After the Social Media Beer Tasting in Glasgow, I went down to the Lake District for Taste Cumbria. They're really doing an awful lot to promote Cumbria as a food and drink destination, and it's working really well.
Friday night I stayed at the Kirkstile Inn just outside Cockermouth, one of those pubs where the thick stone walls, wood fires and silence outside save for the hiss of river and tree lull you to sleep like a baby. Another reason to go there is that it's the brewery tap for the Loweswater Brewery, also known as Cumbrian Legendary Ales. Their Loweswater Gold was named Champion Golden Beer of Britain at this year's Great British Beer Festival, and the only thing better than sinking a few pints of it would be doing so after tramping across some of the irresistible mountains just outside. They were calling to me, I tell you. They just weren't calling as loudly as the comfy seat by the fire, or my bed, or one other very noteworthy beer.
CLA also brew Croglin Vampire.
Completely out of keeping with a range of beers that's very nice but nothing you wouldn't expect from a Cumbrian brewer, Croglin Vampire is an 8% Doppelbock, rich and spiritous, dark and brandy-like, and utterly wonderful. Currently the Kirkstile Inn is about the only place you can get it. Don't worry, it's a worthwhile trip. Just as well they have rooms.
Next day we were off into Cockermouth - yes, Cockermouth - for the festival itself. This is where Jennings Brewery is. Again, the beers are good quality but nothing that you wouldn't expect here. But I love the story of Jennings brewery. I'm not an apologist for big regional brewers - I just have an open mind about them. I find this quite an interesting place to be. When Jennings was bought by Marston's in 2005, the local CAMRA branch shouted that Marston's were going to close the brewery, and continued to shout this even when Marston's invested £250,000 improving the brewery. If Marston's had the slightest intention of closing the brewery, they had the perfect excuse to do so when it flooded in 2009.
|Photo: Vanessa Graham on www.visitcumbria.com|
But they didn't. They invested millions getting it open again. I don't know if anyone still thinks Marston's are going to close Jennings, but if anyone does think that, I've got some magic beans you might want to buy.
But I digress. On the first day of the festival, Jeff Pickthall and I were doing a beer and food matching event. We're both a bit vague about organisational stuff, and so were Taste Cumbria, so we ended up with about two hours to put some pairing suggestions together from food and beer being exhibited at the festival. Not everyone was keen to have their stuff featured. It was like an episode of the Apprentice. But as people filed into the room, we were just about succeeding in putting plates together for the following:
Mitchell Krause Hefe Weizen with goats cheese from Wardhall Dairy
Hardknott Cueboid with smoked cured boar
Jennings Sneck Lifter with lovely raisin fudge from Duerdens Confectioners of Burnley
Coniston Brewery's Blacksmith ale with an amazing chocolate cake from Ginger Bakers in Ulverston
(We swapped these two around - people were split on what went best)
The aforementioned Croglin Vampire with Parsonby, another cheese from Wardhall which has been rind-washed in The Black Galloway porter from Sulwath brewery. Beer washed cheese is the future, if you like your cheese smelly and overpowering like I do.
Thanks to everyone who agreed to donate stuff for us. Amazingly, despite time constraints, exploding hefe weizen bottles and seventy extra people turning up just when we thought we'd done enough plates of food, it all went rather well, and the matches were ace.
Later, we sampled the delights of Cockermouth nightlife. And encountered the Boogie Bus:
|The 'Big Boogie Bus' - does that mean there's a little one somewhere?|
As you can see, it's a pink bus that has pole dancers and lap dancers and glowing dance floors inside it. It roams the streets of Cumbria, stopping to lure stag and hen parties on board. Then it glows brightly, drives off, and the stag and hen parties are never seen or heard from again.
Jeff and I decided to pass. Instead we roamed the pubs in search of good beer. And finally, after trying everywhere else, we found Cockermouth's perfect pub, a place I'd be happy to see in any town.
1761 is modern and stylish without trying too hard. It has Guinness, Strongbow and Carlsberg on the pumps because that's what people want. But it also has a good selection of local cask ales, and a small but perfectly formed range of craft beers in bottles including Little Creatures, Orval, Duvel, and Pietra.
There isn't a full kitchen, but they do something I wish more pubs would do - a small, simple tapas menu. We had stuffed jalapeno peppers, a cured meat platter, cheese platter, and some chorizo cooked in wine, which formed a great alternative to the curry and Cobra we were planning on.
I write about 1761 because it deserves to be written about. It's not a fully fledged craft beer pub, but it's a pub with aspirations that understands the needs of its local community, is independent, and friendly. It's not boring like some. It's not too raucous like others. There should be more pubs like it.