Friday 18 April 2014

Staveley Beer

The day started well - a perfectly fried slab of square steak sausage served with a soft disc of hot black pudding presented in a beautifully crisp roll -  and went uphill after that. The 'roll of honour' from Glasgow's finest purveyor of fried breakfast food would stand me in good stead for the journey that was to follow.

It was a simple journey that I’d done many times before but one that always elicited a special form of anticipatory excitement, knowing that a good beer day lay, almost certainly, ahead.

My point of departure was Glasgow Central Station. My destination was Staveley in Cumbria. For a village of just over 1200 inhabitants, Staveley is supremely well served for beer. A historic village pub and the brewery tap of one of the UK’s most consistent and praiseworthy breweries means that it attracts many beer tourists drawn to the opportunity for a short alcoholiday.

With over an hour to kill between connecting trains at Oxenholme, we were faced with a choice: hang around a train platform and endure an icy wind that could cut steel in two or hop on a bus to Kendall and seek warmth, comfort and a pint in a pub close to the station. It was an easy choice.

The Castle Inn, Kendall
Arriving in Kendall with twenty five minutes to spare before our train to Staveley, we found The Castle Inn. It was busy, given that it had just gone midday, and seemed to be doing a brisk lunchtime trade in pub grub as we settled down with our pints. Four ales were available (Spitfire, Loweswater Gold, Doom Bar and Hawkshead Bitter) and all poured via a sparkler. Well, we’re in the North. What else did you expect?
Perfect Lacing
I opted for the Hawkshead Bitter. It’s an often overlooked and undervalued beer from Hawkshead’s core range. I’m a big fan of it. It is a classic, traditional English Bitter, except for the use of Styrian  over East Kent Goldings, that has a crisp pepper hop spiciness beautifully balanced by a sweet malt backbone and gentle lingering bitterness. It’s a delightful beer, up there with the likes of Bathams Best Bitter and Acorn’s Barnsley Bitter.
The dry stone walls and slate roofs signify our arrival into Staveley. It’s a picturesque, pretty little village that sits in a valley overlooked by the rolling Reston Scar, Piked Howe and Lily Fell hills that are sprinkled along their gentle inclines with the white dots of the hardy Swaledale and Herdwick sheep varieties so common to this part of Cumbria.
A short amble from the station finds us at The Eagle and Child. It’s the historic village inn of Staveley, dating back to the 18th Century with a George Birkett being the first recorded licensee in 1742. The pub’s name comes from the legend of how a local Aristocrat and dastardly fellow, Sir Thomas Lathom, impregnated a village girl and convinced his wife that the infant she ‘stumbled upon’, whilst out walking, had been dropped there by an eagle and was therefore a gift from heaven and should be adopted by them immediately. What a Cad!

The Eagle and Child
Aristocratic infidelities and male mendacity aside, The Eagle and Child is warm, welcoming and a nice place to have a pint. Two real log fires provide the warmth and the locals provide the welcome with a friendly greeting when we walk through the doors.
Despite bustling with diners enjoying the locally sourced menu, we found a table and took in our surroundings. The walls were busy, some would say cluttered, with various pieces of beer ephemera, enamel advertising signs, horse brasses and even a random, gnarling three foot wooden shark. At this rate, they’re going to need a bigger pub.

Like the food menu, the beers available were, mostly, locally sourced with Barngates, Coniston and Corby being available from the five hand pumps. The Barngates Pale was a perfectly serviceable, decent enough Golden Ale with a big fresh hop nose and mouthblast. If it wasn’t dry hopped, it certainly tasted like it. The malt was lost among the hoppiness and, if I’m being picky, the beer was a touch on the thin side. Just a touch, though. Overall, a very enjoyable session beer.
On the subject of very enjoyable session beers, my mind wandered to thoughts of my first beer at Hawkshead’s Beer Hall, our next stop and main event on our Staveley sojourn. It was time for some Windermere Pale and the best place to try it was its Brewery Tap.

Leaving the Eagle and Child, we pass Staveley’s other pub, The Duke William. Like Sir Thomas Lathom’s male offspring, it is often regarded as the bastard child that is best kept in the Staveley beer attic. No one tends to talk about it, or even acknowledge its existence. It’s not that it’s a bad pub. It is not. I stuck my head walking by to discover that it had a couple of solid Lancaster beers on. It’s just that it sits between two of the best beer drinking establishments in the Lakes and often gets overlooked.
The Mill Yard at Staveley has been in existence since the early 19th Century, firstly used in cotton production during the Industrial Revolution and latterly in the production of wooden bobbins servicing the textile industry. Today, it is home to a myriad of different small businesses including bakers, wine merchants, jewellers and various handicrafts.

Beer Sentries
At the back of the Mill Yard, overlooking the entire yard, sits the spectacular glass frontage of the Hawkshead Brewery and Beer Hall. It’s an impressive sight. Just inside the brewery is the even more impressive sight of two 8 metre high stainless steel fermenting tanks, standing upright, guarding the brews like proud beer sentries.

Greeting us inside the Beer Hall were 16 cask lines and 7 keg lines dispensing Hawkshead’s greatest hits; NZPA, Cumbrian 5 Hop, Windermere Pale, Dry Stone Stout, Brodie’s Prime and the magnificent Lakeland Lager.

Starting with Windermere Pale, a beer I’m very familiar with. It should be called WonderMore Pale because every time I have a pint, I wonder more and more how Head Brewer, Matt Clarke and his brewery team manage to squeeze so much intense flavour into a 3.5% beer that drinks much bigger than its humble ABV.

Windy City
Citra hops that assault your taste buds and gives you a hop kicking that leaves you reeling and wondering if you’ve just been subject to either ABH (Amazing Beer Heaven) or GBH (Glorious Beer Heaven). Either way, I wasn’t complaining.

Between the various pints of Windermere Pale and the Beer Tapas, we managed to catch a taste of The Illusionist. A collaboration involving Hawkshead and Magic Rock. It’s a 3.5% dark coloured beer that wants to call itself a Black Pale Ale (BPA) but daren’t in case the Beer Style Police hear about it and, in a dawn raid, drag it kicking and screaming to the beer gibbet. I really liked it. It had a strong nose of grapefruit, lemon and pine which follows into the initial taste. Some roast and dried fruit that briefly holds its own before dissipating to reveal a long dry and bitter hop finish. Alas, I had to savour it as it was the last cask at the brewery and when it’s gone, it’ll be gone. Now you see it, now you don't.

Beer Tapas and The Illusionist
Head Brewer, Matt Clarke and his team had just finished their shift and joined us for a couple of beers and in between discussions of hop harvests and the consistency of new start up breweries, he revealed that he is working on NZPA’s little brother, Iti. It’ll be a 3.5% Pale using hops from his New Zealand homeland. Iti is the Maori word for small and he hopes to be showcasing this beer at the Summer Beer Festival at the Hawkshead Brewery in July.
Thoughts turn to home and just before making our way to the station, I pick up a couple of bottles of Windermere Pale. 
It’ll remind me of a day spent drinking good beer in the company of good people.
Beer people.

Thursday 2 January 2014

Golden Pints Awards 2013

It's that time of the year again when we spend some time looking back and reflecting on a year in beer. Like many have already commented, it has been an excellent year for British breweries and British beers and each year choosing a definitive beer or brewery for each category gets just that little bit harder. However, I'd rather be spoiled for choice and face the difficult decision of what to leave out as that, to me, is a happy barometer reading of just how good the British beer and brewing scene has been in 2013.

With some categories, it has been nigh on impossible to select just one beer or brewery and I've allowed myself some indulgence in listing more than one. I'm sure that you'll allow me a little bit of latitude in doing so.

Best UK Cask

I'm a simple city boy with simple city tastes and, in 2013, I've been a creature of simple habits. A beer hunter on a lupulin safari with one kind of prey firmly in my sights;  hoppy citrussy beers. The kind of beer that tickles your tastebuds, pleases your palate and sends you in the immediate direction of the bar wanting more of the same. Boomerang beers that make you want to return to them time after time after time. I've bagged a few beer beasts this year but none have given me more satisfaction than the following trio of terrific tinctures.

1. Oakham Citra
2. Marble Pint (the new recipe has added an extra hop dimension and is bang on the money)
3. Hawkshead Windermere Pale

Best UK Keg

1. Kernel Biere de Table
2. Fyne Ales Hurricane Jack

Best UK Bottled/Can Beer

In 2013, my bottled pleasures were usually German and more often than not Franconian bottled beers. But, I did seek the company of a few good British bottled beers throughout the year and these three were the most memorable.

1. Marks and Spencer's Greenwich Hospital Porter. Brewed by Meantime to a recipe dating back to 1790. Barrel aged in Islay whisky casks, it was an absolute delight.
1. Camden Hells. Described by Pete Brown as the world's best lager. I wouldn't go that far but, out of a cold tactile can, it is a satisfying beer. Clean and crisp malt giving way to a hop dryness and a deep dimension of flavour from a beer that has been properly lagered.
1. Marks and Spencer's Single Variety Hop Citra IPA. Made by Oakham for M and S. It's been tweaked a wee bit from Oakham's own recipe for their Citra beer and it is a cracking beer full of tropical fruit and citrus.

Best Collaboration Beer

Summer 2013 was the season of Sours and Saisons and one beer, for me, captured the endless hot July and August hazy, lazy days superbly. Indeed, I would go as far to say that this collaboration brew was the perfect beer for a perfect summer. It was the zeitgeist beer of the summer.  Well done to Greg and Andy for creating such a stunning beer.

Elusive Brewing/Weird Beard Brewing - Nelson Saison

Best Overseas Draught Beer

In 2013, I spent more time in Bamberg brewery taps than I did in some of my local Glasgow pubs. I was fortunate enough to experience Annafest in the Kellerwald at Forchheim and to be present when Mahr's Brau tapped their Bock in October. So it is no surprise that my favourite overseas draught beers of 2013 are all Franconian.

1. Mahrs Bräu Kellerbier Ungespundet Hefetrüb -  Floral hops and smooth malt. It never disappoints.
2. Greifenklau Kellerbier - Drink it as nature intended; from a Seidla in the Greifenklau Biergarten.
3. Zehendner Brauerei Ungespundet Lagerbier, Monschsambach.

Best Overseas Bottled Beer

1. Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus                                     
2. Cantillon Lambic Bio Gueuze
3. Pyraser Landbrauerei - Weinachts Festbier 2013

Best Overall Beer

1. Oakham Citra
2. Marble Pint
3. Mahrs Bräu Kellerbier Ungespundet Hefetrüb

Best Brewery Branding/Label/Pumpclip

Another difficult category to whittle it down to just one single entry. The two breweries that I thought stood out the most prominently whenever in a pub having a beer or in a bottle shop looking for a few take-me-homes were  Tiny Rebel Brewery and Partizan Brewing. Eye catching, quirky and didn't take themselves too seriously.
Best UK Brewery

Woe is me. Not another difficult category that's impossible to pin down to a single brewery. It also wouldn't be fair as there are so many great breweries producing quality beer that zing with flavour and scream consistency. So, no best UK brewery choice. Instead, breweries of note that deserve praise, recognition and kudos for their craft, skill and knowledge in creating consistently good beers. I give you, The Magnificent Seven.

1. Oakham
1. Marble
1. Hawkshead
1. Tyne Bank
1. Fyne Ales
1. Cromarty
1. Buxton

Best Overseas Brewery

1. Cantillon
2. Boon
3. Mahr's Brauerei

Pub / Bar of the Year

In Glasgow, The State Bar has done what many pubs don't do; they asked their punters what beers they would like to see on the State's beer board. They listened, acted and delivered with some of the best beers and breweries in the UK becoming regular staples in the Pub. It also knows how to keep and maintain the beers. Their cellar skills are second to none. The best pint in Glasgow. Easy. Well deserved winners.

Over in the East Coast, Staggs Bar in Musselburgh excels itself with the choice and quality of their beers and in England, The Marble Arch in Manchester is quite simply, sublime.

I can't decide which is best. So, the pub / bar of the year is shared between the three pubs.

Best City in UK for Beer

1. Manchester
2. Edinburgh
3. York

Best Beer Fest

Paisley Beer Festival floats my boat every year but that's because I thoroughly enjoy helping out in the Foreign Bar, so, I'm not going to count Paisley as I'm the other side of the bar. It has to be Annafest on the outskirts of Forchheim. What's there not to like? Twenty three bierkellers in a forest in Franconia serving 6% festbier in litre krugs to 300,000 thirsty Lederhosen Herren and Dirndl Damen. That'll do.

Best Supermarket

Marks and Spencer have upped their game and now carry an impressive range of own brand beers made by some solid and consistent breweries such as Oakham and Meantime.

Independent Retailer

There has been a marked improvement in the range, quality and choice of beers in Glasgow with credit for this upturn in beer fortunes being laid firmly at the door of Hippo Beer and Valhalla's Goat. So equal first prize to Hippo Beer and Valhalla's Goat.

Online Retailer

With exceptional service and an ever growing choice of tasty beer, it has to be Alesela.

Best Book

I've bought quite a few beer books this year but the three that stand out are:

1. Amber, Black and Gold - The History of Britain's Great Beers. Martyn Cornell
2. Brewing Britain - The Quest for the Perfect Pint. Andy Hamilton
3. Frankens Brauereien und Brauereigaststätten. Markus Raupach

Beer App

I use Untappd for checking in beers that I'm drinking and Brew Pal for my Home Brew recipes. One has a practical purpose, the other serves no purpose at all but you get nice badges every time you reach a new level of beer vanity.


Simon Johnson Award for Beer Twitterer

Only one winner. Simon Johnson himself.
I have enjoyed @broadfordbrewer's tweets too but no one could ever hold a candle to Simon's level of surreal inanity. Sadly missed.

Best Beer Blog

Again, no clear winner but notable mentions for the great and good. Firstly, I tip my hat in the specific direction of the Legendary Richard Taylor of the Beer Cast. Edinburgh's beer scene is in very rude health and brilliant shape. That is, partly, down to the role that Richard has played in charting and chronicling Edinburgh Beer. His energy is tireless, his modesty impressive but credit where credit's due. The British Guild of Beer Writer's award to the Beer Cast is much deserved recognition for the impact that The Beer Cast has had in not only shaping Edinburgh's beer climate but also his wider impact on the Scottish beer scene. Legendary.

Plaudits too for Adam Shafi's Walking and Crawling blog. Adam is our very own Beer Grylls. Follow his hazardous countryside escapades as he searches through bracken and bramble for Scotland's best pints and pubs. He does these things, so we don't have to. An excellent blog.

Kudos also for two blogs that I have gravitated increasingly towards in 2013. These are shut up about Barclay Perkins and Zythophile. Two meticulously researched blogs that are always a pleasure to read.

That concludes the results of the Norwegian jury.
All the very best of beer in 2014.