Mashtun and Meow: Sheffield Beer Blog: December 2020

Thursday, 31 December 2020

Not Another Golden Pints

This post is spurred on and encouraged by the words of Julie O'Grady, co-owner of Neptune Brewery and founder of Liverpool based Ladies That Beer: "I’m not doing a best beers, or brewery for 2020. Why? Because getting beer out has been hard enough for many breweries to survive for lots of reasons from cash flow, staff, closed pubs. If you’ve managed it, to me you’re a winner." Here follows a far more rambling echoed sentiment.

This year has been shit, and we aren't out of the woods yet. I had hopes for late spring, but just yesterday morning Matt Hancock said "we are confident we can get out of this pandemic by spring", and I trust his word about as much as I do the cat telling me he hasn't been fed.

But the spirit of this industry remains strong, if a little downtrodden - there are heaps of gold we can focus on and things that we may be able to retain from this cesspit of a year. Here are just a few that have stood out to me.

Online tastings / Zoom chats / YouTube videos / Live videos

This year has forced the hand of events planners and marketing managers all over the industry, and we saw the traditional beer festival being cancelled completely in the majority of cases - but some were moved online as venues around the country closed.

Virtual Independent Salford Beer Festival - As always Jim and the team absolutely pulled it out of the bag with their beer fest and moving it online this year was no exception. Offering a series of tastings over the course of a weekend, hosted by Melissa Cole, Andy Parker of Elusive Brewing and Charlie Hooson-Sykes who led a cider event. They really retained the community spirit of the festival and even managed to raise an incredible £7000 for charity.

I also co-ran (with Laura) the Abbeydale Brewery Funk Fest At Home, bringing our mixed ferm (including some exclusive festival beers) and collaborations with Little Earth Project and London Beer Factory, hosting conversations and tutored tastings with both of the aforementioned teams. We also worked with Jules at Hop Hideout who organised a fantastic Cider Sunday tasting event with Albert from Ross Cider. Jules has also curated some great virtual events for Hop Hideout's 5th birthday this year, as well as running quiz nights throughout the year and generally helping to bring our community together.

Fyne Ales showed the world their glen over what should have been their festival weekend. And Cloudwater brought together a previously unlikely mix of guests to their webcasts, featuring breweries such as Allagash and Green Cheek from the US. 
Moving events online, while not ideal, has at least allowed for an alternative take on the usual meet the brewer events and tastings. We've been musing that this helps to increase accessibility for many people who may normally not be able to attend, whether that is down to transport, location, or preference. Being able to participate in events from your own home could be a critical tool going forward and could be a great addition to our beer scene longer term. It's made our world seem smaller, and there are positives to be gained from this.

Webshops, online and takeaway.

The move and growth in brewery-led online sales, as well as pubs and bars pivoting to provide online and takeaway services, has been extraordinary. Before *gestures* all of this, for small breweries run by a small team, the time needed to set up and run a shop for a relatively small quantity of beer was not really worth the while. Even if the margins are higher, so increases the workload both in terms of packaging and paperwork. But it became essential as the pandemic struck and pubs were closed - more beer was moved to can, minicask and keg for sales of beer direct from breweries, and more crowler machines entered bars, as did the simple milk carton for off sales. While these are not perfect imitations of draught beer from keg, and especially cask, they certainly fill a hole for people wanting beer and also help their local survive. Also a polite request to the boffins at NASA - could you do something useful like focus on an Angram and sparkler attachment for 2l milk containers, or a Czech side pour for 946ml growlers? Ta. 

While minikegs are a large part of the current sales. After having filled literally 1000s of them I can safely say I will not be sad to see the back of them. (Just to point out firmly here that this is entirely a personal view, cos Laura said I had to).

Voices, writing, and long-term projects.

It has been great seeing a few projects appear, and some grow.

Burum Collective is a new initiative established by Helen Anne Smith in an effort to bring a greater mix of voices to the beer, wine and cider scene. Spaces such as this with an emphasis on equality of representation is a vital part of how the UK will develop its independent drink scene. 

Emma Inch who has been in the beer scene for a while with projects like Ferment Radio has taken that idea on the road, and recently with hosting the Beer Nation podcast too - a roundup of the year featuring a selection of UK podcasts, organised by the Beer O'Clock Show. It's great to see people coming together in collaborative work like this and it's the sort of thing that will hopefully continue.
One of our absolute favourite writers, Katie Mather, has somehow managed to not just produce some stunning work this year but also open Corto - currently a REAL LIFE SHOP, soon to be bar, when it's allowed - with her husband Tom. We are very excited for when we are able to travel to Clitheroe to visit.

And Cloudwater have launched their Wayfinder residencies, to provide a platform to help drive change within the industry.

So to sum up - our industry has undoubtedly lost so much this year. We have worked so hard for comparatively less, we have been scapegoated and have taken more than our fair shame of the "blame". It will take a long time to recover and some of the repercussions are yet to be seen. But we have also found so much this year too. We have adapted, we have shown care, compassion, and resilience, we have maintained relationships and built new ones. And we have stood firm at the heart of our communities. And for that, this is an industry I am very proud to be a part of.



Sunday, 20 December 2020

Christmas Bevs: Cider Time!

Hi again!

Well tis the season for festive merriment and currently in South Yorkshire we're not able to go out to the pub, so we're making our own Christmas magic at home via a selection of tasty bevs. We've already got beers covered - you can read more about our top picks for this December here. But this year we've also developed much more of an appreciation of cider, thanks in no small part to the many outstanding producers we've come to know.

First up, we've picked a couple of crushable little gems from Sussex's Ascension Cider - Pilot (4.8%), which is made of apples only and is described as a "sparkling super fruity session cider". Lightly effervescent, mid-sweet with a gentle acidity and a great bite of apple skin character in the finish. We're also really enjoying "Into the Jetstream" (3.8%), which is a wild fermented cider blended with braeburn and cranberry juices. Ridiculously refreshing with that zip of cranberry astringency in the finish. The perfect turkey buddy.

We've also got a bottle or two of Ross Cider left over from the fantastic cider event which Hop Hideout organised last month as part of Abbeydale Brewery's Funk Fest At Home. The Somerset Redstreak is one of the most quintessentially apple-y beverages we've ever imbibed, and we reckon it'd be an excellent partner to a good cheeseboard. This one's 6.5% but ridiculously easy drinking, which we have found with all of the delicious options we've tried from Ross.

Pilton - Ice Cider (10% ABV). We drank a few bottles of Pilton's excellent keeved ciders over the summer, with many of their releases perfectly suited to sunshine sipping. So we were pretty delighted to find this winter-appropriate variety on Trembling Madness's webshop. It's a dessert style cider, made from slow fermented freeze-concentrated apple juice. We're very on board with dessert wines and the like here and have only tried one ice cider before - it was Icelandic, and it was intense and delicious, so we're very much looking forward to indulging in this one with a mince pie. Sadly we didnt have the foresight to take this out with us in the one flurry of snow we've had this year so far, so you'll have to make do with another cat picture instead.

And while we're here, shout out to Duck Chicken and Little Pomona too, which we only won't be drinking this December because we've already accidentally drunk it all. Just too damn tempting. Both absolutely excellent producers... if you ever see a bottle of Duck Chicken Gigglejuice anywhere, BUY IT and then thank us later. 

Cheers... or should we say Wassail?!

Laura & Jim

Saturday, 12 December 2020

Missing Pints: The Festival Tuborg

So we were calling this little "memorable pints" series we appear to have started our Pub Chronicles, and then I went and threw a curveball in the mix. The Festival Tuborg.

The moment, the time, the place, and the company are oft cited as being some of the major components of beer. And whilst musing on this we realised it doesn't even matter if what we're drinking is watery flavourless slightly yellow stuff out of a paper cup that's worth 10p upon return. There's just something about being rained on, sunburnt, sleep deprived and full of crisp sandwiches and cold noodles, surrounded by a cluster of people who all feel the same way as you do, that makes the Festival Tuborg taste... if not perfect, then flawless. 

We made some of our very best friends at Download Festival in 2010. We met whilst working on the entrance tent putting wristbands on festival goers. We shared a few beers and TetraPak cartons of Tesco Value wine. We spent 5 days together and left the festival feeling like we'd all known each other forever, and the people we met there are to this day some of the most important people in our lives. Many more festivals, club nights and house parties followed - with one of the constants being a can or pint of mainstream lager. And y'know what? It really doesn't matter that the taste is unremarkable. 

Those pints hold us to a time and a place. They're karaokeing to Bohemian Rhapsody with 1000 other people. Crying at System of a Down. An elbow to the head in an Offspring pit. Ecstatic over spring rolls. Waiting eagerly for Rammstein to blow our minds. Being hysterical over portaloos. Making up whole new dance moves. Adding a long straw so we don't have to sit up out of our sleeping bags. Understanding, sharing, and belonging.

We miss live music. 

We miss festivals. 

We miss our friends. 

And we miss pints of crap lager.


Monday, 7 December 2020

Christmas Bevs: The Beer Edition

So advent is now upon us and we thought we'd share a few of the liquid refreshments we're planning to imbibe over the festive period.

In previous years we've stocked up with extra special "Christmas Day beers", imagining a December 25th evening where we'll carefully select a big and boozy imperial stout and maybe a decadent barley wine, gaze at them with reverence and sup delicately, savouring the complex flavours found within and appreciating every sip. Then the big day arrives and we spend the day quaffing a Bucks Fizz with breakfast, a pint in the pub at lunch time (already had a cry that this isn't an option this year), couple of lagers whilst cooking, wines chosen to pair with our meal (more on that to come) and maybe a G&T before bed, far too full of meat and cheese to even consider cracking out the impy stout. Those beers sat forlornly in our cellar for many a moon, until lockdown hit and we employed a "Christmas Day Thursday" mentality, where more time at home meant the moments of enjoyment and quiet contemplation the beers deserved could be found. 

Anyway, what we've learnt is that if we want a nice beer, it doesn't necessarily need a special occasion to be saved for. But also that something a little more restrained is more often than not what we want to drink while we're feeling festive. And with the pubs still closed here in South Yorkshire, popping out for a refreshing pint or two is very sadly not an option. So here are a few of our beery choices that we're looking forward to enjoying at home over the next few weeks...

Burning Sky - probably our brewery of the year, Burning Sky seem to absolutely nail every beery style they turn their hands to, with relentless consistency of excellence. We've recently bought ourselves a box direct from the brewery, covering imperial stouts to IPAs and fruit beers. But at the heart of it, what we feel they truly excel at is mixed fermentation and saison brewing. We're really looking forward to trying the two shown below in particular - a 3.5% dry-hopped table saison, and the Biere Cerise, which is an 18 month aged brown ale base beer aged on whole sour cherries, at a nice and accessible 6.7% perfect for sharing.

Gluhkriek - mulled things aren't for everyone but we bloody love them, and they're something we only ever drink around Christmas so they're guaranteed to fill us with fuzzy festive feels. Last year we discovered Liefman's Gluhkriek (6.0% ABV), a classic Belgian cherry beer which is recommended served warm, and without meaning to be over-dramatic it may just have changed our lives. So for the second year in a row this is our "putting up the Christmas tree" beer, sourced from York's Trembling Madness (one of our favourite places to visit, although due to current restrictions we stayed at home and purchased online this year). We even have a choice of his 'n' hers Santa mugs or those naff boots you get at Christmas markets to drink it out of. Lovely.

Christmas Crispies - we're big fans of a classic continental lager here, especially of the German variety. So imagine our delight when popping into one of our favourite local beer shops, Archer Road Beer Stop, to discover three different Christmas themed Festbiers, from Huppendorfer, Grief-Brau and Tucher - a different selection to the Oktoberfest beers we worked our way through a couple of months ago which were all from the more oft-seen brands such as Hacker Pschorr and Augustiner. Often remarkable in their sheer un-remarkableness, we have never had a bad word to say about these absolutely solid and spot on beers - crisp and refreshing, with just enough sweetness - our favourite all-rounders when you just want something to satisfy and quench the thirst. Oh, plus bonus cat for you to enjoy.

Barley Wine - well you didn't expect us to pick everything of a restrained nature, surely?! We got hold of a bottle of Lost In Leith from Edinburgh's Campervan Brewery in the autumn and have been keeping it safe ready for the festive period. Lost In Leith is also the name of Campervan's bar, which has a barrel store including three foeders (it's very firmly on our to-visit list when we're allowed to get up to such shenanigans again). This particular beer was aged in a combination of two different bourbon barrels, which we expect to have boosted all those delicious rich caramel and fruity notes we look for in a barley wine. We've been really impressed by the beers we've tried from Campervan before so we're really excited to get stuck into this one. 


What beers will you be drinking in the run up to Christmas this year? Let us know any gems you've found - and please as far as you are able, support our independent breweries, pubs and bottle shops!


Laura & Jim