#MancuniaUberAlles : Manchester Beer – As Good As It Gets 


Manchester. Beer City. Do you get it yet?

We have – arguably – the UKs earliest “craft” brewery, in Marble.

We have the highest rated brewery in the UK, in Cloudwater.

We have the highest concentration of Micro Breweries per square mile of any area of the UK.

We. Just. Have. It.

And I love it. The beer of this greatest of cities is my passion.

From Stockport to Rochdale, Stalybridge to Wigan, great beer flows from almost every district and area, from within the very arteries of this great city itself. And every time I go drinking, I celebrate it. I walk that walk.

And those who know me, know that I talk a bit as well.

So. Seeing as it’s Manchester Beer Week, I want to strip this down to its essence and celebrate beers from this great city area. In a pub which has localism in its very bones.

The Brink. I’ve kind of taken over a pub!

I’ve hand picked five of the breweries that I love the most. There’ll be great beer (a half of each – 3 cask, 2 keg) great local bites and a few background Mancunian beats to calm the ears after listening to yours truly. There might even be a brewer or two to yak with…

Let’s have it.

Sunday. 25th June. 6pm. It’s a date. Come into the Dungeon.

Tickets here 

Link

Words. Words don’t seem to cut it at the moment.

On Monday evening, I was at a meeting in the NQ at 57 Thomas Street. We were relaxed, I was there longer than intended. I caught the #8 bus to Bolton at 10:30. After a couple of minutes, I looked up and we were WAY off route. The bus was at the top of Trinity Way. Next to the MEN Arena.

I just thought that – what were obviously scenes of confusion – was the usual outspilling of a sellout gig. I had my headphones on. I had no idea. I was listening to Metal Box by PiL. And the track Albatross. I quoted a lyric on Facebook

“Sowing the seeds of discontent….. ”

And I had no idea whatsoever what had just happened. Until I got home. And the horror.

Then the Mancunian response. Free taxis. Offers of beds for the night, offers of brews (which in Manchester, isn’t a beer reference…). People from near and far, responding. With concern. With love. Caring.

Predictably, the next day, the “English Defence League” arrived. Peddling their vile message of hatred. “Sowing the seeds of discontent….. “. And Mancunians responded. By howling them down.

Piers Morgan on breakfast TV. “Sowing the seeds of discontent….. “. Ranting and railing against the Muslim community. Casting blame. And Sally Dynevor (from “Corrie”), calling him out. Being reasonable. Sensible. But taking no shit.

I fucking love this city.

So, in the afternoon, I showered, put on my shorts and a clean t-shirt and headed into Mancunia. To do the “normal” thing. On a decidedly abnormal day.

To me, Mancunians have always flipped the finger to adversity. Manchester is a city of love, not hatred. My Manchester is inclusive. It pulls together. Mancunians care. They look after – and out for – each other.

I – and have no idea how – blundered into a twitter conversation

Manchester. The word “bellend” seems peculiarly Mancunian. And that twitter exchange sparked something off.

#HopsNotHate is a hashtag used by Danish brewers Dry and Bitter for charity fundraising. Graciously, they have allowed us to appropriate it for this event. I first noticed it (not being a devotee of Danish brewing) when my good friend Jeff changed his Twitter name to HopsnothateMan. It stuck in my mind.

Manchester knows how to enjoy itself.

So. Put on your disco pants. Flip that finger. Let’s get together and have a beer party. And raise some cash.

The idea is that Steve at Beer Nouveau will open his doors and put on a bar full of beer from some great breweries. (At least one other venue may become involved. Check the FB Page for updates) All monies raised from the sales will go to the crowdfunding set up by the MEN in the aftermath of the atrocity to help support victims’ families and a local homeless charity. We’ve already had offers of beer donations from all over the place. And that’s before we’ve formalised anything.

That’s Manchester. Right there. Generous of spirit.

So come on down to Beer Nouveau’s arch on 9th June from 4pm. We are Mancunians. We live in the greatest city on earth. Let’s party. It’s what we do. Tickets here

(The event may expand – slightly – to meet demand)

On The 6th day

(Dancing on tables will be optional)

 

Manchester Beer Week – Co-Op meets Black Jack 

Around this time last year, I was fortunate enough to witness the creation of a beer melding the old and the new with J W Lees & Cloudwater. I was pleased therefore, when Connor Murphy invited me back to witness the creation of the MBW 17 festival beer. 

The Co-Op supermarket has recently (as have many competitors) started to pay more attention to updating their beer offer. And I was chuffed when I heard that an organisation founded in Greater Manchester was locally stocking beers from Black Jack. It’s a simple (and somewhat lazy) move to approach just the craft goliaths, with the likes of Brew Dog, Camden et al freely available in most supermarkets, but Black Jack in Co-Op made my radar tweak. 

It was plain to see that Black Jack have expanded as a company. Times have changed from the days where Rob Hamilton (that most self-deprecating of brewing folk) looked run off his feet. A number of the guys brew there now and some of the recent beers coming out of this (amazingly only) 5 barrel Irk Street plant have been truly lip smacking. 

This beer is to be – at base – a session pale ale. Brewed (by Lane) with aromatic UK hops (Admiral & Minstrel) with the Co-Op addition being a fruit compote added to the boil – something I’ve never done with fruit before – in advance of the bulk of the hops. This turned the beer from an almost ghostly pale to something of a darker hue. 

Having thrown away a lake of dark beer at 2 previous ISBFs, I learned the hard way something that a wise fellow blogger once told me. That Manchester is – so far as beer is concerned – a Pale city. So this beer should go ever so well. And (unlike last year’s festival beer) there won’t be much of it about. 

So I wouldn’t be hanging about! 

Fancy a Walk? – A Pub Crawl of Mancunian Gems (For Manchester Beer Week) 

Manchester Beer Week in 2016 was a fabulous success. Ambitious  in the extreme, but Connor Murphy pulled it off. Beer events to drool for all over this magnificent city that most of us call home. But it lacked a little something. A pub crawl.

I was asked if I’d do one. Connor is a difficult man to refuse, his enthusiasm for this city of beer is infectious. But last year, I bottled it. I simply couldn’t get my head around the choices to make and (more importantly) which pubs could I leave out. I chose an easier route. To play to my “strengths” and host a talk about the great beers and breweries of Manchester.

This year. I’ve steeled myself. And made those choices. The parameters being slightly easier.

My Favourite Manchester Pubs.

And whilst those parameters may seem tricky – there are some simply stupendous pubs in this great city – it comes down to a simple thing. And that thing is something that I crave.

A Mancunian Soul.

It’s not necessarily about Mancunian beer. It’s about the venue. Although excellent Mancunian beer WILL feature. It has to. I refuse to pollute my tastebuds with anything less.

The aim is for me to talk you through a little about each pub and for somebody from either the brewery/pub/selected brewery to come along and have a little chat too.

There is a price to be paid for this. A small price. £5. But it isn’t for me. All cash raised from the sale of these tickets will be donated by Manchester Beer Week to The Campaign Against Living Miserably or CALM. People who do fantastic work with young people suffering with mental health issues. And a charity dear to the hearts of my family and friends.

If you fancy this, wear good comfortable shoes. There are a couple of leg stretching walks involved! (Of course, there is a Metrolink Option from Shudehill to Deansgate….)

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1CtrrNLKuU6ogr42Wl01Zt77wFXI&usp=sharing

The pubs – in order….

The Jolly Angler – Ducie Street (behind Piccadilly Train Station)

The Smithfield (Swan Street)

The Marble Arch (Rochdale Road)

Optional metro ride to….

Cask (Liverpool Street)

The Brink (Bridge Street)

There are no drinks included. That – for reasons of logistical simplicity – will be down to yourselves.

Tickets will be limited. So if you fancy listening to me (Manchester beer’s most boring….) don’t hang about. Tickets by clicking here or by accessing via the Manchester Beer Week website.

I might even let you into a secret or two about the (Fourth Coming of) The Independent Salford Beer Festival….

So. Grab a ticket. Meet me at the bottom of Piccadilly Approach at the junction with Ducie Street at 12:00 on 1st July. Come for a pub walk with a difference. 

It will be my pleasure.

A Micro Pub Stroll – From Burnage to the Heatons 

Since the advent of the final two bars in this piece, I’ve been aiming to combine the Micro Pubs of The Heatons into a summer crawl/stroll. Only to be beaten to the punch by a waggy bearded goat boy, the ever excellent Deeekos. Read his piece here. But, not to be put off by that….

I just fancied something a bit different yesterday. Manchester is Brewtap heaven, but I’m easily bored. With “The Lovely One” being at a girls night / hen do thing, I fancied getting out and stretching my legs. That and making good use of the GM County Card saw me running – yes, me, running – for a train….

Meeting up with Linda and The Arch Nemesis at Piccadilly, a 9 minute train journey took us to Burnage train station. And a 60 second walk along Fog Lane, to….

Reasons To Be Cheerful – 228, Fog Lane, Burnage.

I do love a bar with a song title as a name…. 

Of all the establishments today, this is the most recently opened, having had a rather tortuous genesis. It’s safe to say that the owners had to jump through some hoops to get this place off the ground – planning objections and the like are never going to be fun.

This was my first visit. And it was well worth the wait.

Brightly painted, simply furnished and very attractive venue with two distinctly separate drinking areas, this place was a joy. With 6 keg taps and 3 hand pumps on show, there was plenty of choice for such a small venue. Nice gin selection too……. I’m developing a liking for gin.

It’s not often that I break my Prime Objective and choose a beer from south of my personal Maginot Line – south of Crewe – but there was a beer from Five Points on the bar on cask. And I simply LOVE Five Points. Have done ever since they started and I grabbed some of their initial test brews. It’s safe to say that I’m a big fan

And the Brick Field Brown didn’t dissuade me. A lovely beer. I do like a good earthy and hoppy brown.

Excellent can/bottle selection, fabulous tunes with – at one point – Zeppelin fading into Bon Iver, a friendly and engaging host and a bloody attractive venue. This place ticks all the boxes.

I could have “cheerfully” stayed here for hours. But this is a crawl. So, leaving R2BC and turning right along Fog Lane, across the A34 onto Kingsleigh Road, about a gentle 10 minute stroll is the next venue..

The Beer Shop – Kingsleigh Road, Heaton Moor

This is a gem of a place that is completely under most radars and gets unjustly overlooked when compared to its fellow nearby Micro Pubs, but you shouldn’t bypass it.

I think that Jeff recommended this place to me a few years ago. I popped in on the way to a BBQ and left with not only a few bottles, but 5 litres – bag in a box – of Magic Rock High Wire. I was smitten.

Back then, bottle selection was centred on Belgium, Bamberg & the US. Now there is far more UK – especially local – stuff on the shelves. The draught beers are on cask, with two on yesterday, both from Track. The El Capitan was glorious. A fruity delight.

The owner is truly passionate about his local breweries and certainly knows his stuff. It nice to chat and find shed loads of common ground about some of the best Northern breweries.

If I remember rightly, there is a tie up with a local takeaway that you can order and eat in too!

As I said, it would be folly to overlook this place, which is – it’s fair to say – the earliest of local Micro Pubs. Don’t pass it by.

Turning right from the door, cross Mauldeth Road and walk up Leegate Avenue onto Sevenoaks Ave to Shaw Road (again, a pleasant 10 minute stroll) to

Bottle – 9, Shaw Road, Heaton Moor.

The Heatons sicken me. With all these simply excellent little pubs.

Bottle is the brainchild of Corin Bland. He of High Peak Beer Co at Stockport Market. I loved the place from the moment I went in for the first time in 2015. Beautifully designed space, eclectic decoration (I LOVE the music themed beer mat frames) and – in a fairly bold move back then – keg only.

As good as this place looks, it’s all about the beer. And Corin can certainly source beer. He knows his stuff. We chatted about a shared love of the Cornish brewery Black Flag and he mentioned a Cornish tap takeover coming up – something I wouldn’t want to miss

(Perfectly Posed…..)

A simply superb takeaway beer selection – as anyone who has been to Corin’s stall at Stockport Market would expect.

Draught wise, I had an Oakham that was really refreshing. Then my evening started to head south. With a beautifully smooth and incredibly tasty Cloudwater NW DIPA Citra. Stunning. But ill advised. And probably why I fell asleep on the bus home…… (oh, there were other reasons too. But that’s where it started….)

Leaving with a can and a bottle in my bag, we exit, turn right, then left at the top of Shaw Road onto Heaton Moor Road, past this helpful road sign…

…. past Heaton Chapel train station and across the A6 onto School Lane.

Heaton Hops – 7, School Lane, Heaton Chapel

The simplest thing to say about this bar yesterday was that it was rammed. Both inside and out. There’s a reason for that.

Damian O’Shea and his partner Charlotte nailed this place from the moment they opened. It just has whatever “it” is. And has been hugely popular from the get go.

Damian can source beer. Undoubtedly. But it’s the details here that make this place what it is. That turn this tiny space into a magnet for beer lovers

The beer, as always, was exceptional – in this case, Sonrisa by Buxton, SO tart and juicy – and business was brisk. There wasn’t a seat unclaimed. So time for a train back to Beer City.

I wish I’d gone straight home…. I might not have needed THIS so much this morning….

The message? Yes. Manchester is a truly fabulous place to go drinking. But a short train journey from Piccadilly – and a little gentle walking – can take you on a fabulous beer journey. To four special and individually superb bars and pubs.

But put them together? I’m still smiling.

Home Beers – May 2017 

I haven’t done one of these posts for nearly 10 months. Shit takes over you know…

But there are some simply magnificent beers knocking around – from all over the country. So, for the next few “Home Beers” posts, I’m going to break my Prime Objective. There’ll be non-Northern beers making an appearance.

It shouldn’t take much figuring out why….

PulpVerdant Brewing – 8% abv – DIPA – 330ml – Craft Brewtique (Urmston)

I’ve always been a late adopter. One of those individuals who waits for the hype to die down. One of those who takes time to let ground settle. You’ll never see me queuing up for iPhone 8 on release day (not that I’d ever buy a crApple).

I’m the same with beer. I want to wait. Sniff the air, assess the hype. Then, give it a try. It’s the hype justified, or just know alls talking complete bollocks.

I waited with Verdant. And waited. Then I dived in. And I don’t want to come out of the water ever again.

Pulp. Cracking the can open just flooded the nose with tropical smells, fleshy peach and mango, promising so much juiciness. A proper “come hither” crooking of the aromatic finger. But this ain’t worth shit if the tastes don’t bank it up. Fortunately….

This is just SO juicy. Full on fruitiness flooding the mouth and getting the saliva glands doing overtime. More fleshy fruit, mango & peach but with a hint of fresh spring grass. Couldn’t get away from that essence of freshness.

It’s nice to note a finish with a degree of bitter bite at the end. I’m a fan of a judicious touch of bitterness, something that I’ve started to think has been designed out of the DIPA of late. This bitterness is subtle and leads to a sweet and sticky resinous aftertaste.

And a big lip smacking yum.

Human CannonballMagic Rock Brew Co – 9.2% abv – DIPA – 500ml – The Brink (birthday present from the Arch Nemesis)

This beer occupies a very special place on this blog. It was on the night I first drank this – back in 2012 in Brew Dog Manchester – that I decided to start this damn blog. This thing that inexorably led to ISBF. And this beer – in its 2012 iteration – was my first “beer of the year”. It made a huge impression.

And when Jaz dropped it on me on Thursday, I daren’t drink it. I wanted to savour it.

So I did. And opening the can was like a cross between C hop heaven and opening a bag of Tangfastics. Fruity, with hoppiness fizzing up my nose! More mango fruit, maybe a little tangy gooseberry too. Just….. Ooh…

Wow. Just wow. Juicy as. Smooth carbonation enhances the juiciness with mango again foremost, courtesy of my old friend Citra. There is a herbal piney leafy note to this too, probably courtesy of the late Chinook additions. Quite sticky and resinous after the swallow.

Dry and fruity in the finish, the Chinook raises its cone again with a big pine resinous finish. A fine, fine beer. Just need to locate its big brother Unhuman now!

The ExpatriateWilde Child Brewing Co (Leeds) – Pale Ale – 4.5% abv – 330ml – Artisan Ales

Huge tropical hop aromas from this well carbonated and hazy mix gold beer. Initial mango giving way to a hint of gooseberry and kiwi. Tantalising….

Nice and smooth in the mouth with that fine carbonation, more tropical fruit flavours with that kiwi prominent. The second mouthful revealing a little mango and pineapple. A really refreshing fruity mouthful.

Moderate bitterness leads to a dry, grassy and resinous aftertaste.                                            
All in all, a beautifully refreshing sessionable Pale from this new Leeds (to me) brewery. Well worth seeking out.

 


NW DIPA CitraCloudwater Brew Co – DIPA – 9% abv – 500ml – Jaz (from the brewery)

Unleash The Mancunian Murk! Citra you big bad fruity bastard……

Yes. It’s hopped to murkery. And? It smells ludicrously fruity, BIG mango and all kinds of tropical nonsense going on in here. It’s a fruit bomb on the nose!

In the mouth, I need to first get past the torrent of saliva unleashed by the aroma….

Sooooo fruity. Yes, mango central, but there is orange pulp edging the tongue too followed by an unexpected whack of bitterness before the inevitable sticky resinous hop finish.

I wouldn’t say that I’m on point with DIPAs, they aren’t my favourite style for sure. But this is certainly the best of the Cloudwater iterations that I’ve had. I thought that Birthday and v12 were impressive, but this is gorgeous.

And frighteningly drinkable for the strength.

Imperial Brown StoutThe Kernel – Imperial Stout – 9% abv – 330ml – Artisan Ales

I mean, look at it. Brooding. Mean and moody. And simply magnificent. Black. Creamy tan head chucking out aromas of bitter chocolate, rum and old leather. A stunning combination.

Oh my…… So, so, so smooth. So smooth. Beautifully smooth, tongue coating. Bitter chocolate sweetness upfront reminiscent of dark muscovado. Followed by a little bitter Espresso, making my tongue tingle at the edges. Simply beautiful.

Second mouthful brings more bitter chocolate, but a distinct dusty cocoa and finishes distinctly grassy hopped. And making me smile from ear to ear.

Magnificent.

East West Fest 2017 – Small is Beautiful

Sometimes – just sometimes – the planets align. Beer, venue & people. All together. In perfect harmony.

Last weekend was one of those occasions.

It was immensely flattering for ISBF to be the inspiration for a select little Northern beer festival. One making a feature of The War of the Roses, Lancashire v Yorkshire joined in beery battle formation. It was also quite humbling to be asked to source the breweries from (predominantly) the Manchester area.

This was the third year. And whilst I’ve enjoyed the previous two hugely, this one was elevated. By people. And by some simply exceptional beer.

This is the little event that made me realise that – so far as beer events are concerned – small is beautiful. I really struggle with beer extravaganzas like IMBC & MBCF. I crave intimacy, events where it’s as much about the atmosphere, the people, the chat and fun. And this event has “it”. That indefinable quality that just makes it special.

Previously, myself and Jaz have been both years. I have waxed lyrical about both events and was thrilled that some beery buddies read what I wrote. And felt it worth a punt. To the extent that they decided they’d make a night of it and stay over. No pressure there then….

I knew that some of them would get there before I did. And had to suffer drooling message after message, trying beers. Taunting.

8 came over the Pennines. 5 of those for the very first time, on the back of my constant wibbling about it. It works for me, but would it for them?

I needn’t have worried. The smiles, laughter, the outright surrealism. Inspired by the venue – being a big red shed – the tremendous beer list (skewed a little towards the stronger stuff….) and just the sheer friendliness….. I for one haven’t had such a good time at any beer festival. Period.

Over the period of the days, all of the beers in the small (20 beers) list were tried. Several repeatedly. And with that select number of beers, there were no false steps – which is unusual at any beer festival. If pushed to single out a few, my choices for the best beers would be unusual. In that I generally prefer session beers. My favourites were the three strongest beers available.

Canadian Maple Brown by Black Jack / Drygate : I actually turned up on the brewday for this and was intrigued by at least one of the ingredients. Fresh made waffles! Created,  then chucked in the mash. It was a beer that I shouldn’t love, but it was astonishingly good! The flavours of waffles and maple syrup led to a slightly smoky sweetness, but it just WORKED so well.

May Day 2017 (aka “The Jaz Killer”) by Five Towns (our host!)  An 8.4% Pale Ale (we called it the DIPA) that was unbelievablely drinkable, fruity, bitter and just ooooh… Mango and apricot. Balanced bitterness. Utterly lush. And the base for some ludicrous Black and Tan action later…

Sorachi Stout – Squawk Brewing : I was there at the birth and another beer that simply rocks my world. At 7.1% abv, this beer confirms all of my thinking about Sorachi Ace. It just works so well in big Stouts. Oli Turton put an awful lot of this most schizophrenic of hops into this brew. And it’s bloody gorgeous. So smooth, with the Sorachi bringing its more coconut A game. Tremendous.

My actual favourite beer though was a blend.

I’ve developed a reputation for somewhat ludicrous “Black and Tans” over the last year or so amongst my friends. But by 9 on the Friday evening we were all at it.

Work the Five Towns May Day forming the Pale half of each blend, various dark roasty partners were tried with surprisingly excellent results. The Black Jack Canadian Maple Brown was utterly lush when paired with the DIPA, but my personal favourite, was with the Sorachi Stout. A mere 7.1% abv Stout meets an 8.4% Pale. Transcendant. Just beautiful. I had more than one – to put it mildly….

Next morning, a stroll was in order.

The Black Rock – Bread Street.

This 18th century beer house is a thing of beauty. And – a Brucie bonus – was open early when we had time to kill waiting for a train (for 3 of our rabble).

In brief, it’s a beautiful old open plan pub. Loads of wood. Am old drinking soul, precisely the kind of venue that tugs at my hearts strings. And (even better) it had a beautiful refreshing Oakham Citra to wash away the lingering flavour of breakfast.

The pub was recommended by some good judges locally. They were right.

Wakefield Beer Exchange – Bull Ring

Directly opposite the Black Rock – despite being listed on a different street – this place is as modern as the Black Rock is old. But it works just as well.

Opened by some of the guys behind Revolutions of Castleford in December 2015, this bar has already earned its spurs in the Wakefield beer scene. 6 cask lines matched up against 6 keg means you’ll get something delicious. I went for Candidate by Revolutions (when in Rome). Joy Division track reference, refreshing Pale Ale. As is standard with Revs.

The Beer Exchange is a single roomed bar that would slot into any vacant Manchester NQ space and thrive. Clean lines, plenty of tables, great beer, top tunes, good gin selection. Great place.

3 of our band of brothers headed back over the hill – one, to the disappointment of being beaten in a Super League defeat at home by (irony of….) Wakefield Wildcats. Sorry* Deeekos.

*not

We headed to

The Hop – Bank Street.

What you get caught up with these pubs operated by Ossett Brewery (there’s one in Leeds – inside the railway “Dark Arches”), it’s a range of Ossett group beers (Rat, Fernandes, Riverhead etc) in a minimalist brick lined building, live music and a bit of quirkiness.

I like both that I’ve been in. And the Fernandes Pale was excellent.

I also like this….

Yup. A pub, with internal access to a kebab shop. They’ve thought of everything!

And this…..

“What’re you talking a photo of THAT for?”

Because it’s Ian ******g Curtis. A Mancunian musical legend. And I saw him live, 37 goddamned years ago.

Obviously a few quid spent on The Hop. And it’s worth it.

Finally, penultimate stop for the remaining four of us..

Fernandes Tap – Avison Yard

I’ve lived this place from the first moment I set foot. If it had opened earlier, it would have been the first stop, but being just around the corner from the Red Shed (don’t call it the Labour Club when ordering a cab…).

The photo says it all – other than the fact that there is a second (continental) bar downstairs.

Again, a lovely light Fernandes Session IPA. The job. Done.

And then, it was back to The Red Shed. To cover the bases we hadn’t before.

To drink more 8.4% May Day. More Sorachi Stout & Canadian Maple Brown. More Black and Tans…. More genuine fun. And, being all for charity, just made it even more, you know.

I haven’t laughed so much since….

It’s my favourite beer festival. I think it’s Jaz’s too. I was worried that the others – having spent almost a weekend there – wouldn’t like it. That my judgement was flawed because of my personal attachment. But, I think, they got it.

And I think that they might be paying a return visit next May.

And – just for that little bit of surrealism…

No squirrels were harmed in the creation of this blog. (A time & place thing…)

Berries, Beans & Beer – A Lovely New Festival of Drink

 (In love with that glassware!)

There are few beer festivals that pull at my hearts strings. Few that are inked into my calendar as “must do”. But I think that I may just have found another rarity.

Berries, Beans & Beer in Crewe.

My initial reason for attending was to volunteer. There aren’t many legal things I wouldn’t do for the organiser Michelle Shipman. Not only is she an utter sweetie – she’s become a bit of a friend actually – but she is both one of those “Good Beer People” (you know the ones) and one of those “friends with benefits”. In that she makes simply lovely beer. Beer that’s THAT good, that as long as she makes it, I want it at The Independent Salford Beer Festival.

I turned up worrying how this combination of passions (Beer, Coffee & Gin) would work.

And I left as a convert.

The ingredients.

  • Some of the finest breweries in the country.
  • A huge selection of artisanal Gins from small batch producers.
  • Coffees from the (as I now know) marvellous Has Bean
  • Superb snap (translation? Street Food) stalls outside.
  • Superb Beers to take away – from the mighty Otters Tears
  • An iconic location – Crewe Heritage Centre

As a drinks festival (OK, in my case, beer) organiser, I was curious to see how this would work.

Oh but it did/does. SO BLOODY WELL.

The things that struck me were

  1. So bloody civilised. There was such a relaxed feeling and atmosphere to it. Plenty of seating, well spaced. A few families, couples, solos. It felt…….. Just so nice….
  2. The beers – that I managed to taste at least – were uniformly superb. (With a particular shout out to “Mango Daiquiri” by Pig and Porter)
  3. A cracking selection of take out beers from Phil of Otters Tears
  4. The Gins? I snaffled an achingly new – and very tasty – one from Turncoat (creation of Terry Langton – formerly of Liverpool Craft Brewery) and an astonishingly smooth and fruity distillation from Tinker of Keighley.
  5. Some stunning coffees from Has Bean – I had a few…..
  6. Food? I had a pulled pork & mac cheese burger from Clucking Oinks which had me in raptures. I saw several tasty looking toasties (Viva La Toastie) getting wolfed and some beaut looking pizza action from Jordy’s Pizza

I volunteered for 6 hours. If I’m honest, it was the easiest, most pleasant way to spend an afternoon I’ve had in ages. That isn’t work to me. It’s a pleasure. Working with people like Chris & Wok (and behind a well stocked bar) couldn’t be other.

This little celebration is still on today. If you have an afternoon to kill and want to to it in relaxed surroundings with fabulous food and drink, I can’t think of anything better to do.

It’s a short walk from Crewe station. And well worth the effort. Just go – and thank me later.

I just hope Michelle repeats this. Because next year I want to be the other side of the bar too!

It was a grand day out.

PS : Being utterly selfish (for you lot), I may have organised a couple of astonishing beers for ISBF yesterday. Just saying mind. It wasn’t all work yesterday you know…..

(Well. You know….)

A Yearly Highlight – Bolton Beer Festival (CAMRA) 

In this world of hype that we appear to live in, there are some things that get thousands of lumens of incandescence. And there are things that exist in the shadows cast. But some of these things are nonetheless outstanding. And when I say “outstanding”, I choose my words carefully.

One such event is the beer festival hosted by the Bolton branch of CAMRA, each year, at the Ukrainian Social Club on Castle Street.

Even though I am a member – something the opinions of some fellow members test on a regular basis – CAMRA beer festivals frequently leave me cold, with dull beer selections being my most frequent complaint. But here, in 4 years of going, I have had no complaints whatsoever.

Simply put, the beer list never lacks for variety and eclecticism. Graham, Pete, Linda and the rest of the team are unafraid to take some risks with local palates. And the thing that should never be forgotten, is that – to many – these local fests may be the only one some locals ever go to. So there is a tightrope to be walked between experimentalism and local tastes.

And it is one that this selection walks with confidence.

I was really pleased that I managed to persuade Stanley to drag his handler all the way from Cheshire. Pleased too that my good buddy Ragnar made a first appearance too. I got the distinct impression that they enjoyed it and felt it worth the journey. A rare sighting of the lesser spotted Deeekos too. People who don’t mind a journey for a decent beer.

The food was predictably excellent too, with the Street Food flamboyance of Cameroon’s finest export since Roger Milla – Alain of Nkono – doing great business with his Jerk chicken and wild venison curry…. Lovely stuff.

Personal beer highlights? A sublime Mosaic Light from Black Jack, the Proper Ace grisette from Rivington, the beautifully peachy (as it should be) Impeachment from Five Towns (and me), the Tan Halen from Cwrw Ial (big Salted Caramel Stout….. Yum) and a gorgeous American 5 Hop from Blue Bee of Sheffield.

But to be honest, there were no duffers in my selections. All superb. And I didn’t have to look too hard either. The beer list is THAT good.

I’m hoping that the Northern Rail strike won’t hit the festival too hard. Even so, this bash is – in my humble opinion – too good to miss. I’m bloody busy at the moment, what with cajoling breweries into supplying #EvilKegFilth for our October do, volunteering at the superb idea that is Berries, Beans & Beer. I barely have a spare hour.

But I wouldn’t miss this for all the hops in the Yakima Valley. You shouldn’t either. It’s on today (Friday) and tomorrow.

I’m going back tonight – I’ve got some unfinished business with that beer list……

Asking The Right Question 

Spoiler Alert – This is NOT a beer post.

What I’ve discovered in the last year or so about my personal blogging motivation has kind of intensified in the last 6 months. It’s about triggers. Emotional triggers. To me, now, blogging is about an immediate transfer of thought to page. Not planned journalism.

This necessity for triggers applies to the beer posts as much as those about the grief process. I even have a part written post about music – in particular, my Top 10 albums and 3 Funeral Songs. And that one was prompted too.

I used to plan. I used to think, “OK. I’ve got all this beer. I’ll do a couple of bottle posts”, but I got bored with planning. I haven’t written a review post for 9 months. Each thing I write needs a stimulus. A purpose. And this post had the strangest, yet most obvious of prompts.

It would appear to be one of life’s truisms that I have little or no connection to Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer (read “Boss”) of Facebook. A bit of an obvious statement is that. Or it was, until I read an interview with her in this morning’s Observer by Decca Aitkenhead (I actually read it via the Guardian website – you can read it here), not about her role in running one of the world’s most valuable businesses, but about the sudden loss of her husband. And how she copes.

The first thing that struck me – and drew me in to reading the entire article – was about people asking you how you are feeling. The right question to ask. Trust me, it’s a fucking emotional minefield for the person asking. I previously dealt with that here. Or thought that I had. Then I read the following extract…

The classic inquiry, “How are you?” also turned out to be unhelpful. “Well, my husband just died on the floor of a gym. Like, how am I?” The more meaningful question, she learned, is “How are you today?”

And that’s precisely it. THE question. The one which you can answer honestly without emotionally eviscerating the questioner. The one that you can answer without reference to my current stock response ‘Yeah OK. Walking, breathing, you know. Every morning’s a bonus…..’

She talks about the husband she lost. That thing of which I’m constantly reminded is incredibly important. To have those remarkable memories. The things that make you smile and laugh. That simple act of walking into The Brink – and looking up at the signage – is a smile/chuckle trigger in itself. (Those who know what I’m talking about will chuckle too)

Sheryl (get ME on first name terms….) goes on to talk about a post she put on FB a week or so after returning to work (we differ here. She only took 10 days off. Me? Over 5 months.) after dealing with people standing off. A little bit like I pre-emptively did here. And the amazing personal response she got – as I did, with people opening up.

She talks of allowing those moments of joy – and not to be ashamed of them. Those moments where the sun (in a linguistic slip, I initially – appropriately – spelt that ‘son’) almost peeps through the emotionally dense clouds.

Initially, I felt some guilt about those moments of joy. I remember vividly being out with those lovely Liverpudlians Les & Julie O’Grady in Manchester some time after ISBF3. Conversation was light and I was chuckling. Then I noticed – across the venue – there was someone I knew. And he was looking almost askance. As if to say “How? How can you be chuckling….?”

As Sandberg goes on to say, there are choices in how you respond to grief, to loss.  Option A & Option B. And if Option A doesn’t work, you “kick the shit out of Option B”. Option B being the title of the book…..

As a kind of self-help therapy, I’ll be buying the book. I’ll leave you with a direct quote (You’ll forgive me Sheryl….)

Back soon. J.

Whether you see joy as a discipline, an act of defiance, a luxury or a necessity, it is something everyone deserves. Even when we’re in great distress, joy can still be found. Cooking. Dancing. Hiking. Praying. Driving. Singing Billy Joel songs off-key. And when these moments add up, we find that they give us more than happiness; they also give us strength.”