A Day In Bridgnorth 

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(The remains of the Keep at Bridgnorth Castle – that lean is 4 times that of the “Leaning Tower of Pisa”!)

Going out has been a bit difficult recently. Just leaving the house and getting on public transport has been a challenge (actually getting half way to Manchester once before turning back). So it was going to take something exceptional to get me out.

That, or something exceptionally sneaky. Which – in all likelihood – is probably how I found myself in a car, with 3 friends, heading south on the M6 on Thursday morning. Towards the pretty Shropshire town of Bridgnorth.

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This town holds quite a special place in my heart as a place where we would visit when camping the kids at beautiful Hampton Loade on the banks of the mighty River Severn. Every time we went, we’d jump on the Severn Valley Railway (steam, natch) to its terminus at Bridgnorth to do a little shopping, have lunch, go on the country’s steepest funicular railway…..happier (and simpler) times.

It really is a beautiful town. Technically in two parts, Bridgnorth has a “High Town” and a “Low Town” with the ruins of its castle perched atop in the “High Town”, a castle destroyed by Parliamentarian forces in 1646. It also seems to have retained a vibrant “High Street”, refreshingly undominated by chain stores.

It even has a half decent ‘Spoons – The Jewel of the Severn.

But I was here to stroll around a few pubs with friends. On a mission to find some local beers – in particular Hobsons. I got more than I bargained for.

I let my buddies find the first pub. It took a phone call to find them. And they found me a nice surprise

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The Stable Bar (Whitburn Street)

Initially, I thought they’d gone into The Kings Head – which is located on the street itself. Hence the phone call “We’re in a brewery…..”. And they were. Kind of.

The bar was located via an alley immediately to the rear of the Kings Head and is the home of the Bridgnorth Brewery. The bar is on two levels with upstairs seemingly dedicated to eating. Downstairs is modern and bright. Single roomed, with a long bar and a large selection of wines racked behind the bar, there is a feature log burning fireplace at the end punting out tremendous heat.

Outside there is a standalone open air bar with lots of seating. The place had the look and feel of a modern Brewtap, which is precisely what it is.

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The main bar was fully stocked with 6 hand pulls all bar one featuring beers brewed on site. I opted for a  Pale Ale (Kings Escape) which was US hopped and very tasty – once it warmed up, it was served way too cold and needed more warmth for the flavours and aromas to develop. Once they had, it was a lovely juicy and refreshing beer.

The bar would fit in easily within the Manchester Beer Scene – the biggest compliment that I can pay.

We move on… Back up onto the high street and to another brewery tap… This time being the Hop & Stagger brewery located within…..

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The White Lion (W Castle Street)

A proper pub. And no mistake. And with (joy of joys) a Bar Billiards table!!!

Dating from the 18th Century, this pub has 3 distinct drinking areas – with one of those being outside – and two separate bars. Almost “vault” and “bar room” in traditional pub speak. This was another pub to have a roaring real fire, but we couldn’t get close with that room being fairly busy. So into the rear room we went.

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And that Bar Billiards table….. And also the best beer of a day full of good beers. Hop & Stagger “Bridgnorth Porter”. I’m drooling now just thinking about it. It was that good, we returned to the pub later. Twice.

This pub had an old soul. It felt like I’d kicked off my DMs and put on an old battered pair of trainers. Somewhere you could just decompress. Relax. It felt cosy. Later on we came back into the front room with that fire. And that was even cosier. If I lived near this pub, I’d be a happy bunny. And no mistake.

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Now. That Porter. Yum. Lots of choccy roast, hints of coffee. A little residual sweetness. Almost Porter Perfection for me. I couldn’t get enough of it. All 4 of us drank it. All 4 of us loved it.

But we moved on. It’s not a crawl if you don’t….

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The Old Castle (W Castle Street)

Just a couple of doors down, comes this. Another old pub.

The front room looked warm and welcoming, but we just went straight to the rear room which felt a little like a conservatory (not a criticism). This pub (for us) was about two things. Bar sports (darts, bar football and pool) and Hobsons. Something I’d hoped to find I found here. A pint of Town Crier. And very nice it was too.

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Friendly pub (as were they all to be fair), two main roomed with a side room off the “conservatory” room that looked like it may have been used for dining. There was a feeling about this place that it might be food led at times and reviews online seem to confirm that impression. There was also a bit of building work going on. One to come back to next time I think.

Next, a walk. Down towards Low Town.

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The Black Boy (Cartway)

The pub’s name – judging by a former signage – appears to refer to chimney sweeping. The pub itself is located on a steep section of this road leading up to the High Town from the main road bridge over the Severn.

The pub is two roomed and again (speaking from an outsider’s point of view) was warm and welcoming. The barman/landlord seemed a decent sort and changed a beer for me without question when returned as “off” (he even pulled me aside later to tell me that he appreciated me telling him. He tried it himself and turned the clip)

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Lots of wooden furniture in both rooms with the main bar room bustling that evening. The pub boasts a roof style terrace with bloody fabulous views over the Severn (at a very high water mark). Had a  really juicy Pale Ale (Windmill Pale) from Wimbledon Brewery, fruity and full-bodied for a low abv beer.

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Considering the unusual location, this was justly busy and is certainly a pub I would return to. Excellent service, pretty pub and good beer. Win.

We continued into Low Town into a forgettable pub (which, strangely, I’ve forgotten) with loud TV and bland beer (a tired Banks Sunbeam), but then turned around and went firstly to the ‘Spoons for a can of Sixpoint Resin DIPA (nice, but overrated) then back to The White Lion. That Porter was like a Siren call onto the rocks of drunkenness. I had an emotional wobble at this point. Shit needs to come out occasionally. And I was with good friends. And in good hands.

So. Four excellent pubs. A rather good ‘Spoons (nice Lemon Dream by Salopian earlier) and excellent beer. With an early draught “Beer of the Year” contender in that Porter.

Bridgnorth is a lovely town with a rich history. Great pubs. It’s even got a bloody steam railway for crying out loud! What more could you ask for???

Back soon.

J.

“Where Everybody Knows Your Name” – No Thanks.  

“There is no Chicago urban blues more heartfelt than my lament for you.

I’m a liberal guy, too cool for the macho ache. With a secret tooth for the cherry on the cake.

With a pious smile, a smile that changes what I say.

While I waste my time in regretting that the days went from perfect to just OK.”

Cruel” – Prefab Sprout (clip courtesy “thingslostinfire low” on YouTube)

Liberal. A dirty word. But I’m proud to be one. Even though it makes my drinking more expensive….

You see, I’ve never had what I could truly call a “local”, something that I’ve always yearned for. Somewhere nearby, where I could drink a decent beer or three and feel “at home”. I’ve always travelled to drink, from my underage days drinking pints of Holts bitter in “The Wellington” on Irlams o’th Height in Salford to the White Lion in Little Hulton and The Albion in Walkden and (more latterly) The Brink.

But I’ve always wanted something closer.

Then – one night about 5 years ago – my good friend Rob & I went into a pub opposite his then home. And I threw a few darts. The barmaid thought I was quite good and asked if I’d like to join their team.

I was elated. Could this be what I’d been looking for for all those years?

So, I went along for most of a season, closing my taste buds to the shit beer (Holts or Cross Bay – both kept badly) and my ears to some of the more unsavoury conversation, gently making others aware that that wasn’t the way I thought. I was the best player, I felt valued. I overlooked the negative and blocked it out.

Then, one evening after a match, I was asked if I’d like to stay behind and have a beer with the staff and landlord after closing. And my eyes were opened. 

What followed was the most vile stream of racist language and general prejudice that I had ever heard. It seemed that the simple fact that I was there, in that pub, meant that I was “one of them” and therefore must have shared their opinions and way of thinking.

I didn’t confront. I chose caution and made my excuses and left. Confrontation comes with risks that I simply wasn’t prepared to take. I know that all too well. Which is why I didn’t criticise the choice of Mark in his initial response to events posted in this – unlike some.

So I left the pub. And never went back. Even now, I childishly refer to that pub as “The Hood & Burning Cross”.

And the very next week, I posted my first thoughts about beer with this stream of drivel. Which I’m still embarrassed about. But it was a start. And we all have to start somewhere.

I don’t drink in the town in which I live. Even though I’ve lived here 26 1/2 years now and raised 3 kids here. Socially, I don’t belong here (I can hear the strains of “Creep” as I type). Nor do I drink in Bolton. There are a few decent places, (Ukrainian Club, Hen & Chickens, Great Ale) but there is a sense of threat whenever I’m in the centre of the town of an evening.

I chose (and still do) to drink – with any regularity – in Manchester.

I struggle with Sexism. Racism. Prejudice of any kind. Even my own pre-judgement of other pubs in my own area. I need to feel at ease. Amongst like minded spirits.

I inhabit a bubble. Both socially and politically. Which is why I find myself occasionally shocked by events both politically (blah blah blah Brexit, blah blah blah Trump….) and socially like those things that Mark deals with above.

There is no excuse for racism. There is no excuse for gender or any other form of sexual prejudice. Full stop.

Living and socialising in those bubbles – and the Manchester Beer “scene” is a bubble – insulates me from all of the shit that I can’t abide and – currently – handle. I’ll carry on thanks.

BeersFarnworth doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it?

And as for a local? I’ll do without now, thank you.

“My contribution….to urban blues”

Manchester Beer and Cider Festival 2017 – My Dancecard 

I’m lucky sometimes. One of these occasions was when I recently had a preview 0f the beer list for the upcoming Manchester Beer & Cider Festival.

Leaving aside the established family breweries from the region (although a rare draught outing for JW Lees Harvest Ale is quite exciting), there is an extremely large selection of beers on both cask and (whisper it) keg, with some exceptional beers in there from all over the country.

I received a sneak preview of the list to facilitate a piece for the local paper the Manchester Evening News which was published yesterday. However, that piece was edited, with the two lowest abv beers edited out, hence a slight revamp here. I call it my Dance Card; beers that I will make a point of seeking out.

For me – with limited exceptions – I indulge in what I refer to as “tactical drinking”, starting with low abv beers and heading North from there. Given that I will be one of the judges for the (glory be!) Stout category, I won’t be getting through all of these at the “Trade” session. But get through them I will. (With maybe a warming Imperial Stout or two to keep out the forecasted chill)

Anyway, here goes my take on the beers to try. And for those who want to hunt their own choices down, here’s the link to the full list.

A wise Manchester blogger once told me “Manchester is a Pale Ale city”, so the accent is on the light, pale and bitter of the spectrum. With some darkness for a little fortifying variety in this cold month.

Happy hunting!

Dinner AleIlkley Brewery (Bar 1) : At only 3.3%, this sharp and zesty light Pale Ale is full of juicy flavours. An ideal beer to start the session with. And my favourite beer from the Leeds International Beer Fest 3 years ago. I haven’t seen it since.

TitchRamsbottom Craft Brewery (Bar 2) : One of my favourite beers of 2016. At only 3.6% this tart fruity Pale Ale is a delicious juicy mouthful from one of the best small breweries in the area. Full bodied too for the strength.

Galaxy Pale AleBrewsmith Brewery (Brewery Bars) : James Smith has been brewing the most consistently excellent beers for the last 3 years. His single hopped Pale Ales being singularly delicious and refreshing, this 3.9% Aussie hopped beer promises to be more of the same.

Dr. RudiPictish Brewery (Bar 2) : In my opinion, up at this Rochdale brewery, Paul Wesley is a master of brewing single-hopped Pale Ales. Expect juicy, fruity and bitter from this 4.1% beer. And superb.

US Cask LagerBrightside Brewery (Brewery Bars) : Cask conditioned Lagers are a comparative rarity. This 4.3% beer promises to be light and refreshing but with a little hoppy kick from Columbus and Citra hops.

Pale (Chinook/Junga) – Squawk Brewing (Bar 2) : My brewery of the year in 2016, Oliver Turton turns out some of the finest clean and crisp Pale Ales and IPAs in the country from his Ardwick railway arch. An absolute go to brewery whenever seen on a bar for me. Expect refreshing and sharp from this 4.3% beer.

Hoptical IllusionBrass Castle Brewery (Brewery Bars) : A Gluten Free beer made with the sorghum grain, packed with juicy fruit for a hoppy punch. Excellent in bottle, I simply can’t wait to sample this 4.3% belter, from this standout Yorkshire brewery, based in Malton.

Dry Irish StoutRunaway Brewery (Brewery Bars) : Mark Welsby has been quietly beavering away over the last 3 years near Victoria Station brewing some of Manchester’s finest beers. This 4.5% Stout is one of the few I’m yet to try. Expect big roasted flavours with a bitter and slightly sweet finish. I (personally) will not miss this!

Cherry HeartlessRedwillow Brewery (Bar 2) : On its own, Heartless Stout is a full-bodied and luxurious Choccy Stout, dark and delicious. Cherries just work so well in a dark beer that this 4.9% combination has me drooling. Think of Black Forest Gateau. Catnip for beer and cake lovers both.

Turbine PorterStringers Brewery (Bar 3) : Another Gluten Free beer, Stringers are a superb brewery based in Ulverston and I simply don’t see their beer enough in Manchester, with their IPA and Dry Stout being superb. Expect roasted flavours and slight coffee notes in this warming 5.1% Porter.

Quantum Thirst ZapperThirst Class Ale / Quantum Brewing (Bar 3) : Stepping up the strength here at 5.9%, I simply couldn’t overlook this Amber Ale. Combining the brewing skills of Richard Conway (of the criminally underrated Thirst Class – co brewers of my favourite beer of 2016) with the maverick that is Jay Krause (of the sadly closed Quantum), this Stockport collaboration beer promises big and bold hoppy flavours. Unmissable for me.

Transpennine Brown AleMallinsons Brewery / Pictish Brewery : Now to the beer that is top of my personal “to do” list. Brewed especially for the festival, this collaboration between two of my very favourite breweries had me salivating from the moment I heard. Hoppy Brown ales are a particular favourite of mine, but when made by the two breweries that master the art of drinkable hoppy pale ales.(for me), this is a must. Especially as they went against type, deliberately! Expect fruity hops galore, with a little nutty sweetness in this crackerjack 6% beer.

 

 

The Beerage : From Rags to Riches – Part II (Or “To Cask or Not To Cask? That Is The Question.”) 

​”Money money money money, money. 

Some people got to have it, some people really need it. 

Listen to me y’all, do things, do things, do bad things with it. 

You want to do things, do things, do things, good things with it. 

Talk about cash money, money.  Talk about cash money, dollar bills, y’all”

(For The Love of Money” – The O’Jays) 

Hark! Is that the sound of the first of many dominoes falling?

On New Year’s Day, Paul Jones of Cloudwater – via the medium of the brewery blog – announced that they were to stop packaging beer in cask. 

As a lover of cask conditioned beer, this news saddened me. Cloudwater have made some excellent beer packaged in cask – I have very fond memories of their first DIPA (or v1 for those beholden to such designations) in cask at the brewery tap; I was also enamoured of the IPA Nelson Sauvin that they provided for ISBF2016 – but many of their hoppier beers have worked better in keg. So, on that level, no surprise in their choice. 

What DID surprise me though, was the statement that Cloudwater are not yet in a profit situation. 

So they have partly addressed that. By abandoning the cask conditioning of some of their beers (and no, it isn’t the only reason…..) 

Now here’s the thing, I adore cask conditioned beer. When properly conditioned and looked after in the cellar, it is a tremendous thing. And therein lies the rub, those words “When properly conditioned and looked after in the cellar”. I do most of my drinking in the centre of Manchester and am fortunate that those bars and pubs that I drink in look after their beer. 

In short, the beer is (ordinarily) in excellent condition. But not all bars and pubs are so conscientious. And most micro breweries – like Cloudwater – want their beer served so that it tastes as they intended. And the one of the arguments in Paul’s blog post was that that could not be guaranteed with cask (I paraphrase, of course) 

Another reason is margin. 

In an age where Wetherspoons buy beers at £45 – £55 a cask and breweries churn out 9g casks at similar prices to pubs (and some – in addition – at “buy X,  get Y free”) quality   breweries struggle to compete and consequently lose customers as pubs demand the lowest possible prices. 

And the thing about cheap beer is? (IMHO of course!) It tastes cheap. And – due to price – it pushes good beer off the bar. Or forces breweries to race to the bottom, lowering standards to lower price. A vicious circle to those of us who love good beer. 

Keeping standards up – in terms of ingredients and equipment – is expensive. The maths is – like myself – fairly simple, brewing good beer costs. To keep doing it, the brewers need to make more money. So how? 

Cloudwater – like many new wave (I’m a child of Punk!) breweries – see their future in packaging their beers in keg for the draught market. They are not the first (Buxton went that way nearly 18 months ago, Beavertown, The Kernel…. ) and almost certainly not the last. Packaging in Key Keg means the entire cost of the beer falls upon the customer; it means no investment in expensive casks that frequently don’t return – at least directly (leading to greater cost in retrieval from the likes of Keg Watch). 

Brewing – at least for the small operations – is not just about the beer. It’s about chasing outstanding payments; it’s about chasing materials (casks); deliveries; sales and marketing; social media; (increasingly) Brewtap organising. It’s bloody long hours. Bloody hard graft. For precious little reward. Reading the message from Jay Krause (of Quantum) detailing why he was quitting his own business was heartbreaking for those of us who’ve enjoyed his journey through beer. Running a brewery is a stressful business. It must feel good just to brew beer. 

It goes back to my original premise. That beer is too cheap, certainly in cask format. So what is the answer? I’ve said some of these previously. 

1. Own your own outlet(s) – control both the quality from creation to dispense and the price. This costs, especially in an expensive real estate area like Manchester (something that Cloudwater themselves partially address with their involvement in The Pilcrow) and few have the kind of money to do this. 

2. Scale. Increase volumes – reducing percentage overheads in order to increase “profit”. Again, this comes with the cost of investment in larger kit (tuns, coppers, FVs, tanks). Unaffordable to most – especially when many chase thousands of pounds in overdue payments as part of “the job”. (Remember, pubs/bars are cash businesses…..) 

3. Brewtaps. These do provide the sugar rush of a direct cash injection. And also give the brewer control of the quality of product at the point of dispense. But these take an awful lot of time and effort to organise, eating into the functional week of the brewery. They also eat into that most underrated (yet increasingly precious the older you get) commodity. Free time. 

Breweries need to make money. They are businesses, not charities. And part of that equation is that the brewery needs to be paid an appropriate price for the beer. And if that means “more”, then it means we – the drinker – need to pay more. To me, it reminds me of myself; simple. 

Some commentators – perhaps with a “craft” agenda – are heralding the demise of cask, following on from Paul’s (Cloudwater) blog post. Those who are, are patently talking utter bollocks. There is some bloody gorgeous cask conditioned beer brewed by Micros locally, served with due regard and skill by local pubs and bars. 

But unless the breweries that make this beer can actually make profit, the number of these breweries will surely diminish. 

And that scenario is coming. It won’t be breweries dropping cask that will be the concern. It will be micro breweries ceasing to exist. 

And that will be a sadder thing. 

P. S. For an idea of the financials of brewing – from a brewers perspective – read this from Steve at Beer Nouveau. 

A Simple Greeting 

“How are you?” (This simple greeting has many variants)

I never thought that such a simple (and well-meaning) question could be filled with such divergent answers, in my case at least.

There are two main answers.

The first one – also known as “the abbreviated version” – leaves the questioner to carry on with their day / evening emotionally unmolested.

“Yeah. OK you know. We’re getting by…. ”

It’s the second – aka “The Full English…..” as A A Gill recently put it – which leaves the questioner fraught. Thinking that they have ruined your day / evening. And leaves you knowing that you’ve ruined theirs.

The second response contains an unspoken pre-thought, which is “Are you REALLY ready for this……?”

And then, when you give that response, when you’ve finished, you get a sense of shock. And you wish that you’d given the abbreviated version.

I used to always give the first one. And then one night, I said “No. I’m not really” and broke down.

You see, when you lose a child, especially when they’ve ended their own life, there is no route map to follow. In the first two weeks every minute contained a question. That question always started “What do we do…….?”

And nobody knew the answers.

There were good people. A lady named Gina at the Co-Op funeral parlour guided us through the majority of the formalities. A veritable angel of a woman, to whom we owe so many thanks.

And everybody meant well. And that is understood and truly appreciated.

People have been lovely.

And then you realise how broken this country is. The human cost of “austerity”.

We soon learned that the NHS in Bolton (I don’t know about other areas) has no (in-house) mental health counselling service. We are lucky in that we got quick access to a Doctor locally for a consultation, but the emphasis appeared to be on “self-help” groups. And we were offered that.

I said “No. I’ve been here before (depression). I know what we need.” So we were – after some forceful nudging – referred.

(Lesson? Be forceful yet polite.)

And then hit the wall. Resource Prioritisation.

There is so little money dedicated to mental health provision, that they can only guide services to those at high risk of self-harming. Or of harming others.

So you get an assessment consultation. And get told that you don’t fit the criteria. And still, you walk away with a list of self-help and charity groups. And here’s the thing…

Sometimes, just sometimes, you need to speak to a professional. Somebody who understands where you are at. Somebody who can treat you. Teach you how to cope. To avoid sliding into a pit from which you can’t ascend.

I’m lucky – if that can be said in our circumstances – I truly understand the need to talk. And when I need to, I’m unafraid to do so.

It’s people who don’t understand this that I worry about. And the lack of professional help concerns me hugely.

Grief is not uniform. It’s a cliche – but nonetheless, true – it IS different for each sufferer.

As I’ve said on many occasions, there are a lot of good people in this beer game. Following on from my previous (related) post, there were a lot of supportive comments. Many have backed those up by not standing back. By saying “Hello”. And by doing that, they make the heart beat a little bit stronger, help me breathe better. And yes, occasionally, cry a little – in a good way.

That’s all we can ask.

So, if you know me – and despite the pitfalls – say “Hello”. And, from now, I’ll give you the abbreviated response.

Thank you all. And greetings of the season.

N.B. This will be the final personal post. And I don’t know if he reads this blog (he’s a busy man), but “Thank You” to Paul Jones from Cloudwater. For taking time and tapping me on the shoulder at The Smithfield last week. I’ve been putting this post off. Unwittingly, he nudged me on and – in all probability – has prompted me to keep blogging.

And further, along the lines of “the immutable law of the gig” (where, no matter how tall you may be, there’s always someone taller, blocking your view), there is always someone worse off than yourself. As I learned recently.

See you soon.

J

#GoldenPints 2016 – Or…. My Best of….. 

I’m not sure if this kind of thing is frowned upon in this post-truth, post-craft world. Whatever, anyone who knows me well knows that I’ve never been a slave to fashion in any form you care to mention. 

To be honest, 2016 can’t end quick enough for me for fairly obvious reasons, but – in an effort to see if I still “feel” blogging to be worthwhile – where praise is due, it should be dispensed. So, using the category template recently photographed by the mighty Tim Rowe (aka @PolymathTim)….  Here we go…. 

Best UK Cask Beer – War Of The Raspberries (Thirst Class Ale v North Riding Brewery

The easy thing would have been to say Sonoma by Track – simply the best session Pale Ale around on cask. And I have enjoyed it all year. But – and you can call me biased if you like (I WAS involved in my other guise) – but from the moment Stuart Neilson stepped from his car with 18kg of fresh Yorkshire Raspberries, this was always going to be special. 

A “ramped up” take on Thirst Class’ own Stocky Oatmeal Stout, this was smooth, luscious, chocolatey and shot through with tart raspberry. 

It made an impact. 

(Honourable mentions to Sonoma by Track Brewing and Titch by Rammy Craft Brewery – which both show that you can pack flavour and body in a session strength beer

Best UK Keg Beer – Damage Plan (Marble Brewery

I’ve always been of the opinion that Marble makes great beer, but this year saw them change up with the recruitment of James Kemp as Head Brewer. 

And the brewing of their Metal Series beers – foremost for me being the big, clean, juicy and so hoppy Damage Plan. 

It had everything that I want in an IPA. Including repeatable drinkability. One was never enough. 

Best UK Bottled Beer – American Barleywine (Torrside Brewing

I used to detest the sickly sweet beer style that was Barley Wine. Cloying, sticky and sickly. Gold Label. I rest my case. 

And then I popped into Browtons beer shop and bar in Ashton and chatted with Simon Browton, the owner. And bought three of Torrside’s “Monsters” strong beer range, including this. Simon advised me to drink this beer soon. 

So I followed his advice. And drank a beer that challenged and changed my perception of what a Barley Wine could be. Rich, slightly sweet but with immense hoppy peppery spice. 

It rocked my world. And – to date – is the best bottled beer that I’ve ever drunk. 

Can’t wait to try the 2016 version! 

Best Overseas Draught – Not my bag. Moving on…. 

Best Overseas Bottled / Can – Keep moving…… 

Best Collaboration – Thin Line Between Genius & Insanity (Bexar County v Offbeat Brewery

One of the joys of #ISBF2016 was the putting together my favourite breweries to collaborate on a beer especially brewed for the keg bar. I only asked for one thing. That the beer should be big, or daft. 

A Kombucha Soured Milk Neapolitan Ale anyone? 

It was brewed to taste like the elements of a Neapolitan ice cream. And it worked so bloody well. 

Raspberry, vanilla, chocolate and just the perfect level of sourness. Inspirational. 

I was supposed to be there too help brew it. Heartbreakingly, events dictated otherwise. 

Thank you Steve and Michelle for pulling this off. 

Best Branding – Magic Rock

The Brewery Tap looks stunning  but those cans attract comments every time I crack one open with friends. 

Incredibly distinctive and impactive. As good design should be. 

Best UK Brewery – Squawk Brewing 

As in every other year, this comes down to whose beer have I drunk the most. 

Whose beer do I go to first amongst all the other clips on the bar. 

And this wasn’t easy – even just in Manchester. Track, Marble, Cloudwater all putting out simply stunning beers. 

But everytime I see a Squawk clip, my mind is made. Oliver Turton is one of the nicest people in beer. And this year has hit consistent heights.

Best Foreign Brewery – Weird Beard 

Because they make fabulous beer. And London IS another country to me. 

Best New Brewery – Elusive Brewing 

An exception to my Northern rule. Because Andy Parker is an exceptionally good brewer. 

And I have drunk some exceptional beers made by him this year, both in collaboration and solo. 

And it didn’t pain me when Love Action (brewed for #ISBF2016) won Beer of the Festival. Because it was a stunning beer. 

The next Brewing superstar. (Just a shame he’s in Finchampstead!) 

Pub/Bar of the Year – The Brink (Bridge Street, Manchester) 

Anyone who has been bored enough to actually READ my tweetage won’t be surprised in this “award”. 

What Gareth & Elena Williams achieved this year, in taking over this basement space and turning it into a cosy “local in the City” is nothing short of remarkable. But it isn’t about that. 

It’s that there is a little pub, in Manchester, that only sells beer, Cider and snacks produced within 25 miles. Localism. Right there. 

And the beer is really well looked after. Supporting local Micros in both cask and keg. 

And it always puts a smile on my face watching people staring at the huge wall filling Manchester panoramic photograph and trying to figure out where they’ve come from. 

Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2016 – The Brink 

Stupid question. 

Beer Festival of the Year – East/West Fest (Wakefield) 

Because it’s local. 

Because it’s friendly. 

Because it’s small and intimate. 

Because the beer is simply fabulous. 

Because Malcolm left me & Jaz alone in the venue at midnight and said “help yourselves, I’m off” (We didnt) 

(Honourable mention – The Independent Salford Beer Festival. Because it kept my mind off “things”. And reminded me that there are some truly lovely people in this game.)

Supermarket of the Year – E H Booth (Booths) 

For all that Marks and Spencer have upped their game, there is still no contest. 

Booths just had the best beer selection of any supermarket. 

Run along now. Don’t argue. 

Independent Retailer of the Year – Heaton Hops 

The place just has it all. I envy those who live closer than me. 

Online Retailer of the Year – I don’t. Move on….. 

Best Beer Blog or Website – Boozy Procrastinator 

There are many excellent and readable blogs out there. And this wasn’t easy. From Mark Johnson’s searing openness and honesty, Tandleman’s authoritative commentary, Glenn Johnson’s writing about pubs I may never get to try (no matter how much I want to). 

But Deeekos made me laugh. He wrote some excellent stuff – not always about beer – and was unafraid to have a pop. 

Best Beer Twitterer – Craft Beer Hour 

Tom does a top job bringing beer people together every Tuesday. 

A beer institution. 

And that – for me anyway – is that. 

Seasons Greetings and all that. 

J

The Independent Salford Beer Festival 2016 : The Other Side of The Coin

“I wish that I could push a button and talk in the past and not the present tense.
And watch this hurting feeling disappear like it was common sense . . . . . ”

(“Brilliant Mistake” – Elvis Costello : clip courtesy “Carlos Augusto” on You Tube)

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This may be the hardest piece that I’ve ever had to write. And I did have to write it.

The Independent Salford Beer Festival was a huge success. We owe tens, maybe hundreds of people our (and my) enormous gratitude. Read that post here (if you haven’t already)

I have always organised this festival to support my dear friend (and “Extended Family” matriarch) Gerry, the lovely lady that runs this centre and keeps it ticking over with her determination and sheer hard graft. This job isn’t easy. And can be thankless. But in these straitened times, it’s essential. I do love this woman.

But this year, the festival was for me. To help me through some shit and to give me something to keep me moving.

You see, 4 weeks today, on Tuesday 27th September, our youngest son took his own life. And our lives changed forever.

The really strange thing is the way people interact with you when they know. Especially with Christine. So far, nobody has judged me for doing what I have done with this festival. But I needed it. To keep me moving. To force me to place one foot in front of the other on a daily basis. To keep some semblance of sanity.

I don’t want sympathy. We have an enormous reservoir of that with the most amazing group of friends and family that anyone could wish for. That is most emphatically NOT why I am writing this.

But again, this isn’t about me and it isn’t about my family. We will cope. That is what most people do.

You see, at my son’s funeral, I wanted to speak to his friends in attendance from the pulpit. To try and get a message across. That message is about communication. Talking – to put it simply. So – against the advice of the priest, I did. And I hope it did some good.

The limited readership that I have is (mostly) of an age where they will have children. And what I have come to understand, by force of events, is that being a teenager is far from the simple thing it was when I grew up. That there are pressures that we – as adults – may never truly comprehend.

I don’t seek to lecture or preach. But – to me – what has become stark, is the need for kids to have someone they can trust to talk to. When life feels dark and a bit shit. They need to have someone. Someone to reach out to. Be that Mum or Dad, a brother or sister, a friend, a teacher, even people like the Samaritans or CALM. Just someone.

There were no clues with our son. None. Those who saw him last can make no sense of what has happened. Like many who (as he obviously was) suffer from Depression, he failed to reach out – or chose not to. And that is desperately sad. Kids and adults for pity’s sake, need to know that there is always someone there.

If you are suffering, find someone you can talk to.

Like I said, I needed to write this. To hopefully help others and to try to find something positive that can come from our tragedy.

I will be out and about in Manchester and elsewhere. Life has to go on. Please don’t judge me. Nor – if you know me – stand off, with either myself or Christine. We’re no different. Just a bit sadder. The joy has gone from a lot of stuff really.

I’m going to take some time off from writing. Rebuild a bit. I might be back, I might not.

Take care of yourself and yours.

Jim

*If it wasn’t for the execrable actions of the Bolton Evening News, when they published the full details of our tragedy, I may never have written this. It may have been “public record material”, but my anger at their actions will never abate.

The Independent Salford Beer Festival 2016 – The End of an Error 

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“He thought he was the King of America, where they pour Coca Cola just like vintage wine.
Now I try hard not to become hysterical, but I’m not sure if I am laughing or crying…..”

(“Brilliant Mistake” – Elvis Costello : clip courtesy “Carlos Augusto” on You Tube)

Which is what it was. A Brilliant Mistake. At the start anyway.

I’ve told the story before of the genesis of this beer celebration before, I won’t go there again. I’m boring enough to read, without the repetition.

For three years, our little band of brothers and sisters – and dare I say it, friends – have managed to put on a small beer festival in a little Community Centre in the heart of Salford. At times, it was “seat of the pants” kind of stuff, but we got there. Just. On each occasion.

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When I was first asked to do this, my initial thoughts were to put on a celebration of the best that Northern Beer (the world within which I crawl in the undergrowth) has to offer. That swiftly evolved. It doesn’t take going to too many beer festivals to form an understanding of the things that people (myself included) don’t like. So I sought to address those things. Things like…..

  • Seating – There can never be too much. Drinking beer should never be a solitary pursuit. It is about the social. The coming together of friends, like minded people. Beer should always be the thing that fuels conversation, not the subject of it.

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  • Friendly – I wanted the best, most social of volunteers. To set the tone of the events. Flexibility. Treating people like adults, including the volunteers. You simply cannot (and I’m speaking as a beer blogger now) form a judgement about the flavour of a beer based on a shot glass! I trusted the volunteers to self regulate. Only once in three years did anyone get tipsy. Trust is a wonderful thing.
  • Relaxed – This comes back to the first two things. But more than that. It’s an attitude thing. I can’t put whatever it was into words, but judging by the feedback I’ve received, we had it.

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  • The Beer – To me, beer festivals are a place to try something different. So – this year – I tried to give the drinker no option. Everything was new – to the Manchester area at least. And to the drinker (and Untappd fiend) who stated that 95 people had had the Jim Beam BA version of Weird Beard’s Double Perle before? Not in Manchester they hadn’t. And that was the point.
  • The Brewers – I didn’t count those who came along, this isn’t a willy waving contest. I made a conscious decision to NOT have a “trade session”. To let the brewers come to whichever session they chose and fitted their busy schedules. And they seemed to enjoy that – as did the customers. And there were a number of chance meetings that led to collaboration talk during this last weekend. I want IN on some of THAT!

Like I said on the Beernomicon podcast, there is no rocket science about what I did here, just gathering good, friendly and generous people be they volunteers, technicians, breweries and just getting clever people to do the stuff that I can’t.

On that note, some Thanks Yous.

Andy Heggs and Darren Turpin without the graphic and web designs of these two friends, I’d have been a ship adrift on a sea of unsold beer. I owe them more than I can ever tell them.

To this years Sponsors :

Rob Hamilton and all of Team Black Jack. Without whom your beer would have been undrinkable. Without whom my logistical issues would have driven me over the edge. All the storage, the fetching, the carrying. Over 3 WHOLE YEARS. Some of the nicest people in beer (ask BeerFinderGeneral and his wife Jenny!) Cheers guys. I’ll never be able to repay you as I should. Thanks hugely to Joe for the tunes!

Malcolm Bastow of Five Towns and the lovely Bev. Again, for 3 WHOLE YEARS of consolidating the bulk of my Yorkshire beer order and bringing it to Black Jack. For the memorable brew days (all 3 of them) in that garden shed. For burning out Bev’s blender on 5 kg of cognac soaked raisins……For bodily lifting Atilla in the kitchen at the Centre (yes, I heard….) For winning “Beer of the Festival” TWICE……..

Gareth Williams, his wife Elena and the team from The Brink. For the glassware sponsorship, the support both moral and emotional. Can’t wait to try the Grapes of Rat on keg in those lovely glasses!

James & Jen Smith aka Brewsmith. For their loving support and their amazing (and much needed beermat sponsorship! Good beer people.

For this years Beer Sponsors :

Hobs Repro of ManchesterCommando Joes; Hill and RobertsJust H ArchitectsMonsun Ltd; Drumbeat (Mr Heggs again!); The Bright PartnershipDiane Axford and Axfords JoineryCresta CarsRob Godwin; Sarah & Simon Gare; Sixth Element Carbon MTB WheelsEddie McGrath Cycles, UrmstonManchester Beer WeekJames Darcey; Keepmoat Homes

Thank you for the generosity and support – both myself and Gerry appreciate that hugely.

Lee & Sam at All Flow Dispense – Bars installed, beer handled and presented and all cleared away leaving the faint aroma of a beer festival. Consummate professionals – and, for Amateurs like me, highly recommended.

Bailey & Jules (aka GRUB) – For 3 whole years of unstinting support. For the sound system. For the love. You know it.

Alex Reed, Duke and the Darlings (who’ve  also been there each of the three years – with an ad hoc jam session in year one!) and the Sweet Sweet Records artists from this weekend. Superb.

For the best volunteers that any beer festival could possibly have? Tears of gratitude. You know who you are. And whilst I hate to elevate, to Jaz, Jeff, Deeekos, David, Chris, Linda, Pete, I simply “haven’t got any words”. Have I Chris?

The festival itself will remain long in the memory. I don’t lie and I simply hate to hype, but this year’s beer selection will take some beating for a small beer festival. The fact that I felt that I had to resort to hyperbole kind of profoundly burned my soul. I hate hypocrisy. And by having to hype this to generate ticket sales I have been a hypocrite and – as a result – my psyche is damaged and will take some time to heal. Hence – possibly the main reason why – this is the final ISBF at St Sebastian’s.

Myself, Gerry and the rest of Team ISBF hope that all who attended (in whatever capacity) enjoyed yourselves. That is what we aimed for with this. I think that we succeeded.

We certainly succeeded in raising money for the Centre. Whilst we await certain invoices, It looks like we raised almost double last year. For which, we thank you all.

This blog post has a companion piece which may explain why a further sequel here may be step too far – I urge you to read it – it may be (in the main) non-beer related, but I needed to write it. Possibly the last blog post I may ever write.

TTFN

Jim

 

Meet Me In The Corner – Mallinsons Tap House 

In Manchester, there seems to be a new bar of some sort opening every week. I’m sure that if you were a professional “ligger”, you could remain in a permanent slightly sozzled haze going from opening event to opening event. None of it really grabs me. 
Then once in a while, you hear a rumour that something just that bit… different might be opening. That rare thing. Something to actually get excited about. That happened earlier this year when “The Cocktail Twins” Elaine Yendall and Tara Mallinson let slip that they were looking to open a bar in Huddersfield. A tap house if you like. 

Not at the Brewery, there simply isn’t the space for that. A proper standalone venue. 

If memory serves, they had their eyes on a place which didn’t work out. Then they found a “little” spot just a short walk from the train station in the town centre. Somewhere accessible both for out of towners (like YT) and for locals. They’d found their Wappy Nick. 

I think that they eventually got rather sick of people (including me) asking “When’s the bar opening…..?” and got to work. 

Having a good friend as a partner who also happens to be a bloody good and respected landlady is a fair start. That lady is Sam Smith – somebody who manages the trick of being young, yet knowing the beer business inside and out. And someone totally committed to making sure this bar was done right. She knows her stuff. 

So, the three of them – with a supporting cast of friends and family – set about the grueling task of getting a new bar into a town not unknown for great places to drink great beer. A real labour of love. 

Now then. Brewers know the sheer graft that goes into making, selling and distributing good beer. Especially when you are a small firm. Then try adding building a new bar into that mix. I’ve hovered over social media, watching the progress. And noticing how little that Tara and Elaine have been in Manchester recently – and they love this place – had given me an indication of just how busy they’ve been. 

I made a point of popping in when visiting Huddersfield for the brilliant Food and Drink Festival – before I’d even had a drink – just to have a peep. Avoiding the circular saw wielding Elaine, I was quite stunned. This wasn’t a small bar. Over two floors, there was an awful lot of space. But there was already a feel to the place. You could feel the heart and soul being poured into the build from family and friends. And – to me at least – a place needs that. A place needs a soul. 

Fast forward to this Tuesday. There was still a lot of work to do, but mostly cosmetic. This had come together hugely since my last visit a mere 2 weeks previously. The Keg and Ale fonts were in place, the bar was built and looking lovely. The next few days would be about the fine details – testing, designing the food menu, a few little touches. 

I was fortunate enough to find myself at the Brewery on an evening where they needed to do some systems testing. Beer was involved. I threw myself into the herculean task with gusto (as you might expect). The place looks fabulous. As will be the beer line up. The team have spent a lot of time thinking about what should go on that bar and in those fridges. 

No Macro Brewery products will cross the threshold. That is a “red line”.  The cask beer line up (7 pumps) will (of course) feature their own beers – 3 or 4 I think, but the guests will be the best available. The Keg line up looks mighty fine too (their own Citra damned me on Tuesday) 

The night was a success with a few creases identified leaving plenty of time to iron them out. The beers were lovely (as you would expect) and the place felt right. And to think that upstairs will be open too tomorrow! 

It’s no exaggeration to say that I haven’t looked forward so much to an opening for an awful long time. I think that the “Cocktail Twins” and Sam have got this just right. And I’m excited for them. If they have any nerves about this place, they shouldn’t. It’s a peach of a pub/bar and brings something a bit different to Huddersfield. 

Leaving aside the pubs on the platform, this is the nearest decent bar with good beer to the station that I’ve been in – being less than a 3 minute walk from the steps. 

The Corner – 5, Market Walk, Huddersfield. It opens formally at 12pm tomorrow morning. To corrupt the line by Alan Hull of Lindisfarne,  “Meet me at the Corner …..” 

It’s more than worth the journey. 

Keyboard Warriors, Trip Advisor and A Defence of a Beautiful Pub

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I don’t publish my image online,  I have a “face for radio”. But I don’t hide, many people in the beer business in the North know who I am and – rather embarrassingly, as I am by nature quite shy – I get approached in pubs occasionally. It’s really flattering, but I’m actually a boring sausage. More Richmond’s than some artisanal chorizo.

My point is, I suppose, that I don’t hide behind this blog. And hundreds of people get to see me as the public face of The Independent Salford Beer Festival. As I said, I don’t hide.

But one thing that I do hate, is using the anonymity afforded by the Internet to do wrong – potentially harming a decent business. That cowardly ability to hit and run. And one of the worst fora for doing this is Trip Advisor.

I’ve seen many examples (and, conversely, abuse of the app via self promotional comment disguised as a customer) and one that hit me recently, was a posting about the Crooke Hall Inn on the outskirts of Wigan.

The Crooke is one of my Top 5 pubs. It is one of the few places that I, Atilla AND the brood agree on. They get a fabulous Sunday lunch, I get that allied with fabulous beer at ridiculous prices.

The thing about The Crooke is that it kind of relies on the food element of the business. Given its slightly remote (and picturesque) location on the bank of the Leeds – Liverpool canal, it could never be a “wet led” Pub. So, when someone has a dummy spit about slow service at a very busy time (Father’s Day) on Trip Advisor, it can do damage

1 of 5 starsReviewed 29 June 2016

“If TripAdvisor allows me to award zero stars throughout then I will. It didn’t so I’ve had to go through and click on one (unmerited) star.

Three of us visited this pub on Sunday 19th June at 6:40pm, with the intention of having a meal there, but we were told that the pub could not serve any more meals, since it was ‘busy’. It did NOT look busy to us, there being plenty of empty tables, and none of them had ‘reserved’ signs on them. As far as we could see there were only two large tables of diners being served their main courses at the time.

We were gobsmacked! Never come across such an negative attitude before.

Outside, an ‘A’-Board proudly proclaimed “Good Food Now Being Served”. Maybe it was, but not to us. I said we were quite prepared to wait, but that offer cut no ice.

Many pubs are sadly closing these days; this one deserves to join that list.”

  • Visited June 2016

“Deserves to fail”? The petty little man. Does he have no idea what such a sentiment entails? In the words of my Belfast relatives GO BOIL YOUR HEAD!

The response of one of the owners of Allgates was….choice. And made me smile. Read it.

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(My Sunday lunch today -rearranged by me…..)

 As I said, I know The Crooke. It makes my favourite Sunday lunch – I had one today in fact, having stayed overnight in a Camper Van – and it is a lovely old pub in a beautiful location.

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(Leeds – Liverpool Canal – from The Crooke Hall Inn Beer Garden)

These things are all opinion of course, but that post – based on my repeated experiences – COULD NOT BE MORE WRONG. This is a lovely old pub, in a fabulous (and rather unique)  location – positioned as it is in a conservation village on a canal bank with narrow boat moorings. The post comes across as petty and vindictive, knowing full well how damaging such an opinion could be.

The Crooke IS remote to many. It’s about a 15 min walk from Gathurst train station (on the Southport line) and is best accessed by car. I adore the food (superior for pub grub), the beer selection is varied, well kept and incredibly keenly priced (Allgates beers £2.50, guests £2.60).

I couldn’t recommend somewhere more.