Cardigan Arms, Kirkstall

An excellent range of Kirkstall Beers on the refurbished bar

Steeped in history, the Cardigan Arms has been evidenced to exist back in 1798, but is thought to be older than that. This would make it one of Leeds’ oldest still trading public houses, although a few decades younger than Whitelocks and a mere toddler compared to the claimed grand old age of the Bingley Arms in Bardsey, which it is said dates to before 1000 AD.

My personal history with the Cardigan Arms doesn’t quite date that far back! As with many of my Leeds pub experiences, it was my time on the Leeds CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) committee that got my first exposure to the Cardigan Arms.

Back in 2015, we feared for the future of the pub, a former Tetley house. It was running into disrepair and it was unclear what then owner’s, Greene King, long term plans were. The person managing the pub reached out for help and we duly delivered by successfully campaigning to have the pub listed as an ACV (Asset of Community Value). Although perhaps now obsolete due to new Government legislation, these were a great way to slow property developers from re-developing pub sites without planning permission and local community consultation – a planning law loophole that had been exploited countless times nationwide to convert pubs into supermarkets.

Shiny!

Despite the successful campaign, the pub continued to struggle. The manager moved on and was replaced. At that time, I remember, we tried to further support the pub by holding a branch meeting there. Unfortunately, that evening the ale ran out within minutes of people arriving and to this day it is the quickest CAMRA branch meeting I’ve ever chaired.

A theft, further damage and multiple closures, we feared the writing was on the wall for the Cardigan Arms, to follow in the footsteps of its neighbour the Rising Sun, which has stood derelict and unused for a long time now.

Then, hope! After Greene King made clear their intent to sell the pub on, a community group stood forward expressing interest to buy. Wanting the Cardigan to be community owned, the group started to crowd fund. Steve Holt of Kirkstall Brewery stepped forward and, after initially offering to assist the community group, decided to submit his own bid to buy the pub. Steve went on to win.

Kirkstall Brewery, one of Leeds’ oldest active breweries, certainly has a record for producing a fine pub. Owners of the Bridge Inn, in Kirkstall, which they lovingly refurbished and restored back in 2013. Since then, it has gone on to win local CAMRA awards (three-time Pub of the Year) and a national CAMRA Pub Design award. As a fan of the Bridge Inn, it was exciting for me to see what Kirkstall Brewery would do with the Cardigan Arms.

After a month of cleaning and refitting, I was invited along to the press and trade re-launch night for the Cardigan Arms, in early October 2017.

The changes at the Cardigan Arms are subtle, but game changing. As you’d expect, the pub has been refit with full respect to its heritage. No longer does it feel like a tired, run down version of its former self, it feels homely and welcoming, with beautiful beer memorabilia (mirrors, pictures) adorning the walls. Not intrusive, they add to the pub’s character.

The Cardigan is a unique shape, born out of its old age, so you’ll find a rabbit warren of rooms all around the ground floor, all of them cleaned up and presented well, and all somewhere where a few hours with friends could easily be spent.

Behind the bar, you’ll find the warm welcome of Ian Forster. Regulars to the Kirkstall Bridge Inn will recognise him as the former manager there. He’s now been charged with managing the Cardigan Arms. A strong and experienced pair of hands to guide this pub as it moves into a new chapter of life.

A familiar face

On the bar, you will of course find a variety of Kirkstall beers, both on traditional hand pulled cask and keg taps. There will also be an excellent supporting cast of guest breweries on tap (for launch night this included Wylam, Dry & Bitter, Okell’s, Five Points and Verdant), and a range of bottles and cans. You will not struggle for choice here, a range similar to the one you will find at the Kirkstall Bridge Inn.

Lots of beer

It was also great to see support from local beer people. There was representation from North Brewing, Nomadic Beers, Eyes Brewing, Little Leeds Beer House, Raynville Stores, Beerhawk, Whitelocks, Wapentake amongst many others. Over hearing some of them talk enthusiastically about the Cardigan encourages me as to what the future now has in store for this pub that has been given a fresh lease of life.

Someone got arty farty with a camera

Some of that future is rumoured already. This phase of the re-fit focused on the ground floor. The next phase will look at the upper floor, previously used as a gig room for live bands and entertainment. Also, tucked away behind the pub is a long disused on-site micro-brewery, something that has so much potential to add to the Cardigan, if it was brought back into service again.

In a time where pub closures are continuous, it is wonderful to see a pub under threat be given another chance. I think under Kirkstall’s ownership and with Ian at the helm, the Cardigan can be a very special place and I look forward to visiting again. You should visit too.

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Goose Island, Proof AB InBev Aren’t so Bad?

Block Party!

Having been sucked into the ‘craft’ beer world like many others, I have been quite hostile towards AB InBev (who own around 30% of the global beer market) and any other large drinks conglomerate (Heineken, Constellation etc.). I’ve fallen hook, line and sinker based on propaganda from independent breweries about the tragic taking over of other ‘craft’ breweries – think Camden Town and Meantime to name a couple. It’s not just the propaganda though, it’s word of mouth from people who work in and around the industry, where the stories are that smaller breweries are just being absorbed into the machine, with brands being killed off or quality diluted, and people being made redundant as production moves elsewhere.

Most, if not all of this I believe is true. Business can be quite cut throat and AB InBev won’t have got their market share by not being ruthless and making touch decisions. However, the world we are in now is a different beast and whatever their growth model was before, I think it has adapted. Instead of purchase and absorption, I think in cases it is now more like purchase and invest. I’ve been challenged on this view before, and the example I always give is Goose Island brewery.

Some of the ‘sisters’ – Gillian, Lolita and Halia

Goose Island was bought by AB InBev 6 years ago now, and in that time rather than product dilution, we’ve seen it develop into a global brand. Has quality been sacrificed? I don’t think so, their portfolio of beers including IPA, Honker’s, 312 and the Bourbon County range is as tasty and as good quality as it ever has been, if not better. Which begs the question to me then, does it really matter if a brewery is bought out by a conglomerate?

I find myself with a view now that if the beer is great quality and great taste, then does it matter who is brewing it, where they are brewing it, or who owns the brewery/beers? It’s quite a liberating view because now I’m not thinking about who’s pockets I’m lining with money or whether I should be better supporting independents. For me it’s just about the beer, and if it’s great, then I will drink it. That’s what I want as a beer consumer, pretty  simple I think!

Lots to keep you entertained

So, now that I’m happily liberated from the ties of to drink or not drink certain beers, I recently attended Goose Island’s London Block Party. A celebration of their beers, with music and food, this was a great showcase and with what was available, you would be hard pushed to differentiate this beer event from an independent one, including Brewdog’s AGM.

Taking place in Shoreditch’s Red Market, the site is rustic, rough around the edges and pretty damn cool. Split into a number of different areas, event attendees had lots of choice, from the main stage featuring a variety of musicians (White Lies headlined), to an Oktoberfest celebration, to a funk room, to a traditional bar with piano and sing-along songs – something for everyone.

Bar dedicated to the wonderful Bourbon County range

The beers were of course all Goose beers, starting with the ones I mentioned above, but also the ‘Sisters’, beers with female names celebrating unique and special styles of beer including fruit sours. The pick of the beers for me were the newly launched and incredibly tropical and fresh Midway session IPA (brewed in Australia I was told by someone on Untappd… so what?), Gillian, one of the sisters brewed in the style of a farmhouse saison, and the Bourbon County Brand Stout which had so much dark flavours complexity, but was so smooth and moreish.

Ain’t no party like a Goose Island party!

This was a really well run event, I expect with a fair bit of investment, and thoroughly enjoyable. Perhaps without AB InBev investment, Goose Island would never have ended up doing an event like this in London. With so much to see, eat and drink, it was a great celebration event and cemented my personal view that although Goose Island are no longer ‘craft’ by the American Brewers Association definition, they absolutely sit right alongside the likes of Brewdog for beers of quality and taste. And also for awesome parties!

York CAMRA, Modernising the Traditional CAMRA Beer Festival

York Racecourse

One thing that has come under fire recently (amongst many other things admittedly!) from the social media masses is CAMRA-run beer festivals. An interesting fact that many may not realise is that CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) were responsible for introducing beer festivals to the UK. Popular across Europe, mainly Germany, the beer festival concept wasn’t adopted in the UK until CAMRA launched the first ever one in St Albans, in 1974.

In recent years, we’ve seen the rise of non-CAMRA beer festivals that have taken the traditional beer festival to a whole new level, celebrating beer of all kinds and dispense, supported by great food vendors and modern entertainment.

The immediate comparison for me is Leeds CAMRA’s beer festival and the Leeds International beer festival. They sit at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of modern vs. traditional and although I enjoyed them both this year, I can absolutely see why the CAMRA one may be falling out of favour with modern drinkers.

I see this as a developing problem for a lot of CAMRA festivals (although some geographical locations will see the impact more than others). So, with great interest to learn more about how other CAMRA branches may be tackling this issue and armed with my note pad I headed off to check out York CAMRA’s annual Beer Festival at York Racecourse.

The Big Marquee

It had been a while since I had been to this festival, and the first time since its move to the centre of the race course, away from the top of the Knavesmire. Paying my £3.50 discounted entry, I entered the huge marquee – two things struck me, first the damp farmyard smell (it had absolutely chucked it down the day before!) and then the vast array of beers. It didn’t take long to acclimatise to the aroma, and thankfully that didn’t have an impact on the beer either.

As I continued my walk through the marquee, the vast range of cask beer started to transform into individual brewery bars. This is one thing I’d like to see more of – I think it works well and if the brewery also sends their staff along to run the bar, then you get a great experience from someone passionate about the beer they create. That doesn’t mean to say that I don’t think the CAMRA volunteers aren’t a passionate crew – after all they give up their own time to staff these events, but sometimes it’s difficult for them to be knowledgeable on products. Especially when there are 450+ beers, with a load of ciders and wines as well. So why not have some specialists in the ranks?

Various brewery bars

The other thing that struck me as a positive move was that cask and keg sat happily side by side on these brewery bars. No segregation, no ‘keg-only’ corner, just great brewery beer all in one place. Although it is good to see a trend of more keg beers at CAMRA festivals, it is common to see keg on its own bar, still giving off a bit of an us (cask) and them (keg) feeling.

Of the local breweries, it was great to see Brew York, who had a fantastic pecan pie beer on their bar called ‘Luke Piewalker’. Also, Turning Point, a new brewery for me who I’m told have only been in business for a short time but had a good range of tasty keg and cask beers. These were alongside established local breweries in the form of York, Rudgate and Great Heck, amongst others.

Being outside and in such a large area, it means there is plenty of space not just for beer, but also food vendors as well. This for me is also something that I don’t see exploited enough by CAMRA beer festivals. Sometimes it’s just pie and peas (which isn’t a bad thing!), but people now want variety and quality, not necessarily just something that will soak up the booze. Available at York festival was a traditional burger stall, German sausage, fish and chips, Mediterranean wraps and even a stall selling olives as a bar snack – a modern approach I thought. Probably worth pointing out though that unlike a lot of non-CAMRA beer festivals, most, if not all, CAMRA ones do allow you to take in your own food should you wish.

Good choice of food

I recently saw a lengthy Twitter conversation/rant about CAMRA and in amongst the tweets there was a rather strong view about CAMRA not having drinking fountains available for customers. In fact, the view was so strong, it was akin to the author’s beloved pet being killed. I’m pleased to say that York also dealt with this too, with water available by their membership stall.

At the time I attended, there wasn’t any musical entertainment, however despite all these modern moves, York did deal with some important long-established CAMRA business. A panel of experts took the stage, including great pub campaigner Mark DoddsGreg Mulholland, former MP and also a passionate campaigner, and Simon Jenkins, Yorkshire’s own version of Roger Protz, some may say! The topic was an interesting debate about the state of pubs in the UK and CAMRA’s current role in this. It drew a decent crowd to listen which tells me that although CAMRA may be viewed as being out of touch at the moment, this is a topic that lots of people within the campaign and beyond still have close to their hearts.

All star panel discussing pubs and CAMRA (and posing!)

I left the festival thinking that York had taken a few more steps forward in terms of adapting the festival to what the modern beer drinker expects. Indeed I subsequently found out that high attendance records were broken this year, bucking the trend of recent attendance decline for some others.

An enjoyable festival, with some great people and a more modern twist on things than you may usually get from other CAMRA beer festivals.

One final mention, I got the chance to spend some time with Matthew Grant, former York CAMRA Chairman and a fellow British Guild of Beer Writers. Matt specialises in writing about beer styles for the ‘Ouse Boozer’, which is York CAMRA’s branch magazine. We’ve agreed to co-author a special on IPA’s, so look out for this one soon.

 

Is this the Best Pub in Leeds?

Left to right, Paul, me and Kate

We are fortunate in Leeds to have a City Centre that is so well populated with great beer pubs and bars. Like many of our Northern neighbours (Manchester, Sheffield), the people of Leeds have really taken a shine to the recent beer boom and the vast choice of drinking venues available to us is testament to that.

This does give us a bit of a problem. In my time as Leeds CAMRA chairman, there was a noticeable coloration between venues opening in the City Centre and those closing out of town. My personal belief is that as local community requirements change and travel has become easier, it is more appealing to the modern drinker to go where there’s more choice and I think this is one of the fundamentals in the death of the local pub. Perhaps I’ll explore this more in a separate blog post.

There is one pub, however, that continues to flourish out of town. The multi award-winning Fleece in Pudsey.

Until I started to get involved with Leeds CAMRA, I’d never heard of this pub let alone visited it. I live in South Leeds, so taking the long journey across the city to visit pubs in Pudsey wasn’t high on my list of things to do. By the time I became involved in the branch though, the Fleece had already won many CAMRA branch awards. It was inevitable, then, that one day I would make the trip.

The Fleece

I remember the first time on route to the Fleece. It was a Saturday social in Pudsey and the Fleece was amongst the list of places to visit. I admit, I wasn’t exactly excited about the prospect, I mean how good could this pub be? It sits on the outskirts of Leeds, which suggested average beer at best and with it being a local community pub I was half expecting the locals to glare as foreigners from elsewhere in Leeds stole their designated seats. Ok, a little dramatic, but you get the gist of my thought trail! However, it was, and still is, nothing like that at all.

As you step into the pub, there are two things you immediately notice. One is the Cask Marque plaque and second is a wall of CAMRA awards, all proudly displayed as you enter the main door. You’re then presented with a choice, to your left is the tap room, with a TV for showing sport, and to your right the main pub. It doesn’t matter which way you go though, because the next experience is the same.

I don’t say this lightly. From my experience, I truly believe that the warm, heartfelt welcome that Paul, Kate and ‘Team Fleece’ provide to visitors is second to none in Leeds. Paul and his fiancé Kate own the free house, supported by Paul’s affectionately named ‘Team Fleece’, the people who help him and Kate keep the pub running.

The pub is comfortable and clean, and decked out with lots of film memorabilia from a golden era of the silver screen. Laurel and Hardy figurines dominate, but are supported by large posters and artistic impressions of famous actors and actresses like Dean Martin and Marilyn Monroe. Next to the bar is a vintage coin slot rotary dial phone, in immaculate condition (I’m not sure if it’s connected though!). There is something to see in every corner, on every wall, yet it isn’t overwhelming, making you feel more like you’re at home rather than in a pub.

Laurel, Hardy and beer

Let’s talk about the beer then. The keg lines are more geared towards premium lager products, so for the real beer drinker your choice is from five hand pulled lines. What you’ll get here is bitters, pale ales and the occasional stout/porter. I can sense some of the modern drinkers reading this start to quiver – where are the double IPAs? Imperial Stouts? Saisons? The Fleece is not that type of pub and to be honest you wouldn’t want it to be. The ambience and character of the pub means you feel at home drinking great quality traditional beers. And quality is the first word that springs to mind when drinking beer here.

I don’t say this lightly either. From my experience, I would say Paul is the best cellar man in Leeds. One of the house beers is Timothy Taylor’s Landlord. I challenge anyone to find a better pint of this served elsewhere in Leeds, and I include Timothy Taylor’s own pubs in that. Paul is someone who really nurtures his beer and has exceptionally high levels of quality that a beer must meet before he is willing to sell it. Paul has before refused to put beer on the bar that hasn’t met those standards. What that means for the drinker is that every pint of cask ale that you drink in his pub will be in exceptional condition. The Cask Marque accreditation here is not a token gesture, it’s one that the pub is proud to have and deserves.

I may be coming across as over selling this, but my enthusiasm for the quality of the beer at the Fleece is genuine. Supporting the superb Landlord is also Timothy Taylor’s Golden Best and Tetley’s cask. The other two lines are taken up by a guest and a pale. Such is Paul’s reputation amongst brewers, they often rebadge the pale provided to name it in Paul’s honour. On one of my recent visits, I was drinking Paul’s Pale Ale, rebadged by Salamander Brewing Company.

The Fleece is a real community hub, each time I’ve been I’ve been so impressed with how the local people get behind it. Not just this though, but it attracts people like me, who don’t live nearby, to keep coming back. That is testament to how Paul and Kate run the pub.

Every year in Summer, they utilise their decent sized beer garden to run a beer festival. The festival is run in aid of Yorkshire Air Ambulance, a charity that you can sense how passionate Team Fleece are to support. It’s a three-day event, showcasing around 30 beers, including styles you wouldn’t normally see in everyday life at the Fleece. Aside from the beers, there is a gin and prosecco bar, food tents and tombola. This is a terrific event that supports such an important charity and it’s one of the first dates I ring on my calendar every year.

Some of the many awards!

Earlier, I mentioned the Fleece had many awards. On my count, they have two Leeds CAMRA Community Pub of the Year awards, seven Leeds CAMRA Pub of the Season awards and two Pub of the Month awards. All well-deserved, although it is a shame and perhaps a little unjust that the prestigious Leeds CAMRA Pub of the Year award has so far eluded them.

So, that’s the Fleece in Pudsey. One of the best pubs in Leeds and proof that if you run an out of town pub exceptionally well, you will buck the trend of pub closures.

The Fleece can be found at 100 Fartown, Pudsey, Leeds. The area is served frequently by bus services 4, 14, X11 and X14 from Leeds City Centre.

Gathering a Head of Steam with Wilde Child

Keir with his beer!

Last year, I had the privilege of meeting Keir McAllister-Wilde. Introduced by a mutual friend, it was an exciting time as it was one more brewery to add to Leeds’ growing list and an opportunity to meet another brewer.

When I met Keir, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I didn’t know his background, nor had I heard of him through my tenure on the Leeds CAMRA committee. So, a newbie to the brewing scene then, or he was to me at least! One of the first things Keir told me then was that his background was as a home brewer, who went on to brew with commercial breweries including Elland Brewery, to hone his craft. The plan was always to run his own brewery, but perhaps frustration at brewing the same recipes pushed this plan forward ahead of schedule. So, in late 2015, Wilde Child Brewing Co. was formed.

Wild Childe is set up in Keir’s private residence, a decent sized garage that is crammed full of brewing equipment, in Kirkstall. Keir believes this is the smallest professional brewery in Leeds, although admits that there are others in the area who also make this claim.

If I were to describe what Keir is to you, the words that immediately spring to mind are passionate, enthusiastic and creative. All three of these traits come out as soon as you talk with him, but equally as important they appear very clearly in his beer too.

Keir’s first available beers were in bottles. Whereas many new brewers would come to market with a portfolio like a bitter, a pale and a stout/porter, Keir ripped up that form book and brought to us Instant Hobo, a 9% bourbon imperial stout, Hopstrosity a 10.5% triple IPA and Creature of Doom an 8.2% doppelbock. No holding back then!

Since then, Keir’s creativity has flourished and all his beers have been greatly received. Producing in cask (Keir’s preference, despite the challenges this can bring not only in production but cost as well), bottles, cans and kegs, Keir has built a great reputation for immensely flavoursome and high-quality beers that push boundaries (in fact, check out Pushing Boundaries, an 8.1% double IPA).

The beer list

For Leeds Beer Week 2017, Keir hosted a double tap takeover at Head of Steam Leeds and Headingley, of which I attended the Leeds part of the event.

If I were to pick a person that runs Keir close on passion and enthusiasm then Chris Nelson, manager at Head of Steam in Leeds City Centre, certainly makes the shortlist. Chris is a Beer Academy Beer Sommelier, with fantastic knowledge on beer and food. This is someone who truly loves his job and it shows.

Head of Steam Leeds is still only in its early years. It’s predecessor, Spencers, had a reputation that was enough to make me never step foot in the place. Since Cameron’s Brewery bought the site and transformed it into Leeds’ first Head of Steam bar, it has become an award winner and one of the leading beer drinking venues in the city.

So, if you put one of Leeds’ most passionate and creative brewers, in one of the city’s leading pubs, run by a passionate and enthusiastic beer sommelier, it’s going to be good, right? Absolutely!

Keir (left) and Chris (right) handing out beer and food samples

The event in Leeds was a beer and food pairing. Keir brought with him six beers (although one was not included in the food pairing) and Chris and his team delivered nibbles that were designed to pair well with each one of the beers. Every course was excellent, but there were two in particular that really stood out for me. Firstly, was the 5.2% Columbus, part of Wilde Child’s hop series, which was paired with beef on ciabatta with fresh jalapeno and Hell Fire cheese. Second was Instant Hobo, this time in a wooden cask which was paired with ice cream and chocolate – superb.

Instant Hobo paired with ice cream and chocolate

Also in Keir’s beer portfolio that night was Enfant Terrible a 4.5% French-hopped beer that on this occasion had been aged on French Oak chips, Dangerous Liason a 6.5% Red IPA that had been brewed with Chris on collaboration duty, Opaque Reality a stunningly fruity and creamy 5.9% mango and passionfruit IPA and finally, Righteous Indignation, Keir’s recently brewed 7.4% New England IPA.

The icing on the cake of this event was Chris organising a taxi service for people who also wanted to then attend the Headingley part of the evening’s event – service at a different level.

Wilde Child beers are widely available across Leeds and you can check out where it is frequently stocked on the Where To Find Us section of the website.

Head of Steam Leeds has recently undergone a small refurbishment to provide more space for customers to enjoy great beer. Specialising in cask, international keg, cans and bottles (with a focus on US and Belgian beers), it’s located just a few minutes’ walk away from Leeds City Train Station.

Quenching a Wandering Thirst with Nomadic Beers

Ross, “busy” during the tap takeover

It’s astonishing to think that it was only just over 6 years ago that Leeds’ brewing scene was still dominated by Tetley’s. After Carlsberg’s decision to close the site and move brewing elsewhere, it was a tough time for employees, beer consumer support groups and for the city of Leeds itself. Almost 200 years of brewing heritage gone in the blink of an eye.

I look back now and I think that although it was a bad time, what has flourished from that has been quite incredible. Not only is Leeds recognised nationally as a hub for great beer drinking venues, providing a never before seen vast choice of high quality beers, but Leeds has shaken off the loss of Tetley’s and is now a brewing centre for different reasons. At my last count, we have 23 breweries in the Leeds metropolitan area; something I dare say we wouldn’t have if Tetley’s were still here.

A few have had time to build up a strong reputation, such as Leeds Brewery, formed in 2007 and now claiming to be Leeds’ biggest brewery, and Kirkstall Brewery. Some have only recently broken onto the scene and have helped Leeds evolve from good quality traditional cask ales, to align with the growing trend of palate challenging, flavoursome and different beer styles, such as Wilde Child and North Brewing.

During my time on the Leeds CAMRA committee, I had the opportunity to meet some of the great people who are behind the beer produced in Leeds today. What I didn’t realise at the time was that the then Membership Secretary, Katie Marriott, would also go on to join this group. I think at the time, she may not have realised that herself either!

After a brief time away from Leeds, Katie returned to the city and in 2015 joined the brewing team at Whippet, another of Leeds’ new breweries although I believe they have now unfortunately ceased trading. On that brewing team was also Ross Nicholson, who made his name as a brewer of great quality and tasty ales whilst at Ridgeside Brewery.

Fast forward two years, and Katie and Ross have moved on from Whippet and now run their own brewery, Nomadic Beers. Brewing on the kit at the Burley Street Brew House (this is in the cellar below the Fox and Newt on Burley Road), Nomadic have quickly established themselves on the Leeds brewing scene by brewing traditional cask ales but with a modern take, such as their 4.9% Oatmeal Pale (I’m quoted on their website “Tastes like you’re drinking Hob Nobs!”) and more recently the 4.4% Himalaya, a pink grapefruit, pink peppercorn and sea salt Gose, brewed in collaboration with Eyes Brewing. Did Tetley’s ever brew anything like that?

Four of Nomadic’s finest gracing the hand pulls

As part of Leeds Beer Week 2017, Nomadic presented a Tap Takeover event at Brunswick on North Street. Holding an event like this on its own just shows how far they have come in a very short space of time. They brought with them 4 great beers.

First up, their Vagabond (rebadged as Brunswick Pale), a collaboration with Brunswick. This is a 4.1% pale brewed with Cascade and Galaxy hops, probably my favourite beer on the night. Up next was the 4.4% Strider, which is a classic English Bitter, followed by the aforementioned Himalaya and finally Renegade a 5.4% American Pale Ale. What stood out was not only the flavours, but also the great quality of the beers, which is testament not only to the brewers, but the cellarmanship at the Brunswick too.

Quenching that Wandering Thirst!

With Katie and Ross, you get no nonsense, straight forward and down to earth. Whilst talking to Ross during the takeover, he said that he often listens to other brewers talking about beer, getting into the detail and the science. But for him, he just “likes to brew”; and that for me really is the key to being a successful brewer. Of course, you need to know what you’re doing, but when you’re passionate about what you do, then that’s the fifth ingredient to brewing beer which can’t be bought (the other four are, of course, water, barley, hops and yeast!).

You can check out Nomadic Beers on Twitter to find out where their beer is being delivered, cask and bottles available.

Alcohol Free? Not Usually for Me…

Traditionally, I’ve found alcohol free beer to be quite thin and tasteless. However, things seem to be moving on and brewers are looking at ways to produce low alcohol beer which is designed to taste more like it’s alcohol bearing equivalent.

The first decent tasting low alcohol beer I have had is Nanny State by Brewdog. Brewdog are renowned for heavily hopped beers and Nanny State is no exception. Although it does taste like a hoppy beer, there is little sweetness for balance so it can be a bit of an acquired taste. I’ve known people to use cordial juice to add a sweet hit to make this easier on the palate. Personally, I do like this one though and it fits nicely into Brewdog’s portfolio of super hopped beers.

More recently, brewers have come on the scene who specialise in low alcoholic beers. Most notably in the UK are Big Drop Brewing Co. who are based in Maidenhead and exclusively brew low alcohol beer. They do it well too, with their Stout winning a silver medal at World Beer Awards and a gold medal at the World Beer Challenge. Their Pale is also award winning, a gold at the World Beer Awards. I’ve tried the stout myself and it is really tasty, chocolate and coffee flavours with a lingering light bitterness; better than some higher strength stouts I’ve had! Big Drop have set a high bar in the UK’s low alcohol beer scene. They have also recently added two more beers to their portfolio, a Lager and a Spiced ale, both of which I look forward to trying.

Big Drop do have a UK competitor, in the form of Nirvana Brewery, who are based in Leyton, London. Like Big Drop, Nirvana only produce low alcoholic beers. They currently have a portfolio of three beers, Karma pale ale, Kosmic stout and Tantra pale ale, although I have yet to have the opportunity to try these.

Online beer retailers are also broadening their low alcohol beer choice. For example, Beerhawk have enough choice now to be able to offer a mixed case. The low alcohol beers available here are brewed in Europe and I tried some of these recently too.

I would certainly recommend the Tap 3 from Schneider Weisse, which has plenty of flavour including lemon and wheat, with a creamy body, this one could easily pass as an alcoholic wheat beer. Also on the recommended list is Franziskaner Weissbier AlkoholFrei, which tastes like a sweet wheat beer and Erdinger AlkoholFrei which reminds me of a unique low alcohol beverage I have had in Lithuania called Kvass, which has a sweet bread flavour.

The final two that I had were AND UNION’s Der Graf von Bayern which had an aroma of fresh bread and a fresh, clean, lager-like taste, and Alkoholfrei from Veltins which I thought was a bit more what I had come to expect from alcohol free beers – lacking in much flavour.

So, there are some pretty decent low alcohol beers out there and although they won’t appeal to everyone, it’s a perfect way for non-drinkers to try beer. For those drinkers who do like to explore differing styles and strengths, now might be a good time to be trying low alcohol beers – some great tasting beers without the hangover!

Where I share my beer passion!

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