The Southampton Arms, Gospel Oak, London

southampton-arms4(pic – http://www.londoniscool.com)

As I’ve said on many an occasion, I can resist anything except temptation, so when given an opportunity to try a new pub (to me) in London, even thinking of resistance was futile!

Now I’d wanted to try this pub for ages, but the opportunity never seemed to present itself, until now!

Tube to Kentish Town on the Northern Line then a C2 (or 214) bus drops you outside the door. Entry reveals this to be a single roomed  bar, narrow(ish) but fairly long. The door to the rear leads to the beer garden and an externally located Gentleman’s facility, via an upright piano!

20130529_130817(You give me hope, Joanna!)

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(View from the bar to the front)

10 hand pulled ales from breweries as geographically diverse as Fyne Ales and Dark Star and 8 real ciders and perries. Something for everyone here (inc 2 craft keg : Magic Rock 8 Ball and Camden Hells). In fact, if it wasn’t for a small selection of spirits, this would almost be a beer house! On first inspection, it certainly looked like my idea of a bar!

First up for me, was a small Dark Star 1810 Porter. This had a nice roasted malt and chocolate aroma and was lovely dry and chocolatey with more than a trace of bitterness in the finish. This was superb accompanied by some PROPER pub food, Pork pie and mustard. Lovely!

I (sort of) introduced myself to Alex behind the bar who was the essence of personable and managed to serve all the customers speedily whilst maintaining a friendly chat.

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Whilst chatting with Alex and one of the regulars, I started to notice some of the detail around the bar, including something that astonished me. No jukebox, CDs or MP3s here. Oh no. The excellent music (Ray Charles for starters) came courtesy of a VINYL TURNTABLE! I started to fall in love with this place!

Next up, a wee Cwtch by Tiny Rebel. First time I’ve had their beers. A red ale weighing in at 4.6%, this had a lovely mango citrus hop aroma which carried through into the mouth, lovely and smooth with a nice citrus bitterness. I’ll be looking out for them up North!

20130529_131803(A lovely original Lacons Brewery mirror – recently revived in Gt Yarmouth)

(One for Nate!)

A Kent Brewery Maori (NZ hopped) at 4.5% was a pale almost lager like beer. Delicately fruity and really refreshing with a dry grassy finish. Not sure what category this would fall into, but it was crisp, refreshing and delicious.

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Tempted to try a small Dark Star Revelations, I gave in to the smooth bronze beer with the hoppyness not initially apparent, but becoming more assertive the further the glass emptied. Superb.

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This place has a whole lot going for it. A stripped down basic boozer I thought as I entered. Slowly, its quirky charms revealed themselves, bit by bit. Value wise, I think I’ve had none better in London. Most of the ales were £3.30. The food was reasonably priced for a small yet tasty looking offering. My portion of pork pie was superb for the price.

The Southampton Arms. Overall, a fabulous bar. Excellent ales, friendly locals and bar staff (Thanks Alex for the chat – hope you get to Leeds International & IndyManBeerCon).

A serious recommendation. Only 10 minutes (or so) from Euston. Give it a bash!

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On that note….’til next time.

Slainte!

Bottled Ales – May 2013

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(Yorkshire brewers all!)

As I have said on many occasions, both on this blog and in many a conversation, this is truly a Golden Age for beer in the UK. You can walk into lots of bars / pubs around the country and sample exceptional beers from far and wide. For that, drinkers should rejoice.

However, I am increasingly conscious of the amount of comment given to beers from outside of the UK. Be they from the USA, Belgium, Germany, Italy or wherever, these undoubtedly excellent beers get praised to the clouds. But there is an absolute wealth of beers being brewed by small micros in this country that are superb in their own right. Also many of which are not in thrall to American techniques or styles.

I don’t want to be misunderstood, I adore good beer wherever it may be sourced from. As you will see below, one of the best beers I’ve had recently was made by Sierra Nevada in California. But there is THAT much excellent beer being brewed by UK micros (yes, many using New World hops in many instances!), that that is where my future focus will be when I review bottles. UK Microbreweries.

With my recent visits to both Yorkshire Ales of Snaith and Bierhuis of Ossett, it’s obvious to me that I’ve barely scratched the surface of the number of breweries in one county alone, Yorkshire. I won’t be able to try them all. But I’ll have a bash!

There. Now here’s some belters that I’ve drunk recently……. The format remains the same. I give you the beer, who brews it and where, the alcoholic strength, the style of beer, where I bought if from, bottle size and how much I paid for it. Simples!

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1. Clash London Porter by Revolutions Brewing (Castleford, West Yorkshire) – 4.5% abv – Porter – £2.70 (500ml) – Yorkshire Ales

I like the ethos of Revolutions. “Music-inspired beer. Craft brewed in Yorkshire”. All of their beers have a musical themed name. They also brew to abv strength associated with music formats. 3.3% (33 rpm), 4.5% (45 rpm), 6.0% (C60 cassette) etc…. So before I taste the beer, I’m favourably disposed. My first bottle I tried was the Manifesto Strong Stout. That was my bottle of the month in April. Could this live up to that standard?

A slightly sweet coffee aroma to this dark ruby coloured beer. Cream coloured head. Some coffee flavour from the roasted malts, smooth in the mouth and a nice hoppy dryness in the finish. The finish was redolent of a good IPA in its dryness with some hoppy grassy tones. A superb beer that I would put as a dark beer for IPA lovers wanting to visit The Dark Side, like a porter with an IPA touch. A 4.5 beer (The Manifesto was a 5 – I’ve already started a campaign to get a firkin or 2 of that over here!)

I’ve also snaffled a bottle of their Devolution Amber Ale (named after the great De-Evolution – DEVO –  from Akron, Ohio). Can’t wait!

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(A lively devil!)

2. The Chief by Ilkley Brewery (Ilkley, N. Yorkshire) – 7% abv – Double IPA – £3.78 (500ml) – Bierhuis

It’s good to see an increasing number of Ilkley beers ‘over the hill’ now. Booths stock a good range and I even saw Mary Jane at Sainsbury in Bolton today. Things are looking up for Ilkley lovers! However, unless you live in Manchester city centre and can pop into Beermoth on Tib Street, you won’t get some of their ‘specials’. However, this doesn’t appear to be a problem for specialist beer retailers in Yorkshire. On a recent camping trip, I was advised by the owner of Bierhuis (David) that I was only about 20 mins away. How COULD I resist? It was here that I picked up this beer up (David put a couple aside for me).

This beer was a rich gold (almost bronze) colour and had an aroma of boiled sweets, very fruity with a touch of (what I thought was) Belgian yeasty funk. This beer kicked off when it got in the mouth! WOW! Incredibly hoppy (DOUBLE IPA remember) Apricot flavour in there for sure, mango maybe? A piney resinous hoppyness in a very bitter finish. Lip smackingly good. A fabulous beer that was worth every penny of that price! (4.5 SO nearly a 5!)

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3. Barista Espresso Stout by Summer Wine Brewery (Holmfirth, W Yorkshire) – 4.8% abv – Espresso Stout – £3 (330ml) – Port Street Beer House

I drink this almost everywhere I see it on draught. A great beer. But I’d never had it in bottle. So, when I saw an offer of 6 assorted bottles for £18 at Port Street one hazy evening, what was I to do?

This was another lively devil on pouring. A tan coloured head gave off an aroma just like when you tear open a packet of ground coffee. Just like that! But with a hint of spicyness. A lovely smooth texture in the mouth where those coffee flavours came to the fore but with a little touch of roasted malt sweetness. I love this beer on draught and the same applies with the bottled version. Another 4.5 beer!

20130513_213347(I get to use Colin’s JW Lees ‘Grip’ glass!)

4. Lotus IPA by Ilkley Brewery (Ilkley, N. Yorkshire) – 5.6% abv – IPA – £2.21 (500ml) – Bierhuis

Not being bottle conditioned, I was surprised by the liveliness of this beastie. Golden, with an abundance of grapefruit citrus zing on the nose. In the mouth, this was more balanced than the aroma hinted at. Grapefruit yes, but mellower and balanced with a malty digestive biscuit like sweetness. As smooth as cream in the mouth with a dry grassy bitter finish. This gets a 5 rating on value alone! Superb. Thank you Bierhuis!

20130514_211258(The IndyManBeerCon glass seemed appropriate!)

5. Orval by Brasserie Orval (Villers-devant-Orval, Belgium) – 6.2% abv – Trappist Beer – £3.20 (330ml) – Pendle Witch PH, Atherton.

Confession. I had never had an Orval prior to this.

Another lively beast. This russet coloured beer had an incredibly jammy fruit nose with, perhaps, a hint of rhubarb. In the mouth there was the expected Belgian yeasty tones, but with an array of flavours at different stages. Firstly stewed apples and pears and a pear drop sweet flavour. Later on, there was a warming almost medicinal linctus tone which was surprising to me in a 6.2% beer. Initially underwhelmed, by the bottom of the glass I was a convert. A truly lovely beer. (4.5)

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6. Narwhal by Sierra Nevada Brewery (Chico, California, USA) – 10.2% abv – Imperial Stout – £3.69 (375 ml) – Bierhuis

Somewhere beyond black, there is a darker hue. This beer is even darker than that. If sin is this black, I don’t ever want to be virtuous! I opened the bottle and sniffed. Boozy port and spice. I poured it into my new 2/3 pint glass (for which I’m VERY thankful)  to further wallow in those aromas. A milk coffee coloured head, beneath which lurked a REALLY bitter chocolate flavour allied to a vinous warmth. There were touches of licorice root with sweet espresso and a glorious dry bitter spicy finish. To say this beer is “up my street” doesn’t even come close! 5 out of 5! (I’d give it 10 if I could!)

At THAT price, I felt  like I’d stolen it! Again, thank you Bierhuis!

Given what I said at the top, these may be the last couple of non-UK beers I review in a while. But what a pair to go out on, eh? 5 out of 5

Beer Of The Month

Bottled – As if you hadn’t guessed! Narwhal by Sierra Nevada. For the reasons stated above. A superb Imperial Stout.

DraughtImperial Black (Black IPA) by Buxton Brewery 7.5% abv (Port Street Beer House 26/05/2013). I am incredibly grateful to Jamie H that he got 4 halves of this out of the end of the cask! Smooth as silk, black as sin. Incredibly fruity whilst still having some roasted stuff in there. This was an awesome beer. I will drink it wherever I find it. It is THAT good!

On that excited note……’til next time!

Slainte!

Meet The Brewer – Black Jack Beers – Port Street Beer House – 20/05/2013

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Ever had that feeling?

You know the one….when you look across a crowded room….you see someone and they look like the noose is about to be put around their neck. That very moment when the legendary “fight or flight” instinct kicks in. That moment when you think that that person is actually going to shit himself.

Well, last night, at approximately 18:15, that person was Rob Hamilton, the brewer / overlord at Black Jack Beers. You knew that he was cacking it, by his choice of drink.

“Magic Rock Human Cannonball to steady the nerves sir?” (I could almost hear Jamie saying it!)

A sellout MTB at Port Street is probably NOT the place to commence your public speaking career. However, swift gulp of Huddersfields’ finest and – following a gentle introduction by Jamie – he was off!

“Hi, I’m Rob from Blackjack!”

Rob, from Wrecsam, worked at Marble (both brewery and pub) for a number of years and, in his own words in 2012 he “needed a change of scene, being not very good at doing what I’m told”, so, he acquired Marble’s 4.5 Bbl brewkit, located premises on Gould St, and via begging and borrowing set off on his journey.

He quickly picked up plaudits from fellow brewers and drinkers and started to gain a devoted following (my words, not his!) Not bad for a bloke who had no ambition to brew!

Rob gave us a quick chat about how the brewery started out. Given the progress he has made, he is a very modest chap indeed! He had sheets of paper and pens placed on tables to help him with “tasting notes” because, in his words he’s “very bad at describing beers…..can’t do the waffling bit…….What’s this beer like? It’s pale, it’s hoppy!” Judging by the laughter, this was a comedy masterclass. He had his audience eating out of his hand!

The first beer sampled was The Pokies, a new pale ale at 3.6% made with all NZ hops (Pacific Gem, Pacific Jade and Waikatu), the first time he’s done this. (All BJ beers have gambling related names, this one was from the NZ word used for a slot machine!).

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(The two cask offerings – The Pokies and Aces High IPA)

I didn’t have one of Rob’s sheets of paper, but for me, The Pokies was nice and pale, gently hoppy and – as Rob rightly said – a nice sessionable beer. Strangely, I thought it reminded me slightly of Harviestoun Schiehallion, which though it’s actually a lager, is (for anyone who knows me) a hell of a compliment. Pale, refreshing with a gentle fruity hop character. There! “Waffling” over!

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(And so say all of us!)

We moved on to one of the kegged offerings – Lager at 5.2%. No gambling reference name here! Or was making a Lager the actual gamble? Made with Lager & Cara malts with Magnum and Hersbrucker/Saaz hops this beer was fermented over 9 or 10 days at a cool temperature (that’s a lot of capacity taken up!). Rob thought it came out “quite well”.

For me, it was a clean smooth tasting beer, fruity (from the Saaz?) with a lightly peachy touch in the dry finish. A really nice beer and one which I heard is (for a brief period) also available in cask condition. More on that later! (Rob thought it cold do with being slightly drier. Each to their own, but it was fine by me as it was.)

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(And…relax! )

Aces High IPA at 5.5%. This was the next beer and the final of the two cask conditioned offerings. Golden with an abundant citrus hop aroma (apricot & grapefruit). Nice grainy malt overlaid with citrus hops in the mouth. Far too easy drinking for a 5.5% abv beer and dangerously so! Slightly warmer than The Pokies in the glass (Jamie would probably say that my mouth was too cold!)

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(Pacific Jade)

Next – Pacific Jade (single hop) IPA at 5.2% – Rob on hops “If they let me have something good, I generally bang it in!” (I do love a bit of self-deprecation!)

Made with his standard 5kg of hops, being kegged, it was a bit colder than I would like but I got a bit of a fruity and malt toffee aroma. Smooth in the mouth and was initially quite fruity and dry. A bit maltier toward the end. Not as hoppy and assertive as I was expecting. Would like to see a casked version though.

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(The keg selection for this evening)

Finally, we came to the last beer for tasting. The King of Clubs Stout. Brewed in December 2012 and maturing in keg for 6 months. This elicited a “Whoo” from the floor! 6 different hop varieties, including Bramling Cross  (which got a cheer!). The strongest Stout Rob can normally brew “without messing around too much”. This was rich, dark as sin and smelling bloody gorgeous! A sweet and spicy dark chocolate nose and very roasty. BANG! Red winey hints in the mouth, sweet coffee roast whilst still finishing quite dry. An unctuous vinous mouthful of dark joy. I like it anyway! (What I would do for a whisky barrel aged version next year???)

Rob invited people to chat with him and “show themselves”. So I did. I don’t know why he was so nervous, he did a great job! My kind of bloke. Funny, doesn’t take himself too seriously and makes bloody good beer!

This is only the second “Meet The Brewer” I’ve been to. And it’s the second that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. If you’ve never been to one, and you want to know more about how great beer is made, you really should! Really well put together by Jamie and the guys at Port Street, an engaging and frequently hilarious presentation by Mr Hamilton and superb beer. What’s not to like?

Another really nice element for me personally was the chance to have a bit of a chat with a few people. Jay Krause, Rob himself, Jamie and some of the local Home Brewers group. Really enjoyed chatting. I won’t be so reticent next time. Good people all!

The next MTB features Toccalmatto from Italy. £15 a ticket. I saw a few flying out whilst I was at the bar. So if you fancy it, you’d better be quick!

Now I had a plan. But first, time for a new beer on cask for me. Rouge from Summer Wine. Deep red with a huge and spicy citrus hop aroma. Really fruity and dry in the mouth. Nice and bitter. A nice end to my stay at Port Street. Cheers to Jamie for my tasting glass! (Yes, it got home in one piece!!!)

Now. The plan. I’d heard a whisper that the cask conditioned version of Black Jacks’ Lager may have been on at Bar Fringe. A quick tweet to that ‘force of nature’, Banana Charlie revealed that it was. “Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it’s off to drink we go!”

Bar Fringe

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(Indeed she does!)

The reason for being here (aside from being a great bar) was this

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(Cask Conditioned – Black Jack Lager!)

I don’t know enough about brewing to understand why, but this is a very fruity lager. And I could certainly drink more of it! Smooth, fruity (touch of the hedgerow?). Yum! With beer like this, I don’t know why we don’t see more cask lager about.

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(If you mess with the Landlady, she shrinks your head and plasters it into the wall. It’s true I tell you!)

Right then. Bit of a break for a week or so whilst the finances recover. Possibly pop in to Yorkshire Ales and Bierhuis over that there hill this weekend. I’ll have some nice beers to tell you ALL about, won’t I? Not to mention the chance to watch some masters at work, making a new beer at Allgates next month. An Oatmeal Stout too. (I’m too old to feel THIS excited!)

On that note……’til next time.

Slainte!

A Day Trip To Stockport – 18/05/2013

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I’m quite nosey me! (Bolton speak!) So when I picked up that Jaz and a group of his colleagues were planning a group tour of Robinsons (henceforth, Robbies) Brewery in Stockport, it set the limited grey matter working. I hadn’t been drinking in Stockport since the mid 80s and this struck me as an ideal opportunity to fill this knowledge gap (at least partly). Jaz made the right noises and I was in!

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Now, this also brought me within the gravitational pull of a certain Mr Jay Krause, Owner, Brewer and all-round hop alchemist at Quantum Brewing – I just had to ask! Didn’t I? Being the ‘good egg’ that he undoubtedly is, he invited Jaz & myself round. Whoo-Hoo! Two breweries in one day. Bargain!

So, I find myself on the train (for a change) and (meeting Jaz at Piccadilly) we set off on the 11:15 Virgin train to London Euston and a mere 10 minutes later, we’re walking up Wellington Road. Bugger me, but that is a hell of a gradient! It’s hardly the Col de la Madeleine, but I was bloody knackered before it levelled off on Hempshaw Lane where the aforementioned Mr Krause weaves his magic.

Let’s say, I struggled to find Quantum, initially! Then I remembered something Jay said about location, retraced my steps and lo! There be casks!

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(Anyone for beer barrel Jenga?)

Jay started this operation in 2011 and has quickly gained a reputation for full flavoured beers with often unusual ingredients – his Blood Orange Pale Ale has entered into legend! (And was the first beer Jaz asked about!) I first saw him at the Leeds International Beer Fest last year behind the bar and enjoyed his Stout hugely. Since then, I’ve had several of his beers and they have all been excellent, in particular his Keyworths Early using an old hop variety that could well make a comeback.

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(LtoR – Hot Liquor Tank and Copper)

Anyhoo! Located in an industrial unit off Hempshaw Lane, just outside (and UPHILL of) Stockport centre, Jay is unmistakably a one man band. I fail to comprehend how I can find so much of his beer in the Manchester area, with the size of his operation. He looks like a hell of an engineer having adapted his own mash tun to suit his own needs. 

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(Self built Mash Tun!)

He dispenses his beer in a variety of formats, Cask, KeyKeg and bottle. The bottles aren’t bottle conditioned, which will certainly help when it comes to chilling them slightly!

A 5 Bbl plant means that he can brew up to 1440 pints per brew, that’s 20 9 gallon firkins (cask) or nearly 1500 bottles! It’s good to hear that he’s making it pay, though he’s some distance off being a ‘beer baron’! This is his day job and he makes it pay by producing excellent beer which is showcased in some of Manchester’s best bars (Port Street, Joshua Brooks and Font, to name but 3!)

I was intrigued to see some of his wooden casks used for some specials. Smoked Porter aged in Caol Ila whisky cask anyone? (Trust me to miss THAT one!)

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As mentioned earlier, he produces a wide variety of tasty beers. In that vein, he allowed Jaz and myself to sample a Saison that is about to be released into ‘the wild’. This is one lovely beer! Slightly hazy and golden in colour with a lovely fruitiness and dry finish. This may be making its way in the world this week. Jaz & I both loved it. The knowledge that it’ll be served in Joshua Brooks was gratefully received. (James’ll tip us the wink, won’t you?)

As stated, Jay’s is a small, true Micro Brewery and he does all the key tasks himself, even down to the bottling. He’s one busy boy and we were really grateful that he took time out to chat with us and answer my idiot novice questions with good grace and a smile! (And a HUGE thanks for the CCC and American Amber! Reviewed soon – as long as Jaz doesn’t drink them first – they’re stored at his flat!)

A genuinely nice bloke running a human scale brewing operation. Look out for his beers, you will NOT be disappointed! (A collaboration brew is in the offing with Allgates, Jay, Tandleman & Tyson The Beerhound – Two top brewers and two fables tasters – I may even sit in the bleachers and watch the fun! Watch this space, it’s gonna be superb!)

Now, for the polar opposite?

But first, we had a bit of time to spare before our 13:30 appointment at the brewing behemoth that is Robinsons, so we strolled along to the market place to have a look at the High Peak Beer Co.

I didn’t expect such a small unit! But a superb selection of beers from near and far. Had a bit of chat with (who I presume to be) the owner. Certainly knows his beer this man! Aims to snaffle himself a pub in the peak within the next 5 years with maybe a brew plant out the back. I like it! Said he’d be looking at a bit of a camping facility as well. I’m there already! Picked myself up a bottle of Axe Edge by Buxton Brewery. A cheery wave and we were off to meet our fellow beer tourists in the local Wetherspoons)

Had a nice pint of GWB Meerkat Mild here. Big ol’ Spoons, huge floor area, but 3 milds on, including George Wrights and Titanic. More later.

A short walk from Wetherspoons and we find ourselves at…..

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(Shiny new Visitors centre!)

We were given a few minutes to gather ourselves together (and, no doubt, peruse purchasing opportunities!)

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20130518_133834(Putting the cart before the – absent – horse!)

The Visitor Centre is fairly new. Lots of interactive displays around the walls with an accent on the history and heritage of the brewery. Lots of merchandise for sale from chutneys to t-shirts with most of Robbies bottled beer available to purchase, including the new “collaboration” beer with Iron Maiden, Trooper, which featured prominently as you would expect.

We were gathered together by our tour guide and shown the highways and byways of this, quite large, brewery.

Being a ‘tower’ type brewery (the process flows down with gravity!), there were a LOT of steps. If you have fitness issues (like me!) be prepared for recovery time!

There was a big accent on a recent major brewery refurb, with lots of new, efficient, kit being bought from Germany at great expense. Bright and shiny it was indeed. Industrial. This is a big business. They retained examples of most of the old kit too, which made for a nice contrast, starting at the old and new grist mills (grain grinders). Here we were shown samples of the various malts and encouraged to taste. I loved the bitter coffee flavours of the chocolate malt (surprised?)

We were also encouraged to smell sample a variety of hops. In Robbies case, mostly British with one jar of US (Amarillo). Robbies predominantly use Goldings in their beers.

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(Grist to the mill!)

The Mash Tun and Lauter Tun were next and from this point, you get an idea of the sheer huge scale of this operation. These vessels are HUGE, like icebergs, you only see what’s on the surface.

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(Old & New)

Onward to the brewing vessel (or Copper) where the hops are added to impart their aromas and bitter characteristics. Again, think of icebergs!

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Via the Hop Back room (where the spent hops are removed – like the spent grains at other stages – and sent to farms for animal feed) we were taken to the fermenting vessels. Robbies have loads of FVs and again, they are HUGE! I had to take snaps of working FVs and empty to give you the scale. The FV is where the yeast comes to the party, shakes its booty and turns all those lovely sugars into even lovelier alcohol. There were some gorgeous fruity smells in here with maybe 4 FVs at work. (Robbies also have separate vessels used to brew Fentimans botanic drinks)

20130518_144655(The yeast having a party. Check out the patterns!)

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(An empty FV. That must be 15ft deep!!! That’s a whole lot of happy juice!)

With a quick peep into a Control Room, which looked like the tidiest, cleanest office you’ll EVER work in, we were pretty much done. This is a high-tech, leaner, more environmentally friendly operation than ever.

Then were off to the bar to spend our “tokens”, each of which equated to a 1/3rd of beer. I chose a 1/3rd each of Uncle Sams pale ale, Trooper (The Iron Maiden beer) and Fredericks on keg at 6.5%. If I’m honest, I wasn’t overly struck by any of them. A slight preference for the Uncle Sams which was reasonably hoppy and bitter. The Trooper was a maltier brew and fine for what it is. The Fredericks was overly cold and, for 6.5%, I didn’t get much at all.

The bar/restaurant area was quite a nice space. If open to the public (aside from tours) this could be a nice little earner. The beer is in good nick (as you would expect) and the food (limited to sandwiches today) looked quite good.

A couple of observations –

1. This a slick tour around a grand old institution which has been brought bang up to date. The tour is pretty much pitched at the curious novice with little or no knowledge. For that market, it is a fabulous lesson in the chemistry of beer. I spoke to a couple of people afterwards who found it really informative. For me (a relative novice with a modicum of knowledge), I would have liked more detail. For one thing, I asked a basic question about the cost of the refurb. The guide didn’t have the answer to hand. Things like that should be standard. With just a little extra polish, what was quite a good tour, could be a lot better.

2. Robbies are obviously on the rise, both nationally and internationally. The hook up with Bruce Dickinson and Iron Maiden is VERY astute. This could help Robbies penetrate abroad with that HUGE Iron Maiden fan base and also into live music venues. There has been a big push with Trooper and in all likelihood, it will pay off. Massively.

Moving onwards and (literally) upwards, we popped back into the Spoons to meet up with some more people and (after a nice pint of George Wrights Mild & a sour pint of Titanic Mild – taken off on mentioning!) we were off to….

The Crown

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(A Stockport Institution)

A lovely old pub. Lots of leather and wood inside with a vast number of handpumps (too many to count!), I plumped for a pint of Millstone Stout and we eventually settled our, now enlarged group into the room to the right of the bar – where lurked two handpulls dedicated to real cider.

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(rear room)

The Millstone Stout at 4.5% was lovely. Creamy full texture, slight coffee in that nice roasted flavour with a dry finish. A really good stout. and just what was needed.

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(Nice & busy on a Saturday afternoon!)

The consensus was to move on at this point. So that’s what we did!

The Magnet

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Another pub after my own heart. Multi-roomed with a plethora of handpulls. Busy again with chatter the order of the day (as well as Tittertons Pork Pies!). Well behaved dogs allowed in as well, which was a nice touch. Busy at the bar, I plumped for a BlackJack Canasta Mild at 3.8% abv. Dark, buttery roasted aroma with a nice texture, lots of roasted malt flavour with a nice dry finish.

20130518_173826(Busy bar – lots of handpulls!)

Ina slightly lower level was a pool table, where we settled our rabble down to a game of killer. I lost (as you would expect!). The pub has a lot going for it, lots of good beer and choice of rooms with different atmospheres. The only slight issue I had, was there was a little wear and tear showing, especially with the plaster work. I wonder if the money is available to do this work? Not to take away too much from what is an excellent boozer.

We stayed for one more here, so I had an Oakham beer. Sock Monkey at 5% abv. Golden and bright, a citrus grapefruit aroma from what I thought was citra hops, a lovely mouthful of biscuity sweetness balanced with a grapefruit hoppyness. Typically Oakham, typically excellent. If we hadn’t stayed, I probably wouldn’t have spotted the nice decking area outside!

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(Well. Summer IS on the way. Isn’t it?)

Back to Manchester on Northern Rails’ finest. A quick snack from Sainsbury in Piccadilly station and off to a pub I’ve not been to in yonks!

The Bulls Head

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Judging by the beer selection, this is a Marstons pub. Fortunately for me, Jaz had chosen wisely and got me a pint of Marstons Single Hop Amarillo at 4% abv. Pale, gold and with abundant fruity hop aroma. Nice and refreshing. 2nd Single hop Marstons I’ve had recently. Enjoyed both.

Last time I came in, the pub was two roomed. Now it’s one open space with the large bar to the rear. Nice leaded windows, muted dark colours, reds and browns, quite warm feeling. Nice slightly elevated are to the front with (what looked like) a real fire range.

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It was here that the group split up. Some for home, some for food and some (guess who?) for Joshua Brooks! (Via Jaz flat to drop bottles off – amazed they got back!)

Joshua Brooks

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The magnet that pulled us in was the Baby Belgian by Offbeat Brewery. At 8% I bottled it (not literally – I’d have spilt some!), the indefatigable Jaz went that way, I went for the Last Porter Call by Titanic. Fruity, very fruity. Damsons or plums. Not much discernable roasty stuff going on. But then, it WAS late in the day! A nice beer at 4.9%.

Oakham Brewery Bishops Farewell was next. 2 Oakham in one day. Yay! Again, pale, hoppy and balanced with sweet biscuit malt. Another Oakham, another excellent pale bitter brew!

One more for my baby and one for the road. The baby in question, being another Baby Belgian for Jaz the Indefatigable (now looking rather fatigued!), the one for the road being Obsidian black IPA by Hop Studio from York. As far as the stuff in bars goes, the beer of the day. Both citrus AND coffee on the nose with bitter hops in the mouth and a slightly bitter coffee in the aftertaste. REALLY good this!

I know what to expect from Joshua Brooks (as should you, by now!) Tonight was fairly busy again, with a few coming in just before I left, for a beer prior to going downstairs to the club. More excellent beer.

At this point, I had to dash for my chariot. Past lots of young things on their way to JBs

An excellent day out, finished off nicely. The Old parts of Stockport are actually rather pretty, nice town. Hope to be back soon to explore more.

Beer of the day. Unfair really, but it was the taste of Saison from Quantum. Lovely. In the pubs it was Obsidian by Hop Studio. An excellent Black IPA. Last beer of the evening as well. How weird is that!

On that note….If you, like I, are at the BlackJack MTB at Port Street on Monday, say hello! If not….’til next time…

Slainte!

Beer & Music (Pubs with Jukeboxes Pt1) 09/05/2013

Aside from family, my two great passions. Beer and music. To me, they just go together so well. Beans/Toast, Cheese/Onion, Beer/Music. Don’t get me wrong, with social drinking, conversation is the thing. But, a top tune in the background…….The number of times I’ve been in a pub in the last 30 years and said “tune” are innumerable.

Jaz & I were thinking a while back, that whilst the vast majority of the venues we drink in have great tunes, the pub jukebox is dying out in favour of the tastes of the bar staff. Now, when the staff have eclectic tastes that match your own, that’s dandy. But what if they don’t…… It got us to thinking…How many pubs in the City Centre still have Jukes? Let’s call this series of articles a (less than scientific!) ‘survey’!

Before all that, I got a message from my arch-nemesis yesterday morning, telling me that Micro Bar had Dunham Massey’s Chocolate Cherry Mild on. A beer I’d only tasted in bottle once. I promise you faithfully, I REALLY wasn’t intending to sally forth last night, but that was a temptation too much. Oscar Wilde had it right….

Micro Bar

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Micro Bar by name…….No jukebox here. This was a ME moment!  Chocolate Cherry Mild by Dunham Massey Brewery. Given that the brewery is probably 15 miles from my front door, I have had very little of their stuff on draught. This is probably their most famous beer and I had only tried the bottled version (and that was only last week!). Time to fill that gap.

This dark ruby beer instantly filled my hooter with Black Forest Gateau aromas. This carried on in the mouth. Lovely fruity cherry with a dry almost cocoa powder chocolatey flavour. This is a Ronseal of a beer (‘Does Exactly What It Says On The Tin’!), a nice hoppy grassy touch in the aftertaste as well. As good as cherries in beer gets short of being a Kriek.

This was an early start for me, as this bar shuts at 18:30. As its name implies, this bar is indeed small and is the nearest I’m likely to get to a Micro Pub any time soon. That said, they still manage to fit in 5 hand pumps (one being for cider) and a number of craft/keg fonts.

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Within its limited footprint, Micro Bar also manages to fit in a role as a substantial ‘off-licence’! Bottles from around the world with a large proportion being UK sourced. I was seriously tempted to buy the Dark Star Imperial Stout, but….next time, maybe!

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Who’d have thought that such an oasis could exist within the walls of the hideous Manchester Arndale! Food tip. If you’re feeling peckish, there are a lot of take-away vendors of quality on adjoining stalls. Pancho’s Burritos being two stalls away. You can even sit in the bar area AND eat your grub. What more could you ask for?

With shutters dropping around us, the decision was made by others for us to move on…

The Smithfield Bar & Hotel

Smithfield

(pic – courtesy of Google)

The Smithfield has the feel of a local on the edge of the city. It sits four square within the Northern Quarter without actually feeling part of it. When compared with other nearby bars, it certainly is a character apart.

6 or 7 ales on hand pump here. This is as traditional a drinking hole as you’ll find hereabouts with nary a sign of a craft font! Local ales mostly with (I’m advised) a tendency to source beers from breweries rare to the area. Looking across the pumps, I remembered that May is the month during which CAMRA seeks to promote Milds. With that in mind, I opted for Smithfield Mild, brewed for the pub by Facers from Flint, North Wales (formerly of Salford)

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(Facers Mild)

A good choice. Toasty on the nose with a lovely creamy texture and full of roasted malt flavours. 3.3% abv and lots of flavour. The Jukebox leaned heavily on 80s/90s Manchester staples, Joy Division, New Order, happy Monday, Stone Roses etc with an Irish slant via some compilations and a bit of Van Morrison. A good selection, but not the most eclectic you’ll find. Certainly no match for the zany, surreal wallpaper!

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(Not from B&Q I take it!)

For me, one of the standout things in this pub is the presence of a pool table, something you don’t see much of in Town.

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(A rarity)

Given that the pub was fairly quiet, I gave the Juke a miss. The regulars at the bar were friendly enough and I saw no reason to disturb their chatter. After just the one, we moved on, across the road and about 50 yards to…

Bar Fringe

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Now. If you’ve never been here, you need to. Frequently. This is possibly the most eclectically decorated/furnished pub in Manchester. There is no overt attempt to be cool. It just is.

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(Rear toward the ‘beer garden’)

5 handpumps with one for cider.Lots of craft/foreign keg fonts. One rally interesting thing by its absence. Guinness. Replaced by Marstons Oyster Stout. An interesting and welcome touch.

Beer? Continuing with Milds, Midnight Rose by Pennine Brewery at 3.7%. Dark ruby, buttered toast nose. A fruity mouth with more than a hint of damsons/plums. A belting pint. (Not had much by Pennine before). I was hoping to meet the legendary landlady, but more later!

The jukebox? A cracker! Just to have Curtis Mayfield (one of my musical heroes) was a winner for me. Put a few tunes on in here, Freddie’s Dead and You Gotta Have Peace by Curtis and Misty Mountain Hop by Led Zep. Classics all.

The landlady made her presence felt via Twitter by recommending the Ducktor Who by Green Duck Brewery. Who was I to argue?

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(You can glimpse the famous Motor Bike top right!)

A good recommendation. A golden beer with an apricot/grapefruit hoppy nose. Juicy sweet malt with oodles of citrussy American hoppy flavours. At this point, a female cyclone blew through the room, chatting to the regulars. The famous landlady, known to Twitter as Banana Charlie! To say the least, she left an impression! Top lady, top bar.

20130509_203015(Gratuitous decor shot!)

This is another bar where you can source some hitherto unseen beers. Tonight, Great Yarmouth Brewing CompanyDNA‘. A 3.8% pale hoppy brew from Norfolk. Am informed by the mighty Nate Dawg that this is a new set up in the seaside town. I had a sneaky sip and it was nice indeed. I’d have had another one, but another juke was calling!

The Castle

Castle

(pic – Beerintheevening.com)

Walking down Oldham Street from Great Ancoats St, it was difficult to miss the space where a recent fire burned down a huge premises a few doors up from this pub.

There was daylight as we approached to pub entrance. Walking in was like being back in the womb. Dark reds, warm, comforting. It was that dark you could imagine this being a vampires lair. Anyway, there was a band on and it was busy. Notwithstanding that, we got served quickly and Jaz grabbed a seat whilst I scoped the Juke.

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(Where the magic happens!)

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(Spooky!)

Another cracker this. For my £1, Prince ‘Sign O’ The Times’, Talking Heads ‘Take Me To The River’ and Ray Charles’ ‘What’d I Say Pts 1 & 2’. Aural class! First beer, Another mild, this time a 4.8% fruity number from Titanic called Nautical Mild. This was almost as plummy as their Plum Porter! Dark, fruity with a nice dryness to the finish.

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(The selection)

My tunes finished. Then some genius located Bloodbuzz Ohio by The National! The High Violet album on a Juke? I had to leave to calm down! Great album!

I’ve loved The Castle for over 30 years. Good to see it thriving and new generations of drinkers enjoying its charms. 9 handpumps on the bar too!

I was up for more Jukes, but that would’ve taken us to the other side of town (and Jaz was feeling lazy!) so, the lesser of evils, we popped for some good tunes, just no Juke, to…

The Crown & Kettle

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Assured of a good pint & good tunage in here. Beer? Another mild for me with Stokers Slake from Three Bs Brewery of Blackburn. A smooth Dark Mild with lots of roasted malt flavours and a slight smoky touch. Mmmm….. Walking in to the strains of Janis Joplin “Another Piece of My Heart” was a bonus. Misleading though as most of the following tracks had a distinct 80s bias. Modern Love by Bowie (a favourite – great circular chorus), Dancing With Myself by Generation X…..A little Joni Mitchell with Big Yellow Taxi gave a little 60s seasoning.

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(Gratuitous Ceiling Shot!)

Good beer, beautiful pub. An architectural gem. (A gorgeous back room too). I like this place. A lot.

Jaz now wanted to put his feet up and relax in his front room. His front room being….

The Port Street Beer House

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(Last nights cask offerings)

By now, you should all know what you get here! Craft beers in both cask and keg, reliably tasty and served by staff who drink them themselves and know what they are talking about. Simple eh? They do this stuff well. Which is why they’re always busy.

It isn’t an architectural gem like The C&K, but it does it’s job. Tonight, in the absence of a mild, I went local for American Amber Ale by Quantum Brewing from Stockport.

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(Mr Krause. Amber my arse!)

Jay Krause does some great things with hops. But if that’s an amber beer, I need to go to Specsavers! What it is, is a nose full of beautiful hoppy aromas. Dark ruby coloured (as you can see!), a mouth full of lovely malt with some licorice hop overtones. Only thing to add was it was probably my pint of the night!

A nightcap Mr Jazwinski? Oh, I shouldn’t really! But if you insist, a 1/2 pint of Ageless by Redwillow please!

I’ve only had this in bottle previously and it knocked me off my feet. A double IPA full of grapefruit citrus joy. Pineapple as well. Joy! The same in the mouth with resinous notes. So good, I had to have another 1/2!

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(Coming soon to an architectural marvel near you!)

Now Jaz is lucky. He only has to stumble 100 yards to his door, whereas I need the assistance of First Transport! So, off to Piccadilly with me for that old favourite. The last bus!

On that note…..’til next time…..

Slainte!

Bottled Ales April 2013 – Part 2

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(Coming Soon!)

Yes. I know we’re now in May! But having had a couple of visits to those excellent Yorkshire Ale Vendors – Yorkshire Ales of Snaith & Bierhuis of Ossett – It’s high time I purged myself of bottled beer opinions and made space in the (ahem) cellar for this new influx of hoppy and roasty goodness. So there!

“Ah, What was that Mrs Beers? What about that trollyload in Booths?” (Trust the purse string holder to remember that little diversion!)

So. Where were we? Oh yes. The beers. Here we go…… (I hope my nurse isn’t reading this….”How many units per week was that again……”)

1. Columbus by Mallinsons Brewery (Huddersfield) – 3.9% abv – Pale Ale – £2.50 for 500ml from Yorkshire Ales

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Is Huddersfield the Burton of Craft Brewing? Magic Rock, Rat, Summer Wine (not far away) and last – but by no means least – Mallinsons. Until I woke up to this new golden age of beer last year, I hadn’t heard of, let alone tasted, Mallinsons. I’ve had some on draught, but further remedied this in my visits to Snaith and Adrian & Vicky Pettit’s shop, Yorkshire Ales.

On my last visit I picked up a few of the Single Hop range, of which Columbus is one. This is a pale golden beer with an intense fruity hop aroma. A full flavoured beer this with really resinous bitter hop flavours. Dry, fruity, spicy and refreshing. More intense than their Aramis (made with a French hop). I recommend this if you can get it on draught. A full flavoured beer you could drink all evening.

2. Punk IPA by Brew Dog (Fraserburgh) – 5.6% abv – Pale Ale – 660ml. A birthday pressie from my good buddy Col (Slainte!)

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I’ve put this here, simply because I’d forgotten just how good this is (and how much it astonished me when I first tried it!)

This was golden coloured with a slight haze on pouring. The tropical citrus fruit aroma hits you straight away and (strangely) reminded me of a fresh fruit flan! Some sweet biscuity malt and assertive hops, apricot bitterness which faded gradually to leave an earthy grassy dryness in the aftertaste. This is some beer. A supermarket stalwart! (Sainsbury do the 660ml bottles).

3. Mary Jane IPA by Ilkley Brewery – 6% abv – Pale Ale – £2.29 for 500ml from Booths at Media City

20130426_213311(Need to get a less intense flash!)

Being bored a couple of Fridays ago, I clocked off early and popped to Media City to check out Booths deals during one of their “Beer Festivals”. A few interesting bottles at 4 for £6, but 3 bottles I had never seen before took my eye, this among them.

The weather has been chilly recently, so I left this outside to cool, probably for too long as, when opened, I only got a slight fruity aroma. A golden – bottle conditioned – beer, this had a lovely sweet malt backbone matched with a spicy, fruity bitterness. Like a hoppy french kiss dancing around my tongue! Mmmmm….. A very dry finish with some almost herbal grassyness in the afters. I though I detected something else, maybe a touch of rhubarb. I may be talking utter garbage there, but this is a really lovely beer. A recommendation at any price. But at £2.29……..!!!!!

4. Manifesto by Revolutions Brewing (Castleford) – 6% abv – Strong Stout – £3.25 for 500ml from Yorkshire Ales

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(Love Music? Love Beer? Oh indeed!)

All of this Yorkshire brewery’s beers are music themed. I mean “Clash Porter”, “Kraftwerk Brown Ale”, “Ravenscroft Pale Ale” (A homage to Mr J Peel?). They’re onto a winner with me BEFORE I open any bottles! I was attracted to Manifesto for two reasons. 1. It’s a Stout, Duh! 2. “Manifesto” is the name of one of my favourite Northern Soul tracks by A Case of Tyme. I also bought a bottle for my Soulie chum (the aforementioned) Col, whose wife glugged it before he got a sniff! (She LOVED it BTW)

Anyway, the beer! Black with a tan head on pouring. The aroma? If I hadn’t read the ingredients, I’d have sworn that there was some port or rum in there! The aroma eventually mellowed to a strong dark chocolate. A really smooth full texture in the mouth. This is a malty mouthful with loads of roasted flavour with plenty of bitter chocolate, whilst being smooth and lush. Dry and earthy aftertaste. It’s a damn good job that this is rarely on cask. I’d never be out of the pub!

5. Delta V by Stringers Beer – 6.5% – Pale Ale – £2.19 for 500ml from Booths at Media City

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(Another Music Moniker ?)

Another one of my surprises from the recent visit to Booths. I am a HUGE fan of their IPA & Stout (not too taken with the XB though) which are two of my top 5 supermarket bought beers. I had only seen this one at Micro Bar and at the SIBA fest last year, so was quite chuffed to find it in the aisles.

Deep gold with a light apricot citrus aroma. Lovely texture with a marmaladey bitter fruity flavour prominent. A slight warming sensation from that there 6.5%. That fruitiness faded to leave a dry hoppy grassy note. Another recommendation at the price!

6. Chocolate Cherry Mild by Dunham Massey Brewing (Altrincham) – 3.8 % abv – Mild – £3 (£9 for 3) for 500ml from Bents Garden Centre, Glazebrook, Warrington.

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(Oops – lively devil!)

A colleague of mine claims this as his favourite draught beer of all. Haven’t had it on draught yet (Molly House do Dunham Massey, I think), but when I saw the bottle, I had to give it a go. Didn’t I?

A deep ruby coloured beer. I didn’t initially get any cherry in the aroma, more of a choccy toffee thing. The first taste was of a really good, standard mild. But then the cherry and chocolate start to insinuate themselves and wrap around your tongue. Just one word for this. Yum! If I see it on draught, I’ll be all over it like a rash!

______________

Beers of The Month ?

Bottled

Manifesto by Revolutions Brewing – For all the reasons mentioned above. A gorgeous dark, dirty and dangerous Stout/ The rocks upon which this ship could happily get wrecked!

Draught

In The Black by Wilson Potter (Middleton). A 4.2% Stout. Had this twice this month, firstly at the brewery and secondly at The Salford Arms. Gloriously lush, creamy and roasted with a slight smoky tinge. Just a simple dry stout, made well. Good to start seeing their stuff ‘in the wild’.

More pubs soon.

Slainte!

Joshua Brooks – Just The Ticket! 03/05/2013

It had been a stressful week at the ‘coal face’. That said, I had absolutely no intention of hitting the 37 towards Manchester on this particular Friday evening, none whatsoever! All those good intentions evaporated, when I received reports that one of my favourite bars had 4 (FOUR) dark beers out of 5 on their bar. So, once I had cleaned up the drool and hit the bus, I find myself walking up Princess Street, toward the junction with Charles Street, where sits that little patch of beery heaven that is….

Joshua Brooks

Oxford Road Corridor Pt 1 - 19/10/2012

As I was crossing Portland Street, I checked my Twitter feed. Horror of horrors, one of the 4 had expired. That one being the Blackberry Stout by Waen Brewery, a brewery and a beer I hadn’t yet sampled. I was suitably gutted. However, the fear of missing out on any other increased my pace. 90 seconds later I was at the bar. The other 3 were still present and correct. James, the bar manager, advised me to get on the Waen Brewery Chilli Plum Porter before that went too. A 6.1% abv to start the evening? Ah well. It HAD been a stressful week after all!

As the beer was being pulled, I surveyed the scene. Busy. VERY busy. I hadn’t seen Joshua Brooks this busy upstairs and it was a delight to see. No tables/chairs to be had, so vertical was our drinking stance (having been joined by my arch-nemesis, Jaz).

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Now the venue has been open since 1993 and has been (and remains) an ultra successful nightclub, the venue for which is downstairs. Having only been introduced to the place last year, I’m probably a tad senior to brave the venue in full swing, but last year, James showed me downstairs and it reminds me of great venues from my youth from the minimalism of The Hacienda, to the intimate feel of The Boardwalk and The Venue (all venues on the Whitworth Street corridor). It looks a belting venue and justifiably popular.

The upstairs bar (where I find myself!) is an open plan space with (very) comfy semi-circular leather sofas to the right of the bar and further leather sofas in the centre with other tables and chairs dotted around. there is a balcony area outside with a view over the River Medlock across to that Manchester institution The Lass O’Gowrie. There is a drop down screen for major sporting events and an excellent (and somewhat tricky) quiz night on occasions.

Back to that Chilli Plum Porter! As stated earlier, I hadn’t previously tried any beers from Waen Brewery so was eager to tuck into this (having missed the Blackberry Stout!). I wasn’t to be disappointed as i pushed through the lush creamy head into a very creamy stout, full of body, with a subtle touch of plum identifiable and a touch of tongue tingling warmth coming through the further down the glass I progressed. A truly lovely beer. As I finished the beer, I swooped onto one of the semi-circular sofas like a seagull on a stray chip!

I dropped down the strength next with a Black Ice from Titanic Brewery from the Potteries. James told me this was a black Wheat Beer. I didn’t get that at all. What I tasted was more like a light Black IPA. 4.1% abv, some nice roasted malt notes, but that hoppy dryness like a counterpoint to mess with your head. A nice beer indeed. Darkness from Dark Star (for me) is the daddy of this lower abv Black IPA style, but this doesn’t fall far short.

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(Black Ice – slipping down easily!)

Next up, another new brewery for me, Lurchs Liquor Stout from Muirhouse Brewery of Ilkeston, Derbyshire. Back up to 5% abv with this black beer. Creamy head with a roasted almost buttery aroma. described as a rich stout packed with dark malts, this (to me) was dry with a pronounced fruity note. Dry indeed in the afters. Lush and creamy in the mouth. Another brewery to look out for.

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(Lurch has cute dimples!)

Seeing as I was here, I thought I’d go through the bar. Rude not to really! So next up, was the beer that replaced the Waen Blackberry Stout, Seamless from Redwillow. A 3.6% abv pale beer. Expecting big hops, but got some banana split notes and butterscotch in the aroma. refreshing, but probably one for a starter rather than end of session.

Finally, Janners Pride from Waen Brewery to complete my sweep. Not a style of beer I would ordinarily go for, being a brown beer at 4% abv. Nice though, quite malty with a smoky tinge to the flavour, with a bitter finish.

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(A fine selection!)

Did I mention that the ales are all £2.60 on a Friday evening? No? Let that be our secret! There is another secret that you’ll have to ask me about!

Probably now my favourite bar. Excellent beer, excellently priced. Good staff and excellent background music. Ticks all my boxes really. But what is it with those dimpled glasses?

Having finished the ales, we bade farewell and strolled along to The Waterhouse and sneaked in a pint of American Red by Hawkshead. Red, American hops. Just the thing at the end of the night! Gorgeously sharp and bitter with lashings of them Yank hoppy things. Another bargain at £2.29!

The time had come for the companions to go their separate ways, Jaz to his city centre condo, me to my seat on the 37!

I like Joshua Brooks. (Did I tell you that?) Take that as a recommendation.

On that note, ’til next time.

Slainte!