Mashtun and Meow: Sheffield Beer Blog: 2015

Saturday, 26 December 2015

A Beery Advent - The Finale!

And so here it is, merry Christmas! Well, actually, it's now Boxing Day as we were too busy drinking and eating yesterday to finish this post. Hope you all had a good one, folks!

21. Wiper & True - Plum Pudding Porter, 5.9%
Chock full of festive spices from the opening of the bottle to the final sip. This porter has the balance just right - it's fruity without being overly sweet. Roasted malt flavours combine with coffee and chocolate notes to give a rounded mouthfeel with a lovely dry finish. We got to try this one twice as it formed part of December's Karma Citra beer club! Nod to the beautiful branding, too.

22. Art Brew - Christmas Tree Beer, 6.0%
We reckon this is the only beer we've ever come across where an entire Christmas tree got chucked in the brew. Normally, resinous and piney notes in beer come from the hops... and whilst that may also be the case in this instance, it's full on "Oh Tannenbaum" on the nose which completely knocks the socks off any hop aroma. On the palate it's a different story, with enormous, stonkingly bitter hop character working in perfect harmony with the sweet, spicy, sappy spruce. Reminiscent of toffee and ginger too, this is one very unusual and complex beer. A delicious revelation.

23. Dubuisson - Bush de Noel, 12.0%
We couldn't do a beer advent calendar without including such a classic Christmas beer. This certainly did not disappoint on the festive front - vibrant with quintessential Christmas spices, wafts of clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger all coupled with a bold Belgian backbone, sweet esthers and a great malty character. Warming yet lightly refreshing.

24. De Molen - Tsarina Esra, 11.0%
This particular beer was a Christmas gift last year from our good friend Sean at Beer Central, and so we thought it was only fitting to save it for a special festive occasion. For an 11% beer it is delightfully well balanced, not too heavy on the malt but holding strong with a major roasted character. Stewed plums, black treacle, and dark chocolate are prominent throughout. The bottle we had was bottled mid 2014 and had a recommended drink-by-date 2039, so we drank it pretty young... the flavours will only grow and develop as it ages, but we are impatient! An utterly scrumptious and dangerously quaffable imperial stout.

25. Ruhstaller - DiGregorio Barley Wine, 12.0%
Big guy for Christmas day! We bought this on our first trip to the excellent Junkyard in Nottingham earlier this year. On the palate it's resinous and full-bodied with a mammoth malt character. Layers upon layers of flavour - hints of pine wood and citrus come through along with dark fruit and rich toffee. A pleasing level of sweetness is balanced by punchy hop bitterness. Big, boozy and bold - an excellent match for our roast duck Christmas dinner.



Tuesday, 22 December 2015

A Beery Advent - Part 4

So the big day is almost upon us and we're definitely raising the festive stakes with this one...

16. Mikkeller - Beer Geek Big Blend, 8.0%
A coffee oatmeal stout with a barrel aged twist... in fact more of a rollercoaster, with bourbon, brandy, cherry wine, cognac, tequila and whisky aged beer all blended together. The result is c
omplex and ornate, much like an "Edwardian armoire" (said Jim, unusually verbose for midday). A beer in harmony - not one of the barrels takes precedence over the others, but each adds another layer of depth and texture. The body of the original beer is still apparent, and is absolutely lovely, but undeniably bolstered by the oaky character of the wood and most of all the time spent in there. One to sip on and savour.

17. Weird Beard - Black Christmas, 4.5%
We've spoken before about our love for Sorachi Ace - an adoration we share, it seems, with the guys at Weird Beard. This festive stout is full of this intriguing hop, which in this context provides an utterly divine coconut rounded nature - we imagine this is what a fruity Bounty bar would taste like. It's a little more difficult to pick out any specific cranberry tartness, but the fruit juice added to this brew provides a welcome lightness and delicate balance. And it's sessionable! Could quite easily polish off a good few bottles of this. Laura's highlight of Beer Advent so far, hands down.

Tosin thought some Beercat modelling was required for this one
18. Red Willow - Baubleless, 6.0%
A trip to Macclesfield earlier this year was predominantly comprised of drinking beer and gin in Red Willow's brewery tap... a great way to spend a day, I'm sure you will agree. This beer is one we've had in since last Christmas, and having enjoyed a couple of bottles a year ago decided to cellar one to see how it would age. Our experiment went pretty well - sweet maltiness provides a lovely boozy backbone to this barrel aged stout, with the tannins from the oak providing a richness which is almost oily in nature. Thick and tasty - a good one to sip on with the fire roaring away.

19. Great Heck - Black Santa, 5.4%
We've been consistently impressed by Great Heck's output over the past couple of years. This brew holds roasted flavours and oaty richness coupled with a vanilla sweetness, lifted by delicate but unmistakably Belgian yeastiness. This is deep yet light somehow both at once. There's something a little bit synthetic tasting in there though that's not unpleasant but just a bit puzzling, given that the brew reports to have used proper Madagascan vanilla pods. An enigma of a beer.

20. Brass Castle - Christmas Kitty, 5.5%.
It's been quite a week for dark beer chez Mashtun as we build up to our festive finale! Bad Kitty is one of our ultimate go-to beers (the cat approves of it too) so the Christmas edition was a must-try for our household. And very merry it it indeed - rich, heady, cinnamon-y aroma that's just like Christmas pudding, and a dark fruit palate with creamy hints of vanilla and festive spices. Bold without being cloying, this is a deliciously well-crafted beer.



Monday, 21 December 2015

Sprout bhajis and bacon jam

Our Christmas Day starter! Inspired by Bundobust and Fat Hippo, both of whom have provided us with excellent sustenance and a bloody good time during 2015 (see also here and here).

Bacon jam (makes 2 jars)
400g of bacon
1 onion
1 clove garlic
1tsp paprika
1 chilli
100g brown sugar
A generous splash of cider vinegar

Cut the bacon and onion into 1inch pieces and chop the garlic. Fry the bacon until golden brown. Remove from the pan and fry off the onion, garlic and chilli, until the onions are translucent. Then add the paprika and continue to fry for a couple more minutes. Add the bacon back into the pan with the brown sugar and vinegar. Bring everything up to the boil, then simmer gently for 20 minutes to thicken, stirring every once in a while to prevent the sugar from sticking or burning. Leave to cool for a few minutes, then blend to your chosen consistency - we went for chunky. Decant into sterilised jars. This will keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge.

Sprout Bhajis (makes a starter for 2)
200g cornmeal or gram flour (plain flour will do in an emergency but won't provide the same colour)
A generous handful of sprouts
1tsp mustard seeds
1tsp fennel seeds
1.5tsp coriander seeds
1tsp cumin seeds
2 cardamom pods
1 dried chilli
1tsp salt
1tsp turmeric powder

Add your whole spices to a hot, dry pan and toast until the mustard seeds start to pop. Grind them up in a pestle and mortar. Once ground, add to the cornmeal or gram flour with the salt and turmeric powder and bind together with cold water - enough to transform your spicy flour mixture into a light batter. Chop the sprouts into slices and stir them into the batter. Deep fry in hot oil until golden and crunchy.

The combination for Christmas day is perfect for us - traditional ingredients that you'd expect to see on a festive table, with a definitely non-conventional twist!

Enjoy, and merry Christmas!

Jim and Laura

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

A Beery Advent - Part 3

This week sees the passing of the half way point of our very beery advent. Here's another round up!

11. Buxton - Ring Your Mother, 9.5%
This beer aims to bring an old recipe to the modern brewing age. Initially we were expecting a darker beer, but over the years the term mild has been used to mean a plethora of different things. This iteration has a light in colour malt base, which provided an interesting backbone to the beer, but with the flavour boosted by a great hop character more akin to our understanding of an IPA. Overall, light and quaffable which completely hides the ABV. Wonderfully surprising and interesting on so many levels.

12. Mad Hatter - Cranberry Rye, 5.9%
Our beers are starting to become a little festive with this one... we are almost half way through advent after all. A great nose of cranberries and a wild yeastiness, that probably comes from the character provided by the fruit. The inherent cranberry nature remains on the palate as the beer is drunk, but takes a little step back in place of a massive, bold rye character which invokes charred biscuits and leaves a dryness on the finish.

13. Doppelleu - Whisky Ale, 7.5%
This is a beer for the whisky lovers in us - intensely whisky-ey (definitely a word) from the opening of the bottle right through to the final sip. On the nose, lightly peated with sweet oaky tannins and sticky raisins. A slightly medicinal, almost briny quality comes through in the taste, which reminded us of a coastal aged island whisky. It was the perfect accompaniment to our pulled pork BBQ sliders.

14. Odd Side Ales - Mayan Mocha Stout, 6.0%
Odd Side are a brewery we have not often seen in bottle shops around the UK; this bottle was gifted to us by our bosses at work following a trip to Michigan. The beer pours dark and sticky with a deep coffee aroma - this continues on the palate with rich coffee and toasted malt on waves of velvety texture. A prickle of heat comes towards the end from the habanero chillies used in the brew. Delicious.

15. Mordue - Imperial Raspberry Porter, 7.3%
Another gift from a colleague, brought direct from the brewery! Sweet and syrupy on the nose with a fruity tang creeping in. The flavour is classic porter, with a delicious ripple of raspberry sauce and cocoa. The kind of beer that deepens as you drink, the flavour enriching and coating the palate. We had some of those posh M&S mini glittery chocolate and raspberry meringues in the cupboard, which were a total joy alongside this. Decadent and boozy.



Thursday, 10 December 2015

A Beery Advent - Part 2

Continuing on our beery journey through December... We've tried to select beers that represent a good selection of our favourite breweries (those that bottle, at least), covering a range of styles, with many also having a little story behind them too.

6. Intrepid - Porter, 4.8%
We selected this beer as 2015 has truly been the year of Craft Beer Hour! We've followed this from the beginning and were able to properly get involved with a greatly enjoyable trip to the Intrepid brewery, followed by tea at the fantastic community owned Anglers Rest in Bamford. This beer is pleasantly smooth, with wafts of a delectable hop character that brings a delicate floral nature to the malty mouthfeel, whilst being altogether an easy drinker. A classic porter brought to the more modern palate.

7. Crew Republic - Foundation 11, 5.6%
Fickle reason for picking this initially - Laura cannot resist any beer with an owl included in the artwork. Having tried this on keg a few months ago, we were blown away by the powerfully fruity, refreshing nature of this American-style pale ale, produced by a Munich-based brewery. The bottled version has less hop pizazz, but is still a very tasty drink... Resinous and lightly floral in aroma. Grapefruity and bitter on the palate, with an almost savoury, herbal edge and a dry finish.

8. Northern Monk - Strannik, 9.0%
As soon as this hits the glass, you know you've got a BIG drink. Massively rich and creamy on the nose, with molasses and hints of tannins. On the palate it's thick, almost to the point of being syrupy, with full bodied flavours of black treacle and hot buttered toast. The finish is deeply roasted, with an almost burnt nature that lingers behind. We've been ageing this for about two years - definitely worth the wait.

9. Siren - Barrel Aged Broken Dream, 7.4%
Aged in Ardbeg barrels, this appealed to the whisky fans in us as much as the beer lover! There's a hint of sweet wood smoke from the cask but this doesn't overwhelm at all... in fact we'd have liked a little more! None the less this is a beautiful beer that feels luxurious in drinking - oily, rich and leaves a gentle peaty sweetness on the tongue.

10. Blue Monkey - Silverback in the USSR, 10.5%
There is absolutely no doubt that if this beer was a monkey, it'd have to be a gorilla. Aptly named indeed. We mentioned earlier on that Strannik was on the syrupy side, but nothing compared to this... it's like drinking a melted down liquorice stick, with a similar mouthfeel to a fortified wine. Roasted malt character, and aniseedy sweetness partnered by hop bitterness. Boozy as hell. (Honourable mention at this festive time to our favourite-ly named Christmas beer, King Kong Merrily On High, also brewed by our pals at Blue Monkey!)



Saturday, 5 December 2015

A Beery Advent - Part 1

For the past two years, we've indulged ourselves in Master of Malt's simply outstanding advent calendars - Jim choosing whisky two years in a row, and Laura sampling both the gin and vodka offerings. This year, however, we've both made the transition in our working lives into the brewing industry, and wanted to celebrate this by sharing some special beers in the run up to Christmas. So here goes...

1. Tempest Brew Co - In The Dark We Live, 7.2%
A bold start to advent with this black IPA! Huge hops and rounded roasted malt on the nose. This follows through on the palate too, with vibrant floral hoppiness giving way to toasty coffee and a robust dry finish. Went amazingly well with a nice bit of Roquefort. We've been consistently impressed by the output from this Scottish brewery this year... looking forward to seeing what 2016 will bring for them!

2.  Six Degrees North - Chopper Stout, 7.0%
We spent one of our favourite evenings of 2015 in the Aberdeen Six Degrees North bar, with this beer being one of many sampled, including as an ingredient in a beef stew! Beautifully Belgian on the aroma with notes of rich caramel and dark chocolate. Slightly burnt flavour (in a pleasant way), really well balanced maltiness and satisfyingly rich. Clean on the finish which prevents it from becoming too heavy. Masterful brewing!

3. Hanging Bat - Fifty Fifty, a Sorachi pale ale, 5.0%
The third in a row of beers selected on account of our Scotland road trip - a definite highlight of 2015! We'd been to Edinburgh before but this was the first time we'd made it to the Hanging Bat. Super fresh aroma, dill tickling the nose. More bitter on the palate than other Sorachi Ace beers we've tried, which overwhelmed the coconut character we're so used to, but this perhaps makes it a more accessible drink... Sorachi Ace is quite the marmite of the hop world! Dry, yet refreshing.

4. Wold Top - Marmalade Porter, 5.0%
Bitter orange apparent, but with boozy, creamy, chocolatey smoothness overriding any sort of fruity nature. A bitter finish evokes marmalade again at the end, but overall it didn't make us come over all Paddington Bear... a very good porter, but wouldn't say that it quite lives up to the name. EXCELLENT alongside a mince pie.

5. Arran Brewery - Sleeping Warrior, 8.3%
This barley wine was brought back from our holiday to this picturesque island in May. It was one we'd thought of ageing, but hey, seven months is a long time too! Full of bonfire toffee on the nose, with rich caramel and smooth espresso (with 2 sugars!) on the palate giving way to a long yet delicate sweet finish. Deliciously boozy but still clean and light to drink. A wonderful barley wine.



Sunday, 29 November 2015

Introducing... our new logo!

Mashtun and Meow has now been running for just over two years, and we have been blown away how much it's genuinely changed our lives. Next year, we've got some pretty exciting things in the pipeline (all will be revealed in the New Year!) and so we thought it was time we made things a bit more official.

With this in mind, we opened out a little invitation to our readers and friends, to see if anyone would like to design us a logo. We were inundated with offers and we are really so grateful to everyone. Our super talented buddy Paul sent through an idea the very next day, and it was completely "purrfect"... here's presenting the finished article!

We can't wait for it to appear on all our future projects, watch this space!

Massive thank you to Paul, and a giant head rub from the Beercat x

Monday, 9 November 2015

Beer and food pairing: Weird Beard Defacer and Pad Thai

It's no secret that we love going out to eat and drink, but sometimes it's just as nice to stay in and spend some time really thinking about and taking care over a meal. We often share a bottle of beer over tea, so decided that for some of the special brews lurking in our cellar we'd try to create some food which would complement them perfectly and recreate the dining out experience at home.

For our first foray into beer and food pairing, we chose Weird Beard's Defacer. Brewed using the distinctive Sorachi Ace hop (which just so happens to be Laura's favourite), this is a triple IPA weighing in at a mighty 11.1% and is also Weird Beard's 200th brew. Seeing as the ABV is akin to a bottle of wine, we thought it would be the perfect guinea pig for our experiment.

Sorachi Ace is well known for having prominent lemon and coconut notes alongside an interesting dill-y characteristic. We guessed that these qualities would pair perfectly alongside Thai food, so we decided to make a Pad Thai using king prawns marinated in coconut milk, turkey and Thai basil. We added baby sweetcorn and sugar snap peas (plus a healthy dose of fresh chilli), then a good squeeze of lime juice and a drizzle of barrel aged soy sauce (which just FYI is from Oisoi, a wonderful new addition to Sheffield's food shops) over the top and we were good to go.

The beer itself was phenomenal - a huge tropical aroma burst from the bottle immediately upon opening, and the expected Sorachi punch was dominant. Piney, bold and bitter, it worked brilliantly alongside the spicy food, with the zesty lime juice cutting through for balance and complementing the citrus notes in the beer.

Conclusion: WAY better than a Sauvignon Blanc.



Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Brewpubs in the Toon!

Earlier this autumn, we embarked on an 800-mile round trip of the north. First stop on this little tour was Newcastle - a city we've only visited once before about three years ago, with the sole purpose of going to a gig, so we'd not had the chance the check out the beer scene. With some exciting new breweries popping up around there (we're talking about you, Northern Alchemy), and having heard very good things about their craft beer pubs, we thought it would be a worthy destination for the first night of our beery holiday. Correct we were to think so.

Despite wandering into Newcastle city centre from Gateshead with no idea where we were really going, we managed to stumble straight into the Hop & Cleaver. From outside, it looked a little bit like a fairly standard BBQ joint, but a promising door step lured us in and it was instantly obvious that despite making a big thing about doing top notch smoked food (and rightfully so, more on that in a moment), they make an even bigger thing about their beer. A very friendly barman directed us through the many rooms of the cavernous building to have a look at their on-site brewery - small, but perfectly maintained. We opted for a couple of their brews - the Kiwi pale ale, and the Melon Head. The Kiwi pale ale was nice, if a little forgettable, but the Melon Head was outstanding - vibrant melon flavour coupled with a well-rounded hop character: a really unusual, imaginative brew.

Despite being very tempted by the Hop & Cleaver menu, rather than a full meal, we decided to have snacks and starters in each place we visited to make the most of our trip. We eventually plumped for the rib tips, which were the perfect combination of spicy and smoky. They came smothered in homemade BBQ sauce, and more sauces were available on the table too to suit a range of tastes. This was just one example of the attention to detail which was apparent in every single aspect of the way the Hop & Cleaver operates - even down to the door handles made from knife sharpening steels. Well themed yet understated, this would definitely be somewhere we'd regularly frequent if we were more local. We washed our rib tips down with the always excellent Beavertown Gamma Ray before moving on.

We headed just a short distance round the corner to the Bridge Tavern - another brewpub - on the recommendation of not only our Hartlepool-hailing brewer pal and colleague Dave but also the Hop & Cleaver staff (always nice to see local businesses supporting each other in this way). Both of the beers we chose first were ace. Jim went for Wylam Jakehead IPA, which had a massive body at 6.3% and felt almost like a barley wine. Laura chose Mango and Passionfruit Pale, a collaboration from Squawk and Track breweries, which was outrageously fruity and definitely did what it said on the tin! Beer snacks this time were a slightly odd combination of pickled eggs and oysters - Laura's first taste of both! The oysters were battered in the house TavernAle beer and served in their shell, which had been filled with a sharp and creamy tartare sauce. They were awesome. To finish, we picked a beast of a brew - Five Times Madder Tom, a collaboration between Moor, Arbor, Harbour, Beavertown and Hanging Bat - busy brewday that must have been! An 8% DIPA, this was chock full of lovely malty and resinous notes. Really complex with a pleasantly dry finish. Top marks!


Jim and Laura

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Autumn menu launch: Forum, Sheffield

The Forum in Sheffield, part of the newly renamed True North Brew Co, had tended to fade into the background a little alongside it's sister venues, with us more likely to choose to eat and drink at The Broadfield or The Old House. However, having received an invitation from manager Miles (formerly of the Broadfield) to try out their revamped Autumn menu, and having had a frankly awesome evening doing so, it's abundantly clear that we were being unfair to True North's flagship venue.

We arrived at 7pm and were greeted by Miles himself (who's traded in his Broadfield beard for a trendy city centre moustache, with great pizazz) and Forum's take on an Aperol spritz, adding prosecco and grapefruit bitters. This was a pleasantly refreshing and lightly bittered autumnal cocktail which got the evening off to a great start. Whilst we sipped on these, executive chef Andy Burns introduced the menu to us. It was quite a surprise (the good kind!) to discover that the menu is themed around a fusion of traditional British dishes and Korean fare, taking inspiration from the increasingly popular street food festivals which have sprung up all over the country in the past couple of years. Andy explained that he wanted to keep the "hand food" sort of style which has always worked so well at the Forum, whilst juxtaposing familiar menu items with something a bit more adventurous. The result is a modern, exciting menu which definitely offers something different to our local scene.

The first dishes presented to us were the spicy sriracha hummus with pitta chips, baby back ribs with a honey and sesame seed marinade, and a gorgeously tangy blue cheese rarebit fondue served with hearty slices of sourdough (all £3.95 or 3 for £10). Following this were two types of steamed buns - kimchi pork belly, and bulgogi beef (also in the same 3 for £10 deal). These were Laura's favourite offering of the night - both absolutely bursting with flavour, aromatic, wonderfully seasoned, and the soft steamed buns were a delight to eat. This sharing food style of starters worked really well and I'd say for a group of four that three dishes would be just right to nibble on before main courses.

Next up was the second cocktail of the evening - a soju daiquiri made with muddled sweet potato, lime and agave syrup. Now this sounded slightly odd, but was a revelation... tasting just like sherbet lemons!

 Onto the mains, where firstly we sampled the pork tomahawk steak (£9.95) - the meat was wonderfully cooked and beautifully succulent, with the soy and ginger glaze giving just the right balance of salty and sharp sweetness. This was served with skinny house fries and roasted vine tomatoes, which were both good accompaniments.

The food just kept on coming! The chicken and tofu skewers and Korean pork belly burrito (all £8.50) were both familiar enough to have all-round appeal, whilst offering a tasty twist too. We both really enjoyed mini versions of the classic beef burger - the meat is sourced from one of our favourite local suppliers, Mr Pickles, which demonstrates the Forum kitchen's commitment to quality. These were served on buttermilk buns from Seven Hills Bakery, another Sheffield gem. We also tried the cod pakora, which were a great idea, but a little underseasoned on this occasion. Lastly was the shaved bulgogi beef - thinner strips of the same flavoured meat as those spectacular steamed buns. Bulgogi is a new one on us - apparently it means "fire meat" - a very pleasing concept, I'm sure you will agree. It did not disappoint - tender to the point of falling apart in the mouth, with a rich and fruity flavour from the marinade and an almost caramelised characteristic from the traditional grilling techniques used to cook it.

Finally, we reached desserts. The two of us shared a Hotteok - a Korean style filled pancake with seeds, which was almost crumpetty (definitely a word), served with Yee Kwan coconut and chocolate ice cream. Despite being absolutely stuffed, we also couldn't resist trying the deep fried ice cream sandwich, which was like a classy seaside donut! There were also salted rolo brownies to try, which the rest of the table vouched for as delicious, but we really couldn't fit one in.

We ended the evening with our third and final cocktail, which was a inventive take on a whisky sour. Peaty, smoky Bowmore 12 and delicately punchy St Germain elderflower liqueur combined with lemon to produce the perfect palate cleanser. Although the Islay whisky wasn't to everyone's taste, the balance was just right and it didn't overpower. A good example of how the Forum's cocktail menu, like True North's other venues, combines classic recipes with exciting new elements, resulting in a range of drinks that is quite unique. A winner in our book!

Action shot!
We had a fantastic evening all round and it was great to catch up with Sheffield blogging friends old and new! Despite the absolute FEAST we were presented with, there's still plenty of dishes we'd love to try (crispy pigs ears with a blue cheese dipping sauce, HELLO... plus the brunch menu looks delicious), so we'll definitely be back. Big thanks to Miles, Andy and the rest of the Forum team!


Laura & Jim

Saturday, 3 October 2015

A Birthday Brewdog Tour

We love a bit of a roadtrip every now and again, and having been kindly invited up to the Brewdog brewery by malt master Angelos (who we first met at this excellent homebrew competition), Jim decided that a 400 mile journey up to Ellon would be a great way to spend his birthday. and frankly the only way to travel to a craft beer Mecca would be to make the quasi-religious Hajj via the various Brewdog bars on the pilgrimage.

Seeing as it's rather a long way from Sheffield, we made a proper long weekend of it, calling at as many Brewdog bars as we could on the way, just to stick with a bit of a theme! Obviously we also found many more fantastic places on our travels... look out for another post in the near future for these.

Our plan was to begin on home soil in Brewdog Sheffield, before heading up to Newcastle and then on to Edinburgh, with an overnight stay in each city, then on to Aberdeen and finally the Big Dog - the brewery itself in Ellon. The bars all follow a similar mould... always slightly industrial, with booths, matte black paint and walls clad in what can surely only be made from a sports hall floor. With slightly different offerings from Stone, Mikkeller and Boon or Weihenstephan on the guest lines and at least eight of the host beers on the other taps, there is always a beer for everyone. Whilst the beer list and venues are similar, it's the staff that set each apart and give the bars a distinctive character. Every single person we spoke to behind the bar was helpful, knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and polite enough to seem interested in our slightly odd quest!

Clockwise from top left: Brewdog Newcastle, Dundee, Aberdeen and Edinburgh
En route to Aberdeen, we decided to add in a somewhat impromptu trip to Dundee, where the Royal Exchange building plays host to the ornate bar. Due to it being only part way through our drive, as we sat twiddling our thumbs for the lunchtime opening we drew straws for the designated driver. As the bar opened, Laura opted for a Fritz-Limo apple juice. Jim clutching the figurative long straw more than made up for this, indulging in the 8% Molotov Lite from Evil Twin. For the birthday boy, this was the perfect opener to the proceedings, light, floral and a nice accompaniment to the beef and Five AM Saint pie. Moving on to Stone - Points Unknown, another ludicrously strong pre-afternoon beer in the form of a Belgian style tripel at 9.5%, which has been barrel aged in wine and tequila before being blended with a delightfully fresh West Coast DIPA, to form an awesomely rounded, hoppy, slightly tart, massively boozy and all round stunning drink.

By Monday it's definitely fair to say we were adequately warmed up to complete our pilgrimage to the brewery itself, along with the Dogtap there. Based in Ellon, a half hour bus journey north of Aberdeen, it is absolutely ENORMOUS and still clearly in the process of rapid growth.

Upon arriving at the brewery, we were greeted by Angelos who was to be our guide and beer guru for the afternoon. The bar attached to the brewery follows the same pattern as the rest, except with the reflective majesty of the pilot kit at one end. As we moved to through to the large building behind the bar, wandering through a maze of impossibly shiny stainless steel, we began to see the scale of what the Brewdog machine has become, with three massive fermenting vessels in the centre of the building and a £3million bottling plant taking up around half of the space of the main warehouse.

We were firstly shown the four main brewing vessels (mashtun, lautertun, kettle and whirlpool) - a setup that allows 4 different beers to be on the go simultaneously and up to 10 brews a day to be produced. Our tour continued along to conditioning tanks and the dry hopping stage of the process, where we were lucky enough to have a taste of the super chilled and ridiculously fresh beers. The highlights were the legendary Punk IPA, with an outrageously juicy hop character, and Tokyo - at around 17% and -1 degrees, it was practically a syrup, fruity, sticky and downright delicious. Black Eyed King, which becomes the base of the "Dog" series of beers, was also phenomenal. Many of the fermenting vessels are situated outside the brewery building itself... with 15 that can contain 800 hectolitres, it's not hard to imagine why. The sheer scale of absolutely everything just blew us away... despite being familiar with many a brewery, we'd truly never seen anything like it. Again, the enthusiasm of those working there was obvious, and the whole building felt a bit like a beehive, everyone working busily as a team and the air filled with an electric innovation. With their recent milestone of £10million through crowd funding, we will no doubt see many more exciting things coming from this remote corner of Scotland.

After a pit stop in the tap room - a Five AM Saint for Jim, and a stunning sour cherry pilot brew for Laura, it was time to get the bus back to Aberdeen and grab a good night's kip ready for the 7 hour drive home the following day. Totally worth it.



Monday, 31 August 2015

Dispense with the Gimmicks

Earlier this week, Buxton Brewery announced they will no longer be producing cask beer unless it's for their brewery tap house, citing concerns over cask loss and quality control, and overall a market that doesn't take kindly to more expensive casks of beer. This is a big step for a brewery to make and an interesting statement, to cut out what is traditionally the backbone of pretty much every UK brewery in terms of sales.

There are other breweries taking similar steps although not as far as disregarding casks altogether, but selling beer through different dispense such as keg, bottle and more recently can. The most notable of these is probably Beavertown, but with Magic Rock equipping their new brewery in Huddersfield with a canning line they don't seem to be far off the pace. Whilst these techniques of dispense can be all well and good, I am starting to struggle justifying them as the best thing for the beer (which is at the end of the day what really matters). For myself, whilst initially I was dismayed at the concept of drinking from a can, my discountenance soon dissipated after a can of Roosters Baby Faced Assassin, which is now one of my favourite beers. After my gateway Assassin I quickly drank through Beavertowns, with on the whole positive results, 8 Ball Rye and Neck Oil being the standout options. But... then there is Smog Rocket, a beer which I know should be a tremendous beer in taste, but for me everything else was lacking. The body was a little thin and a lot of what should've been a big smoke element was amiss. This is in contrast to the all round bolder experience gained from drinking this beer on cask (sadly a much rarer opportunity) which is surely the way the brewery intended it to taste... why, then, produce a poorer alternative of the same beer by canning it? Don't get me wrong, it wasn't bad in can, just not quite right.

There are reportedly three new breweries opening every week in the UK at the moment and because of this each has to do their utmost to stand out from the continually growing roster of newbies. A new offering to the Sheffield market, North Union, has taken the decision to produce only keg and bottle, recognising that in producing cask beer in a city with coming up to twenty breweries it would be difficult to offer anything new to the market. This for me is a good example of a brewery unwilling to take part in what Buxton have highlighted as another factor in their caskless operation, "a depressed cask market place flooded with poor to average cask beer, sold cheap." Breweries desperate to sell their beer often offer much lower prices for their casks, causing some publicans to set unrealistic price boundaries for their cask purchases, ultimately resulting in poorer choice and lower quality for the drinker at the bar. As well as this, a landlord or cellar manager needs no qualifications, experience or knowledge to run a pub. You can get a pint of poorly kept cask beer that is in no way representative of how the product left the brewery stores. This lack of control over cask is also cited by Buxton as a factor in their recent decision, whilst keg beer leaves the brewery in much the same condition as it is served. But a well maintained cellar and competently kept casks for me will almost always outstrip that of the quality of other dispense methods.

The US is a big part of both the craft keg and canning market - in both respects they are at least 20 years ahead of us, and therefore can consistently rely on their own techniques and experience. By contrast, jumping in head first into the premise of canning and keg will not always end with success. As we see more breweries trying to break into the market, we are going to see hits and I fear a lot more misses in terms of how beer is provided to the consumer. Let's also not forget that all this is against the decree of CAMRA, still a powerful driver of opinion for a good portion of beer drinkers. I just hope that we can work through what could be a tumultuous time for the industry and iron out some of the lower quality canning techniques before it becomes too unreliable, which may lead to consumer mistrust. But still at the heart of everything we need to be looking at what is best for each beer, rather than a blanket approach to an entire range.

But for now, I'm going to retire with a Northern Monk Strannik... in bottle... at room temperature.



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.



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!



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!



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.



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.



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.



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.



Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Leeds Day Out: Part 2

We'd been having a great day so far and upon arrival at Bundobust it was clear our anniversary celebrations had only just begun.

If you've not been to Bundobust yet, it's an absolute must-visit. A tiny shop front opens up into a spacious and welcoming canteen-style eatery which has a bit of a street market feel about it, the bare brick and chipboard clad walls bringing the outside in. The bar is located towards the back of the room - and what a bar. We started with a Northern Monk and Bad Seed collaboration, Salted Lime Wit, which was fragrant with rosewater, plenty of fruitiness and a salty tang to finish, and the tantalisingly fresh and vibrant Wiper and True saison.

We'd heard only good things about the food here, and couldn't wait to dive in. The menu is entirely vegetarian but even us hardened carnivores were enticed by every item. We eventually selected four little pots - the "Popcorn and Pops", chilli popcorn with miniature poppadoms in four different flavours, Onion Gobi Bhaji Bhaji, Massala Dosa (which were accompanied by a wonderfully fragrant curried lentil soup with coconut), and our favourite of the four, Bhel Puri - sort of like a bombay mix salad. Both of the beers we'd already chosen were absolutely perfect matches for the delicately spiced munch, as were our next selections - Bundobust's own Coriander Pilsner, which was crisp and refreshing, and a version of the Wiper and True saison, which had been filtered in-house through rosemary and fresh apricots which added a unique and delicious new dimension to the beer. It's also worth mentioning here that the staff at Bundobust were ace - friendly, knowledgeable, and happy to share recommendations for food and beer alike. 

Moving on, it was time for yet another new place for us - the Northern Monk Refectory. A striking building against the otherwise stark Holbeck skyline, it is also home to the Northern Monk brewery itself. A modern, industrial feel is prominent in the bar, with 20 beers on offer - a wide range of both Northern Monk and guest.

Jim started with the wonderful Faith made on the floor below. The beer itself is a US pale with bold rose and resin flavours, made with citra and then more citra. The first round also brought us Bad Seed Barrel Aged Saison, a tangy, tasty treat.

We followed up with a trio of beers; two from the host brewery and an offering from Swedish brew masterminds Mikkeller. The first was Northern Monk's 6.2% New World IPA, made with a variety of hops from around the world. From the glass emanated an enchantingly tropical aroma, with a bold body from the volume of hops added in the boil. The other two were at the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of colour, both being jet black - Peated Soul from Northern Monk and Monk's Brew from Mikkeller. The bold smoke that drifted from the Peated Soul certainly appealed to our Islay whisky tastes, the warmth from the malt rich and a little unforgiving, but at the same time with dark chocolate and a warm sweetness - the roundness of the drink was glorious. The Mikkeller on the other hand was clean with a little hop bitterness, complemented by a vanilla sweetness and some dark fruits including cherries, accompanied with a slight coffee. The body itself was light and in no way tasted of the 10% ABV.

Final stop before the train home was a trip to Tapped. We couldn't resist a bit more of a nibble before the journey and had heard many good things about Big Dan's Pizza. We decided to share 'The Smokey One' topped with a lightly smoked chicken breast, grilled onions, and a deliciously sticky balsamic reduction. To accompany we had a glass of the balsamic hued Stone - Sublimely Self Righteous Ale, which was exactly what a Black IPA should be, light roasted malt flavours with a bold hoppy sensation across its nose and mouth.

We returned back to Sheffield happy and ever so slightly wobbly, with plans of a return visit already in the pipeline. Leeds has massively upped its beery game in the last couple of years and we are certainly willing participants.