Thursday, 19 June 2014

A dam fyne hike around FyneFest: 14th June 2014

FyneFest 2014 was going to be big. All the tickets for the weekend had been sold, the sun was going to shine (for the Saturday at least) and there were going to be some great beers available (including an incredible 34 from Fynes Ales, collabs & all). It was definitely the place to be this weekend.

View FyneFest 2014 in a larger map

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Coach: Glasgow to Loch Fyne Oyster Bar (CityLink 926, frequent).

On leaving the 926 Citylink I met Jason (the main man from the State Bar in Glasgow) & his missus and together we walked along the main road to the old bridge at the head of Loch Fyne (a favourite place for a police speed-trap and doing a roaring trade today). On heading up the narrow driveway to Fyne Ales it seemed as if there were more people leaving the site than coming in; I can only assume they were going in search of cooked breakfast somewhere. Just in front of the Visitor Centre & Tap the new £2 Million Fyne Ales brewhouse expansion seemed to be almost finished; it'll certainly make some difference to the distribution of Fyne Ales beers nationwide and further afield.
(June 2013 - Old Sheep Shed)

(June 2014 - New Brewery)

I left Jason contemplating the great choice of beer in the Tap and walked down to the main FyneFest site, fairly quiet at ~11:15am, although it was good to see a couple of my London-based friends already in the beer tent and they were the only ones at that moment sitting at the long bench tables, FyneFest beer glasses in hand.

We decided to head off straight away to the Walkers' Bar, ~3 miles of so up Glen Fyne. It's a great way to clear the head and walk up a thirst & an appetite and of course, the scenery and the wildlife on the way is pretty stunning (& pretty cute).

Just before reaching the Walkers' Bar I decided that since it was such a nice day, a walk further up the Glen to the large dam for the hydro-electric station was worthwhile, for curiosity's sake if nothing else. Following the right-hand fork for this took me almost directly over the Walkers' Bar which last year was inside the stone-bricked fishing/shooting hut/bothy. However the roof of this had collapsed during the winter gales and so the great FyneFest people had instead erected a small marquee for all the thirsty walkers.

Continuing on my trek to the dam it was a fairly constant steepish incline all the way up the side of the hill, and before the path made a sharp right-angle turn there were some great views down the length of Glen Fyne with the head of Loch Fyne visible in the distance.

It was probably an energetic hike of 35 minutes or so from the fork in the path near the Walkers' Bar before I came in sight of the Allt-Na Lairge Dam. Built in 1956 it's not the highest dam I've seen but, as always, there was still an impressive plume of water from the spillway causing a continuous rumble of white noise and the occasional fine spray of mist (very welcoming today).

It was far easier coming down the hillside than up (although probably worse on the knees) and I managed to get back down to the Walkers' Bar a fair bit before it was due to close. By now there were *a lot* of people here and they'd managed to drink the temporary bar dry of cask beer (bottles were still available until they closed) - this was some of the detritus at the end of the lunchtime session.

And there was a long (but good-natured) queue for burgers (I was pretty ravenous). The FyneFest people manning this didn't flag despite the heat and after a long wait (a larger BBQ next year, please) I got the 2nd last cheeseburger (everyone did get a burger) and went to sit on the bridge over the River Fyne with this and my growler of Arbor Motueka (a lovely bitter grapefruit session beer).

After that it was time to walk back to the main FyneFest site. By now the car-park, campsite & beer tent had filled up considerably and there were (normally) queues approx. 6-8 deep at the main bar from now on (although since it was tokens-only the queues did move pretty quickly). The beers on at the time were put up on a couple of huge tetris-style beer boards and these did have the tendency to change really quickly; some of the more interesting & one-off beers only lasted maybe 2 hours or so. My favourites from the huge choice on offer were the Fyne Ales/Hanging Bat Brew Co. intense juniper berry collab BatFynk, Cromarty's light & refreshing Flemish Session Ale and (douze points for this) Ilkley's Marie Jaune, with a lovely smooth body, but still spicy from the French hops & yeast.

I headed back up to the Tap where the Pub Quiz had just started and found the courtyard absolutely mobbed. The compère commented that she had only expected about 25 people and not 250, but she still managed to organise the quiz pretty well, with only a small amount of good-natured (perhaps slightly drunken) heckling. I guess the nice thing about the quiz was that it would be 'completely' fair - it wasn't possible to cheat using a smartphone (there was absolutely no 3/4G phone signal), and I couldn't even get the Tap WiFi to work.

After an outstanding pint of Fyne Ales Jarl (it always tastes better at source) and buying a couple of beers from the Tap's increasing impressive bottled beer selection, I headed back down to the beer tent where the sun had come out (as well as swarms of those pesky midges). Inside it was good to see The Good Spirits Co. people providing spirits & cocktails and the guys from Hippo Beers had a bottled beer bar under the outside teepee complete with straw bales to sit on - with all the music it was almost like a good ol' fashioned hoedown.

And as well as all the 'normal' great music there was an audience participation FyneFest Choir (which I missed, damn), loads of food (I had some spicy tomato pasta soup with really tasty home-made bread), hand-ground coffee, massage/relaxation from Sephora Health & Beauty and even yoga sessions.

I had to leave at about half-past seven to get my bus back to Glasgow and at that time the sun was just disappearing behind the hills leaving me with a great final view of FyneFest 2014. Many thanks to all those involved in it and I look forward immensely to FyneFest 2015.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Mitchell Krause Brewing, Workington & Maryport on the Cumbria Coast: 7th June 2014

I'd taken advantage of a great offer from Virgin Trains to purchase some tickets down the West Coast Main Line and hoped to go down to Lancaster and visit Lancaster Brewery and their Brewhouse & Tap. However when I contacted them this week I'd found out that they'd been 'invaded' by an all-day function on Saturday so instead I decided to head to Workington on the Cumbria coast. There I could visit Mitchell Krause Brewing who had just recently installed their own shiny new brewkit to brew their interesting continental-style beers.

View Workington in a larger map

Outward transport was as follows :-
  Train: Glasgow Central to Carlisle (08:40, 09:40 and others, Virgin Trains)
  Train: Carlisle to Workington (~40 on the hour during the day, Northern Trains)

The morning started out glorious but threatened to turn increasingly thundery the further south I got. After a quick detour to one of the Wetherspoons in Carlisle to watch the end of the New Zealand-England rugby match I got onto the slow train to Workington, about 30 miles away on the Cumbria coast. It had just started to pour down as I stepped out of the train station but thankfully owner/brewer Graeme Mitchell had offered to pick me up (many, many thanks for this as I would have been a drowned rat if I had tried to walk up the brewery). The brewery is located on the outskirts of Workington on Graeme's parents' farm (and where he & his family now live as well) and is officially named 'The Tractor Shed' as the premises - well - used to house tractors!

Graeme's been in the beer industry for quite a while ('forever') and spent time at Whitbred (which then divested most of its brewing assets to Interbrew) & Carlsberg amongst others, helping to launch products such as Starporamen in the UK and Boddingtons in the US. After moving back to Cumbria he decided to found Mitchell Krause Brewing and launch a number of his own Continental/US/'non-Real Ale' beers in 2009 on his own brewery. However the global Credit Crunch put paid to the finance for his own brewery at that particular time and he was forced to cuckoo-brew at a number of breweries including Hepworths, Bitter End & Hardknott. However since early 2013 he has managed to renovate and refit the aforementioned Tractor Shed, install a custom 12BBL brew-kit fabricated in Burton (there's a great time lapse video of all of this) and finally has been brewing his own beers since April 2013.

At the front of the brewery there's also a small modern bar/brewery tap where all the Mitchell Krause beers are available on draught and also in bottled form. He currently brews 3 of his own beers here, a Czech-style Pilsner(#1), an American Pale Ale(#2) and a Bavarian Hefe Weiss(#3), all of which draw on his travel & experience in the beer industry, and which are brewed with authentic regional malt & hops & completely different yeast strains - it's deliberately a bit different to the 'typical' real-ale microbrewery or brewpub in Cumbria of which there are ~35 as of 2014. Today the pilsner and the hefe weiss were available on shiny keg fonts (served at ~6C) with the American Pale Ale on hand-pull which seems to be the norm for all 3 beers. The tap is normally only open after brewery tours but he's also going to open it for some of the World Cup games - a few tasty hefeweissen during some of the matches would be great!

Graeme then led me around the brewkit at the far end of the shed. Interestingly the malt gets wetted initially at floor level from the Hot Liquor Tank before being pumped into mash tun where it's further hydrated for an hour and sparged. It's then transferred into the copper where 3x 18KW heating elements are used to bring it to the boil. It's a fair amount of electricity and Graeme would like to do something with either solar or biomass power in the near future as well as possibly installing a reed-based liquid recycling system.

The pilsner is fermented at a temperature of 10-12C for a couple of couple of weeks and then racked out into these 2 large plastic tanks to be sent to Lakeland Breweries in Cockermouth for lagering at -1C for a couple of more weeks before being kegged or bottled. Graeme let me have a taste of this out of the fermenting vessel as it was close to being racked and although it was definitely cloudy, it tasted great with a more bready, earthy flavour coming through than I would have thought. It'd be great to sell this unfiltered (as WEST Beer in Glasgow do with Wild WEST) but although it's (fairly) easy to educate people about a cloudy lager in a brewpub it's far more difficult in a remote country pub (there would probably be a lot of returns). The hefe weiss was also fermenting away today, is made with 55% wheat and so is naturally cloudy, and is both fermented and kegged in-house (bottling is still done in Cockermouth). I managed a taste of this out of the fermenter as well and it was fantastic - loads of cloves & lemon in the aroma and a lovely body with great texture. The bottled version of the hefe weiss is effectively bottle conditioned and (much to Graeme's surprise) recently won a local CAMRA bottled ale prize!

When Graeme runs brewery tours he tries to explain the wide range of beers that are possible, his beers in particular and how they are all inter-related using one of the great Pop Chart Lab prints - in this case 'The Very Many Varieties of Beer' - every brewery should have one of these!

As well as his 3 core beers Graeme plans to brew a darker beer for the winter, probably as authentic as possible an Irish Dry Stout and he also produced this experimental beer to try - a chilli infused beer. It had a really nice chilli kick in the finish but I'd have to say I definitely prefer chilli in darker beers.

Graeme also mentioned that a change of name is being seriously mooted. Mitchell Krause Brewing (the Krause is his mother's maiden name) does sound quite formal and perhaps old fashioned (though I do actually like it) and instead the new name is likely to be Tractor Shed Brewing - it'll be interesting to see how any re-branding plans pan out in the next 6 months or so.

Graeme is rightly really proud to have brought brewing back to Workington. The last brewery in the town was Workington Brewery on Ladies Walk, a very distinctive green building with a huge chimney tower (which is visible from Graeme's parents' farm and can also be made out in the external brewery photo above). After being taken over by S&N it was closed only a few years later in 1988 with remarks made in Parliament that S&N had 'deceived the people of Workington in an unparalleled manner'. Graeme was kind enough to drop me off in the centre of Workington and I went in search of this. It's a lovely collection of buildings, previously a brewery, maltings and lots of warehouses which have now been turned into flats, but I guess at least it's something that the name survives outside.

Also in the centre of Workington is an interesting piece of public art masquerading as a fully working clock, Lookout. The hours are on a ring above the sphere and the minutes set on the floor, so the correct time at this point is ~12:45pm.

The clock was definitely telling me it was time to look for somewhere to shelter from the rain and so I headed into the old part of Workington. I'd hoped the Green Dragon Hotel would be open for a beer & lunch, but it was definitely closed, so I headed around the corner to the Commercial Inn.

It's a Jennings pub with only their range of beers available (+ Martsons, Wychwood etc...), so I took a pint of Sneck Lifter (more intensely malty & spicy than I remembered, quite good on a dreich day) and sat down at the front of the single roomed pub. There's a lot of dark wood panelling & dark red carpets here, but it's brightened up by quite a few interesting mirrors and some sparkly floor-to-ceiling support pillars. And it's definitely a horse-racing hot-bed, booking slips were available and the TVs (including a huge one up on the mezzanine level) were all tuned into to the preview of today's Derby at Epsom Downs.

I didn't think I had enough time to drop into another pub for food so I purchased a selection of sliders from M&S, managed a quick 1/2 of the latest US collab beer (Adnams/Societe The Publican) in The Henry Bessemer Wetherspoons (a nice conversion of an old cinema) and headed back to the train station. My plan was either to get the train straight to Maryport and wander around for a bit or get off at the stop before (Flimby) and walk to Maryport. It was still raining pretty heavily but I think my brain sub-consciously decided that it was easing off so I decided on the walk. About 10 minutes after getting off at Flimby I concluded that was probably a bad/wet idea but I soldiered on in the incessant rain. The path to Maryport follows the coast and on a good day there are meant to be great views over to Scotland, but today I was just happy when Maryport marina and harbour came into view.

There seemed to be a fair number of pubs & restaurants to choose from both at the harbour and up into Shipping Brow towards the town centre and it was there that I was rescued by the Lifeboat Inn.

Inside there were a few other people drying off and enjoying the special of fresh cod-and-chips (great for £4.95) but I was happy to head to the bright bar and take in the 3 beers that were on from the 4 hand-pulls - Cumbrian Legendary Loweswater Gold, Jennings Bitter and Derwent Carlisle State Bitter. I had high hopes of the Carlisle State Bitter since it was meant to be brewed to a old Carlisle State Management Brewery recipe but although it was a decently balanced golden bitter there was a slight astringent finish which led me to believe it was just about on the turn - the perils of real ale.

It's a nice, cosy pub with a fair amount of seats in a couple of side sections off from the main bar and a beer garden out the back (only in use by the fishes today). The walls & shelves are full of old nautical bric-a-brac, photographs of streets, trams & castles and also newspaper clippings regarding the Titanic - the founders of the White Star Line which owned & built the Titanic started off life in Maryport and there was still a lot of pride in the company at the time of the Titanic's demise. Also on the wall was a mirror from yet another old Cumbrian brewery, this time Maryport Brewery; there really were a lot of breweries around the Cumbrian ports in years gone by (as there were around most port cities).

Having dried out somewhat I went in search of cake (found at Kemps of Maryport) and beer (found at a Polish/Lithuanian food shop, Little World Foods, although the Švyturys Gintarinis was a fairly bland pilsner, nothing like the one from Mitchell Krause). However I had better luck when back in Carlisle - I simply googled 'Off License near Carlisle Station', discounted all the usual suspects, followed the train line for a bit and, hey-presto, under a railway arch I eventually found Corkscrew Wines (and a sign for Local Beers, always promising).

Unsurprisingly given the name of the place there's an impressive selection of wine but true to their sign there was a display of beers setup on a wine barrel in the centre of the shop. And with bottles from Geltsdale & Derwent breweries available I chose 2 of each and went happily, if still a bit damp, dishevelled & wrinkled, on my way back to Glasgow.

Return transport:-
  Train: Maryport to Carlisle (15:33, but normally ~25/30 on the hour)
  Train: Carlisle to Glasgow Central (frequent)

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

A Visit to Belleville Brewing: 31st May 2014

This weekend was to be my once-a-year cricket weekend with my Dad, with a trip to Lord's, the home of cricket, for the England-Sri Lanka One Day International on the Saturday (a cracking game!). Since we were staying in the Fulham/Putney area it was a great opportunity to make the relatively short trip out to Belleville Brewing in nearby Wandsworth on the Friday afternoon before the cricket for an informal visit & tour.

View Belleville in a larger map

Travel was as follows:-
  Train: Wandsworth Common (South-East Trains)

I'd wanted to try some Belleville Brewing beers ever since a London-based friend had been impressed with them after trying them in her local pub, The Earl Ferrers in Streatham. I then managed to find a couple myself at both the Larbert and Alloa Beer Festivals (run by Forth Valley CAMRA, I don't know how they managed to get them north-of-the-border) and I was (more than) suitably impressed myself.

After arranging a time & date with Belleville Brewing we arrived about 30 minutes late into Putney due to due to a 'missing staff member at Preston', definitely a new 'excuse' to me. We then had to walk to Putney mainline station, change at Clapham Junction, walk over about 1,000,015 platforms (OK, exaggeration by about 1,000,000) and get the connecting train to Wandsworth Common station. The road on the east side of the station is Jaggard Way - it's basically a lot of industrial units (not railway arches, damn!) and No. 36 used to be a print shop but is now the Belleville Brewing Co. There weren't too many tell-tale signs of this outside but I did spy a couple of bags of malt at the front door.

We headed inside and were met by head brewer (and currently only full time employee) Adrian Thomas who was washing & cleaning-up after a brew today (it's a glamorous life brewing) but who was kind enough to chat away for quite some time and let us have a look around the brewery (as always beer people are great). In his previous life Adrian was a full-time musician (he had played guitar & keyboards with Mike Oldfield amongst others) but had been been thinking about taking the plunge into brewing for quite some time (he was/is a keen home-brewer). What seems to have given him the impetus to brew commercially was a couple of road-trips up the East Coast of the US visiting loads of breweries - SweetWater, Red Brick, Victory, Brooklyn, Sam Adams and a whole lot more especially in the state of Maine (sounds like my type of trip). Adrian then met some like-minded 'Dads' at his local school (Belleville Primary) who were seriously impressed with his US-biased hop-forward homebrewing skills and together the 10 or so of them were able to raise the necessary capital (~£60K to date) to lease the industrial unit (literally only around the corner from Adrian's home) and then buy the brew-kit and the other pieces of ancillary equipment. It's a custom 5BBL brew-kit complete with hot liquor tank, mash tun, copper and a couple of fermenting vessels.

Adrian had been brewing the Thames Surfer US-IPA today which has a lot of citra hops added late on in the boil - these were the remnants and consisted of still almost complete hop flowers which had a wonderful strong, almost pungent grapefruity aroma.

Adrian uses a small amount of finings in the cask beers but is hoping to do away with these together as he gets to grips with the relatively new conditioning tanks.

There's a large cool room used to store the beer (both cask and bright) which is needed for those damnable high London temperatures (at least compared to Glasgow) - the distinctive blue-and-white casks carry the colours of Belleville Primary School (as are industrial unit's shutters).

Currently Adrian bottles by hand (the other investers also help out at the Sunday night bottling session) and is quite happy keep things that way. He uses a small amount of sugar syrup and then the beer normally drops almost completely bright with some very slight sediment; he thinks that any 'tanker' shipment out to the big bottling places would make the beer taste quite different to what he thinks it should taste like (interestingly Tempest and Magic Rock seem to hold a similar opinion).

Adrian's obviously trying for US-style, hop-forward intense flavours (but still with balance) in his beers, indeed the brewery tag-line is 'Beers from over there, brewed over here'. They are mostly named after local features or events and include Battersea Brownstone (US Brown Ale), Commonside Pale Ale (strongish Pale Ale), Northcote Blonde (Golden Ale/Pilsner hybrid) and Thames Surfer (US-IPA) as well as (at least) 4 other seasonal beers with interesting seasonal, sometimes foraged ingredients which he mostly picks himself. Adrian's pretty happy with them at the moment but he thinks the new conditioning tanks will definitely help in terms of repeatable quality and intensity of flavour. Belleville started brewing back in January of 2013 and were only going for a few months before getting a 'Cease & Desist' letter completely out-of-the-blue from the lawyers at AB-Inbev regarding the 'similarity' of the name to the AB-Inbev Belgian Belle-Vue fruit beer products (see Daily Mail link, sorry).

Things were in limbo for a while (a possible name change to 'Northcote Brewing' was mooted) but eventually common sense prevailed and Belleville were able to keep their name and not have to destroy any associated labels & pump-clips.

They sell a fair amount of cask beer to local pubs but hardly make an appearance north of the Thames (so are really only seen in a 3-4 mile radius from the brewery) and don't have any tie-ups with national 'Craft Beer' distributors (e.g. New Wave) that some of the new London breweries have had from day 1. What they do have a lot of is on-sales at the brewery (especially on a Saturday) - this is to individuals, clubs, craft fairs, markets, schools fairs, garden fetes etc... and includes bottles, growlers and polypins (with 5L minicasks also a possibility). They also have The Belleville Beer Club, with annual & season memberships for cases of beer, and all of these cut out the supermarkets and sell to the people who want decent beer at home, but can't necessarily get to the pub too often because of family commitments. Judging by the amount of packaging in front of the brewery it seems to be a very successful method of selling to local customers.

Adrian's got some expansion plans in his head which would involve a fairly easy migration to a 10BBL (perhaps even 15BBL) brew-length, but after that larger premises would probably be needed (as well as a couple of additional people) and since that would almost definitely mean moving outside the local area it's not really a path he would countenance going down. It's an interesting philosophy and we chatted about it, beer in general, the fire at the Glasgow School of Art and the newly opened Drygate Brewing Co. in Glasgow's east-end over samples of Northcote Blonde and Chestnut Porter (I left a Fyne Ales Landslide for him, Fyne Ales and Williams Brothers being the 2 breweries he really admires in Scotland). Adrian then pointed us in the direction of a local beer shop, The Beer Boutique in Putney, which was (by happy co-incidence) an easy diversion on the way back to the hotel.

There's a nice relaxed feel about the place, with lots of beers & fancy glasses covering the shelves of most of the 3 walls and then wooden tables and the odd beer barrel in the centre of the shop where you can sit and open any of the beers and have a relaxing drink whilst reading or web-surfing. The staff were really friendly & helpful, pointed out the new London beers (from a choice of over 400) and I managed to get a great selection of mostly local beer (OK, I also took the new Siren White IPA, but Berkshire is fairly local) for the cricket match the next day.