Sunday, 27 September 2009

New West Cumbrian Beers

Did I mention we'd been busy? Oh, I did. Well it's got a bit quieter now, although I'm still feeling a little bit weary. Blogging has turned into a bit of a chore at the moment, but there is still loads of stuff I need to put into type, so I'm making an effort to catch up. There should be at least one blog reader, if what she says is true, waiting for this one. Hopefully she'll be pleased.

It's been a couple of weeks since the launch of the Good Beer Guide. Our local branch decided to have a little launch party in the local Wetherspoons. Apparently some of them were worried it would be a waste of time. Well I'm not sure what they wanted to achieve, but it seems it got some local press interest and I enjoyed the afternoon as well, so I think it was worth it.


There were three notable interesting things there for me. First was the chance to try Blackbeck Brewery's first brew, called Trial Run, no ABV declared on the clip but I imagine a typical just under 4% type of thing. This brewery has been a long time in the pipeline. Indeed it appears on the now out of print Ale Trail1 leaflet that was printed about 3 years ago. So, is the beer worth waiting for? It's certainly inoffensive. Some might just say bland. It's certainly very quaffable, if a session ale is the thing you are looking for. Not exactly exciting, but then not unpleasant either.

The other ale I had a chance to try was Whitehaven's recent addition called Breeze 3.9%. I'll be honest in saying I haven't been overly inspired by the beers from this Ennerdale based brewery, but at least they have been brewing, and with some enthusiasm. They don't appear on the Ale Trail map but have been going for a couple of years now and are certainly getting their beers out there. Because Sheila is a jolly nice person and still talks to me even if I have been critical of her beer I was keen to find one I liked. Was this going to be the one? I can say definitely it is. Breeze is a nice balanced beer, a good session beer with malty body and some nice hopping. No evidence of anything unpleasant to my palate and I could have very happily had another.

However, there was the Ennerdale Blonde 3.8%, also from the same brewery, I had tried to be nice about it last time I drunk it, but was not completely happy with it. Everything deserves a second chance. Wow, what a difference. Actually, really, really a whole load better. These people really have been learning I'd say. Sheila was there and told me they had been working really hard to improve the beer. It shows, grand job.

But of course you can never be sure when you get a bad beer if it's the fault of the brewery or the fault of the pub. Despite my dislike of Wetherspoons, the Bransty Arch in Whitehaven looks after it's beers well. After all, it also got into the Good Beer Guide, along with us, so it must be good. I can honestly say I've never had a bad pint there and this occasion was no different.

Oh, nearly forgot, they decided to have a raffle, a bit of fun. I took along a bottle of Tokyo* just for a laugh to put in as a prize. I'm not sure they knew what to make of the strongest beer in the UK.

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1The Ale Trail was a cool idea that came out of the Foot and Mouth disaster. This agricultural disease not only caused farming great problems but severely damaged, and possibly changed forever the tourist industry in The Lake District. Grant aid provided the funding to produce a leaflet that gave information for the visitors about the microbreweries in Cumbria. It got revised and reprinted about 3 years ago funded by the breweries themselves with a little bit of further grant aid and some support from CAMRA. It is currently out of print.

7 comments:

Tyson said...

Finally got to try Ennerdale Blonde and Bitter at my local this week. The Blonde proved very popular and I thought it was pretty good. I also quite liked the Bitter which seemed to have a good balance of fruit and malt for a weaker beer. I'd happily try either again.

Velky Al said...

It is good to see small breweries striving to improve their beer, can only bode well for their future, and that of the industry. Especially when it comes to shedding a slight image problem I am starting to notice of craft beer being homebrew on a grand scale. I do have to admit though that I sometimes worry that craft beers propensity to experiment can lead to brewers neglecting their core range, and while I love interesting beers as much as the next person, sometimes I have a mad craving for several pints of well made bitter.

Jeff Pickthall said...

I've had both but I'm going through a phase of huge boredom with 3.5-5% Brit stuff – especially those from Cumbria. "Hops? What's that then eh lad?"

Ennerdale Blonde has a nice grassy hop character. I went back to the same pub the next day to drink the same beer but the hop character was gone, vanished, AWOL, rendering it very dull.

Blackbeck's Trial Run – does the world really need another unmemorable session bitter?

Woolpack Dave said...

Al, good points. The image problem might well be something to tackle. The graphic design of pump clips is something that concerns one fellow blogger I can mention.

Speaking of which, Jeff, I would of course agree with you in many ways, but I think I can leap to the defence of these two breweries on commercial grounds. "does the world really need another unmemorable session bitter?" actually, yes and I'll try to explain why I think this is the case.

Most people, that vast majority of the general public, drink things that are not much less bland than regular lager. If we were to kill them with hop monsters, the kind of thing that you and I would love, it would put off the vast majority instantly. We need lots of volume of transitional beers to give people the idea that micro-brewed beer isn't necessarily going to give the unaccustomed an alpha acid overdose.

Blackbeck in particular are presumably intending to sell the majority of their beer through their fairly corporate style of hotel. The vast majority of their clientèle will be used to the corporate beers. Blowing their minds on an American style IPA might not warm them to micro-brewed beers, despite there being the temptation to do so.

Look at Mark's very good piece on progressive brewing. There are inroads to be made, that is for sure. Largely it's more to do with what the customer in general wants rather than what brewers should be doing to progress the beer market.

Having said that, I fully agree that a few proper knock-your-socks-off hop monsters in Cumbria wouldn't go amiss, but, as you know, this is a reserved county.

Finally, beers loosing hop character from one day to the next must surely be due to cellaring, not the fault of the underlying beer?

StringersBeer said...

Beers that get all their hops before racking are pretty much bound to lose it somewhat as they sit around open. I suppose this is a really strong argument for good old fashioned dry-hopping. I can remember covering the ceiling of a cellar I worked in with hops when trying to vent Brakspears - shortly before the Env. Health Chap was due. How we laughed.

Brewers Union Local 180 said...

Where, by the way, IS the local 'Spoons? And have I been there?

Woolpack Dave said...

BUL180, no, I don't believe you have been there. I didn't want to corrupt your soul. It's near the station in Whitehaven, just by Tesco's.