Birmingham Beer Bash – 22/07/2016 

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

Sad old git. 

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

(photo courtesy Jeff) 

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

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

Hugely rewarded indeed. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(photos courtesy Les) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bollocks. 

Etiquette – Blogging and Blagging 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the subject matter at hand!

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

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

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

Simples.

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

Eh? Come again? People actually DO this?

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

PLEASE.

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

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

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

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

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

This shit is really simple. Innit?

Hawkshead Brewery – Something in the Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tonka – 8.5% abv – Imperial Porter – 330ml

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

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

WOW. Holy Mother of WOW.

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

Simply put, this is astonishingly good.

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

Just. Just. Just………

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All. Kinds. Of. Yum.

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

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

You can only try eh?

A Beer Tasting – Marble Arch 12/07/2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

And MY was it worth the wait!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And you need them.

 

 

 

A Change of Scenery – Deansgate 06/07/2016

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I love Manchester. The bright and shiny, the gritty and grimy, the heart and soul. I love it all. But – like many – I’ve gotten a bit lazy and comfortable in my drinking habits and it recently dawned on me that I had been frequenting the same (admittedly excellent) bars and pubs. All in the “Northern Quarter”. I needed a change.

I’m not “bored” of the NQ. Excellence never gets boring. But I’ve had plans to do a whole host of other crawls on a number of themes (Basement Bars; Live Music pubs; the list grows….) and other areas that don’t get the hectolitres of splaff that the NQ gets. This piece is – therefore – the first of many.

Deansgate area gets a bit overlooked when it comes to great beer and pubs/bars. But, if you drop the shoulder and give some of the Macro selling outlets the swerve, great beer can be had in belting venues within about 400 yards. Here’s the proof.

Knott Bar – 374, Deansgate, M3 4LY

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Originally part of the Marble empire, opening (I think) in 2002 – then named The Knott Fringe, located on the edge of an area of Manchester originally named Knott Mill, this place has been a staple of Manchester beer pretty much since it opened. Now part of a group that includes “The Bar” in Chorlton & “The Macc” in….(you guessed it!), it hasn’t missed a beat in all those years

This place holds a special place in my family’s heart, being the makers of one of the best Sunday Dinners around. So much so, that if you haven’t booked – or turn up after 2:30 – you may miss out. As we have done on occasion!

Excluding the upstairs balcony (very busy this evening), this is a single room layout which, due to the way it uses its railway arch space, gives the appearance of three separate areas. Slightly bohemian in appearance (with old posters almost performing the role of “feature wallpaper”), the Knott is utterly reliable in both the quality of its beers AND the excellence of its Jukebox (a personal passion).

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(LOOK! A Manchester railway arch that isn’t a brewery! Yet…)

And it regularly stocks Pictish beers. So a place in my heart is assured.

Tonight was no exception.

It takes a lot to tempt me away from a hand-pump featuring Dark Arts by Magic Rock. But I chose well when I went for the Nugget single hop Pale. But this is where Pictish simply rule. Single-Hopped pale ales. And this was no exception. Even out of a plastic “glass”. Disappointing to say the least. And I have no idea why they were using them.

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And whilst the aesthetics of plastic drinking vessels may be arguable, the excellence of the beer isn’t. A simply superb spicy bitterness with a deep citrus. Simply gorgeous. As ever.

A cracker of a bar.

With Jamie T (No. Not that one….) – the cheeky scamp even snuck into a picture! – joining us, a short walk around the corner was in order, whilst I puzzled as to how Castlefield was so busy on a Wednesday evening (James Bay – who? – apparently…)

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Cask – 29, Liverpool Street, M3 4NQ

I simply don’t get why more people don’t rave about this pub. I just don’t. To me, this is one of Manchester’s unsung gems.

It has it all. Great atmosphere, superb selection of genuine continental beers, great bottle/can selection, a simply MONUMENTALLY good Jukebox (the best in Manchester) and four superb handpulls normally populated with local(ish) beers (tonight from Heywood, Harrogate, Huddersfield and er….(h)Ardwick). Anyone who reads my verbage knows what comes next. Mallinsons.

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The pub/bar is again single roomed, but gives the illusion of being two separate spaces, with standing space and wooden tables/chairs near the bar with more alcovey comfy seating to the rear. There’s even a rare bit of outdoor space from this rear area…

The Emley Moor Mild was a Mallinsons that I never had previously. Smooth and chocolately, light bodied and soooo easy drinking. A delight of a beer.

Settling down to chatting, I noticed that Cask had a TV. So another beer was in order whilst catching the first half of Wales v Ronaldo. And WHAT a beer it was. Squawk IPA (ElDorado/Chinook), beautifully citrussy & bitter. Just as a US hopped IPA should be. Quite stunning, yet unsurprising, as Oli Turton has been utterly and consistently excellent with his IPAs. An essential when available.

Cask is one of those places that – once sat – I could safely go through the bar selection. A singularly superb place. And – if you’re hungry – you can even bring in your food from the (superb) chippy next door! (Just don’t forget to dispose of your wrappers….)

Onward….

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The Rising Sun – 22, Queen Street, M2 5HX

Into another postal district we go, bypassing the likes of BrewDog & the Ralph Abercrombie, approximately 200 yards from Cask we find this little Mancunian jewel. And one of Manchester’s oldest pubs.

One of those rarities known as a “cut” pub (because it has two entrances on different streets – a cut through), this single roomed and quite narrow pub can get really busy when there is a footy match on and also after office hours. With a long bar and nice bright decor it belies its 240 year age.

Think about this. This pub was here the year after the American Declaration of Independence!

Generally stocking Northern beers, with 8 hand-pumps (5 in use tonight – a wise move midweek IMO), this may not be CW central, but there’s always something that tickles my proverbial. Tonight, this was Oregon Pale by Weetwood Brewery. A truly delicious fruity hop beer, dry and grapefruity. Nice and refreshing.

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Despite there being two TVs, they aren’t particularly intrusive tonight. We just settled to chat and to the fact that Wales (by this point) had been beaten by two former OT players, just to sour the pill….. 😉

What I really like about the “Sun”, is – despite its location and apart from its age – it has a “local” feel. Like a local pub in the heart of this great city. Something that should be cherished. It isn’t “trendy”, it is what it is, A smart and attractive boozer that serves good and well looked-after beer.

I couldn’t bear any more Ronaldo, so Offski….

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Gaslamp – 50a, Bridge Street, M3 3BW

How many people who go into this fine Manc bar actually look up? Moreover, how many people walking around Manchester look up at ALL and admire the beautiful architecture?

Not many, I bet.

But, if you don’t, you miss this…

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Because what you see in the basement, was formerly the kitchens of the Manchester & Salford Street Childrens’ Mission. Which may explain the tilework downstairs that helps this place – in Summer (not that Manchester HAS a Summer) to be probably the physically coolest place in Town.

Sometimes, when I’m sat in this most excellent bar, you see people walk in for the first time. The look on their faces being “What a GREAT place!” And this never ceases to amaze me. This place cuts across generations. I brought Atilla Jnr (aka The Lovely Daughter) in here one night after she finished work and bought her her first “proper” beer. She loved both the bar AND the beer (“The Mayan” by Ilkley – seeing as you’re asking)

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What was nice to see this evening was – like the Rising Sun – that all of the hand-pumps weren’t in use midweek*.

The two that were on were from BlackJack & Six O’Clock. So both local. There were the usual excellent choices on keg too – Shindigger, Quantum, Brew By Numbers, Mad Hatter etc so all bases covered.

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Not many people seem to know that this is actually a two roomed bar, the one to the rear being a decent size and somewhere for a chat. It’s a room that never seems that busy. Go find it.

The beer Bolt from Six O’Clock being a Nut Brown IPA was lovely. Smooth, a little nutty sweetness and nicely bitter. Quite unctuous and almost creamy. Seriously nice beer.

I love Gaslamp. Quirky, great beers, sweet tunes. It just has it.

And so, to the inevitable end to this adventure. And my favourite bar.

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The Brink – 65, Bridge Street, M3 3BQ

Given that it is my favourite Manchester bar (and that the bus stop is close by for that all important last bus!) this was always going to be the terminus for this evening.

This feels like….home. Warm, welcoming, friendly. Simply a class act.

It also pulls at my hearts’ strings due to the beer purchasing policy of nothing outside of 25 miles from St Ann’s Church. Local, in other words….. More should follow Gareth’s lead.

It’s small. Probably could fit no more than 60 if packed out. With the attractive clean lines and select Mancunian imagery decor, comfy seating and excellent bar policy, it should be rammed. But, tonight, it’s quiet. Which, wanting a beer and a chat, suits.

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5 local beers. Hmmmm……And one of them is one I’ve wanted to try since I saw the clip.

Baton Rouge by Mallinsons.

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Pristine. Red. Hoppy as a rabbits’ tea party. Yum.

The bar has only been open for three months or so and it has quickly become a favourite of many. It’s a place where you chat with people that you’ve never met, that comes with the size. One of it’s many charms.

I was in here recently with a Liverpudlian pal, Les O’Grady who remarked on something that I’ve noted but never really remarked upon – Loos with hot water! A rarity. This bar does all of the things that seem – to me at least – to be very simple. And it does them bloody well.

And, seeing how Linda left some for me, I had to have a Santiam by Track. Holy mother of WOW is it GOOD! So full of fruity citrus and with all of that bitterness you should get in an IPA. Just SO good…..

Friendly knowledgeable staff, great beer, seriously good tunage and excellent local snackage courtesy of Beehive Food all in a small package.

Like I said. My favourite Manc bar. With good reason.

So. There you have it. A 500 yard or so walk with 5 excellent pubs. Each different. All sharing one great virtue. Excellent beer.

You see. There IS life outside that there Northern Quarter. Go explore.

*(A commonsense approach to me. I know that some will whinge about lack of choice, but it seems obvious to me that when you walk in a great bar on a Friday night and drink a seriously “tired” beer, that too many bars have too many beers on when they simply aren’t busy enough.)