Manchester Crawl Series 1 : Swan Street – How Much Longer?

Whilst excellence never gets boring, I crave something different from the “same old, same old”. It’s so easy to settle, create habits that become almost unbreakable.

Yes, there will always be favourites you can rely on to consistently deliver, but – just sometimes – something “different” is called for. But something undemanding in terms of physical effort. Then it struck me.

Swan Street. A street burned in my soul.

And whilst we didn’t start on Swan Street itself (we started just around the corner), we kept faith with part of the original N/4 pub crawl.

Just don’t call it “Northern Quarter”. I’m in retro mode.

The Angel – Angel St (Jct w/Rochdale Road)

Get off the Metro / bus at Shudehill and walk halfway towards The Marble Arch and on the left – at the junction with the inner ring road you’ll find this unheralded gem.

Briefly known as a place where chef Robert Owen Brown forged his reputation, The Angel has been through many guises. It has been knocked about and reshaped over the years since I’ve been drinking there, but still maintains a quaint Mancunian trait, a sense of “otherness”. A quirkiness.

There’s nothing quite like it in Manchester.

I had my first beer here in December 1984. On my first “works Xmas do”. The pub was then called “The Weavers”. It had – in those days – a second room, roughly bounded by the far end of the bar to the back of the pub.

It was…. narrow. It had a pool table. A colleague fell asleep under that pool table that night. An unforgettable evening.

The pub changed hands. Became one of the early Manchester free houses. It had that room knocked through. It transformed into “The Beerhouse” and developed a reputation for an eclectic beer range. You’d find beers there that you wouldn’t elsewhere.

Now being The Angel – named after nearby Angel Meadows (look it up on Wikipedia), it maintained that reputation. It continues to do so, being the only place I know to get Kissingate beers (Horsham, Sussex), notable for their catnip like ability to attract the Arch Nemesis. I put a call in. He couldn’t resist.

Yes. That’s a Baby Grand. In a pub in Manchester. And it does get played…..

To the point, The Angel is a large single room in a kind of wide L shape. At about 170 years old, it retains a Mancunian sensibility, that “Soul” I need to actually love a place.

And those who “know” The Angel do love it.

Last night, the Hawkshead Windermere Pale was as good as I’ve had it, razor sharp and tasty. The KissingateSmelters Stout” was rich, smoky and delicious. A lovely Stout.

The Angel rarely gets talked about in the pantheon of great Mancunian pubs. But it really should.

It may not be pristine and shiny, may be a little “rough around the edges”, but it’s a Manc classic.

Go. Just go.

From The Angel, cross Rochdale Road and turn right. Head towards Shudehill and then left on Swan Street.

Jack In The Box at Mackie Mayor – Swan Street

Apparently a transplant of a successful outlet/operation in Altrincham, there was a lot of excitement when word got out that this beautiful old building was being taken on.

I’ve seen messages from far and wide that testified to its impact since opening. Tonight, I thought I’d have a butchers.

The classical frontage doesn’t prepare you the the visual impact of the interior. The “WOW” factor. I couldn’t stop taking pictures.

I was surprised at the small size of the bar, but it’s Black Jack. And – for me – they’ve hit a sweet spot. The “You Bet” that I had was pin sharp. Jaz had am excellent beer from Siren, Jock had an Uber sharp Oakham Citra (a criminally overlooked beer).

This place is all about the food though.

That lovely Margherita from Honest Crust didn’t last long. Delicious. Having had them before, I expected no less. Tasty.

Stomach sated.

This place is stunning. It gets busy. It’s a big space with all the traders on the perimeter. With a mass of seating.

The beer is excellent, but I can’t get over the fact of Big Brother next door. But this is a destination venue. An Atkinson’s coffee, an Honest Crust pizza, a wine from Reserve Wines? I’d rather give these guys my money than any chain.

So. Walk out of the Swan Street door. Turn right. Walk 10 yards

The Smithfield – Swan Street

I’ve been a fan since Black Jack first took the plunge and got out the paintbrushes. They took an old run down beer tickers pub and brought it into the 21st century.

A bit of TLC. A hug and a kiss. They worked wonders.

It’s rarely quiet these days. It’s found a place for itself, gained a reputation for great beer. It has A BAR BILLIARDS TABLE!

And a dartboard. And that board gets use.

I didn’t take loads of pics in here. I just enjoyed a gorgeous pint of Jarsa by Brew York and chatted.

The Smithfield does all of those simple things incredibly well. And – when my lot are out – is one of the places we meet. Or end up.

Or both. A Manc essential.

Leave The Smithfield, cross the road, turn right. Walk 30 yards along Swan Street.

Bar Fringe – Swan Street

You will NOT find a quirkier, more charming pub / bar in Manchester.

Just wander in. Keep your eyes open. And drink it all in.

This place is simply a diamond. Cherish it. It won’t be here much longer.

A long room. With something for – almost – everyone. 4 cask beers. Draught Belgian. Excellent bottles. Brilliant eclectic jukebox.

And just, again, an old soul. A feeling.

It doesn’t matter how many times I come in, there’s always some detail I miss. Like that painted rat…..

Beer. Panda Frog from the North East. Pale. Unfined. Amarillo. I’m easy to please. I could bury my head in a bag of Amarillo and die happy.

And herein lies the core of this post. This side of Swan Street is slated to be demolished. “Developed”. Have the Mancunian element and history flattened.

To be replaced by glass and concrete. More flats.

Always more flats.

Eviscerating the history and soul from a city. Bastards.

Fuck your “progress”. Same to Manchester City Council for destroying the soul of this beautiful city. Block by block.

But I digress. Enjoy the Fringe. This little diamond. While you still can.

Leave the Fringe, turn left. Cross (the rather busy) Oldham Road.

Crown & Kettle – Oldham Road

Another Manchester classic.

A place that seemed to have lost its way in a beer sense. But – in recent months – with a new female custodian (I hate the term “landlady”), the beer has started to sing the sweetest of songs.

Yes. The C&K is another Mancunian jewel. But the beer range and quality had started to wilt.

But, with that new custodian, it’s now a “go to” again.

3 separate rooms. The small room behind the bar was closed last night, but when it’s open, just look up. And gawp.

That beautiful ceiling…..

The current pub is about 130 years old, but there has been a pub on this site for almost 300 years. You can see images/drawings of the area from that time if you scour the net.

The place is beautiful and now – again – has the beer to match. A Northern Alchemy Tawny Port Stout was the beer of the evening. Just lush.

The Brass CastleLittle Imp” was stunning too at 2.8%! Almost a session Stout, really full bodied the that abv.

Again, the C&K needs to be visited. Great beer (again) and a beautiful pub.

But all good things come to an end.

Distance wise, a short crawl. But it forms a snapshot of Manchester. A Manchester we’ll lose a part of in the next few years.

Enjoy it while you’ve got it. I will.

(I never get bored of this!)

Back soon. Jx

Hello There Old Friend : Stalybridge Buffet Bar

Each post I write needs an inspiration. A prod or a prompt. Frequently, writing about something is the furthest thing from my mind. Until the “inspiration”.

This one started with a tweet.

I immediately started to check for train times to Stalyvegas. This is one of the joys of having a County Card. I can catch a train to anywhere in Greater Manchester.

You see, this was the beer that I most wanted at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival. The top of my “to do” list. The variant on my favourite beer of 2017.

And – owing to being on the now infamous Bar 2 – I missed it. Along with about 60% of the beers on that bar, it wasn’t available on the Wednesday. It went on on Thursday. And sold out.

The running commentary from Barbara was “amusing”.

I had to accept it was a beer I was unlikely to taste in its draught form.

Until that tweet.

Sometimes, you can lose track of something special. That “something special” is Stalybridge Buffet Bar.

For me, the place will be forever associated with the (now infamous) Rail Ale Trail. With being sat on the platform with Pete, eating black peas.

It’s part of my history. And now, it belongs in my present. Because it is a magnificent place. A magnificent place to drink magnificent beer. A magnificent place to spend a few hours.

It’s more than just a stop on a train line.

I came for the Fudge Brownie Stout. What I actually got was a lovely evening of warmth and conversation. And soul. Lots of soul. And soul – in a pub – is, for me, essential.

But a pub or bar can have all the soul, yet without the good beer within, who will ever know? And “The Buffet Bar” has good beer. By the bucket load.

Whilst I was talking with Mark, drinking an immaculate (and simply stunning) Fudge Brownie Ski Sundae, I started to drift back to North Riding Brewpub on Friday evening. And the similarities between the two places.

  1. A beautiful place.
  2. Great beer. Served perfectly. Cask conditioned beer in peak condition. As it should be.
  3. A lady running the pub. Keeping the cellar just right. Ordering the beer.

Yes. That’s right. Two of the best pubs I’ve been in. And a female “cellar man”.

It’s not a coincidence. Karen (NRB) and Caroline (Buffet Bar) know what they are doing. And they do it bloody well. (But that’s for another post)

It became obvious during the evening that this place is loved. It isn’t a transitory place. It’s a “local”. With a coterie of friendly “regulars”, chatting away, that pleasant buzz and hum that’s the soundtrack of all the best pubs.

With 4 separate drinking areas, a real fire, it’s almost as if it was designed with me in mind. And only 15 minutes from Victoria on the train!

I went for just the one beer. And stayed four hours. Daylight became dark, trains passed. And I didn’t care.

It’s that kind of place. It’s that good.

It was a delight to see Mark. A loveable scamp who has an unnerving ability to get me to open up. I put the phone down. And forgot about it. We talked. Talking matters. I chatted with Caroline and unsurprisingly felt her deeply felt passion for beer. The care that she shows it. It’s obviously a calling.

And it shows. The warmth of the place, the atmosphere, the exceptional beer. That’s all down to her.

She knows her stuff. She has my respect.

She has a bloody good bar here. If I lived in Stalyvegas, I’d probably never catch that train to Manchester. I’d stay in a room on a train station platform.

It’s worth the journey. REALLY worth it. Catch that train.

A Pilgrimage – An evening at The North Riding Brewpub

Being someone who has perfected the art of professional mediocrity, I am drawn to those with talent. And the ability to extract the most from that talent.

Which is – in my usual rambling and roundabout way – how I found myself, on a Friday evening, in Scarbados. At The North Riding Brewpub.

If I may explain…

I first met Stuart Neilson about 5 years ago one afternoon in Snaith, at Yorkshire Ales. I was there to buy some Yorkshire beers, an abiding passion. Stuart was there launching one – something to do with Hearts football club if memory serves. At that time, I knew nothing about North Riding Brewpub. That was to swiftly change.

I did some catching up. Damn fine beer.

Then, in 2015, Stuart took the plunge. And invested in a 10bbl brewkit, installed in a unit outside Scarborough, at East Ayton. And went from strength to strength. Me and others mithered to get his beers over here (Manchester).

And then people got the point.

Others started raving about his beers. Good beer sells. And Stuart Neilson brews good beer. If you’ve had it, you know. I can’t stand Untappd & Ratebeer, but rating North Riding as one of the UKs top breweries, at least we agree on one thing.

And having upscaled to that bigger kit, the Brewpub kit was left in the capable hands of Stu’s stepson. And the beers didn’t miss a beat.

So. I’d had the beers in bottle from both the Brewpub & the Brewery (self-deprecatingly nicknamed “The Factory”). I’d had beers on draught from both too (we’ve had North Riding at each of the ISBF bashes). But there was a gap.

I hadn’t been to The North Riding Brewpub.

It became an obsession.

I finally got to go in 2015 when Stuart agreed to “collab” on a beer for #ISBF2016. Red Citra. If was stunning. But the night before – in the pub – was even better, with a beer list on cask and keg that was a succession of Beergasms. No filler. Just fabulous beers.

I’d been a couple of times since. And it just felt like a place to belong. So when The Lovely One & I wondered what to do on New Year’s Eve, I put a call in. And we stayed the night.

It goes without saying, it knocked the living shite out of a night of bottles and Jools.

Because – and here’s the thing – it feels like a combination of Destination Pub and Local. Somewhere you go for the exceptional beer, but end up feeling like Norm from Cheers. It had Superb North Riding beers from both. Cannonball on keg.

It even has a permanent Kernel line!

Then, that evening, Stu dropped some news. A Magic Rock Tap Takeover. On 9th Feb. Complete with collab beer launch. So, next morning, I asked about rooms at the pub.

They’d all been taken. By people coming to the TTO.

I had a word with some of my regular accomplices. Arrangements were made for a team outing “over the hills”. They were excited, not just for the TTO – as ace as Magic Rock beers are – but to visit the pub. And drink North Riding at source.

After a 3 hour drive, I couldn’t wait to get sat down and get some of that there Stu’s Company (Stuart Neilson & Stuart Ross – see what they did there?). Sit down? If was absolutely RAMMED.

The beers? Let me just say, that the “Stu’s Company” collab is stunning. 4.5%. Totally sessionable. Hopped up. Cryo hopped with Chinook. Just WOW. 2 Casks sold out before closing.

Karen knows how to look after beer. That much I already know. But that Ringmaster. Oh my.

I haven’t really enjoyed Ringmaster since its name changed from Curious. Just never seemed as sharp. But Sweet Baby Jesus it was stunning in the NRB on Friday night.

As much as we love Magic Rock, I – and others – were gutted, on initial view, to find no North Riding on the bar. But a little nip to the other room revealed Doomguy. The Chocolate Orange Porter that we had at #ISBF4. We hit it. Some of us hard. Yes Barbara, I’m talking about you…. Again. Stunning.

The beers were flying. As the Magic Rock casks ran out, North Riding went on. Mosaic Pale. Again, stunning.

I could go on. And frequently do.

But, for me, this was never about the TTO, undoubtedly excellent that the beers were. Especially Stu’s Company. It’s the pub.

Stuart and Karen bought the pub in 2005, installing the brewkit (2bbl) in part of the capacious cellar in 2011. And good beer flowed, building a reputation. One that encouraged the move to a bigger premises with greater capacity in 2015.

These beers have a dedicated following from both pubs and drinkers

From the first moment I walked in two years ago. I felt it. That thing I crave more than anything else. Soul.

I’ve felt welcome from the first steps through the door. A real and fundamental warmth. Welcome. Local Heart & Soul. Chatter, laughter.

You’ve got a skilled landlady in Karen. Someone who makes you realise that with a little care & attention (and no little skill) Cask conditioned beer can rock your world. The right product. In the right hands. Rocket science it ain’t.

We had a little mini tour of the mini brewery. Where the original Magic Spanner was discovered – and we feared for Magic Rock’s Lewis….

Of course, the company makes the evening. I’d arranged a chat with Malcolm to discuss East West. But, you know, too much fun was being had to deal with that. Although I was privy to some seriously ludicrous info about one or two beers coming to The Red Shed.

Bloody hell! Is it EVER going to be an ace bash!

There was great beer. There was warmth. Soul. There was great company. It’s quite simply a great pub. My favourite.

Enormous thanks for the company. I’m thrilled that James, Steve & Jock had a great time and loved the pub – I knew they would. The best of company.

It was lovely to meet and chat with Lewis, a young man “Living The Dream” (Stu’s words) brewing at Magic Rock. Great to meet Rich (I hope you made shed loads of cash for Surfers Against Sewage).

Great to see Graham and Ann again. Lovely people. I “nicked” Grahams raffle prize, I’ll bring him something special next time I’m over! (Sorry Graham!)

Stu & Karen. You know MY thoughts already. This is my favourite pub. It has it all. Simply the best kept cask beer. Brilliant keg lines. Heart, Soul, great beer, somewhere to sleep it off.

Each time feels like a tick on my bucket list. It should be on yours too.

If I was religious, I’d say it was my Santiago de Compostela.

And this was my pilgrimage.

CAMRA Revitalisation : “One Step Beyonnnnnd!”

“I am an American aquarium drinker. I Assassin down the avenue….”

(“I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” – Wilco)

“Hello. My name is Jim. And I’m a member of CAMRA……”

I live my social life in a bubble. My particular bubble has beer at its core. Talking /drinking/socialising about/around it. This bubble leads to the formation of an “echo chamber” mentality. One that reinforces your personal belief systems, because no other system intrudes.

Let me be clear however. My beliefs are mine. I own this bullshit myself. The fact that others share them makes them equally intelligent / deluded (delete as appropriate).

On and off, I’ve been a CAMRA member for 30 years or so. I wandered in and out initially having become massively underwhelmed – having got “involved” – at the cliqueyness (a real word?) of branch meetings.

I was young – at least 20 years younger than the majority – and obviously had no place speaking up. I’d wandered in to a “club”. And I needed another membership to join in.

It felt like walking into “The Slaughtered Lamb”. I gave up.

Then, 6 years ago, I started to pay attention to beer again. Something in beer had changed. There was a new feeling, something refreshingly carbonated. It had a name “Craft Beer”. I was intrigued.

I felt like Pizarro. I wanted to explore this New World of beer. To slash away at the undergrowth in the jungle to reach the temples, uncover the gold. I drank my first Human Cannonball. I’d found gold. I wanted more.

I started blogging. And I’ve never looked back.

Through that I started to meet some of the leading lights of CAMRA locally. Passionate people, who cared about BEER. In all its forms.

Yes, their pre-eminent adoration was “Real Ale”, but they weren’t blind to the charms of good beer not served from a cask. They just loved good beer. Their hearts were open to change. They campaigned for change.

In Venn diagram terms, there is an intersection there with that bubble. These guys have a foot in that intersection. Call them “progressives” if you like.

But that bubble, is tiny. As anyone who attended the enormofest that is The Manchester Beer and Cider Festival can attest. Beer Nerds were completely swamped by “Beer Drinkers”. People who may never attend a beer festival NOT run by CAMRA. For whom the organisation is some kind of guarantor.

THESE are the people who keep pub cash registers opening and closing. Not Beer Nerds like me.

THESE drinkers or – to further distil – the Silver Card toting CAMRA Members – are the people to whom the recently launched “Revitalisation – Proposed Changes” are aimed. The ones who have the final “Yay or Nay”

And that is what worries me.

CAMRA had – at AGM – gone some way to recognise “Craft” Beer with the Key Keg Fudge. Getting some craft ‘in” with reference to secondary fermentation in the vessel.

Or – to allow paraphrasing – “Not all Keg is Evil”

Some of us even had our little bit of fun….

May I be so bold as to say GOOD BEER IS JUST THAT. GOOD BEER.

Bollocks to divisiveness. If it tastes good, it IS good. It really is THAT simple.

So, to me, the key change elucidated in the Revitalisation proposals is this one. The one that may be hardest to swallow with the Silver Carders…

  • CAMRA’s scope widens to include quality beer of all types

Think about that the a moment. It is tectonic in its shift.

“…. quality beer of all types…..”

WOW.

THAT is going to be the Devil’s own job of a sell to the voting masses!

Now then, before I get slaughtered, those who know me well know, I adore cask conditioned beer and did myself – until about 5 years ago – prefer it to any other method of dispense.

Then I slowly started to recognise (and truly appreciate) that hoppy Pale styles of beer actually benefited from gentle carbonation. That it actually lifted the hop flavours. Yes, I’ve got an issue with temperature, but I quickly found a solution. Give it a minute or two to adjust. It’s not rocket science.

But don’t try persuade me about Stouts and Porters (not to mention Mild). Cask (and – being a militant Northerner – through a sparkler) is the only game in town on the dark side. For texture and flavour, unbeatable.

And another “recommendation”….

  • CAMRA will campaign for and promote all on-trade venues where quality beer, cider and perry is sold, not just traditional pubs and clubs

I kind of get the point. But Clubs? When pubs are in crisis, with the value of the land they occupy worth more than the business? With pubcos sitting on property riches? I’d stick to supporting and campaigning for traditional pubs.

Don’t get me wrong, some pubs aren’t worth the effort.

But that’s one area where I’d narrow the focus.

A big personal bugbear is this next one though….

  • CAMRA will not extend its current support of the off-trade

Now there’s a thing.

I’ve lost count of the number of breweries in this country, is it 2000+ now? How many of them thrive on draught beer alone? For those – and I guess that’s not a small number – that don’t, small pack is vital. Without it, they couldn’t survive.

Personally, I like the choice of breweries we have. And the choice of beer they bring.

Breweries need to make money. In the competitive market as it stands, draught beer  alone doesn’t do it for many.

It sickens me to hear of excellent beer producers folding under the pressure of work, trying to master all elements of the business, running to stay still. The sheer stress.

It isn’t practical for all breweries to have “brewtaps”. The graft involved is immense – especially for small operators – and these guys need other ways of getting beer in people’s mouths. And that means small pack.

There are numerous small independent retailers pushing out. Supporting Micros. Giving them shelf space. Selling exceptional beer. Why should THEY not be supported too? If the Campaign is prepared to support “clubs” which have other sources of income – membership etc – why not Independent off-sales? (And balls to undercutting supermarkets)

That one is a burr under my saddle.

And don’t get me started on Cider & and Perry.

I keep hearing about almost 200k people being members of the campaign. I truly wonder for how much longer these numbers will be sustained.

The CAMRA NEC Revitalisation proposals need to walk a very fine line to carry the membership. There has been some good mood music coming from CAMRA HQ recently. Although it shouldn’t have taken a prompt from the likes of Jaega Wise to kick start the obvious.

And I saw some of the vile filth that the likes of Jaega and Melissa Cole had to put up with on Social Media. Much of which would have been trolls with no interest in beer, just in being offensive.

But change scares some people. Traditional beer drinkers among that number. This “Revitalisation” is important.

The Campaign needs to change to remain relevant to modern drinkers as well as its traditional hinterland. It simply NEEDS to embrace good modern beer along with more traditional ales.

Alongside (and in partnership with) SIBA, it needs to support the producers. In particular independent Micro Breweries and their other (equally vital) outlets.

The outcome of the vote won’t please all. And many membership cards may hover near the shredder depending on the outcome.

Mine included.

Be kind to one another.

Jx

Time & Place

“I dreamed about killing you again last night and it felt alright to me…..”

(“Via Chicago” – Wilco)

In only the very loosest sense of the word is this a “Beer” post….

This is my vent space. My safe place where I can say things I rarely will in person. The trick is….. to find the words to begin. But I’ll give it a go, however inadequate.

I found myself on Friday in a rare place, quite firmly ensconced within my “cups”. Drink had been taken. A lot. I was (in the words of Rowley Birkin QC) “Very, very drunk…” I ranted a bit – not nasty, that’s not in my nature – but got a bit embarrassing (apologies guys, you know who you are). And rather strangely, slightly defensive at one point.

About music. Which – as I’ve said before – as passionate as I am about Manchester and its beer, matters more. The thing that truly keeps my spirits up.

About my favourite ever concerts (I’ve never “got” the word “gig”).

You see, my favourite ever concert was U2. And – to be perfectly clear, I’m not a massive U2 fan.

At Salford University’s Maxwell Hall in 1981. Over 36 years ago.

You can have your opinion about that band, but in that night and in that place, they were transcendent. Absolutely magnificent.

I remember one particular moment amongst many in particular. I think it was during “I Will Follow”, when – momentarily – I stopped leaping.

And the floor moved. Like a wave. The floor was actually moving. Up. And down.

Obviously, this could have been disastrous. Like the 1831 “Marching In Step” bridge collapse, that sense of oneness, that joyous leaping in time could have been catastrophic. But it wasn’t. It was a special moment. Unforgettable.

Time & Place.

My second favourite concert was Gary Glitter & The Glitter Band the next year (I think).

Whatever became later public knowledge – the despicable abusive monster that Gadd (Glitter) was – at that time and in that place (again Maxwell Hall) the evening was something I’ve never forgotten. 2000 people. Bouncing to one of the great 70s bands. Together. In a 1st floor hall. In Salford.

Time & Place.

(Not every night was great there – I walked out of New Order on the Low Life tour. The last time I’d allow them to take the piss.)

I find myself reflecting more, recently, on those “moments”. Those times of enjoyment. Release. When I can laugh and smile. Without embarrassment. No self-reproach. I allow myself those moments.

There’s one such coming up on Thursday when I go to see Jeff Tweedy live. With a dear friend with whom I think we’ve formed a mutual support group. He helped me following our tragic loss. Then recently his dear wife passed away. And I’ll say it. My life would be much poorer without him.

He knows that I’ll cry like a bastard to “Via Chicago” (The above line of which a very young Fionn sang in the car once when I played it – making my jaw drop). He won’t judge. He knows also that I’ll dissolve to “California Stars“, a song forever associated with my dear departed friend, Phil. You see, Phil introduced me to Wilco (via Mermaid Avenue).

Time & Place. Again.

Be kind to one another. Jx

Manchester Beer and Cider Festival 2018 : The Hit List

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A chance to meet up with good friends should never be passed on.

Festivals like MBCF bring together those from within the (what people forget is a rather tiny) beer bubble of enthusiasts – you say nerds, if you like – and those more usual drinkers that get occasion, once or twice a year, to try something a bit different.

And this Goliath of a beer event certainly brings choice. With more keg than before seemingly pointing in the direction that the ongoing CAMRA “revitalisation” might be headed. Towards a greater inclusivity on beer dispense.

It has almost become a personal tradition to have a look at the beer list – vast though it is – and try to figure out a route map, a plan, a way to navigate myself between the bars to access those beers that to me are unmissable.

To me, that means avoiding the family brewer bars. Going independent.

And – with the odd excellent exception – that means Northern.

So – without further (in alphabetical brewery order – but with the bar noted)…

Abbeydale (Funk Dungeon)Imperial Brett Saison – 9% abv – The Font Bar

Jim and Laura Rangeley graciously agreed to host a presentation and tasting at #ISBF4 and the focus was on beers from their “Funk Dungeon” project. And with this Sheffield brewery being more noted for session Pale Ales, my eyes were opened.

A palate refresher for later in a session maybe, but I won’t miss this.

Bexar County BrewingTexas Pecan Coffee Mild – 3.6% abv – Bar 1

Steve Saldana is a bit of a one-off. Ploughing his experimental beery furrow in Peterborough. And WOW does he make good beer.

I had an iteration of this a couple of years back on a Road To Wigan Beer Festival and – amongst some simply outstanding beers, this was just, delicious. Exceptional.

I mean Pecans & Coffee? In a Mild? But oh ohh ohhhh does it work! Utterly lush. I need another. One for early on.

Five Towns BreweryWarzsawa – 9.1% abv – Bar 1

In three of the four years of The Independent Salford Beer Festival, beers brewed in Malcolm Bastow’s shed in Outwood have reigned supreme to be voted by the drinkers – think about that, the drinkers – as Beer of the Festival. My abiding memory of our bash last October, was of Steve and Andy walking towards me, early on the first session, with a beer in hand. Giggling. “This is going to be Beer of the Festival”

It was “Always Crashing In The Same Car”. A beer that Malcolm and I had brewed especially for #ISBF4. A one-off. That Malcolm decided to brew again having been overwhelmed by the feedback.

That was a Belgian style Tripel infused with rhubarb. Fermented with yeast from the legendary Brasserie Orval.

With a fresh batch of that legendary yeast available, Malcolm went again. But with cherries.

I’m drooling.

Hophurst Brewery2 Rounds of 6 Before Breakfast – 3.5% abv – Bar 2

I crave refreshing session beers. And am not one to be frequently swayed by the opinion of others. But someone had a word with me last year about Hophurst. Someone I trust.

This looks like an early session beer. Citra, Chinook & Cascade. In a low abv pale. My boxes are ticked.

MallinsonsStouted Caramel /Amarillo – 4.7% abv /4.2% abv – Mallinsons Bar

I’m torn. A rare excursion into The Dark Side from my Yorkshire friends or to pander to my Amarillo addiction.

Decisions, decisions.

I bow to none in my love of the Pale Ales brewed by Beer Jesus and the Cocktail Twins, but that Stout!

I may have to have both…..

Marble / Hawkshead / Burning Sky3 Threads Porter ‘Young’ – 6.5% abv – Bar 2

A beer that formed part of the Year long collab frenzy to celebrate 20 years of the mighty Marble Brewery. I had a version of this on keg at their 20th birthday celebrations.

I wouldn’t miss this on cask for all the tea at Betty’s!

I mean. A blend of Porters from Marble, Hawkshead & Burning Sky? SERIOUSLY?

I’m on it.

Neptune BreweryMosaic – 4.5% abv – Bar 2

Les O’Grady hit the ground running with Neptune. I started with his Stout Abyss and worked through the Pales. Simply lovely beers.

The best compliment I can pay is that when I see the Neptune clip on a bar, my decision is made. That good.

And it’s a session Pale. With Mosaic. 1+1=2.

North Riding/Beer CentralFudge Brownie Stout (Ski Sundae Edition) – 7.4% abv – Bar 2

Take my “Beer of the Year” from 2017. Tweak it with Raspberries and Vanilla. And serve cool in a pint glass.

The original Fudge Brownie collab with Five Towns was immense, like a big Stouty cake in a glass. In bottle it won my heart, from a wooden cask on NYE it simply blew me away.

And then Stuart – along with Sean Clarke from Beer Central in Sheffield – twisted it. It sounds amazing.

Pictish BreweryBrewers Gold – 3.8% abv – Bar 2

Sometimes – rarely for me – you just want the beer equivalent of comfort food. Something you can rely on for excellence. Consistency. Something like Pictish Brewers Gold.

Paul Wesley’s Single hopped Brewers Gold is a bit of a local legend. Rightly revered. And I want some. Simple.

Pig & Porter v Rivington BrewingLair of the Baubai – 9.1% abv – Pig & Porter Bar

A beer created and brewed especially for #ISBF4, I only got the slightest of tastes of this fruited Baltic Porter. And it was simply glorious.

But I want more. And the fact that both Sean Ayling & Ben Stubbs were both ecstatic about it just reinforces that need.

Pomona IslandPorter – 5.7% abv – Bar 2

My love of dark beers is well-known. So when a new Salford brewery hits the ground at a sprint with excellent Pale Ales, I want to be all over their dark output.

Like with this. If this is even in the same ballpark as their Pales, it will be lovely.

RedwillowFaithless 76 – 4.3 % abv – Bar 2

Again, for breweries from this area, when I see Redwillow clips, I point.

Simply consistent excellence. So when I see a double dry-hopped Pale at that session strength, I’m on it.

Redwillow / ElusiveMore or Less American Brown – 4.9% abv

The combination of two fabulous breweries. A beer style I go weak at the knees for.

I don’t see enough Elusive on cask.

What’s not to love. Unmissable.

Rivington Brewing / MBCF / TryanuaryYou Have To Call Me Nighthawk – 5.6% abv

From a rising star of a brewery fairly local to me that just gets better and better.

Described as a hopped Export Porter.

Sold.

Torrside / GRUBGrubby Bastard – 6% abv – Bar 3

I had this at the weekend at the GRUB Winter Beer Festival. I would feel guilty if I didn’t flag it up.

A simply luscious dark chocolatey beer with a nice hint of smoke. Rich yet delicate. From the local masters of smoked malts.

Treat yourself.

Wishbone / Neptune BreweryDouble Abyss – 6.8% abv – Bar 3

A merger of two dark beers that I love from two superb yet seemingly underrated breweries.

Promises to be dark, rich, luscious and chocolatey.

Well. I’ve got my work cut out over the next few days, but I intend to try all of these liquid works of art. Call them “recommendations” if you like. And enjoy the festival.

Drink responsibly for me – and come say Hi. I’ll be the one with a tub of Andrews to hand.

Be kind to one another. Jx

“Political Correctness Gone Mad”? The Sea Is Due West. Walk On. 

I am the guy who banged on that #BeerPeopleAreGoodPeople. My predictive text still predicts that hashtag, even now.

In many respects, I still believe that. The people I have met through beer are some of the most caring, kind, generous and supportive people I’ve met. Many of them kept us above water, when the waves were crashing over our heads. Those people didn’t do that because I’m a beer blogger. Nor because I organised a beer festival.

They’re simply decent and lovely people.

And that’s something, because I’m not the easiest of people sometimes.

Since that fateful day 16 months ago, I find myself “changed”. More tolerant of petty foibles than I ever was previously, but simultaneously more reactive to bullshit. From going nose to nose with newly empowered racists on the last bus (trying to get an elderly African lady off it) to calling out knuckle draggers of a different – beery – stripe…

That thread was – to put it mildly – a bit of a tangent on a post about minimum alcohol pricing in Scotland on a Facebook Beer Forum. And, being fair to the admins, one of them called it out.

But you can’t unsee some things…..

To give credit where it’s due, this post from David kind of prodded me into action

OK. I’m no spring chicken. I’ve got a few years under my belt to put it mildly, so I simply don’t buy that some of the reactionary bullshit that goes on online is an age thing. It isn’t.

Some people – whatever their age (and irrespective of gender) – are resistant to change. They don’t like that their “funny pump clips” with prominent cleavage being called out, criticised, condemned.

And rightly condemned.

Such clips – actually – aren’t funny. Such “branding” is lazy. And cheap. And thoughtless. And demeaning. Especially the latter.

Am I the only person in Bolton who cheered and shouted “about ******g time” when Bank Top Brewery discontinued the brewing of Old Slapper?

And I’m led to believe that some pubs over ordered it so they could keep it going… For. Fucks. Sake.

Tits on a Clip aren’t funny. Full. Stop.

Comments about tits at a beer festival aren’t funny.

Abuse of (perceived) power isn’t funny.

Come To Daddy” isn’t funny.

What all these things ARE is offensive.

Freedom of Speech is all well and good in theory, but it’s a qualified right. It is most certainly NOT the freedom to offend. 

One of the things that had heartened me over the last few years is lessening of the average age at beer events. And seeing more women of all ages getting involved in beer. Drinking, writing, brewing. Groups like Ladies That Beer, building communities. The beer world is FULL of talented women, writers like Melissa Cole (who was more of an influence on me than I can ever describe), friends like Tara, Elaine, Michelle – some of the most talented brewers I know.

And do we really need to go into the history of brewing on these islands? Because it sure wasn’t men who ensured that the family had something safe to drink….

The striving for equality obviously threatens some. For others – especially on social media – they see it as an opportunity to vomit misogynist bile. I’ve followed some of the “adventures” of Melissa on Twitter, NOBODY should have to put up with the shit that she does. Nor any woman who puts their head above the parapet. This shouldn’t be viewed as bravery, it should NOT be exceptional. There shouldn’t be a parapet in the first place.

Equality of treatment is something I’ve fought for as a trade unionist for nearly 30 years. It’s something I care passionately about. I could be treated like shit, but as long as you are too, I have no argument. Of course, I’d rather we were all treated well, with respect.

Yes, I come from a position of privilege. I’m a white, heterosexual, male. In that respect, I have to put up with none of the shit that some of my friends do. In some respects, I’m lucky.

Like I said, I’d like all to be treated with respect. To accept differences. All differences. Physical, emotional, intellectual. I’m obviously a naive Utopian.

Also, like I said earlier, I’m far less tolerant of bullshit than I was 16 months ago.

Be kind to one another. But if you can’t, be prepared for challenge. Because I will for sure, I’m sick of the nonsense.

 

The Secret Life of Buses

In a social sense, I consider myself fortunate. The Lovely One and myself have a core of close friends that are precious and fiercely loyal. They close together in times of crisis & tragedy. They behave the way communities used to. Like glue, we stick together.

I’m also incredibly fortunate in that in the nearly 6 years – is it REALLY? – that I’ve been wittering (generally) about beer and pubs, I’ve made some incredibly lovely friends and acquaintances. This accelerated with the adventure that was The  ISBF and a band of brothers and sisters came together that now regularly plans trips to further flung beery destinations (next up North Riding Brewpub on 9th Feb).

They are Good People. Lovely in fact.

The thing is, that an awful lot of this would not have been possible without reliable public transport. And where I live, that means buses.

In particular, First Buses Manchester.

My social life totally relies on the bus. I’m approximately 1 1/2 miles from the nearest regular train service (my local station, Farnworth, being closer, yet with virtually no evening service) and the return journey – without a bus – involves a 1 1/2 mile walk. Uphill. In the cold.

The bus service is – therefore – essential to my social life.

I work 20 miles from home at Manchester Airport. I found the constant commuting by car to be soul destroying. Getting stuck on the M60 Barton flyover at 4pm was like Groundhog Day. With added sewage stench.

So I explored the possibility of commuting via public transport. And purchased a System One County Card monthly. £113. That can take me all over Greater Manchester on the train network.

And never looked back.

OK. I’m out – generally at 5:45am. Yes, there ARE 2 5:45s. You lot are mostly asleep no doubt. This journey involves a bus to Piccadilly, Metro to Piccadilly Train station, then a train to The Airport. And I love it. In that 1 1/2 hours I have read more books, listened to more tunes than I can count. I’ve even learned to love Spotify.

On the return journey, it’s mostly train to Bolton. On those 40 minute journeys were written most of the ISBF Web posts.

The train gets in to the new Interchange with a footbridge across to the new bus station. It’s a lovely facility. Let down by the bus services that it’s supposed to facilitate. In short, unreliable. From day one. I’ve also lost count of the number of tweets to the First Buses Manchester account that I’ve sent.

The theme (generally) being “If you can’t keep to a timetable, create one that you can”.

When I’m on my own, it irritates. Personally, I can deal with that. But twice in the last week, I’ve waited for an evening bus with The Lovely One. Only for a service not to appear. Apparently cancelled. With no possibility of notice, given the lack of bus stop information service.

An hour. Stood in the cold. This shouldn’t happen.

This – the 37 from Manchester to Bolton – is a half hourly service in the evenings. Or at least it SHOULD be. (On the advice of The Daughter Thing, one downloaded the UK Bus Checker app – live tracks some services….less wasted – cold – waiting around)

The timetable is seared into my memory. Too many times have I rush-stumbled from The Brink, crossed Bridge Street and caught the 11:44 last bus. On some occasions falling asleep and waking in Bolton.

Luckily, there’s a taxi rank….

Last night, The Lovely One and I ventured into Mancunia to see some dear beer friends, Beer Jesus and The Cocktail Twins (I’ve registered that band name). A lovely evening. Utterly spoiled by a cancelled bus service. The 22:40. A bus that simply failed to show. We were stood waiting – again – in the cold.

It simply isn’t good enough

I don’t work for the bus company. I have no appreciation of what their issues may be. But something needs to change.

Cities like Manchester function in the evenings, stay alive socially (especially this month), because of public transport. Without a reliable service, people will stop travelling to socialise.

If this service gets any worse, that “option” will become more viable.

Back soon – J

Piccadilly : Let’s Go For A Walk – A #Tryanuary Impulse 

Whims. Funny old things. The older I get, the more likely I am to concede.

There is a tendency – call it laziness – to stick to the tried and tested. The familiar. The places where you know you will get fabulous beer and a warm welcome. A comfort blanket. Something that has been (for want of a better word) a godsend these last 16 months.

But sometimes….. You just want something else.

Thursday evening, on the way home from work, I just had a yen. That impulse. To go for a walk. A beer or two. Follow the Tryanuary spirit, do something I’d not done for a while. 

So, with a co-conspirator (Jock) secured, I donned the cans (Bluetooth – not Carling) and caught the 37 into Piccadilly – an area I’d not consciously crawled before…

The Jolly Angler : Ducie Street 

From Piccadilly station, walk down the Approach and turn right onto Ducie Street and keep walking – heading right at the eventual fork. There you will find a previously heralded (by me at least) Mancunian gem.

A single room. A single cask conditioned beer. But a whole lot of Mancunian Soul. Something that I find increasingly important as tempus fugit. 

I entered in this chilly and slightly windy Manchester evening to the warmth of a blazing real fire. A pint of Hydes Original in hand, I settled down to enjoy the start of an evening of entertaining conversation with Jock (being a boring old toss pot myself, Jock provided the wit).

Hydes Original. I love this beer. A paler shade of Amber reflecting the glow of the fire, an orangey flavour washed around my mouth and all felt right on this “school night”. A sign of a leprechaun above the bar indicating that offensive language wouldn’t be tolerated was a nice touch….

A cluster of obvious regulars at the bar indulging in jovial chat, I could focus on the charm of this place. It isn’t gentrified. It is almost anachronistic – considering the pace of development just yards away. An old fashioned street corner style Mancunian boozer – warm, welcoming, friendly. Just doing the right things. 

And doing them so well. 

Not enough people wax lyrical about places like this. I now consider that MY job. 

Even with the photographs memorialising United legends (with Blue tinges) lining the walls, I still adore this place. Almost the embodiment of the phrase “Use it, don’t lose it”.

Just give the Piccadilly Tap the slopy shoulder. And enjoy something real. And Mancunian. 

I took our glasses back. Thanked the barman/landlord. And headed off – although I could happily spend an entire evening in “The Angler”… 

Back down Ducie Street, across “Piccadilly” (as the road is actually called) across Aytoun Street and past the magnificent Minshull Street Crown Court onto Richmond Street. At the end of which (Just before the junction with Sackville Street) you’ll find…

The Molly House : Richmond Street

I’ve had some lovely evenings here, but realised that it had been a long while since I’d last been. Way too long in fact.

There is a stripped back charm to this place. Set up over two floors (“The Company Bar” underneath – I’m told – being a separate club venue), upstairs also has a full bar and is where the unisex toilets are located.

Being fond of the odd euphemism myself, the venue is named from an old slang phrase for a brothel, but don’t let that dissuade you from experiencing this lovely place.

I’ve always had good beer in here, tonight was no exception with a new brewer (to me) having two beers on the bar (Rossendale Brewery), two from Howard Town and one from Beartown (a regular outlet). 

The Rossendale “Halo Pale” was superb, hoppy and refreshing. And sessionable. 

Lots of wood, stripped back floors, a few tables, some window seating, friendly bar staff, a simply MAGNIFICENT selection of spirits and a good reputation for the food (there’s an “open” kitchen in the downstairs room). This is a relaxing place for a beer or three with a very mixed custom reflecting the feel of the place. 

 And you can’t leave Richmond Street without a shot of the fabulous “Muriel” (sorry Hilda!) that graces the outside wall….

It won’t be so long before my next visit…. 

Back onto Sackville Street turning right onto Portland Street and across Piccadilly Gardens onto Lever Street. Across Stevenson Square and turn right onto Faraday Street, you will find a little known new place that Tryanuary should draw you to….

The Peer Hat : Faraday Street

The Arch Nemesis brought us here a few weeks ago following a visit to Fairfield Social Club. Tucked away between Lever Street and Newton Street, it was a complete surprise!

A bar cum live music venue (in the basement, something I’m yet to explore), this is a spacious two roomed pub. Friendly, with plenty of seating for old bones like mine! 

If you enter from the Little Lever Street entrance, you walk past the mini music shop. If only I had a turntable….

Yes. Nice local music theme here, but it’s the beer… Skirting the Verdant on keg – YOU shouldn’t if you go – Curse Of Mexico by Black Jack hit the R Spot, nice and punchy sharp for a session beer. Just what Dr ordered.

Like this place. It’s Tryanuary, give it a try. Well worth the effort. It just has a Mancunian feel, my kind of place. 

To finish off the evening – it WAS a “school night” after all and I was back out at 5:45 – yes, there IS a morning one…..

Back left onto Faraday Street and cross Lever Street (it’s a long walk this….) back onto Faraday Street and look right….

Pie & Ale : The Hive, Lever Street 

Technically, Faraday Street – if you’re looking on Lever Street you’ll miss this. And that would be a a shame.

4 separate areas cleverly divided to give different feels, the name is kind of a mission statement. Pie. And ale. And – from personal experience, very good pies indeed. 

Other than the fire alarm, a relatively quiet night. It was 10pm when we got here I suppose. Despite its “tucked away” location, this modern bar can get deceptively busy. 

With a mix of high tables, diner style setting and bar seats, the bar has a rotating beer range with one reserved for an eminently missable house beer. With beers from the likes of Turning Point, Brightside, Tickety & First Chop (a very – and welcome – Northern line up), that’s easy.  

The “Seven Waves” by Brightside maintained the perfect strike rate tonight. Full flavoured, punchy, with a moderate bitterness, it finished off the night (for me at least) perfectly. A lovely beer.

For the more price conscious, Tuesdays look good…. 

The “points” of tonight were various. To avoid the simple, the easy. Drinking in Manchester can become a magnificent Groundhog Day. Clichéd. If you let it. 

I’m as prone to that as anyone. I have my favourites too. And they are very obvious. But there is so much more to Manchester than the classics. And the trendy. 

Sometimes, it’s just time for something different. 

And it’s Tryanuary

So do just that. Try something different. Go give a hug and a kiss to somewhere you’ve never been before. Go with a friend (Cheers Jock), treat them, Share the love. 

You won’t regret it. 

Back soon. J x

The Road To Wigan Beer Festival 2018

RTWB Bus

It’s easy to get bored with beer festivals. Same old, same old. Well. OK. I’M easily bored.

It takes something special to get my attention, to fire my enthusiasm. The Road To Wigan Beer is one of those. A special thing.

The Arch Nemesis and myself have been going on this jaunt for over 5 years now. It ticks all of my boxes.

  • Great beer – Sourced by Team Allgates.
  • New breweries.
  • Great company (+ me)
  • Great pubs.

And add a 70 seater bus to take you round 7 of them.

It was the first beer event I went to after our World fell apart. And it didn’t feel strange. It felt like a warm beery comfort blanket.

In short, I can’t praise this highly enough. One of only two unmissable events this year for Jaz &  me. (The other being East West Fest)

Some simply lovely proper local pubs. With excellent beers. And one of my favourite pubs of all in the Crooke Hall Inn – on the bank of the Leeds – Liverpool canal. 

Last Easter, finally, some of our Mancunian beer friends decided to give it a whirl. And had an absolute blast. Ask them. (And they are all waiting for the date so they don’t miss out!)

The actual “festival” is spread across 10 or so days and 7 or so pubs. And on one of those days (the first Saturday of the event) a bus is booked to take a bunch around all of those pubs. As I said, we call it the “fun bus”.

The bus stayed “in depot” last October. Disappointed doesn’t quite cover it. But there was a promise made to take to the highways and byways of Wigan Borough again in early 2018. It’s great news to see that David has kept his word.

The date for the bus? 21/04/2018. The day after the 33rd occasion of my 21st birthday. If you’re lucky (!) I’ll even let you buy me a beer to celebrate!

For tickets – contact Harley on 07796 048239

Come and join us.