Real Ale Reviews

Independent reviewers of real ales, beers and lagers from around the world, including beer reviews, breweries, watering holes and real ale events
    Sebright Arms / Lucky Chip

    Sebright Arms / Lucky Chip

    The bar is busy. The tables are full. The backroom is heaving and buoyant. Welcome to the Sebright Arms, dimly light and vivacious. We arrive from Soho at the fading of a sun drenched afternoon - four pubs, six pints, four hours. Three and a half miles later, bellies demanding meat and bread and barley, we bundle over the threshold. A table is found, pale beers ordered, burger menus devoured by hungry eyes. It's a young crowd, an old ...

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    A King and a Prince

    A Prince Amongst Beers

    It's not every day that you get the chance to try a beer that's older than you are. Last Saturday night I opened a bottle that was just that; I opened a beer that was older than me, so that’s over twenty five, give or take the odd ten years. In fact it was a lot older than me, more than twice my age. It was brewed in 1929 in fact, so that’s 83 years old. A mate ...

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    Build A Rocket Boys!

    Build A Rocket Boys! by Elbow & Robinsons

    Elbow are the kings of soaring melancholy, masters of poetic northern introspection.  Let Elbow's albums flow over you and you can be mesmerised by their beauty alone. Put in the time to listen, to soak up the poignancy, the humour, the extraordinary manifestations of the ordinary and their albums become life affirming tributes to the everyday. Conversely, it's quite easy to stick an Elbow album on and realise thirty lethargic minutes later that time - and ...

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    Man shed!

    Readers Pubs

    At the first pub there's a piano in the window but no one to play it. The seats are filled with ghosts. A long pew is adorned with individually wrapped cushions, resembling a bum-friendly box of Mr Kipling cakes. It's quiet, the fireplace glows warm and friendly, everything is cosy and snug. Welcome to Pete's Retreat. "We'll be at home here, let's get a pint." Much as we could stay forever we've a long crawl ahead ...

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    De Struise Pannepot 2008

    Pannepot 2008

    Broody and brown, like blood-red soil on a wet day, four-year aged Pannepot is dragged out of the beer cupboard and into a glass like Jack Dee to an in-laws barbecue... It simply doesn't want to open (the journey back from Belgium wasn't kind: a contemporary shot it's load in the suitcase, drenching the stash of bottles and it's still sticky and downtrodden) but eventually, after much gushing and fizzing, it acquiesces. Perhaps it's just the toll of ...

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    John Keeling Fullers

    Desert Island Beers #50: John Keeling - Fuller, Smith & Turner PLC

    It's a special week on the desert island as we celebrate a half century of castaways being swept up onto our shores. Robinson Crusoe # 50 is a real coup for us as it features none other than Sir (it’s only a matter of time) John Keeling; Head Brewer at Fuller, Smith & Turner PLC, (better known simply as Fullers). John was born in Droylsden, Manchester, in September 1956. When he left school without telling his ...

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    Will Hawkes

    Desert Island Beers #38: Will Hawkes, The Independent

    Welcome to the latest episode of Desert Island Beers which this week features Will Hawkes who works on The Independent’s sports desk and writes about beer in his spare time. Born in London and brought up in sunny Kent, he has had an interest in ale since he could convince a barman he was 18 – but his real conversion to good beer came after a year spent living in Southern California in 1999-2000, when the ...

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    Marston's Fever Pitch English Bitter

    Marston's Fever Pitch

    First off I should point out that I don't often take kindly to products and advertising that jump on the football bandwagon. The best footy related marketing is the football advertising by Nike and Carlsberg (ignoring their most recent attempts). So, I'm potentially a little biased against Marston's Fever Pitch... Let's start with the positives: oranges, lemons, citrus peel but not zest. It's more interesting than I expected, more summery. A mellow bitterness that isn't displeasing and ...

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    Englischer Garten

    Drunken in Munchen

    Let's be frank, I'm not brilliant at getting drunk. It's not that I'm a bad drunk per se, but since my uni days my tolerance has faded and I'm much better suited to a lazy pub garden or the frantic but well partitioned boozing of a hot festival day. So, the morning after the night before, eating pizza along the tramlines of Munich, Stag Day 2 of 3, the first beer is an inevitable mistake. The 12 ...

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    Lowlands Bier Festival

    Beer From The Low Country

    The smell of beer slopped on wooden tables, the glint of light in the top of the chalice, the sounds of a deck of cards and the clink of glasses. I'm in a bar in the north country but my senses are across the sea and howling winds, in the bustle of a backstreet bar in Belgium. Four pm on a sunny Friday, sampling the beers of the Low Countries in a bar in Leeds, dreaming of ...

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    BrewDog Blitz 2.8% ABV

    Brewdog Nottingham

    The blue logo can be seen for hundreds of yards. The windows that look out onto Hockley's student-filled streets, opposite a tea room, cinema and acclaimed bistro, are plastered with huge crest shaped decals, archetypal generation Nike branding for a Starbuck's influenced post-modern brand experience. B R E W D O G Reminiscent of the type of industrial themed sandwich shop found in downtown Prague or New York's Soho, but with added chutzpah and a munificence for ...

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    Shibden Valley by Tim Green

    Shibden Mill Inn

    Down a winding single lane road the descent to Shibden Mill Inn is not one to be taken with nonchalance. A careless clutch foot could result in an unexpected round of automobile tobogganing, even without the help of rain, ice or snow. But survive the swooning approach and there sits a fine pub to be snowed in at: good beer, warm hearths and food fit for kings. The pub is infected with sunny Sunday smiles. Gregarious family ...

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    Packhorse bridge and Old Bridge Inn Ripponden

    A bridge in time

    A brisk day in March, wet but without rain. Ducking through the dripping steel railway bridge, carving through residual puddles, Sowerby Bridge seems jack-knifed between the twenty first century and the 1970s. It's partly the lack of ubiquitous chain stores, partly the dubious puns of the shabby independent shops, but mostly the hues of a downtrodden day in a small Yorkshire town. Out the other side of the town the road befriends the trajectory of the ...

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    Hopback Summer Lightning: a bit of a legend in Beerland

    Hopback Summer Lightning

    Some beers have a pedestal. Sometimes it's deserved because they are truly great beers, technically and taste-wise. Some are headliners, built by a cheeky PR campaign or an elaborate story. And some are deserved winners of awards and a place within beery folklore. Summer Lightning by Hopback falls in the latter category. Back when I was enjoying my third year on this planet and coming to terms with the fact I would soon have a baby ...

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    January 4th, 2013FletchtheMonkeyBeer Reviews, Stout & Porter

    Sometimes a beer tastes far better than it looks, and sometimes a beer looks much better than it tastes.

    Shepherd Neame Double Stout looks so good my first thought is to worry profusely that it won’t live up to its aesthetic appearance.

    I needn’t have worried.

    It’s not the double stout I’ll drink on my wedding day, or save for my first born child’s 18th, but sat on the cusp of the festivities, last one standing (well, sitting) on Christmas Eve, it’s a manifestation of the calm before the storm.

    A quintessentially modern vintage design introduces a stout to be proud of. Creamy but carcinogenic charred; fruit finished with rustic chocolate; bitter and laced with promises of liquorice. A quintessential stout, doubly aromatic, easy to drink but restrained.

    A double stout nightcap at Christmas is no surprise. That it came in Shepherd Name bottle is a bit of an unexpected present.


    Shepherd Neame


    Double Stout

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    December 31st, 2012FletchtheMonkeyDesert Island Beers

    This weeks Desert Island Beers is a massive coup as it features none other than Sir (well if a UK citizen he would be) Mitch Steele, brew-master at the world-famous Stone Brewing Co. of Escondido, California which was named “The All-Time Top Brewery on Planet Earth” by BeerAdvocate magazine in 2008…AND 2009! “The most popular and highest rated brewery – ever!” (I just wish I could get their beers more often over here!)

    I was saving this post for the New Year and an upcoming series of Desert Island Beers on U.S. Brewers, but whilst researching this article I learnt that today, 31st December is Mitch’s 50th birthday! So what better birthday present than to be castaway on a Desert Island with your favourite beers. Happy Birthday Mitch!

    Mitch was an Enology major at the University of California, Davis in the early ’80s when he found out about the wine-making curriculum there and took an introductory wine-making class. Later he discovered the Brewing Science program and was in a microbiology class when Dr. Michael Lewis guest lectured and provided a brief overview of the brewing process and Mitch was as they say hooked! The idea of combining art and science in crafting wine and beer seemed like a perfect fit for him.

    When he graduated, a recession had hit and brewers weren’t hiring and the only craft brewers of any note at the time were Sierra Nevada and Anchor so he ended up making wine in the Central Coast region of California for eight years. About five years into the wine-making stint he hooked up with Bill Millar, who was starting the San Andreas Brewing Co. in Hollister, California. He took Mitch as his brewer, and Mitch brewed there at weekends and during his time off from the winery for four years.

    After four years of brewing as a second job, Mitch decided to make brewing his chosen career and got a job with Anheuser-Busch in Colorado. He figured (correctly) that A-B would be a great place to learn how to manage the brewing and fermentation processes and he ended up at A-B for 14 years and says got to do some really great and fun things with them and learned a lot; but at the same time was really itching to get back into craft brewing.

    An active home-brewer during his time with Anheuser-Busch, Mitch joined Stone Brewing Co. in 2006 and has managed the brewing and packaging operation at Stone Brewing Co. as it has grown from a 48,000 bbl operation to 150,000 bbls in 2011.

    Stone Brewing

    Mitch Steele

    victory prima pils

    No ordinary pils

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    December 28th, 2012FletchtheMonkeyDesert Island Beers

    This weeks Desert Island castaway is Matteo Bonfanti, Head Brewer at Ticino Brewing Co. Stabio, Switzerland. Matteo (aged 30) was born and grew up in Italy and went to the University of Milan, the faculty of Agriculture, where he took a degree in Food Science and Technology. The University is less than 2 kilometers from the infamous Birrificio Lambrate, and so it happened that every now and then he found himself at Lambrate drinking great beers between one lesson and another.

    During his years at university he met a friend who had just started brewing beers at home, he showed Matteo how to brew, where to buy ingredients and equipment and he became a homebrewer too. After buying all the equipment Matteo says he started brewing at his grandfather’s house, with his grandparents as assistants.

    Holidays too were often about beer: so whilst his friends planned holidays with guide books, he was looking for pubs, breweries and beer places; Belgium, Germany, The U.S.A , Baltic States, England, Sweden, Norway, again Belgium, again England…etc.etc..

    After obtaining his degree Matteo had his first experience in a craft brewery with he says an intense internship at BrewDog in Scotland. After that he went back to Italy and to University to start a Ph.D. in Technological innovation for Agro-food. Matteo says it was however obviously about beer: microbiological analysis of beer and some research about beer made with chestnuts. Then a move to Ticino, the Italian speaking region of Switzerland, where he became Head Brewer of the newly established Ticino Brewing Company.

    Matteo says some of his best moments working at Ticino Brewing Co. have been on collaboration beers; a White IPA with Kjetil from Nogne-O and a fresh hop amber lager with Stephen and Gabriel from Rappi Bier Factory. Matteo says these are great experiences where you learn from fellow brewers, have fun and drink a lot of beer as well!

    Ticino is one of the first small breweries in Europe who put their beers in cans. And as Matteo is a big fan of cans it’s a great thing for him! He also loves hops, whether from Europe, United States, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa! He’s also kinda addicted to brewing books (history, raw materials, technology, beer styles…) and loves reading them to help improve his beer culture and knowledge.

    Matteo Bonfanti

    Bruocsella Grand Cru

    Craft beer definition?

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    December 25th, 2012FletchtheMonkeyBeer Reviews

    11.37 After much temptation from the twitterati the first beer falls. Double Espresso stout by Traditional Scottish Ales puts the fear of death in even the darkest of carpets. A drop trickles from the bottle neck and is quickly licked up. That one drop has more taste than whole pints of lesser beers. Thick creamy vanilla coffee medicinal toasty pods beans wet and sweet as hell. Yum yum.


    13.35 I have to dive into one of my presents early, “You might need this one” my nearly mum in law tells me. Six sessonally themed beers – get in! First up Mr Sno’balls, chewy malt and citrus bite to clear the lingering taste of frothy coffee. Wisps of resin and lemon and a little oily and not remotely Christmasy except that it’s a respite from strong brown beers. Result!


    14.55 ‘Pass the pepper?’ ‘Want more sprouts?’ ‘Pigs in blankets, yay!’ Christmas dinner is well under way when I run dry and Rudolph the Red Nosed White Horse Beer is swapped for Uncle Scrooge. It’s far from a typical festive ale but it’s also far from grumpy stick in the mud. I’m sure Oxfordshire Ales have something for sweet beers and this is no different with it’s slightly odd mix of sugar cane and malt. Suddenly it’s present time again which is just as well, as as fine as this is, it’s lost against Christmas pud.


    18.39 I can’t shake the Rosey Nosey. Christmas themed it may be but it’s not a beer that I’d want to drink on Christmas Day. It doesn’t help that it’s the afternoon lull, post-dinner but pre-good-telly and with everyone too lethargic for board games. It’s quite simply a relatively boring teeth coating British amber bitter with plenty of caramel influence and to cut through the monotony. Please Santa deliver something fresh tasting next…


    21.28 Crafty Dan is the perfect accompaniment to four rounds of Pointless the board game and an ad hoc mash up of Cranium sans the board. Sprightly compared to rest of the days beers but still packing 6% ABV it’s a brassy caramel and citrus beer with dashes of marmalade and fleeing glances of something stronger. It’s hard to think about it whilst drawing/acting/charading/humdingering but it’s made easier by been easy to drink without thinking. Good work Thwaites!

    Ps you should see the scribbles from blind drawing…



    22.00 “Why noy try a triangle of Dairylea with a whiff of Jim’s sock” says Sheila when her guest asks if they have Stilton on the Royle Family’s cheeseboard. We do have Stilton and I suspect that it’ll be the best match for Badger Ales Wandering Woodwose. In fact the flavours of artificial figs and sugar coated raisins seem to be complemented best by the soft subtleties of gorgonzola which takes the metallic edge off the strong ale. It doesn’t have the depth of a Fullers Vintage but it’s great to see Badger make something that I spend an hour trying with cheesestrings and philadelphia. Or am I getting confused with the telly?

    NB Cheese pairing of the day goes to Manchego which loves the pepper crackers. Add a few crumbs of Mexicana for a spicy mash up made in cheese heaven.


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    December 19th, 2012FletchtheMonkeyBeer Shops

    I came to the beer aisle for a special offer.
    It’s not enough to keep me drinking happily.
    I think I just want a bit of personality?

    I tune in to all the foodies on BBC,
    I even collect coupons from packets of green tea.
    On Fridays I get 50p off giant King Cobra’s,
    I empty a bottle, I feel a bit free.

    But what’s this, a lovely bright coloured leaflet,
    Some simply worded advice aimed at someone like me.
    It’s got advise on how to pour a perfect pint,
    It even suggests a beer to go with my tea.

    Double malt brews to pair with a pizza,
    Amber ale, the classic British brew.
    Dark stouts, bitter and roasted,
    Golden ales, all zesty and crisp.

    I’m told the height of a beers head depends on the distance between the glass and the bottle.
    Well this is big news to me!
    So I’m tilting my glass at an angle, and that beer looks so bloody lov-e-ly!

    And these hops they sound pretty special, their cone-like flowers grow tall and grow fast.
    Just add them to barley, water and yeast, and you have a refreshing beer to drink.

    I’m all lost in the supermarket, all I want is to buy a cheap beer.
    But then I read this leaflet, I take a closer look;
    suddenly I’m shopping for beers of all different personalities.









    Choosing the perfect beer

    Choosing the perfect beer

    Choosing a beer style

    Amber beers, dark beers?

    Pour the perfect pint

    Pour the perfect pint

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    December 16th, 2012FletchtheMonkeyDesert Island Beers

    We’re taking a break from our Down Under series for a few weeks over Christmas and during that period bringing you some castaways from nearer shores. Desert Island Beer Down Under returns in January. First up in the interval is Colin Stronge from Scotland

    Meet Sir Colin of Stronge, Head Brewer/Production Manager at Black Isle Brewery, Munlochy, Ross-shire, Scotland. Colin who grew up in Monaghan, Ireland joined The Black Isle Brewery in 2011 having previously served nine years at Marble Brewery in Manchester and a couple of years with the Liverpool Brewing Company.

    Colin moved to England in 1998 from Ireland to study Architecture at Liverpool John Moore’s University but didn’t enjoy the course and left. He took a job at The Brewery pub in Liverpool and when the brewer of the attached brewery quit, he was asked to take the job on. Colin says he knew nothing about brewing at the time and mostly drank shit lager but was keen to find a career and to learn a new skill. After only a week in the brew house he knew that’s where he wanted to be: he reckons to have worked hard (if the beer wasn’t fantastic) but the company decided to sell up and Colin moved to Manchester.

    In Manchester he started another university course (Journalism and Sociology) and took some work on at the Marble Arch pub to earn some pennies. While there he talked to the brewers and they keenly offered him time helping out around the brewery…then found they couldn’t get rid of him. When he finished his degree he got a call saying that the second brewer had given his notice and did he want the job. He did and the rest, as they say, is history.

    Black Isle began life in 1998 in an old cattle shed on 150 acres of farmland in the Scottish Highlands, just across the water from Inverness. The brewery upgraded from a 5 BBL kit that was brewing around eleven times a week to a 30 BBL kit just over two years ago. Colin meanwhile lives in the middle of nowhere outside Inverness.

    Stronge likeness

    Black Isle Brewery


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    December 11th, 2012DavidMayhallDesert Island Beers

    This weeks Desert Island castaway is Tammy Viitakangas Head Brewer and M.D of Aotearoa Breweries NZ Ltd. Tammy was born and grew up in the small mill town of Kawerau, Eastern Bay of Plenty, on the North Island; her parents having lived their entire married lives there. (Her father came here from his native Finland as a youngster among the early Finnish families who came to Kawerau to help run the then new Tasman Pulp and Paper Mill.)

    Tammy left school at 18 and went off to Massey University in Palmerston North to study a Bachelor of Technology. She says she never would have dreamt that 12 years later she would be back in Kawerau running her own brewery with her Mum, Dad and Uncle Esko. The thought of ever even coming back to live in the area was not running on the top of her list of things to do; she wanted to see the big wide world first and did just that.

    Tammy says her first memorable beer experiences were at Massey where she learnt about malting and brewing in a biotechnology paper and a part of which involved a field trip visiting a large and small brewery in Napier. She says she subsequently aced that paper. She also indulged in the typical student life and drank a lot of flavourless beer and became more interested in how to make it. The visit to the small brewery which she thinks must have been Roosters, was also a mind opener; as she tried a chocolate beer and had no idea that there was even such a thing as a chocolate beer, and was most impressed being a chocolate lover. She ordered one or maybe many afterwards; loved the tour and seeing a small business in operation. Still though, it did not cross her mind that she would end up doing something similar herself years later.

    Thereafter Tammy did the typical NZ OE after Uni; and lived in both Melbourne and the UK for a few years. However it was mostly while travelling in Belgium she first truly fell in love with beer. Her first was the Hoegarden Belgium Wit beer which she loved. Aotearoa now have their own interpretation of that style, with their Mata Blondie and which still brings back memories. Tammy also loved the Abbey and Fruit beers, and experiencing the amazing variations in beer flavours and styles. She drank beer all the way through Germany, Pilsener in Prague and also tried UK offerings.

    After returning from the UK, Tammy wanted to start her own business been tired of working for large companies. She looked at businesses to buy, and with having had jobs in food and pharmaceutical manufacturing it was only natural to look for something in that field. Meantime Tammy had started home brewing; she loved it and found others were really enjoying her beer. So she purchased Wellington microbrewery Strongcroft and transported the brewing equipment to Kawerau and managed to convince her Mum, Dad and Uncle to join her crusade. That was seven years ago.

    Thinking back now, Tammy says they were all bloody mad. None of them had ever worked in a brewery before, her dad and uncle were paper makers, and mum a school secretary, but somehow they managed to piece together the brewery, and were happy just to have their first batch boil and ferment. Three months after launch they received their first medal which was a very proud moment, and Tammy says they are still having fun today and absolutely loves that beer has no endings, and there is such a huge array of flavours achieved from just four ingredients and remains excited by beer everyday.

    Tammy Viitakangas

    Mata Brown Boy


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    December 11th, 2012FletchtheMonkeyPubs & bars

    A friend in need’s a friend indeed, a friend with weed is better (so the song goes). And a friend with ham is even better still.

    Rocking up to Friends of Ham I’m still amazed at how this slimline bar has taken the city of Leeds by storm. It’s tiny upstairs belies the belly below, a cosy atmospheric cellar finished with comfy sofas and the now famous shuttle board.

    A homemade mantra emanates throughout this dimly lit haven, from the scribbled menus that hang on the walls on plain brown paper to the tables decorated with candles in make-do-and-mend holders. Well scrawled signs dangle from the shelving behind the bar cheekily outlining the offers of the day. This is a place of well crafted tender loving care.

    On one visit a handmade poster describes the ham of the week, and another pithily penned notice alerts me to the takeaway beer cans, perfect for taking onboard the trains that lurch out of the nearby station.

    It delights us Leeds folk that we can claim to have two of the UK’s best quality bars amongst the city walls (well within the city’s inner ring road at least). Between North Bar and Friends of Ham we might be forgiven for being a bit smug about our position on the beer map.

    A friendly bar with ham, good beer , excellent service, great ambience and a convenient location. That really is a friend in times of need.


    Friendly drinks


    Train beer


    Daily ham


    Birds & bees

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    December 10th, 2012FletchtheMonkeyBeer and Food, Pubs & bars

    I have a confession to make. I was born in the county but I don’t really like Yorkshire puddings (nor can I play cricket). Crispy and fluffy with drooling chicken inside they can be a joy, but I’d never go out of my way to include them in my Sunday menu. Burnt on top but soggy on bottom Aunt Bessie’s must haunt me from a youth spent mostly down south.

    In fact, I’m not all that enthusiastic about roast dinner. Dry beef, sloshy gravy, none of that’s for me. Chicken I could eat to the bone, but cabbage, carrots and cauliflower combined with lukewarm meat, I’m ok thanks.

    But at the Kings Arms wild horses couldn’t have torn me from my plate of chicken, parsnips, roast spuds, peas in a pod and runner beans.

    Not even the ornithological taxidermy on the walls could put me off. I even ate all the Yorkshire pudding.

    The Kings Arms at Heath sits on the edge of Wakefield, harboured between the back end of the city and the scrub where rugby fans park for the short amble to the creaking ruins of Belle Vue. The area is an unlikely setting for a quintessential English village, an other worldly mix of residential, rural and renegade horses tethered amidst the oddly placed moors.

    Lining the top shelves of the wood panelled walls that surround the dining room are hardback books: travel guides, classics, Edwardian children’s books. What Katy Did peers down from a perch besides an ancient guide to my home county. There’s even a dusty bottle of Yorkshire Black Beer, its sepia label faded from years guarding the shelf.

    Plates of food are full and large, the food hearty and good value (Sunday lunch for two with drinks under £20). The beer includes the pubs own bitter, presumably brewed by Ossett Brewery who own this revitalised village building. If the food wasn’t great it would be worth visiting just to nestle in one of the many snug rooms and stare at the glass cabinet of historic beers, including one brewed for a former president of the USSR.

    And on a slow Sunday in late summer or early autumn it’s easy to stay snuggled in one of these wood panelled snugs for a long time after the well priced and homemade dessert board is delivered. Or maybe I’ll just have another Yorkshire pudding.


    Kings Arms at Heath


    In-house beer


    Gorbachev Ale

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    December 10th, 2012FletchtheMonkeyBeer and Food

    Tradition is a funny thing. It’s the osmosis by which culture ebbs down the generations. It is vital to the survival of so much that we cherish. It’s on one hand the facilitator of those differences between cultures that should be celebrated, yet it can also be the glue of homogeneity when we can’t be bothered to make room for dreaded change.

    Take Christmas dinner. It’s the bedrock of Christmas Day, a piece of the jigsaw essential to the survival of festive traditions. But who the hell actually wants to eat Brussels sprouts, regardless of what exotic spices our celebrity chefs enthusiastically season the little buggers with? Would anyone eat turkey if it wasn’t part of the Christmas trimmings?

    So when Leigh of Good Stuff fame asked me and a bunch of other beery bloggers what our own personal Christmas dinner would look like I was given the interesting choice of either demolishing a gastronomic Luddite or preserving a vital piece of culinary heritage. I think I might have done a bit of both…

    Prep time

    I’ve never cooked Christmas dinner on Christmas Day, but I know for sure I’d have a beer whilst trying (bad idea perhaps, but an open beer is an integral part of my cooking routine). I would probably have started Christmas Day with a coffee stout or a sticky jam cherry beer, so the beer to accompany kitchen time would be something light and local and never too bitter. Saltaire Cascade or Hebden Wheat? Or if back in Oxfordshire, a Hooky Gold picked up direct from the Victorian brewery on Christmas Eve (driving out to the minuscule village of Hook Norton the day before Christmas is a tradition well worth keeping in my eyes)


    Prawn cocktail does little for me, and pâté is a tad unadventurous for Christmas dinner. So scallops it is, served relatively plain (fried with a touch of cayenne pepper for those wanting a little kick). Here a big oyster stout like this one by Marston’s might work, or go in the complete opposite direction and pair with something spritzy and barely blonde, which would lift the seafood and temper the pepper (Meantime Pilsner was featured at a previous Beer Writers dinner and is very light). But whilst I love both ideas I’ve got plenty of beer to savour later, so I fancy a dash of fizzy cider to keep my palate fresh. Weston’s is widely available in supermarkets and has enough bite to complement the fiery edge of the seasoned scallops (if cider isn’t your thing combine both – Mikkeller Rice Market is has hints of apples, lemongrass and ginger and might complement scallops seasoned in a Thai style)

    Christmas dinner

    I was only kidding about turkey, it’s a must have for Christmas so long as there’s a crispy skin and an orange inside. But my favourite meat at this time of year is a whopping great ham, drizzled in honey and punctured with sharp cloves. I’m stuck between beer choices here but top of the list would be a succulent German hefeweizen (Spaten Franziskaner Hefeweizen was recommended to me as one that is more phenol like (cloves) than esters laden (bananas), but Weihenstephan Hefe Weissbier is much easier to find in the shops). A close second would be a Belgian blonde – Bruges Zot can feel a bit sugary but it’s brilliant with ham, or for something more herbaceous try one of the smorgasbord of Belgian blondes available. With both options think beery mustards – one laced with spices, fruit and malt, the other with caramels, pepper and spice (to upgrade these options further try a deep and dangerous fishermans ale?) If they all sound complex then how about stripping it right back and serving with a mean talking pilsner – something like Pilsner Urquell with enough oomph to wash down the feast. The beers all add to the meal, it’s earthier and more fun than turkey, and as a result requires a different angle on veg – mashed potato, carrot and swede and caramelised beetroot all complement the ham. Or fried sweet potatoes and parsnips in a grill pan with honey for a stickier, toastier alternative.


    I’m partial to Christmas pud and Christmas cake, but there’s plenty of time to bring them out through the Christmas break. To finish this personalised Christmas meal I want a bit of wow factor and only one dessert brings lashings of wow plus lots of beer opportunity. Actually it’s a style of dessert, as I’ve tried many variations on a theme which have blown me away. The basic idea is to mix chocolate, ice cream and thick stouts. The best I’ve tried have been towers of chocolate cake or mousse served with a creamy vanilla or Cornish ice cream alongside a big stout. I’ve had chocolate and walnut  mouse with Gonzo Imperial Stout (world beating!), Bibinca cake and vanilla ice cream with Brooklyn Black Chocolate stout (innovative), Young’s Double Chocolate Stout with Baked Alaska (strange!) and Old Engine Oil with Cadbury’s flakes drowning in mostly melted creamy Cornish ice cream. Not to mention  ice cream floats made from Hooky Double Stout or Dark Island Reserve served with clotted cream on digestive biscuits (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!). This year I’ll be migrating to Leigh’s suggestion of baked vanilla cheesecake with Saltaire Triple Chocoholic though.

    Le cheese

    Yep, Christmas dinner has to be finished with cheese. I would bring the board out some time after eating had finished, and when conversation moves rooms the cheese board must follow. It will still be there when we get to our feet for bed. My cheese must haves are simple. Fullers Vintage must be saved and savoured at Christmas with old blue cheese or brie (and it’s widely available from Sainsbury’s every year, or pick up vintages from beer shops or the brewery). Sam Smiths organic raspberry fruit beer to complement Wensleydale with cranberries (the very over-sweet raspberry beer easily overcomes the drier cranberries but their mutual sourness ties them together, read about the Strawberry version here). Harveys Elizabethan Ale – all raisins and wine – is perfect with Camembert (throw brandy soaked raisins in the cheese too just for laughs). And a complete theoretical experiment I’ll be trying this year is Cornish yarg with Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale – because the combination of green funky cheese and piney hop joy just has to work! (Don’t forget blackstock, Shropshire and Danish blues either – wonderful cheeses for match all sorts of beers).

    So there it is, an alternative Christmas dinner with a whole host of beer possibilities. Some will work, some won’t, the fun is in trying them all! Now I just have to wait for my opportunity to cook this feast one year…

    As well as Leigh’s Christmas dinner you can also find menus from PhilNeilAndy and Rick. We’d love to know if there’s anything you’d like to nick for this year, or anything that you makes your stomach turn? And what else do you do that’s different to the norm?!

    P.S. Harvey’s Elizabethan Ale is amazing with mince pies too!

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