Beer, beer everywhere and not a drop to drink

Monday, May 28, 2012
Having a borderline unhealthy beer obsession has it perks: Your friends will generally trust your judgement as to which bar you should go to, you have a great excuse for going to the pub when "there's a blogger event", and very occasionally you get to try some truly amazing beers.

It also has its down sides though, and one of them for me is a growing collection of beers which are either far too strong, too hoppy, too boozy or just too damn special for cracking open willy nilly.

I'll often get home from work and quite fancy a beer before realising I've not put anything in the fridge, and that my beer cupboard (it's more of a beer wardrobe now...) is full of hop bomb Imperial IPAs and big boozy Barley Wines, and give up on the idea altogether.

You'd think that having more beer in the house would mean you drink more beer, but in my experience it has the opposite effect. You get more choosy, and drink less.

That's why fridge beers are so important. Beers that will chill down well, can be kept in the fridge and neglected until needed, but still taste great. Not too strong, not too bitter, not too rich. Just tasty, drinkable and satisfying.

My favourites at the moment are Oakham Citra, Harviestoun Schiehallion and Punk IPA.

What are yours? Do you have them? Am I alone in this?


Magic Rock Brewing - a final hurrah for #EBBC12

Monday, May 21, 2012
After the excesses of the weekend you'd think the last thing I'd want to do come Sunday morning was to drag myself out of bed, get down to the station and catch a train over to Huddersfield for yet more beer.

But I did, and I wasn't alone. There was probably another 50% on top of the people who'd signed up for the tour, all there at 10.40am, hulking huge cases of clothes and beer collected over the weekend (not that anyone was collecting clothes as far as I could tell) on to the train, then the minibus, then into the brewery.

The team at Magic Rock got the tone absolutely spot on. Come in, grab a glass, help yourself to a beer from the taps, we'll give you a tour once everyone's settled in. It gave us all chance to drop our bags and relax before looking around the brewery properly and it took the question "when do we get to try the beer!?" out of the picture straight away.

The brewery itself is a seriously posh piece of kit. Custom designed mostly by head brewer Stuart just over a year ago, it's a 12 barrel setup which seems to be working like a charm if their beers are anything to go by. Which has to be a brewers dream right?

Thats's Rich in the photo pointing towards the fancy conical kettle just out of shot - the shape makes the removal of yeast etc much easier and gives better control when using shiploads of hops. Which they do.

After the tour it was time for more excellent beer, served straight from the cold room via that fancy keg font, and a burger straight from the BBQ. Perfect.

.....Grab a beer, grab a burger, sit on an empty cask next to huge fermenting vessels, why can't all brewery tours be like this...?

Like a lot of people I went for the wonderfully fresh hop flavour of a High Wire upon arrival, then after that a small glass of Rapture before a charred burger and a Dark Arts. I've always found stouts and porters to go really well with BBQ food and this was no different, particularly with the tangy chilli salsa I laced mine with, as the smooth roasted malt mellows at the heat rather than fighting it with hops. Something which Mark Dredge wrote an interesting post on recently actually.

The one beer which was making its debut whilst we we there was a Bourbon Barrel aged version of their monster 10.5% abv imperial Brown Stout "Bearded Lady". Rob from recorded a video review whilst we were there which I'm really looking forward to watching, if only to see how the great atmosphere of the place comes across on camera.

From my point of view, it's a big, sweet, full on flavourfest of a beer that gives plenty of sweet vanilla and bourbon on the nose but is more roasted, coffee hinted and rich in taste. The bourbon pokes through after a while but it certainly doesn't dominate, and that big abv is hidden extremely well. All in all a delicious beer which I can't wait to drink again.

The photo shows the beer sitting atop the very barrel it was aged in, which was handily located right next to my cask constructed table.

A huge thank you has got to go to the guys at Magic Rock for being such good hosts and making us all feel so welcome. They're not only making great beers, but they're nice guys to boot, which makes a brewery tour a real pleasure from my point of view.






Live blogging at #EBBC12 (part 2)

Saturday, May 19, 2012
6. Great Heck - Stormin Normin'

I don't like it. It's big and boozy but totally unrefined. I don't mean that in a poncy way. But for me, there just isn't a great amount of flavour.

Hmmm.... I'm not sure, not for me this one.

7. Slater's - Top Totty

Very pale. A good fridge beer.

Tasty, basic, drinkable. In a good way. I like it. But change that fucking label.

8. Camden - US Hells

Wow that's a cool bottle! Genuinely, that looks so good. But on to the beer....

It's so bloody drinkable. Tasty but not overly bitter. Tandleman thinks it's a touch thin but I disagree, for me it's just really drinkable. The body weight is perfect.

I like it.

9. Adnams - Ghost Ship

Spicy English IPA character on the nose, but lighter. The citra comes through in the flavour more than the aroma.

It's got a nice layered flavour of bitterness with just a touch of grain and sweetness in the background. A good beer but I could do with a pint not a sip.

10. Innis & Gunn - Scottish pale ale

My mother always said if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.


Live beer blogging at EBBC12... Here we go!

Saturday, May 19, 2012
Live blogging at EBBC12. 10 beers, 50 minutes, 100 bloggers. Each brewery has a few minutes with us while we try their beer. As best as I can I'll be blogging what we drink and what we think to it. LIVE(ish)

1. Leeds Brewery - Hellfire Pale Ale

Clean, dry, lightly bittersweet, a long bitterness in the aftertaste. We think it would go great with food this one.

2. Otley - Oxymoron Black IPA

Aroma of coffee and cocoa. The flavour is fresh, drinkable and citrus hoppy with an aftertaste of dark chocolate.

3. Brains - Dark Mild

Reminds me of a very light Guinness FES, which is a compliment.

Chocolate, fruit and sweetness in the aroma.

Flavour is much of the same. Very solid, very good.

4. Marble - Earl Grey IPA

The aroma is crazy. Lemon, floral tea, grass, a slight dusty saison citrus note in the background.

The flavour is delicious. Dry, floral, bitter, citrus, tannin.

5. Roosters - Baby faced assassin

Citra comes through straight away but they've pulled a depth of aroma out of it which I've not really seen before. It doesn't smell or taste like a single hopped beer. Citra can be a little one note but this has a depth of flavour which you wouldn't expect from a single hopped citra beer.

My favourite beer so far.

5 more to come!


Day 2 at #EBBC12 - Avery, Dredge and Cole play host

Saturday, May 19, 2012
I think the excellent turn out of groggy bloggers at 10am this morning has to be testament to the high regard Zak Avery, Mark Dredge and Marverine Cole are held in. These guys have been there and done it, properly know their stuff, and are interesting and engaging to listen to. A perfect way to kick off the day.

So far it's been a very interesting talk on taking blogging to the next level, which is exactly what I'm trying to do, all being well....

An awesome night of international beer last night too. Some really interesting beers including a zero IBU IPA (no BITTERING hops but shed loads off hops after flame out and as dry hops) and some delicious beers from Birra Del Borgo, as you'd expect.

The Dutch beers were excellent as well. Probably some of the first I've tried and really unusual yet drinkable, exactly what I look for in a beer. The Rye Pale Ale was my favourite - a lightly spicy, balanced beer with a lovely fresh hop character and a bittersweet finish. My beer of the night and a great recommendation from the Swedish guys on the stand.

The Rye Pale is in the background of the picture below actually, but for some reason the beer in front caught my eye and I took a picture of that instead. Weird


And so it begins.... #EBBC

Friday, May 18, 2012
The beer reception at #EBBC was quite something to behold. With around 8 different breweries giving out samples and chatting about beer, it's a great way to start a 'conference' (it sounds less like a weekend jolly if you say conference).

The first talk of the day is on European Beer Blogging, as in beer blogging outside the UK.

Beers on the table, a beer in hand, a few spare beers in my bag kindly donated by a few breweries (offered not begged for I might add) - this certainly doesn't feel like work.

Favourite beer so far? Double Joker IPA from Williams Brothers, an 8%, bigger hopped version of their normal Joker IPA. It's lovely. But it is only 2.43pm....


The first night of #EBBC12

Friday, May 18, 2012
So last night was the first night of events for the European Beer Bloggers Conference, and whilst today is the official start I think it's safe to say there'll be enough sore heads to warrant the feeling "it's already begun".

We took a gaggle of bloggers around the pubs in the Holbeck Urban Village area of Leeds (just the Cross Keys, Midnight Bell and The Grove actually, though there are many more nearby). Then a quick taxi up to North Bar to finish the night. It's totally walkable but the Taxi's in Leeds are so cheap there's hardly any point, it cost £3.10 for four of us to go a distance that would have taken 15-20 minutes to walk. I know what I'd prefer to do....

I ended the night with a really great beer (plenty to choose from in North), it's the one in the photo. A Gueuze from Cantillon in a big posh corked bottle. It was very good but I wasn't making notes.


(I'll come clean now, this post is a bit of a test to see if the blogging app on my iPad works, have I got away with it?)


Live blogging and the European Beer Bloggers Conference

Monday, May 14, 2012
This Friday is the Official start of the European Beer Bloggers Conference 2012, and myself, along with a hundred other bloggers from around the UK and across Europe will be typing, talking, texting, tweeting and tasting our way through three days of beer tasting and talks.

There are some exciting things happening over the weekend, including a frankly amazing sounding beer dinner at Anthony's hosted by Pilsner Urquell, and I'll be live blogging as much as possible of it. So expect spelling errors, along with short sharp posts and no apparent cohesive thought process. Sounds fun right?

Friday is the first day of talks, but for many bloggers, yours truly included, it starts Thursday evening with a pub crawl organised by Leigh of The Good Stuff.

Follow the action on twitter via the hashtag #EBBC

Hold on tight Leeds!

The Sparrow: Surviving and thriving, one year on

Friday, May 11, 2012
For any new venture the first year is a testing and trying time, and there's even more of an uphill struggle for a new food or drink venue launching at a time when people are keeping a close eye on the purse strings.

But the thing is, it should be tough. Unlike some members of the beery community I totally agree with it being tough for pubs and bars, because it makes people try harder, strive for more and run better businesses. Call me a cold-hearted capitalist but if a bar is good enough then it will survive, and thrive.

As soon as I set foot in The Sparrow I knew it would work, that the concept of a relaxed beer cafe was a good one - the much needed antithesis to some of Bradford's solid but somewhat baudy boozers. Then you look at the quality of the beer on offer, and the prices, and suddenly you're filled with a sense that this place is going to last. It's going to be brilliant.

That's how I felt after leaving the preview event a year ago, and thankfully in the year since then The Sparrow have done nothing but go from strength to strength; won Bradford Camra pub of the year, been named in The Guardian's Top Ten UK Craft Beer Bars and continued to bring exciting, modern, high quality beers to the people of Bradford - for a price that makes this Leeds dweller more than a little jealous.

Quite rightly, the guys from The Sparrow want to celebrate their first birthday in style and are inviting people to join them in trying some beers brewed especially for them, an American IPA and Black IPA, along with some very special beers from around the World. So if you've got a spare day or evening, hell, a spare hour, I'd suggest getting down to The Sparrow at some point between the 16th - 20th May, because what they've got lined up looks like it shouldn't be missed.

There's plenty more tricks up their sleeves I'm sure, but for now, here's how things are shaping up, and what the guys have to say about the party:

"We have some treats lined up for you for our birthday party, Les and Mark have brewed two special celebration beers in collaboration with Saltaire brewery. Both beers are heavily dry hopped IPAs. Two new keg lines will be launched to coincide with our celebrations and they will be pouring some pretty special beers. The fridges with be filled with some big, rare, party bottles for your enjoyment."

Beers lined up so far:


Our two birthday beers that we brewed with Saltaire Brewery - Dunnock American IPA & Black Throat Black IPA (they are both named after types of Sparrows). Plus beers from some of our favourites including Quantum, Red Willow, Buxton, Kirkstall, Magic Rock, Ilkley and Hawkshead!

Boon Kriek, Sierra Nevada Ruthless, Nogne O Two Captains plus more!

Dogfish Head Red and White (extremely rare), Flying Dog Wildeman (the best beer Mark tasted in New York) and Schneider Nelson Sauvin (one of our favourites)!

 You can find out more info on their Facebook page here:

Turning me on to Cocktails - The Maven, Leeds

Thursday, May 03, 2012
I've said before that I don't really like cocktails - Long glasses, filled with ice, crap booze, masked by sugar and sweet juices - yuck. No thanks.

And the thing is, the vast majority of Cocktails, and Cocktail bars ARE crap, but the same could be said for beer. My opinion was based on bad cocktails in the same way as someone drinking a Carlsberg might think "I'm not sure I like beer that much...."

If we go by volume produced, and availability, then the vast majority of beer is bland, boring, and just there to quench thirst and get you a bit tipsy. Of course, if you're reading this blog then you know that there is a world of amazing beer out there to be enjoyed, and that you have to drink the right beers. 

What I'm getting at is that my opinion of Cocktails was based on the wrong cocktails, and recently I feel like my opinion is changing because I've started drinking the right Cocktails, in the right places.

The bar which has played the biggest part in my Cocktail education is a new bar in Leeds called The Maven. It's something of a secret this place in that there is no sign outside, and just a plain black staircase leading up to a large solid set of double doors with a Silver 'M' handle. Very cool, yet restrained and unpretentious.

Inside is a surprisingly big space, with a period New York liquor bar feel to it. But the most important thing about this place is the quality of the ingredients, spirits and liqueurs which they use, and the passion and knowledge which the staff obviously have for mixing drinks (most have been poached from the best bars around Leeds).

I've been a few times and generally don't bother looking at the menu, it's much more fun to just let whoever's behind the bar know that I like short, strong drinks made with rum or bourbon, but if they recommend anything else then go for it. This is the sort of place where you'll be rewarded for being adventurous and trusting in their knowledge, and I'm yet to receive a drink I didn't enjoy.

My favourite so far is a short drink made with Appleton Estate Extra 12 Year Old Rum, some Campari, grapefruit peel (not juice, just peel for the aromatics), and some other stuff that I didn't pay attention to. It's served in a tumbler with a ball of solid ice which keeps the drink very cold but doesn't dilute it. It's quite simply, stunning.

Colette's favourite is the bar's White Lady. It's a sour cocktail made with dry gin, Cointreau, lemon juice, and egg white which tastes like a cross between a boozy lemon sorbet and a sort of soft lemon meringue. 

But my advice isn't to walk in and ask for these two drinks. These are our favourites. 

What you should do is go and find out yours.

The Maven
1 Call Lane,

up the stairs and through the door marked M...