USA! USA! North Bar’s American Beer Festival

Hey look. I’m writing a blog about beer and beers. There’s a novelty.

North Bar’s American beer fest ended yesterday. I wouldn’t be a proper beer enthusiast, or part time beer blogger, without going, or passing comment. So I went yesterday. And it was good.

Why was it good? Well, firstly I went with good, interesting friends, and we talked and chatted about all sorts. That was nice. Secondly, the beer was good.

American beer is, as any beer enthusiast will know, probably the most exciting kind of beer that there is. No, really. Get past all that crap mass-manufactured Budweiser crap and the Americans blow the socks off most of our beers. Their beers are just bigger, harder, faster, stronger, hoppier, mightier, weirder than ours. And that makes them exciting.

Most American double IPAs are designed to the point where, after one sip your taste buds are blasted and incapable of tasting anything but hop for at least three hours. Their stouts, porters and barley wines are big, strong, smokey and often around 10& abv. In short, their beers are interesting, experimental and often quite likely to surprise you.

Obviously I didn’t try anything like all the beers on sale at North Bar. If I did I’d be a) drunk and b) broke. See, American beers are generally a) quite strong and b) very expensive. They’re worth the abv and the £s though. And North Bar have been wise, The American stuff on tap was available in 1/3 pints. Perfect for a 9.6% £10 a pint beer. Let’s face it £3.30 is just about affordable, and if, you want to try something innovative, excititng and rare, well worth it.

So what did I have. Well, my I-am-socialising-so-therefore-won’t-make-tasting-notes-because-it-would-be-rude-anti-social-and-just-a-bit-weird rule meant I’m not entirely sure. I definitely have Sierra Nevada’s Big Foot barley wine. Just because I’ve never had it from keg before. Its very good on keg, smokey, not too sweet and treacley-thick. I also had a Hercules Double IPA, I’m not sure which brewery it’s from, but it was stunning IPA. Not strong enough to make your toes curl and face scrunch up, but balanced, beautifully drinkable and not tasting for a minute like it was over 10%.

I moved on to the fridges then. An Odell porter was surprisingly low in abv, and was a simple, no frills take on the style. Great, tasty and smokey, and not extreme at all, just balanced and tasty. Finally, I had Buckbean Orange Blossom Ale. Wow. It came in a can that made me look like an alcolohic tramp with special brew, but the flavour was stunning. The hops were prominent and dry, and the orange blossom gave it an amazing floral, citrus bitterness on top. A great way to finish the evening.

I’m afraid if you’re reading this now, you’ve missed North’s American beer festival, but it’s on at Further North RIGHT NOW. Go.

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Flying Dog Raging Bitch

Every beer blog worth it’s salt has written about the dreadfully named and dreadfully tasty Raging Bitch Belgian-style IPA.

I’ve not got round to it yet, but I’m drinking a bottle for the first time right now, while watching the USA lose to Ghana.

It’s a bloody good beer. Not intensely bitter too the point where the toe-curling hop blast dominates, and beneath that dryness, it’s all tropical fruits and sweetness – like bubblegum, and those yellow and orange striped sweets you used to get.

It’s very good. Incase you haven’t tried it yet, make sure you do.

WOAH! The UK Launch of Dogfish Head.

Dogfish Head

Dogfish Head

This should be brief. Maybe it won’t end up being so, but it should be.

Last night was, as the post’s imaginative title suggests, The UK Launch of Dogfish Head. Maybe I’m lazy, but I can never be arsed telling you all about some exciting brewery. They’ve all got websites that will tell you more than I know. In the case of this Delaware brewery (see I told you a little) you can find out loads more here. That’s easy.

What I will tell you is that while it seems the US can’t get enough of DFH (technically the F shouldn’t be there, but it looks better), we’re stuck, well, not being able to get enough of it. Until very recently (yesterday) we’ve got dribs and drabs every now and then. It’s been very pricey and unreliable in its attendance behind bars and on shelves.

Lucky for us, the good folk at Leeds based beer importer Vertical Drinks (guys, if you ever need a new employee, I’m yer man) decided that enough was enough and they were bloody well going to get DFH over here. So now we have it. It was that easy.

So, folk in Leeds can buy their DFH at North Bar and Beer Ritz now. And probably some other places now. Do they want it though?

The evidence of last night suggests that bloody hell, yes they do. There were some 40-50 people paying the very reasonable £25 per head to be at the launch at The Cross Keys in Leeds, and try the beer with food as paired by The Cross Key’s bloody good chefs. I’ve posted the menu before here, it looks bloody tasty. And it was.

I’m not going to describe all the beers (they probably do that on the DFH website). I will give you the edited highlights though.

What We Drank: 60 & 90 min IPA, Raison D’Etre, India Brown Ale, Paolo Santa Marron and one special extra

Best Beer: India Brown Ale (hoppy and malty all at once, really rich, chewy and a little sweet)

Best Beer and Food Pairing: 60 Minute IPA and devilled sprats (that means spicy whitebait) – the spice and hops was perfect, and the crisp freshness of the IPA was refreshing and cleansing after them smelly fisheys.

Best Bit of The Evening: Well, we’d all worked out we were going to try Life & Limb long before we were actually told. But yeah, we got to try Life & Limb, the collaboration between Sierra Nevada and DFH. Unfortunately I got about 25mls of the stuff (we have 4 out of 12 bottles in the UK, so sharing was a must, and my pour was stingier than most). I’m not moaning, but after so much food, that wasn’t really enough to give it a proper judgement. Zak Avery is loads better at that than me. He tells you all you need to know here.

What I Learnt: I still love owt that’s packed full of hops, India Brown Ale is loads nicer than it sounds, I should take photos and make notes more, more girls come to beer tasting events than you’d think, sharing five bottles of beer (three per table of seven) still gets you nicely pissed if they range from 6-12%, Venision Faggots, despite having a name that can no-longer be said without a guilty titter, are well nice, Parkin is the best kind of cake there is.

Will I Be Buying DFH Now: Damn right I will. Especially the 90 Minute IPA and the India Brown Ale

Am I Going To Stop Writing This Now: Yes. Night.

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

It’s Christmas so: Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale 2009

Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale and my Christmas tree

Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale and my Christmas tree

As anyone who’s ever been in a pub, wandered into an off license, or glanced at booze in a supermarket before, knows, Christmas always means loads of special Christmas beers. They’re often slightly red in colour, regularly have a stupid picture of Father Christmas on the pump clip or label and are a godsend to out of work pun writers. They’re also, more often than note, a wee bit stronger than a typical ale (normally English Christmas brews hit somewhere between 5% and 6%).

In other country’s, Christmas beers are something truly spectacular. Give Belgium’s De Dolle brewer’s Stille Nacht a go, or, best of all Gouden Carlous’ Christmas ale, or Bush Noel. In fact, just try some Belgium Christmas ales. They tend to be over 10%, pretty much pitch black and rich, roasty and spicy.

I have a Stille Nacht and Gouden Carlous Christmas in my cellar. But they’re being saved for Christmas day. But, this bottle of Sierra Nevada Celebration was looking very tempting one cold December evening when I needed a winter warmer.

It pours (as many other festive beers do) a ruby red colour, with a nice creamy head.  The smell, well, there’s loads of hops in there, but also something Christmassy, it’s hard to put your finger on at first, but yep, this smells of pine, it’s like a Christmas tree in a beer. And that’s a good thing.

At 6.2% it packs the punch you would expect, with the initial hoppy bitterness cleansing the palette and allowing, again, for those piney flavours to lurk in, along with hints of red berries too. It’s a great beer for these cold December evenings, but doesn’t pack those deliciously over-the-top flavours that some Belgian Christmas beers go for – but then this is a very different kind of beer.

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.

Crown Brewery – Wheat Stout, Unpronouncable IPA – My Word, What A Brewery

Wheat Stout

Wheat Stout

Time to fess up. Were it not for the splendid Zak Avery at Beer Ritz I would probably never have heard of Crown. I was skulking around his shop looking for some choice Oktoberfest ales, and Crown’s Smokin Oktoberfest – despite being from Sheffield which, last I checked, is nowhere near Germany – was, so I was told the pick of the bunch.

I believed Zak (well, you have to believe someone who’s an award-winning beer writer, right?) and bought the beer. It’s still in my cellar (read: damp basement) now, waiting for the right time to be supped. But it that time, the aforementioned Avery shoved a bottle of their Wheat Stout in my hand, and also recommended the Unpronouncable IPA. I got both, drank my Wheat Stout last night and have an Unpronouncable IPA by my side right now.

And thank bloody god that I do. This is good stuff.

So who are Crown Brewery? It’s a microbrewery from Sheffield (as I’ve already told you) based in the cellar of the city’s Hillsborough Hotel.  It’s name comes from another brewery that once existed on the other side of the road in the 1930s.  It got a new lease of life in 2006 when new owners took over the pub and brewery, and since July 2007 they’ve employed the services of Stuart Ross, formerly of Acorn and Kelham Island breweries.

I’ll start with the Wheat Stout (because I’m still savouring the IPA now).  It starts promising, pouring out a rich, deep black, with a dark, creamy head.  It doesn’t take much for the nose to get impressed either – it comes out all powerful and surging with bitter coffee and dark chocolate forcing its way up the nostrils.

It promises for an impresive stout, and as its sips, it delivers as you would expect. The longest-lasting and most prominent flavour is liquorice, a whole heap of liquirice, but those chocolate and coffee notes kick in too, while the powerful, warming finish is biscuity – digestive biscuity to be precise.

The Unpronouncable is, I assumed so called because its a hefty – or,if you will, traditional 7%. That’s a little closer to what the original IPAs were meant to be (they had to be strong to surive the crossing to India, see). Certainly a great deal of words could become muddled, stumbled over and generally tough to say after a couple of bottles of this.

Just because it’s pretty strong doesn’t mean that this ain’t subtle. Have no doubt, this a clever beer. After appreciating the golden colour and lovely creamy head, the first thing you get is blackberries. Yep, blackberries. Thanks, so the brewery say to their Bramling Cross hops,  this is a gloriously fruity beer designed, in the brewery’s own words as “a nice adversary to the super-hopped US-style IPAs”. They succeed in doing so. Yep, this is nicely bitter – but not overly so.  And once you’ve got your head round those lovely fresh blackberry flavours (help, no doubt, by Crown’s insistence on bottle conditioning), you get a slight bitter apple finish. Is there a better combination of flavours for the autumn?

The best bit of all this (for me) is that I still have the Oktoberfest beer to try. I shall my thoughts on that when it’s opened.

Have a look at the brewery