A One Pub Afternoon – Trackside, Bury.

I know I’ve recently written about Trackside – you can read that here – but this increasingly impressive pub bears greater (and closer) scrutiny. And bears it well.

Some time ago, our little group – based on some tantalising beer list tweetage – had resolved to get to Bury to have a closer look. To see if the talk was walked. This assembly is never simple, especially when you’re pulling people together from South Yorkshire, Cheshire, East Lancashire etc to a pub nearly 10 miles north of Manchester.

But – sickness and incapacity aside – we made it. Including some who’d never been before.

As well as being a “bit” of a beer nerd, I’m also a British history nerd too, from pre-Roman to Stuarts, my fascination is boundless.

I say this, not to embarrass myself (that is rather difficult) but to emphasise the point that, the first time I entered Trackside, it reminded me of my idea of an elaborate Saxon Longhouse. Long, (relatively) narrow, vaulted ceiling, thronged with people.

The only things missing were a mid-room firepit, a smoke hole in the roof and a few sheltering cows and goats.

For a while, the beer range had gotten a bit stale, unexciting. Quite…… Boring. I hadn’t been for years. Then Ben from Rivington Brewing messaged me to say I should REALLY take a look.

The reasoning is clear

And that was just PART of the cask range – it omitted the 11.5% abv Rammy Craft Imperial Mancunian Stout. More about that later…

And as for the keg, a Track TIPA, Rivington American Barleywine, do I need to go on?

Don’t get me wrong, Bury doesn’t seem blessed with great beer – Tyson may tell me different – but that didn’t seem to matter. With good company, this was a destination in itself.

Rammy Craft “Titch”. Track “Simcoe”. North Riding / Magic Rock “Stu’s Company”, Rivington “Days of Candy”, Rivington / Beatnikz “Vermont California”, Cwrw Ial “Tan Halen”. The Track TIPA, Rammy Craft Imperial Mancunian Stout.

All tried. All exceptional. I blended the TIPA / Mancunian Imperial Stout. It was ludicrous. It was delicious. Stupid. But delicious.

The pub is a way station for another thing. The volunteer run East Lancashire Railway. Steam pulls. In more ways than…..

The line terminates at Rawtenstall. Where there is another ELR pub. The appropriately named “The Buffer Stops“. With Will (the Trackside custodian) likely to be involved with both, this shall be subjected to a summer visit. By steam.

The Railway Children Revisited.

James and Andy (Brewsmith & Rammy Craft) joined us for a beer. Both had beer in the bar. Both were exceptional. Again, we chatted. #ISBF5 may have come up in conversation (pretty much my life right now)

Stanley was after my lunch (Rag pudding). He got none. Just too delicious. He tried to cute me into submission, but not even a Canine Legend / Supermodel gets my grub. Oh no.

The image of failure.

It goes without saying that we stayed a few hours. The right pub, with good company, does that to you. The exceptional beer list meant that we neither needed nor wanted to move. Sunshine faded into evening before we made our “excuses”

It was an excellent afternoon. In a hugely impressive pub.

You’d be mad not to. Honestly.

Back soon. Jx

N. B.

1. This is not “paid for”. This pub is simply too good to miss

2. Thanks to Barbara for being completely unaware that I shamelessly stole some pictures.

3. Thanks to Steve, Jock, Barbara, Jen, Linda, Stanley, James and the two Andy’s. Without whom I’d have gotten pleasantly drunk on my own. But WITH whom I had a lovely afternoon

Crossing The Great Divide : North Riding Comes To Stalyvegas

I frequently get irritated with some of the excitable chatter online about beer. The unquestioning worship of the latest “double this” or “triple that” and the never ending exoticism of ingredients that seem to utilised by the favoured brewers of any particular moment.

Sometimes, I get so pissed off that I almost scream at the screen.

I think we kind of lose the point about beer. It isn’t about ingredient gymnastics or fireworks. It’s about flavour. The all important “F word”. And consistency. Making bloody good full-flavoured beer.


THAT is something that grabs my attention.

One evening – about a month ago – I saw a tweet from the exceedingly eloquent Mark Johnson. About a certain beer going on the bar at Stalybridge Buffet Bar. “Fudge Brownie Stout – Ski Sundae edition” from North Riding / Five Towns /Beer Central.

So that night, I didn’t go home from work. I went to Stalyvegas. And at some point during conversations, it hit me. I was in a regular outlet for North Riding beers. “ON THIS SIDE OF ‘THE HILL”

You see. I’m a fan. And – after a number of years of preaching – there are a hard core of fellow believers in the Manchester area.

When I heard tell of an impending MTB with Stuart Neilson co-owner & head brewer at North Riding Brewery, I wasn’t going to miss it for all the tea in…. Great beer in a great bar. I’ve known Stu for a while and was intrigued to see how he related to a crowd – and the occasional heckle from YT.

Our little group of 5 helped to fill the room. The attendees ranged from mid 70s to mid 20s. From Bloggerati to straight up beer loving drinkers. It was a great cross section of people who enjoy good beer.

And the beer WAS good. Damn good. You don’t get elevated into the rarified atmospheres of Ratebeer Top 20 in the UK if you’re not damn good at what you do.

From US Session through a delicious (single hop) Centennial and Mosaic to a rather lush Mocha Porter and simply sublime Sorachi Stout and that FBSS mentioned earlier. The beer was just xstunning. And a perfect representation of East Ayton output.

Stuart explained about the origins of the brewery from the North Riding Brewpub (2bbl kit in the cellar) and the progression to what I refer to as “The Factory” (The current 10bbl kit located in the countryside outside Scarbados at East Ayton). Colin mentioned the calls to get pubs to buy beer. Now reversed – and rightly so.

Now, pubs – and wholesalers – call the brewery. They get that this is damn fine beer.

Questions flowed.

Barbara asked a question about Kegging – given that Stuart had mentioned about the packaging split being 98% cask, 2% bottle. Something that – given the likely move to bigger premises soon – Stuart didn’t rule it out. But he was very clear, brewing for keg, the beers would be designed for it, with higher hop rates.

Questions re fining : “Pales yes, darks never”

The question from Mark struck a chord. This was wondering if Stuart had thoughts about why his darker beers attracted the bigger ratings. Something that I think he’s a bit puzzled about – ratings wise.

Which led us to the word – if is indeed such – “Pastriarchy“. Based on beers such as Fudge Brownie Stout. Upon hearing that “word”, I felt a compulsion to remind Mark as to the proximity of the sea.

That WILL be the gift that keeps giving.

(pic courtesy @LeedsBeerWolf)

The food was stunning. Beef Jerky, ribs and crab balls. All superb. (I was scanning slates the scraps….) Bravo Caz.

This is a predominantly cask brewery. Using aromatic hops properly. For maximum flavour and aroma. That’s the customer base. It pays the bills, wages. The beer sells. Almost – in some cases – as soon as the idea is put forth. Seriously.

For the princely sum of £10 this was an excellent night. You’d be mad to miss the next one.

Stu & Colin were in a rush to get back to Scarbados. The simple fact that they came over from Scarborough was a testament to the bar, to how the beer is looked after and presented. The attention to detail.

It’s almost like Caz knows what she’s doing!

Our group came from Wolverhampton, Sheffield, Poynton, Bolton & Middleton. They came to meet the brewer of some of the best cask conditioned beer in England. And they did. (Quite friendly for a border crosser actually….)

At one of the best pubs in the North.

A heavenly match. And well worth travelling for.

The “Future” of The Independent Salford Beer Festival.

It started off so simply.

A little beer festival. To raise money for a small Community Centre in the heart of Salford. A place with a multiplicity of pulls on the strings of my heart.

I didn’t know what I’d gotten myself into, didn’t realise that – in the nicest of ways – it would change my life. But it has. Oh how it has.

I’ve met people from all over these islands, formed friendships I could never have imagined – as have many of the people who have helped us through the last 4 years. They freely acknowledge the fact that these friends met in a little draughty Community Centre. Over a beer. A very good beer.

As hard work as this has been sometimes, this little friendly celebration of beer has given me SO much more in return. Things that I could never talk about in person.

But this isn’t about me.

From relatively humble beginnings, this celebration of beer has changed. And – to me – it IS a celebration. In each year, we learned. Incrementally.

In year one and two, this was an event solely focused on Northern Beer.

Northern cask conditioned beer.

It’s my Mastermind “Specialised Subject”. I still fervently believe that the North of England – generally speaking – does this better than anywhere else.

And I’ve always tried to get the best beer I could.

Year 3 required a step change. #EvilKegFilth. And we haven’t looked back.

Years 1 to 3 (especially year 3 – cathartic though it was) were a blur. I didn’t enjoy those myself. The stress overrode everything else.

Year 4, last year, was different. I could finally appreciate what we had built. We had a simply astonishing beer line up from across the country. We had live music which had people reaching for their phones to video.

The package was – for me – complete. Food, music, people, beer. I didn’t think we could improve on that at St Sebastian’s.

We CAN’T improve on that at St Sebastian’s.

With the exception of Year 3, when I did it for me (for reasons explained here) this Celebration was always run for Gerry Stone. Simply the loveliest most caring friend anyone could have.

Until last Friday, Gerry ran the Community Centre. Over the last 4 years, we raised almost £30k at this event. The vast majority of which went towards the upkeep of the Center, enabling it to provide a venue and vital services to the local community.

But – for reasons I won’t go into – Gerry has left the Centre.

And – as I always said – if she wasn’t there, I wouldn’t do ISBF.

Obviously I was trying to fool myself.

So. “Where are you going with this?” is the question. Well…..

I couldn’t let it go, not without a fight. I just couldn’t. I need my annual adrenaline fix.

Gerry is – putting it mildly – fantastically well connected in the City of Salford, and knew my thoughts. She put me in contact with the Mayor’s office. Many of you won’t know, but the Mayor (Paul Dannatt) came to #ISBF4 and seemed to enjoy himself. He “got” what we were doing.

Following initial contact, where I gave my thoughts as to the basic requirements, (location – central, capacity etc) things moved quickly. I received an email a few days later from one of those venues and – following a brief exchange of messages – we arranged to meet Stan (no, assuredly not THAT Stanley!) at the venue.

I don’t mind saying that my jaw dropped.

We chatted. Talked about what we’d done so far. The fact that we – myself & Gerry – would like to keep going. Keep it in Salford.

Stan, the Chairman of the building, seemed keen – again, things were racing ahead – and we agreed on virtually everything. Then started talking dates…….

I’d set myself a deadline – stupidly restrictive – of until the end of April. If we couldn’t find somewhere in that time, there’d be no #ISBF5.

It took about an hour.

The new venue is Hemsley House, Salford’s Freemason Hall.

I always bristled when people said that St Sebastian’s was a bit awkward to get to.

Well, this venue is approximately 4 minutes on foot from Salford Crescent train station. It’s on a major bus route.

In short, it’s bloody easy to get to. So, over to Mr Heggs and HIS “specialist subject”…… Stunning design.

The date had to move to get the building. And once we’d seen it, we didn’t want to lose it.

In your diaries yet?

There are lots of wrinkles that need ironing. For a start, we need to get the website back up and running! (We honestly thought we’d seen the last of ISBF, so let it lapse….)

This could still fall around our ears. There’ll be lots of changes. But some things won’t.

I’ll do my damnedest to get you the best, most exceptional beer list. From near and far. If you came last year, you know that won’t be easy.

We’ll do our utmost to keep that friendly feeling, relaxed, comfortable, easy. After all, this is about enjoyment. Not fireworks.

ALL profits will go to charity.

We’re going to try give it a go. Who’s in?

#ISBF4 – Another Year Over. 

It’s about the people. It can never be anything else.

It’s a strange and somewhat empty feeling. You work over 8 months, steadily build to a crescendo, then….. It’s over.

But it was fun. Wasn’t it?

So what did we do? In essence, we got some beer, some food and sold it. Simple eh? But, scratch a little bit deeper.

We surprised a few people, me included. Selling out 4 sessions of a beer celebration in a Community Centre in the heart of Salford was a surprise. At one point there was almost a black market in tickets for the Saturday lunch session!

A few people got caught with how quick the tickets went. Not the least being me. But that was down to a number of factors, not the least of which was the trust of people who had been before, believing in what we do. They had faith.

The number of people who kept telling me that this was the friendliest beer celebration they’d been to, it nearly broke me. Seriously. Kindness does that to me. I can’t cope with it. But comments like that meant a lot to us all. This isn’t just me anymore.

Getting a stunning beer line up is my job. To me, that bit is easy. It goes something like this…

  1. Overgrown boy drinks beer.
  2. Overgrown boy notices who makes great beer.
  3. Overgrown boy asks those breweries to supply him a beer that is new to Manchester

There. It’s that simple. Anyone can do it! Go try it for yourself….. (Ah. I didn’t mention the stress bit did I?)

No. I’ll say it again, like I do each year.

At the risk of sounding arrogant – which I’m not – I knew the beer list would be good. From the initial responses from breweries back in April/May, I knew we had something good. But, like I said, I knew it would be.

It’s the other stuff. The band of friends that come together to make it possible. They are the heartbeat, the pulse of the place. They get “it”. And they pour themselves into making it the friendliest of dos (literally, in some cases!) Seriously? I love them all.

From the genius that is Andy and the lovely Darren, both of whom would field my anxiety laden pleadings with patience. People with day jobs who gave up huge chunks of their precious down time. D making us the most user friendly of websites, A with that stunning design that made for the loveliest T-shirts! Thank you.

I won’t list everyone for fear of missing some out. They just need to know we love them all. I’m immensely proud of them all. From Chris and Linda who managed the bars through all the volunteers. They were friendly and knew their stuff. We’ve got simply the best bunch.

They set the tone. They have fun. That’s what this stuff should be about. Enjoyment. Having a giggle.

Whilst serving from the best beer list you’ll see at any comparable event. I’m proud of that line up. But more proud of the friendships we’ve made over the last four years.

Gerry, Christine, Bernadette, Sue. 4 ladies who never get the credit they deserve. They ran the kitchen. Prepared the food, cooked and served it. Bloody well. They looked after us.

Aberdeen. Bristol. Brighton. Coventry. Newcastle. Kent. People from all these places came to drink beer at a Community Centre where we were told it was awkward to get to.

Tell George, Mark, Mike, Carl, Sean. THEY came. From HUNDREDS of miles away.

Big thanks to Sean Ayling of Pig and Porter & Jim & Laura Rangeley from Abbeydale for the excellent presentations and chats.

To all the brewers from Falmouth to Aberdeen, Liverpool to Scarbados for brewing all of that lovely beer. It was lush!

And I swore that I wouldn’t cry. I failed. Thanks to a lovely – and slightly tipsy – GP.

To all of the lovely sponsors : @m28jeff, Sixth Element Wheels, Simon & Sarah Gare, Groundwork MSSTT, Jock Joyce, Drink! Hebden Bridge, The Brink, GRUB Mcr, Keepmoat, Olsson Fire and Risk, Lee (@Leggywolf), Colin & Sue Murphy, Steve (Karkli ‘Funk’ Sherpa), M.A.S.H., Heaton Hops, Mark The Gasman, James (@BeerFinderGen), Craft Brewtique, Northern Type, Andy Heggs, Bottle Stockport, Beerkeepers, Deli Lama, The Vinehop, The Cafe at Spring Cottage & Bunbury’s

Numbers :

Due to the fabulous efforts of Maxine, Jeff,, Linda & Christine, and the generosity of all of the prize donors, we raised a tear jerking £2000 for the charity Papyrus, one that’s dear to the #ISBF4 family hearts. Thank you all.

The winners provided some priceless moments!

The event raised almost £6,500 for St Sebastian’s to help my dear friend Gerry and the Centre keep providing vital community services.

YOU did that. By drinking great beer. And lots of it! Thank you all.

And that’s why we’ve had four of these celebrations. When I only thought we’d do one.

Now then. Given my rather rash – but logical and honest – announcement, prior to last year’s event, I lost count of the number of people who asked variations on the following question

“You ARE going to do it again, aren’t you?”

My answer was that I WANTED to. So long as I have my health, I would love to. But for now, watch this space. Honestly, I’m not stringing you along, but there is stuff going on in the background regarding the Centre.

I’d certainly like to. But I’ve been very clear all along, I do this for Gerry, a lady I respect hugely and love dearly. Whilst she stays, I’ll organise it.

I’ve grown to love that place. And I wouldn’t want to do it anywhere else.

What we – and I include everyone (volunteers & customers all) – have managed to do, over 4 years, is to keep this venue on its feet. Just. You should all be very proud of that.

When I know, you will.

Because, I think we’ve achieved something here, that many thought we couldn’t. We’ve brought people together, with a shared love of beer. Real Friendships that will last lifetimes have started here – I’ve been told on numerous occasions.

All at a little Community Centre. In the heart of this City.

Again. Thank you.

Peace out. Jx

Away Days 2018 #1 – Macclesfield to Stockport

After 4 years of The Independent Salford Beer Festival, a number of us came together as a group of like minded friends. We meet up regularly and occasionally go on days out.

Always with good beer in mind. That and the good times that are the natural consequence of being with truly good people.

Ordinarily, I organise these things. But, a couple of months ago, James (aka Barbara) put his head above the parapet to organise one. (I will never tell him to his face, but…) James has good taste and wanted to highlight some of his favourite haunts from South of the city.

(Due to the brevity of each visit, venue descriptions are brief. Sorry!)

Let’s see how we get on….

The “organiser” had arranged – kindly – to start at Treacle Tap (close to Macclesfield Station), but a splinter group fancied an earlier start. I (along with Steve) thought this involved a proper schlep up to Redwillow brewery for their tap room (pic above), fortunately, I met someone (John) who knew where he was going.

Unlike Steve – who “enjoyed” a brisk walk.

Redwillow Tap – 32a, Park Green, Macclesfield, SK11 7NA (Come out of Macclesfield stn, turn left along Sunderland Street and walk about 150 yards – turning right onto Park Green)


. THIS was a nice surprise. I’d expected (as previously stated) to briskly walk to the brewery….

Lovely frontage into a large open room, loads of wood, lots of comfy seating and a beautiful bar furnished with lashings of Redwillow beers – and some interesting guests both on keg and cask.

The roominess astonished me as I thought it would be more of a Micro Pub, but this is truly a lovely place to come for a beer

A pint of NZ hopped Effortless was just right for a traveller in need of refreshing. Sessionable, light and fragrant of hop. Displaying a delicacy and lightness of touch that seemed in sync with the venue.

I could spend hours here. And be happy doing it. A lovely showcase for Redwillow’s impressive beers.

With another Steve and Chris & Shaun having joined us, we needed to see the others. And bid farewell to Redwillow….

Leaving the bar, turn left and left back up Sunderland Street, approximately 75 yards up the street on the left side….

Treacle Tap – 43, Sunderland Street, Macclesfield, SK11 6JL

Now THIS is a Micro Pub! I confess, this was my first visit to Macclesfield in over 35 years – and certainly the first time in any pub or bar. After an excellent start in Redwillow, this just enhanced the experience.

An excellent pint of Mercy by Great Heck in hand, the group was almost complete and pretty much filled this small and very attractive bar.

Fairly narrow and single-roomed, yet maximising space with plenty of seating leading up to the slightly raised bar. A proper Micro Pub indeed, packing so much into a small space.

The conversation was flowing. The Canine Supermodel (now firmly embedded in my predictive text) was attracting his usual level of adoration – at least one couple joined us having been “Stan Fans” first – and there were some lovely Great North Pies behind served up.

Like I said, this bar packs a lot in.

Impressive. So much so that one of our group started talking of coming back to Macclesfield for a day trip of its own. Absolutely.

It was at this venue that the “herding of cats” commenced. Cue Barbara (and the start of the barracking….. “SIT!”)

James herded the assembled felines off to the next stop whilst myself and a couple of others stayed on to finish food etc and wait for further arrivals. The Fantasma by Magic Rock helped that process beautifully (surprisingly, never tasted before).

Thanking the Tap owners, we headed off the all of 100 yards to the train station. And Poynton.

Out of Poynton station, turn left and head towards the centre along Chester Road, 7 or 8 minutes walk, at the junction, on the left….

Vinehop – 5, Fountain Place, Poynton, SK12 1QX

Barbara’s local. I can see why.

Again, full. With others here too adding to the atmosphere and fun. With us being the late arrivals, just managed to squeeze in to a seat.

Again, single-roomed Micro Pub, nice and bright with the accent being on beer, but with a healthy wine presence too (as you might expect given the name)

Again, an excellent beer selection with accent on local, with Torrside, Tickety Brew and Rivington alongside the likes of Wiper & True.

I went for the “house” beer “What’s The Poynton” (ha!), brewed by the Vinehop guys at Tickety Brew. It was bloody gorgeous. Zingy and fresh. I tasted the Tickety Brew beer Houblen Dobbelen (at 8.5%!) which was also lovely – and dangerously drinkable – before settling for an all too swift old flame in Torrside’s I’m Spartacus (predictive text works again!). Which was predictably excellent. And again witnessed “cat herding” in full effect…

I failed to take advantage of the pizzas being baked out at the back of the premises, but they looked lovely. Also to note that the mighty Jimmy of Nasi Lemak regularly cooks here – not to be missed.

Small, friendly, packed with good beer and wine. What else do you want?

So, back 7 or 8 minutes to Poynton Stn and in the Manchester train but one stop. Bramhall

From the station turn left onto Bramhall Lane South, had into the centre – about 5 mins walk to the roundabout. There, across the road to the left is…

The Mounting Stone – 8, Woodford Road, Bramhall, Stockport, SK7 2JJ

Busy. Well, any Micro Pub would be when an additional 25 customers turn up!

Long narrow bar, again with plenty of seating, quick friendly service and another excellent local beer selection. Pomona Island, Squawk, Tatton, Summer Wine, Black Jack all available.

Squawk Pica. Oatmeal Pale. Luscious. Smooth fruity and hoppy.

Then, the nice surprise. Given how rightly busy it was upstairs…

Sub ground, a large drinking space alongside the cellarage. Nicely done and laid out. You could even hear the pints being pulled from upstairs…

It’s easy to see how this bar has gained an excellent reputation. Again, it’s the simple things. Done well. Nice environment, friendly staff. Good beer sells. But only when looked after.

I’ll be back.

Leaving the bar, reverse route back along Bramhall Lane South to the train station. Catch the hourly train to Mcr again. One stop to Cheadle Hulme.

On exiting the train, the next venue is visible across the road…..

The Chiverton Tap – 8, Mellor Road, Cheadle Hulme, SK8 5AU

Sister pub to The Mounting Stone, with a different feel. Almost a little more traditional as a bar. And none the worse the it.

One large open room with a slight raised area at the end of the bar. Plenty of seating and another excellent selection of beers from Northern Micro Breweries. Marble, Brass Castle, Vocation, Shindigger.

Personal prejudices catered for.

Service again being fast and friendly, I settled down with possibly the beer of the day. Bad Kitty by Brass Castle. Lusciously smooth, dark and roasty with a nicely judged vanilla hit. A lightness of touch not achieved by many with that potent spice.

I don’t know how they did it, but the upturned bottles as light shades above the bar were a cute touch.

Another lovely venue. It would’ve been rude not to sneak an extra half. “Love & Hate” by Vocation. Been a while since I last had a Vocation on draught. Juicy, smooth and fruity. Nice stuff.

Saying goodbye to the friendly staff, it was back to the train. One more stop (these “swift halves” were taking their toll!)

Five Berks. No. THE Five Berks. Really.

So. Back to Cheadle Hulme. And one stop to Stockport. To the only venue of the day that is already been to. And eagerly anticipated a return….

From the platforms, head in the other direction – away from the ticket office – exit the station, walk up the slope and turn right. Then cross the road and walk another hundred yards along King Street West.

Ye Olde Vic – 1, Chatham Street, Stockport, SK3 9ED

An award winning Stockport classic. Stockport is a town worthy of a crawl all of its own, with pubs classic and modern (with beers to match) for all tastes. There is certainly an argument that – for pubs of character – Manchester is bested by this town.

With this pub right up there.

With the fresh lick of paint on the outside, I was slightly worried about what awaited inside. I needn’t have. It’s Ye Olde Vic.

The Vic has a character all of its own and can always be relied upon to deliver excellent quality cask conditioned beer. For me, that was Mallinsons Chinook, with the Queens of single hopped pales not disappointing. Sharp, fruity and all the bitterness I want.

Others went for Otters Tears by Thornbridge. I heard no grumbles there either.

The Vic is roughened around the edges inside, the lighting is low, that is part of its charm, a charm all of its own

It’s a pub with that quality I crave. It has more soul than James Brown. And I love it. And given that many on this tour wouldn’t have been, it was an excellent final stop. For me at least.

Some went on to The Magnet, but this was the end of the line for me. I was headed back into the City. To The Peer Hat, The Marble Arch & The Brink.

This was a fabulous way to spend a day. I could see new friendships being made, it was a pleasure to see.

The venues were well judged, all superb and all worthy of further visits in the own rights. Most were new to me and all were impressive and some work had been done by James to prepare the venues for the numbers.

I’ll be going back to each. Repeatedly. They are ALL that good.

James did a fabulous job. It was a great day. Just don’t tell her I said so. Barbara would never let me hear the end of it!

Beer Adventure #1 : Nook & Cranny

I’m not one of those who jumps on each and every new opening. I do get invites – which is incredibly flattering – but I need a gravitational pull. Not just anything, I’m not here for freebies or promotional bullshit, something in there has to appeal to my senses. Something unusual.

I’d seen stirrings about an impending opening in Bromley Cross (just to the north of Bolton) and kept one eye out. It helps also having friends who live nearby, so I could test drive it vicariously. Jo & Mike seemed impressed. That was good enough for me.

Getting off the commuter train at Bromley Cross station, there was an immediate comparator (and stark contrast) with where I was about to go. The Railway pub.

Closed. Boarded up. I met Mike, who told me what a great music venue it was. But now shut for two years. Heineken asking for too much upfront apparently.

I fear that for larger suburban pubs, this is the future for many. Closure. The land being worth more for development than the business itself. A sad state of affairs. Especially when combined with low pricing for packaged beers in supermarkets.

This is the age – in the suburbs at least – of the Micro Pub.

And so we come to The Nook and Cranny. Bright, shiny and new. Still sparkling from Saturday’s busy opening.

Initial impressions upon walking in were “Ooh! Not as small as I’d thought…..”. Well lit, nicely decorated. Kept simple. Impressive.

Lovely built wooden topped bar. 3 hand pumps for cask and an impressive – and rather pretty – keg wall with (was it) 10 taps? Beers from near and far, but with the accent on local. A well judged selection of trusted and new. Somebody had obviously spent time thinking about this selection.

I settled for a chat with Mike with a beautiful creamy pint of Abbeydale Salvation and admired the view. Plenty of tables for seating, a few upturned wooden casks for vertical drinkers. Cushions on the bench seating. Again, well thought out.

The arrival of a steady flow of more customers gave a better idea of the mixed demographic. Drinkers of all ages, genders drinking. Drinking bloody good beers.

“Fog”. Rivington. Always helps enhance the mood. A seriously lovely beer. Chatted with Craig (one of the owners), a man running 2 jobs alongside a young family. A busy fella. But with a smile as wide as….. Deservedly so.

Craig and his partner have nailed this. I liked the fact that the cask was local and independent (Bank Top, Prospect & Abbeydale), the keg being wider sourced, with Weird Beard & Tiny Rebel featuring alongside local classics like Runaway Stout, Rivington Fog etc. There was a Sour on the list from the Abbeydale Funk Dungeon.

The cask was well looked after, I had a nice Bank Top Luna Pale. The keg was excellent too, nice to grab a rich and roasty Runaway Stout (unashamed fanboy). 2 cask, 2 keg. 2 dark, 2 pale. That’s balance, right there. And bloody good too

Adventurous, if you know Bolton.

Places like this are the future. Certainly in areas like this. Relaxed, friendly – we happily “budged up” and got chatting – nice layout, decor. All the boxes ticked.

Whenever I go to a new Micro Pub, I always think back to my first and enduring love. Heaton Hops. And – in it’s admittedly baby steps – Nook & Cranny stands up well.

The trick will be to keep it like this whilst continuing to be adventurous with the selection, push further. And not settle into the all too easy profit hunt by selecting beer on price rather than flavour. I’ve seen it all too often.

I get the feeling that they won’t fall into that trap.

5 minutes walk from Bromley Cross Station. Which is 8 minutes on the train from Bolton. Like Arnold, I’ll be back.

It’s worth the journey.

This Must Be The Place

“I can’t tell one from the other.
Did I find you, or you find me?
There was a time before we were born,
If someone asks, this is where I’ll be, where I’ll be…..”

(“This Must Be The Place” Talking Heads)

One of my favourite songs of all time was the inspiration for this post. That and the fact that two years have almost elapsed since this little piece of adultery commenced….

Yes. This month The Brink celebrates its second birthday.


There isn’t one single moment (well, perhaps…..later)* where i could have said – in those early days – that this was it. The “local” I’d always sought, that search for El Dorado finally fulfilled, with a beautifully kept Stout or a zinging sharp Pale.

I can say where it started though. Localism. The initial magnet that kept pulling me in. That support for local suppliers. It plucked my hearts strings like Evelyn Glennie. It was a beautiful tune, played well and with conviction. Not just a pub that stocked A “Locale”. But ALL the beers being within 25 miles.

Almost encapsulating my geographical beer prejudice – and shrinking it still further.

There were – initially – accusations of “sterility”. About a lack of personality – soul. And that was swiftly addressed. I’ve lost count of (obviously) first time visitors standing and staring at the photographed Cityscape adorning the entirety of one of the walls.

Also the local band album cover canvases on the opposite wall (oh PLEASE bring them back….) pandering to my music obsession.


Add to this the Mancunian warmth and welcome. Gareth has carefully chosen his staff – and it shows. They’re even patient with me – and I *can* be a proper gobshite (yes, OK, those who know me will say…..)

*And that “moment” where I just knew that “This Must Be The Place” came when – one evening in October 2016 – when myself and Chris went in and the staff were their usual chirpy selves. I asked Gareth had he told them what had happened and he said “No. I wanted you to have a safe space….”

Fuck. Still brings tears to my eyes. Even as I’m writing this. (Chris will come down in a moment and wonder why my face is wet…)

It’s now my local. It may be a full 10 miles away – but it’s only 60 yards on foot…..

From the early days – as with many new venues – when there were “2 men and a dog” in midweek, the place has grown into itself, gaining a reputation for the beer and service. It gets busy – it’s only small after all – but I was sat with Christine on Friday evening and we both said that this was how it should be. Busy, humming like that hive of Mancunian worker bees. With the conversation reaching out over the music.


But you can always get a table within minutes as people move on – as is the nature of a City Centre venue. We’ve done it, frequently.

Yes. The beer is local. No further than Huddersfield and Congleton. 25 miles radius. The range changes but it’s consistently excellent both with cask and keg.

I had a Runaway Pale on Friday which reminded me just HOW much I love that beer.

The place does the simple things (or at least they seem simple to me). Get good beer. Look after it. Serve it well. Talk to the customer, advising if wanted.

It isn’t rocket science.

And doing those simple things well is what keeps me – and others – coming back.

It’s Mancunian. From those early -rather quiet – beginnings it has wormed its way into a lot of hearts. It certainly has into ours.

And – in less than 2 weeks – it’s 2 years old. A toddler. I’ve been a cheerleader for the baby steps. Somehow, I think it will avoid those Terrible Twos!