Mashtun and Meow: Sheffield Beer Blog: 2017

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Golden Pints 2017

This year's been full of beery highlights. From trips to Dublin, Barcelona and Copenhagen, to UK festivals including Peakender, the Beavertown Extravaganza and Leeds International, all alongside working in the industry we so love, beer's been pretty difficult to escape at times but we wouldn't have it any other way. Here are some of our favourites of the year...

Best UK Cask

Winner: Torrside - Route 366 (Torrside Brewery Taproom) a 4.2% pale ale, with masses of flavour from Cascade and Ekuanot. Exactly what we want from a cask beer, full of flavour, great aroma and condition, but also easily sessionable. Perfect.

Honourable mention: Wilde Child - Opaque Reality (Beer Engine, Sheffield). Mango and passionfruit milkshake IPA, what's not to like?!

Best UK Keg

Winner: Fierce - Cranachan Killer (Herbert Kilpin, Nottingham). Dessert beers are often a hit in this household and this one hit just the right notes - sweet, fruity and creamy without being heavy, aromatic and packed with raspberry flavour. Yum.

Best UK Bottle/Can

Winner: Beavertown x Green Cheek - The You Zoo. We'd fallen out of love a little with Beavertown's new releases over the past couple of years, but this collaboration is one of the best beers of theirs we've ever tried. Brewed with yuzu juice and oolong tea, it's PACKED with flavour yet still ridiculously quaffable with every element balanced in perfect harmony.

Honourable mention: North Brewing - Volta. A rhubarb and blood orange sour that was fresh, zingy and hit just the right spot as part of a summer's picnic!

Best Overseas Draft

Winner: Crooked Stave - Nightmare on Brett (P Mac's, Dublin). I (Jim) love this beer more than pretty much anything. Even at €9.95 a half I still went back for another after the first half. It's an incredible 9.666% oak aged dark beer, with rich acetic acidity, bold flavours of cherry and deep oak, akin to a Flanders but the additional alcohol helps with the mouthfeel, that is sometimes lost in long aged beers. The only beer that makes me pull this face...

Honourable mention: Flying Couch - Gangrene IPA (Fermentoren and Ørsted Ølbar, Copenhagen). Exotically fruity and freshly tropical IPA, balanced by delicate pine. A fine example of the style.

Best Overseas Bottle/Can

Winner: Garage - Middle Child. We drank this at the new Garage brewery in Barcelona on a scorchingly hot day. We'd been on a long underground ride followed by a ten minute walk and this was just blissful refreshment and totally kicked off Laura's love affair with Ekuanot.

Honourable mention: Funky Buddha - Wide Awake It's Morning. An imperial maple bacon coffee porter that managed to do exactly what it said on the label. Simply sumptuous.

Best Collaboration Brew 

Winner: Lervig/Mikkeller/Lindheim Ølkompani - Pop That Cherry. A turbid mashed mixed fermentation beer brewed at Lervig and fermented with cherries from Lindheim's farm in Norway, this is a beer with a beautiful balanced acidity, a really well rounded oakiness and layers of light acetic acid, making it dance across the tongue.

Best Branding 

Winner: Naparbier/NaparBCN. Kinda creepy, in a cool way. Loved their bar in Barcelona too, which seemed to embody their branding entirely - something that's not often achieved.

Best UK Brewery 

Winner: Burning Sky - This year, every beer we have had from the brewery in the South Downs has been outstanding. Burning Sky produce a great core range of exceptional while also reliable and sessionable pales and IPAs, alongside their always quality Saison La Provision. But really they are our brewery of the year down to their aged and wild beers. Favourites this year have been Saison L'été, the base beer of which was flavoured with elderflowers foraged locally to the brewery, then flavoured in secondary with whole gooseberries, and Les Amis du Brassage, a mixed ferm saison blended with three year old lambic. Both utterly delightful. With spotaneously fermented coolship beer in the pipeline from this year, and big releases of Cuvee blended with Lambic that are released annually, we fully expect their meteoric rise to continue in the new year.

Honourable Mentions:
Buxton for their continued consistency and quality.
Torrside for their incredible affinity for rauch malt.
Thornbridge for always on form core cask and keg beers as well as great specials during 2017 as part of their Year of Beer.

Best Overseas Brewery

Winner: Brekeriet - their wild fermentation beers have been part of a real awakening of sour and wild ales across the beer world, and they have been making some of the best thought out and well produced, blending traditional methods with modern techniques with absolute panache. More specifically we've loved Lilac and Cassis from bottle as well as Fruit Salad on draught at the Beavertown Extravaganza.

Pub/Bar of the year

Winner (UK): Rutland Arms, Sheffield. All of the elements of an amazing bar were already there, but the new ownership this year of Chris (formerly of Shakespeare's) and Kate (Three Tuns) has nurtured all of this and allowed it to fully flourish. The best food available in a pub (calling it "pub food" isn't really fair) in the city, ever improving beer selection and always the promise of raucous fun with the jukebox.

Winner (International): Abirradero, Barcelona. Quite simply for ticking all of the boxes... Astonishing beer range, the most delicious food, great staff and stylish inside to boot. We wrote lots more about this place here.

Best Taproom

Winner: Torrside. We mention these guys A LOT so it's probably no surprise to see them popping up more than once on this list. A brief paragraph can't do them justice, so we'll refer you back to this handy blog post we wrote after visiting them for their second birthday celebrations.

Honourable mention: Runaway - we loved their event celebrating the launch of the cross city brewery and street food collaboration project for Manchester Beer Week. A great space which although busy managed to maintain a relaxed atmosphere and all round nice vibes.

Best Beer Event

Winner: Beertown Malton. Co-ordinated by Bad Seed and Brass Castle breweries and held in the Milton Rooms in picturesque market town Malton, Beertown is a real celebration of, well, beer! The range was beyond compare, with cask and keg from all corners of the UK and beyond, the atmosphere was electric and we met so many brilliant people. Cannot recommend this festival enough.

Honourable mention: Our first visit to the Independent Salford Beer Festival was mega - we can't believe it took us four years to make it.

The top two here definitely shows that really, for us, the small and intimate is king. We enjoyed the Beavertown Extravaganza a lot, but it didn't quite have the personability that these two both did.

Best Beer Snack

Winner: Holy Crab - we've been lucky enough to come across these guys on a number of occasions this year, including at Belgrave's Food Festival event in Leeds and at Runaway's taproom in Manchester. Fresh oysters with tabasco, crayfish subs and crab fritters have all tickled our tastebuds this year and the first moment of trying their crab mayo was an epiphany.

Honourable mention: Tunnock's Teacakes, served for a brief but joyous time at the Railway Hotel on Bramall Lane.

Twitter Account of the Year

Winner: Pilot Brewery @pilotbeeruk, really who else would it be?!

Honourable Mention: Tom @Craftbeerhour for building a fantastic community. We can't wait to see what Tryanuary brings with Tom at the helm!

Here's to 2018... cheers!

Jim & Laura

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

The Whisky Industry in 2017: Our Thoughts

We love whisky, and all that comes with it. However, there is a side to whisky that is often regarded as a little fusty and old fashioned. Strict rules and regulations regarding what the essence of whisky really is means that the industry is often seen to be taking itself very seriously. I think it's fair to say that until recently, the industry in the UK, specifically in Scotland, has been and continues to be bound by the limits of tradition. And a lot of the time this is perpetuated by the drinkers, who can be keen to scorn when anything other than a couple of drops of water are added to a dram. More than anything else we drink, whisky seems to be the one that has a perceived "right" way to enjoy it.

BUT. This year in particular we've started to notice the emergence of an entirely different facet to whisky, as the industry begins to unleash its playful side!

This was exemplified at this year's Whisky Show, where we attended a Whisky Highballs masterclass with writer Dave Broom. Five good quality whiskies, including Hakushu, Laphroaig 10, Kilchoman Machir Bay and Monkey Shoulder, were paired with selected mixers including cola, ginger beer and soda water. The results were elegant, fun and crafted to allow the flavours within the dram to continue to shine through (following extensive research conducted by Dave Broom himself, who meticulously tasted each whisky with a range of mixers to find the best pairings). This was not a case of "ruining" a good drink by any means, but was more about providing an alternative and making whisky suit more occasions, moods and indeed people. Demonstration of Laura's "Not giving a fuck if you don't like the idea of my delicious Laphroaig and Coke" face below.

As the range of whisky available increases, the potential of distilleries seemingly expands. Indian single malt producers Amrut are generally not able to classify their spirits as "whisky" in the UK, due to their short maturation periods (often less than the 3 year minimum ageing required for Scotch whisky) which work for them thanks to the far higher temperatures that increase wood contact. However the spirits they produce are certainly up to the standard I expect from a premium whisky. We very much enjoyed the Spectrum 004, aged in barrels re-cooped with staves from four different wood types, resulting in a wonderfully well crafted dram. Another delicious offering from Amrut was the sherry cask Naarangi, the world's first single malt to use orange peel, further demonstrating their experimental capabilities.

Another new (to us) distillery this year that got us all excited was Starward, from Australia.  After chatting to their rep, he was keen to point out that they are not constrained by tradition, stating that the Scottish are good enough at Scotch, so why would they try to recreate this? Instead they use innovative techniques (including integrating brewers yeast into their recipes!) and native wine barrels to produce a truly distinctive and delicious whisky that's approachable yet interesting... and makes an absolutely outstanding Old Fashioned!

We've noticed too that whisky is seemingly beginning to take lessons from the gin renaissance that we're experiencing in the UK at the moment. New distilleries are popping up at an almost alarming rate, with many of them initially releasing gin but with a view to producing whisky in the future - some of whom are approaching three years old and will be releasing their first single malts over the coming year or two, the Lakes Distillery and Bimber being just two examples. The gin scene in the UK is arguably more inclusive and regarded as more "fun" and current than the world of whisky, but now the lines between them are starting to blur and as far as we can see this will be a positive thing.

So, to finish off, we'd say there's a hell of a lot to look forward to in the whisky industry over the coming few years. There'll undoubtedly always be a place for a rare, refined, well aged dram, enjoyed with just a touch of snobbery, there's nothing wrong with that - but neither too is it a problem to try something a bit more edgy. The key thing is - it's your whisky. Buy what you want, judge for yourself where you're getting the value, and drink it however the hell you want to. Think twice before refuting others who buy a young whisky, or those who dare to experiment. Neat in a Glencairn, or with ice, with a straw, in a cocktail, with iced tea... who gives a dram as long as it's enjoyed?!


Jim & Laura

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Lakes Distillery: Explorer Edition Gin

We've made no secret of our fondness for the Lakes Distillery, having paid them two visits in the three years of their existence (see our post on their opening here). We've been enjoying following their progress since the very beginning (read our review of their first release, The One blended whisky, here) and are keen to find out their next steps, with their inaugural single malt due out in 2018 as their whisky comes of age.

It's not all about the whisky though, as their ever expanding range also contains gin, vodka, and a range of liqueurs including damson and salted caramel. We were recently sent a bottle of their Explorer Edition gin to try, which was originally released as a limited edition, but proved so popular that it's joined their permanently available portfolio. This gin contains fifteen different botanicals, six of which come from within the Lake District National Park, including Cumbrian juniper. Thanks to the name, we thought it a worthy travel companion to take with us on a trip to Robin Hood's Bay, and here's what we made of it:

Neat, the nose absolutely bursts with fresh citrus, lemon notes in particular coming to the fore. To taste, there's a vibrant tropical nature with a hint of earthy spice reminiscent of cardamom, which rounds out as you drink. Alongside this is a gentle tannin flavour, which serves to boost the zestiness and creates a smoothness on the palate. Despite a slightly elevated ABV of 47.1%, it's not at all harsh and lovely to sip and ponder on.

We'd recommend drinking this neat, however adding tonic softens the spice, which some may prefer. Tonic also enhances the refreshing nature of the flavour profile, especially when adding a slice of lemon garnish which further brings out the citrus elements of this gin. The distillery recommend adding pink grapefruit, which we haven't sampled yet but imagine the bitter-sweet balance this brings would indeed work beautifully.

We also tried it mixed with lemon and elderflower Franklin and Sons, which sweetened it up quite nicely, but we weren't sure the floral nature of this mixer worked particularly well as it hid the peppery, herbal nuances which to us is what helps this gin to stand out in what is becoming an increasingly competitive market.

Overall, we'd describe this as being complex without being too challenging, making it a great all-rounder of a gin. It's bold, vibrant, modern and of its locality - and certainly a welcome addition to the Lakes growing selection of quality spirits.


Monday, 4 December 2017

Bad Seed Brewery... in CANS!

Now we've made no secret of the fact we LOVE Bad Seed, so much so we even made a beer with them last year! They were also a key player in our favourite beer festival of this year, Beertown Malton. We'd noticed a distinct lack of their bottles on the shelves of our local bottle shops over the past few months, and now we see why this might have been as they have relaunched their beers in cans! Here's what we made of the first two canned releases...

Seismic - Session IPA, 4.0%

Classically Bad Seed! Sweet grapefruit on the nose is coupled with a slightly piney hop aroma, with Mosaic coming to the fore. Crisp and clean with a delicate spicy note on the palate from the American hops (this brew also contains Simcoe, Comet and Cascade), with a decent malt backbone and a refreshing, bitter bite on the finish. Ridiculously quaffable. We reckon this is a great one for Bad Seed to get into can first, showcasing exactly the kind of brew these guys are so well known for. We'd definitely recommend this one for anyone looking for an introduction to this brewery.

Crush - New England Hopfenweisse, 4.6%

Before pouring, we got a massive hop aroma straight from the can. But once in the glass, this slowly rounds off and gives way to that familiar bubblegummy aroma with hints of pepper so synonymous with a wheat beer. Incredibly soft on the palate, with the yeast character that's left behind being well balanced with a juicy burst of hops. It's got that New England fresh hop character which we have found quite challenging in the past, but combining this with a wheat beer has led to a really interesting interpretation of the style and it's great to see something a little different being created.

A big thank you to the Bad Seed chaps for welcoming us back into the world of booze after a month off with these tasty little pods of joy!


Jim and Laura

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Sober November: The Caffeine Diaries

Those of you who follow our social media channels may have noticed that for the month of November we've given up all alcohol. Not easy when you work in a brewery and run a drinks focused blog, but we wanted something that was a real challenge to show that we were taking things seriously as we aim to raise money for CALM, a charity that's very close to both of our hearts. Anyone interested can take a look at our page (and donate should they wish!) here.

Firstly - the humble tea leaf. Tea is a drink that Laura in particular enjoys anyway, but we've both drank a lot more of it over the past few weeks, with the sheer range of types and flavours available meaning there's generally something to suit any mood!

Birdhouse Tea Co

Our most local tea producer, Birdhouse Tea Co, is run by the absolutely fantastic Rebecca (a qualified Tea Champion) and her mum Julie, and is a real Sheffield gem. A recent successful crowdfund campaign has contributed towards their soon to open new premises which will include a retail area, cafe, takeaway tea bar and even a classroom where regular tasting events can be held.

As well as a monumental plethora of single origin teas, Birdhouse create a huge array of their own blends focusing on "health and happiness", with collections based on themes such as Sheffield, the Peak District, and sweetshop classics! I've tried probably about 30 of the blends (and have also created my very own at a workshop last year) and they've without exception been real showcases of flavours and with carefully selected additional ingredients to allow the tea itself to shine. If I had to pick a favourite, I'd go for Princess Peach - a delicate sencha green tea with peachy flavours and rose and sunflower petals.

I really can't recommend Birdhouse enough, and for those of you not lucky enough to have them on your doorstep in Sheffield, their blends are all available via their online shop.

Tea Tourist

Tea Tourist is a monthly subscription service which delivers six samples of (usually loose leaf) tea, all from different producers, direct to your door in a handy letterbox friendly box. We're received five of the boxes so far, and each one has showcased a totally different variety of teas. The boxes are beautifully presented and well put together, with comprehensive information provided on each tea producer and suggestions for the best ways to brew and enjoy your tea. Each sample is designed to provide four cups, although often I've got plenty more than this from them. Favourites have included the relaxing Camomile, Rose and Fennel blend from Edgcumbes, and the smoky and punchy Sherlock Holmes tea, featuring lapsang souchong tea and elderflower blossom, from Chash

Improvements and developments have been made to the boxes in the time we've been receiving them (including the welcome introduction of tasty snacks and treats to accompany your brew), in response to feedback from customers and it's been great to see how this new company (which this month celebrates it's first birthday) is growing and changing. You can also get 30% off your first box using the code MASHTUN30.

Once our usual service has been resumed, keep your eyes peeled as we're in the process of compiling a series of tea based cocktails which we'll be sharing with you soon.

We've also enjoyed this month discovering the world of craft coffee. Coffee seems to be experiencing a similar sort of upsurge in interest as beer has done over the last few years, bringing with it the accompanying increase in artisan producers. Here are a couple we've particularly enjoyed discovering.

Frazer's Coffee Roasters

Based in Sheffield, run by Frazer himself! A massively knowledgeable gent who I had the pleasure of spending a few hours chatting coffee with at a recent Meet the Producer session at our lovely local shop Mr Pickles. Here, the emphasis is on not just producing amazing coffee grown with provenance (Frazer knows exactly where all of his beans come from, supporting small farms and community projects),  but also on educating the drinker in the best way to look after and make your coffee to get the best possible drink out of it.

Frazer's Steel City blend is inspired by Sheffield's industrial heritage, and is rich and hearty with a very dark roast providing a sumptuous bonfire toffee quality. A great pick-me-up for the morning. We've also enjoyed the newly released Christmas blend, using beans from Guatemala and Rwanda. No festive spice here, just the absolute finest of beans lightly roasted to give a beautifully rounded and smooth nutty character with hints of vanilla and a gentle sweetness. Reckon this would be a perfect afternoon treat with a good hunk of homemade gingerbread!

Dark Woods Coffee

We first became aware of these guys, hailing from Huddersfield, through their collaboration with Magic Rock - Common Grounds, a coffee porter made using a bespoke blend of Dark Woods beans (Dark Woods themselves have also since released the beans aged in whiskey barrels, which is a really interesting concept).

Our favourite blend we've tried is the Great Taste award-winning Under Milk Wood, deliciously balanced with a gorgeous sweetness almost akin to caramel. Really drinkable and a gentle start to any day.

As with Frazer's, Dark Woods are keen for their coffee to be treated well once it's made it into your home and so offer plenty of information on how to brew. It's a fairly new idea to us that coffee isn't just coffee, and that it isn't necessarily a good thing to chuck a glug of milk and a sugar in, but that different blends will have totally different flavour profiles and the notes and nuances within them should be allowed to sing. It's been really interesting discovering some of the complexities of the coffee and we're definitely converts to quality.


Laura and Jim

Disclosure: we receive Tea Tourist boxes FOC each month as part of their Tea Ambassador programme. However we have reviewed the product honestly and all views expressed are entirely our own.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Pecan Pie

It is approaching that time of year, in the preamble to Christmas, when our overgrown colony across the pond celebrates Thanksgiving. It is a time that seems as an ungrateful outsider an excuse to eat food and drink, but I am sure there is more to it than that. Still, never really in need of an excuse anyway to fill myself with copious amounts of pudding, here we go...

One of the traditional things that is consumed for Thanksgiving is the Pecan Pie, a shortcrust pie base with a caramel style nut filling. We made a version to take to a potluck dinner and it went down sufficiently well to warrant sharing the recipe!


500g pack sweet shortcrust pastry
75g butter
150g golden caster sugar
300g golden syrup
1 tsp salt
3 eggs, beaten
½ tsp vanilla extract
300g pecan halves
Splash of rum (optional)


To start, line a pie dish with shortcrust pastry - either a home-made pie crust if you really want to make one, or a ready roll packeted one (which is what I use, if it's good enough for Nigella etc etc) will work. It needs blind baking for the first 15 minutes, then 5 minutes to colour. So, begin by covering the pastry with a layer of baking paper or tin foil, and add baking beans (whether ceramic or dried chickpeas it matters not). Pop in a preheated 180°C oven for 20 minutes, and then remove the beans for a final 5 minutes.

During this time you can begin work on the filling. For this I use golden caster sugar, golden syrup, unsalted butter and a teaspoon of salt - although optional, the savoury edge that comes from the salt lifts the pudding no end. Heat the ingredients together slowly in a large heavy bottomed pan. As the butter starts to melt keep stirring the mixture, so that it doesn't burn. As the mixture starts to boil it will rise up the pan... keep stirring and allow to boil for a minute or so, then turn the heat off and leave to cool slightly. While you are waiting for it cool, mix together the eggs, vanilla extract, and pecans (keeping some aside to adorn the top prior to baking) and the rum, if using. I like to use a demerara rum that adds a lovely alcoholic sweetness to the pie, but any rum will work.

When you have all three elements ready, pour the still warm caramel into the eggs, stirring continuously to avoid curdling. At this point a waft of delightfully warm rumminess will fill the kitchen if you've chosen to take the boozy path. When everything is combined, pour the heady, sticky-sweet filling into the pastry case. Decorate the top with some pecans (these will toast lightly during the cooking time) and return to the oven for 35-40 minutes, until the pie has set. Leave to cool and the whole lot will further solidify. You can eat the pie straight away, or if you are so inclined store it in an airtight tin and eat within a couple of days. The pie should serve about twelve, with a helping of cream or dollop of ice cream.



Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Gin Festival Sheffield - A Review

The splendidly luxurious underground ballroom of the City Hall held host last month to the Sheffield leg of the Gin Festival. We first became aware of the Gin Festival team last year, when we tried out their excellent Gin Explorer box (you can read our review of that here), and so were really excited to be invited along to one of their hugely successful and highly regarded festivals. The Explorer subscription service itself has since been replaced by the "Gin Festival in a Box" concept, which has created a larger range of drink-at-home choices and brought the two brands much closer together.

We arrived to a truly bustling atmosphere, with the sold out hall packed to the rafters with hundreds of gin quaffers. Upon entry, we were provided with a copa style glass and a comprehensive booklet detailing all of the gins available, as well as handy hints for pairings, guides to garnishes and interviews with distillers - a resource which will prove useful in future as well as being a helpful tool on the evening itself.

The layout was well thought through - around the outside of the room, a quartet of bars each served from a pair of gin stations, which allowed queues to be kept to a minimum and the turn around of service to be swift. All of them were dispensing an dizzying array of gins from around the world, all accompanied with a carefully selected garnish. In addition, another handful of stalls showcased individual gin producers, who were dotted around the outside of the room serving samples of their gin along with a chat from a friendly face from the company.

Our first stop was the Tinker stall. Brought to life thanks to a crowdfunding campaign headed up by the Gin Festival team last year, this gin represents a move away from traditional juniper led gins. Drank neat, this stood out for us as a distinctively Spanish style of gin. With bold citrus, reminiscent of salted lemons and orchard fruit. An elderberry finish rounded the whole thing off beautifully. With tonic, it danced across the tongue - beautifully soft and light and a perfect one to start our night with.

Onto the bars themselves and we went straight for a Jaggi Citrus Blend, which was served with a slice of pink grapefruit. Hailing from Perthshire in Scotland. Citrus blend edition. Sweet, almost sherbetty lemon came through in absolute abundance first off, but this gin was more complex than the name perhaps suggests. Nutmeg, bay leaf and thistle are also included in the botanicals list, which gave really interesting notes of spice and a warming, herbal finish.

St Giles, based in Norwich, was our next pick. Another citrus led gin, our Gin Explorer book told us that the distillery is named after an infamous area of London where many gin shops were situated in the 18th century. Laura wasn't too keen on this neat, finding an odd almost vanilla character that was a little cloying, but the flavours really opened up and the juiciness was unleased with tonic and an orange garnish. Would love to try this in a cocktail, and we think it'd work well in other long drinks, especially a Tom Collins.

We moved on to try a couple of slightly more adventurously flavoured gins, and Orkney Johnsmas Gin was our next port of call. Named after and inspired by the midsummer period, with ingredients gathered from the islands themselves. Local heather is included amongst the botanicals and was definitely apparent on the palate, providing a floral yet earthy backbone to the flavour. We also picked up on notes of liquorice root which gave a great depth to the gin. A classic bitter finish.

Next we moved on to a gin from our beautiful home county of Yorkshire, sampling Raisthorpe Manor's Oak Aged edition. A light, almost tropical, oakiness, was instantly apparent and enhanced by a wonderful spruce resonance - bold and earthy. This was served with a slice of lemon which enhanced and brightened the base gin.

Finally, we headed over to try a couple of Belgian gins at the PJ's stand. These guys have an interesting offering of flavoured gins - we tried the raspberry, an initially sweet drink reminiscent of a sticky homemade jam, that dried out on the palette toward the end of the drink. Apple and elderflower varieties were also available. We finished off with their dry gin which was traditional yet potent, with a great hit of juniper that provided a lasting finish. Tasty and straightforward, a good one to end on by taking us back to basics!

Overall, we found this a well organised festival with attention paid to every detail. We really enjoyed the evening and wish we could have made it to another session, as there was so much to choose from we barely scratched the surface of what was on offer. We'll be back next year!


Laura and Jim

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Torrside Brewery: 2nd Birthday Open Day

Since its opening two years ago, Torrside Brewing have produced some of the best beers from a new brewery we've ever had. Operating in a unit by a private marina in New Mills, they brew an excellent mix of cask, keg and bottle, nailing classic best bitters and pale ales alongside a dizzying array of high ABV small batch brews - the Monsters series.

We first met the team - Peter, Nick and Chris - at a homebrew competition that Jim was asked to judge at Brewdog Manchester, about two and half years ago during his time working at Blue Monkey. The competition was entered by numerous brewers who have since gained a foothold in the industry. Amongst over 100 entries of astonishingly high quality, all three now-Torrside brewers won an award. Whilst producing excellent homebrew in itself doesn't necessarily mean you can run a brewery, it does imply you know what you are doing... and it seems that once these three teamed up and pooled their skills and experience, there was no stopping them (not to mention that they're all some of the loveliest people you'll ever meet in the beer world).

Anyway, onto the brewery. We first visited almost exactly two years ago - the tanks were in place, and the first beer was days away from being brewed. The unit seemed cavernous at the time but they've had no problem creating a welcoming space, with plenty of seating surrounding the brewplant and an inviting bar area. 

We launched into a sunny afternoon's drinking with Route 366 - a 4% Columbus, Cascade and Ekuanot hopped pale, which instantly flung itself into contender for cask beer of the year. Reminiscent of what makes the ever popular Sonoma by Track Brewery (their brewer Matt being yet another success story of Brewdog Manchester's homebrew competition - Jim still has dreams about that brett stout!) so special. Pale in colour with a gentle malt sweetness, tempered by soft bitterness and ending with a tangerine-grapefruit character from the Ekuanot hops that absolutely dances on the tongue. Stunning, crisp, and delightfully sessionable. The Yellow Peak pale, 4.2%, was similarly quaffable with the combination of Amarillo, Summit and Mosaic providing a fresh and zesty character with a delicate herbal backbone.

At the other end of the spectrum were two collaboration beers with Elusive Brewing. The first, Creature of Havoc, is a 4.6% cherrywood smoked red, fermented at Elusive. The second forms part of the Monsters series - Coalition of Chaos, weighing in at 9% and taken from the first runnings of the bigger batch brew. Strangely, the stronger beast was the more drinkable of the two (although both were delicious), with a rich malt backbone easily carrying the smokiness of the brew.

We ended the afternoon on a peat smoked barley wine, Hopscotch, which we quaffed on whilst the frankly adorable Kami (Chris's Shiba Inu, and undisputed queen of the brewery) had a little sit on our feet and gazed wistfully upon our bowls of chilli.

Currently the brewery mainly operates at weekends, as the chaps still all have full time jobs not related to brewing. However, the guys make this work to their advantage - this shows through in the beer selection, which oozes a total attitude of care and consideration, and a massive emphasis on quality of flavour. Each and every beer is so carefully thought through, and it's clear that the team really want to create something stunning and aren't willing to compromise by making average brews.

What Torrside have created in New Mills with their brewery open days is a space which is open, inclusive and welcoming to everyone. The brewery was full all afternoon, with the crowd formed of walkers off the hills, families including children, beer industry folk, dog owners, and men and women clearly ready to hop on the train for a night out in Manchester. It reminded us of our time last year in Colorado, where there was no culture of stereotyping the beer drinker and where an industrial warehouse becomes a vibrant atmosphere.

In case it isn't clear from the above, we had an EXCELLENT afternoon. Congratulations Torrside on your first two years of brewing, and here's to many, many more.


Sunday, 6 August 2017

EatNorth at North Brewing Co

Recently established by the Leeds Indie Food team, EatNorth is a weekly street food fair held at North Brewing Co, a short walk outside of Leeds city centre. The line up of traders changes every week, always backed up by a beer selection from North Brewing themselves.

We headed over to Leeds on a sunny Saturday afternoon, and spotting that the food traders were pretty much all new to us (whilst Sheffield has a thriving street food scene, it's generally the same names cropping up event after event) we decided to pay EatNorth a visit.

First up, the venue. North Brewing Co is a brilliant set up for events such as this. Having recently added a second unit to their production facility which provides much needed storage, the taproom is spacious without being unwelcomingly cavernous, there's a nice shiny brew kit to drool over and a good amount of outdoor space.

We grabbed a couple of beers to start with - Piñata pale ale (4.5), which with mango and guava was delicately fruity without being overwhelmingly perfumed, and North's recent charity collaboration with Denmark's Dry & Bitter, #NB20, a slightly hazy 7% IPA with a decent whack of tropical flavours and an upfront hop bitterness (read more about North's charity project to celebrate their 20th anniversary here).

Onto the food! We went for the classic halloumi fries from East Midlands based Dukkah, who provide an entirely vegetarian menu. Now I guess halloumi fries are a bit of a trendy concept at the moment but these guys are clearly working for flavour rather than fashion. The fries themselves were nice (it's deep fried cheese at the end of the day, what's not to like?) but it was the toppings that made this dish special - fresh pomegranate seeds, a mint tzatziki sauce and a chilli and pistachio dukkha spice mix coating worked together in fragrant harmony.

We also sampled the crispy king prawns coated in panko breadcrumbs from Tikk's Thai Kitchen, which were served with sriracha fries and a sweet chilli dipping sauce. We've had the satay from these guys before and it's superb, and the prawns did not disappoint given our high expectations. Plump and juicy with just the right amount of crispy coating, and the fries were eye-wateringly spicy in a good way (we had also added extra chilli).

As well as a couple more street food traders, Smak! serving Polish sausages and Oh My Glaze providing chicken wraps and wings, there was a vegan cake stall from Nicely Kitchen and Rabbit Coffee serving hot drinks and espresso martinis, which looked and smelled amazing. So a good selection all round we reckon.

The atmosphere as a whole was brilliant; relaxed, bustling without being packed, and with a DJ playing dub tunes which completely befitted the sunny afternoon. A table outside was stocked with all manner of useful things from suncream to doggy treats, totally indicative of the thought and effort that's clearly gone into arranging this weekly event. Good vibes all round and an event we'd definitely recommend.


Laura & Jim

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Mashtuns on Tour - Exploring Barcelona

In a city that oozes history from each and every rambling street, a new and exciting modern beer scene is beginning to emerge. Our hosts for the week, the team from Instituto de la Cerveza Artesana (ICA) in the south of the city, informed us that just a few years ago craft beer was almost unseen in Barcelona (their own bar, Abirradero, opened in 2015), yet today – if you know where to look – there are numerous hidden gems and a real underground culture just waiting to be discovered by the discerning beer drinker.

Here are just a few that we visited, all of which we would hugely recommend:


A short walk outside the main city centre, in the area of Poble Sec, and an absolutely incredible bar. 40 taps showcase a huge array of some of the most innovative beers we've ever come across, mostly brewed at ICA, ranging from ice cream stouts to berry berliners via Belgian New England IPAs and everything in between. Literally every beer we tried of ICA's massive range completely hit the mark - we really can't recommend this bar highly enough.

The food menu was just as varied, and in the few days we spent in Barcelona we were lucky enough to work our way through most of it, much of which incorporates beer into the dishes. Particular highlights for us were the rich and luxurious oxtail, braised for hours in Belgian Quadrupel, the “Fisherman’s Rice” with mussels, clams and enormous, juicy prawns, and the stout infused “Birramisu”.

The “Musico cervecero” was a wonderful Catalan experience – nuts, fruits and raisins served alongside a “porron” (a drinking vessel we’ve never encountered before!) filled with ICA's delicious Belgian Quad, which was passed around the group and shared in a celebration of friendship. The absolute perfect way to end an evening!

Garage Beer Co

Two venues in one here! Garage started life as a brewpub in central Barcelona, but has recently made the move to a larger production brewery in the Sant Andreu suburb of the city. Known for their American-style brewing, and producing mostly hop-forward pale ales, they are a popular choice in Barcelona with locals and tourists alike.

We visited the new brewery first, at an exciting time for the team as they've recently started canning, and have just installed their own (very shiny) canning line - we tried some fresh cans of Middle Child (5%), an Ekuanot single hopped IPA, which was incredibly vibrant and a fantastic fruity thirst quencher. The new facility has enabled them to up production substantially already, but they still have plenty of space to expand into in future, a good sign given the inevitable growth of Spanish craft beer. A bar on the premises currently only opens for special events, but is a great space - modern and spacious, with a feature window looking through onto their barrel store and foeder (which was due to be filled for the first time the week after our visit).

The brewpub is still open as a bar, with the small kit currently not in use, although brewer Joe informed us that they do hope to use this for more experimental brews in the future. As a bar, it's fantastic - a laid back, relaxed atmosphere, with quirky artwork adorning the walls and ten of their own beers on tap.

Black Lab

Let's face it, we were always going to have a nice time in a bar named after a pet! The black lab in question, Lola, sadly wasn't present when we popped by but we enjoyed a tour around the brewkit with owner and head brewer Matt, who hails originally from America. All beer made on the premises in sold on the premises, quite out of choice to ensure that the beer is always looked after and served in exactly the way Matt and the team intend.

Their core range is relatively small without being limiting, led by their flagship IPA Claudia (7%). To keep things that bit more exciting, they also have an entire menu dedicated to beer cocktails and "beer with a surprise" - Laura loved the raspberry Berliner Weisse Sour Lady (4.3%) served with a shot of white chocolate syrup!

The bar itself is down by the harbour in a trendy part of the city - a great place to relax and enjoy some beers, and beer infused food (try the nachos with beer cheese sauce!) after a few hours on the beach.


With a post-industrial, "diesel punk" feel, and serving modern and progressive beers from around the globe, we felt more like we were in an American rock bar than in the centre of Barcelona. NaparBCN is a brewpub branch of the larger NaparBier, with around half of the beers on the menu brewed on site - our favourite was the Breakfast of Champions Pancake IPA (7%). The guest selection was impressive, with beers from renowned breweries such as Hill Farmstead, Jolly Pumpkin and Alesmith.

We didn't have chance to try the food during our trip, but discovered the kitchen is run by Michelin-starred chef Miquel Aldana. One we've bookmarked for our next visit!

Brewpub le Sec

Tucked away up a side street, this rustic brewpub was a complete polar opposite to the industrial sheen of the other breweries we've mentioned in this post, but it had a charm all of it's very own.

Despite it's small size, the beers brewed on site packed a mighty punch - the MegaSeth Session IPA (3.4%), hopped with Magnum and Simcoe, had bags of flavour and the IPAtti Smith (5.5%) was a lemony Sorachi Ace dream. Well worth seeking out.

Homo Sibaris

Run by the charismatic and very knowledgeable Guillem, Homo Sibaris is a small but bustling bar located a short walk from the Sants train station.

The beer range is impressive, with a wide selection of local brews showcased alongside a few carefully chosen international beers. The bar does food despite having an absolutely tiny kitchen - we had one of the best cheese boards we've ever eaten, comprised entirely of locally sourced produce.

This seemed to be a real "regulars" pub, with everyone in there chatting to each other, sharing drinks, and Guillem behind the bar boosting an already brilliant atmosphere. We were quickly invited to join in the beery chat and treated to a bottle of Reptilian's Apokalypse Imperial Stout to share around our group. We were made to feel so welcome, and it was just a great bar to while away an evening - it knows it's strengths, sticks to them, and does a bloody good job of it.

Obviously this isn't an exhaustive list - other bars we enjoyed included Kaelderkold, Mikkeller BCN, El Drapaire and Bier Cab, but we feel the selection above gives a good indication of the whole spectrum of the Barcelona beer scene.

We visited Barcelona on a business trip - an enormous thank you to Abbeydale Brewery for the opporunity, and for trusting us with the company's first ever international event (you can read more about that here!) and to Dani, Ivo, Nacho and the rest of the team at ICA and Abirradero for being so welcoming and looking after us so well. We had an absolute blast, built some wonderful friendships, and it's definitely a city we plan on heading back to as soon as we can!


Jim and Laura

Monday, 12 June 2017

Can Conditioning - What's the Point?

As canning continues its near meteoric rise as the medium of choice for small pack dispense for many small independent modern breweries in the UK, it is no surprise that developments and targeted improvements to the process are continually being worked upon.

Currently, the majority of canned beer is done through packaging a force carbonated product rather than one that naturally carbonates through residual yeast continuing to ferment the beer, creating CO2 as it does so, as is often seen in bottled beer. We are however now starting to see breweries using can conditioning instead - Moor Brewery in Bristol are one of the pioneers of the process in the UK and are the first to be granted real ale status by CAMRA for their cans.

Having briefly met Paddy of Windsor & Eton Brewery, and Kieran of their offshoot project, Uprising Craft Brewing, at a breakfast organised by The Can Makers at SIBA Beer X earlier in the year, we were invited to taste their test run of can conditioned Treason - West Coast IPA prior to them being launched fully to compare against the filtered, force carbonated version. Here's what we made of them...

Appearance: Due to the residual yeast present in the can conditioned version, it requires a slightly more careful pour than the filtered beer. For research purposes, we were sure to give the same care to the filtered version. The naturally carbonated can gave a firmer head to the beer, more like you'd see on a well poured pint in a pub, compared to the filtered which looked "gassier" with larger bubbles. The clarity of both beers was the same with a little bit of chill haze present in both.

Aroma: Much punchier in the can conditioned version. The residual yeast helps to clear up any dissolved oxygen in the beer, in theory enabling the beer to remain as intended for longer. We did detect a slight oxygenation to the filtered beer, although it's worth pointing out that had we not had the can conditioned for contrast, we probably wouldn't have picked up on it as the hop character was still present... just a lot more overtly fruity for the can conditioned version.

Flavour: Again, we preferred the can conditioned version, although there was nothing wrong with the filtered! The can conditioned had a fresher quality to it with a more vibrant hop character, and we felt that the force carbed version had a somewhat more cloying sweetness to it, perhaps due to the filtration process removing some of the hop flavour which provides a balancing bitterness. It's also worth noting that due to the continuation of fermentation, the ABV of the can conditioned beer comes in slightly higher than it's force carbed counterpart (6.0% compared to 5.8%).

Overall: An interesting experiment! We did think that the can conditioned version triumphed on all counts, however, for smaller operations lacking the space and time to invest in can conditioning, this is by no means a death knell for force carbonated beer in cans (provided the beer is well looked after throughout the brewing and canning process), as both cans were tasty and of good quality. Treason, winner of a Gold IBC award in 2015 and the 2016 Indie Beer Can festival, is currently available in Wetherspoons outlets, and it's good to see that Uprising are keen to go about things in a non-macro way and strive to improve the quality of their product.

Canning in general can be a great way for beer producers to dip their toe into smallpack, particularly with companies offering mobile canning becoming more prevalent, making canning more affordable without the need to invest in infrastructure and equipment. Although across the board the quality of canned beer has been variable, it's definitely continually improving, with breweries progressively honing their technique. Cans are also better for the environment when compared to bottles, being cheaper to transport and more easily recyclable, and also take away the chance of a beer becoming lightstruck. Whilst we didn't intend to write this post to look at the potential advantages of cans over bottles, suffice to say we believe the can is here to stay!


Jim and Laura

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013

Named by Jim Murray as the "World Whisky of the Year" in his 2015 Whisky Bible and subsequently reaching massively lofty heights in the £££ stakes at auction, we pretty much anticipated this was a whisky we would never taste. And then a chance retweet meant we won a bottle from the kind folks at The Whisky Exchange. A couple of weeks of do-we-drink-it-or-do-we-cash-in followed, before we realised that was a stupid argument, we'd paid nothing for it, we didn't need the money and besides, we actually wanted to know what it tasted like. Also, CHRISTMAS YOLO. Christmas 2014 was a good day...

We've since savoured this dram, always treating it as a "special occasion" kinda whisky, and so World Whisky Day seemed like the perfect time to polish it off. Here are our thoughts.

Colour: Indulgent mahogany.

Nose: Walnuts, raisins, plum pudding, deep dark wood and bags of demerara sugar, with some allspice and cinnamon thrown in for good measure. The sherry influence is hugely apparent and creates an opulent and enticing aroma.

Palate: Rounded and robust. Hints of black forest gateau with cherry liqueur and dark chocolate both identifiable. Dried fruits and rich sugars follow through from the nose. It's suffered somewhat from being open for such a long time, gaining a slight astringency, and in hindsight we should have just got on with it and drank it quicker as the flavours (although definitely still apparent) have diminished slightly. That said, it's still a great drink and in it's heyday was truly magnificent.

Finish: Long, tannic and warming, the chocolate notes in particular lingering along with the wood. Delicious.

To conclude - it's a very fucking lovely dram indeed, we have absolutely no regrets about drinking rather than selling, and we reckon it's well worth the initial £80-100 pricetag. But over a grand? We'd rather have 20 bottles of Uigedail thanks.

Cheers, and a very happy World Whisky Day!

Monday, 17 April 2017

Beavertown & To Øl: Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde

The collaboration between Beavertown and To Øl was sure to produce something special. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde were born of the same base malt and mashing process, then both sent in their uniquely separate ways. The beers were both primary fermented with a fabled Scottish yeast strain that made it's way to Belgium and back to N17, where it was thrown into these worts. We managed to get our hands on these due to a fortuitously timed trip to Cotteridge Wines last April, and have been holding on to them for a special occasion. The end to a bank holiday which we worked the whole way through seemed suitable enough! On to the beers...


An 8.1% Muscat barrel aged bretted gooseberry Belgian pale. The beer itself sings with layers of elegant sourness, reminiscent of greengages initially then on to gooseberries, coupled with a hit of lactobacillus which builds beautiful acids across the palate. While the tartness is crisp, the tannic oak adds a delightfully savoury note, and the sweetness of the original wine softens with an apple scrumpy cider character, which goes hand in hand with the distinctive brett stone fruit funk. It leaves you with the same dancing feeling across the roof of your mouth like you've just eaten tangfastics (if thats a suitable tasting note without incurring potential lawsuits), with a zesty sherbet bite provided through the high carbonation and a lasting lip-puckering finish.


This is a different beast entirely, an imperial stout boosted with a hit of roasted malts, beechwood smoked malts and heaps of brown sugar to help amplify the ABV to an impressive 13.7%. The beer is left to mature in Speyside whisky barrels, before being seasoned with sea salt. A bold boozy kick flies out of the glass instantly, with a waft of warm smoke and a savoury salination (Laura thought it smelt a bit like a really nice gravy?!). The same characteristics ripple across the palate, along with a rich oaky character. While the carbonation is near non existent, the sticky sweetness of molasses bolstered wort is still surprisingly light and a little delicate. The finish is warm and boozy with a twang of characteristic Belgian yeast, but this doesn't linger for more than a few seconds, with quite a short mouthfeel considering the smoked malt character.

Overall - a very cleverly crafted duo with little to suggest that they were borne of the same base beer. The Jekyll just pipped it for us, being so inherently drinkable, but both were excellent and a great showcase of what two goliaths of the industry can produce.


Monday, 20 March 2017

Sheffield Beer Week 2017 - A Round-Up

Sheffield Beer Week is over for another year and we've flung ourselves in absolutely head first this time! Here's a quick overview of the events we attended...

A relatively quiet start to the week for us as we joined in a twitter hour with @catsontap. We've long been fans of beercats Rosie and Milly, and our Tosin is a regular on their page too! We kicked off with something pretty special brought back from our trip to Brussels last year - Cantillon Kriek 100% Lambic Bio. Face-puckering, fruity and a glorious treat to kick off the week. We also imbibed Cloudwater's Seguin Biere Brut, reminiscent more of a wine than a beer and utterly delicious.

Every week, Sentinel Brew Co host a film night, wittily titled Brew-vie Tuesdays. We've not made it down to this before but in conjunction with Sheffield Beer Week they decided to show "Beertickers: Beyond the Ale". Filmed in 2008 in and around Sheffield, it was so entertaining for us to look back at the beer scene as it was around the time we both first properly got into real ale, with many a familiar face amongst the footage! Great pizzas and popcorn, too.

A Lervig tap takeover at the Rutland Arms kicked off our evening, with the highlight being Sippin' Into Darkness, a chocolate martini imperial stout at 12%. Bold, boozy and tasted like a Double Decker chocolate bar fondue.

We then headed up to Brewdog for the Mad Hatter meet the brewer event and bumped into the team from Weird Beard. Plenty of beery chat and a lot of laughs were had.

An even bigger night for us on the Thursday. First off we hit up the Beer Engine's North vs South beer and food pairing, featuring four beers each from London based Fourpure and Fierce from Aberdeen. The food at the Beer Engine is some of the best in Sheffield as far as we're concerned, and a new guest chef brought in to create the pairing menus for this event elevated the offering to an even higher level. The highlight for us was Fierce's Tropical Tart, a beautifully light and tangy passionfruit sour, served with spicy prawns and crab laksa.

A short walk back to Sentinel for a tap takeover hosted by Yellowbelly Brewery where we sampled their collaboration with bloggers Wayne and Janice from IrishBeerSnob, Juice Wayne - a Rock Shandy IPA, inspired by an Irish soft drink and bursting with oranges and lemons. It took Laura until Sunday to realise that Juice rhymes with Bruce...

Finally we headed up to the launch of Abbeydale Brewery's new Brewers Emporium range at the newly refurbished Devonshire Cat, which was buzzing with a vibrant atmosphere and presented a great range of progressive beers to choose from.

We started the day with a Beer Writers Breakfast hosted by the The Can Makers, giving us an insight into a truly up and coming portion of the market and with tasty pastries from Sheffield based Percy & Lily's. It was the first day of the Beer Now conference, ending with a trip to Beer Alive festival. It was the third time we've attended the festival and it's been scaled down pretty drastically this year. It's a shame that this resulted in a rather lacklustre beer selection - the lack of involvement from brewers directly, which was a great feature of last year's festival, was missed.

A full on and inspiring day at the Beer Now conference, kicking off with Bob Pease of the Brewer's Association, who gave us useful insights into the American beer scene. Our favourite part of the day was undoubtedly the Live Beer Blogging featuring beers from Abbeydale, Ilkley, Lost Industry, Sentinel, Sharps, Thornbridge and Twisted Barrel - a frenzied hour of tweeting, chatting, learning and drinking.

A raucous coach journey later and we were treated to BBQ and beers at Thornbridge Brewery, a brilliant evening where we also discovered that table football is never going to be our forte!

The Beer Now conference was wrapped up, with inspirational talks from Richard of Ferment magazine, Jules of Hop Hideout and of course Sheffield Beer Week fame, and Andy from the excellent Elusive Brewing.

FINALLY, we trekked up to the Greystones for a special edition of Karma Citra, pairing a selection of Tiny Rebel beers with some super spicy Caribbean food. Always a brilliant event and a fun and laid back end to a very hectic week.

To finish, it's worth mentioning that our festivities during the week didn't even scratch the surface in terms of the amount of events running. We really were spoilt for choice, and have been left feeling very lucky to live in a city with such a thriving, varied and exciting beer scene. A mighty round of applause to Jules Gray for co-ordinating everything... we're already looking forward to finding out what Sheffield Beer Week 2018 will bring! But first, a lie in and a green smoothie are most definitely in order.


Jim & Laura