You’re guaranteed something out of the ordinary at The GradBar. It’s a venue that thanks to its imaginative and innovative manager, Gareth Ellis, lays on just about the best beer and cider festivals in the district, and which in between festivals offers an ale list that is noticeably lacking the usual suspects, as well as an extensive selection of ciders. The atmosphere is great too. All in all it’s one of the best places to drink for miles around.
I knew this place could be relied on to pull out all the stops for this festival, and so it has proved. If you haven’t been to the GradBar yet, then you’ve missed the awe inspiring Adnams Tally Ho (7.2%), which “went down very well,”Orkney Dark Island, Waen Blackberry Stout and Hawkshead Brodie’s Prime. Still to come, believe it or not, are Titanic Black Ice (4.1%), described as a “sumptuous, warming”dark mild, Cairngorm Wild Cat, a “strong and distinctive”5.1% deep amber coloured ale, Harviestoun Old Engine Oil (4.5%) a thick, jet black beer with a striking bittersweet flavour, and the mindblowing Hawkshead XXXBP, which I’ve raved about before. Unmissable.
But last night I was on Blue Monkey 99 Red Baboons, an exceptionally smooth, creamy and moreish malty beer (4.2%) that I could have happily stayed with all evening, if it hadn’t been for the Saltaire Triple Chocaholic, a masterpiece of beer confectionery. This 4.8% stout was voted Supreme National Champion in 2010 by a panel of brewers, beer journalists and industry experts who tried 1400 beers. Its three sources of chocolate produce an intense dark chocolate flavour and aroma, off set by Fuggles hops, so there is no cloying effect. It was darts night in the GradBar and the teams frequently interrupted play to refill their glasses with one of the other of these outstanding brews.
From today (Friday) three new beers will be available: a popular beer at this festival, Hawkshead Organic Stout, a 4.5% dry oatmeal stout, Titanic Black Ice, a 4.1% mild that is well hopped for a beer of this type, and the unusual Exmoor Dark, a 4.2% well-balanced dark bitter, with a “slightly sweet, biscuity flavour leading to a fruity aftertaste.”
A fine selection of ales at the Sir Richard Owen has met with approval from at least one satisfied customer. Paul Johnson (Lancaster’s Mr Soul) phoned me to rave about George Wright’s Roman Black, described in CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide as a 4.8% “black bitter — strong, smooth and creamy", which he said was “black forest of night mixed with summer fruits,”an effect he likened to “dynamite". And he was another one who was much taken with the Butcombe Old Vic Bristol Porter, which is emerging as one of this festival’s favourites. Also on offer at the pub is Yeovil Ruby, a 4.5% red bitter with “rich malt depth”(GBG). Bob and Dorothy Smith also reported positively on both the George Wright and the Butcombe Porter, which they enjoyed and found in good condition.
Meanwhile, at The Water Witch, Lunesdale CAMRA’s 2010 Pub of the Year, an excellent pint of the fine Thwaites Nutty Black is available, plus the prize winning 4.5% Coniston Oatmeal Stout, a superb full-bodied drink — dark chocolate and coffee flavours, with a dry finish. Also the stunning Hawkshead Brodie’s Prime, a 4.9% masterpiece from the Lakes, which has to be sampled to be believed. “Complex”and “satisfying”don’t do it justice. Pub manager Jane Barnes said, “The beers in the festival have done really well, and attracted a lot of new people to the Witch”— which is what we like to hear.
Mild but not meek
Bank Top Dark Mild continues to inspire praise at the Three Mariners, where Jenny found it “smooth and easy drinking,”(the York Ghost was full and satisfyingly alcoholic") and Martin describes it as “still the mild to end all milds.” And once again the marvellous Hawkshead Brodie’s Prime is singled out as “properly dark”by Tom and having “depths of hoppiness not attained by ordinary beers, accompanied by a roastiness that is definite but not ‘in your face’”according to Martin.
Praise for G&D
"Enjoyable and flavoursome”was the verdict on the Shepherd Neame Bishop’s Finger at the George & Dragon, where the Caledonian Oatmeal Stout was also enjoyed — “very nice and only £2 a pint, which is a bargain for Lancaster,”according to one reporter. Said another, “By all accounts the couple in the G&D are doing a great job putting on a wide variety of real ales in good form and at reasonable prices."
New ale on is the Grafton Brewing Co's Winter's Dream (4.5%), a blend of wheat and malt giving a crisp, dry, warming finish. NB, from what I've read this is a blonde/golden ale and not a dark beer, but I could be wrong.
Suits you Sir
The Sir Richard Owen has been offering Cotleigh Long-eared Owl and Cairngorm Wild Cat, both described as “well presented”by one reporter, though another claims his pint of the former “was cloudy and tasted off". He adds that both the Kirkby Lonsdale Radical and Coniston Old Man were on “good form".
Good stuff at The Merchants
The Daleside Porter was described by one as “very dry with a good dark colour and creamy head.”Another said, “There was nothing wrong with it, just rather ordinary compared with the others this week.” The Titanic Lifeboat, for instance — “a good stout with the usual Titanic hops."
The Bank sells out
Bowland Hunter’s Moon at the Penny Bank was on fine form, being described as “a lovely, easy drinking Mild and a good introduction to dark beers”(Jenny). This pub is selling so much dark ale that it ran out and had to make an emergency call to Hawkshead for supplies of their Organic Stout, which were duly delivered. Well done Hawkshead, and great news for the PB!
Ditto The Borough
Russ Daley, one of the managers at The Borough informs me that the stunning Ulverston Fra Diavolo (a beer that has provoked universal praise) and the extraordinary Hawkshead XXXBP both sold out. However, they still have Bowland Hunter’s Moon, Bryson’s Winter Blooze, Bank Top Mild and Wells and Young’s Directors, not really a winter beer but fruity and strong at 4.8%.
Thwaites Nutty Black, described by Martin as “a vastly underrated mild”(yes!) was on fine form at the Water Witch as was the Hawkshead Organic Stout, “which somehow manages to be peppery and smooth at the same time."
New beer on the way
I understand that a new York beer, Micklegate Porter, is on the way, and “may or may not be available”at the Water Witch and the Three Mariners before the week is out.
Yet another sell out!
Another pub has unexpectedly sold out of dark ale due to demand - as I found out on a return visit to the Patten Arms last night. But don't worry all, normal service has been resumed and the mighty Black Sheep Riggwelter (5.9%) is currently on sale.
New mild in Garstang
The Wheatsheaf, Garstang's premier ale house, now has Copper Dragon Black Gold, a delectable 3.7% dark mild which uses a recipe recreated from brewing records dating back to the 1800s. It's malty, with overtones of liquorice and black treacle, but these are restrained and finely balanced. Well worth a visit, the pub can be reached via the 40, 41 and 42 bus services.We'd like to know your favourite beers of the festival. At the end of this week, please email me with your nominations for first place plus one runner up. By all means include a short comment giving your reasons (optional). The results will be announced sometime next week.