Tag Archives: Almasty Brewing Co

North East Beer Scene: Almasty Brewing Co

image

I’ve spoken many times about wanting to raise awareness about the North East beer scene and this year it’s my mission to raise the profile of the breweries which are creating the fantastic beer scene here on Tyneside. So to kick it off in style, here’s my profile of Almasty Brewing Co, enjoy!

Out of a pretty innocuous lock up, tucked away on an industrial estate, great things are coming…

As you wind your way into Algernon industrial estate, you pass many industrial units all of which have the same uniform, low key facades, very much functional and expressionless, but as you turn the final corner an Almasty lurks. You may not see it yet, but it’s there….

Filled with images of mysterious misty forests, Almasty brewery has created a brand around the tag line “ale exploration”. This isn’t human exploration, its nature exploring its own back yard. There is a down to earth, connected to its own habitat, natural and organic development to the Almasty brand. Almasty is an old Russian term for a Big Foot or sasquatch. And this is a powerful beast, who lives in the shadows, perfectly suited to its environment. It’s elusive and mysterious, it’s much talked about but rarely seen. And when it does raise its head, its big news, it captures the public’s interest. It draws in officiandos from all over to come and investigate the sighting. The fascination is only strengthened by the mystery that surrounds it. Hopefully I won’t ruin the allure by telling you alittle bit about our Almasty, the brewery!

imageHere is a brewery which recently celebrated its 2nd birthday, and yet it’s a brewery which has been in the making for far longer than that. The Owner/Head Brewer/Tsar (OK OK I get it, that’s enough of the Russian references) Mark McGarry has a strong track record brewing for some of the region’s best known breweries. Somewhat inevitable that one day he was to take the step to open his own brewery.  Your own brewery allows your own ideas to flourish that bit more and he’s taken the lessons he’s learned from his past and is brewing beers of impeccable quality. There is no core range. There are some pretty consistent styles but they are subtly varied to explore different nuances in the style, which keeps things interesting for the brewer and interesting for the consumer too. His IPA for example is delicious, whichever Mk you try. They each bear the hallmark of Almasty quality and yet the ingredients used will vary from Mk to Mk. The variations are openly noted for all to see, it’s not simply badged up as IPA its MK I, MK II, MK III and so on etc etc so for us consumers we can see the variations and how the beers evolve as Mark works around with them. The other style which I personally particularly enjoy are his stouts.

I have to admit, there has been a recent demand for what I see as American sweet imperial stouts. Thinking of Buxton’s Yellow Belly & Oscar Blues Ten Fidy being two examples of this. I liked these beers, but didn’t love them, experience dominated abit too much by the sweetness for me. My personal preference is the bitter, bold roast coffee, espresso of a stout rather than anything overly sweet. What struck me early on about Almasty is that Mark brews stouts exactly how I like them. I love that in this day and age there are such a broad range of imperial stouts, it’s a reflection of the current market place as a whole.

Mark had an Almasty Brewing Co bar at Indyman last year and I was lucky enough to sample the imperial stout he was serving that day, he also had a cherry version on and both beers were deliciously smooth, deliciously luxurious, with a big bold mouthfeel and well balanced roasted coffee/chocolate notes and it felt very satisfying to drink.

image

Recently, I was able to get myself along to Newcastle Beer Festival where the biggest draw for many was the Almasty Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout. Again, this was delicious, but felt bigger, more rounded and the bourbon in it warmed the cavities of your nose and kept the cold out. Delicious beer. But what I hadn’t appreciated was that this was infact the same beer that I had sampled at Indyman. It was freshly brewed for Indyman with some of it set to one side and barrel aged in various barrels to experiment with different flavours. Fascinating to see how the barrel aging process had changed the beer. It’s not just a case of the beer taking on the flavours from the wooden barrels, the beer itself changes over time too. So its smoother and different flavours come to the fore.

There are further barrel aged versions to come aswell, so keep your eyes peeled for those! Mark is very much an experimenter with beer. He has solid brewing experience and applies quality workmanship to his product, which allows him to experiment with less risk. He is more likely to produce something good when he has a sound knowledge and yoda style foresight to see what each adjustment will do to the ultimate beer. He recently produced an Irn Bru sour for the Newcastle Brewdog bar’s birthday celebrations. And I’m told it was a cracking beer. But a real step away from the norm, there is no norm for Mark, the norm is experimenting with beer and his ability makes each beer appear effortless.

I often get asked to pick out beer for people to try and my golden rule is if you see Almasty, drink Almasty, such is my regard for the beers. At many smaller beer festivals I go to its noticeable that hop forward beers usually served on keg, aren’t always able to translate that quality into a cask offering where there is no chiller. Almasty is one brewery that I know the IPA’s and Pale Ales do translate well. They have an overall quality to them which adapts well. And it’s noticeable that you see a lot of cask Almasty beers around the pubs and clubs.  I have heard a few brewers, most noticeably Buxton Brewery, dropping their cask offering to all but their own tap house. Without getting too drawn into the reasons for that, I think it’s great to see breweries still developing great cask beer. I’m not blinkered enough to say keg is best, while I mainly drink keg I love a good quality cask beer. The trouble is cask beer is prone to being poorly kept which ruins the drinker’s perception of all cask beers and also the perception of the brewery itself. But that’s an argument for another time.

image

So what of the beers. With the beers not being widely bottled, I took it upon myself to get out and about into the pubs and clubs of Newcastle and sample the beers on draught.

Mk 7 IPA

Here is the flagship IPA range in all its glory. Almasty is a brewery as dedicated to cask as it is to kegged beer. I had this from cask in the Free Trade Inn and it’s an incredible beer. It leaves you with that feel good aura like you’ve just given blood. Order a pint, prepare for the big bold hop assault and follow it with some sweet biscuit malts to balance it all out. Delicious!

APA Classic American pale ale.

At 5% this packs a punch, delicious piney grapefruit and sweet mangos all blended together wonderfully. This is a real refreshing, sessionable beer. In a time when there are a million pale ales on the market its difficult to stand out, but this genuinely does. That’s testament to the quality of the beer, the quality of the brewer and the quality of the full package.

Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout

imageMark was incredibly kind to provide us with some bottles of this to review on the Beer O’Clock Show and what a beer!  Here is a beast of a beer. I think it’s the hedonist in me that has a love of good quality high abv beers. I’m not a lover of abv for abv sake, the art of a high abv beer is usually to mask the alcohol burn. However, when you barrel age a beer in bourbon barrels you kinda want that bourbon to be prominent in the flavour or else the type of barrel used becomes irrelevant. I also see with all beers that setting is key. For me an imperial stout is the perfect nightcap. I like a big thick boozy imperial stout and to sit and slowly sup infront of an open fire.

Almasty is a key brewery to watch out for. Seriously high level of expertise employed here and the more Mark experiments the greater his beers will become. And to reiterate, if you see Almasty, you should drink Almasty. You can thank me later.

image

Advertisements

Wylam Brewery: Palace of Arts

 

wylam tap narrowAfter months of eager anticipation, the doors of Wylam’s new premises flew open last weekend.  For those that don’t know, the brewery has itself a new home close to the heart of the city namely The Palace of Arts in Exhibition Park.  The setting is a fascinating location.  For while it is literally a 5 minute walk from Northumberland Street, the heart of the city’s shopping area, the setting is incredibly tranquil and will make for a brilliant spot to enjoy the sunshine and of course the freshest beer, in beautiful surroundings.  I was fortunate enough to be invited along to the launch party to have a good neb round the place.

The history of this building is fascinating and I couldn’t resist a blog post covering what I’d learned of the site.

IMG_3175It’s impossible to do this building justice without first considering the site.  Location, location, location as the old mantra goes and for me this is a cracking spot.  As a city, Newcastle is rightly proud to have what are known as the moors, basically large areas of green green grazing land on which the freemen of the city are entitled to keep their cattle (I kid you not).  These are often referred to as the cities lungs as they provide the perfect antidote to the man-made emissions on the roads.  The moor area in Newcastle is split into two areas (the Town moor and Nuns moor) by the central motorway, but the total size is larger than Hyde Park and Hampstead Heath put together at 1,000 acres.

IMG_3203.JPGTucked into the corner of the moor is an area called Exhibition Park.  The park was developed for the 1929 North East Coast Exhibition. However after many years of steady decline, it has recently undergone a major £3.2m restoration project.  The park includes a central lake, a Victorian bandstand, tennis courts, a basketball court, children’s playgrounds, two bowling greens and, right next to the Palace of Arts, is the home of The Tyneside Society of Model and Experimental Engineers (TSMEE), who operate a miniature steam railway.

The North East Coast Exhibition was the brainchild of Sir Arthur William Lambert (great name!).  Born in 1876, he attended the city’s Royal Grammar School, becoming a local councillor in the city in 1910.  He went on to serve with the Northumberland Fusiliers during the First World War and in 1919 he was awarded the Military Cross for his services.  Away from his military services, he was a director at Townsend & Co, which was a company set up by his grandmother which specialised in china and glass.  They were suppliers of decorative plates depicting images from the North East Coast Exhibition, created by the now very collectible Mailing Company.  One such design included a picture of Sir Arthur Lambert himself.  He was Lord Mayor of Newcastle on two occasions, the second of which covered the time that the North East Coast Exhibition ran.  He was knighted in 1930 for his work with the exhibition.

IMG_3183.JPGThe aim of the North East Coast Exhibition was to showcase the strength of north east industry, in particular the regions engineering abilities and to promote the skilled workforce, thus attracting other employers to the area, whilst also generating further orders for the already established businesses in the region.  This was a time of impending recession and the leaders in the city wanted to do all they could to lessen the impact of the recession on the region.

This was a massive event which ran from 14 May 1929 and closed with a huge firework display on 26 October 1929.  In that time the exhibition attracted 4,373,138 people and still remains the largest event ever held in the city.  Several buildings within the park were built to house the exhibitions themselves, the Palace of Arts being the only one which remains.  My memories of the building are of it being the Military Vehicle Museum.  My visits were only when I was very young, but distinctly remember my Uncle taking me along to see all the various tanks and troop carriers on display.  But that was many many years ago and my memory of the building itself are very vague.

IMG_3195.JPG

In 1929 there was a large wide highly decorated bridge which spanned the lake outside giving pedestrians a direct route to its front steps.  With that bridge no longer there, the building does sit quite nicely on the edge of a lake, which having been cleaned up is now home to Swans and other wildlife.  All the other buildings were built of sheet asbestos.  The Palace of Engineering showcased classic north east industries, such as ship building, mining and railway engineering.  The Palace of Industries, included exhibits on tin can manufacturing, printing presses and carpet weaving. In addition there was an Artisan’s pavilion, a women’s pavilion, a pavilion for the Empire Marketing Board, an amusement park, an African village, a huge chicken incubator (which housed enough chickens to lay 800 eggs a day) and a Festival Hall which could accommodate nearly 1,500 people and an open air stadium which could accommodate up to 20,000 people.  This was an event with an average daily attendance of 30,000.  The final day was attended by some 120,000 people. 

The Palace of Arts was built to house works loaned to the exhibition from a great many Lords, Dukes and other renowned art collectors at the time.  It is now a Grade 2 listed building and actually the glorious nature of the building is incorporated into the description on the National Heritage list for England, here’s what they have to say about it:

IMG_3249“Steel framed with concrete cladding. Single storey. 15 bays by 19 bays. The main façade has a projecting central portico with 10 base-less and capital-less square fluted columns, raised on a 7 step base, with a 3 step flat parapet which continues around the whole building. Either side are 3 bay blind wings with 3 blind windows each. The building is surmounted by a central octagonal cupola, topped by a shallow octagonal dome. The side facades are articulated with 20 base-less and capital-less fluted pilasters. Interior has a central domed space and linking galleries all round, divided by wooden panelled walls with Art Deco style doorways between.”

Granted some of the wording is very much functional descriptors of the buildings features, but step back from all the individual features and they all come together as a whole to make for an incredibly fascinating building.  It’s far from delicate, it’s one of the first buildings in the UK to be built from reinforced concrete, but then why should it be delicate.  It was built to house an exhibition which was a show of strength for the region, the building was intended to be impressive in stature and its contents all the more so.  However, the star of the show is the central octagonal cupola, which is a stunning space which will be the main events hall, with a stage at one end, bars at the other and decorated with Wylam’s own barrel aging project on display for all to see, just incase you forget for a minute that you are infact in a brewery.  Its architectural features like this which make the use of such buildings so desirable.  Wylam could have quite easily moved to a purpose built building somewhere, which would probably be effectively a large warehouse, so it’s incredibly refreshing to see a brewery adapting an underused building to bring another offering to enhance the Newcastle beer scene.

IMG_3221

I also find it incredibly appropriate that in 1929 this building was used to attract visitors from all over the country to come and see what great things were going on in the North East.  Roll the clock forward to 2016 and once again, this building could become a real symbol of the booming beer scene here in Newcastle.

Wylam themselves have moved quickly to make the building more than just a home for the brewery & more than just another taproom.  There is a very active number of events planned.  There are already several musical performances lined up, but for me most significant are the Brewers markets.  The first such event taking place on 10th/11th June will feature North East breweries Allendale Brewery, Almasty Brewing Co, Box Social Brewery, Cameron’s Brewery, Three Kings and special guests from out of the region, Northern Monk.  Now to me that is a pretty impressive line-up of top quality breweries from the region.  It’s great to see that Wylam aren’t simply all about themselves, they’re really driving a collective community with events like that.  They have the fantastic platform and for them to share it with other North East breweries is incredibly forward thinking.  Let’s face it, one brewery alone may draw a large volume of people to visit the city.  However, a fully developed and exciting beer culture across the city will make it far easier for every aspect of the beer community on Tyneside to flourish.  A rising tide lifts all boats as the saying goes.

 IMG_3179

Currently in the planning/development stage are taprooms for Northern Alchemy and Tyne Bank Brewery which will soon become reality and further enhance the offerings on Tyneside.  The beer scene here is really going to take off in 2016 and I can’t wait to see where it ends up.  One things for certain, by the end of the year we’ll be placed firmly on the craft beer map.