Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Lakeland adventure

Last bank holiday weekend, I and my fiancée Helen decided to take a pleasant weekend away in the lake district to a place called the Woolpack Inn in the tiny Hamlet of Boot situated just down the road from the village of Eskdale. What also caught my attention is that the Woolpack Inn is also a brewpub, housing a 2 barrel plant known as the Hardknott Brewery and the website (www.woolpack has links to a rather interesting blog by the landlord, owner, chef, beer writer and (most importantly) head brewer Dave Bailey.
On arrival we at first found the place to be very welcoming, quite homely, tranquil and quite isolated, surrounded by the brilliant scenery of the Lake District and a few nearby villages containing quality pubs for beer hunting. The interiors are well presented, not verging on posh but far from rugged, and an overall (yet subtle) sheep theme is present including various paintings featuring sheep, sheep in the logo and a chess set composed of model sheep for pieces. The bedrooms are simple but well kept, dogs are allowed to stay and the staff are friendly and easy to talk to offering advice on local places, walks and attractions. I myself was more entertained chatting at great length to Dave and temporary staff member Jeff Picktall (also a beer writer) about beer and brewing as well as sampling through the beer range available.

Beer at the Woolpack.
The beer range spans through classic Belgian brews to local and Hardknott brewery brewed cask ales. Admirably no mass market beers were available to spoil the view with the focus being more on variety and two of Dave’s Hardknott brewery brewed ales were usually included. The cask range varied between styles with a traditional cider option also. On keg two continental pilsners and Westmalle dubbel (very appreciated) were available (living proof to the people of Britain that great keg beer does exist) whilst the bottled range concentrated almost exclusively on Belgian specialty beer.
Despite not getting chance to visit the Hardknott brewhouse itself I was lucky enough to try four Hardknott beers; The gently balanced Light Cascade, the hoppy rounded and citrusy Dry Cascade (try this with Stumpy Goats Cheese from the appetizer menu, trust me), the full flavorsome Pride of Eskdale and the nicely caramelized, smooth chocolate orange like stout Tenacity, extremely drinkable but bewilderingly complex for its 4% abv. It seems the house character (derived from the water used, base malt, brew system used etc) brings a distinctive chewy malt fullness to the beers that enhances the substance of the golden beers whilst adding intriguing complexity to the more malt balanced beers. If anything these beers are well crafted, and often reflect a similar substance and creative flare that is found in Dave’s food preparations. Its alittle sad that the beer can only be found on site and is not distributed, but that makes the stay all the more special.

The bar; painted on one wall.
The Food.

This I was also intrigued by, the rather unorthodox, yet fairly elaborate looking dinner menu. Was this pub food or something alittle more elaborate? Now I’m finding it alittle difficult thinking of how to explain this, so lets start by revisiting some familiar territory to get a better idea;
O.K we’ve all been there, Sat with family or friends trying to appreciate your microwaved cheeseburger and chips accompanied by large helpings of ketchup in front of a and beer range carefully designed and chosen by industry statisticians and higher management, constantly probing on which mass market brands the punters are most likely to go for etcetera, etcetera and the profit margins etcetera, etcetera. Perhaps there’s a kids play area outside, and a bloke dressed as cartoon animal of some sort trying to entertain the children with playful gestures.
Then you have the other end of the spectrum. The chandeliers and stylistic interiors of the fancy 5 star restaurant, the over priced wine list and almost un-interpretable menu written in French. The microscopic sized piece of lamb artfully decorated by its accompanying vegetables to replicate the appearance of some sort of elaborate space hut embedded within void that is the middle of a giant white plate. Always nice enough, yet small enough to get fleeced into forking out another significant amount of cash for the next course.
OK I might be looking at extreme ends of a spectrum here but regardless of surroundings, star ratings or anything, Dave Bailey is clearly a chef of outstanding ability and creative energy delivering food worthy of any 5 star restaurant. His meals are composed from fresh locally reared produce crafted into intriguingly inventive masterpieces at a level of quality that can only be described as art. In fact little to no ‘typical’ dishes seemed to be found on Dave’s menus, all were created for the purposes of quality not through the mentality of ‘pie and chips (of whatever mundane dish) its what folk like’. Fascinatingly challenging for me, was the anticipation of unleashing the woolpacks fine beer range upon these dishes in an attempt to pair stunning beer with stunning food.

Orval paired nicely with the textures of the salmon

A moment of true epiphany; Chimay Blue embraced the cheeseboard like an old friend, finding harmonies with seemingly every element of the dish.

Westmalle Dubbels malty depths delved deep into Dave’s Blue bore bomb. Blue cheese enwrapped in dark and white chocolate, cream cheese and biscuit base. This almost beat the cheese board, but not many moments in life come that close to perfection.

After all that excitement of stunning food and beer combinations, beer hunting, hill walking and taking in breathless scenery it was sadly time to say farewell till our next visit. To say our short break was impressive I feel is an understatement. The whole experience not only reflects on great beer and food but echoes uncompromising, honest service, delivered with integrity and substance. One day I hope to return.


Ed said...

Nice one Rob, me and the lovely Lisa went to Eskdale last year and very much enjoyed the pubs. We get to the lake district quite a bit and were in Langdale for the bank holiday weekend.

Woolpack Dave said...

Thanks Rob, there is no greater pleasure than to delight a fellow beer enthusiast.


Jeff Pickthall said...

Glad you enjoyed it Rob.