Heaton Hops – 30/03/2015 – A Classy Micro Pub

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(I thought that it never rained in South Manchester?)

I am a lucky man sometimes. It certainly felt that way, when I received an invite to a “soft opening” of a brand new bar being opened by Damian O’Shea (of “The Ale Man Manchester” fame). My plans were made to meet Andy (of “Hop On The Bike” infamy) on the concourse at Piccadilly Station – complete with rose in lapel.

Then…..Public Transport shall we say….intervened.

It was hardly an auspicious start for this opening to take place in such foul weather. Let me honest here…..If it wasn’t a bar being opened by Damian and his partner Charlotte, I wouldn’t have stepped on the bus. But I did. And I could have nearly walked quicker! As it was, I got off on Bridge Street in Manchester and marched to Piccadilly…well in advance of the bus that I’d left.

Then….

I caught the wrong train. And ended up at Manchester Airport. Yes. I know. I AM an utter idiot. Right time, wrong platform it would appear. Should have gone to Specsavers eh? Right. Back on the same train and return to Piccadilly and start with a clean slate. And more caution!

So I now find myself on Heaton Moor Road, crossing the A6 from Heaton Chapel train station onto School Lane. In the pouring rain. (I’m SUCH a poet!)

I tell you. Odysseus had less of a journey to get a beer! Homer (No. Not the yellow one!) would be proud of me. And be readying his stylus and wax tablet for a sequel!

The windows were steamy. A good sign that it was busy.

Opening the door. First impressions? Classy. Neutral paintwork on the walls, REAL wood cladding on the ceiling and upper portions of the walls, pendant lighting. It looked great. To be honest, anything less would have been disappointing. I’ve known Damian as a customer for nearly 3 years and this was what I expected from him. It looked really good and serves as a lesson in how to do this – no names mentioned.

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(Busy)

It is (by its very nature as a converted shop) small. Including a downstairs area, the capacity is 60, but it doesn’t feel uncomfortable, a situation that is arrived at by the provision of a number of distressed wood tables giving plenty of seating, which was all occupied as I entered and strode to the bar.

Beers. 2 on cask and 8 on keg. But I needed a pint. And, for an opening night, to have cask beers from two local breweries, Brewsmith & Thirst Class Ale, was like music to my eyes and tastebuds. So, for me, as local as it gets with a pint of Green Bullet by Thirst Class Ale of Stockport – Nicely bitter with a fruity pine flavour and a resinous finish. I enjoyed it. I had a few.

On either side wall, there are shelves and shelving full of some of the best of British Craft brewing. The first thing that I saw was a few bottles of Smokehouse Porter by Cheshire Brewhouse. Now those who know me, will know that some of those were simply BOUND to end up in my bag!

Heaton Hops Thirst Class

(Photo courtesy of Richard Conway – aka Thirst Class Ale)

Next to the Smokehouse Porter were some bottles of my Best Bottle of 2014 – (Barrel Aged) Govinda, again by Cheshire Brewhouse. Next to that, Smoked Treacle Imperial Stout by Quantum. All 3 beers should be in any serious local beer drinkers stashes – they’re in mine. But I concede that I’m rarely serious!

The beer was going down well, assisted by my pal Des shoving up and letting me sit down and drip dry. The conversation flowed as much as the beer. As I’ve said on many occasions. “Beer People Are Good People” and these are the kinds of people that Damian has been serving from his stall these last few years. They like what he does (and sells) and many, like Des and Steve (Beer Nouveau) and myself, came from 15 miles or more to enjoy this new venue. And oh how we did.

I had a look downstairs where Damian & Charlotte have created a room from what would have been cellar space, again, a nice cool look to it. just calm and clean. Spot lighting – the only way given the low ceiling – gives it a warm feel. A nice cosy space.IMAG2766

(Downstairs)

Somebody had said that this was where “the cool kids” were tonight. If so, I don’t know where I fitted in! But there were a number of faces that I knew from Des & Steve, Andy, Richard (Thirst Class) and a number of the Manchester Home Brewer group, my old buddy Jeff, Paul & George (aka Shindigger). It was just a lovely relaxed gathering

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The Craft Keg selection was a pleasure to see too, with the local likes of Runaway, Shindigger, Cloudwater & Marble in among the likes of Weird Beard. Again, certain other new bars could take note of the number of local beers on offer. I found myself amazed that I had never had the Smoked Porter by Runaway on keg previously, so that was duly remedied. Repeatedly. A gentle smoky nose and a lovely creamy texture giving up a big roasty and lightly smoked character. Beautiful beer that.

I also had my first taste of a Cloudwater beer, their Table Beer. Refreshing and with a spicy almost Belgian yeasty note it felt like a wheat/pale ale hybrid and wasn’t what I was expecting at all. Being the talk of the town at the moment, I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been asked what I think of Cloudwater. I shall reserve until I try a few more of their beers, but this wasn’t a bad start.

I also picked up a few bottles. Because, it would a) Be rude not to, and b) This is also an excellent bottle shop! So expect to hear more about some Cheshire Brewhouse, Offbeat, First Chop & Shindigger sometime soon!

In baseball terminology, I think that Damian & Charlotte have hit the ball out of the park here in many ways. The bar looks great. The beer choice is excellent. The background music was superb too – I abruptly broke off a conversation to exclaim “”Canopy” – The Cave Singers. Bloody hell this is a TUNE”! Most of all, by choosing this location. A bar of this type is bound to do well in The Heatons. And, for Northern oiks like me, it’s only a 3 minute walk from Heaton Chapel train station.

All in all – a result.

Postscript : It seems fitting that – given my disastrous journey TO Heaton Hops, that the return journey should also be a bit of a “mare”. A delayed train meant that I would have missed my last bus. Thanks therefore to Paul from Shindigger and his Uber account for getting me home!

Tune

“I have learnt there’s a magical spot at the hop
Come with me to the church on the corner the hop
There’s nuts and there’s crisps and there’s c-c-c-cola on tap
A good time had by those boys and those girls at the hop

Tell me what do you say (tell me what do you say)
Tell me what do you say….I tell you
Life begins at the hop, boys and girls”

(“Live Begins At The Hop” – XTC  – Clip courtesy thecatkeaton on You Tube)

In my library, there could only be one tune to finish this piece with! The mighty XTC on TOTP, things like this used to make my Thursday evenings worth staying in for when I was 14!

One of the greatest bands. Period.

Well. I better get off and gird my loins for Saturday and the Easter 2015 Road To Wigan Beer bus marathon. Come along and have beers you’ll have never tried before and the most fun you could have with your clothes on!

Slainte!

Manchester – Northern Quarter Bar Crawl Pt 2 – 27/03/2015

There are two things that bring old comrades together. Those things are “Leaving Dos” & Funerals. This saddens me and is something that I need to address this year. Over 30 odd years in the same job (give or take a few “re-brandings”), you make a lot of friends. I need some “catch up” evenings. And soon.

This evening started off with an e-mail regarding a (premature – in my view) “Retirement”. Of a lovely fella who has had his fill of cuts and their associated nonsense and has decided to break out on his own.

Brave or foolhardy? Not even he knows for sure.

I find myself invited to a pub in the Northern Quarter on a Friday afternoon in Spring……via a swift Rice ‘n’ Three, I find myself in….

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The Abel Heywood (Turner Street)

Named after a two-time Mayor of Manchester of the Victorian era, this place is a bit of an anomaly. Let’s face it. What brewery spends gazillions opening a pub when so many others are closing? The answer is Hydes. Manchester born & bred (but now nestling nicely in Salford near Media City!)

Its USP is (I suppose) the “Boutique Hotel” which takes up 15 rooms in this conversion. A colleague picked up a bargain double for £60 inc breakfast – and said the room was lovely. A recommendation then!

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The pub itself is open plan and bends around the bar, I didn’t get to see the separate room upstairs, but downstairs is all designer aged, with dark booths, lots of wood and even a faux-nicotine stained look ceiling. Not many Victorian pubs would have had air-con though! Hydes have obvious spent a lot of money on this and – in the short-term – it appears to be paying off as – before I left at about 5:30, the place was absolutely rammed.

The beer was OK. Perle Essence from Hydes’ own “Beer Studio” imprint was quite fruity, yet understated in its hoppiness. A nice pint, but eclipsed somewhat by the 1/2 of Flying Dog Pale Ale that I had before I left  (Not bad at £4.50 a pint)

So far, the place seems to have grabbed a slice of the NQ drinking pie. And that is a competitive meerkat! Or market even.

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57, Thomas Street (Thomas Street)

Just two streets away, almost on a line with the Abel Heywood is this Marble offshoot. And whilst I know that it featured on the last N4 crawl that I did, I just fancied something Marble(ish) and it was an agreeable spot at which to hook up with my beery Yoda – the Arch-Nemesis.

After the sardine tin feel of the previous pub, it was a joy to walk into somewhere that was so cool (in all meanings) and where I could actually get a seat (for a change in here!)

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For the uninitiated, this is a small yet perfectly formed bar with a long bench table opposite the bar. The venue is glass fronted and if you can nab a window seat, it is a great spot to watch the bustle of the NQ pass you by on a Spring afternoon.
But I couldn’t. I did manage to grab a seat on the bench however, prior to approaching the bar with its 4 casks on gravity dispense (straight from the cask – the USP of the bar) With 3 out of the 4 casks on, I went for a zesty pint of er….. Pint, which was as good as usual, lemon sharp and refreshing.
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With a moment to read an excellent piece about Sufjan Stevens in The Grauniad, I had time to admire the place. Really fond of this bar, it has a charm that I can’t quite put into words. From the semi industrial metal ceiling, mock medieval wallpaper (complete with self-advertising stencil!), warm red paint tones. Friendly staff….. Need I go on?

I wonder where the board games all went? (another former USP)

Anyhow, with the AN reaching the end of his excellent pint of Ginger, it was time to move on – after all, this was a crawl! But not too far….
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Terrace Bar (Thomas Street)
If this was a pub, you could describe it as a “Cut”, as it has entrances on both Thomas Street and Edge Street. This place has more of a club feel to it with quite loud dance music pumping through powerful speakers. Exposed brickwork, post-industrial style – is the order of the day here. The bar occupies the side of the venue that you enter via Thomas Street and there is more of a foody vibe at the side that abuts Edge Street.
A distinctly younger crowd in here, with myself and Yoda upping the average age by approximately 2 years! The great thing about Terrace is though, that it never ceases to amaze me that a bar such as this can stock a great beer selection with Thornbridge Jaipur, Liverpool Organic Shipwreck IPA, Harbour Light and Millstone Tiger Rut all on the pumps.
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(I really need to get a new camera/phone!)
With the need to keep a (relatively) clear head, I opted to avoid Live Organic & Thornbridge (big beers both) and had a Harbour Light, which, whilst perfectly acceptable, was probably slightly short of premium nick. Yoda enjoyed his Millstone hugely too. Nice keg selection here too if the cask doesn’t grab you.
terrace may not be to the taste of all in my age group, but there is a certain something that I really enjoy here that I can;t quite put my finger on. Maybe it’s the tunes. I had forgotten quite how much of a guilty pleasure that “I Wanna Sex You Up” by Color Me Badd was! A classic early 90s #1!
Moving on….and a bit more of a stroll to Dale Street – a bit counter intuitive, considering where we intended to end up!…To
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Allotment Bar (Dale Street)
Having only been in once before (with Atilla), I think I fell in love with this 2014 opening bar when I saw one of the staff watering the indoor window boxes that adore one of the walls! Allotment by name……
Another (kind of) open space, with a centrally located bar dividing the place up a bit. Quite a few tables scattered around near the bar, but many “reserved”, presumably for “diners”. No matter, we only here for one anyway. There is also – to note – a further bar to the rear to serve when it gets really busy. No cask beer at that bar though.
With some local beers on the bar, I opted for the Pale Ale from Tweed of Hyde. A nice fruity beer, with hints of peach and orange.
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(The Hanging Gardens of Babylon….Ok, Dale Street!)
We acquired the completing member of our planned trinity when Jeff (aka Bode Miller – for all you “Ski Sunday” addicts) joined us, grumbling at the distance he had to travel to meet us….all 1/2 mile from his lair!
Nice place Allotment. Another rare pub opening. Quite busy before we left too with more of a mixed crowd that at Terrace.
With a hike across the NQ planned to our ultimate destination, Time for one more…..
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Pie & Ale by Bakerie (The Hive, Lever Street)
Set slightly off Lever Street adj to Stevenson Square, this place is worth seeking out, if not for the pie based menu (they are excellent), then for the beer selection (as well as a great selection of Whiskies)
Another 2014 opening bar. The interior is classy and minimal with exposed brickwork, muted neutral toned paintwork, two distinct ground floor areas and a quite concealed mezzanine dining area. Humming with conversation when we got there, the main topic of OUR conversation when we got there was the beer choice!
Disregarding the house beer “Yippee Pie Ale”, there were beers from the likes of Sonnet 43, Mad Hatter, IndyManBrewHouse (collab with Celt), Ilkley & Weird Beard. The Dynamic Duo both went for the Ilkley whilst I opted for the Hope Street Hop which, whilst as hazy as a spring fog, was actually a damned tasty pint full of peach, mango and tangerine fruitiness.
The only thing that I would say in balance on this bar is that the prices seem a little high. I would have had the Weird Beard Decadence Stout – a formidable beer at 5.5% abv, but not at £5 a pint. Even with it being Jeff’s round, I’m not THAT much of a git!
With a little tweaking down of the prices of some of the beers, this would be a Go To bar for me. Certainly the selection of beers whenever I’ve been in is impressive.
The ultimate destination was the Black Jack Tap, which was open on the Friday night. With the Dynamic Duo setting the pace, this was a thirsty walk.
The beers were all excellent, but particular mention for a stunning spicy and dry Rye IPA by Runaway Brewery (I thanked Mark personally!) and a stunningly smooth, unctuous, vinous and warming one year old Imperial Stout by Dark Star. The great thing about this ending was the beery chatter with some lovely people.
It was like a coming together of brewers with Black Jack, Runaway, Six O’ Clock, Cloudwater. Like a beery Mancunian Illuminati!!!
If I can give a tip? Next time the Tap is open, get your arses down there for some great beer and excellent food (the Pizza was a thing of beauty!) courtesy of those lovely GRUB people, Jason & Jules.
All good things must pass however and the last #8 bus was beckoning. I managed to stay awake (bonus) and must confess a sneaky – and rather nice – Lamb & Chicken Kebab from a local takeaway prior to retiring for the evening at a FAR too late an hour – considering that I had volunteered to work at Prestwich Beer Fest until 01:00 (02:00 with the clocks going forward!) – A great event put on by the folk behind Beer Junkets. But I am currently…knackered!
Stay Tuned for an upcoming review of Heaton Hops – the new venture from Damian (Ale Man Manchester) O’Shea!
With that……
Slainte!
Tune
“It’s real early morning, no-one is awake. I’m back at my cliff, still throwing things off.
I listen to the sounds they make on their way down, I follow with my eyes ’til they crash.
I imagine what my body would sound like slamming against those rocks.
And when it lands, will my eyes be closed or open.
I go through all this, before you wake up. So I can feel happier,
to be safe up here with you.”
(“Hyperballad” – Bjork. Clip courtesy Maskuk on YouTube)
I freely accept that Bjork isn’t to everyone’s tastes, but to me, she is a rare example of a musical artist who does something the is original and bears an utterly individual stamp.
My first encounter was when I first heard “Birthday” by The Sugar Cubes. I was blown away by this strange voice and off-kilter slowed down grungy funk. I therefore bought the album from which it was taken “Life’s Too Good”, a fine album which stands with all the other vinyl that I own in #2 sons loft bedroom – much to his futile annoyance!
Her solo work has, for me, been in many instance, ground breaking. You hear a Bjork record and it sounds like…..Bjork. Most modern music owes a debt to someone, be it via sampling or obvious influences. It’s a rare thing to hear something that makes me go “bloody hell”! But Bjork does it. Consistently. From tracks like Human Behaviour, Pagan Poetry, Hidden Place, Big Time Sensuality……All stunning. All Bjork. Nobody else sounds like this.
This track is – to me – a thing of raw and disturbed beauty. That line about throwing herself off the mountain is sung in such a beautiful child like voice. So haunting. This is a track I go back to time and again. And it’s 20 years old. And it sounds timeless.
I’m off to buy Vulnicura (her latest album) See you later.

Historic Manchester Pubs – Pt 4 – 14/03/2015

Blame Coneygree. Yes, blame a horse. It was the horse’s fault that I was out last Saturday. For those NOT in the know, Coneygree won the 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup. And I backed it, along with 4 other winners. So I fancied a pint. And a trip down memory lane.

It’s all too easy to go in the same pubs all the time. I’m as guilty as anybody else. But on this night, I wanted something different to the usual comfortable “same old”. So in a week of new beery launches (think Cloudwater and Piccadilly Tap), it felt right to check, take a step back in time and…you know…appreciate what we’ve already got.

So, when I met the Arch Nemesis, within striking distance of Port Street Beer House, we turned right – onto Dale Street – and kept walking. To somewhere far less vaunted. But a Manchester jewel.

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The Jolly Angler – Ducie Street

It seems to me that my visits to this pub are separated by decades, which saddens me. This is one of the smallest pubs in Manchester and – given it’s location adjacent to the rapidly redeveloping Piccadilly Basin – is precisely the kind of pub that we could lose.

Walking in, the first thing that I noticed was the absence of the old pool table. A shame, but it really opens up the place, allowing a few more tables. The next thing was, just how bloody friendly the place was, both mine host and the punters around the bar were just so warm and welcoming! Which was quite a surprise, given that this is a “Blue” pub and we walked in just one minute from the end of the Burnley v City match and City were 1-0 down! The sound of a title challenge flowing down the drain…… Banter was exchanged whilst beers were ordered.

Located at the junction of Ducie Street and Pigeon Street, properly tucked away in the shadows of Piccadilly Basin’s flats and warehouses, there has been a pub on this site for over 125 years and (according to the excellent resource ManchesterHistory.Net) it is positioned on the site of a former school. I’ve seen it described as an “Irish pub”. It isn’t. It has had (and may still have) Irish folk running it – it certainly has the kind of friendly welcome I associate with true Irish pubs from over the water.

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A single room is almost split in two by the entry door and – as a result – curves around the entrance with table either side. The bar is small and the sole cask beer is Hydes Original. The Arch-Nemesis ordered two pints and we sat down to admire its charms and it IS charming. Did I say it was tiny? This is just a bright uncluttered pub with the accent on conversation. And a decent pint. The Hydes Original just did the trick. Nice bitterness with a bit of spicy orange fruit in there. And at £2.70 a pint, is this the cheapest standard pint in Manchester (outside of a Wetherspoons)?.

This is a classic old school pub, the likes of which seem to be disappearing. More people need to experience pubs like this. It’s a thing of beauty and overlooked by those who prefer the hipster chic of nearby Northern Quarter bars. This is real Manchester. My City. And I adore it all the more.

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The Bulls Head – Jct of London Road / Fairfield Street

A 5 or 6 minute walk back along Ducie Street, turning left along London Road and past the – still stunning – historic London Road Fire Station, lies a grander proposition.

Located on an unusual triangular plot, extremely handy for Piccadilly Station being just 60 seconds walk from the Fairfield St entrance, this is another open plan, single roomed effort. Lots of wood, really decorative and ornate, Victorian style lighting. Just to the left of the entrance is a strange, attractive small raised seating area. Quirky.

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According to the pubs’ own website, there has been a pub on this site since 1787, whilst according to the goldmine that is “Pubs Of Manchester“, 1786 is quoted both of which would make it one of Manchester’s oldest boozers. It is safe to say that it has seen the city reshaped around it, Fairfield Street itself didn’t exist and appears to have crashed through adjoining buildings, leaving the Bulls Head in splendid isolation.

The beer….is (tonight) entirely comprised of beers from the Marstons stable of breweries. I plumped for a beer that I’ve sampled on my frequent trips to Hampton Loade, Sumbeam by Banks’. And it was lovely. Refreshing, Marmaladey and just the right amount of bitterness.

Not as intimate as The Jolly Angler perhaps, but an impressive pub nonetheless. Some accommodation coming soon apparently, will make a pleasant change to all the faceless hotels that Manchester seems to have.

Crossing back over Fairfield Street and returning along London Road to Gore Street….

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The Waldorf – Gore Street

Turning left onto Gore Street feels almost like stepping back in time. That said, I’d forgotten how close this pub was to London Road.

Big and open – again, single roomed – pub. Lots of wood. 3 sided bar with the usual macro suspects. 4 handpumps, 3 in use. Landlord, Doom Bleurgh….and…..Phoenix White Monk! Oh the joy!

Formerly the Woseley Hotel (source Pubs of Manchester & others), ManchesterHistory.Net doesn’t give it an age, but this MUST be over 100 years old and it was (in 1929 – source Pubs of Manchester) called The Woseley Hotel having been so named in 1883 changing to its current name in 1929.

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Lots of wood in evidence. Looks like the Waldorf has escaped being knocked about unlike some nearby pubs, it retains a certain Mancunian charm.

Sparsely populated this particular evening, there was a particularly refreshed individual hovering close to the jukebox who seemed to have a love of 90s indie music. Am I the only person who thinks that great music by-passed the 90s?

The beer was in good nick though. Nice to see Phoenix on the pumps, a brewery I see all too rarely in Manchester these days.

Cutting across toward Chorlton Street – since WHEN did Stagecoach enclose the entrance to the bus station with barriers ??? – we headed toward two of the smallest pubs in town, almost side by side on Portland Street….

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The Circus Tavern – Portland Street

Back in the 80s & 90s, the only way that you could get in The Circus after 7pm at the weekend was (so legend has it) via a little known entrance via the rear. It is, indeed, tiny. The size of the bar is legendary and for many years, all you could get was Tetley Bitter – no lager or cider to be had.

It was THAT busy, that I couldn’t take pictures. This pub is….narrow…..and tight!

The corridor is incredibly narrow. It is always full though as both of the rooms that are on the right hand side rarely seem to have a spare seat. This is a pub that, when people get a seat, they keep it. Again, lots of wood and plenty of original features. The pub is rated as having an interior of National importance by CAMRA and is indeed Grade II listed.

I see no reason to doubt the excellent “Pubs of Manchester” blog, which dates the pub at 1790. The pub has attained legendary status with its diminutive nature perversely attracting more customers and is rated by many as one of Manchester’s “must visit” attractions.

The pub is dominated by pictures of Celebrities (real Manchester “A” listers) that have visited over the years, although – being a blue – there was something quite disturbing about a semi-naked George Best seemingly watching me while I drank my pint! I had the Robinsons “Dizzy Blonde” which was, according to Jaz was the lesser of the two, with Tetley’s winning out.

Just a door away….

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The Grey Horse – Portland Street

Almost as narrow as The Circus, The Grey Horse has a single roomed layout, and – as such – feels considerably more spacious.

The Horse has the feel of a local in the big city. Single roomed, as stated, this has what I think may be a unique feature in Manchester, toilets that are semi – outdoor. Quirky, but the entrance area is covered unlike in the 80s.

Two Hydes pubs tonight. Both feel really welcoming and friendly. The Grey Horse being considerably the more busy, no doubt being on Portland Street helps in that regard.

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Again, mainly Hydes’ beers with a rare sighting of Butcombe Bitter as a guest in Manchester, I had Hydes’ Beer Studio offering “Styrian Aurora”. Vast improvement on the Robbies from next door, if not exactly the highest of praise, it was a good fruity beer with a bitter edge. Justly busy and with all the noise down just to conversation. A joy.

This was an early finish, so we scooted across town for a couple in The Crown & Kettle, my favourite Manchester pub. I won’t wax lyrical about the pub, but the Squawk IPA (Cluster Galena Chinook) at £2.95 and 6.3% was absolutely stunning. I had to have 2!

Whilst Manchester has several justly lauded hostelries, it’s always the unheralded pubs like The Jolly Angler that appeal most to me. In the words of “Two Cousins” by Slow Club “Hold on to where you’re from, it’s where your heart goes when you’re done”. Thanks, as before, to two great repositories of pub information, Pubs Of Manchester (go follow on Twitter!) & Manchester History. Net – without whom…..

Tune

“They took all the trees, put ’em in a tree museum.

And they charged all the people a dollar and a half just to see ’em”

(“Big Yellow Taxi” – Joni Mitchell)

(Clip courtesy “musicben2” on You Tube)

Why the tune?

a) Recently included it on a mix tape, and

b) Sums up my feelings about the need to appreciate things while you still have them. Like the pubs above.

I’m not anti-progress, just think that forwards is the not the only direction! We have some truly great pubs in this great city, like the Jolly Angler.

In the week that Piccadilly Tap opens a few hundred yards away, I know where MY heart lies.

See you soon.

Slainte!

Bottled Ales – March 2015 – Pt 1

This week, just for an experiment, I’m going to flip the order of things a little. Just to see if it works. Let’s begin….. With a bumper crop just SHAKING with Beergasms! (I spoil you – oh yes I do!)

The Beers

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Table IPA (Tickety Few) – Tickety Brew (Stalyvegas, Cheshire) – 2.9%abv – Pale AleEpicurean (W Didsbury) £2.05 (330ml)

A beautiful and clear pale golden beer, with good firm carbonation providing a lasting white fluffy collar and an aroma of tangerine and sherbet lemons. I’m drooling!

Mmmmmm…… Gooseberry and lemon tartness! The first mouthful is a tart delight, pin sharp, crisp and lemony in a light body with a light rich tea biscuit base holding up this sharp hoppage.

This is every bit as refreshing as I remember it on cask. It’s bloody lovely with that signature Belgian yeast note adding to a light banana note to the abrupt dry finish. I’m so glad that I picked this up.

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N.S. IPARammy Craft Ales (Ramsbottom, Bury) – 3.5%abv – Pale Ale – 500ml – Browtons (Ashton-U-Lyne)

Love the rebrand that this brewery has done. Really gives the bottles more presence on the shelf. This was the only one in the shop and it really drew my eyes.

The beer itself is an ultra pale gold with a light white head and a big nose full of passion fruit, gooseberry and kiwi. Sharp and mouth-watering.

Light bodied (as you would expect at this strength) this is hugely refreshing. Full of sharp lemony citrus with an undernote of tart gooseberry, this is a proper all day beer just so light, vibrant, fresh and zingy.

This is a proper fruity mouthful which is going down all too quickly! The fruitiness leads to a short dry finish with a little piney resin and a residual lemony note in the aftertaste. Yum.

Have a feeling that I will be giving Mr Holmes a call prior to #ISBF2015!

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Floating PintsSquawk Brewing (Manchester) – 4.5%abv – Pale AleEpicurean (West Didsbury) – £2.85 (330ml)

A crystal clear sparkling golden beer, with a thin yet lasting white head and an enormous fruity aroma of peach, mango and passion fruit? Really juicy nose on this puppy.

Oh bloody hell, this is SUPERB! Medium bodied, this is just as fruity in the mouth as on the hooter! I would say apricot and peach in this first sip with one hell of a sticky resinous aftertaste. This beer punches over its weight!

Second mouthful has actually quite a full mouthfeel to it and brings a nice forthright bitterness to the party but ending in that sticky fruity piney aftertaste. This is a belter and quite possibly the best bottle I’ve had at this strength. Proper #Beergasm material this!

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Hoppy CoupleThirst Class Ale (Stockport) – 6.3%abv – IPA – 500ml – Browtons (Ashton-under-Lyne)

I forgot for a while that, before Richard Conway “went Pro”, I’d had one of his beers before, as he’d won a brewing competition and had his Elephant Hawk brewed professionally with Jay Krause at Quantum. A belter that was.

I think he may have just bettered it.

A deep amber coloured beer this, with a lasting white foamy collar barely suppressing a massive fruity nose full of orange zest, peach and mango. A lovely aroma.

Oh my. Is that followed through in the mouth! More of the peach and mango fruitiness in this initial sip, followed up by a sticky resinous aftershock. This is a proper IPA!

Really smooth feel to this and almost a feel of the tannins you would get from drinking a black tea, herbal and quite astringent. You can’t get away from that fruitiness though! The finish of this combines that pine resin stickiness with those tannins to dry out the mouth and leave you wanting another mouthful.

Don’t mind if I do! A Beergasm.

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Prestwich Vintage 2014Beer Nouveau (Prestwich) – 8.2%abv – Barley WineBarbeerian (Prestwich)

Barley Wine. An old English beer style. I hate old beer styles. But….. He who dares……

A deep amber coloured beer with a lacey white head and an aroma full of caramelised banana with more than a hint of whisky laced marmalade.

Bloody hell but this is gorgeous and oh so warming! A Big chewy mouthful of toffee malt, with oranges soused in brandy perched on top and blasted with a kitchen blow torch. Then that slight bitter orange sweetness slides down and warms the heart of your cockles!

Then the unexpected bitterness jumped out from the beery shadows and caught me unawares. Is it just me? The older I get the more I actually GET beer styles I would have shunned as little as 5 years ago. This is bloody lovely. A beergasm. This needs ageing in wood for October!!! A proper winter warmer.

Barley Wine. An old English beer style. I love this beer! Beergasm!

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Black PigBlack Jack Beers (Manchester) / Pig and Porter (Tonbridge Wells, Kent) – 6.3%abv – Belgian Rye Porter – Epicurean (West Didsbury)

This is a righteously dark brown, almost black beer with an appetising creamy coloured head boasting an aroma that is simultaneously spicy (with a Belgian yeast note) and with more than a hint of banana split toffee. Yum! And I haven’t tasted it yet!

Oh yes. There’s the Rye! One dry and spicy little bugger this! Full bodied and quite creamy smooth, the first flavour I’d a little red wine note, followed by coffeeish roasted barley, oh…

But then that Rye does its trick and dried the bejesus out of my mouth! Wow.There’s licorice here, bitter coffee and a little dark bitter chocolate. But not much in the way of sweetness. This is one arid little bastard!

(At this point, I feel like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally, with this beer playing the Billy Crystal role!)

3 years ago, I wouldn’t have known what to make of this. But in 2015, I absolutely love it! A bloody cracker. And any beer named after Captain Pugwash’s ship is always of to a good start in my book!

Need more beer from Mr Ayling’s Pig and Porter in my life! Beergasm!

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Cocoa WonderlandThornbridge (Bakewell, Derbyshire) – 6.8%abv – PorterBarbeerian (Prestwich)

One dark beer. One very dark beer with a collar of beige creamy foam for a head. And SUCH a booming chocolate aroma!!! Like inhaling a Galaxy bar! Oh but it’s chocolaty!

I should cocoa! This is even more chocolaty in the mouth, but not quite as sweet as the aroma suggested. This is a full-bodied beer and no mistake. There’s a nutty quality to this that makes me think of Nutella on toast. There’s also a toffee caramel like a grown up Snickers bar, but liquefied. Definitely a peanut quality to this. Blooming delicious!

There is an appealing dryness to the finish and that nuttiness also lingers pleasantly in the aftertaste. Just a damn fine beer! Thornbridge know how to make some damn fine dark beers!

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(Shit photo time. Sorry!)
Double PerleWeird Beard Brew Co (Hanwell) – 8.6%abv – Imperial Coffee Milk Stout? – Barbeerian (Prestwich)

As black as Hades darkest recesses. But with a light brown foamy collar. Darkness. In beer form. I like dark stuff and this is born of darkness. The smell is like having your nose pushed into a bowl of freshly ground Java beans. Shit but this smells like I shouldn’t be drinking it before bed time!

This tastes so good, that I’m sure it was a bad idea! Huge body, creamy and unctuous. Tastes like a short sharp espresso with a milky lactose sweetness. My eyelids are pinned open. Then, beyond that bitter coffee and milky sweetness, there’s a tongue tingling spicyness in with that bitter roasty loveliness. Each sip being rounded off by a herbal hop dryness.

It’s difficult to say that this improves on Black Perle (a beer that I adore), but it’s a hell of a thing this. And like I implied. A bad thing to drink before bedtime! Sweet (coffee infused) dreams! Beergasm

(Update – I REALLY struggled to get to sleep after this!!!!!)

The Tune
“I’m gonna take myself a piece of a piece of sunshine and paint it all over my sky, yeah.
Be no rain, be no rain,

I’m gonna take the song from every bird and make ’em sing it just for me, yeah.
Bird’s got something to teach us all about being free, yeah.
Be no rain, be no rain

And I think I’ll call it morning from now on”

(“I Think I’ll Call It Morning” – Gil Scott-Heron)
(Clip courtesy Ace Records Ltd on You Tube)

It was probably about 1982/3 that I first came across the music of a man who became one of my favourite artists, Gil Scott-Heron. It was probably his best known tune “The Bottle”, marrying an unstoppable jazzy-soul groove with lyrics portraying the desperation of alcoholism. Over the years, I must have watched thousands of people – of all ages – getting their groove on to this rare groove classic. From the dancefloors of The Hacienda to The Monaco Ballroom in Hindley, it just transcends decades and stands tall. And apart. A stone cold classic.

However, it isn’t my favourite Gil song. That honour goes to the above track, a song I often find myself bawling out in the car on the way home from work. When I’m at my lowest of ebbs, that line “I’m gonna take myself a piece of sunshine……” just brings me round. The man could write. And that baritone voice……

It was great that he got a last hurrah when he released the album “I’m New Here”, subsequently being remixed to great effect by  Jamie Smith from The XX. It wasn’t that long ago when I was in 20/22 in Manchester on a quiet night when “I’ll Take Care Of You” came on. A cover of a Brook Benton song (originally recorded by Bobby Bland – of “Shoes” fame), the Gil version was subsequently looted by Drake & Rihanna on “Take Care”. A compliment I suppose. Even in his final months, with his voice little more than a rasping croak, he made the song his. The word “Legend” is over used these days. But this man IS a legend and for me, is right up there with Marvin & Stevie.

Well, that’s it for now. A bumper crop. And a righteous tune. Get some Gil in your life. You can thank me later!