Friday, 17 February 2012

Good things to eat and drink [Volume 8]: a beer special

I'm finally taking the plunge and writing about beer. In over a year of blogging I've yet to write a post dedicated entirely to my favourite drink. Nothing else I consume so enthusiastically has been overlooked in this way (see posts passim about sandwiches, curry, pies, fish and chips, fry-ups and Sichuan food).

The truth is, I've been scared off by the beer bloggers. Until this time last year I was unaware of their existence, but slowly this merry band of enthusiasts began to seep into my consciousness. There are a lot of beer bloggers, many of whom are extremely knowledgeable, write very well, describe taste and aroma beautifully, and are utterly obsessed (some might say too obsessed) with beer.

Many of them are also based here on my home turf, in West Yorkshire. You'll find some of my favourites popping up on the sidebar on this blog, under the heading 'Some food and drink blogs'. Please do have a read, there's loads of entertaining and informative material out there.

This breadth of beery knowledge and dedication to the cause is something I'm never likely to match, so I thought I'd leave writing about beer to the experts. Or at least I did, until now. I've changed my mind, simply because I like beer too much not to write something about it. If my knowledge is lacking then so what, there are many others whose food expertise is far greater than mine too, and that's never stopped me.

I thought I'd compile a list of my favourite British breweries and my favourite beers from each one. Some of these I'm only recently acquainted with and some have been serving me well for years. The list is written more or less in chronological order from old favourite to recent discovery, so it's essentially a brief history of my beer drinking habits.

Hopefully there might be some you've never tried before.

One word: Landlord. Timothy Taylor Landlord is a true classic as far as I'm concerned. Well kept pints of Landlord have kept me refreshed for over a dozen years now, and I still love it. It's a very smooth, quite sweet, moderately hoppy pale-ish ale. Best served in a Dales pub at the conclusion of a hike, or on a pub crawl round Keighley. Or maybe Skipton if you're feeling slightly less adventurous.

I've always found the rest of the Timothy Taylor range to be reliably good too. Nothing spectacular, just solid tasty ales for regular drinking. I'm particularly partial to a pint of Golden Best.

Where to find them: Widely available, they have dozens of their own pubs mostly in West and North Yorkshire. The Town Hall Tavern is a good choice in Leeds. Landlord in particular is found in many other pubs too.

Badger Ales

I've got Morrison's to thank for this one. It's probably ten or twelve years since they began stocking decent quality beer, constantly on offer at what was then any four bottles for a fiver. Many's the camping trip I've had that's been lubricated by Golden Champion and Golden Glory, my favourites from the Badger offering. Both are pale, fruity (one peachy, one quite strongly flavoured with elderflower), quite sweet beers. I can't drink either without immediately thinking of the British summer.

Where to find them: Morrison's. Loads of pubs, all of which are down South. There's one below Charing Cross station in London.

Meantime Brewing Company

I lived in South-east London for three years, and Meantime were a godsend. My drinking locale was Greenwich, an area with many splendid historic pubs, not many of which served particularly splendid beer. The Greenwich Union was a notable exception, the Meantime brewery tap serving their full range, of which my particular favourites are the Helles beer and the London stout.

The Helles beer is a lovely crisp, dry German style lager; another perfect Summer afternoon drink. The stout is the polar opposite; dark, malty and complex. A beer to drink on a Winter's night. Happily I don't need to go to London for a fix, because the stout and their also very good IPA are available in Sainsbury's.

Where to find them: Sainsbury's. The Greenwich Union in Greenwich. Beer Ritz in Headingley might have some.


As with Timothy Taylor, Fullers are on my list because of one specific beer. That beer is London Pride. In London pubs, where no other good draft beer is available, you can almost guarantee there'll be a pint of Pride on offer. It's ubiquity is justified, because it's a lovely beer. Very balanced, noticeably malty and roasted tasting, but with hoppy bitterness too. It rarely lets you down, and if you drink in London, often comes to the rescue.

Fullers make a lot of other beers that are apparently very good, but I'm not familiar enough with any of them to comment. If you see them, try them.

Where to find them: Loads of pubs, mostly down South. Widely available in supermarkets.

Marble Brewery

The best beery discovery of my year in Manchester. The Marble Arch pub, about which I've already written, is a thing of wonder. The beer doesn't let the side down. They're all good in bottles, but the best place to drink them, without a shadow of a doubt, is in the Marble Arch itself.

My favourites are Dobber, an IPA, and Marble Ginger. The Ginger is absolutely delicious served on cask, the aeration brought about by the dispense seeming to give the beer a fullness of flavour that's somehow missing in the bottle. So rich, warming and err, gingery.

Where to find them: Three pubs in Manchester, the original, the Marble Arch, is the best. Guest appearances in other pubs. I'm sure I've seen some in Latitude Wine in Leeds.

The Kernel Brewery

Finally, the more recent discoveries, breweries about which I'd maybe never have known were it not for the beer bloggers. Thanks beer bloggers! The Kernel Brewery make bottle conditioned beers in very small batches, with a focus on individual hop varieties.

I'm not going to name specific favourites, mainly because I can't remember which ones I've tried. What I can remember is that every one I've tried has been lovely. They seem to be very skilled at this bottle conditioning business, producing beers that are beautifully gassy. I don't mean gassy like cooking lager (Carling or whatever), I mean gassy in that they don't go flat, that like a good sparkling wine they release a steady stream of fine, delect bubbles. That makes for a lovely mouth feel, which in combination with lots of fresh, hoppy flavours, makes for a fantastic drinking experience.

Where to find them: Plenty of places in London, especially around Borough Market. Beer Ritz in Leeds.

Ilkley Brewery

One of the best in the expanding firmament of West Yorkshire breweries. Every Ilkley brewery beer that I've tried I've enjoyed very much. I'd like to give a special mention to Ilkley Best, a classic Yorkshire bitter of some distinction.

I often overlook what you might term mid-range beers. Brown booze, bitter, 4% session beer, whatever you want to call it. In the rush to sample the latest exciting new India pale ale, stout or porter, the pleasure in a moderately alcoholic pint of bitter can sometimes be forgotten. I shouldn't do this, as I've already mentioned I'm a big fan of Landlord. Well I bought a bottle of Ilkley Best the other day, and absolutely loved it. I'm not going to elaborate further, just go buy some.

Where to find them: Now available in Morrison's. Beer Ritz in Leeds. Lots of pubs in the lower Wharfedale area.

Magic Rock Brewery

Huddersfield's Magic Rock, the newest Brewery on this list, only started production in 2011. They've not messed around, producing a whole sequence of stunning beers in short order. As a general rule they brew American influenced, very hoppy, often quite strong beers.

The ones I've enjoyed the most are High Wire, a US style pale ale, nicely bitter and packed with tropical fruit flavours, and Magic 8 Ball, some kind of bonkers black IPA type thing that I'm not even going to try and describe suffice to say it was a delight to drink.

Where to find them: Various pubs around West Yorkshire, Port Street Beer House in Manchester. Beer Ritz in Leeds. Mr Foley's in Leeds.

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