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.
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.
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…?
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!