Passing Thoughts on Yorkshire Beer

Collage: Yorkshire Beer.

We spent a few days in Yorkshire last week (Leeds-Harrogate-York) and reached a couple of tentative conclusions.

1. Timothy Taylor Landlord, like Bass, and probably like many other beers, can be so different as to be unrecognisable from one pub to the next. We’re not saying it’s an inconsistent product but that it has a lot of potential for change depending on how it’s handled by pubs. We had pints that were bone dry and stony, and others that were sweet and nectar-like — older and younger respectively we assume. We almost always enjoy it but there seems to be a real sweet spot where it becomes a little less cloying and gains a sort of peach-like flavour without completely drying out. Expert opinion welcome below, of course. In the meantime, we’ll keep testing our findings when we can.

2. We might have finally zeroed in on the essence of Yorkshire bitter. Tetley*, Black Sheep and Taylor’s Boltmaker, as well as looking more alike in the glass than we recall, all had the same challenging, hot, rubber-band tang. We’ve noticed it before in Boltmaker but honestly just thought it was on the turn. But there it was again in multiple pints of Boltmaker, in different pubs, even in different cities, and in multiple pints of the others, too. It’s most pronounced in Boltmaker (Jessica likes it, Ray finds it too much) and gentlest in the current incarnation of Tetley (Ray likes it, Jessica finds it rather bland) but definitely the same thing. This is where our technical tasting skills let us down, unfortunately. Is this maybe what people mean by ‘sulphurous’? Again, expert suggestions welcome.

* No longer brewed in Yorkshire, we know.

3. Northern pale-n-hoppy beer is more to our taste than London or Bristol takes on the same style, on the whole. We knew this already, really, but this trip confirmed it. Without wanting to seem dogmatic about clarity (we’re not) beers from breweries such as Northern Monk, Rooster’s and Ossett were perfectly clear with a lightness and dryness that made them impossible to drink in anything less than great hearty gulps. Even with plenty of flavour and aroma there’s a certain delicacy there — perfect engineering. We did find ourselves wondering if perhaps we’ve grown to prefer sparklers for this style because (per this post for $2+ Patreon subscribers) the notorious widget has a capacity for rounding off hard edges and smoothing out flaws. ‘Don’t @ us’, as the kids say.

VIDEO: Old Hill Inn, Yorkshire, 1979

The 50-minute 1979 documentary film Underground Eiger is primarily about caving but there is a wonderful two-minute sequence which begins at 23:49 filmed at The Old Hill Inn in the Yorkshire Dales.

It’s a party rather than a typical night at the pub but nonetheless gives a wonderful sense of atmosphere, and is certainly a great antidote to that grim stereotypical ‘Yorkshire’ pub portrayed in An American Werewolf in London.

You can find more information on the film and watch what might be a higher quality copy at the BFI website.

We were sent this link by Robin Oldfield — thanks, Robin!

Magical Mystery Pour #17: Kirkstall Dissolution Extra IPA

This traditional IPA from Leeds, at 6% ABV, was chosen for us by David Bishop, AKA @broadfordbrewer, who says:

It’s one of those beers that folk regard as an unsung hero of British IPAs.  I think I’ve become accustomed to the juicy banger IPAs and often forget IPAs like this. I drink a fair bit of the cask version of this beer – the weaker Dissolution IPA. The Extra IPA comes in an unfashionable 500ml bottle, it’s at the maltier end of the IPA scale, it’s quite strong, and the Ratebeerians don’t seem to think much of it, which makes me like it all the more.

We bought our bottles from Beer Ritz at £3.28 per 500ml.

(A spot of disclosure: when we launched our book in Leeds Kirkstall supplied a beer with our names on the pump-clip. They didn’t pay us, we didn’t pay them, and we’ve had no dealings since. Having to do this every time gets exhausting but in for a penny, etc.)

We get a little bit excited about this kind of English IPA — not the 20th Century version which is generally indistinguishable from bitter but the revivalist, retro, BBC costume drama variety. The Protz-Dorber sub-style, if you like. They’re generally made using English hops in quantities substantial enough that you can taste them but with an emphasis on bitterness and flavour, rather than extravagant aroma. They don’t demand to be drunk fresh, now, quickly, drink me now! In fact, a bit of age often does them good. And, because there are so few around they feel different and interesting, sufficient to tickle the novelty receptors, while still being rooted in tradition.

Kirkstall Dissolution in the glass.

On opening the bottle we got a whiff of hot marmalade. After pouring, it looked slightly hazy, and a rather beautiful shade of orange. With noses in glasses we found more marmalade and orange blossom, as encountered in the clear syrup they used to sell in our local Turkish supermarket in London.

The initial impression of the taste was more of the same, along with some ripe strawberry and a general hedgerow leafiness. We kept talking about oranges but it wasn’t citrusy in the sense of bright breakfast juice — more like candied peel and intense oiliness. The bitterness was turned low in the mix but probably about right, holding it back from being cloying. It’s a round beer, not a spiky one; robust, not rough; mellow.

We think it bears a strong resemblance to Meantime’s take on historic English IPA but it’s years since we had a bottle of that, and it is pricey these days, as well as being stronger again at 7.4%. Marston’s Old Empire is probably the best budget alternative, usually available in supermarkets for less than £2 a bottle and great at its best, though sadly variable in our experience.

Though we liked Dissolution Extra a lot, and found every mouthful demanded another, we don’t quite think it earned its ABV, drinking more like a 5% beer. We’d really like to try the weaker version David mentions in his note. Overall, though, it was a big hit with us and we will probably buy it again. If you think these modern IPAs smell like bloody air freshener, but also think Greene King have a bloody cheek, and so on, then you should definitely give it a try.

There’s only one more MMP post after this in the current series when we’ll be writing about Wold Top Marmalade Porter with a side serving of Samuel Smith Taddy Porter for reference.

Magical Mystery Pour #16: Black Sheep Riggwelter

This beer chosen for us by David of Beer Doodles fame (@beerdoodles) is either a modern Yorkshire classic or a ubiquitous supermarket PBA depending on your point of view.

‘PBA’? That’s ‘premium bottled ale’, a category which didn’t really exist before about 1990, when breweries and supermarkets decided they needed a way to grab the attention of real ale drinkers during their weekly shop. We tend to think of Black Sheep, founded in 1991 by Paul Theakston of the famous brewing family, as very much a product of the PBA era, perhaps because that’s the form in which we, living in the south of England, most often encountered its beers.

Recalling his youth David says Riggwelter is ‘a beer that was around when I was too young, really, to be drinking Strong Yorkshire Ale, so I have a certain affinity for its rough edges when served too warm’. We bought our bottles from Beer Ritz at £2.98 per 500ml but most supermarkets seem to be selling it at between £1.60 and 1.90 a bottle.

There’s a fair bit of chat online about whether or not Riggwelter is intended to be a clone of, or homage to, Theakston Old Peculier. Both are around the same strength and a similar red-brown. As far as we can see, Paul Theakston has never gone on record acknowledging the similarity but, having run the family brewery for much of the 1970s, he would certainly know how to brew a clone if he wanted to. They seem quite different beers to us, though — cousins rather than twins. Perhaps, as in the case of many beers vaguely based on other beers, the likeness was more obvious in the early days before Riggwelter evolved into its own thing.

Continue reading “Magical Mystery Pour #16: Black Sheep Riggwelter”

A Pub Made of Glass

We’ve just acquired a handful of in-house magazines from John Smith’s of Tadcaster dating to 1968 and 1969 one of which contains a feature on a pub in Kirk Sandall, Doncaster, S. Yorks, called The Glassmaker.

The article says that the pub was the Kirk Sandall Hotel up until 1956-7:

It was erected by Pilkington’s, glass manufacturers, of St. Helens, Lancs., who have a large factory at Kirk Sandall, for their employees and to show off their “wares”… When it was first opened in 1934 it was regarded as being years ahead of its time…

(You can see a picture of it in full Deco glory accompanying an article by David W. Gutzke at the Brewery History Society website.)

From the outside The Glassmaker appears as an oblong building with flat roof. One of its windows measures about 20 ft. x 10 ft and contains no less than 98 panes. Dogs, representing various breeds have been exquisitely cut into some of the panes.

Dogs etched into glass.
Dogs etched on glass. Photographer uncredited. SOURCE: The Magnet, April 1968.

But that’s not all:

Inside the building the glass panels, squares and shapes of many sizes which surround the visitor on all sides are of many colours. Those used in what is known as the Gold Room are very rare and are known as “rough cast printed and fired gold”… The door of this room is of armour-cast toughened glass… The mirrored walls of one quite small room turn it magically into a vast auditorium and three or four people are multiplied into hundreds.

Glass panels.
Glass panels. Photographer uncredited. SOURCE: The Magnet, April 1968.

This combo of industrial showroom and pub sounds amazing so far — almost like a fun house. But…

To some extent the result of all this glass was a building which did not generate a high degree of warmth. In fact it was distinctly “cold” in appearance so the recent improvements have had the physical and psychological effect of “warming it up”.

Oh, no — ‘improvements’. What did they do?

The principal entrance hall has been completely changed and fitted carpet and mahogany-style panelling have covered up hundreds of green tiles which tended to give the impression of a fish and chip shop! The lounge has also been equipped with fitted carpet, some mahogany panelling, comfortable seating and modern tables.

The really interesting glass features, they insist, were retained, but we’ve got used to this narrative: modernised in the 1960s, faux-Victorianised in the 1970s, and then… Well, let’s stop guessing and take a look.

It’s still there! And looks in quite good nick. There’s hardly a trace of Art Deco left, the name has changed — it’s now The Glasshouse — and there’s a big old extension on the front. But, hey, it’s not boarded up, burnt down, or been replaced by a branch of Tesco.

And here’s an amazing 21st century perk for the architecturally curious: thanks to Street View we can even look inside at all that beautiful glass!

Oh.

Unless we’re being dense, there is no interesting glass anywhere to be seen. Just boring glass. That’s a shame.

Still, looks a nice enough place for a Sunday carvery (you can read Simon’s comments at The British Real Ale Pub Adventure) and at least we have The Magnet for a record of how it used to look.