Zwanze Day 2018 at The Pilcrow, Manchester

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Zwanze Day at The Pilcrow Poster

Sticking with the Belgian theme for just one more blog post, I am going to write about Cantillon Zwanze Day which took place at my local Manchester pub, The Pilcrow, on Saturday 29 September. The Zwanze series from Cantillon Brewery (Brussels, Belgium) began in 2008 with the release of a special lambic beer with added rhubarb. Ever since then, Cantillon brewer Jean Van Roy has used the series, and the celebration days organised around it, to bring lovers of lambic beers together around the world. Now ten years in to the series, this was my first ever Zwanze day and seeing as it was at our local and favourite Manchester pub, we couldn’t resist getting tickets.

 

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Garage, Silver Peel

The event began at 12.00pm on the Saturday, however as we had friends visiting that day we didn’t arrive at The Pilcrow until around 6.00pm. The Zwanze was not pouring until 8.00pm, so this gave us plenty of time to try out the rest of the lambic-inspired beers on offer that day. The Pilcrow still has it’s large yellow tent up outside the pub, which has been used for many events during the summer months, and the majority of the beers were being served from inside the tent. You needed to buy tokens from the bar if you wanted beers from outside (£2.50 per token), so we got a few each to begin with. Cantillon beers were two tokens each (I imagine because of the costs to bring the beer to the UK) but all the other beers were one token. I started off with the Cantillon Iris, a traditional lambic which is dry and tart, with a slight floral taste. It was delicious and I was pleased that I had the chance to try it as it had not been available when we visited the brewery itself back in July. I followed this with a Oude Kriek Boon, as I love the Kriek style so always take the opportunity to have one when I can.

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Wylam, Fruits of Perception

As well as a large selection of Cantillon brews, there were also lots of sour and lambic-inspired beers from a range of UK brewers. The Wild Beer Co had plenty on offer, many of which were very intriguing such as their Rosa Rouge Saison which was really well balanced and had a nice level of tartness to it. We also tried their Sourdough Berliner Weisse which we were pleasantly surprised by, as although we were keen to try it, we weren’t convinced it would work. It was actually quite light and refreshing. We were expecting it to have a stronger bread taste, but the fact it didn’t is probably a good thing. Personal favourites from the non-Cantillon beers we tried were Silver Peel, a sour Berliner Weisse from Garage Beer Co from Barcelona (really light, fragrant but very sour. Definitely packs a punch!) and Fruits of Perception by Wylam from Newcastle, UK which I found to be quite unique compared to other sours I’ve had (I also couldn’t quite place the fruit, but possibly apricot – very nice). I know that sour beers are not for everyone, but for sour lovers like me, this event was a brilliant opportunity to try lots of interesting and harder-to-come-by styles.

IMG_3075As it approached 8.00pm, we joined the queue to receive our Cantillon Zwanze 2018. While we waited we had a good chat with a few lambic-enthusiasts who had only just returned from visiting the brewery in Brussels. They also told us about how you can only purchase a certain amount of bottles of Cantillon beer from the brewery every year (something we didn’t know) and apparently they have a way of tracking past purchases on your card so they know if you’ve already reached your limit for that year. We also saw two men with two wristbands each (you had to exchange your tickets for a wristband when you arrived). They must have been very keen to try this years Zwanze!

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Zwanze 2018 lambic and glass

Once we received our Zwanze, it was worth the wait. This years version was a blend of two year old lambic matured in first use italian wine barrels. It was really tart and so flavourful. You could definitely taste the wine and the time it spent maturing in the barrels. We received a third measure and sadly we got through ours way too quickly – we definitely could have had more if we’d had the chance to. There is definitely a level of excitement to having a beer you know you will never have again though. As much as I value having my ‘go-to’ beers that I’ll come back to time and time again, it’s a special experience to have something that has taken so much time and effort and you will never have again. And I guess there’s always next year?

I had never heard of Zwanze day before this year and I’m glad that The Pilcrow got the chance to host it, as it’s a really fantastic little pub. Over the next few weeks/months I’ll be writing about loads more local events – the next one being Indyman Beer Con 2018, which I’ll be attending tonight. Perhaps see you there?

Bruges: De Halve Maan Brewery

I’ve been so busy again recently that I’ve barely had any time for writing. Works been hectic and my boyfriend and I are trying to buy a house, so that’s also taking up a lot of our attention right now. I’m going to have to start writing more again though, as there are so many great events and beer festivals coming up  in Manchester over the next few months! Before I get back to writing about more local beer though, I am going to finally write about our fantastic trip to the De Halve Maan Brewery in Bruges this summer.

I first heard about De Halve Maan Brewery from reading this Buzzfeed article about the two mile, underground beer pipeline that transports beer from the brewery in central Bruges to the bottling plant outside the city. Ever since reading that article I’d been really keen to visit the brewery, and of course I’d already sampled De Halve Maan’s wonderful Brugse Zot, so was excited to taste it again straight from the source.

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Entrance to De Halve Maan Brewery

We decided to book on to the Deluxe tour which was €19 each and included a guided tasting of three beers. The standard tour is cheaper and is about an hour quicker, so is a good option if you don’t have much time or need to stick to a budget. You also still get to try Brugse Zot unfiltered – the only place where you can do so. We booked in advance, but most people appeared to show up on the day to join a tour.

When you first arrive, it feels a lot more commercial than a lot of other breweries – mainly because there are so many people – but once you get inside the brewery itself it feels very different. A complete contrast between much newer, shinier equipment and the older, traditional parts of the brewery. Our Tour Guide, Ann, was extremely knowledgeable and took us through much of the history of the brewery, as well as the specifics of Belgian brewing. Ann’s vast knowledge and enthusiasm really made the tour feel special and she was happy to take questions and give recommendations.

One part of the tour that was unexpected but definitely one of the highlights was climbing the staircase up to the very top of the brewery and taking in the view of Bruges. It was spectacular and controversially, I thought the view from the brewery was even better than from the Belfry which we had climbed earlier that day. A word of caution though for anyone not comfortable with climbing lots of stairs or being in confined spaces – there are lots of steps that are quite steep and hard to climb (even harder to climb down because they are very narrow). Fortunately there are a few areas to rest along the way!

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View from the roof

The final part of the tour was the best bit – tasting the beer! We were led down to the brewery tasting room which had an traditional feel with dark mahogany furniture. It’s very much like how you would imagine an old beer hall to be. We were then taken through a guided tasting of the unfiltered Brugse Zot, Dubbel, Triple or Quadruple (you can choose whether to have the Triple or Quadruple, but if you are in a couple or with a  friend choose one each so you can try both!).

Ann expertly guided us through the tour, even telling us what cheese you should pair with each different style. She inspired us to plan our own Belgian beer and cheese night, which I can’t wait to organise! Apparently the Dubbel and Tripel goes well with a lighter, creamy cheese like a brie or camembert, whereas the stronger Quadruple complements a strong blue cheese. It was also interesting taking part in the tasting as a group because everyone seemed to have a different experience and favoured certain beers over others. I really enjoyed the Dubbel for instance, but quite a few people on our table found that they couldn’t finish theirs (I wasn’t complaining…). The unfiltered Brugse Zot was also amazing – so much more satisfying that the version you find more readily across Belgium. Unfortunately you don’t get to see the infamous two mile beer pipe, however Ann told us that she gets a lot of questions about it!

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The beer recommended to us by Ann

Following our tour, we decided to stay in the De Halve Maan bar for a little longer. My boyfriend had loved the Tripel we had tried and was also wearing a t-shirt he had bought at Cantillon Brewery in Brussels (well known for their lambic beers brewed with wild yeast), so Ann recommended another beer to him that she thought he’d like – the Straffe Hendrik Bruges Tripel ale, re-fermented with a wild “Brettanomyces” yeast. It was delicious. She also brought over a leaflet for us about the beer with the full description and information about how it was made. We really appreciated this and were really struck by how passionate and attentive Ann was as a tour guide. She clearly loves her job and we feel very lucky that she guided us through our trip to De Halve Maan.

So if you ever find yourself in Bruges, make sure you visit the De Halve Maan Brewery – it will be well worth your time. Even if you don’t have time for a tour, make sure you order an unfiltered Brugse Zot and sit in the brewery’s lovely outdoor bar and watch the world go by.

Brussels: Moeder Lambic, Cantillon and Brussels Beer Project

I’ve had a bit of a blogging hiatus over the summer, but now I’m back and I’ve got plenty of things to write about!

Towards the end of July my boyfriend and I went to Belgium on holiday and really fell in love with the place. The first stop on our trip was the capital city, Brussels. I’ve always wanted to go to Brussels however I didn’t really know what to expect because a lot of people have told me in the past that it’s not the most exciting city to visit. I have to say that they were all wrong! Brussels exceeded my expectations and it is now definitely up there in my top favourite cities. We are already thinking about going back for a long weekend because we loved it so much. I would highly recommend a visit to anyone, however for the beer lovers out there it’s an absolute must.

We were fortunate enough to stay in a hotel in central Brussels, so it was very easy to get around. Brussels is a very walkable city, as long as you have some decent shoes to wear – the cobbled roads and pavements can take their toll otherwise! Something that really surprised me about Brussels (due to what I had been told) was how beautiful it is – the main square is very grand and really takes you aback when you first stumble across it. The streets in the very centre of Brussels are quite narrow and small which means that the main square is quite hidden away, so you really don’t see it clearly until you get right up to it. As well as tourist information and a multitude of chocolate shops, you can also find the Belgian Beer Brewers Museum. Yes, that’s how much this country loves its beer – the brewing museum takes centre stage in the main square! The museum is small and doesn’t take long to look around but for €5 it’s well worth a visit, even if only for the beer you get at the end. You get a choice of a light beer or a dark beer and both are excellent.

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One of many delicious beers enjoyed at Moeder Lambic

Another place that all beer lovers should visit when in Brussels is Moeder Lambic – a fantastic bar serving craft beers, as well as more traditional Belgian brews. We visited the “Fontainas” location, however there is also the “original” Moeder Lambic in the south of the city which we didn’t get to visit this time but we will definitely go in future. Moeder Lambic has a standard menu which has a wide range of more traditional brews, but also has a list of guest kegs which change all the time including breweries from Belgium and beyond. We tried quite a few beers from Quebec based breweries during our visits, as well as many from Belgium of course. The staff in Moeder Lambic are extremely friendly and knowledgeable and with every beer you get a little bowl of roasted malt to snack on – so delicious. We were only in Brussels for three days but we just kept going back to Moeder Lambic – we will definitely keep coming back to this place.

We also visited two breweries while in Brussels – both very different from each other but both amazing. We visited Cantillon Brewery first, which exclusively brews Lambic beers. Cantillon was one of more than one hundred operating breweries in Brussels when it was founded, but was the only one to remain operational through the 2000s. It’s a fascinating place to visit, but you need to keep your eye on your map because it’s easy to miss. For €7 you get a quick explanation of the brewing process at Cantillon (Lambic beers are brewed using only naturally occurring yeast), followed by a self-guided tour where you can look at all the brewing equipment (which is still all in use, despite being very old).

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The Fou’Foune and Mamouche we drank at Cantillon

Once you’ve finished looking round the brewery, you also get to choose two beers to try from the bar. I had a pure Lambic followed by a Kriek – both fantastic. When you’ve had your two beers as part of your entrance fee, visitors are welcome to stay for longer and purchase sharing bottles from the bar. We stayed and had two bottles between us, the first was the Fou’Foune which is a lambic with soaked apricots and the second was Mamouche, a lambic infused with elderflower. It’s a great place to go and spend a few hours as you end up talking to so many people. We got chatting to a guy from Portland, Oregon (where we visited last summer, so had plenty to talk about), a girl from Indiana who now lives in Madrid and another young American traveller who had just come from Ghent. Cantillon is definitely worth visiting if you can, it really is a unique experience. Unlike most Belgian beers, all Cantillon beers are 5% which is pretty low for Belgium, so it’s also a good place to go if you want to avoid the really strong brews.

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Juice Junkie New Zealand IPA

The second brewery we visited was a much more modern experience – Brussels Beer Project. We were due to leave for Bruges on the day we visited Brussels Beer Project but we waited around until it opened at 2.00pm (BBP is only open 2-10pm Thursday to Saturday). It was definitely worth the wait. Brussels Beer Project began in 2013 with the aim to collaborate in order to become more innovative and daring and offer a more modern take on Belgian craft brewing. We had picked up a flyer in the tourist information centre which offered us a free taster beer, so we started with that. I chose the Juice Junkie – a hazy New Zealand IPA. We didn’t have much time unfortunately but we decided to stay for another one, I had the Grosse Bertha, a Belgian Hefeweizen. Both were delicious and I really didn’t want to leave but we had to go and catch our train. We can’t wait to come back to Brussels so we can come back to Brussels Beer Project and spend much longer there. We will be back soon!

 

Thanks for reading about my amazing trip to Brussels. There’s so much more I could say but this blog is already over 1,000 words. I look forward to writing more about this great city and it’s amazing beer scene soon. Look out for my next blog which will be all about our beer travels in Bruges.

 

 

 

Manchester Beer Week

 

 

 


Last Friday marked the beginning of Manchester Beer Week – Manchester’s only city-wide beer festival. The fortnight of festivities includes a variety of events from tap takeovers to brewery tours and educational talks and beer-based quizzes. There’s been so much going on that I wish I’d been able to take the whole two weeks off work and explore everything!

As soon as it was time to clock off work last Friday, my boyfriend and I headed out to Plant Noma for our first event of the festival – a discussion about how and if craft breweries should be giving back and working with people in the communities they are based. The discussion was facilitated by Manchester Beer Weeks’ organiser, Connor Murphy and included Jim Cullen, founder and organiser of The Independent Salford Beer Festival and Jenn Merrick, who used to be Head Brewer at Beavertown Brewery and is now setting up her own community brewery in East London called Earth Station.

It was a great start to the festival and a really interesting insight into some of the things that breweries are already doing to engage with their local communities. A particularly interesting part of the conversation was about taking on people from within local communities as brewing apprentices and the positive affects this can have, as well as the challenges. Many of the other attendees at the talk worked in the industry and were talking about how hard it is to retain brewers and that there is a real skills shortage. It was really interesting to hear from people actually working in the industry and the challenges they face. I really like the idea of breweries training up young people and supporting them through a career they may never have considered and also giving back to the communities they work in, as many already do. However I can also see how hard that must be for various reasons. Jenn Merrick’s Earth Station is a wonderful idea and I can’t wait to hear more about it and (hopefully) visit at some point.

For our next stop, we headed to Hatch on Oxford Road for a tap takeover at ÖL Nano Brewery & Bar on Oxford Road. The takeover was with Croatian brewery Nova Runda, who I hadn’t heard of before but did not disappoint. I had three great Nova Runda beers while I was there, however the one that stood out the most was their American style IPA, C4. Very hoppy and citrusy – perfect for the heatwave we’ve been having here in Manchester (and the UK as a whole). I’m looking forward to trying more beers from Nova Runda in future. There seems to be a lot of really interesting craft breweries coming out of Croatia at the moment…Garden Brewery, Nova Runda…perhaps a trip is on the cards.

IMG_2765We didn’t want to stay out too late because we were attending The Pilcrow‘s Summer Beer Thing the next day, however we made a quick stop on our way home at Sandbar on Grosvenor Street. Sandbar were holding a tap takeover as well with Boutilliers Microbrewery from Faversham, UK – another brewery newly on my radar that I was keen to try out. Boutilliers’ beer did not disappoint, especially their Anti-Trump Fruit Saison which had a political message I can definitely get on board with, as well as being incredibly delicious. Sandbar is a great spot for craft beer and somewhere I’ve only discovered fairly recently as it’s in the more studenty part of town, which we don’t go to so often. I really like the atmosphere in Sandbar and love all the little hidden rooms towards the back. One of my new found favourite spots in Manchester.

The next day we woke up raring to go for our second day of Manchester Beer Week activities. Before heading over to Summer Beer Thing, we popped in to our most local and favourite brewery, Runaway. We always like having a chat with Mark, Co-founder and Head Brewer at Runaway Brewery, as he is super friendly and welcoming. We were keen to try their new collaboration with local sushi restaurant Umezushi, Gari Gose brewed with seaweed, root ginger, wah plums and sushi rice. It was delicious and so unique. We only had a half each because we were keen not to drink too much before Summer Beer Thing but we could have drank a lot more. We will be back!

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After our brief stop at Runaway we headed over to the main event of the day – Summer Beer Thing at The Pilcrow. This was day two of the festival, showcasing some of the very best breweries in the North. There were a number of ‘beer stations’ offering different types of beers, from hoppy styles to sours and fruity beers and darker stouts and porters. Session ales were available inside at The Pilcrow bar and all the other stalls were set up outside under a giant yellow gazebo. It was such a sunny beautiful day and everyone was sitting outside, either on the benches inside the tent or on the walls around The Pilcrow.

We traded in our tickets in exchange for a programme with all the beers listed and a glass. Like most beer festivals, it was based on a token system so we bought 9 tokens between us for £20 to start off with. The beer was served in thirds, which I appreciated because it meant that I was able to try more different styles than I would have done if the servings had been larger. I’m not going to go into detail about all the beers I had because there were so many, but what I will say is there was an amazing selection, showing off the very best the North has to offer. They also featured breweries from further afield and there were ‘meet the brewer’ sessions throughout the day where you could try free samples – I particularly enjoyed meeting some of the team from Lost and Grounded and trying their Keller Pils!

I loved the relaxed and friendly atmosphere at Summer Beer Thing – it was just full of people having a brilliant time and enjoying great beer. In fact all the activities we’ve done so far as part of Manchester Beer Week has just reaffirmed to me how much I love this city and the expansive brewery scene we have here.

Thankfully the festivities continue until Sunday 8th July, so there’s plenty more Manchester Beer Week events to enjoy!

Huddersfield Part Two – Seshfest 2018

Following an excellent Friday night at The Sportsman and Magic Rock Brewing, the next day (Saturday 9th June) we headed back to Magic Rock for Seshfest 2018 – a beer festival dedicated to session brews 4.5% and under.

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Seshfest beer tokens

We arrived bang on 12.00pm for the start of the festival and were given a special Seshfest pint glass, a beer list and four beer tokens at the registration desk. The festival worked on a token-based system and I felt like this actually added to the experience. My boyfriend and I bought an extra £20’s worth of tokens, as we were planning to sample as many different beers as we could. Each token was worth £1.50 and you could choose when ordering your beer whether you wanted a half for one token or a pint for two tokens.

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Dark Woods Coffee to begin

Before starting on the beers we had a coffee from Dark Woods Coffee, who were serving at the festival until 3.00pm. I think this was probably a sensible way to begin and the coffee was excellent. It’s the same coffee that Magic Rock uses in their Common Grounds Triple Coffee Porter, so we already knew it would be good.

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Oni Kawaii Kettle Sour by Gigantic Brewing, Portland

Sufficiently caffeinated, we moved on to our first beer of the day. We were both excited to get our first beers from Gigantic Brewing, a brewery based in Portland, Oregon. We visited Portland last summer and had the most amazing time visiting fantastic breweries, so we were keen to relive that experience with some beers from Gigantic. I opted for the Oni Kawaii Kettle Sour, which the friendly brewer serving me said is made using Marionberries which can be found in Oregon. Bright pink in colour and wonderfully sour and flavourful, this beer was a great way to start and hard to beat.

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The very juicy Proto 5 from Brewski

We decided to sample beers from the breweries we knew least about or would find harder to try in future. There were some really unusual but interesting styles available at Seshfest. My boyfriend had a Green Coffee Lager with Ginger and Citrus called the Anaconda Verde from Against the Grain Brewery (Louisville, Kentucky), which was a lot more tasty and well balanced than I had anticipated. One beer that stood out for me was the Proto 5 from Swedish brewery Brewski – a Milkshake Berliner Weisse with Mango which was so juicy it felt like you were drinking pure mango, but with the sharpness of a great sour.

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Important beer admin

I had so many great beers at Seshfest that it wouldn’t be possible to go into great detail about all of them, but there are just a few more I’d like to highlight and then I’ll post the rest at the bottom of this blog with a short, one line description. I hadn’t heard of Deya Brewing Company from Cheltenham before Seshfest, so I was keen to try them out. The Chulahoma Rye Table Beer from Deya was one of the best I had during the festival. Dry hopped with Amarillio, Chinook and Mosaic, this citrusy beer with tropical notes was so delicious. If I hadn’t been set on trying as many different beers as possible, I would have definitely gone back for a pint.

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View from inside the festival

I also had a wonderful Sour Red Ale from Bristol brewery, Left Handed Giant. This collaboration with Unity Brewery Company is really unique. I’d never had a sour red ale before and as a huge fan of sours and red ales I was really intrigued. This light, fruity sour is also very malty and I don’t know quite how they’ve done it. At 3.5% it’s extremely sessionable but also so much more flavoursome than what I used to expect of such low ABV beers (although so many beers I’ve tried recently are altering my opinions on this). I would highly recommend.

Still Life, a collaboration between Beavertown and Mikkeller Brewing San Diego also deserves an honourable mention. This Dry Hopped Sour, fermented with wine yeast was so light and refreshing and not that easy to come by, so I felt lucky to be able to try it at Seshfest.

thumb_IMG_2705_1024Seshfest was a great beer festival which was small enough to maintain a friendly and relaxed vibe, while being big enough to create a buzzing atmosphere. Despite the small amount of space at Magic Rock Brewing in Huddersfield, it never felt too crowded or overbearing. There was an abundance of fantastic beers available from the world’s best breweries and it was well organised, with beers only running out towards the evening, with plenty still available. It was also amazing value for money. Our £13 ticket provided us with a pint glass and enough tokens for four half pints and then we only spent around an extra £20 on tokens between us – a lot less than you would spend at most beer festivals.

Seshfest 2018 was an amazing experience and all I have left to say is bring on next year!

thumb_IMG_2710_1024Full list of the beers we had at Seshfest 2018

  • Gigantic Brewing, Oni Kawaii, 4.1%, Keg – Kettle Sour beer made with black rice and marionberries
  • Gigantic Brewing, Kolshtastic, 4.5%, Keg – German style pilsner with noble hops and kolsh yeast
  • Slim Pickens and Marble Beers, Agua De Jamaica, 3.5%, Keg- Hibiscus Berliner Weisse with ginger and lime
  • Roosters and Ska Brewing, Anything Gose, 4.2%, Keg – Rhubarb Gose with sea salt
  • Beavertown and Mikkeller, Still Life, 3%, Keg – Dry hopped sour fermented with white wine yeast
  • Against the Grain, Anaconda Verde, 4.5%, Keg – Green coffee lager with ginger and citrus
  • Brewski, Proto 5, 3.5%, Keg – Milkshake berliner weisse with mango
  • Buxton Brewery, Myrcia, 4%, Keg – Oatmeal Hopburst Session IPA brewed with 15% oats and 10% wheat for a really full body and creamy mouthfeel
  • Deya, Chulahoma, 4%, Keg – Rye table beer
  • CR/AK, Mundaka, 4.5%, Keg – Fragrant and easy drinking session IPA
  • Fyne Ales, Sour Friends: Passionfruit, 4.5%, Keg – Super-fruity kettle sour with tropical passion fruit and a citrus finish
  • Brouweriji Kees, Pinapple Coriander Smoothy, 4.4%, Keg – A beer smoothy, brewed with Pineapple, Coriander and Szuchuan pepper
  • Odell Brewing Company, Duck Tickler, 4.4%, Keg – Easy drinking Belgian Golden Ale
  • North Brewing Company, Pinata, 4.4%, Keg – A softly tropical pale ale with stone fruit aromas of guava and mango and a strong hoppy finish
  • Thornbridge, Green Mountain, 4.3%, Keg – Juicy New England session pale
  • Verdant, Quiet Charge, 4%, Keg – American style pale ale with citra and amarillo hops
  • Roosters, Jubilee, 4%, Keg – Refreshing cucumber ale
  • Ossett Brewery, Inception, 4%, Cask – A heavy hopped American IPA
  • Wild Beer Company, Sleeping Lemons, 4.6% (breaking the rules slightly!), Keg – A salty lemon gose
  • Basqueland Brewing, Fruit Boot JR, 4.3%, Keg – Milkshake IPA with passion fruit and mango
  • Kirkstall Brewery, Three Swords, 4.5%, Cask – Thirst quenching English pale ale
  • Left Handed Giant, Distinct Phases, 3.5%, Keg – Sour red ale
  • North Riding Brewery, Mosaic Pale, 4.3%, Cask – American Mosaic pale ale with blueberry and citrus flavours
  • Northern Monk, Patrons Project 5.01// Striding Edge, 3%, Keg – A light IPA with big flavours

 

Huddersfield Part One – The Sportsman

Last weekend was one my boyfriend and I had been eagerly anticipating for a long time – Seshfest 2018 at Magic Rock Brewing in Huddersfield. To make the trip feel even more like a mini-holiday, we decided to head over on the Friday night as we’d heard about a Tap Takeover taking place at a pub called The Sportsman. Huddersfield is very easy to reach from Manchester – only 30 minutes away on the train. When we arrived we headed over to our hotel to check-in and leave our stuff and then went straight back out again to begin the weekend festivities at The Sportsman.

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Drop by Electric Bear Brewing Company
The Tap Takeover at The Sportsman was a range of breweries from Bristol and Bath, many of which we had sampled before or had heard great things about. The first beer I had was an American style red ale from Electric Bear Brewing Company. I am a fan of a red ale but don’t tend to have them very often and at 4.3% this was a great sessionable option. Drop is a really lovely malty beer with caramel notes and a very subtle taste of orange.

 

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Raw by Moor Beer Company
The next beer I had was the Raw English Bitter by Moor Beer Company. I decided I wanted stay on the session ales to keep in line with Seshfest the next day, which would only be serving beers 4.5% and below. Raw is also 4.3% and has a rich malt base and is full of flavour. I don’t tend to drink bitter, but this one is really enjoyable. Dry-hopped with a light fruit flavour, Raw is great for those who like clean, easy drinking bitters.

 

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The Sportsman, Huddersfield

The Sportsman itself has a relaxed vibe and feels like a classic English pub with a slight modern edge. It’s very welcoming, from its friendly staff to its comfortable soft seats. The bar is the central point, with small rooms to the left and right with more spaces to sit and enjoy the excellent selection of ales. The food was fantastic too and excellent value for money. We both had a pie with mushy peas, chips and gravy – a steal at just £7.95. Considering the main focus of the menu is pies, there were also some good veggie and vegan options available. I am pescatarian, so eat fish but no other meat and I opted for the fish pie but I was really pleased that I was able to choose to have veggie gravy with it. I think it’s great that even pubs that are serving traditional style British food are embracing the need to offer good veggie and vegan alternatives.

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Magic Rock taproom the night before Seshfest
We didn’t want to drink too much before Seshfest, so we decided to head back via the Magic Rock taproom. It was quite exciting to visit the brewery knowing that the next day it would be transformed for the festival, and also seeing the areas where each brewery would be the next day. The taproom had the same feeling you get the Thursday night before a music festival begins, there was an exciting atmosphere and the happy buzz of conversation in anticipation of the next day’s festivities. It seemed as though the taproom was mainly full of the brewers who would be serving at Seshfest and my boyfriend and I couldn’t help but look around at all the different t-shirts and hoodies embossed with the branding of breweries from the UK and around the world.

 

After sampling Magic Rocks’ Micromachine and Timequake session IPAs, we headed back to our hotel to get an early night before Seshfest 2018.

Thanks for reading! If you want to hear more about Seshfest 2018 itself, then please come back to the blog later this week where I’ll be posting a full account of the event and the beers on offer.

Low ABV beers

Unintentionally, I have recently been sampling a lot of low ABV (alcohol by volume) beers. It seems as though more and more people are on the look out for beers with a lower alcohol content, so I felt it would be a good idea to write a piece about some of the great ones I’ve tried recently. It’s worth mentioning now that although the beers I am writing about here have an alcohol content lower than most beers, they are still alcoholic and are not classed as non-alcoholic beers.

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Picnic Sour Ale by Brekeriet Beer Ab, also featuring by basil and chilli plants

The first beer I’m going to talk about is one that was including in my BeerBods subscription this month – Picnic Sour Ale by Brekeriet from Sweden. This is a Rhubarb sour made with Lactobacillus yeast and at only 2.2% it is one of the lowest alcohol sours I have ever tried. I think the name is very fitting as this would be the perfect beer to drink at a picnic on a warm summers day when you don’t fancy drinking too much. It’s a very powerful sour that packs a lot of punch, with a lovely refreshing taste of fruity rhubarb. This would be great for all the sour beer lovers out there who are on the look out for something a bit lighter.

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White Out IPA by Cromarty Brewing Company

Next up is another one from BeerBods – White Out IPA by Cromarty Brewing Company. This one is a fair bit stronger at 3.8%, but still very light and sessionable. White Out IPA is made with Citra, Mosaic and Motueka hops with a wheat based malt. It’s really light and refreshing but you get a big hit of hops as it gets to the back of your tongue. It’s quite hazy and wheaty and definitely fits into the ‘easy drinking’ category. A wonderful summer beer.

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Northern Lights Micro IPA by Whiplash

The final beer is Northern Lights Micro IPA by Whiplash Brewery. I didn’t know this at the time, but apparently this beer was brewed for Hop City Leeds beer festival with Northern Monk. Whiplash are based in Wicklow, Ireland and at 2.8% this pineapple and hop-filled beer is surprisingly delicious. I could happily drink many of these – I don’t think I’ve ever had such a low ABV beer that is so well-balanced, hazy and hoppy. I will need to try and track down more cans of Northern Lights because it really is a fantastic beer. I bought this can from a beer shop in Cardiff a few weeks ago, so not sure how easy it will be to find more, however I am definitely keen to try more from Whiplash if this beer is anything to go by.

Thanks for reading and do get in touch if you’ve had any low ABV beers recently that you would recommend. Next weekend I’m off to Magic Rock Brewery in Huddersfield for Seshfest – a one-day beer festival dedicated to session beers below 4.5%, so I’m sure I’ll be writing more about session/low ABV beers very soon.

Focus on: CR/AK Brewery

Recently I have become a bit obsessed with Italian brewery CR/AK. I first heard about CR/AK through a post from Honest Brew, an online craft beer delivery service, and then saw some of their beers when I visited Pop ‘N’ Hops bottle shop in Cardiff a few weeks ago. I bought a Guerrilla IPA from CR/AK during my visit to Pop ‘N’ Hops, which is a delicious IPA with notes of orange. It was also quite sessionable, despite it’s strength at 5.8 per cent. I decided I wanted to try more of what CR/AK has to offer so I put in an order at Honest Brew.

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CR/AK Brewery haul from Honest Brew

When the four beers I had ordered arrived, I just couldn’t stop looking at them. The artwork on CR/AK’ cans is so eye-catching and I was almost too excited by them to drink them. It wasn’t until about a week later that my boyfriend and I decided to tuck in.

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Love this can

We decided to start with the lowest percentage beer and move up from there (not sure there’s much logic to that approach however…). We had The Hunchback Session IPA to begin – a collaboration with Fyne Ales from Cairndow, Scotland. My first thought about this beer was that it’s hoppy, very sessionable and has zesty and fruity flavours without being too sweet. The Hunchback has a big hit of hops on the nose and is light in colour and slightly cloudy. I tend to find that beers this hoppy have a higher ABV, but at 3 per cent I could easily drink many of these cans. We were off to a very good start!

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My kind of beer

Next we moved on to the New England IPA, which I was particularly excited for as I always seem to gravitate towards NEIPA’s. This beer is double dry hopped with amarillo, citra, mosaic and motueka hops and as I had expected, it was my favourite of all the CR/AK beers we ordered. It is quite juicy with tropical notes and also hazy. Not sure if it’s because of the way the beer has been double dry hopped, but I found it to be a very interesting and complex. It definitely has a bitterness to it, more so than most NEIPA’s I’ve had, but I loved it.

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NZ Gluten Free IPA

We moved on to the New Zealand Gluten Free IPA next, which ended up being my boyfriends favourite. This is another really great beer. It has a citric aroma and a tropical taste of grapefruit and is made with NZ hops motueka and wakatu. This beer has a subtle sweetness to it and feels far too easy to drink considering it’s high ABV of 7 per cent. There seems to be a lot more gluten free beers available on the market now and I definitely feel like they’ve improved considerably over the last few years. I would very much enjoy drinking this one while relaxing outside on a sunny day.

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Juicy orange DIPA

Last but not least, we had the Cyro Adult Double IPA – a collaboration with Magic Rock, which is one of my favourite UK breweries (based in Huddersfield). This is a strong and bold beer. It tastes very juicy and has flavours of bitter orange. On first sip, this tastes quite soft for a DIPA, however it has a boozy kick as it hits the back of your mouth. I did not want this one to end as it was the last of our CR/AK haul, which we had enjoyed so much. It was probably a good thing that it did though, as Cyro Adult is deceivingly strong. It’s so tasty that you could easily drink a lot of it, however I was definitely starting to feel it’s strength towards the end. A great collaboration.

I think CR/AK is a really exciting brewery that create a variety of really interesting and bold beers. I am now keen to try and plan a trip to Padova so we can visit the CR/AK taproom, which has 24 taps and also features an experimental beer called “Tap Crak”.

Until then, I am looking forward to trying more beer from CR/AK at the Magic Rock Sesh Fest festival in a few weeks time. All beers poured at this festival will be under 4.5 per cent so I’ll be interested to see what CR/AK has on offer, as the only beer in our haul under 4.5 was The Hunchback.

Cardiff Craft Crawl

This weekend I went to Cardiff to visit my Dad and his wife. They moved there about three years ago and I always love going to stay, as there is loads going on for a city that is so walkable. There are plenty of great pubs in Cardiff, so I’m sure I’ll write about my visits again at some point, however I’m just going to focus on a handful of places in this post.

thumb_IMG_2559_1024It was a lovely day on Saturday, so we decided to begin our afternoon crawl in The Pen and Wig on Park Grove, which has an excellent beer garden. I’ve been there a few times before and they always have a wide selection of cask beers available, as well as a few keg options too. I chose a beer I hadn’t had before which was recommended to me by one of the lovely bar staff – Mr Mojo Pale Ale from local brewery Crafty Devil. I always try to sample local breweries when I can and this American style pale did not disappoint. Mr Mojo is intensely hoppy and full of tropical flavours and left my Dad and boyfriend jealous – I would highly recommend.

Next on our mini crawl was Zero Degrees Microbrewery and Restaurant, which as well as having a large venue in Cardiff, has bases in Bristol, Reading and Blackheath, London. We had not been here before so I was keen to check it out. I chose a Belgian Witbier which was very much up my street. I would say it has quite a subtle taste but if you like a wheat beer, as I do, then you will like this. I would like to visit Zerodegrees again at some point to try the food, as there were amazing aromas coming from the kitchen during our visit.

Our last pub stop is one of my favourites in Cardiff – Tiny Rebel Brewery. The brewery itself is based in Newport and I’ve not had the chance to visit yet, however the bar in Cardiff is somewhere I try to go to every time I’m there. They always have an extensive selection of beers on tap, mostly their own but a few others too, and I’ve visited before when they’ve had tap takeovers as well. I had the Dutty Vermont Session IPA – a cloudy and golden beer with lovely notes of grapefruit and citrus. I’ve heard some say that they find this a bit hazy, but I like hazy beers personally. My Dad had two pints of Tiny Rebel’s Stay Puft Nitro – a marshmallow porter and probably one of his favourite beers ever. He first discovered this far too easy to drink porter on our last visit to Tiny Rebel and he has been raving about it ever since. My boyfriend also opted for the Stay Puft Nitro and gave it an equally glowing review – commenting on how easily it goes down. I’ve never been much of a porter drinker – I do like it but I always find I can’t drink too much of it – however this one could change my mind.

To finish this blog I want to mention two great bottle shops in Cardiff, which we visited on Sunday to stock up before our trip back up to Manchester. The first is one that my Dad has taken me to before and is a bit of a hidden secret (well, that’s what my Dad says anyway). It’s called Discount Supermarket and it’s on Whitchurch Road. You would never know it without going inside, but this place has one of the most incredible beer selections I’ve seen. It has a huge amount of Belgian beers, as well as lots and lots of beers from UK craft breweries and American breweries. I picked up loads from there, including an old fashioned lemonade IPA from Evil Twin Brewing (Brooklyn, New York), a ‘Wanna go to the Sun’ citra and mosaic pale from Lost and Grounded (Bristol, UK) and a brewery I’d never heard of before called Whiplash who brewed this particular beer at Larkin’s Brewing Company (Wicklow, Ireland).

While on our way to visit Discount Supermarket, we also discovered another gem on Whitchurch Road – Pop’n’Hops. We’d never seen this little place before, which sells both records and craft beer, despite it being there for over a year. It has a great selection of beers from the UK and from across the world and the staff are super friendly and helpful. My boyfriend had a quick peruse of the records, but I was a bit too over excited by the beer selection. We chose a Guerrilla IPA from CR/AK Brewery (Padova, Italy) that I had been keen to try for a while, as well as a few from Welsh breweries West by Three (Swansea) and Rival Brewing Company (Cardiff).

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If you live in Cardiff, or are just visiting or passing through, these bottle shops are not to be missed. If you do find yourself there at some point, please do get in touch and let me know what you picked up!

I haven’t tried most of the beers that I bought in my haul yet so look out for a feature on those in an upcoming blog…

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Coming soon…

 

Blackjack April Brewtap

On Saturday we visited the Blackjack Brewtap for the first time. Based just around the corner from one of our favourite breweries, Runaway, it is crazy that we have never been before. Although saying that, the brewtap only opens once a month – but believe me, after this visit I will be keeping the future dates in my diary!

The brewery has a really great space – very open and can hold quite a large amount of people. The weather was chilly but surprisingly sunny on Saturday, so plenty of people were there to take advantage of the great beer and street food from The Ottö-Men.

To get started with our first beers, we needed to buy a token card and rent glasses from the bar. Each token card is worth £10 and the bar staff tick off what you use as you go along. Renting a glass costs £2 and you can choose a pint glass or a 2/3 glass and you get the money back at the end when you return them. I actually felt like this token system added to the experience, as it made us feel like we were at a beer festival.

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Fun times at the Blackjack Brewtap

There was an excellent selection of beers available at the brewtap – a wide range of Blackjack beers of course, but also interesting beers from other breweries such as Wiper and True, West by Three and Gloucester.

I started off with a Blackjack beer that I had tried for the first time a few weeks before – Schapkopf – a lemongrass and ginger wheat beer which is really up my street. My boyfriend started with Congregate by Unity Brewing, a Belgian inspired pale that we had also tried recently as part of our Beer Bods subscription.

Like there usually is at breweries, there was such a friendly feel at the Blackjack Brew tap. We got chatting to a great guy called Ian and bonded over our shared love of beer. We later took him to Runaway Brewery as well, where he hadn’t been before, and exchanged numbers with the plan to have more great beer experiences together in future. We also met a great couple with a passion for beer and running (something my boyfriend and I also share) and planned to meet up in future for a run with a beery reward at the end. That’s one of the best things about visiting breweries instead of usual bars and pubs – you always find yourselves chatting to the most passionate and interesting people!

Other beers I tried that day include the Mango Kettle Sour by West by Three – a brewery from Swansea I’d never heard of before – which was bright orange and definitely tasted like mango. I also had the Bristol Crush by Wiper and True which was a super refreshing Grapefruit Pale Ale. As well as the extensive keg offering, there were also some great cask beers on offer, including the Gloucester Session IPA, which was delicious and flavoursome easy drinking.

If you haven’t been to the Blackjack Brewtap before then I would definitely suggest getting yourself down to the next event. We will definitely be back – hopefully joined by some new friends.

And if you can’t wait until the next one…make sure you visit The Smithfield Market Tavern on Swan Street in the Northern Quarter – Blackjack’s excellent taphouse.

Future dates at the Blackjack Brewtap

May 25th-27th, Blackjack Brewtap, 36 Gould Street.

June 29th-30th, Blackjack Brewtap, 36 Gould Street

July 27th-28th, Blackjack Brewtap, 36 Gould Street

August 24th-26th, Blackjack Brewtap, 36 Gould Street

September 29th-30th, Blackjack Brewtap, 36 Gould Street