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.

It May Be An Oldie, But It’s a Goodie Too: Durham’s Evensong

Durham Brewery Evensong

Durham Brewery Evensong

You expect the Durham Brewery to be situated in some idyllic monastery. Their bottles come with a nice cross logo with some intricate Celtic twirls around. You can see what I’m talking about by looking to your left right now. However, if you follow this link here, you’ll see that it’s actually in a rather natty looking industrial estate – ah well.

Their olde worlde schtick is aided by this bottle of Evensong I’m drinking as I type. It’s brewed to a recipe dating backing to 1937 (that’s over 70 years hence).

It’s an old recipe and it’s a damn good one – the ruby-tinged darkness hints at the fruity notes alongside the smokey-coal-like, flavours of a stout or porter. It almost flits between flavours of a mild and a stout, picking up hints of both and melding them together into a rich, densely flavoured winter beer.

Perfect for when the sun begins to set.

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.

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.

STAGGING IT! And the Shropshire Union Canal Beer Club

Assorted beer club beers

Assorted beer club beers

As I write this blog post, my body seems to be in some kind of post-barge stress disorder. I may have been firmly on dry land for well over 24 hours (and I was only on a boat for two nights), but still my mind is still gently rocking me back and forth. When it will stop, I know not. But I hope it’s bloody soon.

So, what am I on about? Well, this week was a STAG DO! but not in the way you think. We didn’t hit the nearest swanky town, fill ourselves full of beer and then call into the nearest strip club. Oh no, for this was a classy, sophisticated, well behaved affair. This was a barging trip, between Bunbury (there were two English graduates on the trip, and neither of us made an Importance of being Earnest joke, indeed, I only just noticed the link n0w) and Chester on the Shropshire Union.

Our relatively sober, good behaviour was partly due to us all being sensible grown-ups with self-control and a knowledge of our own limits, and partly down to the worry that a hangover on a barge could be about as pleasant as being in a furnace with a temperature, or on a building site with a migraine.

However, this being a stag do, there was obviously going to be some drinking. But this wasn’t normal drinking. It was beer club. The stag do organiser had told us all to bring some interesting beer with us. That beer was going to be shared, tasted and rated. This was beer club.

Now, most beer tasters would be horrified at this tasting. Our scores were out of 10 for each beer, with no real criteria. We were tasting our beer out of plastic cups with a skull and crossbones on (their was a slight pirate theme upon the barge, we even had a Jolly Roger before some Chester bastard nicked it in the night), the beers were drunk roughly in order of darkness and most of the beers were just from the supermarket. A sophisticated beer tasting this was not. But, it was a laugh. And that’s what matters.

Our  barge was called the Speckled Hen, so, we started we Old Speckled Hen. It came straight in at 7 out of 10, mainly for being inoffensive, yet pretty tasty. If unspectacular, our tasting then took us to a few more beers whose notes have been lost in time. We had an Abbot Ale that was far too cold (again, this wasn’t a very scientific tasting) a bottle of St Peter’s Best that scored a lowly 1.87 (“stylish bottle, but fizzy and too shallow” said our shared notes). We had a Ginger Tom which seemed to go down well, and moved on to a Barbar honey ale, which promised much, but disappointed us with a strange mash of flavours (“strong, bitter, sweet and smooth a confused ale that doesn’t know what it wants to be: 3/10”) and a Wells Banana Bread Beer that tasted like that nice medicine you get as a nipper.

After The Banana Bread Beer, we moved on to darker, stronger things. We started with Duchesse de Bourgogne, the Flanders red ale. Many of my drinking colleagues hated the vinegary kick and the sweet flavours. I, however, have been a fan for years, and happily finished off the spares. A Westmalle Dubbel was strangely lacklustre, lacking any depth of flavour, bu Grimbergen Dubbel abbey beer wowed us all, although our notes seem to say “salty and liquoricey. Deliciously hollow – 8.3/10”, which is an odd turn of phrase.

Next up was the dark stuff. Old Tom’s Strong Beer showed initial promise with a nice meaty kick, but then failed to give anything in the finish. Old Growler looked a bit suspect, despite scribbling that it was “like an angular wet dog”, we all declared it “malty, drinkable, really gets in your mouth” (whatever that means) and gave it a mediocre 6.5/10. My beer for the tasting was Meantime London Stout. I loved it, but my companions found it a little bland. Which was odd.

After stouts, some unwise drinker had decided to bring a load of chocolate beers with him, to largely dreadful affect. Meantime Dark Chocolate Ale faired better than the rest, but even that only got the following response: “like alpro soya milk. bleurgh. 4.2/10”. The rest, though, Old Tom’s Chocolate Beer and, worst of all Flors Chocolate got 1.3/10 and our notes just said “nauceous”.

Foolishly, we left the lagers until our palates were well and truly baffled and we had ingested a load of salty snacks. Lucky Beer came in a Buddha-shaped bottle, and was slightly limey and sweet. We quite liked it. Our last beer, Kastell Cru faired less well, the standard one being far too unremarkable to be worth the price, while the Rose version really unimpressed and had us somewhat un-PCly declaring it “quite possibly one of the gayest beers”.

Yes, this was a massively unscientific beer tasting, yes, it might tell you very little about the beers, but it was bloody fun. After that we hit Chester, found a few nice pubs and, it true stag fashion, finished the night on a barge, with cups of green tea (decaff). Wild.

Meantime London Stout: An old fashioned stout

Meantime London Stout

Meantime London Stout

I had to try this beer tonight. Tomorrow night is bottling the home brew night (all being well), which means I’ll be too busy that night for proper sampling. And Friday night I’m jumping in my car, a small number of bottles of Meantime London Stout in my boot, and heading straight off to a stag do. In Shropshire. On a barge.

Part of the stag do will be a beer tasting, where the eight of us each bring a beer to test, rate and, inevitably, make us a bit merry. I opted for this London Stout because I thought it would be a) good and b) interesting. I decided though that I must try a bottle first just incase it’s crap.

Of course, it’s not crap. Head brewer Alastair Hook won the Best Brewer award from the British Guild of Beer Writers in 2008. That means that people who know and write a lot a beer think his beers are good. They’re hardly likely to be wrong. In fact, I know from past experience that Meantime is very good.

So, yes, Meantime London Stout. Yes. London Stout. Because there was stout before Guinness. And that stout came from the UK, and of course because London is the bloody capital and therefore home to bloody everything that’s bloody good, it was in London where most of the brewing went on.

This beer is made using the original recipe for stout. With just malt and no barley, unlike most stouts these day, which mix the two.  Meantime (so called before they’re based in Greenwich) claim that the use of malt gives it “a more velvet mouthfeel and greater vanilla notes than Irish alternatives”.

Velvety sure is right. It tastes rich, creamy, almost soft it the mouth, with a substantial, almost sooty bitterness (that makes it sound horrible, I know, but it’s great, trust me) and even a hint of roasted nuts – hey, it’s Christmas. It’s rich, ballsy and gentle too. It’s got a lot more about it than the 4.5% abv would have you believe. Plus, it goes very nicely indeed with this slice of coffee cake I’m munching on.

Unless anyone brings something really rich and fiery, I’d imagine we’ll be saving this for the final tasting (good luck tasting a light summer ale after this one). I just hope my fellow stags appreciate the all-enveloping smoothness. If not, I know someone who can finish their bottles off!

I’ve still got a bottle of Meantime’s London Porter in the cellar. I’ll be comparing these two when I break that one out.

Click here for more Meantime