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Tyson is an underpaid writer, beer anarchist and cheese addict living in the North West of England.
If the people are buying tears, I'll be rich someday, Ma

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Recap: York

Well there is really only one place to start AND finish a crawl in York. And luckily that place is at the train station. The Tap has quickly established itself as one of the best outlets in the country. Is it the impressive conversion of a Victorian tearoom? Possibly, but the fact that it has 18 pumps dispensing the water of life doesn’t hurt, either. Also boasting a large range of ales-10-is Brigantes on Micklegate. This Market Tavern pub was refurbished in 2013 and looks either (a) clean and contemporary or (b) sterile, depending on your perspective. The chief talking point here, however, was the autovac: a device unknown in the civilised land of Lancashire. I’m not keen on these cost-saving devices as they return the drip tray contents back into the beer line; although they do tend to deliver an aesthetically pleasing pint in the process.
(York Tap)
(Golden Ball)
(Golden Ball)
The Blue Bell on Fossgate is, of course, known for its nationally historic interior. That and for always being rammed. Uncomfortably warm in there, an escape across the street to the Ossett owned Hop proved of little relief as, understandably on a Saturday, that was also packed to the gills. Much more pleasant was the Golden Ball on Cromwell Road. This Grade 11 listed Victorian corner boozer, extensively refurbished by John Smiths in 1929, has a glazed brick exterior and its nationally historic interior boasts four rooms: bar, back room, lounge and snug. This became the area’s first co-operative local in 2013 and shows that the best people to run a pub are people who know and care about it.

(Blue Bell)
Yet another pub with a nationally historic interior-York is full of them, apparently-is the Swan on Bishopgate Street. This has a traditional West Riding layout that consists of a bar in a wide passageway and two rooms at either end of the bar. Another pub with a cracking interior-if only of regional historic importance-is the Phoenix on George Street. With a real log fire in the front room and bar billiards in the back, it has a warm, relaxing atmosphere that invites you to sit down and stay awhile. The Maltings at Tanners Moat is handily close to the station and boasts reclaimed doors on the ceiling and a reclaimed toilet acting as a seat in the corner as well as some fine beers. And then there’s the York Tap. Again…

Monday, 20 April 2015

Recap: London Brewpubs

London has many beer wonders to keep the travelling imbiber amused. From the crème de la crème of craft beer bars to the olde worlde charm of Sam Smiths pubs. From shiny brewery taprooms to shiny sparkling brewpubs. And it was the latter of these that was the focus of our last excursion into London Murky land.
(White Hart)
(White Hart)
First stop was the White Hart at Mile End Road in the heart of the East End. Forget about the fictionalised Eastenders view of the area with cockney barrow boys peddling their traditional wares. This is the real East End with a dazzling cosmopolitan array of sights and sounds. Coming out of Whitechapel station, you do pass a genuine slice of East End history before you reach the brewpub. The Blind Beggar pub is notorious for being the venue where Ronnie Kray murdered George Cornell in 1966. More prosaically, it’s also outside of where William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, held his first open air sermon. Of beery note, it also used to be the brewery tap of Manns, of Brown Ale fame.
(Temple Brew House)
(Temple Brew House)
The White Hart itself was something of a disappointment. Pleasant enough inside, it had that contemporary rustic look that is unlikely to offend many people. The main selling point is their 3.5 BBL in-house brewery. Sadly the cask option for their beer on the day was limited to Hospital Porter. This was ok but quite dull really. As was the keg options. The Snakecharmer IPA did at least have a faint hop presence to it but the Pilsner was heavy with a malt infusion that was completely out of keeping for the style. More work needed here, I think, if it’s to be taken seriously for its own beers. If in doubt, raid the beer fridge which does offer some reasonable alternatives.
)Brewhouse and Kitchen)
(Brewhouse and Kitchen) 
No such problems with our next stop. Tucked away in a cellar on Essex St, the Temple Brew House is home to the Essex Street Brewing Company. The pub is cosy enough with brewing motifs along the wall and the bar at one end of the room dispensing 20+ beers from tap and pump. Their own beers were a distinct improvement over the White Hart with the Gavel American Pale being adjudged the favourite. Also enjoyed was Sandbrooke’s, unfiltered and unpasteurised, Pale Ale and the seemingly ubiquitous Gamma Ray. Definitely worth a visit again as the mix of house and guest beers seem like a winning combination.

We were brought back to ruminate over the limitations of brewpubs and their output at the Brewhouse and Kitchen in Islington. Located just around the corner from Angel station on Torrens St, this could be used as the poster boy for brewpubs throughout the land. Part of a successful chain, there has obviously been a lot of money spent here. The place itself is spacy, modern, airy and light. Clean edges and a mixture of seating make for a very pleasant venue. But oh dear: the beer was given a universal thumbs down. Myddleton, described as a “Blonde Ale”, was in fact a malt laden effort that was decidedly unappealing. And although a variety of others was tried between us, none hit any great heights. Perhaps a case of style over substance?

So rather a mixed bag on this visit but it’s all about trying these places out and luckily there were other refreshments along the way. 

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Flying Shuttle To Close

There has been much wringing of hands locally at the news that town centre pub the Flying Shuttle is to close. The Bury Times broke the story here and although they obviously never read this blog or indeed their own archives, judging by the factual errors, you can read between the lines to see where the problem lies. Now the Shuttle has had a somewhat chequered history as I made clear back in 2008. However the fact remains that it is in a great location and reeks of untapped potential. The notice of its closure caught people on the hop as it was assumed that as it was so obvious what needed doing with it, that it was only a matter of time before Thwaites revamped it.

Bury is now ranked the 3rd most popular retail destination in Greater Manchester with only the city centre and the Trafford Centre being more popular. On one side of town lies the multi-million pound development The Rock whilst on the other side is the famous Bury Market and the shopping precinct. The flying Shuttle lies between the two. It has no competition unlike the cluster around Wetherspoons and is right next to a multi-storey car park. The footfall is impressive. It has kitchen facilities and should be knocking lunches out for the hungry masses while serving foaming pints of real ale. But it isn’t. Thwaites are not wrong: business is poor. So what’s the problem?

Well Thwaites themselves have to shoulder some of the blame. Their approach to it (and several others in Bury) seems to be of the hands off variety. Which would be great if that worked well but it hasn’t. The pub has completely missed its target demographics. Running it as primarily a live music (heavy metal/alternative) venue may get a select crowd in at weekends but misses the boat the rest of the time. Shoppers pass it without giving it a thought and the real ale drinkers find sparse pickings. It cannot sustain itself as a music venue but seems to have forgotten that it’s a pub and where it is. Having mentioned it to people, the response is along the lines: "it's a club now isn't it?" or "I thought it closed years ago." Even worse is the fact that many visitors seem totally ignorant of its existence. 

Ironically Thwaites have often been criticised for ‘modernising’ their pubs. In this case, it was crying out for it. 

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Breakfast Beer Tasting: Mikkeller Sort Gul

Well what better way to banish memories of the Easter break than with a breakfast beer? This morning it’s a beer from our old friends Mikkeller. Sort Gul comes in a 330ml bottle and is a 7.3% black IPA. Indeed the approximate translation is “Black Yellow” which kind of gives the game away. It was quite lively and poured dark mahogany with a fair-sized tan head. The aroma was very promising indeed: bold tones of chocolate, coffee, berried fruit-winberry, plums and a strong undercurrent of citrus infusion.  These characteristics are somewhat reversed in the actual taste. There is a solid backbone of dark chocolate with a hint of roast coffee but the hop element really pushes forward. There’s plenty of grapefruit, lychee and a pithy orange peel kick that delivers a really crisp hop-led assault on the taste buds.

Tyson says: Excellent from start to finish. This really delivers the goods as far as black IPAs are concerned. 

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Cloudwater Launch @PSBH

"And we have the word of the prophets made more certain. And you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place."
With these words and a barrage of fireworks to brighten the darkened Mancunian sky, Cloudwater Brewery was finally unleashed on the masses on Monday night. Ok there were no fireworks. Why weren’t there any fireworks? I don’t know. Possibly because I wasn’t involved in the launch. Had I been, there would have been fireworks. Lots of. And big, bright lasers like at a Jean Michel Jarre concert. And possibly a large inflatable elephant holding an umbrella. Oh well. What we did get was a highly anticipated evening at Port Street Beer House that not only gave us the chance to sample some of their beers but a trip to the brewery as well.
Now unless you have been living in beer-ignoramus land since last year-and you wouldn’t be reading this if you had-you’ll have heard all about Cloudwater. Consisting of Paul Jones, Will France, Al Wall, Emma Cole and James Campbell, most of who are well known locally, they bring a wealth of knowledge and idealism to an ambitious project. Although the “c” word is never used: they’re too smart for that, they’re actually so craft that it hurts. Forget the old concept of a core range of beers, they plan to be a seasonal brewer taking advantage of the freshest ingredients to deliver a wide variety of styles in a wide range of formats. Cask, keg or bottle: it’s all about the beer in this venture. And they’ve already got a barrel ageing programme in place. Ah, bet you’re interested now.

The night started with two cask beers on the bar: Session IPA and Pale. These were gradually joined by several others in the current Spring line-up, some on cask, some on keg and some on both. The focus of the Spring range is fresh American hops for aroma, British and European noble hops for bittering and the addition of Southern European citrus fruits.

Pale (4.1)
Best Ale, Pale, Wheat, Light Munich, Naked Oats, Clear Choice
Perle, Chinook, Citra, Galaxy
Session IPA (4.8)
Best Ale, Cara, Wheat, Pale, Light Munich, Clear Choice
Perle, Chinook, Amarillo, Citra, Centennial, Galaxy
Bergamot Hopfen Weisse (6)
Best Ale, Wheat, Light Munich, Cara
Perle, Citra, Galaxy
IPA (7.2)
Best Ale, Wheat, Cara, Dark Crystal, Pale, Clear Choice
Perle, Green Bullet, Galaxy, Citra, Summit, Centennial
Citrus Gose (5.5)
Best Ale, Wheat, Light Munich, Euro Pils (Lactic Acid treated)
Perle, Saaz, Motueka
Table Beer (4.2)
Belle Saison
Best Ale, Wheat, Flaked Oat
Perle, Centennial, Amarillo, Galaxy, Motueka, Citra
Pennine Light (3.6)
Best Ale, Clear Choice, Pale, Wheat, Naked Oats, Flaked Barley, Light Munich.
Challenger, Admiral, Galaxy
Imperial Stout (9)
Best Ale, Wheat, Medium Crystal, Dark Crystal, Black, Chocolate, Roast Barley, Malt Wheat, Flaked Barley
Saaz, Green Bullet, Bramling Cross, Galaxy, Motueka, Willamette

Both the Pale and Session IPA were very drinkable but the Pale definitely had the edge with a full-on Citra kick and a deep, bitter finish. The Hopfen Weisse really benefitted from its infusion of lemons and the Table Beer was as refreshing as Saison can be. The IPA was a little muted on cask but really crisp and rounded on keg: excellent stuff. It also was interesting to try the Imperial Stout, which is a little teaser; a non-barrel aged version of the one that is being aged in Ardbeg casks. Overall only the Gose disappointed; with head brewer James agreeing that it need higher lactic levels.

Talking of Mr Campbell, it was he who conducted the brewery tour. Of course he’s a renowned brewer who is known for his sterling work at Marble Brewery, so no worries about beer quality for this start-up. He was ably assisted on the night by Al who is, of course, famous for seemingly working in every single good pub in Manchester. And getting a degree in engineering in-between. With such a knowledgeable audience (ha-ha) the usual basic malt, hops, yeast brewing talk was jettisoned and we got more specifics about the brewery itself.

In a nutshell: it’s a 3-vessel brewing system. It’s a 20 US (and it is from the USA) BBL plant. That’s 15 BBL to us little Englanders. Part of their lovely shiny kit is a 3000L water tank as they don’t use the mains supply. They’ve also got 2x2400L and 6x4800L fermenters and a lovely whirlpool kettle; I think that’s for the beer and not tea breaks, anyway. Even the little bottling machine was impressive. Belying its size, it can knock out 2000 bottles an hour although they’re obviously not at that stage yet. With major plans for barrel-ageing, it’s no surprise that they have a separate barrel store close by. And if that wasn’t impressive enough, their own Tap will open on April 4th.

An excellent evening with thanks to the Cloudwater crew and Port St for hosting us all. You can follow their progress here 

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Recap: Leeds (Parte Uno)

Another trip that needs a quick recap was a little jaunt round Leeds. This peaceful little hamlet nestled in the West Riding of Yorkshire is another long-standing haunt of mine. I use to visit in its Tetley heyday when I had a relative living there and there were a few good drinks there later when a certain well-known blogger used to frequent the local taverns. In those days it was very traditional and had some cracking pubs: we’re talking when the likes of the Horse & Trumpet and the Duck & Drake were in their pomp. Of course craft beer and time wait for no man and it gradually began to lag behind its rivals. However there was a much needed boost when the Leeds Brewery started investing locally and North Bar came on the scene as a craft bar before “craft” was “craft”. Recent times have seen an even bigger groundswell of beer related growth and so it was time to update the Tyson files once more.
The big new venture in town is Tapped on Boar Lane. You could easily walk past it as the exterior is about as un-pubby as you could imagine. Perhaps not surprising as it’s a pub squarely in the mould of the American brewpub variety. There are lots of tall tables, booth seating and light wood here but the nature of the build sadly means little natural lighting. Not that you’d notice as the emphasis, as in all their outlets, is on the beer. This is dispensed via taps on the back wall with the bottom thirteen being for cask and the top fourteen being for keg. Given its location and the choice, it’s no surprise it’s often very busy. There are shiny brewing vessels and pizza, so what more do you want? My only gripe is that they need a board or screen to give you a better idea of what’s on.
Now the Friends of Ham has got a great reputation as a dining venue and a cool place to hang out. Unfortunately it’s a victim of its own success and not being very large, it can be difficult to get in. So it proved on a cold Saturday afternoon when we were told that there no was no room at the inn. Never mind, there was a new, shiny Brewdog (Crown St) to visit. The usual exposed brickwork and metal was on display here but in a much smaller space than usual. There is a little more seating upstairs but it doesn’t take much to fill this little piece of Punk heaven. Which they should do as there was a lot of hoo-ha when they announced plans for a Leeds outlet. Their propensity for self-advertisement counted against them as the powers that be apparently saw them as purveyors of strong drink etc. and made acquiring a licence somewhat difficult. Obviously no-one told them that this craft stuff is pricey.
The unusually titled Crowd of Favour (Harper St) was a Good Beer Guide entry that came recommended. I think it was the wrong time to visit or was it the wrong time to hold a handmade art market? Either way, the place was packed with mums and toddlers making life difficult for the thirsty pilgrim. Perhaps because of that, it didn’t excite on the day, but I will give this former fish and chip shop a second chance. Whitelock’s was an old favourite of mine and is under a new lease of life but sadly proved to be yet another place where you simply couldn’t get in. No such problem with The Hop. This Ossett brewery owned ale house, which is just off Neville St, gave off the same cool vibes as Brewdog albeit it on a larger scale. There was a good selection of cask on here and the Brass Castle Mosaic really hit the spot.

A nice little wander that, interesting, took in none of the pubs featured in my first blog review of Leeds way back in 2009.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Breakfast Beer Tasting: Mikkeller Arh Hvad?!

Now you’ll have to bear with me this morning. Concentrate. I know it’s early but you need to follow me. Those cheeky Danish chappies have done it again. This is called Årh Hvad?! Which is Danish for “say what?” but, apparently, when pronounced correctly it sounds like “Orval”. Yes, the famous Belgian Trappist beer. And it’s no coincidence, as this is Mikkeller’s take on that beer. It just so happens to be Mikkeller’s founder, Mikkel Bergsjot’s, favourite beer. It is hopped four times with Styrian Goldings and the fermentation is done with two yeast strains, one of which is brettanomyces. Ooh, sounds rather good, doesn’t it but it’s got a lot to live up to.
It’s a 330ml bottle and boasts a respectable 6.8% which is actually stronger than Orval. It poured deep copper in colour with a very large three-finger off-white head. The pungent aroma gets you straight away. Breaded Belgian yeast tones with some grape and peppery undertones. Definitely fruity and classic farmhouse twang: no doubt as to the presence of brett. This profile continues into the taste with the brett dominating more but there is still plenty of grape, some caramel at the back and maybe a hint of leather. Carbonation is good and it’s surprisingly fresh and crisp. The finish is a good dose of spiced bitterness that lingers on the palate.

Tyson says: An unusual beer that potentially made a rod for its own back. It would be sacrilege to compare it to Orval (should have tried them side by side, doh) but they do share certain key characteristics. However, regardless of anything else, this is a very enjoyable Belgian replica.