Manchester Northern Quarter Bar Crawl – 19/07/2014

“I’ve been up to Villiers Terrace to see what’s a-happening.
There’s people rolling ’round on the carpet, mixing up the medicine

Been up to Villiers Terrace, I saw what’s a-happening
People rolling ’round on the carpet, biting wool and pulling string
You said people rolled on carpet, but I never thought they’d do those things”

(“Villiers Terrace” – Echo & The Bunnymen)

(Video clip courtesy of ShoutFactoryMusic on YouTube)

In 1979 /1980, when I was 14, my favourite bands were Joy Division and Echo & The Bunnymen. Joy Division were a slight hand-me-down from my elder brother, but “The Bunnymen” (as we all called them at the time) were all mine. “The Puppet”, “Pictures On My Wall” & “Rescue” (12″ – naturally) were three of the earliest records that I bought for myself. Where Joy Division seemed to embody the somewhat dour, industrial chic of Manchester, “The Bunnymen” & Ian McCullough in particular, were effortlessly cool, a certain cockiness too, maybe. But just so cool.

I even remember buying my first combat jacket (but not “Camo”) to wear to go and see them, from Afflecks Palace (Yes Manchester hipsters, it really HAS been open THAT long!) There were rumours of a “Mystery Gig” swirling around in late 1980 and I desperately tried to get a ticket. To no avail. I think that I missed the last ticket held by Discount Records (Manchester old ‘Indoor Market’ with its entrance off Pall Mall) by a couple of hours. I was gutted. That concert ended up being recorded and saw release as an EP called “Shine So Hard” (An Atlas Adventure)

Rather controversially (some may think), I disowned the band upon the release of the single that was their commercial breakthrough “The Back of Love”, I remember hearing the track on a John Peel Session and thinking it was a sack of shite (Salford colloquialism!), so when I heard a shinier version as a single…..

I drifted back after that album “Porcupine” when they released the classic “Ocean Rain”, but the album (and period) from which “Villiers Terrace” is taken “Crocodiles”, is still their highlight for me.

The Bunnymen kindled a love of the City of Liverpool – though it was at least another 7 years before I was to visit. Strange to find – a couple of years ago – when I was desperately researching my family tree (prior to Dad passing away), that an entire branch of my family could be traced back to the area of Toxteth St Mary! Never leaves you I suppose!

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I really didn’t MEAN to end up in Manchester, honest! It was just meant to be a little nip in to Great Ale Year Round, to sample the bear I helped to shovel out (that most glam of jobs!). That beer is Station to Station IPA. Brewed by Allgates in collaboration with Five Towns of Wakefield, it was a 5.6% mango fuelled delight. Lightly hazed, it was fruitier than a Carmen Miranda headdress! Utterly lush. Glad that I drank it in a great bar, which is undoubtedly what Dan & Gina Buck have. It was nice to see them back in harness after a well-earned holiday!

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I’m off to the mighty County / Republic of Kernow soon (Perranporth, to be exact), so, given that a) I hadn’t been in The Lowers Turks Head for nigh on 30 years and b) there was a Cornish Beer Festival ongoing, we (well, the Arch-Nemesis is ALWAYS nearby!) opted to start here.

The Lower Turks Head (Shudehill – Opp the Bus Station)

Behind that beautiful historic tiled facade (the pub itself, perhaps dates back to as early as 1745), a lot of money has been spent to make this pub shine!

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Busy as hell in here and almost as warm on this humid July afternoon! 2 floors, classy decor shading, fairly dark with lots of wood. We grabbed pints from Padstow Brewery and headed off for some air!

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(Never smile at…..)

Unfortunately, this pleasant outdoor 1st floor terrace also doubled up as a smoking space, but I NEEDED to feel a breeze! The beer was fine, Padstow Brewery “Pilot” 4% abv. A deep ruby red beer, with a chocolate aroma, a bit like a Snickers, a touch nutty. Light bodied, bit like a mild, quite refreshing, lightly hopped.

Given that I love a local beer or two, I’ll have to pop back in on a more “normal evening to judge the offering, but to be fair, the pub looks great and was BLOODY BUSY!


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The Blue Pig (High Street/Back Turner St)

First time for me in this bar. Opening in 2012, this passed me by a bit – being a bit of a “pub” bloke. I’ve obviously denied myself some rare pleasures, because I love this place! Big open room with a bit of a bohemian feel. Nice flourishes all over the place and it was as busy as a chippy with great tunes (The Walkmen, The Smiths) all but drowned out by the sound of conversation – just the way it should be!

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Quite a bit of cocktail action going down as we entered, but my eyes were immediately drawn to the small (2), yet perfectly locally formed cask offering! Shindigger Pale and Black Jack’s Oddingtons. I hit the Shindigger which was in good nick. A fine fruity refreshing pint. This bar probably has the beer selection spot on. 3 pumps, but 2 on, both local. I like it and I like this bar. Not too cool, just a good feel to it. My note uses the word “decadent”. Probably sums it up! I’ll be back.

Odd Bar

(Photo “nicked” from Odd Bar itself!)

Odd Bar (30/32 Thomas Street)

Just around the corner….Odd Bar. One of a 4 bar chain (Is The Blue Pig part of the group?) First time for me again. Top indie tuneage. Offbeat & Tickety Brew beers on the bar. Good start. A fine pint of Tickety Brew Stout. All the roasted malt you could want and that Belgian Yeast spiciness, luxurious and smooth.
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A Lively bar, dark tones, red and browns lots of photos adorning the walls with some seriously decadent wallpaper. Loved the purple fabric  hanging from the ceiling, made me think of a bedouin tent! Beautiful.

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Nice airy room upstairs too. Like Arnie… I’ll be back! A jukebox too? Maybe another juke crawl soon! Just the one in here as the table we occupied was reserved! On to….

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Common Bar (Edge Street)
From the first moment I walked in to Common to the strains of “The Light Pours Out Of Me” by Magazine, I fell in love with this place. The original bar that spawned the monster that became Port Street, The Beagle, IndyManBeerCon…… Now Manchester institutions all!
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2 main rooms, plenty of seating, lots of exposed brickwork and loads of artworks and posters adorning the walls. It really is just cool as fuck, but without trying too hard at it. Great food too! Two cask beers and a whole bunch of “craft keg” offerings. I went for the Moor Brewery and their Confidence at 4.6% abv. A hazy, ruby red beer with a citrus fruit nose allied to some forest fruit. In mouth, medium-bodied with lemon, grapefruit on top. Sharp and fruity. A damn fine beer. A damn fine bar.
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Terrace Bar (Edge Street/Thomas Street – dual entrance)
Bloody hell but this was rammed! Described elsewhere as “the prettiest ginnel in Manchester”, this 2013 bar has lots more exposed brickwork. The fact that it was really busy says a lot.
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Lots of decent breweries on offer from 6 handpumps. I went for Ringmaster from Magic Rock. I tried, but…no. Not for me. Lacked the sheer zing of Magic Rock for me. Had a swift half of Kernel IPA (Citra, Simcoe, Cascade) on keg, which was a bitter citrus delight. I like the bar, again, some great funky tunes and a fine beer selection shows that they are trying hard. Worth a visit.
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57 Thomas Street (Thomas Street – unsurprisingly!)
This is a small yet perfectly formed bar space which has carved itself its own niche in the Northern Quarter. Single room with a long table (apparently constructed from old floorboards), where alternately, you can see people chatting, drinking and eating or alternately playing various board games. It just is that easy-going and …cool (that “other” C word again!)
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(Beer Porn – Lagonda in all her golden glory!)
A few keg fonts as you enter, but the bar top cask dispense is a distinguishing feature. A physically cool (perfectly so) pint of Lagonda IPA was a delight. A Manchester classic. Fruity and lush. Really refreshing for a 5% beer. Spot.On.
The great thing about the above bars…they’re within 100 yards or less of each other, often opposite!
And then…the longest walk of the evening. All of 200 yards or so!
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Soup Kitchen (Spear Street, off Stevenson Square)
A bar that should NOT be overlooked in the search for good beer. And I mean DAMN good beer! The feel of a Cantina in this big open room, which really should be fuller than it was! Loads of bench seating with some high window seats to watch the NQ go by. Good food apparently too. Live music venue downstairs has some cracking acts on too!
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Tonight, the beers were Shindigger, Squawk, Titanic & Arbor. Now, you know me! Ordinarily, I go local where I can. And I would have done, were it not for the fact that, leering at me, then winking seductively, was Arbor’s Breakfast Stout. Was it REALLY 7.4%? Did I REALLY have a pint? Oh but it was utterly sublime! More coffee than Starbucks could shake a stirring stick at. Creamy and unctuous. Ohhhhh…..Would have had another, but the chariot was waiting!
A fine afternoon in the company of the Arch-Nemesis as always. Great beers in some fabulous Mancunian bars.
On that note…’til next time…
Slainte!

Bottled Ales – May 2014 – Pt 3

“Just out of Monday, I run into a friend down the street, down the street where I live.

Sad things begin. I could feel from within from the message, from the message he had to give  about a buddy of mine. 

He run out of time, his life run out of time
Somebody past noon, shot across the room and now the man no longer lives”

(“Billy Jack” – Curtis Mayfield)

(Video clip courtesy of “Geepereet” on YouTube)

Curtis Mayfield is one of my all-time musical heroes, a musical giant. A man who was tragically disabled in an accident whilst rehearsing on stage in 1990.The fact that he was inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame ( a rare “double inductee” – having been inducted with The Impressions in 1991) on the same day as Paul McCartney, should indicate the massive influence the man had on popular music.

If you know a single Mayfield track, the chances are that it will be “Move On Up”, a song that is simply a soul/funk classic. However, it was arguably one of his lesser works. A man who was writing and recording in the 50s at the start of the Civil Rights struggles. A man who wrote the all-time classic “People Get Ready”, performed with his ban “The Impressions”. I could eulogise all night about songs like “Choice of Colours”,”This is My Country” Civil Rights era classics, delivered in his sweet falsetto.

His most famous album was arguably the soundtrack to the Blaxploitation movie Superfly (incidentally, a bloody great film!), notable for it’s social commentary, rather than a glorification of gangster life. For me though, his greatest achievement was the recording of his final album “New World Order”. The man was a truly great guitar player, but paralysed, no guitar playing here. The sheer effort of will to record your lyrics line by line whilst lying on your back…a heroic effort.

Did I mention that he was almost the OKEH records house songwriter (or so it seemed!), that he wrote masses of songs for other Chicago artists, so much so that there are compilations of songs that he wrote for others? That if James Brown is “The Godfather of Soul” then Curtis should be called “The Godfather of Funk”?

I love the man and his music – all thanks to a special man called Phil – who persuaded me as to the greatness of the man. And he WAS great.

(Recommended albums – in order of release date: Superfly, New World Order)

On to the beer eh?

If you have ever read one of these before, you will know what comes next! If you haven’t….this is the format…

1. The Beer, 2. The Brewer, 3. The Strength, 4. The beer style, 5. The Price & Size, 6. The discount (and why, eg: for CAMRA membership or shop deal, where applicable) 7. 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….And remember, if you like the look of something, click on the (purple) hyperlink!

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1. Devils RestBurning Sky Beer (Brighton, Sussex) – 6.5% abv – IPA – £3.59 (330ml) – 10% for 12 btls or more – The Liquor Shop (Whitefield, N  Manchester)

A lively deep amber coloured beer, well carbonated, with a big white head and an even bigger aroma laden with mango and orange. Inviting.

Oh oh ohhh! A big full-bodied beer this with masses of sticky orangey marmalade sweetness, oh this is love at first sip! That initial sticky sweetness is more than matched with an uncompromising hoppy bitterness that dries the mouth almost the instant that you swallow.

The second and third mouthfuls give some hints of mango and peach, all the while menaced with that bitter finish to each sip. Big sticky resins in here too. It may be “only” 6.5%, but this is a not a beer to be trifled with. Respect to Mark Tranter. My first Burning Sky in bottle. Bloody marvellous!

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2. Urban IPATiny Rebel Brew Co (Newport, South Wales) – 5.5% abv – IPA – £3.45 (330ml) – 0% – Beermoth (Tib St, Manchester)

This glowing amber coloured beer is as lively as a lively thing that’s feeling particularly….er….lively! The head is HUGE, fluffy and white giving off smells of orange rind. Really fresh citrussy aroma.

Given the massive carbonation, this is really smooth and full-bodied with initial flavour being a bready malt toast with lashings of orange marmalade.

Further mouthfuls give up more orange fruit but with notes of white grape and gooseberry. The smoothness is the thing here, this is just SO easy drinking for an IPA, with little bitterness, just a lovely dryness followed by a gentle grassy hop finish. Beautiful.

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3. Galaxy Pale AleHornbeam Brewery (Denton, Gtr Manchester) – 4.3% abv – Pale Ale – £2.80 (500ml) – 15% for 12 or more – Great Ale Year Round  (Bolton Market Hall)

When I got word that Dan & Gina had been to Hornbeam, my heart leaped! A brewery that doesn’t get the respect that it deserves in my book, just going about their business of making full-flavoured beers without fuss or fanfare. Happy days.

This is a mid-gold in colour with a nice lacy white head and some orange and passion fruit in the aroma.

Both of those flavours carry on into the mouth. Medium-bodied, with a brown toasty malt and lovely fruity hoppage! Really balanced (as are all Hornbeam beers), that fruitiness tapers off into a beautiful grassy tinged bitter finish. Lovely beer!

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4. 08/01Brew By Numbers (Bermondsey, London) – 6.1% abv – Stout – £3.39 – I think! (330ml) – 10% for 12 btls or more – The Liquor Shop (Whitefield, N  Manchester)

Pitch black, just as a good stout should be. Opaque, with a creamy tan coloured head. So far, so good! The aroma is of bitter chocolate and has a peppery note, making the nose tingle a bit.

Full-bodied beer this, with a lovely creamy texture to it. The initial flavour is of REALLY bitter chocolate (the high percentage cocoa type), topped off with the merest hint of fresh brewed espresso. The second mouthful intensified those flavours, rounding them off with a big hoppy bitterness.

A really full-flavoured and satisfying stout. My kind of beer!

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5. Jack of Clubs Wild Card Brewery (Walthamstow, East London) – 4.5% abv – Ruby Ale – £3.49 (330ml) – The Liquor Shop (Whitefield, N  Manchester)

Another beer from Raj’s expanding emporium!

Packaging. This is the third brewery that I’ve had that displays a tag suspended from the bottle by string. Classy use of a playing card style tag on a plain brown bottle. Really attractive – well, to me anyway!

Well, it’s definitely a ruby coloured beer! Topped off with a good slightly off-white head and an aroma that reminds me of bonfire night treacle covered in milky chocolate.

Medium-bodied this, is it a sin to call a beer a Ruby Mild? Not in my book it ain’t!!! This is really smooth, with caramel and treacle sweet malty flavours but quite dry in the finish. This is right up mein strasse! Not too heavy on the alcohol, this is just so balanced and smooth and has a gentle grassy note over the slight sweetness. I was kind of expecting something really hoppy, but got this. A really pleasant surprise. A superb “Ruby Mild”.

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6. Fire PloughWiper and True / Arbor Brewery (Both Bristol) – 5.5% abv – Smoked Porter – £3.49 (500ml) – The Liquor Shop (Whitefield, N  Manchester)

Black as a stout. Beautiful tan leather coloured head. A winner with me already……shall we stop there? No?

Given that is made with smoked malt from the Baltic island of Gotland (Sweden), would it surprise you to learn that there is a significant, yet not overpowering, smoky aroma? Bloody hell! This has got it going on! (Apologies to Tone Loc)

Yes, there is a smokiness to this full-bodied beer, but the balance with the citrussy fruitiness of Simcoe and the added spicy note from the rye malt…This is a beautifully smooth mash-up of flavours…like a Black IPA, yet not. Confusticating, yet massively satisfying, there is just SO MUCH HAPPENING here! You’ve got the smoke, pine and citrus, a slight spiciness. A triumph of a beer. Why did I wait so long to drink it? Mmmmmmm…..SO looking forward to my impending trip to Bristol!

Well….That’s all folks….well, not quite. Allow me a rant.

I love social media. Now and again, people (lovely people too!) approach me and ask, “Are you….?” and we chat, we put faces to Twitter handles and d’you know what, it’s great. Social media is fun. It’s also a damn powerful tool, sometimes used irresponsibly.

When pontificating about beer, I keep my negative shit private. If I have some “constructive” feedback to give, I NEVER do it openly, but always directly to those that it may concern. With this Social Media bollocks comes a degree of responsibility.

What it isn’t for is airing matters that should be kept private.  If you have shit to deal with, keep it private. The people who are involved in this (if they read my tripe) know who they are. This shit isn’t fun and it isn’t worthy of celebration. It’s bullying. If I see this kind of shit again, you won’t be getting me patronising your businesses and I will encourage others to do the same. Period.

Sorry. Needed to vent.