Getting Back In The Swing…… 

There should always be a Plan B. 
With the – then – demise of The Independent Salford Beer Festival, I still had the yearning to be involved with something beery. I enjoy brewing and enjoy the company of Northern beer people, so I needed something else to “keep my hand in”. 

There were offers – if that’s the right word – of things to assist with, but the one event that I’ve been involved with (and always wanted to) is my favourite beer festival : The East West Fest. An event that speaks to my heart. Intimate, Northern, friendly and small. And this year, I wanted to help just a little bit more… 

So, tomorrow, I’m off to brew with the seriously excellent Rammy Craft in Ramsbottom. The beer will be a bit special – a full-bodied hoppy Stout and is specially brewed for East West Fest. 

For those that don’t know, the event is held at Wakefield Labour Club aka The Red Shed – because it’s red. And a shed. It can accommodate probably 70 people maximum and is – quite simply – the friendliest beer festival I’ve had the pleasure of attending. 

With beers purely from Yorkshire and Greater Manchester, the event was created by Malcolm Bastow of the mighty Five Towns Brewery and was – immensely flatteringly – inspired by what we did in year 1 of ISBF. Malcolm sources the best and most interesting of Yorkshire beer, whilst I approached many of the best in the Manchester area. It’s going to be a bit special – I’m also hugely looking forward to brewing with the lovely and talented Oli Turton at Squawk…. 

The event takes place on the weekend of 5th May and I’m awed by the fact that part of the profits are to be donated to CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) a charity close to my family’s hearts. 

It’s a cracker. If you can get there, you should. This year, there’s a bunch of us going on the Friday night. Who knows, I might even get behind the bar! 

Speaking of Malcolm and Five Towns, there is another event that is a fixture on my calendar that I wanted to do something for. The CAMRA Bolton Beer Festival. Simply put, it’s the best CAMRA beer festival I’ve been to with – each year – an excellent and eclectic beer selection. 

On Saturday, I’ll be in Wakefield at 7am mashing in another big Stout on Malcolm’s dinky (2.5 bbl) kit. As he is responsible for some of my favourite beers of the last few years – which are rarely seen over this side of the Pennines – I’m truly excited about this. 

Given the number of collaboration brews I’ve already agreed for ISBF (ask me no secrets….), this is what I CALL keeping my hand in…. 

Bolton Beer Festival starts 27th April and is held at The Ukrainian Social Club. Again, it’s a cracking event. Just go. 

Off to plan more beers for October. Back soon. 

J. 

Return To Liverpool – 25/02/2017 

In many respects, I count myself a lucky man. Since September 2012 (when I commenced blogging – mostly – about beer) I have been fortunate indeed to have met a huge number of lovely people. This accelerated following my initial effort at organising The Independent Salford Beer Festival.

Following that first effort, I recall a conversation with my old buddy (and Craft W⚓ extraordinaire) Jeff. Jeff’s point was that – via that Festival – we had physically now met people that we’d only associated with virtually. And many of them we could now call friends, now feeling able to contact them and meet up for a beery chat. And he nailed the point.

Two of those people are Julie & Les O’Grady, from Maghull, nr Liverpool. The purchasers of the first two tickets sold for the first ISBF back in 2014. And two people who – not altogether coincidentally – happen to be two of the nicest people in this here beer business, Les as co-owner and head brewer at Neptune Brewery in Maghull and Julie as a lead member of Ladies That Beer.

Almost a year ago to the day that they guided us around some lovely drinking venues in that beautiful city (read that one here), it was time to go again and have a refresh – in a manner of speaking. This time with a full complement of thrill seekers from the Eastern end of the East Lancashire Road. They weren’t to be disappointed.

With the visiting group congregating at the Ken Dodd memorial – complete with tickling stick – it was time for a short walk left from Lime Street along Renshaw Street…..

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The Dispensary (Renshaw Street)

We started here last year, but with a much larger group on Saturday, it was only fair to include some classics from last time – the “itinerary” being sorted by our lovely hosts.

Having arranged to meet Les and Julie here, it was time for huggage and greetings before settling down to beer. Keeping beer well is what The Dispensary is known for and it certainly didn’t disappoint with some beautiful sharp Pale Ales (Salopian and Rat being grabbed by our thirsty rabble) and a lovely Choc Orange Stout by Fernandes.

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The pub is single roomed with an elevated area from the left end of the bar. Lots and lots of wood with a beautiful bar. The pub was refurbed by Cains Brewery (also renamed)  and the original pub name “The Grapes” is on display to the rear of the bar. I was told that this pub pours some of the best kept real ales in the city. No argument from this particular Manc. And I do like having the p**s taken out of me by the friendly bar staff.

This pub kind of set the tone for the day. More of that later. But,  for a one room pub, this is an absolute cracker and more than worth the return visit.

Moving into on – but not far. Stepping left out of “The Dizzy” and onto Leece St then left onto Roscoe St…. About a 2 minute walk….

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The Roscoe Head (Roscoe St)

I love this beautiful multi-roomed pub. But then, I’m an absolute sucker for multi-roomed pubs.

Looking untouched from its building in 1870, this is indeed a pretty, pretty proper pub. With 6 hand pumps and a rare permanent pump for Tetley’s Bitter, this pub has featured in each edition of the Good Beer Guide. And whilst that may not be my prime reference resource these days, there is no doubting its beauty.

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I had a decent pale from Red Star Brewery as I was trying to keep it light given the early start and was hugely amused as Julie attempted to squeeze us all into the TINY front room. That word tiny? Hold that thought…. The Roscoe was recently reprieved having been bought by a specialist in pubs to shops conversions. Go visit, before they change their minds. A national treasure of a pub.

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Now then – if you want to retrace our steps, turn right out of the Roscoe Head, then left onto Leece St and immediate left onto Rodney St followed by a swift right onto Maryland St….. And immediately on your right is – the first new venue to me of the day…

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Hard Times & Misery

Now this place is REALLY tiny! The 11 of us looked like we filled the whole bar on entry.

Probably no more than 4 x 4m square downstairs, these guys cram a LOT into a small space. They do this by the simple expedient of dispensing Ale by gravity, direct from the cask. They also do a real Cider on gravity as well as being the first pub with a decent keg – in this instance, Les’s own Citra Amarillo IPA. A juicy little devil with oodles of orange from the Amarillo. Lovely fruity juicy beer. 20170225_135004

I think this place has only been open since August and it’s owners run it themselves – and from talking to Jen (one of them) they absolutely love what they’re doing – stocking local beers and a huge selection (relative to venue size) of spirits, with an excellent gin selection. Jen and Greig were some of the friendliest hosts I’ve seen, passionate about what they do and sell.

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Upstairs, I discovered another – again quite small – room with leather sofas, a nice intimate space which almost doubles the size of the bar.

This place just lifted me and Christine enjoyed it hugely too. This is the kind of place I could fall in love with – a bit like I did with Heaton Hops when I first cast eyes. Highest praise I can give.

After a quick taster of a rather nice bathtub gin, it was back onto Rodney St to Leece St, across and left onto Roscoe Street to a classic Liverpool pub that we’d been in last time but which had been substantially renovated – startlingly well.

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The Grapes

My first thought, on approach, was “Where did that upstairs window come from”…… On entry, it became obvious.

First, we all sorted the beer out, with another Neptune (Amberjack) and a Pale Ale from Top Rope (another new brewery to me), both nice, but with a preference for the Neptune – bigger body and fuller fruitier hop flavour.

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Then I had a walk around. What last year was an open air/smoking area, head been built over and extended into, creating a bright and comfy large extra room with a small room upstairs leading to a lovely terrace. The extension has been completed sympathetically, blending in to the rest of the pub, making a classic simply more comfortable.

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Add into that mix sourcing of almost all local beers, this is a cracking pub, enjoyed by us all, so much so that we stayed a while longer – being slightly ahead of schedule. And all enjoyed it hugely.

It was here that we bumped into Lally from Mad Hatter, Fi and some of the guys from Black Lodge, our next stop….

From The Grapes, head further down Roscoe St to Duke St, turn right then left onto Gt George St, turn right onto Nelson St to Jamaica St, turn left then right onto Kitchen St. There, on the left…

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Black Lodge Brewery

A spin off from Liverpool Craft, which now appears to be a slightly larger (standalone) operation than before with a larger in house brewkit leading (possibly) to almost all of the taps being dedicated to in house beers.

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Ordinarily, this could lead to a slight grumble. But not here. The beers were superb.

The venue is a fairly square open plan space with a larger brewkit and some larger FVs barely intruding on the seating space, of which there is plenty.

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I had a juicy passion fruit Pale Ale and a smoky Stout with a taster of a beauty of an Imperial Stout too and all were superb. As was a magnificent cold meat platter. Some of the best beer of the day in a much more modern surrounding – just to show the variety of excellent beer venues this city has, from achingly modern to 19th Century classics.

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Moving on……(simplest route),  Left from Black Lodge onto Kitchen St, right onto Simpson St then left onto Blundell St upto Wapping, then right takes you to…

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The Baltic Fleet

Is this Liverpool’s most famous pub? I had driven past this CAMRA totem for years, repeatedly, before finally entering last year. Architecturally, a stunning wedge shaped building giving the impression of the prow of a ship. The point I would have thought.

Two main long rooms either side of the bar with the main bar room busy tonight with 6 Nations rugby on screen, we grabbed our beers and located an unoccupied room upstairs (with fabulous views) and settled.

The beer was one of Neptune’s again, (one of 6 beers organised in a 6 Nations theme in the bar) this time a raisin fruited Stout called Undercurrant. I wasn’t alone, as 10 of the 11 all went for the same beer. It was luscious with the fruit more prominent as it went down.

But the day was drawing towards its inevitable conclusion, so we moved swiftly. Along Strand, then right up Water St onto Dale St to our final destination….

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The Dead Crafty Beer Co

A large open room on a corner plot slightly divided by the bar area being slightly raised, this lived upto its name with multiple taps with beers from all over.

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With large expanses of glass from almost four to ceiling and the open aspect with bare walls, this was a more modern offering as the keg wall confirmed. Now, I’m a confirmed Northerner and with my “When in Rome” morality, I sought a local beer. And found it, with Citradelic from Melwood Beer Co. A grapefruit belter, nicely balanced beer. A fine end to the evening, following which (leaving one of our number with our hosts) we bade our farewells to out marvellous hosts/tour guides, Les & Julie.

It was a great day out.

Now here’s the thing.

As much as this day was about guiding a group of Manc beer lovers around a beautiful beer city, it was about more. Much more.

There wasn’t beer ticking. There wasn’t an Untappd frenzy. This was about people. Talking. Listening. Laughing. Swapping stories, telling jokes. The people made this day. And that’s the thing – for me anyway – about beer. Good beer at least. It’s a social lubricant. It aids conversation and should never be the subject. On Saturday, it was a coming together of some of the nicest people I know.

In a city which – for lovely pubs serving good beer – leaves Manchester standing.

Thank you Les & Julie.

That said, on returning to Mancunia, we had a few minutes spare. So, I dragged a few off piste. To somewhere local, traditional and just unspoilt. And had a simple pint with friends.

The Jolly Angler – just behind Piccadilly Station.

And then this happened – and just topped off the day perfectly.

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Back soon. J.

A Heartful of Why – The End of The Beginning? 

“I backed my car into a cop car the other day
Well, he just drove off – sometimes life’s okay
I ran my mouth off a bit too much, ah what did I say?
Well, you just laughed it off and it was all okay

And we’ll all float on okay
And we’ll all float on okay
And we’ll all float on okay
And we’ll all float on anyway, well…”
(“Float On” – Modest Mouse. Clip courtesy ModestMouseVevo)

 

I didn’t mean to write another “Grief” post. Truly I didn’t. Over the last 5 months I’ve learned to consider what I say (and write) far more carefully than I did previously. So those who know me, know that what I said above was true at the time that I said it.

But then, I always say after ISBF that each one is the last. And look where that gets me.

But things (read “posts”) tend to be inspired by little things. Like Sunday evening.

The day was like any other. By which I mean we ended up at Chateau Matriarch – Gerry’s house. Our second home – and safe haven. I’d left my glasses in The Brink on Saturday evening and the plan was to see the Sweet Sweet Records folk showcase, have a couple (literally) of beers and retreat. We’d had a bit of a racist incident the previous evening and a quiet one was the order of the day.

Dinner was delayed, so unfortunately, we missed Alex’s Sweet Sweet artists, but we still went along – on the off chance of a couple of tunes. After a couple of beers, we were about to leave. When I received a text.

“Are you still in The Brink?”

So two lovely people – who only came into our lives just over a year ago – arrived unexpectedly. And we stayed. And started singing some serious 70s tunes that were almost cheesy enough to be fondue. And we laughed.

I’d not laughed like that for months. And I felt lighter. If only for a couple of hours. We had a good time. And that was down to two lovely beer people who shall remain unnamed. But who mean a lot to both of us.

It felt like a small step. If not forward, then at least staying still, rather than drifting. And drifting has become natural. It takes an effort (on some days, quite a large one) to leave the sofa and walk out of the door. But that effort needs to be made. That simple thing that I have referred to previously about “putting one foot in front of the other” is essential.

I’ve read – and been advised – about the grief process. And recognise that it will never leave us. Life will never be “normal” again. That each year presents a series of hurdles that need overcoming. Fionn’s birthday, Christmas, family gatherings, the date he left us, trips away – not to mention returning to work (next Monday), all of these events will present challenges that need to be met. And overcome. But the hope – which we are encouraged almost to the state of “belief” – is that, year on year, millimetre by millimetre, those hurdles become ever so slightly smaller.

And I’ve stopped wondering why. I simply had to.

We are helped by some simply wonderful friends on a daily basis, with calls, visits, invitations, which I’m sure are their way of just checking on us. Making sure we’re “OK”. In other words, caring. There are too many to name individually, but Gerry and her partner Paul and Kelly and Rob (and their families) have been utter anchors, ensuring that our personal ship doesn’t hit any rocks.

That’s not to mention our lovely son and daughter, keeping tabs from a distance. Daily.

The support from the beer community has also been immense and heartwarming. And also – to me – unsurprising. As I’ve said on many occasions, they’re good people round here.

To all of you, be you drinking associates and friends, brewers, hosts, Thank You.

And to those two lovelies who chained us to the chairs at The Brink on Sunday evening with songs, laughter and drink. A big hug.

Back soon. J.

A Day In Bridgnorth 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Stable Bar (Whitburn Street)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The White Lion (W Castle Street)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Old Castle (W Castle Street)

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

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

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

Next, a walk. Down towards Low Town.

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The Black Boy (Cartway)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back soon.

J.

“Where Everybody Knows Your Name” – No Thanks.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I’ve always wanted something closer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My contribution….to urban blues”

Manchester Beer and Cider Festival 2017 – My Dancecard 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy hunting!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

​”Money money money money, money. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another reason is margin. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that will be a sadder thing. 

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

A Simple Greeting 

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

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

There are two main answers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And nobody knew the answers.

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

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

People have been lovely.

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

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

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

(Lesson? Be forceful yet polite.)

And then hit the wall. Resource Prioritisation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s all we can ask.

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

Thank you all. And greetings of the season.

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

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

See you soon.

J

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

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

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

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

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

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

It made an impact. 

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

Best UK Keg Beer – Damage Plan (Marble Brewery

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

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

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

Best UK Bottled Beer – American Barleywine (Torrside Brewing

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

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

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

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

Can’t wait to try the 2016 version! 

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

Best Overseas Bottled / Can – Keep moving…… 

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

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

A Kombucha Soured Milk Neapolitan Ale anyone? 

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

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

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

Thank you Steve and Michelle for pulling this off. 

Best Branding – Magic Rock

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

Incredibly distinctive and impactive. As good design should be. 

Best UK Brewery – Squawk Brewing 

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

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

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

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

Best Foreign Brewery – Weird Beard 

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

Best New Brewery – Elusive Brewing 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2016 – The Brink 

Stupid question. 

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

Because it’s local. 

Because it’s friendly. 

Because it’s small and intimate. 

Because the beer is simply fabulous. 

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

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

Supermarket of the Year – E H Booth (Booths) 

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

Booths just had the best beer selection of any supermarket. 

Run along now. Don’t argue. 

Independent Retailer of the Year – Heaton Hops 

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

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

Best Beer Blog or Website – Boozy Procrastinator 

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

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

Best Beer Twitterer – Craft Beer Hour 

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

A beer institution. 

And that – for me anyway – is that. 

Seasons Greetings and all that. 

J

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

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

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

20161018_074929

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take care of yourself and yours.

Jim

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