The Best Things Take Time : The Independent Salford Beer Festival

The early days of “planning” this bash are some of the most exciting.

These are the days when you have all sorts of wild ideas and have to calm yourself down and think “It’s only beer” (© Chris)

I seem to fall into the same trap every year. And front load. With the strongest beers. And yes, I’ve done it again. I already know the first beer. And it’s very special.

And that’s the problem with what we achieved last year. To better it will be very difficult. But you can only try.

And we certainly started that. With the new venue and location….

When I posted that we were going to do this again, the response was somewhat intense. And rather surprising.

I know that the beer was good last year, that’s my job, getting the best breweries that I can to get you something you haven’t had before in this great city of beer that is Manchester.

And that is just one of the challenges for #ISBF5.

Another is to maintain the variety on both cask & keg whilst minimising waste. Whilst the keg virtually all got drunk, there was a lot of wastage on cask.

About 25%.

Whilst this is an event where all the profits go to charity, I want to maximise those profits.

We have a plethora of great brewers of cask conditioned beer in the North. And only a limited number of spaces in the racking. There will be changes in the line up, as in every year, to keep things exciting…

So, if the numbers of attendees stay roughly the same, that is likely to mean that there will have to be slightly less cask beer in volume. And, whilst I (Jim) adore cask conditioned beer, to waste 25% volume is unsustainable.

What ticketing allows me to do is analyse attendance patterns. And – consistently over the 4 previous years – there has been a non-attendance rate of about 20%. The new venue will impact on that, being more easily accessible from all points – and certainly via train.

As much as I loved St Sebastian’s, for a small event like this, location is key. And – however small the effort – St Sebastian’s did require some planning to get to.

A potential additional solution comes with ticketing, in particular, pricing.

This year, tickets are likely to come bundled with beer tokens as a package. The actual price won’t change much, but it will mean less cash handling which will be further augmented by the ability to take payment by card. This should also have the side effect of increasing actual attendance compared to ticket sales.

For those who prefer to pay by cash, the nearest cash machine is just a few minutes walk. (Another benefit of the new location)

Invites will be going out to breweries in the next few weeks and I can for certain say that some breweries have already agreed to collaborate together. I’m already getting giddy at the thought!

I’ve also started to explore a very interesting possibility that – if it comes off – will leave you wondering “How did you do THAT?” (I like to keep things interesting for myself)

Tickets will go on sale on Sunday 2nd September and we will – as in the last two years – have a launch “party” at The Dungeon (aka The Brink) where there will be some exceptional (and especially brewed) beer, with the first chance to buy tickets.

On that subject. What has been truly amazing over the last 4 years has been the loyalty and the efforts some have gone to to attend.

To get people coming ESPECIALLY for this from Aberdeen, Brighton, Bristol, Coventry, Northen Ireland – even Iraq, is humbling.

Since I announced we were doing it again however, the interest (and determination to attend) from people far and wide who’ve never been before, simply amazed me.

Even with the new venue – with the potential for increased capacity – we’re not going to get much “bigger”. We might have 15% more availability, but they won’t last long.

And I still want this bash to be relaxed, comfy, friendly. Which is why we won’t grow much more.

So remember that date. 2nd September. 20:00

Also, courtesy of the lovable & extremely talented Mr Heggs and Drumbeat, we’ll have our redesigned website up and running shortly – we gave up on the pretty original (genuinely) because we thought we wouldn’t do #ISBF5.

That will enable you to see updates as they come in, communicate with us directly and serve as the platform from which volunteers and potential sponsors can get in touch.

You can NEVER have too many beer sponsors (obviously you can, but, you know….)

And also…..on the subject of sponsors………..

I can announce that we have a new glassware sponsor in those lovely people at The Northern Type!

So. In short.

  • New venue.
  • New beers
  • More Collaborations
  • Tickets on sale 2nd September at 20:00
  • Don’t. Miss. Out.

It may be “Only beer”. But it will be exceptional beer. I promise you.

And – as I’ve always said – I keep my promises.

Rivington Brewing – East Meets West (With Added Citra)

With a growing reputation and – it’s fair to say – the most beautiful of brewtaps, Rivington have made an impact in the last 18 months. From hesitant beginnings brewing to an assumed “market”, they’ve made big strides brewing not just hazy hop bombs, but delicate Grisettes and a variety of styles in between.

In short, they make excellent beer.

Which, when making my Brewery choices for East West Fest is rather important.

Located on a working farm – as you will see later – on the side of Upper Anglezarke Reservoir, it’s a bit on the picturesque side and simply has to be one of the prettiest places I’ve been for a brewday.

Being one of the few breweries from outside of the Central Manchester area to gain penetration in the city, I’ve tasted Ben & Mick’s beers on a regular basis and have been able to map their development and increasing confidence through a range of flavours, both bold and delicate and whilst they’ve gained a loyal following for beers like “Never Known A Fog Like It” (rightly so), I’ve been even more enamoured with the lightness of touch of “Proper Ace”, their Sorachi Grisette – a seriously pretty thing.

Something I hit HARD at their last “Tap Beneath The Trees

Given that this was the final brewday for me for East West, Malcolm decided he wouldn’t miss it, which is how the three of us (with Mick working elsewhere on the farm), found ourselves in the former dairy – the current brewery (plans to move to larger premises on Home Farm opposite being in development…)

The plan was for a big, fruity, hoppy beast. That much was evident from the 155kg of malt (Pale, Wheat & Oats) that went into that 400L mash run, like a grain mountain.

There’s something elemental and soul enhancing about the smells of steeping malt, in the same way that the smell of fresh baked bread lifts the spirits. It’s something I could never tire of.

The mashing in was a delicate process, given how full the vessel was, this was almost “maxed out”, again an indicator of what is to come….

Whilst the mash was steeping, Malcolm and I popped out for a different brew. In the lovely Cafe at Spring Cottage (a welcome beer sponsor from #ISBF4!

A really lovely place, just over the reservoir off Rivington Lane

Again, I won’t bore you with the minutiae of a brewday (Grains, hot water, boiling, hops, yeast etc), the real interest for me was listening to Ben & Malcolm discussing and comparing the similarities and differences of their methodologies – given that they have obvious parallels in both being similar sizes (2.5bbl) and flavour forward.

What you are seeing in these images, will be a Single Hopped Citra DIPA of somewhere over 8% abv, with ALL the hops added late and in dry hop.

It’ll be big, juicy and very fruity. And it’s got me salivating for The Red Shed already. (Less than 4 weeks to go now)

And that is where this beer will launch. In a little Red Shed in Wakefield

The thing that struck me about this brewday, more than any other, (even more than the simply IMMENSE aromas from the steeping Citra) was the disposal of the spent grain.

I normally dig out the mash tun. I see it as my “reward”. But Ben & Mick (briefly appearing with a mini digger) had other ideas. I felt “cheated” 🙂

The ladies awaited their treat. Mooing in trembling anticipation….

Here it comes……

My smile went from ear to ear. I couldn’t stop grinning.

So there you have it. Malt. Citra. Greedy Cows.

Thank you Ben, Malcolm, Mick, Ladies. It was one hell of a day. (With an intriguing return leg – with added fish and chips for #ISBF5…..)

Oh. Naturally, you need to come to The Red Shed on 10th May. You’d be mad not to!

The Vultures Are Circling – Pt 2 :

Take a look at that brewery, of a typical size for a Micro being 5bbl (or approx 8 Hl).

Because if the Small Brewers Duty Relief Coagulation (sic) get their way, breweries like this are likely to be priced out of the business.

I’ve learned quite a bit about duty relief this last week – much of which was down to a quite forensic post from Steve Dunkley of Beer Nouveau (read that post here) and feel much the better for it. I like numbers, I like graphs. They are my friends, I understand them.

The members of the SBDRC are quite large (in a brewing sense) businesses. And they spend quite large amounts of money – employing smart and talented people – on PR. Smaller breweries (Let’s say up to 5000 Hl in annual output – THE pertinent figure in this “debate”) can’t afford that. They have to let their product do the talking. Via the tried and tested media of flavour. And design.

The SBDRC have started to respond to the “outcry” sparked by their proposals. About which I feel sure they are unsurprised.

They respond most effectively by the twisting of language. Reaching for the black Thesaurus of PR. Taking a word and finding a shady verbal alternative to paint something in a negative light. It is actually a very simple and effective technique, beloved of politicians everywhere.

A recent article in the trade publication “The Morning Advertiser” provides some wonderful examples from the unnamed “spokesperson for the coalition”. Read that here.

An example : “For brewers brewing under 5000hl of beer per year, the Government provides a 50% discount on beer tax….”

The word used in taxation IS actually “relief”. This relief technique is not unique to breweries. There are all kinds of relief mechanisms across the entire spectrum of taxation.

But then “discount” is a much dirtier word in the business world when compared to “relief”

Another example of PR verbal weaselling :

“…… proposals that will ensure that the vast majority of small brewers are better off and will allow the creation of much closer to a level playing field

Let’s take two elements of this….

Proposals…… vast majority of small brewers are better off


They are proposing to reduce the lower volume level for the 50% relief from 5000hl to 1000hl. So HOW does that make those tiny outfits brewing less that 1000hl better off if they are getting the same relief?

“…. will allow the creation of much closer to a level playing field”

Ah. That beautiful egalitarian phrase. “Level playing field”

How can there be a “level playing field” when a small micro brewery doesn’t have the economies of scale of breweries up to 80 times the size of production?

How can there be a “level playing field” when some of these breweries have substantial tied estates with generations of customers that take that product?

How are these Micros ever going to be able to compete against such resources?

Progressive Beer Duty – or SBDR – (being) a misnomer because once a certain level is reached it is anything but “progressive”. ”

Actually, that is PRECISELY what it is. Progressive. In that it increases gradually and in stages.

The spokesperson stated that the 50% discount offered to breweries producing under 5000hl was an enormous disincentive for growth…. ”

Tell that to Cloudwater. Whose founder Paul Jones in his own figures believes they will increase production to approximately 7500hl in 2018. So you can be progressive, make fabulous beer AND grow past that magic 5000hl figure.

I could go on. Some say that I frequently do. But I’ll be damned if I sit back and just watch whilst the big boys deploy PR verbal weaselling to defend their proposals.

We would lose too many tremendous breweries should they succeed. Breweries and businesses that – let’s not forget – sustain thousands of jobs.

Yes. Not even I will argue that there isn’t overcapacity in brewing. How could there not be with the never ending story of pub closures. There will be a reckoning.

Many Micros are one or two person operations. In the long term, the “rewards” at the smaller end of the production scale simply aren’t worth the enormous effort. Breweries will close. And I will lose some talented friends from the business.

But I’ll be similarly damned if I sit by and watch them close due to the manipulation of taxation relief and government lobbying.

Defend your businesses by all means. But don’t pretend you have the interests of the Micro Breweries of the UK at heart.

You don’t.

Back To The Future – The Return Of An Old Friend

“If you asked me for heaven, I would give you a mountain top.

If you wanted to hear my love music, I would get all the angels pluck their harps…”

(Jerry Williams – “If You Ask Me”)

As one door closes, another one opens – or so the common saying goes.

It was only following yesterday’s brewday that the juxtaposition of these two brewdays (Offbeat & Wigan Brewhouse) hit me. And their significance in my personal “Beer Journey”.

Allgates Brewery in Wigan were my first “Beer Crush”. In my first (proper) “Golden Pints” in 2013 they were my Brewery of the Year. I’ve always been a lover of sessionable Pale Ales and that was Allgates default position by force of demographic, Wigan beer drinkers liked session beers it would seem.

For those who are regularly bored enough to read my drivel, I’ve been a massive advocate of “The Road To Wigan Beer” funbus day out. Again, Allgates Brewery – a tour by bus around their (former – more later) estate of pubs. It’s a great day out. And sold out – for the second year running.

Allgates had been a big supporter of The Independent Salford Beer Festival from first tweet announcement to date. They always delivered what I needed, full-flavoured beer imbued with that elusive quality. Sheer drinkability.

It saddened me when they hit some difficulties a while back. Even more so when news filtered through to me that the brewery had been sold – and was to be renamed. The old (and rather beautiful) “tower brewery” had been in mothballs for too long. It was too beautiful and logical a setup to remain unused.

And gradually, people started to forget about Allgates.

I couldn’t. They were a HUGE part of my journey. My first brewday was with Allgates (and Tandleman / Tyson – beer writers I looked up to. Jay Krause was due to be involved too – but was poorly). You don’t forget stuff like this.

Nor does Malcolm (Five Towns) Bastow – Organiser of my favourite beer festival. The East West Fest in Wakefield’s famous Red Shed. Having heard that Wigan Brewhouse (the new owners) wanted to continue in an Allgates style vein with the beers, he fancied a collab for East West.

So did I. I was curious to see the old brewery back in action…..

It felt good to be back!

Jonathan Provost – the Allgates brewer – stayed with the new business, which was a comfort. He knows his stuff and is bloody good at it.

Malcolm and JP (with me as digger/observer) had collaborated previously on an IPA that was a bit stronger than Allgates usual. At 5.6% “Station to Station” was a pretty pretty thing.

For East West, we wanted something in a similar vein.

Simcoe, Mosaic, Citra (with a further Mosaic / Citra dry hop) Pale malt (tiny touch of dark crystal for colour). An American hopped Pale. Between 5.5 and 6% abv.

Again, I won’t bore you with the details of a brewday – long periods of inactivity and chat punctuated by flurries of intense physical activity – but this day in particular was a hugely pleasant walk down memory lane.

As is an occasional joy on a brewday, I got to sample some beers from the tank. And oh were they good!

The Kicker Session IPA was delicious – it was the first Wigan Brewhouse beer I’d had – at Wigan Beer Festival – and this version (from tank) was even better, fresh and sharp.

Gin Pit (a former Allgates recipe) had been retained and brewed. That tasted bloody superb. With the botanicals (that name…) merely adding to the refreshment.

Porteresque (the base beer for the Boston Plum Porter) may never see the outside of the brewery again, but from the tank was as good a straight Porter as I’ve had.

I got a smell of the tea used in Blue Sky Tea. WOW. I’m rarely astonished. But I’ve never smelt a tea so citrussy…. I might see if Atkinsons have some in Mackie Mayor!

I dug that out later. And was reminded by my aching muscles that I’m a Desk Jockey.

It’s good to see this beautiful brewery up and running again. I’ve got a big soft spot for this place. You never forget your first love.

Whilst I’m sad to have lost Allgates as a brewery, Wigan Brewhouse appear to be continuing in a similar vein, keeping the best of Allgates whilst stamping their own mark with new beers and that fabulous branding – with more than a nod to the beautiful history of Northern Soul (where my musical heart lies) & the mighty Wigan Casino.

Going back to the beer we’ve made, Malcolm & I are both Bowie fans. And (with the history of “Station to Station” in mind) fancied another Bowie reference.

My thinking was…… “US Hopped…… Something from “Young Americans”……

Say “Hello” to “Fascination US IPA” Coming soon. And certainly coming to The Red Shed on 10th May.

A sad “goodbye” to Allgates Brewery.

A big “HELLO” to Wigan Brewhouse.

I might be falling in love again.

Some Things Matter More Than Beer – So Long To A Friend

It’s always sad to lose a good brewery. One that makes excellent beer, without ingredient compromise, with passion, no little style and a smile. But a few months ago, I had one of those “Shoeless Joe Jackson” moments.

A moment in beer that I’d been dreading.

Michelle Shipman was to close Offbeat Brewery.

The brewery might not really feature in your personal beer story. But in mine, Michelle gets a chapter of her own.

I’ve been drinking for an awful long time, but I’ve only grown to really LOVE beer for about 6 years. And one of the earliest breweries that I grew to love was this little crew of ladies headed up by Michelle.

Ladies that beer (Julie will appreciate the affectionate pilfering).

We disagree about some things in beer (my heart is Dark, Michelle’s is Pale) but there has been a sensibility about the output from Thomas Street that has always appealed. From “Outlandish Pale” through “Kooky Gold” and “Out of Step IPA”, hops have been front and centre.

Full flavoured and incredibly drinkable beer. Fully recognising the restrictions of the local market (Cheshire & North Staffordshire), but nudging drinkers to fuller flavours.

Brewing, promoting, selling, distributing, debt collecting, repeat to fade…….

These things can take their toll on the most phlegmatic. As I said earlier this week being and running a Micro Brewery can need a “Sisyphean effort just to keep heads above water“. And whilst I’m sad that we’re losing “one of the good guys”, I’m actually pleased that Michelle is taking a step back from running a brewing business. (If you can be “pleased” with a tear in your eye).

Health and happiness matter.


As you may know, I have a peripheral involvement with my favourite beer festival East West Fest (Red Shed, Wakefield 10th to 12th May….). That “involvement” extends to the sourcing of breweries from the “West” side of The Pennines.

And with the imminent demise of Offbeat, Michelle had to feature.

The main man (Malcolm) came over on a promise of hops. So we focused on hops. Lots. Of. Hops.

As I write (on the 06:46 Piccadilly to Manchester Airport – seeing as you’re asking), I realised that we Smashed this beer. It’s Single MAlt Single Hopped, with best ale malt and the Mighty Nelson Sauvin.

Lots. Of. Nelson. Sauvin.

I won’t bore you with the details of a brewday. I’ve taken part in so many now that I get bored with writing about them. But Michelle downsized to a 2bbl brew kit last year.

That’s tiny.

In such a small kit, 3.5kg of Nelson Sauvin is a lot. A REAL lot.

We’ve made a mid abv hop monster.

Which anyone who knows Malcolm will know, that put a smile on his face!

The longer the day went on, it became increasingly apparent that this may have actually been Michelle’s last brew. Fuck. It took a while for that to sink in.

I hope it isn’t. But if it is, then I’m incredibly proud to have been involved in it. (I don’t mind saying that I had a little weep on leaving.)

This beer will be sub 5% abv. It will be first in my list at East West Fest. Of that there is no doubt.

Come and join us at The Red Shed in May. And realise just why it’s called “The Red Shed”.


Michelle and Offbeat have been a big part of my Beer Journey. She’s been a bit of a heroine, in the beer that she made (I’m struggling with that past tense) and what she had to go through to make it. I have no doubt that if she had testicles she’d have had more respect. That’s the sexist world we live in.

And one which – one word at a time – some of us are trying to change.

I have some incredible Offbeat memories. I’ve been incredibly flattered to have been part of some of those. I’ll never forget the 40th birthday party that me and “Little Chris” went to that turned into Michelle & David’s Wedding bash.

I’ll never forget the kindness Michelle has shown – repeatedly – to The Independent Salford Beer Festival.

I’m going to miss Offbeat. There’s a Closing / Leaving bash at the Brewery on 1st/2nd June.

I’ve cleared my calendar. I’m going to cry like a bastard.

Don’t be a stranger Mrs.

The Vultures Are Circling

The end of March. It’s chilly. It’s Easter weekend.

I was on “a mission”.  To New Mills. And Torrside. One of the undoubted success stories of the breweries launched in the last 3 or 4 years.

My Beer Buddies never miss a Torrside Brewtap and with the launch of #ISBF5 fresh, I needed to chat over a few beers.

The place was heaving. Not a bench seat to be had with lengthy queues at the bar and the trio of brewing owners racing to keep up.

With smiles on their faces. As is right. The beer was flying out.

That Centennial Porter may be just about the best Porter I’ve had in a long time.

The place was busy with happy drinkers. Wearing coats. It was distinctly chilly. It’s on a canal basin. In the Peak District. It was cold. Yet it was still rammed.

Why? Because Torrside are bloody good at what they do.

Many attendees would have been local. But I came from Bolton, Steve from Sheffield, Chris from Wolverhampton, Jock from Middleton.

A thriving Brewtap can be the difference between going under and surviving. Or surviving and thriving in a very competitive market. The making of exceptionally good beer sometimes isn’t enough.

Being a Micro Brewery isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s a Sisyphean effort just to keep heads above water. And some people seem to want to keep the boot on those heads.

Warning : Rant incoming

For me, this was the start. A motion to the CAMRA 2018 Conference. From a man with – let’s say – a poor opinion of Micro Breweries and an avowed affinity with the Family and regional brewers of the UK.

I was told by trusted friends and comrades that this motion has ZERO chance of becoming CAMRA policy. People who know the internal workings of the organisation far better than I.

But that kind of missed a rather important point in my opinion. Even if this was a freestanding assault on SBDR (Small Brewers Duty Relief), it would still be a seed sewn – I’ve seen this all too many times in Trade Unionism. And in other political arenas.

Sew the seed of an unpalatable idea. Let roots grow. And some time later, with enough propaganda as fertiliser, that seed can bloom.

(Let’s not talk about the deliberate juxtaposition of these two poisonous written pills. Simply appallingly biased editing.)

But this isn’t a freestanding assault. And the more I think about this, Mr Sheridan increasingly looks like a cipher. For the Regional and family brewers he so adores.

Say “Hello” to The Small Brewers Duty Relief Coalition

Or – to give them another name – The Big Guys.

Read some of their weasel words here….

And then look at the list of members

Small Brewers? MARSTONS (Ringwood, Jennings etc)??? Fullers (now with a belly full of Dark Star)? Charles Wells (prior to bailing from brewing)?

And as for Beavertown…..

Taking the piss…..

OK. These Horsemen Of The Micros Apocalypse coalesced over a year ago. I’d heard nothing recently, until some of my small brewing friends started to panic.

The reduction (and – as advocated – possible removal) of SBDR would sound the death knell for many Micros. And that is precisely the aim of these Reapers.

To close down competition.

The big guys are panicking. Shareholders getting twitchy, they strike out. The formation of this “coalition” (I prefer “cartel”) was one of those seeds. And that Motion 8 – unsuccessful though it may eventually be – have no doubt, is merely the start of the roots taking hold.

I like the diversity of beer that we have right now. Especially in Manchester. I’ve said it before, this is a golden age for drinkers. We have more choice than ever before.

These big brewers want to kill that. Stone dead.

And that’s precisely what the reduction or removal of Small Brewers Duty Relief would do.

Some breweries have started to close. Yes, the market is “competitive”. It’s also not helped by some shocking “discounts” being offered. In the import / export arena, that would be almost be called “dumping”.

And let’s not talk about Wetherspoons.

I’m not worried about the likes of Torrside. They have built a fine reputation for flavour and have a growing and increasingly loyal following. The Brewtap last Friday being testament to that.

But these beer bullies want to increase their own profits by removing the competition. Not by the tried and tested method of takeover, acquisition and closure. But by encouraging the Government to do their dirty work.

If you value choice and diversity of offer in beer, we can’t let that happen.

Some Days You Don’t Want To Miss – Five Towns v North Riding 2018 : Take 1

(The stuff of nightmares?)

That thing where your morning planning goes all to shite. Then gets much better? That.

There are only 3 events I will try to arrange collab brewdays for.

East West Fest


Bolton CAMRA Beer Festival

The first two kind of go without saying (my favourite beer festival and ISBF).

The Bolton fest is held in my local area. It’s my local CAMRA branch. Some friends are intimately involved.

And it is – quite simply – the best CAMRA beer festival (for me). Small, relatively intimate and with little of the padding you often get at beer dos organised by Campaign branches. In short, a fabulous selection of beer.

Held at The Ukrainian Club on Castle Street every April, it’s become a personal highlight. Unmissable. And this year, I thought I’d try to contribute. By getting two of my favourite breweries to do something special.

I was a little late – ask The Daughter Thing – and had to hastily rearrange my travel plans, hence the hired help…. Bit overdressed mind.

Dark Malts. Orchard fruity hops (Calypso). Belgian yeast. The hops should accent the esters from the Belgian yeast making this a special thing

I’m partial to a walk on the darkside and there were some beautiful roast aromas greeting me as I arrived. Just in time to add the late additions of Calypso. (I missed the early addition of Magnum. Damn)

And help clean up.

Rumours* started to circulate about an “afterparty”….

This beer will be rich, roasty and with that little fruity something from the Calypso hops and Belgian yeast. It promises to be special. Really special. And at about 7% abv, almost sessionable!

Aside from being for one of my very favourite festivals, the pleasure here is being with two of my favourite breweries and beer people.

Stuart Neilson at North Riding Brewery has been building a reputation for consistent excellence both in his hoppy pales and his luscious, sumptuous Stouts and Porters.

He has been either wholly responsible for – or collaborated on – some of my favourite beers of the last few years. Including a collab with Malcolm which was my Beer of 2017. Fudge Brownie Stout.

Malcolm Bastow at Five Towns has won “Beer of the Festival” 3 times out of 4 at ISBF. That is all you need to know.

For a less than a 400 litre brewery based in a garden shed?

Anyone who managed to try “Always Crashing In The Same Car” at St Sebastian’s, just knows. It was One. Special. Beer.

It’s almost like he knows what he’s doing” (quote – Stuart Neilson)

Nationally – criminally – he remains under the radar. Locally – in Yorkshire – Five Towns remain their little secret. Jealously guarded.

It’s always special when these two work together. This beer promises to be no different.

Over this side of the Pennines, the first (and likely only) place you will get this beer, “From Kether To Malkuth” will be at this belting little beer bash, at Bolton Ukrainian Club. On 26th April. For three days.

But it won’t last that long. THAT I promise you.

*And – just for the record – the lamb dinner was exquisite. Melt in the mouth gorgeousness, with ace Yorkshire puds (Stu likes a Yorkshire pud….).

So good was it, that Stu will now only come to collab on Sundays….

Now THAT’S a beer you won’t want to miss!

**News Update

Looks like we’ve got a Dark Belgian Muffin on our hands!

A One Pub Afternoon – Trackside, Bury.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The reasoning is clear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Railway Children Revisited.

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

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

The image of failure.

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

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

You’d be mad not to. Honestly.

Back soon. Jx

N. B.

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

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

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

Crossing The Great Divide : North Riding Comes To Stalyvegas

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

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

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


THAT is something that grabs my attention.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions flowed.

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

Questions re fining : “Pales yes, darks never”

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

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

That WILL be the gift that keeps giving.

(pic courtesy @LeedsBeerWolf)

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

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

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

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

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

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

At one of the best pubs in the North.

A heavenly match. And well worth travelling for.

The “Future” of The Independent Salford Beer Festival.

It started off so simply.

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

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

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

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

But this isn’t about me.

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

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

Northern cask conditioned beer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obviously I was trying to fool myself.

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

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

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

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

I don’t mind saying that my jaw dropped.

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

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

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

It took about an hour.

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

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

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

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

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

In your diaries yet?

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

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

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

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

ALL profits will go to charity.

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