New Mills – An Unexpected Journey 

This was kind of a last minute thing. Almost until the minute I left the front door. I’ve been kind of wanting to pop up to New Mills for a beer for a while, my System 1 County Card does the business for the train. And the Peak District air is always an attraction.
I’d only been to New Mills a few times, always to the simply immense BBQs hosted by good friends Mick & Karen – the odd 5 litre carry out may have featured – but recently, with the advent of Torrside & the recent entry to Micro Pub world The Beer Shed, the longing to pop up for a beer had steadily grown. The Easter weekend opening of Torrside’s tap room crystallised that.

It’s a pretty journey on the train to New Mills. At least, once you start to hit the ascent from Manchester. And the thing to remember is, that New Mills has TWO train stations. For a small town, it’s rather blessed.

Having been to a couple of the local pubs – dominated by Robinsons & pubcos – the two places that stood out, as I thought they would, were The Brew Shed & Torrside tap. They were worth my 3 hour round trip alone.

The Brew Shed

I wanted to get an earlier train, until I was told that this place didn’t open until 2. And at that point, I was already headed towards Manchester on the train. I won’t mention what I did to fill the time gap. The pubs were as comfortable as the beer (Robinsons & Everards) was forgettable. Not bad – by any stretch – but not my taste these days.

Once Russell, the owner, opened the doors to Beer Shed, I was found. Whereas previously I was lost.

The Torrside “Win Tor” (whisper the word) Mild, was a smooth, slightly choccy roasted delight. 4% abv and Oh so repeatable. Which I did. The pub however….. I was ashamed to leave.

A single narrow room with the bar narrowing the room in the middle, this place is just right. Small, intimate and with some thought going into the beers on both cask and keg. With some lovely beery decorations too.

Bench seating is the order of the day – out of necessity – and you can probably (at a pinch) fit 40 in, this is a pretty place and has an older soul than I expected. I was immediately smitten. Maybe it’s a micro pub thing, but this place had a feel like the offspring of The Brink mated with Bar Fringe (without the Belgian taps).

3 cask beers from Torrside, Cross Bay & Hobo Brew Co (new to me). The 6 keg taps (one unused today) featured Rivington, Tiny Rebel, Redchurch, Beavertown & a Belgian offering from Timmermans. Russell seems to be doing all the right things in what (I would think) is a tricky market. The keg offering today would be popular in Manchester but, in an area full of traditional pubs – and dominated by Robinsons – I think Russell has got himself a niche. A little USP.

The beer is kept well. The prices – for a Manc drinker – superb. The beer selection is excellent. I’ll be back. (And if you go to Torrside this weekend, give it a look in. It’s worth it.

Then to Torrside.

Busy as. And deservedly so.

Chris, Nick & Peter (the Torrside triumvirate) can brew. I’ve known that for a while. I tasted several beers brewed by each when they submitted to a home brew contest judged at Brew Dog Manchester. And along with a few pro brewers (Brew Dog, Tickety, 7 Brothers & – now – Abbeydale) I was one of the judges.

I was stunned that a place like New Mills had its own “home brew group”, then – come the awards – the same names kept coming up. Frequently, they were the guys above. What I didn’t know then, s that they were to coalesce, as Torrside Brewing.

A brewery that brewed – still – my favourite bottled beer of all, American Barleywine.

These guys are good. And I was pleasantly surprised to find I could catch a train to get to New Mills, to try a beer or two.

(I had to have an Arch Nemesis egg head shot….)

The place was pleasantly busy. With a good mix of locals and beer nerds – me included. With my time constraints (an important family time this weekend), I only managed three beers. The Licorice Mild was a delight. The Spartacus IPA was simply astonishingly good. I had to have two.

And – as I was leaving – the local beer legend the is Stanley arrived. With his owners. I was gutted that I had to go.

Located beautifully adjacent to a canal basin – and within two minutes of New Mills Newtown station, these brewtaps are something not to be missed. And with the beer so good, you’d be daft to.

Just remember to pop into Beer Shed too. It really is worth it. And only 3 minutes from the “other” station, New Mills Central.

This weekend, you know what to do. (Followed by GRUB, Beer Nouveau, CW Barrel Store, Beatnikz…..)

Fortune Favours The Brave – Beatnikz Republic

It’s a brave move to open a brand new brewery at this moment in time. Hell, it’s a brave move to open in Manchester. This great city of beer that is so beloved by so many. 

But chatting with Paul, here at Beatnikz HQ on Red Bank (almost the other side of the railway from Runaway) gives me hope. Man can brew. 

Reading his rolling blog on the brewery website, this is obviously a labour of love. And something that he was prepared to move to realise. I adore the fact that moving to Mancunia is for the right reasons. Not just for beer, this is for family. And that matters. 

Paul has been (whisper this…) cuckoo brewing leading up to the installation of his PBC 8bbl kit, keeping up his skills whilst he fretted about the details of having his own setup. And that setup sure looks pretty. He’s awaiting two new vessels including a conditioning tank. This place looks smart. Glistening smooth flooring, just designed for yeast overflowing! 

He starts brewing here on Tuesday, but tasting the beers, he’s ready to take his place amongst the Mancunian brewing scene. His Pale Ale was fresh. Juicy, refreshing and balanced. His Coffee Stout however…. My heart remains dark. And this beer reaffirmed that adoration of the dark arts. And that beer on its own gives me hope that – in these competitive times (and in this uber competitive Manc beer market) he’ll be fine. 

6.7%, oatmeal smooth, coffee that he roasted himself (there will be an artisanal coffee roaster co-locating shortly), this was a beer that could have been an object lesson in ticking my boxes! 

Take advantage of some of the bottles to takeaway. Rarities. Because the plan is to can. Which Paul explains in more detail on their website. This isn’t a spur of the moment thing, there has been a lot of thought gone into this. 

I had shit to do. Family stuff. Those who know, know. But I wish I could have stayed. Chatting with Jaz, Kayleigh and Ross (Manchester Beer’s golden couple?) is always a pleasure. I even let slip an #ISBF4 secret or two, I’m obviously getting sloppy. 

Treat yourself. Get down to Red Bank and say hello to Paul. Drink some beer. It’s the weekend. You’ve earned it. 

As has Paul. Good job, well done. 

Chasing The Dream – Craft Brewtique 

In what felt like an antidote to the “End Of Days” mentality that has permeated the UK Craft Beer scene recently, following the recent Tesco craft takeover….. (Who needs Stone IPA or Dales Pale Ale anyway…)  this felt like getting back to basics. Very attractive basics. And it will started with an intercepted tweet.

And a drive to Urmston.

I haven’t drunk much at home in the last 6 months or so, kind of lost the thread a little. Lost touch a bit. I needed something to refresh my sensibilities. And – without giving away any of my secrets for #ISBF4 – to do some research.

So I find myself outside a new little beer shop. Craft Brewtique.

Located on Flixton Road, directly opposite the local Wetherspoons. The juxtaposition of the two made me smile. Huge, impersonal, high turnover beer factory, opposite a little one man outlet. A little one man outlet that had thought carefully about what he is doing.

Speaking with Andy Heggs, something he said struck me as glaringly obvious. Just the look of the shop have away the owner Jay’s previous career. In design. The place looks lovely. Small, yet spacious. There’s room to browse. With the shelves either side carefully stacked with the luminaries of UK beer today.

You want Marble? Cloudwater? Buxton? Beavertown? Siren? Verdant? Etc….. All check.
I saw what I would like. Some careful thought in stocking, with new locals like Five Cloud and Rivington alongside stellar Southern newcomers like Deya and Elusive. More excellent local stuff from Runaway & ABC, Chorlton & Mad Hatter. Most bases are covered.

And impressively, Jay is open to suggestions. In fact, his pinned tweet is asking which breweries people would like to see him stock.

Although small, there is room for improvement. There is – in my humble…. – room for a table or four and a small keg wall. A small installation would make a huge difference and add a further counterpoint to the Wetherspoons directly opposite.

But what Jay has put together so far, works for me. It’s a competitive world is the independent beer shop. But I have a feeling that Jay might just have found a prime location in Urmston.

Get on down. Just 3 minutes from Jct 10 of the M60 and 60 seconds from Urmston train station. Cracking selection, carefully compiled and great value too.

I just hope that the guy I persuaded to buy the Mad Hatter Tsatsiki Sour enjoys it!

Back soon. J.

Five Towns Brewery – Yorkshire’s Little Secret

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NormantonPontefractFeatherstoneCastleford, Knottingley. The Five Towns of Wakefield. Every day’s a school day, eh?

I’ve been guilty of using the phrase-cum-hashtag “BeerPeopleAreGoodPeople” for a wee while. But one particular brewer stands out. A refugee from that there London. Malcolm Bastow. The hop loving brewer brewing in Outwood, Wakefield as Five Towns Brewery.

I first came across the beers brewed by Malcolm on my first visit to Yorkshire Ales of Snaith. I was looking for something different. It was around the time that I was starting to focus on Northern beers to the exclusion of other stuff, having noticed that nobody else was. I was searching for a USP for this blog. A USP that eventually led to The Independent Salford Beer Festival.

And those beers that I bought from Adrian & Vicky Pettit were rather special. Beers like Peculiar Blue, RooBarb and Niamh’s Nemesis testified to someone with a love of US and Southern Hemisphere hops. Someone who wasn’t shy in using them. Punchy pales, full of hoppy goodness.

I was instantly smitten.

Then the deal was sealed. I realised what a decent bloke he was, when I tweeted, back in (roughly) February 2014,that i thought that I’d agreed to organise a beer festival. And I was shitting myself. I needed help. Malcolm’s response?

BOGOF. Which he’s done in each of the three years. Five Towns are the only brewery that I’ve taken two beers from, in each of the three years.

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And in the first two years, his beers won “Beer of the Festival”. From votes from the drinkers. Very discerning drinkers too. And even when – last year – he DIDN’T win, his “Beauty & and The Beast” fruited DIPA entered into local legend. He brews beers that he himself would like to drink. Beers without compromise. And his beers are a secret that Yorkshire would like to keep.

BOLLOCKS  TO  THAT. Following some tactical mithering, you can occasionally find his beers on this side of the hills, via Allgates and Black Jack. Frequently betraying his love of the music of David Bowie with names like “V2 Schneider”, “What In The World”, “Secret Life of Arabica” and the aforementioned “Beauty & The Beast”. It isn’t often that I’ll drink a pint of an 8% Pale Ale. But I do with his. I’m an unashamed fan boy.

And – ever so gradually – his beers have been getting more fans over here. Which is how I found myself jumping in my car at 5:45 am on Saturday to drive over to Wakefield, to brew a collaboration for my favourite CAMRA beer festival, organised by my local branch, Bolton.

I won’t bore you with the minutiae of a brew day. But some things need mentioning.

Malcolm brews on a 2.5bbl kit. In plain language, that means that he will normally get the equivalent of 9 casks from each brew (with bigger beers like “Beauty”, that could drop to 6 or 7). So each brew has limited availability.

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And Saturday’s brew will be even more limited. Possibly as little as 4 casks will see the light of day (with some of THAT going into bottle).

Following the “election” of The Donald, I contacted Malcolm about brewing a beer to “celebrate”. The name came first. Impeachment. With an obvious ingredient inference. Peaches. 200g of pureed peach going into each cask. And lots of hops.

I was fortunate to be given the task of opening and breaking up a pack of Equanot leaf hops. At 14.5% Alpha, they were incredibly pungent and aromatic. I opened the bag and inhaled. Yes, I admit it, I inhaled. I’m an addict. And they smelled astonishing.

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This beer will be single hopped with Equanot for bitterness, aroma and flavour. Not to forget that peach. It will be fruity. It will be hoppy. It will be bitter. It’s going to be bloody lovely.

And – over here – you’ll only get it at Bolton Beer Festival at The Ukrainian Club. From 27th April.

Come along and enjoy. It really is a belting little festival.

Squawk Brewing – Brewing Up A Storm 

All over the country, there are breweries that seem to attract all the column inches, both of traditional press and the bloggerati. Facebook groups fizz and pop over this or that release and drool over the latest Salted herring IPA. And that’s fine. Anything that brings more people to flavoursome beer has got to be welcome. Hasn’t it? 
But for every brewery basking in the sun, parasols in hand, there are countless breweries putting out simply banging beers in the shadows cast. Beers that are full of flavour and with no compromise on ingredients. Beers that sing the sweetest of songs to the tastebuds. 

One such brewery is Squawk Brewing. 

B being the fella who went out of his way to pick up a beer for me for #ISBF2014, Oli Turton is quite simply one of the nicest people that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in this business full of decent sorts. The fact that he happens to have brewed some of my favourite Pale Ales of the last 18 months is just a bonus. As was his agreeing to brew a beer with me for East West Fest. 

My favourite brewery of 2016 brewing a special beer for my favourite beer festival of 2016. That is Beer symmetry. Right there. 
The pale ales produced by Oli are the “bread & butter” beers. Even without his ideal hop contracts last year, these beers reached such a level of excellence and consistency that they are the first beers I reach for on a bar. His recent Falconers Flight Pale Ale was a thing of hoppy beauty recently. 

That “bread & butter” aspect was highlighted by 2 of the 3 FVs being occupied by a Pale and an IPA. Leaving one free for our beer. 

A Big Sorachi Stout. 

From the moment I tasted The Queen Is Not Dead – a beer I brewed with Revolutions (with its unfortunate pumpclip – polluted by my face), I have firmly believed that Sorachi goes SO well in a big Stout, imparting smooth Coconut flavours. The Jekyll to the Hyde frequently tasted in paler beers. 

So that’s what we did. Big. Roasty. And full of Sorachi. 
I won’t bore you with the technicalities of a brewday. If you have read about one…..  Suffice to say, breaking up a huge amount of Sorachi by hand was an aromatic joy, one of the perks of the job. 

I’ll leave it to you to find the beer for yourselves, it should be in Manchester within the month. But find it do. It promises to be an absolute dark beauty of a beer, somewhere between 6 & 7%.

And – unlike 2016 – given that Oli now has something resembling his preferred hop contract, watch out for more of the output from this particular Ardwick railway arch. 2017 promises to be the best year yet for Squawk. 

Let’s do a beer for #ISBF4 Oli! 

Back soon. 
J

East West Fest – Brewday with Rammy Craft : Ragnar’s Wrath 

Sometimes, just sometimes, you get a sense of a brewery on the up. One that is consistently putting out excellent beers. Punchy, full of flavour, balanced flavours that make you want more. 

For me – at the moment – that is Rammy Craft. 

In January, I was approached by CAMRA locally, given an advanced view of the beer list for the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival at Manchester Central and asked if I’d like to recommend some beers to try. One of those beers was Titch. A 3.6% hoppy Pale Ale. 

It wasn’t brewed in a central Manchester railway arch. It wasn’t brewed by an uber trendy craft darling. It was brewed in Ramsbottom. And I was vindicated in its selection by the drinkers that tapped me on the shoulder and thanked me for recommending it. 

So, when Malcolm Bastow of Five Towns Brewery, the founder of the East West Fest asked me for the third year running to select the Manchester area breweries for his superb Northern beer bash, Rammy Craft were foremost in my thoughts. And I was pleasantly surprised that Matt Holmes fancied brewing something special together… 

The choice of beer style was influenced by Malcolm, who wanted to guarantee some dark beers – I know all too well how easy it can be to overload on “Pale and Hoppy”. Now Matt had made some lovely dark stuff, but I fancied a full bodied Stout, with hop character. Which Matt re-interpreted…. 

7am. On my day off, that seemed a harsh time to start. But given Matt’s original plan of 6am (you read it right), he was being gentle. 

The plan? A deep roasted, full-bodied Stout with a good whack of hops to balance against the roast. So we mashed in a good dose of roasted barley, roasted wheat and Chocolate malt along with the bulk grist of Golden Promise. 

The mash and boil revealed some seriously deep roasty aromas flooding from a wort that was darker than the pits of Hades. Seriously dark. Coffee grinds and chocolate filled my flaring nostrils. Yum! 

And to balance that up? Hops. Lots of hops. Insanely resinous and sticky Aurora, fruity Columbus and oh so fragrant Simcoe. Lovely Simcoe. The Aurora were so sticky I had to break them up with that most technical piece of a brewers kit. A sharp chisel. 

The bitterness in this will come from the roasted malts with the hops added late. First Aurora followed by the other aromatic beauties in order. The smells were amazing! 

There won’t be much of this. Just 8 casks. And orders were coming in whilst we were brewing – stimulated by last night’s blog post! 

It was nice to get into the mashing and digging groove. The world has changed since last time I brewed and it felt like being hugged with a great big beery blanket. It felt like I was “home”. Doing something I love. And fortunately, I was doing this with a damned talented brewer who should get more plaudits than he does. 

And I was doing it for a good friend – in Malcolm – someone who has helped me over the last 6 months, more than he could possibly know. And for my favourite beer festival – which is donating part of the proceeds to CALM, a charity close to my family’s hearts. 

This year, there are a bunch of us going to Wakefield. To sample the delights of The Red Shed. And to get to try this roasty hoppy beauty first. 

And the beer is to be called Ragnar’s Wrath. In honour of my love of the lead protagonist in the series “Vikings”. And my good friend Lee. 

I wouldn’t miss this festival for the world. 

Thank you Matt, Andy & Lysha. The pleasure was all mine. 

Back soon (Brewing again on Saturday with Five Towns) 

Be kind to one another. 

J. 

Getting Back In The Swing…… 

There should always be a Plan B. 
With the – then – demise of The Independent Salford Beer Festival, I still had the yearning to be involved with something beery. I enjoy brewing and enjoy the company of Northern beer people, so I needed something else to “keep my hand in”. 

There were offers – if that’s the right word – of things to assist with, but the one event that I’ve been involved with (and always wanted to) is my favourite beer festival : The East West Fest. An event that speaks to my heart. Intimate, Northern, friendly and small. And this year, I wanted to help just a little bit more… 

So, tomorrow, I’m off to brew with the seriously excellent Rammy Craft in Ramsbottom. The beer will be a bit special – a full-bodied hoppy Stout and is specially brewed for East West Fest. 

For those that don’t know, the event is held at Wakefield Labour Club aka The Red Shed – because it’s red. And a shed. It can accommodate probably 70 people maximum and is – quite simply – the friendliest beer festival I’ve had the pleasure of attending. 

With beers purely from Yorkshire and Greater Manchester, the event was created by Malcolm Bastow of the mighty Five Towns Brewery and was – immensely flatteringly – inspired by what we did in year 1 of ISBF. Malcolm sources the best and most interesting of Yorkshire beer, whilst I approached many of the best in the Manchester area. It’s going to be a bit special – I’m also hugely looking forward to brewing with the lovely and talented Oli Turton at Squawk…. 

The event takes place on the weekend of 5th May and I’m awed by the fact that part of the profits are to be donated to CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) a charity close to my family’s hearts. 

It’s a cracker. If you can get there, you should. This year, there’s a bunch of us going on the Friday night. Who knows, I might even get behind the bar! 

Speaking of Malcolm and Five Towns, there is another event that is a fixture on my calendar that I wanted to do something for. The CAMRA Bolton Beer Festival. Simply put, it’s the best CAMRA beer festival I’ve been to with – each year – an excellent and eclectic beer selection. 

On Saturday, I’ll be in Wakefield at 7am mashing in another big Stout on Malcolm’s dinky (2.5 bbl) kit. As he is responsible for some of my favourite beers of the last few years – which are rarely seen over this side of the Pennines – I’m truly excited about this. 

Given the number of collaboration brews I’ve already agreed for ISBF (ask me no secrets….), this is what I CALL keeping my hand in…. 

Bolton Beer Festival starts 27th April and is held at The Ukrainian Social Club. Again, it’s a cracking event. Just go. 

Off to plan more beers for October. Back soon. 

J. 

Return To Liverpool – 25/02/2017 

In many respects, I count myself a lucky man. Since September 2012 (when I commenced blogging – mostly – about beer) I have been fortunate indeed to have met a huge number of lovely people. This accelerated following my initial effort at organising The Independent Salford Beer Festival.

Following that first effort, I recall a conversation with my old buddy (and Craft W⚓ extraordinaire) Jeff. Jeff’s point was that – via that Festival – we had physically now met people that we’d only associated with virtually. And many of them we could now call friends, now feeling able to contact them and meet up for a beery chat. And he nailed the point.

Two of those people are Julie & Les O’Grady, from Maghull, nr Liverpool. The purchasers of the first two tickets sold for the first ISBF back in 2014. And two people who – not altogether coincidentally – happen to be two of the nicest people in this here beer business, Les as co-owner and head brewer at Neptune Brewery in Maghull and Julie as a lead member of Ladies That Beer.

Almost a year ago to the day that they guided us around some lovely drinking venues in that beautiful city (read that one here), it was time to go again and have a refresh – in a manner of speaking. This time with a full complement of thrill seekers from the Eastern end of the East Lancashire Road. They weren’t to be disappointed.

With the visiting group congregating at the Ken Dodd memorial – complete with tickling stick – it was time for a short walk left from Lime Street along Renshaw Street…..

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The Dispensary (Renshaw Street)

We started here last year, but with a much larger group on Saturday, it was only fair to include some classics from last time – the “itinerary” being sorted by our lovely hosts.

Having arranged to meet Les and Julie here, it was time for huggage and greetings before settling down to beer. Keeping beer well is what The Dispensary is known for and it certainly didn’t disappoint with some beautiful sharp Pale Ales (Salopian and Rat being grabbed by our thirsty rabble) and a lovely Choc Orange Stout by Fernandes.

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The pub is single roomed with an elevated area from the left end of the bar. Lots and lots of wood with a beautiful bar. The pub was refurbed by Cains Brewery (also renamed)  and the original pub name “The Grapes” is on display to the rear of the bar. I was told that this pub pours some of the best kept real ales in the city. No argument from this particular Manc. And I do like having the p**s taken out of me by the friendly bar staff.

This pub kind of set the tone for the day. More of that later. But,  for a one room pub, this is an absolute cracker and more than worth the return visit.

Moving into on – but not far. Stepping left out of “The Dizzy” and onto Leece St then left onto Roscoe St…. About a 2 minute walk….

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The Roscoe Head (Roscoe St)

I love this beautiful multi-roomed pub. But then, I’m an absolute sucker for multi-roomed pubs.

Looking untouched from its building in 1870, this is indeed a pretty, pretty proper pub. With 6 hand pumps and a rare permanent pump for Tetley’s Bitter, this pub has featured in each edition of the Good Beer Guide. And whilst that may not be my prime reference resource these days, there is no doubting its beauty.

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I had a decent pale from Red Star Brewery as I was trying to keep it light given the early start and was hugely amused as Julie attempted to squeeze us all into the TINY front room. That word tiny? Hold that thought…. The Roscoe was recently reprieved having been bought by a specialist in pubs to shops conversions. Go visit, before they change their minds. A national treasure of a pub.

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Now then – if you want to retrace our steps, turn right out of the Roscoe Head, then left onto Leece St and immediate left onto Rodney St followed by a swift right onto Maryland St….. And immediately on your right is – the first new venue to me of the day…

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Hard Times & Misery

Now this place is REALLY tiny! The 11 of us looked like we filled the whole bar on entry.

Probably no more than 4 x 4m square downstairs, these guys cram a LOT into a small space. They do this by the simple expedient of dispensing Ale by gravity, direct from the cask. They also do a real Cider on gravity as well as being the first pub with a decent keg – in this instance, Les’s own Citra Amarillo IPA. A juicy little devil with oodles of orange from the Amarillo. Lovely fruity juicy beer. 20170225_135004

I think this place has only been open since August and it’s owners run it themselves – and from talking to Jen (one of them) they absolutely love what they’re doing – stocking local beers and a huge selection (relative to venue size) of spirits, with an excellent gin selection. Jen and Greig were some of the friendliest hosts I’ve seen, passionate about what they do and sell.

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Upstairs, I discovered another – again quite small – room with leather sofas, a nice intimate space which almost doubles the size of the bar.

This place just lifted me and Christine enjoyed it hugely too. This is the kind of place I could fall in love with – a bit like I did with Heaton Hops when I first cast eyes. Highest praise I can give.

After a quick taster of a rather nice bathtub gin, it was back onto Rodney St to Leece St, across and left onto Roscoe Street to a classic Liverpool pub that we’d been in last time but which had been substantially renovated – startlingly well.

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The Grapes

My first thought, on approach, was “Where did that upstairs window come from”…… On entry, it became obvious.

First, we all sorted the beer out, with another Neptune (Amberjack) and a Pale Ale from Top Rope (another new brewery to me), both nice, but with a preference for the Neptune – bigger body and fuller fruitier hop flavour.

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Then I had a walk around. What last year was an open air/smoking area, head been built over and extended into, creating a bright and comfy large extra room with a small room upstairs leading to a lovely terrace. The extension has been completed sympathetically, blending in to the rest of the pub, making a classic simply more comfortable.

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Add into that mix sourcing of almost all local beers, this is a cracking pub, enjoyed by us all, so much so that we stayed a while longer – being slightly ahead of schedule. And all enjoyed it hugely.

It was here that we bumped into Lally from Mad Hatter, Fi and some of the guys from Black Lodge, our next stop….

From The Grapes, head further down Roscoe St to Duke St, turn right then left onto Gt George St, turn right onto Nelson St to Jamaica St, turn left then right onto Kitchen St. There, on the left…

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Black Lodge Brewery

A spin off from Liverpool Craft, which now appears to be a slightly larger (standalone) operation than before with a larger in house brewkit leading (possibly) to almost all of the taps being dedicated to in house beers.

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Ordinarily, this could lead to a slight grumble. But not here. The beers were superb.

The venue is a fairly square open plan space with a larger brewkit and some larger FVs barely intruding on the seating space, of which there is plenty.

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I had a juicy passion fruit Pale Ale and a smoky Stout with a taster of a beauty of an Imperial Stout too and all were superb. As was a magnificent cold meat platter. Some of the best beer of the day in a much more modern surrounding – just to show the variety of excellent beer venues this city has, from achingly modern to 19th Century classics.

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Moving on……(simplest route),  Left from Black Lodge onto Kitchen St, right onto Simpson St then left onto Blundell St upto Wapping, then right takes you to…

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The Baltic Fleet

Is this Liverpool’s most famous pub? I had driven past this CAMRA totem for years, repeatedly, before finally entering last year. Architecturally, a stunning wedge shaped building giving the impression of the prow of a ship. The point I would have thought.

Two main long rooms either side of the bar with the main bar room busy tonight with 6 Nations rugby on screen, we grabbed our beers and located an unoccupied room upstairs (with fabulous views) and settled.

The beer was one of Neptune’s again, (one of 6 beers organised in a 6 Nations theme in the bar) this time a raisin fruited Stout called Undercurrant. I wasn’t alone, as 10 of the 11 all went for the same beer. It was luscious with the fruit more prominent as it went down.

But the day was drawing towards its inevitable conclusion, so we moved swiftly. Along Strand, then right up Water St onto Dale St to our final destination….

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The Dead Crafty Beer Co

A large open room on a corner plot slightly divided by the bar area being slightly raised, this lived upto its name with multiple taps with beers from all over.

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With large expanses of glass from almost four to ceiling and the open aspect with bare walls, this was a more modern offering as the keg wall confirmed. Now, I’m a confirmed Northerner and with my “When in Rome” morality, I sought a local beer. And found it, with Citradelic from Melwood Beer Co. A grapefruit belter, nicely balanced beer. A fine end to the evening, following which (leaving one of our number with our hosts) we bade our farewells to out marvellous hosts/tour guides, Les & Julie.

It was a great day out.

Now here’s the thing.

As much as this day was about guiding a group of Manc beer lovers around a beautiful beer city, it was about more. Much more.

There wasn’t beer ticking. There wasn’t an Untappd frenzy. This was about people. Talking. Listening. Laughing. Swapping stories, telling jokes. The people made this day. And that’s the thing – for me anyway – about beer. Good beer at least. It’s a social lubricant. It aids conversation and should never be the subject. On Saturday, it was a coming together of some of the nicest people I know.

In a city which – for lovely pubs serving good beer – leaves Manchester standing.

Thank you Les & Julie.

That said, on returning to Mancunia, we had a few minutes spare. So, I dragged a few off piste. To somewhere local, traditional and just unspoilt. And had a simple pint with friends.

The Jolly Angler – just behind Piccadilly Station.

And then this happened – and just topped off the day perfectly.

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Back soon. J.

A Heartful of Why – The End of The Beginning? 

“I backed my car into a cop car the other day
Well, he just drove off – sometimes life’s okay
I ran my mouth off a bit too much, ah what did I say?
Well, you just laughed it off and it was all okay

And we’ll all float on okay
And we’ll all float on okay
And we’ll all float on okay
And we’ll all float on anyway, well…”
(“Float On” – Modest Mouse. Clip courtesy ModestMouseVevo)

 

I didn’t mean to write another “Grief” post. Truly I didn’t. Over the last 5 months I’ve learned to consider what I say (and write) far more carefully than I did previously. So those who know me, know that what I said above was true at the time that I said it.

But then, I always say after ISBF that each one is the last. And look where that gets me.

But things (read “posts”) tend to be inspired by little things. Like Sunday evening.

The day was like any other. By which I mean we ended up at Chateau Matriarch – Gerry’s house. Our second home – and safe haven. I’d left my glasses in The Brink on Saturday evening and the plan was to see the Sweet Sweet Records folk showcase, have a couple (literally) of beers and retreat. We’d had a bit of a racist incident the previous evening and a quiet one was the order of the day.

Dinner was delayed, so unfortunately, we missed Alex’s Sweet Sweet artists, but we still went along – on the off chance of a couple of tunes. After a couple of beers, we were about to leave. When I received a text.

“Are you still in The Brink?”

So two lovely people – who only came into our lives just over a year ago – arrived unexpectedly. And we stayed. And started singing some serious 70s tunes that were almost cheesy enough to be fondue. And we laughed.

I’d not laughed like that for months. And I felt lighter. If only for a couple of hours. We had a good time. And that was down to two lovely beer people who shall remain unnamed. But who mean a lot to both of us.

It felt like a small step. If not forward, then at least staying still, rather than drifting. And drifting has become natural. It takes an effort (on some days, quite a large one) to leave the sofa and walk out of the door. But that effort needs to be made. That simple thing that I have referred to previously about “putting one foot in front of the other” is essential.

I’ve read – and been advised – about the grief process. And recognise that it will never leave us. Life will never be “normal” again. That each year presents a series of hurdles that need overcoming. Fionn’s birthday, Christmas, family gatherings, the date he left us, trips away – not to mention returning to work (next Monday), all of these events will present challenges that need to be met. And overcome. But the hope – which we are encouraged almost to the state of “belief” – is that, year on year, millimetre by millimetre, those hurdles become ever so slightly smaller.

And I’ve stopped wondering why. I simply had to.

We are helped by some simply wonderful friends on a daily basis, with calls, visits, invitations, which I’m sure are their way of just checking on us. Making sure we’re “OK”. In other words, caring. There are too many to name individually, but Gerry and her partner Paul and Kelly and Rob (and their families) have been utter anchors, ensuring that our personal ship doesn’t hit any rocks.

That’s not to mention our lovely son and daughter, keeping tabs from a distance. Daily.

The support from the beer community has also been immense and heartwarming. And also – to me – unsurprising. As I’ve said on many occasions, they’re good people round here.

To all of you, be you drinking associates and friends, brewers, hosts, Thank You.

And to those two lovelies who chained us to the chairs at The Brink on Sunday evening with songs, laughter and drink. A big hug.

Back soon. J.

A Day In Bridgnorth 

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(The remains of the Keep at Bridgnorth Castle – that lean is 4 times that of the “Leaning Tower of Pisa”!)

Going out has been a bit difficult recently. Just leaving the house and getting on public transport has been a challenge (actually getting half way to Manchester once before turning back). So it was going to take something exceptional to get me out.

That, or something exceptionally sneaky. Which – in all likelihood – is probably how I found myself in a car, with 3 friends, heading south on the M6 on Thursday morning. Towards the pretty Shropshire town of Bridgnorth.

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This town holds quite a special place in my heart as a place where we would visit when camping the kids at beautiful Hampton Loade on the banks of the mighty River Severn. Every time we went, we’d jump on the Severn Valley Railway (steam, natch) to its terminus at Bridgnorth to do a little shopping, have lunch, go on the country’s steepest funicular railway…..happier (and simpler) times.

It really is a beautiful town. Technically in two parts, Bridgnorth has a “High Town” and a “Low Town” with the ruins of its castle perched atop in the “High Town”, a castle destroyed by Parliamentarian forces in 1646. It also seems to have retained a vibrant “High Street”, refreshingly undominated by chain stores.

It even has a half decent ‘Spoons – The Jewel of the Severn.

But I was here to stroll around a few pubs with friends. On a mission to find some local beers – in particular Hobsons. I got more than I bargained for.

I let my buddies find the first pub. It took a phone call to find them. And they found me a nice surprise

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The Stable Bar (Whitburn Street)

Initially, I thought they’d gone into The Kings Head – which is located on the street itself. Hence the phone call “We’re in a brewery…..”. And they were. Kind of.

The bar was located via an alley immediately to the rear of the Kings Head and is the home of the Bridgnorth Brewery. The bar is on two levels with upstairs seemingly dedicated to eating. Downstairs is modern and bright. Single roomed, with a long bar and a large selection of wines racked behind the bar, there is a feature log burning fireplace at the end punting out tremendous heat.

Outside there is a standalone open air bar with lots of seating. The place had the look and feel of a modern Brewtap, which is precisely what it is.

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The main bar was fully stocked with 6 hand pulls all bar one featuring beers brewed on site. I opted for a  Pale Ale (Kings Escape) which was US hopped and very tasty – once it warmed up, it was served way too cold and needed more warmth for the flavours and aromas to develop. Once they had, it was a lovely juicy and refreshing beer.

The bar would fit in easily within the Manchester Beer Scene – the biggest compliment that I can pay.

We move on… Back up onto the high street and to another brewery tap… This time being the Hop & Stagger brewery located within…..

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The White Lion (W Castle Street)

A proper pub. And no mistake. And with (joy of joys) a Bar Billiards table!!!

Dating from the 18th Century, this pub has 3 distinct drinking areas – with one of those being outside – and two separate bars. Almost “vault” and “bar room” in traditional pub speak. This was another pub to have a roaring real fire, but we couldn’t get close with that room being fairly busy. So into the rear room we went.

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And that Bar Billiards table….. And also the best beer of a day full of good beers. Hop & Stagger “Bridgnorth Porter”. I’m drooling now just thinking about it. It was that good, we returned to the pub later. Twice.

This pub had an old soul. It felt like I’d kicked off my DMs and put on an old battered pair of trainers. Somewhere you could just decompress. Relax. It felt cosy. Later on we came back into the front room with that fire. And that was even cosier. If I lived near this pub, I’d be a happy bunny. And no mistake.

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Now. That Porter. Yum. Lots of choccy roast, hints of coffee. A little residual sweetness. Almost Porter Perfection for me. I couldn’t get enough of it. All 4 of us drank it. All 4 of us loved it.

But we moved on. It’s not a crawl if you don’t….

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The Old Castle (W Castle Street)

Just a couple of doors down, comes this. Another old pub.

The front room looked warm and welcoming, but we just went straight to the rear room which felt a little like a conservatory (not a criticism). This pub (for us) was about two things. Bar sports (darts, bar football and pool) and Hobsons. Something I’d hoped to find I found here. A pint of Town Crier. And very nice it was too.

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Friendly pub (as were they all to be fair), two main roomed with a side room off the “conservatory” room that looked like it may have been used for dining. There was a feeling about this place that it might be food led at times and reviews online seem to confirm that impression. There was also a bit of building work going on. One to come back to next time I think.

Next, a walk. Down towards Low Town.

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The Black Boy (Cartway)

The pub’s name – judging by a former signage – appears to refer to chimney sweeping. The pub itself is located on a steep section of this road leading up to the High Town from the main road bridge over the Severn.

The pub is two roomed and again (speaking from an outsider’s point of view) was warm and welcoming. The barman/landlord seemed a decent sort and changed a beer for me without question when returned as “off” (he even pulled me aside later to tell me that he appreciated me telling him. He tried it himself and turned the clip)

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Lots of wooden furniture in both rooms with the main bar room bustling that evening. The pub boasts a roof style terrace with bloody fabulous views over the Severn (at a very high water mark). Had a  really juicy Pale Ale (Windmill Pale) from Wimbledon Brewery, fruity and full-bodied for a low abv beer.

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Considering the unusual location, this was justly busy and is certainly a pub I would return to. Excellent service, pretty pub and good beer. Win.

We continued into Low Town into a forgettable pub (which, strangely, I’ve forgotten) with loud TV and bland beer (a tired Banks Sunbeam), but then turned around and went firstly to the ‘Spoons for a can of Sixpoint Resin DIPA (nice, but overrated) then back to The White Lion. That Porter was like a Siren call onto the rocks of drunkenness. I had an emotional wobble at this point. Shit needs to come out occasionally. And I was with good friends. And in good hands.

So. Four excellent pubs. A rather good ‘Spoons (nice Lemon Dream by Salopian earlier) and excellent beer. With an early draught “Beer of the Year” contender in that Porter.

Bridgnorth is a lovely town with a rich history. Great pubs. It’s even got a bloody steam railway for crying out loud! What more could you ask for???

Back soon.

J.