Friday, 18 April 2008

Taddington Brewery and the best British lager

Recently I've been doing a bit of work with a company that imports and distributes speciality beers in London and the South East. Alex and James, who set up Milestone Beers three years ago, are always on the lookout for interesting beers to add to the catalogue. I'd heard about a new lager brewery in the Peak District from a commenter on this website (thanks, John Clarke). Two weeks ago I left my London comfort zone and headed to Derbyshire to check it out.

A cramped train from Euston brought me into Macclesfield station, where I was met by brewer Richard Hand. He drove me up into the hills to his picturesque brewery, possibly the highest in the country (pictured right). Richard, a native of Stoke-on-Trent, used to live in the Czech Republic. He became interested and involved in the brewing industry during that time. Resolving to bring his expertise back to Britain - where there's a gap in the market for a quality, home-grown lager - he set up shop at Blackwell Hall, home of the Taddington Brewery a century ago. Sourcing exactly the right kit took time, but in 2007 he produced his first batch of Moravka.

Taddington's beers are all unpasteurised and free of preservatives - and we all know what a difference that makes. I tried both the 10 degree (4.4% abv) and 12 degree (5% abv) versions, as well as the unfiltered ("Kvasnicové") 12, straight from the lagering tanks. A trip to a pub down the road, where the Moravka font stands proudly at the bar, proved it tastes good away from the brewery too. All the beers have a moreish, creamy malt body, with just the slightest hint of caramel lurking in the background. The firm bitterness that marks a true pilsner is there, with Zatec hops used in abundance for a perfectly balanced beer. The Kvasnicové was slightly cloudy, as you'd expect, the yeast altering the aroma considerably and producing a slightly more complex palate.

I'm excited - I've written before about my love of quality lager and the difficulty of finding it in this country. Without hesitation I can say this stuff is the best British lager I've ever tasted, hands down. Indeed, I can't recall having had an appreciably better pilsner in Germany or the Czech Republic either.

At the moment Moravka is only available in a few selected pubs and bars scattered across the West Midlands and the North. Now it's coming to London. The Jerusalem Tavern - my beloved local - will be trialling it this coming Monday. I think it'll be the perfect complement to St Peter's ales. If it goes down well, it'll be replacing Bitburger (boo) as the pub's house lager. If you're able to, come along and try it out. I'll be there for most of the day. If you're good looking enough I might just buy you a pint of Britain's best lager.

The Jerusalem Tavern is at 55 Britton Street, London EC1M 5UQ (map). The pub is open all day.

32 comments:

  1. Availabe in the North, you say? Can you be more precise [crosses fingers]

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  2. You know, the North. What more do you need?!!**!

    A decent lager in the UK, I'd like to taste it.

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  3. I'll find out from Richard where he supplies locally and let you know.

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  4. I'll have to give Moravka a try next time I'm in London.

    I had a couple of excellent Kvasnicove lagers during the week in the Czech Republic, pick of the bunch being Herold 12º. Wonderful stuff.

    BTW, Andy was arranging beers for the Zeitgeist festival while we toured around. He's got some real crackers lined up, you lucky bastards.

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  5. Ron, I need to get it on the bar in a couple of places before you next come over, then!

    Am looking forward to the German Beer Fest enormously of course. Shame you can't be there!

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  6. I'd say it's the best UK-brewed lager I've had. Some of the cask ones (Schiehallion etc) aren't bad but lagers seem to show best served at cooler temperatures than cask which seems to aid the flavours they have. St Georgen Kellerbier from the cask at McSpoons is a shadow of itself in Franconian pubs - maybe casking doesn't suit it?

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  7. I haven't had the St Georgen Brau this time, but last time it was superb. It certainly suited it . In any event in the brewery keller it is keg, as it is most (but not all) places in Franconia.

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  8. I was drank quite a bit of St Georgen Brau Kellerbier. Very tasty, even keg. Never had it straight from a Stichfass. I imagine it's pretty stupendous.

    The good thing about Franconia (and the Czech Republic) is that the beer isn't served too cold. Around 7-8º C mostly. I think a good rule of thumb is to serve beer at a similar temperature to primary fermentation.

    As for St Georgen Kellerbier not tasting the same in Wetherspoons - what does? Possibly more of a comment on Wetherspoons than casking.

    They once did deliver lager unfiltered, still requiring conditioning to pubs. It sounds very much like a cask version. The practice died out pretty quickly around 1900.

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  9. Gazza/Tandleman, I had the St Georgen Brau from a UK cask last year at a Spoons (see here). I thought it was good. Then I had it in Franconia, served from a keg, and it was much, much better. So I tend to agree with Gazza.

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  10. "In any event in the brewery keller it is keg, as it is most (but not all) places in Franconia"

    So what? it tastes better that way - let's not all think like stereotypical CAMRA tossers who think everything from a keg is bad because WB tells them so.

    IMO it's a case of horses for courses, and every time I've had St Georgen in Fenaconia it tastes much, much better than the cask McSpoons version - probably due to it being a lot fresher over there, but also due to the dispense seeming to suit it perfectly.

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  11. Gazza. Why don't you stop thinking like a stereotypical tosser and stop assuming people think a certain way because CAMRA tells them to? Gratuitous stuff like that is pointless.

    It tastes fine as a beer that is force carbonated which is all I meant when I said "keg". In Franconia when it is served from the wood, straight out of the conditioning tank it tastes better. IMO of course! You like it fizzier? Fine!

    I liked the cask version and thought it an interesting variant. So presumably did the brewery, or they wouldn't have supplied it!

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  12. "Gazza. Why don't you stop thinking like a stereotypical tosser and stop assuming people think a certain way because CAMRA tells them to? Gratuitous stuff like that is pointless."

    A lot of people do, sadly. I don't know you so I can't comment, but from your post it sounded like you were simply slagging off keg beer - which is something CAMRA clones tend to do.


    "It tastes fine as a beer that is force carbonated which is all I meant when I said "keg". In Franconia when it is served from the wood, straight out of the conditioning tank it tastes better. IMO of course! You like it fizzier? Fine!"

    I've had it from the wood in Bamberg and it's lovely - so why does it taste nowhere near as good in McSpoons pubs? I'd guess because it's getting old and losing it's freshness... and as for me liking beer fizzy then yes, as long as it's not excessive and preferably naturally done, then I like a beer with some life in it - nothing wrong with that and it's about time some people from the UK realised that bubbles in your beer doesn't mean it's the spawn of satan.

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  13. "A lot of people do, sadly. I don't know you so I can't comment, but from your post it sounded like you were simply slagging off keg beer - which is something CAMRA clones tend to do."

    Well you can read my blog and then call me a clone if you feel I deseve it.(-:
    www.tandlemanbeerblog.blogspot.com

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  14. "Well you can read my blog and then call me a clone if you feel I deseve it.(-: "

    Having had a good trawl through your blog I can honestly say that you don't seem to be in the "CAMRA clone" camp I previously referred to, so apologies for that... but then again, I am from near Manchester too so "saying it as it seems" is part of me too!

    Glad you found use of my report for Germany, I'll update it with your findings... although the "Hertog" brewery in Braunschweig isn't now owned by Inbev; it's the Wolters brauhaus and the management bought it out after InBev decided to close is a couple of years back.

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  15. Moravka sounds like an interesting beer. I hope to try it someday.

    Just to clarify, "kvasnicové" is not the same as unfiltered, though the terms are often confused, even by some Czech brewers.

    Unfiltered is unfiltered. (The Czech term for it is "nefiltrované.")

    "Kvasnicové pivo" means something like "yeast beer" and is made with the addition of fresh yeast after lagering.

    Here's the catch: kvasnicové pivo can be -- and frequently is -- filtered before the fresh yeast is added.

    Thus, you can have an unfiltered beer which is not kvasnicové.

    And you can have a kvasnicové pivo which has been filtered, at least before the fresh yeast was added.

    At least in the Czech lands, these are two different terms.

    Also, it's worth pointing out that kvasnicové pivo is not always cloudy. Most of the time it is, but I can think of at least one Czech brewer who is very proud of serving a perfectly clear kvasnicové pivo.

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  16. Is "kvasnicove" related to "kvasny"? Some interesting etymological stuff for a beer historian to get into there, surely.

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  17. Evan, glad you cleared that up for us. It sounds as if Kvasnicove is similar to the Hefenbier described by Wahl and Henius in 1908:

    http://www.europeanbeerguide.net/
    lager19.htm

    So it's sort of like a cask-conditioned beer then? No wonder it tastes so good.

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  18. Gazza, Tandleman and all, surely British cask beer is handled differently to gravity-dispensed German beer? I'm thinking about the way it's vented. That will effect the carbonation, and perhaps explains why McSpoons' St Georgen Brau wasn't quite right.

    Evan, thanks. For the record, Taddington's Kvasnicové IS unfiltered, and it isn't quite as cloudy as those I've encountered in the Czech Republic itself. Richard explained the distinction you describe to me when I visited his brewery. Like you, he certainly knows Czech brewing - hopefully you'll meet one day.

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  19. Stonch

    Indeed it is, though as an aside you seemed very impressed with the cask conditioned beer in your link. Stick to your guns on that. Your instincts and taste bud are correct.

    I have no way of knowing exactly what has been cask conditioned. I'm guessing that green beer with live yeast from the conditioning tanks has been tankered to the UK where it has been cask conditioned by a dose of priming sugar (likely) or krausened with unfermented wort brought from St Georgen Brau (unlikely).

    To go back to condition, if you get poorly cellared and kept beer, no matter what its provenance, it will not be good. The samples I had ( a while ago) were bursting with condition.

    I think Gazza's explanation of tired beer is only true in so far as the pub concerned. I rather doubt if the professional beer people that handled this beer didn't know what they were doing and what their time constraints were. I don't believe the beer sent out would be "tired", but I'm not a cynic and didn't have any this fest.

    They are indeed different beasts, but so what? I liked all of them but one, two three it would be:

    1 Non force carbonated
    2 Cask conditioned
    3 Force carbonated

    This assumes that the cask beer will be properly conditioned of course. That's always a variable.

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  20. Tandleman, you're right I did enjoy the Spoons cask St Georgen last year. However, when I later had it in Franconia, I enjoyed it more. That may have been in part due to freshness, but I also preferred the livlier carbonation...

    I'm not sure I agree with your 1-2-3 list - but maybe that's just because I've had too many poor cask-conditioned English lagers (some of them not lagers at all).

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  21. Probably shite Southern conditioning wouldn't help! (-;

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  22. IMHO youngs pilsner used to be quite nice before they stopped making it

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  23. As my understanding of beer evolves, I find my opinion has changed. If you'd asked me a few years ago I would have said that cask is always best but that's not true is it? Different beers are suited to different dispense methods and the skilled brewer will have thought about this when he/she designed the beer.

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  24. Hi Stonch,

    I'll come by and taste a glass of Moravka. Any idea of when it will arrive in your local?

    Keep up the brilliant work on your fabulous blog!

    Fionn

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  25. I had Moravka @ the Monsal Head pub yesterday. This is in Derbyshire about 15mile from my house. The beer was MEGA! Best I've tasted yet.

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  26. Moravka is now on sale at the Pembury Tavern in Hackney. I tried it with Jeff at the Jerusalem Tavern, liked it, and got talking to Alex and James.

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  27. Not great. I thought it tasted like a mouldy towel if I'm honest.

    I was expecting something more like Bernard/pilsner urquell etc

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  28. I am luck enough to work next door to Richard Hand at Taddington brewary ( I make kitchens, Ashwood Artisan) that makes moravka lager. It is so good that I have now set up a Mobile bar called The Full Measure, we sell Moravka larger, I regulary test the lager with Richard...What a good job I have...From Bryan..

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  29. I had a pint of Moravka at The Packhorse Inn, Little Longstone, near Bakewell last week while on holiday. Unfortunately I was driving so thats all I had. Am now back home in Suffolk and wondering where is the nearest pub that sells it? It was a real lovely pint- would love some more. While I'm on the subject of holiday beers, is Mythos available in the Uk?

    From Jezz

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  30. You can also get this in Coalheavers Arms, Peterborough

    From Neil

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