Dogfish Head at The Cross Keys

I’ve mentioned before that I write for Leeds Guide for a living. Why do I keep bringing it up? Well because my work there and this blog often over-lap in terms of subject matter (ie, I try to get as much beer content into the Leeds Guide as possible).

My latest foray has been previewing the Dogfish Head tasting event at the Cross Keys on 16th February. It’s going to be great. Read all about it here:

http://www.leedsguide.co.uk/review/boozeflash/dogfish-head-tasting-at-the-cross-keys/13240

Join the Facebook group here: http://www.facebook.com/LeedsGuide?ref=ts#/group.php?gid=265953517390&ref=ts

Plus, the menu’s here:

Beer One: 90 Minute I.P.A
Food: New season garlic soup, english snails & parsley juice
(Veg Option: New season garlic soup with parsley juice)

Beer Two: 60 Minute I.P.A…
Food: Devilled sprats with seashore vegetables and sorrel mayonnaise
(Veg Option: Seasonal vegetables with sorrel mayonnaise)

Beer Three: Indian Brown Ale
Food: Venison faggots, split pea puree & onion gravy
(Veg Option: Wild mushrooms, split pe puree)

Beer Four: Raison D’Etre
Food: Ginger parkin, rum & raisin syrup, horlicks ice cream

Beer Five: Palo Santo Marron
Food: Palo santo rarebit with apple & vanilla chutney

Sounds amazing!
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A Taste of America at The Angel’s Share, Leeds

So, last night as part of my super-mega-great job as food and drink editor of Leeds Guide magazine, I went out for a review meal at The Angel’s Share in Chapel Allerton. I shall say more about that in a moment. First, I will quickly mention that pre-Angel’s Share I popped in for a couple at Further North.

There, I found Marble’s Port Stout, a rich, deep, coffee-esque stout and is denser and richer than any stout weighing in under 5% should be. In short, great. Then, there was a half of Sierra Nevada’s Unrivalled.

Unrivalled is a special beer. It was designed by Christian, owner of North Bar, at the Sierra Nevada brewery and that means that North and its associated drinkeries get a good few kegs of the stuff. It’s a great beer and while at £6.20 a pint it’s not cheap (“one pound per percent” said our barman, referencing its 6.2% ABV) is a lovely smoky dark rye beer.

Anyway, that was all for starters. What I was going to write about was Angel’s Share. I shall leave the food, meal and ambience stuff to one of Leeds Guide‘s great writers Rob Wright, who accompanied me. I’m going to mention, in brief, the beers.

See, Angel’s Share have recently relaunched their second floor bar-restaurant as an American Grill (loadsa steaks and that) and in tandem with that, they’ve got some special American beers to complement the food. Hooray!

Knowing, as I do, that the drinks at Angel’s Share are largely selected by Jake of Jake’s Bar fame (who’ve been selling Sierra Nevada and Brooklyn lager by the bottle for ages) and the ultra-knowledgeable Chris of Latitude Wine, I thought what they’d offer would be good, and it was.

Is American craft brewing going to slowly start dominating the imported beer market over here? I think it’s possible. Selling for between £3.20 and £3.60 at Angel’s Share was: Blue Moon (which I personally think is a really average Hoegaarden rip off and, anyway, as @Kingwishbone points out, is only masquerading as craft beer and is actually brewed by Miller), Goose Island Honkers Ale, Anchor’s Liberty Ale, Brooklyn Lager and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. So, we settled down with our steaks and got through a good few bottles.

It seems to me that if more and more bars across the city (and other cities) start stocking a choice selection of quality American beers, it’s only a matter of time before they start to challenge yer Peronis and Staropramens as the import beer of choice.

Let’s hope so.

You can read the review, by the lovely Rob Wright, here: http://www.leedsguide.co.uk/review/food-review/the-angels-share/13263

Festive Drinking

Things have been quiet round these parts for sometime now. Almost an entire fortnight infact. What with Christmas, traveling around the North of England to visit various friends and relatives and a general laziness that comes from having ages off work, I didn’t get round to any blogging.

I did, however, get round to some mighty fine drinking. Again, it being Christmas and all that, the drinking was largely social and often in the kind of quantities beyond normal responsible levels (especially if the people who inspired Pete Brown’s latest blog are to believed [they really shouldn’t]), means that some beers are remembered just sketchily, others very well, and none have any kind of notes to be taken with them. So I’m going to bash through December and the start of 2010 at pace. Here we go.

Christmas Eve started well. Well, it didn’t, we were meant to go up to Burnley for a party but the never ending bloody snow foiled that. Solution: a trip to North Bar. As we were preparing to order, the splendid manager there, Matt, informed me that Crown Brewery’s Django Reinhardt – a damson porter – was about to come on tap. I instantly ceased my plan to order a Stille Nacht and waited with baited breath for the recommendation. It was worth the wait, rich in fruit flavours, warming and powerful it’s a perfect winter tipple and it got me all ready to settle down infront of the telly with a DVD of Bugsy Malone.

My Christmas Beers

My Christmas Beers

Next up, inevitably, was Christmas day. Drinking-wise today was all about Bucks Fizz (a bottle of Champagne was polished off between the two of us, before lunch, naturally), loads of muy dulce sherry from Beer Ritz. This stuff, Valdivia Pedro Ximenez, is, as the tag in Beer Ritz says, “nectar of the Gods”. It’s honey and treacle and currents and pudding and all the sweet tastes of Christmas rolled into one. I did, however, break out a Chimay Bleue to accompany our vegetarian Christmas dinner of mushroom pie. A great beer, packed full of complex flavours, it went down a treat.

The real beery treat on Christmas day, though, was two of the presents my thoughtful girlfriend got for me. Having taken advice from Zak at Beer Ritz, she’d been out and bought me corked 75cl bottles of Flying Dog Wild Dog Schwartz and Victory V Saison. I’ve not dared drink these yet – I’m waiting for a special occasion.

Gouden Carolus Noel

Gouden Carolus Noel

Boxing Day meant more of that heavenly sherry, and visits to family, all finished off superbly by Gouden Carolus Noel a special Christmas beer that was just that – special and Christmassy. The dark brown beer was heavy, spicy and figgy and a superb nightcap.

The 27th was another family day and as soon as my driving was over, I indulged in a Dark Star Espresso Stout. For a 4.7% beer it’s surprisingly rich in flavour and manages to pack in a really rich coffee flavour without overwhelming that comforting warmth you’d want from a stout. The beer presents continued here, with my folks getting me a Yorkshire ale box (two Copper Dragon beers and a great Sam Smith’s Taddy Porter) and my brother getting my two beers from Sheffield’s Kelham Island plus a cheese washed in the curds from their Pale Rider, which was interesting. A real taste experience which took some getting used to (cheese and beer work well eaten and drunk side-by-side, but combined in one is a little more acquired) but eventually kept my palate very happy indeed.

From there, it was days in Lancashire centered around the wedding of two friends. I shan’t go into details but it was an amazing do, complete with dancing, surf rock, great food and, most importantly, a lovely couple getting hitched. As an aside they also provided a cask of very local Hen Harrier by the Bowland Brewery. As you’d want for a wedding (and a subsequent NYE party which it lasted for) it was easy drinking, crisp and pale with some nice citrus flavours.

New Year’s Day (aka my birthday) was a day to break out a couple of quality beers, namely the aforementioned Samuel Smith’s Taddy Porter, really amazingly rich with roasted barley flavours, and even better the BrewDog and Mikkeller Divine Rebel. This beer, a collaboration between two very impressive craft brewers, is partly aged in whiskey barrels and the taste tells you that straight away. It’s full of toffee and caramel flavours and packs a mighty punch.

An even better beer-related occurrence on that day, however, was another present from my wonderful girlfriend. This time it wasn’t beer, but the ability to make beer (give a child a fish and he’ll be able to feed himself for a day, give the child a net and he’ll be able to… and so on). Yup, she signed me up for a two day homebrew course in February. I will report back on that in good time.

Which brings me to my final subject. My homebrew. I made some back in November. Because my house is cold it took ages, but it’s ready to drink now, and also in hands of numerous friends and family members across the country. What’s it like? Well, it’s from a kit called Old Homewrecker, but it’s only around 4.5%. It’s a darkish winter ale and, like all novice homebrew, it’s just about ok. It’s drinkable, but as it has no hopping to speak of, it likes anything like a real depth of flavour. Plus, it’s got a fair bit of sediment in. We don’t have a name for it yet.

I expect my next brew, post-course, will be far better.

Reet Good’s Beer Blogger Awards 2009

Golden Pint Logo 2009That chap Mark Dredge over at Pencil and Spoon thought it would be good to have some kind of end of year poll/awards for beer bloggers (it says so here). I agree, so here are my picks for the year.

Before I begin, I should point out that I’ve only been at this blogging lark for a few months and my knowledge and experience in the game is still somewhat lacking, so I will have to leave a few bits blank and maybe display my ignorance elsewhere. But I’m cool with that.

Best UK Draught Beer I tend to be a drinker of bottles of Belgian stuff more than anything else, but one reliable pint is always Outlaw’s (Rooster’s experimental arm) Wild Mule – packed full of sweet fruity flavours and a great bitter finish.

Best UK Bottled Beer Crown’s Unpronounceable IPA – packed full of hoppy bitterness with a summery hint of blackberries coming through underneath. (read more here)

Best Overseas Draught Beer Tripel De Garre – a rich Belgian tripel from a Bruges bar called De Garre. It’s very strong packed full of fruit, aniseed and licorice flavours and comes with an accompanying cheese. They only let you have three a visit. (read more)

Best Overseas Bottled Beer De Dolle’s Stille Nacht – a special Christmas beer brewed every year by the bonkers Dolle brewers. It’s 12%, dark to the point of blackness and with lingering tastes of plum and citrus.

Best Overall Beer Probably Outlaw’s Wild Mule again. I’ve supped it more than anything else this year. Some of the more extreme Belgians may be more exciting, but an overall beer should be one for any occasion, and Wild Mule does that.

Best Bottle Label or Pump Clip I can’t say I’ve been wild about any labels or clips, particularly, but BrewDog’s general branding has been great for them and seems to sum up their attitude and beers very well.

Best UK Brewery Having picked one of Crown Brewery’s brews earlier on, I’m going to plump for them here. Especially as it’s a small, one man set up, well done them!

Best Overseas Brewery Sierra Nevada, just for their consistently brilliant beers.

Pub/Bar of the Year In England, North Bar, easily. It’s where I consume most of my beers and the team their are great. Further afield, Kulminator in Antwerp, t’Velootje in Ghent and the Bruges Beertje in Bruges are all outstanding. (read more)

Beer Festival of the Year I only went to the Wakefield CAMRA festival this year. It was alright.

Supermarket of the Year Sainsbury’s was pretty good for their range of beers and good offers.

Independent Retailer of the Year Beer Ritz in Leeds. Great range, lovely staff, good prices, what more could you want?

Online Retailer of the Year Not used any.

Best Beer Book I’ve not read one this year, but I’ve been reading Pete Brown‘s back catalogue and have Hops and Glory lined up next.

Best Beer Blog Zak ‘The Beer Boy‘ Avery probably just edges ahead of  competition from Pete Brown, Real Ale Reviews and Pencil and Spoon.

Best Beer Twitterer Anyone from: http://twitter.com/#/list/tomas311/beerbloggers

Best Online Interactive Brewery BrewDog are the only brewery I’ve really seen use the web well this year, although they’ve made some big misjudgements too…

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year Maybe Sierra Nevade Porter and osyters at the North Bar Sierra Nevada event at Cross Keys.

A Trip To Belgium: the Bars and Beers

In Three Sheets To The Wind, Pete Brown decides that the Belgian people are committing some kind of massive practical joke on the rest of the world. Perceived wisdom seems to be that Belgium is a tedious country with nothing to see beyond the wonderful beauty of Bruges (if you haven’t been to Bruges, go. If you can’t afford to go, watch In Bruges, it’s very funny and makes the city look as stunning as it actually is).

This, as Pete Brown attests is very wrong. Not only are Belgian people, almost to a man (or woman) very entertaining, but their cities are fantastic and, most of all, the make the most interesting and diverse beers you can dream off (the legendary beer writer Michael Jackson wrote a great book all about the range and brilliance of Belgian beers).

My affection for Belgium brought me back to the country (via a quick trip to Lille, which is in France, but was once a part of Flanders, which is in Belgium) for the third time and coincided with drinking a fair few fantastic beers.

So, the holiday starts with leaving the Eurostar (a truly great way to travel) and arriving in Lille. This being a beer blog, I’m not going to go into detail about the architecture (partly because I can’t), the historic points of interest or the culture I’ve seen. Rather, I’m going to launch into the beer, bars and occasionally the food (the three are intrinsically linked).

So Lille, we hit a bar called Les Trois Brasseurs. It seems like a lovely little micro-brewery and brasserie (although it turns out it’s actually a small French chain with micro-breweries in most of it bars, but Lille is the original site). We start off with a tasting platter of four of their beers, before I pick out their stout (smokey, malty thick and chocolatey) and my girlfriend goes for the blond (a strong, Belgian style blond ale, crisp, simple and refreshing). We wander the streets, doing some culture and that, getting food, before returning for a 75cl bottle of their speciality beer, La Belle Province, a dark red beer which is refermented with maple syrup. It’s good, but far from stunning. An ample warm up for the treats of Belgium though.

Antwerp Train Station

Antwerp Train Station - not bad, eh?

Lille being very far North in France, and Belgium being tiny, Belgium can be travelled around at very little cost and in very little time, so we start with two nights in Antwerp (0r Antwerpen, if you’re being Flemish). Antwerp is very wealthy. They have the biggest diamond market in Europe, a fair few champagne bars and a thriving fashion scene. It’s a great city for wandering around and gawping, with magnificent squares, some amazing imposing architecture and a giant sculpture of a hand in the middle of the main shopping street (Antwerp means thrown hand, apparently).

That doesn’t mean it’s all swanky, fancy beers here though. We start our Belgian drinking at De Vagant, an old-fashioned style bar that specialises in Jenever (a kind of Belgian gin) but also stocks a good range of beers. Plus, they do hearty portions of soup and bread for a mere €3 and have a lovely old cat milling around. It’s a classic old style bar, long wooden benches, stone tiles, candles and quiet classical music piped across (all the best bars play classical music, it’s probably why drinking here is so placid with no hint of aggression). We have a couple of beers, including a sweet and dark Grimbergen, and De Konnick, a good, but unexceptional pilsner brewed in Antwerp. It’s the local brew of choice, apparently.

It’s actually surprising how many people drink pils here, instead of the richer, stronger abbey-style beers. But then if you spent every night on beers that range between 7% and 12%, your liver would struggle, I guess.

The real highlight, drinking-wise in Antwerp comes in Kulminator that night. A small, crammed smokey bar with strings of sausages flopping around the bar, two cats dancing around the window front, loads of cheese (including aged stuff from the Rochefort and Orval breweries) and shelf-upon-shelf and crate-upon-crate of beer. What’s really noticeable is the ancient, dust-laden bottles on the top shelves. See, while Kulminator do a great range of standard bottles, and some amazing draft beers (we take two very strong, dark, Christmas ales, a Stille Nacht and Bush Noel) and, most interesting of all, lots of very old beer.

The back of the menu is selling beers for beyond €30 a bottle, and it’s because they deal in vintaged bottles of beer. You can, if you ask nicely and have the cash, get 25 year old geuze, or two year old Chimay, or, just about any Belgian beer you can ever want.

An old guild building in Ghent

An old guild building in Ghent

One way to tell an especially strong beer, is a warning at the bottom of the menu that they will only sell you three of said beer. Thus was the case when we visited Ghent and Het Waterhuis Aan De Bierkant. This lovely canal-side bar (Ghent, like Bruge, is full of canals. In fact, Ghent is like a larger, more lived in Bruge. But not quite as beautiful). In this bar, one of their house beers (or Huis Biers – Flemish words often look and sound like English word spoken in a childish tone, thanks lot is “dank u well”), named Klocke Roeland – named after a bell in the city’s Belfry, the middle of three big towers in the city – is rich, strong, slightly red and full of aniseed and banana notes. It’s gorgeous, heavy and kicks in at over 11%.

In retrospect, a beer that strong wasn’t the best thing to drink before going to t’Velootje. Velootje (meaning small bicycle) is, by far, the strangest bar I have ever entered. As you reach the bar there is nothing, other than an Orval plaque, that suggest you are at a bar. The stack of bikes pilled outside the bar, the stiff door that needs a real shove to open, the long curtain than you’re then faced with, then the dim, smokey darkness, don’t scream ‘this is somewhere you would be welcome’.

As your eyes adjust to the gloom, it doesn’t get any easier to get your head round. The ceiling is full, absolutely packed, with hanging, rusting bicycles. The walls carry old beer posters and religious imagery. The tables (two long wooden tables with matching benches either side) have paper and packaging piled around them, alongside a pail holding archaic beer mats (all of them filthy) and religious artifacts and tat. In a corner an old man in shorts and sparkling tights skulks by a fire. A computer sits by him with a cat curled up nearby.

After a few minutes, the tight wearing man comes up to us. “So, you want a beer, he asks?” “Yes”, we reply. That the last option we’re given. He heads off to the back and returns with a beer called Kerst Pater, a 9% sherry-ish Christmas beer, complete with a deep, curranty flavour. We get no glass, and don’t really want to ask.

While we chat with the drunken locals (who work through Duvels and Monty Python quotes at speed), the owner approaches us. “What are your names?” he asks, and we tell him. “The police might arrive, if they do, we are friends, and you are not paying for your beer.” Ok, we nod in agreement and take his name, Leuven, for surety.

Sure enough, the police do arrive (the locals give us a mixed bag of reasons, a trouble neighbour, the open fire, the lack of fire exits and ventilation, the fact it’s an anarchist bar) and stick around for a fair while filling in forms, while we do our best to appear like friends enjoying a few beer in Leuven’s open front room.

Thankfully, the police soon leave, and we ask Leuven for one more beer. He returns with a monster that I know was 12% (my head told me that much the next morning), again with no glass. We drink it willingly, singing along with Leuven’s choice of music (60s psychedelic pop, 50s rock’n’roll, great stuff) as well as some Flemish drinking songs, and, odd enough, Abba’s ‘Thankyou For The Music’.

That’s definitely the last beer of the night. We leave our new friends and head off back to our room. “Will you be open tomorrow?” we ask. “Maybe,” he says. “I might clean”. We somewhat doubt that.

There’s one more city left, our favourite and two more bars to tell you about. Bruges, as I have already mentioned, is magnificent. Beautiful canals, nothing but gorgeous old architecture, grand town houses and old arced bridges. It’s all you could hope it would be, especially if you avoid the two bustling shopping streets and all the tourists.

The bars are good too, if you leave the obvious places and tourist traps. De Garre is, probably, the best. It’s hidden down a narrow alley between two famous old squares. You would barely notice it was there, but after one visit you’d be heading right back. The small, two floor bar is fancy, but not pretentious or too expensive. It’s rustic-feeling, with old wood tables, wonky twisted stairs and a squat bar. It’s table service done with aplomb and the real treat is their own beer Tripel Van Der Garre. A proper, powerful Belgian Tripel that, like the rest of the beers at the bar, comes complete with a small portion of tasty cheese (truly one of the best things about drinking in Belgium).

Dulle Teve in t'Bruges Beertje

Dulle Teve in t'Bruges Beertje

Perhaps the biggest draw for beers lovers though is t’Bruges Beertje (aka The Bruges Bear). You can tell the Bear is a beer-lovers haven because it has a photo of Michael Jackson (the writer) above a mantelpiece, a thick, bound beer menu and loads of people in it all drinking great Belgian beer.

Like Kulminator, there’s plenty of aged stuff here, and loads of Christmas beers too. I go for Straffe Hendrick though, a tripel beer brewed by Halve Moon brewery within the walls of Bruges. It’s actually not as great as I had hoped (having tried and enjoyed the brewery’s blond beer Bruges Zot and its dark sister on a previous visit to Belgium), strong, certainly, but lacking any distinctive flavours. Much better is the Dolle Brewer’s (literally, mad brewers) Dulle Teve (aka Mad Bitch), it packs a massive punch and comes with flavours of tropical fruits and licorice in its golden sheen.

A fellow Brit recognises us from our trip to De Garre and indulges in some serious beer one-up-manship with us. ‘Oh so you like Rodenbach? Have you tried the Gran Cru?’ ‘Yes, yes we have’ and so on. His beery tales and experiences far over shadow ours though, and we give up. His parting shot is to recommend the Christmas beer by Gouden Carolus. When he returns to our table a little later, he’s upset to see we haven’t tried his suggestion. Lucky for us, he vanishes for a moment, and returns with a glass of the stuff, a deliciously thick, malty, treacly beer that’s a perfect Christmas warmer. What a nice chap.

And with that, we bring a close to my commentary on Belgium. This is obviously nowhere near a full account of the holiday. We visited museums, churches and galleries (including an Anime exhibition in an old monastery in Ghent), saw some really famous paintings by the Belgian masters (all of them deeply religious), loads of amazing guild buildings, walked along canals, trod the streets of the city and caught up with a Belgian friend. Oh, and ate a fair bit too (plenty of cheese’n’beer, plus the obligatory soups and, best of all, a beef stew made using Leffe).

If you’ve read this and not visited Belgium before, I hope you might reconsider now.

A Tale of Two Cities: Drinking in Leeds & Sheffield

A pictureless, detail-scant blog (I made no notes while drinking, I feel odd doing that in bars, with friends – it’d just be rude) from me to sum up my drinking experiences fron the last few days – in Leeds and Sheffield (hence the witty name of the blog).

We begin on Thursday night, in Leeds. A friend comes up to visit and we have an invite to the first birthday of Veuve Bar de Champagne in Chapel Allerton, Leeds. On our way to the bus, we pass North Bar and just can’t resist popping in (it being the favourite bar of me and my girlfriend).

It’s Christmas time, which means North Bar are doing their advent calendar beer. So, for each day of Christmas the first person into the bar gets a free beer from the calendar. Then for the rest of the day that bottle is available for cheap. I’m lucky, for when I go in the beer of the day is Goose Island Matilda – an American craft beer brewed with a heavy nod to Belgium.

It rich, dark gold in colour dry and very easy drinking for a 7% beer with slight wild, spicy notes that recall that king of beers that is Orval.

We went on from there to Chapel Allerton and Veuve, where we enjoyed a free glass of prosecco and more than our fair share of canapes (we’d had no dinner, see) but left when we saw that no more sparkle was going to be offered.

Luckily, just up the road is North Bar’s tiny sister bar Further North (cleverly named because is pretty much exactly in line with North Bar, but further north, see). What to order was a no-brainer when I spied that they had Marble Brewery‘s Ginger on tap. It’s light in colour and, surprisingly very gingery to taste. But, unlike a lot of ginger beers, Marble’s offering doesn’t allow the sweet spice to overwhelm their beer. While it’s very definitely there, the bitterness and alcoholic kick still packs a punch in the background. I finished my night with a half of Roosters Outlaw Stout that I don’t remember a great deal about, it was nice though.

Friday night was Sheffield (after a half of Elland‘s powerfully hoppy Nettle Trasher at The Reliance [which has some link to North and Further North]) and firstly Richard Hawley live at The Crucible. It was good, slow, sonorous and powerful – with some good Northern wit from the one-time Pulp man. But this ain’t a music blog, so I will move on.

I was up in Sheffield with my brother, a friend of his and my brother’s girlfriend (who lives in Sheffield). Post-gig it was decided that we’d go to Champs. It sold, I was told, real ale at amazing prices (with several Kelham Island brews for as little as £1) but it was a sports bar and a regular pre-club bar. Sounds odd, I thought, and I was right.

Champs does not look like a place that should be selling great real ales. Its walls are full of sporting memorabilia, the clientele are mainly enjoying lagers and spirits and the staff seem positively pissed off that they have to spare you (they’re much more interested in creatively stacking shot glasses in interesting patterns). When we finally get served, I get excited by spotting Thornbridge‘s Jaipur on tap, and persuade two of my companions to join me in a pint. I’m shocked as our bartender yanks it out of the pumps with no grace or care at all and passes it up far too cold.

It didn’t stop the beer tasting great though, powerfully hoppy but with an underlying honey-d sweetness, and very suppable, despite being 5.9%. Where it weaker, I would have had another half, but I stopped myself and went for a pale ale from Thornbridge whose name escapes me, it was light, a little sweet and with a nice hoppy finish, mind. Then midnight came along and we were swiftly kicked out with little grace. Suffice to say that, if it weren’t for its great beer selection, I wouldn’t darken Champs’ door again. If I do go back it will be during the day when, so I’m told, it’s much quieter and the staff are nicer.

So then, Saturday. The day starts well with a trip to Elland Road for Leeds v Huddersfield. We draw 2-2, but it’s a good game, even if Town are dirty buggers. This bears no relevance to anything else in this blog.

That evening, my girlfriend and I decide to head out to Cross Keys (thus making it four out of four of the North Bar-associated drinking holes in three days) for a slap up dinner. It’s a great pub, all roaring fires, exposed brickwork, beams and brilliant service. The food, traditional English grub done to an astonishingly high standard, was superb, as always. I had a great smoked haddock fish cake with a poached egg and tartar sauce followed by duck breast with chesnut stuffing. I washed that all done with a couple of pint of Saltaire‘s Winter Ale a slightly toffee-flavoured dark winter ale, a real warmer for this time of year. My girlfriend enjoyed a couple of bottle s of the splendid Flemish red Duchesse de Bourgogne – it comes with a sour kick at first, then a sweet, strawberry-esque finish.

In related news, I decided to use the NHS iPhone app for tracking your drink intake. Suffice to say that if I want to stay averaging 4 units per day (the recommended amount for me) I’m going to have to have a relatively sober week.

Find out about North, Further North, Cross Keys and The Reliance here. I’m sure you can find out about Champs somewhere if you want, but I don’t really recommend it.

Transpennine Real/Rail Ale Trail

Train

A train

So, my girlfriend sent a link to my blog out to a host of her friends who she thought might be interested in reading my badly proof-read musings on pubs and beers. It turns out a few of them were quite into it. None more so, though, than a chap called Gareth, organiser in chief of the Bowland Stags, a group of chaps brought together by Gareth’s stag do last year (they toured breweries, it sounds like a hoot) in their quest for quality booze.

“It’s not just a piss up,” says Gareth, “with emphasis on the word ‘just'”.

Their next trip, it turned out, would be starting at Wetherspoons in Leeds station for a very swift pint, before hitting the tracks and calling in at a number of quality pubs in or around stations on the Trans-pennine line (or a trek away, if you call into Slaithwaite – pronouced “slough-it”, unless you’re very posh ).

It sounded to me like a great way to spend a Saturday, and a sure fire way to write off my Sunday. I was right on both counts, and an errors or typos here can be explained away by this strange pain in my head and slightly queasy feeling in my stomach. It just must have been that beef sarnie or pork pie. Right?

So, as I said, we started at Wetherspoons in Leeds. Not really a promising start, I sipped at my pleasant enough – but far too cold – pint of Thwaite’s Liberation, shivering in the cold station, still tasting toothpaste and waiting for my companions. Sure enough, Gareth, Alan and Simon headed to the bar came back with their pints (a pint of Moorhouse for Alan, being a Burnley man, a Leeds Brewery Winterspark for Gareth – which he was impressed with, go Leeds! – and something I forget for Simon) and all agreed that it was served too cold. A bit of whining about Spoons commenced, before we made a dash for our first train of the day – to Dewsbury.

Sure enough, the first train was delayed (quelle surprise), but we refused to let this dampen our spirits. We whipped out our mobiles, found the website for our first proper pub, the West Riding Refreshment Rooms, and digitally slavered over their beer selection.

West Riding Refreshment Rooms

West Riding Refreshment Rooms

When, some 10 minutes late, we got to Dewsbury, we found a real treat instore. The West Riding Refreshment Rooms are, essentially, an old waiting room turned into a pub, and it’s great. Made up of three small rooms, one is taken over by a small bar serving up far more real ale than they should be able to fit, with 8 pumps on a bar than can barely be 6 foot long. The atmosphere is thriving and bubbling, as the pub’s crammed full of Huddersfield Town fans watching Liverpool draw with Man City before heading to the Galpharm to watch Town defeat Hereford (obviously I didn’t predict the results; this is all written with the benefit of hindsight).

We find a quiet (ish) corner and delve into our pints. Simon and I decide it would be rude not to try Anglo-Dutch‘s Kletswater, since it’s brewed in Dewsbury. It turns out to be quite a surprise package, a light, zesty, slightly caramely session beer with starts off exciting, gets quite boring by half way down the glass, but delivers well in the final third. A sneaky blighter indeed. I had intended to try and detail what my companions drank, but for some reason my memory is a little hazy… With such a choice on display though, we commented with surprise that many of the football fans were indulging in pints of Carling. We chose not to challenge anyone on this though.

We finished our pints in Dewsbury ahead of schedule, so the next plan was to hit Huddersfield and visit between one and three pubs. The Huddersfield boozing started at the King’s Head on the station. It’s an odd old pub. Clearly, no-one’s bothered to change the furniture, or indeed, clean it, for a good decade or so. We noted that it’s one of the few places in the world where you can go for a piss and be hit by a stench as you leave the gents, instead of when you enter it.

That aside, the beer selection is, as one would expect from a pub on the Real Ale Trail, splendid. I’m a sucker for anything local, and since they were selling a beer from Bob’s Brewery, the titular Bob having lived next door to me for much of my youth, it seemed only right that I went for a pint of his Healey Ale, a good, refreshing pale ale. Perfect for a long session like today.

Huddersfield Train Station - home of The Head of Steam and King's Head

Huddersfield Train Station - home of The Head of Steam and King's Head

We had to drink most of our pints outside, so as to escape the smell inside, meaning we were soon off to pub number two, The Head of Steam. After settling down with a mint of Empire‘s Moonraker Mild – this pint proved a triumph, and can probably lay claim to being the best of the day – fruity, malty and rich – we were assured we’d have time for a round of beef sarnies and chips and still get our next train. They lied. We finished our sarnies and watched our train speed off. We were stuck in Huddersfield for half an hour, what to do? First, we got another beer in (a great treacly stout, called Treason, from local brewery Summer Wine for me), then we had to make a plan.

(As an aside, it was while we were in the Head of Steam that we wondered why more stations don’t have platform-side pubs. I’d use the train much more if every journey could coincide with a good pint, and it makes waiting for trains a thousand times better).

The answer was easy. Dewsbury’s pub had recommended making a call to The Sportsman, just a few minutes from the station. So, with half an hour to kill, we made our way. I picked up a half of Newky Black from great Wakey brewery, Fernandes, and enjoyed a 6% killer of a rich stout. We then rushed (literally in Gareth’s case, who earned 7p by winning a bet that he could be first to the station) back to the platform and jumped on a train to Slaithwaite.

The Swan

The Swan

Now, here’s where the claims of the Real Ale Trail get a bit murky. They reckon The Swan in Slaithwaite is 2 minutes walk from the station. They don’t mention that it’s actually over 5 minutes walk, or that it involves several big hills. We were lucky to bump into a bloke carrying several bottles of Brewdog beers (a sign of someone who knows their booze) who assured us we were on the right track, and sure enough, there it was, just over the next hill.

The Swan was a proper locals pub. Loads of good beer, sport on a big telly, and a crowd that was mure than just real ale enthusiasts but folks from Slaithwaite enjoying a decent tipple.  My drink of choice here was the ever reliable Saltaire‘s Copper Ale. It’s malty, slightly spicy and a little fruity. Splendid.

Two pints of Beyond the Pale and three pork pies in The Railway

Two pints of Beyond the Pale and three pork pies in The Railway

Soon enough, it was time to head on to what would be my last spot (my Lancastrian companions would all make two more stops on their way home; I felt I was drunk enough to not go too much further).  So, we hit Greenfield and The Railway Inn. This pub was, as the name suggests, built to house weary travellers straight off the train, and we were ready for some refreshment. As well as selling loads of beer, they also do splendid pork pies, with a range of mustards (although Simon wasn’t particularly impressed with any of the mustards, claiming they needed more spice. As a non-mustard eater I couldn’t contribute to this conversation). We all got a pint of Elland Brewery‘s Beyond The Pale – a floral, multi-award winning pale, why it wins awards is clear – while seated inconviently right infront of the big screen, blocking the view of the regulars who were there for Manchester United v Everton. We followed that with a very swift half of Millstone‘s Tiger Rut, another classy pale ale with strong citrus notes, and then it was time to seperate.

With a slightly spinning head, I got my train to Huddersfield, nodding off and awaking just in time to leave the train, before making my way back to Leeds. I did try to read some of Pete Brown’s Three Sheets To The Wind on the journey, but my concentration couldn’t quite keep up with it.

It’s worth noting here, that aside from a £4.80 ticket from Greenfield to Slaithwaite, I did this whole journey (including a bus at the start and end to Meanwood and back) for a mere £6.20 with a Metro Day Rover Bus & Train. I’d recommend it.

It’s also worth putting in that I’m currently feeling the effects of the drinking documented just above, so I apologise for any errors that may appear. And for the increasingly scant details as the day went on. It was a long one, but a good one, and I’d like to thank the Bowland Stags for inviting me along.

More on the Real Ale Trail here. All photos (except the fuzzy one of beer and pork pies, which is mine) are nicked from their website too.