Belfast – Merely Scratching The Surface

That picture isn’t taken in – or even remotely close to – Belfast, but in a place defined by my Google maps as “Clonroe Lower”. Or, in MY parlance, “The Middle of Nowhere, Co Wexford”. A battery charging week of tranquility.

And without that trip, there wouldn’t be this blog post.

Now then, I’m an overtly political individual. Of an avowed Socialist stripe. I don’t overtly do politics on this, but I needed to say the following, because of how much it surprised me during my stay.

People – no doubt not all (especially in the “North”) – are absolutely shitting themselves about the impending departure from the EU. From the Republic, where it dominated the news, constantly. To the North, where there is a real fear of being dragged back into Sectarian chaos.

This isn’t my opinion. I don’t know the ground realities. This is from people living that reality. Who have been through dark times. Who fear restrictions on the freedom that they currently have.

I say this also, because it was subject to a number of conversations following the lovely time we had. That freedom to wander without wondering quite WHERE we were.

You see, the last time I “wandered” about Belfast, I walked into the muzzle of a British Army rifle. I experienced the fear of wandering into “the wrong areas”.

And we want to go back next year. Because this is one beautiful city.

If you are offended by that, I apologise in advance. The fears may indeed be unrealised in the reality of the ramifications of Halloween. But those fears are real.

Let’s move on.

Having said all of that. Having driven up from “The Middle of Nowhere” and been to visit family, we wandered (unwittingly) right slap bang into the middle of Belfast Pride. And the rainbow shaded joy was, well, a joy to witness.

Even if it did mean that the pubs were standing room only.

I was out of touch with Belfast. Last time I visited the two eldest were both just finished toddling. So I asked for recommendations. Because, just like the city had changed radically in the interim, so had my tastes.

Thank you to those who replied. You may recognise your suggestions….

The Sunflower – 65, Union Street, Belfast, BT1 2JG (to the North of Castle Court Shopping Centre)

RAMMED. Well, it was Pride Weekend. And a Saturday evening. TLO immediately noted the retained cage front to the doorway, a throwback to “The Troubles”. What I noticed on our visits (Yes, there was more than one), was a vibrant yet rather small bar which packed a lot into a small space.

With beers from the likes of Farmageddon and Kinnegar, my thirst for local provenance was fully slaked, a Farmageddon Micro IPA on visit one was delicious, light, refreshing and full of hoppy goodness.

Single roomed on the inside, live music is a feature and did on both our visits. The place was friendly, busy and had great beer. With – on our second visit – a nice line in wood fired pizza.

Felt like home. A real compliment.

Ace graffiti and murals too…

Moving on…. Turn left from The Sunflower along Union Street then right onto Donegall Street – walking past the beautiful St Ann’s Church – until you reach another multiple visit…

The John Hewitt – 51, Donegall Street, Belfast, BT1 2FH

Not many photos here, unfortunately. Too busy on our first visit, too intimate on our last. But a beautiful pub.

Larger – much – than The Sunflower, the bar being beautiful, wooden and central, with a slightly raised area to the front and a small snug-style room to the rear of the bar giving a more intimate feel.

On our second visit it was closed, prompting a visit on our final evening for more excellent Galway Bay and Kinnegar beers. And some lovely live music.

I do love that Galway Bay branding!

For all the lack of imagery here, this is an essential pit stop – as is The Sunflower.

Then we headed to somewhere smaller. And a bit different, though no less beautiful.

From the John Hewitt, turn left towards Waring Street and left again up to Victoria Street turning right. Until you get to this pretty place….

Bittles Bar – Musgrave Channel Road, Belfast, BT1 9FZ

No mistaking that it’s a pub, right?

Tiny and narrow, widening out as you go back with a surprising number of almost separate seating areas, this place would be a classic in any city.

I may have missed something on the bar, but I missed anything local beer wise and settled for the Brew Dog Hazy Jane. Not for me, first experience in a while with hop burn.

Fortunately, the pub and its fabulous artwork – much of it political – more than made up for it.

I meant to come back – the pub is more than worth repeating – but didn’t get the chance. This is a stunning little place of a stripe that we don’t see over here.

If you go to Belfast, it’s unmissable.

Leaving Bittles, the city revealed its colours

Of a more traditional stripe – beer wise – but stunning in its own way, was another stop over the weekend

The Duke of York – 7, Commercial Court, Belfast, BT1 2NB

Wood & mirrors. And the largest selection of Guinness memorabilia outside of St James’s Gate. This place – quite literally – left me momentarily speechless.

A fine pint of Guinness was incidental. The walls were jaw dropping.

A long pub with two rooms the full length, with throwback style brass topped tables, this was like the best kind of stepping back in time.

Tucked down the narrowest of alleys, just around the corner from The John Hewitt on Donegall Street (there are LOTS of those narrow alleys in this city!), for a break from the craftier side, this was exceptional. Just outside was a reminder of the weekend…

With further visits to weekends favorites – and a lot of family time (we were there to visit Rellies) – and following a visit to The Titanic Experience, I had a final itch to scratch. Somewhere I had briefly visited on my last visit to this beautiful island.

Grabbing an Uber, we headed down the Ormeau Rd.

Northern Lights – 451, Ormeau Road, Belfast, BT7 3GQ

Last time I visited this place, it was called Brewbot. With the eponymous brewing machines being built upstairs.

Now it’s owned and run by Galway Bay Brewery and features their excellent beers.

A fabulous burger and a few pints of juicy, tasty and refreshing Althea (Session IPA) did the trick.

2 large rooms (1 upstairs, 1 downstairs), this place is modern by design and layout. Bright and airy, it was a little refuge from a rare shower during our Ireland trip (I actually got sunburned whilst England flooded!)

Last time I came here, I think I said that this could slot into Manchester’s NQ and fit right in. That holds true. And is the biggest complement I can pay.

We were leaving the next day – with our Liverpool ferry cancelled, I faced the joy of a drive from Cairnryan – so we called it quits via another beer of three back in the City and The John Hewitt.

I’ve always thought – even during “The Troubles” – that Belfast is a more beautiful city than Dublin. Something more gritty and vital lurks within. Yes, there is substantial redevelopment – yet nowhere NEAR the crane count of Mcr – but most of that is near the Docks at this point (with macabre timing during our visit, there were further layoffs at Harland & Wolf) and around the edges, there are less developed stretches, but this city pulls at my strings.

And now, with a freedom to wander where you will, it has some wonderful places to have a beer.

Just don’t expect an early Irish breakfast on a Sunday morning….. 😉

Don’t let that out you off. Go visit.

“Whatever Mess You Are, You’re Mine…”

Be safe, be safe. Whatever the mess you are you’re mine, OK?

(“Challengers” – The New Pornographers)

OK. This isn’t a beer post. I’m not even sure what it IS. But this morning, on the way to work, I started thinking about what music means to me. And how I return to certain albums. Because they move me.

And I got to listening to this

Now then. Maybe I’m attuned (no pun intended – I’m not funny) to these things, given my “history”. Or maybe the beer “industry” (especially “craft”) has a higher proportion of devotees / employees with mental health issues.

Shit. We might just be living in dark times or people are generally simply less resilient.

But I seem to pick up on “issues” so much from my social media feeds.

Recently, my TLO “outed” me to a very nice man as not being quite as confident as I portray. As I act. Anybody who has lived with – or suffered from – depression may recognise this. The “act”. To mask the hole in your core. The face you put on, to seem “normal”.

And the thing that helps me to apply the make up in the morning is music.

When I returned to work after 5 months of “grieving”, I found it physically difficult to leave the platform at Manchester Airport train station. To ascend the escalator.

And there were two songs. Just the two (initially). That almost literally gave me the power to get up those steps. To lock the tears away. Helped apply the “face” that I needed to get through the day. Each and every day.

They were “Johnny Was” & “Never Let Me Down Again

Neither are what you might call “chirpy”. Both are – in their own ways – quite grim in their subject matter (death in a time of conflict and heroin addiction)

But – if you listen to them, you’ll see – they have an undeniable “power”. A force. They certainly forced me up that escalator.

When I was diagnosed with depression for the first time, I was offered meds. And I was utterly terrified. Scared of dependancy. Almost as a knee jerk I rejected that “solution” to the condition.

Music is my drug. Always has been. And as I’ve repeated many times, it’s way more important to me than beer.

I remember fondly an incident at Phil’s funeral.

I was extremely flattered to be asked to put together a playlist for the “celebration”. His life was indeed something to be celebrated. He lived it fully. He also remains one of the loveliest humans I’ve ever known. I had a clue what to use. This was – after all – for and about him and for a number of years I’d been making playlist cds for him.

Anyway, half way through, Daughter Thing and her bezzie approached the laptop as “1 Thing” by Amerie came on.

“You can’t like this! It’s our age!” stated DT.

Now then, smiling, I went on the offensive. “Music doesn’t know age” “If it’s good, I like it!”

Nobody is going to tell me I can’t like “LSD” by A$AP Rocky or “Swimming Pools” by Kendrick Lamar. To me, this is music of beauty, with the power to move.

Currently, this jovial edifice is a fragile construction. It won’t bear too many floors. Hell, it might even be an emotional bungalow. And it is music that loosens the mortar. Just sat at my desk earlier when Kate Bush’s “Cloudbusting” and within seconds I was moist of eye.

It’s musical prompts that shake my foundations. Always have.

Hey. This piece had no direction. This is my pressure valve. And – as you already know “I’m a rambler from Manchester way”

Back soon. With something beer related.

And – back to the start – I can never say enough QUITE how much I love that New Pornographers album. Especially the voice of Neko Case.

Runaway Brewery – 5 Years Old

It doesn’t seem that long ago when I first met the man I came to know as Mark Welsby. Whenever I went to a Meet The Brewer events at Port Street Beer House, there he was, always smiling.

I didn’t know who he was. Just this nice bloke.

He hasn’t changed. One bit.

He went on to create a brewery. Runaway. My favourite keg brewery. One of the easiest choices of my “Golden Pints” of 2018.

Mark has created beers that have rocked my world. (I’ve stopped asking him to brew Lemon Drizzle”), but I don’t want my world rocking. What – to me – is far more important, is consistency. Consistent excellence. That knowledge that – when you walk in a bar – you can rely on what you see.

He has created one of my all-time favourite beers. His American Brown. Still makes me shiver remembering having it on cask at ISBF. Still drink it in keg and bottle wherever I see it. It’s the best example I know.

He’s been one of the biggest supporters of ISBF.

He’s a star. Something he’s too self-deprecating to understand himself.

And – this weekend – Runaway Is 5. A date which coincides with Mark’s own birthday.

So he’s throwing a party.

I was massively flattered to be invited to host a bar at this bash. To be asked by one of your heroes to contribute? It was an easy question to answer. Yes. Of course, yes. I couldn’t say “no” to one of the nicest of beer people.

He even let me just go and source. Left me to have a play. So I did.

That’s the beer list for the #ISBF6 bar. Next to us, there is a cask bar. Because – although he doesn’t ordinarily brew for cask – Mark loves cask conditioned beer.

Mark has gone collab frenzy mode. And gone made some special beers with some friends. I had some last night. And they’re lovely.

There are a number of events being hosted. As part of the party.

An exceptional Cider tasting and chat. With Cath Potter. I’ve been to one of these. And it astonished me. Cath & Dick (her partner) REALLY know their stuff. THEY are the reason I drink – and enthuse about – Cider. Tickets here. Don’t miss this.

There is a chat – hosted by those lovable Beernomicon scamps – on my favourite subject, the future for Micro brewing. That’s here. I might be involved…..

There is even a tutored tasting with the eminence grise that is John Clarke! With some exceptional beers being sampled. Beers that hit my sweet spot, Farmhouse style and mixed fermentation beers. That is here….

There is SO much more going on with some great food vendors turning out to feed you too.

It’s going to be a party. A Mancunian beer party.

Aren’t they the best kind?

Hey. I might even spill an #ISBF6 secret or two……..

Come and join us. Let’s have a giggle. It’s what we Worker Bees do….

East West Fest 2019 – My Favourite Beer Event Got Better.

East West Fest. It may be small, but – to these rather biased eyes – it’s perfectly formed.

And has left me wanting more. Feeling curiously low after a weekend of highs.

And for all the quite excellent beer there this weekend, it’s always the people that supply those highs. Good people. Drinking good beer. (Now where have I heard that before……?)


This event affects my friends and I in a number of ways. The first being the checking of calendars, nudging Malcolm to set dates, to facilitate the booking of hotel rooms 7 months in advance. We actually do get excited THAT early.

That’s the impact this little Red Shed can have.

Rooms booked, it’s shortly after this that Malcolm and I start to think about the breweries we want involved. And I start to get all tingly again. And start up my spreadsheet.

Have I said quite how much I love this little bash?

The Build Up

Once I start to get an idea of the breweries involved (normally 3 months in advance), I start to wind up our little group, with hints dropped here and there.

The trains get booked. We wake up the Social Media accounts that go into hibernation for 9 or 10 months. And start planning one or two collaboration specials – one of this year’s being a long mooted Black Jack x Five Towns mash up.

Ahh…. May Day. The Arch Nemesis killer.

Have I said quite how much I love this little bash?

The Weekend

For those of us travelling across the Pennines and from points further North and South, it’s an early start on the Friday.

Bag packed, raffle prize donation in hand, off to Manchester. The traditional coffee at Java on the concourse at Victoria awaited (will someone please tell Costa & Starbucks to piss off from Victoria? They can’t beat this little independent on flavour….)

(image courtesy @BeerFinderGen)

The journey across seemed to take an AGE! That’s anticipation for you I suppose.

Arriving at the Shed is always a bit of a joy. Like greeting an old friend (hold that thought!). And some habits die hard. Like winding up a Torrside fanboy that the Raspberry Tea IPA had run out. (James. I refuse to apologise….)

From the moment our little group started to coalesce on the Friday lunchtime, it was like we’d never been away and apart. It was just – and remains – the most fun event I know. And that’s down to company old and new.

Especially when Chris won his bet….Respect….

I don’t think Malcolm thought that Chris actually WOULD turn up dressed as a little old lady pulling a shopping trolley. It cost him £100 into the charity pot. A price he willingly paid. Laughing.

Chris is a genius. And that wig spawned a number of celebrity impersonations.

The best being Jack Osborne

And a serviceable early period Leo Sayer

Now and again, the tears of laughter would dry. And we’d drink beer. And the beer was tremendous. If on the strong side (which we loved BTW)

Highlights on the lighter side were beers from Yorkshire, Chin Chin & Revolutions, Dark side, the Northern Monkey “Film Club” Popcorn Stout was bloody lush.

4 of the 20 beers were 8%+. And bloody lush. The Redwillow Small Batch Simcoe DIPA was punchy & fruity. Both Five Towns beers (8,% Chocolate Orange Stout & 8.8% May Day) flew and as for the Abbeydale Funk Bretted Imperial Stout….

Day 2 (Saturday for us) saw some more first time visitors from over the right side of the Pennines and it was great to see Andrew R back, goes to show it’s not just our little group who “get” this.

And that wig never got boring….

OK. As everyone who comes knows. This is a little red shed.

You should NOT have the beers that we do. But we do.

This year we had people from York, Glastonbury, Peterborough, Wolverhampton not to mention the sizeable Mancunian contingent. They all went away and “got” what we “get”.

I would say that this was probably the best beer list I’ve been involved with. But the beer was almost secondary.

It’s the people. The fun. The atmosphere.

I’m bloody proud to be a small part of it.

And I’ll be booking next year’s hotel room before #ISBF6. Trust me.

Have I said quite how much I love this little bash?

Chasing The Dragon (And Other Phrases…)

As a family, we rarely did stuff together as the kids got older. The one thing we DID do – on a monthly basis – was to go to a good pub and have Sunday dinner. Something Fionn & Roisin both loved.

We still talk about some of these fond memories. Like driving all the way to The Crooke Hall Inn (at Daughter Thing’s explicit request) only to find that she was too hungover to actually finish. And wanted to go home!

We still do this. Go for Sunday lunch. TLO, Daughter Thing & I. And I look at an empty space where the boy used to be.

Sunday lunch now means – to us – one thing. The Marble Arch. And it’s bloody magnificent. And consistent. With consistently beautiful beer to wash it down.


And when I look at that bar – whenever I approach – the first thing I think of? Pint. As good a session beer as you will find. Anywhere. Bright, sharp, reliable. Just delicious.

And? It’s that rather old fashioned thing. A core range beer.

I got to thinking about that quaint idea of having a core range of beers after ending up – as I frequently do after a day trip – at The Brink.

Looking at the bar, I spied an old friend. Stocky Oatmeal Stout by Thirst Class Ale. Rich. Roasty. Creamy. Utterly delicious. And… Another core range beer. From a reliably excellent brewery.

And – at a tangent – something else got me thinking about core beer ranges. And the breweries that still do them.

Instead he relies on research and diligence to score the beers his customers want.

This comment came from a piece in a trade journal (re off-sales), I won’t link to it, it was focused purely on London with no perspective from outside.

The piece was making a point about shops scrambling to get the latest FOMO beers. From the most popular producers. But I had to ask….

Is this where FOMO has taken us? Popular beers being talked of as if they are rocks of crack? REALLY? WTF ever happened about just enjoying good tasty beer? Rather than looking for a hit, a higher high?

I mean, I like hops. But I despair. I really do. And yet – in a small way – I’m a part of this problem. Because of what I insist on for beer supply here.

This chasing of the dragon isn’t new. Far from it.

In 2017 I was talking to a highly respected brewer who opened up the cold store. Row upon row of beautiful, tasty, beer. In keg. Sat there. Because – in his words – “everyone wants something new”. I could have wept at the idiocy of such thinking. But for the simple fact that I was there. Making beer. New beer. To feed the FOMO. To sell tickets. For the FOMO fearers. The new “tickers”.


I’m far from old fashioned. As anyone who has seen the line up at an ISBF bar could tell you. But – above all else in beer – what I love most is consistency. Reliability. THAT excites me. Approaching a bar and – inwardly – licking my lips, knowing, with CERTAINTY, that what I’m going to be drinking will be delicious.

I’ve drunk a little bit of Lager & Helles & Pilsner (call Lager whatever you want) recently and really enjoyed them. And had the mantra pushed at me “if you can get a Lager right, that shows that you’re good”. That may be true. But not just Lager.

The breweries that I respect most have a core range. They brew those beers consistently excellently. The quality doesn’t waver.

Runaway Pale, Brewsmith Pale, Marble Pint, Five Points Railway Porter, North Riding Mosaic, Neptune Abyss, Pictish Brewers Gold. These beers – to me – are absolutes. Flag bearers of consistency. Of excellence. Beers that – the moment I see them on a bar, I point to.

Quality. And consistency of quality. These things excite me. Those breweries above have consistently excellent core ranges. They get them right, time after time. Brew after brew. In such ways is my trust earned. I know that each beer – however new – released by these will be reliably excellent.

Don’t misunderstand me. There are breweries out there that don’t have core ranges. That still make excellent beer.

But beer – to me – is like music. I’m currently listening to the new Mountain Goats album. And it’s predictably fabulous. Well crafted songs. Seasoned with beautiful playing. Consistently excellent. (I adore John Darnielle)

I yearn for a time when people just appreciate beer – like music – for what it is. Good, tasty, well brewed beer.

Not just the latest feel good hit of the summer.

The sooner we reach that destination, the better.

The Vultures Are Circling : Cosy Clubs, Cleopatra’s Asp And Negative Marketing – The Spinning Webs of The SBDRC

PLEASE NOTE: All the information in this blog piece is either freely available on the internet or extrapolated from that information. Some of it is direct results from a Google search, some of it from Companies House, some of the harder to find information is from direct quotes to trade publications where the breweries concerned were happy to brag to journalists about growth in one article whilst complaining about competition in another.

Some of it of course – figures wise – is based on my own calculations!

I like audacity. But some instances just boil my piss.

Just when I thought I couldn’t GET more angry, I saw the above piece.

Why am I so pissed? Hogs Back Brewery. Launching beers. At Craft Beer Rising in London.

You see, Rupert Thompson, Director of Hogs Back is one of the main voices (if not THE) of the Small Brewers Duty Reform Coalition. You know, that cosy cartel of large and family breweries that are intent on making Micro Breweries less competitive. On getting them closed down.

So they can increase their collective share of the UK beer market. They see the “Craft” segment increasing in share, whilst the overall beer market shrinks.

They want a bigger piece of the pie.

To my uneducated eyes, it had all the appearance of Craft Cleopatra clutching the asp to her breast. Except in this case, Cleo has forgotten that the asp has poison in its teeth. And is desperate to bite.

You see – again, I’m a bit thick maybe – this invitation to the enemy into the centre of the “craft” camp, giving them (in Hogs Back’s case) a platform to launch a beer range…… I mean, there may be high level conversations backstage – within the event – that could bear fruit…..Bollocks. I’m not even kidding myself!

You see, Rupert Thompson and his co-conspirators don’t strike me as being about to negotiate with their prey. This is a bunch of hard headed businessmen..

Rupert (for instance) has been a Director – at various stages of a number of different beer companies (Note. I don’t say “breweries”) In his own words, he describes himself as…

“Developing and buying and selling companies….” Er…. OK.

As I said, Mr Thompson is arguably THE mouthpiece of the SBDRC. Note the signatories to this letter to the treasury. These names will come up again….

Now those companies that Rupert has (at various times) been a director of… Kind of read like a “Who’s Who” of Big Beer UK

Greene King, Marstons, Wychwood, Refresh UK, Thwaites (pre Marstons purchase), British Beer and Pub Association – we’ll return to that – Go look at Companies House, it’s all there….

Now, remember those signatories above?

Now then. The BBPA. The British Beer and Pub Association. And those mendacious representations of the 3 separate bodies (Inc the Independent Family Brewers of Britain) all making “common cause” on the subject of duty relief to small brewers.

Rupert Thompson – Hogs Back

Collin Wood – Theakstons

Co-Chairs of the SBDRC. Rubbing shoulders with Heineken. And Marstons. On a BBPA “Small Brewer Relief Working Group”

Like inverted Robbing Hoods, Stealing from the Small to feed the Big. And pretending that there are 3 separate bodies campaigning to reduce relief to REAL small breweries.

(please note : so far as I’m aware, CAMRA does not actively support the aims of the SBDRC)

Rupert is the fella who grew the Carling Mega Brand, marketed Old Speckled Hen as a “premium brand”. That’s what Rupert is. A marketer. Hence his incredibly skilful work at the helm of the SBDRC. And you have to tip your hat. He’s good.

He’s very “reasonable sounding” with phrases like….

“The coalition is fully supportive of SBDR itself and believes it has an essential role in the market….” yet then spouts the key mantra that…

“Smaller brewers are over compensated for economies of scale in the industry”

Let’s nail this ****** down, right now. I know lots of Micros personally. I KNOW how much beer costs. And how much it costs to make. And – at the smaller ends of the scales (ie Those below the vital mark of 5000hl) – it IS more expensive for a small “flavour forward” brewery to make beer, per HL.

Small Brewers Duty Relief allows Micros to compete for bar space. But while Big pubcos (some of whom, let’s not forget – Punch, Enterprise Inns, Heineken – are not exactly disinterested members of the BBPA!) control vast swathes of the market and drive down prices, that space is hugely limited

The SBDRC (and Rupert and his jolly chums at the BBPA and IFBB) can get their tame survey team to concoct and manipulate stats all they like. But their well funded, well oiled and well practised mendacity cannot be allowed to stand.

These people – for all their launches at CBR – are no friends of Craft. They are no friends of small brewers. They are no friends of beer diversity.

They are the enemy. And they need to be recognised as such.

This. The attack on Small Brewers Duty Relief is the existential threat to what is on the lines at your favourite bars and pubs, that choice that you have.

That “Golden Age”.

Because if these people get their way. They will go in a flash.

Get informed. Get involved.

Gratitude and Debts

For what I do with my (limited) spare time, I owe three people. But one person more than others. And I can blame him for everything.

It all started on 21st September 2012. A date that I can remember via the records of others. That was the date that the recently resurrected (and name abbreviated) Dexys played at Bridgewater Hall.

But I digress. Let’s go from the start.

For some years I’d had the germ of an idea. A seed that refused to grow. That idea was to buy a digital camera and take photos of Manchester pubs. And build a website, a website dedicated to those beautiful communal edifices. But, I was a coward. Dithered. Couldn’t be arsed.

Then, in 2012, I joined Twitter and started to virtually stalk an old friend I’d not seen in a few years.

Let’s veil him. Let’s call him “The Music Man”.

I would read his brief descriptive tweets. I was like a greedy fish on a well baited hook. And I bit. And kept chewing on those bite sized chunks of beer intelligence.

And that seed started to germinate.

Then, on 21st September 2012, we met. In a bar I’d never visited. Brew Dog on Peter Street (A place of huge importance to the current Manchester Beer Scene – but that post needs to be written by someone MUCH smarter than I)

That night, somebody else had agreed to meet “The Music Man”. Let’s veil him – thinly – and call him “The Gig Monster”.

I’d known both since my mid – late teens. Since 6th form college in Salford.

That night, briefly, we attempted to catch up on almost 30 years.

One of the things I mentioned was that “seed”. And how it started to germinate upon reading “The Music Man’s” tweeting. “The Gig Monster” told me to go for it. So I did.

It is no exaggeration to say that that exhortation changed my life.

This blog started almost immediately following that encouragement.

I sometimes like to embarrass myself reading those initial beery fumblings. Looking for something. Something to make “mine”. I found that focus after about a year of incoherence.

The North. Beer from The North of England.

But still I felt…… that I was guessing at what I was saying. I don’t lie, I truly mean and believe what I say – always have – but just something felt wrong.

Then I bought a book. It was called “Let Me Tell You About Beer”. It was written by someone called Melissa Cole. And it taught me how to actually taste beer. Techniques to extract almost every last molecule of aroma and flavour from each mouthful.

It blew the cobwebs from my feeble brain.

I don’t ‘know’ Melissa particularly well. But we have met. And I have thanked her in person. I don’t look up to many, but I do to that young lady.

Anyways. Back to “The Music Man”.

He is a known “face” in Manchester Beer circles. I never forget going to a beer event and approaching the bar whilst taking the pith out of him. The guy behind the bar scowled at me. “Leave him alone. Everybody loves (The Music Man)”

That was me told.

“The Music Man” is a member of that commonly derided sub species of beer humanity known as a “Ticker”. He’ll go to places and drink things I never would.

He introduced me to breweries that I subsequently adored. Like Wigan Brewhouse, Offbeat, Mallinsons, enduring beer loves of mine.

We’ve travelled together. Left friends face down in drink whilst we continued to carouse.

He’s utterly solid. A lighthouse in the darkness following our tragedy pre #ISBF3. Didn’t need to say anything. He was just there. Drying my tears. A metaphorical arm around my sagging shoulders. He allowed me to ramble, to let it out. A kindness that it’s useful to remember. He didn’t (and doesn’t) judge.

A true friend.

I learned at his feet. He introduced me – directly and otherwise – to the great and the good of Manchester Beer. And much further afield.

Without “The Music Man”, “The Gig Monster” and Melissa, there would now be no blog. There would be no Independent Salford Beer Festival.

Without “The Music Man” & “The Gig Monster” I would flounder around for a weekend in Salford. Lost.

Without “The Music Man”, my current life would be an awful lot poorer

What little I know. What little I have done in this little beer bubble, is down – primarily – to those 3.

Sometimes, just sometimes, it’s right that you acknowledge your debts.

So. To these 3, I bow. Sorry if I’ve embarrassed you.

Especially “The Music Man”. But some things just need saying.

Honest Burger – Bridge Street is Looking Up

For a number of months last year, I would leave The Brink to catch the No 37 bus home. To get to that bus stop, I passed a bar. It was the most deeply depressing looking hole, brightly lit, noisy and invariably (conversely) quiet.

On Bridge Street – and on the edge of Spinningfields – it grated. It felt wrong. And – consequently – it didn’t last.

Fast forward to this weekend.

And that shabby little venue (following a nice sprucing up) got a new tenant.

Honest Burger is a small chain with outlets in London, Bristol, Brighton, Cambridge & Reading. And now, they have a 6th. On Bridge Street.

And I got a surprise or two.

True to its name, this is a burger joint. The kind of place that normally gravitates towards the Northern Quarter. Now then, I have nothing against the NQ, some of my favourite eating and drinking places are within that orbit. But – it’s nice to see another venue worth visiting open on Bridge Street.

And this place IS worth the visit.

I’m no food critic. But this grub is excellent.

The chicken wings didn’t last long….

The wings were sweet and spicy sticky finger licking joy. TLO loved them too.

Following that was the burger….

For a card carrying Manc, there was really only one choice

The Manchester was a juicy little beast. Sloppy with a beautiful cheese sauce, topped with a rich and earthy slice of Northernness. Black pudding.

Oh. My.

Love at first messy bite.

The Salted rosemary fries just topped the whole thing off nicely.

Service was brisk. Attentive without being smothering. Pitched just right.

Made me forget there used to be that desolate bar ever existed.

And then you go upstairs. On the first floor there are additional tables for service. They were buzzing with chatter. And – I forgot to mention – each of the ground and first has its own bar. Wines, spirits and – oh the joy – a keg bar stocked with Mancunian beer (Alphabet & Runaway)

And that’s not all….

Mark kept THIS quiet….

On the 3rd level, a Runaway tap room.

My eyes nearly popped. An actual Runaway bar. Outside of the brewery.

I’ve expressed my love of Runaway before. Read here, so this was a joy. This may be short term, it may be a lasting thing. That’s uncertain at this point.

What IS certain – while it’s there (Thursday evenings through till Saturdays only for now) – is that this creates a little core of superb bars within a 50 yard radius on Bridge Street, with Gaslamp and The Brink completing that beery nebula coalescing on this short stretch.

Tap Room With A View

The beer – predictably – was lush. The Rhubarb Blush reminded me as to how much I love rhubarb beers. Tart, earthy, refreshing and joyously light of abv. It washed down my Manchester Burger a treat.

The tap room has that rarest of things for a decent Manchester beer venue.

Outside space. In the form of a large balcony overlooking Bridge Street. And that was being taken advantage of. With summer approaching, this will be a draw.

I seriously hope that this arrangement extends through the summer and beyond.

Honest Burger works on its own merits. It’s a belting burger joint. And I’ll certainly be back.

But with that Runaway tap room – and, for now, you CAN go to the room as distinct from the restaurant – it’s a hell of a venue.

I’ll definitely be back soon. Take advantage of that tap room too, while you can.

With this and eateries like Dishoom, Randall & Aubin, Cafe Istanbul and bars like Runaway, Gaslamp & The Brink, Bridge Street is looking like a decent little destination in its own right.

The Sweetest Feeling – Berries, Beans and Beer

Some events hit you between the eyes from the get go.

Some, take their time to find their “place”. Because they feel a bit – advanced. Too soon. Ahead of their time.

That was Berries, Beans and Beer in Crewe. In year one.

I loved it. Could see the aim. It felt so right to me. But sometimes, people need to catch up. To “get it”. That happened last year. In year 2.


I persuaded some of my Beer family as to its merits. So persuaded, they bought their train tickets and ventured out – away from that oh so easy Manchester bubble – to Crewe Railway Heritage Centre.

And they are coming back. From all over. Because they saw what I saw.

Which is – quite simply – the most relaxed drinks event I’ve ever been to. And that fact that it is a “drinks event” changes the dynamic enormously. I still find beer events very male, slowly changing, but still mostly the traditionally male demographic dominates.

This was different. The fact that it was a more inclusive drinks event, made it more inclusive. The male / female mix was the most even in any event I’ve been to. And that – if anything – enhanced the relaxed feel of year one.

Yes, the was a great beer list (from Michelle Shipman I’d expect no less), but the gin list was simply astonishing. The rum list wasn’t far behind

Having a packaged beer option via the fabulous Otters Tears of Burslem made a huge difference to my lot


But back to basics.

Crewe is – quite possibly – the best connected town in the North of England. All train lines seem to run through it. It may not be somewhere you’d immediately think “event”. But, when you consider just a little, it makes perfect sense.

The Railway Heritage Centre is about a 10 minute walk from the train station – just enough to heighten the senses. To sharpen the tastebuds.

Michelle has gone to some lengths this year. There is an app for Android phones (iPhone link here) which is so easy to use and shows you everything on offer

(That list of taxis is a nice touch!). The app adds a little extra – hell, I’m not sure I could do that for #ISBF6 (but I might have a chat…)

The gin list is HUGE and – of course – small batch and independent. I might try a few Gins myself – all #ISBF6 research, of course…

And that glassware…


The Rum bar is none too shabbily stocked either. The coffee selection from HasBean is justly lauded by my Midlands friends and I remember a stunningly fruity thing from year one – when I volunteered.

I come back – as in all my favourite events – to feeling. This event just feels so relaxed. So easy. No posturing, no posing, just a bunch of friendly people shooting the breeze, enjoying their drink of choice, in an ace venue.

It is one of my 3 Unmissables. Alongside EastWestFest (read here) and the Road To Wigan Beer (read here).

You really ought to give it a go.

My Favourite Beer Event : East West Fest 2019


April and May are my favourite months of the year.

It’s in those months that my favourite beer events take place.

Unfortunately – for reasons beyond my brain cells – Bolton CAMRAs excellent event isn’t happening this year. This leaves two. The exceptional Berries, Beans and Beer in Crewe (a future post) and my personal favourite. East West Fest.

Why is it my favourite beer event? If you’ve been, you’d realise that that is a silly question. But it’s a number of things.

It’s the fact that its original inspiration was ISBF1. Which is incredibly flattering.

It’s the fact that it is organised by one of my favourite brewers, who, over these last five years has become a good friend. And he has kept checking up on me recently. He’s good people is Malcolm.

It’s the fact that it’s intimate. That it’s small, friendly and welcoming.

There’s no FOMO shit here. No queues for the latest fad. No soft-serve nonsense. It’s just good beer. Bloody good beer. Brewers from East and West of the Pennines. Sending the good stuff.

It’s the fun that I’ve had in each of the last four years with friends old and new.


There’s no hype. No nonsense. It’s “just” an event with 20 beers or less. In a red shed. Literally.

Like I said, if you’ve been, you’ll get it.

We get it. We booked our hotel rooms last October. 7 months in advance.

The beer is the least of this. But it always has excellent beer. I still smile fondly at the memory of Malcolm reducing the prices on the final session of year 1. And me & Jaz drinking Malcolm’s own May Day DIPA at 50p a half…..for three solid hours.

Beer. Oh yes, beer. I choose the breweries from the West, Malcolm from the East. And, yesterday, the final piece of the beery jigsaw slotted into place.

So. The breweries

From the East :

Five Towns (obviously)
Abbeydale Funk Dungeon
Chin Chin
Crooked Brew
North Riding
Turning Point
Wilde Child

And. From the West :

Black Jack x Five Towns collab
Northern Monkey
Torrside x Boutillers collab

For a bijou bash like this, you’d have to go a long way for a better line up. This list is the cherry on the cake.

The rest of that cake is what keeps me and my motley band of friends coming back. Year after year.

Did I mention that each year ALL the profits go to a local charity?


Good people

Great beer (Look!)

You’d be daft to miss it. So don’t.

We’ll see you in the shed.

East West Fest
The Red Shed (aka Wakefield Labour Club)
18 Vicarage Street South
9th to 12th May