Flying Dog Raging Bitch

Every beer blog worth it’s salt has written about the dreadfully named and dreadfully tasty Raging Bitch Belgian-style IPA.

I’ve not got round to it yet, but I’m drinking a bottle for the first time right now, while watching the USA lose to Ghana.

It’s a bloody good beer. Not intensely bitter too the point where the toe-curling hop blast dominates, and beneath that dryness, it’s all tropical fruits and sweetness – like bubblegum, and those yellow and orange striped sweets you used to get.

It’s very good. Incase you haven’t tried it yet, make sure you do.

Foraging: food for free

Some of our foraging spoils

Some of our foraging spoils

As I mentioned briefly in my last post, I’ve been getting quite excited by the idea of becoming more self-sufficient. I want to grow my own veg, brew my own beer, make and repair my own things. I quite want some chickens too.

It feels good doing these things, it’s amazingly cost-effective (it’d be nice to spend less time having to think about making money and more time having fun, no?), and it’s good for the world if you cut down on things like transport costs for food, screwing over of farmers, that kind of thing.

I’m no revolutionary. And I don’t know much about much of these stuff. Many of my ideas have come straight from Tom Hodgkinson of The Idler and also Carolyn Steel’s Hungry City, which I’ve mentioned before.

Because of this newfound excitement about such things (maybe it’s just a phase, I hope not) when I read this article in Leeds Guide a month or so back, I decided I had to do it. Incase you haven’t clicked the link, it’s a piece about Food For Free Foraging Works in Leeds, a guided walk around parts of Leeds teaching what grows in the parks and woodland in Leeds, what you can and can’t eat and how to pick it in a way so as not to damage the wildlife.

I did this walk earlier today. And it was excellent.

Our guide, Mina, was effusive and clearly excited by the possibilities of foraging (she gets most of her food through foraging and freeganism) – you should have seen her excitement at finding osyter mushrooms – and she took us round Meanwood Park (which is simply stunning, look at the picture below) showing us some choice selections.

Meanwood Park, ahhhh

Meanwood Park, ahhhh

It’s amazing just how much you can pick and eat. Mina pointed us in the direction of the obvious (nettles, camomile, water cress) to the more obscure (jelly-ear mushrooms and hairy bitter cress) showing us how to identify plants and mushrooms, how to check they’re not going to kill you, and how to not deplete the area of any plant (ie never take something if you can’t find it twice in the area).

The key finds, other than the aforementioned osyter mushrooms were wild garlic (which is all over Meanwood and is a long-leaved plant that smells just like garlic) and chicken-of-the-woods mushroom. The latter was half way up a tree, required some climbing and is amazing. It smells, looks and tastes like roast chicken. And it’s quite ugly look:

Chicken of the Woods

Chicken of the Woods

After a good three hours of strolling, picking and tasting, Mina serves up an amazing picnic of quiche, pie and cake, made using ingredients found from foraging. Plus, she cooks up some wild garlic and oyster mushrooms that we picked just an hour ago – no more than one food mile there!

It’s a fascinating walk, and it’s left me itching (not literally, although I did get a few nettle stings) to get back out and do some foraging of my own. I’ve already got a wild garlic pesto in the fridge from today’s finds, and a third of that chicken-of-the-woods mushroom to boot.

As a final note, all the proceeds from these walks go to a very good cause, a non-denominational education centre in Kenya (more info here: www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=34548307757&ref=mf) run by Mina’s family.

If you’re interested in doing the walk yourself, contact Mina at minamoo@gmail.com, and she will get in touch with the next dates

Homebrew Batch #2

46 Bottles of Beer on The Floor, 46 Bottles of Beer

46 Bottles of Beer on The Floor, 46 Bottles of Beer

I’ve recently been getting very excited about the idea of self-sufficiency. You know, growing your own, making your own, finding ways to make the chain from ground to mouth as short as possible. It’s been exciting, and my next post (which will probably be posted within an hour of this one, can you wait?!) will delve into that in more detail.

One great way to cut costs and make your own is to make homebrew. Beer is quite expensive (I’ve been known to pay up to £7 for a good bottle of beer, not a lot by beer geek standards, but a fortune by most people’s), and I drink a fair bit of it (I’ve not got a problem, but probably have a bottle at least one in every three nights).

Now, my only problem with my first batch of homebrew was that it wasn’t all that great. It was ok, but it cost about 50p a pint and, boy, could you tell!

Batch number two is currently undergoing secondary fermentation in the bottle, and thus will not be drinkable for another four weeks (dang!) but I’ve got high hopes.

See, the folk at Abbey Home Brew (a great homebrew shop on Kirkstall Road Leeds, near the big Morrisons) have a new kit called Design-A-Brew that’s designed as the middle ground between a full mash brew (expensive and an arse) and kit brewing (easy, cheap, not that nice).

It’s very clever. You buy two cans of malted barley (in a range of colours and bitterness) and then you buy extras, like different malts, hops, yeasts and flavourings. Most of which come in a tea-bag style holding-thingy, so they impart their flavour with filling your beer full of crap (homebrew comes with enough sediment already).

I’m making a nice spring ale with lemon grass and cascade hops. It smells nice already. And, as a nice bonus, these 46 bottles will mainly be drunk at my wedding in September (alongside a cask or two from Roosters in Knaresborough – stiff competition indeed). I hope the guests like it!

APERITIVO

One of my favourite things about my last holiday in Italy (Couchsurfing around Bologna, Padua, Venice and Florence, absolute bliss with my girlfriend, eating amazing food and meeting some lovely hosts) was discovering, via Geovanni, our great host in Bologna, about the aperitivo culture in Northern Italy.

Post work, the Italian’s don’t head down the pub for a pint (not that I’m disparaging that. Hell, read the rest of blog), they head out to the bars for a Spritz (Campari and soda, really refreshingly bitter) and then getting loads of free food. Sometimes it’s just endless bowls of crisps, sometimes it’s bruschetta (that’s bread with tomatoes and stuff), sometimes it’s bread and oil, sometimes it’s a massive buffet. The premise is simple, you pay a fixed (normally relatively high) price for your drink between, say 5 and 7pm, and included in the price is a never ending supply of grub. It’s great. The food means you don’t get too pissed, and it’s so unbelievably sociable.

The other thing I thought was great about Italy (again, something you learn from Couchsurfing and being shown the city by a local) is  that it is the LAW that if you order an espresso at the bar (ie not needing table service) they can’t charge you more than €1. That makes it just about the cheapest drink you can get. And shows how much the Italians love their coffee.

(one more thing I like, but isn’t relevant here, is that almost every train station has a cafe that does great coffee, sarnies and pastries, beats what we have here)

Anyway, I always miss this in Leeds. Quality coffee for nowt (honestly, try Starbucks coffee after trying Italian coffee, it tastes bland) and this great culture of aperitivo.

But all is not lost. One enthusiastic business owner, Alex, from Milan, wants to bring that Italian culture to Leeds and is doing his based with his little espresso bar, La Bottega Milanese on The Calls. He’s been pedalling quality coffee (at a mere £1 for an espresso) for six months, and now he’s launched an aperitivo menu of his own, using a non-alcoholic campari equivalent and loads of crisps, nuts, tomatoes, mozarella and bruschetta.

What a great idea. I’ll be getting down to support it.

Duke of Uke

On days like today, I would like to just sit outside and play my Ukulele all day.

At present I particularly like playing ‘I Wish That I Could See You Soon’ by Herman Dune (see below), and ‘Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay’ by Otis Redding.

God Damn Right It’s a Beautiful Day

Uh-huh.
Ain’t Meanwood pretty?

Nightclubbing: more of a question that a post, I guess

I went to a wedding on Saturday. It was great. Not that you’re that interested, like.

While at said wedding, a friend of mine did a DJ set that had me dancing for a good 90 minutes, stone-cold sober, and bloody loving it. He played stuff like:

Blur – ‘Girls & Boys’
Dexy’s Midnight Runners – ‘Geno’
Pixies – ‘Debaser’
Michael Jackson – ‘Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough’
Eels – ‘Mr E’s Beautiful Blues’

Now how great would it be if Leeds had a clubnight that played stuff like this? 80s and 90s music that isn’t cheesey, or obscure, or twee, or hip, just genuinely good tunes you can dance and jump around to, and know and love.  There are brit-pop nights aplenty, yes, there are 80s power ballad nights, there are twee indie nights, but I don’t think there’s any like this, is there?

Please tell me if I am wrong, and I will go.

General Musings

I’ve not been writing much on this ‘ere blog for a while. Why? Well I guess I’ve not done much exciting beery stuff of recent. Apart from have a pint of Marble 57 at Further North. That was dead nice, marmalade-y and tasty. And I don’t really like just writing about what I’m drinking. It’s a bit tedious.

Anyway, I’ve decided that I’m going to start doing some non-boozy writing on this blog. So I might have to change the strap line from “A Leeds Drinking Blog” to something new. Oh I do hope my readers don’t abandon me.

So, here’s some short (very short, probably, although I’m not sure I’ve not written them yet) bits and pieces that aren’t about beer.

1. Hungry City
I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction recently. Learning stuff and that. It’s good. My most recent read has had the most profound effect though. It’s called Hungry City and it’s by Carolyn Steel. It’s amazing. It’s all about how food shapes the cities we live in, how these shapes are changing, and what effect this is having on the food producers (getting screwed), us (getting fat) and the supermarkets (getting really, really fucking rich). Within 50 pages I’ve decided to radically cut back on how much meat I eat (living with a vegetarian I don’t each much anyway, but I’m probably on about two or three meat dishes a week now, max) and to try and eat far more organic, fairly traded food (which is easier when your amazing street has a food co-op of sorts on it).

that final point brings me on the musing 2:

2.  Community Spirit
The street I live in in Meanwood, Leeds, is amazing. We have an annual street party (which happened this year in torrential rain thanks to the hard work – and massive tarpaulin – of a few people on the street), one of my neighbours (who may well read this) has been known to drop a couple of bottles of homebrew outside my door, we have a food co-op (of sorts), we actively socialise with each other fairly regularly. I love living here, and it’s a shame there aren’t more streets like it.

3. I Want To Ride My Bicycle
I don’t own a bicycle yet, but there is one in my front room about 3m from me. My neighbour is flogging it, and I want it. I may well close the transaction later this evening, all being well. I want a bike because my walk to work takes me 45 minutes, a bike ride will take a fraction of the time, and make me fitter. And I’ll drive less, which will be cheaper, and more fun, and more environmentally friendly.

4. Eels & Low
I’ve been listening to a lot of
Eels and a lot of Low recently. They’re two stunning bands. May I recommend ‘Old Shit/New Shit’ by Eels (it makes me want to dance around with my arms in the air) and ‘Starfire’ by Low (slow, ponderous, but somehow elegiac. I won’t try and describe them to you, just listen.

5. Politics
Anyone who follows my Twitter (@tomas311) will have noticed I was pretty pissed off with the result of the General Election. I really hate them Tories, and I suspect they’re going to do their level best to screw the North of England again. I know it’s hard times for the country, and I’m not clued up enough to know whether there are any real alternatives to their plans. All I know is that I don’t trust them, I think their ideologies are all wrong, and even a bit despicable. Maybe we could devolve the North?

6. Work
Politicians bang on about work, about how proud and empowered it makes people and about “doing the right thing” (ie working full time for some 50-60 years, saving up loads and retiring). I don’t like this attitude. Sure, some people do feel empowered by their work and love it (it probably helps if you’re on an MPs salary and making country-changing decisions day-to-day), but we’re really geared us a country to make work the be all and end all of what we do. It’s a bit sad, really.

7. Some Stories (I’m stopping now)
I went to see an amazing piece if theatre at Temple Works in Leeds, called Some Stories, read my review here, and look out for it coming back to Leeds (it might). Some Stories

Keep On Runnin’: The Otley Run, 17 pubs in 13 hours can it be done? No.

Okay, I’m not in some stupid meathead university club that requires all members to do some form of initiation involving humiliating acts or forced drinking – you know, the normal idiots who try to cram in a month’s worth of drinking into one day. I am, however, friends with a chap called Sturdy.  He’s getting married soon, and, to celebrate, his stag do involved a trawl through the Otley Run.

Folks living in Leeds will know all about the Otley Run. It’s a pub crawl from Headingley (the most studenty bit of Leeds) to Leeds city centre, and it’s infamous for annoying students in fancy dress stumbling in to the road and generally making a nuisance of themselves.

I’ve lived in Leeds for eight years now, and I’ve never done the Otley Run, because I’m sane. Neither have Sturdy, or Rob, his best man, or, indeed, any of the stag-doers. It seemed we were in good company.

Don’t fret. I’m not going to take you on a blow-by-blow, pub-by-pub account of where we went and what we drank. That would be boring, and anyway, by pub nine my memory is, well, hazy.

What is remarkable, though, is how many of these, quite frankly, shit pubs served up quality booze. Yep, I drank far more pints of Tetley and John Smith smooth flow that I would have liked, but I reckon a good 6 or 7 of the pubs I visited had a decent drop of hand-pulled ale. As I said, I don’t remember the whole evening, but I definitely got in pints of Black Sheep, Leeds Pale, Tetley’s and something Morris themed in one of the early drinking holes.  Which is nice.

A real beer lover would probably remark on the fact that some of these ales weren’t well kept, but, pft, I’d had three pints by 1pm, what did I care?

One final admission, I didn’t make it through all 17 pubs, I got to the Eldon (pub 12) and 11pm (that’s 12 hours in, we started at 11am), having had 12 pints, loads of water, a really bloody bad burger from Hyde Park Corner pub (don’t go there if you can avoid it, it’s really shit), and a Gregg’s pastie. Which was nice.

The highlight was Arcadia, which really is an awfully nice drinking den. Full of quality ales and a relaxed atmosphere, it’s not officially part of the Otley run, as they ban large groups of students and fancy dress. We, though, were well behaved and our matching T-shirts were mainly kept below jumpers. Also quite impressive are The Three Horseshoes in Far Headingley, and Woodies (again in Far Headingley). I don’t actually remember being in The Packhorse, but I’m sure it was great. It always is.

Lowlights were the aforementioned burger at the Hyde Park, and indeed, the entirity of that enormous pub. Plus, all the trendy, student-centric drinkeries in the centre of Headingley. The Box (all big sports screens, shit music and idiots), Headingley Taps (lovely building, unpleasant clientele), The Skyrack (just generally horrible and too full of students). We missed out The Arc (we visited the similarly-named Arcadia instead) and that was a good move, because that place is nasty too.

So, what did I learn? Firstly, 12 pints is my absolute limit, secondly, Sturdy has some very pleasant friends, thirdly, most pubs in Headingley are worth avoiding, which makes Arcadia even more of a gem. Fourth, real ale is more generally available than you’d think.