Sunday, 30 September 2012

Sheffield to Huddersfield via The Nook Brewhouse: 21st September 2012

For the final day of my Derbyshire/Yorkshire trip I was heading to Huddersfield, another great beer city that I'd never been to. I planned to do some walking on the hills and moors south of Huddersfield and then head to Holmfirth and The Nook Brewhouse for lunch and my final look around a local microbrewery.

View Nook in a larger map

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Sheffield to Brockholes
            Brockholes to Huddersfield

Sheffield Station and the surrounding Sheaf Square were redeveloped just after the turn of the century and now features a great long sweeping entrance complete with stainless steel 'Cutting Edge' water features and gushing fountains - even in the rain it's quite a spectacle. Oh - and there's also the Sheffield Tap as well (but not at 9:30 in the morning).

The direct train to Huddersfield departs from Platform 2b - don't make the mistake I made of sitting in the cosy Waiting Room on Platform 2 for the train - you won't necessarily see this come in and you'll be forced to run up to the top of the platform for the train in the last 30 seconds or so as I had to.

There had been incessant rain all morning in South Yorkshire (it came from the West of Scotland so I couldn't complain) so I decided that a walk along the hills and moor paths with a laden down rucksack wasn't necessarily the most sensible choice. Instead I decided to get off at Brockholes and walk along some decent river paths the 3 miles or so to Holmfirth. Brockholes Station is just as interesting & picturesque as Sheffield Station, but it's the complete opposite of that modern hi-tech architecture - I think it must be used in period films & TV programs.

I walked down to the main road and decided to take the path along the River Holme. This took me past a lot of old mill houses and also a number of weirs. A large Grey Heron kept me company for most of the route but it obviously had good hearing and flew off every time I got close enough for a decent pic - this was about the best I could get.

The paths beside the river were pretty muddy underfoot so it was probably just over an hour after leaving Brockholes that I came into Holmfirth, a bustling market town. I made straight for The Nook, and found this was well hidden from the Main Street, definitely 'in a nook & cranny'.

Squeezing in through the narrow entrance way I found a lovely old fashioned pub situated right next to the River Holme with a separate modern Tapas restaurant (Carnicería) on one side.

It was fairly quiet in the pub when I went in and asked if there was anyone around to show me the Brewhouse as I'd e-mailed earlier (cue lots of initial blank looks). Thankfully the co-owner Ian Roberts came out and spent quite some time showing me around and having a chat about the place and their beer in general - many thanks indeed for this.

The Nook has been in Ian's family for more than 40 years although there's been a pub (& sometimes a brewery) on the site since the 1750's (and they have the original title deeds to prove it). Ian's father first started keeping real ale (initially Taylor's Landlord) more than 30 years ago and the place has been in the Good Beer Guide continuously ever since - there are a couple of nice commemorative plaques up on the wall in the bar.

Ian decided to start construction of a modern brewery next to The Nook in 2008 and after a significant amount of red-tape (especially from Yorkshire Water as part of the brewery is below the river level) the first beers were brewed in July 2009. It's a custom built 5 bbl plant with the outside having been finished by Ian himself - a stonemason by trade.

Because of the narrow entrance way it's a definite pain when delivering the raw brewing materials or loading/unloading a pallet full of beer - you can't drive a truck or an van right up to the brewery door(s). In addition the malt & hops have to be hoisted to the storeroom on the upper level.

On the brewery floor they were performing a caustic soda clean - I kept well out of the way of the mash tun and the copper.

Also on the brewery floor were the 3 Fermenting Vessels.

Downstairs (below the river level and naturally chilled) are the Conditioning Tanks and the store for the casks (a lot of the small casks are used in the Carnicería restaurant).

They only produce cask beer at the Brewhouse and this is distributed all over the local area with a lot of co-operation between the Yorkshire microbreweries. Ian stated that they just don't have the space or the time to bottle in-house and so tanks of beer are shipped to Scarborough for bottling.

It's great to see that the Nook Brewhouse is doing so well and how much they are part of the local community. They have an annual beer festival in August and were also planning to hold a lot of events for the Holmfirth Food & Drink Festival that coming weekend.

After thanking Ian I headed back into The Nook pub for lunch and to try some of their beers. It really is a lovely pub - a spacious outside beer garden beside the river, a fairly large lounge...

a games area...

and a cosy bar full of books, mirrors, water jugs and lots & lots of cartoons. The bar is where all the customers congregated at lunchtime with everyone (young and old) sharing tables and a number of (quite!) serious 10p domino games going on.

I sat at the bar and worked my way through some of the Nook Brewhouse beers - on were the York (traditional bitter), Blond, Oak Stout & Red (but none of the interesting berry/chilli/cherry/orange flavoured specials) as well as 4 guest beers (Magic Rock Curious, Brew Company Hop Ripper, Green Jack Excelsior & Partners Shoddy Porter). All the Nook beers were excellent & really well conditioned, with the Red being especially impressive - a smooth malty amber ale with a good spicy after-taste, almost like a modern Scottish 70/-. To help me with the beers I'd ordered the Pie of the Day (Meat & Potato) from the great choice of lunchtime food - thankfully that morning I hadn't ordered breakfast as there was enough on the plate to do me the entire day.

After leaving The Nook I decided to have a quick look around Holmfirth. Just up from The Nook I found this, which looked more & more familiar the closer I came to it.

I'd been so focused on The Nook Brewhouse in Holmfirth that I'd completely missed the town's main claim to fame - that the BBC's 'Last of the Summer Wine' series is/was filmed there - doh! The steps/close are, of course, where Nora Batty had to fend off Compo and I also found Sid's Café - a real Café (though the outside was not so inviting in the rain).

The rain had actually started to ease off so I walked back to Brockholes rather than take the bus into Huddersfield. Just beware that the steep hill back up to Brockholes Station is a killer and to leave plenty of time to get back up there.

I'd hoped to perhaps have a look around Summer Wine Brewery just up the road in Honley but they're not really setup for visitors and were also far too busy at the end of the week to see me, but they did point me in the direction of a great new beer shop in the centre of Huddersfield, the Hand Drawn Monkey (HDM) Beer Shop.

They've only been open since June and are fairly similar in operation to The Inn Beer Shop that I'd visited in Southport - lots of fantastic bottled beer and also (very recently) a license to serve cask & kegged beer - it's a cracking place with permanent Summer Wine taps and an excellent & diverse bottled beer menu to peruse.

The owner Rob (always seen with hat) is a really passionate & knowledgeable guy who used to work (and brew) in one the city's many great pubs, the Rat & Ratchet. We got chatting a few times and it seems he's been occasionally brewing for the shop and hopes to do this on a more permanent basis when Huddersfield-based Mallinsons move out to larger premises. He'll then setup a special line for the in-house beer.

By then it was Friday evening and definitely pub time. Huddersfield has some absolutely superb pubs, and there's no way I could do them justice in a single pub crawl of a couple of hours (for more information see this local blog). However I would have to say that The Grove is up there with the best pubs I've ever been to in the UK - a fantastic beer choice (cask, keg & bottle - I caught Magic Rock's The Big Top), great friendly staff willing to chat away about beer & just an laid-back ambience of people enjoying their beer at the end of a week - fabulous.

I came back to the HDM Beer Shop at 10:01am on Saturday morning to pick up some interesting beer before my 3 train journey back home. I couldn't take too much but at least I managed to get the Summer Wine barrel-aged KopiKat beers as well as a couple from Atlantic Brewery in Cornwall that I hadn't seen before and a French Witbier (Colomba). These will be a great reminder of my Derbyshire/Yorkshire trip.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Buxton Brewery to Sheffield: 20th September 2012

I stayed at a B&B in Buxton for a single night during my Derbyshire/Yorkshire trip and my plan for the following day was to have a quick look at where the excellent Buxton Brewery beers are made and then take the train up to Whaley Bridge in the High Peak, walk to Chinley and the award-winning Old Hall Inn for lunch and then take another train to Sheffield and visit Abbeydale Brewery - it was definitely going to be a tight schedule.

View Buxton in a larger map

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Buxton to Whaley Bridge (Northern Rail)
            Chinley to Dore & Totley (Northern Rail)
  Bus: Dore to Abbeydale Road/Heely (98, First)

It's a good 30 minute walk from Buxton town centre to the large Staden Industrial Estate where Buxton Brewery is located (immediately next door is a slightly more visible Aquatic & Exotic Pets Shop!)

Formed back in 2008 by Geoff Quinn & Richard Garnett they moved into the current premises in late 2009, only about 100 metres from the Buxton water spring which they use in the brewing process, and now have the innovative James Kemp (ex-Thornbridge) as head brewer. When I walked in Geoff Quinn (literally) had hid head in the 10 bbl copper and was busy setting this up so I went upstairs to have a chat with Pete Clark, who handles the majority of Buxton's sales. He was just back from a week's holiday and a day off ill so it was really good of him to give me some time.

The first thing I noticed were a couple of the beers that were going to the De Molen Borefts Festival the next week - the Barrel Aged Tsar Special Reserve No.1, Smokey & the Band Aid (an Imperial Smoked Rye Porter) and Tsar Bomba, fermented using Brettanomyces yeast).

Pete mentioned that the Special Reserve No.1 is going to be a very rare beer indeed (only 108 bottles) and will be priced accordingly (the actual price was still being 'discussed') and also that it was he himself who has the bottles of Courage Russian Imperial Stout dating back to the 1970's and from where the brett yeast has been rescued for use in the Tsar Bomba (the 30+ year old Courage Russian Imperial Stout is also meant to still be excellent !).

Pete then took me on a quick look around of the brewery floor. They have 5 & 10 barrel mash tuns & coppers, with the smaller equipment being from the Wild Walker Brewery which Buxton bought out in 2009. There are now 4 smaller Fermenting Vessels and 2 new larger Fermenters, so their brewing issue at the moment is not the capacity of the Fermenters but getting the beer through the the mash tuns & coppers.

There's also a large cold store for the casks and the hops (I suspect this is Mr Kemp's domain)...

and a warm store for the bottled beer. They currently bottle by hand using a 4 bottle system. The beer comes from the tank or from a cask (with no finings) and they can do 1200 bottles in a day - tough work !

They are also starting to keg their beer - it is chilled to 2 degrees centigrade, CO2 is added and the beer is simply left for the protein to drop out. There is no pasteurisation or filtering of the beer (and I have no idea why I didn't take a picture of the kegger - sigh...).

In such a relatively short length of time Buxton now produce a great range of beers (not including the one off specials as above) which sell to both the local area and nationwide through various regional wholesalers, eg Craftcentric in Scotland & the N. East. It's definitely cutting-edge 'Craft Beer' and I'd have to say their Black IPA (Imperial Black) is probably the best around (perhaps with Magic Rock Magic 8 Ball) - only in my humble opinion of course!

As I left Pete 'persuaded' me to take a bottle of Dark Nights (many thanks - I left more shortbread) and I headed back into Buxton. The town itself seems a nice enough place, but I really I didn't really manage to get much of a look around it at all. Although it's still called a Spa town, the great Victorian Natural Baths building has now been converted into shops.

I then got on the train to Manchester for the fairly short journey to Whaley Bridge. From here it was a walk along the Peak Forest Canal until its terminus at Bugsworth Basin after which I followed the Black Brook along a couple of miles of public footpath until Chinley.

Immediately after a large plastics factory I came upon a sign for the Old Hall Inn (yet another thing I like about the Peak District - helpful signposts for pubs).

They were setting up for their annual Beer Festival being held over the coming weekend (which I'd missed by a day and probably just as well, I think I would have been tempted to stay there all afternoon).

It's a really nicely set-out pub (dating back to the 16th Century). A small snug area (with only 2 or 3 tables)...

a larger drinking area & a lot more tables further back into the pub and nice, friendly staff.

On the walls are lots of awards, brewery mirrors and other beer related memorabilia including a cut-out schematic of Marston's Burton-Upon-Trent brewery and this collection of Marston's Head Brewers Choice pump-clips from 1963.

On at the bar(s) were a great selection of 8 beers & 2 ciders, including Engine Vein by The Cheshire Brewhouse, a brewery which I'd never seen before (when I come cross this situation it's got to be tried) - it was certainly a decent bitter with some spicy First Gold hops at the end, nice & refreshing. After a full English Breakfast at my B&B in Buxton I decided on just a bowl of soup for lunch - white onion this time with some lovely warm bread.

From the Old Hall Inn it was only a 10 minutes walk to Chinley train station. The trains on this line are 2 hours apart outwith the rush hour so thankfully I was able to catch this with a few minutes to spare.

This connection from Manchester to Sheffield via Chinley is the Hope Valley Line and some of the stations (and scenery) I went through on my way across the northern part of the Peak District were stunning, but I couldn't stop (this time) - I had to make my appointment with Abbeydale Brewery.

I got off at Dore & Totley (the stop before Sheffield) and took the 98 bus most of the way up Abbeydale Road. The brewery is definitely not the easiest place to find, but I'd have to say it was most worthwhile. I've put my visit to Abbeydale Brewery on a separate blog here.

After the visit I walked into Sheffield city centre past the impressive Madina Mosque, built in 2006 for over £5 Million...

and also the Crucible Theatre, home to the Snooker World Championship.

I obviously visited quite a few of the fantastic pubs in Sheffield, but to-be-honest, these are reviewed in far more detail than I could possibly do (especially on a single, busy Thursday evening) in some of the local guides and blogs. I'll possibly post a few exterior pics at some point later.

Friday, 28 September 2012

A tour of Abbeydale Brewery in Sheffield: 20th September 2012

I had tried quite a few of Abbeydale Brewery's pale'n'hoppy beers before at various Beer Festivals and had been very impressed with them - great aromas & nice New-World hoppiness. As I'd decided to spend a night in Sheffield during my Derbyshire/Yorkshire trip I thought I'd contact them to see if a look around the brewery was possible, even though it seemed as if they didn't have a shop, a visitor centre or perform any official tours - you can but try. Thankfully (somewhat to my surprise) Dan Baxter from Abbeydale did e-mail me back and since I had come from a fair distance away, was happy to see me for a short time on Thursday afternoon - beer people are great!

View Abbeydale in a larger map

I got off the Manchester-Sheffield train at Dore & Totley, the stop before Sheffield, and took the bus most of the way up Abbeydale Road - I decided that this was easier than try to find my way through the Sheffield city centre crowds. Turning into Aizlewood Road, the address given for Abbeydale Brewery, it was not (at all) obvious that there was a brewery almost on top of me.

I went under(!) an office block towards what I though was a used car centre, but then spied the Abbeydale Brewery sign and some of the tell-tale trappings of a micro-brewery - phew!

One of the guys pointed me upstairs towards the offices & there I met Dan Baxter, Abbeydale's Sales Manager, occasional brewer and who also oversees the brewery's Social Media interaction (and hence fellow blogger!).

They'd just had a Health and Safety inspection that morning (and passed with flying colours), and as mentioned, don't have any facilities for the 'public' at all, but Dan was good enough to spend a ridiculous amount of time with me - many thanks for this.

We started with the malt (you can see the bag of this in the previous pic). This is milled on the ground and then pumped/funnelled on high into the Mash Tun - unusual to say the least - it just seems to be the way it's always been done at Abbeydale.

Their brew length is now close to 30 bbl and they brew up to 7 days a week and sometimes twice a day.

And here after the copper is another Hop Back, physically different to the one that I saw at Thornbridge, but it performs the same function - to maximise surface contact between the hot wort from the copper & the hops and so extract as much of the fragile hop oils as possible for the final taste & aroma. Dan let me get get my nose into (at at least close to) this and the smell was amazing - seriously hoppy!

All that brewing means that there are a lot of Fermenting Vessels, 5x 10 bbl vessels & 2x 30 bbl vessels - a lot of stainless steel. When Sheffield CAMRA went through a survey of all/most of the real ale pubs in Sheffield on a single day, Abbeydale Moonshine was the most popular beer - that's a pretty impressive accolade in a beer city such as Sheffield, so it's not surprising that Moonshine fills the larger fermenters more often than not.

Which means there are also a lot of Conditioning Tanks - the large 30 bbl ones are used for Moonshine & Deception.

The Cold Store was fairly empty - since it was a Thursday afternoon most of the casks were now sitting in the cellars of the pubs for the weekend.

The cold store also held all the hops - there were lots of New World & more traditional hops in there.

One (almost) unique system they are trialling at Abbeydale is the in-house treatment of the effluent from the brewery. Normally this 'just' goes down the drain and the brewery gets hit with a sizeable tax bill from the local council for this. Instead they're trying to perform a similar function to the local treatment centre and so pay less tax - this could be a great system if it all works out as Dan hopes it will.

Dan was then good enough to get me a couple of samples from the Conditioning Tanks. As I hadn't tried any of their darker beers before I tried a Black Mass (lots of dark chocolate & coffee, it doesn't seem 6.66% at all) and a Dr Morton's Clown Poison (full of lovely spicy galena hops). All the pump-clip artwork for Abbeydale's beers are impressive but the Dr Morton's ones especially so - Dan just lets artist Ivan Bradley completely let his imagination run riot on these! Unfortunately Abbeydale have discontinued their Last Rites 11% abv pale barley wine which was lagered for more 100 days - it's just become too expensive because of the increased duty on beers over 7.5%. Supposedly the final casks of this were going for silly amounts of money last Christmas.

Abbeydale don't bottle any of their beers, they focus purely on cask beer which is somewhat unusual (at least up Scotland way) and just shows the number of pubs in South Yorkshire which take real ale. For Quality Control purposes Abbeydale have to keep samples of their beer and Dan was incredibly kind enough to give me a bottle of Deception - there are not many of these about (outwith the brewery anyway)!

Dan's now a Director of Abbeydale and has plans for a possible visitor centre & bar and I hope this all comes about. Abbeydale has definitely grown a lot more organically than Thornbridge mostly I guess because they've stayed at the same location, but they are certainly both producing lots of interesting, innovative and tasty beers.

And as a neat book-end to the visit, I saw this pump-clip for Fargate S-1 (an area of Sheffield) in one of the local pubs - I like the sci-fi sense of humour in this!