Monthly Archives: August 2012

A Pub Crawl Round Sheffield – Part 5

This blog carries on from where I left off here.

The Shakespeare

Last time, I left my epic pub crawl round Sheffield at the famous Kelham Island Tavern. We now stretched our legs a little bit to get to the Shakespeare on Gibraltar Street. This pub has the sort of story behind it that just warms the heart. It was a noted live music venue, owned by Punch Taverns, who closed it early in 2010. After a period of 18 months, the pub was re-opened in July 2011 again as a live music venue and more importantly (for me, at least) as a true real ale pub. The man you should thank for this is William Wagstaff, the Shakespeare’s landlord.

To be honest, the Shakespeare is in a bit of a run-down area, and has a frontage that imposes rather than invites. Nevertheless, it is an impressive building (an 1820s coaching inn). Inside, it’s all wooden floors, wood panelling and a real feel of how pubs used to be. The rooms have been nicely refurbished and are full of interesting items. The seating consists of benches and stools. The bar is very impressive, with nine handpumps in use at the time of our visit.

We liked the Shakespeare, and so stayed for three rounds. I started with Craddock’s Saxon Gold. Craddock’s is a new brewer to me, they’ve only been brewing for about a year and are based in Stourbridge in the Midlands. If Saxon Gold is anything to go by, then I predict that they’ll be making big waves pretty soon. Saxon Gold is 4% golden ale, light and highly refreshing. The finish is excellent, hoppy and yet somehow almost sweet. Lovely stuff.

Next up was a brew from the local Steel City brewery, a 5.7% dark ale called A Slight Chance of Overhopping. I’ve had a number of these hoppy dark ales now, and I’m growing to like them very much. This one is dark in flavour with strong roasted maltiness coming out in the initial taste which then morphs into a good strong hoppy finish. It’s jolly good, but not, I think, overhopped.

The final offering from the Shakespeare was Rudgate Fuggle Trouble, a 3.6% bitter. This is where it all went a bit flat. Just not enough flavour. A bit of malt, a bit of hop. Big deal.

The Wellington

Onwards then. The next pub was the Wellington, a traditional Victorian end-terrace street-corner boozer, and what a little gem. It has its own in-house brewery, Little Ale Cart, and the bar positively bristles with ten handpumps. The landlord clearly supports small breweries, and I got to sample beer from more new-to-me brewers.

First was Newman’s Creative Cat. Newman’s is a joint enterprise with Celt Experience brewery of Caerphilly. Creative Cat is a mid-yellow coloured 4.3% bitter. It’s nicely hopped with a touch of graininess to the mouthfeel.

Essex brewer Mighty Oak provided the next jar, Enter the Dragon, a 4.5% porter. It packs a mouthful of roasted malt with a very pleasing smooth sweetness. I wanted another, but more curiosities awaited me on the bar.

The on-site brewery Little Ale Cart was represented by two beers on the bar. The first one I had was Gay Crusader (yes, really!), a 5% strong bitter. This is a smooth, full-bodied beer with a slight spirituous overtaste. Very nice – my list of beers to session on at a later date was growing steadily.

Little Ale Cart Lumley Castle was next, a 4.3% bitter. Quite a contrast to the previous bitter, this one was very mild flavoured. That is not to say it lacked flavour, because it didn’t. The hopping at the end was light and gentle.

For my last beer at the Wellington, I tried Millstone Vale Mill, another bitter, slightly lighter this time at 3.9% – session ale strength. Vale Mill is light, fruity and refreshing. The taste turns gently to hops providing a light, creamy finish. Three bitters, all quite different from each other.

The Gardner’s Rest bar

Our next port of call (some distance away) was the superb Gardner’s Rest, on the wonderfully named Neepsend Lane. The main bar area is light and airy and there are comfortable seating areas to the rear of the pub. A mannikin sits, looking rather bored, at one of the tables. The bar is well stocked, with eight handpumps and three fizz dispensers. The Gardner’s Rest is the brewery tap for the Sheffield Brewery, and four of its beers – Porter, Five Rivers, Crucible Best and Seven Hills were on offer. Being something of a contrarian, and because I was a bit cold after the hike through the chilly streets of Sheffield, I opted for a Bingham’s Hot Dog, a 5% chilli stout. Just what the doctor ordered. It is rich and malty with a strong chilli flavour to put a bit of fire into the coldest of bellies. Great stuff.

Bored mannikin

Hunger gripped us at this stage, and we repaired to the Hillsborough Hotel on Langsett Road for food. After a very satisfying meal, we caught a tram for the seven thousand mile trip back to our hotel.

Coming next… the final three pubs!

Words and images are my copyright. Please respect that. All you have to do is ask. Thank you.

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Posted by on 28 August, 2012 in Cask Ale, Pubs, Scooping


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Three Bottled Beers from Stringer’s

The watchword at Stringer’s Brewery in Ulverston in Lancashire is “renewable”. The microbrewery (which they helpfully define as “like a big brewery but much smaller” on their bottle labels) is powered entirely by renewable energy. They’ve been around for about four years now, and are starting to have a real impact. All their beers are based on Maris Otter malt, whole flower hops and Lakeland water. Personally, I have had eight of their beers from the cask and three from bottles. I’m going to concentrate on these last three. None of these is bottle conditioned.

I’ll start with Stringer’s XB (4.2%), which as you would expect from its name is a best bitter. In fact, although the bottle is labelled XB, this is called Stringer’s Best Bitter when it comes from the cask. It’s a mid-orange in colour and the bottle produces a thin head. The smell combines a warm maltiness with nice flowery hops. The overriding taste is of the bittering hops – there is a real abundance of hop flavour which grows and grows through the taste. At the finish it almost tastes like quinine. The malt is detectable as a small undertaste. The cask version produces a more flowery dry finish, but either way, this is a beautiful beer.

Next, Stringer’s Dry Stout (no picture of this one, sorry). This has a respectable ABV of 4.5% and pours black. It is dark and deeply malty with delghtful hints of toffee, coffee and chocolate. The dryness becomes most apparent in the finish. Lovely.

Finally, we move on to the strongest of the three. Stringer’s IPA has an ABV of 5.5%, and packs a huge wallop of taste. It starts spicy and peppery, growing through a real orange marmalade middle and finishing with very strong floral hops at the end. A whole array of fantastic flavours in one mouthful. I love a complex beer, and I love this.

Words and images are my copyright, please respect that. All you have to do is ask. Thank you.

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Posted by on 26 August, 2012 in Bottled Beer


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Beer Kit Review: Brewferm Diabolo

About twenty years ago, I went through a phase of making lots of beer from kits. Most of them were perfectly drinkable, but quite often had that flavour-characteristic that I (and I expect everybody else) call ‘homebrewy’. It’s a taste that I have tried to remove from my full-mash brews of more recent times.

Some of the homebrew kits that I made in those days, however, never had any hint of that homebrew flavour. One in particular stood out for me. It was called Diabolo, probably the strongest kit beer I ever brewed. I have some notes from those days, but all I wrote for this particular kit was “Brilliant!”

Times moved on and home brewing took something of a back seat, I occasionally made a brew for a special event, but not as a regular thing.

Over the past year or so, I have taken up brewing again, this time full-mash, but last time I went to the local brew shop, I was looking through the kits and there it was – Brewferm Diabolo. Before I knew it, I had bought the kit, along with the ingredients for my next two full-mash projects.

I spent eight hours a few days later mashing, sparging and boiling my latest beer. After I’d finished and washed up, I spotted the Diabolo kit, just sitting there saying “Please make me! Please make me!” I took out the instructions. It seemed very simple, there wasn’t even any boiling involved, so I decided to make the kit straight away. It took all of thirty minutes.

The kit is supposed to make nine litres, but if you follow the instructions to the letter, you end up with a little more than that. Basically, all you have to do is to add water, sugar and yeast and off it goes. Because of the extra liquid, I split the brew between two medium-sized buckets. A single bucket would have overflowed when the head formed, making a mess of the kitchen floor and I was keen not to incur Lady Alebagger’s wrath.

The original gravity reading was 1.070, against the instructions’ 1.075. Maybe the extra water caused the lower reading. After ten days, the specific gravity had been constant at 1.013 for three days, so the beer was racked into two demijohns for what the instructions describe as ‘second fermentation’, though no extra sugar is added at this point. The derived ABV is about 7.2% at this point. The beer remained in the demijohns for four weeks, when it was transferred to 19 Grolsch bottles, with half a teaspoon of sugar added to each bottle.

After sitting in the bottles in a dark garage for six weeks, I decided it was time to have a first taste. Ooh! No disappointment at all. This beer is strong, rich and very smooth. The first two bottles (both drunk at the same time but not both by me) had distinct aniseed flavours, but these have since reduced to the point of vanishing. The beer is a deep orange in colour with a large, slightly off-white head of tightly packed tiny bubbles. It is sweet in the mouth to start, followed by a quick bitterness at the finish. The most prominent flavours are smooth toffee and spicy pepper. The mouthfeel is smooth, with an extremely smooth, satiny finish. There are strong alcoholic overtastes, typical of strong beers.

One curiosity I have noticed: the beer is clear and bright in the bottles with only traces of sediment in the bottom of the bottle, yet when I cool the beer in the fridge, it goes quite hazy. I’m not sure why this happens. If you have any ideas then please comment below.

I drank the first couple of bottles with a friend of mine, a keen and discerning beer drinker. He asked “Why do you go to the bother of brewing from scratch when you can make stuff like this from a kit?”

It’s a reasonable question. I’m sure there are many homebrewers out there who would reply that there is more control and more satisfaction in making it all yourself. It’s like asking a cook why she bakes her own pies when she can get perfectly good ones from the local supermarket. But still, he has a point.

This kit cost me £11.49 and a bit of sugar. That’s damned cheap for 19 bottles of 7.2% beer!

I’m not going to stop doing the full brew, but I’m going to check out a few more kits. After all, I put my full brews in casks, and kits can go in bottles.

In conclusion then; Brewferm Diabolo is an excellent brewkit. You don’t need any special equipment apart from a food-grade bucket. There’s not even any boiling required. You can make your own proper strong Belgian ale for around 60p per bottle. Give it a go!

P.S. For what it’s worth, the full-mash beer I took eight hours to make on the same day turned out to be undrinkable!

Words and images are my copyright, please respect that. All you have to do is ask. Thank you.

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Posted by on 16 August, 2012 in Brew Kits, Home Brewing


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Four Bottled Beers from Ilkley

I’ve not had much luck recently when tasting a number of bottled beers from an individual brewery. I’ve not had anything really bad, but equally I’ve not had anything that raises its head much above the mundane. The thing that most annoys me is that many brewers produce a range of beers that all taste the same. I mean, what is the point? And so it was with a certain resignation that I bought four bottles from Ilkley Brewery.

All four were middle-of-the-range for alcohol content, ranging from 3.5% to 4.2%. As usual, I’ll review them in increasing ABV. None of the beers is bottle conditioned.

Mary Jane is a 3.5% golden ale, a pale yellow in colour, not quite straw-coloured. This beer is full-flavoured and packs quite a hoppy punch. There is grapefruit pith and floral overtones add a lightness of touch to the flavour. A nice, refreshing pale hoppy beer. There were slight disinfectant hints in there too, though these faded the further down the glass I got. This indicates perhaps a slight problem with the yeast in this particular batch, and it is not something I would expect to recur.

Ilkley Black is a 3.7% dark mild. It pours a lovely deep red colour. Liquorice dominates the smell. For 3.7%, this beer is amazingly smooth, with flavours of malt, chocolate and liquorice. There are bags of flavour in there, and it is very good. Unusually for me during a tasting session, I wished that I had another bottle of this to drink right away.

The third bottle was Ilkley Best, a 4.0% Yorkshire best bitter. The colour is a reddy brown chestnut. Made with 99% Maris Otter and 1% Black malts, this beer is strongly hopped with Galena and Brewer’s Gold hops. The result is a true best bitter. Darkish look, bags of maltiness and a really good, strong, bitter finish.

My final beer from Ilkley was Ilkley Pale, the strongest of the four, weighing in at a still modest 4.2%. Ilkley Pale is hopped with the fantastic New Zealand Nelson Sauvin hops, which give a wonderful floral hoppy aroma to the beer. It is wonderfully refreshing, a crisp, clear taste with great floral hoppy bitterness which grows at the finish. It’s great to find a beer that is so easy-drinking without any danger of it being bland. Splendid.

I needn’t have worried. Although I’ve been brought down a bit by some dull bottled beers recently, Ilkley has come along and restored my faith. I enjoyed all of these beers and would happily buy them all again. Best of all, they were all very different, and each one was a fine exemplar of its type.

Words and images are my copyright, please respect that. All you have to do is ask. Thank you.

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Posted by on 13 August, 2012 in Bottled Beer


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