Jingle-Belles, Jingle-Belles….

As usual, the flights up North for Christmas really should have come with a health warning or possibly an in-flight detox on the return journey. There’s so much choice of real ales and craft beers in the many many pubs that every day feels like a beer festival. Having spent a day enjoying the fabulous pubs of Leeds, we caught the train to York where, there in the station, is one of the best pubs in Yorkshire, the York Tap. It was just my luck that after I had been trying to track it down for so long, the Tap were serving Marble Earl Grey IPA (6%ABV) brewed in collaboration with Emelisse. It looked pretty much like an IPA, smelled like an IPA, albeit an IPA that  had a little stroll in a floral meadow. The taste was initially typically hoppy and satisfyingly bitter, but there was this beautiful gentle bergamot and orange blossom drifting in and the tea itself glides in at the end and leaves a slightly over-brewed bitterness which totally compliments the hops. Worth tracking down!

No sign of the Apocalypse yet!

No sign of the Apocalypse yet!

Of course, one of our first stops is normally the bottle shop on Stonegate for hotel beers. However, we had procured some hotel-room refreshments already at the lovely Beer Ritz in Leeds. The beer we selected to toast the morning of the End of the World was To Øl Moccachino Messiah (7%ABV), a classic breakfast beer. It could have been mistaken for Coca Cola on its deep red-brown colour and  a fizz to almost match. If those four horsemen were to actually show up, I felt that this exceptional dark roasted espresso wake-up call was a good way to start the day. There was a slightly harsh bitterness at the end but the  lactose sugar lightened it up and smoothed over any sharpness.

Since being absolutely spoilt in Canada for delicious pumpkin ales, I’ve been missing them so much that I have brewed my own! Naturally I was delighted that when I visited the cozy Pivni to see that they had a Pumpkin PA (6.8%ABV) on which is the result of a collaboration between Tempest and Cromarty. It certainly looked like the real deal with a really lovely cloudy amber colour (maybe helped with the addition of carrot juice to the brew) with pumpkin and vanilla in the aroma. The first flavour to hit was the pumpkin and at first I didn’t really get much spice but once it had a chance to build up, there was a definite spicy cinnamon and ginger spice which warmed the throat along with cracked pink peppercorns. This was the proper smooth, thick pumpkin ale I had been missing so badly.

A ray of sunshine

A ray of sunshine

One of the biggest surprises of our trip came from Sunbeam Ales which I had never even heard of before, but that’s not surprising since they are the ‘smallest brewery in Leeds. Seriously, go to their website and look at the pictures. This guy makes 50 litre batches in a regular kitchen in a back-to-back terrace and has picked up several home-brew awards. No wonder if the Honey & Lavender (4.9%ABV) I tried was anything to go by. What a joy even to look at, such clear, golden, straw-coloured liquid sunshine with a beautiful honey aroma. The honey sweetness stood out and the lavender (from brewer Nigel Poustie’s garden!) was so delicately lovely. It made the bus out to Beer Ritz all the more worthwhile.

No trip to York would be complete without a visit to the Maltings, conveniently situated about a two minute walk from our hotel Of course if the river level had come up any further we may have had to swim to it. Despite the flooding of the cellar, we still managed to get ourselves a bowl of some of the finest chilli and chips in Yorkshire and more importantly, an exceptional Old Ale (8%ABV) courtesy of Kirkstall, with a little help from Doug of Colorado brewery Odell.who just happened to drop in on a trip to Leeds! I feel slightly bad mentioning this beer here – landlord Shaun had kept his cask for a year so it was pretty unique as far as I’m

You can't argue

You can’t argue

aware (although I’m still wondering if it was also available under the name Aquitane). What a beer!  It was complex, strong and fruity, almost like a beer version of a dark rum with a red wine aroma and a slight woodiness. .

For our last night in York, we cracked open the Hardknott Rhetoric Edition 1 (10.2%ABV) chilling out in the hotel and what a special yet ever so unusual beer that was. Beautiful beery dark gold with an exceptional aroma-sweet sweet treacle and star anise like a festive spiced bread. It was malty and sweet up front with an almost minty, kind of metallic cool freshness. The exotic star anise after taste had received a light sprinkling of cinnamon which made me recall a distant memory of some Chinese pork dish I can’t quite remember but certainly enjoyed.

Christmas is always a busy and sometimes stressful time of year, rushing around to get around all my friends and family. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have such a brilliant choice of pubs and bottle shops in and around the city I grew up in so I can relax with real treats in the time I have for myself. They don’t call it God’s Own Country for nowt!

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And the winner is…

Armed with tasting notes, I get stuck in!

It was just my luck that the third annual British Columbia Beer Awards & The CAMRA Harvest Cask Festival happened to fall on Saturday October 18th my first full day in Vancouver. We were quick enough to purchase a pair of the much sought-after tickets over the marvellous internet (what did we do before it!). Prior to this I had no idea that CAMRA had distant, younger, trendier cousins in such far-flung and exotic locations as British Columbia. Chapel Arts was the venue for this illustrious shindig which had the atmosphere of a lively but very friendly house party. Walking in, we were greeted with the usual beer list, commemorative glass and starter tokens (plus bonus tokens for our food donations for the harvest festival!). However, there wasn’t the usual line-up of pint or half. These glasses were teeny 4oz tasting glasses which were ideal for sampling all the beer one could hope to try without hitting the floor too early. I’ve always been fond of the ‘tiny glass = more beers’ approach to festivals and I was glad that throughout our stay we discovered this was a common feature in craft beer pubs across Vancouver.

The chill-out-and-eat-pulled-pork room

The crowd was a far cry from the stereotypical beer festival crowd one is probably all too familiar with. These were young, fashionable people all interested in beer, discussing home-brew and their favourite pubs in excited tones. It’s the very first beer festival I’ve been to which made me feel slightly old! Rather than the familiar setup of casks all racked together, the BC folk set up a table for each brewery and it was fun to meet some of the brewers who were happy to chat about their creations to anybody who came along. As a young woman who is often patronised at CAMRA festivals (GBBF being one of the worst sadly), it was nice to not have to negotiate with narrow-minded old men to try the beer I like and it was encouraging to see female brewers at some of the stands. In fact, the brewers were really the stars of the show and were recognised in the awards and their names appeared alongside their beers in the tasting notes. No attempt was made to separate cask and keg either – refreshingly both were listed and shown together.  CAMRA had the usual recruitment table and as a special treat for their members they had an exclusive ale for card-carrying members only. Thankfully, they were kind enough to accept my UK CAMRA card so I was allowed to sample a glass of Driftwood’s crisp and refreshing Sartori Harvest IPA and I also managed to blag a sticker and a pin badge for being such a dedicated CAMRA member.

The coveted awards

The awards ceremony was the highlight of the day. Beer-loving star of film and television, Jonathan Lloyd Walker who I believe is best known for his role in sci-fi show Continuum but has also appeared in the film Red and the Flash Gordon TV series amongst others, was a very charming and funny host. A beer awards bash is probably the best event to get in to at the start of a trip to an unfamiliar country. Although I recognised a few of the names from a previous trip to Vancouver, it was a great way to find out about the beers and breweries to watch out for. The judges came from a host of backgrounds, from qualified beer judges to sommeliers to ordinary bloggers and foodies and sat down to the gruelling task of tasting prior to the awards. The sleek tap handle trophies were awarded to the top three beers in 12 distinct categories in addition to the Homebrew award and ‘Best in Show’ which, to my surprise, went to a Pilsner from Steamworks. Of course Steamworks do make fabulous beers. You can see a full list of the winners here.

So what did Bierebelle spend her precious beer tokens on?

Big Ridge Brewing – Tariq’s ESB (5.9%ABV) by Tariq Kahn

Lovely clear amber red with more of an IPA than ESB character. Pink grapefruit citrus thirst-quencher with lots of carbonation. Part of the MJG family of brew pubs along with Flying Beaver, Whistler Brewhouse and Yaletown. Normally only brew for consumption on-premises so nice to see them at a festival!

Dead Frog Brewing – Hop Forward IPA (7%ABV) by Timmy Brown

Big bitter hop assault. The lemon sharpness takes a hold on the taste buds and doesn’t let go through the warmingly alcoholic bitter finish.

Driftwood Brewing – Sartori Harvest IPA (7%ABV) by Jason Meyers

CAMRA Exclusive! Very overtly hopped with a lot of citrus in the aroma. Refreshing, crisp and clean lemony liveliness.

Howe Sound Brewing – Imperial Pumpkin Stout (6.5%ABV) by Franco Corno

Heavy burnt treacle on the nose with almost a hint of tobacco. Really thick mouthfeel with pumpkin pie spices, burnt sugar and rounded out with earthy cacao nibs.

Lighthouse Brewing Company – Belgian Quice IPA (8%ABV) by Dean Mcleod

All I knew about quinces before is that posh TV chefs like to put them in jelly but it turns out over in British Columbia they have an even more totally righteous use for them! This easily won the People’s Choice award of the festival. A sharp candy aroma intensified by a fistful of hops, this pale and cloudy wonder had a remarkable combination of cranberry and rhubarb yumminess with a long bitter finish.

Parallel 49 – Chocolate Pumpkin Porter (6.5%ABV) by Graham With

Interestingly slightly sharp dark malt aroma. Very dark opaque brown with quite a bit of carbonation. Really bitter dark chocolate and a little touch of the vegetable,.

R&B Brewing – Cucumber Mint IPA (6.5%ABV) by Todd Graham

Imagine Thornbridge Wye, but add a trace of subtle mint and a more sturdy, robust citrus hoppiness. It’s a very cloudy yellow amber which is almost like a saison in appearance. The initial feeling is a big juicy bite of beery cucumber with a tingly mintiness at the end, exaggerated if you stick your tongue out (which was pretty fun). This was probably second only to the Quince IPA in my view.

R&B Brewing – Seasonal Squash Ale (5%ABV) by Todd Graham

Another cloudy one but a beautiful dark tan colour. I found this one rather zingy for a squash ale and not much spice was evident but there was still a lovely earthiness imparted by the squash. Interestingly it also shared characteristics with a cream ale.

Steamworks – Espresso Stout (9%ABV) by Tak Guenette

Mmmm… a real espresso stout with bitter coffee and a lactose sweetness at the end, although interestingly the OH was not too fond of the high acidity in the flavour. I thought it reminded me a lot of Titanic or Dark Star.

Storm Brewing – Imperial Sour Cherry Stout (11%ABV) by James Walton

I loved Storm and especially this one – they excel at pushing sour beyond the brink. James is pretty much the rock star of the BC brewing scene with crazy bleached spikes and awesome punky style. The aroma on this one was almost eye-wateringly sour cherry and citrus and the flavour was unbelievably sharp with a candy aftertaste that leaves your mouth feeling like you’ve been eating sour laces.

Townsite Brewing – Porter (5.5%ABV) by Cedric Dauchot

Wow this took me back to Ireland! Very carbonated with a massive head and properly bitter.

Tree Brewing – Jumping Jack Pumpkin Ale (6.4%ABV) – Stephan Buhl

This very dark golden amber ale was initially slightly disappointing with not much aroma but it was definitely a grower. More heavily hopped than others of this style, initially there was not much spice but this developed further down the glass and complimented the delicate pumpkin flavours.

The beautiful beer-loving crowd

Somebody had to…

Conrad Gmoser of Steamworks

Every beer festival needs pulled pork sandwiches

Rebel Belle

Taking over the taps!

Last Saturday, I was lucky enough to go for a day trip to Bristol for the Tiny Rebel tap takeover at the Bag O’ Nails. Having tried only one of their beers previously, the magnificently hoppy Fubar, I had been desperate to try more but sadly none have made it as far as the South Coast. Having never been to the Bag O’Nails before, it was a good excuse to discover another pub in Bristol. I’d heard excellent things about the place so I’m not sure why it took me so long to pay them a visit. I was also keen to meet Malcolm, the handsome chap who runs the pub (he’s actually a cat so he has a human called Luke managing the place). I hadn’t expected such a lovely, bustling little pub as the one I walked into. Luckily, we found ourselves a table, although we had to be on our best behaviour as the boss was enjoying a well-earned siesta there.

I started with a lovely Koochie (6%ABV) pale ale which had that lovely fresh and exotic new-world hop flavour. It didn’t take long to feel quite at home. I really appreciate going to a pub where the landlord is as passionate about good beer as I am, although Luke and I do not seem to share the same opinions on Irish craft. One of his other passions seemed to be his music collection; instead of CDs, there was a turntable with a collection of well-chosen classic albums on vinyl from classic artists such as Johnny Cash, Black Sabbath and The Doors.

Malcolm wasn’t really interested in the Chocoholic. More for me then.The Doors, Black Sabbath and Johnny Cash.

As I got stuck into my second beer, a delicious Cwtch (4.6%ABV) English Bitter which had that classic biscuity taste with a hint of fruit, I got talking to the guys at the table next to us. I was amazed that they had come all the way from Newport, Wales, where Tiny Rebel is based, to support their local brewery. The OH did have to remind me that it’s not that far from Bristol by train, but still I’m impressed they love the beer so much.

It was an absolute delight to meet the two guys behind Tiny Rebel, Gazz & Brad. We spent a lot of time chatting to Gazz who was such a massively likeable beer geek. He told us about how they started out as home-brewers and we chatted about what we had been brewing at home. It’s always handy to get tips from professional brewers, especially as he still brews small batches to test new ideas. He was particularly proud of the Chocoholic (6.8%ABV) which was a beautifully bitter, smooth, rich chocolate stout. The extreme dark bitterness, I was told, was down to the raw cacao nibs used in the settling tanks.

Before the mad dash for the train, there was just enough time to remind myself of the beer that had made me want to go to Bristol that day in the first place. Fubar (4.4%ABV), with its lovely refreshing hops and really big after taste of bitterness, was just as good as I remembered. Oh and I even managed to grab a growler of Koochie for the train home, although since cats evidently rule the roost at the Bag O’Nails, Luke insisted on a swift ‘customisation,’ covering the Brewdog logo with a Tiny Rebel one. I kinda like it. Although that was also when Brewdog Jonny walked in. It’s a shame we had to catch a train relatively early but you can tell what a fun day out we had by the fact that I didn’t really get round to writing many proper words about the actual beers which is even more reason that I demand that you track some down for yourself!

Bespoke customised Tiny Rebel growler!

Salisbury Saturday

So after a few trips up north, Bierebelle is stuck in the south, so what does a girl do for fun here? Today I went for a little explore to see what Salisbury has to offer. I had a little ulterior motive too; although I have a weekly coffee delivery from Hasbean which is awesome, I still crave my visits to the exceptional Quetzal Coffee on the Saturday market. That chap is a legend – he sources and roasts his coffee personally and his Old Brown Java is second to none! But a girl can’t live on coffee alone, and I certainly couldn’t drink the coffee beans till I got home. Thanks to the Twitter hive mind, I had a few places in mind so first stop was The Village. Well I can’t believe I hadn’t found this place before! So close to the station but a real hidden gem in the opposite direction to the city center. I knew I was onto a winner looking at the bar policy on the chalk board outside; 5 real ale pumps dispensing Downton Quadhop, Tim Taylor‘s Landlord, two guests and a dark. Refreshing to see that commitment to darks even at this time of year, especially at this end of the country. I can almost forgive the Landlord!  There’s even a whiteboard in the pub saying what’s on next board and space to write requests! This place is a little shabby and smells proper pubby but it’s got character. There’s an awesome vintage collection of bottles on a shelf behind the bar and loads of train memorabilia. It does carry out, Sky Sports, even yummy Snyders of Hannover treats.

First selection from the Village pumps was the Box Steam Tender Mild (3.6%ABV) which turned out to be a pretty good drop for a mid-morning. Quite thin feeling but lots of sweet blackcurrant aroma and hedgerow berries flavour with bitterness at the end. The OH had Downton Eurohop (4.4%ABV). Fairly acceptable but not really my thing. The main characteristic seemed to be bitterness. My next choice was Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby (6%ABV) which unexpectedly had the dark looks and thin body of a Cola with tiny bubbles. The OH thought it might have been bottom of the barrel, given the sourness, but I didn’t mind since it was quite refreshing. There was quite a bit of tongue tingling sour cherries or raspberries and a fruity red wine vinegar aroma – quite unusual. The boy went for a Liverpool Craft Beer IPA which turned out to be a lovely satisfyingly rich beer with lots of herby lemony hops and a big hoppy aroma.

After a little wander round the shops and a bite to eat, we headed on to the Wyndham Arms, Hop Back‘s first pub. Unsurprisingly, all 6 hand pumps were devoted to Hop Back, a brewery I have mixed feelings about. I love their Entire Stout and Summer Lightening is fine for a hot day, but I find a lot of their stuff is variations on the same theme so I was fairly disappointed that all 6 pumps were devoted to the paler side. Although it is June would it be too much to ask for Entire Stout? Unlike their Southampton bar, The Waterloo (in my opinion a warmer, more lively place), there were no guests-pumps although Fosters, Thatchers and Murphys were on tap to placate non-beer lovers. Since I was there, I had a half of Pioneer (3.7%ABV) which is a perfectly fine amber ale for summer but nothing exceptional. Easy drinking, unoffensive honey and cereal aromas with a slight citrus zing and long bitter finish. The OH was slightly more impressed at the Heracles (2.8%ABV) since, for a very low strength pale it was fairly satisfying  and had an admirably hoppy flavour.
So after the Wyndham there was just enough time left to check out Twitter-reccomended pub number 3, the Duke of York, another very traditional little pub near to The Village. Again, the decor was slightly shabby but this was a place which cared about beer and displayed a nice selection of pump-clips and old posters. On the mantlepiece was a fairly admirable library of Good Beer Guides going back to late 80s, as well as other beer and whiskey publications. I always like to sit in a pub where the staff and punters are chatting about beer too, especially the more opinionated ones. Favorite overheard quote in The Duke of York? ‘Green King Abbot I wouldn’t give you tuppence for!’ Although I did note the Stella, Becks Vier and Red Stripe taps but I guess they need to cater to those crazy fools who don’t like beer too. On the bar, I was most excited to see a certain little red barrel proudly sitting there. As CAMRA would say, you haven’t lived until you’ve had Watneys Red Keg but I wanted to try one of the Duke’s guests instead so maybe next time (plus poor old Watney’s is no more). I selected a Jennings Tom Fool (4%ABV) which was an easy drinking amber ale; bitter, spicy, a little touch of sweet toffee apples. I could imagine this is nice in autumn, although I have a feeling it’s a seasonal offering for summer. Not amazing but a good little sup. My sturdy drinking companion had a Shardlow Five Bells (5%) which wasn’t dreadful but just wasn’t that interesting. A little dark roasty malt but not a lot else.

So Salisbury, of course I’ll be back for the coffee, and so far two out of three pubs will see me again. Not a bad start to my beery adventures down south!

False Economy?

Well, we might be in the midst of a recession and looking at the silly old taxman taking an even bigger cut from our beer-money, but at least the weather is lovely. So lovely that I’ve been neglecting my blog in favour of enjoying the sunshine. The shame! So I thought I’d do a topical review for you tonight of a rather nice Pale Ale I picked up in Cheshire from the Spitting Feathers Ministry of Beer range. Spitting Feathers is about as traditional as a brewery could be. Their home, in the village of Waverton, is a farm so the grain used in the brewing process is used to feed the livestock, including the pigs who go on to become tasty sausages made using some of their tasty beer (ahh…the circle of life). They also keep bees and the honey goes into their seasonal ‘Honey Trap.’

The family have been farming in Waverton for five generations so they are probably in quite a good position to understand the importance of pubs in the community and the great brewing traditions here in the UK. They came up with the Ministry of Beer range as a way of expressing their dissatisfaction that ‘successive governments have failed to recognise the importance of these industries.’ I managed to track down their False Economy (ABV 3.8%) which, as an English pale ale, I would normally have dismissed. The label caught my eye though and the description promised ‘so much hop that it probably costs the ministry more than it recovers in revenue.’

False Economy, or just good beer?

It’s actually their winter edition, available from October to December but from the description I assumed it would be more suitable for a springtime sup. Once the beer was in the glass and I got a whiff of those hops and honey, I knew I was right. The color is a cloudy golden haze like runny hunny on a sunny window sill. There’s no bubbles but the flavor is still quite lively with lots of honey and some subtle spice. The bitter hops only come through towards the end before a final flash of honey taking you through to a long, dry hoppy finish with a hint of refreshing citrus. Summer in a glass…pretty much everything you would expect from a good quality pale ale and certainly not a false economy. I’d be pretty keen to try some of their other stuff, particularly their Heritage Ales brewed with brewing historian John Murray (if you got Beer magazine this quarter you would be excited about these too!)

Island Brewery Wight Gold

Beer, bikes, sunshine = perfection

While I’m in a summery mood, I really want to share with you another recent discovery – the Island Brewery of the Isle of Wight. Yes there’s a new kid on the Island – watch out Goddards! I found their very refreshing, hoppy Wight Gold on tap at the lovely Shoe Inn on a weekend bike ride on the South Downs. If you see it, try it. I’m looking forward to seeing more from these guys on my next trip to the Island. Cheers!