Digest #3: Saltaire, landlords, the formations of humanity & Leeds

I’ve begun to quite like this digest-style posts. Like a family newsletter, but just about me, and possibly less interesting. Saves me from stretching out  my writing to fill space. Although it does unfortunately mean I don’t really engage with much that I’m writing about – well, not seriously. Maybe I’ll do more of that one day.

Salt Aire

Saltaire from the Leeds-Liverpool Canal

Saltaire from the Leeds-Liverpool Canal

I went to Saltaire (check it out: www.saltairevillage.info) last weekend. It really is an amazing place, and it reminded me how lucky we are in Yorkshire when it comes to natural scenery and awesome historic, industrial architecture. I’ve recently finished reading the latest book from The Idler, called Back to the Land, in it, several essays stress the importance of being near nature, greenery and unspoiled spaces to our own happiness, and reports links between urbanisation and depression. It all sounds awfully credible too me, so we’re fortunate to have magnificent dales in Yorkshire like those surrounding Saltaire and well, just about everywhere in the county, really. Between them and our stunning local park, there’s enough greenery to keep me jolly.

The main thing Saltaire is famous for though is the magnificent Salts Mill (www.saltsmill.org.uk). This glorious mill was built by one Titus Salt, a kindly man and mill owner who built the village of Saltaire, the church, the shops, damn near everything (except a pub, he was a Quaker) for his workers, so as to keep them from poverty. How very lovely.

Nowadays, the Mill has a mixed life. Some of it is offices for boring old businesses, but much of it plays home to galleries exhibiting work by Bradford’s very own David Hockney – a great artist who has some very interesting things to say in the aforementioned book by The Idler, look at his impressive work here: www.hockneypictures.com – plus other artists, a great book shop, an art shop, and some smaller not-permanent exhibitions, often rooted in the history of Saltaire and The Mill. There’s a great antique shop too, where I nearly bought a watch and my wife-to-be bought some tins (I’m veering into dull family newsletter ground now).

Saltaire is also on the Leeds-Liverpool canal. Which is great, and seems to pass through loads of interesting places. Bargers must have good taste.

Since this is still, nominally at least, a beer blog as well as me rambling about stuff, it should be pointed out that Saltaire has a brewery, and pubs these days (the most amusigly named, and apparently best, pub is called Fannies [titter]). The brewery is wittily called Saltaire Brewery (www.saltairebrewery.co.uk) and makes some great beers. I had a half of their blonde while in Saltaire and it was a great, light, session ale, with plenty of bitter hoppiness. They make some odder, and more exciting beers too, including a Hazlenut Coffee Porter and a Double Chocolate Stout. Check ’em out.

Navigation Tavern, Mirfield

Navigation Tavern, Mirfield

Navigation Tavern, Mirfield

Shock horror, I’m actually blogging right now about a pub. That’s not happened for a bit. It was my stag do a week or so ago. It was jolly good fun, me and some chums doing the Transpennine Real Ale Trail (I’ve mentioned this before here & here). One of the highlights though has to be arriving at the Navigation Tavern in Mirfield, some 10 or 11 hours in to the trial, having already booked rooms to stay there for the night. As we were pre-warned there was a Motown disco in full swing, we were not, however, warned about the landlord there, Kevin.

The greeting was, perhaps, not as warm as we’d hoped for: “we’ve given your rooms away now lads, you’re not much use to me at this time!” was the opening gambit. We were apologetic, and Kevin seemed to warm to us while we were there (except when one of us sprawled out on the chairs – he was not amused by that). The pub is a proper old community pub, everyone there seems to know each other, it does a range of great ales, and Kevin is clearly the man that the pub revolves around. He was either funny, or terrifying, and we couldn’t quite work out which. We had a good time though, and the rooms cost £30.50 with breakfast, which, plastic eggs aside, was stupendous, and served with the same mix of humour and threatening behaviour as our rooms had been the night before, especially when he found out that my father-in-law to be was a vegetarian – what a look of shock and disgust. It was a proper Yorkshire pub experience.

Away from Mirfield, the other truly awesome pub was the Station Buffet Bar in Staylbridge (www.buffetbar.org). This station side bar looked like it hadn’t had cosmetic work done since the 70s, and the menu hadn’t changed its prices since that decade either. £2.50 for pie, pies and black beans? Yes please. A truly quaint little pub the kind of which you just wouldn’t expect to exist any more.

Stalybridge buffet bar

Stalybridge buffet bar

The Formations of Humanity
Yep, the title did promise that I’d get round to talking about this, and I have look. It’s a subject that surely can’t fail to fascinate. How did we come about to be the dominate creature on the planet? To function in ways that no other creature does, to think in ways that no other creature does. Why do we appreciate and create art and music, and build tools, and yet nothing else does. Obviously I don’t have the answer, but it’s something I keep thinking and wandering about, and I’m keen to learn more about. I’m reading Alice Roberts’ The Incredible Human Journey (read what the Guardian said about it here) in the hope it might teach me something. I’m all ears if anyone has any better sources of info..

Leeds
There’s been loads of interesting debate going on about my home city recently, most notably just here: http://theculturevulture.co.uk/blog/?p=7098. Seems a lot of people are a
little unimpressed by what Leeds offers culturally and how the city present’s itself to the outside world.

And Finally…
If I could get a month or so off work, I’d
bloody love to go WWOOFing, learn some skills in farming and go back to nature for a bit. How very middle class of me.

Tom’s Occasional Blogging Digest

Sorry guys. I’ve been rubbish at blogging stuff. I make excuses every time, so I’m not going to make any this time. I am going to a small blog post now, complete with sub-headings, pictures, links, and words.

I hope you like it.

Meanwood Developments
Regular readers here will know I live in Meanwood and I love it. Perhaps a little too much. It’s well good. No students, lots of park space and trees, loads of proper Northern folk, and loads of amazing neighbours. And now, we’re only getting a bloody Waitrose. The building works have been annoying, but when I can get 15 different varieties of olives, hummus and sunblushed tomatoes, it’ll be worth it.

A Bloody Waitrose!

A Bloody Waitrose!

But wait, it gets better. Now, anyone who’s read my now very occasional beer blogging will notice me banging on about North Bar regularly. It’s my favourite bar in Leeds, and that’s a fact. AND THEY’RE BUILDING A NORTH BAR IN MEANWOOD!!!!! I’m excited about this. You can probably tell.

The Benefits of Being a Beer Blogger
Sometimes people are daft enough to give you free beer. Amazing. One such mad company is Daas beer. I wrote about their Daas White and Daas Blond and then they sent me their new, dark, bronze coloured Daas Ambre, a 6.5% marmaladey delight, with loads of spice and cinnamon to boot. It’s well good, and it’s organic and soil association certified, so you can drink guilt free. Hurrah!

¡Viva Espana!
I went on holiday  recently to Spain. I love Spain. We stayed in a small mountain village in southern Spain . The views are beautiful, the atmosphere is relaxed and the Spanish just know how to live. What’s not to love? Tapas, good weather, a laidback attitude perfect.

Currently Reading
While abroad, I picked up the reading bug big time, and it’s still with me. I’ve got so much books piled up to read (I went to Meanwood Community Shop and bought 10 books for £8.25, bargain!) that I needed to find some way to track it. So I started using GoodReads.com, it’s pretty smart really. Have a look here.

Probably the best thing I’ve read recently is Born To Run by Christopher McDougall. I’m not much of a runner, and I really don’t like stuff that tries to be self-consciously inspirational (I’m not sure you can deliberately set out be inspirational or motivational, surely it just happens by accident? I hate motivational speakers too, more on that later), but this book, about extreme long distance running, a South American tribe who are awesome at it, and the damage padded trainers do to your feet is excellent. I’ve taken up running, and I’m doing it using shitty flat trainers. Go me.

Bettakultcha
This thing is great. A dead simple premise, 20 presentations occcur at Temple Works in Leeds, the presentation have to be 5 minutes long, and be based around 20 power point slides. Beyond that, that are new rules (well there are few about not using it for self-promotion). I’ve been to two now and seen some great stuff – Web Comics, Sex With Robots (yep, really), Leeds Hack Space, Test Space Leeds, an anti-enviromental rant – and some bad stuff (the last Bettakultcha had the worst and least motivational motivational speaker I’ve ever seen. I hate motivational speaking, and this idea of bettering yourself, achieving goals and climbing the ladder. People should be more happy with what they’ve got, and anyone just chucking quotes at me and trying to make me want to achieve and be all I can be can fuck off, frankly – rant over). The fact that I can get through the motivational speakers and still recommend this event should speak volumes about it’s quality. It’s just good fun. Go. http://bettakultcha.blogspot.com/

STAGGING!!!

A train

A train

It’s my stag do this weekend. I’m doing the Transpennine Real Ale Trail. Which I’ve written about before here. I did a small test run with my dad last weekend and he drank me under the table. Which is impressive. Wish me luck!

I’m done now. Bye!

Zak Avery’s 500 Beers

Yep, it’s another one of them posts where I just tell you to visit the Leeds Guide website and read about something else beer-related that I managed to shoe-horn into the day job.

This time it’s that lovely Zak Avery bloke and his new book 500 Beers it’s a dead handy guide to beer styles, packed full of tasting notes and it makes you damn thirsty just reading it. Go and buy it now (preferably  through the link on his blog, it makes him some extra pennies, or something).

Anyway. I interviewed him via email. He said some interesting stuff and you can read all about it here.

http://www.leedsguide.co.uk/review/boozeflash/zak-averys-500-beers/13840

An Aside That Want Awry: On Michael Jackson (the Beer Hunter, not the singer)

This was going to be a post about Crown Brewery’s Smokin’ Oktoberfest with a lengthy aside. Now the aside has become a ramble, so I’m going to give this a post of itself, and give you the beer notes later. Carry on.

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Michael Jackson's Great Beers of Belgium

Michael Jackson's Great Beers of Belgium

I’m going to start with an aside, maybe two, or even three. In short, I’m going to have a bit of a babble here. Why? Well because it’s my bloody blog and I don’t have to worry about reader numbers, sales and all that (apart from Wikio rankings, natch, check out my proud #65, right at the bottom of the pack).

I’ve recently been reading a lot of the great Michael Jackson’s (the drinker, not the singer) Great Beers of Belgium book, on top of that, I’ve been reading selected prose by Woody Allen. I know that Jackson is held in great regard, nay, reverence, by much of the beer writing community, but I’m not sure about this book.

Ok, so that’s quite a bold statement (tantamount to heresy for some, I’d wager). Sure, he was one of the first people to really write about and promote great beer, to talk extensively about food and beer pairings, and he may have introduced a lot of us to the wonders (for they are many) of Belgian beer. But, for a man with such a passion for that lovely stuff, this book doesn’t really display it.

The reason I mentioned Woody Allen before, is because his writing is vivid, lurid and flies along (and I was reading it on the bus just before I started writing). He’s a man with a love of words and language, and you can feel it, but The Great Beers of Belgium reads more like a text book with a few nice emotional touches than the words of a man filled with lust and desire for all the astounding delights available in Belgium. Sure, it’s a better text book than most, and still a pretty good read, but I just don’t feel any emotion from the man as I read it. And that’s what I wanted.

But maybe he’s not the one to blame. There are so many of us buggers writing about beer today that we’re spoilt for choice. When Jackson first wrote this book, I’d wager that tasting notes for beer were scant and seldom read. Now the internet’s full of the bloody things and only a few people with a pizazz for the writing of them can make them shine as thrilling works of journalism (NB I’m NOT including myself in this list), others, while very good and enjoyable, would not make a must read book if printed out, stapled together and sold with a nice cover.

Now I’m going to hold my hands up here and admit that I’ve not read any thing else by Jackson, yet. I have seen some of his ‘Beer Hunter’ TV series though and love that. Maybe elsewhere what I find lacking in this book may be apparent. Or maybe the world of beer writing has hurried along and left Jackon’s books a bit dated. Please tell me, recommend me pieces of his to read, I will happily retract the above if I just need to come in from a different angle on his work.

Anyway, enough upsetting of Jackson and every blogger who reads this, I’m off to write some tasting notes on Crown Brewery’s Smokin’ Oktoberfest, and yes, I know, I’m kinda contradicting my argument up there by running off and doing some tasting notes. But I don’t care. I like doing it.

Book Review: Pete Brown’s ‘Hops & Glory’

Hops and Glory

Hops and Glory

I’ve been quite a fan of Pete Brown’s writing for sometime. A friend recommended that I buy Man Walks Into A Pub, so I did.  Before I’d finished that, I ordered Three Sheets To The Wind and halfway through that, I decided to go for the hattrick and order Hops & Glory before it sold out. It has now sold out.

Why do I like Brown’s writing? Easy. It’s funny. It’s informative. It’s chatty. It’s witty. He teaches you stuff about beer’s history, about drinking cultures throughout time and across the world, but it’s hardly ever dry, it’s never too tedious in its detail, but also never skims over things at such a pace that you feel you need to learn more to get at what he’s talking about.

Obviously as a beer writer and lover I’m pretty much the target audience of this book, but I believe that it could be appreciated by anyone who enjoys historic or travel books. I’ve never met Pete (although I have spoken to him over the phone before), but you can’t help but feel from his books that he’d be a great man to have a pint with. I bet everyone who reads his books feels the same way. That’s probably part of what he’s going for.

Oh yeah, in a book review you’re meant to say a  bit about what the book’s about, aren’t you? In short, it’s a travel book that sees Pete try to recreate an original IPA, down to the recipe and the journey it takes from Burton to India. It’s also a well-researched history of IPA and the East India Company. It’s also very entertaining, packed with great, well written characters, funny asides. It also makes you want to drink loads of IPAs (hence the recent IPA reviews on this blog, and the pile of bottles in my cellar).

I’d wager at least half the people who read this blog will own and will have read this book.  The other half of you should get it too. Although you’ll have to wait till it comes out in paperback in the summer.

Pete Brown‘s blog is here, and very good it is too.