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!

A One Pub Afternoon – Trackside, Bury.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The reasoning is clear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Railway Children Revisited.

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

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

The image of failure.

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

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

You’d be mad not to. Honestly.

Back soon. Jx

N. B.

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

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

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

Crossing The Great Divide : North Riding Comes To Stalyvegas

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

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

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

Consistently.

THAT is something that grabs my attention.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions flowed.

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

Questions re fining : “Pales yes, darks never”

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

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

That WILL be the gift that keeps giving.

(pic courtesy @LeedsBeerWolf)

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

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

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

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

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

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

At one of the best pubs in the North.

A heavenly match. And well worth travelling for.

The “Future” of The Independent Salford Beer Festival.

It started off so simply.

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

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

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

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

But this isn’t about me.

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

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

Northern cask conditioned beer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obviously I was trying to fool myself.

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

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

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

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

I don’t mind saying that my jaw dropped.

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

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

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

It took about an hour.

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

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

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

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

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

In your diaries yet?

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

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

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

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

ALL profits will go to charity.

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

#ISBF4 – Another Year Over. 

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

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

But it was fun. Wasn’t it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Numbers :

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

The winners provided some priceless moments!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When I know, you will.

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

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

Again. Thank you.

Peace out. Jx

Away Days 2018 #1 – Macclesfield to Stockport

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

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

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

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

Let’s see how we get on….

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

Unlike Steve – who “enjoyed” a brisk walk.

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

Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like I said, this bar packs a lot in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barbara’s local. I can see why.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll be back.

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

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

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

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

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

Personal prejudices catered for.

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

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

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

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

Five Berks. No. THE Five Berks. Really.

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

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

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

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

With this pub right up there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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