Category Archives: Ales and Beers

Towcester Food & Drink Festival

The weekend of the 7th/8th June saw the inaugural Towcester Food and Drink festival which was held at Towcester Racecourse. This was the first time I’ve been to the venue and the sunshine was out in force after the mid morning thunder storms. This event was extra special because one of our family members had his homemade cider on sale after receiving the seal of approval from the organiser of the event.

Situated amongst the iconic Racecourse there were plenty of Food Tents showing off a fine selection of locally produced produce including cheeses, cakes, pickles and spices. There were cooking demonstrations and live music creating a varied number of things to see and experience.
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At the Champagne Bar Andy had his Cider on sale. His dry cider was called “Two Faced” which came in at a tasty 6.5% ABV. This was a truly awesome achievement, one that we are all extremely proud of. On the Saturday Andy sold just over half of his bottles and the remainder were cleared out by the large crowds on Sunday. Up against some well known and established local Ciders, Andy held his own and looked very much at home next to them. Selling at £3.50 a bottle I asked a couple of people who purchased Two Faced what they thought of his cider.

“This is really nice, it tastes fresh and I’ll certainly be buying another bottle today”

“I do like dry cider and this one ticks the right boxes”

One guy joked when I asked him how he found the cider, he replied by saying in the bar through that door. He must have thought I was trying to sell him life insurance! A very funny line if ever I heard one.

The evening saw us take part in the Towcester Food Festivals “Real Ale Trail” the event allowed customers to purchase a glass tankard and visit five local pubs/restaurants to try out new ales. These were provided by Crispin who had organised the festival over the weekend. For £7.50 we were set to have 5 x free quarter pints followed by another half at the Towcester Mill Brewery, our new tap house.

We had some great tasters of Golden Ales and some Darker Ales. Sadly one venue didn’t buy into the spirit of this event. The Plough is a pub we have not visited before and it’s safe to say the way they made us feel as we entered the venue was not pleasant. They told us that they had sold out of the Ale and were not prepared to give us an alternative. Apparently according to the rather bullish lady who greeted us “they weren’t big enough to give us another option” the near packed front bar was a very poor alibi to her claim.

Needless to say I’d like to thank the barman at The Brave Old Oak who had ran out of Pitstop (Silverstone Brewery) who gave us a couple of other options, thank you. The numbers taking part suggested that there was a good take up on the offer to sample local Real Ales, so that was a positive. I would also like to thank The Dolphin Cafe who made us feel extremely welcome in comfortable surroundings. The evening concluded at our new local tap house, the Towcester Mill.

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As we arrived at a packed Towcester Mill we were able to sit under the moonlight amongst the peaceful fields the Mill is set within. The odd bat flickered across the moons beams in a lovely tranquil atmosphere. This was certainly the best place to conclude this night and we enjoyed the last hour in the bar as the temperature started to drop.

This is our new favourite pub and one place we will certainly be enjoying our weekend evenings in. I would like to thank Crispin for an amazing food festival which has put Towcester on the map. I would also like to congratulate Andy on his successful debut launching Two Faced. It has been a pretty decent experience, The Plough aside!

DarcyB

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York City Adventure – Part 1

We decided to take advantage of the late May Bank Holiday break and packed up the tent for the first camping trip of 2014. The Destination was York, to revisit a city I fell in love with in my early teenage years. I’d hoped to study at Askern Bryan in York for my Diploma before a change of events put that dream to bed. Despite this disappointment I have always loved this city and couldn’t wait to explore it properly with my fiancé.

The weather forecast was mixed which suited us perfectly. This kept changing as we drove up the M1, M18 and finally the A1 as we were greeted by Wagtail Park and the hardest of grounds to pitch our tent on. We were asked to bring Rock Pegs which on first inspection seemed like overkill. It wasn’t until I cockily hit a standard peg into the lush green grass that I discovered it was merely a topping. What lay under this welcoming layer was a silt filled, rocky mixture of quarry type material. After a dash to the local camping shop we had enough rock pegs to erect our tent and canopy securely.
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By the time we’d pitched the tent and got camp set up it was too late to wander too far away. There was a lovely fishing lake close by which we walked around and after we’d cooked some chili and drank a couple of beers we watched a film and called it a night. It wasn’t the coldest of nights, however as it was our first camping trip in nearly 9 months we needed to acclimatize. We survived the night and after a late breakfast which comprised of a bacon roll we headed into York.

The Park & Ride is quite simply excellent value for money. To park the car and get a return ticket cost £2.70 each which is far cheaper than parking in the city centre. We used the Sunday afternoon to explore the streets of the city as well as sampling some of the local food and ales. We walked up the Shambles which is a quaint cobbled narrow street lined with shops on both sides. The hustle and bustle of the bank holiday crowd evident and we were caught on a wave of visitors.

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We had our Sunday Beef Roast at The Golden Fleece which is the oldest pub in York. It is also the most haunted pub in the city, a claim backed up by the Most Haunted crew, who spent a weekend filming here in the pub/hotel. The place itself is typically quirky and feels very welcoming. There are a couple of skeletons that sit at the bar on a stool and also in the pub garden. All of the floors are wonky and slanted, so much so that my pint of ale was slanted and the gravy was trying to escape from my plate. A quickly constructed defensive wall using my mashed potato prevented any casualties. When we sat for dinner my fiancé did feel a cold sensation next to her side which hung around for a few minutes. It certainly backed up the claims of the owners and many guests who have stayed there.

We had a walk around Parliament Street which is the widest most open street in York and also had a tour of the York baths. This was conducted by a very knowledgeable Canadian historian by the name of Ryan, who not only told us about the Roman Baths in York, but also covered wars, deaths, Christianity and many other topics. By the time we left this small room which gathering heat the longer we stayed down there we were gasping the fresh air to celebrate our freedom. Joking aside it was well worth the £3.50 it cost plus a small contribution to Ryan’s education costs!

By a friends recommendation (thanks Aimee) we went to an off license called The House of the Trembling Madness. Above this there was also a bar which quite simply oozed class and style. The decor comprised of stuffed animals and randomly placed gothic designs framed by some stunning timber open framed roof trusses and beams. The place was busy and the small number of chairs and tables filled. The bar was small and quaint and the food smelled delightful. We helped ourselves to a couple of IPA’s and shopped till we dropped as I was reunited with some of my favourite Australian beers imported in their shop.

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We returned to camp just before the forecasted rain and had a very chilled out Sunday night. We ate some cheese and crackers and watched Taken 2 and the first half of American Hustle. Following on from last nights shock chill factor I put on an extra layer in an effort to get a warm comfortable nights sleep to get me in good stead for Mondays day of adventure. Historical visits, walks, haunted sightings and more local pubs awaited us, we certainly had a lot planned!

One final York related story before I bring this 1st Part of the blog to a conclusion. There are cats all over the city on various buildings. It is said that any building that is graced with the presence of a cat, is a happy place. We spotted a couple of these cats with one been on the front of The Golden Fleece Pub. Based on this story, I think it’s safe to say that my fiancé encountered a good happy spirit!

To be continued…….

DarcyB

Towcester Beer Festival 2014

This weekend saw the much anticipated Towcester Beer Festival return to Towcester Rugby Club. The annual event is into it’s 5th year and the weather didn’t disappoint for those joining in. The event has grown in popularity because it gives those keen to try new real ales the opportunity to do so and with over 60 types on offer it is unmissable.

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Crispin “The Festival Man” Slee brought 60 real ales to the table with the addition of 30 real ciders. There was also an opportunity to try some local bottled ciders on the Saturday and Sunday. There was a fine selection of Food on offer as well and the Gurkha Curry once again went down a treat. The Sausage Sarnies and Burgers were also a success as those requiring some ballast to keep them going were looked after in style.

Friday evening generated a real buzz of excitement amongst the crowd there who were keen to start early. Despite the nip in the air as the sun went in there were those brave enough to sit out on the open area neatly laid out with tables and benches. By Saturday this area was awash of people all enjoying the combination of drinks and sun.

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Saturday and Sunday also saw live music from local musicians including the Rock School as well as bouncy castles and face painting. There was a lovely atmosphere with those enjoying the sunshine that graced the Rugby Club.

Back to the Ales and our friends at a Towcester Mill Brewery were showcasing their Blonde number Mill Race. This 3.9% ABV Ale is brewed using Pilsner malt which gave it a pale blonde appearance whilst delivering a grapefruit and herbal finish. We started with this and it didn’t disappoint and ensured the tasting session started in a positive fashion. Towcester Mill Brewery opens in May so it’s not long until we can grace their new bar to try some of their other Ales.

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There were many different breweries to try from, some local and some not so local. We enjoyed in particular Crazy Daze, a Golden 5.5% ABV ale from Potbelly brewery in Kettering, Northants. The Local Whittlebury brewery also had a presence and my favourite Amber Ale was called Green Dragon 4.4% ABV which offered a strong bitter finish created using a combination of Sovereign and Challenger Hops. Silverstone brewery offered a lovely Golden Ale called Skidmark which delivered a fruity, floral aroma with a citrus taste. This came in at 4.2% ABV using a mixture of three hops, which was very nice.

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In conclusion the Towcester Beer Festival has once again been a resounding success. I am truly grateful that as locals we have the opportunity to attend something this exciting on our door steps. The venue was well set out and the variety available was so diverse. It was clear from the 2,000 + people who attended over the three days that it was enjoyable and the sunshine capped it off well.

Please add me on Untappd my username is markyjb to check out my reviews of Ales tried so far.

DarcyB

200 Unique Ales down, many more to come!

Last weekend saw me drink my 200th unique Ale on Untappd. In the last year or so it’s been a fantastic journey. I’ve tried some absolute crackers and I’ve had some total stinkers. I’ve been to three beer festivals in 2013 which has given me not only a great opportunity to try some awesome ales but I’ve been in the perfect surroundings to enjoy them to the maximum.

This little blog will focus on 3 of my crackers. These are Ales that I’ve given the highest accolade to, five stars. I rarely give these out, but there are three delights that I’ve loved on my journey and I’d like to share them with you.

1. Redbreast – Jennings Brewery, 4.5% English Strong Ale

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This Ale had me purring from the first sip. Currently on tap at the Brave Old Oak in Towcester, this is an absolute delight. Not sure how much longer this will be on tap but it’s got such a deep velvety flavor to it with a creamy taste. I only tried this last weekend but it’s the best I’ve had in 2014 so far. I will certainly be looking to buy this from another source once it leaves Towcester. Please try it today, you will not be disappointed.

2. Warm Welcome Nut Brown Ale – Ridgeway Brewing, 6.0% English Brown Ale

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I was bought a bottle of this Nutty Ale at Christmas and was infused by the wonderful dark hoppy flavor that this English Brown Ale offered. I am a big fan of Dark Ales and this one didn’t disappoint. Full of nuts, chocolate and deep hops this was a pleaser. I hope that this is available again this Christmas, loved it!

3. Old Tun – Whittlebury Brewery, 4.1% English Bitter

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Old Tun is an absolute delight. We purchased a case from our local brewery in Whittlebury. These boys do not disappoint, Old Tun is a lovely deep flavoured English Chestnut Ale. This went down so well at our Engagement Party and lasted less than half a day as it was drained right down to the end. Whittlebury Brewery are my local brewery and they set high standards. I can’t wait for their new Ale House to be opened in Towcester Mill. I will hopefully have some photos of the Mill soon to share with you all.

Please follow me on Untappd, my username is markyjb. It would be great to see if we’ve tried any of the same ales and to compare our ratings.

Here’s to the next 200!

DarcyB

Party Perfection

This weekend has been a truly wonderful opportunity to share time with family and our closest friends. Since our Engagement in August whilst away on holiday in Cornwall, we have been blessed by the amazing people we share our lives with. We set a date for our Engagement Party soon after the proposal in Cornwall which was this Saturday.

It’s safe to say that time sneaks past us when we are least observant and it was exactly the same in this instance. We are both extremely busy with our jobs and since my relocation to Bedford it’s certainly made the time spent at home during the week shrink. It is at this moment I’d like to place on record in writing on my little blog a massive, sorry I mean a MASSIVE thank you to my wonderful fiancé for working her socks off in preparation and launching this fantastic party of celebration.

Now I’m a typical guy, not in the sense of being lazy and unaware of the urgency of certain situations, but in a more traditional sense. I mean I’m always there to wash up after dinner and in the rare instances I’m back before dusk, I’ll get some dinner on to help share the responsibility. I’m talking about the inability to gauge time and understand the order and detail required to make things go smoothly and without any trouble. It’s because of my fiancé, I must go on record again to thank her for undertaking all of these things on top of her workload which borders on excessive most days of the week. It is because of this tireless effort and commitment our party was the success it was.

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The weather was on our side and despite a worrying blanket of thick grey cloud in the early afternoon we were treated to a pleasant warm sunny day. We opted for an open house format of party, which in its name gave a simple and non time constrained day. The beauty with this is you are able to control the flow and keep a steady number of people with you throughout the day. This is great in theory, but as we are pretty awesome* people, the number actually increased as the day went on! 😉

* Self proclaimed by me.

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All the detail was beautiful, from the disposable cameras right through to the decorations we had acquired from random events during our busy year. The carefully selected play list of party tracks and songs right through to the ever filled food buffet.

We are looking forward to developing our cameras in the next couple of weeks and seeing what delightful moments have being captured. If it’s like past events, I’m sure there will be the usual one of me looking slightly perplexed and bemused by the situation.

A party is only as good as the people who attend them and it is because of this that I’d like to thank every single one of you. In fact as I write this blog in my speak I should say we both want to thank you for joining us. There were some amazing scenes of our families meeting each other for the first time and the opportunity for our friends to meet each other too. Obviously there were those unable to join us but wished they could. We would also like to thank you for being thoughtful and supportive with your kind wishes, we will be seeing you all very soon.

So what did I learn from co hosting a party on the day? Well I learnt that frozen mini pizzas do not take 15 mins at 180c (Waitrose we will be in touch!) and while Salad is healthy, people prefer couscous instead. I’ve also learnt that it pays dividends to have an Xbox 360 and a wireless network. The children aged between 2 and 14 were more than preoccupied with this and I couldn’t have been prouder with the fact there were no tears all day. I learnt that Pacman is still cool and that despite no one actually playing Scrabble, that there were one or two of the children inquisitively asking about playing the game! I’ve also discovered that our Bathroom now has it’s own fan club!

So once again I’d like to thank you all, you made our special day well and truly special. It was an absolute pleasure to invite you into our home. Oh and before I conclude this blog, I’d like to also thank a couple of people.

Firstly I’d like to thank Amanda from All Seasons Kitchen. The cake you made was an absolute treasure-trove of sweet chocolate delights. Everybody loved it and we were not surprised to be left with only a couple of slices at the end of the night. Please check out her web page to see what else she is able to create at:-
http://www.allseasonskitchen.co.uk

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And finally I’d like to thank our friends at Whittlebury Brewery for supplying us with a lovely 18 pint pack of Old Tun. My fiancée certainly knows how to spoil me and it was because of the quick delivery of this that we were able to enjoy it. Very reasonably priced we finished it off within a day and it went down a storm. We have both been invited to visit their brewery which is something we will be accepting. Once again, please check out their site, it’s a great place to see what they do at:- http://www.whittleburybrewery.com

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The frustrations of not being able to get Glastonbury Tickets this morning have well and truly evaporated due to all of you that made this so very amazing!

DarcyB

Towcester Autumn Beer Festival

This weekend saw Towcester host it’s very first Autumn Beer Festival. The event which ran across three days was held at The Pickled Pig on the High Street. Following on from the successes of the more established Summer Beer Festival and Sausage & Cider Festival held at Towcestrians Rugby Club, Whittlebury Brewery hosted and showcased a couple of their offerings to the residents of Towcester in this unique event. The Pickled Pig proved to be a suitable choice of venue and with a buzzing crowd and live music it complimented the selection of 16 Real Ales and 12 Ciders on offer.

John Evans of Whittlebury Brewery was on hand to serve the liquid treats available whilst happily sharing information which made the tasting even more enjoyable. Two of the Real Ales “Amarillo and Oasis” are brewed by John and it’s clear from our conversation he believes and shares my enthusiasm for Real Ale, “Real Ale is far more complex than Wines. You can achieve far more variations with Ale, this is because you can alter the way the hops are used to create a completely diverse taste. Wine can be tasted by swilling it around your mouth, Ale needs to be swallowed”.

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If there is one frustration of mine, it is the fact that you struggle to find locally produced Real Ales on tap in the local pubs. Towcester certainly has the pubs in place that would surely benefit from this, however it’s a common fact to find London Pride on tap and not Amarillo. I spoke with John and he has promised that this situation will change and that the next year promises to be exciting for lovers of Local Real Ales. In the past it has been known for a guest ale to appear, however by the time people are aware of this and the time that’s passed it’s off no sooner than when it first appeared. This is going to change and John will try all he can to make this happen. Another local supporter and event organizer of Local Real Ales and Ciders Festivals is Crispin Slee. Crispin organizes the Beer Festivals and created the popular Sausage & Cider Festival concept in Towcester. He was there on the Friday night we attended. Crispin who is better known as The Festival Man has seen peoples love for Local Real Ales and Ciders create a demand for these events.

There were other Real Ales available from breweries close by such as Nobby’s Brewery in Guilsborough, Northampton to as afar as Tring Brewery in Hertfordshire. It was safe to say that this carefully chosen selection gave a nice range of tastes and styles for any Real Ale fan.

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Whittlebury Brewery was founded in April 2010 and they happily sell their Ales to the Public, which is fantastic news. You can check out their website at http://www.whittleburybrewery.com
Here you can see the selections available as well as some fantastic seasonal gift sets. If you’d like to contact John Evans, then his details are on this page.

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Finally no Beer Festival is quite complete without having a go yourself as John kindly let me pour some of his Ales. The pricing was extremely fair for this event and £15 would buy you a Token that covered 10 half pints at £1.50 each. I think The Pickled Pig was a shrewd choice in venue and the space they have upstairs allowed this to run independently alongside their bar downstairs. The three day event is a nice concept and I think bringing this into Towcester Town Centre made it easier to access whilst attracting passing trade.

So what next? Well Towcester will be holding a Winter Beer Festival at Towcester Racecourse over the weekend of Friday 30th November – Saturday 1st December. There will be 30 Real Ales and 10 Ciders available alongside a Christmas Market and National Hunt Horse Racing Card on the Saturday. Entry to the event is free so please take this opportunity to attend and see in the Festive Season in some style.

If you’d like to keep up to date with the local Real Ale and Cider Festivals you can follow the Festival Man on Twitter @thefestivalman and for those who’d like to read my reviews on Ales I’ve been trying then please follow me on the Application called Untappd username: markyjb

DarcyB