Beertown 2017

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City Station felt much busier than it usually does on a Saturday morning, maybe it was the promise of a fine day for a change? Maroon and Amber shirts were everywhere. Bradford City en route to Wembley. Quite a few boarded our train, presumably making their way to London via York, or maybe they just couldn’t get tickets and decided to have a day out at the coast instead?

The Leeds to Scarbro’ service was interesting; Groups of Lancastrian RL fans travelling to St James Park for the Magic Weekend were, as ever, immaculately behaved. An unconvincing tranny in a cheap blond wig and red leather skirt amazed everyone by scoffing two huge Baguette style sandwiches, before we got to York. A concerned father frantically calling WH Smiths on York station concourse, whilst his small son bawled about leaving his fidget spinners on the shop counter, was probably just a little over optimistic. That thirtysomething lass berating her partner was quite rude! Having said that, if he had sorted the dogs out and stopped them fighting, and she’d packed the holdall, then they wouldn’t have forgotten the toiletry bag and the hair straighteners would they! As the train rumbled through the edge of the Howardian hills, somewhere near Castle Howard, the journey reached it’s apogee, a Roebuck standing proudly, staring at me from the edge of a wood.

I wasn’t sure exactly where the Milton rooms were, but on alighting at Malton, Google maps showed it to be within crawling distance of the station. Having an hour to spend walking around Malton before the mid day opening was quite pleasant. It’s a characterful, yet unspoilt, and fully functional market town with lots of locally sourced foody things and chronic vehicular congestion problems, both in disproportion to it’s size. Having said that, it is the main (only) commercial centre in the middle of a large and beautiful tract of countryside. Hence, the large number of gents, of all ages, in stout boots, sporting flat caps, waistcoats, checked shirts and tweed jackets are actually indigenous natives and not hipsters sans beards. Joking apart, it’s a really cool place and some of the shops are awesome, particularly Woodall’s rope, net and cover makers who will make said pair of bespoke stout boots, hammock, holdall, or whatever you want, from scratch.

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At straight up twelve, we entered the venue to be cordially met by co-organiser, Phil Saltonstall, of Brass Castle Brewery fame. We’d paid in advance online, but he was more than happy to take six quid off unannounced callers for the entry and souvenir glass. I don’t mind quality polycarbonates that much. I know they’re not the same as glass, but,  it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the quality beers on offer one bit, and you got two quid back if you didn’t want to take it home.

So, lets get into the beers then. Three had already sold out on the Friday evening; Brass Castle Rhubarb and Custard light mild, Northern Alchemy Grapefruit and Rosemary sour and Lost Industry Fell on Black Days. That’s 5% of the sixty two beers available, which on the last day of a three day event wasn’t bad. Phil told me it had been pretty busy the day before, but he expected Saturday to be busier, saying they’d sold three times more advance tickets for the session than they had for the Friday.

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The first beer I went for was a Kernel Pale ale with Nelson Sauvin, Loral and Cascade (5.1%). The main reason being, I like the brewery and the changing hop varieties, and you don’t often see Kernel beers OTB up here. Everything was being sold in thirds, halves, two thirds and pints, I only drank thirds all day, but the list says this particular keg ale was £4.50 a pint. I’m not going to dwell on pricing, but, if that’s how your drinking choice is determined, there were four cask ales on at £3 a pint, with half of the rest coming in at £3.50, some at £4 and a handful at £4.50. The keg beers were, as per usual, dearer and went from £4 right up to £10 a pint. How much? Slow down, don’t worry! Only four of the thirty five keg beers were over £6 and those were things like a 10.6% Legitimate Industries and Northern Monk collaboration, Quad, Pirate Life IIPA (8.8%) and Demollen and Omnipollo Sitis (8.8%).

The Legitimate Industries beer got four (out of 5) stars from me, as did the Pirate Life DIPA, and also their Export Stout. Downside, you could tell the Auzzie beers were filtered, in steel kegs, rather than live unfiltered beer in key-keg, still v.nice, but if they’d been unfiltered … ?

Anyway, half way through my glass of Kernel, Chris Waplington, aka Bad Seed Chris, positions a step ladder under the giant blackboard in the main hall, rapidly climbing up and chalking out the DeMollen brew from the list of beers, a pineapple IPA that was making it’s debut in the UK, which I really wanted to try. Serves me right, I should have had that one first!

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As the afternoon progressed, Chris’s ascents of the ladder became more frequent. By the time we left at six o’clock, I counted eighteen beers had sold out. If you’re thinking of going next time then I wouldn’t let this put you off, there were still loads of great beers on, and they weren’t going to run out totally. On the other hand, if there’s something a bit different you’d like to try then I’d go on Friday, or at least early doors Saturday. And believe you me, there was plenty that were a bit different.

The most unusual thing for me was Table IPA (3.6%), from Notch brewing of Salem, Massachusetts. I’d never had an American beer from the cask, dispensed through a beer engine. Notch seem to have more than a dalliance with British beers and traditional styles, almost the reverse of a lot of modern UK, American Craft Beer influenced, brewers. Through his USA connections, Phil Saltonstall imported a few cask ales from over there and this was the last one. If I’m going to be honest, and don’t get me wrong, it was pretty tasty, it just didn’t feel totally fresh to me. I’m glad I tried it though and it’s nice to see American brewers looking to the UK for innovation.

Out and out the wackiest thing I tasted was Northern Alchemy Lavender Black Berlinerweisse. The tasting notes said, mind blowing rich spiced sour – which was absolutely correct. The guy who served it seemed particularly tentative, ‘Have you tried it before? Would you like a taster?’

Wow! It might only have been 3.2%, but it packed a killer punch in the mouth. It was hard to describe. Sour, definitely. Lavender? A subtle hint, definitely not an overpowering perfumey flavour. It instantly took me back to childhood days of Ben Shaw’s Dandelion and Burdock. Not the pop we loved as kids, this drink wasn’t for the immature palate at all, more a very grown up, dark, balsamic, challenging herballyness. I’ll say it again, just for effect. WoW!

Worthy of mention, and I’m not going into everything I had a taste of from the square, island bar; Arbor Pocket Rocket (3.9%), impressive cask ale with a hop character far beyond what the ABV might suggest. Bad Seed Funk (5.5%), more than the name suggests, should be called Funky!

So what was the rest of it like Rich? Kids (well behaved and in small numbers) , Dogs (lots of cute ones), Music (read on), Food (read on), Lovely people (everyone), Lovely place (art deco meets neo-classical fading grandeur).

I’ll start with the music. Two Geordies in white grandad shirts, waistcoats and flap caps; I’m not stereotyping neither! The Black Marcs played some very well done covers of all manner of songs, covering at least a fifty year time span, spot on lads. Instead of being on the stage, all the bands played from a balcony cum musicians gallery, up above the capacious auditorium. Visible, audible and for them that don’t like no music at beer festivals, they weren’t over intrusive and you could take or leave them, almost. The stage, as were several other rooms and annexes, was devoted to comfortable seating and tables.

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Now, I thought the cross dresser I mentioned stayed on the train when we alighted at Malton? I had to think again when I heard some one say, ‘Have you seen that bloke in the dress?’

I reckon some folk thought it was Conchita Wurst? Me? I couldn’t stop laughing when Ginchy Stardust’s opening gambit included, ‘Please don’t make the mistake of taking us seriously!’ Apparently half the duo is the head brewer at brand new start up Turning Point BrewCo. The other half was a big bearded bloke, with a dress over the top of his everyday clothes. A sort of horizontally striped, brownish, mid length, seventies Crimplene number. Absolutely brilliant! The brewing guitarist was as tight as you like, while the bloke in the dress switched between brilliant interpretation mode through to absolutely murdering a couple of disco classics. Top drawer entertainment, which brought rapturous applause and calls of encore from the crowd below.

On a side note. If the Disco King APA (5.1% on keg) is anything to go by then Kirbymoorside’s Turning Point are a new brewery who need attentively watching and following; their beer sold out long before we left.

The food looked and smelled delicious. On my dietician’s advice, I purposefully steered away from the locally produced pies and pasties, however wonderful they looked, similarly the wood fired pizzas. I really fancied the impressive looking chicken and prawn Singapore noodles though. Only thing was, for little more than a snack sized box, they were ten, yes! Ten quid! I’m sure they would have been delicious, but the price of this street food, the only genuine disappointment of the event, forced the decision to head back to Leeds to eat later.

If value for money was what you are really after then you could get your faced painted for nowt. Everyone was having it done, even the ultra friendly security staff. Milly Rose came from Hull and her business card said it all: Extraordinary Painter of People and Things.

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The presence of the face painter sort of captured the whole ethos, friendly, good natured, good humoured.

I guess there will be some who are going to be over critical and say that a quarter of the beers were from Brass Castle and Bad Seed breweries. Personally, I don’t think that’s a bad thing, they both produce some excellent progressive beers – unfined and unfiltered, both cask and keg. In any case, isn’t that why they originally set up the event to showcase what they’re doing in this small N.Yorks market town?

Okay, a showcase of local brewers, but, what about the rest of it?  The conversation I had when I bumped into Phil Saltonstall on the way out answers this one;

PS:   ’Well? What do you think?’

Me:   ’Brilliant!  Wacky!  Wonderful!’

PS:   ’Yeah … apart from our own stuff, we’ve just chosen all the beers we really like … it’s our beer festival!’

And that’s what you get when quality, adventurous brewers get to chose the beers. Probably the best curated selection of beers, in one place, I’ve encountered for a good while. Okay, if you like solid traditional beers then it’s probably not for you, although you’ll find some decent beers in and amongst the selection. If you like something a bit different though, that mixes up the best of cask and keg beers, from all over the place, then you’ll love it.

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Walking round chatting, and looking, you couldn’t really pick any specific types out from the crowd, just a mish mash of nice folk; all ages, locals, people from afar, people who’d come for the day and people who were staying over, which sounds like a pretty good idea for what will be the fifth Beertown next year: Travel over for Friday evening, B & B, walk round Malton in the morning, Saturday afternoon session, go home – jobs a carrot! It really is that good, I’m off to book for next year, now!

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Beer School – A Crash Course on Craft Beer

cover_onlineI managed to find a copy of Beer School, A Crash Course in Craft Beer by John Garrett and Brad Evans, almost by chance whilst browsing Leeds City Council online Library, in search of a little holiday reading. If you want to buy a copy for yourself you can get one delivery free, for £14.80 on Amazon

I was quite impressed to find such a recently published (2016) impression in the libraries catalogue, but disappointed when the Overdive app wouldn’t let me open it in my e-reader, only in my browser where it promptly refused to unscroll any headings or sub headings? Never mind it didn’t cost me owt.

My first thoughts were, ‘it’s just another beer book?’

Don’t get me wrong, I like books about beer, especially the interesting ones, but not the detailed technical ones. I’m always going though the ‘Food and Drink’ sections of second hand book stores to find new ones. Only thing is, it’s nearly always the same old, same old; so many beers to try, so many more … coffee table books that get bought when you don’t really know what else to get the old man for Christmas/Fathers day/ Birthday. Each the same in a slightly different way. There were seven or eight on the shelf in Headingley Oxfam book shop the other week and apart from being different authors and publishers I could have sworn they were all the same book. Most brewery tour guides would give you a more comprehensive idea of the brewing process.

Beer School started off a little different, on a little bit of a journey. I got right excited at the thought of a beery travelogue across America. Unfortunately, the car stalled in chapter three when it ran into a pretty boring, heard it all before, description of the history and the various grains.

It got going again though and revved through the entire brewing process, outlining more about what the different elements brought to the final table than the basics. If I’m honest the ‘vehicle’ of a journey didn’t quite work, yeah, they came back to it. But, how did this car that sets off in New York manage to cross the Atlantic into Belgium? Leaving that device aside, the book does work. There’s something there for everyone, even for them that thinks they know a little bit about beer and brewing. I certainly learnt quite a bit.

Going back to my first criticism, the chapter Grains would have been relevant to someone knowing nothing about beer, and if you’re going to sell books, you need to appeal to a reasonably wide audience and it does say that it is a; Crash course … . On balance, they get it about right between the basics and taking things a little further. Almost, a thinking persons guide to beer, brewing, tasting, and a bit more, but an awful lot more than a straight run through the process of brewing and the key styles.

The places where it took you a little further included stuff like the chart showing when and how many hops were added to the boil for several iconic beers, I liked that. I liked the attitude too. Not so much the way that it’s written, in a sort of jokey, conversational, Scott Kelby, style, more the attitude of the writers and what beer means to them. I’m not going to quote them, you can’t easily go back and forth in the format I’ve got it in, it’s just things like not discriminating between keg and cask and different styles. Instead they point out and explain the differences. The Epilogue is a particularly good example of this and I agreed with every point made.

I might have been tempted to lose the Craft Beer bit from the title. Okay, they’ve got to use it, they’re the Craft Beer Channel guys who wrote it. Personally I would have just said beer and left it at that. They allude to this in so many words in the book, almost a contradiction to the sub title. I guess if it didn’t say it then many followers of the craft beer channel would dismiss the book instantly as not being craft? Which leads nicely into the guys definition of craft beer.

I know I’ve been criticised for my heretical views about what is ‘craft beer’ previously, but I was heartened by the guys sole reference to ‘the American definition’ in the glossary followed by the words; but good beer is good beer. So lets not get hung up on it as drinkers. 

I wish more people would take this attitude. We need to debunk the perceived divisions between cask and keg, and anything else, they’re all just different beer styles. This book goes quite a way towards doing that. They don’t outrightly say what I believe, craft beer is, an American thing, but they continually suggest this, retain a balanced view, and don’t seem to confuse craft with other regional beer styles from around the world.

Verdict; Overall, I enjoyed it. Although you’ve got to have a foundation to work from, the Craft Beer Channel guys offered up a little bit more, without being over technical, and built on the basics in a progressive way. It’s infinitely better than most beer guides out there and takes things to an intermediate level in places. Having said that, if you’re an experienced home brewer, informed enthusiast, or something of that class, then I’d give it a miss. Unless someone unavoidably buys you one for Christmas.

Itza all Female Beer from a Nomadic Brewster

Brewsters on steps

I was quite priviliged to be invited, strictly as an observer, to an ‘all female’ brewing day at Burley Street Brewhouse in Leeds a couple of weeks ago. For those unfamiliar with the Leeds brewing landscape, the brewery is in the cellars of The Fox and Newt on Burley Road, LS 3.

The ladies only brewing session was the idea of Katie Marriot (pictured centre), one half of Nomadic Beers, a recent addition to the Leeds beer scene. Together with Ross Nicholson, they brew their own Nomadic brews, as well as the Burley Street Brewhouse range, which is on sale upstairs and at sister pub The Packhorse on Woodhouse Lane.

They brew on a four barrel kit in what is quite a tight space underneath the pub and with the number of fermenters they have, they can brew five times every fortnight. The current Nomadic Beers  range is a bit of a moving feast, with no permanent core lines. I’ve tried them in various bars and pubs across Leeds, as well as at festivals, and they’re making some decent beers. I see they’ve got their Nomadic Raucher on at Beertown 2017 (18th – 21st May), which is impressive, given the heavyweight range of 60 brews and the calibre of brewers on offer in Malton that weekend.

Nomadic Beers

Originally the idea was to hold the all female brew day back in March to commemorate International Women’s day. This had to be put back a little as Nomadic Beers was still finding it’s feet at that time. The later start means that Katie’s beer will be now be available for Women on Tap, a festival celebrating women brewers at Harrogate’s Little Ale House, weekend 19th – 21st May. It looks like it will be a really good event with some top quality beers on offer, live music and talks/tasting sessions by Melissa Cole (advance ticket required).

If you think that Katie is a raging feminist, then you’d be very wrong; she’s just lovely, and very keen to raise the profile of female brewers, in what is still very much a male dominated industry. Something I strongly support.

I’m not entirely sure that the two assistants, illustrator Christine Jopling and Fox and Newt crew member Izzy Bailey actually realised what they had let themselves in for. As they dug out the mash tun Katie informed them that brewing was probably 90% cleaning up. I’m not going to say who said it, but I definitely heard one of them say, “She never told us that!”

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Izzy adds the bittering hops to the copper.

The ‘all female’ beer they were brewing was a recipe of Katie’s – Itza, a Chocolate Orange stout. It looked quite interesting.  Marris Otter, Chocolate, Caramalt and Black malts, as well as roasted barley, torrified wheat and cacao powder went into the mash tun. Katie wouldn’t tell me what the hops were, apart from they were British. They smelled nice, all lined up in two containers alongside a third one, full of oranges which Katie had quartered and roasted. The oranges were going in at the end of the boil with the second bucket of aroma hops. If Katie thought the beer was a bit short in the orange and chocolate departments, there was a plan to add more fruit and cacao powder at the dry hopping stage.

I had a taste of the wort as it ran off. Almost black, with some serious molasses, prunes, dates and chocolate on the aftertaste. I tried some of the finished test brew as well. Nice! A hint of orange, dark treacley flavours and the dates and prunes elements that were almost reminiscent of a grown up sticky toffee pudding, along with a subtle chocolateyness. It wasn’t what I was expecting, it was more sophisticated, and it drank like it was a proper beer, rather than a novelty type brew, if you get what I mean, very balanced too.

Katie explained she had been trying to achieve a Green and Black’s mature type of flavour, rather than a Terry’s Chocolate Orange thing. A wonderfully accurate way of describing it, which summed up exactly what I was thinking. She seems to have pulled it off, although she said the final brew may be slightly different to the one I tasted as she had used a different type of chocolate the second time around.

The name Itza is a reference to Chichen Itza, the now ruined Mayan city in Mexico, a civilisation famed for their love of chocolate. The clever graphics on the pump clip reflect all the various influences, including symbolic reference to Foxes and Newts! The artwork, along with the company logo and other stuff, is the result of a collaboration with artist Christine Jopling, who was acting as assistant brewer today.

Itza Pump Clip

If you see Itza on the bar then I recommend you give it a go. It’s going to be on sale in the Fox and Newt and The West Riding Refreshment Rooms (the very excellent boozer on Dewsbury station), or you could order a cask direct from Nomadic Beers. If you’re really curious about women brewers then I suggest you get along to Harrogate and try Itza and some of the other beers at Women on Tap the weekend after next.

The New Inn & Cropton Brewery

Cropton New Inn

For a little pub in the middle of nowhere, the sizeable car park was exceptionally busy, even for Saturday lunch time. Walking into the warm glow of the bar, there was hardly a spare place to sit. Looking round there was something strange going on? It wasn’t the middle aged lady sat by the roaring fire, wafting herself with her oriental fan? Nor the smattering of serious beer tickers, hikers, or thrirtysomething couples discussing the merits of their beer, neither. No. It was the presence of third pint tasters on virtually every table. I’ve never seen as many taster flights in a pub anywhere, especially a traditional village boozer, unbelievable!

The brewery tour was one of the best tours I’ve ever been on. Up there with the visit to Theakston’s old brewery in Masham, circa 1987, led by a wonderful old gentleman that’d worked there man and boy who regaled us with tales that will have been long forgotten.

Our guide at The Great Yorkshire Brewery, Janet, was pleasant, passionate, enthusiastic, engaging, entertaining and very knowledgeable. Apparently she’s been home brewing since she was seventeen, and it showed. Even someone with zero knowledge would have ended the tour knowing how to start full grain brewing, and the science behind it.

She even gave an explanation of the term FUBAR which was chalked on a board in front of one of the fermenting tanks. No, they hadn’t nicked the name from Tiny Rebel! Apparently they’d been brewing it all summer for them, something that Retired Martin noticed when he visited the brewery. Disappointingly, when I contacted Tiny Rebel, they said they’d just been doing a trial brew, as the kit at Cropton was the same as that being installed in their new brewery. In reality, I reckon, with the success of Cwtch, they couldn’t cope down in Cardiff until the new brewery was completed (I believe it is now and the date of this visit was November 2016). I like the beers Tiny Rebel are making and I understand neccessity, but I do like to get a right tale.

Contract brewing is one of the strengths of The Great Yorkshire Brewery. As well as exporting their beer to Japan and Dubai, they brew for Madness, Tony Hadley, and Two Chefs. N.B. not the Dutch brewer, these are two Yorkshire chefs from the Star at Harome. Oh, and Tiny Rebel obviously.

Janet’s anecdote about Graham McPherson was a cracker. She reckoned she was five years younger than Suggs when Madness first hit the charts, yet when he came up to Cropton to have a go at brewing she thought he looked twenty years younger than she did! I reckon we all think a bit like that these days.

The brewery tours start at 11am and 2pm, Tuesday to Saturday, with an evening tour on Tuesdays as well. Ideally, if you’re staying over, as we did, you’d want to do the brewery tour first, check into your room and then go out for the afternoon to somewhere like Hutton le Hole, Rosedale Abbey, Thornton le Dale or Pickering. Owing to inclement weather, we decided to sit tight and drink our free pint, included in the price, which at £7.50 was pretty decent value.

A taste off between Madness Absolutely (4.2%) on cask and keg was conducted. Both excellent and a nice easy drinking pale beer. On balance, the keg just shaded it. Conversely the Madness London Porter went the other way. Over the afternoon/evening we tried most of the beers on the bar; eight keg and six cask. Stand out was the keg Red Lager (5%), a hybrid lager ale with all sorts of red berries and tropical things. The Chocolate Orange (6%) on cask was nice if you like a sort of dark ruby, bitter orange, chocolate, vanilla type of thing. It just felt a bit too sweet and cloying for my taste.

The Monkmans Slaughter (6%) was a nice touch. A classic, darker, stronger bitter beer in style with a nice reference to Mr Slaughter who originally founded the brewery. The original brewery started in the pub in 1984, moving into the bespoke brewery premises at the rear in 1994 and becoming rebranded as The Great Yorkshire Brewery in 2012.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the pub is solely a beer tickers destination venue, which is not the case. Shortly before evening fell, a shooting party descended on the bar. All gaiters, plus fours and tweeds mixed up with gamekeeper types, dog handlers and beaters. This might instantly turn some people off. However, they were all decent Yorkshire folk and whether you like it or not, if people didn’t shoot Pheasants then we’d not see many in our countryside. This did, however, put a stop to our afternoon drinking session as one could no longer get to the bar. Later on there were quite a few locals in for their Saturday night pints, which was nice to see.

The evening meal was quite excellent in every way. Quality food at decent prices. The only downside for me was the fire had gone out in the bar (there is a separate cosy restaurant). I could write a thesis on pub fires; they need to be roaring at opening time, dwindling when busy and still just be going at closing. The lost art of keeping a pub fire going just right, that’s a good book title if ever I heard one; they need to read it.

I don’t think the evening entertainment was planned, it just sort of spontaneously flowed from the mouths of the overnight residents and local customers. Far too much anthropomorphising over small dogs and overweight retired Greyhounds. Someone didn’t like Poldark at all and much preferred programmes like X-Factor and Britain’s (not) got Talent. They just couldn’t understand why Gareth Gates couldn’t hack it on Strictly? Psst, it’s not real you know? The highlight was the proud parents proclaiming their son had been on Educating Yorkshire. Now I’ve seen a few trailers for this and it’s not something you’d crow about if your kid was on it. Especially not if he was one of the teachers at some failing sink estate school!

Cropton meet the brewers

The bar and restaurant staff were accommodating and friendly, as were the two brewers David and Darren who popped in for a couple of pints of their well made beers. I enjoyed chatting with them and it turns out Janet the tour guide is de facto Mother in law to one of them. I can’t remember which one now … it was a long day.

We stumbled upstairs long before last orders were called, decent room,  comfortable, well furnished and there was no way you would ever have forgotten to leave the key when you left. I’m not joking when I tell you the fob was fashioned from at least two pounds of mild steel; you wouldn’t have wanted a crack on the head with it!

The next highlight was the breakfast. It’s very easy to make a full Yorkshire breakfast, but so many people just don’t quite pull it off. The secret is quality ingredients, well cooked and plenty of it. Forget your see through rashers, the New Inn bacon was thick and tasty. The Bell End Farm sausages, I kid you not, were unbelievable, although I reckon I could market them better? My only criticism, and it’s one I would point at many chefs, is the modern way of presenting the grilled (griddled actually) tomatoes. They really need a lot more cooking for me, a bit of caramelisation on the outside and squidgyness inside. Yes, I know they’re then a bugger to get off the griddle and nicely onto the plate, but it’s worth it, please.

We went on one of those Red Letter day packages (tour, evening meal and B & B), but I reckon you could stay over and have a decent evening meal and breakfast for about £120 for two, depending how many courses you decide to eat. B & B is £85 per couple which I thought was decent value for what we got.

Anyone who has never been to this part of Gods County needs to investigate the Ryedale and North Yorkshire Moors area. Aside from the varied, yet stunning countryside, seaside, stately homes, market towns and beautiful villages, all within 20 miles of Cropton, there’s also some beery gems in Malton (Brass Castle Tap House) and Scarbro’ (North Riding pub and Brewing). I’ve already got my eye on a return trip for the summer, it’s only £5 per person a night to camp on the breweries small campsite!

Verdict: Destination pub on the edge of North Yorkshire moors, would suit beer enthusiasts, walkers or couples looking for a quality weekend break that’s a bit different. A must to pop into for a pint if you’re ever anywhere near.

 

No Bloody Swearing!

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When I started seeing references to Sam Smith’s latest edict on Twitter, I thought it was some sort of a wind up. We’ve had ‘No Swearing Gentlemen Please’ signs in the lounge side of my own Sam’s local for a while. Something I respect. Industrial clothing and language should always remain strictly within the tap room, in my opinion.

I started to realise this wasn’t a wind up when images of the ‘No Swearing Policy’ notices started appearing from people I knew and respected elsewhere, generating a flurry of blog posts and reports on the subject. So, what do I think?

Well, if it were my idea, in my pubs, I wouldn’t be relying on a blu tacked, drawing pinned, sellotaped bunting of photostatted and home printed notices to get the message across. Surely a significant independent player can afford the printing costs for some quality notices, frame them and affix them in strategic places; by Order of the Brewery. The feeling of a bit of authority and non negotiable brewery policy underpinning everything and providing the managers with an bit of official clout? As one local wag pronounced: if they can’t be bothered to put up some proper (insert expletive of choice) notices then I can’t be bothered to stop (insert expletive of choice) swearing!

Do I agree with it? Before I answer that I need to know whether the pub has a tap room or not. My idea of a tap room is a place for all people, a no nonsense, have a bit of a laugh, join in the banter or sit quietly, pop in after work in your muck, industrial language permitted (within reason; not loud, wanton, aggressive or intimidating), pool table, darts (other pub games are allowed), and if you must have one a TV (for sport and events of national importance only; turned off at all other times).

Taking the argument a stage further; if the pub has a tap room then I’m okay with swearing in moderation. I’m as guilty as anyone. In all other areas of a pub then there is absolutely no need for swearing at all. End of discussion here, and I’m fully behind Sam’s on this. I just don’t get the blanket ban across the entire estate, in all rooms. I don’t want to get judgemental, and it takes all types, but trying to enforce a swearing ban in somewhere like the very busy General Elliot or The Duncan in Leeds city centre would be like trying to plait snot. I quite liked the CAMRA stance, reported on in The Morning Advertiser , ‘Pubs should be encouraging good behaviour rather than opting for complete bans on those who swear’. I might go a bit further here myself and say, ensuring good behaviour.

I’ve run this through a few times in my own mind, and I don’t think the reasoning behind it will ever be made explicitly clear. On a couple of occasions I’ve tried to elicit comment from the Old Brewery. The press and media person is never at their desk and I think the number they give you to ring back on is just a telephone that rings out in an otherwise empty back room. The Morning Advertiser record that they met a similar fate when trying to elicit a response.

The more I thought about it, the more I kept going back to the debate around the Café bar Vs the British pub. Apologies for returning to my local village Boston Spa, but Sam’s have. If you read  It’s a Sam’s pub Jim, but not as you know it it’s clear the brewery have noticed that in this well heeled village, where two traditional boozers have long since closed, a flurry of Café bars are thriving, then you need to provide something different to what you always have done. To my mind a definite fraction has evolved now between people who will go in a traditional boozer and people who won’t. You can turn this on it’s head as well. Equally there are plenty who will never go into a trendy Café bar and pay over £4 a pint, and who are ecstatically happy in a traditional boozer. Question is, in which establishments would you expect to hear the foul language? Having said that, I must point out that there are many, many traditional pubs where the atmosphere and the behaviour of staff and customers is exemplary, and long may that remain. I think you know which sort of pubs I’m thinking of.

I could be well off the mark here. But, I reckon Samuel Smith’s are looking to gentrify their estate and entice a slightly different clientele into their pubs. I guess only time will tell. Is the swearing ban the logical way to go? Will it work? Probably not in the two Leeds pubs I mentioned earlier.

This is definitely one to watch with interest. I suspect, like me, there may be others out there who are hearing all sorts of things coming out of Tadcaster at the minute and wondering if there may be a changing of the guard going on at Yorkshire’s oldest brewery? Only thing is, in Sam’s inimitable style, the new guard might be coming out with their caps on back to front and their rifles pointing the wrong way?

Major Tom’s Social, Harrogate

Major Tom's

It’s taken me quite a long time to get around to visiting Major Tom’s Social in Harrogate. Probably because I’m a tight git and dislike paying the £7.50 return bus fare into Harrogate when it’s only £4.20 into Leeds and back for the equidistant trip; though I’m past one hundred thousand miles on the Harrogate to Leeds 770/771 bus now.

I’m stepping through the door and I’m thinking, why haven’t I been here before? And there’s nothing I can do, except walk up to the bar and speak to this guy called Josh Molloy, the manager. I ask him if he’s Major Tom, but he says not. He just runs the place and looks after the beer side of things, his girlfriend does all the foody stuff, stone baked pizzas and that. Apparently Major Tom is two guys from Leeds, independent operators, but I’m not so sure? I think I’ve already seen him, a familiar space face, lurking at the back of the quite large open room?

Major Tom's door

For Harrogate, this bar looks very different. Today, I could be in Leeds instead of the well heeled Spa town? In a most peculiar way, it’s almost like the excellent Record Café in Bradford. Maybe it’s because there’s a vinyl dealer adjacent to the bar room? Thing is, it’s much wackier, more outrageous and funkier than any place in Leeds or Bradford; it manages to achieve a sort of friendly homeliness which places like Belgrave Music Hall probably set out to achieve, but apart from the roof, don’t quite arrive at.

There seems to be a contest going on with the quality Vintage shop downstairs to see who’s got the biggest collection of Scheurich vases; Fat Lava to you. Major Tom outdoes them with the number and quality of retro film posters around the walls though. All different but matching, which is something that can’t be said for the rest of the weird, wacky and wonderful decor. The clientele sort of matched the surroundings, but no one conformed. Some of them had really made an effort. He said, he wanted to know whose shirts I wore, but really I think he was envious; my cap was a pukka Harris Tweed one and I think it blew his mind!

Major Tom's couple

Examining the cask beer list, I really fancied some Moor Beer Hoppiness, but the circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong. What do you mean it’s gone! Instead we shared Major Tom’s house beer by Roosters and Wild Beer Millionaire. I reckon the Roosters was probably Highway 51, but with more and bigger handfuls of hops thrown in at the dry hopping stage? At a very reasonable £3 a pint it was one of the best glasses of Roosters I’ve had in a long time. Millionaire was a little more expensive at £4.20; tell Wild Beer I love her very much, she knows! If I hadn’t been doing a bit of a tour I would have stayed and sampled the Pilot Deeps and the Moor Beer Imperial Entaglement, but with both around the 9% mark discretion became the better part of valour.

Major Tom's tap list

There’s some good traditional boozers and several outstanding, more modern, purveyors of good beer in Harrogate now, but to my mind, even though Major Tom’s Social won’t be to everyone’s taste, it out shades the others in terms of range and quality. Not a vast range, but you don’t need it when you’ve got quality options like they have here. Now I’ve finally been to see Major Tom, Harrogate looks very different today. Shame the GBG2017 only acknowledges the four cask ales and none of the exceptional keg lines!

Major Tom's Spaceman

Eventually I plucked up the courage to go over and talk to him. I told him to take his protein pills, but I couldn’t make much sense of him because he’d already put his helmet on. Can you hear me, Major Tom? No … ! I was sure he was out there … somewhere?

Verdict: Major Tom, you’ve really made the grade.

 

It’s a Sam’s pub Jim, but not as we know it! – The Admiral Hawke, Boston Spa.

Addy sign

Sam Smith’s might take a while between renovations of their pubs, but when they do it, they do it right! No one can deny the fit outs, usually completed by Worrall’s of Keighley, are of a very high quality, so I was really interested to pop into a local Sam’s house that closed for a full refurbishment in January 2017.

If I said I was surprised by what they had done with The Admiral Hawke, then it would be an understatement. I was literally shocked, so much so, I thought the old ticker was going to cut out again!

Addy

Previously the Addy had been a typical Sam’s pub, one with quite a bit of character as well. It’s always had a steady tap room trade, and back when managers could cook their own food it did some decent meals, even having a belting Thai evening once a week. I guess that would be a ‘Pop up’ kitchen these days, but before the Millennium nobody realised it, we just thought it was Keng, one of the regulars, renting the kitchen out and wokking his magic. Top drawer food, and hard to beat at pool as well.

Some folk might think it’s a travesty that the pool table has been removed. In fact the tap room isn’t a tap room anymore, it’s a … ? Well, it’s … all gone upmarket. Nay! Trendy in fact. At least for a Sam’s pub. Humphrey must be spinning in his grave? He surely must be dead if someone’s managed to get away with making a Sam’s pub look like a well heeled gastro pub sort of place, because that’s what they’ve done with the Addy.

Fair enough, there’s open fires everywhere, and a lot of the original architectural features have been retained, and improved upon; original parquet flooring, chequered tiling in the hall, they’ve even found, and made a feature out of a well in the back yard, sorry terrace.

Word on the High Street is, the tap room trade has migrated to the nearby (250 yds) Fox and Hounds, another decent Sam’s pub. I guess the question is, will they go back after the alterations? Will they want to go back? There’s no Sovereign Bitter on, or Double Four, nor any of the cheaper/weaker 2.8% beers, is that intentional, one may ask?

When I’ve visited, on two separate occasions, the hand pulled OBB was absolutely spot on. As well as Taddy Lager and Pure Brew on tap, it was nice to see the Pale Ale on draught and the (not usually seen in these parts) Wheat Beer, plus what looked like an, almost, full house of the bottled range. I’ve always been perplexed as to why more Sam’s pubs don’t carry more of the excellent bottled beers? I’m quite partial to the Oatmeal Stout. Apart from one or two places round here, you’ve a better chance going to New York to drink it than finding it in the breweries own pubs.

Addy bottle

I mentioned from the outset that the Addy was surprising. This theme continues with the food side of things. They’ve been allowed to cook food on the premises, instead of just warming up, the Smith family owned, Sarah Brownridge ‘ping’ meals. I know quite a few pubs are allowed to prepare their own Sunday lunches (to brewery approved standards and suppliers, of course) but, here they are preparing home cooked food on the premises on a daily basis from a decent ‘pub grub’ menu. Two of us had Steak pie and a Chicken Fillet burger, complete with accompaniments; veg and gravy, salad, etc. The burger coming in a proper brioche bun and the chips in natty little tin buckets. For around fourteen quid for both, we declared it a resounding success and put it on the ‘will definitely go again’ list. I know a lot of people flock to a new pub, but selling out on the first and second Sunday lunch sessions is pretty impressive, and an indicator of the potential.

Addy beer garden

I had a chat with the new Landlady, Jackie. She does front of house while her husband Chris is the chef. They’ve a strong CV in pubs and catering going back over ten years. Previously they were responsible for the catering  operation at Bridlington Golf Club and, before that, ran the St Quintin Arms at Harpham, near Burton Agnes. You could tell they were nice folk, who were enthusiastic about their new role and wanted everything to be spot on. The table service, from a smartly dressed young waiter, was exemplary, and as seasoned ‘stand up’ drinkers, I liked the fact we weren’t shown to our properly laid table until the meal was about to be served.

I usually make comment about an establishment’s toilet facilities, something probably not needed after a total renovation? They were absolutely spot on of course, and we were allowed to examine the Ladies! But, I have to mention the Sam Smith’s wall paper in the gents. If you’ve previously encountered this wonderful printed collage of all the bottle labels emanating from The Old Brewery at Tadcaster then I apologise. Though, I do believe it would be ideal for a feature wall in a gentlemanly study, or some other class of man cave; I definitely want some. See how many different labels can you count? Having said all this, coming from a commentator residing within four miles, or so, of Tadcaster, if people have seen it elsewhere, then it says so much about the brewery’s attitude to it’s own backyard.

Addy wallpaper

So, is this the way forward for Sam’s? Rumour has it that Sam(uel) Smith (Humphrey Jnr) has taken personal charge of this project, which is the first of it’s type North of the Trent (Unless someone can tell me otherwise? I would be genuinely interested to know.). It certainly bears no resemblance to any previous incarnations of the brewery’s branding in these parts. If asked, I would say that this is all very nice, but I don’t think it will fit across the entire estate, and certainly not in places like Stockport. Looking at Boston Spa (someone at the brewery obviously has) and the very busy, café bar style premises in the village, then somewhere like this, providing decent food, at a very competitive price, in pleasant surroundings, will be a winner.

Downside? They’ve removed the Pike! If anyone at the brewery is reading, that antique stuffed Pike is part of the fabric of Boston Spa, and I will readily pay a good market price to have it hanging in my own hall way. Please DM me on Twitter.

Verdict; As far as the Yorkshire region, and probably most other areas outside the metropolis, goes, a definite change from Sam’s, philanthropic, outlook of almost propping up steady traditional pubs, and a move into almost aggressive branding (for Sam’s anyway). Mind you, there’s still no branding outside, beyond a nice painting of the old Admiral.

N.B. Edward Lord Hawke, Admiral of The Fleet (1705 – 1781), so far as I can ascertain, has no direct connection with Boston Spa, even though the Wharfe (where said Pike was caught!) is navigable as far as Tadcaster, I doubt whether he ever managed to sail all the way up into the Lower Wharfe Valley? However, his peerage was styled as, Baron Hawke of Towton, of Scarthingwell Hall. Historic locations about five or six miles away, which probably explains the connection? He certainly wasn’t popular enough to warrant the naming of boat loads of boozers after him, like Lord Nelson. He may of course have been a contemporary, and neighbour, of the original Samuel Smith? Makes you wonder.

P.S. Humphrey Smith is not, and I sincerely hope not, dead. The reference to his demise, above, is entirely fictitious and intended to function as a literary device suggesting a certain degree of cynicism towards the said gentleman, and portrayal of a little humour. The writer bears no ill will towards Mr Smith and his brewery, even though they frequently tend towards esotericism.

P.P.S. I do not believe the cliffs, in the painting of Admiral Hawke on the pub sign, are the local beauty spot, Jackdaw Crag; although the stunning 150 + foot limestone cliffs aside the splendid Wharfe are sufficiently grand enough. Wide as the Wharfe is, for reasons relating to the navigable features of the river at these longtitudes, outlined ante, I believe the presence of two sailing ships in the background rules out Boston Nick as the paintings setting.

P.P.P.S. This article is written from the perspective of a person living in relative close proximity to Sam Smiths Brewery and HQ. There may be other pubs that break their traditional mould, elsewhere? If this is the case, then please post below as I may have pretensions of becoming a National Sam Smith’s expert ??