Mashtun and Meow

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Buxton Tap House

An impromptu camping trip to the peaks brought us merrily to Buxton - and at a great time too. You might have noticed we're big fans of Buxton Brewery (you can find our review of Battle Horse here, and see how Two Ton IPA got our anniversary off to a cracking start here) and a visit to their homeland was long overdue. Our trip fortuitously coincided with a tap takeover from Stockholm's finest, Omnipollo, which was truly something to behold - featuring twelve of some of the most outlandish gypsy brews we've ever come across, served both via cask and keg, in the low ceilinged and cosily decorated snug of the Buxton Tap.


Our opening round was of a glass of Magic #4.21 and Magic #90,000, the former a raspberry and vanilla smoothie IPA and the latter made with blueberry, pecan, almond and again vanilla. Both of these beers were richened and emboldened with lactose, giving body to the fresh fruitiness of the berries. The raspberry IPA was a lip smacker at every sip, and the blueberry version, whilst the nuttiness was not overly pronounced, was bold and tart with fruitiness and had an inviting cheesecake-style aroma.

To follow we had Bianca (6%), surely the first (and perhaps only!) mango lassi gose. Mango puree provided a tropical hit, with lactose to add to the body, and salt which prevented everything from being too sickly. Fairly odd, but an interesting and tasty beverage. To accompany this, Mr. M had the similarly bonkers-sounding protein shake IIPA, reportedly made with pure protein, which gave a chewiness to the beer that balanced really well with the hop bitterness. Who knew 8% double IPAs worked so well with Ovaltine flavours?!

It was at this point that we intended to buy some of the food that had been specifically curated for the takeover event, but as we reached 3 o'clock the menus were all removed from the table by a surly looking gent, who assured us that it was our mistake when we said the sign outside suggested food was available all day. Obviously if a chef wants a break in the quieter middle period of the afternoon there's nothing wrong with that whatsoever, but we were a little taken aback by the rude treatment and (incorrect) information we received, and left in a bit of a hungry huff. EXHIBIT A.


However a chip butty from the local chippy followed by a pint of the always outstanding Titanic Plum Porter at the Cheshire Cheese down the road soon alleviated our disgruntlement, and we returned back to the Tap to be greeted by a new set of staff behind the bar - pleased to report these were all friendly and helpful. Perhaps the man from earlier was just hungry too...

Upon our return, menus had been placed back on the table, so we ordered a selection of the platters of the smoked food and a pair of half pints and retreated to conquer the rest of the spectacular beer. Ham hock terrine accompanied with a tomato salsa soon arrived, along with smoked duck with wilted spinach and garlic. On the side we opted for a chilli and garlic mac & cheese. 


The food went down beautifully with a couple of Buxton beers - the Rednik stout's light smoky nature balanced with the rest of the malt and paired really nicely with the ham hock, and Axe Edge IPA, who's hop character features Amarillo, Citra and Nelson Sauvin, worked well to cut through some of the fattiness of the duck.

Then we came to the main reason we travelled the hour from Sheffield... last year's Buxton and Omnipollo Rainbow Project collaboration, a peanut butter biscuit stout... Yellow Belly.


We're talking Yellow Belly not just on keg, not even just a barrel aged version with vanilla beans, cocoa nibs and lactose on cask, but also to top that all off a Yellow Belly candied bacon toffee cheesecake. This triumvirate of dark, sticky luxuriousness was just spectacular. With each iteration offering a different perspective, this was a treat that literally brought tears to Mrs M's eyes. The cask "Yellow Belly Sunday" at 12% was enormously rich and boozy, and tasted almost like there had been a shot of bourbon sneaked into the glass, with a smooth creamy sweetness that came through at the end. The standard version at a lowly 11%, served on keg, had an odd but pleasant bubbling sensation across the tongue from the carbonation, which soon died as the thickness of the almost treacle textured beer grew. In both versions, the lightly salted nut character of peanut butter came through intensely with a delicate biscuit maltiness. The cheesecake just exacerbated all of this deliciousness in spades - and we are now firmly of the opinion that all puddings should come with a liberal sprinkling of candied meat. Ridiculously good - this is one of the few colossally hyped beers that went further than just meeting our expectations and blew them out of the water.  

Having drunk our way through the majority of the beer board (bettered by our good beery pal Steve, who managed to sample them all... reckon Buxton should do medals for this) it was time for a stumble back to the tent ready for tomorrow's adventures with a Derbyshire Wayfarer.

Cheers,

J&L

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Magic Rock Tap, Huddersfield

We've been fans of Magic Rock beers for quite some time, and they're one of those that we always make a beeline for at the bar - their wonderfully juicy West Coast Pale Ale, High Wire (5.5%) is one of Laura's firm favourites (and luckily enough it's frequently available at one of our locals, the Rutland Arms) - and they're also making quite a name for themselves with some really special brews. We've been chomping at the bit to get to their brewery tap in Huddersfield since it opened in June this year, and finally made the trip through the glorious Yorkshire countryside last weekend.


We started off with something pretty light, Dancing Bear - a steam beer style pilsner weighing in at 4.5%. Refreshing and grassy, it was certainly a welcome opening act.

Next up was Big Top - an India Red Ale with humongous hop flavours, massively aromatic and tropical at 7.4%. Alongside this we grabbed ourselves a burger from Fat Hippo, usually Newcastle based but with a nifty little Burger Bar which travels around the country. The Tap invites along different food vendors each weekend, meaning there's always something different to try, and we were mightily impressed by the offering this week. We both picked the PB&J burger - succulent beef, perfectly cooked to order, topped with peanut butter and bacon jam, which may now be our new favourite condiment (a bold claim for a couple who have designated condiment shelves in both the cupboard and the fridge). Fat Hippo will be in Sheffield at the next Peddler market in October and we'd definitely recommend them to anyone in the area.


After filling our bellies, we were treated to a quick look around the new brewery itself, which has doubled production capacity for Magic Rock. The first brew had taken place just the day before, so everything was very shiny and new... we even got a sneak peek at the new canning line, which has now been officially announced! Watch this space...

Now then. Those really special brews we mentioned at the beginning of this post? Here goes. Firstly was Dark Arts stout - cocoa nib edition (6%), which had been aged in bourbon barrels for two years with cocoa nibs and vanilla added for the last few months. The aroma was incredible, intensely chocolatey and oh so inviting. On the palate was creamy chocolate with a dry pure cocoa backbone which prevented the beer from becoming cloying, and the vanilla coming through to enhance the flavours imparted by the barrel. As well as this treat, we also enormously enjoyed the Pedro Ximenez barrel aged Bearded Lady, a 10.5% imperial stout. Sumptuously sticky, it was rich with raisins and treacle whilst retaining a great level of balance, and was just a perfect example of just how good a barrel aged beer can be.


The whole experience of drinking at the Magic Rock Tap was just a delight - the staff were all friendly and keen to share their extensive knowledge of the beers on offer, the atmosphere and decor give you a great feel for what the brewery is all about, and everything is achingly "craft" without being in any way twattishly pretentious. A new favourite and definitely not to be missed!

Cheers,

J&L

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Summer gardens and growing your own

Something a little different today! We've finally got some summer weather here in Sheffield, and have been spending much more time out in our garden, dining al fresco and enjoying a refreshing beer or two in the sunshine. Laura was recently invited to judge a "Dream Summer Garden" competition run by Conservatory Land (you can read all about this and see all of the winning entries here) which has definitely provided us with more inspiration and so many of the boards proved that you don't need an enormous garden to create a beautiful space. Ours is fairly tiny, but after two and a half years of living here we've eventually managed to get it not only looking lovely, but also pretty productive - with a herb garden, vegetable plants, and a raspberry patch which started life as a single stick and is now giving us literally hundreds of fruits! We've also planted a random selection of wildflowers which have done a brilliant job of attracting bees and butterflies as well as adding some much needed splashes of colour.

Although they don't quite live up to the standard set by the Pinterest competition, here's a few snaps of our little garden...





Many thanks to Conservatory Land for inviting Mrs M to be a part of their competition, and hope all the winners had a wonderful time at the RHS Hyde Hall Flower Show!

Cheers,

L&J

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Italian beers from Birrificio Gjulia

Whilst Italy is not yet particularly well known in the UK for its craft beer production, there are more and more breweries now beginning to reach our shores and Gjulia is one of them. Made by Marco and Massimo Zorzettig, brothers with a family tradition which lies more in wine production than in brewing, all Gjulia's beers use malt grown on their very own land. The emphasis across the range is on sustainability, locality, and quality, which it certainly carries in absolute spades.

IPA, 5.8%
The newest release from Gjulia, created using their homegrown hops, this poured a little hazy, and we managed to work out from our very basic Italian that it's unfiltered and bottle conditioned. The vibrant aroma hits the nose full of fruit and juicy hop character. The bottle conditioning provides a beautiful carbonation that tingles along the tongue and hints towards a similar mouthfeel to a good white wine. Flavours of citrus, particularly pithy grapefruit, are vivid throughout, alongside a gently floral elderflower character. The hop flavours are bold without being out of balance, providing a pleasantly soft level of bitterness on the finish. Full-bodied, fruity and fresh.

Nostrana Organic Ale, 5%
Again slightly hazy, this blonde beer made entirely with organic ingredients was almost shimmery - gorgeous in the glass. On the nose, lightly perfumed with notes of orange blossom, delicate and dry with a tropical fruit esther character from the yeast. On the palate, there's tons of intense juicy fruits, in particular mandarin segments and passion fruit. This is coupled with a lovely crispness that is almost reminiscent of a Belgian-style pale ale. Refreshing and very elegant.





Overall, we were hugely impressed by the product coming out of Gjulia. The branding is superb and the bottles themselves look great, seemingly inspired by the Zorzettig brothers' background in winemaking. The beers can be approached in much the same way as a fine wine and worked really well with food - we went for homemade tagliatelle with smoked salmon, courgette and lemon to pair with the IPA, and pan fried pork fillets with apple and sweet potato to go alongside the Nostrana. With the growing demand for international beer that we're currently seeing in the UK, we certainly hope to see more of Birra Gjulia on these shores.

Cheers.

L&J

Disclaimer: we were kindly sent these two beers to review, however opinions are all our own. Many thanks to Birrificio Gjulia!

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Barrel Aged Beers from Siren Craft Brew

Siren are one of those breweries that you just can't help but get excited about. Established in 2012 with the intention of pushing barrel ageing to the fore, Siren have quickly become renowned for their innovative brews, and clever ways of crafting complex, intriguingly good beers. The brewery even contains a specially built ageing room to accommodate the many product lines and experiment with barrelled beers.

From Siren's most recent wave of barrel aged releases, Long Forgotten Journey is a barley wine flavoured with honey and orange peel and left to sit in a Grand Marnier cask. On the nose, it's initially quite boozy (as you'd probably expect from the 10% ABV), with wafts of light citrus, and a definite sweetness which lingers beyond that. The taste itself is fragrant and sweet, with a nicely robust fresh honey flavour tempering what can often be a pretty bold beer style in the form of a barley wine. A welcome pithy bitterness comes in right at the end. Undoubtedly absolutely yummy, but it tastes a little unfinished... with a best before date of 2018 on the bottle we were left wondering if we'd cracked this open too early, or if perhaps it would have benefitted from a little longer in the barrel. All the right flavours are there, but the overall impression doesn't quite have the harmony we've come to expect from a beer that's been barrel aged.

Which leads us quite nicely on to the second of this evening's beers: Maiden 2014. Like the Long Forgotten Journey, Maiden 2014 (11.1%) began life as a barley wine, but has undergone a more complex journey to reach the bottle... a journey which has taken time. Created from a multitude of barrels, and comprising 10% last year's Maiden release, the beer is meticulously selected and blended to produce a real labour of love. Hints of sherry come through on the nose with pleasing sweetness. At first sip light and delicate, the extra time left for the flavours to develop really comes through on the palate, which becomes sumptuously rich and well balanced, reminiscent of fruit cake. A dark chocolate bitterness hovers on the roof of the mouth for an age after drinking. A very well executed beer, to be sipped on in much the same way as a fine wine.


Patience is most definitely a virtue.

Cheers,

J&L

Sunday, 21 June 2015

The Great North West Homebrew Competition

It all began with a few drinks and a healthy debate about which homebrew group would win in a beer based duel. And so, organised by homebrew groups from Chester and Manchester (soon joined by others including Macclesfield and New Mills), the Great North West Homebrew Competition was born. Hosted at the super-cool BrewDog Manchester, with homebrewer and BrewDog man Tom at the helm, we arrived on a gloomy and humid Sunday morning looking forward to the proceedings.

Marking the beers were six judges - a triumverate of Jims from Salford Beer Festival, BrewDog Manchester, and our very own Mr M representing Blue Monkey, alongside Nathan from Seven Bro7hers, Duncan from TicketyBrew and Angelos from BrewDog HQ.

The judges took their seats around the top table with a sense of palpable trepidation, knowing full well that 91 homebrews were on the cards for consumption over the coming hours.

The beers, split into 6 categories, ranged in strength from 2.8% to 11% with every type of beer you can imagine making an appearance and demonstrating the sheer diversity possible.
Judges working hard
The unanimous winner of round one, the session beers, was a wonderfully refreshing Berliner-Weisse which looked akin to Fentiman's lemonade, and came in with a low ABV of 2.9%. The second bottle acted as a mid-round palate cleanser for the judges. One judge gave this a "punk" rating of 23/23, commenting "You are an artist, sir". High praise indeed for brewers Tom Lewis and Bruce Wilcox.

Next up - the "Bests", which included beverages such as a passionfruit and sage pale, witbiers and bitters. A pretty eclectic competition in this round, which was won by Dave Harrison-Ward's Lemon and Cardamom Hopfenweisse - a great combination of flavours which resulted in a delicate but tasty beer at 5.2% ABV, receiving absolutely full marks from one judge.

Strong beers came to the fore for the third round, with ABVs between 5.5% and 10.2%. Lots of barley wines and high strength saisons in this one, with some innovative combinations of ingredients such as an IPA made with Granny Smith's apples, and chardonnay soaked oak chips. David Bishop's fine example of an imperial stout (9%) took first place, with the strongest beer of the round, Peter Sidwell's barley wine "Cascadia" coming in a very close second, receiving top marks for "Knockbackability".

After a quick burger break for the increasingly rosy-cheeked judges, it was on to the IPA round. Chris Clough's "Puny Human" IPA at 5.8% took the glory for this one, praised for being utterly quaffable and having a "real nice" nose brimming with Simcoe aroma.

The most hotly contested round, stouts and porters, came next, with 19 brews battling it out. Although closely fought, the winning beer was Matt Dutton's Imperial Brett Stout, a truly fantastic imperial stout made with Brettanomyces (a wild yeast usually found on the skins of fruit) that gave some wonderfully sour notes that elevated what would otherwise still have been a great beer to a whole new level. Described as "punk as fook" on the score sheets, the judges were all impressed by the skill involved in creating a beer which took them on a journey from dark and malty to sharp and lip-smackingly good. Scoring the highest marks of the day, this beer was also the overall winner, giving some extra bragging rights to Manchester homebrew club.

Finally, an array of weird and wonderful beers were sampled for the "Anything Goes" round, from melon Scotch ales to mince pie beers. The winner of this one was Chris Clough's "Black Ash", a peppered rauchbier, smoky with a prickle of heat and really well balanced.


The day itself was a triumph - well attended, with plenty of beer chat and just the right amount of friendly competition. It's clear that the interest in craft brewing and the rise of the industry show no sign of slowing down any time soon. A handful of the beers offered are already available commercially, with brewers such as Steve (@BeerNouveau) licensing their homebrew kits, and it wouldn't surprise us if more were to follow suit, with a number of beers sampled which wouldn't be out of place alongside big-hitters such as Beavertown and Magic Rock.

Cheers,

L&J

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Wild Beer Co: Sourbeest

At the moment Wild Beer Co are one of the most innovative breweries in the UK, using techniques that are generally far more commonplace on the continent, whether it's in producing excellent saisons or delicious barrel aged sours all the while experimenting with wild yeasts to produce unique flavours seldom tasted from modern British breweries.

Sourbeest is one of a few variations of beer that all stem from one - which happens to be one of our favourite beers from last year, Wildebeest. Wildebeest itself is an 11% imperial stout flavoured with coffee, vanilla and cocoa nibs, a big drink that is best appreciated and savoured. To produce a beer like this you don't always get all the sugars first time around, so rather than feed cows with malt of such potential, the guys at Wild Beer add more hot water and start again - and lo, Sourbeest is born.

The wort is left to spontaneously ferment as it cools, giving wild yeasts and bacteria chance to make some magic. After fermentation is complete at 5.9%, the beer is barrel-aged for nine months, at which point it is bottled ready to be imbibed.

And so, on to the drinking...

This pours fairly flat with a deep ruby colour, and instantly the tart aroma comes forth. There's just a hint of the chocolate and coffee we remember so well from Wildebeest, but this is overridden by a blast of tangy dark fruits, full of cherries and blackcurrants.

It's definitely a sipper - absolutely massive on the palate, despite weighing in at under 6%. Initially sour, there's raspberries with a touch of rich balsamic vinegar, which dance on the tongue with a pleasing sharpness. As the beer disappears down the throat you definitely get much more of a feel of dark chocolate and malted coffee, a stunning twist that almost makes this feel like drinking two beers in one.

Very clever indeed.

Cheers,

L&J