Monday, 30 December 2019

Yorkshire Christmas

Morocco Ale is a beautiful way to sink into Christmas eve. Like liquid ginger cake in a glass it is a 5.5%, rich russet amber and arguably one of the most festive beers in the world, that isn't a seasonally released beer. Aside from timeless classics, Christmas eve in this household is traditionally the night for cheese. This year it would be mostly Yorkshire cheeses and the headline beer for the cheeseboard job was Sam Smith's Yorkshire Stingo. A big boozy 8% heavy weight with lots of dried fruit and subtle oak, it did a fair job as an all round cheese board complement.

 A bigger highlight was the pairing of Daleside Blonde with traditional Wensleydale. Floral citrus top notes and subtle carbonation lift into it beautifully whilst the smooth malt backbone finds an intricate union with Wensleydale's mild creaminess. By far the best beer match for Wensleydale I have ever come across in its cask-conditioned form. Another local offering, Harrogate Blue, is a bold creamy rich blue cheese and a great pairing for Daleside Monkey Wrench with its big boozy caramel malts that just wrap around it. Doesn't that sound beautiful? Actually I'll answer that question, it would be very beautiful.

That aside Christmas day as usual was wrapping paper carnage everywhere. Again this year we had some good presents. Susie got her keyboard and Harvey got his Bat-bot and Black Panther costume. Thus meaning he now has virtually every super hero costume in the book. Except maybe Ant Man, Burnt Face Man and Ben Stokes. I got a gun that fires bottle caps.

Durham Etienne Brut IPA is a great pre-Christmas dinner appetiser. It's dry and quaffable for its 6% abv and all peaches and pears. A really lovely beer with some Belgian influence though not as aggressively hoppy as some takes on the style. Admittedly I did vow to drink Santa's Progress with Christmas dinner this year but went with Daleside Greengrass Old Rogue Ale instead. In my recollection of beer blogging, the subject of pairing beer with Christmas dinner has never really been pinned down. It's not worth overthinking.

Black Panther, in pajamas

Overall our first Christmas in Harrogate went rather well. Unlike the old days when Christmas was more an extended celebration of Belgian strong ales served in elaborate glassware followed by passing out in front of Wallace and Gromit. This year was a great family experience, which also featured beer.

Sunday, 15 December 2019

Santa's Progress

Alas the winter season is upon us once again. Here at Daleside we've been brewing our long-running Christmas seasonal Santa's Progress in significant volumes for departure across the nation. Like the name suggests Santa's Progress is brewed with Progress hops-  an English variety that come across like a fuggles but with more roundness. It's a rich, golden, 4.2% ale featuring herbal blackcurrant over fruity malt. It's an old school Christmas seasonal demonstrating beauty in simplicity so to speak, and is a joy to brew.

Multiple stainless steel bundles of joy departing for the customer

I have reviewed and discussed Christmas beers multiple times before on Rob's Beer Quest. There doesn't seem to be any rules on what counts as a Christmas beer. Santa's Progress was the first I had the privilege of brewing at a commercial level. At 4.2% it was quite different from the 7-8% Belgian style spiced seasonals I used to brew on the old home brew kit.

Progress hops

I always found Daleside brewery has a different ambiance in the winter. For a start its a trifle bit cold. But our friends the yeast still ferment away lovingly nurtured by added heating. Then on the upside the cooling works that tad bit quicker.

The yeast head blossoms like a beautiful flower at day one in the fermenter. 
But overall there's been a lot to think about this Christmas. Our January seasonal Key-lime Wheat has been brewed on the trial kit and made a pre-debut at the Disappearing Chin in Harrogate. It's also the time to get out and party hard (or just go out drinking). Then there's all the present to sort then wrap. With the bairns getting older the expectations are higher. They know Santa pays up so the pressure is on... On Santa that is. I'm sure it'll be a blast. But to revive tradition this year I will be hoping to get hold of a mini-cask of sort of the old Santa's Progress to pound pints throughout Christmas day festivities. 

Thursday, 5 December 2019

Visit to Alnwick

Christmas lights switch on 

Just the other week we managed to make it back to Alnwick to visit old friends. It wasn't a bad venture with plenty going on at the time. First in line was the Christmas lights switch on where we managed to bump into lots of old parent friends, and recognised lots of old faces. We didn't sit it out for the annual steady arrival of Santa into the market square though.

Alnwick, as always is Alnwick. There's no other way to describe it. It hasn't changed much apart from a big shopping centre development featuring Starbucks on the way in.

Anyhow I brought along some plastic sample bottles of Vermont Black IPA and the January seasonal (brewed on trial brew kit) for our mates Tony and Fiona to try. They went down well. We also visited the John Bull which is now changing hands again as the previous owner Gus is taking it back from Hadrian and Border Brewery. So we popped in to have some Porter from Hadrian and Border and Titanic Plum Porter Grand Reserve at 6.5%. Quite clean, boozy and better than the original, though I was never a fan of the original.

All in all it was great to see everyone and the venture ended at Alnwick working men's club drinking Sam Smith's Sovereign bitter on keg. Sort of like an upgraded Boddingtons though cheap as chips. A splendid weekend.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Meet the brewer; Unicorn Hotel Ripon


The meet the brewer event is something I have been more involved with of recent times. This is where the brewer (and sales person in this case) get to venture out of the confines of the brewery and into the wider world to meet customers. A pleasant alternative to brewing and processing beer behind the scenes.

Sales master Vince working the samples tray.

Ripon is a splendid place situated just down the road from Harrogate. A market town as it were, and The Unicorn is the friendly local Wetherspoons. This would be my third Daleside meet the brewer and last of the 2019 tour.The Christmas lights were up and the stage was set for showcasing core beers Blonde, Bitter, Old Legover, Monkey Wrench and our current seasonal Vermont Black IPA.

For a Wednesday night the place was reasonably busy and on this occasion we faced a diverse range of clientele many of whom were contract workers from far and wide.

Display table

Unlike my previous experiences with meet the brewer the Daleside event is more involved with much more handing out samples and actually engaging customers instead of just hanging out by a big banner looking like the man. The idea is to get around the place and hand out some samples whilst also following some rules. Sales frontman Vince has been a great guide on this, from the organisation to handing out samples to holding back crowd-surfers. I might be a beginner but I've still picked out the common re-occuring features of most meet the brewer events, for example;

- There's always at least one table of lads drinking generic lager who act like they've never tried cask ale before.

- They'll be at least one wine drinker who gives our beer credit.

- Someone will ask Vince what part of Ireland he's from.

- The bar manager is always Vince's best friend... for the duration of the event.

- There's normally one bloke, who's obviously been in since the afternoon who talks at you for prolonged length of time in a partially drunken state.

Overall the night went pretty well with lots of good feedback. Vermont black IPA managed to convert a couple of wine drinkers and lots of discussions were had on coloured malts, hops, exogenous CO2 and football managers. Vince worked the sample tray like a pro as always (this being his 14563rd meet the brewer as sales bloke wing man) and many thanks were given to the bar manager, team and audience for great hospitality.

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Local Rivals

Rivalry is a natural occurrence in the brewing industry. Sometimes it's between the upstart and the long-established and sometimes it's a history that goes way back. Like the school playground, the brewing world segregates itself out into different social groups that generally all get along, although occasionally that isn't so.

Here at Daleside we don't really do rivalries so much. Or at least not in the same sense as the ones in the North East brewing scene. That was more equivalent to say The Hunger Games or underground dog fighting by comparison. I am aware the friendly folk of Roosters Brewery have a long history with Daleside that goes way back and we have great respect for them.

Anyhow, I thought it would make a good blog post to taste off these two rival beers from rival brewers. A majority of people in brewing know about the history between the Theakston brothers and thus the long history between Black Sheep and Theakstons, both Masham based. Both big family brewers. But both beers happen to be  bottled, filtered pale ales at 4.5%.

First up, in the red corner we have Theakstons Pale ale using Summit, Cascade and El Dorado hops over a base of lager and Munich malts. Nice classy label. In the blue corner we have Black Sheep Venus and Mars brewed with Pale and Caramalt hopped with First Gold, Summit and Chinook. The Theakstons Pale ale is poured first and this pale golden beer opens with orange and stone fruit at the fore. There is a little sweetness but a dry feel to it, a little bit old school, a tad flinty but overall well composed.

Next up, Black Sheep Venus and Mars pours a shade darker. There is a more upfront citrus aroma and flavour about this beer, but it's not the sort you would get from using a shed load of resinous C hops. It's more perfumed and catty and the beer has that signature Black Sheep rounded fullness to it with stone fruit and some orange notes.

On the whole my impressions are Black Sheep have dressed things up more, the aroma is more obvious and they've put more effort into making things more contemporary. On the other hand Theastons Pale ale is more down to earth. Where it scores in being a tad more complex it loses out in approachability compared to its rival. A close match but for me Theakstons win this one, however the problem here is  neither beer ranks in the top tier stuff that either brewer has done -Imperial Russian Stout, Riggwelter, 54 degrees North, Old Peculiar and XB. But all in all an interesting brew battle.

Friday, 25 October 2019

Incoming new beer: Vermont Black IPA

Introducing the newest addition to the Daleside range, a dark Vermont-style IPA - aptly named Vermont Black IPA.

The original name for this beer was New Zealand Hopped Vermont Session black IPA. But it seemed a bit long winded.

A very much experimental concept that not only goes into territory unknown to Daleside, but territory unknown to nearly everyone else. I am aware Brewdog have done a 7.3%  Vermont Black IPA recently. It's not just a Vermont/NE IPA neither is it just a Black IPA, it's a Vermont Black IPA featuring Nelson Sauvin hops.

The basic concept for this was put together from past experience brewing both styles individually. But all in all this was to be the most abstract, non-traditional beer ever produced in the 27-year history of Daleside Brewery.

The term 'the most' and not 'one of the most' really indicates to how monumentally serious I was about this brew day. I was deadly serious, look this is my serious face.

This could be huge, this could change everything or amount to nothing. Anyone can understand the theory that if one of your mates starts break-dancing at the private function he's going to get more attention. But by comparison if your 85-year-old gran in the zimmer frame started break-dancing at the function that's going to get significantly more attention.
To me it makes more sense than brewing just another pale ale with Citra hops in. So in the words of the wise Lego Batman; "you wanna get nuts? C'mon lets get nuts!".

mashing in

Like Luke Skywalker entering the Death Star in his X wing fighter with R2D2 on the roof, this brew day required a lot of attention. A fiddly sort of brew day involving some moves deviating from standard procedure and some effort required to hit the numbers. Controlling the boil with very few hops in the copper also required attention. If this was made into a film there would be a split screen featuring a group of very stern looking accountants overlooking disapprovingly at various stages.

runoff to copper

Taming the beast in the copper

Looks very dark doesn't it, almost.... almost...

After fermentation and a number of rounds of dry hopping, the beer was ready to rack to cask and the finished product sampled from hand pull. One day it may become a keg beer who knows, but giving out samples was much easier than trying to explain what a New Zealand hopped Vermont Black session IPA is. Being the abstract concept it was.

Vermont IPA... but darker

On the nose it is gooseberry pine and orange peel. The beer opens smooth on the palate with more gooseberry, lychee orange pith, opal fruit coffee and liquorice. There's a certain peculiarity about it I can identify with. At just over 30 IBU there's obviously more bitterness units than the text book would allow for this style. But I'm chuffed enough with it that I don't care. Chuffed with the beer, chuffed with the new found mastery of the kit. Next I will be hoping to find this one on trade.

The Kaiser Chiefs; a great bunch a lads

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Yorkshire life

I must get this clear. I live in England now, a civilized part of Northern England. No longer am I part of the people's republic of Geordieland, home of Gazza, the Toon, Fog on the Tyne, Jimmy Nail and the Blaydon Races (which they don't sing in school assembly here). The transition wasn't too difficult as I part did it once before back in the 2008-10 era during my first time working at Daleside. Now it's a more permanent fixture we can explore the area.

Knaresborough. Like Alnwick but with a big viaduct and more John Smith.

Moving away from Northumberland and its castles, countryside, market towns, pubs and pleasantry we have moved to the middle of Yorkshire with its castles, countryside, market towns, pubs and pleasantry. But the vibe is different. Everyone is a bit more soft natured. I have fond memories of my last time living in Harrogate. Working at the Leyburn show with Yorkshire folk. Brewing with the Yorkshire folk. Hanging with Yorkshire folk at meet the brewer events. Going to the pub with Yorkshire folk. Everything about Yorkshire is awesome... If you exclude Savile, Sutcliffe and maybe the Kaiser Chiefs then this is almost true.

Reduced Wensleydale, exemplifying the wife's adoption to Yorkshire ways during shopping 

The accent is one of the finest in the world and Yorkshire has given great things to the world like Saxon, Bo Selecta, Wensleydale cheese, Def Leppard, Sean Bean and Yorkshire puddings.

The bairns famous already from Bilton Gala

View from Ripley Castle

Yorkshire hosts a huge range of breweries from Magic Rock and Roosters to Theakstons, Ilkley, Saltaire, Northern Monk, Kirkstall, Black Sheep, Brew York and obviously Daleside and the list goes on. The water is soft and lovely to brew with. It has low sulfates and low residual alkalinity. The Yorkshire beer scene is arguably one of the finest in the country.

You can't get much more Yorkshire than this
The people of Yorkshire have the closest heritage nationwide to the Scandinavian/ Danish invaders of old. This probably means Vikings.  They are often fiercely proud of the region and love saving money.

When I was growing up I was surrounded by Geordieland, everything about it was just the norm. So in turn it made everything about all the other cultures of the world more interesting.

More Yorkshire stuff from around the house.

I went to Lancaster University and was surrounded by a full spectrum. There was the Lancastrians, Brummies, Cockneys, non geordies from the North East (Durham people), Yorkshire folk, the Irish, Scousers and the Mancunians. At Heriot Watt Uni I met loads of international students, Indians, Canadians, French, Pakistani, Japanese and others. Yet I always went home to Geordieland.

Without doubt Yorkshire is a fine destination. The problem now is, for the first time in my life, I miss the Toon and Northumberland. For me it's sort of strange because I've never experienced that before. When it was the status quo it was never an issue, the Angel of the North, The Tyne bridge or seeing old mates from Northumberland. They never used to be lost treasures. So in regards to many of the great iconic figures who have shaped my life and perception of the North East I sincerely dedicate this clip.

Saturday, 5 October 2019

The return of Rob's beer quest


I'm back. It's certainly been a long time. I would like to call this return to blogging, but more so a new chapter of the quest as opposed to a continuation of where I left off. Some may already know about the series of events which unfolded between my last blog post and now. I wasn't there at the end. During these events the very driving force behind Rob's Beer Quest was temporarily compromised. 

A series of job interviews took place, some far afield some not. From the varied interested parties I chose my new path, new purpose. I chose my side and took off my Panda Frog t-shirt. Replacing it with what I sometimes refer to as my England top, for the greater purpose it represents.

The house was sold. We said goodbye to our old friends from school, work and Northumberland. We departed Alnwick, we left the republic of Geordie land. I became reinstated outside the matrix, reborn like Gandalf the White. Or Gandalf the red and blue in this case.

Reborn in Yorkshire.

Looks familiar 

So after all that I began my new job, in my old/new workplace as the head brewer of Daleside Brewery. Back where I was born and made as a brewer. Back where it began in the land of bed races, coffee shops, innumerable takeaways, really nice buses and Yorkshire folk.

Yorkshire beer
Harrogate and Daleside have both changed in the 8 years I have been away. It's kind of like a box set where you miss series two and three and you've skipped to series four trying to piece together everything that happened. Most of what I knew from the old world of 2009/10 era is much the same but aged. Harrogate is still a very pleasant civilized place to visit with community spirit. New bars have sprung up. Harrogate Brewing Company and Cold Bath are both new to the brewing scene whereas Roosters are still a big local player regarding trade dominance.

New beers will be brewed

The Daleside brewkit is lovely to work with. More like a Honda Jazz than an old Mustang. Armed with the very finest of '90s technology the stage is set for me to set forth again into the world of brewing and new beer development. More importantly I would be continuing the legacy as the third head brewer of the Daleside saga taking over from the respected Craig Witty. With many years in the game Craig has trained many, including myself. As the now second brewer Craig has long been the face of Daleside at outside events, winning awards and he's even pictured on the back of a local bus. A long time back Craig was a butcher and football referee, but that was before the war.

Daleside's second brewer Craig at the  Daleside, Roosters, Cold Bath, Harrogate Brewing company collab brew. 

So far this year there's been plenty of action at Daleside. From outside events to shipping beer to Australia. And with the wife recently getting a job the situation is looking more settled. The coming year is set to be interesting as there's already lots on the agenda and lots to learn aside from new beer development. So lots to blog about.