Brightside Brewery MTB at Great Ale Year Round – Official Opening of Bolton Indoor Market

IMAG0564(See the difference below!)

Previously being from Salford, I now live in Bolton and have done these last 24 years. I think that it is fait to say that the town centre (once you take away the simply magnificent Town Hall / Albert Halls complex) could be just about any other large town centre in the North of England, the shopping in most of which resembles nothing more than chain stores and take-away food outlets – Alice’s Chiipy on Deansgate being a rare example of a quality independent.

It was with this perennial disappointment in mind that my heart leapt when I heard that somebody was opening a Micro Bar in the refurbished Bolton Market. Even for beer loving Boltonians, the centre of Bolton is hardly a Mecca for good beer. Until now. The news that the recent award-winning Brightside Brewing were doing a Meet The Brewer type event at said Micro Bar “Great Ale Year Round” in the weekend when the fully refurbished Market Hall was being officially opened, gave me all the excuse I needed to pop along for a view and a pint or two. As if I needed one!

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(Busy, Busy, Busy)

The Market being conveniently located right next door to Bolton’s bus station (and 5 mins walk from the railway station), I entered and walked pat the enticing aromas of Carrs’ pasty shop into a reassuring sight. Dan & Gina Buck’s bar has been open since the 21st of January (see review here) but the majority of the stalls were waiting for the official opening day which left the likes of Great Ale Year Round and Nigel Lyons’ “The Coffee Grind” looking like a retailing vanguard. Well, no longer. The sight of all of the stalls being open was a joy, even more so as there seemed to be plenty of people shopping at 11am.

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Pleased  though I was to see the market stalls apparently thriving, I was “here for the beer”!

Brightside commenced brewing in 2009 at the back of the then family bakery, putting similar culinary skills to the task of brewing good beer using a self assembled 2.5 Bbl (Beer Barrel – each barrel = 36 Gallons or 288 pints!) plant. The addition of fermenters gave them more capacity. They brew an excellent core range of beers with some irregulars and seasonals and quickly started making inroads into the local beer market. They can now be found on may freehouse bars in the Greater Manchester area.

Having become quite successful at making (and more importantly, selling) excellent beer, the plunge was taken in 2013 to focus totally on brewing. So, selling the bakery, they relocated to an industrial unit in Radcliffe, in the process, becoming my nearest brewery!

I met Carley from the brewery for the first time at the recent Manchester Beer & Cider Festival (reviews here & here) and she struck me as somebody who would be ideally suited to an MTB kind of presentation being engaging and open, but I puzzled as to how an MTB would work in such an open premises. I needn’t have fretted!

Approaching the bar, I noticed (following a quick “hello” to Dan & Gina) that the bar was indeed fairly busy. A quick hello to the nice bloke (and excellent blogger) Paddy McGrath and his buddy Kev and I was chomping at the beery bit to get my hooves on the pint of orangey nectar that is Brightside Amarillo,  burnished gold with a light marmalade aroma giving way to a mandarin orange fruitiness with a crackling piney hop finish. As I discussed with the beery Magus that is Tandleman at the festival, I think we both agreed that Amarillo is our favourite hop!

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(Ever heard the one about the 20ft tall Butcher and the chopping knife?)

It’s great to meet people for the first time, especially when you have similar interests and I really enjoyed my chats with Paddy, Kev (who, for his sins, manages to write an interesting blog about Bolton Wanderers) and their friend Shaun (I DO Hope I got the correct spelling!) who is also an excellent blogger on the foody side of things and made a most excellent cake with Meantime Porter! Nice to see Graham from the local CAMRA Branch and have an all too brief chat.

A pint of Brightside Underworld followed, a lovely reassuringly dark brown beer with lots of chocloate and coffee notes. A comforting beer on a cold day!

This wasn’t an MTB a la Port Street where those who worship at the temple of the hop come to anoint their chosen, this was more of an informal wander aroiund by Carley who came and chatted with all and sundry and came along and chatted with us. One of the things that she mentioned was that the brewery is undergoing a transformation at the moment as preparations are being made to install a new 15Bbl brew kit, neede to cope with demand, both current and furture for their core beers – Odin & Amarillo selling particularly well. Carley seemed to cope really well with the considerable press attention – as did Dan & Gina, with loads of photos and video interviews. I, having a face for radio, tried to keep well out of the way!

IMAG0714(Cookery Demonstration attracted a few viewers!)

The beer was turning over really quickly and, whilst I was there, both the Amarillo and Underworld both sold out! These were replaced by Deep Purple by Prospect Brewery (Standish, near Wigan) (check out their bus tour around 7 Wigan pubs during the Wigan Beer Fest at Month end!)  and DV8 by another cracking Bury Brewery, Deeply Vale. It would have been rude indeed not to try both! Nice to see lots of local breweries being supported, bith by Dan & Gina and by the drinkers. They were loving them!

The Deep Purple was a golden brown beer, refreshing with a building gentle smoky quality as the glass was emptied, a nice drop. The DV8 I have had several times and was again a roasted, dark, oaty joyous mouthful. Both beer I hope to return to time and again. By the time I left, even the Deep Purple was struggling and had indeed run out!

The bar was justly very busy, with both bottles and draught flying out. Gratifying to see. It was also nice to see full use being made of the central courtyard tables with beer being served in plastic “glasses” to accommodate this. A sensible measure. Keeping this facility open for both bar, coffee and food vendors can only benefit the facility as a whole and increase trade for all. Would be nice to see this continue.

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Time was moving on all too quickly, so gathering myself up (and gathering some cracking bottles from their excellent and growing selection – gonna need more shelves soon!), it was time to say my farewells. Fortunately, on this breezy and chilly day, the lovely Carley generously offered me a lift. Of course, it would have been rude to refuse!

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On that note….’til next time… (Connor’s CAMRGB Twissup next week. Yay!)

Slainte!

Manchester Beer & Cider Festival – Pt 2 – 24/01/2014

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“My face is like an old film, shaky
There’s nothing through my window, oh my
No photo by my bedside, black, white
No image in my mirror, bye bye”

(“Listen To The Sirens” – Tubeway Army)

By the time you read this, it’ll all be over. The festival has a 19:00 finish time this evening to enable the complete clearing of the venue by close of play on Sunday.

So then. How was it for you? It has to be said that there were reports of several issues in the area of accessibility for those of limited mobility, the location of the toilets and others. For my part, yes, the toilets were a trek away, but it needs to be borne in mind that this is a sports stadium. That issue comes with the territory. I can only comment on MY experience which, to be fair, was completely positive.

Whilst I heard complaints about the location, I, for one, have none. For me, Manchester’s premier Real Ale event has an iconic venue in the National Cycling Centre (aka The Velodrome). I hated the utilitarian grimness that was The Sheridan Suite and, to be quite frank, there’s something to be said for watching Jason Kenny & co whizzing around the track….even made ME think of getting on my bike!

Turning up at The Velodrome, I had a quick chat with one of the Campaigns many volunteers who informed me that sales were ahead of expectations and that they had had to get more beer in! The fact that I had to queue to get in as early as 13:30, told me it was going to be busier than Wednesday. It was!

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(Spot the Arch-Nemesis? – A bit like a beery “Where’s Wally”!)

I’m not a one to make a list of “must haves”, however, there was one beer that I was absolutely determined to sample…Sloe Stout by Allgates Brewery (Wigan, Gtr Manchester) which, at 7.2% abv may not have been everybody’s choice of first beer of the day, but I couldn’t risk it running out!

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(Allgates Brewery – Sloe Stout)

As I said, maybe hardly the wisest choice of an opening gambit, but 5 minutes after I plonked it on the bar and took that picture, I received a message that it had run out! There, you see. It WAS a smart move after all! It was as black as sin with an alluring tan head which (not being sparkled) swiftly diminished. The smell was hugely fruity with a slightly astringent note and a definite chocolate background. In the mouth, there was the expected chocolatey and roasted flavours overlaid with masses of fruit with the astringency of the sloe. A real fruity mouthful which had a quite puckering dry finish with more than a hint of espresso. Spectacular start!

I had a wee walk around whilst drinking this and had a chat with the mighty Tandleman who looked a little more relaxed than on Wednesday, probably the result of being with his lovely wife Eileen, who – to my horror – was immediately in front of me in the entry queue and I had failed to recognise her! (Puts hands to head in shame!) A positive mine of information, it’s always nice to chat with Tandy, even with the pressures of this huge event!

After wandering round like a mole staring into headlights, I finally managed to locate someone else that I really wanted to chat to, Darren Turpin who writes the excellent Mancunian drinkers resource Greater Manchester Ale NewsNice to chat and swap notes (Darren being a far better – and more professional – writer than I!) and we may work together in some small way in the near future hopefully.

Now then. If you have read many of my random beery wafflings, you may have gleaned that I have a particular weak spot for the single hopped Pale Ales brewed by Mallinsons Brewery of Huddersfield. However, I have only ever had them in bottle. I was chuffed to see that their Amarillo was on draught on Bar 2 and allowed myself a pint. Once secured, I briefly swapped notes with Darren on this who seemed to enjoy it too! This is a lovely pale golden beer at 4.2% abv with a beautiful Seville orange fruity marmalade nose. The orangey flavour carrying on into the mouth. Really clean, sharp and refreshing, nicely bitter in the finish with a nice resinous aftertaste with echoes of that marmalade. A cracker to try on draught if you see it!

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By this time, Team GB cycling were in training session and I found myself trying to get a good picture, at which, as you can see, I failed miserably!

Next up – as a “thank you” I think for tipping him off about the Mallinsons – Darren pointed me toward the Oatmeal Stout by Harbour Brewing (Trekillick, N Cornwall) 5% abv and black with a quickly diminished tan head and a smooth chocolate nose, a luxuriously smooth beer in the mouth this, really silky. Flavours of chocolate and roasted oats and quite an earthy finish. Classy.

Next up, my buddy asked me to choose one for him. Knowing his “crafty” leanings, I spotted a brewery that I personally hadn’t tried and, having ordered his and taking a quick sniff, I had to have one myself. The brewery was Siren Craft Brew and the beer was Soundwave. A deep golden beer with HUGE aromas of peach, mango and grapefruit which continued into quite a full-bodied mouth. Really fruity with quite an assertive resinous finish which hit me between the eyes, really hoppy. I’d heard a lot about this brewery on social media and had seen them raved about. Now I understand why!

IMAG0618(No tables in the drinking area? Tick!)

The next beer was a big change in all areas. Firstly, it was dark. Secondly it was fairly light in alcohol at 3.8% abv. It was a beer that I had wanted to try for quite a while, Blackberry Stout by Waen Brewery of Llanidloes, Powys in Welsh Wales. I missed this by the merest of whiskers at Joshua Brooks some time back and was determined not to do so again! Such a dark brown ruby beer as to be almost black, the aroma reminded me of Old Jamaica chocolate bars, chocolate and really vine fruity. Ooh…Medium-bodied with some dark chocolate and really fruity with the slightly tart blackberries, really tasty fruity beer with a surprisingly quite grassy dry finish. A sessionable Stout? I think I have died and gone to dark beer heaven – or is it hell?

Having chatted for so long, time was moving on and some of my companions were considering moving on into Town, so I plumped for another beer that I’d had in bottle but never on draught – Ratsputin by Rat Brewery (Huddersfield). At 7.4% abv, this Imperial Stout was definitely one to finish with. A big deep ruby beer, almost black, this had a really vinous nose with lots of dark fruits and chocolate in the background. Full-bodied and much fruitier than I remember in bottle with oodles of vine fruitiness and a good helping of bitter chocolate. Different from the bottle but equally as gorgeous, fruity finish on this with a good degree of bitterness rounding it off.

I hear all the things that have been pointed out about the issues with this festival. However, I loved it. The critiques were taken on board and was acted upon where possible, the tables in the hall being the most immediately noticeable. You could never move the toilets! Given that they are looking to host it there again next year, I’ll be interested to see what changes are put in place…for changes there will be! Short of holding it at GMex (or whatever it is called these days!), I can’t see a better venue in the “Rainy City”….speaking of which….!

It was BLOODY POURING DOWN as we left. And I had NO raincoat! The 6Ps sprang to mind (Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance!) at this point. Jumping the Metro, we squelched off at Piccadilly Gardens with a substantial number of fellow revellers. However, the Arch-Nemesis & I had clear plans to visit my favourite Manchester bar Joshua Brooks.

A long very wet tramp across town led to us being absolutely soaked by the time we got there. However a goodly beer selection of ales that I was yet to try cheered me up no end!

Nice to see Jon (manager) as I hadn’t been in for a few months. He was busy changing casks as a couple had just gone, but what was on was good enough for me!

Wisely skirting the beast that is Dark Star Imperial Stout, I alighted upon Cwtch by Tiny Rebel Brewery (Newport, S Wales) – A red ale at 4.6% abv and a really fruity hoppy beastie this! Mango & peach with a little grapefruit too, medium bodied fruity mouthful with a quite big resinous pine aftertaste. A corker!

One of the beers that Jon was putting on was next. This was Clovis Point Brown by Caveman Brewery (Swanscombe, Kent) 5.4%, deep red and slightly hazy, this had a nose like a slightly spicy Cadbury’s Caramel, with chocolate and toffee. Medium bodied, quite fruity in the mouth with some burnt toffee and a lightly smoky finish. Unusual and very nice indeed!

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Back with Tiny Rebel Brewery and another beer that I hadn’t had previously Full Nelson at 4.8%, a straw coloured beer with a peachy aroma from the Nelson Sauvin hops. Really fruity with peach and tangerine on the tongue and a touch even of grape, medium-bodied and a classic resinous piney finish. Superb!

Finishing off with a second beer of the day from a brewer that I hadn’t previously tried….Siren Craft Brew and their Rysing Tide at 7.4% abv – entering into DIPA territory with this! A red rye beer with a nice tight white head and big mango on the nose. HUGE mango in the mouth, sweet with the malt and spicy from the rye and tart, deep and fruity and a really cracklingly dry finish with more piney stuff. Wow!

Last night, Joshua Brooks was REALLY busy. Gratifyingly so. Maybe it’s down to The Lass next door being closed, maybe people have finally cottoned on to what I have been banging on about for ages. This place simply does great beer at great value (and with cracking tunes!). Long may they prosper!

That’s all folks!

On that note….’til next time….

Slainte!

Bottled Ales – November 2013 Pt 1 – Greater Manchester Bottled Ales

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(“Oh Manchester, so much to answer for”)

“It seems, to me, to be self-contradictory

It seems, to me, you count your blessings while they’re there”

(“In Shreds” – The Chameleons)

With all of this drinking malarkey, one can often just “Go With The Flow” and just drink great beer from wherever it may emanate, but it has struck me recently how little Manchester brewed bottled ale I have been drinking recently. This was brought sharply into my focus when I saw a post from Brightside (now) of Radcliffe – and now my closest micro! – that they had commenced bottling their ale. I was, to put it mildly, rather excited.

Most of the beers that I have been prattling on about have, I realised, been from either Yorkshire or that there London. High time for something more…local. I don’t often take home beer from my frequent Manchester jaunts, so it was a joy to locate a shop – not too far from me – which was starting to sell not only great bottled ale, but, increasingly, great bottled ale from the Manchester area. That place is The Liquor Shop on Bury Old Rd, Whitefield (150 yds from Besses O’Th Barn Metro stop). Stocking beers from as diverse brewers as The Kernel, Mad Hatter and Wilson Potter, Raj has started to build a really good range. Very competitively priced too! A friendly guy who likes his beers, he offers a 10% discount on 12 or more bottles (15% on 24!) too.

Over half of the beers below were sourced from his wee shop (the others being sourced directly from the brewers themselves). If you live in Central or North Manchester, pay him a visit, you’ll thank me!

If you have ever read one of these before, you will know what is comes next!……The format remains….

1. The Beer, 2. The Brewer, 3. The Strength, 4. The beer style, 5. The Price & Size (including discount, eg: for CAMRA membership, where applicable). 6. Where from, and, If a website for the vendor exists, the hyperlink to the shop / brewer website, just in case you are inspired enough by my ramblings to make a purchase! Here goes…

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1. Small BeerQuantum Brewing Company (Stockport) – 2.7% abv – Pale Ale – £2.39 (500ml) – The Liquor Shop (Whitefield, N Manchester)

Wow. Then, more wow! My good friend Colin & I had this on cask at Port Street last month and it rocked our worlds! I don’t know how brewers can make a beer this light in Alcohol, so bloody tasty! (OK, yeah, I know it’s the hops – Magnum, Columbus, Cluster, Citra & Chinook, in this case – but you know what I mean!) And without making it insipid? It’s MAGIC! Well…back to one of favourite Alechemists…Mr Krause!

First, the label. Classy and minimal. Tells you what it is and lists the dry goods (hops & malts) on the side. An example to many.A golden beer with an abundant white head which quickly settled. Abundant aromas of mango and pineapple flying from the glass , a fruity delight. In the mouth? This is light bodied (as you would expect at the strength), there is a little underpinning light biscuit sweet note to support those wonderful hops! Mango, grapefruit and orange fruit danced on my tongue leading to a fabulous bitter fruity finish with lots of pine staying on in the aftertaste. A cracking beer from Jay. Can’t wait to crack the Smoked Imperial Treacle Stout!

IMAG0236(Neighbours….Everybody needs good……!)

2. Amarillo – Brightside Brewing Company (Radcliffe, Gtr Manchester) – 5% abv – Pale Ale – £2.89 (500ml) – The Liquor Shop (Whitefield, N Manchester)

Starting off behind a baker’s shop in Bury, these fine people are now my closest micro brewer, having relocated brewing operations to Radcliffe. In all honesty, it was their announcement that they had commenced bottling their ales, that made me think of a Manchester beer post!

This beer was a recent award winner at the SIBA NW Festival held at Staveley recently on cask …. having not had it at all, I was keen to taste this bottle.

Golden to bronze coloured with a fluffy white head giving up some serious citrus aromas. Bitter orange and tangerine contributing to an almost marmalade like nose. Biscuit sweetness supports the marmalade orange citrus in the mouth. This slides into a crackling bitterness and dry finish with an aftertaste with some more fruit yet distinctive piney tones. A cracking first bottle for me. More please!

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3. In ShredsWilson Potter Brewery (Middleton, Gtr Manchester) – 5% abv – Pale Ale – £2.33 (3 for £7) (500ml) – Direct from the brewery.

I’ve written of my love for the beers that Amanda & Kathryn make on a number of occasions, but hadn’t had much recently. Weekend before last, I had the briefest of opportunities to pop up to the brewery and have the quickest of chats over a couple of halves, of which, this was one. A bitter hoppy delight it was too. So I snapped up one of their 3 for £7 boxes, including this beer.

Hopped with NZ hops (Green Bullet & Motueka), this was mid-gold coloured with a full white head and the bitter citrus aromas of lemon & lime just leaping out of the glass. A gorgeous zesty bitter mouthful with more lemon & lime followed by a bracing bitterness and a resinous, dry grassy finish. At the strength, a really refreshing bitter hoppy brew this. I like WPs beers, but this could be their best so far. A cracker! (And, to my joy, a music reference too. In Shreds was one of my favourite tracks from the excellent Chameleons, a band formed in the 80s from Middleton. Many a night dancing on beer sodden floors……..zzzzzz……check out Up The Down Escalator, my personal favourite track!)

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(And…lurking in the stash…was this!)

4. Triaurum IPARamsbottom Craft Brewery (Ramsbottom, Nr Bury) – 4.7% abv – IPA – £2.50 (4 for £10) (500ml) – Direct from the brewery

I (somewhat cheekily) invited myself up to see Matt Holmes in June this year (read here) and observed his grafting (and crafting!) at first hand, sampling a bottle or two and taking some home. This was from that batch and was found lurking, buried in my – growing – stash. Rescuing it from the box……

A hazy and pale golden beer this with a white head and a subtle sweet grapefruit aroma minglred (or even “mingled”!) in with some fresh mown grass (not bad for November!) Medium bodied, this had some tart lemon notes in with the still present grapefruit leading balanced on a nice bready malt base. A really refreshing beer this with a dry, grassy bitter finish. Makes some damn nice beers does Matt – try get hold of his Thai Witbeer if you can!

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5. Lemon BlossomHornbeam Brewery (Denton, Gtr Manchester) – 4.1% abv – Pale Ale – £2 (500ml) – Direct from the brewer at a MTB

Picked this up at a recent (unfortunately sparsely attended) MTB at The Salford Arms. Kevin the brewer was a most genial host and this was among the many bottles we sampled that evening. Not a brewer I had had much from at that point, but with lovely balanced tasty beers like this, I certainly won’t be overlooking them on any bar now.

Such a pale gold as to be almost colourless! White head giving up subtle yet distinct lemony aromas (from the Sorachi Ace hops) allied with some grassy notes. Light to medium bodied with some zesty lemon in the mouth swiftly drying the mush with a lovely dry bitterness. Delicate and refreshing this. No hop monster, but all the better for it. A belting light refreshing beer that I could happily drink all night.

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6. BlondeTickety Brew (Stalybridge) – 5.8% abv – Blonde Ale – £1.99 (330ml) – The Liquor Shop (Whitefield, N Manchester)

You’ve just got to LOVE that label design haven’t you. Never seen anything like it on a bottle. So distinctive, beautiful.

The beer? Another one I picked up from Raj on my first visit to his Whitefield emporium, golden yet verging on copper coloured, this was lively with a white head and that Belgian yeasty funk that comes from their house yeast with a bit of cream soda in there too. The cream soda-ish notes came through in the mouth along with some banana (that yeast again!) and some more fruity notes. A nice dry finish with a little grassyness staying on. Another nice beer from this Stalybridge brewer. Now just need to try some on draught!

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7. DobberMarble Beers (Manchester) – 5.9% abv – India Pale Ale – £3.89 (500ml) – The Liquor Shop (Whitefield, N Manchester)

As a kid – playing marbles or “alleys” in the street – Dobbers were the big beast of the marble jungle, highly prized. However, I rarely had a big one (story of my life, really!) and had to make do with “glassies” and “cat’s eyes”. This beer, in keeping with my understanding of the word, is described as “the biggest Marble in the pack”. Whatever, it most certainly is a big beer for this strength (&, to my shame, a Marble I was yet to sample!)

Deepest gold beer with a lasting white head giving up HUGE aromas of mango and peach! Big malty bready body supporting loads of fruity hop muscle. More mango and bitter grapefruit in the mouth, partying away and abusing my tongue, beating it into passive submission to the hops! I gave myself up to the big bitter resinous finish and collapsed, whimpering. I have absolutely NO idea why I hadn’t had this beer yet, but I want more!

As I pick up more local bottles, I will post more Manchester only items, just need more beer shops to stock local beers really. Raj appears to be doing OK, others just need to take the hint really!

Anyway, enough of my blatherings. Time for bed!

On that note….’til next time….

Slainte!

A Day Trip To Stockport – 18/05/2013

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I’m quite nosey me! (Bolton speak!) So when I picked up that Jaz and a group of his colleagues were planning a group tour of Robinsons (henceforth, Robbies) Brewery in Stockport, it set the limited grey matter working. I hadn’t been drinking in Stockport since the mid 80s and this struck me as an ideal opportunity to fill this knowledge gap (at least partly). Jaz made the right noises and I was in!

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Now, this also brought me within the gravitational pull of a certain Mr Jay Krause, Owner, Brewer and all-round hop alchemist at Quantum Brewing – I just had to ask! Didn’t I? Being the ‘good egg’ that he undoubtedly is, he invited Jaz & myself round. Whoo-Hoo! Two breweries in one day. Bargain!

So, I find myself on the train (for a change) and (meeting Jaz at Piccadilly) we set off on the 11:15 Virgin train to London Euston and a mere 10 minutes later, we’re walking up Wellington Road. Bugger me, but that is a hell of a gradient! It’s hardly the Col de la Madeleine, but I was bloody knackered before it levelled off on Hempshaw Lane where the aforementioned Mr Krause weaves his magic.

Let’s say, I struggled to find Quantum, initially! Then I remembered something Jay said about location, retraced my steps and lo! There be casks!

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(Anyone for beer barrel Jenga?)

Jay started this operation in 2011 and has quickly gained a reputation for full flavoured beers with often unusual ingredients – his Blood Orange Pale Ale has entered into legend! (And was the first beer Jaz asked about!) I first saw him at the Leeds International Beer Fest last year behind the bar and enjoyed his Stout hugely. Since then, I’ve had several of his beers and they have all been excellent, in particular his Keyworths Early using an old hop variety that could well make a comeback.

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(LtoR – Hot Liquor Tank and Copper)

Anyhoo! Located in an industrial unit off Hempshaw Lane, just outside (and UPHILL of) Stockport centre, Jay is unmistakably a one man band. I fail to comprehend how I can find so much of his beer in the Manchester area, with the size of his operation. He looks like a hell of an engineer having adapted his own mash tun to suit his own needs. 

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(Self built Mash Tun!)

He dispenses his beer in a variety of formats, Cask, KeyKeg and bottle. The bottles aren’t bottle conditioned, which will certainly help when it comes to chilling them slightly!

A 5 Bbl plant means that he can brew up to 1440 pints per brew, that’s 20 9 gallon firkins (cask) or nearly 1500 bottles! It’s good to hear that he’s making it pay, though he’s some distance off being a ‘beer baron’! This is his day job and he makes it pay by producing excellent beer which is showcased in some of Manchester’s best bars (Port Street, Joshua Brooks and Font, to name but 3!)

I was intrigued to see some of his wooden casks used for some specials. Smoked Porter aged in Caol Ila whisky cask anyone? (Trust me to miss THAT one!)

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As mentioned earlier, he produces a wide variety of tasty beers. In that vein, he allowed Jaz and myself to sample a Saison that is about to be released into ‘the wild’. This is one lovely beer! Slightly hazy and golden in colour with a lovely fruitiness and dry finish. This may be making its way in the world this week. Jaz & I both loved it. The knowledge that it’ll be served in Joshua Brooks was gratefully received. (James’ll tip us the wink, won’t you?)

As stated, Jay’s is a small, true Micro Brewery and he does all the key tasks himself, even down to the bottling. He’s one busy boy and we were really grateful that he took time out to chat with us and answer my idiot novice questions with good grace and a smile! (And a HUGE thanks for the CCC and American Amber! Reviewed soon – as long as Jaz doesn’t drink them first – they’re stored at his flat!)

A genuinely nice bloke running a human scale brewing operation. Look out for his beers, you will NOT be disappointed! (A collaboration brew is in the offing with Allgates, Jay, Tandleman & Tyson The Beerhound – Two top brewers and two fables tasters – I may even sit in the bleachers and watch the fun! Watch this space, it’s gonna be superb!)

Now, for the polar opposite?

But first, we had a bit of time to spare before our 13:30 appointment at the brewing behemoth that is Robinsons, so we strolled along to the market place to have a look at the High Peak Beer Co.

I didn’t expect such a small unit! But a superb selection of beers from near and far. Had a bit of chat with (who I presume to be) the owner. Certainly knows his beer this man! Aims to snaffle himself a pub in the peak within the next 5 years with maybe a brew plant out the back. I like it! Said he’d be looking at a bit of a camping facility as well. I’m there already! Picked myself up a bottle of Axe Edge by Buxton Brewery. A cheery wave and we were off to meet our fellow beer tourists in the local Wetherspoons)

Had a nice pint of GWB Meerkat Mild here. Big ol’ Spoons, huge floor area, but 3 milds on, including George Wrights and Titanic. More later.

A short walk from Wetherspoons and we find ourselves at…..

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(Shiny new Visitors centre!)

We were given a few minutes to gather ourselves together (and, no doubt, peruse purchasing opportunities!)

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20130518_133834(Putting the cart before the – absent – horse!)

The Visitor Centre is fairly new. Lots of interactive displays around the walls with an accent on the history and heritage of the brewery. Lots of merchandise for sale from chutneys to t-shirts with most of Robbies bottled beer available to purchase, including the new “collaboration” beer with Iron Maiden, Trooper, which featured prominently as you would expect.

We were gathered together by our tour guide and shown the highways and byways of this, quite large, brewery.

Being a ‘tower’ type brewery (the process flows down with gravity!), there were a LOT of steps. If you have fitness issues (like me!) be prepared for recovery time!

There was a big accent on a recent major brewery refurb, with lots of new, efficient, kit being bought from Germany at great expense. Bright and shiny it was indeed. Industrial. This is a big business. They retained examples of most of the old kit too, which made for a nice contrast, starting at the old and new grist mills (grain grinders). Here we were shown samples of the various malts and encouraged to taste. I loved the bitter coffee flavours of the chocolate malt (surprised?)

We were also encouraged to smell sample a variety of hops. In Robbies case, mostly British with one jar of US (Amarillo). Robbies predominantly use Goldings in their beers.

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(Grist to the mill!)

The Mash Tun and Lauter Tun were next and from this point, you get an idea of the sheer huge scale of this operation. These vessels are HUGE, like icebergs, you only see what’s on the surface.

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(Old & New)

Onward to the brewing vessel (or Copper) where the hops are added to impart their aromas and bitter characteristics. Again, think of icebergs!

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Via the Hop Back room (where the spent hops are removed – like the spent grains at other stages – and sent to farms for animal feed) we were taken to the fermenting vessels. Robbies have loads of FVs and again, they are HUGE! I had to take snaps of working FVs and empty to give you the scale. The FV is where the yeast comes to the party, shakes its booty and turns all those lovely sugars into even lovelier alcohol. There were some gorgeous fruity smells in here with maybe 4 FVs at work. (Robbies also have separate vessels used to brew Fentimans botanic drinks)

20130518_144655(The yeast having a party. Check out the patterns!)

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(An empty FV. That must be 15ft deep!!! That’s a whole lot of happy juice!)

With a quick peep into a Control Room, which looked like the tidiest, cleanest office you’ll EVER work in, we were pretty much done. This is a high-tech, leaner, more environmentally friendly operation than ever.

Then were off to the bar to spend our “tokens”, each of which equated to a 1/3rd of beer. I chose a 1/3rd each of Uncle Sams pale ale, Trooper (The Iron Maiden beer) and Fredericks on keg at 6.5%. If I’m honest, I wasn’t overly struck by any of them. A slight preference for the Uncle Sams which was reasonably hoppy and bitter. The Trooper was a maltier brew and fine for what it is. The Fredericks was overly cold and, for 6.5%, I didn’t get much at all.

The bar/restaurant area was quite a nice space. If open to the public (aside from tours) this could be a nice little earner. The beer is in good nick (as you would expect) and the food (limited to sandwiches today) looked quite good.

A couple of observations –

1. This a slick tour around a grand old institution which has been brought bang up to date. The tour is pretty much pitched at the curious novice with little or no knowledge. For that market, it is a fabulous lesson in the chemistry of beer. I spoke to a couple of people afterwards who found it really informative. For me (a relative novice with a modicum of knowledge), I would have liked more detail. For one thing, I asked a basic question about the cost of the refurb. The guide didn’t have the answer to hand. Things like that should be standard. With just a little extra polish, what was quite a good tour, could be a lot better.

2. Robbies are obviously on the rise, both nationally and internationally. The hook up with Bruce Dickinson and Iron Maiden is VERY astute. This could help Robbies penetrate abroad with that HUGE Iron Maiden fan base and also into live music venues. There has been a big push with Trooper and in all likelihood, it will pay off. Massively.

Moving onwards and (literally) upwards, we popped back into the Spoons to meet up with some more people and (after a nice pint of George Wrights Mild & a sour pint of Titanic Mild – taken off on mentioning!) we were off to….

The Crown

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(A Stockport Institution)

A lovely old pub. Lots of leather and wood inside with a vast number of handpumps (too many to count!), I plumped for a pint of Millstone Stout and we eventually settled our, now enlarged group into the room to the right of the bar – where lurked two handpulls dedicated to real cider.

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(rear room)

The Millstone Stout at 4.5% was lovely. Creamy full texture, slight coffee in that nice roasted flavour with a dry finish. A really good stout. and just what was needed.

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(Nice & busy on a Saturday afternoon!)

The consensus was to move on at this point. So that’s what we did!

The Magnet

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Another pub after my own heart. Multi-roomed with a plethora of handpulls. Busy again with chatter the order of the day (as well as Tittertons Pork Pies!). Well behaved dogs allowed in as well, which was a nice touch. Busy at the bar, I plumped for a BlackJack Canasta Mild at 3.8% abv. Dark, buttery roasted aroma with a nice texture, lots of roasted malt flavour with a nice dry finish.

20130518_173826(Busy bar – lots of handpulls!)

Ina slightly lower level was a pool table, where we settled our rabble down to a game of killer. I lost (as you would expect!). The pub has a lot going for it, lots of good beer and choice of rooms with different atmospheres. The only slight issue I had, was there was a little wear and tear showing, especially with the plaster work. I wonder if the money is available to do this work? Not to take away too much from what is an excellent boozer.

We stayed for one more here, so I had an Oakham beer. Sock Monkey at 5% abv. Golden and bright, a citrus grapefruit aroma from what I thought was citra hops, a lovely mouthful of biscuity sweetness balanced with a grapefruit hoppyness. Typically Oakham, typically excellent. If we hadn’t stayed, I probably wouldn’t have spotted the nice decking area outside!

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(Well. Summer IS on the way. Isn’t it?)

Back to Manchester on Northern Rails’ finest. A quick snack from Sainsbury in Piccadilly station and off to a pub I’ve not been to in yonks!

The Bulls Head

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Judging by the beer selection, this is a Marstons pub. Fortunately for me, Jaz had chosen wisely and got me a pint of Marstons Single Hop Amarillo at 4% abv. Pale, gold and with abundant fruity hop aroma. Nice and refreshing. 2nd Single hop Marstons I’ve had recently. Enjoyed both.

Last time I came in, the pub was two roomed. Now it’s one open space with the large bar to the rear. Nice leaded windows, muted dark colours, reds and browns, quite warm feeling. Nice slightly elevated are to the front with (what looked like) a real fire range.

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It was here that the group split up. Some for home, some for food and some (guess who?) for Joshua Brooks! (Via Jaz flat to drop bottles off – amazed they got back!)

Joshua Brooks

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The magnet that pulled us in was the Baby Belgian by Offbeat Brewery. At 8% I bottled it (not literally – I’d have spilt some!), the indefatigable Jaz went that way, I went for the Last Porter Call by Titanic. Fruity, very fruity. Damsons or plums. Not much discernable roasty stuff going on. But then, it WAS late in the day! A nice beer at 4.9%.

Oakham Brewery Bishops Farewell was next. 2 Oakham in one day. Yay! Again, pale, hoppy and balanced with sweet biscuit malt. Another Oakham, another excellent pale bitter brew!

One more for my baby and one for the road. The baby in question, being another Baby Belgian for Jaz the Indefatigable (now looking rather fatigued!), the one for the road being Obsidian black IPA by Hop Studio from York. As far as the stuff in bars goes, the beer of the day. Both citrus AND coffee on the nose with bitter hops in the mouth and a slightly bitter coffee in the aftertaste. REALLY good this!

I know what to expect from Joshua Brooks (as should you, by now!) Tonight was fairly busy again, with a few coming in just before I left, for a beer prior to going downstairs to the club. More excellent beer.

At this point, I had to dash for my chariot. Past lots of young things on their way to JBs

An excellent day out, finished off nicely. The Old parts of Stockport are actually rather pretty, nice town. Hope to be back soon to explore more.

Beer of the day. Unfair really, but it was the taste of Saison from Quantum. Lovely. In the pubs it was Obsidian by Hop Studio. An excellent Black IPA. Last beer of the evening as well. How weird is that!

On that note….If you, like I, are at the BlackJack MTB at Port Street on Monday, say hello! If not….’til next time…

Slainte!