York real ale trail

A beery adventure


We got up early and jumped on the train at 8:40 and headed over to York for the Christmas Market. We wanted to beat the crowds because if you’ve ever been to the Xmas Markets in York, you know it gets incredibly busy. We arrive at the Market just before 10am and the crowds had already begun to appear but it was a much more manageable and enjoyable shopping experience. One of the first stalls I spotted was selling beer from the Little Valley Brewery in Hebden Bridge. Me and my wife Esther bought 2 polypins of their beer for our wedding reception. So we got chatting to the lady behind the stall who I recognized from their website as Sue Cooper. While chatting to Sue, she mentioned Wim (Wim van der Spek, Little Valley’s master brewer) would be back in a second. Wim, arrived back at the stall and we chatted for a while and I had to tell him how much I’d recently enjoyed his dark brown hazy wheat beer titled “Gustibus”. It’s a really interesting dark smokey wheat beer. The vitality and freshness reminded me of something that Sierra Nevada would produce. Similar to S-Nev’s “Unrivaled” smoked Rye ale. We wish them luck and headed off into the market. I would have bought something, but I can buy their full range up the road from my house at Saltaire Wines. I’m definitely not a cheapskate when it comes to buying beer, much to my bank balances detriment.
We spent the next few hours walking around the market, browsing buying cheese and barging my way past the more pedestrian members of the crowd (I’ve got no time for dawdling). I was happy to see a few more beer stalls, one from Cropton and one from York Brewery. I chose not to buy them as I was bound to find a great selection in York’s great beer emporium The Bottle (not a patch on Beer Ritz, Zak we still love ya!).

A great range of world ale on draft

A great range of world ale on draft

After the mooching was over and we fancied a sit down in a warm dry place we headed over to Pivo Cafe Bar. They have a great selection of world beers on tap, La Chouffe, Bernard, Meantime Hell (they have a rotating selection of Meantime on draft and are the most Northerly place to stock it on tap) Weihenstephaner, Duvel Green and two brews from one of my favorites, Sierra Nevada. Sadly the S-Nev Stout was all gone so I when for that old favorite Pale Ale. I would have jumped at the chance to have La Chouffe on draft but it was 12 noon and I thought 8% was a bit much for that time of the day. I bought Esther a glass of Apple bocq. A Belgian wheat beer with apple juice that weighed in at 3.1%. Two refreshing drinks perfect for that time of the day. To be honest I wasn’t massively impressed with the Pale Ale, it just didn’t taste right? I love this beer and have it every few weeks. I’m not sure it was the manor in which it was kept or because I’m used to how it tastes out of a bottle? There is a big difference in taste.


A fantastic pub, make the effort...it is worth it!

A fantastic pub, make the effort...it is worth it!

We then headed over to The Rook and Gaskill. I’d read good things about this place on beerinthevening.com but had always been put off by it being a bit out of the way, just beyond the city walls. It is a good sized pub rather quiet but it has a long bar housing 14 ale on draft along with good selection of bottle in the fridge. We were confronted by line up of pump clips, some from better-known breweries like Batemans, Phoenix, and Castle Rock (Its a Castle Rock pub, I think). I wanted something seasonal, red, copper, amber or dark…something to fight off the cold. But the pumps didn’t say much and neither did the bar man (I don’t know what of he thought of us at first? Seemed a bit stand off-ish). So Esther ordered a half of Castle Rock Black Gold (3.8 ABV), a pleasant dark mild. I made a dangerous and brave choice, a bottle of Brewdog Paradox Isle of Isley. To start with I was a bit concerned I’d made a bad decision with my pricey purchase (Thanks Esther that was very generous). I’d always meant to try Paradox and this seemed like as good a time as ever. The first sniff was a shock, a big blast of smokey whiskey and the taste followed suit. Had I made a bad decision going for such a strong beer so early into the trip…and at £6 I feared I didn’t really like it. As we read the label it said it should be served at room temperature and this one had come from the fridge. I didn’t want to down this insane whiskey fuelled stout so I bought a half of something else to “Work alongside” the glass of Paradox. So I headed back to the bar and pick up a half of Castle Rock Winter Rail (5% ABV) and a half of Phoenix Snowbound for Esther. The “Winter Rail” was very drinkable dark ale with toasted malt and hint of coffee and Oats. Esther’s “Snowbound” was pale with an initial malt sweetness followed by that signature bitter hoppyness of the Phoenix Brewery. Next up I went for a half of Batemans Salem Porter. A porter with a dry roast, nutty palate and rich malty aftertaste. I bought Esther a bottle of Brewdog 77 Lager. I’m think of getting a case of this in for Christmas day, her sister Emma is getting married over here on the 28th December and I thought she’d like this. I’d be much prefer people to be sipping bottle of this at my expense instead of necking stubbies of Stella. She really enjoyed the bottle, a complex British lager, loads of malt but crisp and refreshing. Much more interesting than the mainstream brands, Brewdog…mission complete!

A well stocked bar!

A well stocked bar!

The Paradox has been warming up during this time and has really balanced out. Before it was like drinking a watered down glass of whiskey, by now had it really come alive! Sweet, rich, smokey with a strong oaky woodiness, it just got better and better. Just before we were planning on heading on to the next pub the barman who had warmed to me by now recommended I tried the Crouch Vale Amarillo. It was very good smooth golden ale with a fresh aroma and little fruit spiciness. After finishing that off we grabbed our bag, hit the streets, snapped a shot of the pub sign and headed back into town.


stillenacht1

I'm looking forwards to cracking this one open.

We’d planned to go to the cupboard sizes CAMRA award winner The Blue Bell. But when we arrived there were signs on the door saying, “Private Party – Ticket only”. My suspicion was they didn’t want to be over run by shoppers and spared the regular the hassles.
Next stop was a visit to The Bottle to see what they had in stock. They have a really good selection of British ales, Belgian Trappists and the usual German bottled beers. It was packed with people buying gift sets of Chimay and Kwak for Chrimbo prezzies. I was much more interested in the full range of Goose island Beers they had on sale. I grabbed bottles of Goose Island Mild Winter, 312 Urban Wheat Beer, Summertime, Harvest Ale and 22oz bomber of Christmas Ale. Along with the shipment of American ales I got a bottle of Acorn Gorlovka, Wensleydale Winter Ale and a bottle of Stille Nacht from De Dolle Brouwers.


Back on the pub trail we tramped our way to the opposite end of town to The Swan. I went here on my Stag do after a day at York Races and really enjoyed it. This time it was not the same. The beer was poor and people wanted to watch the football so the atmosphere was lacking. I finished only one of my halves Exmoor Gold, the other was bloody awful and not worth a mention…SHOCKING! Esther did enjoy her glass of Gwynt Y Draig Brown Snout, a smokey cider at 6%. It was a big let down and I didn’t even snap the sign for use in this blog.


Always a winner!

Always a winner!

Next and finally on to Brigantes, a pub we knew would be good and have enjoyed many times. And a place we could get some hearty food to soak up the beer. I went for a half of Dent Kamikaze 5.0 ABV and another of Hell Fire from Leeds Brewery. Kamikaze was a sweet, earthy strong bitter. Smooth and drinkable. Hell Fire was fruity pale ale with plenty of sweet malt with a lasting bitterness. Another winner from Leeds. Esther had a glass of Timmermans Strawberry which I was told tasted like “Chewits”. The food arrived; I had bangers and mash and Esther potato, cheddar and leek hash cakes with ratatouille.
We finish up our meals and we had 40 minutes to wait until our next train. By this point we’d been out for about 10 hours and were becoming a bit wiry. I got on final half of Dent Porter (3.8 ABV). I slowly sipped this lovely porter. It had flavors of coffee and a touch of liquorice.
Shortly after we collected our wares and made the short walk to the train station. It was really fun day of shopping, boozing, walking, eating and chatting.

Brimming with character...yes it is!

Brimming with character...yes it is!

The find of the day would be the wonderful Rook and Gaskill and my beer of the day was either Crouch Vale Amarillo but it may have been bullied out by the powerhouse performance of the bottle of “Paradox”.

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