A Bad Seed of an Idea! Cask, Keg & CAMRA and why we are still listening to Prog Rock?

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It’s often puzzled me how brewers arrive at some of their brewery, and beer, names? Stood at a small bar on the mezzanine floor above Bad Seed Brewery, sipping a glass of Bad Seed St Clements, Chris Waplington explained that, ‘All adventures begin with a bad seed of an idea.’ So there you have it.

I visited the Malton brewery as part of an organised tour run by Brewtown Brewery Tours. I’m not sure what the other beer tourists were thinking as we turned off the main road into a small industrial estate? The breweries address was quite apt though, Rye Close, were we going to get a taste of a red ale or maybe a Roggenbier?

The brewery itself isn’t much to look at. If you’ve visited small breweries previously you’ll have seen exactly the same all before; light industrial unit, four barrel brewing kit and a line of fermenting vessels. The difference with this brewery was co-owner and brewer, Chris, who met us with a warm friendly hand shake. After that he never stopped talking; what a passionately enthusiastic bloke. His mantra for brewing summed him up exactly: full flavoured with innovative top quality ingredients!

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It’s clear the Bad Seed ethos isn’t to take over the brewing world. Chris told us he wasn’t in the business to sit on some beach lording it up while the money rolled in. He’d rather be hands on, getting involved. Even though they’ve been going for four years now, there’s still only himself and partner James, supported by a delivery driver.

Bearing in mind the tour included people with varying levels of beer knowledge, Chris did a nice run through the brewing process. It wasn’t until he moved into issues around beer dispense that my ears really started to prick up though. Although I’m a very active CAMRA member, I’m also very open minded, on lots of things. Chris’s argument in dispelling most of the cask v keg myths was probably the most compelling I’ve heard. Bad Seed’s, roughy 4000L weekly, production goes into both cask and keg, and bottles.

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He was definitely preaching to the converted with the two Australian female tourists who just couldn’t believe brewers added bits of dead fish into their beer. To be fair, they weren’t interested that the process strips most of the hop character, and hence flavour, out of the beer. Similarly, they were unimpressed when Chris explained this had been scientifically proved. No, no interest in the scientific at all, but on learning which parts of the fish were used they were just really, really pleased that all the Bad Seed beers we were sampling were unfiltered and UNFINED!

The discourse then veered towards one topic that regularly comes up; why are progressive modern beers, particularly live keg beers more expensive than traditional cask ales? I’ve heard this explanation before, but Chris confirmed that many licensees were only interested in sub £60 casks, a price he couldn’t even get near to with their high quantity use of quality ingredients.

Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve been visiting far too many pubs and micro pubs recently where the range of beers was almost totally auric, and with far too many names like Old Dogs Cockwalloper and suchlike. Personally, although I love a good traditional pint, often I’d rather pay a little extra for something more challenging, with extra flavour and character. To my mind Timmy Taylor’s proves the rule here, quality beers made from quality ingredients by quality brewers, just don’t expect to get a cask for anywhere near sixty quid; you get what you pay for though. I don’t like using the ‘C’ word, but Timothy Taylor’s aren’t Craft neither, are they?

Chris said he was going to be doing a talk to York CAMRA, explaining the price differential between cask and keg, staid and modern. I applaud York CAMRA for hosting this. Unfortunately, I’ve seen far too many CAMRA die hards appear publicly foolish (even when they are quite erudite) at this sort of meeting, through total intransigence to an outdated eulogy. I hope Chris’s presentation will be successful. Personally, I just can’t help thinking that far too many ‘stick in the muds’ are still listening to Prog Rock (1.) when everyone else has moved on and embraced other diverse styles, old and new.

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To be fair, I could have spent all afternoon listening to Chris. I wasn’t even disappointed when Brewtown Brewery Tours host, Mark, called time and said we’d have to move on to the next brewery, even when I found out we’d missed the chance of sampling another beer through talking too much! So, sadly we had to leave Chris completing the last minute logistics for Beertown2017, an annual event, now in it’s fourth year, which he set up together with local neighbours Brass Castle Brewery.

As the bus pulled away, I sat wondering; how come a small North Yorkshire market town like Malton can have two excellent cutting edge breweries, yet in four years of brewing Bad Seed had only ever sold two casks to Malton pubs (but regularly deliver into London). To my mind, a clear example of how Pubco ties and blind traditionalism can restrict progress.

Overall, this was a fascinating visit to a small, yet very progressive brewery. It really was a pleasure to listen to Chris and ask him questions. Unless you are very well connected or fortunate, it’s not often you get to chat to brewers like this in a very informal setting, so I will unashamedly plug Mark Stredwick of Brewtown Brewery Tours for taking me on his very excellent Malton & Pickering brewery tour. 

1. A style of rock music especially popular in the 1970s and characterized by classical influences, the use of keyboard instruments, and lengthy compositions. Unfortunately the genre failed to live up to it’s name, in so far as it never really progressed any further; pretentious, pompous and overblown are terms often used to describe the genre.

 

York Tap

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Although part of a provincial mainline railway station, York Tap looks almost like it should be sat at the end of a Victorian seaside pier. A sort of wood panelled, beigey-pink pavilion, complete with lead covered domes and fancy gilded finials. Alighting from a train on platform 4, this ‘out of place’ feeling becomes magnified. Okay, a Beer House on a station platform isn’t that unusual, there’s one at Sheffield, Harrogate, Dewsbury has a good ‘un and Huddersfield’s got two, not forgetting Stalybridge. There’s probably lots of others I’ve never been to, and lots of bars at stations that aren’t actually quite on the platform.

York tap is part of the Pivovar group, a York based company who coincidentally run several of the station boozers named above: York, Harrogate, Sheffield and the, just outside the station, sentinels at Euston, even Tapped Leeds is only a short crawl from City Station. I’m a big fan of their bars, not just for the iconic locations, more for the beer; quality, range and diversity.

I only visited York tap to meet up with Mark Stredwick of Brewtown Brewery Tours. His York brewery tours all start and end at York Tap, which is as good a place as I can think of to start a brewery tour! I wasn’t getting picked up until 12.30pm, so I made sure I got there in enough time to enjoy a nice half. There were only four or five other folk in when I walked up to the bar. Both of the staff were busying themselves cleaning shelves and bottling up, they’d only been open an hour and obviously hadn’t had many people in, on what was a damp May Tuesday morning. York CAMRA members had obviously enjoyed their afternoon out with Brewtown Brewery Tours, judging by the several pages in their Ouse Boozer magazine, which I’d picked up from amongst the various beer mags display.

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Anticipating a long afternoon I decided a half of Roosters Weakender (3%) was appropriate, a surprisingly tasty beer for the ABV. With thirty two draught beers on, including eighteen cask ales and a hand pulled cider, I reckoned I was probably the first person that morning to go for the Roosters. Whether I was, or not, the beer was spot on, no evidence of being stood in the neck end of the line all night. I rated it as 3.5 on WhatPub app, and if there was a 3.5 + I would have gone for that. Thinking about it, I’ve never had anything other than well kept ales in any of the Tap(ped) pubs.

In terms of the range then expect anything and everything; cutting edge brews from renowned brewers, traditional solid beers from quality brewers, decent european style draught beers, fridges full of interesting things and thankfully nothing at all from Marston’s PLC, or Greene King, or anything else of that ilk. And of course their own Tapped Brewing beers, quite a few of which have recently received a bit of a tweak by Dave Sanders who now oversees the brewing operation. Prices varied from £3.10 for their own Golden ale (3.9%), rising to £4.10 for Hardknott Intergalactic Space Hopper (5.2%), having said that half of the cask beers on when I was there were under £3.50.

Sitting in a quiet pub gives you time to mull things over, work things out: Did I get the right day for the brewery tour will it stop raining doesn’t matter Mark’s got a smart little mini bus wonder who she is nice to see single women can be confident in a pub which is the best Tap pub (on a station platform/concourse) then?

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Out of all of them, this has got to be my favourite. A lot of people will remember the building being the York Model Railway exhibition for many years. The tasteful renovation remembers the original purpose as a Victorian tea rooms. They’ve really done it very well, and despite it being open six years or so now, it’s stood the test of time and they’ve kept it well maintained.

I know the other branches have the marbled floors, the stained glass and the beer; the stained glass here is exceptional, just look up at the skylights. There’s just something about York Tap that sets it apart: The island bar. The soft rumble of the London train pulling into the station. The light falling through the expansive windows. The feeling of expectation, even if you’ve just popped in for a quick pint, something that’s enhanced by being able to walk in off the street, sink a swift one, then out the back door onto the platform to board the next train to wherever. Thinking about it, it’s actually got two front doors, both entering into some liminal space occupied by transient people from one side or the other, who are neither stable, nor temporary, and often both.

Visitors from the landside should be encouraged to step out onto the platform of the grand Victorian station, which sits half way between London and Edinburgh, where the East Coast Mainline crosses the East-West Trans Pennine line. The magnificent curved glass and iron arched roof is the equal of any, and quite fitting for an important railway city like York. There’s also been a similar, interesting conversion of the old signal box at the end of the footbridge, which is now a Costa coffee shop.

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If you’re ever on a train travelling North to South, or East to West, and got a bit of time on your hands, then York Tap is a really good excuse to break your journey for an hour. If you’re visiting the National railway museum you can cut through the station and call in. If you’re visiting York specifically to sample it’s varied selection of very good pubs and bars then it’s a must and you’ll see many groups of beer tourists calling in. Of course, a lot of people don’t need a specific excuse, locals with newspapers, travellers cursively glancing at watches whilst pretending to do some urgent work on their lap top, beer lovers enjoying a decent pint. The only caveat is steer clear of York on Friday or Saturday nights and any day there’s a race meeting on. York’s a lovely place, full of history and character, but sadly, at the times specified, it can get a bit leery. I’m not saying that as a grumpy fifty something year old neither, it’s been like that as long as I can remember.

Verdict: York Tap, best station bar in the Pivovar portfolio by a mile and just a good place to be.

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The Queen’s Head, Newbiggin by the Sea

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If you look at a map of Newbiggin by the Sea, there’s a large open space in the middle of the town, like a huge chunk of the place has just disappeared. There’s not much to tell you what was there, apart from an old pit tub with a touching story , at the junction of Collingwood Road and the A197, and a pit head winding wheel, set on a plinth on the other side of the road. The plaque on the pit tub says, Newbiggin Colliery 1908 – 1967, the words on the side tell of close on twelve hundred men who worked there, the old pit site not becoming reclaimed until 1978.

Even though the colliery has long gone, there’s something evocative about places like this.  Maybe it’s the juxtaposition of lost industry on a rural landscape, a sort of Beauty and the Beast. Being able to walk down a street of houses that just peters out into broad acres and a big sky. I could be in the South Yorkshire coalfield I was familiar with as a boy. The houses are similar, you look up imagining the colliery still being there at the end of the street, pit wheels racing against the sky. I get back in the car and drive the short distance into the town centre, plain, ordinary, functional and very tidy, everywhere’s so clean and tidy. It’s puzzlingly familiar, but different. Like sitting on the 234 bus going into town through Dodworth and miraculously coming across a beach the other side of the M1, instead of Barnsley.

What a beach as well! St Bartholomews Church dominates the Northern end of the almost enclosed, curving sweep, of sandy bay and stood on the headland, I was told, on a clear day you can see beyond industrial Tyneside, right down to the North Yorkshire Moors and coast.

I jokingly asked the small group of people gazing out to see through binoculars and other miscellaneous optical devices if I could join them? They were more than happy for me to become associated and made me promise to join Newbiggin by the Sea Dolphin Watch on Facebook. Researcher and head Dolphin watcher, Dr. Ivor Clark, put me straight on my sighting of Porpoises from the beer garden of The Old Shippe, Seahouses, the previous evening, saying I’d seen one of the pods of Bottle Nosed Dolphins that patrolled the Northumbrian coast. Apparently you get one species or the other in a particular area and never the twain …

Bidding goodbye to the local Cetacean group, I wandered over to Newbiggin Maritime centre. A pleasant, spacious arts centre and museum, with a very good café, full of people listening to a live folk music jam session, a sort of BYO Banjo. Alas, little old terriers weren’t allowed in, so we sat outside with a coffee and stared at the Couple stood on the breakwater in the middle of the bay, wondering what they were doing and how the hell they got there? Perhaps the people sailing around the harbour conveyed them? Maybe they were towed out at low tide by one of the veteran tractors which pulled the boats out. I counted ten of them parked up on the beach and around the lifeboat house.

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Wandering on, I stumbled across a couple having a quiet sit, whilst out on a bike ride, while a younger Couple stood behind them, just staring out at the Couple on the breakwater in the middle of the bay. They looked familiar, same faces, same clothes, same hair, just three sizes smaller. ‘Ask Sean Henry’, the old people said, ‘he put them there.’ I walked on, unsure as to what had happened, feeling almost as if I’d been involved in some sort of weird, living, breathing, art installation conceptual thingy. It felt good though.

I loved the well kept functionality of the town. No pretensions of being something it’s not, just a small place where people live, and once worked, at the edge of the land. I wonder how long it will last? New builds above the promenade, with glass walled balconies, wailed a lament of gentrification. Hopefully, the blanket of smog from the Geordie chimneys in the near distance will protect it from those seeking second homes.

There’s a few pubs in Newbiggin by the Sea, WhatPub says five, but only two of them serve real ale. It wasn’t hard to pick which one to go to, The Queens Head aka Porter’s, is the only one in the GBG. It lets you take the old terrier in, provided he doesn’t bark, or otherwise annoy the other customers, or the resident Yorkie. I’ve no grand picture of the outside, I’m not really into scaffolding. The two doors off the porch hint at some modernisation, both leading you into what is now, basically, one large room. Maybe half a dozen blokes, eight at a push, were sat in the window drinking pints, each nodding to acknowledge my presence as I entered.

The inside took me back a bit. I’ve been in lots of pubs like this, sadly most of them haven’t stayed like it. Big heavy wooden bar. Red vinyl banquette seats around the main room, with a gap between seat and back rest, no vacuum cleaners to clean down the crack in the seat when they made these. Proper narrow tables, enough room for your pint and to just rest a small newspaper on. Lino floor in the bar area and carpet in the best side, which also accommodated the dart board. The hard marbled effect floor in the corridor led to the gents, which were old fashioned, but spotless with gleaming bright porcelain. In fact the pub, although boasting many original Edwardian fittings, was spotlessly clean throughout. Why don’t modern pub designers ever go for the well made, well kept, fastidiously clean effect rather than a perpetually dusty, shabby chic look?

There were three hand pumps on the bar, but only two were in use. I chatted with licensee, David Stringer, who’s owned and run The Queens Head for fifteen years. He said at one time he had four or five cask lines in operation, sadly there had been a decline in real ale drinkers amongst his clientele as older drinkers had passed on. These days he only has one cask ale on during the week, which is supplemented by a second one on Friday morning until it’s gone, usually by the end of Saturday night. He told me the beers constantly changed though and the number of pump clips on his trophy wall bore testament to that.

I tried both cask ales, Consett Man of Steel, and Harviestoun Bitter and Twisted. Both were better than very good and I’d give them each a conservative 4 on NBSS. The strategy of a short selection and rotation was definitely working, the outcome being beer of the highest quality.

I was surprised to see Sam Smith’s beers on the bar, Taddy Lager, Best Bitter and Stout. David told me he would solely sell Sam’s keg beers and get rid of John’s and Fosters if he could wean the locals off them. He’d already managed to do it with Guinness. His only criticism of Sam Smith’s being they only sold OBB in eighteens which didn’t suit his turnover and QC strategy. He reckoned OBB would go a bomb if he could get it in firkins. I got the feeling, from what he was telling me, that pricing was a factor in his customers choices. Mind you at £2.60 a pint for well kept real ale from respected brewers, they can’t really complain.

Walking back to the free car park I noticed a squat, square, single storey brick building sat on the roundabout, which more or less marks the end of the main street. A typical example of functional British municipal public toilet architecture, that in times of strife could possibly function as some sort of civil defence facility? And we think we’re suffering austerity!

It sort of looked out of place, a bit like Newbiggin, which if it were anywhere else wouldn’t be by the sea at all. I took a photo and an old lass waiting for a bus told me the toilets had been there longer than she had. She thanked me for taking the photograph so that others could see what it had looked like after it had gone.

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Verdict – Brilliant pub with outstanding cask ale in unspoilt gem of a real seaside town that I’m now wishing I never posted about, in case others go there and spoil it.

A day out with Brewtown Tours in Leeds

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A while back, a mate introduced me to this Aussie guy called Mark Stredwick. When I got to know him I discovered he’s not actually Australian, originally he hails from Yarm, Teeside, but he stayed down under for just a bit too long!  Why is it anyone whose spent more than twelve months living in Oz seems destined to retain the twang for ever? Anyway, amongst other things, while Mark was in Australia he worked for Dave’s Brewery Tours in Sydney and he’s now brought the concept to the UK.

Back in November, Mark asked me to go on one of his first trips, along with some American tourists. Although Brewtown tours run several different tours, I went on the Leeds one, and bang on the appointed hour I was picked up outside The Queens hotel by Mr Stredwick in his stylishly liveried Brewtown tours minibus (yes, thats it in the picture, but don’t worry, you can see out through the windows perfectly well from inside). It surprised me to discover the comfy Mercedes is actually a licensed private hire vehicle, and Mark a licensed driver. It all sounded a bit OTT to me, but everyone is a paying passenger and that’s what the regulations say. Positively, you’re assured that everything is properly regulated and checked out.

First port of call was North Brewing Co in Sheepscar, where we were instantly plied with a third of Herzog; nice, very nice. We sipped away while Mark talked us round the brewery.  There’s no need for a tourist guide style umbrella on Mark’s tours, you instantly recognise him from his Brewtown tours red jacket. He’s got a comprehensive knowledge of beer, and brewing processes, interesting facts, and a good line in patter. To be fair he got it spot on and pitched his commentary at an appropriate level, even to those of us who think we might know a bit about beer. I certainly picked up a few things, I never knew Citra was grown under strict licence conditions, effectively trademarked.

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The tour itself was quite hands on with the usual tasting and sniffing of the ingredients, as well as being able to climb up and peer into the mash tun and other vessels, and generally having a free run of the brewery.

One theme that went through the entire tour was a bit of audience participation. I quite liked it each time Mark brought out a new beer, asking what people could smell, and then taste, encouraging them to learn aspects of beer tasting, and then getting them to discuss what they thought. The Vespertine sour certainly raised a lot of comment and almost split the group of seven down the middle. On a positive, those of us who liked it got to finish the glasses of those who didn’t (I’m not fussy me, not when there’s beer about!).

The final beer at North Brewing was Full Fathom Five, a 6.5% coconut and coffee porter. Surprisingly FF5 also split the vote, those liking the sour beer deciding they perhaps didn’t like the soft deep notes of the stout. It was intriguing watching the various reactions because in no way did the group represent beer connoisseurs. Knowledgeable people? Definitely. Beer drinkers? Perhaps not. Anyway, after three leisurely beers and some excellent discourse that was North Brewing done.

If you want to go on a ‘piss up in brewery’, then this isn’t the tour for you. Yeah, you’ll have a nice few drinks, but as Mark says, ‘If you just want to get drunk then don’t come with us.’ On every tour there is at least twenty minutes between venues before you get to your next drink, interspersed en route with running commentary on points of interest. Mark’s very keen to retain the balance between having fun, responsible drinking and a decent amount of beery learning to boot. There’s even bottled water to keep you hydrated and snacks aboard the bus.

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Next stop was Northern Monk’s Old Flax Store brewery in Marshall Street, Holbeck. I love the refectory there and I love their beer, the first taster was one of my favourites, Eternal. Before we piled down into the brew house for a tour hosted by assistant brewer Fraser Bisset, there was time for checking out the unusual 2.02 PBJ, a peanut butter and jelly, brown ale that’s one of the Patrons Project series and was brewed in collaboration with street muralists Nomad Clan. Mmmm, different, but very enjoyable.

Some interesting facts and features here. I didn’t realise the boil stage for Strannik was six hours! You won’t get (m)any breweries with art work like they have on the walls here neither! The explanation of the canning process surprised quite few as well. Strange how many folk assume there is some way of filling them through the ring pull hole!

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I really enjoyed the Northern Monk brewhouse and the input from Fraser about the brewery and their beers, which built nicely on the basic process we’d heard about at North Brewing Co I really don’t like using the C word, but after Fraser’s Craft Beer input we were treated to the smokey taste of Smoggen Roggen, back in the refectory before we left. Another unique one that which split the voting. Whatever you thought about the beer, you couldn’t say that the boundaries of beer tasting hadn’t been explored with the sampling of some of Northern Monk’s  non-core range beers.

The last venue took us back to the more traditional. It was worth the ride back into the city centre just for the experience of Mark squeezing, only just, his tour bus under the height barrier (and roof!) of Trinity multi storey. The pedestrian entrance leads you out directly to the door of Leeds Brewery  tap. That’s not a brewery, I hear you say? It is actually, there’s a small brewing kit housed upstairs. That wasn’t the point though, there was a little more on offer here.

The first thing that came to our reserved table were glasses of Gathering Storm, which were quickly followed up with a plate full of ribs. Manager, Rob Young, acted as host and explained that although this wasn’t truly a considered food pairing, the sauce sticking to the ribs had been made from a reduction of the popular Leeds breweries traditional stout.

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Next onto the table were glasses of Leeds Best and Pork Pie (decent growlers too). Throughout, Mark kept the beery chat and discussion going and it was pretty obvious that Leeds Best was winning in the afternoon’s popularity stakes. Just shows, you can go off all wild and wacky but at the end of the day it’s a traditional bitter that comes out on top.

The penultimate offering really showcased the benefits of food pairing. Chocolate brownies brought out an intense maltiness and a touch of molasses in our glasses of Midnight Bell. Impressive. Mark said he felt it was important for him to open up peoples taste to local quality products and provide something that was a little bit more than your bog standard brewery trip.

The final beer from Leeds Brewery  came in the form of Monsoon IPA and a big bowl of Nachos. Rob explained it was important to realise that food pairing extends to something just as simple as a humble snack, and not necessarily something substantial. Again food and ale perfectly complimented each other and brought out an added extra from both sides.

By this time it was getting on for 5.30pm and there was just enough time to continue sipping and chatting before we set off back. Expect the finish/drop off time for this afternoon out to be somewhere around 6.00pm (later if you go back to York), in all a full five hours excursion into a side of the Leeds beer scene not many people get to experience.

Verdict: Excellent brewery trip for those wanting to go on a very well run, informative, small group, chauffeur driven luxury tour of progressive Leeds breweries to sample some traditional and cutting edge beers and do a bit of food pairing.

Historic Coaching Inns of the Great North Road by Roger Protz

Historic ...The first thing I do with a book like this is to scan through and see if anywhere local is included. Second check, is for any pubs I’ve visited previously. This touchstone immediately allowing me to gauge if the author accords with my own views and whether I’m putting the book down or reading on. I know we all should be more open minded, but I guess that’s human nature for you!

Well Rich, is there anywhere you know?  Yes a few! The Swan and Talbot in Wetherby is the closest to home, and it’s a pretty decent account of the place and the history of the town. I knew Michael Jackson was born here, but I didn’t know about the Clark Gable connection! Mind you, it doesn’t mention you might have to wait for ages to get served if you just want a drink when the restaurant is busy, despite staff buzzing all around you. A direct criticism of the pub and not Mr Protz’s book. The beer quality is usually pretty good though.

Is it a beer book, not really, more a pub book, there is a distinction me thinks. Although I do love the circumspect way in which, I think, Roger chronicles some of his inner thoughts. I can see him sitting at his desk grimacing when he describes the selection at The Mulberry, Stevenage as, beers are from the Greene King range. Well if he’s not, I am.

Conversely, I reckon he’s smiling smugly when he writes about The Prince Rupert, Newark, saying, the range of beers is ever changing but you may find Acorn IPA, North Riding and Oakham: but be prepared to be surprised and delighted. I’m not going to get drawn into the argument that GK and Marston’s are rapidly becoming the ‘old enemy’, but I was surprised to see just how many GK pubs there are in the guide.

Roger notes that he has not included every inn saying, a couple were inexplicably closed during normal pub opening hours. Well there’s nothing new there, is there and everyone knows that a pub that isn’t open doesn’t sell any beer and we know what happens to those pubs, don’t we! Throughout, the author alludes to much of what is wrong with pubs and our attitudes generally. He’s none too keen on Gastropubs, but a man sitting with a pint reading a newspaper confirms pub status; brilliant commentary!

Much of the detail included goes far wider than the inns themselves, and at times touches on local politics. One can only wonder why the hell Wetherspoon’s had a long tussle with the council in Biggleswade before they gained permission to re-open The Crown inn, built 1672? It’s still not happened apparently, but it’s hard to work out how some people think? Likewise Morpeth where the local residents are in uproar at plans to convert the closed Queens Head pub into a boutique hotel. Roger thinks an important piece of heritage might be lost here? Maybe he’s right? I know what I think though, and I definitely won’t be visiting these towns any time soon. In any case, having read, digested and analysed the book; twenty four or 52%, of the forty six premises described have letting rooms. And aren’t these historic coaching inns just the forerunners of the Travelodge, Premier Inn or Wetherspoons with rooms? And isn’t the difference between one of these and a boutique hotel nothing more than price?

I always worry about giving feedback, especially around what is an excellent publication, but If I’m going to be uber critical? Maybe a few too many photos of pubs with the sky burnt out for my liking, probably nothing that Lightroom™ couldn’t quickly fix. I’m not entirely convinced with the over long introduction neither. Vital information? Yes, but I like tales that start in media res. I would have ditched the intro and run headlong into a road trip. The text is already brilliantly embroidered with little ‘stand alone’ cameos detailing facts on: inter alia Highway men, Coaches, Stilton making, Road builders. By jumping straight in, creating a bit of a story arc, with more of the existing factual embelishment, I reckon the sense of a journey, an adventure, and something more complete could have been achieved. But what do I know? No one’s publishing anything I write are they.

It’s obvious an awful amount of research has been carried out. I never knew Charles Dickens had stayed in, or included in his writing, so many historic inns! Genuinely, the book is littered with useful, interesting facts and features, be it historical, architectural or just about what each hostelry provides. Including all the outrageous anecdotal claims that seem to go hand in hand with historical inns. The frequent In the area features are potentially very useful to visiting tourists.

I guess my last comment begs the question, ‘Who is the book really for?’ I reckon it appeals to a very wide audience. I’m sure there are several people contemplating setting off and doing the lot, perhaps they’ll blog about it? I can see loads of folk picking it up and then deciding to go to one of the towns for a weekend break, staying at one of the historical inns. It’s certainly an excellent companion for anyone wanting a few suggestions to build a touring holiday upon. Anyone who has more than a passing interest in pubs and pub related things will be enthralled. Yet, It’s more than an enthusiasts book which would delight a broad spectrum of readers. I reckon a lot of people would be very pleased to receive it as a Birthday present, or for Fathers Day; which coincidentally is next week!

I’d like to thank CAMRA  books for sending me a copy of this excellent book. Barring a few constructive comments I’ve made (that’s my chance of joining BGBW scotched then!), it really is an excellent book and at only thirteen quid, well worth buying.

Verdict; Well done, value for money, themed book about historic pubs that will please beer and pub enthusiasts, tourists and the mildly curious; probably best categorised as a well written, pub themed travelogue.

 

The Volunteer

Volunteers

I’m not sure how accurate or comprehensive Pubs Galore website is? Whatever, they list ‘The Volunteer; as being the 165th most frequent British pub name with 28 of them currently operating. Apparently the pub with one of the longest name in Britain is The Old Thirteenth Cheshire Astley Volunteer Rifleman Corps Inn in Stalybridge (like most largest, smallest, oldest pubs the title has been disputed over the years). You can also find reference to Naval and Rifle Volunteers and probably many others, by all means add your local variant in the comments section.

I’m fairly certain the Volunteers referred to were soldiers or sailors, whether they were celebrating specific local heroes, regiments or acting as an incentive to recruitment, or both, I’m not entirely sure. What I do know is, like the armed forces of yesteryear, the concept of volunteering is still very important today to many organisations, even around the modern beer scene.

A good example is the recent Tour de Yorkshire where the vast majority of course officials were volunteers. There are literally dozens of opportunities out there. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) who champion and support volunteering, are a good first port of call for anyone interested in donating their time. In a couple of weeks NCVO are coordinating Volunteers Week, 1st – 7th June, which aims to celebrate and inspire volunteers.

So, what if I want to volunteer to do something connected with beer? That’s dead easy. Most beer festivals rely on volunteers, from the big CAMRA festivals down to local events in village halls. Leeds CAMRA recently held an after party to say thank you to all the volunteers who had helped out at Leeds Beer Festival. A cracking afternoon out it was too. Two barrels from Kirkstall brewery, a decent buffet and a lovely sunny afternoon at Meanwood Valley Urban Farm.

MVF

The venue was chosen as the Farm were the festival charity and it seemed a good idea to hold the event in the Epicentre, their iconic and architecturally interesting HQ, and at the same time present them with a cheque for £365 which had been donated by people attending the festival. If I’m honest, I thought the after party was a little under subscribed. There were far more people who had helped at the beer fest than turned up for the subsidised event.

I’d driven past Meanwood Valley Farm lots of times, but never actually visited it. Hidden away, less than 100yds from the busy Meanwood Road in Leeds 7, it’s a suburban oasis of peace and tranquility, and donkeys, and ducks, and chicks, and goats and Mums and Dads with kids in prams, and a group of CAMRA die hards stuffing their faces and drinking top quality beer from plastic glasses. I’m not a fan of plastic glasses, but was happy to conform with the child friendly policy. As well as lots of young visitors looking at the animals and wildlife habitats, the farm also has a more formal educational role, promoting organic and sustainable practice. They’ve got a café on site and it’s only a couple of quid to visit. The charity relies on donations to continue their work with disadvantaged kids and adults with learning difficulties. They also do a bicycle recycling scheme, along with recycling lots of other things into even stranger things!

Robot

I don’t need to comment on the beer. Porter or Pale, they were both excellent. Beer and sunshine always go well together. Add a few sandwiches on home made organic bread and everything gets elevated to a higher plane. Considering it only cost a fiver, then the two days I spent on the door at Leeds Beer Festival didn’t feel like volunteering at all.

Kirkstall casks

As well as most of the bigger festivals having some sort of event to say thank you, you’ll also be able to reasonably sample a few beers on the day(s) of the festivals which is no bad thing. If I’m honest, any fringe benefits are purely incidental. Just being there, getting involved, having a laugh and some good craic is the main prize. Remember, the help needed at festivals isn’t necessarily just working behind the bar. Lots of people and different skills are needed at the set up and take down stages, as well as all doing all the stuff like taking the money, glasses, tombola, and all the behind the scenes admin.

It’s not just CAMRA festivals who embrace volunteers. I’ve done events like Indy Man Beer Con  where, although it’s classed as volunteering, the remuneration of free entry to a session and a generous amount of free beer tokens is a decent incentive.

Warren

Mr Warren Yabsley: Because all volunteering schemes need an organiser!

So how do I go about volunteering? The best thing to do is to keep your eyes and ears open. A lot of opportunities are promoted on social media and I see that SPBW are still requiring volunteers for Wood Fest. To volunteer at a CAMRA festival you need to be a member and there’s a section on volunteering on the CAMRA web site, your local branch will also be able to help. Checking the festivals section in What’s Brewing? and then looking at the festivals web site for any opportunities is a good one. For our local festival we just advertise in the village magazine for volunteers.

So what you waiting for, get volunteering!

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Anarchy Brew Co – Up in Smoke in North Northumberland!

Up in Smoke-3

Built in 1860 by the Craster family, it’s now the only smokehouse left in the small seaside village of Craster, Northumbria. Robson’s took over the business in 1906 and their renowned Kippers are still cured in the original smoke house by the fourth generation of the family. Only traditional methods and quality fish are used; after being split and brined, the prepared Herrings are smoked over a mixture of white wood and oak sawdust.

If you stand outside the premises, in front of the Jolly Fisherman pub you can smell the Kippers (and other fish) being cured. I adore smoked food of any variety and I love the smell of the oak perfumed fumes that waft out of the louvred windows in the roof of the stone built smokehouse.

I’ve drank Anarchy Brew Co beers plenty of times when I’ve been up in Northumbria. They make some excellent beers, and an odd one or two that I’ve not been impressed with, but generally this progressive Morpeth, Northumbria brewer are a good bet.

Flipping the top off a bottle of Up in Smoke, I could see the tips of smoke venting from the smokehouse. I could hear the gulls sitting on top of the pub and the tide lapping on the shore of the small harbour. I began to get a massive craving for a pair of Kippers.

Up in Smoke-2

I guess the beers name, and the Kippers on the label is a big hint to this being a smoked beer, it’s only when you read the label you learn the malt has been smoked by Robson’s in their 157 year old smokehouse. So, apart from the evocative smell, what’s Up in Smoke like?

As it pours there’s a white head, which quickly disappears. The beer itself is hazy and golden, with an almost rosé tint to the beer. I sort of bought my bottle by accident (I’m sticking with that!) when I saw it in the window of Independant Food & Drink, a Deli in Seahouse. I was neither looking for, nor expecting to find any beer, but I liked the fact a quality local independent shop was stocking a locally brewed beer with traditionally and locally produced ingredients. I liked it even better when I went inside and saw a small, but interesting, range of mainly, local bottled and canned beers, including Wylam and a good selection of Anarchy Brew Co beers, including Up in Smoke. If you are ever up this way then Independent Food & Drink is well worth a visit if you are hunting for a decent beer.

Up in Smoke-1

Initially the taste is smoked cheese, followed by a citrus sharpness and a hint of piney resin. This gave way to a soft toffee malt and an after taste of smoky bitterness. Although the head retention was poor (that may have been the glasses in our holiday let?) there was plenty of carbonation in the light bodied beer. I’m trying to think of words to describe it; different, interesting, refreshing. It’s definitely not overpoweringly smoky like a Rauchbier and as you get over the initial smoke hit, it becomes less prominent and the other elements kick in.

The 3% brew lives up to it’s billing of a ‘table beer’ and I’m quite taken with the whole idea of this; something intended to drink with a meal, refreshing and compatible with food. I’m not entirely sure you’d want to drink something so smokey with most food? If I was going to suggest a pairing then it would be something like a strong blue cheese, maybe some fat juicy barbecued spare ribs to cut through the unctuousness?

Verdict: Not to everyone’s taste. I enjoyed it. I liked the local ingredients, local beer, local shop and drinking it close to the source.