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!

Beer Adventure #1 : Nook & Cranny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adventurous, if you know Bolton.

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

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

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

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

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

It’s worth the journey.

This Must Be The Place

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

(“This Must Be The Place” Talking Heads)

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

Yes. This month The Brink celebrates its second birthday.

20171118_212502

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It isn’t rocket science.

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

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

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

Across The Tracks – All Steam Ahead

Some times, you just appreciate an opportunity.

I needed a chat. About “stuff”. (More later) But Gareth suggested Trackside in Bury. 10 minutes for him, 1 hour and 45 for me. But hey, for what was to come……

The “stuff” will be subject of another post – I hope – to chat with the boy Williams is always a pleasure (not to mention the “surprise” from the lovely Kate!) . But the pub – if I can call it that – was kind of the pull. The lure. I think that the sneaky bastard knew that he’d had me when he pitched the location.

You see, I’d become disillusioned with Trackside. It had descended to something a bit banal. The beer selection had gotten…… lazy. A bit boring.

Then along comes Will.

You see, I’d always loved this building, if struck me as a bit like an ancient Saxon Longhouse, maybe a Feasting Hall. But with hand pumps. And keg fonts.

I’m a bit of an English history nerd you see.

I love the fact that it’s part of the East Lancashire Railway set up. Friends of mine with absolutely no interest in beer come for a Steam fix. That cross between Thomas the Tank Engine & Casey Jones.

But you see, from a beer perspective – for me – this place now sells itself. I mean, if I lived in Bury, I certainly wouldn’t be catching the Metro to Manchester!

And the beers I tried – on cask – were bloody lovely. Cwrw Ial, Squawk, Brewsmith & Brass Castle all superb. I know from recent tweets that he’s had some North Riding on too – and I was gutted to miss it.

I think there may be a trip in the air.

The pub is located on the platform of the Bury stop of the East Lancashire Railway. At the end of the line is the Sister pub – The Buffer Stops. If this has a range anywhere close….. And I’m told that it has…

Just, you know…..

Call me an old romantic if you will, but there’s something that just grabs me. The bar itself is lovely and comfy. The tunes were right up my street, superb background tuneage and I regularly caught myself with a “never heard THIS in a pub before…”

But this isn’t a club night. It’s about a pub. And a custodian. Who is taking the place forward. Doing the right things. Getting in great beer and serving it perfectly.

Now the Moses Gate Bridge is back open, I think me and The Lovely One will be paying a few visits.

Go see the yourself. It’s only 5 minutes from the Bury Metro terminus. Just down the side of the ELR station.

You won’t regret it.

Back soon. Jx

Manchester Crawl Series 1 : Swan Street – How Much Longer?

Whilst excellence never gets boring, I crave something different from the “same old, same old”. It’s so easy to settle, create habits that become almost unbreakable.

Yes, there will always be favourites you can rely on to consistently deliver, but – just sometimes – something “different” is called for. But something undemanding in terms of physical effort. Then it struck me.

Swan Street. A street burned in my soul.

And whilst we didn’t start on Swan Street itself (we started just around the corner), we kept faith with part of the original N/4 pub crawl.

Just don’t call it “Northern Quarter”. I’m in retro mode.

The Angel – Angel St (Jct w/Rochdale Road)

Get off the Metro / bus at Shudehill and walk halfway towards The Marble Arch and on the left – at the junction with the inner ring road you’ll find this unheralded gem.

Briefly known as a place where chef Robert Owen Brown forged his reputation, The Angel has been through many guises. It has been knocked about and reshaped over the years since I’ve been drinking there, but still maintains a quaint Mancunian trait, a sense of “otherness”. A quirkiness.

There’s nothing quite like it in Manchester.

I had my first beer here in December 1984. On my first “works Xmas do”. The pub was then called “The Weavers”. It had – in those days – a second room, roughly bounded by the far end of the bar to the back of the pub.

It was…. narrow. It had a pool table. A colleague fell asleep under that pool table that night. An unforgettable evening.

The pub changed hands. Became one of the early Manchester free houses. It had that room knocked through. It transformed into “The Beerhouse” and developed a reputation for an eclectic beer range. You’d find beers there that you wouldn’t elsewhere.

Now being The Angel – named after nearby Angel Meadows (look it up on Wikipedia), it maintained that reputation. It continues to do so, being the only place I know to get Kissingate beers (Horsham, Sussex), notable for their catnip like ability to attract the Arch Nemesis. I put a call in. He couldn’t resist.

Yes. That’s a Baby Grand. In a pub in Manchester. And it does get played…..

To the point, The Angel is a large single room in a kind of wide L shape. At about 170 years old, it retains a Mancunian sensibility, that “Soul” I need to actually love a place.

And those who “know” The Angel do love it.

Last night, the Hawkshead Windermere Pale was as good as I’ve had it, razor sharp and tasty. The KissingateSmelters Stout” was rich, smoky and delicious. A lovely Stout.

The Angel rarely gets talked about in the pantheon of great Mancunian pubs. But it really should.

It may not be pristine and shiny, may be a little “rough around the edges”, but it’s a Manc classic.

Go. Just go.

From The Angel, cross Rochdale Road and turn right. Head towards Shudehill and then left on Swan Street.

Jack In The Box at Mackie Mayor – Swan Street

Apparently a transplant of a successful outlet/operation in Altrincham, there was a lot of excitement when word got out that this beautiful old building was being taken on.

I’ve seen messages from far and wide that testified to its impact since opening. Tonight, I thought I’d have a butchers.

The classical frontage doesn’t prepare you the the visual impact of the interior. The “WOW” factor. I couldn’t stop taking pictures.

I was surprised at the small size of the bar, but it’s Black Jack. And – for me – they’ve hit a sweet spot. The “You Bet” that I had was pin sharp. Jaz had am excellent beer from Siren, Jock had an Uber sharp Oakham Citra (a criminally overlooked beer).

This place is all about the food though.

That lovely Margherita from Honest Crust didn’t last long. Delicious. Having had them before, I expected no less. Tasty.

Stomach sated.

This place is stunning. It gets busy. It’s a big space with all the traders on the perimeter. With a mass of seating.

The beer is excellent, but I can’t get over the fact of Big Brother next door. But this is a destination venue. An Atkinson’s coffee, an Honest Crust pizza, a wine from Reserve Wines? I’d rather give these guys my money than any chain.

So. Walk out of the Swan Street door. Turn right. Walk 10 yards

The Smithfield – Swan Street

I’ve been a fan since Black Jack first took the plunge and got out the paintbrushes. They took an old run down beer tickers pub and brought it into the 21st century.

A bit of TLC. A hug and a kiss. They worked wonders.

It’s rarely quiet these days. It’s found a place for itself, gained a reputation for great beer. It has A BAR BILLIARDS TABLE!

And a dartboard. And that board gets use.

I didn’t take loads of pics in here. I just enjoyed a gorgeous pint of Jarsa by Brew York and chatted.

The Smithfield does all of those simple things incredibly well. And – when my lot are out – is one of the places we meet. Or end up.

Or both. A Manc essential.

Leave The Smithfield, cross the road, turn right. Walk 30 yards along Swan Street.

Bar Fringe – Swan Street

You will NOT find a quirkier, more charming pub / bar in Manchester.

Just wander in. Keep your eyes open. And drink it all in.

This place is simply a diamond. Cherish it. It won’t be here much longer.

A long room. With something for – almost – everyone. 4 cask beers. Draught Belgian. Excellent bottles. Brilliant eclectic jukebox.

And just, again, an old soul. A feeling.

It doesn’t matter how many times I come in, there’s always some detail I miss. Like that painted rat…..

Beer. Panda Frog from the North East. Pale. Unfined. Amarillo. I’m easy to please. I could bury my head in a bag of Amarillo and die happy.

And herein lies the core of this post. This side of Swan Street is slated to be demolished. “Developed”. Have the Mancunian element and history flattened.

To be replaced by glass and concrete. More flats.

Always more flats.

Eviscerating the history and soul from a city. Bastards.

Fuck your “progress”. Same to Manchester City Council for destroying the soul of this beautiful city. Block by block.

But I digress. Enjoy the Fringe. This little diamond. While you still can.

Leave the Fringe, turn left. Cross (the rather busy) Oldham Road.

Crown & Kettle – Oldham Road

Another Manchester classic.

A place that seemed to have lost its way in a beer sense. But – in recent months – with a new female custodian (I hate the term “landlady”), the beer has started to sing the sweetest of songs.

Yes. The C&K is another Mancunian jewel. But the beer range and quality had started to wilt.

But, with that new custodian, it’s now a “go to” again.

3 separate rooms. The small room behind the bar was closed last night, but when it’s open, just look up. And gawp.

That beautiful ceiling…..

The current pub is about 130 years old, but there has been a pub on this site for almost 300 years. You can see images/drawings of the area from that time if you scour the net.

The place is beautiful and now – again – has the beer to match. A Northern Alchemy Tawny Port Stout was the beer of the evening. Just lush.

The Brass CastleLittle Imp” was stunning too at 2.8%! Almost a session Stout, really full bodied the that abv.

Again, the C&K needs to be visited. Great beer (again) and a beautiful pub.

But all good things come to an end.

Distance wise, a short crawl. But it forms a snapshot of Manchester. A Manchester we’ll lose a part of in the next few years.

Enjoy it while you’ve got it. I will.

(I never get bored of this!)

Back soon. Jx

Hello There Old Friend : Stalybridge Buffet Bar

Each post I write needs an inspiration. A prod or a prompt. Frequently, writing about something is the furthest thing from my mind. Until the “inspiration”.

This one started with a tweet.

I immediately started to check for train times to Stalyvegas. This is one of the joys of having a County Card. I can catch a train to anywhere in Greater Manchester.

You see, this was the beer that I most wanted at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival. The top of my “to do” list. The variant on my favourite beer of 2017.

And – owing to being on the now infamous Bar 2 – I missed it. Along with about 60% of the beers on that bar, it wasn’t available on the Wednesday. It went on on Thursday. And sold out.

The running commentary from Barbara was “amusing”.

I had to accept it was a beer I was unlikely to taste in its draught form.

Until that tweet.

Sometimes, you can lose track of something special. That “something special” is Stalybridge Buffet Bar.

For me, the place will be forever associated with the (now infamous) Rail Ale Trail. With being sat on the platform with Pete, eating black peas.

It’s part of my history. And now, it belongs in my present. Because it is a magnificent place. A magnificent place to drink magnificent beer. A magnificent place to spend a few hours.

It’s more than just a stop on a train line.

I came for the Fudge Brownie Stout. What I actually got was a lovely evening of warmth and conversation. And soul. Lots of soul. And soul – in a pub – is, for me, essential.

But a pub or bar can have all the soul, yet without the good beer within, who will ever know? And “The Buffet Bar” has good beer. By the bucket load.

Whilst I was talking with Mark, drinking an immaculate (and simply stunning) Fudge Brownie Ski Sundae, I started to drift back to North Riding Brewpub on Friday evening. And the similarities between the two places.

  1. A beautiful place.
  2. Great beer. Served perfectly. Cask conditioned beer in peak condition. As it should be.
  3. A lady running the pub. Keeping the cellar just right. Ordering the beer.

Yes. That’s right. Two of the best pubs I’ve been in. And a female “cellar man”.

It’s not a coincidence. Karen (NRB) and Caroline (Buffet Bar) know what they are doing. And they do it bloody well. (But that’s for another post)

It became obvious during the evening that this place is loved. It isn’t a transitory place. It’s a “local”. With a coterie of friendly “regulars”, chatting away, that pleasant buzz and hum that’s the soundtrack of all the best pubs.

With 4 separate drinking areas, a real fire, it’s almost as if it was designed with me in mind. And only 15 minutes from Victoria on the train!

I went for just the one beer. And stayed four hours. Daylight became dark, trains passed. And I didn’t care.

It’s that kind of place. It’s that good.

It was a delight to see Mark. A loveable scamp who has an unnerving ability to get me to open up. I put the phone down. And forgot about it. We talked. Talking matters. I chatted with Caroline and unsurprisingly felt her deeply felt passion for beer. The care that she shows it. It’s obviously a calling.

And it shows. The warmth of the place, the atmosphere, the exceptional beer. That’s all down to her.

She knows her stuff. She has my respect.

She has a bloody good bar here. If I lived in Stalyvegas, I’d probably never catch that train to Manchester. I’d stay in a room on a train station platform.

It’s worth the journey. REALLY worth it. Catch that train.

A Pilgrimage – An evening at The North Riding Brewpub

Being someone who has perfected the art of professional mediocrity, I am drawn to those with talent. And the ability to extract the most from that talent.

Which is – in my usual rambling and roundabout way – how I found myself, on a Friday evening, in Scarbados. At The North Riding Brewpub.

If I may explain…

I first met Stuart Neilson about 5 years ago one afternoon in Snaith, at Yorkshire Ales. I was there to buy some Yorkshire beers, an abiding passion. Stuart was there launching one – something to do with Hearts football club if memory serves. At that time, I knew nothing about North Riding Brewpub. That was to swiftly change.

I did some catching up. Damn fine beer.

Then, in 2015, Stuart took the plunge. And invested in a 10bbl brewkit, installed in a unit outside Scarborough, at East Ayton. And went from strength to strength. Me and others mithered to get his beers over here (Manchester).

And then people got the point.

Others started raving about his beers. Good beer sells. And Stuart Neilson brews good beer. If you’ve had it, you know. I can’t stand Untappd & Ratebeer, but rating North Riding as one of the UKs top breweries, at least we agree on one thing.

And having upscaled to that bigger kit, the Brewpub kit was left in the capable hands of Stu’s stepson. And the beers didn’t miss a beat.

So. I’d had the beers in bottle from both the Brewpub & the Brewery (self-deprecatingly nicknamed “The Factory”). I’d had beers on draught from both too (we’ve had North Riding at each of the ISBF bashes). But there was a gap.

I hadn’t been to The North Riding Brewpub.

It became an obsession.

I finally got to go in 2015 when Stuart agreed to “collab” on a beer for #ISBF2016. Red Citra. If was stunning. But the night before – in the pub – was even better, with a beer list on cask and keg that was a succession of Beergasms. No filler. Just fabulous beers.

I’d been a couple of times since. And it just felt like a place to belong. So when The Lovely One & I wondered what to do on New Year’s Eve, I put a call in. And we stayed the night.

It goes without saying, it knocked the living shite out of a night of bottles and Jools.

Because – and here’s the thing – it feels like a combination of Destination Pub and Local. Somewhere you go for the exceptional beer, but end up feeling like Norm from Cheers. It had Superb North Riding beers from both. Cannonball on keg.

It even has a permanent Kernel line!

Then, that evening, Stu dropped some news. A Magic Rock Tap Takeover. On 9th Feb. Complete with collab beer launch. So, next morning, I asked about rooms at the pub.

They’d all been taken. By people coming to the TTO.

I had a word with some of my regular accomplices. Arrangements were made for a team outing “over the hills”. They were excited, not just for the TTO – as ace as Magic Rock beers are – but to visit the pub. And drink North Riding at source.

After a 3 hour drive, I couldn’t wait to get sat down and get some of that there Stu’s Company (Stuart Neilson & Stuart Ross – see what they did there?). Sit down? If was absolutely RAMMED.

The beers? Let me just say, that the “Stu’s Company” collab is stunning. 4.5%. Totally sessionable. Hopped up. Cryo hopped with Chinook. Just WOW. 2 Casks sold out before closing.

Karen knows how to look after beer. That much I already know. But that Ringmaster. Oh my.

I haven’t really enjoyed Ringmaster since its name changed from Curious. Just never seemed as sharp. But Sweet Baby Jesus it was stunning in the NRB on Friday night.

As much as we love Magic Rock, I – and others – were gutted, on initial view, to find no North Riding on the bar. But a little nip to the other room revealed Doomguy. The Chocolate Orange Porter that we had at #ISBF4. We hit it. Some of us hard. Yes Barbara, I’m talking about you…. Again. Stunning.

The beers were flying. As the Magic Rock casks ran out, North Riding went on. Mosaic Pale. Again, stunning.

I could go on. And frequently do.

But, for me, this was never about the TTO, undoubtedly excellent that the beers were. Especially Stu’s Company. It’s the pub.

Stuart and Karen bought the pub in 2005, installing the brewkit (2bbl) in part of the capacious cellar in 2011. And good beer flowed, building a reputation. One that encouraged the move to a bigger premises with greater capacity in 2015.

These beers have a dedicated following from both pubs and drinkers

From the first moment I walked in two years ago. I felt it. That thing I crave more than anything else. Soul.

I’ve felt welcome from the first steps through the door. A real and fundamental warmth. Welcome. Local Heart & Soul. Chatter, laughter.

You’ve got a skilled landlady in Karen. Someone who makes you realise that with a little care & attention (and no little skill) Cask conditioned beer can rock your world. The right product. In the right hands. Rocket science it ain’t.

We had a little mini tour of the mini brewery. Where the original Magic Spanner was discovered – and we feared for Magic Rock’s Lewis….

Of course, the company makes the evening. I’d arranged a chat with Malcolm to discuss East West. But, you know, too much fun was being had to deal with that. Although I was privy to some seriously ludicrous info about one or two beers coming to The Red Shed.

Bloody hell! Is it EVER going to be an ace bash!

There was great beer. There was warmth. Soul. There was great company. It’s quite simply a great pub. My favourite.

Enormous thanks for the company. I’m thrilled that James, Steve & Jock had a great time and loved the pub – I knew they would. The best of company.

It was lovely to meet and chat with Lewis, a young man “Living The Dream” (Stu’s words) brewing at Magic Rock. Great to meet Rich (I hope you made shed loads of cash for Surfers Against Sewage).

Great to see Graham and Ann again. Lovely people. I “nicked” Grahams raffle prize, I’ll bring him something special next time I’m over! (Sorry Graham!)

Stu & Karen. You know MY thoughts already. This is my favourite pub. It has it all. Simply the best kept cask beer. Brilliant keg lines. Heart, Soul, great beer, somewhere to sleep it off.

Each time feels like a tick on my bucket list. It should be on yours too.

If I was religious, I’d say it was my Santiago de Compostela.

And this was my pilgrimage.

CAMRA Revitalisation : “One Step Beyonnnnnd!”

“I am an American aquarium drinker. I Assassin down the avenue….”

(“I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” – Wilco)

“Hello. My name is Jim. And I’m a member of CAMRA……”

I live my social life in a bubble. My particular bubble has beer at its core. Talking /drinking/socialising about/around it. This bubble leads to the formation of an “echo chamber” mentality. One that reinforces your personal belief systems, because no other system intrudes.

Let me be clear however. My beliefs are mine. I own this bullshit myself. The fact that others share them makes them equally intelligent / deluded (delete as appropriate).

On and off, I’ve been a CAMRA member for 30 years or so. I wandered in and out initially having become massively underwhelmed – having got “involved” – at the cliqueyness (a real word?) of branch meetings.

I was young – at least 20 years younger than the majority – and obviously had no place speaking up. I’d wandered in to a “club”. And I needed another membership to join in.

It felt like walking into “The Slaughtered Lamb”. I gave up.

Then, 6 years ago, I started to pay attention to beer again. Something in beer had changed. There was a new feeling, something refreshingly carbonated. It had a name “Craft Beer”. I was intrigued.

I felt like Pizarro. I wanted to explore this New World of beer. To slash away at the undergrowth in the jungle to reach the temples, uncover the gold. I drank my first Human Cannonball. I’d found gold. I wanted more.

I started blogging. And I’ve never looked back.

Through that I started to meet some of the leading lights of CAMRA locally. Passionate people, who cared about BEER. In all its forms.

Yes, their pre-eminent adoration was “Real Ale”, but they weren’t blind to the charms of good beer not served from a cask. They just loved good beer. Their hearts were open to change. They campaigned for change.

In Venn diagram terms, there is an intersection there with that bubble. These guys have a foot in that intersection. Call them “progressives” if you like.

But that bubble, is tiny. As anyone who attended the enormofest that is The Manchester Beer and Cider Festival can attest. Beer Nerds were completely swamped by “Beer Drinkers”. People who may never attend a beer festival NOT run by CAMRA. For whom the organisation is some kind of guarantor.

THESE are the people who keep pub cash registers opening and closing. Not Beer Nerds like me.

THESE drinkers or – to further distil – the Silver Card toting CAMRA Members – are the people to whom the recently launched “Revitalisation – Proposed Changes” are aimed. The ones who have the final “Yay or Nay”

And that is what worries me.

CAMRA had – at AGM – gone some way to recognise “Craft” Beer with the Key Keg Fudge. Getting some craft ‘in” with reference to secondary fermentation in the vessel.

Or – to allow paraphrasing – “Not all Keg is Evil”

Some of us even had our little bit of fun….

May I be so bold as to say GOOD BEER IS JUST THAT. GOOD BEER.

Bollocks to divisiveness. If it tastes good, it IS good. It really is THAT simple.

So, to me, the key change elucidated in the Revitalisation proposals is this one. The one that may be hardest to swallow with the Silver Carders…

  • CAMRA’s scope widens to include quality beer of all types

Think about that the a moment. It is tectonic in its shift.

“…. quality beer of all types…..”

WOW.

THAT is going to be the Devil’s own job of a sell to the voting masses!

Now then, before I get slaughtered, those who know me well know, I adore cask conditioned beer and did myself – until about 5 years ago – prefer it to any other method of dispense.

Then I slowly started to recognise (and truly appreciate) that hoppy Pale styles of beer actually benefited from gentle carbonation. That it actually lifted the hop flavours. Yes, I’ve got an issue with temperature, but I quickly found a solution. Give it a minute or two to adjust. It’s not rocket science.

But don’t try persuade me about Stouts and Porters (not to mention Mild). Cask (and – being a militant Northerner – through a sparkler) is the only game in town on the dark side. For texture and flavour, unbeatable.

And another “recommendation”….

  • CAMRA will campaign for and promote all on-trade venues where quality beer, cider and perry is sold, not just traditional pubs and clubs

I kind of get the point. But Clubs? When pubs are in crisis, with the value of the land they occupy worth more than the business? With pubcos sitting on property riches? I’d stick to supporting and campaigning for traditional pubs.

Don’t get me wrong, some pubs aren’t worth the effort.

But that’s one area where I’d narrow the focus.

A big personal bugbear is this next one though….

  • CAMRA will not extend its current support of the off-trade

Now there’s a thing.

I’ve lost count of the number of breweries in this country, is it 2000+ now? How many of them thrive on draught beer alone? For those – and I guess that’s not a small number – that don’t, small pack is vital. Without it, they couldn’t survive.

Personally, I like the choice of breweries we have. And the choice of beer they bring.

Breweries need to make money. In the competitive market as it stands, draught beer  alone doesn’t do it for many.

It sickens me to hear of excellent beer producers folding under the pressure of work, trying to master all elements of the business, running to stay still. The sheer stress.

It isn’t practical for all breweries to have “brewtaps”. The graft involved is immense – especially for small operators – and these guys need other ways of getting beer in people’s mouths. And that means small pack.

There are numerous small independent retailers pushing out. Supporting Micros. Giving them shelf space. Selling exceptional beer. Why should THEY not be supported too? If the Campaign is prepared to support “clubs” which have other sources of income – membership etc – why not Independent off-sales? (And balls to undercutting supermarkets)

That one is a burr under my saddle.

And don’t get me started on Cider & and Perry.

I keep hearing about almost 200k people being members of the campaign. I truly wonder for how much longer these numbers will be sustained.

The CAMRA NEC Revitalisation proposals need to walk a very fine line to carry the membership. There has been some good mood music coming from CAMRA HQ recently. Although it shouldn’t have taken a prompt from the likes of Jaega Wise to kick start the obvious.

And I saw some of the vile filth that the likes of Jaega and Melissa Cole had to put up with on Social Media. Much of which would have been trolls with no interest in beer, just in being offensive.

But change scares some people. Traditional beer drinkers among that number. This “Revitalisation” is important.

The Campaign needs to change to remain relevant to modern drinkers as well as its traditional hinterland. It simply NEEDS to embrace good modern beer along with more traditional ales.

Alongside (and in partnership with) SIBA, it needs to support the producers. In particular independent Micro Breweries and their other (equally vital) outlets.

The outcome of the vote won’t please all. And many membership cards may hover near the shredder depending on the outcome.

Mine included.

Be kind to one another.

Jx