Return To Liverpool – 25/02/2017 

In many respects, I count myself a lucky man. Since September 2012 (when I commenced blogging – mostly – about beer) I have been fortunate indeed to have met a huge number of lovely people. This accelerated following my initial effort at organising The Independent Salford Beer Festival.

Following that first effort, I recall a conversation with my old buddy (and Craft W⚓ extraordinaire) Jeff. Jeff’s point was that – via that Festival – we had physically now met people that we’d only associated with virtually. And many of them we could now call friends, now feeling able to contact them and meet up for a beery chat. And he nailed the point.

Two of those people are Julie & Les O’Grady, from Maghull, nr Liverpool. The purchasers of the first two tickets sold for the first ISBF back in 2014. And two people who – not altogether coincidentally – happen to be two of the nicest people in this here beer business, Les as co-owner and head brewer at Neptune Brewery in Maghull and Julie as a lead member of Ladies That Beer.

Almost a year ago to the day that they guided us around some lovely drinking venues in that beautiful city (read that one here), it was time to go again and have a refresh – in a manner of speaking. This time with a full complement of thrill seekers from the Eastern end of the East Lancashire Road. They weren’t to be disappointed.

With the visiting group congregating at the Ken Dodd memorial – complete with tickling stick – it was time for a short walk left from Lime Street along Renshaw Street…..

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The Dispensary (Renshaw Street)

We started here last year, but with a much larger group on Saturday, it was only fair to include some classics from last time – the “itinerary” being sorted by our lovely hosts.

Having arranged to meet Les and Julie here, it was time for huggage and greetings before settling down to beer. Keeping beer well is what The Dispensary is known for and it certainly didn’t disappoint with some beautiful sharp Pale Ales (Salopian and Rat being grabbed by our thirsty rabble) and a lovely Choc Orange Stout by Fernandes.

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The pub is single roomed with an elevated area from the left end of the bar. Lots and lots of wood with a beautiful bar. The pub was refurbed by Cains Brewery (also renamed)  and the original pub name “The Grapes” is on display to the rear of the bar. I was told that this pub pours some of the best kept real ales in the city. No argument from this particular Manc. And I do like having the p**s taken out of me by the friendly bar staff.

This pub kind of set the tone for the day. More of that later. But,  for a one room pub, this is an absolute cracker and more than worth the return visit.

Moving into on – but not far. Stepping left out of “The Dizzy” and onto Leece St then left onto Roscoe St…. About a 2 minute walk….

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The Roscoe Head (Roscoe St)

I love this beautiful multi-roomed pub. But then, I’m an absolute sucker for multi-roomed pubs.

Looking untouched from its building in 1870, this is indeed a pretty, pretty proper pub. With 6 hand pumps and a rare permanent pump for Tetley’s Bitter, this pub has featured in each edition of the Good Beer Guide. And whilst that may not be my prime reference resource these days, there is no doubting its beauty.

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I had a decent pale from Red Star Brewery as I was trying to keep it light given the early start and was hugely amused as Julie attempted to squeeze us all into the TINY front room. That word tiny? Hold that thought…. The Roscoe was recently reprieved having been bought by a specialist in pubs to shops conversions. Go visit, before they change their minds. A national treasure of a pub.

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Now then – if you want to retrace our steps, turn right out of the Roscoe Head, then left onto Leece St and immediate left onto Rodney St followed by a swift right onto Maryland St….. And immediately on your right is – the first new venue to me of the day…

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Hard Times & Misery

Now this place is REALLY tiny! The 11 of us looked like we filled the whole bar on entry.

Probably no more than 4 x 4m square downstairs, these guys cram a LOT into a small space. They do this by the simple expedient of dispensing Ale by gravity, direct from the cask. They also do a real Cider on gravity as well as being the first pub with a decent keg – in this instance, Les’s own Citra Amarillo IPA. A juicy little devil with oodles of orange from the Amarillo. Lovely fruity juicy beer. 20170225_135004

I think this place has only been open since August and it’s owners run it themselves – and from talking to Jen (one of them) they absolutely love what they’re doing – stocking local beers and a huge selection (relative to venue size) of spirits, with an excellent gin selection. Jen and Greig were some of the friendliest hosts I’ve seen, passionate about what they do and sell.

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Upstairs, I discovered another – again quite small – room with leather sofas, a nice intimate space which almost doubles the size of the bar.

This place just lifted me and Christine enjoyed it hugely too. This is the kind of place I could fall in love with – a bit like I did with Heaton Hops when I first cast eyes. Highest praise I can give.

After a quick taster of a rather nice bathtub gin, it was back onto Rodney St to Leece St, across and left onto Roscoe Street to a classic Liverpool pub that we’d been in last time but which had been substantially renovated – startlingly well.

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The Grapes

My first thought, on approach, was “Where did that upstairs window come from”…… On entry, it became obvious.

First, we all sorted the beer out, with another Neptune (Amberjack) and a Pale Ale from Top Rope (another new brewery to me), both nice, but with a preference for the Neptune – bigger body and fuller fruitier hop flavour.

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Then I had a walk around. What last year was an open air/smoking area, head been built over and extended into, creating a bright and comfy large extra room with a small room upstairs leading to a lovely terrace. The extension has been completed sympathetically, blending in to the rest of the pub, making a classic simply more comfortable.

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Add into that mix sourcing of almost all local beers, this is a cracking pub, enjoyed by us all, so much so that we stayed a while longer – being slightly ahead of schedule. And all enjoyed it hugely.

It was here that we bumped into Lally from Mad Hatter, Fi and some of the guys from Black Lodge, our next stop….

From The Grapes, head further down Roscoe St to Duke St, turn right then left onto Gt George St, turn right onto Nelson St to Jamaica St, turn left then right onto Kitchen St. There, on the left…

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Black Lodge Brewery

A spin off from Liverpool Craft, which now appears to be a slightly larger (standalone) operation than before with a larger in house brewkit leading (possibly) to almost all of the taps being dedicated to in house beers.

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Ordinarily, this could lead to a slight grumble. But not here. The beers were superb.

The venue is a fairly square open plan space with a larger brewkit and some larger FVs barely intruding on the seating space, of which there is plenty.

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I had a juicy passion fruit Pale Ale and a smoky Stout with a taster of a beauty of an Imperial Stout too and all were superb. As was a magnificent cold meat platter. Some of the best beer of the day in a much more modern surrounding – just to show the variety of excellent beer venues this city has, from achingly modern to 19th Century classics.

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Moving on……(simplest route),  Left from Black Lodge onto Kitchen St, right onto Simpson St then left onto Blundell St upto Wapping, then right takes you to…

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The Baltic Fleet

Is this Liverpool’s most famous pub? I had driven past this CAMRA totem for years, repeatedly, before finally entering last year. Architecturally, a stunning wedge shaped building giving the impression of the prow of a ship. The point I would have thought.

Two main long rooms either side of the bar with the main bar room busy tonight with 6 Nations rugby on screen, we grabbed our beers and located an unoccupied room upstairs (with fabulous views) and settled.

The beer was one of Neptune’s again, (one of 6 beers organised in a 6 Nations theme in the bar) this time a raisin fruited Stout called Undercurrant. I wasn’t alone, as 10 of the 11 all went for the same beer. It was luscious with the fruit more prominent as it went down.

But the day was drawing towards its inevitable conclusion, so we moved swiftly. Along Strand, then right up Water St onto Dale St to our final destination….

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The Dead Crafty Beer Co

A large open room on a corner plot slightly divided by the bar area being slightly raised, this lived upto its name with multiple taps with beers from all over.

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With large expanses of glass from almost four to ceiling and the open aspect with bare walls, this was a more modern offering as the keg wall confirmed. Now, I’m a confirmed Northerner and with my “When in Rome” morality, I sought a local beer. And found it, with Citradelic from Melwood Beer Co. A grapefruit belter, nicely balanced beer. A fine end to the evening, following which (leaving one of our number with our hosts) we bade our farewells to out marvellous hosts/tour guides, Les & Julie.

It was a great day out.

Now here’s the thing.

As much as this day was about guiding a group of Manc beer lovers around a beautiful beer city, it was about more. Much more.

There wasn’t beer ticking. There wasn’t an Untappd frenzy. This was about people. Talking. Listening. Laughing. Swapping stories, telling jokes. The people made this day. And that’s the thing – for me anyway – about beer. Good beer at least. It’s a social lubricant. It aids conversation and should never be the subject. On Saturday, it was a coming together of some of the nicest people I know.

In a city which – for lovely pubs serving good beer – leaves Manchester standing.

Thank you Les & Julie.

That said, on returning to Mancunia, we had a few minutes spare. So, I dragged a few off piste. To somewhere local, traditional and just unspoilt. And had a simple pint with friends.

The Jolly Angler – just behind Piccadilly Station.

And then this happened – and just topped off the day perfectly.

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Back soon. J.

A Heartful of Why – The End of The Beginning? 

“I backed my car into a cop car the other day
Well, he just drove off – sometimes life’s okay
I ran my mouth off a bit too much, ah what did I say?
Well, you just laughed it off and it was all okay

And we’ll all float on okay
And we’ll all float on okay
And we’ll all float on okay
And we’ll all float on anyway, well…”
(“Float On” – Modest Mouse. Clip courtesy ModestMouseVevo)

 

I didn’t mean to write another “Grief” post. Truly I didn’t. Over the last 5 months I’ve learned to consider what I say (and write) far more carefully than I did previously. So those who know me, know that what I said above was true at the time that I said it.

But then, I always say after ISBF that each one is the last. And look where that gets me.

But things (read “posts”) tend to be inspired by little things. Like Sunday evening.

The day was like any other. By which I mean we ended up at Chateau Matriarch – Gerry’s house. Our second home – and safe haven. I’d left my glasses in The Brink on Saturday evening and the plan was to see the Sweet Sweet Records folk showcase, have a couple (literally) of beers and retreat. We’d had a bit of a racist incident the previous evening and a quiet one was the order of the day.

Dinner was delayed, so unfortunately, we missed Alex’s Sweet Sweet artists, but we still went along – on the off chance of a couple of tunes. After a couple of beers, we were about to leave. When I received a text.

“Are you still in The Brink?”

So two lovely people – who only came into our lives just over a year ago – arrived unexpectedly. And we stayed. And started singing some serious 70s tunes that were almost cheesy enough to be fondue. And we laughed.

I’d not laughed like that for months. And I felt lighter. If only for a couple of hours. We had a good time. And that was down to two lovely beer people who shall remain unnamed. But who mean a lot to both of us.

It felt like a small step. If not forward, then at least staying still, rather than drifting. And drifting has become natural. It takes an effort (on some days, quite a large one) to leave the sofa and walk out of the door. But that effort needs to be made. That simple thing that I have referred to previously about “putting one foot in front of the other” is essential.

I’ve read – and been advised – about the grief process. And recognise that it will never leave us. Life will never be “normal” again. That each year presents a series of hurdles that need overcoming. Fionn’s birthday, Christmas, family gatherings, the date he left us, trips away – not to mention returning to work (next Monday), all of these events will present challenges that need to be met. And overcome. But the hope – which we are encouraged almost to the state of “belief” – is that, year on year, millimetre by millimetre, those hurdles become ever so slightly smaller.

And I’ve stopped wondering why. I simply had to.

We are helped by some simply wonderful friends on a daily basis, with calls, visits, invitations, which I’m sure are their way of just checking on us. Making sure we’re “OK”. In other words, caring. There are too many to name individually, but Gerry and her partner Paul and Kelly and Rob (and their families) have been utter anchors, ensuring that our personal ship doesn’t hit any rocks.

That’s not to mention our lovely son and daughter, keeping tabs from a distance. Daily.

The support from the beer community has also been immense and heartwarming. And also – to me – unsurprising. As I’ve said on many occasions, they’re good people round here.

To all of you, be you drinking associates and friends, brewers, hosts, Thank You.

And to those two lovelies who chained us to the chairs at The Brink on Sunday evening with songs, laughter and drink. A big hug.

Back soon. J.

A Day In Bridgnorth 

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(The remains of the Keep at Bridgnorth Castle – that lean is 4 times that of the “Leaning Tower of Pisa”!)

Going out has been a bit difficult recently. Just leaving the house and getting on public transport has been a challenge (actually getting half way to Manchester once before turning back). So it was going to take something exceptional to get me out.

That, or something exceptionally sneaky. Which – in all likelihood – is probably how I found myself in a car, with 3 friends, heading south on the M6 on Thursday morning. Towards the pretty Shropshire town of Bridgnorth.

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This town holds quite a special place in my heart as a place where we would visit when camping the kids at beautiful Hampton Loade on the banks of the mighty River Severn. Every time we went, we’d jump on the Severn Valley Railway (steam, natch) to its terminus at Bridgnorth to do a little shopping, have lunch, go on the country’s steepest funicular railway…..happier (and simpler) times.

It really is a beautiful town. Technically in two parts, Bridgnorth has a “High Town” and a “Low Town” with the ruins of its castle perched atop in the “High Town”, a castle destroyed by Parliamentarian forces in 1646. It also seems to have retained a vibrant “High Street”, refreshingly undominated by chain stores.

It even has a half decent ‘Spoons – The Jewel of the Severn.

But I was here to stroll around a few pubs with friends. On a mission to find some local beers – in particular Hobsons. I got more than I bargained for.

I let my buddies find the first pub. It took a phone call to find them. And they found me a nice surprise

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The Stable Bar (Whitburn Street)

Initially, I thought they’d gone into The Kings Head – which is located on the street itself. Hence the phone call “We’re in a brewery…..”. And they were. Kind of.

The bar was located via an alley immediately to the rear of the Kings Head and is the home of the Bridgnorth Brewery. The bar is on two levels with upstairs seemingly dedicated to eating. Downstairs is modern and bright. Single roomed, with a long bar and a large selection of wines racked behind the bar, there is a feature log burning fireplace at the end punting out tremendous heat.

Outside there is a standalone open air bar with lots of seating. The place had the look and feel of a modern Brewtap, which is precisely what it is.

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The main bar was fully stocked with 6 hand pulls all bar one featuring beers brewed on site. I opted for a  Pale Ale (Kings Escape) which was US hopped and very tasty – once it warmed up, it was served way too cold and needed more warmth for the flavours and aromas to develop. Once they had, it was a lovely juicy and refreshing beer.

The bar would fit in easily within the Manchester Beer Scene – the biggest compliment that I can pay.

We move on… Back up onto the high street and to another brewery tap… This time being the Hop & Stagger brewery located within…..

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The White Lion (W Castle Street)

A proper pub. And no mistake. And with (joy of joys) a Bar Billiards table!!!

Dating from the 18th Century, this pub has 3 distinct drinking areas – with one of those being outside – and two separate bars. Almost “vault” and “bar room” in traditional pub speak. This was another pub to have a roaring real fire, but we couldn’t get close with that room being fairly busy. So into the rear room we went.

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And that Bar Billiards table….. And also the best beer of a day full of good beers. Hop & Stagger “Bridgnorth Porter”. I’m drooling now just thinking about it. It was that good, we returned to the pub later. Twice.

This pub had an old soul. It felt like I’d kicked off my DMs and put on an old battered pair of trainers. Somewhere you could just decompress. Relax. It felt cosy. Later on we came back into the front room with that fire. And that was even cosier. If I lived near this pub, I’d be a happy bunny. And no mistake.

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Now. That Porter. Yum. Lots of choccy roast, hints of coffee. A little residual sweetness. Almost Porter Perfection for me. I couldn’t get enough of it. All 4 of us drank it. All 4 of us loved it.

But we moved on. It’s not a crawl if you don’t….

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The Old Castle (W Castle Street)

Just a couple of doors down, comes this. Another old pub.

The front room looked warm and welcoming, but we just went straight to the rear room which felt a little like a conservatory (not a criticism). This pub (for us) was about two things. Bar sports (darts, bar football and pool) and Hobsons. Something I’d hoped to find I found here. A pint of Town Crier. And very nice it was too.

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Friendly pub (as were they all to be fair), two main roomed with a side room off the “conservatory” room that looked like it may have been used for dining. There was a feeling about this place that it might be food led at times and reviews online seem to confirm that impression. There was also a bit of building work going on. One to come back to next time I think.

Next, a walk. Down towards Low Town.

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The Black Boy (Cartway)

The pub’s name – judging by a former signage – appears to refer to chimney sweeping. The pub itself is located on a steep section of this road leading up to the High Town from the main road bridge over the Severn.

The pub is two roomed and again (speaking from an outsider’s point of view) was warm and welcoming. The barman/landlord seemed a decent sort and changed a beer for me without question when returned as “off” (he even pulled me aside later to tell me that he appreciated me telling him. He tried it himself and turned the clip)

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Lots of wooden furniture in both rooms with the main bar room bustling that evening. The pub boasts a roof style terrace with bloody fabulous views over the Severn (at a very high water mark). Had a  really juicy Pale Ale (Windmill Pale) from Wimbledon Brewery, fruity and full-bodied for a low abv beer.

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Considering the unusual location, this was justly busy and is certainly a pub I would return to. Excellent service, pretty pub and good beer. Win.

We continued into Low Town into a forgettable pub (which, strangely, I’ve forgotten) with loud TV and bland beer (a tired Banks Sunbeam), but then turned around and went firstly to the ‘Spoons for a can of Sixpoint Resin DIPA (nice, but overrated) then back to The White Lion. That Porter was like a Siren call onto the rocks of drunkenness. I had an emotional wobble at this point. Shit needs to come out occasionally. And I was with good friends. And in good hands.

So. Four excellent pubs. A rather good ‘Spoons (nice Lemon Dream by Salopian earlier) and excellent beer. With an early draught “Beer of the Year” contender in that Porter.

Bridgnorth is a lovely town with a rich history. Great pubs. It’s even got a bloody steam railway for crying out loud! What more could you ask for???

Back soon.

J.