The Vultures Are Circling – “The Squeezed Middle”

Jesus Wept.

I thought I’d heard it all. But obviously not. Not yet. Not by a long chalk.

Communication tip. If you want to sound sincere, don’t deploy the “cut & paste email”.

Progressive Beer Duty. Launched by Gordon Brown in 2002 to support Micro Brewers and to give them the financial wherewithal to compete. Big Beer UK hates it. They think they’re “The Squeezed Middle”, between the international behemoths of Heineken, ABInbev, Molson Coors & Diageo.

And the little guys. Making the beer I love.

They are obviously struggling to make ends meet, whilst Micros deliver beer from the boots of Bentleys. You think?

Whilst Micros are working out what this Treasury review of Progressive (remember that word) Beer Duty actually means, Big Beer UK has not been resting on its arse.

Oh no. They’ve been mobilising.

And Micros – be it via SIBA or some other entity or grouping – need to do the same.

Enter the IFBB.

Who???

The Independent Family Brewers of Britain. That’s who. Check that membership list! (click the hyperlink) And they are gunning for Progressive Beer Duty. Alongside the SBDRC and BBPA

BBPA? Who???

The British Beer & Pub Association. AKA Big. Beer. Business. UK. That’s who. Check that membership list! (click the hyperlink)

More then. You may (and I encourage you vigorously to do so) have checked each membership list. It’s certainly worth while. There are certain discrete similarities.

Bollocks. They’re a lift and shift. With exceptions of the multinationals and the Pubcos, they’re virtually identical.

Then, THEN compare with the list from last year for the SBDRC…… Oh, go on. Please. It would be amusing if it wasn’t so sinister.

Noticed any similarities yet?

OK. We’re at base camp now.

So. You have 3 “industry bodies”, jointly and severally lobbying The Treasury, to review / reform Progressive Beer Duty.

In their favour. And their memberships are practically identical.

Collaboration is ace innit!

Now then, where was I? (Even I’M getting muddled here!)

Let’s look at the IFBB in more detail.

Richard Fuller. Secretary of The Independent Family Brewers of Britain.

Hang on. Fuller. As in that brewery that is no longer “Independent”? Hmmm

And…..

Yup. That’s him. A director of a pub and hotel company having sold the brewery business. Acting as the Company Secretary of an organisation representing “family breweries”. I trust he’ll relinquish that role soon.

The company as a whole (Fullers) is doing alright. And was only declaring 8 months ago that they had “solid plans in place” for the brewing business…..

Sounds like a sales prospectus…..

However you cut it, £43M Profit isn’t shabby.

Another member of the IFBB, BBPA & (last I saw) the SBDRC is J W Lees

Later results for 2017 & 2018 dip slightly on profits with the dip between 2017 & 2018 attributable to higher investments expenditure.

If I’ve got the figures wrong, please advise, I’m a bit thick at the moment.

Now. Like a lot of the family brewers, they’ll say – with some justification, no doubt – that a sizeable proportion of this profit is due to the tied and managed estates. Sales, rather than simply brewing. But this is still profit.

The tied estates of the family brewers have been acquired over hundreds of years. The Micros of this current period won’t get the chance to gain ANY tied estates – however small – if these 3 (almost identically comprised) pressure groups get their way.

I could go on. I’m told that I do. But this whole Independent breweries sector feels like “family” to me. These people have helped me through some ******g dark times.

If – in whatever small way – I can have an input into fighting off these vampires (don’t forget that comment on SBDRC website about Mergers & Acquisitions), I could hold my head high.

And – to The Small Brewers Duty Reform Coalition – if you want a proper debate, come out into the light. Where we can see you.

As I’ve said, I’m no writer, this is emotive to me. I give a toss. Others can – and will – put it better, more eloquently. I can’t wait to read them.

And one more question. There are a lot of professional journalists writing about beer, for a living.

Where are their voices on this?

Big beer is mobilising its troops. Little beer (and those of us who care) ought to do the same.

Before it’s too late.

The Vultures Are Circling. Again.

“Just when you thought it was safe…….” Here go the Small Brewers Duty Reform Coagulation. Again.

Forget the ABInbevs, Molson Coors of the world. In a UK context THIS is Big Beer. Big Beer with all of the PR and spin merchants that it can throw money at. All with the aim of increasing market share. In a declining market.

And using their access to the ear of Government to state their “case”.

If I hear the phrase “level playing field” one more ******g time I might just howl.

You have to admire “Big Beer 2019”. With its pretty websites and finely “crafted” phraseology. All with the ultimate aim – openly stated or otherwise – of closing down the competition. The small guys. The Micros that you and I know and love.

In the name of shareholder dividends and balance sheets.

This is about Progressive Beer Duty. And Big Beer UK’s simultaneously shadowy yet naked attempt to grab a bigger piece of the pie. At the expense of – what I regard as – the golden age of choice and beer diversity.

So. Let’s look at the Small Brewers Duty Reform Coalition

You’ve got to admire their transparency….. Oh. Hang on a minute……

When this all kicked off last year, there was a list of breweries that signed up. Very quickly, some of the breweries who signed up – not knowing the full agenda – quickly withdrew. Recognising the effect that “pulling up the ladder” would have on others (including many friends) who were on the rung that THEY were on not too long before.

Then I saw a list. A copy of which is in this post.

Having been privy to the letter at the top from H M Treasury (received by brewers this week), I thought I’d have a look on the SBDRC website, just to see who the members were now. Now that their true colours are revealed.

Nothing.

So. Being a cheeky wee scamp, I followed the trail of breadcrumbs to a contact email address….

As you can imagine, I can count the number of replies on 0 fingers. That’s almost 3 weeks later.

(Just double checked – to avoid embarrassment. Still zero)

Some of their PR /Propaganda is quite shameless and – to put not too fine a point on it – so far from the truth to be actually l… (am I allowed to say “lies”?)

“Its unfair to ALL small brewers…..” (I left the apostrophe out)

EH? WHAT???

SIBA published a study in 2017 (sponsored by them but independently researched and written) by CEBR

I don’t mind saying that this is a right dry bastard of a read. (If you – like me – are an insomniac, type “Small Brewers Duty reform report” into Google, you’ll find it. Sleep well!) But my inner stats geek loved an hour staring at pretty graphs and tables….

In essence, this table demonstrates the cost of making beer relative to the size of brewery. And demonstrates the economies of scale that larger brewers have. That it still costs more – even including the reduced duty rate – for small brewers to produce beer.

But no. Our friends in the “Coalition” won’t, can’t, say that. That would demonstrate a levelling of the playing field. Precisely their argument, but thrown back.

Last year, the “Coalition” were talking about reducing or removing the relief from duty for brewers above 1k hectolitres – a hectolitre being 100 litres. Or 2 1/2 9 gallon casks.

Do the maths with me here.

If an average (let’s say 6 or 7bbl) brewer brewed 3 times a week at full cap. Giving a 4 week break (yes brewers, I know that it’s dreamland in terms of hols, but…) that equates to just over 1612hl. If that brewery brewed 4 x per week that is near 2200hl.

Under those terms, that brewery would be paying 50% more duty on those 1200hl above the original SBDRC level.

Take a 10bbl brewery. 3 brews per week… Christ! That’s 2304hl…..

Now they talk about the differences between 500hl and 5000hl. 500hl!

Let’s be clear. Some breweries that YOU know, will be at THIS moment, clinging on. Getting beer into pubs is NOT easy, especially in a market dominated by big pubcos that demand beer at the lowest possible prices. Prices that “Big Beer” can (and do) supply at. Just look at any Wetherspoons bar….

This relief was introduced by Gordon Brown (as Chancellor) in 2002 in order to provide a boost to growth in the Micro Brewing sector. The stats don’t lie. And we have all seen the explosion in numbers of breweries in the last 6 or 7 years. This growth of numbers would not have been possible without SBDR. I quote the CEBR report again….

But that net growth has slowed massively.

I must confess that I worry about new market entries in brewing. It’s very difficult to make a “splash” in this market. For every standout opening like Pomona Island, there are many who don’t make that reputational impact.

And making a reputational impact is all well and good. You still have to sell beer. And compete at the bar, with those very breweries that are seeking to “do your legs” with their ability to sell beer cheaper into the chains and into wholesalers.

And I’ll never forget looking at a young enthusiastic and ambitious brewer in Manchester a few years back – one that was seeking to expand – and asking “Why would you do this?”

I hated not being more positive. I truly did.

I’m not a writer. “I’ve never took a paper or a learning degree” I’ve got no stake in any brewery, other than emotional. The only self interest I have (if any) is the ability to source fabulous beer from the best available independent breweries in the UK for #ISBF6….. #ISBF7…… But be under no illusion, by their own words (re “mergers and acquisitions….”) the Vultures of “Big Beer UK” are Circling.

If the Vultures of the SBDRC get their way – and the Treasury reduce or remove the level of relief for those breweries below that magic 5000hl – the brewery landscape that YOU now love and treasure, those breweries whose excellence allows me to put on #ISBF, will be picked clean to the bone.

What I, WE, love, this “Golden Age” of beer, is under threat.

Them Damn Vultures. Circling. Again.

Historic Pubs of Manchester – Pt 5 : The Collected Classics

I recently checked some old posts and realised – horrified – that it had been almost 5 (FIVE!) years since the last time I wrote of my enduring love. Beautiful old Manchester pubs

Five. Whole. Years.

So I was pleased that this date 26 January has been fixed in the calendar for some time.

You see, as much as I adore fabulous modern beer, it’s the pubs that get me. Architectural delights. Friendly chatter. Warm atmospheres. These things matter. They are – in my opinion – more important (WAY more important) than the cheap thrill of dodging that FOMO moment. That pseudo sexual melting in the throes of a deep dark Imperial Stout.

Pubs matter. Especially when they continue to close at an alarming rate. And – to quote Joni Mitchell – “You don’t know what you got till it’s gone”

So here I am. On the final morning of the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival. Dodging the crowds.

For a personal delight.

The Britons Protection (Great Bridgewater St)

This place kind of epitomises the idea of Classic Manchester Pubs. Manchester has a whole bunch of pubs built and trading continuously since before Peterloo. But none with such an intimate connection.

I’m sure I’ve read somewhere a story saying that people sheltered from the massacre actually inside they pub – but maybe that’s false memory syndrome.

What – for me – struck home yesterday is that this is probably the most beautiful pub in the city.

Three rooms. All equally beautiful. The corridor to them wrapping around to the rear of the bar from the entrance. With the two rooms to the rear. All rich reds and decorative details.

And – for someone who has been in this pub repeatedly over the years – surprises lurk around the corner. In (arguably) Manchester’s finest beer garden.

The real fires in the rear rooms are a winter joy too – if not always lit.

The really big surprise for me was the beer selection. What was previously the province of large regionals, somewhat lacking inspiration, here were breweries like Revolutions, Night Jar and a few I’d never seen before.

Smiling, I grabbed a “Candidate” by Revolutions and settled down to wait for my fellow walkers.

Delicious and refreshing, I was gutted to learn that it ran out shortly afterwards. I do like Revolutions beers, tasty and dependable and it’s nice to see them in the BP.

Being joined by company, beers being finished, it was time to exit with a smile on my face and turn right, cross the road and – having walked all of 50 yards – turn left onto the Chepstow Street.

To a place which is the place where drinking real ale started. For me at any rate…

The Peveril of the Peak

The story has been previously told. In early 1982, this was where I had my first encounter with real ale. The first time I went “Ohhhhh….” and put the Carlsberg down and ordered a Wilson’s Bitter.

And never looked back.

In my early drinking days (mid 80s), this pub was a regular fixture. Good beer, solid jukebox, table football (if you call it “fussball”, the sea is 35 miles due west)

Again, 3 rooms – a small and intimate/cozy room to the right behind the bar, the largest to the left and the bar room itself.

Lots of stained glass and wood, some photos on the wall of celebs who’ve drunk here (my favourite being Robbie Coltrane) and a general sense of warmth and welcome.

For me, again a nice (mostly localish) beer selection was a surprise. My last visit ft the usual macro range (plus the ubiquitous Taylors Landlord – I don’t subscribe to the prevailing love affair…) so it was nice to see Millstone & Brightside feature.

The “Tiger Rut” by Millstone was a delicious and refreshing session Pale with just the right balance of malt and aromatic hops. Not had this in ages. A bloody good beer from a frequently overlooked brewery. No longer.

This early 19th century pub is a Manc classic. And worthy of adoration. Go worship.

Leaving along Chepstow Street back towards Oxford Road then turning left and right across St Peters Square then onto Cooper Street and immediate left onto Kennedy Street

The City Arms (Kennedy Street)

Bloody hell but I’ve been drunk in here. A frequent terminus of many mid 80s work outings – or the last pub before The Cyprus Tavern (ah the memories….)

A stalwart of the Manchester Beer scene for all my drinking days and – again – frequently overlooked in favour of easier pleasures. But you’d miss out.

Subdued lighting makes this place seem slightly darker and immediately relaxing.

Converted from a town house in the 19th century, this place can get busy in the evenings with office workers from nearby buildings. And deservedly so.

Two main rooms with two entrances to the pub. The single door to the left takes you into a corridor at the rear of the bar (frequently the easiest point of access) with the double doors to the right leading immediately into the bar.

The room to the rear feels larger being slightly longer and features more seating. I felt fortunate that we could grab seats, not always the case in here.

(A caution from Hilaire Belloc)

This pub is also famous for its drink related philosophy written on the walls…..

Having just had the Millstone, the Moon Rakers Mild by Empire (from Slaithwaite nr Huddersfield) seemed a good shout. And hell but it was!

Just raising it to the nose for a sniff was a chocolate joy. Rich, gentle roast, with cocoa and chocolate. Unusual to see a mild in January, of maybe I’m just going in the wrong places.

Whatever. A belter of a beer.

As a raucous group of good timers were reaching a crescendo in the next room, it was time to leave… And move on

So, right out of The City Arms and left onto Fountain Street then right onto Booth Street crossing Mosley Street onto Nicholas Street up to Portland Street. Turn right and about 50 yards up, you will find another Manchester classic.

A tiny classic

The Circus Tavern (Portland Street)

Intimacy. That’s what you get in The Circus. That and the feeling that you are being watched by George Best. His bloody image is everywhere!

And Bobby Charlton. Denis Law. Matt Busby. And sundry celebs who have had a beer over the years in this tiny watering hole. A place that used to close its doors early evening at weekend. It gets full very quickly.

Built around the late 18th century, this is essentially a tiny bar (it used to serve only Tetley bitter. Nothing else. I shit you not) This bar is that small that it boasts of being the smallest in Europe.

The pub is a narrow corridor to the side of the bar with two small rooms off it to the right. And this is REAL Manchester, make no mistake. And unmissable.

The beer isn’t cutting edge, The Circus doesn’t do that. What it does do is a nice pint of Tetleys bitter. Always has. Easy drinking and gently bittersweet. This is – however – all about the pub. A true Manchester classic.

Leaving the Circus, turn left and walk across Piccadilly Gardens (I’ll tactfully omit our unscheduled diversion – moral : Always check opening hours for The Jolly Angler!) onto Oldham Street. About 200 yards up on the right is…….

The Castle (Oldham Street)

According to the excellent (and all too infrequent – sadly) Pubs of Manchester blog, this pub was built around 1778 and this place – again has a big place in my Beer journey – as the first pub I was refused service.

For no other reason that the landlord was a right miserable git. Fortunately, 35 years later, times have changed. As has the pub.

3 rooms downstairs with the rearmost serving as an intimate live music venue, this gets busy quickly. And it’s a bit low lit. So much so it used to make me think of an ideal Vampire hangout.

Fortunately – as Jock was to discover – there’s a more brightly lit and spacious upstairs room formed when the pub was refurbed.

The beers are split between Robinsons and guests and tonight I went for a Hackney Pale (bizarrely brewed nowhere near Hackney : the brewery name eludes me) it was light and refreshing enough.

Again, this is about the pubs. And The Castle is the one constant presence on that stretch of Oldham Street.

To catch it quiet, you’d have to come early. This gets busy in the evenings when there’s a band on. (I do miss that pool table that used to be in that room….)

Moving on, there are various ways to get to our final planned destination. But we needed a pharmacist…. (nothing to worry about) so we headed right out of the pub and left onto Swan Street to the junction with Shudehill, where we turned left.

And there, opposite Shudehill bus Station and Tram stop is….

(I risked life and limb to take that shot!)

The Hare and Hounds (Shudehill)

Another pub – like The Castle – built around 1778, making it one of the oldest pubs in the city. This three roomed pub (if you include the wide bar area) is tiled heaven. One beautiful interior with lots of wood, stained glass and…. ceramic tiles galore.

And, last night, for the first time ever, I went in the rear room, historically the location for the famous Pensioners Karaoke. A joyful sight and sound.

Tonight, shockingly, you were more likely to hear “Everything’s Gone Green” by New Order!

Like The Circus, this has the clear feel of a local in the middle of England’s greatest city. You get the feeling that it’s full of regulars, chatting and laughing and swapping stories. Friendly in other words.

The beer? Holts Bitter or Robinsons Dizzy Blonde. A beer I can’t stand – on several levels. So Holts it was. And whilst it may have lost bitterness over the years, it was, again, easy drinking. Which was what was required.

And that, my friends, was the (scheduled) end of the walk.

Obviously, being very greedy, we carried on to The Angel and The (mighty) Marble Arch (Stout was exceptional).

A good day. Not a bad beer in sight. And the most beautiful walk between some of Manchester’s classic boozers that you would have to be mad to swerve.

Slainte. Back soon.

J.

(Hold that happy thought)

Manchester Beer and Cider Festival 2019 : Hit List

Yesterday afternoon was meant to be about scouting out breweries for #ISBF6. That plan lasted roughly 1 minute. I just gave in to the pleasures of chatting to friends introducing people and drinking excellent beer.

For someone who repeatedly professes not to like large beer festivals, I had fun. And whilst that was mostly about the people – as it should be – there was some bloody good beer. Here are my recommendations…

MallinsonsNelson Sauvin : 3.8% abv (Mallinsons Bar)

From the Queens of the Single Hop Pales comes this. A perfect example of how to use this sharp NZ devil.

All the gooseberry tartness. Sharp and nicely bitter. Bloody gorgeous and refreshing. A perfect starter.

And whilst on refreshment…

Black JackTable Beer 3.5% abv (Black Jack bar)

Table beers never cease to amaze me. This is remarkably full bodied and nicely hoppy. Again really refreshing and another one for early on.

Likewise with….

Northern AlchemyMoroccan Spiced Mild : 3.5% abv (Bar 2 – I think)

Yes. You read that right. Moroccan. Spiced. Mild.

We had it 2 years ago at #ISBF3 on keg. And it was (and still is) our fastest ever seller.

Dark brown, light bodied slightly fruity and subtle use of warming spices. Aromatic and bloody tasty.

Brass CastleHygge Figgy : 5.7% abv (Wood Bar)

Mmmmmm…..

Rich and very fruity. The wood lending an additional sweet note of vanilla I thought which worked SO well.

Delicious.

Thirst Class Ale x Tickety Brew – Plum & Licorice Stout : 6.5% abv (Thirst Class bar)

A catch up from #ISBF5 with one that I missed.

Delicious and fruity, the licorice is subtle and sneaks up on you later in the tasting. Seriously enjoyable beer from a far too underrated brewery.

Five TownsBlackout : 8.8% abv (Bar 1)

One of the main reasons I went. I’d only ever had this in bottle before and had to remind myself to grab one before I left.

Oh. My. Days.

Rich. Roasty. Big bodied.

One of those beers that it does an injustice to say that it’s just a beautiful big Stout. But it is just that.

I could wax lyrical. But…. Described by a good friend as “The Stoutiest Stout Ever”.

I’ll leave that there. Don’t miss it.

Wished I’d Tried……..

Little EarthBlackberry & Nettle Sour : 4.5% abv (Kegstar bar)

Because it’s Little Earth. And they do what they do exceptionally well.

GibberishPeanut Butter Raspberry Jelly Stout : 6% abv (Bar 1)

I mean… Why the hell wouldn’t you?

You Should Try

Five TownsCandidate : 9% abv (Wood Bar)

The Beer of the Festival winner at #ISBF5. All the blueberry. And it’s tasting utterly lush. And nothing like 9%.

Dangerous. But SO worth it.

It’s #Tryanaury. So go try something different. There’s plenty to go at.

Back soon.

Jx

Having a Platform

This morning, this arrived through my letterbox. Immediately after taking this picture, I carefully tore it to pieces. And got angry.

The arrogance of the bastard. The man in question being Tim Martin, head of the Wetherspoon “empire”.

I wasn’t the only one to receive them….

And equally unwelcome….

This is not a political blog. Or post. However, for clarity, my politics are of the left and I was formerly both an activist and Trade Union rep.

But that isn’t the point here.

For some time, I have offered simple advice. If you want to say something controversial – or potentially offensive – DON’T use your commercial platform, or your business accounts. If you do, prepare to harm your business.

In the current on trade, JDW loom large as the bargain bin of draught beer. Buy cheap, sell cheap. With the prices being demanded off brewers by the chain, it makes zero commercial sense for small Micros to sell to Wetherspoon.

And I’ve seen their range on the handpumps narrowing to a “usual suspects” list. At least in the ones I’ve been in. Maybe he really believes in the nickname given his pubs.

And – obviously to Mr Martin – he doesn’t think that such propaganda will harm his business. Maybe it won’t.

I’ve been fairly ambivalent about Spoons. Colleagues and friends do occasionally ask to meet there. And I’ve never said no.

Hell. We’ve even had breakfast in “The Brexit Arms” (predictive text remembered!) morning after East West.

But not any more.

I hate the Wetherspoon business model. I detest the use of Zero Hours contracts.

I also loathe the use of his company to spread his anti-EU propaganda.

I don’t care if my friends and colleagues call me a snob.

I’ll never darken the doors of a Wetherspoon again.

2019 : A Tryanuary Impulse – Pt 2 – Bolton

In this month of “Do something different”, I had to receive a jolt from a friend before I considered the obvious. The town I call home.

Bolton.

There has never seemed to be enough – in terms of outlets for excellent beer – to justify a wander. Yes, there were one or two excellent places to drink, but….. Manchester is just so EASY. Like a comfort blanket.

Time to change. And be a little more adventurous. So, with my dear old buddy Col – and after a fab & fortifying chip butty at Olympus (great chippy near the Bolton Interchange) it was back to the station for the 125 bus up to Chorley Road.

About 6 minutes on the bus……

Bunbury’s (393 Chorley Old Rd, Bolton BL1 6AH)

I’ve said it before. This bar has no right to be here, selling the beers it does. But here it is, 2 years on. And Daryl and Sarah have cultivated a loyal and devoted following of locals and not so.

Like me.

Did you notice that? That little yellow pump clip.

It’s not often I start at 4:30 on a 9% abv beer. But this was “Sweet Thing (Reprise)” from Five Towns x Rivington. One of my #ISBF5 collabs. I grab them where I can.

And it was bloody delicious. Fruity and creamy as a fruited Milkshake DIPA should be.

I had the Thirst Class too. And that Hoppy Go Lucky stood up well to the beast by its side. Nice and refreshing. Tasty. I expect nothing else from Thirst Class.

Bunbury’s. Small, but perfectly formed. Tables and standing area to the front and a small comfy room to the back.

It’s a local in the truest sense. Vibrant with conversation. Friendly. And with a simply astonishingly eclectic and excellent beer list.

Not to mention the small pack…. Nor the Cloudwater, Lervig & Rivington on the keg lines.

The regulars might not thank me for this, but – for me – this is one of Greater Manchester’s unmissable Micro Pubs.

I’ll be back. Frequently. But tonight, we were on a tight schedule..

So. Back on the (just about caught) 125 back into Bolton. Getting off at The Market Place and walking through up to All Saints Street.

Courtyard 36

A new one on me. And one that Colin in particular was keen to check out. Located just a few moments walk from the main shopping areas of the town, yet tucked away, it took a little finding.

But my is it pretty.

This is apparently an old Court House and having attended at Bolton Crown Court, this is much more decorous.

There are two or three separate drinking areas downstairs one of which has the appearance of a conservatory.

Keg only with 10 taps, 3 for Cider & Lager with the remaining choices being local and familiar featuring First Chop, Shindigger & Alphabet which – for the centre of Bolton – until recently would seem ambitious.

This bar is well laid out, very pretty and has an intimate feel. Hopefully, they’ll become a little more adventurous with the selection (given the number of ace breweries in Mcr making keg – and some even more local, as you’ll see later). But this was a fine start.

And a little history too…..

Note then, back across to The Market Place. And down the escalator….

Great Ale In The Vaults

A rare example in a retail environment of local involvement. And a welcome antidote to the chain mentality that normally pollutes such developments. Bravo to Anne & Steve Simms for kickstarting this bar.

It’s kind of a “cell” or vault surrounded by external seating. And it’s deservedly popular both with refreshing shoppers and people coming just for the bar, the friendly staff adding to it’s attractions.

And that Porter – Midtown by Beatnikz – was absolutely delicious. Rich without being cloying. Bitter and roasty. Everything a Porter should be.

There was an excellent Wishbone IPA on that bar too – and I think Wishbone are superb – but as good as that tasted, we only had time for one.

Again – having not been for a while – I forgot how good this place is. I’ll remember in future….

So. Onwards. Back out and left on Deansgate and right onto Bradshawgate then right onto Nelson Square – swerving the Spoons…

Northern Monkey Bar

Been here before. Wanted to see if I was still impressed.

I was. This is a belting place.

Northern Monkey have been brewing for a couple of years now and it was a brave, yet logical step, to have their own outlet and by locating on Nelson Square, they’ve placed themselves well.

Single roomed with a raised area away from the bar, the first thing that hits you on entry is all the shiny steel.

This is also the brewery.

There is a nice range on the bar with approx 50/50 split own beers and guests.

I saw Torrside. And was sold. Colin had their own Popcorn Stout. And was smitten. To be fair, it was bloody lovely on keg.

The Torrside was that rarity. A light mild. And was delicious too.

7 keg lines and 4 cask is a good split too and whilst it was fairly quiet, it was still early on a Friday evening.

This place will do fine. And it’s exactly what Bolton needed.

Moving on. I’d heard tell of a Chocolate Orange Imperial Stout…..

Back right onto Bradshawgate then left onto Bradford Street. Walk about 300 yards then turn right onto Castle Street. Here lies Bolton’s hidden gem…

Bolton Ukrainian Club

No pics of the bar. It would have felt intrusive.

This is a Social Club. It regularly hosts groups and functions. It’s also the location of Bolton CAMRA’s ace beer festival (more later). But it has a bar. With 3 local cask beers.

And Ukrainian Craft on draught and in bottle. And THAT is bloody good too.

But I came for this

Chocolate Orange Imperial Stout. By Blackedge Brewery. And it was utterly lush.

At 8.3% abv.

And £2.70 a pint. Yes. You read that right.

The delights of Social Clubs eh?

This is – like I said – a hidden gem. A bit of a walk, but worth every yard. With beers regularly from the likes of Brewsmith, Squawk, Rivington, Blackedge.

It’s friendly. Full of chatter. Never rammed, but warm and welcoming. It’s a great bar. And – whenever me & Colin come to Bolton, we always end up here.

And rightly so.

And – BTW – I had another pint of that Stout. Well, you have to don’t you?

And – whilst I’m here – a small comment. Whilst I was out around Bolton on Friday, l learned that Bolton CAMRA have cancelled this year’s Beer Festival.

Whatever the Whys & Wherefores, this is seriously bad news.

I’m not a fan of big beer events, but I’ve always loved this event. I even helped to brew the beer of the Festival last year.

Whatever the reasons, I hope we see it back in 2020.

We’re halfway through Tryanuary. So get out there.

Do something different. Break your habits. Try a new bar, pub, beer. Go out there and support them. In January, of all months, they need it.

Next up, some old Manchester pubs. In a #Tryanuary twist.

Back soon.

2019 : A Tryanuary Impulse – Pt 1. Wigan

Some time ago, my dear & talented friend Andy (along with friends in the Independent industry – like Shane Swindells) came up with an idea. That idea being an attempt to counter the relentless anti-alcohol lobbying of “Dry January”, “Go Sober for October” etc. What amounts to the shaming of people into abstinence. In this month of all months.

January. That month when pubs and breweries struggle most.

The idea was to try something different. DO something different. Be it a beer, a pub, an activity. It is / was a great idea, which, from one guy running it is now a nationally and regionally organised “thing”. It has taken root.

This month, I want to highlight 2 “things”. The first being somewhere NOT the norm for this Manchester focused individual.

Wigan.

Something old, something new.

This idea came following my annual chase – post ISBF – trying to catch beer that I missed at the event that I organised. This year, that chase took me to a bar in Wigan. For a 9% abv Milkshake DIPA.

Which leads me to two new bars and two old favourites.

First. Something new. Catch the #5 or #113 bus from the new Wigan bus station to Swinley District and the junction of Kenyon Road / Walkden Ave….

Sherringtons

Opened less than a year ago by Wily Fox brewery, I’ve been wanting to pop here for a while – ever since I found out that the lovely Zoe (ISBF Volunteer par excellence) worked there. I kind of knew it wouldn’t disappoint.

Micro Pubs – when done well – work. And this is done well. Very well indeed.

Set up over 2 floors – maximising square footage – this can safely be described as a modern take (decoratively) on the Micro Pub idea.

The main bar (there is also one upstairs – which opens when busy) features 6 hand pulls and (I think) around 10 keg fonts, some of which will feature lagers etc.

The cask selection was half own (Wily Fox) and half guests. As a devotee of Allgates / Wigan Brewhouse, I went for their “Casino” Pale and wasn’t disappointed.

A little nip upstairs revealed a nice space with plenty of seating and that second bar…

It was quiet. I was the only customer, but it was early afternoon on a Saturday with Xmas sales on, so understandable. It didn’t affect my enjoyment.

Nor did the delicious Dragons Tears by Black Jack on keg! Amarillo & orange…..

Wily Fox have done a bloody good job with this. This wouldn’t have been possible as recently as 3 years ago in Wigan – as I’ll comment further later.

Good beer, nice location, friendly staff. I’ll be back soon. With others.

That bus stop directly outside proved useful…

Jumping on a 641 back into the town centre makes the next stop simple….

Just at the entrance to the Bus Station sits..

The Anvil

A different kettle of piscine delights. I’ve been a fan of the Anvil since first entering some years ago. It’s where I sought advice prior to #ISBF1. It’s the starting point for The Road To Wigan Beer.

Oh Yes. Many memories.

Appearances are deceptive. The Anvil is quite modern and almost open plan on entry with 3 distinct drinking areas partitioned.

If you’re looking for craft keg, then you’ll keep looking. The Anvil is very much a town centre local with a dedicated following. What you get here is an excellent selection of bloody well looked after cask.

And with that Wigan Brewhouse Casino being only £2.50 a pint, it reminds you ft there is a different world out there in price terms. And The Anvil turns over a lot of beer.

This is the reality of many non-Metro Town centre pubs re price and cask. And what the customer is happy to pay.

I’d happily pay more for a product as good as that that the Anvil provides. But then, I drink in Manchester.

No pictures I’m afraid. And a quick stop. But if you go to Wigan, don’t pass The Anvil by. Some seriously good beer.

Head back towards the Train stations onto Wallgate, then left onto Millgate to the next (surprising) stop.

The Hop House (in John Bull Chophouse)

Downstairs is a pretty – and fairly generic – town centre pub. Narrow and busy with town centre drinkers.

But head upstairs – and there be gold. And some very surprising beers. As I’ve discovered twice now.

Pete is passionate about good beers from the best Micros. He knows that what enables this is the volume of Wainwrights and lager that’s sold downstairs. And Thwaites have let him play. Oh yes have they….

A couple of weeks ago, I’d got wind that he’d gotten the Five Towns / Rivington collab from #ISBF5, so high tailed after work on a Friday afternoon.

Even with that, the Little Earth was still a surprise.

The room upstairs is bijou. By which I mean small. Ish. But perfectly formed. And getting a devoted following. Rightly so. For being so bloody adventurous.

3 cask and 4 keg from near and far.

I perched myself. I wanted it all. But with only time for “some”.

The Mission Creep was a new brewery to me and I was smitten. Juicy and fresh. Exceptional cask. I’ll be looking out for more.

That Mojito Sour tho….. Little Earth don’t disappoint. Minty sour tartness. A real palate cleanser.

Followed by this…

I’m getting reet fond of Left Handed Giant. This Stout was just gorgeous. I do love a coconut Stout (boosted by Sorachi?)

If I lived near Wigan, I’d be a regular. It just feels right. And you can have all the great beer in the world, but if it doesn’t feel right…

This does.

And now to the place that made Sherringtons & Hop House possible…

Step back into Wallgate and walk past the stations, under the bridge and left onto Queen Street.

Wigan Central

There was a time (not that long ago) when – in Wigan – price was all.

Then came Wigan Central.

It kind of broke that mould.

It’s not that it was / is expensive. It isn’t. But from day 1, they got excellent beer. And charged appropriately for it. It proved that people will pay for quality. IF you get it right. Something that Wigan Central continues to do.

It must be doing things right, having expanded into the next arch.

Walking in and seeing Chocolate Orange Stout from Wilde Child. I was content.

The beer was delicious. The bar busy. And it was only 4:15. On a Saturday. Which meant, with the train strike, that I had too little time to catch up with this place.

With the little touches like the live train screens for both Wigan stations.

I had to dash. I was gutted. And cursing Northern Rail.

I needed this few hours out. A pleasant diversion.

As soon as the rail dispute is over, I’ll be back. Wigan is well worth it.

And not a pie passed my lips.

My “Golden Pints” 2018

Golden Pints

(Shamelessly nicked from Boak & Bailey)

In a year where divisions have been ever more stark – and I’ve found myself physically confronting hatred for the first time in my life – beer (generally) brings people together.

Yes. There are still all kinds of issues in this bubble we inhabit. Especially in respect for women in this industry. But, overall, beer is one of the few things that made me smile this year.

So I’ll start with a controversial move. By splitting Best UK Brewery into 3 categories.

1. Because it’s MY #GoldenPints, and

2. Because I couldn’t name just one.

So….

Best UK Brewery : Cask – North Riding Brewery.

Because.

Because I genuinely believe (and have spouted this REPEATEDLY to my amigos this year) that Stuart Neilson and his merry band are THE cask specialists.

I’ve had some simply EXCEPTIONAL beer this year from NRB. I can now get it more frequently over these hills and chase it wherever I can get it. My visits to Stalybridge Buffet Bar have increased substantially this year. Because Caz gets a regular delivery.

It’s not just the dark stuff (although they’ve developed a BIG rep for those), it’s the Pales too. As you may see below*

And the move to bigger premises at Snainton won’t hurt. A lovely new (and much larger) facility. And stunningly attractive views…..

Best UK Brewery : Keg – Runaway Brewery

Runaway are a puzzle to me. Not the brewery. Not the beers. But WHY they aren’t “up there”. Being talked about. Because – for me – they are the Alpha in consistency of excellence.

Core Range may be a dirty phrase amongst the Crafterati, but the attention to detail, the focus on getting a beer right, TIME AFTER TIME, it’s not easy. It takes graft. It also takes COJONES to swim against the tide. That incessant demand for something new.

But. I shit you not. When I see Runaway Pale, or American Brown (probably in my Top 3 ISBF beers of all), I’m on them like a Vampire on a blood bag.

And Mark Welsby is one of the nicest people in beer too.

Best UK Brewery : Overall – Marble

These awards have always been simple for me.

Whose beers do I drink the most. And that – across cask and keg and can and bottle – comes back to Marble.

You can’t BEGIN to understand how pleased I was to hear they would do a presentation of their funkier beers during Manchester Beer Week at the Rivington Tap Beneath The Trees. Nor how HORRIFIED I was to learn that I’d be on anti-biotics.

But I still went. Just for a sniff. Literally. Ask Carl.

I’ve been in The Arch a lot this year. I’ve drunk a LOT of Marble. In all formats. And everything I’ve had impresses me.

But that Radler at Seshfest though……. p

Oh. My.

This year though, it was closer. Because I’ve also drunk a lot of Torrside. And never failed to be impressed there either. And wherever I go in the North, I keep hearing “That Torrside are good”.

Yes. Yes they are. So an “Honourable Mention”

Best New Brewery – Pomona Island

I know that they launched in 2017. Late 2017. But my calendar runs from ISBF to ISBF. Call it the Salfordian Calendar if you will. And this year, I’ve drunk quite a bit of Pomona. And never failed to be impressed.

If you are from outside of Manchester, keep your eyes peeled. I have a feeling these guys will soon outgrow their current kit. They’ll need to. They’re damn good.

Honourable Mentions : I haven’t had much, but judging by their beers at #ISBF5, keep an eye out for the following : MillsWilderness, (they may not be new in 2018, but they’re new to me)

Because their beers were exceptional.

Beer of the Year : Cask – US Session v36 (Citra, Summit, Ekuanot)* (North Riding Brewery)

20180810_140452.jpg

One afternoon. After “helping” to brew a collab for the #ISBF5 Ticket Launch Bash, I sat in the North Riding Brewpub. I fancied something light. Sessionable and tasty. And this drew my eye.

I had six pints. It blew me away with the intensity of flavour, the body, packed into this little thing. It was utterly delicious. I’d have stayed all night if I could have. But I had a train to catch.

I hated that train.

Honourable Mention : Titch (Rammy Craft). In my opinion, the most talented young brewer in the area.

Andy Morrison originally created the recipe for this. Now he runs / owns the brewery. Keep an eye out, I expect big things from Andy in 2019. Mark Mywurdz.

Beer of the Year : Keg – Getting The Band Back Together (Bexar County)

I went to Bexar County to help make a beer with the lovely Steve Saldana. And came away buying two. This was the other one.

A Mini Porter. At 3.1% abv.

I grabbed a half during token duty at #ISBF5 and it completely stunned me. SO much flavour, richness, body, in SUCH a small thing.

It was fruity, almost hints of Xmas cake fruits, if was just OHHHHHH…..

It was MY Beer of the Festival. And there were some bloody good beers there

Best packaged beer (Can / Bottle) : Rhubarbara StreisandBrew York.

IMG_20180810_160453

I love Rhubarb pales. And this had my senses tingling from ripping the ring pull back. Just a stunningly good beer. Full of fruitiness, but delicate, lightly tart but juicy too.

Delicacy is an underrated beer virtue.

This is THAT GOOD, I chase them down if I hear of any of them about.

And THAT name…… 😂

I’m no expert on (or regular consumer of) beers from Outside the UK. So that removes a category or two….

(Here comes another category split)

Best Pub (Manchester) – The Brink

It’s just my place. My “local”. Only 60 yards on foot from my front door – following a 10 mile bus journey.

It’s the friendly staff. It’s the fun. It’s the hazy ISBF Ticket Launches.

It’s the package. It’s our “safe space”.

And – obviously – great beer. Well looked after.

Best Pub (elsewhere) – The North Riding Brewpub

Elsewhere, I’ve described coming to this place as a pilgrimage. As the coming together of “Destination pub” and local.

It has great beer. Much of it brewed downstairs. It has an almost permanent Kernel tap.

It has friendly regulars.

It’s got soul. That Elusive quality.

It has one of THE best cellar custodians around. Karen Neilson.

Shit. It’s even got a 2bbl brewkit in the cellar!

And rooms to stay upstairs…..

I adore it.

Brewery Tap – Rivington Tap Beneath The Trees.

The natural (and easy) call in this category is Black Jack. Because it’s fabulous. Relaxed. Great tunes, great beer, lovely people. And that’s all true. Almost to the point of cliche.

Because it’s THAT BLOODY GOOD.

However. This August Bank Holiday. Myself and some friends went to Rivington. And had a simply magical weekend.

Picture the scene……..

Add in some beautiful beer brewed on the farm opposite. Located in a forest clearing.

With a campsite on site.

On the side of Rivington reservoir.

Throw some lovely people into the mix.

Magical. This year, we’ll go to more than one.

Bravo Ben & Mick. Job well done.

Honourable Mentions : Black Jack Tap – The Daddy of Mancunian Brewtaps & Torrside Tap – Packs em in. Keeps the trains to New Mills busy. Brilliant.

Best Beer Festival : East West Fest (Wakefield)

There are so many reasons for this.

Myself and The Arch Nemesis have gone each of the 4 years. From the moment (walking up to the door) I heard the phrase “Ey Up! The Mancs Are Here!” “I knew this was it.

It has beer from the North. So it rings my bell.

It has the most ludicrous beer list.

It’s tiny. Friendly. Social. And packed with lovely people.

And now, people come from all over. They get it.

And we’ve already booked our accommodation. We did it 2 months ago.

I may organise a beer festival. But, for sheer fun, it doesn’t touch this.

4……4……4…….er…..4? (It’s a “private” joke. If a video posted on Twitter can be described as private!)

The most unmissable event on my calendar.

Honourable Mention – To the genius who conceived Seshfest.

An event CHOC FULL OF SESSION BEERS! Really, what’s not to love?

Best Branding – Five Towns Brewery / Paul Exley

20181215_211332.jpg

Stay with me on this. Because this isn’t core branding as such.

This came from a 3 conversations. The first was at #ISBF4. Between Jock, Me & Mike. It was borne of a mutual love of David Bowie and their mutual favourite track(s). A trilogy, from the Diamond Dogs album Sweet Thing / Candidate / Sweet Thing (Reprise).

The second was earlier this year. Discussing Five Towns beers for #ISBF5. And the birth of the idea of the Diamond Dogs Trilogy. Followed the next evening by a 3 way between myself, Malcolm (Five Towns) & Paul. The idea of the inner sleeve of the album forming a backdrop for the clips / labels.

My heart melted when I saw the results. We had them in that sequence on the bar at #ISBF5. 2 of the beers won awards from the drinkers.

The design matched the product. Beautiful

Best Blog – Beer Compurgation

I read little in blog world. Focusing on “organising” a beer festival can do that to you. But I read Mark.

Eloquent, passionate. It works. And I hate him for it.

He’s easily fooled though. Because he wrote this……

http://www.beercompurgation.co.uk/2018/12/the-independent-salford-beer-festival.html?m=1

Best Beer Twitter – Pilot Brewing & The Brink (by @katebrinkmcr)

Because they make me laugh. And laughter matters.

Thats_all_folks

The Box

There is a box.

The box is locked.

The box is covered up. With clutter and debris and all manner of mess.

The box is organic. The box shrinks. The box grows. Depending on the time.

The box rarely gets opened. But when it does, chaos ensues.

The box is full of grief. Full of sadness. And it’s in my head. It’s archived. Never forgotten, just…… stored. Because it hurts to open the box.

I talked about the box with a dear friend last week, who posited that that “box”, or mental archive, is a “man thing”. That women don’t possess that. That men can file their emotions away. My friend is a dear lady. And I disagreed.

But what do I know?

The box has been opened just 3 times in the past 13 months.

On two of those occasions, by the same person. A GP. Someone I don’t know well, but a lovely man.

Once at #ISBF4. The other at #ISBF5. Last weekend. The third occasion was about 2 months ago. By a lovely lady. Someone who was looking out for me.

And (on that occasion) I came to – about 5 hours later – face down. On a footpath. Having collapsed. Drunkenly.

At #ISBF4, the GP approached me. It was near the end of the evening. He was tipsy. And talkative. And he wanted to talk with me about my writing. About grief.

Now. I do use self-depreciation as a shield. A device to protect myself. But I don’t when it comes to writing. I’m not a good writer. I can’t paint pictures with words. I’ll never claim to.

But what I am is open.

I’m that dog-eared paperback you’ve never slung in the charity pile.

I’m honest.

I say this to people when they doubt my word….

“Look into my eyes. I mean every single word I say. I’m very careful with what I say. I weigh those words carefully. And I mean each and every one”

That’s just one of the ways in which that moment at 16:39 on 27/09/2016 changed me. Just one.

That GP told me how my writing about my grief impacted on him. On his patients. How he recommended them to read what I wrote.

You can have no idea how much that fucked with my head.

It was beautiful. Such a sweet thing to say. The most amazing compliment anyone has ever given me.

But he’d opened the box.

And it made me crash.

I walked away from that conversation, JUST holding it together. I went to speak with TLO (who was in the kitchen at St Sebastian’s). And I broke into hacking sobs. I remember the lovely Mark Welsby being there. And the look on his face.

I ran away. And cried my heart out. Something I’m never ashamed to do.

This weekend, that same lovely young GP had that same conversation with me.

The difference being that the key only turned. The lid of the box didn’t lift. That happened 2 days later.

I’m learning.

The Box is locked again. It’s covered in shit and debris. Put to the back. Always there. A little tap on the lid, each and every day.

Never forget. Never stop loving. Never stop caring.

Talk. Please.

Back soon.

Jx

Away Days 2018 #2 – York

Amongst all of my assorted nerdery, I adore history.

I’ve been reading a series of historical novels by the author Candace Robb set – predominately in the beautiful city of York, the Owen Archer Mysteries. The street names, the narrow thoroughfares, the grand architecture (the novels are set at a time that The Minster is being constructed) are so evocative.

The last time I went drinking in York was an AWFUL long time ago – 20 years ago at least – and I viewed the development of a vibrant beer scene with a little envy. Wondering when I’d get the opportunity to get across….

Then I saw a tweet a few months back. That – in June – Bad Seed Brewery would be 5 years old.

Bad Seed are based in Malton and have been part of my “Beer Journey” almost from day one. I was drawn to the 330ml bottles with the hanging tags (at a time when most bottles were 500ml). They make excellent tasty beer. And have been fixtures at The Independent Salford Beer Festival from Year 1.

In short, that tweet from Chris Waplington was precisely the excuse I needed to put the proposal to the PPE collective.

I was amazed – when I checked – that Trans Pennine had day return tickets from Manchester at £17! Swiftly bought. (Standard return fare is approx £30)

To make the most of the day, arrival time was set for midday. We had 8 hours to dip our toes in the beery waters. Advice was sought (it HAD been two decades…..), was taken on board and a “crawl” route was constructed.

And I became genuinely excited.

The Maltings (Station Road)

We skipped the Tap on the station – being keen to head into the City – and had our first stop outside the historic boundary of the City Wall at the only pub I remember going into all those years ago.

Just outside the wall – almost on the banks of the Ouse – sits this rather lovely pub. A place I would always start at. Logical (there are two or three ways you could go from this point) and with excellent beer.

Myself and Jock met Steve & Kev at this point. I grabbed a pint of Roosters Birdman, which was absolutely what the “doctor ordered”. Deliciously light and refreshing, fruity and slightly piney, it was superb. And precisely what was required on this warm afternoon after the walk from the station.

The Maltings has an aged feel – lots of wood – in what is a single roomed venue. The beer range had something for all and was commensurately busy. The food smelled excellent, but it was too early for me.

The thing that stood out was the friendliness of the staff. The service was quick and I ended up chatting briefly with one of the bar staff who happened to Cameron’s (Turning Point) sister!

I could happily have stayed a while. But plans being what they are…… and one of our group was ESPECIALLY looking forward to the next venue on my schedule….

(come from the pub and turn right onto Station Road, crossing the Ouse turn right onto Lendal and left onto Stonegate. About 100 yards on the left is…..)

The House of the Trembling Madness (Stonegate)

A bar. Above a shop. But WHAT a shop. And WHAT a bar.

Then you wander upstairs

To the bar….. Helpfully signposted……

It’s been a while since I was so moved by a single roomed venue. Hell, by any venue. It is simply glorious.

And closing in October. (On the walk from The Maltings, you actually walk past the new venue, on Lendal)

The bar – as stated – is single roomed and appears to be in the eaves of this visibly historic building (the rear wall of which is – apparently – 12th century Norman in construction) and is simply beautiful.

Allegedly, it gets PACKED in the evenings, so you are warned.

You get the feeling – whilst drinking a predictably stunning Kernel Pale Ale – that you are breathing history. Something that, in 3 months, you will no longer be able to do. Not in Stonegate anyway.

The bar itself is small. But perfectly formed and well supplied, with cask from Brew York, Marble & Thornbridge and keg from the likes of Wylam, Northern Monk, The Kernel and Magic Rock. You get the idea….

You can even go back downstairs and grab some superb train beers from the immaculately curated selection……

We’ll be back. Oh yes, we’ll be back…… (see below)

Now. The point of the day was to get to The Rook and Gaskill on Lawrence Street (outside the City Wall to the South East), so the next stop was planned accordingly….

So, heading left along Stonegate, turn right onto Low Petersgate and continue along Colliersgate turning right onto Pavement, until you see opposite…..

Pavement Vaults (Jct Pavement / Piccadilly)

The visual antithesis of “Trembling Madness”? Certainly much more modern in feel – in Mancunian terms, a bit more NQ – yet it was here I got my favourite beer of an excellent day (I didn’t have anything less than good).

A larger venue than the previous two, open plan, with (quite literally) a central bar and lots of exposed brickwork. And – unviewed – a basement bar. An accent on food, but still with excellent beer. Plenty of seating meant that – as busy as it was – we could sit and enjoy the beer.

That beer? Thornbridge Strawberry Lucaria. A strawberry ice cream Porter. Chocolate. Strawberry. Creamy. Rich, yet not cloying.

It did exactly what it said in the tin. And was utterly delicious.

In not sure I’ve done this place justice, but it is more than worth a visit. Relaxed, friendly and excellent beer? What’s not to like!

Turning right from the bar, walk along Piccadilly – crossing the Foss – then turn left onto Merchantsgate. At the end turn right then, on the left, you’ll see the signs for the next stop……

Brew York Tap Room (off Walmgate)

There were a couple of groups of people in front of us. Unlike us, they didn’t need to follow signs. They led us in. A sign of popularity. And justly so.

With the surprisingly large brewkit on the left upon entry, the bar is just beyond with a plethora of keg taps augmented by 2 or 3 cask lines. Lots of space as the area just past the bar opens up with plenty of tables for seating.

Sticking (mostly) with low abv beers, seeing their own Jarsa (session IPA) on cask was a pleasant surprise – having only had it on keg before. Delicious, fruity, gently bitter and hugely refreshing. On a warm day, the job was done.

A very pleasant surprise was the outside space facing onto the River Foss, in a warm day, the riverside breeze was most welcome and the tables there were justly popular.

From the first beer I tried, I’ve been hugely impressed with Brew York on cask, in keg and can too (it was a pleasant surprise to see them in my local Asda). They were an obvious invite to #ISBF4 last year.

For #ISBF5, they’re a no brainer.

This is an impressive set up, both as a brewery and as a Brewtap. And if it wasn’t for the fact that we had an appointment, we might have stayed……. I had a feeling we’d be back.

Getting back onto Walmgate, turn left and walk along Walmgate for about 400 yards and – across Barbican – you’ll see……

The Rook and Gaskill (Lawrence Street)

Our “furthest out” port of call. The inspiration for this trip. Bad Seed Brewery‘s 5th birthday bash. All the taps at the pub were dedicated to their beers.

I’ve like their beers from the start. They have a place fixed on my personal beer journey. They are unsung. They do the basic job of making tasty beer without fanfare or fuss.

My kind of brewery.

The Rook was a medium sized and open plan pub wrapped around a central bar with 7 or 8 cask lines and more than double that on keg.

The beers were predictably excellent, with Session IPA doing the required job of refreshing on this increasingly warm afternoon, Juice Freak (NEIPA) was a hazy fruity treat and Rule The Roost (Espresso Stout) had all the coffee flavour I wanted and livened me up enough to watch some of the Korea v Mexico match…..

Another welcome bit of outside space here too.

Nice pub this. A proper pub too and well worth the walk. (and let’s be straight here, nowhere is far too walk to in York) There may even have been upstairs space, but we didn’t explore….

Having received a tip from Chris for somewhere to stop on the way back to the Station, we decided to break that walk in two by popping back to the impressive Brew York Tap Room

Leaving the Tap Room, we headed up Walmgate, continued onto Colliergate then Fossgate. Turning left onto Church Street then left onto Patrick Pool, takes you to……

Pivni (Patrick Pool)

Getting more historic here. Stunning old interior. Low ceilings, lots of wood with a long main room.

Again, an emphasis on keg, but with interesting cask from Wild Weather and Northern Whisper.

By this time, I was feeling it a little. But Magic Rock Grapefruit High Wire always comes to my rescue….

This is another lovely bar and serves to emphasise what York has to offer, it is one of the longest standing “craft” bars and deserves its reputation.

I’ll be back to do it more justice… See below.

A swift half back in The Trembling Madness led us back towards the train station at the end of our day. A visual treat.

As is York.

There was so much more to see. To do. Bars /pubs we didn’t get to try, it seemed such a shame to leave.

I think it was in that last visit to The House of the Trembling Madness that the three of us from “up here” (Keg being on a visit from t’Sarf) made our decision to come back. To give York the time it deserves.

So we’re already booked to go back for the weekend. We’ve booked accommodation and trains for the weekend of 17th August.

That makes August a busy month. Brewing a special for the #ISBF5 ticket launch the weekend before, the weekend after being (for me & TLO) Camping at Rivington (Tap Beneath the Trees).

But, do you know what? York is one stunning place to go drinking.

If you haven’t already, then try it yourself. You won’t be disappointed. Trust me.