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The Vultures Are Circling – The Spreading of the Propaganda

(This is a draft that has been sat in my folder for a while. And I wanted to get rid. Because it’s a metaphorical splinter in my heel)

For me, this was the first (and at the time – hopefully – the last) example of an attempt to manipulate the discourse of the debate on Small Brewers Duty Relief. By the Small Brewers Duty Relief Coalition (henceforth SBDRC).

That cosy and mendacious coagulation of self – interested large breweries who want to line their own pockets at the expense of their smaller kin.

The above motion – rightly rejected by the 2018 CAMRA AGM – was drafted and proposed by a self-confessed admirer of family brewers and their traditional outlook on beer. He wasn’t a fan of Micros, it’s fair to say that about Brian Sheriden. As you can see….

SBDRC Motion 8 snip

If you want to see what “undercutting in the cask ale market” looks like, try Wetherspoon. A chain within which there are no lack of SBDRC member produced beers.

But. Just when you thought you were safe to think progressive thoughts…… We get this.

Now then. Curmudgeon is an opinion piece column that features in the Stockport and South Manchester CAMRA magazine “Opening Times”. And let me be clear, I am a fan of Opening Times. It’s an excellent read. Its editor likes to have a sense of balance – which is completely laudable.

But – after an amnesia inducing amount of beer the evening before – my goat was well and truly “got”. My piss was boiled. To put it mildly.

I ranted. Like you do.

And the editor – fair minded as he is – invited reply. So I did. And he published it…

And I was reasonable. And restrained of vernacular. But THIS is my space. And I can vent.

What I say on these virtual pages are MY words. I own them. For good or ill.

What boiled my piss was the apparent “cut and paste” nature of the comments in this piece above.

Cut and pasted from documents and statements vomited by the SBDRC themselves. And – in particular – Rupert Thompson, Co-chairman.

Let’s dissect…..

“The Squeezed Middle” (Predictive text remembered….)

A trope repeatedly peddled by the SBDRC to gain sympathy for their “plight”. They compare themselves with this phrase to the international behemoths that they are ACTUALLY in bed with in the British Beer and Pubs Association (henceforth BBPA). Think Heineken.

They’re NOT “The Squeezed Middle”. They are a coagulation of Britain’s largest breweries. Let’s get this straight.

Don’t forget, not long before they sold to Asahi, Fullers themselves swallowed Dark Star. The only UK brewery to make such a purchase… NOT the sign of a company on its uppers…..

“….however, as with many such well intentioned measures……it has had unintended consequences” (the words that I have italicised are the ones that hooked me in….)

SBDRC Letter Snip 2

(I’ll let you make your own mind up about THIS lift – from a letter from Rupert Thompson – co-Chair SBDRC to Philip Hammond MP, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer)

“Progressive Beer Duty was introduced by Gordon Brown………… to stimulate the number of small breweries…..”

SBDRC Letter Snip 1

(I’ll let you make your own mind up about THIS lift too – from the same letter from Rupert Thompson – co-Chair SBDRC to Philip Hammond MP, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer)

It wasn’t. It WAS introduced to enable small brewers to compete – price wise – with the likes of Fullers who could utilise their purchasing power and economies of scale and still beer at a lower price than Micros could.

And this worked. So well that it had the side effect of encouraging more people to set up small breweries. Resulting in the number that we have now. A number celebrated by all. Except the SBDRC, BBPA & IFBB (“Independent” Family Brewers of Britain)

Who are – almost all – members of each of those 3 bodies (with – in the BBPA – the addition of Heineken and the major Pubcos)

“In practice, some of the small brewers have used the duty relief not to bolster the finances of their business, but to sell beer more cheaply…..putting the “established” brewers at a severe price disadvantage.”

Jesus may weep for the SBDRC. But I won’t.

Firstly. To “sell beer more cheaply” (read “compete”) was the POINT of the original legislation. The above phrase is merely a matter of dark spin. What the SBDRC and their propagandists are most excellent at spouting.

Not that I’d call “Curmudgeon” a “corporate shill”. I’m not clever enough for such phraseology.

(Just for the record, that WASN’T written by me! I don’t hide)

“Curmudgeon” posts his columns on his blog (or the reverse into OT – I can never quite tell the order). I do read his OT column occasionally and – like the rest of OT – his columns are occasionally provocative, mostly personal to him and sometimes make unarguable points.

However, when you appear to spout the rhetoric of the SBDRC, appearing to quote (almost verbatim) their slanted mendacity, you are open to challenge. I don’t know what a “Corporate Shill” is. But I’ll check my dictionary. And if I’m right, I’l be only too happy to arrange a cap fitting session.


2020 – The Year of Living Dangerously

“When you wake up, it’s not the first thing that you want to know.

Can you still count all of the reasons that you’re not alone?”

Charcoal Baby” – Blood Orange

On 20th April, I turn 55. Now to many, that may not seem like a momentous event. The reality is, that it’s just another year. And it is.

But not if you are a Civil Servant.

You see, under current rules (until Demonic Cummings has his evil way), 55 years old is the earliest that a Civil Servant can “retire”.

I used to love my job. Felt that it/I made “a difference”. But – for the last three years – it has felt like a treadmill. One from which I need to disembark.

I feel quite strange. I’ve never had a plan in life. I’ve merely stumbled from event to event. Birth, school, (via a modicum of intelligence) Grammar School, work, social…..

Since Fionn, there’s been a hole. I have come to terms with the fact that nothing can fill that void. And that that void is now part of who I am. I have almost learned to live with that, it’s what “survivors” do. I’ve talked about “the mask” and “emotional make-up” enough not to feel the need to do so again.

As I said, nothing can fill that void. But some things can “take the edge off”, make that precipice less harsh, less rough. ISBF is part of that for me and – as explained here – has been used as a salve on the wound in the past. But it isn’t a cure. It’s a stimulant, adrenaline, best taken in small doses.

There needs to be something else. Something more substantial.

So we come back to “work”.

A number of things have helped me through the last few years. Friends, family, the beer “community”, but it is the need to be occupied daily that I only understood when I returned to the job in February 2017. The love (and I really DID love my job) had gone. To be replaced by a strange dependancy.

Yes, on the “occupation”, my brain being “occupied”, but also on the people I work with. For all the typical “Cat v Dog” stuff that office relationships can be, I – in the truest of senses – love this duo. But, on returning, I knew that these daily interactions were finite.

One left last July. And looks like a new man. The other is likely to leave this year.

My thoughts started to crystallise at the point that I realised that.

So. The point. The “plan”.

It’s possibly incredibly stupid. But it FEELS sane. And I’ll take that.

If one or two other dominoes fall into place, on 31st October 2020, I will wave goodbye to the Civil Service.

Initially, I’ll be busy enough with #ISBF7, only 12 days away at that point. But – longer term – the aim is to see if there is something I can do in this here beer industry. Something to pour my heart and soul into. Something to believe in.

After years on a treadmill, that would be lovely.

That could be anything. Bar work, admin, sales, publicity, odd-jobs, anything. Hell, if the worst comes to the worst, I’ll look for a job stacking shelves locally.

Work is a diversion. But the sweeter the diversion, the better.

This is a risk. Of that I am in no doubt. But that counting down is such a sweet, sweet sound.

That first session at #ISBF7 will be special. It will be the 7th iteration of my little bit of fun. It will be Caelan’s first birthday. And I’ll be off the treadmill.

And that’s something to look forward to. For me, at any rate!

Apple Venus – Manchester Cider Club : Ross Cider

“I had a dream where the car is reduced to a fossil.
I had a dream where the car is reduced to a fossil.
Take a packet of seeds, take yourself out to play,
I wanna see a river of orchids where we had a motorway.”

River of Orchids” – XTC

Elsewhere, I have written about a chance meeting I had in December 2018 with two people at Torrside Brewery. A brief conversation revealing that they were usually Cider drinkers, but came to #ISBF5 and drank Saisons and Sours thoroughly enjoying themselves.

Now then, I’m a bit slow. So it was only on the train back from New Mills that I realised who I’d been talking to. Mancunian Cider Royalty. Dick Withecombe and his partner Cath Potter (henceforth, my Apple Venus of the title).

We met on a number of occasions leading up to #ISBF6. And they took on the creation of an exceptional Cider bar and bottle list. So good, that a number of beer drinkers that travelled up couldn’t tear themselves away.

Prior to that, we talked. They shared samples from their “cellar” with me and won me over to the charms of Pomona, the Roman orchard Goddess.

I started occasionally ordering a bottle of Ross, Little Pomona or Oliver’s Cider when I’d walk in a pub. For lovers of tart and sour beers, the interface was obvious. And led to directly to a tasting event at #ISBF6.

Anyway, I digress.

The Arch Nemesis messaged me. There was a Manchester Cider Club meeting. Showcasing Ross Cider. “Do you want a ticket? I’ve bought a spare, just in case…”

With a bloody stump where his hand had previously been, I had myself a ticket….

I’m a fan.

Myself and Jaz had been down to the vast Orchards and smaller Cidery of Ross Cider in September to blend a special for #ISBF6. My liquid highlight of 2019.

Due almost entirely to the efforts of Dick and Cath, quality Cider has been appearing in some of the best shops and bars of Greater Manchester. And nowhere highlights great Cider better than the venue on Thursday, The Crown & Kettle.

Just prior to the event, I was politely ambushed by Mr Withecombe and asked if I’d like to introduce Albert (Johnson – Ross Cider). With Albert being such a lovely fella (our host for the Blending and a thoroughly bad influence…. 😉) that was a joy.

Following my stumbling intro, Albert revealed some nerves about the unveiling of the first keg-conditioned Ciders from Ross. He needn’t have worried….

Taking us through the draught Ciders one by one, Albert talked around the history of Ross Cider, how the orchards originally supplied the mighty Bulmers, but how, following the Heineken Takeover of the Hereford cider maker, they no longer required apples from these Peterstow orchards. And the decision to make Cider and Perry themselves.

And the decision to make Cider and Perry with minimal intervention. No chemicals or pesticides.

On to the first drink. Dabinett (like the other Ciders, a single varietal Cider)

(All Cider pictures shamelessly stolen from @The_Lady_Sybil)

A “bittersweet” apple. With a fullish body (at 7.8% abv), this was possible the ideal starting point for this fruity adventure. Slight sweetness with a gentle tannic bitterness in the finish.

Utterly delicious. So much so that I introduced a number of colleagues to its joys the next day. And they completely agreed.

Next up. My appley siren call. Foxwhelp.

Slightly sherberty aroma masking the lovely tartness. If you like sour beers, really sour beers and aren’t sure about cider, get this in your face.

Bloody lovely, cheek-puckering stuff. My personal favourite cider apple.

Next up was Yarlington Mill. Deeper gold – almost amber – in colour, softer. Fruitier and less “challenging” than foxwhelp, but then…..

Exceptionally easy drinking. And (like many Ciders) deceptively so at 6.3% abv!

The final draught cider was

Somerset Redstreak.

One of the older recorded varieties of cider apple (dating around early 17th century), according to sources, Cider made from these apples commanded a very high price (“as high as the best imported wine”)

This was again a bittersweet, deep golden, fruity, with lovely soft tannic dryness. Again, FAR too easy to drink.

Albert need not have worried about the carbonation with the keg-conditioning. It was spot on. The Ciders were SO easy to drink with the carbonation on the gentle – rather than assertive – side.

Then came single varietals in bottle.

Ashton Bitter, Court Royal & Dymock Red

Codename Dabingnac

Ashton Brown Jersey

Three unreleased bottles. All superb – I’m getting to like Cider and have (in so many ways) liked them too much this particular evening – with a marginal preference for the Codename Dabingnac with its enhanced complexity from the Armagnac barrel.

Albert, as ever (having spent an afternoon to beyond midnight, previously, drinking with him) was witty, informative and – understandably – nervous with these new releases in new format. But there was no need.

Forget Cider. These were just exceptional drinks. Drinks that are helping to slowly shift me towards the apple from the barley.

As is Manchester Cider Club. The event has grown from the tiny back room in the Crown & Kettle to having to occupy (and increasingly fill) the main bar area. A testament to the charm of the event. And the passion for all things Apple & Pear of its organisers.

If you are interested in learning more about events ft the best in low intervention Cider and Perry, I’d follow them on Twitter (hyperlink in previous paragraph) and keep careful watch. Because these tickets fly fast.

I’ll certainly be back.

Cath and Dick are also instrumental in the changed (and improved) Cider offer at the Manchester Beer & Cider Festival. If you’re there, go say hello! You might learn what I did.

That Cider has changed. For the better.

(Big thanks to Charlie and Dick for the photos – and to Albert for coming all the way from Peterstow and bringing GOODIES!)

Golden Pints 2019

When Boak & Bailey (from whom this lovely image is shamelessly stolen) publish one, you know that “Golden Pints” are still a thing.

This blog tends to go into an autumnal hibernation period around each ISBF and needs something to apply the defibrillators. Golden Pints are that excuse.

I shall retreat to the format of 2018 to give this some structure. (And again, split Best Brewery into 3 sub-categories)

Best Keg Brewery – Runaway Brewery

It never ceases to astonish me quite how much Runaway seem to fly below the radar. Even in Manchester.

Yes Manchester is a bit of a destination these days with any number of brewtaps open at weekends displaying excellent wares. But the beers brewed by Mark Welsby and his team just hit the required “mark”. Each and every time.

And Mark is a lovely human.

Best Cask Brewery – North Riding

If – as I firmly do – believe that the best Cask Conditioned beer is brewed in the North of England, that narrows the field.

Then it comes down to consistency of excellence. And specialising in the product. There are a number of breweries whose Cask Conditioned beer has been little short of exceptional. Marble, Five Towns, Brewsmith, Thirst Class, Neptune, Bad Seed. But ultimately, it comes down to a simple judgement.

And that is that North Riding Brewery of Snainton nr Scarborough brews simply the best Cask Conditioned beer in the UK.

They get rave reviews on various fora for their dark beers. And my heart is indeed dark. But the Session Pale adds simply outstanding. And their Mosaic Pale rules. Simply rules.

Best Overall Brewery – Marble / Torrside

This is – as always – based on which breweries beers have I drunk most.

And – this year – I’ve drunk a lot of beer in The Marble Arch. Marble beer. And the level of excellence has never dropped. Every beer. Be in bottle, can, cask or keg.

Outside of Marble, I seem to drink an awful lot of Torrside. Again, the consistency of excellence. From Mild to Monsters Session Pales to Smoked IPA. Just…. WOW.

I judged a homebrew competition where Chris, Nick & Peter entered separately. Their beers were exceptional then. Then combine the three. And it’s no surprise that their reputation for excellence is growing and spreading.

And rightly so.

Best Beer (Cask) – Five Towns : DJ (I Am What I Play) (Brewed for #ISBF6)

I don’t get to drink much at ISBF. That comes with the territory of being the Organiser. But this year, I managed to get the “afterparty” back, on the Sunday. And I could let loose.

And I got myself some of this big Black Forest Gateau of a beer. And it blew me away. Intense chocolate and cherry flavour with a big roasty backbone.

Yes. I had the smallest of hands in making it. But this w down to Jo & Mike who had the idea. And to Malcolm for the execution.

It made a big impression. And not just on me.

Best KegAmpersand Brew Co : Four’s Company

Both of the “best beers” I had were at #ISBF6. And this beer couldn’t have been more up my street. 4% abv. Tart with gooseberry. Refreshing as a cold plunge.

It stunned me. But not so much that I didn’t repeat it. Repeatedly.

Need to see more of their beer up here.

Drink of the Year

Ross Cider – Ardbeg Barrel Fermented Cider (8 Yr Old)

My favourite ISBF experience. And it (inadvertently led to the best thing I’ve drunk all year.

Following extensive “sampling, we’d decided the Ciders for the blend.

Then Mike Johnson (Owner of Ross Cider) nipped upstairs in the barn. And came down with 2 pet bottles.

With carbonation that was champagne fine, a delicious smokiness and dry tannic finish.

It was astonishing. And – quite simply – the best drink I’ve had this year. A cider. This was the year that Cider hit me.

Best International Beer

Dollar Bill (Ballarat, Victoria, Australia) – Cider Barrel Aged Porter

Picture the scene. #ISBF6 set up. Wednesday. First beers hooked up were the Australian imports.

All the Pales were superb, then we got to this. And one taste later and I was pawing the ground. Like a bull about to charge.

Sweet baby Jesus was this good! It was better than that. It was the best beer I had at the event. Roasty, slight sourness, then a tannic fruitiness from that barrel.

The best beer I had all year. And it would have worked just as well on the Cider bar.

Best Beer Event – East West Fest

Small. Intimate. Friendly. Bonkers beer list. And my favourite beer weekend of the year.

We’ve booked our hotels over 4 months ago.

And people who travel to it return. Repeatedly.

Enough said.

Best BrewtapDouble Barrelled (Reading)

This was another #ISBF6 tie in.

Travelling to Reading with Malcolm (Five Towns) to brew with Andy Parker (Elusive). We went for a few “night before” beers at the magnificent Nags Head the grabbed a cab, landing in an industrial estate. And – on entering the door, my jaw dropped.

Here was a place that had been considered as much of the business as the brewery. And planned and laid out accordingly.

Exceptional beer, brewed on site. A magnet for local drinkers and a place more than worth travelling to.


(Honourable mention – Tap Beneath The Trees, Rivington)

Because it’s SUCH a brilliant event.

Pub of the YearNorth Riding Brewpub

All of my previous comments apply from 2018. A combination of local and “destination pub”

Some of the best kept Cask Conditioned ale in the UK. Beer brewed in the cellar (and it’s bloody lovely)

A permanent line for The Kernel.

And rooms above (if you are lucky) to sleep it off.

If I wasn’t babysitting my heart’s joy, then I’d be there on New Year’s Eve.

(Honourable Mentions – The Brink (Home), The Marble Arch & The Nags Head)

Best New Bar /BrewtapMarble

Located just off a regular and reliable bus route (No 50 from Mcr to Media City) and a short walk from the Metrolink tram, they’ve done a fabulous job converting some brewery space into a place both to goggle at the shiny new brew kit and drink some exceptional brewery fresh beer.

And – for #ISBF7 attendees – it’s a 10 minute bus ride from almost outside the door.

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.