Berries, Beans & Beer – A Lovely New Festival of Drink

 (In love with that glassware!)

There are few beer festivals that pull at my hearts strings. Few that are inked into my calendar as “must do”. But I think that I may just have found another rarity.

Berries, Beans & Beer in Crewe.

My initial reason for attending was to volunteer. There aren’t many legal things I wouldn’t do for the organiser Michelle Shipman. Not only is she an utter sweetie – she’s become a bit of a friend actually – but she is both one of those “Good Beer People” (you know the ones) and one of those “friends with benefits”. In that she makes simply lovely beer. Beer that’s THAT good, that as long as she makes it, I want it at The Independent Salford Beer Festival.

I turned up worrying how this combination of passions (Beer, Coffee & Gin) would work.

And I left as a convert.

The ingredients.

  • Some of the finest breweries in the country.
  • A huge selection of artisanal Gins from small batch producers.
  • Coffees from the (as I now know) marvellous Has Bean
  • Superb snap (translation? Street Food) stalls outside.
  • Superb Beers to take away – from the mighty Otters Tears
  • An iconic location – Crewe Heritage Centre

As a drinks festival (OK, in my case, beer) organiser, I was curious to see how this would work.

Oh but it did/does. SO BLOODY WELL.

The things that struck me were

  1. So bloody civilised. There was such a relaxed feeling and atmosphere to it. Plenty of seating, well spaced. A few families, couples, solos. It felt…….. Just so nice….
  2. The beers – that I managed to taste at least – were uniformly superb. (With a particular shout out to “Mango Daiquiri” by Pig and Porter)
  3. A cracking selection of take out beers from Phil of Otters Tears
  4. The Gins? I snaffled an achingly new – and very tasty – one from Turncoat (creation of Terry Langton – formerly of Liverpool Craft Brewery) and an astonishingly smooth and fruity distillation from Tinker of Keighley.
  5. Some stunning coffees from Has Bean – I had a few…..
  6. Food? I had a pulled pork & mac cheese burger from Clucking Oinks which had me in raptures. I saw several tasty looking toasties (Viva La Toastie) getting wolfed and some beaut looking pizza action from Jordy’s Pizza

I volunteered for 6 hours. If I’m honest, it was the easiest, most pleasant way to spend an afternoon I’ve had in ages. That isn’t work to me. It’s a pleasure. Working with people like Chris & Wok (and behind a well stocked bar) couldn’t be other.

This little celebration is still on today. If you have an afternoon to kill and want to to it in relaxed surroundings with fabulous food and drink, I can’t think of anything better to do.

It’s a short walk from Crewe station. And well worth the effort. Just go – and thank me later.

I just hope Michelle repeats this. Because next year I want to be the other side of the bar too!

It was a grand day out.

PS : Being utterly selfish (for you lot), I may have organised a couple of astonishing beers for ISBF yesterday. Just saying mind. It wasn’t all work yesterday you know…..

(Well. You know….)

A Yearly Highlight – Bolton Beer Festival (CAMRA) 

In this world of hype that we appear to live in, there are some things that get thousands of lumens of incandescence. And there are things that exist in the shadows cast. But some of these things are nonetheless outstanding. And when I say “outstanding”, I choose my words carefully.

One such event is the beer festival hosted by the Bolton branch of CAMRA, each year, at the Ukrainian Social Club on Castle Street.

Even though I am a member – something the opinions of some fellow members test on a regular basis – CAMRA beer festivals frequently leave me cold, with dull beer selections being my most frequent complaint. But here, in 4 years of going, I have had no complaints whatsoever.

Simply put, the beer list never lacks for variety and eclecticism. Graham, Pete, Linda and the rest of the team are unafraid to take some risks with local palates. And the thing that should never be forgotten, is that – to many – these local fests may be the only one some locals ever go to. So there is a tightrope to be walked between experimentalism and local tastes.

And it is one that this selection walks with confidence.

I was really pleased that I managed to persuade Stanley to drag his handler all the way from Cheshire. Pleased too that my good buddy Ragnar made a first appearance too. I got the distinct impression that they enjoyed it and felt it worth the journey. A rare sighting of the lesser spotted Deeekos too. People who don’t mind a journey for a decent beer.

The food was predictably excellent too, with the Street Food flamboyance of Cameroon’s finest export since Roger Milla – Alain of Nkono – doing great business with his Jerk chicken and wild venison curry…. Lovely stuff.

Personal beer highlights? A sublime Mosaic Light from Black Jack, the Proper Ace grisette from Rivington, the beautifully peachy (as it should be) Impeachment from Five Towns (and me), the Tan Halen from Cwrw Ial (big Salted Caramel Stout….. Yum) and a gorgeous American 5 Hop from Blue Bee of Sheffield.

But to be honest, there were no duffers in my selections. All superb. And I didn’t have to look too hard either. The beer list is THAT good.

I’m hoping that the Northern Rail strike won’t hit the festival too hard. Even so, this bash is – in my humble opinion – too good to miss. I’m bloody busy at the moment, what with cajoling breweries into supplying #EvilKegFilth for our October do, volunteering at the superb idea that is Berries, Beans & Beer. I barely have a spare hour.

But I wouldn’t miss this for all the hops in the Yakima Valley. You shouldn’t either. It’s on today (Friday) and tomorrow.

I’m going back tonight – I’ve got some unfinished business with that beer list……

Asking The Right Question 

Spoiler Alert – This is NOT a beer post.

What I’ve discovered in the last year or so about my personal blogging motivation has kind of intensified in the last 6 months. It’s about triggers. Emotional triggers. To me, now, blogging is about an immediate transfer of thought to page. Not planned journalism.

This necessity for triggers applies to the beer posts as much as those about the grief process. I even have a part written post about music – in particular, my Top 10 albums and 3 Funeral Songs. And that one was prompted too.

I used to plan. I used to think, “OK. I’ve got all this beer. I’ll do a couple of bottle posts”, but I got bored with planning. I haven’t written a review post for 9 months. Each thing I write needs a stimulus. A purpose. And this post had the strangest, yet most obvious of prompts.

It would appear to be one of life’s truisms that I have little or no connection to Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer (read “Boss”) of Facebook. A bit of an obvious statement is that. Or it was, until I read an interview with her in this morning’s Observer by Decca Aitkenhead (I actually read it via the Guardian website – you can read it here), not about her role in running one of the world’s most valuable businesses, but about the sudden loss of her husband. And how she copes.

The first thing that struck me – and drew me in to reading the entire article – was about people asking you how you are feeling. The right question to ask. Trust me, it’s a fucking emotional minefield for the person asking. I previously dealt with that here. Or thought that I had. Then I read the following extract…

The classic inquiry, “How are you?” also turned out to be unhelpful. “Well, my husband just died on the floor of a gym. Like, how am I?” The more meaningful question, she learned, is “How are you today?”

And that’s precisely it. THE question. The one which you can answer honestly without emotionally eviscerating the questioner. The one that you can answer without reference to my current stock response ‘Yeah OK. Walking, breathing, you know. Every morning’s a bonus…..’

She talks about the husband she lost. That thing of which I’m constantly reminded is incredibly important. To have those remarkable memories. The things that make you smile and laugh. That simple act of walking into The Brink – and looking up at the signage – is a smile/chuckle trigger in itself. (Those who know what I’m talking about will chuckle too)

Sheryl (get ME on first name terms….) goes on to talk about a post she put on FB a week or so after returning to work (we differ here. She only took 10 days off. Me? Over 5 months.) after dealing with people standing off. A little bit like I pre-emptively did here. And the amazing personal response she got – as I did, with people opening up.

She talks of allowing those moments of joy – and not to be ashamed of them. Those moments where the sun (in a linguistic slip, I initially – appropriately – spelt that ‘son’) almost peeps through the emotionally dense clouds.

Initially, I felt some guilt about those moments of joy. I remember vividly being out with those lovely Liverpudlians Les & Julie O’Grady in Manchester some time after ISBF3. Conversation was light and I was chuckling. Then I noticed – across the venue – there was someone I knew. And he was looking almost askance. As if to say “How? How can you be chuckling….?”

As Sandberg goes on to say, there are choices in how you respond to grief, to loss.  Option A & Option B. And if Option A doesn’t work, you “kick the shit out of Option B”. Option B being the title of the book…..

As a kind of self-help therapy, I’ll be buying the book. I’ll leave you with a direct quote (You’ll forgive me Sheryl….)

Back soon. J.

Whether you see joy as a discipline, an act of defiance, a luxury or a necessity, it is something everyone deserves. Even when we’re in great distress, joy can still be found. Cooking. Dancing. Hiking. Praying. Driving. Singing Billy Joel songs off-key. And when these moments add up, we find that they give us more than happiness; they also give us strength.”

New Mills – An Unexpected Journey 

The Beer Shed

This was kind of a last minute thing. Almost until the minute I left the front door. I’ve been kind of wanting to pop up to New Mills for a beer for a while, my System 1 County Card does the business for the train. And the Peak District air is always an attraction.
I’d only been to New Mills a few times, always to the simply immense BBQs hosted by good friends Mick & Karen – the odd 5 litre carry out may have featured – but recently, with the advent of Torrside & the recent entry to Micro Pub world The Beer Shed, the longing to pop up for a beer had steadily grown. The Easter weekend opening of Torrside’s tap room crystallised that.

It’s a pretty journey on the train to New Mills. At least, once you start to hit the ascent from Manchester. And the thing to remember is, that New Mills has TWO train stations. For a small town, it’s rather blessed.

Having been to a couple of the local pubs – dominated by Robinsons & pubcos – the two places that stood out, as I thought they would, were The Brew Shed & Torrside tap. They were worth my 3 hour round trip alone.

The Beer Shed

I wanted to get an earlier train, until I was told that this place didn’t open until 2. And at that point, I was already headed towards Manchester on the train. I won’t mention what I did to fill the time gap. The pubs were as comfortable as the beer (Robinsons & Everards) was forgettable. Not bad – by any stretch – but not my taste these days.

Once Russell, the owner, opened the doors to Beer Shed, I was found. Whereas previously I was lost.

The Torrside “Win Tor” (whisper the word) Mild, was a smooth, slightly choccy roasted delight. 4% abv and Oh so repeatable. Which I did. The pub however….. I was ashamed to leave.

A single narrow room with the bar narrowing the room in the middle, this place is just right. Small, intimate and with some thought going into the beers on both cask and keg. With some lovely beery decorations too.

Bench seating is the order of the day – out of necessity – and you can probably (at a pinch) fit 40 in, this is a pretty place and has an older soul than I expected. I was immediately smitten. Maybe it’s a micro pub thing, but this place had a feel like the offspring of The Brink mated with Bar Fringe (without the Belgian taps).

3 cask beers from Torrside, Cross Bay & Hobo Brew Co (new to me). The 6 keg taps (one unused today) featured Rivington, Tiny Rebel, Redchurch, Beavertown & a Belgian offering from Timmermans. Russell seems to be doing all the right things in what (I would think) is a tricky market. The keg offering today would be popular in Manchester but, in an area full of traditional pubs – and dominated by Robinsons – I think Russell has got himself a niche. A little USP.

The beer is kept well. The prices – for a Manc drinker – superb. The beer selection is excellent. I’ll be back. (And if you go to Torrside this weekend, give it a look in. It’s worth it.

Then to Torrside.

Busy as. And deservedly so.

Chris, Nick & Peter (the Torrside triumvirate) can brew. I’ve known that for a while. I tasted several beers brewed by each when they submitted to a home brew contest judged at Brew Dog Manchester. And along with a few pro brewers (Brew Dog, Tickety, 7 Brothers & – now – Abbeydale) I was one of the judges.

I was stunned that a place like New Mills had its own “home brew group”, then – come the awards – the same names kept coming up. Frequently, they were the guys above. What I didn’t know then, was that they were to coalesce, as Torrside Brewing.

A brewery that brewed – still – my favourite bottled beer of all, American Barleywine.

These guys are good. And I was pleasantly surprised to find I could catch a train to get to New Mills, to try a beer or two.

(I had to have an Arch Nemesis egg head shot….)

The place was pleasantly busy. With a good mix of locals and beer nerds – me included. With my time constraints (an important family time this weekend), I only managed three beers. The Licorice Mild was a delight. The Spartacus IPA was simply astonishingly good. I had to have two.

And – as I was leaving – the local beer legend the is Stanley arrived. With his owners. I was gutted that I had to go.

Located beautifully adjacent to a canal basin – and within two minutes of New Mills Newtown station, these brewtaps are something not to be missed. And with the beer so good, you’d be daft to.

Just remember to pop into Beer Shed too. It really is worth it. And only 3 minutes from the “other” station, New Mills Central.

This weekend, you know what to do. (Followed by GRUB, Beer Nouveau, CW Barrel Store, Beatnikz…..)

Fortune Favours The Brave – Beatnikz Republic

It’s a brave move to open a brand new brewery at this moment in time. Hell, it’s a brave move to open in Manchester. This great city of beer that is so beloved by so many. 

But chatting with Paul, here at Beatnikz HQ on Red Bank (almost the other side of the railway from Runaway) gives me hope. Man can brew. 

Reading his rolling blog on the brewery website, this is obviously a labour of love. And something that he was prepared to move to realise. I adore the fact that moving to Mancunia is for the right reasons. Not just for beer, this is for family. And that matters. 

Paul has been (whisper this…) cuckoo brewing leading up to the installation of his PBC 8bbl kit, keeping up his skills whilst he fretted about the details of having his own setup. And that setup sure looks pretty. He’s awaiting two new vessels including a conditioning tank. This place looks smart. Glistening smooth flooring, just designed for yeast overflowing! 

He starts brewing here on Tuesday, but tasting the beers, he’s ready to take his place amongst the Mancunian brewing scene. His Pale Ale was fresh. Juicy, refreshing and balanced. His Coffee Stout however…. My heart remains dark. And this beer reaffirmed that adoration of the dark arts. And that beer on its own gives me hope that – in these competitive times (and in this uber competitive Manc beer market) he’ll be fine. 

6.7%, oatmeal smooth, coffee that he roasted himself (there will be an artisanal coffee roaster co-locating shortly), this was a beer that could have been an object lesson in ticking my boxes! 

Take advantage of some of the bottles to takeaway. Rarities. Because the plan is to can. Which Paul explains in more detail on their website. This isn’t a spur of the moment thing, there has been a lot of thought gone into this. 

I had shit to do. Family stuff. Those who know, know. But I wish I could have stayed. Chatting with Jaz, Kayleigh and Ross (Manchester Beer’s golden couple?) is always a pleasure. I even let slip an #ISBF4 secret or two, I’m obviously getting sloppy. 

Treat yourself. Get down to Red Bank and say hello to Paul. Drink some beer. It’s the weekend. You’ve earned it. 

As has Paul. Good job, well done. 

Chasing The Dream – Craft Brewtique 

In what felt like an antidote to the “End Of Days” mentality that has permeated the UK Craft Beer scene recently, following the recent Tesco craft takeover….. (Who needs Stone IPA or Dales Pale Ale anyway…)  this felt like getting back to basics. Very attractive basics. And it will started with an intercepted tweet.

And a drive to Urmston.

I haven’t drunk much at home in the last 6 months or so, kind of lost the thread a little. Lost touch a bit. I needed something to refresh my sensibilities. And – without giving away any of my secrets for #ISBF4 – to do some research.

So I find myself outside a new little beer shop. Craft Brewtique.

Located on Flixton Road, directly opposite the local Wetherspoons. The juxtaposition of the two made me smile. Huge, impersonal, high turnover beer factory, opposite a little one man outlet. A little one man outlet that had thought carefully about what he is doing.

Speaking with Andy Heggs, something he said struck me as glaringly obvious. Just the look of the shop have away the owner Jay’s previous career. In design. The place looks lovely. Small, yet spacious. There’s room to browse. With the shelves either side carefully stacked with the luminaries of UK beer today.

You want Marble? Cloudwater? Buxton? Beavertown? Siren? Verdant? Etc….. All check.
I saw what I would like. Some careful thought in stocking, with new locals like Five Cloud and Rivington alongside stellar Southern newcomers like Deya and Elusive. More excellent local stuff from Runaway & ABC, Chorlton & Mad Hatter. Most bases are covered.

And impressively, Jay is open to suggestions. In fact, his pinned tweet is asking which breweries people would like to see him stock.

Although small, there is room for improvement. There is – in my humble…. – room for a table or four and a small keg wall. A small installation would make a huge difference and add a further counterpoint to the Wetherspoons directly opposite.

But what Jay has put together so far, works for me. It’s a competitive world is the independent beer shop. But I have a feeling that Jay might just have found a prime location in Urmston.

Get on down. Just 3 minutes from Jct 10 of the M60 and 60 seconds from Urmston train station. Cracking selection, carefully compiled and great value too.

I just hope that the guy I persuaded to buy the Mad Hatter Tsatsiki Sour enjoys it!

Back soon. J.

Five Towns Brewery – Yorkshire’s Little Secret


NormantonPontefractFeatherstoneCastleford, Knottingley. The Five Towns of Wakefield. Every day’s a school day, eh?

I’ve been guilty of using the phrase-cum-hashtag “BeerPeopleAreGoodPeople” for a wee while. But one particular brewer stands out. A refugee from that there London. Malcolm Bastow. The hop loving brewer brewing in Outwood, Wakefield as Five Towns Brewery.

I first came across the beers brewed by Malcolm on my first visit to Yorkshire Ales of Snaith. I was looking for something different. It was around the time that I was starting to focus on Northern beers to the exclusion of other stuff, having noticed that nobody else was. I was searching for a USP for this blog. A USP that eventually led to The Independent Salford Beer Festival.

And those beers that I bought from Adrian & Vicky Pettit were rather special. Beers like Peculiar Blue, RooBarb and Niamh’s Nemesis testified to someone with a love of US and Southern Hemisphere hops. Someone who wasn’t shy in using them. Punchy pales, full of hoppy goodness.

I was instantly smitten.

Then the deal was sealed. I realised what a decent bloke he was, when I tweeted, back in (roughly) February 2014,that i thought that I’d agreed to organise a beer festival. And I was shitting myself. I needed help. Malcolm’s response?

BOGOF. Which he’s done in each of the three years. Five Towns are the only brewery that I’ve taken two beers from, in each of the three years.


And in the first two years, his beers won “Beer of the Festival”. From votes from the drinkers. Very discerning drinkers too. And even when – last year – he DIDN’T win, his “Beauty & and The Beast” fruited DIPA entered into local legend. He brews beers that he himself would like to drink. Beers without compromise. And his beers are a secret that Yorkshire would like to keep.

BOLLOCKS  TO  THAT. Following some tactical mithering, you can occasionally find his beers on this side of the hills, via Allgates and Black Jack. Frequently betraying his love of the music of David Bowie with names like “V2 Schneider”, “What In The World”, “Secret Life of Arabica” and the aforementioned “Beauty & The Beast”. It isn’t often that I’ll drink a pint of an 8% Pale Ale. But I do with his. I’m an unashamed fan boy.

And – ever so gradually – his beers have been getting more fans over here. Which is how I found myself jumping in my car at 5:45 am on Saturday to drive over to Wakefield, to brew a collaboration for my favourite CAMRA beer festival, organised by my local branch, Bolton.

I won’t bore you with the minutiae of a brew day. But some things need mentioning.

Malcolm brews on a 2.5bbl kit. In plain language, that means that he will normally get the equivalent of 9 casks from each brew (with bigger beers like “Beauty”, that could drop to 6 or 7). So each brew has limited availability.


And Saturday’s brew will be even more limited. Possibly as little as 4 casks will see the light of day (with some of THAT going into bottle).

Following the “election” of The Donald, I contacted Malcolm about brewing a beer to “celebrate”. The name came first. Impeachment. With an obvious ingredient inference. Peaches. 200g of pureed peach going into each cask. And lots of hops.

I was fortunate to be given the task of opening and breaking up a pack of Equanot leaf hops. At 14.5% Alpha, they were incredibly pungent and aromatic. I opened the bag and inhaled. Yes, I admit it, I inhaled. I’m an addict. And they smelled astonishing.


This beer will be single hopped with Equanot for bitterness, aroma and flavour. Not to forget that peach. It will be fruity. It will be hoppy. It will be bitter. It’s going to be bloody lovely.

And – over here – you’ll only get it at Bolton Beer Festival at The Ukrainian Club. From 27th April.

Come along and enjoy. It really is a belting little festival.