EastWestFest – 15-16/05/2015

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I’ve been saying for over a year now that “Beer People Are Good People”. I’ve said it THAT often, that the predictive text on my phone even predicts that as a hashtag on occasion! My conversations with beery folk of all stripes have led me to that conclusion. And, for me, there are few – if any – better than a gentleman by the name of Malcolm Bastow. The brewer/owner of Five Towns Brewery of Outwood in Wakefield,

Back at the start of 2014 when I first tweeted that I had been coerced into curating a beer festival and shouted “HELP” on Twitter, Malcolm was one of the first to respond. He offered me a great deal on beer. As he has made some of the best beers that I have drunk in the last two years, I tore his proverbial hand off. He came over to The Independent Salford Beer Festival (as it became) with his lovely wife Beverley and I was chuffed to bits when one of the two beers he brought (Raven King) was voted Beer of the Festival, attracting rave reviews from people such as Deeekos (Twitter handle) and Rowan Molyneux. People who really know their stuff.

When he asked me to give him a small hand in a beer festival he was planning in Wakefield, I was both honoured and humbled. I still feel (and I’m not prone to false modesty) that I know little about beer. But he trusted my judgement. Coming from Malcolm, that meant a lot to me.

So I pledged to go to Wakefield. I consulted the Oracle (aka The Arch Nemesis) and booked hotels and trains. The day came. And I was stupidly (for a 50 yr old) excited.

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Getting off the train at Leeds (to change for Wakefield Westgate) we had half an hour to kill. Irrespective of the question, beer was the answer. So we walked the 60 seconds to the Leeds Brewery Tap. On entering this rather modern looking pub, there was a bonus. Sunbeam Brewery had had a Tap Takeover and some of their beers were still on the bar. At the risk of stirring up the recent debate about Craft Beer being the death of Mild, I had to tweet Tony Naylor (the excellent Guardian journo) with an image of Sunbeam Chocolate Mild. Assuredly a Mild that lacks nothing in smooth chocolaty flavour. A “delight”……Hold that happy thought for later!

Unfortunately we didn’t have time to explore the delights of this two floored pub (with an ACE roof terrace!) as we had to hurtle back into the station – being on restrictive “Advanced” tickets!

Back on the train we go. I made a mental note to contact Virgin Rail about the fact that there is free WiFi on their East Coast Service. Ahem….West Coast Mainline please!

1/2 an hour later. There we were. Wakefield Labour Club. Affectionately referred to locally as “The Red Shed”.

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Because it’s red. And a shed.

From outside I heard someone say “The Mancs are here”! Feeling suitably charmed, we sauntered in, to be greeted by Beverley doing the honours with glasses and tokens. That glass….

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Nice innit? And, in a bold move (that I may yet replicate at #ISBF2015), the only choice of glassware. Nobody grumbled. And very few gave them back. No surprise there then!

I could prattle on about the beer (which WAS excellent) for pages and pages (as you well know), but what marked this day, for me, was the sheer friendliness. Chatting with people I have never met. And laughter. And stories. The banter (mostly at my expense!). It felt like I belonged. And it felt good. I felt at home.

It’s hard to single people out, but I hugely enjoyed my chat with Andrew Helm from Revolutions Brewing of Castleford. We share similar tastes in politics……and the more important things in life, like beer and music. Another of life’s good guys, we eventually got around to talking beer. And a planned collab for our little Salford bash. No secrets to be spilled, but it will be both big and dark. And have a solid music theme. I’m excited. (Great news to hear that he’s delivered a load of beer to the Piccadilly Tap!)

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(OH, if only people had….)

Malcolm seems to pull good people into his orbit of friendship. It was great (not to mention instructive) to talk with the likes of Charlie & David (two of the guys from the excellent “A Swift One” blogging collective), Alex (a lady involved with the superb Leeds International fest), Bob – a gent, Scott (GBK) Nightingale there were just too many to remember. Especially when you have a Swiss cheese for a brain, like me.

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(Because remembering this stuff matters)

As far as the beer is concerned, I focussed on Yorkshire beers. For 3 reasons.

  1. Because I love it.
  2. Because I can’t get much of it over here.
  3. As research for ISBF2015.

I learned the following.

  1. There are some really promising new breweries springing up under the shadow of the White Rose (Whippet & Learn To Brew)
  2. I definitely want Rat, Blue Bee & Sunbeam breweries represented at St. Sebastians’ this year.
  3. Judging by the comments, we brew some damn good beer over here too!

There was a raffle in each session. Both the Arch Nemesis and Deeekos won prizes. The Arch Nemesis wished that he hadn’t – it was a Tetley Bitter T-Shirt that he spent the rest of the day trying to give away! I, of course, won sod all. Other than the chance to drink some simply great beer.

My beery highlights?

Sunbeam AlesShepherds Delight. A tawny coloured beer with more than a hint of Turkish Delight to it. Intriguing and delicious.

Revolutions BrewingThe Golden Age Of Wireless. A golden mild. With vanilla. It just worked. Beautifully smooth.

Allgates (or Turks Head Brewing Co!) – Shogi Porter. Listed as a Porter, but the huge quantities of Sorachi Ace hops turned it into a Black IPA. A fine beer indeed.

Blue BeeReal. Pale, sharp and lemony. My #2 of the day.

Whippet Brewing CoTest Brew No. 1 – A smooth smoky Stout. Yum.

Atom BeersSchroedinger’s Cat. Pale, light and super hoppy. A delight.

Brewsmith Nelson Sauvin Pale. Just as it should be. Tart and refreshing.

Thirst Class AlePale & Interesting. A pale ale that started good and finished even better. More refreshment, just when my taste buds had started to jade a little.

And then we get to my personal favourite.

Five Towns BreweryMay Day DIPA

I am living proof this evening, that drinking copious amounts of Double IPA is neither big nor clever. But it was, quite simply, ASTONISHINGLY GOOD.

In the main (non-festival) bar, they had one of Malcolm’s beers on. Strange Brew, a strong pale ale at 7%. I wanted one. But the final pint was sold to the guy in front of me. Cursing with a smile on my face, I retreated. It was 9pm.

At 9pm – being the final session – Malcolm made the strategic decision to lower the price of the beer. From £3 a pint, to £1. And, even at 8.4% abv, that included the May Day. Well. If I couldn’t have Strange Brew….

So I hit it. Hard. Repeatedly. My head said that it was that thing known as A Bad Idea. But it smelt divine. Big, bold and citrussy. It tasted like heaven should taste. Nectar. And it was 50 BLOODY PENCE A HALF!

I didn’t stop hitting it till chucking out time. This morning.

To describe it….Big, bold and citrussy. Tropical. Bitter and resinous of finish. It felt light enough to almost session. It was Ruinous. A complete and utter Beergasm. If a beer can leave Charlie (The Ale Ambler) with a smile on his face, it is good enough for me. To sum it up, it knocked me down sideways and lifted me up again. It was astonishingly good indeed.

We, the Greater Manchester tendency wobbled off to our respective hotel rooms. With lopsided grins.

It was a fantastic day.

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And the Arch Nemesis got rid of that T-Shirt. As you can see!

Now. Being the consummate host, Malcolm had arranged to come to a couple of local beer landmarks with us. I was MORE than up for it. I felt great this morning. But the May Day had wreaked havoc with the Arch Nemesis! But, being the sympathetic soul that I am, I dragged him out on a route march! To….

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The Fernandes Brewery Tap (5, Avison Yard, Wakefield WF1 1UA)

We were there before opening. I was thirsty. Unlike my weary accomplice…..

What. A. Gorgeous. Pub. The pictures simply do not do this place justice. All the wood that you could shake a….er….stick at. a stunning place to drink beer on a Sunday (what felt like) Morning. Both the Rat Brewery – Rye Rat of The Caribbean and the Fernandes’ own Malt Shovel Mild were superb. Friendly service. The whole package. Malcolm met us hot from taking down his festival. I’m glad he suggested this place.

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Harry’s Bar (107B Westgate, Wakefield WF1 1EL)

A gem of a place. A small bar with extremely friendly staff. And great beer. Well worth the stiff walk from Fernandes. And close to Westgate train station – crucial, given that our train was going in 40 minutes!

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8 hand-pulled beers. A cider. And TWO of Malcolm’s own beers (one is the “house beer”). I tried the Five Towns “Mi Usual” which, given Mr Bastow’s penchant for the stronger brews, is hardly his “usual” being only 3.7% abv. It was a sharp, lemony treat. Light and refreshing after that hike!

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Also on the bar, was a beer from a brewery that my Arch Nemesis has spoken of in reverential tones on many an occasion. But one that I was yet to try. So I did.

Tigertops Brewery (Wakefield) – Outland IPA. A big, fruity and chewy IPA. Boldly hopped and simply superb.

If you are in Wakefield, you need to try to make time for BOTH of these bars. They are special.

We had to dash. We got to Westgate station only to discover that we actually had an extra 20 minutes. I’d cocked up on the times. My ailing associate scowled. Ailingly.

Again, I thank Malcolm & Beverley for making us just so welcome. And at home. All their friends too, those mentioned above and those that the May Day is to blame for any omission.

This really was a special little festival. That was for some local good causes. People coming together to make a difference. And that shit matters. More so now than ever. Being in a Labour Club made it feel even more right.

It was special both for the beer, but even more for the people that were there. It was small, in an age of increasingly mega festivals. It was intimate. It was fun.

It’s now a fixture on my beer calendar. It should be on yours too.

Better wrap this up ‘cos I’m off to Brighton tomorrow at the crack of a Sparrows’ doo-dah.

Beer may feature.

So, for now…

Slainte!

The East v West Beer Festival (aka EastWestFest) 15 -16 May 2015

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I, my friends (if I may call my sole reader that!), am becoming a bit of a Professional Northerner. Especially when it comes to beer. To my mind, there’s nothing worse than going in a Northern pub (in my case, Manchester) and not seeing a drop of Northern beer. Don’t get me wrong now, there is some simply superb beer being made all over this lovely island, but London seems to get all the press (and blogging) inches.

Nearly a year ago now, I decided to focus (almost) exclusively on beers from the North. Because, for me, the brewers up here have nothing to learn from elsewhere. There is, quite simply, some astonishing beer brewed up in these parts that gets not a lumen of the light that’s shone on the likes of Bermondsey & Hackney.

If I’m honest, as much as I adore the history of The Cousins War (aka The Wars of the Roses) and the banter that flies from each side of the Pennines, but this focus on Northern beer was the genesis of The Independent Salford Beer Festival (#ISBF2014). The beers came from Crewe to Scarborough and were mightily well received if the feedback is to be believed. So much so that we’ll be doing it again. (More on that elsewhere)

I was made up when Malcolm & Beverley Bastow from Five Towns Brewery in Wakefield took the time out and came over to Salford in October. I was even more made up when (via an independent Twitter vote) one of his beers won Beer of the Festival – AND that another Yorkshire beer came second (Hazelnut Mild by Brass Castle). Mostly North West drinkers voting for two Yorkshire beers kind of felt like a validation.

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I’d heard a rumbling about a potential Northern Beer themed festival and when Malcolm confirmed that he was organising, I knew it would be something else. You see, for the uninitiated, he makes some bloody good beer in that there shed of his! But I was both humbled and astonished when he approached me to see if I would help in sourcing the beers from this side of The Hill. Even more so when I read that #ISBF2014 was one of the inspirations behind his festival!

I couldn’t say no, could I?

Red Shed from above

The little place you see above is the venue. Wakefield Labour Club. Known locally (and affectionately) as “The Red Shed”. I’m told that it has a capacity of 70. Yes, you read it right! Seventy. Or, me plus 60 others. The festival (as you can see) takes place in just under 2 weeks. As far as I’m aware, it’s pay on the door. Having had sight of the beer list, I’m just hoping that I can get in when I arrive. To say that I’m salivating is an understatement!

So, without further ado…..

From the West :

Brewsmith Beer – Nelson Sauvin (Pale Ale)

Wilson Potter – Don’t Fall (Pale Ale)

First Chop – SYL (Black IPA)

Tickety Brew – Rose Wheat Beer

Squawk Brewing Co – Pale Ale

Shindigger Brewing Co – IPA

Black Jack Beers – New Deck (Golden Bitter)

Allgates Brewery – Shogi Porter

Marble Brewery – Spring (Pale Ale)

Quantum – UK Light (UK hopped Pale Ale)

Thirst Class Ale – Pale & Interesting (Pale Ale)

From the East :

Clark’s – Billy Ruffian (Stout)

Sunbeam – Shepherds Delight (Rose Water infused)

The Rat Brewery – Rye Rat of the Caribbean (Red Rye Ale)

Atom Beers – Schroedinger’s Cat (Pale Ale – Columbus, Chinook, Citra & Mosaic!)

North Riding Brewpub – Hunters Dream (Strong Mild)

Blue Bee Brewery – Real (A Sorachi Pale Ale)

Brown Cow – Yorkshire Sovereign (Pale Ale)

Revolutions Brewing – The Golden Age of Wireless (Mild) I DO love a musical reference!

Steel City Brewing – Troika Red IPA

Whippet Brew Co – Brew Number One!

Learn To Brew – Young, Gifted and Pale (Pale Ale) (+ a mystery beer!) – I DO love a musical reference!

and last….but not least, your hosts….

Five Towns Brewery – May Day. Fully loaded brew, with Citra, Mosaic, Nelson Sauvin, Chinook and Equinox hops, Double IPA.

It’s a rare Beer Festival when there is THIS much Northern beer and I haven’t so much as sniffed 75% of it!

I’m going (Train & Hotel booked!) along with Yoda (aka the Arch-Nemesis) and I can honestly say that I haven’t looked forward to a beer festival this much in years!

It’s all in a good cause too, so come along and have a beer or seven and help support some good causes by er…..drinking great beer!!!!

Tune

“Pushing thru the market square, so many mothers sighing
News had just come over, we had five years left to cry in.

News guy wept and told us earth was really dying
Cried so much his face was wet, then I knew he was not lying.

I heard telephones, opera house, favourite melodies.
I saw boys, toys electric irons and T.V.’s.
My brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare,
I had to cram so many things to store everything in there.
And all the fat-skinny people. And all the tall-short people
And all the nobody people. And all the somebody people
I never thought I’d need so many people”

(“Five Years” – Bowie)

(Clip courtesy Sante3d via YouTube)

For Malcolm & Beverley (As fans)

For everybody else – Do I REALLY need to explain this?

That’s all for now people. See you next week?

Slainte!

The Road To Wigan Beer – Allgates Brewery – 04/04/2015

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It’s probably going a bit too far to say that this day endangers my marriage, but this is the second Easter break in a row where I have been given a green card and skipped a visit to my beloved Outlaws – For the record, I actually DO love my In-Laws! This event has become a bit of a fixture for both myself and the Arch-Nemesis since the first episode in October 2013. Read HERE about that one.

So here is the spec. 6 pubs. 11 days. 95 beers – many new both to Wigan AND the North West. AND on the first Saturday, a bus. To take you around all of the pubs in one day (with a hot pot supper laid on at the end!) All for £5 (plus the beer, of course!)

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My love of Allgates’ beers is well documented. By me. It’s all well and good worshipping the God that is Humulus Lupulus. But the hop was meant to be a seasoning for beer. Not a spicy flamethrower. Beer is meant to be drinkable and Allgates makes eminently drinkable beers.

But they also have a number of pubs in the Wigan Metropolitan area, in which they sell (strangely), their own beers, alongside some excellent guests. At prices mostly £2.50 or less a pint. Yes Mancunians! There is a world where this is possible!!!

Twice a year, the good people of my favourite brewery scour the country for new beers for the drinkers of Wigan (aka Lucky Gits!) and spread these beers out across many of their pubs. for two periods of 11 days at Easter and October. And on the first Saturday of each – barring unforeseen problems – they lay on bus, so that some hardy souls can sample some of these new beers in each of these pubs. On a single day.

And if they can’t, this event is so unmissable, that we do it by public transport! Read that one HERE!

It’s gruelling. It’s hard work. But someone has to do it. Step forth a beery Ratman & Bobbins!

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The Anvil – Dorning Street (adj to Wigan Bus Station)

Allgates’ brewery tap and some would say “flagship pub”. Whatever, there is one thing to be said for this (effectively) 3 roomed pub. It never lacks for custom! A fairly bright and modern interior belies the early 20th century looking exterior. This pub just hums with conversation, whatever the time.

The six handpumps help. Outside of RTWB, Allgates AllBlack Mild is my go to. But this IS RTWB. And I spied this….

Pig & Porter Brewery (Tunbridge Wells, Kent – 4.5% abv) Starvation Point Porter . Dark, medium-bodied and oh so smooth. Coffee roasted aroma with a little smokiness, with sweet coffee flavour and almost a vanilla hint with all the roastiness. A superb start.

With time for a swift half (REALLY swift) before the bus set off, another new brewery to me

Firebird Brewing (Rudgwick, W Sussex) and #79 Golden Ale (4.3% abv). Golden? Check! Fruity as a fruity thing? Check! Run for the bus? CHECK!!!

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“Just hop on the bus, Gus”

Ding! Ding! And we’re off on the first leg (but second pub) to……

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The Crooke Hall Inn (Crooke Village, Standish Lower Ground)

(CAMRA Wigan Pub of the Year!) Now. It’s a rare thing when the ankle nibblers (who are hardly THAT at 20 & 15!) agree with their dear old Dad – even when he is PAYING! – but we agree on this pub. Them? Because the food is excellent here, especially the Sunday lunches. Me? That’s a rhetorical question. Obviously.

A lovely and well maintained 3 roomed pub – a lovely thing in itself – the views onto the Leeds – Liverpool canal make this journey so worthwhile, especially on a sunny day like this.

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(Archive shot – too busy drinking for pics!)

The pub is easily accessible (on a nice sunny day) via a canal walk from Gathurst Train Stn (Southport line) and the walk is worth it – you can trust me as I’m neither a politician nor a used car salesman!

In here, there was time for 2 beers..(and a lovely Steak Pie!)

Fixed Wheel Brewery (Blackheath, West Mids) had their “Single Speed Waimea” on the bar. This did the trick, being golden, fruity and tart with a nice pine resin hit in the finish.

Binghams Brewery (Ruscombe, Berkshire) – Space Hoppy IPA was stepping up the abv a touch and was golden and plenty fruity & bitter enough. Works for me!

Never enough time in this pub for me, only once have I managed more than 2 pints. A crying shame, but the bus was calling…. Ding! Ding!

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The White Lion (Leigh Road, Leigh)

Another award-winning pub. (SE Lancs CAMRA Pub of the Year!) This pub is on a main road just around the corner from Leigh bus station (Is Leigh REALLY the largest town in the UK without a train station?) – Harry the landlord has been building a cracking rep for his beers. And the prices are ludicrous to these Manchester focussed eyes!

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A 3 roomed town centre boozer with the main room housing the bar – complete with its SEVEN hand pumps complete with the fifth successive beer from a brewery new to me!

Totally Brewed (Nottingham) and their Papa Jangles Voodoo Stout worked its spell on me! Big coffee nose up front and a really creamy full-bodied mouthful. More coffee and a ickle vanilla hint probably made this my beer of the day. Utterly lush.

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Mordue Brewery / Panda Frog (Wallsend, Tyne & Wear) – Pandademic was another belter from a brewery I’ve never had a beer from (despite Mordue being around for a few years!). For a 3.5% beer, this felt much more full-bodied! Golden, fruity and tart with a crackling resinous finish. Panda Frog is a side project from Mordue and definitely worth looking out for!

Glentworth Brewery (Doncaster) and their Rain Dancer was from another brewery new to me (with no Social Media link, click the hyper for a few words from excellent Yorkshire bloggers A Swift One) – A 4% golden beer that was tart fruity & refreshing (and light, which at this stage was a bonus!) – Only 3 pubs in and I was starting to realise that this is a marathon, not a sprint!

Ding! Ding!

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The Union Arms (Castle Street, Tyldesley)

Pretty much a 4 roomed pub this, with that number of distinct areas, this is another pub with a good reputation for honest pub food (and a few took advantage here). Lots of wood and a raised eating area in the main room. This is probably the closest Allgates pub to me and needs visiting more. The beer……

Green Duck Beer Co (Stourbridge, W Mids) and their Duck Blonde was another sharp golden beer that completely hit the spot. Smooth and a tart hoppy hit. Cracker. And ludicrously cheap again.
Sonnet 43 (Coxhoe, Co Durham) – Blonde – Golden and smooth, with a bit of gooseberry and grape. Really quite a refreshing pint with a really dry finish.
Hearing the shout from David…..time for the bus! Ding! Er…. Ding!
To my favourite pub….
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The Hare & Hounds (Ladies Lane, Hindley)
A straight up and down two-roomed local. That word. Local. Sums the place up. Friendly, warm, and great beer. Welcoming. It’s all I need. A pub that does the simple things right. Shame Nigel wasn’t around, it’s been a while…..
Pig & Porter Brewery (Tunbridge Wells, Kent) and their Crab & Winkle pale ale. A 3% abv beer with quite a full-bodied feel to it. Refreshing, much-needed. Fruity but not overpowering. A repeated brewery on the day, but I’m a sucker for a “small beer”.
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And at this point, I had a pint of one of Allgates own beers. A superb pint of Dry Bones. Fresh and zesty. A lovely beer.
Again, another pub that I can’t spend enough time in. I’ll be back soon.
And FINALLY…….Ding…….By this time, I was losing my Dings……..
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The Victoria (Haigh Road, Aspull)
I know it’s not, but this pub feels “villagey” and is quite close to the lovely Haigh Hall. It’s another two roomed pub. With, what seems to me to be an increasingly rare thing. A VAULT! Oh Yes! A proper vault! With a pool table and card/dominoes table and everything! This is to the right of the entrance with the main room to the left upon entry.
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And then came the one thing that I’d forgotten….FOOD! A much welcomed hot pot……
(Landlord is a Blue too, so I’m automatically biased here!
Ossett Brewery and Tedney Gold  Bright gold beer withan orangey note on the nose. In the mouth, Grape and peach in the mouth. Gently fruity and light. Nice bitterness with a dry fruity finish.(Not sure I could have handled something much heavier at this point!)

Green Duck Beer Co (Stourbridge, W Mids) and (the aptly named) Drunken Duck was my “finishing line” beer. Another pale beer with a citrus fruity nose and a nice fruity bitterness.

Dong!
Hot pot finished, Glass drained and back on the bus to the Anvil and a further pint.
6 excellent pubs. 2 CAMRA branch Pubs of the Year. 8 breweries that I’d never tried before. 12 beers likewise. It really IS one of the fixtures in my drinking calendar. I can’t rant on enough about it.
But I need to rest now……Bolton Beer Festival tomorrow…..Which, if it’s anything like last year will feature some superb beers…..
Until next time….
Slainte!

“(if music be the food of love, play on, give me excess of it)

no more no need for gents and ladies
no need no more for breeding babies
take in that torso-redesign
no more divide the body and mind

not a duty just an action you’ll enjoy
for any boy and boy girl and girl and girl and boy
rub out the rules on how and who can procreate
xoyo triple x: sex mosaics (renegades!)”

XOYO” – The Passage

4 Beer Festivals In One Day (inc Manchester Beer & Cider Festival Pt 2) – 22/01/2015

“Too many Florence Nightingales, not enough Robin Hoods
Too many halos not enough heroes, coming up with the goods.

So you though you’d like to change the world, decided to stage a jumble sale,
For the poor, for the poor.

It’s a waste of time if you know what they mean, try shaking a box in front of the Queen
‘Cause her purse is fat and bursting at the seams……..”

(“Flag Day” – The Housemartins)

 I think that it would have been in 1986. I was sat in the office in the arse end of Trafford Park, when word reached me that if you called the right number (I think it was the magazine City Life) you could get free tickets for a special performance by The Housemartins at a place called City Lites in Farnworth. There were 10 pairs available. I rang on the dot of 9am and snaffled 2, so me and my mate Nige ended up in a town I’d never yet visited. And a town I’d end up living in for the last 25 years!

The performance was for a TV programme which I have recently found out was called “Hold Tight” on Granada TV. The band were superb. It was a short performance, but managed to cram in a No 1 & No 2 single in “Caravan of Love” and “Happy Hour”. My memories are hazy other than 2 things. Firstly, the band finished by breaking up Hugh Whittaker’s drum kit. Secondly, Paul Heaton declaiming that “We fucking hate Tories!” Some things resonate!

Whilst preparing for this blog piece, I was looking for a vid for “Flag Day”, yet stumbled upon the Granada TV programme that the concert was recorded for! The link is here. A reminder of what a great band The Housemartins were and still sound like. “The 4th best band in Hull” indeed! (The other 3 were Red Guitars, Everything But The Girl & The Gargoyles – apparently!)

__________________________________

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Four Beer Festivals in One Day. Some things just have to be done, don’t you think? Obviously I do. But then again, I’m both stupid and easily led. Or so I thought when travelling to work at a preposterously early hour, in order to finish in time to start this malt & hop marathon! So, I yawned my way onto First Buses finest chariot….

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The New Oxford, Bexley Square, Salford

Tim (mein host) doesn’t really need to host beer festivals. The selection of 16 (or is it more?) handpulls is like the Elysian Fields for local cask ale devotees and Tim has a positive talent for pulling rare and unseen beers like rabbits out of the proverbial titfer. But hold a Beer Festival he does. And does it well. My advice if you fancy an evening beer here, get in early. It can get rightfully busy!

As I entered before midday, I could hear the voices of tickers picking off the beers that they were going to try. Me? Am I a ticker? I suppose so, but only in so far as it stretches to trying new beers from Northern breweries. You should know what I’m like by now!

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The first beer of the day was South Island Pale from the mighty Allgates of Wigan. Ultra pale and bursting with tropical fruit sharpness. Allgates just make excellent drinkable beers. Drinkability is vastly underrated as a characteristic.

Next up was Gold Top Milk Stout from Rebel Brewery of Penryn in Cornwall. Roasted coffee with a lactose and vanilla sweetness. Lots of cocoa/chocolate too. Sweet tooth, consider yourself sated!

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With the Arch-Nemesis and Jeff now in attendance and with thirsts slaked, time for walkies!

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I have absolutely NO idea as to how I let them persuade me to walk! But by the time we got there, a thirst had indeed been generated. I let the A-N sort out the beer choice whilst I sorted out my hunger pangs at Panchos with a large Burrito! ALL long days should start with a Panchos!

The Micro Bar, Manchester Arndale Market

In here I had a Pikes Peak by Elland from West Yorkshire. Yes, they of the mighty 1872 Porter. The Pikes was a beautifully pale golden beer bursting with zesty citrus and possessed of a bracing bitter finish.

Micro Bar is one of Manchester’s unregarded gems in my opinion. There’s always an interesting guest or two courtesy of Boggart’s own distribution setup, the staff are friendly and there is a cracking bottle selection for takeaways. All that and you can eat your burrito there too. Bonus!

We move on….

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The Crown & Kettle, Oldham Road, Manchester To what I now consider my favourite pub in Manchester. For me, it has it all. Beauty, increasingly great beer selection and (at £2.95 a pint for cask), great value.

To be fair, when I see a Rat on the bar, I’m gonna bite. Always. This Huddersfield emporium knows how to knock out a damned good beer on their kit. The collaboration with the Pied Bull brewpub in Chester was absolutely no exception. Pied Rat was a big bruiser of an IPA. Amber with a creamy textured white head and barrow loads of citrus leaping from the glass. Chewy malt and massive hoppage. Even at 5.5% I had to have a second pint. Wise? Possibly not, but it tasted fantastic!

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Now, as you may have gathered over the last year or so, I’m a bit of a music nerd. So to hear an entire album and a bit from one of my favourite bands – the immense Beirut – I was beyond joy. Transcendent. Rounded off an excellent start to the day. The C&K is a belting pub, more than worth your cash.

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(Another Beer Festival? If you insist!)

This was where I finished off my “Dance Card Dozen” as listed here. On the previous day I had pretty much been rooted to the ground floor whilst my jaw ached from the talking to some seriously good beer people. But this day was for the beer! First up was a visit to the Concourse for a treble from Offbeat & Bridestones/Hebden Bridge Brewing.

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Disfunctional Functional IPA from Offbeat came first. Refreshing, with punchy fruity hops. An excellent beer, as I have come to expect from this Crewe brewery. Great beer brewed by a chick indeed!

Psychedelic – Hebden Bridge Brewing – I only had a taste of this at ISBF and before I knew it, it ran out! I couldn’t miss it, could I? Being conditioned over a market stall full of citrus fruit, it was every bit as fruity as I remembered and had a damn nice dry hoppy finish too. A cracking beer (hope to have them back with something ace for ISBF2015!)

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Then the collab between the two (in Hebden Bridge’s Bridestones guise). The wackily named “Sprocket Wort Orange”. An unusual mouthful to say the least, but a damned enjoyable one to be fair. Chocolate and orange with a little hoppy nip. No surprise to me, I like both Offbeat AND Bridestones.

Next up was a beer high on my list. Being a smoked porter, from Rat Brewery. Workhouse Rat was everything it was meant to be. Dark and smoky, a little starting sweetness and lovely coffee/chocolate flavbours. Nice hop finish. Accomplished, from a brewery that I see too few darks from. (Try the Ratsputin IRS if you see it – it’s a belter of an Impy)

Then. A walk. For a foreign beer. Well, it WAS from a bit South of Crewe! Fang Pale Ale from Black Flag. I holidayed in Perranporth in Cornwall this year in the tail end of a hurricane. This beer in bottle made that seem a small price to pay. In cask it was even better. Really zingy with more than a hint of lime with the mango. A fruity cracker from a small craft operator that if I knew how close they were to Perranporth, I’d have knocked on the door!

I was gutted to miss just one of the beers on my list. Being from Jamie Hancock and his Five Oh Brew Co, it shouldn’t have been a surprise, as it was only the second casking he’d done (no prizes for guessing where the first one was served!). This was a slight tweak on the Sorachi Ace Stout he did for us (doh!). As I said, gutted.

However, that left a gap. Which was filled with one of those beers that rocked my head back. A #Beergasm indeed. This was the Stocky Stout from Richard Conway’s Thirst Class Ale. The first mouthful prompted a “BLOODY HELL IS THIS GOOD!” Creamy, bitter and beautifully roasty, a proper winter beer without the need for you to fall over. 5.2% abv of roasted perfection. It’s that good, that I’m going to Ashton to pick up a couple of bottles tomorrow from Browtons!

I really enjoyed this festival. I could have spent 4 days there and STILL not had all the beers that I wanted. The only thing I would say (and it’s assuredly NOT a criticism) is that I was (as Atilla would say) “over faced”. There was so much good beer that I struggled to decide on occasion. Hey ho! If only ALL beer festivals had that problem eh?

Over the two days, Beer of the Festival for me was the Stocky Stout – with the Imperial Buckwheat Stout by Quantum a close second. Bring on the bottles of both!

On that note….’til next time.

Slainte!

The Manchester Beer & Cider Festival 2015 Pt 1

“Kiss me goodnight and say my prayers, leave the light on at the top of the stairs
Tell me the names of the stars up in the sky.
A tree taps on the window pane, that feeling smothers me again
Daddy is it true that we all have to die?

At the top of the stairs
Is darkness”

(Tank Park Salute – Billy Bragg) *

Billy Bragg writes great songs. Like religion & politics, don’t argue with me over a pint on that one fact.

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(Just in case I forgot where I was drinking!)

Manchester is a great city. Whilst I have never been able to call it my actual home (hailing from Salford and now living in Bolton), it has been both my spiritual and cultural home from birth. I have experienced highs and lows, loved and lost in this great city. Many of my formative life experiences took place here, from shopping in Lewis’ as a kid (always forced to dress in “Sunday Best” – even though it was always Saturday!), to my “Stag” do in 1990 and beyond. This city is in my heart and soul and always will be.

It now also has a Beer Festival that can stand proud – shoulder to shoulder – with the best that CAMRA can offer.

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My day started with an early meet for some grub in a new “street food” style start up on Church Street, Northern Soul. The name harks to a musical genre that is one of my foundation stones and I was pleased to hear the exclusively “Northern” tuneage as I entered. Let me be quite clear. I am 50 this year, so, having not as many years left as some, I decided that I needed to try something new. After all, it IS #Tryanuary! That something, was Mac & Cheese. And these fellas made my heart sing whilst simultaneously hardening my arteries with a huge dose of dairy delight!

Mac & Cheese. With pulled pork. On a toastie. It’s up there. Oh yes. Good effort fellas!

This was Wednesday. That meant Trade Day. With the Arch-Nemesis having the week off, we had to go. After all, I have beery arm-twisting to do, what with #ISBF2015 in the planning stages!

But first, in true #Tryanuary spirit, a new pub to try. This was the Abel Heywood on Turner Street. Hydes 3rd City Centre outlet. It looks lovely, with lots of dark wood, comfy chairs, it has a nice pubby feel. The beer was Hydes (there IS a handpull for a Guest Beer I think) and was OK without being spectacular. IN good nick, but I wanted more punchy flavour than I got from either pint that I tried. Shame. But a lovely pub nonetheless. Boutique Hotel upstairs too!

Having tagged along with some reprobates, Darren, Damian & Des, we sauntered off for the tram and a mere 20 minutes later was outside the Velodrome.

The best and simplest way to sum up my initial feelings was that the Regional CAMRA people had listened to the gripes from last year. OK, you can’t move the toilets, but at least a sizeable percentage of good beers were on the concourse, NEAR the loos!

On the Wednesday, I spent almost all of my time at ground level and Bars 3 & 4. Because I was yakking. And talking. And chatting. And not drinking very much at all! I set myself a list of 12 beers to try (read here) and managed to get through 6 of them that afternoon. They were all glorious in their different ways.

The first beer that I was going for was one that breaks my Beer Fest Rule #1. Tactical drinking means going from light in alcohol and progressing through the range of abvs to something considerably….heavier. In late November, The Arch-Nemesis & I did a bit of stirring & shovelling at Quantum to help brew an Imperial Buckwheat Stout (read here). So, to guarantee a taste, it had to be first. However, then I saw Experimental Citranell from Mallinsons and plans changed. Sharp, fruity and bitter, it was a perfect livener from a brewery that just can’t go wrong.

I simply HAD to sample the Imperial Buckwheat Stout next. Didn’t I? Sweet baby Jesus and the orphans! That beer was SO smooth and SO bloody drinkable, it should carry a health warning! It most certainly didn’t taste anything LIKE 8.5%! So Smooth, it just slid down effortlessly. Creamy textured and so roastily good. Jay just makes damn good beer.

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Having finally met the majesterial Shane Swindells, and being in need of something light after the head spinning IBS, I opted for Cheshire Set from Cheshire Brewhouse, pale, light and spritzy, nice and sharp tasting with the Keyworth Early hops, this was a beauty. A beer that – if it was the only beer on a bar – I could drink all night and have no complaints. Had a long chat with Shane, a thoroughly entertaining bloke who just happens to make some of the best beers in the North. IMO of course! I wandered for a few minutes and when I returned, it was to the comment “He knows his stuff, he does” from the Arch-Nemesis. Jaz is a good judge of people as well as beer.

Another on my list was  Jester from North Riding, another punchy, fruity Pale Ale from Mr Neilson with big tropical citrus flavours and crackling bitter dry finish. Was a nice surprise to see one of Stuarts’ beers over here, only made me even more gutted not to see his old mucker Five Towns beers missing. One of these days eh…..?

Next up was the  smooth & nutty Coconut, Macadamia & Lime Porter from the ever reliable Allgates. Beautiful nutty aroma promising and delivering all the way down the glass. Silky smooth and loaded with toasty coconut and creamy Macadamia, my favourite nut.

The final beer I had was another Imperial Stout, similar in strength to the Quantum,  but this actually tasted all of its 8.2% (and was none the worse for it) Annexation by Brass Castle. Roasted. Potent. Port Wine. Worked for me and contributed to my rather hollow feeling at work the next morning! Was glad to (just) catch Ian from the brewery and prep him for another beer for my little October bash – remember, the Hazelnut Mild went down a storm!

First impressions? Lots of tables on ground level. Result. Friendly service. Loads of great company and lots of arms twisted for next October. A great afternoon/evening with good beer and good people. To be fair (and I think most posts I have seen DO reflect this) the organisers listened. And, in my opinion (for what it’s worth) got it spot on.

I really enjoyed talking to some great local brewers. Shane, Richard from Thirst Class Ale, Steve (Beer Nouveau), Matt & Dom from Rammy Craft and many more. So many, that it got in the way of my drinking! I think that it’s called “networking”! More beer in Part 2.

Slainte!

*On a sad note, this piece is dedicated to a dear close friend who passed away recently after a long, incredibly brave and dignified battle with Cancer. A man who brightened the days of many and helped me – in particular – through some seriously shit times. He loved a bit of Billy Bragg and this song just seemed to fit. A class act and an inspirational friend.

Sleep well Phil.

Manchester Beer and Cider Festival 2015 – My “Dance Card” Dozen

Next week is the Manchester Beer & Cider Festival 2015 – Are you going? If it’s anything like last year, it’s going to be special!

The Velodrome is a simply iconic venue, allied to great beers. LOTS OF GREAT BEERS! An almost overwhelming choice with beers from all over the UK and a huge selection of quality beers just from the North for little old me to amuse myself with!

From nearly 450 casks alone (Not to mention Ciders and the “foreign” beer bar), picking my personal “Dance Card” is going to be really difficult, but I’m going to give it a shot. Here goes…..

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Imperial Buckwheat StoutQuantum (Stockport) – 8.5% abvImperial Stout. At 8.5% abv, this is going to be a gentle waltz rather than a furious Can Can, but I just have to try it. A dark as sin Imperial Stout with all of the creamyness of Buckwheat. Fermented using Boddingtons yeast and inoculated with Brettanomyces, this is a beer I have looked forward to since we finished stirring the mash. A mash that was even THICKER than Katie Hopkins! This will be the first time that it is served in public. I can’t wait!

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Coconut, Macadamia & Lime PorterAllgates (Wigan) 4.6% abvPorter – One of Allgates “Limited Edition” beers that I’m yet to try on cask and inspired by a cake enjoyed in a Kirkby Lonsdale tea shop! I had a mini-cask of this at Xmas and it was beautiful , smooth & nutty from the toasted coconut and creamy macadamia. The lime element is very subtle and provides a tint of lightness in the dark.

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Experimental CitranellMallinsons (Huddersfield) – 4.2% abvPale Ale – For me, Mallinsons just nail low to mid strength Pale Ales. In this regard they have few equals. With Exp 366, Citra & Centennial hops, this already has my mouth watering!

 

PsychedelicHebden Bridge (Er…Hebden Bridge!) – 5% abvPale Ale – An American style Pale ale just LOADED with 5 Citrus fruits. AND, because it was the first firkin to sell out at ISBF and I didn’t get NEARLY enough of it! It got rave reviews at St Sebastians, so I’m hugely looking forward to this!

Five Oh

Sorachi WickedFive Oh Brew Co (Prestwich) – 6% abv – Stout – The first beer to sell out at ISBF and another one that garnered rave reviews. I tried a 1/3rd. It was bloody LUSH!!!! Then, just when I wanted another? It had gone. I was just TOO damned kind to you drinkers! Only the second time that Jamie has casked. You NEED this in your life!

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JesterNorth Riding Brewpub (Scarborough) – 4.2% abvPale Ale – Stuart Neilson just makes superb Pale Ales. Fresh and bursting with hops. This is with a new hop variety (Jester) and – if I know Stuart – he won’t have held back on the quantities! A rare appearance over here.

Bridestones

Sprocket Wort OrangeBridestones (Hebden Bridge) / Offbeat (Crewe) – 4.6% abvSpecial Dark Ale – This one is one of the collaboration brews especially for the festival. Chocolate, Orange, Juniper & Sorachi Ace hops? Oh my! I feel another Beergasm coming on!

Cheshire Brewhouse

Cheshire SetCheshire Brewhouse (Congleton) – 4% abvPale Ale – A crisp blonde ale from Shane Swindells with loads of late-added Keyworth Early hops? Sounds like an early doors beer that is too good to miss, from a brewery whose beers I drink whenever I find them. Because they are THAT good.

Brass Castle

AnnexationBrass Castle (Malton, North Yorks) – 8.4% abvImperial Stout – Inspired by the renewed expansionism of Putin, this looks one NOT to miss! “Smooth like the Volga and as bonkers as Putin”….Works for me! Brass Castle made one of the Beers of the Festival at ISBF and this is another I’ll be reaching for.

Black Flag

FangBlack Flag Brewery (Goonhavern, Cornwall) – 4.5% abvPale Ale – Had this in bottle whilst in Cornwall in August and it is an absolute fruity belter. Smooth with a piney kick in the finish. Have never seen them up here. If it’s on, I’ll be damned if I miss this!

Offbeat

Disfunctional Functional IPAOffbeat (Crewe) – 4.8%IPA – This San Diego inspired IPA is one I’m yet to have from one of my favourite breweries. And from what I’ve heard from some trusted drinkers, is not to be missed. And it won’t be. By me at least!!!

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Workhouse RatRat (Huddersfield) – 4.8% – Smoked Porter – Whenever I see a Rat, I just have to. Because they are just SUCH good beers.

Well, I make that a round Dirty Dozen. Should be enough to keep me entertained next week! If there are any that you particularly fancy, bang it in the comments. Who knows, I might try one or two!

My #12BeersOfXmas – Day 6 – Coconut, Macadamia and Lime Porter – Allgates Brewery (Wigan) – 4.6% abv – Porter – Direct from the Brewers

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I had only had one mini cask (of ANY beer) before this – which was quite appalling – so I approached the opening of this with a little trepidation. All the more so as this was one of a very limited test release mini cask for a new beer. But I love Allgates beers, so the risk was somewhat lessened.

Black with a short lasting mocha coloured head and an aroma with the sweetness and creamy nose from the coconut & Macadamia.

Medium-bodied, with the amount of Macadamia and toasted coconut that went into this, it’s no surprise that there is a creamy nuttiness to this.. It is a lovely mouthful! That creamy nuttiness is the dominant flavour initially with a little subtle citrus coming in just before a surprising bitterness that I wasn’t expecting, but was a perfect porter finish.

Those nuts carry on through to a lingering nutty aftertaste. An excellent Porter that I can’t wait to try on cask.

My #GoldenPints 2014

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Oh Shit! It’s that time of year when I’m forced to be decisive and tell you (and you probably couldn’t give a flying…..) about what I REALLY liked this year, by pre-defined category.

So, 2014 was a year when I discovered the following :

How much I love blogging about beer.

How much I really couldn’t be arsed blogging about beer.

How close you can come to a nervous breakdown (and I HAVE been there) and come through nearly unscathed (See The Independent Salford Beer Festival)

How much generally that “Beer People Are Good People”

And a huge thanks to “BeerReviewsAndy” (someone I have never met) for getting this snowball rolling…..

And….the following……

  1. Best UK Cask BeerGrounds For DivorceFive Towns Brewery (Wakefield, W Yorks) – For me, the best beer at #ISBF2014. A 7.8% Belgian style Tripel fermented using yeast from the legendary Brasserie Orval, brewed at the bottom of a garden in Outwood, Wakefield, by one of the most unassuming people that I have ever met. As fruity as Carmen Miranda’s headgear and as light and tasty as a Heston Blumenthal foam. It. Rocked. My. World. (And I’m yet to really get into Belgian beer!)
  2. Best UK Keg Beer – I haven’t really had all that much, but of those that I HAVE had, I’d fall on the side of American Brown Ale – Runaway Brewery – . From the first sip at Black Jack Tap (Hmmm….) to the last sip (WOW!). This beer adheres to Principle 1 of the 3 Jazwinski Beer Principles. It was a beer that improved with each and every sip. By that last sip, I could *almost* have been a convert to keg. And it was fecking astonishingly good at #ISBF2014 on cask too!
  3. Best UK Bottle or Can – I’m not gonna cop out here by choosing one each (I’ll do THAT elsewhere!). This was a close run thing. My vote – by a well groomed whisker – goes to Govinda (Brandy Barrel Aged) IPACheshire Brewhouse (Congleton, Cheshire). A massively English hopped IPA at 6.8% abv, the original version was already a stunning thing, a grand riposte to those who think English hopped beers are merely brown and twiggy murk. Get Thee Behind Me Beery Satans! “Spicy boozy raisins, banana, marmalade dancing all over a deep toffee malt base. This is a proper IPA. The fruity and toffee flavours …. give way to a spicy hop…” Being fairly dedicated to UK – and Northern beers in particular, this proved the most intense #Beergasm that I had this year.
  4. Best Overseas Draught – Not. Really. My. Bag. Next……!
  5. Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer – Can? Founders All Day IPA. Does exactly what it says on the tin. Fresh, zingy and oh so refreshing. Bottle? Not had many…But, from Brouwerij The Musketeers (Ursel, Belgium) – Troubadour WestKust Black Imperial IPA – A 750 ml bottle that – in the midst of a tastebud numbing cold, I could actually taste. A full-bodied fruity hop assault. With licorice. What’s NOT to like?
  6. Best Collaboration Brew – Another tricky one. Came down to a choice of two, BOTH involving the mighty Stuart Neilson of the North Riding Brewpub in Scarborough. The first was 300 from Five Towns / North Riding – a big, punchy Double IPA which in no way tasted it’s strength but had more hops than Watership Down and was a damn sight tastier! However, edging this by simple force of Bitterness, is Protz’s PleasureSteel City Brewing (Sheffield) / North Riding Brewpub (Scarborough) – Conceived (possibly) as a riposte to a rant from Roger Protz about the beer type “Black IPA”. All of the oxymoronic characteristics of a BIPA with a simply MASSIVE bitterness. Astonishing.
  7. Best Overall Beer – See 3 above!IMAG2241
  8. Best Branding, Pumpclip or LabelBad Seed Brewery. For that hanging tag pump label. Irritating for the staff, but classy as feck. (I’ve kept the one from #ISBF2014 – don’t change fellas!)IMAG2118
  9. Best UK Brewery – On balance, this HAS to go to the brewery from which I drink the most consistently excellent and drinkable beers – Drinkability, for me, means a tasty, well hopped (or dark and roasted) beer that I can drink repeatedly without falling off my chair. For me, this means AllGates. From Sloe Stout at Manchester Beer and Cider Fest to Half Devil at #ISBF2014 and all points in between, just consistently excellent beer.
  10. Best Overseas Brewery – Moving swiftly on…..Next!
  11. Best New Brewery Opening 2014 – Controversy time! I’m going to go with Shindigger Brewing. I KNOW that they don’t have their own premises (yet!), but as a consumer, this is about the beer, right? From my first taste of Pacific Pale to the Saison/PIP at an MTB in Chorlton, they have progressed with each. and. every. beer. Cask, keg and bottle. Cuckoo? Gypsy? It’s about the beer for me, like I said. A HUGE honourable mention to Runaway Brewery and Squawk Brewing too. Manchester really IS rocking at the moment!
  12. Pub/Bar of the Year – (I’ve twisted the category – slightly!) Pub? Easy. As last year, The Hare & Hounds in Hindley (Wigan). A proper local that I need to visit WAY more often. 5 Great cask beers, friendly service, friendly locals, a real fire and a great landlord/landlady combo in Nigel and Adele. Sorted. Bar? Hmmm….Trickier. But I can’t split. So – a) Great Ale Year Round at Bolton Market for continuing to bring good beer to Bolton (and giving me a reason to visit the town!), a rare thing in the last few years for me. Great local cask/keg beers, friendly regulars, friendly hosts. Anne & Steve continue to do a sterling job. I just hope that the council could open up 6 days a week instead of 4! And – b) Wigan Central – 7 cask lines. 4 Craft keg. In Wigan? A brave move by Prospect Brewery, but one that appears to be paying off judging by the feedback that I’ve been privy to! They made a wise move in bringing Dan & Gina Buck in to run it (formerly of Great Ale Year Round – see the link there?). Great location, fabulously fitted out. Excellent beers too. (As far as the original category goes – both of the latter 2 opened this year!)
  13. Best beer and food pairing – I’m not QUITE reconstructed to that stage yet….Next!
  14. Beer Festival of the Year – 3 candidates. 1 I cannot choose. Because I organised it. The self interest element prevents me from choosing The Independent Salford Beer Festival. So, I’m left with 2. IndyManBeerCon is indeed a beery Tour De Force and remains a fixture for most sensible beer calendars (mine is set for 09:00 on 01/04/2015 – for the probable ticket release!). I DO think that cask appeared to be marginalised this year and I hear many gripes from elsewhere, but really? Just “grow a pair” and appreciate it for what it is! My winner though is AllGates‘ “The Road To Wigan Beer” in April. A fantastic selection of some of the newest and best UK breweries on cask. Spread across 6 pubs within Wigan borough. In one day. On a bus. Simply the most fun I’ve had in 2014. And fun matters.
  15. Supermarket of the YearBooths. Simple. If you have been to a branch, bought beer, then chose a different supermarket, you’re having a laugh. At your own expense. Obviously, If you live more than 20 miles south of Knutsford, you may not understand. It’s a Northern thing!
  16. Independent Retailer of the YearThe Liquor Shop (Whitefield) Now closed and reborn as specialist beer shop BarBeerian, this has been the place from which I have bought the most beer. Period. The stock is large and wide ranging (Scotland to US/Italy) and great value too. All that from a small convenience store! Now Raj has moved a couple of doors down and opened up as a specialist beer shop, he’s looking to open a small bar upstairs with craft keg & a local cask line. I wish him well with this.
  17. Online Retailer of the Year – I haven’t. I try and shop locally. Aren’t I virtuous? Next!
  18. Best Beer Book or MagazineOpening Times (Stockport & South Manchester CAMRA) – Essential semi-drunken bus home reading material. Well written & edited (Mr Clarke, take a bow!).
  19. Best Beer Blog or Website – Hmmm….Time for another split. Still up there (and one of my two) is Glenn Johnson and his “My World of Beer“. Informative, straight and tells me what I want to know. Is the pub/bar/beer good. And does it well. But locally? The Boozy Procrastinator by Deeekos, a blog that came into its own with some assertive posts on a variety of issues from IndyManBeerCon through to Myleene Klaas & Paddington Bear (in the same post!). Funny, informative, passionate. A winning combination.
  20. Best Beer AppTwitter. I think I would meltdown if I used Untappd. And not in a good way. Some people talk such utter bollocks about beer & breweries when they can be cloaked in anonymity. So no. Next!
  21. Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer@BroadfordBrewer. For #TwattyBeerDoodles and so much more.
  22. Best Brewery Website/Social mediaCheshire Brewhouse. Just functional & classy.

 

Allgates Brewery – The Road To Wigan Beer – 04/10/2014

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“It’s 2 o’clock in the morning and I have to make my way back home,

standing here in this old depot, waiting for my train to come on,

so come on train……”

(“Come On Train” – Don Thomas – Clip courtesy of “The 45s Club” via YouTube)

One of my all time favourite tunes, never mind just Northern Soul. From a former member of The Drifters, this is a dance floor classic, a Northern Soul floor filler that I never tire of hearing. It has that trick of many great tunes of just…building. Building momentum, building sound. That middle eight “Moving….down the track….got to get….my baby back….” Just bloody….moving. Has had this particular large fella shaking many a floor (never mind a “tail feather”) Used to great effect in 2009 in an ad for Visa cards. Have a listen. Feel that swelling sound, from the initial plaintive piano notes, the initial drum roll, the plucked strings to the blast of the trumpets….just bloody….soulful.

“The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley” So said Rabbie Burns in 1785 in his poem “To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough” And how right he was!

This planned jaunt took several forms in the planning stages and was originally intended for the previous weekend. However, that excellent Sussex-based blogger Glenn Johnson had re-scheduled his illness blighted trip from earlier in the year. That was my priority, as much as I love the Allgates bus “crawl”. Then, the Allgates bus was cancelled until the next weekend. BONUS!!!

So, monitoring the Allgates Brewery Twitter account like a ravenous hawk, I awaited confirmation of the details……and waited….only to see a tweet in apology. Bus was fine, but no driver!!! Damn those fates! I NEEDED a day away from the stresses of planning The Independent Slaford (or even Salford!) Beer Festival………There was only one thing for it then….

DIY. On public transport.

Now then. Some of these pubs are damned slow to get to by bus. So the first leg of this journey started at Manchester Victoria (Arch-Nemesis – who else?) and Walkden (YT). The destination? Gathurst. First stop after Wigan Wallgate on the Southport line.

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The first mis-judgement of the day? No raincoat. Fortunately, the (rather picturesque) walk along the Leeds-Liverpool canal was wet, both overhead and under foot! The area had just received its first significant rainfall for ages and was…a touch mucky!

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Now then, having said that I needed a break from the planning of a certain beer festival, I get a call from a brewer (who shall remain unnamed, let’s call him…..Rob) with a beer proposition. he threw me a beery curve ball. But I was a) thirsty. b) thirsty and c)……. in short, I needed that first beer! And we were only half way to the destination!

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The Crooke Hall Inn (Crooke Village, Wigan)

This really IS a delightfully located pub, situated in Crooke Village, a conservation area. With tables on the banks of the Leeds-Liverpool and a large marina just around the corner, it’s a beautiful spot. We’ve had quite a few Sunday dinners here with the kids and they love it so much they almost rip my hand off if I offer to drive over! (As long as Attila drives back……)

The A-N & I were (unsurprisingly) first in (we were there 10 mins early!) and shambled towards the bar….

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Bad Seed Brewery – Waimea Pale Ale – 4.5% abv – Pale Ale (Love the pump clip!)

With an almost amber colour, this beer took no prisoners as a first beer of the day. It didn’t last too long either! Peach and passion fruit in both nose and mouth, this was an assertively bitter beastie and no mistake, with one hell of a dry finish! My first cask beer from this most excellent Malton based brewery and it most certainly didn’t disappoint!

The Crooke really is a lovely pub, with three distinctly separate rooms, great, reasonably priced food and that fabulous location…

Two decisions. Food? And next beer…. The Beer battered Fish for me with something from a new brewery to me….

Longman BreweryAmerican Pale Ale – 4.8% abv – Pale Ale

This pale golden beer was fruity but maltier than I expected. With blackcurrant and citrus on the nose and quite fruity with that big malty base, it stood up well to the astringent preceding Waimea and went superbly with the excellent Fish & Chips! Next up, with 5 ales on the pumps, I went for the other guest beer.

Magic Rock BrewingRingmaster – 3.9% abv – Pale Ale

I’d had one or two less than sparkling pints of this since it was rebadged from its Curious days. This, however, was right back on the mark! Light Pale gold, big and fruity with a lot of hop going on this was back to its Curious best. A cracking beer to finish with, standing up well to both of the preceding – higher abv – beers. A proper session pale ale.

Now, with a couple of leisurely hours spent at The Crooke, we were under the gun a bit, so a brisk muddy walk back to Gathurst and the rattler back to Wigan Wallgate to stop number 2 which was….

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(Archive shot!)

The Anvil (Dorning Street, Wigan – adj to Wigan Bus Stn)

What is effectively the Allgates brewery tap manages to have the feel of a multi-roomed pub, without having any doors. Light and bright, with three separate drinking areas, this is one popular and busy pub. I’ve been in on several occasions and never seen it quiet. Justly renowned for the quality of its beers, this pub is a multiple award winner and a CAMRA Good Beer Guide staple. A thriving pub. It was here that I got another pleasant surprise with the beer selection…..

Cheshire Brewhouse – John Barleycorn Green Hop Temptress – 4.0% abv – Pale Ale

This man makes good beer. Shane Swindells that is. I was chuffed to bits to get my hands on this especially when it went down my throat! It was pale gold, with a slight haze. A beautiful fresh fruity & refreshing pale ale with a little spice hit in the finish. Beautiful. (A welcome surprise!)

Longman BreweryCopper Hop – 4.2% abv – Amber Ale

Another one from this Litlington brewery (in the South Downs National Park), seeing them all too infrequently, I had to have it, didn’t I?

Copper coloured beer, fruity on the old hooter, a nice fruity bitter beer with a toffee malt backbone. A beautifully balancing bitterness. A proper nice beer.
Being only two minutes walk from Wallgate train station, this pub is worth a trip to Wigan itself (will only get better, with the opening of Wigan Central – new Prospect bar run by Dan & Gina Buck – next month!)
Time to move on and test both my planning skills and the timeliness of Arriva Buses! The 575 to Aspull….and….
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The Victoria (Haigh Rd, Aspull, Wigan)
To walk in and find that the landlord is a City fan just topped off this visit! A top chatty bloke too, as were the regulars at the bar. A two-roomed pub with (what appeared to be) a traditional “Lounge” & “Vault” layout, again in cracking good nick, this is a lovely boozer that I would be chuffed to have as my local. The beer happens to be cracking as well….
Black Jack Beers – Curse of Mexico  – 4.5% abv – Pale Ale
A cracking pint. That good, I had to have another! Pale Ale almost copper colour, with a really fruity peachy tropical aroma, Light toffee malt for balance, and beautifully bitter, loads of tropical fruit. A Brucie bonus this beer, was a new one on the Arch-Nemesis as well!
It made a change to see The Victoria in daylight, as it constitutes the last stop on the organised bus trip. Being less “refreshed”, I could appreciate this for the cracking local that it is. Another bonus was realising that it was reachable from Bolton on a single bus…the 575…that conveniently goes through the beery hot spot of Horwich! Needless to say…I’ll be back!
Back into the rain we went, without a raincoat, for the return to Wigan and the next leg, catching the 32 bus to Hindley (via a swift half in The Anvil (rude NOT to really. What with time to kill between buses!)
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The Hare & Hounds (Ladies Lane, Hindley)
Leaving aside the walk from Gathurst to The Crooke, the walk from the bus stop was the longest we faced – about 7-8 mins – but to get to my favourite pub, was time (& effort) well spent. I simply adore this pub. There may be pubs in Manchester that I visit more frequently, but this stands head and shoulders above them. Why? Because it is, quite simply, a community local that also happens to have a cracking partnership (Nigel & Adele) running it and keeping great beer in cracking nick.
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A two-roomer without having actual doors, the bar to the right upon entry with six  pumps with the usual mix of Allgates’ own and excellent guests. Lovely real open fire in the other room. Unfortunately no Nigel or Adele today, but the same friendly welcome,
Time was passing. Only time for one and a half in here.
Cwrw Ial Brewery (Eryrys, Mold) – Haf Gwyn – 4% abv – Extra Pale Ale
A pale cracker of a beer! Mango and grapefruit aromas leaping from the white head on that pale golden body, the fruity promise was delivered in the mouth. Bucket loads of citrus on top of a light pale biscuity body. A belter of a beer. I had another. Again, rude not to really!
This is the stage of the trek where the forward planning for the bus timetables paid dividends – YOU try interpreting TFGMs bus leaflet library after a “few” beers on a mobile phone!
The 33 bus was the selected chariot. Therefore, following an 8 minute walk and an uneventful 20 minute bus ride, we were in our fifth port of call….
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The Union Arms (Castle Street, Tyldesley)
Despite the signage, this is most certainly an Allgates pub. It would be a rare Thwaites pub to have such an adventurous guest beer policy! (Certainly outside of its Blackburn heartland)
Whilst technically a two-roomed pub (one of the rooms wrapping around the bar) this has five distinct drinking areas, A Vault style area to the left of the entrance, two areas to the rear of the pub which link the main room to the Vault and an elevated area in the main room which is used mainly for eating (this pub also does excellent value grub). pub looks way better inside!
We may have had some more grub at this stage….memory fails me!
Tiny Rebel Brewery (Newport, S Wales) – One Inch Punch – 3.9% abv – Pale Ale
Golden. Tropical, almost peachy nose, fruity as hell in a smooth full bodied mouthful, loads of mango and none too bitter in the finish. With the taste buds starting to flag a bit, this was a bloody lovely refreshing livener.
Technically, The Union is my closest Allgates pub. I really should go more often.
The next leg of the journey was made slightly more complex by our missing the designated bus (582) and having to go on a two bus journey with the 33 to Astley then the 26 to Leigh. Needless to say, by the time we got there, I had started to wilt – just a little!
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The White Lion (Leigh Road, Leigh)
One of two Allgates pubs to be a CAMRA Branch Pub of the Year in 2014 (the other being The Crooke). This three roomed pub is another belter. The bar and busy main room is to the right on entry with two rooms to the left with the quieter being to the rear close to the Gents. Allgates have had this since 2011 and, with its beer selection, it is justifiably popular.
The problem here was nothing to do with the pub. It was me. Good grief was I flagging. I had a nice pint of something dark. But made no note so have no idea what it was! What kind of blogger am I, eh?
Reachable from Manchester by X34 & 26 buses (Leigh, tragically, has no train station – the largest town in England without one apparently!) and the 582 from Bolton – passing both The Union and the other Allgates pub The Jolly Nailor – the prices of the beer (as well as the selection) reward the intrepid traveller!
One more point. The buses. With only one exception (the last leg in Astley where the bus was SERIOUSLY late), the buses were all on time. We’d never have got to The White Lion otherwise!
Ah. Those prices….Just consider the beers we drank. Then think of all those beers being at around the £2.40 mark. That’s right, £2.40! No CAMRA or membership discount scheme. Just straight prices! You’d get a HALF in some Manchester pubs at that price!!!
I’m assured by young David Mayhall (Co-Owner of Allgates) that the bus will be back on the menu at Easter. All I will say is, you’d be daft to miss it! A £4 odd train ticket return to Wigan is a small price to pay for what is, in (not just) MY humble opinion, a grand beery day out! (You’d save that amount after 3 pints!!!)
Go on. Where’s your sense of adventure? Treat your taste buds and feast your eyes on some cracking pubs!
On that note…’til next time…
Slainte!

 

 

The Independent Salford Beer Festival 2014 – Questions, Answers, Thoughts.

Capture ISBF

“With your feet on the air and your head on the ground, try this trick and spin it, yeah!

Your head will collapse and there’s nothing in it and you’ll ask yourself…

Where is my mind? Where is my mind? Where is my mind?

(“Where Is My Mind” – The Pixies)
(Clip courtesy Kanaal van CasaAzul65 on YouTube)

The Pixies’ greatest track. In MY opinion, of course…….

I suppose the question should be “Where WAS my mind?” I mean, what the **** was I thinking when I said that little word “Yes” to Gerry Stone nearly a year ago? But it was for Gerry, so I couldn’t (in all conscience) refuse.

In the words of Andy Partridge (XTC) at the start of their classic “The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead”…..Let’s begin!

Questions

Question – The Independent Salford Beer Festival. Why….Independent? (This question HAS been asked…on a number of occasions!)

Answer? – Gerry (whom many of you have now met) asked me for some advice on who to contact to help set up a Beer Festival at her Community Centre at St Sebastian’s to help raise money. On her behalf, I contacted the local CAMRA Branch (North Manchester Branch) and asked them to get in touch with her to see if they could help. The answer was, in short, No. I felt, at that time, that that would be the end of that! Until Gerry popped the fateful question….”Would you……?”

I knew that I could get beer. But I also knew that I knew NOTHING ELSE about staging a beer festival. Oh how I’ve learned!

Question – Why at St Sebastian’s Community Centre?

Answer – That one was easy. Gerry wanted to raise money to help the Centre function and (hopefully) thrive. The Centre was cost-free as a venue. Getting people IN the place, they could get an idea as to the work that the centre does. As for being “out of the way”? We sold out three sessions out of four. Need I say more?

Question – Why Ticket Only?

Answer – This was again, rather simple. The Centre has a fire safety limit of 250. That was….before the bar and stillage went in! That meant that we lowered access to only 150. That required some form of control. For piece of mind, that meant ticketing. I have heard advice about clicking people in & out, but for simplicity and, again, peace of mind, Eventbrite ticketing worked. For me, brilliantly. And the analytical information that Eventbrite provides helps HUGELY in any planning for possible future events. More on that ….later!

So. How was it for you? (Chuck your comments in below!)

For me? At times, this was really “seat of the pants” stuff. Far too often! But some key decisions were made well in advance that made our job far easier than it otherwise would have been.

They were….

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Design – From the moment that I was sent an e-mail from Andy Heggs (of “Hop On The Bike” blogging infamy) owner of Drumbeat Creative, I knew that the “look” of the Festival would be something special. If I’m being honest (which I hope that I am), initially, I got too caught up in minor detail to see the classy retro beauty of the logo design. The more I looked at the Glass & Bottle logo, I just fell in love. It is a thing of beauty that is 100% nothing to do with me and 100% to do with Andy’s talent for design (aren’t the Brewsmith website and pump clips lovely? He designed those too!). I/We owe him. Hugely. And as for the beautiful programmes!

Website – Take a bow Mr Darren Turpin, web designer and creator of the superb Manchester Ale News website. Darren took Andy’s logo and built a website of equal beauty and sheer useability that (for me, as an organiser) was simply a joy to work with and something that other beer festivals should look at. Not because it was FOR our Festival, but for the classyness of the design, the information about the festival and its beer that it displayed so clearly. The downloadable beer list sheets? The Ebook? All his handiwork. And they attracted the praise which they richly deserved. As did the artwork from Andy. I owe them both. Enormously.

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Cooling/Bar – That decision took a little time. I received lots of advice about how to cool the beers and keep them in the best possible condition. But the best advice that I received, was wordless. It was in the The Anvil in Wigan 2 0r 3 months back in a chat with David Mayhall of Allgates and Malcolm Bastow of Five Towns Brewery. I mentioned my thinking about using a cooling system. They nodded. That made my mind up. And all of the feedback that I/we received about the condition of the beers were worth every penny. All Flow Dispense set up the bar, the stillage, the lines, the python cooling system, everything. Then took it all away again to make the room feel that it was never there. A brilliant job which minimised my stress levels. Damn friendly guys too. Cheers Lee & Sam. A top job!

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Glassware

I’ve been to plenty of beer festivals over the last 30 years. I always take the logo’s glasses home too! But the one that stuck with me the most, was one that never made it home. The 2/3rd pint stemmed glass from Leeds International Beer Festival 2013. I adored it. But dropped it on Lever Street on my way back from Leeds.

That glass just felt so…..inclusive. It felt right. It also was just as classy as the Poster/leaflet, the website….keeping that classy look just felt like the right thing to do. We’d have made more money just going with traditional straight glasses (and we had 300 of those too!), But the moment they arrived at the Centre 3 days before opening and I opened the box, the whole thing felt more real and, for not the last time that week, I got a bit emotional. Again, I’m a soft old git.

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Come the day….Everything just seemed to work. And little of it was of my doing!

The beer was in good nick. Which was a relief! Some people travelled huge distances to be there (although I’m sure that Chris – who flew in from Abu Dhabi and came straight to the Centre – didn’t fly in just for this!) and their feedback was heartwarming. What was particularly pleasing to hear was the immensely positive feedback about the venue, the food and (in particular) the volunteers.

The most praise – from me – must go to the those people, the Volunteers. I’ve said on many occasions that “Beer People Are Good People”. But the people who volunteered to help behind the bar and selling tokens/glassware were simply…awesome! Now, being an old git, that isn’t a word I use too frequently. One of the things that made me most get all emotional, was the praise for the following good people (there was LOADS as well!) who did a fabulous job, made the punters feel welcome and made the weekend what it was. A success.

I tip my proverbial to the following….At any bar I may see you, there’ll always be a beer on me!

Bernard, Bevis, Celia, Charlotte, Chris D, Dan & Gina, David R, Declan, Graham, Jaz (The Arch-Nemesis), Jeff, Jez, Kelly, Linda, Nick C, Nick M, Paul, Pete, Robert, Rowan, Sarah & Will. Thank you from….well, you know. Especial thanks due to Dan, David & Chris for taking the responsibility of managing the bar.

Thank you to all of the brewers, both for the beer and your good humour when dealing with me. You were very patient and make some simply fabulous beer (as acclaimed by the customers!)

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Particular thanks to Emma from Beer Junkets, for wise words of advice! Bailey & Jules from Grub Mcr for their unfailing support! David Mayhall from Allgates for most excellent advice and logistical help, Rob Hamilton and the whole Black Jack / Glassworks team, without whom, I’d have had warm spoilt beer. Thank you to Malcolm Bastow from Five Towns Brewery for consolidating the Yorkshire beers and bringing them over. To James Stewart at Deeply Vale both for a brilliant brew day (Mmmm….Amarillo!) and for designing a simply beautiful pump clip for the festival. That, and giving me two of the clips, one for Jan. A classy touch that brought more than one tear to my eye. To Rik Garner and the gang at First Chop, for digging me out of a hole or two! Huge thanks too to Doug Macpherson from Cwrw Ial Brewery, both for the generous offer of an MTB (which was brilliant!) complete with bottle tasting and for his evening stint behind the bar! Most generous. Especial thanks too to Dan & Gina Buck. Dan kept me sane in my most panic stricken moments and Gina (the Laminator Queen!) for just putting up with my terrible organising! And Alex and the guys from Duke & The Darlings for a lovely set – and the impromptu jamming session afterwards around the table!

Thanks also to the cask sponsors for their most generous sponsorship : Salford Angels WI, Kersal Vale Apiary – Jack Hobbs, Harry Davis, SALIX Living,
Jess – Zumba Crazy, Salford CVS, Joan Fielding – Helping Hands, Simon & Sarah Gare, Drumbeat Creative, Damian O’Shea (aka The Ale Man Manchester), John Pinder – Vista, Ben & Holly Wakerley, Godwin’s Tree Consultants, “Paddy’s 50th Birthday Ale” and Envirovent Ltd.

Thank you also to Anne & Steve Simms of Great Ale Year Round in Bolton Market for their huge generosity in sponsoring the T-Shirts!

Thank you also to Graham Donning and Martin. Some very helpful constructive feedback from the first session! To all the local CAMRA branches too, for their help in publicising the event.

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People tend to focus on the beer at these events. And, whilst it was pleasing to get lots of nice comments about the selection, I was always confident in the choice of beers. These are excellent Northern breweries all and selected for that reason. The number of breweries to offer me brand new beers for their first appearance was a surprise and a joy too. The beer selection  however – for me – was merely the means to the end. Raising money for the Centre.

Speaking of which. Whilst we have one or two bills still to pay, a rough calculation indicates that you/we raised in the region of £5000. I thank you, the drinkers, all hugely for coming along and helping us to that figure, which will help Gerry & the Centre massively.

The generosity of your spare token donations also raised over £130 for St Ann’s Hospice. Thank you all. A cheque will be with them shortly. A particular thank you for the kind punter who adapted the token sheet in a valiant effort to raise more money for St Ann’s!

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Beer of The Festival – That was a close run thing! A number of beers were voted for, via Twitter & Facebook using the #ISBF2014. Whilst many beers received votes, two beers rose above. The winner being Raven King by Five Towns, closely followed by Hazelnut Mild by Brass Castle of Malton. Two Yorkshire breweries! Let’s see more of their beer over here eh?

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Finally. Will we do it again?

I think we will. The feedback was so positive as to be – on occasion – personally overwhelming. Some really kind words indeed, which frequently overworked my tear ducts! What I found particularly heartwarming (that word again!) was the praise for the venue, the volunteers and the food. Comments like “friendly”, “warm”, “intimate” all made an impression on me in particular. Once we sold out the 3 sessions, I started to think ….bigger. Street Food providers, big space…. But no. Same place. Maybe a few more tickets, one or two more beers, but nothing too excessive. I wouldn’t want to lose the feel of the event.

There are many lessons to be learned. And we’ll take a couple of months to think those through.

But next time, planned over a longer period. With some people who know what the hell they’re doing. Less stress. Oh yes…less stress!

If this doesn’t make sense, forgive me. It’s been emotional!

Thank you all again. See you next year?

Jim