Wednesday, 21 May 2014

A barrel of fun at Barrow Hill Rail Ale Festival 2014

A local beer festival, albeit across t`border, on sun-baked Friday night, straight from work. What`s not to like? Well, let`s start with the first beer I sampled........!

Now then, lemongrass and ginger are damn fine ingredients, so long as they appear in a spicy tom yung goong soup or pickled atop a fresh sushi sashimi but not in my beer! Thankfully, this one was not one I`d bought (with the efficient card system) but just a taster given my a colleague who was enjoying the Leatherbritches brew. Ginger in beer just does not do it for me and this fact had been proven twice in a week after trying Thornbridge`s Lilith (5%) the previous weekend.

Familiarity was found by starting on many hop head`s favourite Citra by Oakham, before moving onto well, err, Hop Head by Dark Star which proved popular all round. These two are ideal session ales that certainly do not disappoint in flavour and they are well-approachable in ABV (4.2% and 3.8% respectively). Solid, safe starters for sure.

My excuse is that I thought Puja was 5.7% but this Thornbridge Jasmine IPA is actually a whopping 6.7%, and was one of the very heftiest fuels on offer in the Roundhouse. Other excuses include bad light, small print and the absence of this special over the past year or two making the palate grow fonder. Tonight though, being served on gravity and probably a fair bit too warm, it was not to be Puja`s night.

Thornbridge appeared on a hefty sized bar was dedicated to displaying Derbyshire`s breweries that seem to be growing in number day-by-day. Landlocked of Ripley were a new one to us but we were pleasantly surprised by their Chapel Hill ale which was really tasty and refreshing. One to watch and a contender on the night. By contrast, I really struggled to get through a half of Fuggle Bunny`s Amber. FB are yet another new brewery from Sheffield, along with very recent additions Stancil and Toolmakers but then quality and quantity are seldom cell-mates.

By now courage was well and truly plucked up though and Oakham`s Green Devil IPA was a sweet and fruity 6% solution. These Peterborough ale producers are rightly respected the length and breadth of Great Beer-itain (see what I did there!). Yum.

Great Heck are ever dependable and a personal favourite. The Yakima was even stronger than Puja so I opted for the superb  (and safer) Citra only to manfully swap it with a drinking companion who was finding Voodoo Mild to be too wild a child, even in a half pint measure. That said, I was more than happy with my trade with its chocolate and roast coffee hints. Voodoo Mild is a contender at Barrow Hill and an apt one as it is Mild May, after all!

Similarly reliable at Rail Ale were the Raw brews, especially the hoppier hits. By this point, the music was getting louder, the shed (sorry, Roundhouse) was getting fuller, the locomotive was rotating more quickly and err, the light was fading but I am sure that both beers were from their Ghost series. I`m also pretty sure that one was cask and the other I had from keg. I`m also sure that I did not need or like the Castle Rock beer that I finished the night with.

The Barrow Hill Rail Ale Festival is rightly popular and 2014 was certainly a success. There was a very decent array of ale on show with an appropriate focus on Derbyshire. Other ales on offer were an interesting mix of newcomers and the established. There was a small keg bar that seemed popular too and outside the selection of food was commendable too. To top off a tremendous night, my train was on time too. All hail the rail!

 Barrow Hill`s Best - Our Choices
Mike -  Great Heck`s Voodoo Mild or Oakham`s Green Devil IPA (Attractive opposites. Can`t split).
Martin - Leatherbritches - Lemongrass & Ginger (Friday night Oriental food craving?! ;-))
Colette - Great Heck Citra (Top swap)
Nic - Raw`s Silver Ghost or Oakham`s Green Devil (Owt scary!)

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Crafty Sheffield?

Well CAMRA don`t like it up `em. [Evil keg.] But, then again, CAMRA `like` Wetherspoons and all we `discerning, socially conscious` ale suppers know that JDW are bad, right? Even if you get that decent pint and still have change left from a two quid coin….er. Yeah, yeah, probably.

Starting at The `spoons Woodseats Palace (where we only popped in just to shelter from the rain / wait for the best bus), me and my OH opted for `Craft` in a can. Wetherspoons now offer Sixpoint ales in a cute 330ml tin and it tastes… OK. And the price is right. Sixpoint was a decent starting, um, point and probably the best choice even though our conscience possibly suggested the (ok, fine) local option of Chantry or the house (Bradfield) beer. Bengali Tiger (6.4%) does a decent and drinkable job of the bitter-sweet IPA kick although we could have burped our way over the Brooklyn bridge after this one. Dang that pesky carbonation!

My only cask beer of this mini night out was a (forgettable but fine) Milton effort from The Wick at Both Ends. By day this bar is a city cool drinking hole, at least on my own (very subjective) rating continuum. By night it IS West Street after all. It IS noisy with a (trollied by ten past eight) West Steet clientele. West Street? The best bit is that ….it is parallel to Division Street! The Wick seemed like a good idea. And the cocktails are great, allegedly.

The Bowery looked busy (fancy that on a Freeday neet!) so we ambled on. Forum, no, still too trendy, so we followed the beards into theBrewdog bar to sample an anarchistic ale at a premium price. CAMRA wouldn`t like it, but I bet they`ve sneaked in, in cognito….

I tried a super strong Mikkeller special called IPA 10, the like of which we seldom see in Sheff and it was very nice. Hoppy with a deep and complex profile. Cost a pretty penny but a pretty (tasty half) pint it wor. The OH had a dark dunkel type thing that she enjoyed but I`d happily keep a bargepole betwixt it and me. Div St B-Dog: Deconstructed? Anarchist? Highland corporate avengers? Or just crappily clich├ęd? Whatever, but go and `ave a gander! Brewdog is worth a visit even if you think it is a load of old fuggle.

Feeling all brave, possibly anarchistic, we then schlepped / waddled down to former destination pub / recent crap pub THE Devonshire Cat, with the aim of seeing if it wor any better now what with being under the calming wing of Abbeydale. Surely, with a better range of cask and the same spacey, big tabled lay-out this place could not be far wrong. And, lo and behold, they too have some keg craftage!

 “Pint of High Wire, please. It`s one of my favourite beers!” “OK.” “Err, it`s off”. And so I went for the sexy continental standout beer, just landed on the bar – Founders` All Day IPA. This one is a `session ale` allegedly. Well if that means `so little taste that you can drink it all day`, then OK. Theoretically, it is great to see this Stateside standout ale in a big city centre pub but, although it looks good on paper, it just does not really give the array of aftertaste that you hope for in an (expensive, ouch!) IPA. Rather it`s just another belch closer to Brooklyn. For the sake of LocAle craftiness, we also sampled the Abbeydale keg #2 but it was pretty bland as craft goes. Cloudy with a bit of a kick, this one was drinkable but I`m sure that dependable Abbeydale will produce better.
Many of our local pubs now offer at least one ale on keg. They last longer and thus make economic sense in this age of austerity. Even my local drinkers` pubs like The Sheaf View and The Ale House have recently opened up a line for a crafty keg offering whilst city types like The Rutland and Sheffield Tap pretty much split their fare 50/50 between keg and cask. The way forward....!? Sheffield, capital of all that is ale, suggests that it might be.

Cask is still king in our book but keg is taking over. At least you`ll hear it coming; BURP!!!