It was very clear from my visit, that The Junction, Castleford is a brilliant community pub, but it’s also a very good real ale pub, with a unique ‘from the wood only’ selling point. So, what’s all the fuss about these wooden casks, I wanted to know?
Well I tried some beer from the wood at Wakefield CAMRA beer festival. I was impressed but I didn’t have a touchstone as I was unfamiliar with the beers I tried. This was also the case here. My first taste was Cas Vegas from local The Revolutions brewing Co. Excellent, so I had another, I really like a lot of what this musically inspired brewery are turning out at the minute. Sods law though, the barrel ran off, so I tried the ‘one off’ Elland brewery special – Codex, a ruby ale from which you definitely got a feel of the barrel. Anyway, while I’m stood talking I saw landlord Neil Midgley pulling through a new beer, which turned out to be Elland Beyond The Pale. I like this and I’m familiar with it having drunk it on many occasions. I’ve even been lucky enough to have tried it on a ‘self service’ arrangement in the brewery itself.
Although I do not posses the necessary talent to elevate myself to the beer tasting level of Roger Protz, like him, I am now able to say that the wooden casks at The Junction definitely give something else to the beer. Something that is not present when it is served from a standard cask. Now if you asked me what that something else would be, then I would be hard pressed to put it in words. I think I’ve previously said the wood imparted an ‘old fashioned’ and very much improved feel to the beer. If you read David Litten’s book about The Junction you will see what Roger Protz thought.
Before I tried another, I had a chat with Neil. He drew me towards a Kirkstall brewery, Herzblut. He promised me it would be special, having been barrel aged in a Madeira cask. The very deep brown ale was unbelievably complex, with many layers of flavour, yet still with the same additional extras that everything else I tried had. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but Neil summed it up for me, ‘it adds another dimension’.
I wished I had known earlier in the year because I turned down the opportunity of having a taste of an IPA that Andrew Usher’s had sent half way round the North Atlantic on a yacht. At the time, I thought it sounded a bit gimmicky, having said that, if I had a yacht I think it would have been a good idea. I’ve never had a yacht, or any sort of a boat. It always strikes me that you spend more time fannying about with boats than you do actually sailing them. Coincidentally, one of the reasons I sort of drifted away from the Scooter scene. I’m more interested in actual riding than stood at the side of the road, tinkering, talking, comparing and admiring. Okay, if you’ve got a Scooter with an original cast iron barrel then there are heat capacity issues and you can’t go very far without stopping for half an hour and letting everything cool down. Most people have moved on though and uprated to a modern alloy barrel. It works, my mate did Leeds to Isle of Wight in one run, with no more stops than a family with small kids would make. I chickened out and drove the van!
Now you might think I’m going off message here, but I’m not. The point looks like, from a Scooter perspective, that modern is best. Now air cooled cast iron cylinder barrels are principally a twentieth century phenomena and internal combustion technology is, in historical terms, still evolving. On the other hand, stout wooden casks have been around for several millennia, their evolution stopped a long long time ago. The Worshipful Company of Coopers was awarded their Royal charter in 1501 and casks haven’t changed that much since. So we are looking at a relatively simple, yet highly developed piece of engineering which is prized by connoisseurs for it’s ability to react with whatever liquor is contained, imparting complex flavours that plastic or steel cannot do.
On the basis of everything above, I am now convinced that wood is best, so get yourself down to The Junction for some of those beers from the wood, glorious wood. I’m predicting a rise in the availability of ale from wooden casks in 2015, certainly in the West Yorkshire area. Something that is undoubtedly due to the pioneering spirit of Neil Midgley at The Junction.