My Golden Pint 2012

imageThose of us who indulge, have indulged, and Golden Pint Awards have been blogged.  It’s the time of year where you can show your appreciation to some of the brewers and brewery owners who have created something for our enjoyment.  It’s hardly ever possible to reach out properly and say well done, but this tradition is one I enjoy despite the difficulties in picking between tens of great beers.

I picked Buxton Brewery’s Imperial Black IPA as my beer of the year.  Why? because I love the beer and because it’s a beer style that taunts me. It’s a pale beer that’s black, it’s hop aroma should be understated, yet it dances in front of my nose like a fame-hungry contestant on one of THOSE shows, and it promises to warm me up, but doesn’t mind being served cold.  It’s a beer style that keeps me guessing and one that I have tried brewing on four occasions, each brew resulting in a different black/dark brown beer.

To the other smashing beers that made me smile this year, I have to say that it was more than me just flirting, I loved you all dearly, and it wasn’t you, it was me.

Golden Pints 2012

I’m joining in with the Golden Pint Awards.  It’s all just a bit of fun, I may not have tried all of the beers that you have, so here’s my 2012 in beer.  Thanks to Mark and Andy for organising it.

Best UK Draught Beer:

Winner: Magic Rock High Wire

Runner up: Buxton Axe Edge. Honourable mentions: Lovibonds Sour Grapes. Hawkshead NZPA.

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer:

Winner: Buxton Imperial Black

Runner up: Thornbridge Raven. Honourable mentions: Kernel / Redemption Big Brick Red Rye Ale & Adnams Solebay Celebratory Beer.

Best Overseas Draught Beer:

Winner: Mikkeller Sort Gul.  Runner Up:  Ska Brewing Modus Hoperandi

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer:  Smuttynose Imperial Stout (2007). Honourable mention:  Russian River Pliny the Elder (thanks to @Toby_SR for sharing).

Best Overall Beer: Buxton Imperial Black

Best Pumclip or Label: Red Willow, a brand where less is more (sorry Toby, I couldn’t resist)

Best UK Brewery: Buxton Brewery. Honourable mentions: Magic Rock, Thornbridge, Kernel

Best Overseas Brewery: Mikkeller

Pub/Bar of the Year: Friends of Ham (Leeds).  Honourable mentions: North Bar (Leeds), The Grove (Hudds) and The Sparrow (Bradford) Fantastic pubs, I just don’t get to them often enough.

Supermarket of the Year: Booths

Beer Festival of the Year: Independent Manchester Beer Convention

Independent Retailer of the Year: Beer Ritz

Online Retailer of the Year: Beer Merchants

Best Beer Blog or Website: Joint Winners: Beersay and Oh Beery Me
Runner Up: Boak & Bailey. Honourable mentions: Probably Due to Network Congestion (pdtnc), HopZine, The Good Stuff, Ghostdrinker.

Best Beer Twitterer: @Filrd

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year: Black pudding scotch egg & Mikkeller Sort Gul (at Friends of Ham).  Also a superb meal at Mr Foleys back in April, cooked up by Tyler Kiley and matched with Brooklyn beers.

In 2013 I’d Most Like To: More beer festivals, more brew days to gain brewing experience, more beer in general.  Watch this space (famous last words).

Open Categories:

My ‘Go To’ beer: Hawkshead Lager

Most helpful brewers if you are a homebrewer and have an imagination that moves faster than your actual brewing abilities: In no particular order….

  • Dominic – Thornbridge
  • Jeff – Lovibonds
  • Matt- Hawkshead
  • Ol – Roosters
  • Jay – Quantum
  • James – Sandstone
  • James – Buxton
  • Ade – Saltaire
  • Gregg – Weird Beard Brew Co
  • Brian – Bitches Brew Co
  • Rob – Copper Dragon
  • Helpful homebrewers too, but too many to mention. You know who you are.

Sunbeam Ales – Honey & Lavender


This 4.9% Abv, bottle conditioned beer was brewed in Leeds, bought from Beer Ritz in Leeds and I’m drinking it in neighbouring Bradford. It’s local and from a 50L brewkit. I have no problem in writing that this is a craft beer.

Pours a light golden colour, forms a decent white head and has a steady stream of carbonation. The aroma is fragrant and while the lavender does dominate, it’s propped up with a hit of lime. The flavours are balanced, it’s medium bodied and has a smooth mouthfeel. Long aftertaste of lavender, gentle bitterness with the honey and sweet malts gradually arriving.  Dry finish.

Sunbeam Ales are brewed by Nigel Poustie and my first impression of his beer is a good one! Working with honey and lavender could spell disaster, but this is a delicate beer. Cheers!

The smallest brewery in Leeds

More information at Sunbeam Ales or follow Nigel on Twitter @SunbeamAles

Adnams Ginger Beer and Sole Star

I received these two good-looking, low-alcohol beers from Sarah at Adnams.  I think this has come about due to me putting my name on a distribution list while attending the European Beer Bloggers Conference.  Here are my thoughts and tasting notes:

Ginger Beer, 2.5%, 330ml, 0.8 UK Units.

Pours a light gold colour, it’s clear and has gentle carbonation but doesn’t form a head.  The aroma is pleasant, quite floral, some ginger present but it’s lime that dominates.  It reminds me of ‘Top Deck’ lager and lime shandy.  First taste is disappointing, none of the ginger heat you would expect from a ginger beer, not to say that this should be throat burning stuff, but ginger should be the star.  As it happens, it’s the lime that takes over.  It’s not overly sweet and there is some biscuity malt present.  The finish is dry with a metallic bitterness.  Overall, not a bad drink, but more of a lime infused beer than the ginger beer that I’m used to.

Sole Star, Pale Amber Ale, 2.7%, 500ml, 1.4 UK Units.

Pours a dark amber colour and it’s pin bright.  Light carbonation which forms and retains a one-finger-head.  The aroma is sweet caramel and lemon peel.  I knew from the 2.7% abv not to expect body or any powerful flavours  and that’s exactly what I found, fairly thin with gentle caramel and citrus flavours following on from its aroma.  I tried my best to give a balanced view on this one, by that I mean that it’s not what I look for in a beer, it’s a nice drink and you could definitely drink a fair bit of it, but if I was looking for a low abv or session strength beer,  I would much prefer to spend my government recommended daily units on a 3+% beer, one that has room to maneuver in its makeup.  Sole Star is balanced and drinkable and on that basis I think the brewer(s) should be pleased with it.   I’d be interested to try this one on cask and would certainly pick a few bottles up if I saw it on the shelf.

Thanks to Sarah and Adnams for sending these beers for me to try.

You’ve Got a Friend in Meat

Saturday night was the much awaited opening of Friends of Ham, Leeds’ newest bar and charcuterie adding more meat to the healthy bones of a thriving beer scene.  I received an invite having spoken a little with the owners via social media and having briefly met Claire Kitching when she was out and about sourcing beer.  There were a few bloggers circling the premises on the night and they will give you the full rundown of what you can look forward to if you get to visit.  I left my bloggers hat at home, resting on my notebook and camera…. I was unarmed.  The photo above is the only one I took on the night and is testament to the fact that my attentions were solely on having a night out.   Claire and Anthony (or Kitch as you may know him) have worked tirelessly to transform their new home-from-home into a sleek, inviting and comfortable space.

Along with Head Barman Tyler, Claire and Kitch have put together a very respectable selection of beer and if Saturday is anything to go on, then you’ll never be wanting.  On tap I enjoyed Redchurch Gold, Sierra Nevada Bigfoot and from the fridge Magic Rock High Wire.  I had already been at a brewery and visited a few pubs so had to leave it there.  This time around I missed out on tap-treats from The Kernel, Hawkshead, Huyghe, Magic Rock and Red Willow.

Neil over at Eating isn’t Cheating describes the food on offer much better than I could, but I did enjoy more than my fair share of Iberico Ham.  As I understand it, the food that was on offer was really just a taster and there will be much more in the way of breads and cheeses in the coming weeks.

Their clever strapline is A friend of ham is a friend of ours, and to that I say “A friend of beer is a friend of mine“.   Whether you are planning a trip to Leeds or just passing through, then their location on New Station Street is perfect.  I’ll be back there as often as I can make it, but don’t take my word for it, I recommend you go and see for yourself.

You can follow their updates on Twitter and Facebook.

Well Hopped Ales – Hawkshead Brewery

I recently received three bottles of beer from the Hawkshead Brewery, based in Staveley, Cumbria.  It’s not long since I visited and blogged about my fleeting visit to the brewery and beer hall.  The three beers sent to me are part of Hawkshead’s Well Hopped Ale series and include 330ml bottles of Windermere Pale, NZPA (New Zealand Pale Ale) and Cumbrian Five Hop.

Windermere Pale 

6% abv. A hop blend including East Kent Golding and Citra. Poured a light golden colour, a small white head formed but quickly reduced to a thin covering. Floral, lemon aroma and a hint of sweet caramel coming through.  First taste of punchy citrus fruits and immediate bitterness that moves around your mouth before settling out and blending with the biscuit and caramel malt flavours.  I found the finish a little dry, but all that did was lead me to my next sip.  Despite it’s strength I find this to be a light, easy going beer, but that kind of opinion could get me into a mess pretty quickly.


6% abv. A hop blend of Green Bullet, Motueka, Riwaka & Nelson Sauvin.  I’ve had several goes on this beer and it doesn’t fail to disappoint.  Big on aroma, big on flavour, big on satisfaction.  One of my beers of the year.

Cumbrian Five Hop

6% abv. A blend of 5 hop varieties including Fuggle, Citra & Amarillo.  For me this is the most complex beer of the three ‘well hopped’ beers, and ironically it’s the most well hopped!  I found that every sip had me reaching for the flavours, a really interesting balance between malt and hops leaving me guessing as to what I was tasting.  I drank this beer before looking at the notes on the bottle, and having recently proclaimed my disdain for Fuggle and Progress hops, I was pleasantly surprised to see the ‘F-word’ printed on the label.  Tropical meets traditional.

Thanks to Hawkshead for the beers.

Quantum Brewing Company, SK1 Barley Wine

Yup, a beer review.  This beer is the product of a collaboration between Jay Krause, owner of and Head Brewer at Quantum Brewing Company and Colin Stronge who was at Marble at the time, but now Head Brewer at Black Isle.  This 7.4% abv Quantum branded beer, brewed in August 2011, is described as a Strong Amber Barley Winegenerously hopped with Nelson Sauvin, Super Alpha, Motueka and dry hopped with Super Alpha“…New Zealand hops all the way!  It was lively upon opening and 500mls wouldn’t fit into a 660ml glass in one pour, but the head did settle.  It pours a deep ruby colour and had a high level of carbonation that stuck around for the hour it took me to enjoy it.  There was some yeast in suspension but could well have been due to a double-pour.  The hop aroma was fairly muted but some floral, fruity notes daring to peek through from behind the malty battering ram of burnt sugar/caramel.  First taste was all bitterness, surrounding my tongue and shifting around my mouth, as this settled I was getting flavours of traditional Seville orange marmalade, then treacle toffee, a pleasant alcohol burn and I could be wrong but thought a very slight smokeyness.

I drank half and was aware that maybe I was drinking it a little young.  Despite this it did have a smooth mouthfeel and pleasant carbonation (keeping things moving, as they say), it was medium bodied but perhaps a little thinner than the barley wine’s I’ve tried to date, but in no means shy with a hefty abv, but I do think this is why the intense bitterness was winning through.  Jay and Colin would have to confirm this, but I was wondering if the 7.4% abv was them being mindful of the High Strength Beer Duty (HSBD) on beer which exceeds 7.5% alcohol by volume (abv)?  Anyway, moving on, I decided to try the beer with the cheeses I had available to me in the fridge, a standard mature cheddar and some Applewood smoked cheddar.  This is where the beer started to shine.  With the mature cheddar the bitterness of the beer mellowed and tamed the alcohol burn, but it was the Applewood cheddar that really complemented it best, bringing some sweetness and balance, with the smokeyness getting along great with the fruity notes, but still allowing the powerful bitterness to come through at the end.

So, keep an eye out for a bottle of SK1 (I bought mine from @beerritzleeds) and for the chance to try it on cask go along to the Stockport Beer & Cider Festival (31st May – 2nd June 2012).   I really enjoyed this beer, especially with some cheese, and really look forward to see what’s next out of the copper when Jay and Colin collaborate on their next brew!


Jay on Twitter: @misterjk and @QuantumBC

Colin on Twitter: @BlackIsleCol

A bit more info here on Alebagger’s Beer Blog.

The Sparrow Bier Cafe, BD1

I’ve written about The Sparrow Bier Cafe once before, and I wanted to post a short post as a special #FollowFriday as they approach their first anniversary.  To recap, they chose a location close to Bradford city centre, off the beaten ‘ale’ trail and despite my concerns they have thrived.  Within twelve months they have received awards from Bradford CAMRA for Pub of the Season Autumn 2011, quickly followed by Pub of the Year 2012.  Huge congratulations to Les and Mark for their efforts and for bringing something fresh to Bradford’s beer fans.  I was in there yesterday and enjoyed keg beer from Hawkshead and Camden, cask from Dark Star and Sarah Hughes as well as being spoilt for choice with their range of bottles, but settled on a Mikkeller single hop Summit IPA.  When undertaking such serious market research it’s important to keep fuel in the tank, so I ordered their tasty side of cheese, salami and pickles.  If you are localish or just passing through Bradford, I can highly recommend a visit.  Opening times and news of what’s on the bar @thesparrowbd1 and regular reviews from HopZine.

And a few more pics


Brooklyn Brewery

It turns out that blogging can have it’s perks.  I enjoy blogging enough not to need any perks, but when the right ones present themselves then I feel I’d be stupid not to take them, plus it’s only human to want to get a freebie once in a while (and yes, I’m only too aware of the possible implications).  Sitting across the table from me was Garrett Oliver, the Brewmaster of the Brooklyn Brewery, and as he spoke enthusiastically about his life before brewing and where he finds himself today, I couldn’t quite get it together for long enough periods in my head to scribble notes in my brand new notebook, or take a quick picture with my phone of the exciting food and beer arriving and departing from in front of me.  I imagined that much of what he said had been heard before by those lucky enough to have met him, but I did also get a sense that once the introductions were over and the scene set, that he was speaking from the heart and adapting to his audience.  A small audience made up primarily of local food and beer bloggers, with the addition of Claire Kitching.  Alongside Garrett, interjecting with some Brooklyn Brewery context in terms of its market figures was Eric Ottoway, General Manager of the Brewery.

As I said above, the difference between me and a serious beer blogger is the ability to listen, enjoy what’s going on around me but also to make notes along the way.  I decided after the first course that I wasn’t going to try too hard.  Afterall, if you are interested in the food and beer details, then these guys will fill you in: Ghost Drinker, The Beer Prole, The Good Stuff, and do a much better job of it. I heard everything that was said, understood some and drifted off into my own thoughts when the subject matter provoked.

However, when I have a few beers my brain does not allow me to store ideas for very long.  I think of this as the same as putting a beer in the freezer to fast chill it – doing this for a short period of time gets results, but leave it in the deep freeze too long and all you get is a mess.  Without the help of my peers I may not have been able to tell you the names of the beers I tried, or the exact description of the food we ate.  What I came away with, ringing in my ears was that Garrett was a homebrewer.  He started homebrewing from kits in 1984, he referenced Muntons kits and the large sugar additions required to make yourself a cheap and nasty beer, but as he recollected, back in the eighties this was one of the only ways to get yourself a beer.  He also told a funny tale, also of that time and when visiting the UK, of plundering the homebrew section of Boots (the chemist) for their dried yeast. It was highly regarded by homebrewers and Garrett served his time as a ‘yeast mule’ for his buddies back in the States (I may have paraphrased what he actually said *winky-smiley*).  Ten years later in 1994, he brewed Brooklyn Brewery Black Chocolate Stout, their seasonal imperial stout.  In the UK we can enjoy buying this all year round, but not so in the US where it remains a firm favourite during the winter holidays.  This was inspirational stuff, ten years from homebrew kit to brewing an award winning imperial stout, among others.  By the way, I should mention at this point that the reason we can enjoy Black Chocolate Stout all year round is thanks to importers like, Leeds based James Clay who make sure they squirrel enough of the good stuff away to satisfy our penchant.

One other moment that was a bit special, was while trying their Cuvee De La Rouge, the Brewery’s Local 1 beer aged in used bourbon oak barrels (previously used for Black Ops) with wine lees (thanks Neil!), things are a little hazy and to be honest he could have told me anything and I would have nodded along.  For me the detail really doesn’t matter, the beer tasted great and like nothing I’d tried before.  When I asked Garrett if this would be available to buy, he basically said that it wasn’t possible to brew it the same again, and that if you have tried this beer, then it’s likely that you have met him too. A beery handshake if you will! (my words, not his).  After a few more beers with my associates to debrief, I parted company and went home to dream of my award-winning beers that will be available in 2021.

Thanks once again to James Clay and Ben Hodgkinson (of James Clay), Dean, Tyler and staff for the hard work that I know went into their faultless hospitality at Mr Foleys, and of course to Garrett and Eric who rocked up and did their thing.