Return to York and dreams of chocolate…

Wow it feels like years ago that I started writing about my trip up to York & Sheffield so maybe I should bring it to a close! The problem (if you can call it that) is there is just far too much good beer up there. There was a debate on Twitter not long ago about whether you could get away with only drinking beer from a 100 mile radius of your home town. Now I live in Southampton, I am certain I wouldn’t last long but if I was still in York, just think of the choice! York Brewery, Rudgate, Thornebridge, Manchester Marble, Sam Smiths, Revolutions, Ilkley, Durham, Mordue, Kirkstall, Saltaire, Magic Rock, Bradfield, Titanic….I could sit here for hours! However, even in a land as rich in good beer as the beautiful North of England, I would still hanker for the odd foreign beer here and there and in York that need is more than catered for.

All hotel minibars should look like this

Although we were in a Travelodge above a fairly decent Weatherspoons, our first stop was The Bottle, which conveniently has Trembling Madness tucked away in the loft like a crazy uncle. Amongst the stellar selection of bottles from both home and away, it’s always difficult, especially since we were only there for three days with limited luggage space but we made our choices well and came back to the room with smiles on our faces and a ching-ching in our bags. Taking a pitstop at the hotel, it was hard to resist a beer so first up was Flying Dog‘s Kujo Imperial Chocolate Stout (8.9%ABV). I always look forward to Flying Dog beers, not only because they’re darned tasty but also because they take label illustrations to the next level with the help of Ralph Steadman who also worked with Hunter.S.Thompson. Kujo is part of the Wild Dog series and this dog is a bit of a crazy bitch. I’m not sure if it was the hotel plastic cup but out of the bottle it was pretty lively compared to others in this style. The malty black treacle and strong espresso aromas jump up and lick you in the face and the silky opaque espresso black liquid foams at the mouth as you pour. The coffee bites, giving you a flavour jolt and leaving an alcoholic afterburn not dissimilar to Cafe Patron. Lost weekend planned? This is the breakfast for you, but there was a city out there so we weren’t staying in the hotel all day!

Fortified with our dose of coffee, we headed straight to the York Tap’s older sister pub, Pivni. Although it’s tiny and can sometimes look off-puttingly busy, those people are there because like you, they know where to find great beer. Fight your way to the bar and you can always climb the higgledy staircase and fit in somewhere in their gorgeous upstairs lounge. We were lucky enough to find the rather fancy Thornebridge Hall Bracia (10%) on tap which is a beer I’ve been longing to try for a while but never got round to shelling out for (the fancy Thornebridge carries a fancy pricetag)! The one-third pint I ordered was dripping with luxurious sophistocation; opaque black treacle coating the sides of the glass with sticky legs and topped with a cloud of crema. The aromatic waft of honey, malt and burnt toffee carries through to the rich dark-roasted malt flavor. Lip-smackingly sweet but well-balanced and drinkable, this glass has class. Who knows, maybe I’ll stretch to the whole bottle next time.

Moving on from Pivni to Trembling Madness, my luck was in again! On the taps was another I had been wanting to try for some time. Ever since that magical Christmas morning finding a Temptation in my Christmas stocking, Durham Brewery has held a special place in my heart and I was impressed when I heard that they had attempted to reclaim the true meaning of Stout with their White Stout (7.2%). According to their publicity, two hundred years ago a stout was a strong beer but not necessarily black. Strictly speaking, the white is closer to a strong IPA and in appearance is quite close to a golden lager. Dangerously drinkable, it’s easy to forget the high alcohol content. The delightfully thin, effervescent mouthfeel and unusual limey bitterness dance over the tastebuds in a summery wave. Perfect for this heatwave we’ve been having but potentially dangerous.

The main event and our reason to be in York that weekend was, of course, my dear mother’s wedding which was an awesome day. Although the reception venue was perfect and the staff were lovely, there was only Sam Smith’s Taddy Lager on the bar. Since I probably drink too much beer, especially in the north, I have a pretty strict policy of only drinking it if a) I love it or b) I’d love to try it so I played safe and stuck with my trusty backup drink, G&T. The soberingly chilly walk back to the hotel, however, put me in the frame of mind to have a little bit of a nightcap. Mikkeller I Beat You (9.7%) was waiting, perched on the shelf like some hulk of a beer in it’s bright green label – it looked like a challenge and I would take that challenge thanks. Mikkeller’s generally pretty bad-ass with his hoppage but the famous gypsy brewer had gone up to the house of Brewdog to whip this one up so it was clearly obvious there’d be trouble. Prizing the top off, the immediate hit of the hops is intense, strong and floral, almost like geranium! The colour is a clear, dark, golden amber like syrup, beautiful but bruitish in its full-frontal attack. It whollops you in the chops with a bouquet of lemon, lime, bitter hops, more bitter, but stays sprightly and lively – maybe less Hulk and more Yoda in Episode 2. It leaves your tongue feeling a little like you’ve been making out with a lemony, furry-tongued hop but not unpleasantly so and leaves your mouth watering for round two. Smart choice for a night-cap…maybe not so. Perhaps thankfully, our next Mikkeller of the night, Hop Burn Low (10%ABV), had dialled the hops back somewhat.. It’s probably more relaxing in the evening to have a beer that won’t knock you about so much you end up in hoppital.

Wedding cake. Bottled.

So, the morning after the wedding. Maybe the G&T strategy had been a good one. Feeling good. How’s about wedding cake for breakfast? And something equally classy to wash it down? Yes this is what Struise‘s Pannepot Grand Reserva 2008 (10%ABV) was intended for surely? It’s been aged for 14 months on French oak before maturing a further 8 months on Calvados oak barrels so I guess there was a lot of awesome waiting to get out of that bottle, hence why it was a surprisingly lively pour. Arrestingly and voluptuously gorgeous, the lip-smacking sticky-sweet and thick liquid is initially a sweet caramel but blooms into sweet, malty, spicy dark raisins and dried cherries with a bitter coffee finish. Mind-blowing luxury worth getting out of bed for, has the highlight of the day arrived too early…?

The sweet taste of chocolatey victory

But it’s the last day in York! The last day of obsessively checking Twitter to see if anybody has managed to finally rotate that Rudgate York Chocolate Stout (5%ABV) onto the bar at last! Today must be my lucky day! The Maltings has come up with the goodies! After killing a bit of time at the shops, we headed there at lunch time, my mind full of doom that maybe they had sold out already, maybe I’d never try it after all. We got to the door and the friendly landlord was waiting for us, poised to pour a pint of the chocolatey stuff. All was well and I had just had the weird experience of being recognised from Twitter which confused me a little until I remembered that I had been relentlessly harrassing The Maltings for a week demanding to know when the York Chocolate Stout would be on. A collaboration between Rudgate’s Craig Lee and Sophie Jewett from the York Cocoa House, it was made for the York Chocolate Festival to celebrate York’s rich chocolate heritage. Colombian cocoa gives it it’s authentic chocolatey flavor. It’s similar in looks to Guinness, deep black with a contrasting white foamy cap that sticks to the side of the glass. The full chocolate flavour, packed with chocolate malts and a flourish of vanilla make this one of the best of its kind I’ve had. We had originally planned to stop for one or two, but the chocoholic had been awakened and one or two soon became quite a few which led me to another discovery; The Maltings does exceptional food! Fresh from the ‘Dragon’s Pantry,’ my pie was deliciously satisfying but my goodness was I eyeing up the OH’s plate of their famous chilli. It’s getting quite the rep as the best Chilli in York, possibly even Yorkshire and is the ideal companion for the Chocolate Stout. The perfect end for our beery week in the North!


Sweet Twoo

Bierebelle has been a busy girl this weekend. I’ve been playing in the woods at Swinley Forest on my lovely little mountain bike all day on Saturday then spent Sunday on a Dirt Divas Back to Basics course learning some awesome techniques. Let me tell any lady Mountain Bikers who read this blog, I am still buzzing from the incredible day – I would totally recommend it for building real confidence and skills which I would have been too chicken to learn on my own. All that biking is thirsty work though, and unlike on my usual weekend rides there were no beer stops. Luckily, I had a few friends back home who could sort me out.

Kiuchi Brewery’s Hitachino Nest Sweet Stout, at 4.5%, was the perfect beer to unwind with. The color is a deep reddish brown with a slight cloudiness and it has a delicious malted chocolate aroma which carries through to the sweet, full flavour. It’s quite thin but maintains a malty richness and there’s a little sweet milkiness towards the back from the lactose, which I guess makes this quite close to a milk stout. There’s a short finish but it leaves you with a little malt in the aftertaste. A light and lovely delight to end an awesome day!


Hello Catso!

It’s Friday! The weekend starts here and of course it’s time to crack open a beer. This is a very exciting weekend for the Bierebelle as I’ll be heading off to Swinley Forest tomorrow for a weekend of mountain biking mayhem so tonight I’ve gone for one of the lighter bottles in my modest collection. Light should not by any means equate to boring though! Tonight I’ve picked out a rather special beer from those amazing Belgian masters, De Struise Brouwers, Catso (5%ABV). The Sturdy Brewers sturdy cat is quite the joyful departure from the dark styles with the moody labels I’ve had from Struise in the past.

Nice kitty

Almost as a sunny counterpart to the dark Black Damnation series, this is the second of a twelve beer ‘Cartoon Series’ illustrated by Arne Frantzell (illustrator for Trouble Brewing) which will all have a blond base. The sunny yellow label depicts a comically obese mog with the caption ‘Maybe double black isn’t a good cat food substitute after all;’ perhaps they could wean it off with this light-hearted saison. Out of the bottle, it’s like a hazy sunset on a warm evening. There’s a rustic hoppy aroma with a touch of golden hay and honey sweetness. The flavour is a laid-back hop with a soft citrus sourness with a little dryness at the back and the citrus dances gently on the tongue to finish. I imagine Catso likes to spend lazy summer evenings languishing on the porch of the Struise farmhouse. Certainly a beer to keep in for when the sun finally puts in an appearance. Sadly this was from Brussels – where do I get more!?

More dark delight in York…

Finally, back to York for the last leg of our April trip. I know it’s been a while and I’m mainly relying on my notes but the Bierebelle has been ultra-busy, building her mountain bike, riding around on it, going on a hen-weekend, celebrating Brewdog’s fifth birthday…phew! So, the story continues back in York.

Stained glass to rival the Minster at the York Tap

Spirits were high in anticipation of my mum’s wedding. Hopes were also high. Would I finally lay my hands on that elusive Rudgate York Chocolate Stout? Naturally, the first stop was inevitably the York Tap as we waited for a lift from my dad. As regular readers know, this has become a must-visit place whenever I return to York. Although I dearly love the Sheffield Tap, the York Tap is a place is becoming my favorite of the two. As a York native, I find it remarkable that they have breathed so much new life into a premises that I had never really even looked at before. The lovingly restored art-nouveau features such as the elegant stained glass skylight, real working fireplace and the mahogany finishes take this up to the next level of railway pubs; it’s such a welcoming and lovely place there’s always a danger you could miss your train. The other danger which could leave you stranded, of course, is deciding which of the draft ales, beers and ciders to sample from their dizzying selection of 32 on the huge, round bar. By the time I’ve done a few rounds of that thing, I feel like I’ve earned my drink (although smart people look at the chalk board which I always remember when it’s too late).

The coffee’s pretty awesome too- coffee nerds will understand what an awesome Electra this is!

Since it was a fairly gloomy day, I was first drawn to the rather sinister-looking black and red pump-clip of Kirkstall Black Band Porter (5.5%ABV). This bewitching black brew had a spellbinding aroma of dark treacle-toffee with a scattering of raisins. The luxuriously thick liquid envelops the taste-buds in a burnt candy flavour with blackcurrants and a little black magic which stays with you for a long finish with a hint of smoke. The seductive warming sensation and dark malt will wrap you up in velvet darkness, making the rain at the window seem a million miles away.

Not quite ready to leave the darkness, I discovered the Whitby Black Dog Brewery’s Rhatas (4.6%ABV). From the homeland of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, comes this chocolate brown beast whose bite is not really as sharp but still it’s a good stab at a dark bitter. Slightly unusual in it’s spicy brown bread flavour, it’s not as sweet as the Black Band porter but still gives way to a round vanilla finish at the end. Quite quaffable and a nice run-up to the much brighter, vibrant Chateau Rogue Oregasmic (7%ABV). Just as the sun was starting to peer through the clouds, I felt like I had the chance to taste a little bit of summer. The cloudy burnt orange echoed the late-afternoon glow and left a pretty halo on the sides of the glass. The exotic fruity aroma suggested pineapple and sunny skies and the initial sharp, vibrant flavour was enough to drag the tastebuds out of their languid darkness. The long, bitter finish is punctuated with mouthwatering pineapple-cube zinginess. Oregasmic is a livewire that keeps on twitching with flavours; getting further down the glass, toffee, bannana and pecan were all hopping around before a tangly-tingly-tongue finish.

Bouncing along next was the Magic Rock Magic 8 Ball (7%ABV), the inky black little scamp of an IPA with a wicked glint in it’s eye and a spring in it’s step. At this stage, I should make a note to self – black does not always mean it should be served at room temperature. I had a bottle of this not long ago but served it just below rooom temperature and it was awsome, but not as stand-out amazeballs as very chilled from the tap. The opaque inky black suggests a thicker liquid than this refreshingly thin delight which leaves a shimmering white lace on the sides of the glass. Attempting to do some pretentious food-matching, I would pair this with the red and black Wine Gums you just stole from your little brother (you know they’re the best ones right?). This seriously has that aroma of black Wine Gums and tastes like blackcurrant liquorice with a dry finish and tingly, slightly sour mouthfeel which leaves you sneaking back to the sweet stash to look for more. Or maybe I’ll find that chocolate instead. More to come soon…

Midnight Sun from Scotland

Happy Cinco de Mayo everyone. I had thought about a Mexican beer for tonight but there wasn’t one that took my fancy – maybe on a warmer day but after today’s chilly winds I was set for more of a wooly jumper style of beer and who knows warming cozy ale better than the Scots? Also, I am still fairly cross about a comment I re-read today flicking through the Spring issue of CAMRA’s ‘Beer’ magazine by an idiot. The idiot who calls himself Ade Edmondson went on record saying ‘there is no real beer in Wales or Scotland,’ thus losing any respect and credibility as a beer drinker from my point of view. Ade, meet my friends the Williams Brothers.  Based in Alloa (that’s Scotland, Ade), they use traditional ancient recipes to bring us some of the finest and most unusual beers in the whole of the UK and their appeal even reaches overseas.

I’ve been a fan of the Williams Brothers for a long time – I especially love their Fraoch Heather ale and have never been disappointed by any of their output. On a recent trip to Bristol, my partner discovered a rather good bottle shop, Corks of Cotham and was thoughtful enough to bring a few beers back for me, including a Williams Brothers Midnight Sun (5.6%ABV). It’s a dark, spiced porter with a little ginger thrown in. It pours out the colour of midnight with a thick, frothy head and you get a generous waft of coffee and spices. The taste is stronger than the 5.6%ABV would prepare you for. There’s a warming richness like a toasty fireside on a blustery night and a thick, almost sticky texture. The initial flavours of coffee and the dark chocolate malts give way to cloves and ginger which continue to flitter around on the tongue, keeping it warm for another sip. There’s also a long bitterness at the end from the hops. Another win for the Williams Brothers then.

Sheffield, where beery dreams come true…

After a few more distractions, here’s a continuation of my tales from the North (apologies for lack of pictures – this is pre-Instagram obsession/new camara)… Sheffield is known for many great things. Nestled in the stunning peak district, it’s a city with a proud history of steel production and some even say this is the city where modern man was created (Sean Bean, in case you wondered). Attractions include masses of green space, quirky shopping in the Devonshire quarter and the delightful Winter Gardens. Of course, to enjoy any of these you would need to somehow tear yourself away from the many, many, many exceptional pubs. I’ve always enjoyed drinking in Sheffield since it seems to be spoilt with such a high standard of local brewers. There’s Kelham Island, Bradfield, SheffieldAbbeydale and The Brew Company (by no means an exhaustive list). Plus, it’s in the ideal part of the country to catch the best of the rest of Yorkshire (where all the best things come from) and Scotland. However, until this trip I hadn’t fully appreciated the sheer number of outstanding pubs but luckily, this time we had a pair of friendly local guides in the form of the OH’s sister and brother-in-law. So here’s a round-up of where we went…

The Gardener’s Rest

A real proper pub with proper pub games. I was frankly bewildered by the bar billiards which seemed to have the most random points system I’ve seen. Thankfully, the landlord was there to help and seemed to know all the crazy rules by heart. Sheffield-Brewery tied, it also boasts an impressive selection of bottles and continental taps as well as several taps devoted to guests. I tried a lovely I.V.A (The ‘V’ stands for Vanilla!) (4.2%ABV) by Maypole which was a deliciously delicate pale ale with a light creme brulee flavour and by far my favorite on the bar that day. The next half was a rather unappealingly named Brown Ball (4%ABV) by Blue Bee which, to me, smelt a little eggy but had a biscuity dark malt flavor. To finish, I decided to try a Sheffield Brewery ale since we were in their house so I went for a Sheffield Porter (4.4%ABV) which I found to be surprisingly thin but with a nicely rounded nutty flavor.

The Fat Cat

Another real proper pub with a lovely beer garden. It’s fairly shabby and charming, with genuine history all over the walls in the form of old posters, newspaper cuttings and pump clips. The brother-in-law, a keen bell-ringer (cooler than it sounds), was rather excited to see framed on the wall some historical sheet-music for a Kelham Island sequence. The Fat Cat is tied with the famous Kelham Island Brewery and out of the 11 taps you can expect to see at least four devoted to home with the rest offering a fine selection of guests. I was served by a rather friendly and knowledgable chap who was prompted to break out into song by one of my ales, Satisfaction (4.3%ABV) by Holden’s Brewery which was a perfectly acceptable light session bitter. However, I was rather more excited by Marble’s Ginger Marble 6 (6%ABV) as I love ginger and I love Marble. Although I am normally disappointed by ginger beers (mainly because the bar has been set too unfairly high by Wheal Maiden Grandma’s Weapon’s Grade), true to form, Marble came up with the goods. The ginger was less a burning stinger and more of a sweet and jovial ginger-bread man with a slight sourness.

The Hop

At The Hop

You can literally get decent beer in nice surroundings anywhere you go in Sheffield, including the soul-less modern West One development in the Devonshire Quarter. Behind the shiney glass facade, nestled in with the Revolution and Las Iguanas, lies an ultra-hip yet cozy bar that somehow has the feel of somewhere that’s always been there (it only opened last year!). The Sheffield Hop is the latest of three venues opened by the director of Ossett Brewery, Jamie Lawson, Mike Heaton who drums with Embrace and ex-Virgin Japan MD Mike Inman so they’re pretty much covered for music and beer expertise. The dark wood, gargoyles, stained glass and band posters covering the walls give the place a shabby-chic vibe that in no way feels pretentious. The bar is well-stocked with Ossett along with some guests and I was pleased to see Salamander Black Watch (4.8%ABV) on tap which is a well-rounded, smooth and chocolatey porter. It’s not just about the Beer though – The Hop is also home to some cracking award-winning pies. I had the Steak and Treacle Stout which was one of the best pies I’ve had. At £3.50 for pie, peas and mash or £5 for all the above plus a pint, there’s no excuse not to! I should also mention (since I somehow didn’t see the poster) that if you’re a CAMRA member you get a 10% discount off beer!

Blake Hotel

A more traditional boozer – we went for the incredibly hard pub quiz (9 out of 20 in case you were wondering) but the beer made the trip worth-while. I went for a Brewster’s Stilton Porter (4.9%ABV) which had a heavy, creamy, malty character but no stilton sadly.

This is by no means a complete list of the best Sheffield has – peering through the windows as we walked the streets, it was clear that decent beer of all varieties is a staple everywhere from the student dives to the trendy bars. If you love beer, find an excuse to visit for a few days at least.

Bierebelle gives a hoot!

Whoot whoot! My Brewdog package arrived and guess what was in it? A whole range of ow-aley goodness and fun from Hitachino Nest! Hooray! Also, may I point out the Hitachino Nest almost came in a nest – look at all the packaging! I’ll certainly be ordering from here again!

So – what do we have? Top row from left: Sweet Stout, Red Rice, Japanese Classic (matured in Cedar casks) & White Ale. Bottom row from left: Weizen, Amber Ale, Commemorative Ale, Extra High (apparently more malt & hops than usual and matured 6mth) and Ginger Ale.

There weren’t just owls hiding in the box! Here’s the rest along with some promotional Brewdog ‘Equity for Punks’ stuff we got sent recently and a lovely shiney glass I bought to put the beer in – yay for goodies!

From left: 8-Wired The Big Smoke Smoked Porter (from New Zealand!), Brew Dog Sunk Punk (fermented at the bottom of the ocean where the Kraken lives), Bear Republic Black Stout & Lost Abbey Lost & Found!

It’s what Bank Holidays were made for!