Mashtun and Meow: Sheffield Beer Blog: December 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