Tuesday 18 January 2011

Cumbrian Beer Geeks

Cumbria has lots of breweries. We've lost count now but we believe it might be up at around 30. It is rumoured that Yorkshire has more, but then there are more people in Yorkshire. Sheffield is in Yorkshire and the city is an excellent beer town. The Sheffield Tap is an excellent beer geek bar that always has some excellent beers.

Cumbria has quite a few very good food places. Some even have rosettes or stars for their food. L'Enclume is one; I've eaten there and it's very poncy and very expensive. I liked it, but there was no beer at all. There is also The Drunken Duck which houses Barngates Brewery. The food and the beer are good, although I've never really known them to do any proper beer and food matching. Generally, the best places for food don't give beer much of a consideration and the best places for beer can be a let down on the food side of things.

Recently there was a very enjoyable CAMRA organised beer dinner in Kendal. A very successful and well attended event. Pete Brown was guest speaker and it brought together 200 or so of the most enthusiastic beer people in the county. The main criterior for the selection of beer was it's LocAle credentials. A brave effort was made to match largely session beers with food, an activity that can only have limited success; I believe that for a good beer and food matching event there is a need for stronger flavours in the beer, this can never be achieved with even the best session beers1.

There are places in that big place right down south, I believe it is known as London, that really do quite a good job of both. My favourite is The White Horse at Parsons Green. There might be better places, but for now it remains the best place I've found that serves really good food and a wide selection of esoteric beers. Some people think it's overpriced and full of la-di-da-toffs, but it's only the crazy imported stuff that is pricey and you can treat the toffs with the contempt they deserve, unless you've already used up all your contempt on the beer tickers.

When it comes to beer geekery there really is very little in Cumbria to satisfy the more adventurous beer explorer. It is getting better, The Swan for instance in Ulverston is quite good, they even sometimes have Hardknott, BrewDog, Stringers and others, when the PubCo is feeling relaxed about stuff. It was the only place in Cumbria that dared have a go with our Queboid on cask. In the very same town there is The Mill, its cask beer is a little tame, if well kept, but they do have the best bottled beer selection I've yet to find in our sparsely populated expansive county.

A few months ago Ann called on a nice pub out near the tourist honey-pot area of Windermere. She reported back that I'd probably like it - and that she had sold them some of our beer. I was lucky enough to be allowed to go there on one of her delivery trips and I was not to be disappointed. Both the food and beer selection is interesting, varied and of a good standard.

Having been to various beer dinners, some better than others, the idea of getting involved with one was becoming something of an ambition. Also, I have been keen to try and promote some of my stronger beers as good food matches. After all, stuff like Infra Red and Queboid are unlikely to do well as a regular session beers, but I do believe that a market can be generated for them as accompaniments for food. Equally, I'm generally keen to see beer promoted more in various foodie establishments, for far too long wine has been seen as the drink to have with food.

The pub mentioned above, the one that now sells our beer, also sells BrewDog beers and some foreign beers from James Clay, is the Masons Arms at Strawberry Bank. I am assured that this pub has been a strong beer pub for many years. Its food is top notch pub food too having recently won Lake District Dining Pub of the Year for 2010/11 awarded by Lancashire Life. The management team: Alex, Adam and Helen have been thinking about beer events and we seem to have found kindred spirits here.

Last night a few of us Cumbrian Beer Geeks met up there with a view to organising a beer and food matching evening. It seems it might well be the inaugural event for a likely Cumbrian Beer Geek Club. It's all very new and we're hopeful that it will bring some variety to the beer world in Cumbria. You see, we don't have anything quite as good as The Sheffield Tap or The White Horse or even The Rake.

Our first event is to be a Contemporary British Beer and Classic British Food dinner. 7 beers have been picked and we are going to match with 7 taster courses of classic British dishes, possibly with our own twist where we feel it is useful for the food.

At the very least the infamous Jeff Pickthall will be there as will Neil Bowness and of course, yours truly. We will be enthusing about the beers and explaining why we have matched them with the particular foods. I am hoping there will also be a new beer launched at the evening and perhaps other little surprises.

This will all happen on Thursday 10th March. The Masons Arms has rooms, so if you live in the North and can't get yourself as far as the deep south where all these things normally happen, get yourself booked in.

1I'd go further and point out that a beer which matches well with food is probably going to be far too much for most drinking sessions. I have got nothing against session beer and most of the beer I drink is of that ilk.


The Beer Nut said...

So who's up for renting a cottage? And can pick me up at Manchester Airport?

StringersBeer said...

I think it's great that the Masons is behind "progressive" beers (whatever they are exactly), I'm sure it will make for a good (if expensive) evening out. We're lucky to have them and the other good beer pubs - even if they're not always as progressive as this.

You'll know as well as I do that the problem with interesting, (perhaps challenging) beer is not making it - I'm sure there isn't a brewer in the land who doesn't love to make such things - but selling anything that isn't 4% and pale.

If this kind of thing stimulates demand for high-value beers - the stuff we can make a proper living from - that's good, right? I'm not going to go off on some rant about the gentrification of beer - there's plenty others that will.

Unknown said...

Nutty, if you seriously want to attend then I'm sure we can work something out. There is a train for instance that connects directly from Manchester Airport to Barrow - we would be very happy to pic you up from there. Alternatively, we sometimes have need to do cask swaps with Marble.

Stringers, you probably know by now that I believe there is a future in beers that have that "added value" - you and I need to maximise all we can get out of that.

As for "progressive", "contemporary", "cutting edge", or just flavoursome or different. Call them what you will, it's all about having a USP.

Yes, the vast majority of beer sold will be pale and weak. That's fact. But we can demand a discount on our beer duty because we are just nice little people doing the right thing, but perhaps not very well. Or perhaps we can make a difference.

Gentrification? is that the same as premiumisation? I don't know. What I know is that rich people have a much greater spending power. Rich people will pay over the odds for high quality food and wine. Why not convince them that high quality beer is worth paying for too?

I think it is worth paying for. You and I slog our guts out, put our back out even, to make our low margin high quality product. Perhaps those gentlemen who have a little bit of spending power will appreciate it enough to pay what we really know it is worth.

BeerReviewsAndy said...

damn if it had been a weekend id have popped along!!

dont forget tweedies in grasmere i love that place!!

The Beer Nut said...

Grrr. General Election called for the next day. That's me out then.

Yvan Seth said...

I'm loving the building campaign to get restaurants (and foodies in general) to take beer seriously. It really is worth opening people's eyes to the possibilities, especially when those possibilities mean more interesting beer! It seems a difficult hill to climb though. Not only are restaurateurs reluctant, the beer-drinking populace is as well. Why does the average keen beer drinker seem to accept eating crap food alongside their good beer? I went to the National Winter Ales festival up in Manchester recently and the food options were very limited, and what was there was pretty terrible. (On subsequent visits we brought our own food.) I'm obviously not expecting a gourmet dinner, but I'd hope for much better.

I went to my first professionally organised beer matching dinner the other night, the BrewDog Burns Night at the White Horse in London (your favourite:)... it was excellent, better than most wine/food matched dinners I've had at fancy restaurants. (Though I have some bias, both for beer and BrewDog.) I've written about the courses & beers at the BrewDog dinner here:


Wish I could make it up to your matching evening. My beer budget is being severely stretched by the current explosion of great beer though. No doubt I can trust that it'll be written up and I'll get to read about it and salivate at the menu after the event.

Birkonian said...

The Masons has history in serving unusual beer. Twenty years ago it had a range of over 100 Belgian beers long before anyone else. They are responsible for my love affair with Belgium. The pay back in those days was a management that made Basil Fawlty seem well adjusted.
You mention the lack of beer in L'Enclume but Cartmel vilage has 4 pubs and a wine bar all selling cask beer. A great place for a pub crawl.