Friday, 17 April 2009

JDW Fest

Given that I take Wetherspoons as I do all pubs, that is I recognise there is good and bad, I decided to start with one I knew to be good when seeking out the more interesting beers in the current beer festival. So, on day one, off to Rochdale and a very quiet Regal Moon I went.

The customers were mostly retired looking men and a fair number were scanning the pump clips, programme in hand. I wasn't the only temporary ticker there. On the bar were four "must haves" or "required" in tickerspeak. Wild Blue Yonder from Bend Brewing in Oregon, Lead Dog from Yukon Brewing in Canada, Palm Steenbrugge Blond from Belgium and Sinebrychoff Porter from Finland. What a line up.

I'd like to pause here to reflect a little on what JDW has done here. In importing cask versions of beers rarely, if ever, seen on cask and commissioning talented brewers from around the world to make cask versions of either an existing beer as in Synbrychoff Porter, or new beers based on beers they brew at home, they have done something different and highly innovative. Whatever your views of JDW, big brewers have been persuaded by them to open their breweries to these brewing upstarts to allow this to be done. British brewing is rightly criticised for its monochrome conservatism, but hopefully this innovation will inspire them to a little more adventure. It also enhances British pub retailing, showing as it does, some serious imagination. Nor is a premium charged for these beers. In an egalitarian gesture that would bring a tear to Karl Marx's eye (and he liked an hour out, albeit on wine, as I recall), all festival ales are sold at the same price. (£1.59 a pint in this case). It therefore provides an incentive to expand your beery horizons - a true level playing field.

So what of the beer? Well they were all in tip top condition for a start. The Wild Blue Yonder perhaps didn't show enough of its hop profile, but was a satisfying and bitter drink, the Lead Dog was excellent - very dark, full bodied, more bitter than billed and a damn good beer. Also excellent, more so even, was the Sinebrychoff Porter. Jet black, toasty and roasty, with all the coffee, chocolate, liquorice and spiciness described in the programme, it was marvellous, with a hefty alcohol hit being well disguised in a hugely complex and rewarding beer. I felt though that on my sample at least, the Palm Steenbrugge Blond, didn't really suit cask format. While full of condition, it lacked the spritziness that it needed to lift the spiciness up and show the beer at its best.

On the way home, I nipped in to my local JDW for the first time in months, expecting little, but amazingly, three more "required" beers were on tap. This time Epic Pale Ale from New Zealand, Baron's Bush Berry Porter and Flying Dutchman, a wheat beer from the Netherlands. I thought the wheat beer in this case was rather dull and lacked the lift that extraneous CO2 gives this kind of beer. It really is horses for courses. The Bush Berry Porter was fascinating, with its dry porter backbone, very smooth and luscious mouthfeel and insistent, slightly sharp and vinous berry notes giving it a mysterious and satisfying finish. Lastly Epic Pale Ale was sweet in the opening with a less than convincing Cascade finish. It seemed to have no middle really. Single hopped, to this drinker at least, it lacked something and certainly needs trying again to see if I was just unlucky on this tasting.

So I enjoyed JDW's Fest and I will be back again before it ends, though likely in London rather than the North. As always I'll compare and contrast.

PS - A shout out for Elgoods - the only "normal" beer tried. I thought their CXXX, based on an 1878 recipe, was tremendous in showing how to use the classic Fuggles and Goldings combo to great effect.


Ed said...

That does sound like an impressive range. My local 'Spoons does good beer, but has the usual lack of atmosphere associated with the chain so I generally avoid it. Seeing your post has got me quite tempted to head down there now though ...

John West said...

Thanks for the rundown - much though I dislike the ambience of JDW pubs I've been into, I admit you are right that the push for innovation is worthy of mention and approbation.

Interesting - cheers!

NAM said...

Interesting. My experiences vary: I found the Flying Dutchman excellent with a nice balance between the orange peel and the wheat. If I'd known it had orange peel in before I drank it, I have to say I'd have been suspicious as I'd normally pair orange and beer with fish and bicycles. However, I wasn't over keen on the Lead Dog. I didn't get much of the bitterness you mentioned. I think I was expecting a North American hop monster.

Unknown said...

Extraneous CO2 is indeed useful in a wheat beer.

I don't like Wetherspoons either, but in some town centres they are the only option for good real ale.

Paul Bailey said...

Was fortunate that my local Wetherspoons in Tonbridge (The Humphrey Bean) had Lead Dog Ale on last weekend - 3 days before the official start of the festival.

Am looking forward to getting down there tomorrow to see what's on offer. Particularly hoping that Sinebrychoff Porter (which I've tried in bottled form) and Oregon Amber Ale will be available.

I agree, Tandleman, full marks to JDW for this innovative approach, and to the likes of Banks, Caledonian, Marstons et al. for opening their doors to these brewers from overseas.

ps. The Japanese Porter and the Californian IPA at the last festival were excellent.

Erlangernick said...

Blimey. A special casked beer from Bend Brewing! Some people rave about this place; I've always found it to be passable. But it's got stiff competition: Deschutes' wonderful brewpub is just around the corner.

The only criticism I can scrounge up: Why on earth would they set the price at GBP 1.59? 1.60 would be that much more sensible, wouldn't it? That'd save the hassle of dealing with an extra P.

I've visited a few JDWs in my few visits to England. What I don't get is, why the hell can't they do better food? The atmosphere is odd, yes, but I'd gladly put up with it if I knew I could always get something good to eat at one.

And as far as JDW being the only option for good RA in certain places--my missus and I ate at one on a weeknight during a visit to Bolton a year or two ago. It seemed to be the best (or only) option to get a meal with decent beer.

I sent an SMS to a certain blogger here asking for alternative suggestions, specifically: "What the hell do you lot eat around here?" The response was perhaps apt--hard for me to judge after only one day/night in Bolton--"In Bolton? They probably eat each other!"

MicMac said...

Tandy - did you really go on the pop with Marx - you're not bearing up too bad!

Agree heartily on what a great (& more eco-friendly) idea of importing brewers rather than beers.

jocko said...

Bring plenty of money when you come to London its £2.39p in the city Mcspoons for fest ales.

Chap said...

Well done JDW! Jocko - in Amsterdam you'd pay around five euros for a half litre of Dutch wheat beer - about 5.30 pounds per pint by my reckoning - so Tim Martin's cutting you City boys a pretty good deal. And we pay higher taxes than you.

Kieran Haslett-Moore said...

Reports haven't been great on the cask Epic so far. I will be interested to see what Luke thinks of it. He has been twittering and facebooking about his adventures in the UK non stop but hasn't actually mentioned what he thinks of his beer.

Tandleman said...

Had a pint of it yesterday along with Tyson. It is OK, but the brewer doesn't seem to have got enough hop presence into it.I think we were all expecting more.

NAM said...

The Elgood's CXXX was a revelation. How come a beer from an 1878 recipe tastes like a modern hoppy blonde? I'd love to know if this is really an example of beer from around 1880.