A Quick (Beer) Trip to Yorkshire

Yorkshire has a veritable heap of breweries, some long-established and many new. Just working your way around a few of them could prove a lengthy project, but here’s a small taster of what the Duck Holiday team have tried.

Black Sheep Bitter (3.8%)

Black Sheep was established in 1992 by Paul Theakston when the Theakston brewery sold out to the giant Scottish and Newcastle, hence the rather sardonic name. Their bitter is a good example of a solid Yorkshire bitter, with plenty of hops and a bitter finish. It’s a thoroughly reliable session beer and can be bought in mini-kegs. Morrison’s sell it from time to time, though we haven’t seen it recently.

Abbeydale Hopback Bobek (3.8%)

Abbeydale brewery, based in Sheffield, began in 1996. They sell a range of beers from their online shop and this one is a quaffing pale ale with a decent sharp bitterness in the finish. The name comes from the Slovenian Bobek hop, which gives a rather lemon and floral tang to the beer.

Abbeydale Dr Morton’s Mandarin Claw of Death (4.1%)

Oh, come on, how could one not try something with a daft name like this? The name is something of a misnomer, as it implies a beer that is, shall we say, a little on the powerful side. In fact, it’s a fairly gentle ale and at least one part of its name gives the game away. The Bavarian Mandarina hops impart a subtle orange flavour, but there is good bitterness throughout and it’s a refreshing and pleasant ale.

A North-East Beer Extravaganza

Just about everywhere in the UK has seen a surge in the number of small, independent breweries in the last twenty to thirty years. This is a most welcome development, no more so than in the north-east of England, where your correspondent’s formative years were dominated by the giant Scottish and Newcastle Brewery. These days, even Newcastle Brown Ale is no longer brewed in the region. Thankfully, there are plenty of better (and bitter) alternatives.

This is a selection from just five of the breweries in the north-east.

Monument (4.1%)

Brewed by Tyne Bank in Newcastle, this is a fairly pale bitter and a taste that was unexpected. It has a hoppy bitterness, but also a distinct berry flavour that one usually associates with a red ale. I also tasted a little spiciness and even a hint of toffee, strangely enough. Quite a complex affair and different to what I had anticipated, but I enjoyed it.

The name, incidentally, is a reference to the monument (who’d have guessed?) to Earl Grey in Newcastle city centre. It was built in 1838, six years after the Great Reform Act which changed so much in British political life (largely for the better). Grey was Prime Minister when the act was passed. And yes, the tea is named after him.

Tyneside Blonde (3.9%)

Not surprisingly, this is a very pale beer from Hadrian Border brewery. It has a light and fresh taste, with no really powerful characteristics. It’s like a rather light IPA. There is a gentle fruitiness, mildly citrus. A very pleasant session ale.

Hadrian Border is quite a new brewery, but still has a somewhat complex history. It is the successor to the old Border Brewery in Berwick, which closed in 1994. The new brewery had to move and eventually took over the old Four Rivers Brewery in Newcastle. This was formerly the Hadrian Brewery and the names were merged.

The brewery has since moved again and has a new home in a different part of Newcastle.

The site of Hadrian’s Wall runs through the city of Newcastle. One common misconception is the continued use of the term “north of Hadrian’s Wall” to mean Scotland. This is lazy and wrong. The wall was never a border between England and Scotland. I was born north of the wall, but I was not born in Scotland. I was born in Northumberland, although if I were a bit younger, I would have been born in the metropolitan county of Tyne and Wear, which came into being in 1974.

Wagtail (3.8%)

Allendale Brewery’s “flagship” beer. This is a 3.8% session beer. It has a pale amber colour and you get a hint of bitter orange in the taste, along with a little spiciness. It most definitely classifies as a bitter – there is a notable bitterness in the finish, which I like.

Allendale is another relatively new brewery, having started in 2006. It is situated in the south-west of Northumberland, to the west of Newcastle and south-west of the old market town of Hexham.

Alnwick Gold (4.2%)

A golden ale from Alnwick Brewery. This is a very clean-tasting and refreshing beer with a gentle bitterness and a gentle orange tang. There are lots of golden ales around and one or two can be a bit samey and bland, but I wouldn’t label this as such. A most pleasing drink.

Alnwick (pronounced Ann-ick) is a market town about 35 miles north of Newcastle. It is not to be confused with the nearby coastal town of Alnmouth (pronounced Alun-mouth). The brewery is very new, although it is in a way a resurrected brewer. There was an old Alnwick Brewery that closed in 1978.

Alnwick IPA (4.5%)

A lot of so-called IPAs are perfectly pleasant ales, but don’t really fit with my idea of what an India Pale Ale should be. This isn’t one of them. It’s a nice and robust hoppy ale with a vigorous bitter finish. At 4.5%, it’s what I’d call mid-strength. Completely new to me and most enjoyable. From the same stable as Gold, rather obviously.

Shuggy Boat Blonde (3.8%)

This is a pale beer from Cullercoats Brewery that is tangy and has a good bitterness. There is a depth to it that might lead one into thinking it was a little stronger if you were tasting it unseen. This kind of thing pleases me – it thumbs the nose at the tiresome “beer has to be 5% before I even consider it” brigade. Well, it’s your loss.

A shuggy boat, incidentally, is a fairground ride otherwise known as a swing boat. “Shuggy” is the local dialect term. The brewery is actually in Wallsend, just on the eastern edge of Newcastle and named thus as it is the “terminus” of Hadrian’s Wall. The brewery has an office in Cullercoats, just up the coast to the south of the slightly larger and better-known seaside town of Whitley Bay. The name of the beer is a nod to the many fairs and rides to be found in that area in the summer.

Reiver Best Bitter (4.2%)

An ale that is an excellent example of an old-fashioned best from First and Last brewery in Elswood, right in the middle of Northumberland, on the edge of the beautiful and wild national park. There is a little sweetness in the first mouthful, with a hint of toffee. Then the hops kick in and you end with a robust bitterness.

The name comes from the “border reivers” who raided along the Anglo-Scottish border from the 13th to 17th centuries. There were reivers on each side of the border. Their primary target was livestock.

Equinox Pale Ale (4.1%)

Pale it certainly is, a very light yellow in colour. The first thing that hits you is the New World hops, which give it a very citrus zing. There is also a hint of tropical fruit. It’s a very refreshing beer and there’s a fair degree of bitterness. Any sweetness is of a fruity rather than sugary nature. Most enjoyable.

Beer – Direction South-West

Shifting south-west on the beer tour brings us to Yeovil Ales. This is another relatively new brewery which began in 2006. They have a web shop that sells a wide range of different ales in various forms – bottles, minikegs, minipins and polypins. At the time of writing, ordering four kegs or two pins incurs a delivery charge of nine pounds, unless you live in the immediate area. However, signing up to their newsletter is worthwhile if you like their beer, as there are frequent promotions and discounts that usually cover most of the delivery charge.

We cannot claim to have tried all of their beers – they often do seasonal and occasional brews – but here are a few that have been tested out.

Star Gazer (4.0%)

This is a brownish bitter, although a little short on bitterness. The predominant flavour is malt, with a toffee sweetness. There is a gentle bitterness to balance things out, but this is a drink more suited to those with a sweet tooth.

Summerset (4.1%)

A pale, golden ale with a pleasing fruity tang. There is a good hop feel to this beer, much more to the liking of this correspondent. While it’s a refreshing ale for summer days, there’s nothing wrong with it in winter, either. Indeed, the mythical Mallard Tavern has just acquired some for the Christmas period.

Hopkandi (3.8%)

Despite the appalling name, this is a splendid session bitter. It’s a very pale beer and has a good citrus hop kick for its relatively low strength. There is a good, dry bitterness. A very more-ish ale.

Stout Hearted (4.3%)

We were most disappointed that this excellent stout was not on the menu for the Christmas period, as it is another Mallard favourite. One hopes this is merely a temporary omission, as it would be sad if such an excellent brew were to be discontinued. There is a lovely, deep-roasted taste and a smooth bitterness.

Beer: the quest continues

The beer trail moves south once more, this time to West Berkshire, both geographically and by name. The West Berkshire brewery began in 1995 and now has an online shop with a selection of bottled, canned and mini-keg ales. Conveniently, four different beers were available, which fits in nicely with the threshold for free delivery.

Good Old Boy (4.0%)

This is their “flagship” bitter and appears to be the most commonly available, as friends tell me they have seen it in supermarkets in the south of England. It is more malt than hop, and consequently, I wasn’t that keen on it. There is a little hoppiness once you get into it, but the prevailing flavour is malt and fruit.

Mister Chubb’s (3.4%)

A copper-coloured ale with a little more bitterness than the Good Old Boy. It’s a rather lightweight beer, however, not just in terms of strength, but also flavour. Pleasant enough, but a little thin and lacking in character.

Mister Swift (3.7%)

This proved much more appealing, a pale beer with a nice balance, hops winning out this time. A very decent session beer with a floral aroma. There is also a hint of tropical fruitiness.

Full Circle (4.5%)

This also went down very well. A little strong for a session beer, but fine if the session isn’t an extensive one. This is a golden ale that has a good hoppy zing to it. Interestingly, the hops – it’s a single hop beer – are locally grown, one of the very few hop gardens in that part of the country.

Sadly, Maggs’ Mild, a 3.5% mild ale, wasn’t available, but I have it on very good authority that it is worth seeking out. My correspondent, a native of Berkshire, is not normally a mild drinker, but assures me that it is a very fine beer.

Grin and Beer it

Moving north in Norfolk leads us to Woodforde’s, which began operations in the early 1980s. Their online shop sells a sizeable range of bottled beers and a limited number of mini-keg ales. However, their choice, while narrow, contains some very pleasing choices.

Wherry (3.7%)

The aroma suggests a malty bitter, but this is rather misleading (happily for this taster, who is not a fan of overly malty brews). There is a grain, biscuity feel to the beer and a satisfying hoppy finish. A very tasty, very drinkable and surprisingly complex session beer

Bure Gold (4.3%)

As the name suggests, a pale beer with notably orange characteristics. There is a good hop tang and a fruity sweetness. A good beer for a summer evening, but not to be sniffed at on any other evening, either.

Nelson’s Revenge (4.5%)

Unlike with Wherry, the initial malt aroma does not deceive. Not, I would have to concede, a beer that I enjoyed greatly, but as will be evident by now, malty beers are not my thing. There is little bitterness and a fair deal of malty sweetness. Those who like their beer on the sweet side will doubtless reach a very different conclusion than mine.

Norfolk Nog (4.6%)

This is a beer that is hard, if not impossible, to classify. It’s a dark, though not black, ale, perhaps somewhere between a strong mild and a lighter-strength porter. There is a liquorice hint reminiscent of many dark beers, but also a distinct plumminess. That gives it a gentle sweetness, but there is a constant and pleasing bitterness throughout. A really lovely and unusual ale.

Reasons to be Beerful (Part Three)

Time to zip off to Suffolk and Adnams of Southwold. Adnams is one of Britain’s larger independent breweries and produce a good range of beers, some on a regular basis and others seasonally or occasionally. Their online shop sells mini-kegs. Service can, on occasions, be a little chaotic, but they do at least seem to resolve any problems effectively. For example, they recently sold us some beer that was borderline “best-by date”, but allowed us to have some fresher beer to the value of the original order as well as keeping the original beer, which was in perfectly good condition. Not a bad deal!

Southwold Bitter and Ghost Ship are commonly available, the latter often found in supermarkets. We’ve tried a fair range of their beers, so we should look at those.

Southwold Bitter (3.7%)

A good balance of malt and hops, with a bitter finish. This is a very palatable session beer and while the first taste suggests nothing special, there is a complexity that comes through later. There’s a little toffee and caramel sweetness that is offset by a roast bitterness.

Ghost Ship (4.5%)

A very pale beer with a distinctly citrus tone to it. The slightly fruity sweetness is offset by a sharp and pleasing bitterness. Proof that mass production does not necessarily mean blandness.

Mosaic (4.1%)

Another pale beer and another fruity one, this time with a more tropical fruit feel than citrus. Closer to a session ale than Ghost Ship, but with a similar bitter note.

Ease-up IPA (4.6%)

More fruitiness, again of the tropical variety. This is a very juicy beer, with any sweetness coming from the fruit rather than the malt.

Dry-hopped Lager (4.2%)

Brewed with Pilsner malt and dry-hopped using Australian hops. It’s a reasonably clean-tasting and bitter beer, though I find it a little on the bland side.

Blackshore Stout (4.2%)

A relatively light (in strength) stout, but a very tasty one nonetheless. Nice coffee and dark chocolate tinges and a gentle bitterness in the finish. A really pleasing beer and low enough to treat as a session ale.

Old Ale (4.1%)

A style you rarely see these days. Old ales are not quite stouts, not quite milds and not quite winter warmers. It is, though, in the fashion of a darker ale, with those chocolate and liquorice flavours of a black beer. There is, like the stout, a soft bitterness and a hint of red fruit. Sometimes hard to find, but worth seeking out.

Broadside (4.7%)

Much more malty than any other Adnams beer, with dark fruit flavours. Personally, I find Broadside a little too sweet and malty, but this is simply my preference.

Beer Odyssey: Hook Norton

We’ll start this little jaunt with an old favourite, Hook Norton. This, following the sad demise of Morrell’s and Morland’s, is Oxfordshire’s oldest brewery. Your correspondent lived in Oxford for eleven years, though in those days of the tied-house system, it was rare to see any Hook Norton beer in the city. Ironically, I’ve drunk much more Hook Norton beer since living in Scotland than I ever did in my time in Oxford.

The brewery sells a wide range of bottled beers, including many seasonal and occasional brews. They don’t do mini-kegs, but sell pins of ten and twenty litres. Three are regulars: Hooky Bitter, Hooky Gold and Old Hooky. Now and then something else pops up, like Double Stout.

Hooky Bitter (3.5%)

This is almost the definition of a session beer. It’s an amber beer with a good balance of malt and hop, but a noticeably hoppy finish. There is a hint of fruitiness. Despite its relatively low strength, it has a depth of flavour and character. Most assuredly, a Mallard Tavern favourite.

Hooky Gold (4.1%)

A more recent addition to the regular beers, this is a golden (who’d have known?) ale that uses American hops. This accounts for its distinct fruity aroma and flavour. A lovely beer for the end of a warm summer day.

Old Hooky (4.6%)

This beer came along in 1977 to commemorate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee and has been around ever since. It’s darker than the above ales and there’s a hint of the winter warmer about it, with a note of dark fruit, but still a good bitterness. It’s one of those beers that tastes a bit stronger than it really is. You could easily imagine, on blind tasting, that it was above 5%.

Double Stout (4.8%)

This is something of a resurrection ale. Hook Norton brewed it for many years before discontinuing it, but stout has enjoyed – happily – something of a revival. Many of us are grateful for this trend, as breweries now offer us much nicer alternatives to the dull, mass-produced likes of Guinness, Murphy’s and Beamish. The Hook Norton version is, unlike a lot of stouts, hoppy. It makes only the occasional appearance in pins, but is most welcome when it does.

The Joy of Beer

In these times, “travel” involves little more than a walk in the immediate vicinity. Time, then, to turn our attention to other things and what better things are there than beer?

The internet has a lot to answer for. Well, perhaps we should say that certain internet users have a lot to answer for. There are, it seems, masses of people who feel the need to spout hatred and division, lies and disinformation. Some of these people are heads of state.

Happily, the internet has its positive side. One such is that we can now obtain things from all sorts of places, stuff that you probably would only have obtained when on holiday or travelling around. Stuff like beer.

There are plenty of generalist and specialist beer retailers around and a few are very good. However, it tends to be the case that buying directly from breweries if often the best option. This is one good reason for using the direct route, along with the simple fact that it provides important help to independent breweries in difficult times.

It seems only fair, then, to start a small series looking at some of the fine beer that is available. A personal preference is for mini-kegs and mini-pins as opposed to bottles and cans. A five-litre keg, or a five or ten-litre mini-pin allows one to have a good sample of a beer. It’s not exactly what you would get in a pub, but it’s the closest you come.

The plan is to cover some of the beer enjoyed in the (fictional) Mallard Tavern over the course of the last few months. We have sampled brews from Adnam’s, Hook Norton, West Berkshire, Yeovil Ales, Allendale, Tyne Bank, Hadrian and Border, St Andrews and a few others.

Beer, like art, is a personal taste. Different people like different styles and tastes. The “reviews” that will follow are, necessarily, down to personal taste. Just because I, or anyone else, doesn’t particularly like one beer does not mean that the beer is bad. So what you will see are purely personal opinions, which are merely there to inform and, one hopes, provide a little inspiration.

Happy drinking!

Song for a special friend

Standing on the quayside
As a church bell told me nine
Staring at the waters
Of the cold and misty Tyne
I confess to reminiscing
Of one long summer's day
When all my cares and troubles
Seemed to vanish in the haze

The clouds had all lifted
The trees were burnished green
As you and I went strolling
By the banks of Jesmond Dene
That day I made a promise
Although the words remained unsaid
But no day will pass me by
Without them in my head

Walking on a Sunday morning
That would freeze the gates of Hell
Thawed our bones at lunchtime
With the papers in the 'Well
One more blessed hour with you
Before I must set forth
I pray that you sleep sound tonight
My Angel of the North

Thoughts from a Duck Island

It is, of course, possible that there are one or two people living in deep subterranean caves that are oblivious to what is happening in the world just now. Most of us, I suspect, are aware that travel is not really something we can undertake right now, or indeed likely to undertake for some considerable time.

This is a slightly roundabout way of saying, “Don’t expect to see much new content on here.” There may be the odd post – possibly very odd – of a retro nature to keep us going, but for now, Duck Holiday is largely confined to the safety of Duck Island.

We can, though, offer a few thoughts on the present predicament. If nothing else, we have proved beyond reasonable doubt that there is a vast vacuum in political leadership. How many of our leaders wildly underestimated the nature of the problem? Well, just about all of them.

In the UK, we seem to be faring worse than most countries. Again, there was a colossal underestimation of the situation. We are still not really any the wiser as to just how bad things are. What is certain is that we are losing health service workers at a quite alarming rate.

One of the standard lines trotted out is that “this virus does not discriminate.” Yes, it does. It discriminates against the elderly, the poor and the doctors, nurses and other NHS people who have not been supplied with the proper equipment. A woeful lack of funding is behind this. The people who are now shouting “Protect our NHS” the loudest are the very same people who sought to weaken, if not destroy it.

The whole Brexit fiasco was built on xenophobia. The last election had no need for a Brexit Party or the odious Farage; the Conservatives had already adopted his loathsome agenda. Who, after all, boasted of a “hostile environment” for immigrants? Yet look at the figures. The vast majority of NHS workers who have lost their lives come from other countries. These people are now being hailed as heroes.

Our Prime Minister thanks the NHS for saving his life. He even makes a special point of singling out two nurses. Neither of these nurses are British. The NHS desperately depends on people from all around the world. The PM also states that he “cannot thank them enough.” Well, you could. You could ensure that the NHS is returned to being the wonderful organisation it once was. You could also ensure that the people who work for it are fairly rewarded. It would be a start.

Is it too much to hope that we might just emerge from all this with a kinder society? Possibly it is. One of the dismal things we’ve observed is the race to the bottom for the Britain’s Most Unpleasant Businessperson Award. Naturally, Mike Ashley was quickly off the mark, rapidly pursued by Tim Martin. Predictably, Philip Green didn’t take long to get his bid underway and Richard Branson, while joining rather late, has made a spirited effort. And just to ensure that it’s not all men, Karren Brady has made her own charmless contribution.

One day, we hope, there will be light at the end of the tunnel. Let’s just hope it’s not an oncoming train. Meanwhile, the Duck Holiday team can only hope that everyone stays safe and well. It’s going to be a long haul.