A Yearly Highlight – Bolton Beer Festival (CAMRA) 

In this world of hype that we appear to live in, there are some things that get thousands of lumens of incandescence. And there are things that exist in the shadows cast. But some of these things are nonetheless outstanding. And when I say “outstanding”, I choose my words carefully.

One such event is the beer festival hosted by the Bolton branch of CAMRA, each year, at the Ukrainian Social Club on Castle Street.

Even though I am a member – something the opinions of some fellow members test on a regular basis – CAMRA beer festivals frequently leave me cold, with dull beer selections being my most frequent complaint. But here, in 4 years of going, I have had no complaints whatsoever.

Simply put, the beer list never lacks for variety and eclecticism. Graham, Pete, Linda and the rest of the team are unafraid to take some risks with local palates. And the thing that should never be forgotten, is that – to many – these local fests may be the only one some locals ever go to. So there is a tightrope to be walked between experimentalism and local tastes.

And it is one that this selection walks with confidence.

I was really pleased that I managed to persuade Stanley to drag his handler all the way from Cheshire. Pleased too that my good buddy Ragnar made a first appearance too. I got the distinct impression that they enjoyed it and felt it worth the journey. A rare sighting of the lesser spotted Deeekos too. People who don’t mind a journey for a decent beer.

The food was predictably excellent too, with the Street Food flamboyance of Cameroon’s finest export since Roger Milla – Alain of Nkono – doing great business with his Jerk chicken and wild venison curry…. Lovely stuff.

Personal beer highlights? A sublime Mosaic Light from Black Jack, the Proper Ace grisette from Rivington, the beautifully peachy (as it should be) Impeachment from Five Towns (and me), the Tan Halen from Cwrw Ial (big Salted Caramel Stout….. Yum) and a gorgeous American 5 Hop from Blue Bee of Sheffield.

But to be honest, there were no duffers in my selections. All superb. And I didn’t have to look too hard either. The beer list is THAT good.

I’m hoping that the Northern Rail strike won’t hit the festival too hard. Even so, this bash is – in my humble opinion – too good to miss. I’m bloody busy at the moment, what with cajoling breweries into supplying #EvilKegFilth for our October do, volunteering at the superb idea that is Berries, Beans & Beer. I barely have a spare hour.

But I wouldn’t miss this for all the hops in the Yakima Valley. You shouldn’t either. It’s on today (Friday) and tomorrow.

I’m going back tonight – I’ve got some unfinished business with that beer list……

Asking The Right Question 

Spoiler Alert – This is NOT a beer post.

What I’ve discovered in the last year or so about my personal blogging motivation has kind of intensified in the last 6 months. It’s about triggers. Emotional triggers. To me, now, blogging is about an immediate transfer of thought to page. Not planned journalism.

This necessity for triggers applies to the beer posts as much as those about the grief process. I even have a part written post about music – in particular, my Top 10 albums and 3 Funeral Songs. And that one was prompted too.

I used to plan. I used to think, “OK. I’ve got all this beer. I’ll do a couple of bottle posts”, but I got bored with planning. I haven’t written a review post for 9 months. Each thing I write needs a stimulus. A purpose. And this post had the strangest, yet most obvious of prompts.

It would appear to be one of life’s truisms that I have little or no connection to Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer (read “Boss”) of Facebook. A bit of an obvious statement is that. Or it was, until I read an interview with her in this morning’s Observer by Decca Aitkenhead (I actually read it via the Guardian website – you can read it here), not about her role in running one of the world’s most valuable businesses, but about the sudden loss of her husband. And how she copes.

The first thing that struck me – and drew me in to reading the entire article – was about people asking you how you are feeling. The right question to ask. Trust me, it’s a fucking emotional minefield for the person asking. I previously dealt with that here. Or thought that I had. Then I read the following extract…

The classic inquiry, “How are you?” also turned out to be unhelpful. “Well, my husband just died on the floor of a gym. Like, how am I?” The more meaningful question, she learned, is “How are you today?”

And that’s precisely it. THE question. The one which you can answer honestly without emotionally eviscerating the questioner. The one that you can answer without reference to my current stock response ‘Yeah OK. Walking, breathing, you know. Every morning’s a bonus…..’

She talks about the husband she lost. That thing of which I’m constantly reminded is incredibly important. To have those remarkable memories. The things that make you smile and laugh. That simple act of walking into The Brink – and looking up at the signage – is a smile/chuckle trigger in itself. (Those who know what I’m talking about will chuckle too)

Sheryl (get ME on first name terms….) goes on to talk about a post she put on FB a week or so after returning to work (we differ here. She only took 10 days off. Me? Over 5 months.) after dealing with people standing off. A little bit like I pre-emptively did here. And the amazing personal response she got – as I did, with people opening up.

She talks of allowing those moments of joy – and not to be ashamed of them. Those moments where the sun (in a linguistic slip, I initially – appropriately – spelt that ‘son’) almost peeps through the emotionally dense clouds.

Initially, I felt some guilt about those moments of joy. I remember vividly being out with those lovely Liverpudlians Les & Julie O’Grady in Manchester some time after ISBF3. Conversation was light and I was chuckling. Then I noticed – across the venue – there was someone I knew. And he was looking almost askance. As if to say “How? How can you be chuckling….?”

As Sandberg goes on to say, there are choices in how you respond to grief, to loss.  Option A & Option B. And if Option A doesn’t work, you “kick the shit out of Option B”. Option B being the title of the book…..

As a kind of self-help therapy, I’ll be buying the book. I’ll leave you with a direct quote (You’ll forgive me Sheryl….)

Back soon. J.

Whether you see joy as a discipline, an act of defiance, a luxury or a necessity, it is something everyone deserves. Even when we’re in great distress, joy can still be found. Cooking. Dancing. Hiking. Praying. Driving. Singing Billy Joel songs off-key. And when these moments add up, we find that they give us more than happiness; they also give us strength.”

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


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.


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.


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.


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. 

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. 


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. 


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…..


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.


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….


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.


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.


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…


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.


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.


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.


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.


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…


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.


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.


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.


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…


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….


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.


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.


Back soon. J.