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The Salford City Reds Beer Festival

The Salford City Reds Beer Festival. Never heard of it? No, neither had I until I was told about it by one of the volunteers working there.

‘Salford City Reds’ is a rugby team. It used to be called simply ‘Salford’, but apparently rugby teams now have to have daft American-style names invoking a fierce animal or something. Salford thought long and hard and came up with the colour of their shirts. I would have preferred to see some sort of existential protest to the imposition of silly names, ‘Salford City Greens’, maybe, or ‘Part of Manchester Giraffes’, but that’s just me. It doesn’t affect the beer festival in any way, I’m just filling up space here.

Nice sunny concourse, but not exactly packed

Nice sunny concourse, but not exactly packed

It wasn’t just you and I who hadn’t heard of the festival either. Apparently we were in the vast majority, judging by the very low attendance that I observed on the 8th June when I was there. Immediately before going to the festival, we had been visiting friends who live a mile or so from the venue (Salford City Reds’ stadium, beside the M60 Manchester ring road). They had plans for the afternoon and were unable to attend the festival, but had they known anything about it, they would have attended. They live on a quiet side street, and although they had heard nothing about the beer festival just over a mile from their door, on the lamp-post outside their house was an advert for another beer festival – this one in Mottram, nearly 25 miles away. It’s all the more shame because they have two young children, and the Salford festival deliberately set out to be child-friendly.

I think the problems started with the Salford City Reds’ web page, where the beer festival was announced. I don’t know who wrote the piece, but what impression does “There will also be a wine bar for those with more refined tastes” give?

What the hell does “more refined tastes” mean? That people who drink beer do NOT have refined taste? The wine is (obviously) better than beer? That people who drink wine are better than people who drink beer? Leaving aside the incredible crassness of believing that wine is more ‘refined’ than beer, what does this say about the attitude of the hosts towards their prospective clients? It is stupid, prejudicial and insulting. Nice start.

I noticed that the Greater Manchester Ale News website subtly changed the official line, stating that there would be “a wine bar for those looking for a break from the ale.”

The day was sunny and hot, and the festival was being held in a room that opened up onto a wide concourse, allowing drinkers to sit in the sun and enjoy the heat. If you didn’t want to sit in the sun, there was seating elsewhere inside. I didn’t go searching, but I was told that it was available.

The bar. Well laid-out but deserted

The bar. Well laid-out but deserted

The bar took up one long side of the festival room. There were about 60 ales available. Quite ambitious for a start-up festival. The emphasis was very heavily on light, pale-coloured ales, though there were a few dark ales available. The festival was sponsored by Robinson’s, Stockport’s major brewer. I applaud them for that, but did we really need twelve Robinson’s beers on the bar, most of which were indistinguishable from each other in their blandness?

The heat was obviously causing some problems with the beer, and one of my favourites, Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby Mild, was quite vinegar, and it had only been delivered the day before.

Other beers fared better though, and there were some good ones. Here are three that I particularly enjoyed:

Burscough Sutler’s IPA, a proper-strength IPA at 5.5%, this is strong and flavoursome. It is bitter with great hints of pithy grapefruit and bags of hops.

Front Row Collapsed, another real IPA, with an ABV of 5.6%, this has quite a strong taste – smooth, hoppy and good.

Privateer Dark Revenge, a 4.5% dark mild, full-bodied with heaps of dark malty flavour.

We were approached by one of the organisers, who asked if we were CAMRA members as he really wanted the opinions of people familiar with real ale and real ale festivals. He was clearly disappointed by the poor turnout. Whilst we were there, the attendance probably didn’t top fifty people. That was on a gloriously sunny Saturday afternoon. I mentioned that nobody seemed to have heard of the festival, to which he replied that 500 leaflets had been delivered to nearby houses. I could hardly believe that when he said it. 500? Was he expecting every single person who got a leaflet to come along and bring one or two friends? If that happened then maybe he would have got the numbers they really needed, but the return from a leaflet drop very rarely reaches 1%. So if he was lucky, the 500 leaflets would have generated 5 customers. He was clearly keen for the festival to be repeated in the future, but with such low attendance, I can’t imagine that it made a profit. Much beer will have been wasted.

That’s a pity, because the venue is good, the volunteers were very good, the organisation was also generally good, and clearly a great deal of work had gone into the preparation of the festival. If the Salford City Reds Beer Festival is to have a future, and I genuinely hope that it is, then massive publicity will be necessary, not 500 leaflets.

Oh yes, and sack the clown who wrote the article on the website.

Nice day for it

Nice day for it

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Posted by on 27 July, 2013 in Beer Festivals

 

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Golden Ales – BORING!

My foray around the northeast of England highlighted several things to me. Firstly, the northeast has a very active, lively and healthy beer scene. Secondly, there are some superb microbreweries operating in this region. Thirdly, this region has some of the best pubs I’ve ever been in. Fourthly, Golden Beers are mostly desperately boring.

This fourth point is not so much a result of location as of timing. I was touring the area in late summer/early autumn, and all the ‘summery’ beers were still to the fore. This period seems to last longer each year, as people desperately try to hang on to summer – like those people who whinge and moan every year when the clocks go back to ‘winter’ time. It’s not winter time at all, it’s our natural time. Summer time does not make the evenings longer – you just get up an hour earlier. Likewise, golden beers do not make a summer – as has been amply demonstrated this year.

I’ve long been suspicious that breweries are making use of this relatively new style in order to brew cheap and uninteresting beers. My thoughts on this crystallised during my sojourn in the northeast, when faced with yet another barful of the insipid things. I am instinctively wary of any beer labelled ‘So-and-so Gold’ or ‘Golden Something’. The inclusion of the reference to that precious metal is often a clear indication of yet another boring beer. I mean even the names lack imagination.

I didn’t start off my relationship with golden ales with such negativity. It was a long time ago, but I think my first golden ale was Hop Back Summer Lightning.  I was, and remain, very impressed with that. Other goldens have also wowed me, such as Slightly Foxed Bengal Fox, Oakham White Dwarf, Oxfordshire Pride of Oxford (strangely, not so good in bottles) and Red Lion Chardonnayle, to name but four at random.

Like any style, I suppose, there is a wide range in the taste and quality of golden ales, and I am expressly not aiming my comments at those brewers who heap as much care and passion into their golden ales as they do into all their other beers.

Is the golden ale a fad? I think maybe there’s a touch of that about it, but it’s here to stay. Originally, the golden ale was perhaps invented (some time in the mid 1980s by most people’s reckoning; Exmoor brewery claim that their Exmoor Gold – a fine brew by any standards – was the first) to tempt the lager drinker away from their nasty mass-produced tasteless product and to present them with something that looked more like what they were used to drinking. You won’t get a lager drinker to try his first pint of real ale if it’s a heavy porter or a strong stout, the shock of the difference will be too great. But present a real ale that looks lagerish, then you’ve won the first battle.

Does it then follow that the second battle should be about taste? Yes it does. A fine, crisp, hoppy mouthful is what you should expect, but some brewers seem to have taken the line that if making their golden ale look like lager wins the first battle, then making it taste the same by the simple expedient of removing almost every last vestige of flavour, should win the second. The trouble is that nobody is going to go for that. The adventurous lager drinker may try a dull golden, be unimpressed by the absence of taste (he was told to expect so much more), and return to his usual ‘product’. The real ale drinker will be equally unimpressed (he’s used to so much more).

I am sure that I am not alone in disliking having to strain to get any taste from beer. Comments like ‘a bit hoppy, but only a bit’, ‘flavours all rather muted’, ‘slight hoppiness at the end, but not much’ and ‘slight hops fail to get a grip, not much flavour’ pepper my notes from my northeast tour.

A golden ale should not taste like a failed IPA, as many of these do. According to the 2013 Good Beer Guide, in a golden ale ‘…hops are allowed to give full expression, balancing sappy malt with luscious fruity, floral, herbal, spicy and resinous characteristics.’ That’s a tall order, and many very decent golden ales only get some of those, but it’s a hell of a long way from ‘a bit hoppy, but only a bit.’

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Posted by on 25 October, 2012 in Beer Styles, Cask Ale

 

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The Victoria Inn, Durham

My recent trip round the northeast of England took me to many fine pubs. When arriving in a new region, I always like to pick up a copy of the local CAMRA magazine. I find that the articles and adverts give me a good feel for the local beer scene, and some excellent ideas for pubs to visit during my stay. When I arrived in the Durham branch’s region, I quickly found a copy of the Durham Drinker, their publication. I was delighted to see that it was their Awards Issue in which they listed the winners and runners-up of the various awards given by the branch, including the Durham Pub of the Year.

This year, the POTY was won (not for the first time) by the Victoria Inn on Hallgarth Street in Durham itself. Hallgarth Street is a residential street running out of the town towards the south. The Victoria itself is a somewhat unusually shaped brick-built Victorian pub. It’s a grade-2 listed building, and the fact that its interior is virtually unchanged since its construction in 1899 has earned it a place on CAMRA’s National Inventory of historic pub interiors.

All of the above meant that the Victoria hit the top of my ‘must visit’ list for Durham. On arrival, I found the Victoria to be busy and full of animated conversation. Lady A and I found a bench to sit on and we sat for a few moments taking in the atmosphere. The internal fittings retain a real 19th century look and feel, and I felt that I was but a whisper from that time. The clientele was very varied; I saw a gentleman who must have been 80 years old having a conversation with an attractive young woman, a man in a business suit, a small group of matronly ladies and a gathering of what looked like post-graduate students – from their accents clearly gathered from all corners of the world.

All were enjoying beer from the many handpumps that lined the bar. I started with Durham White Velvet, a 4.2% golden ale. To be honest, the flavours here are all rather muted. There are slight hints of cream and a bit of citrus pith. It’s far from unpleasant, but there’s not a lot to make this beer stand out.

My second was Hambleton Nightmare, a 5.0% dark ale that is coloured a very deep red. This beer packs a great deal of flavour. There is a smooth mouthfeel with creamy notes of coffee and a mild chocolate finish. Along with the chocolate, the finish also packs a nice hoppy kick. Great stuff.

Third up was Wylam Gold Tankard, a 4.0% golden ale. Frankly, by this stage on my tour of the northeast, I was getting seriously tired with dull golden ales. This will be the subject of a future blog, but for now, suffice it to say that I found little to get my teeth into in this beer. It’s a little bit hoppy. Big deal.

Finally, I had a Big Lamp Bitter, at 3.9%, more properly a best. It’s a fairly standard best, probably with wide appeal. There’s a malty start and a hoppy finish. Perfectly drinkable and most likely would not have been out of place if served here in 1899.

Towards the end of the evening, the landlord came over to chat with us. I always like it when that happens. I started by congratulating him on his POTY win, but with the number of awards on the wall, this clearly wasn’t a new experience for him. He’d been running the pub for over thirty years, he explained. ‘I always like talking to customers, and for them to talk to one another. You see there’s no telly and no music, so people have to talk to one another.’

I found myself agreeing with him. I hate televisions in pubs. A big ‘Sky Sports’ banner is one of the best ways to repel me from a pub. I handed the landlord one of my cards and told him that I’d be writing about his pub in my blog. ‘Oh good,’ he said. ‘Don’t forget to mention me. My name’s Michael.’

Michael Webster clearly takes his pub and his beers very seriously. He’s a big supporter of local microbreweries and his list of ever-changing beers is impressive indeed. His insistence on having nothing in the pub to distract from conversation is refreshing and very welcome. In all, this is a great little pub, well deserving of its Durham Pub of the Year accolade.

http://www.victoriainn-durhamcity.co.uk/

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Posted by on 8 October, 2012 in Cask Ale, Pubs, Scooping

 

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Dipton Mill Inn and the Hexhamshire Brewery

A couple of miles south of Hexham, in an achingly lovely spot, sits the Dipton Mill Inn. The Inn is an old farmhouse dating to the 17th century. The Mill (actually two mills) of the name, dating to the 1300s, burned down in 1783, though the mill-race still circles the grounds of the current inn.

This little gem of an inn is also home to the Hexhamshire brewery, founded in 1993 and currently operating from Ordley, less than two miles away up Dipton Mill Road. There are plans to move the brewery to the Inn itself in the near future.

The first impression of the inn is of a picturesque, almost chocolate-boxy looking pub, quintessentially English. Unfortunately, it was too dark to take a useable photograph when I was there, but see their website (address below). Inside, the pub is snug. Low-beamed ceilings, panelled walls and half flagged/half carpeted floor all add to a sense of cosiness. There are only a few tables, and the bar is compact but bristling with handpumps, most dispensing the Hexhamshire beers.

The atmosphere is friendly inside, each time a local walks in, cries of greeting hail them. I was standing at the bar, ordering a couple of sample jars and the landlord, Geoff Brooker, was standing next to me. He spends as much time leaning on the punters’ side of the bar as he does behind it. “So,” I started, “you brew this beer then?”

He shook his head emphatically. “No, no, no!” He pointed at a chap sitting at a table behind us. “He does it.” The chap looked up from his beer. “No, no, no I don’t!” he said. Puzzling. “Unless you like it,” he added. Ah.

As it happens, the gentleman pointed to was actually the brewer, John Henderson. After a couple of pints he came over and sat with Lady Alebagger and myself in the way that friendly locals do in these places. Warms your cockles, so it does. John does the actual brewing, following recipes devised by Geoff. The beers have been very successful, with Hexhamshire Lightside winning an award at the Newcastle Beer Festival in 2010.The brewery’s stout, Blackhall English Stout, goes down so well that Geoff has taken Guinness off the bar (this momentous event has also taken place in my regular watering hole, where Titanic Stout (from a keg, no less) has replaced Guinness).

We chatted for some time with John, who seemed only too pleased to talk about his brewing. His own favourite is Whapweasel, which is the only Hexhamshire beer I had tasted before. The brewery mainly supplies to local outlets, but with some leakage into Yorkshire and Lancashire, where my local got some in March 2011.

John Henderson

So, what of the beers themselves? I’ll start with the Hexhamshire Whapweasel, a 4.8% brew described as a bitter by the brewer, but I would class as a best. It’s a mid orange colour, just about right for type. The first flavour is fairly sweet, redolent of caramel. A nice overlying hoppiness grows throughout the taste to finish with a satisfying bitterness. I’d be happy to drink this any day of the week.

Hexhamshire Shire Bitter is a 3.6% bitter (no argument over this one). It’s a pale orange, again, just right for the type. The beer is clear and bright and packs a good deal of refreshment. Having said that, all the flavours in this beer are very slight, and I had to concentrate a bit to discern what they are. Caramel is in there, as in Whapweasel, but much fainter, as is the bitter hops. This is a very popular brew and is the pub’s regular bitter.

The next brew I tried was Hexhamshire Devil’s Elbow, slightly stronger than the Shire Bitter at 3.8%, but what a difference! The mouthfeel is really smooth. The flavour is rich and full-bodied, with toffee dominating, and just a hint of bittering hoppiness at the end. Given the choice, I’d have this over the regular bitter any time.

I then moved on to the famous stout, Hexhamshire Blackhall English Stout. 4% and a deep black, it looked very inviting. I took a small sip. John looked at me closely. “What do you think?” he asked. I sat still, letting the beer give me its full complement of flavours. “It’s exceptional,” I said, and I wasn’t exaggerating. During my trip to the North East, I spent over two weeks sampling beers from pubs in Northumberland, County Durham and Yorkshire, and out of all of them, this was to be the best. It’s simply gorgeous. Velvety smooth with flavours of coffee, cream, almond and a hint of smoke at the back of the mouth.

Hexhamshire Blackhall English Stout

I returned from the bar with a Hexhamshire Devil’s Water, a 4.1% ale with an orangey red colour. “Now I don’t like that one,” confessed John. Neither did I. It was vinegar. However, Geoff was good enough to take the trip down to the cellar to connect up a fresh barrel for me. I’m afraid I still didn’t like it. It tasted quite harsh and not very pleasant. Ah well, can’t win ’em all.

I was persuaded (quite easily, now I think of it) to have a jar of Hexhamshire Old Humbug, a dark orange, slightly hazy beer, weighing in at a very respectable 5.5% and named after the landlord. “Do you know a beer called ‘Old Peculier’?” asked John. Do I! “Well this is better!” he declared. Throwing down a challenge to my favourite beer? Bring it on! Old Humbug is sweet and malty with distinct spirituous overtones and a thick mouthfeel. Almost a meal in a glass. It is very, very good, but better than OP? Weeell…

I must also mention the food at the Dipton Mill, prepared and served by Geoff’s wife Janet. I had minced beef with dumplings and vegetables, whilst Lady A had haddock with tomato and basil. Both were utterly superb.

www.diptonmill.co.uk

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Posted by on 26 September, 2012 in Breweries, Cask Ale, Pubs

 

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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!

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

 

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Bir e Fud, Rome

My recent sojourn in Rome has already been mentioned in two previous blogs. One about bottled beers bought in a local  Spar shop and one about the fabulous Ma Che Siete Venuti. In my short trip, another couple of places stood out for me as beer drinking venues. The first is a pub/restaurant literally on the opposite side of the tiny Via Benedetta from Ma Che Siete Venuti. This is Bir e Fud.

Bir & Fud

Bir e Fud is famous for its pizzas and, of course, its beer. Located in a bit of a corner, Bir e Fud has annexed a small part of the street as an outside drinking area. Slightly chill as it was at the time of our visit, we proceeded inside.

Bir & Fud bar

The bar has a long copper pipe all along it, punctuated with taps. This unusual piece of bar furniture is placed at just the right height that you have to duck down under it or stand on tippy toes to order your drinks over it. That doesn’t matter, because the beer is fantastic. Bir & Fud prides itself in serving a wide range of Italian artisanal beer, and the large beer menu on the wall testifies to this.

Lady A and I found a table at the back of the dining room and ordered food. The menu is in Italian and has no English translations, so what you get is anybody’s guess if your Italian is as bad as mine. Anyway, when it turned up, it was beautifully prepared and very tasty. Whatever it was. Lady A asked for a fruit juice, but was told, politely, that if she didn’t want beer, she could have water. Those are the only choices.

My first beer from the extensive menu was Borgo Ketoreporter, a wonderfully black 5.2% porter. It is beautifully rich and creamy in the mouth. The flavours are predominantly of dark fruits and liquorice with a clever and distinct overlay of hoppy bitterness. A lovely porter, and bang on what I would expect a good porter to taste like.

Next was another Borgo ale, Hoppy Cat, a 5.8% Black IPA. It’s not quite black, but is a very dark red. It pours with a clean white head. The smell is strongly hoppy with just the right amount of citrus to balance it out. The dominant themes of the smell carry through into the taste, and I was reminded very strongly of Toccalmatto B Space Invader, another artisanal Italian Black IPA that I had tasted over the road in Ma Che Siete Venuti just a couple of nights before. Hops are strong and dominant throughout, with a hint of liquorice at the end.

Feeling confident in the beer menu now, I ordered a Ducato Golden Ale. At 4.5%, this was lighter in every sense of the word than the last two drinks. Sadly, I felt a little let down by this beer. It wasn’t bad, but not up to the standard set by the first two. Golden Ale has a bright white head and is yellow and cloudy. The taste was somewhat ashy. Overall rather thin with not much to it.

I determined to give the Ducato brewery another chance, so next I opted for a Ducato Verdi, and 8.3% Imperial Stout. This beer truly is black, with a dark brown head. From the first sip, Ducato redeemed themselves. I am a great fan of Imperial Stouts, or imps, and this is a proper imp. Dark roasty malt flavours mingle with bitter black coffee and a slightly spirituous overtaste, reminding you of its significant ABV. Verdi is beautiful but very bitter. Superb.

Ducato Verdi

Unfortunately, I was only able to make one trip to Bir e Fud during this trip. Like Ma Che Siete Venuti across the road, it’s a popular haunt with Romans, and once again we were the only non-Italians in the place. The staff, of mostly young people, were friendly and helpful. Certainly the young man who served us was quite proficient in English, and knew a lot about the beers he was serving. It’s odd that probably the two best places for drinking artisanal beer in Rome are within a few yards of each other, but you can easily visit both in an evening. It has to be said though, that both these places deserve more than a flying visit. My next trip to Rome will certainly have good amounts of time allotted to these pubs. Next time, though, I’m going to have learned a little Italian, so I know what I’m ordering.

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Posted by on 15 June, 2012 in Cask Ale, Pubs, Scooping

 

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A Pub Crawl Round Sheffield – Part 4

When we left off last time, I was crawling back to my hotel for our second night in Sheffield. The following morning, we started off, not too early, with breakfast at the Benjamin Huntsman, a city centre Wetherspoons. From there we made our way, in a genteel manner, to the Sheffield Tap, one of Sheffield’s best known pubs.

The Sheffield Tap

Only recently restored, this building was originally the refreshment room on Sheffield Midland Station’s platform 1b. It had been disgracefully neglected by British Rail and was in a state of partial collapse when renovations began in 2008. Today it is a beacon of hope, demonstrating just what can be done with determination and hard work. In a word, the place is beautiful. In the bar room (right onto the station platform) is a superb long wooden bar topped with a very impressive array of taps.

Sheffield Tap bar

There are plenty of Thornbridge beers available at the tap, and I started with Thornbridge Frank as Apollo, a 4.6% bitter. Frank as Apollo was the winner of the Thornbridge Great British Home Brew Challenge, and was brewed by Paul Carruthers. It’s a nice brew, bitter and hoppy, refreshing and easily drinkable. Hops are very evident at the finish and are quite sharp.

I followed up with another Thornbridge brew, Black Harry, a 3.9% mild. Malt is the major taste sensation in this beer, though not strongly so. Not unpleasant.

Spotting a Magic Rock brew, Dark Arts, I couldn’t resist. Magic Rock is currently making waves in the beer world, and the opportunity to try one of their beers cannot be missed. Dark Arts is described as a ‘surreal stout’ and weighs in at a respectable 6.0%. The taste is very dark, bitter and malty. There’s also a touch of smoke deep down in the flavour. The finish adds a pleasant dash of coffee. There’s a good hop character throughout. Very good.

Another Thornbridge beer on the bar was Versa, a 5.0% keg wheat beer. Now I’ve mentioned before that I’m not overfond of this style, but I do keep trying. What can I say about Versa? It’s wheat beery. There is, however, a distinct sherbet taste in there too. Well, I tried.

Finally, I spotted a Redwillow brew (one of my top new breweries). Faithless XI is a 7.4% Strong Ale, dark red in colour. There are bags full of flavour in here. The smell is very fruity and this carries on into the taste along with vanilla and toffee and plenty of bitter hops. A massive mouthful of complex flavours.

The Harlequin in its industrial context

We considered that we had dawdled long enough in the Sheffield Tap (it’s easy to do), so we set off again, this time to The Harlequin, quite a hike from the Tap. The Harlequin is a lovely, comfortable Victorian street corner pub with up to 14 real ales on the bar at a time. It also serves very good food and we settled in here for our lunch. The Brew Company, a nearby brewer, provides a monthly special exclusively for the Harlequin.

The bar in the Harlequin

I had three beers here, with mixed results. Firstly, I went for an Ascot Penguin Porter, 4.5% and quite black. The taste is dark with a good deal of bitterness – malty bitterness, not hoppy. There’s also a hint of smoke. Lady Alebagger tasted chocolate biscuits in the flavour, but I couldn’t find them.

Secondly, I plumped for a Black Iris Great Eastern Transatlantic Porter. 4.6% and quite black, I reckon it was made from Atlantic water. Salty, salty, salty! Eew!

Finally, I had to try one of the Brew Company’s brews – Atomic, a 4% golden ale. An attractive bright yellow colour with a distinctly orange smell, the taste is pithy and hoppy. Cleaned my mouth out nicely. Refreshing and bitter.

Kelham Island Brewery

Lunch finished, we strode purposefully out into the cold Sheffield air, crossing the stinky River Don and on towards the area of Sheffield called Kelham Island. We couldn’t resist stopping in at the Kelham Island Brewery Shop, where I bought a nifty Fat Cat tee-shirt. Handy, as that was our next destination.

The Fat Cat

The Fat Cat opened as a real ale pub in 1981 and really kick started the real ale scene in Sheffield. 11 real ale pumps were on the bar at the time of our visit. The main bar area is small and somewhat cramped, but there is another, spacier room next door. Our itinerary didn’t leave us much time here, so I just had two beers.

The Fat Cat bar

My first was the excellent Newsome Trial Porter, 4.9% and very black. Very smooth, dark roasted malt flavour with hints of bitterish smoke towards the end. A fine porter.

My second choice disappointed. From the Kelham Island brewery, which we passed on our walk here, I had their Best, a 3.8% bitter. Frankly, it’s not terribly nice, but I don’t condemn a beer on a single tasting. I’ll have to try it again some time.

Kelham Island Tavern

Our next choice of pub was obvious, twice CAMRA champion pub of Britain, the Kelham Island Tavern was just a stone’s throw away. The Kelham Island Tavern sits in a rather sterile area of town, little around it and facing a large car park. Inside, it is pleasant, with tiled floors and a carved wooden bar, on which were eight handpumps, though not all in use when I was there. At the back is a small but attractive beer garden, where we sat to drink our beer. It’s sheltered, and despite it being only the 3rd March, it was warm enough to sit out, with coats on. There was only time for two here, but it seems I chose well. Derby Penny’s Porter is a very dark red, 4.7% porter which is smooth and sweet and extremely drinkable.

Kelham Island Tavern bar

Castle Rock Urban Fox is a seasonal ruby ale at 4.5%. It is smooth and has a lovely caramel taste. It’s quite sweetish.

The afternoon was drawing to a close, so we left the Kelham Island Tavern behind as we continued our exploration of the pubs of Sheffield. Thanks for sticking with me, more to follow…

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Posted by on 8 June, 2012 in Cask Ale, Pubs, Scooping

 

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