The Ship Inn Forecast (A micro-brewery in Newton-by-the-Sea)

I’ll start by apologising for the pun. Sorry.

Assuming you’ve forgiven me and are still reading, I’ll tell you a little bit about one of the nicest pubs I’ve ever visited.

It’s called (as you’ve probably guessed) The Ship Inn, and it’s in Newton-by-the-Sea, which, you may or may not know, is on the North East coast, north of Alnmouth and Amble and south of Berwick. It’s a stunning, and much under-appreciated area. Miles upon miles of coast, unspoilt, bordering on rolling sand dunes and masses of countryside, lovely old buildings and them lovely Geordie folks. It’s also, so I’m told, in the least rainy and sunniest county in England. Awesome.

My girlfriend and I love the North East coast. We go there a fair bit, despite the almost 3 hour drive, and love walking along those amazing beaches.

You’re probably not here to read about all that though, you’re here for the beer, right, and the North East coast has a proper gem hidden amongst the dunes and beaches. The aforementioned Ship Inn.

It’s part of a small U-shaped terrace of houses from pre-1700, now owned by the National Trust, with a lovely grassy square in the middle. The pub has functioned as an alehouse since the 1700s.

The Ship Inn is run by one Christine Forsyth and her daughter Hannah. Christine decided she wanted a change in her life, fell in love with Newton-by-the-Sea (well you would, wouldn’t you?) took a risk, bought a pub, did it up and gave it the TLC it needed.

She then decided to make her pub a home from both great food and quality, micro-brewed ales brewed in the building itself.

She’s done good.

The food is reasonably priced look here, and great, with loads of lovely, locally produced grub – I had locally caught crab salad and it was stunning. The beer though, is even more impressive.

They got the equipment second hand, found a brewer in the shape of Michael Heggarty and started brewery 6 or 7 regular beers. In two visits (one for a restorative half during a walk, and one for dinner) I tried a  few. The Ship Hop Ale is a light golden beer with a nice, fresh hop character, the Dolly Day Dream is a lovely ruby ale rich in flavour and, best of all, is the Sea Coal, a dark wheat stout with smoky notes sat alongside rich chocolate and slightly tart raspberry flavours. I mainly drank that.

Really, you shouldn’t need the motivation to visit this stunning pub and try their great beers to come to the North East coast. Take the pub away and I’d still happily go there once a month for the scenery alone.  But come up (or down) walk, soak up the rugged beauty of the place then, when the night draws in, head to this glorious pub, which makes the coastline even more perfect than it already is.

If I can retire near here one day, I’ll be a very happy man.

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Do Molson Coors Make Better Beer Than Marble?

There was a bit of a furore on Twitter over the weekend.

No, not a furore, a heated debate.

No, not a heated debate, an exchange of opinions.

Ok, there was a discussion.

The tasting note maestro Baron_Orm aka The Ormskirk Baron decided to declare King Cobra, brewed by arch-beer villains Molson Coors (boo hiss!) as better than two beers by everyone’s favourite independents Marble Brewery and Thornbridge.

No really, he did, look here.

This upset a couple of people who couldn’t believe that a beer aficionado could prefer the product of  a big corporation to that of a small, independent company.

I’m falling on the Baron’s side here. While anyone can see the benefits of supporting a small independent company, surely good beer is good beer. I’ve not had King Cobra yet (feel free to send me some Molson Coors folk), but if I genuinely thought it was better than the likes of Raging Bitch or Jaipur, then I’d happily say so.

After all, while these big companies may sometimes be evil (driving others out of business, trying to dominate a marketplace) surely every brewery starts up wanting to be succesful and surely, brewing for these big companies are brewers with a passion and a talent for it – otherwise they’d never get a job making beer in the first place.

So, that’s about it. In summary, in my book good beer is good beer, regardless of where it’s come from.

NB – I should point out that both myself and The Baron do love the beers of Thornbridge and Marble, the point was merely raised because The Baron rated King Cobra 5/5 and some Marble and Thornbridge beers 4/5 (although he did give Jaipur the full 5/5)

Jazz Beer: Crown Brewery’s Django Reinhardt

Crown Brewery's Django Reinhardt

Crown Brewery's Django Reinhardt

Avid readers of my blog (are there any other than my mum? Probably not) will already know about Crown Brewery and my love for them. Read me raving about it here and here and visit their website here.

So, this is one of their jaaazzz (one can’t say jazz without stretching that “a”) beers, a series of beers named after classic jazz musicians. As far as I can tell the musician and style of beer aren’t really linked, beside it being a nice name.

I’ve not had any of Crown Brewery’s other jazz beers, indeed I’ve never even seen one before, and I didn’t realise the series even existed until I browsed the brewery’s own website.

So, what’s this beer like? Well, it’s a Double Damson Porter.

What’s that mean?

Well, I assume the double relates to the use of  a Belgian yeast strain (maybe?) the damson relates to the fact that they brewed the beer using damson for the sugar, rather than boring old sugar itself, and the porter refers to the fact it’s brewed dark and rich using roast malts, like what porters are.

Now, I don’t like criticising this beer. Crown Brewery have always impressed me, and this beer was brewed with the assistance of Zak Avery, a man whose company I’ve enjoyed while perusing his excellent store Beer Ritz and whose blog I religiously read/watch.

But, this beer has not quite hit the spot for me. It poured a lovely deep, dark brown, almost black colour with maybe a hint of damson-y purple (but that might be my brain playing tricks), but it also poured completely and utterly flat. No head, no carbonation, no nothing.

I’m no fizz enthusiast, indeed, I prefer my beers too flat to too carbonated, but the complete lack of carbonation left the flavours rather flat and the nose nigh-on nonexistant.

So while I enjoyed those deep, roasted, espresso flavours of the malt, that bitter kickback and those lingering, sharp, tangy fruit notes, it just all seemed to attack my palate at once, rather than presented itself nicely and ordered as I hoped.

And my hopes were high. I had this on draft at North Bar back in December and while I took no notes, I remember being massively impressed. It was vibrant and fully flavoured.

So, what went wrong? Well, my guesses would be:

1) this beer is just better on cask

2) my habit of not getting round to drinking bottles of beer meant it was passed it best

3) I just got a bad bottle (bottle conditioned bottles are, by their nature, inconsistent)

One of the three above points would also explain why the aforementioned Zak Avery loved it while I did not.

I’d say that I’d like to try it again and see whether this was a one off. But, as far as I know, there’s none of this left. So we’ll have to wait for the next time it’s brewed.

Homebrew For Dummies

Home Brewery

Home Brewery (NB not Brian's kit)

My girlfriend gets regular mentions on here for buying me nice beer related gifts. One of (probably the) best has been homebrew course that I went on this weekend just gone.

Run by a nice Brummie chap called Brian, this homebrew course, in Hove Edge Brighouse, is run without any pretension. Brian is not an expert brewer. He has never brewed commercially, or industrially. What matters is that his homebrew beers, made in his kitchen using pretty basic equipment, are good (good but not exceptional).

The purpose of the course isn’t to set people up to make the extreme beers of Stone or Brewdog, nor the exceptional smart ones of Thornbridge or Sierra Nevada. The aim here is to get passed the scarily scientific language of homebrew books, instil years of experience into new homebrewers and, in essence, just to show you how to do a basic mash homebrew and get beyond those rather uninspiring cans.

It does pretty much exactly what you’d want. Brian talks you through the process from weighing the malt, to mashing the malt, to boiling, to the various ways of bottling and barrelling. We brewed a Moorhouse Pendle Witch and a darker, stronger off the top of our leader’s head. Obviously the time it takes to brew means that we didn’t get try the beers (they’re still brewing at the moment), but the samples of other Hove Edge beers, showed Brian to be a proficient brewer.

The company wasn’t bad either, a couple of brothers from down south, a pair of mates from Chester and, best of all, two very funny, very enthusiastic Irish vets, intent on giving up the business and setting up a brewery under the questionable name of ‘The Horny Brewers’. While I’m not sure about the moniker, their passion was great and their desire to create heavily Belgian influenced beers won my approval.

Has it worked with me? Well, yes. I’ve made one tin-based homebrew before and wasn’t too fussed by it. With the information from this course behind me, all I know need is £100 worth of equipment (which isn’t very much when you consider how cheap it makes brewing beer) and a free weekend. I’m on it, and I’ll share the results of my brews here when I get round to it.

You can find out about and book onto the very reasonably priced (£40 for two days) course here. On top of brewing lessons, over the two days, there’s loads of beers to try, lunch and an infinite supply of tea and coffee.

Crown Brewery Smokin’ Oktoberfest; Four Months Too Late

Why haven’t I already drunk this? Erm, I don’t know.  I bought this beer at the start of October at the recommendation of Zak Avery at Beer Ritz (he told me it was the best Oktoberfest beer they had in, despite it being from Sheffield, and not Germany, which seemed like a good recommendation to you). I’d meant to drink it in October, surely the prime time to drink an Oktoberfest beer, but didn’t. Then November passed by, then December, and so on…

So, it’s sat in my cellar for months now, and Stu, the man behind Crown Brewery (which I’ve written and ranted and raved about before), warned me last week that it might not be over-conditioned and past it best.

It seemed only right that I crack it open as soon as I can. So I do.

And while I leave you awaiting the result, I’ll quickly mention that this isn’t an Oktoberfest beer in the ultra-pure, straight and drinkable Pilsner/lager way. This is an authentic marzen-style rauchbier. Apparently. I’d comment on how authentic it actually is, but I’ve no idea what a marzen-style rauchbier is. Read on and you’ll see what I think.

The opening is spectacular. Rob at Hopzine warned me that this beer was pretty lively way back in October when, like a sensible man, he drank it. To say that this bottle was lively would be something of an understatement.

Crown Brewery Smokin’ Oktoberfest 2009

Crown Brewery Smokin’ Oktoberfest 2009

I put my bottle opener to this in the middle of my kitchen. My arm now smells off Smokin’ Oktoberfest. My kitchen floor’s a bit sticky and smelly and my bottle, after pouring a nice little glass, is half empty (as you can see in this picture her). Yep. This was a true explosion. My sink and floor are a lucky pair of bastards.

Thankfully, none landed anywhere near my tea that this was designed to go with. I’d cooked up a butternut squash and chestnut risotto, and figured that the chestnuts would work well with this beer.

As the name suggests, this is smoky and chewy, full of rich, earthy roasty malt flavours. It’s got a bit of caramel there, and lovely long refreshing finish. And while the nose and first impression of the taste is prominently smoked (not unlike Bavarian ham) it’s not overwhelming. The plan with the meal was that surely roast flavours and chestnuts must work well together?

The good news was that it really bloody does. So much so that I don’t resent nearly half of it messing up my floor and bubbling merrily down my sink. Alas, I don’t think you can get any bottles of this anymore. Maybe they’ll make more for next Oktoberfest? If they do I’ll drink it in October. I promise.

The Fox & Newt: A Leeds Brew Pub

Fox & Newt

Fox & Newt

I lived a minute or so’s stroll from The Fox & Newt last year. It was my local for two years, yet I hardly ever went there. Why?

Well, when I first moved in, it was pretty fucking horrid. It was dirty, there was regularly tussles and unpleasant drunks outside and once they had a Shed Seven tribute band playing. Enough said, really.

But some time last year, this nice little pub in Burley by Park Lane College got taken on by new landlords who reinvented the place. They started doing food, they cleaned the place up and furnished it nicely. Unfortunately they also started putting on some diabolical local bands in order to attract more customers.  But just go when the bands aren’t playing and it’ll be fine.

The best thing that the Fox & Newt did, though, was to decide to push cask ale. They have four pumps constantly on and stock stuff from local breweries like Wharfedale, Leeds, Elland and Saltaire. They also set up a proper microbrewery downstairs and brew four of their own regular beers which, while not owt to right home about, are perfectly good and varied ales. They’ll give you a tour if you ask nicely, something I intend to do for this ‘ere blog sooner or later.

But I think the Fox & Newt might struggle. Aside from when a band bring down a good handful of fans, it’s never a very busy establishment and the pub seems intent on attracting the plentiful students who live in the area. Since they’re based outside the city centre and surrounded by student halls and a college, this is a sensible move, but are they going to suddenly find a massive spike in students drinking real ale, or will they be going for cheap lager and wine to keep costs down and increase drunkeness?

Move the Fox & Newt into Headingley, Leeds City Centre Chapel Allerton or (ideally) my end of town, Meanwood, and it would probably be a thriving community pub, unfortunately, if your main market is students, a push for real ale might be the wrong way to reach your audience.