Mashtun and Meow: Sheffield Beer Blog: June 2015

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.