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06-03-2015, 07:22
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By the Bloke from Hull.
A recent tour round some beer hot spots in West Yorkshire revealed that “Beer in the Wood” is most definitely on the up. It all began with a full Friday afternoon and evening session in Castleford where the pioneering Maureen Shaw and Neil Midgley have been serving cask ales only from the wood at their fabulous Junction pub since early last year. I can only agree with the locals that the most consistent and beautiful beers regularly served are those from Ridgeside, Elland and Stancill breweries. On this occasion it was Ridgeside Cascade (4.1 % ABV) and Lost Horizon (3.5% ABV) for me. Such wonderful tasting beers originally created by the late Simon Bolderson who (along with Master Cooper Alastair Simms) backed Maureen and Neil’s vision to return to wood from the outset. Today his legacy is continued by brewing team Matt Lovatt and Juan Mendoza.

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The Junction's landlord Neil Midgley

Later that weekend Elland 1872 Porter (6.5% ABV) appeared before disappearing rapidly. The reason being that jungle drums had been doing overtime to inform the eager top beer nuts that this cask was from the same gyle as that which was crowned ‘Champion Winter Beer of Britain’ at Derby. In the wood it was even better. Woo Hoo!
Two days later, on Sunday 22nd February, beer from the wood went under close scrutiny at the Duck and Drake pub in Leeds which staged a special event with over 50 members of the West Riding branch of the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood gathering for their monthly meeting. Andy Yuill, who runs the pub, is keen on his cask beers served and offered four beers from wooden casks. Two were from Saltaire - Cascade (4.8% ABV) and Black Cascadian (4.8% ABV) and two were from Ridgeside – Black Night (5% ABV) and Phoenix (4.0% ABV).

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Beer in the wood at The Duck & Drake, Leeds

All of these beers were in tip top tasty condition and were gone within the day. That tells you something! Luckily for me, Andy gave me some of his valuable time and took me into the cellar to photograph and stroke the wooden objects of my desire. Next up for our delectation will be two from Ossett – Inception, a wonderful hoppy golden ale at 4.0% ABV, recently added to their core range and Excelsior, an award winning classic pale ale weighing in at 5.2% ABV. These will be in casks especially made for the pub by Jonathan Manby, the cooper at Theakston's.
The following Wednesday I headed off to Shipley on my way to warm up for the Bradford CAMRA beer festival at the Victoria Hall in Saltaire which was to commence on the following day. Stopping off at the Oddfellows I found a beer in the wood.

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Wooden casks in the cellar at Oddfellows

This time it was Yorkshire Dales Smokebox, a 5.6% ABV, a truly memorable smoked porter with a real complex depth of flavours, enhanced even further by being dispensed from a wooden cask. I had a good chat with licensees Tony and Teresa who a few months ago took the plunge and purchased their own wooden cask from Alastair Simms. This was the third beer in their wooden cask, the previous ones having been Saltaire New World Red (5.2% ABV) and Baildon Brunette (3.9% ABV). It is their intention to buy another cask from Alastair some time soon. Great news indeed.
A brisk walk took me to Saltaire and the recently opened Cap and Collar micropub where licensee Phil Garvey was on hand to serve me a pint of Challenger Special (5.2% ABV) from Saltaire Brewery. Naturally this was in the wood and another great treat.

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Saltaire's Celebration Ale, Bradford Beer Festival

At the Bradford Beer Festival the following day there were four beers in the wood – all on the first floor Bar 3 in the York Room. Two were in 18 gallon “Woodies” from Saltaire, namely Celebration Ale (a strong golden ale at 6.5% ABV) and Imperial Stout from their XS range weighing in at a mighty 8.9% ABV. Wowee – so tasty. Alongside (well , above really) in the wood were Oates Lenten Bock (6.4% ABV) brewed in Halifax by head brewer Anthony Barrett with a little aid from myself a few weeks earlier and Moorish Mild (4.0% ABV) brewed by Joe Cox from Norland Brewery (based at Oates).
After several photographs and copious volumes of tasting I met up with Christina Wagstaff from the CAMRA and SPBW award winning Jacobs pub in Bradford. In no time, Christina has pushed the envelope in many directions, one of which is the intention to have a dedicated handpump for beers from the wood. Good on you gal!! Sadly, it was soon time to retreat to the comfort of a warm bed at a friend’s house to prepare for the homeward journey on Friday.
However, the journey to Hull could not be completed without a diversion to the “home of beers from the wood” at the Junction in Castleford to visit Maureen and Neil to see what was occurring. And it was quite a lot.

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A top drink in a top pub

It began with six beers on Friday with an afternoon on the Ridgeside Coda (a mighty 5.7 % ABV) for me. Over the weekend, there were ten cask ales from eight different breweries. Who said it was just a fad!!!
So – a week to remember indeed for beers in the wood from all over Yorkshire. And there is more to come especially at the Junction where the annual “Woodfest” takes place over Easter weekend. We can be sure that there will be plenty of “oaky” delights on the bars, some aged, some rare and some newbies – all in tip top condition thanks to excellent cellarmanship and a vision!!
The revolution rolls on.

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