner, this time.

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.”

 

Five Towns: Mango Junction & Schneider V2

IMG_0358I first interviewed Malcolm Bastow (who is, ostensibly, Five Towns Brewery) back in 2010; his amazing work rate – and hit rate – being the main factor to me contacting him. As it’s often mentioned in conversation about one of Yorkshire’s most cult breweries, he doesn’t actually do this full-time. But make no mistake, we’re not talking home – or cuckoo – brewing here. Five Towns is a fully-fledged brewery, with casks of delicious, delicious beer rolling down his drive and into our pubs and bars. 

If you can find it, of course. Five Towns’ beers are culty, in so much as that you need to really go to certain pubs to get them often, but when you do, you make sure you have one. There’s no gimmick, no marketing, just beer. I’ve yet to come across a drinker (or brewer, to that end) who doesn’t talk in reverent tones of Malcolm’s work. Why? The beer is packed with flavour. It may be odd to hear me make such a simple statement, but, in much the same way Oakham and Bristol Beer Factory manage to do, Five Towns beers may appear simple on both the clip and description, but that only serves to lull you into a false sense of security. The beer in your glass, swirling with intent just after being poured, will give your  tastebuds a workout. 

Like many, I’ve been imploring him to bottle for a while, so was over the moon when not only did bottles appear recently, but my favourite (of all things, a Dunkel) was included in that range. Mango Junction (6% abv) pours a rich, burnished gold and the nose is full of sweet, dense fruit sugar – like sticking your nose into a jar of Apricot Jam (or should that be Mango Chutney?). The beer starts off smooth, then sweet with the same fruit-led profile as the nose, before drying…and drying…and drying to a big, bitter finish. It’s like a Fruit IPA, I guess – brewed with a complete lack of fanfare. And it works. It’s delicious, and I immediately wanted another one. 

V2 Schneider (6% abv) blew my socks off at a beer festival a couple of years ago and it hasn’t changed one bit. Yorkshire’s only regularly produced Dunkel (and please, correct me if I’m wrong) is a complete bullseye; deep mahogany in hue, thick, luscious tan head, and plenty of obligatory banana and clove notes in the nose. Sipping reveals further complexity; some sour cherry, a little cola. It’s big, brown, boozy and complicated. Seriously good stuff. Gimme more

So, I’m off to go buy some more. What more can you say? Sometimes the underdog, the guy who works hard cranking out beers with no bells and whistles, wins. Sure, the beer may stay local, but that just means you have to go to it, rather than let it come to you. Do the legwork, and you’ll be rewarded. I’ll say the same thing I said in 2010; Malcolm, please ditch the day job and scale up. Please! 

 

You can read my 2010 interview here if you like. Here’sa nice article from the Wakefield Express, too. And yes, Malcolm is still working full-time! If you’re out and about, I can also heartily recommend both Niamh’s Nemesis and Peculiar Blue in particular. 

Wharfebank IPA, SPA & Tether

When Martin Kellaway conceived Wharfebank a few years back, he had a simple aim; create a brewery that brews beers that people want to drink, get a pub or two under the banner for people to enjoy said beer and locally-sourced food in, and get those beers into people’s homes.

Having sewn up the brewery and pub angle (Wharfebank not only recently saved The Half Moon in Pool from closing, they’ve joined forces with Nottingham mainstays Castle Rock and revived York favourite The Rook and Gaskill), those bottles have finally arrived. They look great and the beer they contain is as no-nonsense and solidly tasty as you’d expect from Wharfebank.

SPA (5.8% abv) is the surprise package. Not a beer that I’ve tried on cask (is it available on cask, guys?) it’s a true Strong Pale Ale, yet manages to hide that strength behind a cloak of creamy, pale malt. That digestive-biscuit nose is supplemented by touches of peaches and apricot, and the body is sweet, round and soft. It’s a lovely beer, and the one of the group that surprised me the most.

Yorkshire IPA (5.1% abv) ploughs a similar furrow but, surprisingly, with less power. Amber in colour to SPA’s golden hue, there’s that creamy malt again (the bottles seem incredibly fresh), but backed up with a nose of Orange pith and Lemon length (is that a term? Sounds dubious…), which lasts to the finish, which is long and drying. A sessionable IPA, for sure, but a pleasant one. Again, I’ve missed this one on cask, but I’d hazard that the slight effervescence in the bottle lifts this beer up a little more than the cask version.

As someone that drinks a lot of Tether Blonde (4.1%abv) when out, I could almost taste this beer before popping the cap. Pale gold, grassy/flinty in the nose and smoothy sweet, Tether is a classic Yorkshire Pale Ale that begs to be chilled slightly and enjoyed with the likes of Calamari, Schnitzel or, hell, a packet of crisps and a football game. Alongside Saltaire’s Blonde and Leeds’s Pale, Tether is one of those Blonde ales that slakes the thirst of Yorkshiremen on a daily basis.

So – overall – a great start to bottled life for Wharfebank. I’ll be picking up more of the range, for sure.

Roosters Serlo De Burgh

Yep, you heard that right. Serlo. Not Chris. I’ve done that pun a lot since tasting this beer, and I can assure you it’s not as funny as you think it may be. It turns out Serlo De Burgh was actually a powerful baron, who built Knaresborough Castle (where Roosters are based – Knaresborough, not the castle…) and he’s has been chosen by the brothers Fozard to lend his moniker to their latest bottled event.

I say event, because when Roosters bottle, it generally is. Not only should you expect a great package – all heavy glass and photogenic label – but something a little different on the inside. Roosters on the bar normally means Pale Ale par excellence – bottled it means you’re very lucky indeed. Expect something a little more.

Serlo De Burgh weighs in at 6% abv and boasts a hop for every point. The beer pours amber and has a thick, sweet mouthfeel with rock-candy notes, underpinned by a lively spritz that provides a much-needed lift. It’s not heavy, but certainly not sprightly either. The nose is fruit-basket; Pear Drops, Pineapple, Mango and Strawberry; sticky-sweet rather than overly citrus, which makes a refreshing change. The bitterness that’s needed to make it moreish comes on late, fresh and green.

The end result is a lush, richly rounded beer that should satisfy the IPA-Idiot and Pale Ale Pariah in us all. You know it will be good – as reliable brewers can provide that reassurance – but it’s still a relief to find that it doesn’t disappoint. Roosters have recently undergone a re-branding, which you should start to see filtering across the UK. It certainly gets the thumbs-up from me, and you can check out the new look here.

Cropton Blackout Porter

I plucked this bottle of Cropton’s Blackout Porter (5%) from the lower shelves of an Off-License recently, whilst simply on the hunt for some post-work beers. That day I was in a darker mood, and this beer – resplendent with imagery of searchlights and bombers on the label certainly struck a chord. Dark, rich and with a strong, muscle-easing undertow. That was what I wanted.

When pouring, however, something else emerged from the bottle. Waves upon waves of Vanilla. Creamy, rich Vanilla. A quick flick of the label revealed the presence of Lactose; I’d been sold a Milk Stout. Of course, this wasn’t really an issue. As it happens, the beer was really, really good. That 5% abv was certainly hidden well.

Black – but when held to the light, the beer revealed a lush red-grape purple hue. Pour into a balloon glass and you’ve got a whirlpool of aroma, led by that creamy Vanilla and an ever-so-slight note of Bramble. The beer itself is smoothly malty, pleasantly nutty and finishes, as you’d expect, sweet.

So, if your after a decent Yorkshire Milk Stout – get your hands on one of these. I’m a fan of Cropton – their beers rarely miss, and there’s a lot to be said about this solid Yorkshire brewer – both the richly rewarding Yorkshire Moors and the reliably strong Monkman’s Slaughter are both worth picking up.

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