Having a Platform

This morning, this arrived through my letterbox. Immediately after taking this picture, I carefully tore it to pieces. And got angry.

The arrogance of the bastard. The man in question being Tim Martin, head of the Wetherspoon “empire”.

I wasn’t the only one to receive them….

And equally unwelcome….

This is not a political blog. Or post. However, for clarity, my politics are of the left and I was formerly both an activist and Trade Union rep.

But that isn’t the point here.

For some time, I have offered simple advice. If you want to say something controversial – or potentially offensive – DON’T use your commercial platform, or your business accounts. If you do, prepare to harm your business.

In the current on trade, JDW loom large as the bargain bin of draught beer. Buy cheap, sell cheap. With the prices being demanded off brewers by the chain, it makes zero commercial sense for small Micros to sell to Wetherspoon.

And I’ve seen their range on the handpumps narrowing to a “usual suspects” list. At least in the ones I’ve been in. Maybe he really believes in the nickname given his pubs.

And – obviously to Mr Martin – he doesn’t think that such propaganda will harm his business. Maybe it won’t.

I’ve been fairly ambivalent about Spoons. Colleagues and friends do occasionally ask to meet there. And I’ve never said no.

Hell. We’ve even had breakfast in “The Brexit Arms” (predictive text remembered!) morning after East West.

But not any more.

I hate the Wetherspoon business model. I detest the use of Zero Hours contracts.

I also loathe the use of his company to spread his anti-EU propaganda.

I don’t care if my friends and colleagues call me a snob.

I’ll never darken the doors of a Wetherspoon again.

2019 : A Tryanuary Impulse – Pt 2 – Bolton

In this month of “Do something different”, I had to receive a jolt from a friend before I considered the obvious. The town I call home.

Bolton.

There has never seemed to be enough – in terms of outlets for excellent beer – to justify a wander. Yes, there were one or two excellent places to drink, but….. Manchester is just so EASY. Like a comfort blanket.

Time to change. And be a little more adventurous. So, with my dear old buddy Col – and after a fab & fortifying chip butty at Olympus (great chippy near the Bolton Interchange) it was back to the station for the 125 bus up to Chorley Road.

About 6 minutes on the bus……

Bunbury’s (393 Chorley Old Rd, Bolton BL1 6AH)

I’ve said it before. This bar has no right to be here, selling the beers it does. But here it is, 2 years on. And Daryl and Sarah have cultivated a loyal and devoted following of locals and not so.

Like me.

Did you notice that? That little yellow pump clip.

It’s not often I start at 4:30 on a 9% abv beer. But this was “Sweet Thing (Reprise)” from Five Towns x Rivington. One of my #ISBF5 collabs. I grab them where I can.

And it was bloody delicious. Fruity and creamy as a fruited Milkshake DIPA should be.

I had the Thirst Class too. And that Hoppy Go Lucky stood up well to the beast by its side. Nice and refreshing. Tasty. I expect nothing else from Thirst Class.

Bunbury’s. Small, but perfectly formed. Tables and standing area to the front and a small comfy room to the back.

It’s a local in the truest sense. Vibrant with conversation. Friendly. And with a simply astonishingly eclectic and excellent beer list.

Not to mention the small pack…. Nor the Cloudwater, Lervig & Rivington on the keg lines.

The regulars might not thank me for this, but – for me – this is one of Greater Manchester’s unmissable Micro Pubs.

I’ll be back. Frequently. But tonight, we were on a tight schedule..

So. Back on the (just about caught) 125 back into Bolton. Getting off at The Market Place and walking through up to All Saints Street.

Courtyard 36

A new one on me. And one that Colin in particular was keen to check out. Located just a few moments walk from the main shopping areas of the town, yet tucked away, it took a little finding.

But my is it pretty.

This is apparently an old Court House and having attended at Bolton Crown Court, this is much more decorous.

There are two or three separate drinking areas downstairs one of which has the appearance of a conservatory.

Keg only with 10 taps, 3 for Cider & Lager with the remaining choices being local and familiar featuring First Chop, Shindigger & Alphabet which – for the centre of Bolton – until recently would seem ambitious.

This bar is well laid out, very pretty and has an intimate feel. Hopefully, they’ll become a little more adventurous with the selection (given the number of ace breweries in Mcr making keg – and some even more local, as you’ll see later). But this was a fine start.

And a little history too…..

Note then, back across to The Market Place. And down the escalator….

Great Ale In The Vaults

A rare example in a retail environment of local involvement. And a welcome antidote to the chain mentality that normally pollutes such developments. Bravo to Anne & Steve Simms for kickstarting this bar.

It’s kind of a “cell” or vault surrounded by external seating. And it’s deservedly popular both with refreshing shoppers and people coming just for the bar, the friendly staff adding to it’s attractions.

And that Porter – Midtown by Beatnikz – was absolutely delicious. Rich without being cloying. Bitter and roasty. Everything a Porter should be.

There was an excellent Wishbone IPA on that bar too – and I think Wishbone are superb – but as good as that tasted, we only had time for one.

Again – having not been for a while – I forgot how good this place is. I’ll remember in future….

So. Onwards. Back out and left on Deansgate and right onto Bradshawgate then right onto Nelson Square – swerving the Spoons…

Northern Monkey Bar

Been here before. Wanted to see if I was still impressed.

I was. This is a belting place.

Northern Monkey have been brewing for a couple of years now and it was a brave, yet logical step, to have their own outlet and by locating on Nelson Square, they’ve placed themselves well.

Single roomed with a raised area away from the bar, the first thing that hits you on entry is all the shiny steel.

This is also the brewery.

There is a nice range on the bar with approx 50/50 split own beers and guests.

I saw Torrside. And was sold. Colin had their own Popcorn Stout. And was smitten. To be fair, it was bloody lovely on keg.

The Torrside was that rarity. A light mild. And was delicious too.

7 keg lines and 4 cask is a good split too and whilst it was fairly quiet, it was still early on a Friday evening.

This place will do fine. And it’s exactly what Bolton needed.

Moving on. I’d heard tell of a Chocolate Orange Imperial Stout…..

Back right onto Bradshawgate then left onto Bradford Street. Walk about 300 yards then turn right onto Castle Street. Here lies Bolton’s hidden gem…

Bolton Ukrainian Club

No pics of the bar. It would have felt intrusive.

This is a Social Club. It regularly hosts groups and functions. It’s also the location of Bolton CAMRA’s ace beer festival (more later). But it has a bar. With 3 local cask beers.

And Ukrainian Craft on draught and in bottle. And THAT is bloody good too.

But I came for this

Chocolate Orange Imperial Stout. By Blackedge Brewery. And it was utterly lush.

At 8.3% abv.

And £2.70 a pint. Yes. You read that right.

The delights of Social Clubs eh?

This is – like I said – a hidden gem. A bit of a walk, but worth every yard. With beers regularly from the likes of Brewsmith, Squawk, Rivington, Blackedge.

It’s friendly. Full of chatter. Never rammed, but warm and welcoming. It’s a great bar. And – whenever me & Colin come to Bolton, we always end up here.

And rightly so.

And – BTW – I had another pint of that Stout. Well, you have to don’t you?

And – whilst I’m here – a small comment. Whilst I was out around Bolton on Friday, l learned that Bolton CAMRA have cancelled this year’s Beer Festival.

Whatever the Whys & Wherefores, this is seriously bad news.

I’m not a fan of big beer events, but I’ve always loved this event. I even helped to brew the beer of the Festival last year.

Whatever the reasons, I hope we see it back in 2020.

We’re halfway through Tryanuary. So get out there.

Do something different. Break your habits. Try a new bar, pub, beer. Go out there and support them. In January, of all months, they need it.

Next up, some old Manchester pubs. In a #Tryanuary twist.

Back soon.

2019 : A Tryanuary Impulse – Pt 1. Wigan

Some time ago, my dear & talented friend Andy (along with friends in the Independent industry – like Shane Swindells) came up with an idea. That idea being an attempt to counter the relentless anti-alcohol lobbying of “Dry January”, “Go Sober for October” etc. What amounts to the shaming of people into abstinence. In this month of all months.

January. That month when pubs and breweries struggle most.

The idea was to try something different. DO something different. Be it a beer, a pub, an activity. It is / was a great idea, which, from one guy running it is now a nationally and regionally organised “thing”. It has taken root.

This month, I want to highlight 2 “things”. The first being somewhere NOT the norm for this Manchester focused individual.

Wigan.

Something old, something new.

This idea came following my annual chase – post ISBF – trying to catch beer that I missed at the event that I organised. This year, that chase took me to a bar in Wigan. For a 9% abv Milkshake DIPA.

Which leads me to two new bars and two old favourites.

First. Something new. Catch the #5 or #113 bus from the new Wigan bus station to Swinley District and the junction of Kenyon Road / Walkden Ave….

Sherringtons

Opened less than a year ago by Wily Fox brewery, I’ve been wanting to pop here for a while – ever since I found out that the lovely Zoe (ISBF Volunteer par excellence) worked there. I kind of knew it wouldn’t disappoint.

Micro Pubs – when done well – work. And this is done well. Very well indeed.

Set up over 2 floors – maximising square footage – this can safely be described as a modern take (decoratively) on the Micro Pub idea.

The main bar (there is also one upstairs – which opens when busy) features 6 hand pulls and (I think) around 10 keg fonts, some of which will feature lagers etc.

The cask selection was half own (Wily Fox) and half guests. As a devotee of Allgates / Wigan Brewhouse, I went for their “Casino” Pale and wasn’t disappointed.

A little nip upstairs revealed a nice space with plenty of seating and that second bar…

It was quiet. I was the only customer, but it was early afternoon on a Saturday with Xmas sales on, so understandable. It didn’t affect my enjoyment.

Nor did the delicious Dragons Tears by Black Jack on keg! Amarillo & orange…..

Wily Fox have done a bloody good job with this. This wouldn’t have been possible as recently as 3 years ago in Wigan – as I’ll comment further later.

Good beer, nice location, friendly staff. I’ll be back soon. With others.

That bus stop directly outside proved useful…

Jumping on a 641 back into the town centre makes the next stop simple….

Just at the entrance to the Bus Station sits..

The Anvil

A different kettle of piscine delights. I’ve been a fan of the Anvil since first entering some years ago. It’s where I sought advice prior to #ISBF1. It’s the starting point for The Road To Wigan Beer.

Oh Yes. Many memories.

Appearances are deceptive. The Anvil is quite modern and almost open plan on entry with 3 distinct drinking areas partitioned.

If you’re looking for craft keg, then you’ll keep looking. The Anvil is very much a town centre local with a dedicated following. What you get here is an excellent selection of bloody well looked after cask.

And with that Wigan Brewhouse Casino being only £2.50 a pint, it reminds you ft there is a different world out there in price terms. And The Anvil turns over a lot of beer.

This is the reality of many non-Metro Town centre pubs re price and cask. And what the customer is happy to pay.

I’d happily pay more for a product as good as that that the Anvil provides. But then, I drink in Manchester.

No pictures I’m afraid. And a quick stop. But if you go to Wigan, don’t pass The Anvil by. Some seriously good beer.

Head back towards the Train stations onto Wallgate, then left onto Millgate to the next (surprising) stop.

The Hop House (in John Bull Chophouse)

Downstairs is a pretty – and fairly generic – town centre pub. Narrow and busy with town centre drinkers.

But head upstairs – and there be gold. And some very surprising beers. As I’ve discovered twice now.

Pete is passionate about good beers from the best Micros. He knows that what enables this is the volume of Wainwrights and lager that’s sold downstairs. And Thwaites have let him play. Oh yes have they….

A couple of weeks ago, I’d got wind that he’d gotten the Five Towns / Rivington collab from #ISBF5, so high tailed after work on a Friday afternoon.

Even with that, the Little Earth was still a surprise.

The room upstairs is bijou. By which I mean small. Ish. But perfectly formed. And getting a devoted following. Rightly so. For being so bloody adventurous.

3 cask and 4 keg from near and far.

I perched myself. I wanted it all. But with only time for “some”.

The Mission Creep was a new brewery to me and I was smitten. Juicy and fresh. Exceptional cask. I’ll be looking out for more.

That Mojito Sour tho….. Little Earth don’t disappoint. Minty sour tartness. A real palate cleanser.

Followed by this…

I’m getting reet fond of Left Handed Giant. This Stout was just gorgeous. I do love a coconut Stout (boosted by Sorachi?)

If I lived near Wigan, I’d be a regular. It just feels right. And you can have all the great beer in the world, but if it doesn’t feel right…

This does.

And now to the place that made Sherringtons & Hop House possible…

Step back into Wallgate and walk past the stations, under the bridge and left onto Queen Street.

Wigan Central

There was a time (not that long ago) when – in Wigan – price was all.

Then came Wigan Central.

It kind of broke that mould.

It’s not that it was / is expensive. It isn’t. But from day 1, they got excellent beer. And charged appropriately for it. It proved that people will pay for quality. IF you get it right. Something that Wigan Central continues to do.

It must be doing things right, having expanded into the next arch.

Walking in and seeing Chocolate Orange Stout from Wilde Child. I was content.

The beer was delicious. The bar busy. And it was only 4:15. On a Saturday. Which meant, with the train strike, that I had too little time to catch up with this place.

With the little touches like the live train screens for both Wigan stations.

I had to dash. I was gutted. And cursing Northern Rail.

I needed this few hours out. A pleasant diversion.

As soon as the rail dispute is over, I’ll be back. Wigan is well worth it.

And not a pie passed my lips.