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.