Monday, 10 February 2014

A Dent in a beery universe

The end of January saw our annual beer-tasting/fell-walking trip to the sweet village of Dent, confusingly in Cumbria despite being in the Yorkshire Dales, and home to at least two breweries (and, perhaps more importantly, our friend's mum's spare house).

For me, it's a long old journey up there on the train, although a spectacular one on the Settle-Carlisle railway. I stopped off at Leeds for an hour en route and thought I should take my first pint of the weekend at the legendary Scarborough Hotel at the station. I chose a Huna Red from the Stubby Republic brewery in Dorset - thought it sounded interesting.

And you know what? Interesting it was. Fruity and flowery - I've written "hibiscus" here, which sounds remarkably poncey - but sweet and hoppy, albeit a little flat and with a short ending. The Scarborough Hotel is a Victorian style traditional boozer - all wood carvings and ornate decoration - and on a Friday afternoon full of the 50+ ale drinking clientele, many sporting superb beards.

I got back on the train and headed for Dent. A couple of hours later I was sat in the George and Dragon awaiting my first sip of Dent Aviator, the local brew.
Well. "Yuck" was my first reaction. I've had Aviator regularly and it's generally been ok, but this was absolutely vile. Horrendously malty with a sour, ropey aftertaste; I could barely finish it (I did, obvs). Not sure whether it's the brewery at fault or the pub, which with every passing year seems to diminish. Next I tried a Dent Porter, just to see if I'd been unlucky. Now I like a good porter but this was not a good porter - my tasting notes say "sour, minging, I feel ill".

At this point we sacked off the George and Dragon as a bad lot and headed across the road to the Sun Inn. What a revelation! The pub looks unchanged since about 1880 (this is a good thing, of course) with a roaring fire and people with beards (that was just the women, etc) - and a range of ales. First up was Kirby Lonsdale Tiffin Gold. Maybe it was just the bad beer in the G&D, but this was superb - blonde, hoppy, tonnes of lemon zest and grapefruit - delicious. Let's be honest here - it was a summer ale and we were quaffing it in a storm in January, but what the hell - it was lovely.

After a few pints of that we headed home and Nelly cracked out a crate of his homebrew. First up for me was Mandrake. It's a black ale with, um, a mango flavour. Now I like mango and I like ale, so this seemed a good combination - but perhaps on the back of six pints previously and a long day I just found this hard work. It was good, sure, but personally I found it hard going.

However, I'm no quitter, and so I headed back to the box and pulled out a Kiwi, a 5.4% New Zealand Pale Ale. Now we're talking! This is the real deal - a fruity, hoppy, well carbonated pale ale. I really enjoyed this one and not only stuck to it for the rest of the night (until I hit the Glenmorangie) but a couple of bottles even found their way up the mountain the next day. 
This was one of Nelly's entries in the Craft Beer Co Homebrew awards. It didn't win, but I'm intrigued to see what the feedback is. It's superb, and you'd be delighted if you were served this in a pub.

Our long walk ended in the nearby (er, by car, not by foot) market town of Sedbergh. This Pennine metropolis is stuffed full of posh kids from the nearby public school stiffly entertaining visiting parents in sterile caf├ęs, but we were looking for the Perfect Post-Walk Pub - roaring fire, amazing beer, you get the picture.

We ended up in the Red Lion. Despite its age and external appearance, it certainly wasn't welcoming - we walked in, dripping wet, to be told they were shutting soon so don't get comfortable. We had some beer - it was good, but I don't know what it was (perhaps Jennings?) - then again anything would've tasted good after a 12km walk in a howling gale and driving rain. It was by the by, as they kicked us out after two 2pm on a Saturday afternoon. Why, you fools, why?? Oh, and the tacky topless postcards behind the bar need to be sent back to the 70s. Grow up.

Anyway. We were sent to find a pub called the Dalesman. This was a complete change - really stunningly decorated inside to an extreme high-quality - but they wouldn't light the wood-burning stove for us. Miserable sods. They had their own beer - cunningly named Dalesman Ale - and it was sodding awful; Dan had a sample, pulled a face, and ordered a Guinness. The landlady looked most affronted and pointed out that "it's marvellous stuff, that; bloody lovely". I felt guilty and ordered a pint. Piss. Overly malty and beyond redemption. We left. They weren't sad to see us go.

Next stop was the Bull Hotel. Sadly the bar area is done out like a hotel lobby, eg wide drafty spaces and uncomfortable tables. It's all a little tired. On the plus side - Timothy Taylor Landlord! Like an old lover it grasped me in its creamy arms and we danced away the dampness of the afternoon. I haven't had Landlord for ages and this was really, really good - sweet, golden, hoppy, silky-smooth. Finally some joy on a dismal day.

After that it was back to the house (via Cumbria's grumpiest cab driver) for curry and a big fight over the remaining bottles of Kiwi, before slumping in front of the fire and sleeping it all off. Marvellous.

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