Monday, 27 June 2011

Wee Beefy drinks in Dalriada

Evening all,

many weeks ago there wasn't such a thing as new-fangled humid 21degree nights and unbroken sunshine, because we had just stumbled into a meteorologically muddled June. This was the time that I chose to head off for 7 days in Scotland, the country of my birth, the bestower of my nickname, and provider of my most interesting antecedents.

Wee Fatha was to be driver, human guide book and gracious coverer of costs for some of the nights, since originally this was to be a mere 3 night escapade arranged as a present for me and Chala. We started our adventure at 08.00 on Saturday 4th June and set out for the long haul oop north.

Following the snake and some motorways with 6's in them, we headed through the lune valley gorge before stopping at Milnthorpe in that Lancashire for morning coffee. Alas too early for a licensed beverage, we nevertheless had an enjoyable break sat under a tree on the green admiring the church and the sunshine, which was ominously predicted to shrink away before we got to Carlisle - and so it did.

As soon as we entered the lake district the lights went off and the clouds blew in, but it wasn't dull, or indeed cold as we crossed the border, just average. Our first stop proper was Moffat and the Buccluech Hotel. The GBG could perhaps have been a bit more precise in its details but essentially the hotel has a tiny bar with no real ale, but next door is what looks like a separate business, the Coachmans bar.

Here there was the inescapable Deuchars, a shame since on past visits under independent ownership the quality far outshone the pale copy that abounds today; also on the bar was Inkie Pinky from Inveralmond Brewery. This was a pale refreshing beer with a nice malt and balance of bitterness which didn't last very long, but then neither did we. What with much to cram in, and despite an interesting chat with a gent at the bar, we all too soon had to leave for pastures new.

These were Larkhall, on the outskirts of Glasgow, perhaps not as fearsomely lawless as WF made out as he insisted we packed all but our coats into the boot, but nevertheless looking like it may well have seen better times, a considerable number of years ago.

The Village Tavern is on the National Inventory of historic pub interiors (N.I) and comprises two entrances and essentially two different drinking areas either side of the bar, with bench seating along each side, and loos at the end giving the interior a pleasing 1930's design symmetry (although the layout is older ). Much of the old seating area on the left is basic which suits the functional bar fittings, with, I am told, a separate area to the right which may have been a snug or off sales jug and bottle bar. Alas there is no real ale, but we did at least get some acceptable McEwans 60/-. Its an inescapable fact that real ale is probably even less prevalent in traditional pubs on the inventory, so where possible I try and get a 60/- or a "best" to lessen the impact of how grim my drink is. Further disappointment came in the form of the pub being so packed as to make getting a photo impossible, which is a shame.

Next we headed East for the former mining village of Shotts, which was perhaps a good day to visit since the whole place was buzzing with the highland games on up the road, and many people dressed in kilts and full traditional regalia, or put another way, dressed as Americans would assume everyone did in Scotland's urban industrial heartland.

We were uncertain if our intended stop would be open at all though, with WF having got no joy with the phone number provided or from directory enquiries, but having taken a wrong turn and had a drive around Shotts fairly glum environs, we arrived at the Old Wine Store on Shottskirk Road. That said, I only knew this because I recognised it from a picture, and because WF had advised there might no longer be a sign. There is not, just a board where it will one day go, the only written identification being a blue McEwans sign with Old Wine Store in small letters along the bottom.

Now seemingly only on the regional Scottish inventory, it is still obvious what the unique feature is here - its the magnificent bar gantry housing 4 huge old spirit casks that still dispense whisky. Round the far corner of the small bar, with high ceilings and a low partitioned seating area on the right, a couple of ancient handpumps suggest a real ale may have been available once, but its keg only unfortunately. So I had a pint of the Belhaven Best and WF a rather odd choice of McEwans Tartan, a beer from my past when I had no idea what I was drinking that sends shivers down my spine, usually based on how cold its served to mask its barely detectable one dimensional flavour.

The gantry, or at least the ends of the wooden bar back, looks to have a couple of A shapes on it, I wondered if these were part of the design, i.e just shapes/patterns, or were a nod to former ownership by Alloa or Aitkens brewery. There is also a famed miniature mirror round the back left of the bar which WF reckons to have spotted, but even given the friendliness of the staff and the locals, I dind't fancy jostling at the bar for no apparent reason and staring intently at people in line with the said mirror.

We said our farewells after getting a few pics, and headed off up the road to West Calder, and the imposing visage of the Railway Hotel, also on the N.I and complete with a small tower at the left hand end as you look straight at it. Still no real ale here, so Belhaven by default and tomato juice for WF.

The interior of this grand pub was the best thus far. Being busy with regulars watching the England match on a giant screen in the right hand bar, we sat in the quieter left, having walked all the way around the island bar from the entrance and along a slatted wooden walkway at the back. This is a handy feature, not least because the bar splits at the end to allow staff into a room directly behind it, perhaps previously a traditional Scottish managers room, now likely a kitchen.

The thin single bar fitting straddles the exact middle of the island bar and features ornate woodwork, and to the right of the far end of the bar is a corridor to a second room (given that the bar does not reach the ceiling there is no partition and thus essentially only one room), which also provides access to the loos, as well as a snooker room with dark wood panelling at the end. In the left hand bar where we sat is a small window at the end of the bar structure which reminded me of one at Bennetts in Edinburgh, and some nice coloured glass windows.

The lights are in a gas lamp style which adds to the authentic feel, and there is noticable grooved dark wood at the edge of every window, making the frame look as though its as thick as the walls. A decorative old fireplace topped by a Belhaven mirror on the left wall facing the bar completes the scene, in what makes for quite a narrow room.

Our next stop was not drink related but the likely now private Niddry castle - the OS map has the words restored in brackets, which often means its privately owned. There is still a brown sign to follow near the network of local cycleways and paths in the area but we only wandered up the track for a peak, and a pic. Our next stop was more closely related to Mary Queen of Scots, as she is supposed to have stayed at Niddry, that being Linlithgow.

This magnificent town boasts a Palace, which was alas shut, at the top of a steep road above a grand fronted edifice which is probably the council house, and the Linlithgow cross. We walked up to take a look at the Palace and St Michael's church, and then walked down to the loch which we walked round part of in conveniently arrived bright sunshine, admiring the bird life and looking back to the mount with the palace and church on.

We then headed into town and into the Four Marys on High Street. This is one of two GBG listed pubs in the town and halted our real ale drought in some style, with 7 or 8 handpumps dispensing almost exclusively Scottish ales including the Belhaven 4 Marys, which I had a half of, and Houston Peters Well (untried), Williams Bros Ceilidh, and a fantastic pint of the Fyne Ales Avalanche,which had been a highlight of the recent 3 Valleys festival.

We left to watch an impressive circular parade round the square and up and down the main street, which explained the plethora of cones along every pavement, and was likely part of the Linlithgow Festival of the Marches. We then headed out of the town and made good progress over the Forth bridge to our accommodation in Clackmannan outside Alloa. We only briefly checked in before driving out to nearby Sauchie for tea at the famous Mansfield Arms brewpub.

We knew they were serving food until late and we were nearing the end of a long day travelling so just wanted to turn up. eat, and drink some decent real ale, which the Mansfield Arms is perfectly geared up to let you do. The pub, more precisely their Devon Ales brewery, is one of a handful of long established breweries that that have filled the void left by giants like Alloa Ales and Maclays in the area, and is a real ale survivor.

As the market started taking off in a big way in England there was a valiant but unsuccessful surge North of the Border. Here, Bothwell, Alice, Strathalbyn and Devanha breweries (to name but a few) opened and closed during the late seventies and early eighties, suggesting, with the exception of stalwarts like Harviestoun, that real ale and microbreweries didn't suit the Scottish market. The Mansfield Arms however has been brewing since 1993 (1992 according to their website ) and have seemingly gone from strength to strength. The brewery now produces 4 real ales and a smooth/cold version to suit the tastes of the younger regulars.

Real ale is served under air pressure from fonts but its cask conditioned so this makes only a marginal difference to the flavour - I did try them on gravity at Wakefield Beer Festival about a million years ago and recall little difference in taste. With our enormous portions of food we tried a pint ( for me ) of the Devon original at £2.10, WF having a half, a pint of the Thick Black, and a half of the Pride, which may also be called 90/-. All the ales were in good nick and were the perfect accompaniment to our food.

Luckily we had left room for a further drink sort of on our way back to the B&B. We popped in (having spent 10 minutes finding it, even for a 3rd visit ) to the unique survival that is the Railway Tavern in Kincardine. All that suggests there is a pub is a small beermat sized plate above the door stating J Dobie licensee, and a smokers wall mounted ashtray next to the blue door. Inside there is a small room on the right which is usually unused, only opened as an emergency overspill, a corridor off which leads the ladies and the gents at the end, a door on the left to the bar room, and, confusingly, another door on the left to the bar, literally. Given that ther can't be more than 30 square foot behind the bar fittings included, its merciful that this door opens out....

In the bar room is a fireplace as you enter on the pubs left wall and a couple of stools at the bar. Immediately on your left in the window, is a large table which seats 8. And that's it. You may be able to get 6 standing 2 sat at the bar and the table full but that would be absolutely rammed. This seating arrangement makes best use of the minute available space, and has led the regulars to develop an innovative purchasing arrangement. This usually involves a designated orderer being sat at the bar and taking the money from and the products to those sat at the window end of the table.

We were in early enough ( anytime before 21.30 ) to get a seat at the table, with myself occupying the seat against the window, luckily I chose an early point at which to go to the toilet. I had a pint of the Tennents Light, which just to make things clear is a dark beer, and settled down to listen in on the topics of conversation of the evening, including leeks and potato growing, highland blizzards, and catching up on the daily lives of the locals.

All night the blokes who I remembered seeing in there on my first visit were all drinking virtually the same drink - a half a beer and a whisky, sometimes with a cheeky lemonade or ginger beer added. Perhaps this cuts down on disruptive trips to the gents when the bar gets busy. Time passed very quickly even though we were there over an hour, but we had to head off all too soon to get a well earned kip after our lengthy first day.

Next - Loch Leven castle, some Dundee N.I pubs, Dunottar Castle, Stonehaven and Banchory.

Wee Beefy

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Leeds and Huddersfield pubs, Magic Rock brewery launch, Cask Vs Keg - what to be scared of.

Hello surfing slakers

I have been back from my epic journey around old Alba (ironically Scotland may even have been called Albion, a word which always conjures up an image of England ) for nearly two weeks now, but have been too overwhelmed by the prospect of writing up my travels to have managed an entry since.

However, I have returned early yesterday morning from a trip round Leeds and to a brewery launch night, and this is what I will tell you about today.

Waaaarf was off on holiday with Thangor the Motherinlaw and I was instructed, sorry asked, to accompany the Shirley Valentines to the airport to rub in the fact I was staying at home, oh, and to see them off. This co-incidentally was the same date as a brewery launch in Huddersfield and formed the basis of a plan. Having waved them into the terminal from a torrential rainstorm at LBA, we headed off along Kirkstall Road and parked behind the Cardigan Arms, an entry on the National Inventory of unspoilt pub interiors.

The idea was that Davefromtshop would arrive in Leeds by coach at midday and then get a bus up to the pub for about 12.30. We arrived a little before him, getting some good photo's of the exterior before settling down in the public bar on the left.

There is a Tetley's draught poster in the tiled entrance proclaiming its price and alluding to its availability, alas it transpires real ale is only sold later in the week, as they have a delivery on a Wednesday. Had it been on, there would have been a choice between cask Tetley's from Marston's or somewhere, and Leeds Pale from Leeds, making the poster in the lobby doubly ironic.

Wee Fatha opted for a tomato juice and I closed my eyes and tried not to think of the trespass I was committing on my body by having a Tetley smooth or other horror, being as they'd also ran out of Guinness. After Dave joined us I asked if I could take some pictures of the interior, a question which usually elicits some puzzlement, but rarely the single word "why?". Sufficient explanations provided, I got my pass and set off round the large interior snapping away.

What I didn't know was that whilst I was in the smoke room taking some shots, the landlord/licensee asked Dave and WF if they were the police. Now, I don't know what you think, but having been asked that only by drunk customers before, one wonders what reason he thought the police would have taking photo's of the pub's interior ?

This aside, the interior is worth photographing, there is a wide drinking lobby as you enter with the smoke room on the right, and the door to the public bar on the left. Further forward is a small back room labelled Oak Room, a corridor out to the street on the left and the back of the very impressive 3 sided bar with a gantry running all along the top. Immediately left of the passage running next to the stairs is another room with the door closed - I wondered if this was still in use or whether it had been reclaimed for storage. There is excellent etched glass throughout and some impressive tiling. Dave tells me that they are renowned for gigs and other events being on upstairs so hopefully the pub's future can be assured. If visiting, perhaps make it Thursday to Sunday to be sure of real ale.

Next we headed towards Kirkstall Abbey over the canal and down Pollards Lane to the Abbey Inn at Newlay, next to both the railway line and, I assumed, the Leeds Liverpool canal. This free house serves about 8 guest beers and was maintaining an excellent range. WF had a half of the Leeds Pale and from an excellent selection of breweries there was really no question that me and Dave would go for the Kirkstall Brewery Black Band Porter, a sumptuous oaty bitter black beer, which was smooth drinking at 5.5%.

The original Kirkstall brewery buildings nearby are now flats, apparently the new ventures buildings back onto the canal so its a truly local beer for the pub. The landlord of the Abbey told me that the man behind the brewery was Dave Sanders, of Eastwood and Sanders and Elland and Barge and Barrel brewery fame. This explains why such a new brewery had managed to so quickly produce an excellent beer.

We couldn't stop for long as we had to get through Leeds to Hunslet and the ornate Garden Gate Inn, also on the N.I, and almost impossible to reach by car thanks to dreary and inscrutable blobs of new housing. After driving round in circles for 10 minutes we found a road taking us behind the shopping centre and even then could only espy the pub down a footpath, so parked nearby and walked.

The Garden Gate is an incredible site. Its ornate tiled frontage makes it stand out from the modern environs, but arguably even if it were flanked by other buildings of a similar age I reckon you'd still notice it.

Inside 2 doors lead off a main entrance, one straight ahead down a lavish etched glass hallway with a lounge off first right, a small room now used as a kitchen next right, and two further comfortably appointed rooms on the right and left after the bar counter. The left hand door leads to the large bar room which is the only room to have a bar front, an impressive tiled and ceramic half moon shape with an ornate single bar back.

On the bar are 5 handpumps, all from Leeds Brewery. On our visit, their Best, Pale, Midnight Bell and Quality Pays, were all available. The latter is a cheeky and yet brilliant reference to Carlsberg's outrageous decision to close a viable brewery and wipe out an admittedly maligned but nevertheless important brewing tradition in pursuit of a quick profit, leaving Leeds brewery as the only one in the city. The pump clip shows a huntsman's hat and a monocle but no face or body, perhaps a reference to faceless Carlsberg output, but pertinently avoiding copyright infringement, with the words " Tetley's have called time in Leeds " and the phrase "Join us!" in huntsman era red writing below.

WF had some of the darker midnight Bell whilst me and Dave both tried the Leeds best, a surprisingly creamy malty beer perhaps aping the better characteristics of the widely abused Tetley bitter, and one which was actually quite a meaty pint to drink down. We finished on halves of the quality pays which is 5.2% and only £2.50 a pint. This was a heady ale, similar to the Tetley subsidiary Walkers Wild Rover special that they used to roll out now and again to give tied house punters some respite from the same limited choice.

Having received a nod for a potential pub to visit from a bloke called John, the pub I think was the Dock Green on Harehills road, we soon had to leave as they shut at 15.00 during the week. WF went back to the car to drive home, and me and Dave went to catch a bus into Leeds to get the train to Huddersfield.

Whilst trying to find out where best to alight for the station we happened upon the Adelphi, another Inventory offering, and also a good view of the doomed Tetley's site, which will no doubt become "essential" high end housing for a minority of rich city workers or a themed retail park before you know it. The Adelphi is another of the Leeds Gin Palace style pubs, with fabulous etched glass windows throughout and rooms leading off an impressive central corridor. We went to inspect the bar offerings in the public bar on the left and opted for halves of Wayfarer, which was a very bitter pale beer which simply stated "brewed oop north " and half of the Hopdaemon Incubus, which came to a rather frightening £3.15 - I don't think either beer topped 4%...

We decamped to the smoke room on the second right of the corridor to eat our similarly eclectically priced snacks before I headed off for a tour and to try and take some pictures without flash, a task made much less easy by the effects of our early 5.5% beverage and the residual effects of my birthday barbecue a few days earlier.

From here we made our way to the station and the train got us into Huddersfield for 17.00. We went straight into the Head of Steam and had halves of Ossett Mild and Great Newsome Jem Stout, which came to £2.80. The Ossett was a bit fierce for a mild, having quite a lot of bitterness from the roast malt, whereas and the Jem stout was a smooth and drinkable bitter black ale that went down a little too well, given that we were saving ourselves for the brewery launch later. Here we also bumped into Dave Williams form that Camra and everything, who pointed us in the direction of the Sportsman for our pre launch entertainment.

Heading across St Georges square we walked left under the railway bridge and the Sportsman, a 19330's art deco designed pub, was on the street corner on the left. Inside is a fabulous sweeping semi circular bar and small austere wooden drinking booths, and a striking 1930's mirror on the wall. The bar has about 10 handpumps with a good choice of local beers, including the two we tried.

The lady behind the bar explained that the Sportsman Brewing Co was their own brewery, but that it was still being built at present and they were using kit at Golcar brewery in the meantime. This sent a shiver down our spines, as both me and Dave remembered Golcar bitter as being perhaps the dullest and most wearisome beer ever tasted. I don't want to go off on a tangent here but we went to the Golcar Lilly pub a few years ago and they had their bitter and Adnams Old on. It says something about your own pub's beer that the guest ale far outshone the Golcar bitter on all fronts.

Mercifully the Sportsman chaps appear to be the ones brewing so there is no worries of a repeat of the Golcar drudgery, and me and Dave both enjoyed our halves of Pigeon Bridge Porter and Alpha Ale. The porter was uncompromising with massive roast bitter flavours and the Alpha was similarly astringent but with a lot of enjoyable floral notes to balance it out. Definiteky requiring an M in its title to denote its authority.

From here we made our way up to the Grove inn for the brewery launch night. Inside is a two roomed ale mecca with at least 14 handpumps. and an impressive range of keg fonts for continental and UK micro brewery ales. Really its too popular for its size - it could easily have a third large room and still be packed out although I realise that a brewery launch night serves as an explanation for the numbers present.

Magic Rock the Boat

The range of keg beers at the Grove inn raises a few interesting questions about real ale and Camra and the consumption of beers other than cask. It seems, based on the fact that at their launch even brand new Magic Rock brewery appeared to have provided a keg beer, that its both viable and easy to produce both keg and cask ales, and that the desire to do this amongst UK microbreweries is increasing.

In the bad old days only regional brewers tinkered with the gaseous demons, and produced usually dreadful smooth or extra cold versions of their ales to suit dyed in the wool keg only customers across their estate. From the crop of micros currently doing this, I have only tasted the Bradfield offering, and that was nothing like the dread awful fizzy crap of the past, but it was palatable, and its genre seems to divide opinion and rankle Camra.

So here's the background.

Long of tooth and perhaps narrow in outlook, some stalwart Camra members are horrified by the idea of micro brewers keg beers. This is understandable for the more vintage campaigners - Camra was set up in the 1970's to stop the decline of real ale and to try and stem an almost inescapable tide of dreadful fizzy keg rubbish which had nothing to offer the refined palate other than boredom, pneumonia and dyspepsia. I am not a Camra member myself, but I used to be involved, and recall that almost anything that interfered with the determined campaign to secure the survival of real ale was treated with contempt.

In the 90's even traditional cider was seen as an irrelevant sideline to real ale, not helped by the Addlestones fake handpump hoo ha, as a result of which successive Sheffield Beer festival cider lists became more and more tedious and reliant on dross like Saxon which is made with apple-ade or something, and any deviation into perhaps giving a shit about traditional pubs, that god forbid, might be unique time warps but not sell real ale, was also of no interest to the campaign. So unwillingness to concentrate on anything but real ale is both understandable and historically prevalent in Camra.

Against that background, what are the pros and cons of micro brewed keg beer ?

Cons :
1. Brewers may stop brewing real ale.
This seems unlikely. So far I have seen keg offerings from Thornbridge ( actually I only head about this, not saw it!), Brew Dog, Gadds, Bradfield and Magic Rock. I have also heard that Dark Star and Marble have or are to produce keg. I think 5 or 7 out of probably 800 does not represent a threat, especially when, with a question mark over Brew Dog, all these brewers produce a range of excellent real ales and some have won awards for them.

2. It diverts attention from real ale.
Does it ? Everyone knows the difference between the two, and for that reason the two styles should and do promise different things to the customer. Everyone has a favourite style or choice of dispense and everyone knows what they want and expect from a beer. So its surprising then that the idea of kegs at festivals is such a non starter. As a case in point, Camra don't want keg at a real ale festival, and that makes sense, its not real ale after all, but at the recent Grampian festival local brewer Brew Dog wanted to provide only their new keg offerings, not the cask version.

I understand why the Grampian folks turned them down, but playing devils advocate here, what have they to be scared of ? Assuming, as is the central plank of the campaign, that real ale holds its own and outshines the flavour and aroma of keg, surely a keg alternative at a festival would only serve to show drinkers that real ale is best ? Unless of course, it isn't? I know that its best, you know its best, but what if it can't stand up to a keg equivalent, in the eyes of an undecided customer ? Perhaps in that case, consumers will have a hand in steering the UK real ale market towards a more flexible mixed format business plan, with equal emphasis on keg, bottled and cask....

3.Its not real ale. I only drink real ale.
Well, this should be a forceful basic argument - there is after all no arguing with that. The thing is however, all of us, to some degree, probably drink non real ale at some point already. I've never spoken to a beer lover who doesn't have a default choice in case of a lack of real ale such as at parties, or in restaurants or when abroad. Obviously we all want real ale all the time but that's not realistic, so rather like your second third and fourth favourite football teams whose results you rely on when your team plays crap, most people really do have other options, and use them.

Take a continental beer like Franziskaner wheat. You are in a pub selling two real ales and a large number of overseas bottled and draught beers including wheat beers, alt biers, lagers and fruit beers. Its 90 degrees and the beer is warm and of unpromising choice so you opt for a cold refreshing wheat beer. And why not ? Slake your thirst with a cold one and then enjoy the flavours in the cask.

Or maybe you are in a restaurant (or come to think of it, any bar overseas) and don't want to pay out for wine or pissy cold Heineken. You find that in amongst the usual selection of Becks and Carlsberg bottles they have an Alhambra Reserve 5.9% lager, or a Peroni Gran Reserva, bursting with malt flavours and subtle bitterness. This is likely a good choice as opposed to having a soft drink, and you are drinking the best of whats available.

And how many times have we seen, amongst the range of beers in a supermarket (which undoubtedly means only one BCA if you are lucky ) a tempting and impressive Brew Dog offering ? You know it will be bursting with uncompromising flavours and deliver what it says on the label ( except Punk IPA, as previously mentioned ) so who wouldn't try that ? The answer is, we probably all would, just like in the days when real ale was scarce, and Camra members relied upon bottle conditioned Guinness Original or unfiltered Pilsner Urquell. And that's before we even start to think about bottle conditioned beers at home. Basically, we all drink real ale alternatives, and it doesn't have to ruin our taste buds, or diminish our dedication to real ale...

So now the pros.

No need for a list here, as the plus points really all mushroom from the same central idea, that is that the diversity of the changing drinks market is and has to be reflected in the brewers determination to diversify their product.

In reality, brew Dog are in some ways a cataclysm for the above. They brew fantastic bottled beers and very little, and recently no, real ale. Their reputation stretches globally and they have opened a number of keg only outlets, which of course could no doubt serve real ale if they wanted. This has been the case in many of the UK's swanky brew restaurants for years - brew 4 keg beers in continental and classic British ale styles, and have one cask for those who prefer. Beers and breweries like this demonstrate that none cask beer has plenty to offer in terms of flavour and style and crucially, availability. It works well at showing cask fearful types that beer from UK micro breweries can hold its own in terms of new and exciting flavours and isn't a flat cap mild and basic bitter only industry.

So, my advice to beer drinkers, Camra or not, is this. You don't have to buy it. If there is a selection of real ales I will always have them, as that's my favourite drink, full stop. But if I have room for one, I will compliment my choice of real ale with a Kuppers Kolsch or a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, or a bottle of Poperings Hommelbier.

Its inescapable that If micro brewers don't see a future in real ale, that's up to them. Its a crying shame, but you can't force them to produce real ale, especially if people want to buy keg. If excellent tasting keg micro brewed ale gets into places that can't sell real ale then that's a start. Not everywhere can sell real ale, and not everyone likes it, that's a fact. Look at the reach of Brew Dog based on their bottled ales - how else will they fly the flag for British beer overseas, by sending out casks round the world by air freight ? I say let a small number of keg micro brewery ales make their way into an already overloaded drinks market, let people make up their own minds, and carry on drinking the best long drink in the world, real ale.

So, back to the launch night, and the brevity of the rest of the article is reflective of the strange and over in seconds nature of the launch. At 19.00 someone blew a whistle or perhaps a horn, and announced that the beer was on sale. That was it!

Me and Dave had started with pints of Marble Summer at 4.5% which was £2.80 a pint. It was as bitter as you'd expect from Marble but not sufficiently refreshing to be a summer beer. Next, with the beers on sale from Magic Rock, and having let the scrum peter out, we both had pints of their Curious - a refreshing 3.9% session bitter with a lot of light floral flavours and plenty of bitterness.

Dave headed off soon after to get some food - I tried my best to fill up on Pipers crisps and some eclectically priced jerky, but Dave could hold on no longer and headed into town. He did miss the buffet in doing so, but it was devoured in almost no time, although I really enjoyed my beer tapas of black pudding, kabanos, and flat bread. During my solo stint I also tried halves of Oxfordshire Ales Marshmellow, which couldn't make up its mind if it was vanilla or marzipan beer and was deeply weird all round, and a very enjoyable half of the Magic Rock High wire IPA at 5.5%.

Dave soon returned, having fed himself, and had a pint of the Magic Rock Rapture, described on their website as a red hop ale, which may explain why it reminded me of a bitter a mild and Mythos red ale ! This was a very easy drinking pint and Dave had another whilst I embarked on a rather reckless pint of Brew Dog Alice Porter ( on cask and everything ) at 6.2% which was £3.30 a pint.

Plenty of familiar faces abounded at the pub, whether amassing at the bar or stood outside trying to cool off - when Dave returned from town he noted there was a wall of warm air as you entered the pub. Amongst friends we saw were John Clarke who is involved in the Heritage pubs inventory assessments, Dave Williams as per earlier, and Rich from Blue Bee who was trying and failing to do business with Dave based on his somewhat optimistic pricing policy.

As the time came near for Wee Fatha to pick us up ( he very kindly offered, and was recompensed for his efforts ) we both had a final pint of Rapture. Wee Fatha was bought a half of Curious for his efforts on arrival, before me and Dave opted for a final half of the Dark Star Original Mild Ale, at 6%. This proved an unwise decision, as it was a thick vinous concoction that I couldn't help thinking they had got wrong. The huge slab of creamy chocolate malt flavours drowned out any balancing bitterness and the whole thing was heavy chewy and incredibly filling and we really had to labour to finish it. Nothing to do with all the beer we'd had previously of course.....

Wee Fatha soon magicked us home for just past midnight I think and I set about making an odd and poorly produced concoction of foods before I went to bed for a very long time. Overall the day was a brilliant snapshot of Yorkshire heritage pubs and a great opportunity to sample some of the best real ale - and keg if you should like to - that the UK has to offer.

More soon on my epic Scotland trip, as soon as I can get my brain in gear.

Wee Beefy