Sheffield Taps: Meet The Brewer – Thornbridge

I went to a meet the brewer event at the Sheffield Taps last night. I drank more than I should for a school night, have a slight haze in my memory, took no notes, took no photos and now can’t really write much.

So here are a collection of thoughts, in note form about the evening in general. It’s not going to tell you much, you could find out loads more by reading Mark from Real Ale Reviewsfar more proper post.

1) My primary drinking companions Mark from Real Ale Reviews and Rob from HopZine are thoroughly good chaps, and a pleasure to go out drinking with

2) Sheffield Taps is a GREAT pub. It looks amazing with its wooden panneling and old tiles,  and the beers, just row. Loads and loads of ale on hand pull, some great world beers on tap and one of the best bottle selections you’re likely to see

3) It’s worth a £9, 45 minutes train journey to visit Sheffield Taps

4) Thornbridge make some truly great beers. Kipling and St Petersburg  especially

5) Take away cartons of beer are a brilliant invention

6) Taking away beer on the train when you’re already quite drunk is NOT good for a hangover

7) Skate kids like getting free beers from brewers

8 ) The smell of hops never gets old

9) Having a pub on a train station doesn’t help make sure you get your train. Oops.

10) (last one) I should have listened to the brewer more, and chatted less. Oops again.

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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.

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.

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