The Relevance Of The Good Beer Guide. 

Inadvertently or otherwise, I owe quite a lot to CAMRA.

I joined CAMRA just over 30 years ago, in the years following my Damascene conversion – from Carlsberg to Cask – as a direct consequence of a pre gig pint of Wilsons Bitter in Peverel Of The Peak. (Pigbag February 1982 at Tropicana on Oxford Road, seeing as you’re asking….)

I used to be a branch activist and attended branch meetings – until I got totally pissed off with the sheer cliqueyness (new word alert!) of the group. This was North Manchester Branch. Now history, but not before they rejected the idea of helping to organise a beer festival for a small Community Centre. In 2014.

And we all know how THAT turned out. 

It was through attending those Branch meetings that I got drunk in The Marble Arch one night in 1990 and got to hassle Jo & Andy Davies – the owners of The Crescent – with a Salfordian tweak on the Yosser Hughes riff “Gizza Job!”.

And that’s how I came to work in the best freehouse in the North West (at that time). A job that I adored. And that started my love affair with bar work. 

At that time – and for many years after – The Good Beer Guide was an essential companion. Especially in the late 90s, when my role changed and I started to travel around the country more frequently. It pointed me to pubs in strange towns that would have (generally) consistently good beer. 

When promotion could only be attained by transferring to London (leaving The Lovely One with two kids and a newborn in Bolton), the GBG helped me discover some gems that I periodically return to. The Jerusalem Tavern in Farringdon, The Old Fountain near Old Street, The Lamb on Lamb’s Conduit Street and The Royal Oak on Tabard Street. Pubs I would never have travelled to, without “The Guide”.

Without “The Guide”, I may never have drunk in the splendour of Whitelocks in Leeds, The Crown Posada in Newcastle, The Post Office Vaults in Birmingham. Pubs I return to. Time and again.

The best hotel I’ve stayed in in London is The Mad Hatter on Stamford Street. I wouldn’t have found that without “The Guide”. 

But I haven’t bought the Good Beer Guide for over 5 years now. Pretty much from the time I started blogging. 

In the first of those years, I downloaded the GBG app on my smartphone. But, to be honest, it was a bit…. pants. Elasticated pants in fact. Glitches, lack of detail. It disappointed. Made me yearn for the breeze block that the paper version had become.

When the Year was up (12 months subscription) I didn’t renew. 

What decided that, was the building Social Network I was becoming part of – via the blog. 

Beer – by this point – had moved on from the simplicity that the GBG embodied. I was learning to appreciate (for want of a better word) “craft”. A word I still struggle with. But my taste buds were changing. Not all carbonation was evil. There was some simply magnificent keg beer coming through. 

In my first blogging year, my favourite beer was Human Cannonball. Keg. In Brew Dog in Manchester. 

THAT bar wasn’t in the GBG. My world was changing. The beer world was changing. 

If I travelled to a new city, say…. Bristol, I’d put a tweet out

“In Bristol tonight. Recommendations?” 

And I would be inundated with fabulous pubs and bars. 

The same goes for any city/town in the UK. And I haven’t been let down yet – I trust local drinkers. The people who follow me/I follow know their locality. They know their beer. And frequently, that won’t be “Real Ale”. 

And The Good Beer Guide is focused on pubs that sell “Real Ale”. 

Don’t misunderstand me. I adore excellent cask conditioned beer. Show me the same dark beer on cask and keg and I’ll go cask every single time. On Pale beers, I can swing either way, the more assertively hoppy, the more likely I am to favour the keg. 

I guess what I’m trying to say is, there was a time when The Good Beer Guide was the be all. An essential yearly purchase. Always perched on top of my holdall before it went in the boot. 

It works for some. And I wouldn’t ridicule them for buying it. Good luck to them. 

But for me? Not any more. Now I tweet that question. 

And – for the record – I am still a CAMRA member. 

My Golden Pints 2017

I’ve written very little about beer this year, for fairly obvious reasons. And nobody probably gives a tuppenny feck about what I think anyway, but, I do have some thoughts. And I’m going to inflict them upon you.

Aren’t I kind?

Best UK Cask Beer : TitchRammy Craft Ales

I like sessionable beers of all shades. But I fell in love with this particular beer this January and have it every time I see it.

Clean, crisp, full bodied, hoppy as an amphetamine fuelled frog. And only 3.6% abv.

Matt and Andy make some exceptional beers. Long may they continue.

(Honourable Mentions : Always Crashing In The Same Car – Five Towns – Provoked some silly grins at #ISBF4; Waffle & Maple Syrup Brown AleBlack Jack / Drygate – a highlight of East West Fest)

Best UK Keg Beer : Lemon Drizzle IPARunaway Brewery / GRUB

“If life gives you lemons, make…..”

An IPA? Street food heroes GRUB approach local beer hero Mark Welsby. To make a beer tasting like Lemon Drizzle cake (Disclosure : my favourite cake of all cakedom). I was lucky enough to get to sample it from the fermenter.

Just one sniff and I swooned. Oh my.

It was simply sensational. And I was humbled when Bailey & Jules allowed us to have it first. At #ISBF4.

We sold it all by Saturday lunchtime.

I went and grabbed another from the brewery.

We sold it all by 10:30.

A beer that entered local legend – and I keep getting asked where you can get it….

Best Small Pack Beer : Fudge Brownie StoutNorth Riding Brewery / Five Towns

Oh my days. What a beer.

Stuart and Malcolm collaborate frequently. And their beers are always excellent – and frequently stunning.

Like this.

Rich, dark and utterly luscious. When I first tried it, The Lovely One asked me what the stupid grin was for.

It’s a rich 7.4% Stout. It tasted of Fudge Brownies. It knocked me sideways. And luckily, I have some left.

And deep in the bowels of the North Riding Brewpub, there is a wooden cask full of it. Being opened on New Years Eve.

Guess where I’ll be?

World Beer / World Small Pack : If you’ve ever read my blog, you’ve already moved on….

Best Collaboration Beer : Fudge Brownie StoutNorth Riding Brewery / Five Towns

It’s really THAT good. My “Beer of the Year” 

Best Branding : Marble Brewery

I’m not one for pyrotechnics. Give it me clean. Give it me clear. Give me instant recognition.

Marble have done that. With their core range. With their Metal Series. And with their Gothic Series too.

I’m a sucker for a hanging tag.

Best UK Brewery : Marble Brewery

I have a simple rule for this one. Whose beers have I drunk the most. On draught.

And I’ve spent a lot of time in The Marble Arch (I blame 3 of The 5 Berks for that…. You know who you are!)

Cask. Keg. Can. Bottle. Marble seem to keep getting better. Experimenting, but hitting the mark. A year of collaboration. A year of celebration. A year of excellence.

Best showcased in a beautiful pub.

(Honourables…. : Squawk (never let me down); Torrside – going from strength to strength.

Best New Brewery : Turning Point

I haven’t had gallons. But one night at The North Riding Brewpub I had one of theirs “Sun Empire” on keg. And it simply stunned me.

We had the same beer on cask at #ISBF4. It was my catnip. Every beer I’ve had from them had been exceptional.

Bravo.

(Honourable : Brew York – More stunning beers from York)

Best Pub : The Brink (Bridge Street, Manchester)

Makes me think of the Talking Heads song “This Must Be The Place” It feels like home. It was our safe space when our world fell apart. And I’ll never be able to thank Gareth, Elana, Sarah, Kate, Ste, Pete and all the staff – past and present – enough.

It’s not the that though. This isn’t a sentimental award.

It’s the welcome. The localism. Yes, there are exceptional beers, but it’s a feeling. Like I said, it feels like home.

I don’t know what more to say.

(Honourables : The Marble Arch & The Smithfield. With pubs like these, Manchester is truly blessed)

Best New Pub/Bar : Fairfield Social Club

I couldn’t be happier for Jason & Jules Bailey. Sorry “Bailey & Jules”!

I think they have something very special here. Yes, it’s in a double railway arch. But this is SUCH a great addition to Manchester.

They’ve assembled a great team, great beer and great food. The whole shebang just hits the bullseye.

I expected nothing less. And they delivered. I can’t wait for the live music!

Best Brewery Tap : Black Jack

People. It’s where my friends get together. It’s summer. It’s relaxed. It’s just a feeling.

Is always about the people and the feeling. And this place has it.

(Honourable : Runaway. Mark and the team have done a fabulous job and created a proper wee Brewtap. I intend spending a LOT more time there in 2018)

Best Beer Festival : East West Fest (The Red Shed, Wakefield)

Jaz (The Arch Nemesis) & I adore this place. And went the first two years.

This year – finally – some of our beery friends felt that they’d missed out long enough and came for the night.

They’ve booked their accommodation for next year’s event 7 months in advance. For the whole weekend.

Why?

It’s intimate. Fun. Loaded with great beers from East and West of the Pennines. It had a feeling – for me – that no other vaunted festival has.

Anyone who knows me knows my ambivalence to the bigger bashes. I like things simple.

You can keep your lupuloid fireworks. Your Imperial extravaganzas. Just give me some friends, good beer and great conversation.

And a decent DIPA / Dark blending opportunity. (We blended for hours……it was fabulous!)

Come to Wakefield in May.

(Honourable : I would vote for the Celebration that I organised, but this is the first Independent Salford Beer Festival that I’ve truly enjoyed.

There. I said it!)

Best Blog 2017 : Beer Compurgation

I don’t know what there is to say about Mark that hasn’t already been said.

That he’s a nice fella? That he can write? That he’s passionate?

All those things and more.

This year he has made me smile. He’s made me laugh. Made me cry (the bastard!). Made me angry. Made me think.

And every time I see him, I give him a hug.

Simon Johnson Award : @BeerFinderGen

There’s something about Mary (I mean James). Informative. Smart. Thoughtful. (“But that’s enough about me!” Stanley)

He is funny, tweets with passion and thinks. Even when he “drunk tweets”.

And he did a fabulous job taking the pressure off me doing the @salfordbeerfest twitter account*

*(Not a patch on ME, natch!)

(Honourable : Kate The Brink – Innovative Gif usage. Smart, always funny. Rib-achingly so.)

 

Squawk v The Brink : A Beer is Born

It started with a bizarre tweet (to me at least). For 10kg of Nelson Sauvin T90. (Pelletised hops) Obviously Gareth was up to something beery, but asking for 10kg of Nelson is akin to asking a brewer to unhitch their right arm and hand it over. 

You see – to those unaware – the phrases “Rocking Horse Shit” and “Rare as….” apply to Nelson.

Because it is gorgeously aromatic. Sharp. Tasty. And in demand.


Unsurprisingly – when I recovered my composure enough to stop laughing – I asked one or two brewing friends. Once THEY stopped laughing…..


Somewhat later, I got a slightly fuller picture.


Squawk. My favourite brewery of 2016. Collabing with my favourite bar. The Brink. I wanted some of that. So, “BOSS! Can I have Monday off?”



So it was that I arrived at Squawk, to the smiling faces (mostly) of Kate, Ste, Pete and Gareth (not forgetting our  brewmaster for today, Graham!) and the heavenly smells of hot mashing. It’s like breakfast for the soul.


The plan? A Red (Coughs “2-1”…….) Ale, something Gareth wanted (bloody United fan that he is) and that Squawk had never done.


Maris, Crystal, Cara and other sundry malts were steeping away upon my arrival as I watched – with no small amount of envy – as Ste plunged his hands into a bag of Wai-Iti to break the leaf up for bittering. His hands resembling those of Shrek upon removal – if somewhat more aromatic…..


A brewday (for those who aren’t the actual brewer) is essentially a lot of standing around, listening, with intermittent bursts of activity. Fun for the inner beer nerd, but hardly Pulitzer material. So, we short cut…..



Where the late flavour hops usually – to me anyway – go into the copper (avoiding the joys of steam burns!), these went into Oli’s latest acquisition. His hop rocket. With the wort circulation extracting maximum juicy goodness from those tart Southern Hemisphere beauties.


With copious amounts of Nelson going in dry hop, what are we to expect?


Tartness – it IS Nelson Sauvin after all! – fruitiness, with a distinct red hue. Full bodied with a very slight residual sweetness from the Cara and Crystal.



And – at 5.1% abv – drinkability. It’s Squawk after all, under praised for me. Massively so.


Looks like it might be on on Thursday. Maybe about 3pm. And guess who’s in Manchester that night?


Oh yes! Wouldn’t miss this for all the tea in….. 

The Art of Looking Up 

Looking up. The most natural thing in the world. And a phrase encompassing a multitude of meanings

Without it, you wouldn’t recognise the sheer beauty of your surroundings. How many Mancunians fail to raise their heads and absorb the architectural splendour of our great city? It’s no London, not even a Liverpool, but just the simple act of looking up can lighten the soul.

I’ve suffered mental health issues for a number of years. Unlike many in these – politically chosen – straightened times, I’m “lucky”. I’ve received treatment – counselling, cognitive therapy – and am able to recognise the signs. The barking of the black dog at the heels.

Or so I thought. 

And then, a few weeks ago, whilst walking along the elevated walkway between the train station and Terminal 1 it hit me like a brick. I had been walking with my head down. And I realised I was sinking, struggling. My heels were being nipped at. 

And it all started to make sense.

I thought I was a “talker”. Someone who could reach out when feeling “low”. I thought that I was emotionally eloquent. When all I was doing was holding it all together. Performing. 

The sighing on the way to work. I should have seen it. I should know better. 

This is my talking I suppose. Being sat on a speeding train. Tapping on a phone. And how many of us do that? 

I’ve started to get stressed over the silliest of things. Social media interactions, snapping a little in social situations, then feel the guilt of losing control. 

For which – to those affected – I can only offer apologies. 

There are always excuses, reasons, triggers. Things you think you can cope with, but you realise too late that they take their toll. Mine has been the recent funerals of two people taken before their time. People of my age. I thought I could handle it. But… 

The good thing is, that I’ve caught it. I can do something about it, I have “systems” in place to drag myself back up from the ditch. It’s not a black hole. 

There IS occasional light that gets through. That laughter is genuine when it comes. I let it come. Like the occasional tears, I don’t suppress those – I’ve had the odd funny look on the early train, to work, trust me! 

This is all part of the “ups and downs” I suppose. Getting by. Coping. (And I AM coping) I’m luckier than many. I can use this space as a vent. I neither seek nor require sympathy. 

There are things I can do. Exercise. Lose weight. Stay busy – ISBF was good for the latter. And I’ll be doing all of those things for certain – except ISBF. I’m still waiting on that one. 

No matter how grey or dark you may feel, the sky is still blue. I can see it now. 

By looking up.

Be kind to one another. J.