Homebrew Batch #3: The Collaboration

There are some big collaborations in the beer world. Sierra Nevada & Dogfish Head (read Zak Avery’s thoughts on that here), Brewdog and Three Floyds (Eating Isn’t Cheating’s thoughts on that here), Mikkeller and well, anyone (read Hopzine’s thoughts on various Mikkeller collabs here).

And then there was Tom from ReetGood and Fletch from Real Ale Reviews.

Every blogger in Leeds seems to be brewing at the moment, many brewing hop bombs, imperial stouts or black ipas because, well, they know what they’re doing and they want to make something that fits their own tastes.

Fletch and I were slightly less ambitious.

We bought a kit from the lovely (if somewhat sardonic) chaps at Abbey Home Brew in Kirkstall. Well, it’s kind of a semi-kit called Design a Brew.  It’s from a tin, but you can pick your own malt colour (ranging from 1 – light, to 4 – dark), your own teabags of hops and then extras, like torified wheat teabags, lemongrass, dried elderflowers. You know all you need for some EXTREME brewing.

I’ve made a summer ale with lemongrass by this method before. It wasn’t an unqualified success. The taste was pretty good, the nose was alright too. Unfortunately loads of my lemongrass powder ended up in the bottles, making for quite a lumpy beer experience. Dang.

This ReetAleReviews project was not going to end up with bitty beer. We went for a simple classic, a Burton pale ale.

Armed with a bath full of sterilised water, my hobs, a big old tub, several decent sized sauce pans, a thermometer and loads of water, we went to work one weekend, sampling a few tasty examples of a friend’s homebrew (also made via Design-a-Brew) for motivation.

The frustrating thing about all this brewing is the waiting. You wait for stuff to sterilise, you wait for stuff to reach the right heat and then, when it’s all done, you wait a week to bottle, then months before you sample. Bloody rubbish.

Unexpectedly, the sampling of the beer was delayed by the early arrival of the son, but, as a kind of mini head-wetting ceremony, Fletch called round once the bottled beer was ready for sampling. We opened, and poured.

The beer was dark for a pale ale. Very dark. Like a mild.

Nevermind we thought and gave it a sniff.

Many kit homebrews have a horrible chemically nose to them, not this one. A relief.

Then the tasting. We took a few sips. ‘This, is ok,’ we agreed. It’s not life-changing, or surprising, or flavour packed, but it is a good,solid traditional ale. Smooth, easy drinking and with a hint of blackberry in the finish (god knows where that came from), this was a decent sup. We’d both bought worse from pubs before.

This last reflection was enough for us to brand this brew a success. Hurrah!

There might still be a name, and a label to come, who knows. And hopefully, diaries permitting a second collaboration before 2012. We’ll keep you posted.

Advertisements

A Timmy Taylors Cocktail?

In semi-beery news, local PR firm (and generally lovely folks) SLB PR have launched a new cocktail competition for Yorkshire called Made in Yorkshire. You can read more about it here.

I’m rather a fan of a good cocktail (aren’t we all) and this competition sounds like a good one. The rules are pretty simple, they just state that the cocktail must include an ingredient from Yorkshire. That could be Pontefract liquorice, Wakefield rhubarb or, well, anything we make in this fine region of ours.

Most intriguing though is the suggestion that you could use a Yorkshire ale as base for your cocktail. I’d had a few beer-based cocktails before, and generally found them underwhelming. Local chaps Leeds Brewery launched a few on sale at their lovely Pin bar and I can’t say I took to them.

They made one cocktail for each of their three regular beers, the best being a chocolaty concoction based upon their tasty mild Midnight Bell. It was quite tasty, but sweet and served oh-so cold, and left me wishing I’d just opted for a pint of Bell instead.

But, we have loads of options in Yorkshire, Black Sheep, maybe Old Peculier might work, Rooster’s various flavoured beers might lend themselves well, and some of Fernandes’ lovely rich stouts could do the trick. But, is any cocktail going to improve on the flavours already present in beer?

A great cocktail can really make the most of the flavours of the spirit. Think of the daiquiri, martini or the old fashioned, still strongly reminiscent of their base spirit, but adding extra depth to drink. Is beer already too complex a drink – blessed with its own bitterness and sweetness – to work in a cocktail? Or are the flavours just too subtle in beer to stand up to the addition of fierce spirits.

Perhaps one of BrewDog’s more extreme/daft beers, with their massive abvs and huge hop flavours would be a good solution… But they’re not from Yorkshire, so they can bugger off!

Back to the start though, this Made in Yorkshire competition should be an interesting one, and is a great advert for some of the great produce, bars and bartenders we have round these parts. There’ll be more stuff on http://www.leedsguide.co.uk/food about it as it happens.

Does anyone out there have good experiences with beer cocktails? Or bad experiences? Or good recipes?

Baby Bar

Me (L) and Baby (R)

I’ll tell you one thing that’ll make you look at pubs and bars very differently, bringing a baby into them.

Now I can boast a wee nipper of my very own (very wee infact, he’s about the same size as my pint glass in the picture over there on the left) I’m not giving up on trips to the pub, or sampling new beers, or just enjoying the convivial atmosphere you go into a good bar.

In England it seems to be considered a bit odd to carry your baby with you to the pub, but pop into any bar in mainland Europe and no-one would turn their head at all.

Thankfully, some bars round these parts like to take a good European attitude about these things. Way back when my new local Alfred opened I contacted the owners (this was when my little one was still safely in the womb) and asked if they would be accepting babies. I was delighted to discover that they would be very welcoming indeed – even having a changing table (albeit in the ladies’ loos only).

Within the first week of having the little ‘un home, I was wrapping him up in our special baby sling (take a look at the photo) and popping out to Alfred for a quick pint. Obviously, you don’t want to be getting drunk while holding the baby, that’s both reckless and irresponsible, but I can see no harm in having a drink or two with baby attached.

On the other end of the scale to Alfred, I was surprised to learn that the neighbouring East of Arcadia would only allow kids in during the day, and only if you were eating. But they do let dogs in at all times. I’m not sure what that says about the relative noise and smells of dogs and babies.

Now, I know that for someone heading out for a quiet drink, the idea of a screaming baby at the next table is pretty horrific and, I can see the point. Bringing a little child with no self-control into an adult environment needs to be done with sensitivity to the other people you’re sharing a room with.

Our personal plan is to make sure the little ‘un is settled before leaving the house, fed, changed and happy. As long as you’re not out for more than a few hours, he’s not going to start kicking up a fuss. And, if he does, then you need to react to his needs quickly. If for some reason he won’t settle or quiet (which hasn’t happened yet) it’d be a case of quickly finishing up and heading home. Simple.

So what do you think? Is it ok to bring a baby into a bar? Comment and let me know.

Felinfoel Double Dragon – A Welsh Beer for a Welsh Party

Last Saturday I sent a message via Twitter to Leeds’ brilliant (AND DEFINITELY STILL OPEN) Beer Ritz asking them if they had any Welsh beer in stock. “Only Felinfoel Double Dragon – is there anything you’re after?” was their response.

I wasn’t really sure what I was after, maybe something from Otley Brewery, I know that they’re quite hip these days, and from Wales. Other than that, I was open to suggestion. Having just one beer available was perfect though, saved me having to make a decision. I dispatched my father to Beer Ritz with instructions to grab me half a dozen bottles of Felinfoel Double Dragon – ‘they sell it in Beer Ritz’, I figured, ‘so it must be good’.

Why did I want a Welsh beer, and any Welsh beer? Well, as my post title suggests, I was having a bloody Welsh party, wasn’t I?

Turns out that Felinfoel Double Dragon was exactly what I wanted. The party was a small, family affair (parents, in-laws, wife, new son [born unexpectedly in Wales, hence the theme]). Food came in the form of lashings of damn fine Welsh Rarebit.

So we cracked open the Double Dragon. A 4.2% ale, and proclaimed “The National Ale of Wales” (although I’m not sure who decided this). It was just a proper, honest ale. A rich acorn-colour, good and malty with lovely hints of hops lurking inside. While I wouldn’t be so bold as to proclaim this a FAB!POW (which is, it seems, what every beer blogger seems to call any kind of beer and food pairing these days), the smooth warm tones of the beer sat splendidly with the intense cheese hit of the rarebit and proved lovely and refreshing on a hot Spring day.

In a world where beers seem to struggle to gain praise if their not proudly single-hopped, high abv’d, hitting 100s of IBUs or flavoured with something weird and wonderful, sometimes we forgot the pleasure of supping a quality ale, in a lovely setting, with good folk.

This is what this post was about.

Do I think Double Dragon is a great ale? No. But in the right setting, at the right time, with the right people, it’s bloody lovely.

Becoming More Like Alfie… Alfred Bar opens in Meanwood

You’ve probably noticed me banging on and on and on about the fact that North Bar are opening a pub in Meanwood.

Well, they’ve done it. It’s called Alfred. And it’s bloomin’ lovely.

And, to make it even better, I managed to get the FIRST EVER PINT EVER SERVED AT ALFRED. Which was awfully exciting. I wasn’t queuing up outside or anything. I just popped in at 1715 on the opening day, everything was spick and span, I ordered a pint of Rooster’s Wild Mule, and lo, it was the first ever pint.

How very, very exciting.

And look, here’s proof.

The bar has all the charm you’d expect from a North Bar, and sits somewhere between North and Further North.

The beer offering is good too, with Lindeboom, Schneider Weiss, Brooklyn Lager and Bacchus on tap and handpulls offering Rooster’s Wild Mule, Marble’s Ginger and Elland’s 1872 Porter. Splendid.

I’ve reviewed the bar for Leeds Guide, and you can find it here.

The Beer Prole has more photos and a review here

www.alfredbar.com

Alfred on Facebook

Alfred on Twitter

Smoke Me a Beer, I’ll Be Back for Breakfast (OR Aecht Schlenkerla Eiche)

Smoked beer is weird stuff. Very weird.

The first time I encountered it was in North Bar. A drunk man in a hat was talking to me. He tried to make me wear his hat. And I did. Through the whole hat-related conversation I remember thinking, ‘this man STINKS of smoke’. This being post-smoking ban I could not fathom how on earth a mere mortal could reek so much of smoke. And of bacon.

He was sipping a pint of pitch black beer. He offered, nay, insisted that I try it. Now, if a man who stinks of smoke and bacon, who insists on me wearing his hat tries to make me share a drink, I think of germs, and diseases and I say no. To appease him I agreed to order my own half of this beverage he was so keen for me to try.

Strangely, the smell of smoke (and bacon) got worse as I received my half pint. I was only when I raised the glass to my mouth and the aroma from the beer hit my nosed that I realised why. The bloody beer was smoked. And bacony.

The man may have been drunk, odd, and strangely interested in me wearing hats, but he stank of neither smoke, nor beer, Well, his breath did, but that was because he was drinking Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbeir. This beer is made by the Schlenkerla brewery who smoke their malts on beech as an age old way of drying them quickly.

It’s odd stuff. Thick enough to chew upon, a powerful nose that smells of (yes) smoky bacon crisps and then a lurking sweetness deep down that tries to battle off that wicked smoke, but never quite manages it.

It is good though. Very good. A half pint was more than enough for me, mind.

I thought this chapter in my life was over until a week before Christmas I headed up to North Bar again, this time for a Leeds Guide article called Bartender’s Choice, where a local bartender picks a favourite beverage and talks about it. And, of course, let’s the writer try it. It’s a hard knock life…

So, I met Jim. He had a big beard and held in his hand a bottle with a similar, but slightly different logo to the keg that once let forth my first taste of rauchbier.

This time, it was different. This was a Christmas special. It looked like this:

This was Aecht Schlenkerla Eiche. It was bloody gorgeous. It’s main difference from the rauchbier was that the malt was smoked on oak, rather than beech, and what a difference it made. The nose still packs a smoky punch, but underneath, there’s honey, vanilla and a warming kick (as you would expect from an 8% beer).

These notes are limited, because you should read the rest here: http://www.leedsguide.co.uk/review/bartenders-choice/jim-thackray-north-bar/17614

Unfortunately, since my blog went into hibernation over winter, North have probably sold out of this now, but ask ’em next time you’re in. Just in case. Just be aware that if you get chatting to someone while you drink it, they might start wondering why you smell like crisps.

APPENDIX

An explanation of the post title can be found here:

Meanwood Pubs, an update for 2011

Sorry again for the paucity of updates on Reet Good. Christmas and that have kept me hectically happy in visiting friends and family, actually spending time at home relaxing. Plus, I’ve been reading endless books on evolution (it seems that I’m hungry, nay starving, for knowledge) and watching ‘The West Wing’, a brilliant but cruel mistress which eats up all your time with its expertly told tales of life inside the White House.

‘The West Wing’ is over now though, so it’s back to more reading, and a refreshed attempt at regular blogging for 2011.

So, blathering over with, time for some Meanwood pub updates, which seem to be attracting a huge amount of interest. We’re clearly a heavy drinking bunch in this lovely north Leeds suburb.

First up, I promised a link to my Leeds Guide review of East of Arcadia and never delivered. Look, though, it’s here now. Right here: http://www.leedsguide.co.uk/review/bar-review/east-of-arcadia/17526

Secondly, we have the new North Bar, to be opened just a few doors down from East of Arcadia. It shall be called Alfred (as a smart Hitchcock-ian nod to North By North West, what with the bar being North West of North Bar). It shall be open in about a fortnight, and it shall be pink.

It looks like this

Well, a bit like this. I assume there’ll be less scaffolding, and an actual bar and stuff when it opens. You can get updates on their Facebook here, and their Twitter here, and at http://www.northbar.com/meanwood.php

I’m awfully excited. I’ve hopefully got my own hook for a tankard there and everything.

 

While we’re on pubs, I also recently visited Leeds Brewery‘s great latest acquisition, The Garden Gate. Another Leeds Guide review can be found here. I can sum it up like this: it’s a proper lovely, old pub, and it sells Leeds Brewery’s decent four regular beers, but you should visit whether you like beer or not, because it’s properly stunning.