Away Days 2018 #2 – York

Amongst all of my assorted nerdery, I adore history.

I’ve been reading a series of historical novels by the author Candace Robb set – predominately in the beautiful city of York, the Owen Archer Mysteries. The street names, the narrow thoroughfares, the grand architecture (the novels are set at a time that The Minster is being constructed) are so evocative.

The last time I went drinking in York was an AWFUL long time ago – 20 years ago at least – and I viewed the development of a vibrant beer scene with a little envy. Wondering when I’d get the opportunity to get across….

Then I saw a tweet a few months back. That – in June – Bad Seed Brewery would be 5 years old.

Bad Seed are based in Malton and have been part of my “Beer Journey” almost from day one. I was drawn to the 330ml bottles with the hanging tags (at a time when most bottles were 500ml). They make excellent tasty beer. And have been fixtures at The Independent Salford Beer Festival from Year 1.

In short, that tweet from Chris Waplington was precisely the excuse I needed to put the proposal to the PPE collective.

I was amazed – when I checked – that Trans Pennine had day return tickets from Manchester at £17! Swiftly bought. (Standard return fare is approx £30)

To make the most of the day, arrival time was set for midday. We had 8 hours to dip our toes in the beery waters. Advice was sought (it HAD been two decades…..), was taken on board and a “crawl” route was constructed.

And I became genuinely excited.

The Maltings (Station Road)

We skipped the Tap on the station – being keen to head into the City – and had our first stop outside the historic boundary of the City Wall at the only pub I remember going into all those years ago.

Just outside the wall – almost on the banks of the Ouse – sits this rather lovely pub. A place I would always start at. Logical (there are two or three ways you could go from this point) and with excellent beer.

Myself and Jock met Steve & Kev at this point. I grabbed a pint of Roosters Birdman, which was absolutely what the “doctor ordered”. Deliciously light and refreshing, fruity and slightly piney, it was superb. And precisely what was required on this warm afternoon after the walk from the station.

The Maltings has an aged feel – lots of wood – in what is a single roomed venue. The beer range had something for all and was commensurately busy. The food smelled excellent, but it was too early for me.

The thing that stood out was the friendliness of the staff. The service was quick and I ended up chatting briefly with one of the bar staff who happened to Cameron’s (Turning Point) sister!

I could happily have stayed a while. But plans being what they are…… and one of our group was ESPECIALLY looking forward to the next venue on my schedule….

(come from the pub and turn right onto Station Road, crossing the Ouse turn right onto Lendal and left onto Stonegate. About 100 yards on the left is…..)

The House of the Trembling Madness (Stonegate)

A bar. Above a shop. But WHAT a shop. And WHAT a bar.

Then you wander upstairs

To the bar….. Helpfully signposted……

It’s been a while since I was so moved by a single roomed venue. Hell, by any venue. It is simply glorious.

And closing in October. (On the walk from The Maltings, you actually walk past the new venue, on Lendal)

The bar – as stated – is single roomed and appears to be in the eaves of this visibly historic building (the rear wall of which is – apparently – 12th century Norman in construction) and is simply beautiful.

Allegedly, it gets PACKED in the evenings, so you are warned.

You get the feeling – whilst drinking a predictably stunning Kernel Pale Ale – that you are breathing history. Something that, in 3 months, you will no longer be able to do. Not in Stonegate anyway.

The bar itself is small. But perfectly formed and well supplied, with cask from Brew York, Marble & Thornbridge and keg from the likes of Wylam, Northern Monk, The Kernel and Magic Rock. You get the idea….

You can even go back downstairs and grab some superb train beers from the immaculately curated selection……

We’ll be back. Oh yes, we’ll be back…… (see below)

Now. The point of the day was to get to The Rook and Gaskill on Lawrence Street (outside the City Wall to the South East), so the next stop was planned accordingly….

So, heading left along Stonegate, turn right onto Low Petersgate and continue along Colliersgate turning right onto Pavement, until you see opposite…..

Pavement Vaults (Jct Pavement / Piccadilly)

The visual antithesis of “Trembling Madness”? Certainly much more modern in feel – in Mancunian terms, a bit more NQ – yet it was here I got my favourite beer of an excellent day (I didn’t have anything less than good).

A larger venue than the previous two, open plan, with (quite literally) a central bar and lots of exposed brickwork. And – unviewed – a basement bar. An accent on food, but still with excellent beer. Plenty of seating meant that – as busy as it was – we could sit and enjoy the beer.

That beer? Thornbridge Strawberry Lucaria. A strawberry ice cream Porter. Chocolate. Strawberry. Creamy. Rich, yet not cloying.

It did exactly what it said in the tin. And was utterly delicious.

In not sure I’ve done this place justice, but it is more than worth a visit. Relaxed, friendly and excellent beer? What’s not to like!

Turning right from the bar, walk along Piccadilly – crossing the Foss – then turn left onto Merchantsgate. At the end turn right then, on the left, you’ll see the signs for the next stop……

Brew York Tap Room (off Walmgate)

There were a couple of groups of people in front of us. Unlike us, they didn’t need to follow signs. They led us in. A sign of popularity. And justly so.

With the surprisingly large brewkit on the left upon entry, the bar is just beyond with a plethora of keg taps augmented by 2 or 3 cask lines. Lots of space as the area just past the bar opens up with plenty of tables for seating.

Sticking (mostly) with low abv beers, seeing their own Jarsa (session IPA) on cask was a pleasant surprise – having only had it on keg before. Delicious, fruity, gently bitter and hugely refreshing. On a warm day, the job was done.

A very pleasant surprise was the outside space facing onto the River Foss, in a warm day, the riverside breeze was most welcome and the tables there were justly popular.

From the first beer I tried, I’ve been hugely impressed with Brew York on cask, in keg and can too (it was a pleasant surprise to see them in my local Asda). They were an obvious invite to #ISBF4 last year.

For #ISBF5, they’re a no brainer.

This is an impressive set up, both as a brewery and as a Brewtap. And if it wasn’t for the fact that we had an appointment, we might have stayed……. I had a feeling we’d be back.

Getting back onto Walmgate, turn left and walk along Walmgate for about 400 yards and – across Barbican – you’ll see……

The Rook and Gaskill (Lawrence Street)

Our “furthest out” port of call. The inspiration for this trip. Bad Seed Brewery‘s 5th birthday bash. All the taps at the pub were dedicated to their beers.

I’ve like their beers from the start. They have a place fixed on my personal beer journey. They are unsung. They do the basic job of making tasty beer without fanfare or fuss.

My kind of brewery.

The Rook was a medium sized and open plan pub wrapped around a central bar with 7 or 8 cask lines and more than double that on keg.

The beers were predictably excellent, with Session IPA doing the required job of refreshing on this increasingly warm afternoon, Juice Freak (NEIPA) was a hazy fruity treat and Rule The Roost (Espresso Stout) had all the coffee flavour I wanted and livened me up enough to watch some of the Korea v Mexico match…..

Another welcome bit of outside space here too.

Nice pub this. A proper pub too and well worth the walk. (and let’s be straight here, nowhere is far too walk to in York) There may even have been upstairs space, but we didn’t explore….

Having received a tip from Chris for somewhere to stop on the way back to the Station, we decided to break that walk in two by popping back to the impressive Brew York Tap Room

Leaving the Tap Room, we headed up Walmgate, continued onto Colliergate then Fossgate. Turning left onto Church Street then left onto Patrick Pool, takes you to……

Pivni (Patrick Pool)

Getting more historic here. Stunning old interior. Low ceilings, lots of wood with a long main room.

Again, an emphasis on keg, but with interesting cask from Wild Weather and Northern Whisper.

By this time, I was feeling it a little. But Magic Rock Grapefruit High Wire always comes to my rescue….

This is another lovely bar and serves to emphasise what York has to offer, it is one of the longest standing “craft” bars and deserves its reputation.

I’ll be back to do it more justice… See below.

A swift half back in The Trembling Madness led us back towards the train station at the end of our day. A visual treat.

As is York.

There was so much more to see. To do. Bars /pubs we didn’t get to try, it seemed such a shame to leave.

I think it was in that last visit to The House of the Trembling Madness that the three of us from “up here” (Keg being on a visit from t’Sarf) made our decision to come back. To give York the time it deserves.

So we’re already booked to go back for the weekend. We’ve booked accommodation and trains for the weekend of 17th August.

That makes August a busy month. Brewing a special for the #ISBF5 ticket launch the weekend before, the weekend after being (for me & TLO) Camping at Rivington (Tap Beneath the Trees).

But, do you know what? York is one stunning place to go drinking.

If you haven’t already, then try it yourself. You won’t be disappointed. Trust me.

The Northern Type – An Eccles Bar To Cling To

I kind of grew up in Eccles – in a drinking sense. The town is embedded in my psyche, it holds some precious memories. The night I met TLO (New Year’s Eve 1987), I left to go to The Duke of York. You don’t forget some stuff, even with a memory like mine.

Eccles was where I learned to love beer. To go from lager to ale. From Carlsberg to Taylors. In those days, Golden Best, Landlord and Ram Tam were exotica compared to Holts, Wilsons & Boddingtons.

Pubs like The Crown & Volunteer were special places. Free Houses like The Duke of York were few and far between. And Sam Smiths at The Albert Edward was…… tolerated – I’ve never liked Old Brewery Bitter. I don’t care how cheap it is. Especially now.

Many of the pubs on the (locally) legendary “Patricroft Crawl” are long gone. The Crown & Volunteer, White Lion, Golden Cross. All gone. Hopefully The Stanley is still around – I really must check, retrace part of my youth.

But life is about looking ahead.

Last year – was it really? – myself & TLO paid a visit to what was a property in development. A shell, with more exposed brickwork than a Lake District bothy.

But it was exciting. To be in before the birth of a new bar. A Craft bar, In Eccles? We chatted with Dave. He was full of plans, ideas. It was BONKERS to do this in Eccles I thought. But he had a plan. A bit of a dream.

And – as I was told before the first ISBF in 2014 – if you build it, they will come.

This was Dave’s “Field of Dreams”. In Eccles.

If you haven’t been, trust me, Dave & Jennie have done good. Oh have they!

I’ve been a few times. And that quote from “Field of Dreams” was spot on.

This is a belting bar. And it’s attracted a devoted following. Justly so.

Dave & Jennie set the tone. Warm, welcoming and friendly. There’s always a smile on entry and the sound of chat. It feels like a little community of friends building here.

Yes. The beer is a draw. It must be great to have a bar on your doorstep (relatively speaking) that means you don’t have to get the train, bus or Metrolink into Manchester.

That to get the good stuff, you just have to walk up Church Street. That you get the best of Craft to take away from the amply stocked fridges. That you don’t have to drive miles to get the best.

And – do you know the best thing? It’s about 45 seconds from Eccles train station. Which is a mere 7 minutes from Victoria Station…..

We’re going for a Saturday morning excursion soon. You ought to join us!

Below is a small selection of beers I’ve had from this excellent bar recently. Some I bought a few weeks ago. Some more recently. But they give you a idea of what is likely to be available in terms of the range of breweries.

And it gets me back into writing about packaged beers…… With a little twist afterwards…


Wrapped In SimcoeTwisted Barrel Ale – NE IPA – 6% abv – 440ml

Total Murk Bomb. But stick your nose on this hazy beast and the fruit aromas do a smash and grab on the nostrils punching with apricot, orange and a little hint of passion fruit.

All. The. Yum.

That fabulous aroma does its job as I’m salivating like a rabid dog.

Oh Yes. It’s all in here. Stone fruit, citrus, tropical nonsense. That rabid dog is a happy puppy! Just lovely stuff. A fruity hoppy treat.

Low on bitterness, this is fruit, the whole fruit and nothing but the fruit. And is bloody delicious.

Dry and resinous in a sticky finish, this is just a pretty thing. SUCH a pretty thing.

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Sorachi NoirMallinsons Brewery – Session Black Ale – 4.1% abv – 500ml

A black beer from Mallinsons? Every one I’ve had – and they are rare beasts – has been a joy. I expected no difference.

But Sorachi? That awkward bastard of a hop? In a low abv beer?

I feared for nought. This is delicious.

An initial earthy aroma with hints of Bounty Bar lingering beneath a creamy tan head is followed by a relatively full bodied and quite rich mouthful. Initial flavour being a light slightly roast flavour with a creamy coconut and then a moderate bitterness.

The beer finishes dry with that pleasant lingering bitterness and a little slightly herbal thing going on. Very nice indeed.

I’m not overly keen on low abv Sorachi beers, but Mallinsons pull it off. Unsurprisingly.

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Deep WaterTime & Tide Brewing– Whisky BA Imperial Stout – 10.5% abv – 375ml

Oh my. I’ve been impressed by Time & Tide before, but this….. Oh yes.

An incredibly dense and rich aroma, deep dark chocolate, roast notes, a gentle waft of a slight peatiness…..
Then BOOM. Get in that mouth!

Rich, decadent chocolate, malted milk biscuit, a touch of licorice and that lingering slightly smoky whisky. This is gorgeous.
So full bodied and smooth, perfect gentle carbonation, silky smooth, just such a lovely luscious thing. Warming as it slides down. Like a deep chocolate Ovaltine with a little tiny whisky bomb chucked in.
Aftertaste is slightly smoky chocolate with a little alcohol nudge on the back of the tongue.
Simply lovely stuff.

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Peanut Butter & Jelly BrownNorthern Monk / Against The Grain

Brown Ale – 7% abv – 330ml

I have a confession. I’m a bit of a fanboy for Brown Ales. The words American & Brown in sequence have me reaching for my wallet. This beer however, I took some persuading about. Then I had a sniff in the bar…… And grabbed a can.

The words American & Brown in sequence have me reaching for my wallet. This beer however, I took some persuading about. Then I had a sniff in the bar…… And grabbed a can.

Alchemy.

Looking at the pour, it’s the colour of the 70s Irwell. Utter murky depth and darkness. Dark. Forbidding. Trust me, I fell in the 70s Irwell! You didn’t do it twice.

But this. Hell yes.
Closing my eyes, I could be smelling a tub of peanut butter ice cream mashed up with a dash of Raspberry ripple. Its aroma pulls the glass to the mouth.
Alchemy.
Oh wow. I have no idea how you’d do this. But it’s bloody delicious. Nuttiness, both peanutty and earthy from the slightly darker malts and a fruity jammy sweetness – but so far from sickly – slightly tart too, making me think of raspberries.
Alchemy.
The finish is simultaneously sweet and earthy dry. And so moreish. I just wish I’d bought two.
This kind of beer can be a dividing line. Marmite. Love or hate.
Me? I think it’s a work of twisted genius.
If they repeat this. Grab a case. It’s a Beergasm.

Who Made WhoLeft Handed Giant / Odyssey – 6.5% abv – IPA – 440ml

THAT AROMA!!! Gooseberry, mango, pineapple. Stunning. Drool inducing. And isn’t that the point of aroma?

This golden slightly hazy thing is just pumping out all the fruit! Like the freshest ripest fruit stand, just gorgeously tropical and sharp.
That’s the hors d’ourvres….. The mouth is where it’s at. And Mmmmmmmm…….. Oh yes.
Full mouthfeel. Smooth carbonation. And that fruit! Just luscious. It’s a beautiful hop marriage of some personal favourites. Tart Nelson, tropical mango with that Citra.

There’s a little passion fruit too with a little earthiness and gentle bitterness from that Simcoe…. Just a little mind. This is all about the fruit.
The finish is dry and fruity with a little resinous stickiness clinging to the tongue.

Yum. Just yum.
Wish I bought more…..

________________

To change things a little bit, these posts will feature the owners. Let them tell their story, their journey a little bit.

So…….
Jennie, Dave….. Introduce yourselves!

Hi all, we are Jennie and Dave from The Northern Type in Eccles, located on Church Street (a minutes walk from the Metrolink and 45 seconds from Eccles train station) we are a bottle shop and tap room stocking as much of the finest UK Craft beers we can get our hands on with the odd few foreign beers thrown in for good measure.

Although our focus is good beer we also stock locally produced cider, gin, vodka and soft drinks.
How did you get into beer?

This has been a dream of ours since we met 6 years ago, having both worked in pubs our whole lives but never really having the funds to go it alone.

After having several experiences of running pubs for other people (some good, some not so good) we always felt we could achieve more on our own.

After a nasty car accident, we came into a small amount of money and decided to go for our dream.
Why this location? And what inspired you to set up an independent beer business?

The Northern Type was born from a sunny day in Eccles (where we live) after going to a Makers Market and seeing the potential in the area, then noticing the transport links.

Also, on a personal level, we needed somewhere to drink!! It was becoming more and more difficult to find somewhere local that had a good selection, was family friendly and easy to get to.

We started pestering local businesses about empty units and luckily enough the old newsagents on Church Street (where the last tenant had just upped and left 6 months prior) was available……boy was it a mess, but God DAMN it had potential! And BIG fridges!!!

Luckily enough we have good friends, family, grit and determination.
We started small, modest, very modest.

We were already down to our last £200 in the bank when we opened…..it needed to work.

What if all the people who told us ‘it wouldn’t work in Eccles’ were right?

Are we really bonkers enough to think people would pay over £5 for a pint of beer around here??

Well the people were wrong!

We now feel we are a welcome addition to the street and everybody knows what we are about….It’s a great pleasure when we introduce a new person to the world of craft beers and ciders that are produced on their doorstep or where they are originally from (or something they can relate to at least).

Since we’ve opened, a local coffee house has introduced craft beer, a Bangladesh restaurant is due to open and a new planning application for artisan coffee and real ale house over the road has been put in……..we feel like our gamble has paid off.
What was your first Beery Love?

First beery love? Dave’s was a fresh cask of Thornbridge Jaipur in The Magnet Stockport, which Jai Koria made him wait over an hour for to come on the pump. But as soon as he tasted it he knew why!!

Jens…. Northern Monk Neapolitan Ice Cream…..no explanation needed!!
Who are your “Beer Heroes/Heroines”?

Dave : Christine Windebank, my mum, at the age of 16, I knew how to tap, vent and look after a firkin of Robinsons’ Unicorn cask ale.

She was an old school landlady who knew how to look after her beer as well as her regulars.

Further along the line standout heroes would include Madhatter Angus, Joe Murphy, Les and Julie O’Grady for all their support whilst we were in Liverpool and beyond. But Jai Koria has been an absolute legend…..

Jai has always been there for us, whether it be an opinion or sound advice, he is always just a phone call away no matter what time it is. His knowledge has been worth its weight in gold.

Jen : I’ve worked/ran pubs from the age of 18. I’ve always loved the cellar work and getting good beer in but craft beer wasn’t always the main focus in these places. I didn’t realise the scale of the craft beer movement until I met Dave… so he’s my beer hero.
Awwwwwwww………… (Jim)
Which Breweries are “doing it” for you at the moment?

We’re constantly impressed every week by the standards of brewing at the minute….

All we’d say is we are always pestering Cloudwater, Track, Northern Monk, Verdant, Deya and Wylam, Rivington, Neptune, Mad Hatter, Wander Beyond and Marble to name but a few.

You’ve obviously done really well to establish fresh modern beer in Eccles – previously a bit…. of a desert – but how do you see The Northern Type building. Moving forward?

We’d like to do growler fills and further improvements within the shop.

A lot of work has been done with our own hands and could probably use a freshen up, get more fridge space to further expand the range.

Also more events within the local community i.e. street food, tap takeovers, meet the brewers etc. And just making sure we keep on top of our game.

Oh and of course, with Manchester Beer Week and The Independent Salford Beer Festival fast approaching, I am sure you will all have plenty to keep an eye out for!

Last Orders At The Bar Please! (Anything you’d like to add?)
We would also like to take this time to mention the amazing support from all of our customers, local and further afield. It’s been absolutely fantastic and we wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for them.
So, thank you all! x
The Northern Type is located at 20 Church Street, Eccles.
Personally, I think it was one hell of a brave move to set up a bar in the modern beer Kalahari that is Eccles. But Dave & Jennie did it. And they’ve built something they can be (and are) rightly proud of.
It’s small. But not too small. It’s comfy, friendly, welcoming. Needless to say, it’s got great beer.
And do you know what the really best thing is? It’s a single bus ride from me. And only 7 minutes on that train from Victoria Station.
Treat yourselves. You won’t be disappointed.

Words Like Conviction Can Turn Into A Sentence

“I don’t know where I am but I know I don’t like it,

Open my mouth and out pops something spiteful.

Words are so cheap, but they can turn out expensive.

Words like conviction can turn into a sentence…”

Tenderness” – General Public

(Short lived. Forgotten. But oh how I love General Public.)

Friday afternoon was sunny. Yes, even Manchester sees some sunshine. So, instead of heading straight for my intended destination I stayed – for an all too short while – in the sunshine and chatted with two of my favourite people in this city.

Bailey and Vinny

Both people with a deep sense of what is right. These people matter to me.

We got to talking about integrity. And it got me thinking about why I do this blog. And how whilst it has changed a lot over the six years I’ve been doing it, it also really hasn’t.

That word. Integrity.

I don’t do this for money. Or “stuff”. And yet – in a sense – I do. Without this waffle, there wouldn’t have been an Independent Salford Beer Festival.

I don’t write for money. I do it to highlight good stuff. Be it beer, retailers (generally independent), pubs, bars, even other bloggers. You might never have heard of “it”. You might have let “it” drop off your radar. But that’s my thing.

I get invites to events. Stuff. Opening nights etc. But I have “rules”. And – before I accept an invite – I state those “rules”. And if the invite evaporates, that’s fine.

Those “rules”? Well, there’s really only one. “If it’s good, I’ll write about it. If it’s not, I won’t”. It’s simple really. And I like simplicity. I adhere to those KISS principles. (Keep It Simple. Stupid.)

I may not be the sharpest knife in the cutlery set. But I say what I believe. I like to highlight the positive maybe, but positivity is what keeps me going.

I see cynics mock those who are relentlessly upbeat. I’ve got no time for that cynicism. I’ve always believed – in real life as well as “beer” – that if you haven’t got something positive (however small) to say, then piss off. You can say negative shit in a good way. And in “Mental Health Awareness Week”, that’s important.

You can be positive, whilst maintaining integrity.

I deal with my negative shit, my criticisms, privately. If something isn’t right, I speak directly and share my thoughts constructively. There’s simply little I detest more than the lazy statement (always on Social Media like Twitter, Untappd or similar echo chambers) that something is “shit”. One word. No explanation.

WHY is it shit?

Integrity.

I’ve heard a lot this week about “influencers”. I’ve seen them deployed this week. And not in a good way. I’ve seen them mobilised before for hype purposes.

If you have a platform (or “influence”), there’s responsibility that comes as a side dish. Remember that.

I don’t want to be an “influencer”. I like what I do.

Integrity. Get some.

(This post is dedicated to the memory of a man called Phil Wakerley. I miss him. The man with the most love and integrity I’ve ever known)

A Question of Perspective

“White riot – I want to riot
White riot – a riot of my own
White riot – I want to riot
White riot – a riot of my own

Black people gotta lotta problems
But they don’t mind throwing a brick
White people go to school
Where they teach you how to be thick

An’ everybody’s doing
Just what they’re told to
An’ nobody wants
To go to jail!

All the power’s in the hands
Of people rich enough to buy it
While we walk the street
Too chicken to even try it

Everybody’s doing
Just what they’re told to
An’ Nobody wants
To go to jail!

Are you taking over?
Or are you taking orders?
Are you going backwards?
Or are you going forwards?”

When most of their contemporaries were scrabbling on budget independent labels, The Clash were releasing THAT on CBS. A multi – continent behemoth.

ARE THE CLASH ANY LESS RELEVANT?

IDGAF if it’s on an independent label or a major. Or who sells to who. I truly don’t. Does the music sound good? Yes? Then listen to it.

If not, then don’t.

Apply that to Beer. And remember. It’s only beer. So get some fucking perspective. (Thanks A)

It isn’t life or death.

*drops mic*

Small is Beautiful : East West Fest 2018

It started with a tweet. The above tweet. The significance of which, well, let’s say it took a while for me to grasp.

Mark. Travelled from Bristol. To Wakefield. To drink in a shed. A little Red Shed.

Shit!

I had a little panic. “Have I oversold this?” This smallest and most intimate of beer events. “What if he’s disappointed” Genuinely, these thoughts flashed up. A crisis of confidence in my own judgement.

Pointless self-doubt. It’s East West. It’s The Red Shed. And the event delivers. Every single year.

Mark had the jump on me. He arrived a day earlier. And rejoiced in telling us.

Repeatedly.

For me, yes the beer range was excellent, from a spectacular Raspberry and Bergamot Imperial Blonde at 11.5% abv, a simply luscious Imperial Smoked Mild at 9%, a Citra Soup DIPA to a supremely refreshing Table Beer at 2.9%.

But no. It’s not about the beer. It’s the feeling. The people. Drinking with friends previous and new.

Talking. Not always about beer either. Repeatedly crying with laughter. And I MEAN repeatedly.

That’s what this does to me. It’s why it is – to me – unmissable.

And now to others. Barbara & Mowgli joined us for the whole weekend this year and – if not always intentionally – they made it so memorable. I will treasure forever the 1:30 am phone call to let them in to our apartment.

I haven’t laughed so much in 2 years. And not an Andy Burnham or squirrel picture in sight (you had to be there..)

It’s a small event in every sense. A tight knit group of volunteers that coalesces around Malcolm every year. The same friendly faces. It’s almost like an extended family.

The venue is tiny. It almost forces you to converse. Frequently with people you’ve never met, but will again.

People – not beers – make events.

The beer list for this East West was exceptional for a tiny event. But the beer is the lubricant for conversation. And that’s how this works so well.

On Saturday evening, the beers started running out. But unlike some events where it would be a subject to moan about, here it was merely the starting point for gentle mockery, fun. When certain beers run out, the fan boys find a way to extract the last drop…

I’m not a fan of bigger events. I get overwhelmed by the numbers, the crowding, the sheer faff.

But this is different. This is small, intimate, cosy without being forced. Friendships are made here. Friendships are reinforced here. It’s my favourite beer event.

Personally, I need that certain something, that feeling to get me through a door. To get me to appreciate an event. Whatever it is, this little event in a Red Shed has it. I call it soul.

And soul is so important.

With a disintegrating left knee, I was in pain all weekend, but even that turned into humour (as if I had a choice), with the theft of an electric buggy being actively considered….

I hope Malcolm and the team made a bucket load of cash for the chosen charities (Candlelighters & Newton Hill Cricket Club) – never forget that all profits get donated. They deserve to do so. A lot of effort (freely given) goes into this exceptional event.

It’s not the biggest beer list. That said, it’s certainly – for its size – the most bonkers.

19 beers. And in there there was an 11.5% Imperial Blonde, 2 x 9% (a Smoked Mild & a Belgian style Tripel), an 8% Citra DIPA, a clutch of 7% Stouts.

Heavy. Big. Bloody tasty.

That said (and I didn’t go through the list), my favourite beer was a tiddler at 3.5%, a beautiful Hazelnut & Coffee Baby Stout collab from Abbeydale / North Riding. But that was closely followed by the big guns. That Torrside “No More Tuesdays”, the Rat Imperial Smoked Mild, the repeated Rivington Citra ra ra ra DIPA.

But again, it’s about the people. The talk. The laughter. The new friends and deepened friendships.

And the indelible memories. And images.

And ET turning up in Wakefield.

Speaking of which. HUGE respect to Mark for coming all the way from Bristol. To John & Mark for coming over the Pennines. To Steve for “commuting” from Sheffield. Diana & Andy, Andrew and Dawn (Dawn & Diana had me roaring. And I’d only met them minutes earlier)

Damned if I know how we missed Gavin though.

I hope they got even a fraction of what I get out of this. If they did, they’ll have enjoyed it.

It’s my favourite beer event.

For me, it’s the big unmissable. So long as I have my health – and Malcolm continues to do it – I’ll be here.

Talking. Laughing. And drinking. But mostly laughing.

Laughter is seriously underrated.

Beer And Social Media – “Every Little Helps”

(Pilot – one of THE wittiest Twitter accounts. But they back it up with great beer)

We keep hearing about pubs failing. The statistic of over 20 per week gets trotted out almost er…. weekly. Among those will be some pubs that have a great product, but just don’t “sell” it.

I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve walked into a pub – in particular, free houses – and enjoyed a great venue, with excellent beer (but hardly rammed) and asked “You got a Twitter account?” To be told either “No” or “I think so. But we rarely use it…..”

An active social media profile can make a difference.

Just something as simple as telling people what you’ve got? Is that difficult? You don’t always have to do it with wit (like Kate), just say what you’ve got!

Rocket science? No. But it can make a difference.

An example as to how this can work……

About 5 months ago, The Smithfield put a cask on of Five Towns‘ “Always Crashing In The Same Car” the winner of “Beer of the Festival” at #ISBF4. An 8.4% Rhubarb infused Belgian Tripel.

I knew it was going on the bar on the Saturday lunchtime, so I tweeted it out, The Smithfield tweeted.

At about 6pm, I turned up at the Smithfield to see faces I hadn’t seen for some time and asked

“Hello! What you doing here?”

Reply? “You told me THIS was on!”

I went to the bar and got chatting to someone I didn’t know….

“What you got there?”

Reply? “That. (Pointing to “Always Crashing” clip) Someone tweeted about it earlier….. “

This shit works. But not all do it.

Sometimes it’s not enough to have a great product. Sometimes – with a new venue / bar – it isn’t enough to rely on “word of mouth”, some places don’t have the time to let that build.

You’ve got to sell it. Attract customers.

Rocket science?

All it takes is a few seconds. A photo. Press “send” ask people to “tell your friends” or “RT” it.

You lose a few seconds of your life.

But what might you gain?

And – just a thought – if you (as a customer), like where you are, what you are enjoying, tell them to publicise it. You tweet/post it too. Give them a hand up. Show them.

I’m not naive enough to believe it’s the answer to pub closures. But – as Tesco say -…

“Every Little Helps”

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!