Unmissable Acronyms – Beer as Social Lubricant

Beer should never be the subject of the conversation, but the lubricant that facilitates it.

Yes. I say this without any trace of hypocrisy. I am firmly within that “beer bubble” also its sub-species “The Manchester Bubble”.

I say this also as someone who reviews small pack beers from the comfiest of sofas, which – although I haven’t for over nearly 12 months – will be back shortly. With a twist. And a singular purpose.

But back to the top. The social lubricant. Fun. Smiling. Laughing. Conversation. Friends. To me, that’s what beer is about. Which brings me to my Unmissable Trilogy of drinks events – which all happen within a 4 week period.

The Road To Wigan Beer

Berries, Beans and Beer

East West Fest

Last weekend was The Road To Wigan Beer.

I’ve written about this before. Several times. To the extent that several members of my social circle jump onboard.

And they enjoy it. Hugely. Why?

Because it’s fun.

Yes there is good beer. But it’s about exploring an area – in this case Wigan – and getting to try a few local pubs that even if you lived in Wigan, you might never get to try.

It’s about promoting pubs. Supporting locals. And it has done so did a number of years. A good idea yeah?

These places are at the heart of local communities. They are the soul, the pulse, in some ways they form one of the ties that bind people together. The essence of “Community”.

This is the second “fun bus” in a row that has sold out. People have started to get what Jaz & I have always got.

Getting to pubs as diverse in character yet equally special as The Crooke Hall Inn (Crooke village) and The Hare & Hounds (Hindley) – two of my very favourite pubs – is always going to make me smile.

One (The Crooke) is exquisitely located on the banks of the Leeds – Liverpool canal. The other (The Hare) is simply the most local of locals. Two rooms, dartboard, great beer, two minutes from the local train station.

The are two ends of the pub spectrum. But equally special. And the fact that I beat both Martin & JP at darts just made my day…..

The sun simply made the day that little bit more special.

It was a lovely day. And I’ll never miss it as long as it continues and I’m healthy.

Then. This weekend. Came the second part of the Trilogy.

Berries, Beans and Beer.

It’s name sums it up. It’s not a beer festival. It’s a drinks celebration. Encompassing Gin, Coffee, Beer & Rum. In that order.

And. Of course. Stan. And his increasing legion of “Stan Fans”.

And the thing is, once you take something away from simply “Beer”, you democratise it. Make it more inclusive. And accessible. And “Berries” was certainly that.

I volunteered for Berries last year. I believed in Michelle, what she was trying to achieve. Putting together an event which could do something different, something that hadn’t been done in the area before.

And it was a lovely event. In a quirky – totally Crewe – venue. The Railway Heritage Centre.

But this year was different. Some things take time to build.

This year Michelle nailed it.

I was there with a group of friends who trust what I say. And when I said that we really should go, they bought train tickets.

The beers were excellent. I focused on breweries likely to be invited to #ISBF5 and enjoyed some beauties – to the extent that one or two additions to the list were necessary.

Particular favourites were the Saison from Burnt Mill, Thrust by Elusive and a Citra Mosaic Pale from Loka Polly alongside a rather nice “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” by Cheshire Brewhouse

But this event is about so much more than beer. The Gin and Rum bars took a hammering. Otters Tears did a brisk trade, with some fabulous beers in can and bottle (we *might* have grabbed some train beers…)

This is possibly the “Beer” event that has attracted the widest demographic I’ve been to, across ages and gender. And that’s because – as someone said to me – “once you take it away from beer, it becomes less of a man thing”. And they were so right.

To pull this event off in a place like Crewe is simply astonishing.

To make it SO successful is exceptional.

I – for one – truly hope that she does it next year.

___________________

That’s RTWB & BBB taken care of. In just over two weeks we get the best little beer festival I know.

EWF – The East West Fest.

Less than 20 cask conditioned beers.

A Red Shed.

And my favourite beer festival.

There are some special beers from both side of The Pennines. Me and Malcolm helped brew 3 of the over here with Offbeat (Michelle’s final brew at the brewery), Wigan Brewhouse & Rivington

There some simply ludicrous beers that have no place at such a small festival such as an Imperial Smoked Mild and Imperial Raspberry and Bergamot Blonde. Pineapple Milkshake Pales….

It’s special. That’s all I can say.

Last year, some friends believed me, they travelled over. And stayed a night. This year they’re staying the whole weekend.

The thing that ties these three events together is that “social” thing. Conversation, smiles, laughter. Yes, the beer is good, but it’s not just that. It’s the people you spend that time with, drink that beer with.

Beer isn’t – and should never be – divisive. It simply isn’t that important. It isn’t (to paraphrase Bill Shankly “more important than life or death”.

People are. The friends you drink it with. Cherish those moments.

Back soon.

Jx

CAMRA : So Long. And Thanks For All The Fish (Guts)

2.5%. So close. And yet so far.

The membership have apparently spoken. And 27.4% of the pitifully small number that voted, voted to block progress. And that pitifully small number are singing from the rooftops.

The above tweet was my newsflash this morning. I’d spent yesterday doing the important things in life, drinking beer from a variety of dispense methods. Having fun doing so. With friends.

Increasingly, CAMRA – as an organisation – has been almost irrelevant to me. “Revitalisation” almost changed that. Almost being the key word.

For a long time now, I’ve been of the firmly held opinion that good beer is just that. Good beer. Irrespective of the method of dispense. If it tastes good it IS good.

But approximately 5000 people disagreed. 5000 out of 181,000. That’s democracy for you. Especially when the bar is set as high as 75%.

The whole debate around the embracing of all beer was – to put a positive spin on it – vigorous. And frequently intolerant and poisonous. And hugely ill-informed.

The fact that some people STILL spout nonsense equating “craft” with “keg”, just goes to show that they are clueless. And that appears to be the main line of attack. Rooted in history.

“Bland keg beer”. F**k me! CAMRA is 47 years old! The battle for “Real Ale” was won! The Campaign did its job. And did it well. We’ve never had it so good. The variety and quality of beer you can drink in 2018 bears testament to the historic success of CAMRA.

Historic. Success.

And the word “Dinosaurs”. Oh how we laughed!

The funny thing is though that I know many upfront CAMRA activists. Many of whom play a leading role in their branches and indeed nationally. People of influence. People who DO know a lot about beer. And whilst their drink of choice would ordinarily be cask conditioned beer, they are not adverse to a bit of delicious keg.

Their tastebuds evolved. They certainly aren’t dinosaurs. They recognise good tasty beer. Irrespective of dispense method.

Many of these are friends. And I’d like to think will remain so. They are good people.

Beer has evolved. Unfortunately, approximately 5000 people have blocked CAMRA (as an organisation) from evolving with it.

I’m not a CAMRA activist. I tried that once. And gave up. I was young, but not so foolish as to allow myself to be patronised.

I generally believe though that – in the main – CAMRA is a force for good. But too many members prefer to behave like Ostriches. While the rest of us move on.

Yes. I “get” that the majority of the Revitalisation agenda got through.

Yes. I “get” that the sinister “Motion 8” sank almost without trace.

But that’s not enough.

This vote was merely the straw that broke this particular Camel’s back.

I’ll continue to consume and enjoy good beer from cask, keg, bottle & can.

I’ll continue to organise The Independent Salford Beer Festival.

I’ll continue to “do my bit” to promote good beer irrespective of dispense method.

But I’m done with pissing from within the tent. I’ll do it from outside now.

Thank you CAMRA. And goodbye.

The Best Things Take Time : The Independent Salford Beer Festival

The early days of “planning” this bash are some of the most exciting.

These are the days when you have all sorts of wild ideas and have to calm yourself down and think “It’s only beer” (© Chris)

I seem to fall into the same trap every year. And front load. With the strongest beers. And yes, I’ve done it again. I already know the first beer. And it’s very special.

And that’s the problem with what we achieved last year. To better it will be very difficult. But you can only try.

And we certainly started that. With the new venue and location….

When I posted that we were going to do this again, the response was somewhat intense. And rather surprising.

I know that the beer was good last year, that’s my job, getting the best breweries that I can to get you something you haven’t had before in this great city of beer that is Manchester.

And that is just one of the challenges for #ISBF5.

Another is to maintain the variety on both cask & keg whilst minimising waste. Whilst the keg virtually all got drunk, there was a lot of wastage on cask.

About 25%.

Whilst this is an event where all the profits go to charity, I want to maximise those profits.

We have a plethora of great brewers of cask conditioned beer in the North. And only a limited number of spaces in the racking. There will be changes in the line up, as in every year, to keep things exciting…

So, if the numbers of attendees stay roughly the same, that is likely to mean that there will have to be slightly less cask beer in volume. And, whilst I (Jim) adore cask conditioned beer, to waste 25% volume is unsustainable.

What ticketing allows me to do is analyse attendance patterns. And – consistently over the 4 previous years – there has been a non-attendance rate of about 20%. The new venue will impact on that, being more easily accessible from all points – and certainly via train.

As much as I loved St Sebastian’s, for a small event like this, location is key. And – however small the effort – St Sebastian’s did require some planning to get to.

A potential additional solution comes with ticketing, in particular, pricing.

This year, tickets are likely to come bundled with beer tokens as a package. The actual price won’t change much, but it will mean less cash handling which will be further augmented by the ability to take payment by card. This should also have the side effect of increasing actual attendance compared to ticket sales.

For those who prefer to pay by cash, the nearest cash machine is just a few minutes walk. (Another benefit of the new location)

Invites will be going out to breweries in the next few weeks and I can for certain say that some breweries have already agreed to collaborate together. I’m already getting giddy at the thought!

I’ve also started to explore a very interesting possibility that – if it comes off – will leave you wondering “How did you do THAT?” (I like to keep things interesting for myself)

Tickets will go on sale on Sunday 2nd September and we will – as in the last two years – have a launch “party” at The Dungeon (aka The Brink) where there will be some exceptional (and especially brewed) beer, with the first chance to buy tickets.

On that subject. What has been truly amazing over the last 4 years has been the loyalty and the efforts some have gone to to attend.

To get people coming ESPECIALLY for this from Aberdeen, Brighton, Bristol, Coventry, Northen Ireland – even Iraq, is humbling.

Since I announced we were doing it again however, the interest (and determination to attend) from people far and wide who’ve never been before, simply amazed me.

Even with the new venue – with the potential for increased capacity – we’re not going to get much “bigger”. We might have 15% more availability, but they won’t last long.

And I still want this bash to be relaxed, comfy, friendly. Which is why we won’t grow much more.

So remember that date. 2nd September. 20:00

Also, courtesy of the lovable & extremely talented Mr Heggs and Drumbeat, we’ll have our redesigned website up and running shortly – we gave up on the pretty original (genuinely) because we thought we wouldn’t do #ISBF5.

That will enable you to see updates as they come in, communicate with us directly and serve as the platform from which volunteers and potential sponsors can get in touch.

You can NEVER have too many beer sponsors (obviously you can, but, you know….)

And also…..on the subject of sponsors………..

I can announce that we have a new glassware sponsor in those lovely people at The Northern Type!

So. In short.

  • New venue.
  • New beers
  • More Collaborations
  • Tickets on sale 2nd September at 20:00
  • Don’t. Miss. Out.

It may be “Only beer”. But it will be exceptional beer. I promise you.

And – as I’ve always said – I keep my promises.

Rivington Brewing – East Meets West (With Added Citra)

With a growing reputation and – it’s fair to say – the most beautiful of brewtaps, Rivington have made an impact in the last 18 months. From hesitant beginnings brewing to an assumed “market”, they’ve made big strides brewing not just hazy hop bombs, but delicate Grisettes and a variety of styles in between.

In short, they make excellent beer.

Which, when making my Brewery choices for East West Fest is rather important.

Located on a working farm – as you will see later – on the side of Upper Anglezarke Reservoir, it’s a bit on the picturesque side and simply has to be one of the prettiest places I’ve been for a brewday.

Being one of the few breweries from outside of the Central Manchester area to gain penetration in the city, I’ve tasted Ben & Mick’s beers on a regular basis and have been able to map their development and increasing confidence through a range of flavours, both bold and delicate and whilst they’ve gained a loyal following for beers like “Never Known A Fog Like It” (rightly so), I’ve been even more enamoured with the lightness of touch of “Proper Ace”, their Sorachi Grisette – a seriously pretty thing.

Something I hit HARD at their last “Tap Beneath The Trees

Given that this was the final brewday for me for East West, Malcolm decided he wouldn’t miss it, which is how the three of us (with Mick working elsewhere on the farm), found ourselves in the former dairy – the current brewery (plans to move to larger premises on Home Farm opposite being in development…)

The plan was for a big, fruity, hoppy beast. That much was evident from the 155kg of malt (Pale, Wheat & Oats) that went into that 400L mash run, like a grain mountain.

There’s something elemental and soul enhancing about the smells of steeping malt, in the same way that the smell of fresh baked bread lifts the spirits. It’s something I could never tire of.

The mashing in was a delicate process, given how full the vessel was, this was almost “maxed out”, again an indicator of what is to come….

Whilst the mash was steeping, Malcolm and I popped out for a different brew. In the lovely Cafe at Spring Cottage (a welcome beer sponsor from #ISBF4!

A really lovely place, just over the reservoir off Rivington Lane

Again, I won’t bore you with the minutiae of a brewday (Grains, hot water, boiling, hops, yeast etc), the real interest for me was listening to Ben & Malcolm discussing and comparing the similarities and differences of their methodologies – given that they have obvious parallels in both being similar sizes (2.5bbl) and flavour forward.

What you are seeing in these images, will be a Single Hopped Citra DIPA of somewhere over 8% abv, with ALL the hops added late and in dry hop.

It’ll be big, juicy and very fruity. And it’s got me salivating for The Red Shed already. (Less than 4 weeks to go now)

And that is where this beer will launch. In a little Red Shed in Wakefield

The thing that struck me about this brewday, more than any other, (even more than the simply IMMENSE aromas from the steeping Citra) was the disposal of the spent grain.

I normally dig out the mash tun. I see it as my “reward”. But Ben & Mick (briefly appearing with a mini digger) had other ideas. I felt “cheated” 🙂

The ladies awaited their treat. Mooing in trembling anticipation….

Here it comes……

My smile went from ear to ear. I couldn’t stop grinning.

So there you have it. Malt. Citra. Greedy Cows.

Thank you Ben, Malcolm, Mick, Ladies. It was one hell of a day. (With an intriguing return leg – with added fish and chips for #ISBF5…..)

Oh. Naturally, you need to come to The Red Shed on 10th May. You’d be mad not to!

The Vultures Are Circling – Pt 2 :

Take a look at that brewery, of a typical size for a Micro being 5bbl (or approx 8 Hl).

Because if the Small Brewers Duty Relief Coagulation (sic) get their way, breweries like this are likely to be priced out of the business.

I’ve learned quite a bit about duty relief this last week – much of which was down to a quite forensic post from Steve Dunkley of Beer Nouveau (read that post here) and feel much the better for it. I like numbers, I like graphs. They are my friends, I understand them.

The members of the SBDRC are quite large (in a brewing sense) businesses. And they spend quite large amounts of money – employing smart and talented people – on PR. Smaller breweries (Let’s say up to 5000 Hl in annual output – THE pertinent figure in this “debate”) can’t afford that. They have to let their product do the talking. Via the tried and tested media of flavour. And design.

The SBDRC have started to respond to the “outcry” sparked by their proposals. About which I feel sure they are unsurprised.

They respond most effectively by the twisting of language. Reaching for the black Thesaurus of PR. Taking a word and finding a shady verbal alternative to paint something in a negative light. It is actually a very simple and effective technique, beloved of politicians everywhere.

A recent article in the trade publication “The Morning Advertiser” provides some wonderful examples from the unnamed “spokesperson for the coalition”. Read that here.

An example : “For brewers brewing under 5000hl of beer per year, the Government provides a 50% discount on beer tax….”

The word used in taxation IS actually “relief”. This relief technique is not unique to breweries. There are all kinds of relief mechanisms across the entire spectrum of taxation.

But then “discount” is a much dirtier word in the business world when compared to “relief”

Another example of PR verbal weaselling :

“…… proposals that will ensure that the vast majority of small brewers are better off and will allow the creation of much closer to a level playing field

Let’s take two elements of this….

Proposals…… vast majority of small brewers are better off

HOW? HOW???

They are proposing to reduce the lower volume level for the 50% relief from 5000hl to 1000hl. So HOW does that make those tiny outfits brewing less that 1000hl better off if they are getting the same relief?

“…. will allow the creation of much closer to a level playing field”

Ah. That beautiful egalitarian phrase. “Level playing field”

How can there be a “level playing field” when a small micro brewery doesn’t have the economies of scale of breweries up to 80 times the size of production?

How can there be a “level playing field” when some of these breweries have substantial tied estates with generations of customers that take that product?

How are these Micros ever going to be able to compete against such resources?

Progressive Beer Duty – or SBDR – (being) a misnomer because once a certain level is reached it is anything but “progressive”. ”

Actually, that is PRECISELY what it is. Progressive. In that it increases gradually and in stages.

The spokesperson stated that the 50% discount offered to breweries producing under 5000hl was an enormous disincentive for growth…. ”

Tell that to Cloudwater. Whose founder Paul Jones in his own figures believes they will increase production to approximately 7500hl in 2018. So you can be progressive, make fabulous beer AND grow past that magic 5000hl figure.

I could go on. Some say that I frequently do. But I’ll be damned if I sit back and just watch whilst the big boys deploy PR verbal weaselling to defend their proposals.

We would lose too many tremendous breweries should they succeed. Breweries and businesses that – let’s not forget – sustain thousands of jobs.

Yes. Not even I will argue that there isn’t overcapacity in brewing. How could there not be with the never ending story of pub closures. There will be a reckoning.

Many Micros are one or two person operations. In the long term, the “rewards” at the smaller end of the production scale simply aren’t worth the enormous effort. Breweries will close. And I will lose some talented friends from the business.

But I’ll be similarly damned if I sit by and watch them close due to the manipulation of taxation relief and government lobbying.

Defend your businesses by all means. But don’t pretend you have the interests of the Micro Breweries of the UK at heart.

You don’t.

Back To The Future – The Return Of An Old Friend

“If you asked me for heaven, I would give you a mountain top.

If you wanted to hear my love music, I would get all the angels pluck their harps…”

(Jerry Williams – “If You Ask Me”)

As one door closes, another one opens – or so the common saying goes.

It was only following yesterday’s brewday that the juxtaposition of these two brewdays (Offbeat & Wigan Brewhouse) hit me. And their significance in my personal “Beer Journey”.

Allgates Brewery in Wigan were my first “Beer Crush”. In my first (proper) “Golden Pints” in 2013 they were my Brewery of the Year. I’ve always been a lover of sessionable Pale Ales and that was Allgates default position by force of demographic, Wigan beer drinkers liked session beers it would seem.

For those who are regularly bored enough to read my drivel, I’ve been a massive advocate of “The Road To Wigan Beer” funbus day out. Again, Allgates Brewery – a tour by bus around their (former – more later) estate of pubs. It’s a great day out. And sold out – for the second year running.

Allgates had been a big supporter of The Independent Salford Beer Festival from first tweet announcement to date. They always delivered what I needed, full-flavoured beer imbued with that elusive quality. Sheer drinkability.

It saddened me when they hit some difficulties a while back. Even more so when news filtered through to me that the brewery had been sold – and was to be renamed. The old (and rather beautiful) “tower brewery” had been in mothballs for too long. It was too beautiful and logical a setup to remain unused.

And gradually, people started to forget about Allgates.

I couldn’t. They were a HUGE part of my journey. My first brewday was with Allgates (and Tandleman / Tyson – beer writers I looked up to. Jay Krause was due to be involved too – but was poorly). You don’t forget stuff like this.

Nor does Malcolm (Five Towns) Bastow – Organiser of my favourite beer festival. The East West Fest in Wakefield’s famous Red Shed. Having heard that Wigan Brewhouse (the new owners) wanted to continue in an Allgates style vein with the beers, he fancied a collab for East West.

So did I. I was curious to see the old brewery back in action…..

It felt good to be back!

Jonathan Provost – the Allgates brewer – stayed with the new business, which was a comfort. He knows his stuff and is bloody good at it.

Malcolm and JP (with me as digger/observer) had collaborated previously on an IPA that was a bit stronger than Allgates usual. At 5.6% “Station to Station” was a pretty pretty thing.

For East West, we wanted something in a similar vein.

Simcoe, Mosaic, Citra (with a further Mosaic / Citra dry hop) Pale malt (tiny touch of dark crystal for colour). An American hopped Pale. Between 5.5 and 6% abv.

Again, I won’t bore you with the details of a brewday – long periods of inactivity and chat punctuated by flurries of intense physical activity – but this day in particular was a hugely pleasant walk down memory lane.

As is an occasional joy on a brewday, I got to sample some beers from the tank. And oh were they good!

The Kicker Session IPA was delicious – it was the first Wigan Brewhouse beer I’d had – at Wigan Beer Festival – and this version (from tank) was even better, fresh and sharp.

Gin Pit (a former Allgates recipe) had been retained and brewed. That tasted bloody superb. With the botanicals (that name…) merely adding to the refreshment.

Porteresque (the base beer for the Boston Plum Porter) may never see the outside of the brewery again, but from the tank was as good a straight Porter as I’ve had.

I got a smell of the tea used in Blue Sky Tea. WOW. I’m rarely astonished. But I’ve never smelt a tea so citrussy…. I might see if Atkinsons have some in Mackie Mayor!

I dug that out later. And was reminded by my aching muscles that I’m a Desk Jockey.

It’s good to see this beautiful brewery up and running again. I’ve got a big soft spot for this place. You never forget your first love.

Whilst I’m sad to have lost Allgates as a brewery, Wigan Brewhouse appear to be continuing in a similar vein, keeping the best of Allgates whilst stamping their own mark with new beers and that fabulous branding – with more than a nod to the beautiful history of Northern Soul (where my musical heart lies) & the mighty Wigan Casino.

Going back to the beer we’ve made, Malcolm & I are both Bowie fans. And (with the history of “Station to Station” in mind) fancied another Bowie reference.

My thinking was…… “US Hopped…… Something from “Young Americans”……

Say “Hello” to “Fascination US IPA” Coming soon. And certainly coming to The Red Shed on 10th May.

A sad “goodbye” to Allgates Brewery.

A big “HELLO” to Wigan Brewhouse.

I might be falling in love again.

Some Things Matter More Than Beer – So Long To A Friend

It’s always sad to lose a good brewery. One that makes excellent beer, without ingredient compromise, with passion, no little style and a smile. But a few months ago, I had one of those “Shoeless Joe Jackson” moments.

A moment in beer that I’d been dreading.

Michelle Shipman was to close Offbeat Brewery.

The brewery might not really feature in your personal beer story. But in mine, Michelle gets a chapter of her own.

I’ve been drinking for an awful long time, but I’ve only grown to really LOVE beer for about 6 years. And one of the earliest breweries that I grew to love was this little crew of ladies headed up by Michelle.

Ladies that beer (Julie will appreciate the affectionate pilfering).

We disagree about some things in beer (my heart is Dark, Michelle’s is Pale) but there has been a sensibility about the output from Thomas Street that has always appealed. From “Outlandish Pale” through “Kooky Gold” and “Out of Step IPA”, hops have been front and centre.

Full flavoured and incredibly drinkable beer. Fully recognising the restrictions of the local market (Cheshire & North Staffordshire), but nudging drinkers to fuller flavours.

Brewing, promoting, selling, distributing, debt collecting, repeat to fade…….

These things can take their toll on the most phlegmatic. As I said earlier this week being and running a Micro Brewery can need a “Sisyphean effort just to keep heads above water“. And whilst I’m sad that we’re losing “one of the good guys”, I’m actually pleased that Michelle is taking a step back from running a brewing business. (If you can be “pleased” with a tear in your eye).

Health and happiness matter.

__________

As you may know, I have a peripheral involvement with my favourite beer festival East West Fest (Red Shed, Wakefield 10th to 12th May….). That “involvement” extends to the sourcing of breweries from the “West” side of The Pennines.

And with the imminent demise of Offbeat, Michelle had to feature.

The main man (Malcolm) came over on a promise of hops. So we focused on hops. Lots. Of. Hops.

As I write (on the 06:46 Piccadilly to Manchester Airport – seeing as you’re asking), I realised that we Smashed this beer. It’s Single MAlt Single Hopped, with best ale malt and the Mighty Nelson Sauvin.

Lots. Of. Nelson. Sauvin.

I won’t bore you with the details of a brewday. I’ve taken part in so many now that I get bored with writing about them. But Michelle downsized to a 2bbl brew kit last year.

That’s tiny.

In such a small kit, 3.5kg of Nelson Sauvin is a lot. A REAL lot.

We’ve made a mid abv hop monster.

Which anyone who knows Malcolm will know, that put a smile on his face!

The longer the day went on, it became increasingly apparent that this may have actually been Michelle’s last brew. Fuck. It took a while for that to sink in.

I hope it isn’t. But if it is, then I’m incredibly proud to have been involved in it. (I don’t mind saying that I had a little weep on leaving.)

This beer will be sub 5% abv. It will be first in my list at East West Fest. Of that there is no doubt.

Come and join us at The Red Shed in May. And realise just why it’s called “The Red Shed”.

__________

Michelle and Offbeat have been a big part of my Beer Journey. She’s been a bit of a heroine, in the beer that she made (I’m struggling with that past tense) and what she had to go through to make it. I have no doubt that if she had testicles she’d have had more respect. That’s the sexist world we live in.

And one which – one word at a time – some of us are trying to change.

I have some incredible Offbeat memories. I’ve been incredibly flattered to have been part of some of those. I’ll never forget the 40th birthday party that me and “Little Chris” went to that turned into Michelle & David’s Wedding bash.

I’ll never forget the kindness Michelle has shown – repeatedly – to The Independent Salford Beer Festival.

I’m going to miss Offbeat. There’s a Closing / Leaving bash at the Brewery on 1st/2nd June.

I’ve cleared my calendar. I’m going to cry like a bastard.

Don’t be a stranger Mrs.

The Vultures Are Circling

The end of March. It’s chilly. It’s Easter weekend.

I was on “a mission”.  To New Mills. And Torrside. One of the undoubted success stories of the breweries launched in the last 3 or 4 years.

My Beer Buddies never miss a Torrside Brewtap and with the launch of #ISBF5 fresh, I needed to chat over a few beers.

The place was heaving. Not a bench seat to be had with lengthy queues at the bar and the trio of brewing owners racing to keep up.

With smiles on their faces. As is right. The beer was flying out.

That Centennial Porter may be just about the best Porter I’ve had in a long time.

The place was busy with happy drinkers. Wearing coats. It was distinctly chilly. It’s on a canal basin. In the Peak District. It was cold. Yet it was still rammed.

Why? Because Torrside are bloody good at what they do.

Many attendees would have been local. But I came from Bolton, Steve from Sheffield, Chris from Wolverhampton, Jock from Middleton.

A thriving Brewtap can be the difference between going under and surviving. Or surviving and thriving in a very competitive market. The making of exceptionally good beer sometimes isn’t enough.

Being a Micro Brewery isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s a Sisyphean effort just to keep heads above water. And some people seem to want to keep the boot on those heads.

Warning : Rant incoming

For me, this was the start. A motion to the CAMRA 2018 Conference. From a man with – let’s say – a poor opinion of Micro Breweries and an avowed affinity with the Family and regional brewers of the UK.

I was told by trusted friends and comrades that this motion has ZERO chance of becoming CAMRA policy. People who know the internal workings of the organisation far better than I.

But that kind of missed a rather important point in my opinion. Even if this was a freestanding assault on SBDR (Small Brewers Duty Relief), it would still be a seed sewn – I’ve seen this all too many times in Trade Unionism. And in other political arenas.

Sew the seed of an unpalatable idea. Let roots grow. And some time later, with enough propaganda as fertiliser, that seed can bloom.

(Let’s not talk about the deliberate juxtaposition of these two poisonous written pills. Simply appallingly biased editing.)

But this isn’t a freestanding assault. And the more I think about this, Mr Sheridan increasingly looks like a cipher. For the Regional and family brewers he so adores.

Say “Hello” to The Small Brewers Duty Relief Coalition

Or – to give them another name – The Big Guys.

Read some of their weasel words here….

And then look at the list of members

Small Brewers? MARSTONS (Ringwood, Jennings etc)??? Fullers (now with a belly full of Dark Star)? Charles Wells (prior to bailing from brewing)?

And as for Beavertown…..

Taking the piss…..

OK. These Horsemen Of The Micros Apocalypse coalesced over a year ago. I’d heard nothing recently, until some of my small brewing friends started to panic.

The reduction (and – as advocated – possible removal) of SBDR would sound the death knell for many Micros. And that is precisely the aim of these Reapers.

To close down competition.

The big guys are panicking. Shareholders getting twitchy, they strike out. The formation of this “coalition” (I prefer “cartel”) was one of those seeds. And that Motion 8 – unsuccessful though it may eventually be – have no doubt, is merely the start of the roots taking hold.

I like the diversity of beer that we have right now. Especially in Manchester. I’ve said it before, this is a golden age for drinkers. We have more choice than ever before.

These big brewers want to kill that. Stone dead.

And that’s precisely what the reduction or removal of Small Brewers Duty Relief would do.

Some breweries have started to close. Yes, the market is “competitive”. It’s also not helped by some shocking “discounts” being offered. In the import / export arena, that would be almost be called “dumping”.

And let’s not talk about Wetherspoons.

I’m not worried about the likes of Torrside. They have built a fine reputation for flavour and have a growing and increasingly loyal following. The Brewtap last Friday being testament to that.

But these beer bullies want to increase their own profits by removing the competition. Not by the tried and tested method of takeover, acquisition and closure. But by encouraging the Government to do their dirty work.

If you value choice and diversity of offer in beer, we can’t let that happen.

Some Days You Don’t Want To Miss – Five Towns v North Riding 2018 : Take 1

(The stuff of nightmares?)

That thing where your morning planning goes all to shite. Then gets much better? That.

There are only 3 events I will try to arrange collab brewdays for.

East West Fest

ISBF5

Bolton CAMRA Beer Festival

The first two kind of go without saying (my favourite beer festival and ISBF).

The Bolton fest is held in my local area. It’s my local CAMRA branch. Some friends are intimately involved.

And it is – quite simply – the best CAMRA beer festival (for me). Small, relatively intimate and with little of the padding you often get at beer dos organised by Campaign branches. In short, a fabulous selection of beer.

Held at The Ukrainian Club on Castle Street every April, it’s become a personal highlight. Unmissable. And this year, I thought I’d try to contribute. By getting two of my favourite breweries to do something special.

I was a little late – ask The Daughter Thing – and had to hastily rearrange my travel plans, hence the hired help…. Bit overdressed mind.

Dark Malts. Orchard fruity hops (Calypso). Belgian yeast. The hops should accent the esters from the Belgian yeast making this a special thing

I’m partial to a walk on the darkside and there were some beautiful roast aromas greeting me as I arrived. Just in time to add the late additions of Calypso. (I missed the early addition of Magnum. Damn)

And help clean up.

Rumours* started to circulate about an “afterparty”….

This beer will be rich, roasty and with that little fruity something from the Calypso hops and Belgian yeast. It promises to be special. Really special. And at about 7% abv, almost sessionable!

Aside from being for one of my very favourite festivals, the pleasure here is being with two of my favourite breweries and beer people.

Stuart Neilson at North Riding Brewery has been building a reputation for consistent excellence both in his hoppy pales and his luscious, sumptuous Stouts and Porters.

He has been either wholly responsible for – or collaborated on – some of my favourite beers of the last few years. Including a collab with Malcolm which was my Beer of 2017. Fudge Brownie Stout.

Malcolm Bastow at Five Towns has won “Beer of the Festival” 3 times out of 4 at ISBF. That is all you need to know.

For a less than a 400 litre brewery based in a garden shed?

Anyone who managed to try “Always Crashing In The Same Car” at St Sebastian’s, just knows. It was One. Special. Beer.

It’s almost like he knows what he’s doing” (quote – Stuart Neilson)

Nationally – criminally – he remains under the radar. Locally – in Yorkshire – Five Towns remain their little secret. Jealously guarded.

It’s always special when these two work together. This beer promises to be no different.

Over this side of the Pennines, the first (and likely only) place you will get this beer, “From Kether To Malkuth” will be at this belting little beer bash, at Bolton Ukrainian Club. On 26th April. For three days.

But it won’t last that long. THAT I promise you.

*And – just for the record – the lamb dinner was exquisite. Melt in the mouth gorgeousness, with ace Yorkshire puds (Stu likes a Yorkshire pud….).

So good was it, that Stu will now only come to collab on Sundays….

Now THAT’S a beer you won’t want to miss!

**News Update

Looks like we’ve got a Dark Belgian Muffin on our hands!