Bristol barbeque time!

After our beery afternoon at the Volunteer Arms, we headed over to Cotham in search of food and more beer. The last time the OH had been to Bristol, he had stumbled upon a rather excellent little off-licence stocking some of the finest beer of the region. Corks of Cotham looks from the outside like the average wine and spirit merchant, but if you venture to the back you will find an absolute treasure trove of Bristish ale as well as a well-picked selection of American and Continental beer. I originally planned to call in for another bottle of the Bristol Collaboration but was seduced by the selection and came away with a couple of Hardknotts and very special Arbor Ales bottles, both of which are impossible to get where I live.

The haul from Corks!

Since we were in Cotham, we decided to call in at Beerd, Bath Ales’ new concept craft beer and pizza joint. Although the bottle menu was a bit run-of-the-mill, the taps boasted a prettty nice selection of local ales as well as some keg from further afield. They have resident beers as well as guests so make sure you scan the bar or ask somebody before you order! I went for a pint of Bristol Beer Factory No7 (4.2%ABV), their Best Bitter which was a fairly pleasant, biscuity bitter with a citrusy hop. Unchallenging and a pretty good choice to go with my exceptionally delieious anchovy pizza!

Well-fed, we went for a night-cap with our friends who had just joined us from London at the lovely Colston Yard which had one of my favorite Bristol Beer Factory regulars on, their rather delectable Milk Stout (4.5%). A pretty drinkable sweet stout; just right to unwind for the meatfest ahead! We were up super-refreshed and ready for the mighty Grillstock the next morning. The moment we were got through the gate we were handed tokens for free Jeremiah Weed which was the only thing stopping me from making beer the first drink of the day. The main event at Grillstock is the King of the Grill competition which sees the international superstars of barbecue and amateur teams battle it out to be the Grand Champion and win the opportunity to compete in the American Royal Invitational in Kansas City. The judging panel is an impressive mix of award-winning experts including Dr.BBQ, who has been involved in cook-offs as long as I’ve been alive, and guests from the world of food and food writing. Throughout the weekend, they are presented with entries from each of the teams for seven rounds including brisket, ribs and desserts. As well as the competition, there’s a rather punishing chilli-eating contest, stalls where you can buy high quality goodies to cook with at home and live bands all day.

Wandering around the cooking village with a free Jeremiah Weed in hand, the day was

Dr.BBQ serving up in the Chef’s Choice round

already off to a good start when I was offered fresh-off-the-barbeque lamb ribs which were just astounding – you must try them! One of the things that makes this event so awesome is that, alongside the competition entries, the teams cook all manner of juicy meat-stuffs through the day to offer to the happy crowds and will happily talk about what they are doing and offer useful tips. The highlight had to be from the Bad Byron team member known on Twitter as @racksofruin who had created an extravagant beast from cheese and veg, encased in meat and all rolled up in bacon. Sweet! There’s also rich pickings hanging at the judging tent since once the judges have taken what they want the rest is offered to spectators! I managed to score an absolutely immense beef rib from Dr.BBQ himself as well as pulled pork and lots of pit beans.

The BBQ village where all the magic happens

The official beer supplier, Bristol Beer Factory, brought a nice selection to wash it all down which included Milk Stout, the mighty Southville Hop, Acer and Bitter Californian. Although the sun didn’t make much of an appearance, the hoppy delight of Southville more than made up for it. I was slightly disappointed on day 2 when a large amount of the beer had run out including my favorites. Lucky for us, the new Bristol Farm Shop were selling a lovely selection of local produce including beer so the day was saved. Of course, we were reminded that it was not meant for consumption at the festival and we did spend a lot of time trying to hide it like kids whenever we saw security! I was particularly taken with the Arbor Yakima Valley IPA (7%ABV) which was a joyful explosion of hoppy candy sunshine. Arbor’s dark ruby old ale, Old Knobbley  (4.5%ABV), also proved to be a pretty good choice. I found the burnt woody taste slightly unusual since it gave a bitterness quite unlike the IPA I’d had previously!

Another fabulous weekend in Bristol then. Admittedly I came away a lot heavier but full of ideas for cooking and even found a couple of new favorite breweries to add to the list. I’ll definetly be back soon – very soon indeed for the Beer Factory tour. I can hardly wait!

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A lesson in beer at the Volunteer Tavern

After our train beers, there was just enough time to perk ourselves up with a non-beery coffee before checking into our residence for the next few days, the Future Inn. Lucky for us, we spied an intriguing chalk-board propped up outside our hotel. Beer Festival at the Volunteer Tavern you say? 24 beers? But where!? Thirsty from our travels we were puzzled by the lack of directions on the sign but these are the times GPS was invented for. Unfortunately, Google Maps navigation literally took me through the middle of a ghetto in a sweeping circle to get to the Volunteer Arms. It was 2pm and the po-po were already out making rounds of arrests! After my OH nervously told me to get my phone away and hold my handbag close, we finally stumbled upon the lovely little village-pub oasis of beer we had been seeking. We cut through the pub, noting the admirable selection on the handpumps (which includes a dark all-year round!) to the festival in the beer garden. What a lovely beer-garden too, with plenty of mis-matched furniture to go around and high walls.Since it was East Midlands themed, I was delighted to see a selection from breweries not normally seen in our neck of the woods. I was particularly amused at the inclusion of Blue Bee from Sheffield since, being from North Yorkshire, I do regularly mock a Sheffield friend for not being a proper Northerner. Childish, but he is fiercly proud of his Northern roots!

I started with a Mr Grundy’s 1914 (5%). Being a nerd I appreciate a brewery with a historical theme and gave myself a pat on the back for immediately picking up the WW1 theme. Other beers include Passchendaele & Lord Kitchener. 1914 was a rather deliciously dark stout with a chocolate and blackcurrant aroma. Drinkable, smooth and unchallenging, the hint of hedgerow blackberries and short bitter finish made it just right to savour in the rare warmth of the day. Entertainment, as is sadly often the case, came from two old-school CAMRA relics. I tried not to choke on my beer with laughter as I heard them tutting and moaning about the imminent arrival of Brewdog‘s new Bristol pub. ‘Well I’ve been to the one in Edinburgh’ one proudly bellowed to the other, ‘and all they sell is keg. I ended up leaving.’ It’s apparently all the fault of this silly American ‘craft beer’ fad. All they want to do is make easy-to-store and easy-to-serve beer with no character. It takes no skill to do this silly ‘craft’ beer. So that’s me told then! Real beer, they went on to decide, is Real Ale from a cask. Apart from the Europeans. They’re allowed to do what they want. Thank goodness for that. So Mikkeller, Evil Twin, you’re cool. Brewdog, Magic Rock, go back to school you talentless upstarts!

Taking a break from my lesson in beer, I headed back to the bar to grab me some of that Oyster Stout (4.6%) from local brewer Arbor Ales. I now love Arbor and you will be hearing a lot more about them from me. Wow – if somebody asked me to close my eyes and imagine an Oyster Stout, this would be it. It was the classic little-black-dress of an Oyster Stout – smooth and opaque with a thick, foamy white head and a sweet mocha aroma. A full chocolate malt flavour giving way to silky smooth black coffee and a bitter finish makes this feel so indulgent.Unlike Marston’s, Arbor throw some real Oysters into the boil near the end which I guess almost makes this a meal in a glass?

The richness of the Arbor Oyster set my beery expectations high which was unfortunate for the next one. I’d heard a few people talking about Muirhouse Jurgens Jungle Juice (4%) already but in hindsight maybe it”s just because of the fun name because the actual beer was slightly…forgettable? A golden sessiony bitter with a little biscuit and yawn……. In my boredom I was jealously eyeing up the OH’s selection, Tiny Rebel Fubar (4.4%) which has got me rather excited about this new kid on the Newport Brewing scene. They might be tiny (there’s only two bottles in the range at the moment) but I expect massive things from this brewery. At only 4.4%ABV, Fubar packs more of a punch than other stronger beers in its class. It’s a pale ale with buckets of tangy lemon and honey hoppiness and distinctly bitter and just damned gorgeous. The astounding citrus hop aroma was reminiscent of sherbert lemons at the moment you break the hard candy and it starts to fizz on your tongue. I absolutely cannot wait to see more from the Tiny Rebel. Oh and their marketing’s cute too.

After I’d guzzled the last of the poor boy’s tasty Fubar and he finished the dregs of Jungle Juice, we left through the back gate of the beer garden and realised that we were literally two minutes from the door of our hotel and civilisation. Thanks Google Maps.

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…

Sheep, ducks and beer in the Peak District

Since I got distracted with a couple of reviews this week, I’m going to continue with what we got up to on our trip to the north. After the total carnage of Resistanz festival I was feeling a little fragile once more. In the absence of good beer, I tend to go for spirits and since I was determined to stay up to dance until 4am, Jagerbombs and JD and Cokes seemed like the most sensible choice at the time. This seemed less sensible in the morning when I remembered we were going to stay with the OH’s sister and brother-in-law for the rest of the week. Needless to say, Monday was a pretty quiet evening (well, for me anyway – the OH still managed to chug down a couple of tins of Old Speckled Hen). Thankfully, by Tuesday, I had bounced back from self-inflicted certain death and was ready to go exploring so we drove out to the Peak District. First stop was Bakewell, home of the famous Bakewell Tart. Since I seem to have had a sheltered little life, I hadn’t previously realised the genuine article was actually known as a Bakewell Pudding. I had to try the local delicacy of course so we stopped in a lovely little cafe for a very civilised tea and pudding. Surprisingly, the Bakewell Pudding is a totally different thing to the tarts sold by Mr Kipling – try it if you can!

Baaad sheep - always in the way!

So on from Bakewell, we headed to Ladybower resevoir where our attempts to have a walk were almost thwarted by a gang of sheep charging down the road! Then on the way back from our reservoir stroll I was attacked by a duck! I was trying to feed him and he bit me. The little thug even took a run-up. We had a really lovely walk and enjoyed some spectacular scenary, but perhaps he was trying to tell me something. Maybe we needed to get to a pub. Luckily, we weren’t far from the rather lovely Ladybower Inn where they serve a selection of fine local ale. Since my shocking discovery that Bakewell Pudding is not a tart, I thought it appropriate to try the Bakewell Best Bitter (4.2%ABV) from Peak Ales. It turned out to be a pretty good choice, golden and full-flavored with a tight, frothy head. There was

Those ducks ain't touching this!

some honey and floral hops in the aroma and the flavour was cerealy with a bitter finish – pretty spot-on for some light refreshment post-walk. The OH went for a rather delicious Bradfield Farmers Blond (4%ABV) which we were quite excited to see since we only ever see Bradfield occasionally in our little corner of the country. We then went on to discover it’s a common favorite on the pumps around Sheffield, but it was still nice to see.

So, after our eventful day of walking and run-ins with the local water-fowl, the perfect ending would be a nice beer or two but we didn’t want to go too far from the house. It’s just as well that the streets of Sheffield seem to be lined with amazing pubs and we merely had to stroll around the corner to find ourselves at the Thornebridge brewery pub, the gorgeous Hallamshire. Find out what awesomeness was imbibed in the next installment…