Warm beer and cold hearts

As an Englishman living out in Arizona, I often find when talking beer with the locals, a question or remark will come up about the English liking their beer warm. For in America all beer is served at fridge temperature. Sometimes I have picked up a can at my local gas station and found it too cold to even handle for more than a few seconds. Of course, if you’re going to drink Bud Light, it really does make sense to serve it at damn near freezing temperature to disguise the fact that there’s nothing to taste. That is because the colder the drink, the harder it is to taste it. Remember the first time as a kid you had warm soda/pop and it tasted awful? That’s because it really does taste awful, you just normally hide the fact by burying it in ice.

Ale brewing in England goes right back into the fuzzy mists of time, long before the invention of the refrigerator or even the first attempts at artificial refrigeration in the 1700s. England is not know for its tropical heat and the English developed a simple technique for keeping their beer cool, storing it in the cellar. Cask Marquee, England’s leading organization promoting traditional cask ale and its traditional serving methods, expects the beer to be served between 50f (10c) to 57.2f (14c) when they audit a pub to see if it can receive their official seal of approval.

57f might sound warm at first, if you compare it to air temperature but its a different story for liquids. The National Center For Water Safety classifies 60 to 50f as “Very Dangerous/Immediately Life-threatening”. So, if a mad scientist miniaturized you and dropped you in a nice pint of English best bitter, you really would be done for, although I can think of worse ways to go. The point is, it really cannot be that warm if it can kill you, can it? The beer is not served warm, it is just cool not ice cold.

Aside from the lethal properties of traditional English beer temperature, science also shows that extreme temperatures alter our perception of taste. The first sip of beer from the fridge might feel the most refreshing but the last sip has the most flavor. When I lived in England, in a house built onto the side of a steep hill, I could keep all my beer at the perfect drinking temperature by putting them at the back of the cupboard on the wall that faced nothing but cold earth. Now, if I want to taste what the brewer tasted then when it comes to English beer, I let it sit out of the refrigerator for 10-20 minutes before drinking it.

Now you will notice I drop the word “traditional” before saying “English beer” in this article repeatedly. That is because in recent years, there has been a huge interest in new American-style craft beer in the whole of the UK, starting off first of all with Scottish brewers Brewdog breaking the mould back in 2007. They have gone from strength to strength (with plenty of controversy along the way) and have been joined by such stalwarts as Magic Rock, Thornbridge, Northern Monk, Vocation and many more. The modern British ale will often be found ice cold in the fridge. Newer bars will have powerfully hoppy American-style IPAs served cold from a keg for a much greater price.

Although, as you can tell, my love for traditional English ale is undiminished, it is not something I drink very often here. True traditional English ale is served freshly in the cask with no stabilizers or preservatives. While there is a bar not too far from my house that always has an English ale on tap, I never touch it because the temperature will be wrong, it must have been pumped full of chemicals to survive the journey here and it is always by one of the big, mass-producers, churned out on a vast production line without craft, love or care. There is Samuel Smiths who bottled condition their ales for exports but that is a whole other story right there.

When I next get to England, I will be diving head-first into the traditional ales as well as my favorite cutting-edge craft brewers, but until then I think I will mostly stick to my local, cold craft ales.

Vocation Brewery

IMG_20150813_203008Vocation Brewery first caught my attention in Calan’s Micropub in Hebden Bridge in the May last year. My first introduction to their beer was a very traditional pale ale called Bread and Butter. I was told they were a new local brewery and assumed like most breweries in this region, that their others beers would be traditional kinds too and as the Summer heat kicked in, I was seeking out craft beer at a colder temperature.

In August, with my friends Jake & Sophie, I promoted the Tor Ist Das! festival and we wanted a local brewery to supply our beer. I was quite surprised when Jake told me he had done the deal with Vocation Brewery as he was very much the craft drinkerer. I was even more surprised when he told me all the beers we were getting were going to be hoppy IPAs. I’d clearly gotten the wrong idea about Vocation.

The big weekend arrived and so did the beers. We had a ton of cans of Heart & Soul IPA (4.4%), quite a few cans of Life & Death IPA (6.5%) and a small amount of bottles of Divide & Conquer black IPA (6.5%). Nothing there for the traditionalists but you could definitely have said the same thing about our music line-up. Throughout the daytime for each day, I stuck to the Heart & Soul. It is just as hoppy tasting as many craft ales twice its strength and wonderfully refreshing. I’m normally the kind of guy who changes beer with every pint but a day on the Heart & Soul felt just great.

As it got darker, I switched to the Life & Death IPA, the big brother of Heart & Soul. While I had no complaints at all about Heart & Soul, I could feel things ramping up with this one. The hops feel a bit spicier and the alcohol content makes it tingle more, although it is riskily suppable.
IMG_20151102_190532Finally, for the headliner, I tried a Divide & Conquer. If ever there was a beer to drink while operating the smoke machine for a black metal legend, this was it. It feels like quite a luxury drink and magnificently hoppy. Sadly, there were none left for day 2 but the same technique of starting on Heart & Soul then switching to the Life & Death at night worked beautifully and everyone else seemed to do the same. We got a lot of compliments both from our punters and from the bands about the Vocation beers, which were new to nearly all of them.

Ever since that weekend, I’ve felt a deep affection for Vocation and though I rarely revisit beers (always seeking new thrills), I do keep on coming back to these ones again and again. It is partly emotional memory and partly how good they are. I’ve also enjoyed their Pride and Joy American pale ale, the majestic Naughty & Nice chocolate stout and even a few of their ongoing Chop & Change series which sees them experimenting with different styles for cask.

It came as no surprise to me when I learned that Vocation was set up by an experienced brewer. It’s the new brainchild of John Hickling who founded the Blue Monkey Brewery in Nottingham but Vocation is on a whole higher level than his previous work. In fact, having indulged their brewings on many occasions now, I feel it is entirely justified to say that Vocation are the most important brewery to open in the North since Magic Rock.
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Rainbow Project 2015

The meteoric rise of Magic Rock continues. First they open up in Huddersfield in 2011 and immediately make a big splash, winning awards left right and centre. 2015 they move to bigger premises right where I grew up in BIrkby and they open a brewery tap on the site, just a short walk from my work. The Brewery Tap there immediately became as essential as the beers. Many out of towners make the pilgrimage despite it being a little but out of the town centre, lured by the promise of many Magic Rock beers all on tap at one place.

Yet this is not about how wonderful the Magic Rock Tap is (and it is). This is about the mind-blowing beer festival they hosted. Last year’s Rainbow Project happened in London and saw various UK brewers making beers especially for the festival. This years, the stakes were higher. 7 UK breweries collaborating with 7 US breweries to make 7 special brews for this years beer festival. 2015 also saw it happening simultaneously at London’s Beavertown Brewery and at Huddersfield’s Magic Rock.

On top of that, every UK brewery had at least one of their beers on tap and all the American breweries had multiple beers on tap. Oh, and lots of street food stalls selling everything from wood fired pizza to exotic eastern dishes.

We got there before doors opened at twelve and there was already a massive queue, buzzing with anticipation. The icing on the cake was the sun stayed out all day so there was plenty of room for everyone to sit down and enjoy the booze. So, here’s the Rainbow Project specials in all their glory:

A collaboration between Lake District brewers Hawkshead and Denver Colorado brewery, Crooked Stave, the Key Lime Tau really was something extra special. A sweet taste that haunted my dreams for months afterwards. I hunted down bottles of it and sought it out at beer festivals. A legend of a beer. Beer of the year.

 

 

 

Beavertown/ Dogfish Head – Anja

tingling, sour berrie tasting beastie….like unripe blackberries gone really naughty

 

 

 

 

 

Wild Beer Co + Firestone Walker – Violet Underground

Another sour but oddly pale with a kind of grapefruit taste to it

 

 

 

 

 

Partizan + Prairie – Real Time Saison

Not that sour, oddly, but tasted like marijuana! Must have been the lemongrass?

 

 

 

 

Magic Rock + Cigar City – Cigarro Roja Magico

Very dry and hoppy with an aromatic aftertaste

 

 

 

 

 

Buxton + Arizona Wilderness – Deep Valley Rainbow

Just the sourest beer I ever tasted! An extraordinary hit on the tastebuds

 

 

 

 

 

Siren + Surly – Blue Sky Sea

Wow, this was one salty beer. Definitely one for beer explorers not for casuals but I enjoyed it a hell of a lot. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the Key Lime Tau, this would have been beer of the year for me.

After those 7 belters, I was definitely feeling the effects a little but with so much American beer over here in Yorkshire, we had to keep going a little longer. Of particular interest to me was the beers over from Arizona Wilderness in Phoenix as I’m going to live there soon so it felt like the done thing despite the hefty import price. It was worth it and made me feel optimistic about my future, although I kno w I will miss having something like Magic Rock around.

Special thanks to Scott Patient, who’ll also be missed.

Papago Brewing, Scottsdale, Arizona

Papago frontCraft beer in America is a booming business these days. It seems that nowadays every little gas station has a chiller full of the local brews with a few state favourites and the demand for it in bars and restaurants is ever growing. Papago Brewing, though, is no zeitgeist surfer, they have been espousing the best refreshments in the Valley of the Sun since 2001. Not only that, but they also brew their own as well.

The first thing that strikes you on entering the bar, after the gigantic wooden statue of a native American, is the vast chiller* section. Taking up most wall opposite the bar, they are stocked with bottled beers from around the world but the majority of it is taken up with some of America’s finest. On the Belgian front, all the the big names are stocked like Chimay and Gulden Draak. As is usual in America, the English selection consists almost entirely of the big breweries and is kept at chiller temperature but in their defence this is Arizona and cool spaces are not easy to come by outside of a chiller. You would probably need oil company drills to dig very deep underground to get an English cellar temperature.
papago inside

 

 

 

 

 

 

They also have a great range of draft beers with 30 taps on daily rotation and usually include an English beer though I have never sampled it there because…well, I can get plenty of that at home and why would I want the same old when I could get a real glass of Stone IPA from the tap?

Whilst like most craft breweries, Papago serves food including some amazing pizzas and soft pretzels, it still feels like somewhere you can while away the hours. There is even an internet-connected jukebox which can be operated via cell* phone apps. With the app allowing you to create playlists anytime, trying to find the most obscure music you can on it becomes an obsessive bar pastime, especially as the old CD jukebox had such sterling selection. However, for those who just want a quieter drink, there is a side room with no speakers in it so only those with the hearing of a bat will be able to tell what music is playing in the bar.
papago serves

Arizona gets very hot most of the time and even in Winter, Scottsdale is still a t-shirt town. Papago is the perfect antidote, a vital desert watering hole offering an oasis of sanity and good taste.

*fridge. Seen as how I am talking about a bar in America, I might as well use the local lingo.
*mobile. See above

 

Rat and Ratchet, Huddersfield

Returning to your old hometown is always a strange experience because everything changes. Developments and dereliction changes the whole face of your old stomping ground. Family businesses gobbled up by chains and thriving ends of town suddenly deserted. All my old drinking holes demolished, developed, rebranded or refurbished into oblivion. All except one.

When I first went drinking in Huddersfield in 1992, ale was the norm and every single town centre pub sold cask ales. Back then, the Rat & Ratchet was most noted for an excellent old jukebox and a Frank Zappa “Heavy Shit” poster. Yet as the big breweries switched to stabalised lager and novelty themes, the Rat & Ratchet somehow stood still. As the world around it changed, it became defined as a “real ale pub” simply by doing what it always did. Today they still have that excellent, very old jukebox and the “Heavy Shit” is still there.

I happened to revisit for the first time in four years to find the pub now has a brewery beneath and were having a beer festival celebrating their own beers. I was in a hops mood but managed to find something light, mellow and hoppy each time while still getting a different beer. Having been heavily dissappointed by another pubs own brews recently, it was good to see some quality being brewed down there. Long may the Rat continue. Heres to an IPA there in 2032.

Micro Bar, Manchester

A shopping mall is not normally somewhere you would go hunting for decent beer but they do things differently in Manchester. The Arndale Centre has two seperate food courts. The first on the top floor is just the usual fast food chains plopping out salt and cola. The second is hidden away on the High Street facing the Northern Quarter and this is where the magic happens: a strange mixture of food outlets ranging from grocery-type stores such as a butchers and an organic grocers to actual meal providers like an actual authentic Mexican food stall and….Micro Bar.

Run by the Boggart Brewery (creators of the very naughty Rum Porter which is part pint/part pudding) it is a thoroughly modern blend of cask ale and bottled beers from around the world. There will always be some Boggart beers on tap and special guests. The bottles take in Beligium, Britain and the USA.

You can sit right at the bar on stools for a traditional bar experience or wander off to sit by the window of the food court and enjoy some good food with your real ale. Micro Bar is a strange, unusual concept and one that really made me do a double-take when I stumbled upon it by chance. However, it somehow works. I think if all malls were like this, I wouldn’t hate them so much.

the view from High Street

Birch Hall Inn, Beck Hole

A small pub with a big personality. The pub consists of two small snugs and a lovely big riverside beer garden (the former hillside beer garden is now a private garden). The actual serving area in the bar we took was barely bigger than a hatch and shares counter staff with a post office/general store on the other side.

The bar has it’s own special beer called “Beckwatter” brewed for them by the North Yorkshire Brewery which went down very well and also enjoyed a pint of “Gun Dog” by Walls County Brewery too. Check our twitter page at http://twitter.com/#!/casktweets for more words on them.

Food-wise they just do sandwiches (called Beck Hole Butties) but the bread is exceptional and so is their chutney, so do not judge the menu on first appearances. The little snug can be a little too silent when filed only with tourists but once the regulars get in the atmosphere warms up nicely. The Birch Hall Inn is a lovely little pub in a great location. http://www.beckhole.info/bhi.htm