The Beerage (or From Rags To Riches?)

   “I leave the home of a lifetime, like any son. I have hope and good intentions.                   And wandering into the daybreak, I learn as I go. To fall laughing into the water….”

(“From Rage To Riches” – The Blue Nile : clip “Andy McKenzie” on YouTube)

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What are you willing to pay for your pint? For your Schooner? Your bottle or can?

This shit is important. Especially in an age where the choice has never been so great. What I’m about to say, may be counter-intuitive to those with “market” sensibilities, but I’m going to say it. Because I truly believe it.

Beer is too cheap.

Given that I’ve not been struck down by an emissary from Bacchus, I’ll say it again. Yes, I believe that……

Beer is too cheap.

Why do I think that? Ask almost any micro brewer.

It kind of hit home when I phoned a brewer early last year to arrange the return of a cask from #ISBF2015. At the end of the chat, he told me that he wanted me to hear it from him, rather than from the grapevine. He was selling the brewery. Not because he was losing money, or owed a mountain of debt. Far from it. He was solvent. He also loved what he did, which was make great beers with passion.

But love wasn’t enough. There was a family. And bills to pay. And the old job that had been left behind paid far, far more.

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3 or so years ago, price was all to me. I’d go out into Manchester with £20, CAMRA Wetherspoon vouchers in my pocket and go home with plenty of change from 5 or 6 pints. And that includes the £4 bus fare.

Now? The CAMRA vouchers are in the bin.

I have nothing against ‘Spoons per se. But you have to ask yourself, how do supermarkets keep their prices cheap? And Wetherspoons IS like a draught beer supermarket. They keep their costs down. And, other than their “Zero Hours” contracted staff, what is their biggest outlay? Yup. Beer. And regularly, they want the beer so cheap from the suppliers that often, there is no profit (or very little) for the brewery.

And when you are working near regular 80 hour weeks for precious little reward……Why would you sell to ‘Spoons? Why would you want to get into brewing at all?

I’ve been asked a number of times, “Do you fancy getting into brewing yourself?” The answer remains the same. I have bills to pay and – as little as I do “earn” – I couldn’t afford the pay cut, as I remember a figure from a few years ago about the average Micro Brewer earning £20k.

£20k for 80 hour weeks? Sod that!

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In an era where there are over 70 breweries in the greater Manchester area – and more opening monthly (check here for the current picture) it seems – these people need to make money. For every Cloudwater and Vocation – with substantial backing, there are a number of breweries that take out substantial loans to realise their dream. And those don’t pay for themselves.

There are a number of ways that a brewery can increase their income (presuming that they can sell all that they make – of course)

  • Increase capacity (With – for many – the cost of funding via loans etc…)
  • Ownership of outlets (Tied Estate – Again, funding dependent)
  • Brewtaps/Events
  • Increase in the Progressive Beer Duty reduction (not whilst Moorhouses & Adnams draw breath though…..)

The first two of those involve significant additional expense and are simply not feasible for all.

Several local Manchester breweries regularly open their doors, from Wilson Potter in Middleton (for a couple of years now), through Black Jack, Beer Nouveau, Track/Squawk and do fairly well doing it. But it doesn’t solve everything. So we’re back at my original point.

The price of the beer in your glass.

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“Good people drink good beer.” as Hunter S Thompson said. And good beer costs good money to make.

I like big Stouts (and I cannot lie…..), I like US/Aus/NZ hopped Pale Ales and IPAs. The hops in these beers don’t come cheap, when you can get them. The more of these hoppy flavours that you want in that beer, the more expensive it is to produce.

Yes. If you want to, you can drink Sam Smiths Old Brewery Bitter at £1.80 or so a pint. If that’s your bag, fill your boots. I truly can’t stand the stuff. Never could.

As stated above, we have a phenomenal choice of brewers and beers in the Greater Manchester area (even if too many never see the bars of the city centre), but unless they can make enough money to make this worthwhile, this number must surely soon start to decline. Whilst I admire the optimism and financial bravery of the clutch of new breweries that have recently opened (and those that are soon to do so), I fear for their bank accounts.

Some will argue that the odd penny off beer duty will help. It won’t. It’s pissing in the wind.

We all enjoy choice on a bar. Many enjoy a full flavoured hoppy citrus or roasty pint. We love the fact that we have so many breweries to choose from.

It’s quite simple really (to this simpleton anyway). Breweries sell beer to pubs and bars. The brewery needs to make enough money to pay its bills and employees. The pubs need to make enough money to pay theirs also.

In summary, if this “Golden Age” is to continue, maybe we need to pay more for the beer, so that those who make it can make an actual living from their efforts.

Give me YOUR price suggestions below.

I’m off to the bomb shelter.

Manchester – Where It’s At?

Cotopaxi

“There’s a destination a little up the road
From the habitations and the towns we know
A place we saw the lights turn low
The jig-saw jazz and the get-fresh flow

Pulling out jives and jamboree handouts
Two turntables and a microphone
Bottles and cans just clap your hands
Just clap your hands

Where it’s at!
I got two turntables and a microphone…. “

(“Where It’s At” – Beck : YouTube Clip – GrandMa Bird)

On Friday evening, I returned home from a day at New Mills Beer Festival (bijou – as in small – to say the least) via Manchester. No plan to have a beer in “Town” at the start of the day, but plans, as you well know, have a habit of being…… shall we say…. dynamic?

Anyway. Having deposited a bottle of the most excellent “American Barleywine” by Torrside with the Arch Nemesis, I hobbled towards the Crown & Kettle.

The objective? Cotopaxi DIPA by Track. On cask.

A rare thing to see a DIPA on cask. I was lucky to try the first DIPA brewed by Cloudwater on cask on its launch day last year and (at the time) enjoyed it marginally more than the keg and bottle. A marvelous beer in the truest sense in that I wondered at the flavour and texture being far lighter (and almost “sessionable”) than a 9% beer had any right to be.

The Track was big and juicy. Chewy malt and huge hopping giving a real balance. In an age where balance is deemed unfashionable. It amazes me how brewers make such beers so eminently drinkable.

Then we went to The Smithfield. Where it was on keg.

WOW. What a difference! The carbonation and – dare I say it – the temperature, made a HUGE  difference. The beer was lifted and lightened. The hops soared over the malty landscape and simply stunned me.

From a vaguely remembered conversation with Sam (Mr Track), I seem to recall that he preferred it on cask in some ways . I have to disagree (Memory, O fickle thing!). He prefers it on keg.  And I never thought I would agree with those who say that certain styles suit Keg. This beer danced. And got me thinking….

Is this city where it’s at, beer wise?

Cask Beer – Is there a better session pale ale than Sonoma by Track? I haven’t had a better pale ale in cask in the last 12 months. Juicy, punchy and smooth. Just an absolute go to. For someone who doesn’t normally have such beers.

Manchester is choc full of great breweries banging out superb cask conditioned beers. Nowhere better. Let’s be hearing those arguments, down below.

“Craft” Keg – Unless you’ve been in hibernation for the last 7 days, you won’t have missed the reams of web inches splaffed on Cloudwater’s DIPA v3, if it’s a patch on v1 it will be a classic. They’ve been slipping out some simply stunning lagers too, vastly underrated when compared to the DIPA and IPA.

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Marble seem to be under the radar of late. But with James Kemp keen to put a stamp on the brewery, they’ve put out two crackers with Damage Plan & Built to Fall. For me, still THE brewery in Manchester all round.

However, the beer that has made my taste buds sing more than any other on keg is from Runaway. Their Pale. I’ve had it a few times in the last fortnight and it is absolutely WAILING! So fresh, light and just zipping out of that glass. Simply stunning. (The American Brown is a bit special too)

And if somebody wants to put London up? Other than Weird Beard, I’m not convinced by the hype around many London breweries. I’m just not. That isn’t parochialism. Just my taste buds talking to me.

Manchester also has an absolutely BANGING set of brewtaps that are coming into their own at this time of year too. Black Jack / Runaway (On tomorrow!) / SquawkTrack all pack out their arches with stunning beers and great food (none too shabby tunes either….) and with people like Beer Nouveau regularly opening their doors too, there’s something for everyone!

The drinking area where I struggle to justify the primacy of my beloved city is……. Pubs. It has so MANY cracking bars that you’d struggle to keep up, but….

Manchester has a thriving beer scene – Christ KNOWS I’ve been waffling on about it for long enough. This scene will be placed front and centre in June when Connor Murphy rolls out the fullness of Manchester Beer Week. Something to which I’m looking forward to hugely – I may even be…….. Ah. That’s for another time

Where this city falls – slightly – short, is in a concentration of classic freehouses. It has great pubs. But many of these are hobbled by pubco ownership which restricts the beer supply to – for me – the larger regional breweries and the huge firms like Marstons (eg Bulls Head) & Greene King (Lass O’Gowrie).

Go to places like Sheffield, Huddersfield & Liverpool though and they appear to be over endowed with classic pubs that also dispense great local beers. I was awe-struck and incredibly jealous when I strolled around both H Town & Sheff last year and wandered around in an impressed daze when we went to Liverpool recently.

Yes. We have The Marble Arch, The Crown & Kettle, but little else in the way of truly great beautiful pubs, with truly great beer. Too many pubs hobbled by pubco control – that’s a whole other argument though.

Manchester is a city where bars shine. Port Street, Pie & Ale, (Marble’s own) 57 Thomas Street, Soup Kitchen, Font, Sandbar…..the list goes on.

On balance – in the North, for sure – Manchester has “it”. For me in any case.

That’s enough inflation of that “Manchester Bubble” from me – for now. Next stop, Hebden Bridge!

Back soon.

Home Beers – April 2016 – Pt 1

When on my home patch – to the bafflement of many – I drink, almost exclusively, Northern beers.

Sometimes I get (what I can only describe as) looks of pity at the delights that I am missing. But gradually, ever so slowly, I think that people are starting to get my point.

That beer from these here Northern parts is – mostly – bloody excellent! And currently under appreciated.

Most people in my home city – Manchester – know how good the beer from this fine locale is. And they drink it in the pubs and bars. In fact, it would be really easy (I’m surprised no-one has tried it already!) to blog about exclusively Mancunian beers and breweries, but with some of the stuff that is flying out of Yorkshire, it would be madness.

But in March – finally – something happened that (for me) was a bit special.

We got some beers into Manchester from Five Towns of Wakefield and North Riding of East Ayton, nr Scarborough. Two of my very favourite breweries.

I’ll keep to (what has been described – appreciatively – as) my “fiercely local focus”. And the more we get some of these beers in this neck of the woods, you’ll see – for a change – that I’m not talking total bollocks about the bottled and canned beers that I drink.

See below.

“Nice to meet you, where you been? I could show you incredible things
Magic, madness, heaven, sin.
Saw you there and I thought, oh my God, look at that face
You look like my next mistake”
(“Blank Space” – Taylor Swift/Ryan Adams)

My current music crush track. Ryan Adams holds a special place in my heart, always will. You see, I was introduced to his music by my dear friend (no longer with us) Phil. One of the most inspirational people it has been my privilege to know. And I’m in his debt for this as well as so many other things

Anyhow. Ryan Adams has developed a habit of covering great songs and owning them. Check his version of Wonderwall. For me, WAY better than Oasis. But I’m biased.

And, for Mark, to counter Mr Adams, here’s Taylor.

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Single Hop IPA (Amarillo) – Stubborn Mule Brewery (Timperley) – IPA – 5.7% abv – Epicurean (W Didsbury)

Burnished gold. A proper colour for an IPA this. Well carbonated, the head was abundant and white, giving off treefuls of Orange peel and zest, marmaladey in its intensity. I like Amarillo. My favourite aroma hop.

Oh yes. Oh very yes.Amarillo. You orangey beauty. Queen of hops.
And this beer does her justice. I get the big chewy toasty malt, spread with lashings of sticky juicy marmalade. Just all kinds of yum!
 

Then, along comes a decent whack of fruity bitterness to combat all that juicy orange running around my mouth, getting the saliva glands racing. This is right. up. my. street.

That orangey bitterness leads on to a juicy bitter finish and a gorgeous resinous aftertaste, sticky, and just…….

My first from this brewery in any format. A good start to say the least.

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NZ IPANorth Riding Brewery (East Ayton, Scarborough) – IPA – 5.5% abv – 500ml – Bottle (Heaton Moor)

Another deeply golden beer with a lasting soft white head chucking out a simply bonkers amount of citrus! Mango, grapefruit and gooseberry. Bloody delicious aromas. Mouthwatering.

Oh. By. The. Gods.

WOW. Big and juicy malty bones supporting a big hop load of muscle. Oh this is SO good! All of that fruit. And more. Masses of mango, gooseberry tartness, even a bit of orange in there. And such a smack of bitterness! This is quite simply delicious. And so much more.

It finishes fruity and dry with a crackling dry resinous sticky aftertaste. Yum.

My mind of Pale beer. Juicy as a fruit stall. Bitter as Ian Duncan Smith.

He can brew, can that Mr Neilson. That’s for sure. I’ve been banging on about his beers for long enough. Now we can get them here in both cask and bottle. And I’m grinning.

Stupidly.

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Penny BlackThirst Class Brewery (Stockport) – Black IPA – 6.5%abv – 500ml –Bottle (Heaton Moor)

For a brewery that is barely a year old, Richard Conway at Thirst Class hasn’t put a foot wrong in either bottle or cask. And that goes across a range of styles. But this is the first I’ve seen of his Black IPA.

Very dark, with a light cream coloured pumping out a bit citrus led aroma, but with a darker coffeeish counterpoint, hinting at something more earthy. More appetising.

Yup. Oh yes indeed. This. Is. Gorgeous.

Initial sips of this full bodied dark beauty instantly flash up that citrus hop promise with a fruity burst. Sharp and tropical. Grapefruit initially, then a little sharp lemon, followed by more than a hint of mango.

Then, comes the roasted darker side in this most schizophrenic of beer styles. And boy is there a darker “Hyde” side to this beery “Jekyll”!

That fruitiness is jumped on and mugged by a really substantial roast flavour, bitter coffee and really bitter chocolate, earthy and punchy. Masses of roastiness. Yum. Many levels of Yum.
This dark delight finished with that roasted bitterness with a memory of that tropical fruit leading to a quite piney resin aftertaste. Beautifully and powerfully hopped with that earthy bitter choc / coffee roast.
Just. Right. Up. My. Street.
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Sun HandsMacclesfield Brewing Company (Macclesfield) – 4.8% abv – Lemon & Cardomom Hopfenweisse – 330ml – Heaton Hops (Heaton Chapel)

Dave Harrison-Ward is (or was) a very talented “home brewer” (a term that doesn’t do justice to the skills displayed.

 Suffice to say, I’ve been lucky to “judge” some of his non-commercial beers and they have been simply stunning. I’ve been really anxious to get his commercial beers, but failed die to limited distribution and output.

Then I walked into Heaton Hops….

 This hazy wheat beer is almost copper coloured, with a light white lacy head and that aroma…… Spicy cardomom cut with citrus. Oh my. This is superb. As I expected.

Man has skills.

 Really well carbonated leading to quite a full mouthfeel, this delivers the flavour promise on the label. And then some! Lemon zest firstly with that yeasty spicy thing quickly augmented (rather than replaced) with the herbal cardomom. Unusual and hugely refreshing.

Feels increasingly creamy in the mouth in the second mouthful, the flavours just work so well together, managing the trick to be simultaneously refreshing, but finishing dry on the swallow. Leaving you wanting another mouthful.

 Don’t mind if I do!

As said, this finishes dry and with that spicy yeasty note leading to a pronounced herbal hop note alongside the lingering flavours in the aftertaste.

 I want another. The mark of an excellent beer.
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Them & UsVocation Brewery (Hebden Bridge) – 4.5% abv – Red Session IPA – 330ml can – Bottle (Heaton Moor)

If ever a smell could make me swoon, it’s this. It’s a Mosaic Festival! Deep copper red and with a light white head, this is just a riot of tropical fruit aromas! Grapefruit zest, pineapple and bitter orange getting my juices raging……

And then you taste it. And all that promise is delivered. As if Vocation would disappoint?

Medium bodied with a decent light wholemeal bready malt dance floor base and a tropical hop Mosaic limbo party dancing all over it! Peach, grapefruit, mango all donning the grass skirts and getting under that pole. This is SO juicy, light and refreshing. It’s an absolute joy of a thing to drink.

A really nice bitter finish and resinous piney hop aftertaste completes the job nicely.

Get one.

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AlcazarFive Towns Brewery (Wakefield) – 7.8% abv – Seville Orange IPA – 750ml – (500ml available at) Heaton Hops / Bottle/ Northern Beer Temple (Wigan)

Deep amber. A proper colour for a big IPA. That light persistent white head simply oozing deep orangey goodness. There must be at least 3 of my 5 a day in this glass! There’s something more tropical in aroma in here too, a bit of mango maybe?

Oh WOW. This man loves his hops. And this beer is no different. So big and juicy! A deep malty almost cheesecake base is the supporting cast for some beautiful, juicy and powerful hopping. Yes, there’s orange – you’d expect that. And that orange fruit is boosted by the lashings of US hops – I suspect Malcolm’s favourite Mosaic in there somewhere and Simcoe I believe.

Those hops and the bitter fruit more than balance the slight malty and fruity sweetness and bring a nice medium bitterness to this smooth and FAR too easy to drink beer. At 7.8% this is dangerous stuff.

That deep fruitiness stays right to the end and leads to a big sticky piney resinous aftertaste. So moreish.

I’m chuffed to bits that some local shops have his beers on THIS side of the Pennines. I’ve banged on for long enough!

This beer vindicates that faith.
That’s all for now. See you soon.

Woodwork Squeaks

“Little Rita and her sister Betty, met some mook who drove a purple Chevy

He took them for a ride one summer night (Are you angry?)

Told the girls he was a big producer, truth be told he was a cheap seducer

He drove them to the hills to see the lights. (Heh, heh, heh, yeah, right)

Two days later they were reading him his rights…..(Woodwork squeaks and out come the freaks)”

(“Out Come The Freaks” – Was Not Was)

(Vid courtesy of Paul Murff on YouTube – go to about 7 mins 14 secs for the track)

It started with this press release.

CAMRA is going to reassess its aims and goals. Under the auspices of one of its founding members Michael Hardman, it has launched a “Revitalisation Project”. Cutely done really, given what the acronym CAMRA originally meant.

For me, protecting good pubs should be the aim. Serving good beer or not. A good, well-run pub, is an asset to a community. Something worth the effort of protection.

Then there was this utterly spurious, lazy pile of steaming s***e from The Torygraph.

And then, it’s like C***t PARTY TIME! I mean, seriously? The anti-CAMRA bile crashed like a tsunami onto social media and was, like the lack of knowledge, quite frankly, embarrassing.

Take the following….

“Real ale was crafted to separate themselves from the mass produced generic lagers and beers (boddingtons, Carling etc)”. (I merely copied and pasted)

I thought that Boddingtons WAS (mostly) “real ale” – until Shitbread invaded and carried it off from Strangeways in chains….into a “smoothflow” can.

Some CAMRA members are just as bad mind. Like the old fella at Manchester Beer and Cider Festival this year, who ranted for over half an hour about extraneous gas pressure in a key keg!

OK – I AM A CAMRA MEMBER.

There. Disclosure. And fortunately, last time I checked the statute books, it wasn’t a capital offence.

That said, I’m one of the evil multitude that is NOT an activist, I do my own thing. Many of those who ARE activists, I admire, both for their deidcation to a “cause” and for the fact that – as beer drinkers – they are some of the most open minded that I know. Drinking from Cask, Keg, Bottle and (gulp!) Can!!!

Unlike the young man who said (in response to a recent post of mine) that clear beer was “alien” to him.

Get In The F*****g Sea.

Now. I am decidedly NOT a CAMRA defender. I organise an “Independent” beer festival, because the local branch of CAMRA chose not to help. But I recognise – to the subsequent enrichment of my adult life – that CAMRA did a f*****g great job of defending good beer.

It is utterly churlish to ignore that fact.

That said, Michael Hardman did CAMRA no favours whatsoever with his stumbling performance on BBC Breakfast yesterday morning. According to many (and I can’t disagree) he epitomised what many think when they think of the organisation – “out of touch” was one of the nicer sentiments.

His statement “Craft Beer doesn’t exist” wasn’t exactly going to endear him now. Was it? Not a smart statement at all, to be fair. I mean, I can’t stand the term, it’s an undefined label. Micro breweries, brewing great tasting beers, with skill & passion. That, I do understand. However they choose to package their beer. As long as it tastes good, I simply don’t give a flying……

I just like beer. It’s a simple word. Overcomplicated by too many people and organisations.

I’ll take part in this process, in the vain hope that voices like mine CAN make a difference. But given the beating drums, I doubt it. Futile? Maybe. But I’m an (h)optimist.

And to quote a friend of mine, “There are two types of beer. Beer I will drink and beer I won’t”. I couldn’t put it better. So….

If you like cask – as do I – drink it and enjoy.

If you like keg – as do I – drink it and enjoy.

If you like a bottle – as do I – drink it and enjoy.

I’m off for one of these.

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And as for the guy who said this – “What an absolute cock end and I hope camra goes bust because I can’t stand the fucking coffin Dodgers who think beer should be traditional”

Have a beer. Calm down. And play nice now eh?

And, for the benefit of the lazy Torygraph hack, “Hipsters” didn’t kill CAMRA.