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)

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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.

The Independent Salford Beer Festival 2016 – The End of an Error?

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“He thought he was the King of America, where they pour Coca Cola just like vintage wine.
Now I try hard not to become hysterical, but I’m not sure if I am laughing or crying…..”

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

Which is what it was. A Brilliant Mistake. At the start anyway.

I’ve told the story before of the genesis of this beer celebration before, I won’t go there again. I’m boring enough to read, without the repetition.

For three years, our little band of brothers and sisters – and dare I say it, friends – have managed to put on a small beer festival in a little Community Centre in the heart of Salford. At times, it was “seat of the pants” kind of stuff, but we got there. Just. On each occasion.

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When I was first asked to do this, my initial thoughts were to put on a celebration of the best that Northern Beer (the world within which I crawl in the undergrowth) has to offer. That swiftly evolved. It doesn’t take going to too many beer festivals to form an understanding of the things that people (myself included) don’t like. So I sought to address those things. Things like…..

  • Seating – There can never be too much. Drinking beer should never be a solitary pursuit. It is about the social. The coming together of friends, like minded people. Beer should always be the thing that fuels conversation, not the subject of it.

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  • Friendly – I wanted the best, most social of volunteers. To set the tone of the events. Flexibility. Treating people like adults, including the volunteers. You simply cannot (and I’m speaking as a beer blogger now) form a judgement about the flavour of a beer based on a shot glass! I trusted the volunteers to self regulate. Only once in three years did anyone get tipsy. Trust is a wonderful thing.
  • Relaxed – This comes back to the first two things. But more than that. It’s an attitude thing. I can’t put whatever it was into words, but judging by the feedback I’ve received, we had it.

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  • The Beer – To me, beer festivals are a place to try something different. So – this year – I tried to give the drinker no option. Everything was new – to the Manchester area at least. And to the drinker (and Untappd fiend) who stated that 95 people had had the Jim Beam BA version of Weird Beard’s Double Perle before? Not in Manchester they hadn’t. And that was the point.
  • The Brewers – I didn’t count those who came along, this isn’t a willy waving contest. I made a conscious decision to NOT have a “trade session”. To let the brewers come to whichever session they chose and fitted their busy schedules. And they seemed to enjoy that – as did the customers. And there were a number of chance meetings that led to collaboration talk during this last weekend. I want IN on some of THAT!

Like I said on the Beernomicon podcast, there is no rocket science about what I did here, just gathering good, friendly and generous people be they volunteers, technicians, breweries and just getting clever people to do the stuff that I can’t.

On that note, some Thanks Yous.

Andy Heggs and Darren Turpin without the graphic and web designs of these two friends, I’d have been a ship adrift on a sea of unsold beer. I owe them more than I can ever tell them.

To this years Sponsors :

Rob Hamilton and all of Team Black Jack. Without whom your beer would have been undrinkable. Without whom my logistical issues would have driven me over the edge. All the storage, the fetching, the carrying. Over 3 WHOLE YEARS. Some of the nicest people in beer (ask BeerFinderGeneral and his wife Jenny!) Cheers guys. I’ll never be able to repay you as I should. Thanks hugely to Joe for the tunes!

Malcolm Bastow of Five Towns and the lovely Bev. Again, for 3 WHOLE YEARS of consolidating the bulk of my Yorkshire beer order and bringing it to Black Jack. For the memorable brew days (all 3 of them) in that garden shed. For burning out Bev’s blender on 5 kg of cognac soaked raisins……For bodily lifting Atilla in the kitchen at the Centre (yes, I heard….) For winning “Beer of the Festival” TWICE……..

Gareth Williams, his wife Elena and the team from The Brink. For the glassware sponsorship, the support both moral and emotional. Can’t wait to try the Grapes of Rat on keg in those lovely glasses!

James & Jen Smith aka Brewsmith. For their loving support and their amazing (and much needed beermat sponsorship! Good beer people.

For this years Beer Sposors :

Hobs Repro of ManchesterCommando Joes; Hill and RobertsJust H ArchitectsMonsun Ltd; Drumbeat (Mr Heggs again!); The Bright PartnershipDiane Axford and Axfords JoineryCresta CarsRob Godwin; Sarah & Simon Gare; Sixth Element Carbon MTB WheelsEddie McGrath Cycles, UrmstonManchester Beer WeekJames Darcey; Keepmoat Homes

Thank you for the generosity and support – both myself and Gerry appreciate that hugely.

Lee & Sam at All Flow Dispense – Bars installed, beer handled and presented and all cleared away leaving the faint aroma of a beer festival. Consummate professionals – and, for Amateurs like me, highly recommended.

Bailey & Jules (aka GRUB) – For 3 whole years of unstinting support. For the sound system. For the love. You know it.

Alex Reed, Duke and the Darlings (who’ve  also been there each of the three years – with an ad hoc jam session in year one!) and the Sweet Sweet Records artists from this weekend. Superb.

For the best volunteers that any beer festival could possibly have? Tears of gratitude. You know who you are. And whilst I hate to elevate, to Jaz, Jeff, Deeekos, David, Chris, Linda, Pete, I simply “haven’t got any words”. Have I Chris?

The festival itself will remain long in the memory. I don’t lie and I simply hate to hype, but this year’s beer selection will take some beating for a small beer festival. The fact that I felt that I had to resort to hyperbole kind of profoundly burned my soul. I hate hypocrisy. And by having to hype this to generate ticket sales I have been a hypocrite and – as a result – my psyche is damaged and will take some time to heal. Hence – possibly the main reason why – this is the final ISBF at St Sebastian’s.

Myself, Gerry and the rest of Team ISBF hope that all who attended (in whatever capacity) enjoyed yourselves. That is what we aimed for with this. I think that we succeeded.

We certainly succeeded in raising money for the Centre. Whilst we await certain invoices, It looks like we raised almost double last year. For which, we thank you all.

This blog post has a companion piece which may explain why a further sequel here may be step too far – I urge you to read it – it may be (in the main) non-beer related, but I needed to write it. Possibly the last blog post I may ever write.

TTFN

Jim

 

Meet Me In The Corner – Mallinsons Tap House 

In Manchester, there seems to be a new bar of some sort opening every week. I’m sure that if you were a professional “ligger”, you could remain in a permanent slightly sozzled haze going from opening event to opening event. None of it really grabs me. 
Then once in a while, you hear a rumour that something just that bit… different might be opening. That rare thing. Something to actually get excited about. That happened earlier this year when “The Cocktail Twins” Elaine Yendall and Tara Mallinson let slip that they were looking to open a bar in Huddersfield. A tap house if you like. 

Not at the Brewery, there simply isn’t the space for that. A proper standalone venue. 

If memory serves, they had their eyes on a place which didn’t work out. Then they found a “little” spot just a short walk from the train station in the town centre. Somewhere accessible both for out of towners (like YT) and for locals. They’d found their Wappy Nick. 

I think that they eventually got rather sick of people (including me) asking “When’s the bar opening…..?” and got to work. 

Having a good friend as a partner who also happens to be a bloody good and respected landlady is a fair start. That lady is Sam Smith – somebody who manages the trick of being young, yet knowing the beer business inside and out. And someone totally committed to making sure this bar was done right. She knows her stuff. 

So, the three of them – with a supporting cast of friends and family – set about the grueling task of getting a new bar into a town not unknown for great places to drink great beer. A real labour of love. 

Now then. Brewers know the sheer graft that goes into making, selling and distributing good beer. Especially when you are a small firm. Then try adding building a new bar into that mix. I’ve hovered over social media, watching the progress. And noticing how little that Tara and Elaine have been in Manchester recently – and they love this place – had given me an indication of just how busy they’ve been. 

I made a point of popping in when visiting Huddersfield for the brilliant Food and Drink Festival – before I’d even had a drink – just to have a peep. Avoiding the circular saw wielding Elaine, I was quite stunned. This wasn’t a small bar. Over two floors, there was an awful lot of space. But there was already a feel to the place. You could feel the heart and soul being poured into the build from family and friends. And – to me at least – a place needs that. A place needs a soul. 

Fast forward to this Tuesday. There was still a lot of work to do, but mostly cosmetic. This had come together hugely since my last visit a mere 2 weeks previously. The Keg and Ale fonts were in place, the bar was built and looking lovely. The next few days would be about the fine details – testing, designing the food menu, a few little touches. 

I was fortunate enough to find myself at the Brewery on an evening where they needed to do some systems testing. Beer was involved. I threw myself into the herculean task with gusto (as you might expect). The place looks fabulous. As will be the beer line up. The team have spent a lot of time thinking about what should go on that bar and in those fridges. 

No Macro Brewery products will cross the threshold. That is a “red line”.  The cask beer line up (7 pumps) will (of course) feature their own beers – 3 or 4 I think, but the guests will be the best available. The Keg line up looks mighty fine too (their own Citra damned me on Tuesday) 

The night was a success with a few creases identified leaving plenty of time to iron them out. The beers were lovely (as you would expect) and the place felt right. And to think that upstairs will be open too tomorrow! 

It’s no exaggeration to say that I haven’t looked forward so much to an opening for an awful long time. I think that the “Cocktail Twins” and Sam have got this just right. And I’m excited for them. If they have any nerves about this place, they shouldn’t. It’s a peach of a pub/bar and brings something a bit different to Huddersfield. 

Leaving aside the pubs on the platform, this is the nearest decent bar with good beer to the station that I’ve been in – being less than a 3 minute walk from the steps. 

The Corner – 5, Market Walk, Huddersfield. It opens formally at 12pm tomorrow morning. To corrupt the line by Alan Hull of Lindisfarne,  “Meet me at the Corner …..” 

It’s more than worth the journey. 

Keyboard Warriors, Trip Advisor and A Defence of a Beautiful Pub

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I don’t publish my image online,  I have a “face for radio”. But I don’t hide, many people in the beer business in the North know who I am and – rather embarrassingly, as I am by nature quite shy – I get approached in pubs occasionally. It’s really flattering, but I’m actually a boring sausage. More Richmond’s than some artisanal chorizo.

My point is, I suppose, that I don’t hide behind this blog. And hundreds of people get to see me as the public face of The Independent Salford Beer Festival. As I said, I don’t hide.

But one thing that I do hate, is using the anonymity afforded by the Internet to do wrong – potentially harming a decent business. That cowardly ability to hit and run. And one of the worst fora for doing this is Trip Advisor.

I’ve seen many examples (and, conversely, abuse of the app via self promotional comment disguised as a customer) and one that hit me recently, was a posting about the Crooke Hall Inn on the outskirts of Wigan.

The Crooke is one of my Top 5 pubs. It is one of the few places that I, Atilla AND the brood agree on. They get a fabulous Sunday lunch, I get that allied with fabulous beer at ridiculous prices.

The thing about The Crooke is that it kind of relies on the food element of the business. Given its slightly remote (and picturesque) location on the bank of the Leeds – Liverpool canal, it could never be a “wet led” Pub. So, when someone has a dummy spit about slow service at a very busy time (Father’s Day) on Trip Advisor, it can do damage

1 of 5 starsReviewed 29 June 2016

“If TripAdvisor allows me to award zero stars throughout then I will. It didn’t so I’ve had to go through and click on one (unmerited) star.

Three of us visited this pub on Sunday 19th June at 6:40pm, with the intention of having a meal there, but we were told that the pub could not serve any more meals, since it was ‘busy’. It did NOT look busy to us, there being plenty of empty tables, and none of them had ‘reserved’ signs on them. As far as we could see there were only two large tables of diners being served their main courses at the time.

We were gobsmacked! Never come across such an negative attitude before.

Outside, an ‘A’-Board proudly proclaimed “Good Food Now Being Served”. Maybe it was, but not to us. I said we were quite prepared to wait, but that offer cut no ice.

Many pubs are sadly closing these days; this one deserves to join that list.”

  • Visited June 2016

“Deserves to fail”? The petty little man. Does he have no idea what such a sentiment entails? In the words of my Belfast relatives GO BOIL YOUR HEAD!

The response of one of the owners of Allgates was….choice. And made me smile. Read it.

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(My Sunday lunch today -rearranged by me…..)

 As I said, I know The Crooke. It makes my favourite Sunday lunch – I had one today in fact, having stayed overnight in a Camper Van – and it is a lovely old pub in a beautiful location.

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(Leeds – Liverpool Canal – from The Crooke Hall Inn Beer Garden)

These things are all opinion of course, but that post – based on my repeated experiences – COULD NOT BE MORE WRONG. This is a lovely old pub, in a fabulous (and rather unique)  location – positioned as it is in a conservation village on a canal bank with narrow boat moorings. The post comes across as petty and vindictive, knowing full well how damaging such an opinion could be.

The Crooke IS remote to many. It’s about a 15 min walk from Gathurst train station (on the Southport line) and is best accessed by car. I adore the food (superior for pub grub), the beer selection is varied, well kept and incredibly keenly priced (Allgates beers £2.50, guests £2.60).

I couldn’t recommend somewhere more.

GRUB & Runaway – Food and Beer. Matched. 

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I’ve been struggling to write recently. I needed something that matters to me, that I care about to get me jump started. And then I noticed what was happening on Saturday.

In the last 3 years or so, Manchester has been blessed with great beer. I’ve written about that side of things to the point where even I yawn. But in those 3 years, I have been privileged to witness – along with some old friends – some fabulous events held in (what I would regard as) the real Northern Quarter. Part of the original N/4. Events that pull together great local beers, great tunes and – most importantly – fabulous food.

And at the heart of this are Bailey & Jules. Better known as the people behind GRUB.

Starting at Black Jack and more latterly Runaway Brewery, they have created a “feel good vibe” that it has been a pleasure to be around. Relaxed, civilised and undeniably Mancunian. With a street food contact book to kill for, excellent beer connections and an instinct for what feels right, they have put on events that have become quintessentially Manc.

Just a little like a Manchester summer (that thing we rarely get), no matter the weather, when the canvas goes up in either Runaway or Sadlers Yard, I know what I’m going to get, great beer, great food and a smile on my face.

This weekend is no exception.

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Runaway just make some of the best keg beers in the country. No palaver, no hype, Mark, Darren and the crew just get on with making great beer – I’m a HUGE fan of the Pale & American Brown to name but two! And the newly married Bailey & Jules have brought together some simply stunning food traders to have with them. There might even be a Keg of the Hawkshead Mass Collab Session IPA knocking about.

(left – then clockwise – Scoop Up, Oh Mei Dumpling, What The Truck)

Food from three  exciting (and no doubt nervous) new traders in Scoop Up (Ice Cream – pray for the Sun Gods!); Oh Mei Dumpling (need a clue?) and the fabulously named “What The Truck” (Tacos, Bahn Mi and much more….) as well as the most excellent Mac Daddies & Hip Hop Chip Shop.

(Mac Daddies & Hip Hop Chip Shop)

What Bailey & Jules have done is put their heart and soul into something that they truly love – great food – and adding a certain Mancunian soul, it’s the only way that I can describe it. They make it look effortless. And I – for one – know the hard work that this takes.

With great food and beer like this (as well as some seriously laid back tuneage), let’s be proper Mancunians eh?

Let’s pretend it’s summer!

Steel City / Pub City – Sheffield 30/07/2016

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Earlier this year, there was a supposedly serious piece of research  by The University of Sheffield. About beer and pubs. It conclusion? That Sheffield was “The World’s Best Beer City

Notwithstanding the inherent bias likely in such a “study”, to call Sheffield even “the birthplace of the UK craft beer revolution” is patently bollocks – the claim being based on Thornbridge and the subsequent establishment of Brew Dog. Thornbridge being in Derbyshire kind of impales that theory.

I will argue the case for the North as hard as anyone, but Sheffield isn’t even – on any rationals analysis – even the North of England’s greatest beer city. That honour being bounded by the M60. Manchester surely being paramount.

But where Sheffield utterly kicks Manchester’s arse, is with its great drinking pubs. Beautiful venues – proper pubs – that serve tremendous beer. Call it modern, flavour forward, even use the C word if you like, but Sheffield’s pubs draw me like no other.

Manchester has an abundance of great places to drink great beer, but at the end of 2015, I started to feel a bit “been there, done that” to death. I needed something different to write about. And seeing as I wrote about Northern beer, a tour of the pubs of Northern cities and towns was the plan.

Part 1 was Liverpool – and a tour of some of its beery high spots. Courtesy of Julie “Ladies That Beer” O’Grady and her talented hubby Les, he of Neptune Brewery. Recap here.

Part 2 was Hebden Bridge, a beautiful town in recovery from devastating floods. Recap here.

But for Part 3…..our intrepid group – much depleted due to holidays and injury – find ourselves in Sheffield.

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And if you get to Sheffield by train, then it would be remiss to bypass The Sheffield Tap, wouldn’t it?

A huge jewel of a place. The Star of Africa in Sheffield’s beery sceptre. It is, quite simply, a stunning place to drink beer. Quarry loads of ceramic tiling, forests of dark veneered wood, herds of leather. It is beautiful. An abundance of rooms, each with its own feel & ambience, an in-house brewery to gawk at and some lovely beer to boot.

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Safe to say, it has that WOW factor, similar (but obviously different) to the effect that The Marble Arch can have on the first time visitor. It really is that special.

Of course, it all falls to rat shit if the beer’s no good. But it was lovely. The Rodeo from the in-house Tapped Brew Co was just the refreshing pale ale that was needed. Light & hoppy, without being overpowering.

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Steve – our host and guide – had an itinerary and a route all mapped out, with plenty of walking involved. So off we were. A bit of a walk, but I couldn’t begrudge that, as we were heading to the one pub that I insisted be included….

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The Rutland Arms – 86 Brown St, Sheffield S1 2BS

I insisted on The Rutland. If you ever went in, you’d understand. It is, quite simply, a proper pub. And it should be cherished. And I love it all the more, because it is – effectively – the brewery tap for Blue Bee Brewery. And I love Blue Bee beers.

With the feel of a Multiroom pub spread around the well stocked corner bar, this place just has so much soul. It looks untampered with. Just has a feeling that has caught me. I love this place.

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It also has what many pubs in Sheffield seem to have. A stunning beer garden. And, just for today, the sun broke out his sombrero.

From a beer perspective, there was plenty of choice, on both cask and keg. But I have to have Blue Bee. And the Reet Pale was a hoppy joy.

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The Rutland is one of those pubs with so much character (and such great beers) that you could while away a few hours just chatting and drinking – well, I could – but it was time to meet t’others (Yarkshire folk….)

Sentinel Brewhouse – 178 Shoreham Street, Sheffield, S1 4SQ

My first new venue of the day. This was where we met the Wakefield crew and – as I’ve accidentally deleted my photos, I’m on memory here!

The beer was decent enough, but what struck me here was the venue. OK, it’s a modern industrial unit, on a busy enough road, but, as a brewtap, it was a cracking space.

No hype, no fuss, just good beer, seriously good food and a lovely big cool airy space. With a big shiny brewkit behind glass for you to gawk at!

And a space like this would simply slay in Manchester!

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The Beer Engine – 17 Cemetery Rd, Sheffield S11 8FJ

My first new pub of the day and quite a contrast to The Rutland. Walking in, the second thing that I saw was the lovely curved bar, The first was a North Riding Brewery pump clip.

A single hop pale by Scarborough’s finest sliding down my neck, I could start to accustom myself to the charms of this pub.

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Firstly, the beer range was excellent. Something for everyone.Arbor, Bad Seed, Neepsend (a bit of local) and North Riding with some interesting keg options from the likes of Siren, that side was covered.

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A few different rooms to sit in, spacious, stripped wooden tables, a bright (today) beer garden (where Sheffield truly excels for me).

Sheffield is a city that reveals its beery charms slowly, and this was another cracking pub. Well worth the walk.

Next, my highlight of an excellent day.

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The Bath Hotel – 66-68 Victoria St, Sheffield S3 7QL

My first Thornbridge pub. And a thing of beauty. The frontage is deceptive, but the stained glass front windows should have given me a warning of the delights within.

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The pub has an almost odd shape to it which adds to its charm, it tapers off to a narrow edge making it a wedge shape, but inside it crams 3 rooms, loads of wood, so much stained glass, buckets of “original features” and a small yet perfectly formed bar into its diminutive footprint.

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Don’t ask me about beer notes, there was plenty of cask and keg to choose from. I had a big Thornbridge pale (not Jaipur) and it was simply gorgeous – maybe this is where Untappd would come into its own. But I don’t use it.

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A pub with soul to spare, various  events too, Poetry evenings, Jazz nights….a bit of everything. This took a walk to get to and it felt like it was on the outskirts of town (when it really isn’t) But, I’m so glad we did. Just a thing of beauty. If you come to Sheff, this is simply a must try.

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And a real fire for those cool Yorkshire summer evenings!

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The Devonshire Cat – 49 Wellington St, Sheffield S1 4HG

Having been in the company of Jim & Laura from Abbeydale for most of the day, it seemed fitting that we should end up in what is – effectively – the Abbeydale Brewery Tap.

This is a large open plan space, with judicious use of seat back dividers to break it up and give a feel of separate spaces. It was getting late, so a couple of nice pales were in order. On drinking a nice sharp pint of Abbeydale’s Deception, I picked up on some of the conversation about Abbeydale doubling up the hoppage on their more sessionable beers….Salford was at the front of my mind at this point….

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Then we hit some stronger stuff. Black Mass, there was something barrel aged going on too…things were starting to get hazy….(with a beer fest to launch the next evening this was getting silly…..but….)

A cracking ending.

HUGE thanks to Steve for walking us around. Malcolm and the Wakefield crew, Jim & Laura for the great company and chatter. Twas a joy.

(The Final?) Huddersfield Food & Drink Fest post to come, then 2 months off.

Hasta la vista.

 

Birmingham Beer Bash – 22/07/2016 

OK. This weekend has been a bit of a disaster. I think that the breakdown of my cell phone is what is described as one of those “First World Problems”, but whatever it is, for a moment of two, it felt like my right arm had been ripped off. 

Sad old git. 

Missing Hawkshead Northern Craft fest was a kick in the nuts, but the weekend started in a fabulous fashion. Thanks to Birmingham Beer Bash. 

(photo courtesy Jeff) 

The outrageously early start was compounded by a Keystone Cop style Plan B. You see, I missed my really early bus to Manchester, so a drive to Salford, park outside Gerry’s house then a cab to Shudehill was in order. In short, a right faff. 

But after a hot walk across Birmingham from New Street was rewarded. 

Hugely rewarded indeed. 

This was my first time. And, like most people know, for good or ill, you remember the first. 

 #EvilKegFilth only. And on a day like Friday, that was absolutely fine by me! 

(photo courtesy Jeff) 
This being the third iteration, David and the team seemed….. strangely relaxed. Which was a joy to see. As was the beer selection. 

There seemed to be a regionally organised layout (Southern breweries together, Midlands, North, non-UK) of the bars, with only Brew Dog having their own. 

The thing that struck me – other than the excellent beer quality – was just how totally relaxed that it all was. From the brewers behind the bars alongside volunteers, to the organisers, through to the customers. It was just so….. utterly blissed out. A joy. 

All of the beers I had were spot on flavour wise. Highlights being “I’m Spartacus” by Torrside, “Call of Korriban” by Twisted Barrel,  “Sloe Loris” by Sacre Brew,  a Black IPA by Elusive Brewing & an experimental Pale Ale from Purity called XPA (which was a hurried choice of name and is likely to be changed) 

If pushed, the “Call of Korriban” probably shaded it, a delicious BIPA, on the roasty side of the genre but still hugely hoppy. 

(photos courtesy Les) 

This was just a special day. One that it takes a lot of ingredients to create. Yes, the beer. But the people who serve it, brew it and passionately advocate it. The organisers, the customers, the simply stunning venue on that canalside location. And, most of all, the friends you meet and make there. 

I’m not going to name them. You know who you are/were. 

(photo courtesy Jeff) 
Did I mention that the sun has put his hat on? 

I’m hoping that it was the success that it deserves to be. Despite the fact that it was (cans/bottles aside) an #EvilKegFilth fest, it’s probably the best beer celebration I’ve been too (Festival doesn’t seem to do it justice). 

Congratulations to David, Chris and everybody else that worked their assets off to make this happen. 

Made that 19 hour day more than worth it. In the words of Arnold….. 

For a little (and all too brief)  cask fix, we grabbed a cab across town to The Craven Arms. 

To walk in and be confronted by beers from Revolutions, Weird Beard, Siren and “coming soon” clips from North Riding, I was in my element. 

I’ve got no photos, owing to my phone going belly up. But take my word for it, it’s worth the journey. If I could do that £4.50 return on Megabus again, I’d do it just for the pub! 

I could go on about the delayed bus home, but I *had to stop* at The Brink. I was thirsty after the long trek home. Squawk Pale Ale was stunning. Then the phone melted down. 

Bollocks. 

Etiquette – Blogging and Blagging 

This was inspired by a piece by Mark Johnson. A young man more eloquent than I – with an exceptional line in entertaining  tourettic outbursts. Read that here.

Every week it would seem that there is a question / survey on Facebook or Twitter about the “etiquette” around beer blogging. And I have to confess, it’s a subject that puzzles me hugely.

Whilst hardly a “veteran” in this sphere – certainly compared with the likes of Boak & Bailey / Tandleman / Melissa Cole et al – I’ve been doing this long enough to have an opinion. However, I wasn’t always so confident.

When I started back in 2012, my MO was really simple. To highlight the good stuff. I got fed up with hearing about some of the crap people were complaining about drinking. My thing was to say “Here’s the good stuff”. I avoided outright and public negativity. But, worried that I was being a touch cowardly, I needed validation.

That came when I read a piece by Boak & Bailey. In that piece, they said something along the lines of that they didn’t openly negatively criticise a new brewery’s beers. They had a quiet word if there was an issue. To do other could do damage to a new business. (I may have got that slightly wrong with memory, but it was there or thereabouts.)

I felt – as I said – vindicated. I wasn’t a coward after all.

For me, there are too many keyboard warriors whacking utter shite onto apps like Untappd. An app I don’t use. I think I may have commented previously about having the same beer, in the same location, at the same time as another drinker who said that it was “shit” on Untappd. That drinker was wrong. It was sharp and delicious. The comment was lazy.  (A bit “off piste” – sorry.)

Back to the subject matter at hand!

One evening, the subject of “disclosure” came up. If you got the beer for free, do you disclose this? To which, my answer was YES. Always. If anybody is going to respect your opinions, honesty and openness is essential. I mean, initially, some of my disclosure was (possibly) subliminal. But now, the statement is upfront. “I got this from the brewer direct” or “I was given this by the brewer to try”

There. That isn’t too difficult now. Is it?

My attitude is simple. If I enjoy it enough – if it moves me enough to open up Evernote – I’ll review it. If I actively dislike a beer, for whatever reason, I speak to the brewer directly. Sometimes they don’t agree, but that opinion is honestly given. And, mostly accepted as such.

Simples.

Around the same time, I stumbled across a conversation in one of the many beery Facebook groups of which I’m a member. This one was a bit…. different. This was about the etiquette of asking breweries for beer

Eh? Come again? People actually DO this?

And when I saw one of the comments along the lines of “Well. If they don’t, they’re missing out on X number of views……”

PLEASE.

(“Disclosure ” – I do blag. But only for ISBF. And that’s to raise money for a good cause, so my conscience is salved!)

Don’t get me wrong here. I do get sent beer now and again. And the “rules” are the same if it’s a new Pico or a major Micro. If I like it, I’ll review it. If not, I’ll tell you personally. And that seems to work fine.

Like many bloggers that I know, pay for the VAST  majority of the beer I consume, this hobby can be damned expensive! But I like it this way.

I also get invited to Trade Sessions and the like. And I go – to some. Because, most of the time, I just can’t be arsed with the (mostly) expected trade off. And that includes some of the biggies.

No conflict of interest. No issues of conscience. No bullshit.

This shit is really simple. Innit?

Hawkshead Brewery – Something in the Water

As I said last week. As a blogger, unlike (so it seems) many, I don’t get sent much in the way of free beer. I don’t go out of my way to get any either. I have a seemingly huge beer stash that has been bought and paid for and that’s quite enough for this simple man. No complications.

In the blogging world, there appears to be an etiquette around these things that I am completely in ignorance of. I like it that way.

I have a really simple rule. If I like it, I’ll review it. That applies to freebies as well as the 99.9% of beers in my stash that are bought. I have to be impressed by a beer in order to review it, that way, if you see a review and buy it on the strength of that review and buy it in good condition, you *should* enjoy it. I like to maintain what little “integrity” (just for you MJ!) these last 4 years have bestowed upon me.

Like I said above, I don’t get sent much. But when I received an e-mail from Hawkshead about 3 special beer that they had brewed, offering me some, I snatched their hands off.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Hawkshead. Almost a byword for reliability. On cask, Windermere Pale is an uber reliable beer to fall back on. Brodies Prime unmissable. NZPA likewise. Cumbrian 5 Hop, Dry Stone Stout, IPA….the list goes on. Pale & hoppy or dark and roasty rich, consistently excellent.

So. When they offered to send me an Imperial Stout, an Imperial Porter and (not my usual) a Sour, I eagerly awaited delivery. Luckily, one of my brood was home when the knock arrived….

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Chuckleberry Sour – 3.5% abv – Berliner Weisse – 330ml

Atilla saw me pouring it and thought that I was having a cranberry juice!

It certainly had the colour! Watermelon pink, this has an aroma with a gentle acidic sourness as you would expect from a Berliner but with a fruitiness that was a cross between watermelon and Raspberry with a shot of cranberry and got the saliva glands motoring!

Yup. This is one palate cleanser and more! It has a light soft fleshy fruitiness, combined with being simultaneously Sour and slightly salty too. An incredibly refreshing and tart mouthful.

I had to check what a chuckleberry was, then I got the redcurrant and understood.

This is ordinarily not my style of beer, but having enjoyed a few sours from Chorlton, this does float my boat. Fruity, slightly salty and tart. An excellent palate livener. Superb

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Tonka – 8.5% abv – Imperial Porter – 330ml

Now then. Those who saw my last bottle post, May recall the ludicrous Black and Tan postscript. Which featured this beer in its keg format. See here…. Time to go solo!

Another deeply dark and alluring beer possessed of a creamy coloured head. The aroma is delicate but full of chocolate with a slight vanilla sweetness and something a little boozy, like rum.

WOW. Holy Mother of WOW.

Good full body on this, masses of nutty chocolate, good bitter chocolate, with a nuttiness that made me think of toasted Brazil nuts. Then there is a distinct blackcurrant fruitiness to the flavour, cola too, which is followed by an earthy, nutty, coffee grind bitterness.

Simply put, this is astonishingly good.

It’s Roasted, fruity, nutty, bitter, just so complex but so god damn repeatable. (Which can only go one way….)

Just. Just. Just………

One of the top three beers of this year. It’s THAT good.

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Northern Imperial Stout – 9.5% abv – Imperial Stout – 330ml

Black as a tar pit. Bitumen black. Dark, dangerous, desirable. All the things I want in a beer materialise when I take a sniff.

Deep coffee roast. Licorice. Bitter chocolate. And what smells like a light dusting of cocoa on top just OOZING from this tan coloured head. Daring me to try it. Like a “Come and have a go if you think…..”  A beery hooligan.

Imperial Stouts are my true beery weakness. I just can’t help myself and to hell with the consequences.

This is rich, unctuous and almost oily the way it slides around the mouth. Bitter chocolate and a spicy almost rocket pepperiness are the first impressions as the first mouthful slicks down the throat, coating the mouth and leaving a more than pleasant bitterness.

Back for seconds. More bitter chocolate with added oomph from some espresso action and a building licorice root flavour adding to the impact. This beer is right up my proverbial street.

The further I go and the onion reveals more layers, with some dark and juicy berry fruit too. This is lush. But then again, I’m a sucker for big dark beers.

There is a moderate bitter finish, but the abiding flavours linger well into the aftertaste. That bitter coffee and chocolate.

All. Kinds. Of. Yum.

Hopefully, I’ve managed to elucidate quite how much I enjoyed these three beers. The Sour surprised me, the Imperial Stout impressed me and that Tonka is – to put it simply – one of the 3 best bottled beers that I’ve had this year. Astonishingly good.

And, next weekend, having heard so many good things about their beer events at their Beer Hall in Staveley, I’m finally going. Who knows, if I can grab Matt Clarke, I might try to persuade him to keg something special and ludicrous for #ISBF2016!

You can only try eh?

A Beer Tasting – Marble Arch 12/07/2016

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I don’t get invited to much. I don’t exactly actively seek such things. I’ve turned one or two down for “integrity” reasons (I can’t lie – even a little) and I tend to avoid such things.

However, those that I have been invited to recently seem to have a common thread. That thread is John Clarke. A prince among beer men – and this time John, I’m not taking the piss.

John, you see, knows his onions. Fortunately, he also knows a thing or two about beer too. This was why he was asked to do a bit of a presentation by Marble Brewery, the occasion being the launch of 3 new strong beers.

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To get an invite from Marble to attend this was a bit of a nice surprise. For me, Marble beers have reached such a consistently high level which has recently hit a peak with beers like Damage Plan & Your Betrayal. To accept was a no brainer.

Before John started, we were each presented with a sample of one of the Old Ales.

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Now then. Most got the Verezzi (Oloroso Barrel aged), whereas, by complete fluke, I got the Valancourt. So whilst I could hear others moaning with pleasure whilst they tasted, I waited for a side by side comparison.

And MY was it worth the wait!

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I went first for the Fino (Valancourt), then the Verezzi, then back to the Valancourt. Both were rich and deeply fruity, the Verezzi felt quite vinous, sustaining and warming. Arguably the richer and deeper of the two and just so bloody gorgeous.

My preference was for the Valancourt (Fino). This had the deep rich fruitiness, but felt lighter. In with that fruitiness was a slightly (almost) saline tang which (for me) lifted it slightly above the Verezzi. Both stunning. I’ll be buying some shortly!

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John gave us a talk about the history of Old Ales and reminded us what a rare style it is making reference to one of the few true Old Ales remaining – Greene King XXXXX a double figure abv beer matured for 2 years – prior to blending with fresher beers to create their Suffolk Strong.

Old Ales gained their tart character due to the (frequently unintentional) introduction of Brettanomyces which attenuated the beer to a greater degree than then standard house yeasts. They were darker beers but at a much higher strength than the Milds that they were sometimes historically blended with.

The presentation was instructive and interesting – even with the distraction of such delicious beers – as I said, John knows his stuff. That said, he wears his knowledge lightly. I have a lot of respect for John (but don’t tell HIM).

And, thanks to John, I now know that the Russian Imperial Stout brewed by Wells & Youngs, was – in its original incarnation, brewed by Barclay Perkins!

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Then came the Portent of Usher – the Imperial Russian Stout.

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Big. Bitter chocolate and vine fruits. Just the start I want from an Impy. Mouth coating and unctuous, there was again a lightness of touch with this, a little something different. A slight tartness and – what seemed to me like – a touch of dandelion and burdock. This is another of those beers that I could drink all night, slowly, with good friends near a roaring fire.

In a place like the Marble Arch in fact…..

If I read aright, the bottles of these beers are available in Marble bars and pubs about now. And in select outlets next week.

And you need them.