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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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.

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

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