Manchester Crawl Series 1 : Swan Street – How Much Longer?

Whilst excellence never gets boring, I crave something different from the “same old, same old”. It’s so easy to settle, create habits that become almost unbreakable.

Yes, there will always be favourites you can rely on to consistently deliver, but – just sometimes – something “different” is called for. But something undemanding in terms of physical effort. Then it struck me.

Swan Street. A street burned in my soul.

And whilst we didn’t start on Swan Street itself (we started just around the corner), we kept faith with part of the original N/4 pub crawl.

Just don’t call it “Northern Quarter”. I’m in retro mode.

The Angel – Angel St (Jct w/Rochdale Road)

Get off the Metro / bus at Shudehill and walk halfway towards The Marble Arch and on the left – at the junction with the inner ring road you’ll find this unheralded gem.

Briefly known as a place where chef Robert Owen Brown forged his reputation, The Angel has been through many guises. It has been knocked about and reshaped over the years since I’ve been drinking there, but still maintains a quaint Mancunian trait, a sense of “otherness”. A quirkiness.

There’s nothing quite like it in Manchester.

I had my first beer here in December 1984. On my first “works Xmas do”. The pub was then called “The Weavers”. It had – in those days – a second room, roughly bounded by the far end of the bar to the back of the pub.

It was…. narrow. It had a pool table. A colleague fell asleep under that pool table that night. An unforgettable evening.

The pub changed hands. Became one of the early Manchester free houses. It had that room knocked through. It transformed into “The Beerhouse” and developed a reputation for an eclectic beer range. You’d find beers there that you wouldn’t elsewhere.

Now being The Angel – named after nearby Angel Meadows (look it up on Wikipedia), it maintained that reputation. It continues to do so, being the only place I know to get Kissingate beers (Horsham, Sussex), notable for their catnip like ability to attract the Arch Nemesis. I put a call in. He couldn’t resist.

Yes. That’s a Baby Grand. In a pub in Manchester. And it does get played…..

To the point, The Angel is a large single room in a kind of wide L shape. At about 170 years old, it retains a Mancunian sensibility, that “Soul” I need to actually love a place.

And those who “know” The Angel do love it.

Last night, the Hawkshead Windermere Pale was as good as I’ve had it, razor sharp and tasty. The KissingateSmelters Stout” was rich, smoky and delicious. A lovely Stout.

The Angel rarely gets talked about in the pantheon of great Mancunian pubs. But it really should.

It may not be pristine and shiny, may be a little “rough around the edges”, but it’s a Manc classic.

Go. Just go.

From The Angel, cross Rochdale Road and turn right. Head towards Shudehill and then left on Swan Street.

Jack In The Box at Mackie Mayor – Swan Street

Apparently a transplant of a successful outlet/operation in Altrincham, there was a lot of excitement when word got out that this beautiful old building was being taken on.

I’ve seen messages from far and wide that testified to its impact since opening. Tonight, I thought I’d have a butchers.

The classical frontage doesn’t prepare you the the visual impact of the interior. The “WOW” factor. I couldn’t stop taking pictures.

I was surprised at the small size of the bar, but it’s Black Jack. And – for me – they’ve hit a sweet spot. The “You Bet” that I had was pin sharp. Jaz had am excellent beer from Siren, Jock had an Uber sharp Oakham Citra (a criminally overlooked beer).

This place is all about the food though.

That lovely Margherita from Honest Crust didn’t last long. Delicious. Having had them before, I expected no less. Tasty.

Stomach sated.

This place is stunning. It gets busy. It’s a big space with all the traders on the perimeter. With a mass of seating.

The beer is excellent, but I can’t get over the fact of Big Brother next door. But this is a destination venue. An Atkinson’s coffee, an Honest Crust pizza, a wine from Reserve Wines? I’d rather give these guys my money than any chain.

So. Walk out of the Swan Street door. Turn right. Walk 10 yards

The Smithfield – Swan Street

I’ve been a fan since Black Jack first took the plunge and got out the paintbrushes. They took an old run down beer tickers pub and brought it into the 21st century.

A bit of TLC. A hug and a kiss. They worked wonders.

It’s rarely quiet these days. It’s found a place for itself, gained a reputation for great beer. It has A BAR BILLIARDS TABLE!

And a dartboard. And that board gets use.

I didn’t take loads of pics in here. I just enjoyed a gorgeous pint of Jarsa by Brew York and chatted.

The Smithfield does all of those simple things incredibly well. And – when my lot are out – is one of the places we meet. Or end up.

Or both. A Manc essential.

Leave The Smithfield, cross the road, turn right. Walk 30 yards along Swan Street.

Bar Fringe – Swan Street

You will NOT find a quirkier, more charming pub / bar in Manchester.

Just wander in. Keep your eyes open. And drink it all in.

This place is simply a diamond. Cherish it. It won’t be here much longer.

A long room. With something for – almost – everyone. 4 cask beers. Draught Belgian. Excellent bottles. Brilliant eclectic jukebox.

And just, again, an old soul. A feeling.

It doesn’t matter how many times I come in, there’s always some detail I miss. Like that painted rat…..

Beer. Panda Frog from the North East. Pale. Unfined. Amarillo. I’m easy to please. I could bury my head in a bag of Amarillo and die happy.

And herein lies the core of this post. This side of Swan Street is slated to be demolished. “Developed”. Have the Mancunian element and history flattened.

To be replaced by glass and concrete. More flats.

Always more flats.

Eviscerating the history and soul from a city. Bastards.

Fuck your “progress”. Same to Manchester City Council for destroying the soul of this beautiful city. Block by block.

But I digress. Enjoy the Fringe. This little diamond. While you still can.

Leave the Fringe, turn left. Cross (the rather busy) Oldham Road.

Crown & Kettle – Oldham Road

Another Manchester classic.

A place that seemed to have lost its way in a beer sense. But – in recent months – with a new female custodian (I hate the term “landlady”), the beer has started to sing the sweetest of songs.

Yes. The C&K is another Mancunian jewel. But the beer range and quality had started to wilt.

But, with that new custodian, it’s now a “go to” again.

3 separate rooms. The small room behind the bar was closed last night, but when it’s open, just look up. And gawp.

That beautiful ceiling…..

The current pub is about 130 years old, but there has been a pub on this site for almost 300 years. You can see images/drawings of the area from that time if you scour the net.

The place is beautiful and now – again – has the beer to match. A Northern Alchemy Tawny Port Stout was the beer of the evening. Just lush.

The Brass CastleLittle Imp” was stunning too at 2.8%! Almost a session Stout, really full bodied the that abv.

Again, the C&K needs to be visited. Great beer (again) and a beautiful pub.

But all good things come to an end.

Distance wise, a short crawl. But it forms a snapshot of Manchester. A Manchester we’ll lose a part of in the next few years.

Enjoy it while you’ve got it. I will.

(I never get bored of this!)

Back soon. Jx

Historic Manchester Pubs – Pt 3 – 31/05/2014

“If I could only be sure, that you loved me baby. If I could only be sure, that you loved me baby.

I’d climb the highest mountain, I’d swim the deepest sea. I’d take on all your misery, just to make you happy.

I’d turn my world upside down. I’d turn my smiles all into frowns. I’d do anything at all, yeah,

If you just let me love you baby. If you just let me love you baby.”

(“If I Could Only Be Sure” – Nolan Porter)

(Tune courtesy of NutsLiteVenueRoma on YouTube)

No musical preamble today. Just one of the greatest of mid-tempo Northern Soul dancefloor classics. Have a listen!

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Having indulged my basest beery urges following the Stockport Beer Festival the previous afternoon/evening, I was doubting my (ahem) “wisdom” whilst sat on the #8 bus from Farnworth at 10:30am on this bright sunny morning!

An excellent beer lover/blogger Glenn Johnson was due to come up this particular weekend for his first few beers around some of Manchester’s more special pubs. Unfortunately for both of us (but especially him), he had been stricken down with a nasty illness some weeks before, but wasn’t quite yet fully recovered. However, following a tweet from Des, a fellow Manchester area beer lover (more of a connoisseur than I, to be fair!), I decided to treat this as a (none too) “dry run” for my Southern based buddy’s rescheduled visit. This one’s for you Glenn!

Again, given the paucity of material available online about Manchester’s great architectural drinking heritage, I rely on the most excellent blogs & websites Pubs of Manchester and ManchesterHistory.net for a sizable chunk of my information. Both a more than worth a follow (Pubs of Manchester) and a visit (ManchesterHistory.net). They are a positive mine of information, only rivalled by the excellent booklets of the (sadly) late Neil Richardson.

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(Damn that lamppost!!!)

The Hare & Hounds (Shudehill – opposite Bus Station/Metro stop) It’s really strange the way things come about sometimes. I wrote about this pub in the first instalment of this series, but, like many pubs that day, feel I did them a disservice. Last time I visited, I recounted the tale of my “Stag” back in 1990 and watching, horrified, as Salvatore Schillachi scored the goal that knocked out the Republic of Ireland at the 1/4 final stage of the World Cup. Strangely enough, today, I watched a “highlight” re-run on BT Sport! (Schillachi had more hair than I remembered!)

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A truly beautiful pub, which, according to Pubs of Manchester 10 Oldest Pubs of Manchester piece (a piece to which I shall return later!), was first opened as a pub in approximately 1788. To think that you can still drink in a pub that is THAT old! (I wonder if you can still play “Crib”?)

Grey/green stone clad exterior and brown enamel look interior tiling make this look as special as it is. 3 rooms including the main drinking area/bar which has a scattered table or 4, each area being beautiful and worthy of mention in their own right. But put together…. It was nearly 30 years ago (Xmas ’84) when I first came in this pub. It was a Tetley house then and still has the “Huntsman” logo on the side of the pub. It may have only the one cask beer (Holts’ Bitter), but that doesn’t diminish its charms.

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I recently read the excellent post that Pubs of Manchester wrote about The Hare, about the backroom. About Pensioner Karaoke and it rang so true the afternoon I went in. The room was ringed with Senior drinkers deep in chatter with a microphone set up for later performances.

The Holts was a fine beer. Not my cup of darjeeling these days, but dark brown, bitter with a hint of sweetness, it was more than acceptable and served as a settler from the previous evenings’ (hmmmm…) exertions! Is it just me, or has Holts lost something in the bitterness department since the 90s?

Whilst the beer may not be to the taste of all, I heartily recommend people pop in and drink in the beauty of this great old pub.

Moving swiftly on to another architectural gem, where I was to meet Des & the ever-present Arch-Nemesis…

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Last year, The Marble Arch celebrated 125 years standing. But as the map below indicates, there was a pub called The Wellington on the same site at least 37 years earlier.

Adshead Map 1851

(Adshead Map c1851 – http://manchesterhistory.net/manchester/tours/tour12/marblearch.html)

The name of the earlier pub was still in use for the new as recently as 1971, when it was called The Wellington Vaults, a Wilsons pub, as you can see.

Wellington Vaults(image courtesy Manchester Libraries)

A Grade II listing having been achieved in 1998, having undergone its fabulous transformation from Mega Brewery ownership to its purchase and restyling as a freehouse (before the brewery) sometime in 1984, the year that I first drank in it (I never went in when it was a Wilsons outlet). The subsequent stripping back revealing the architectural gem that you see today.

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For those who haven’t been in before (ARE there any such people?), once you walk between the doric columns and through the door, THAT slope draws you ever down, along the beautiful mosaic floor, to the corner bar, where are served a plethora of Marble Brewery beers. There is a small, functional rear room which opens up onto the kitchen (and the pub is renowned for its food) and an open drinking area that some people may call a “beer garden”. The splendour of this pub though is that main room.

Walking in, I saw one of my co-conspirators for the day, Des. Splendid beery chatter ensued, but not before a razor sharp pint of Pint, singing a zingy song of lemon and grapefruit hops. beautifully refreshing and taking my mind off the fact that throngs of pre-teens were loosening their larynxes all over Manchester for some boy band at The Etihad.

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(Just a hint of that beautiful vaulted ceiling)

Midway through my Pint, Jaz (aka The Arch-Nemesis) had parked his rear and was wolfing his beer down, ready for a wee stroll down the slight slope of Rochdale Road. A slight diversion took us past the subject of many an ill-advised dispute (on my part), the site of the former Pot of Beer (previously the magnificent after hours haunt in the 80s known as The Harp & Shamrock). Smug grin on his face, he and Des headed for our next port of call, whilst I headed for some cash.

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The Angel qualifies for this “historic” designation, not due to any antiquity on its part (though it may indeed be fairly old – at LEAST 1851!), but due to the fact that it plays its part in my early drinking in this great city. The same evening, around Xmas 1984, when I first entered the Hare & Hounds, the next stop for my works Xmas do was a Tetley house called The Weavers.

Weavers 1851

(Probable Adshead Map 1851 – courtesy Manchesterhistory.net)

 

This was a small two roomed pub downstairs, that had a function room upstairs that hosted frequent live music evenings, that night it was the legendary Victor Brox and his Blues Band. Because it had a pool table in the small back room, we ended the evening there, with one of my companions seeking to sleep the excess off under the pool table – whilst the rest of us were playing Killer!

The Weavers subsequently curled up like a big pub chain caterpillar and closed for refurbishment, exiting its decorative cocoon as the beery butterfly that was The Beerhouse. A great freehouse itself and one of three cracking pubs in the 90s in close proximity with The Marble & The Pot of Beer, the pub had had the internal walls removed and the bar relocated to open it up.

The rebranding to The Angel was somewhat less dramatic, a lick of paint, that former function room becoming the playground of chef . Robert Owen-Brown and the removal of the pool table – to be replaced by a baby Grand Piano! The departure of Owen-Brown to The Mark Addy hasn’t changed opinions of many that this is a great eating place.

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This pub has an enviable reputation for getting unusual and rare beers (If Jaz mentions that cask conditioned Ola Dubh by Harviestoun just one more time……), but I was in the hands of the aforementioned Arch-Nemesis and was furnished a pint of Chardonnale by Bob’s Brewing of Ossett at 5.1% abv. Golden, sweet malt and laden with mellow fruitiness. We sat outside and I sat there contemplating the one fault (for me) of this pub. The somewhat incongruous and ugly uPVC patio-style side entrance. Just saying!

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Bar Fringe appears to have been a pub from at least 1876 (source pubhistory.co.uk) in one of its former incarnations as The Old White Bear (see below)

Old White Bear

(image courtesy Pubs of Manchester)

Another recent source of beery historical dispute between the “all-knowing” Arch-Nemesis and myself. He not accepting that I went in a pub that I referred to as the “Polar Bear” – or similar – in the 80s, on the same spot as the current “Fringe”. I therefore thumbed my nose on viewing Pubs of Manchester’s excellent entry!

From hearing some people talk, I get the impression that the Fringe is like a pub version of Marmite. Well I LOVE Marmite! I adore this bar too, with (ordinarily) 5 well-kept cask beers along with the shiny chrome plate of the keg Belgian fonts.

You could stand in here all day looking at the various items adorning the walls and ceiling and I frequently do, but – being a crawl – a pint was called for. I chose the Mild from Scarborough Brewery, a fine brown Mild with toffee and chocolate biscuit flavours. Again, another pub with a reputation for getting unusual beers to the area and Carmen keeps a fine pint – though no sign of her today. (BTW – One of Manchester’s great jukeboxes – “Whip It” by DEVO being played – class!)

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The Crown & Kettle is, along with The Marble Arch, the most lovely pub in Manchester. Yes, that is only my opinion, but it is undeniably gorgeous. You only need to look at those elongated and stained windows to receive a hint as to the delights that lie inside.

Crown Ceiling

The ceiling, whilst in state of disrepair in places, is simply stunning. My photography simply does not do this Grade II listed beauty justice. A 3 room pub with a large main area (where the bar is located) with two rooms behind to the right and left (with the right hand one accessible to the right of the bar. According to ManchesterHistory.net there are records of pubs on this site as far back as 1734 with the current building being erected in the late 1800’s.

Crown Back Room

The room behind the bar is a little gem, with lots of wood panelling, mirrors and lovely green upholstered banquette seating. Pretty isn’t it? The room to the left of the bar is a wee bit darker but n one the less warm and comfy. If some overlook the delights of pubs such as these in favour of more exotic beery offerings, then…..

Coming to the beer – which, by the way, is always in good nick in my experience – this was none too shabby either! With three offerings (ordinarily) from the Ossett Brewery stable and a number of guests (was that 7 or 8 handpumps?), there is always something decent available. This evening was no exception, as I spied something from Rat Brewery.

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Project Rat IX  was a 6% abv mango bomb! A big beer with a good malt spine overlaid with bucket loads of tropical fruit, it was gorgeous. Halfway down that beer, I noticed something behind a wooden bar post….. Was that Quaker House Oatmeal Stout from Allgates? Given that I helped in the birthing of the original brewing of this beauty, it simply HAD to be sampled. Simply lush. Silky smooth, great full roasted body and excellent bitterness. Need I say more?

Castle

The Allgates & Rat being consumed, we headed off to the final historic gem of this crawl.

The Castle has (like The Hare & Hounds) been a pub since 1778 (Pubs of Manchester – 10 Oldest Pubs) and bears the brown tiled facade of Kays Atlas Brewery of Ardwick – Kays were taken over by Robinsons of Stockport in 1929. Despite being independently managed by the same group that owns The Eagle (Lamp Oil), The Parlour (Chorlton) and Gullivers (Opposite on Oldham Street) it retains its Robinsons tie, whilst offering a decent range of guest beers.

As I will have said previously, this is – so far – the only pub within which I have been refused service (if you discount a drunken evening in Grassington……the less said the better!) and BTW, that isn’t a challenge mein hosts! I’ve been drinking in this pub for over 30 years and I’ve got a really soft spot for the old place, so much so that I was absolutely chuffed to proverbials when I first saw how the new owners/managers had opened it up – including a previously unused room upstairs.

Castle corridor

Now, if you haven’t been in before, The Castle is dark. Vampires Lair kind of dark. Nosferatu lying in wait kind of…….get the picture? It’s a warm embracing kind of place too, with friendly bar staff and two main drinking areas. However, having sequestered the old pool room at the rear as alive music venue, it’s also quite small downstairs, with only a small room behind the bar. Hence upstairs being such a boon.

The beer is none too shabby either here, with my choice being “Durdle Door” by the Dorset Brewing Co. Deep ruby coloured, lots of chocolate and caramel with a gentle bitterness. Like a Strong Mild to me, perhaps the wrong beer on pump, as Durdle Door is supposed to be golden, but hey, it tasted grand to me!

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(Lovely old mosaic floor at the front)

Des took his leave at this point. Great to chat with someone who knows his beer, loves it as much as he loves Manchester pubs and has strong opinions about both.

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We carried on, ending up in First Chop’s open evening having met the lovely Gina & Dan from Great Ale Year Round in Cask. The word “hazy” successfully covers my recollections from this point on! A pint of Pictish and a few SIPs may have passed my lips prior to my all too late departure – although I do have a clear recollection of the fabulous Rik “Mr DJ” Garner (First Chop Overlord) playing the mighty Nolan Porter “If I Could Only Be Sure”. Cheers Rik!

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There was a rather excellent two piece on when we arrived playing some great stuff – if only I could remember their name, I’d give ’em a plug! The First Chop is highly recommended, a top conversion of this railway arch, with great beer and an excellent performance space. AND (if you get there early enough) great street food! Fire and Salt BBQ that day. A great addition to Manchester/Salford music venues – with some top funk & soul spun by Mr Garner.

Well, that’s all for this particular evening. Great company, great beer and simply outstanding pubs. What more could a boy ask for?

On that note….’til next time….

Slainte!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bottled Ales – July 2013

Some more nice beers for you to read about and, maybe, pick up yourselves. The spiel is the same, 1. The Beer, 2. The Brewer, 3. The Strength, 4. The Price (including discount, where applicable). 5. Where from,   6. If a website for the vendor exists, I’ll include a hyperlink. So, here goes!

1. CCC IPAQuantum Brewing8.1% abvPale Ale£? (The price of a pint) (500ml)- From the Brewer Direct

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Picking this up from the brewery simply means it doesn’t get much fresher does it? A copper coloured beer with an aroma containing pineapples and a hint of orangey boiled sweets. This yielded to a really smooth mouthful of pineapple and some resinous citrus flavours with more than a bit of pine in there, balancing some very juicy malt. The only problem I had with this was that it was just TOO damn drinkable for that strength! (Update – The CCC comes from the hop varieties used, Centennial, Citra and Columbus)

Another belter from Mr Krause. To be honest, I’m not altogether sure where you can buy this. Try Beermoth on Tib Street in Manchester at a guess. But if you see it, treat yourself.

2. Indulgence – Mallinsons Brewing Company – 3.8% abv – Pale Ale – £2.25 (500ml) – Yorkshire Ales (CAMRA membership discount applies)

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This lively bottle conditioned beer has a lovely pineapple and grapefruit citrus hop nose (again, owing to the combination of the hops). Citrus hops to the fore in the flavour as well with some resinous grapefruit prominent, balanced by a light biscuity malt backbone. A nice fruity dry finish with a lingering piney resin. A lovely light refreshing beer.

Another excellent pale ale from these Huddersfield brewers.

3. (Trial Brew) Red RyeThe Five Points Brewing Co – 6% abv – Red Rye Ale – Swap (330ml) – The Ale Man (Castlefield Market)

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This one came as a surprise from my friend and all-round arch nemesis, Jaz. I have had a few rye beers recently and they have all been really nice. But when the label says “Trial Brew” ?

This was a ruddy brown coloured beer with an aroma of toffee apples and flowery hints. More caramel toffee in the mouth with some spicy touches and gorgeous bitter spicy hops, (Chinook, Columbus and Simcoe hopped. I love Simcoe!). Superb hoppy, dry herbal, grassy finish. If this is a “Trial Brew”, I would love to see the finished product!

4. DevolutionRevolutions Brewing Company – 4.5% abv – Amber Ale – £2.61 (500ml) – Yorkshire Ales (CAMRA membership discount applies)

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Another music themed beer from Revolutions. This time, referencing a band whose single “Jocko Homo” was one of the first singles (7″ vinyl things….) that I ever bought back in the late 70s!

Amber beer (no kidding!), with a butterscotch toffee aroma. Caramel toffee and digestive biscuit in the mouth with a nice, more gentle, bitterness from this well-balanced beer. The finish was smooth, dry with a gentle lingering hop on the tongue. Another really good beer from these Castleford brewers. Need more of their stuff on draught over this side of the hill. Not that I’m greedy, I want some more Manifesto as well!

5. Galaxy BluesCheshire Brewhouse – 5.2% abv – Pale Ale – £3 ish (I think!) – The Ale Man (Castlefield Market)

20130715_231546(Get that psychedelic label!)

I spotted this on Damian (The Ale Man) O’Shea’s stall whilst at Castlefield Market recently. This being on the back of a comment by young  Mr Krause (Quantum). I’ll have to thank him when I next see him!

A golden coloured bottle conditioned beer with shed loads of tropical hop aromas (for me, nectarine and mango). A lovely rich tea malt backbone for the fruity hops to cling to. Another really refreshing fruity beer this, with a lasting herbal hoppy dry finish. Not had much by this brewer on draught. Must find some!

Beers of The Month (so far!)

Draught – Quaker House Oatmeal Stout by Allgates Brewery

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Am I biased? Yes! Would the fact that I helped to make this influence me? No! This was just a bloody superb, creamy, dry and hoppy black beer. Possibly a one-off, I had it at Joshua Brooks, The Hare & Hounds at Hindley (an Allgates pub) and Bar Fringe. I caught each at different stages of time from first being put on the bar and they were all superb with a slight sweetness creeping in as the beer aged.

I simply couldn’t get enough!

Bottle – Red Rye (Trial Brew) by Five Points Brew Co.

Just an astonishingly good rye beer from a brewer completely new to me. (See above)

Am hoping to lay my lips on a very special beer from Ilkley soon, Siberia aged in Speyside whisky casks. One of my favourite beers may just have got better!

On that note…’til next time..

Slainte!

Meet The Brewer – Black Jack Beers – Port Street Beer House – 20/05/2013

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Ever had that feeling?

You know the one….when you look across a crowded room….you see someone and they look like the noose is about to be put around their neck. That very moment when the legendary “fight or flight” instinct kicks in. That moment when you think that that person is actually going to shit himself.

Well, last night, at approximately 18:15, that person was Rob Hamilton, the brewer / overlord at Black Jack Beers. You knew that he was cacking it, by his choice of drink.

“Magic Rock Human Cannonball to steady the nerves sir?” (I could almost hear Jamie saying it!)

A sellout MTB at Port Street is probably NOT the place to commence your public speaking career. However, swift gulp of Huddersfields’ finest and – following a gentle introduction by Jamie – he was off!

“Hi, I’m Rob from Blackjack!”

Rob, from Wrecsam, worked at Marble (both brewery and pub) for a number of years and, in his own words in 2012 he “needed a change of scene, being not very good at doing what I’m told”, so, he acquired Marble’s 4.5 Bbl brewkit, located premises on Gould St, and via begging and borrowing set off on his journey.

He quickly picked up plaudits from fellow brewers and drinkers and started to gain a devoted following (my words, not his!) Not bad for a bloke who had no ambition to brew!

Rob gave us a quick chat about how the brewery started out. Given the progress he has made, he is a very modest chap indeed! He had sheets of paper and pens placed on tables to help him with “tasting notes” because, in his words he’s “very bad at describing beers…..can’t do the waffling bit…….What’s this beer like? It’s pale, it’s hoppy!” Judging by the laughter, this was a comedy masterclass. He had his audience eating out of his hand!

The first beer sampled was The Pokies, a new pale ale at 3.6% made with all NZ hops (Pacific Gem, Pacific Jade and Waikatu), the first time he’s done this. (All BJ beers have gambling related names, this one was from the NZ word used for a slot machine!).

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(The two cask offerings – The Pokies and Aces High IPA)

I didn’t have one of Rob’s sheets of paper, but for me, The Pokies was nice and pale, gently hoppy and – as Rob rightly said – a nice sessionable beer. Strangely, I thought it reminded me slightly of Harviestoun Schiehallion, which though it’s actually a lager, is (for anyone who knows me) a hell of a compliment. Pale, refreshing with a gentle fruity hop character. There! “Waffling” over!

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(And so say all of us!)

We moved on to one of the kegged offerings – Lager at 5.2%. No gambling reference name here! Or was making a Lager the actual gamble? Made with Lager & Cara malts with Magnum and Hersbrucker/Saaz hops this beer was fermented over 9 or 10 days at a cool temperature (that’s a lot of capacity taken up!). Rob thought it came out “quite well”.

For me, it was a clean smooth tasting beer, fruity (from the Saaz?) with a lightly peachy touch in the dry finish. A really nice beer and one which I heard is (for a brief period) also available in cask condition. More on that later! (Rob thought it cold do with being slightly drier. Each to their own, but it was fine by me as it was.)

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(And…relax! )

Aces High IPA at 5.5%. This was the next beer and the final of the two cask conditioned offerings. Golden with an abundant citrus hop aroma (apricot & grapefruit). Nice grainy malt overlaid with citrus hops in the mouth. Far too easy drinking for a 5.5% abv beer and dangerously so! Slightly warmer than The Pokies in the glass (Jamie would probably say that my mouth was too cold!)

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(Pacific Jade)

Next – Pacific Jade (single hop) IPA at 5.2% – Rob on hops “If they let me have something good, I generally bang it in!” (I do love a bit of self-deprecation!)

Made with his standard 5kg of hops, being kegged, it was a bit colder than I would like but I got a bit of a fruity and malt toffee aroma. Smooth in the mouth and was initially quite fruity and dry. A bit maltier toward the end. Not as hoppy and assertive as I was expecting. Would like to see a casked version though.

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(The keg selection for this evening)

Finally, we came to the last beer for tasting. The King of Clubs Stout. Brewed in December 2012 and maturing in keg for 6 months. This elicited a “Whoo” from the floor! 6 different hop varieties, including Bramling Cross  (which got a cheer!). The strongest Stout Rob can normally brew “without messing around too much”. This was rich, dark as sin and smelling bloody gorgeous! A sweet and spicy dark chocolate nose and very roasty. BANG! Red winey hints in the mouth, sweet coffee roast whilst still finishing quite dry. An unctuous vinous mouthful of dark joy. I like it anyway! (What I would do for a whisky barrel aged version next year???)

Rob invited people to chat with him and “show themselves”. So I did. I don’t know why he was so nervous, he did a great job! My kind of bloke. Funny, doesn’t take himself too seriously and makes bloody good beer!

This is only the second “Meet The Brewer” I’ve been to. And it’s the second that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. If you’ve never been to one, and you want to know more about how great beer is made, you really should! Really well put together by Jamie and the guys at Port Street, an engaging and frequently hilarious presentation by Mr Hamilton and superb beer. What’s not to like?

Another really nice element for me personally was the chance to have a bit of a chat with a few people. Jay Krause, Rob himself, Jamie and some of the local Home Brewers group. Really enjoyed chatting. I won’t be so reticent next time. Good people all!

The next MTB features Toccalmatto from Italy. £15 a ticket. I saw a few flying out whilst I was at the bar. So if you fancy it, you’d better be quick!

Now I had a plan. But first, time for a new beer on cask for me. Rouge from Summer Wine. Deep red with a huge and spicy citrus hop aroma. Really fruity and dry in the mouth. Nice and bitter. A nice end to my stay at Port Street. Cheers to Jamie for my tasting glass! (Yes, it got home in one piece!!!)

Now. The plan. I’d heard a whisper that the cask conditioned version of Black Jacks’ Lager may have been on at Bar Fringe. A quick tweet to that ‘force of nature’, Banana Charlie revealed that it was. “Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it’s off to drink we go!”

Bar Fringe

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(Indeed she does!)

The reason for being here (aside from being a great bar) was this

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(Cask Conditioned – Black Jack Lager!)

I don’t know enough about brewing to understand why, but this is a very fruity lager. And I could certainly drink more of it! Smooth, fruity (touch of the hedgerow?). Yum! With beer like this, I don’t know why we don’t see more cask lager about.

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(If you mess with the Landlady, she shrinks your head and plasters it into the wall. It’s true I tell you!)

Right then. Bit of a break for a week or so whilst the finances recover. Possibly pop in to Yorkshire Ales and Bierhuis over that there hill this weekend. I’ll have some nice beers to tell you ALL about, won’t I? Not to mention the chance to watch some masters at work, making a new beer at Allgates next month. An Oatmeal Stout too. (I’m too old to feel THIS excited!)

On that note……’til next time.

Slainte!

Beer & Music (Pubs with Jukeboxes Pt1) 09/05/2013

Aside from family, my two great passions. Beer and music. To me, they just go together so well. Beans/Toast, Cheese/Onion, Beer/Music. Don’t get me wrong, with social drinking, conversation is the thing. But, a top tune in the background…….The number of times I’ve been in a pub in the last 30 years and said “tune” are innumerable.

Jaz & I were thinking a while back, that whilst the vast majority of the venues we drink in have great tunes, the pub jukebox is dying out in favour of the tastes of the bar staff. Now, when the staff have eclectic tastes that match your own, that’s dandy. But what if they don’t…… It got us to thinking…How many pubs in the City Centre still have Jukes? Let’s call this series of articles a (less than scientific!) ‘survey’!

Before all that, I got a message from my arch-nemesis yesterday morning, telling me that Micro Bar had Dunham Massey’s Chocolate Cherry Mild on. A beer I’d only tasted in bottle once. I promise you faithfully, I REALLY wasn’t intending to sally forth last night, but that was a temptation too much. Oscar Wilde had it right….

Micro Bar

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Micro Bar by name…….No jukebox here. This was a ME moment!  Chocolate Cherry Mild by Dunham Massey Brewery. Given that the brewery is probably 15 miles from my front door, I have had very little of their stuff on draught. This is probably their most famous beer and I had only tried the bottled version (and that was only last week!). Time to fill that gap.

This dark ruby beer instantly filled my hooter with Black Forest Gateau aromas. This carried on in the mouth. Lovely fruity cherry with a dry almost cocoa powder chocolatey flavour. This is a Ronseal of a beer (‘Does Exactly What It Says On The Tin’!), a nice hoppy grassy touch in the aftertaste as well. As good as cherries in beer gets short of being a Kriek.

This was an early start for me, as this bar shuts at 18:30. As its name implies, this bar is indeed small and is the nearest I’m likely to get to a Micro Pub any time soon. That said, they still manage to fit in 5 hand pumps (one being for cider) and a number of craft/keg fonts.

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Within its limited footprint, Micro Bar also manages to fit in a role as a substantial ‘off-licence’! Bottles from around the world with a large proportion being UK sourced. I was seriously tempted to buy the Dark Star Imperial Stout, but….next time, maybe!

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Who’d have thought that such an oasis could exist within the walls of the hideous Manchester Arndale! Food tip. If you’re feeling peckish, there are a lot of take-away vendors of quality on adjoining stalls. Pancho’s Burritos being two stalls away. You can even sit in the bar area AND eat your grub. What more could you ask for?

With shutters dropping around us, the decision was made by others for us to move on…

The Smithfield Bar & Hotel

Smithfield

(pic – courtesy of Google)

The Smithfield has the feel of a local on the edge of the city. It sits four square within the Northern Quarter without actually feeling part of it. When compared with other nearby bars, it certainly is a character apart.

6 or 7 ales on hand pump here. This is as traditional a drinking hole as you’ll find hereabouts with nary a sign of a craft font! Local ales mostly with (I’m advised) a tendency to source beers from breweries rare to the area. Looking across the pumps, I remembered that May is the month during which CAMRA seeks to promote Milds. With that in mind, I opted for Smithfield Mild, brewed for the pub by Facers from Flint, North Wales (formerly of Salford)

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(Facers Mild)

A good choice. Toasty on the nose with a lovely creamy texture and full of roasted malt flavours. 3.3% abv and lots of flavour. The Jukebox leaned heavily on 80s/90s Manchester staples, Joy Division, New Order, happy Monday, Stone Roses etc with an Irish slant via some compilations and a bit of Van Morrison. A good selection, but not the most eclectic you’ll find. Certainly no match for the zany, surreal wallpaper!

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(Not from B&Q I take it!)

For me, one of the standout things in this pub is the presence of a pool table, something you don’t see much of in Town.

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(A rarity)

Given that the pub was fairly quiet, I gave the Juke a miss. The regulars at the bar were friendly enough and I saw no reason to disturb their chatter. After just the one, we moved on, across the road and about 50 yards to…

Bar Fringe

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Now. If you’ve never been here, you need to. Frequently. This is possibly the most eclectically decorated/furnished pub in Manchester. There is no overt attempt to be cool. It just is.

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(Rear toward the ‘beer garden’)

5 handpumps with one for cider.Lots of craft/foreign keg fonts. One rally interesting thing by its absence. Guinness. Replaced by Marstons Oyster Stout. An interesting and welcome touch.

Beer? Continuing with Milds, Midnight Rose by Pennine Brewery at 3.7%. Dark ruby, buttered toast nose. A fruity mouth with more than a hint of damsons/plums. A belting pint. (Not had much by Pennine before). I was hoping to meet the legendary landlady, but more later!

The jukebox? A cracker! Just to have Curtis Mayfield (one of my musical heroes) was a winner for me. Put a few tunes on in here, Freddie’s Dead and You Gotta Have Peace by Curtis and Misty Mountain Hop by Led Zep. Classics all.

The landlady made her presence felt via Twitter by recommending the Ducktor Who by Green Duck Brewery. Who was I to argue?

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(You can glimpse the famous Motor Bike top right!)

A good recommendation. A golden beer with an apricot/grapefruit hoppy nose. Juicy sweet malt with oodles of citrussy American hoppy flavours. At this point, a female cyclone blew through the room, chatting to the regulars. The famous landlady, known to Twitter as Banana Charlie! To say the least, she left an impression! Top lady, top bar.

20130509_203015(Gratuitous decor shot!)

This is another bar where you can source some hitherto unseen beers. Tonight, Great Yarmouth Brewing CompanyDNA‘. A 3.8% pale hoppy brew from Norfolk. Am informed by the mighty Nate Dawg that this is a new set up in the seaside town. I had a sneaky sip and it was nice indeed. I’d have had another one, but another juke was calling!

The Castle

Castle

(pic – Beerintheevening.com)

Walking down Oldham Street from Great Ancoats St, it was difficult to miss the space where a recent fire burned down a huge premises a few doors up from this pub.

There was daylight as we approached to pub entrance. Walking in was like being back in the womb. Dark reds, warm, comforting. It was that dark you could imagine this being a vampires lair. Anyway, there was a band on and it was busy. Notwithstanding that, we got served quickly and Jaz grabbed a seat whilst I scoped the Juke.

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(Where the magic happens!)

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(Spooky!)

Another cracker this. For my £1, Prince ‘Sign O’ The Times’, Talking Heads ‘Take Me To The River’ and Ray Charles’ ‘What’d I Say Pts 1 & 2’. Aural class! First beer, Another mild, this time a 4.8% fruity number from Titanic called Nautical Mild. This was almost as plummy as their Plum Porter! Dark, fruity with a nice dryness to the finish.

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(The selection)

My tunes finished. Then some genius located Bloodbuzz Ohio by The National! The High Violet album on a Juke? I had to leave to calm down! Great album!

I’ve loved The Castle for over 30 years. Good to see it thriving and new generations of drinkers enjoying its charms. 9 handpumps on the bar too!

I was up for more Jukes, but that would’ve taken us to the other side of town (and Jaz was feeling lazy!) so, the lesser of evils, we popped for some good tunes, just no Juke, to…

The Crown & Kettle

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Assured of a good pint & good tunage in here. Beer? Another mild for me with Stokers Slake from Three Bs Brewery of Blackburn. A smooth Dark Mild with lots of roasted malt flavours and a slight smoky touch. Mmmm….. Walking in to the strains of Janis Joplin “Another Piece of My Heart” was a bonus. Misleading though as most of the following tracks had a distinct 80s bias. Modern Love by Bowie (a favourite – great circular chorus), Dancing With Myself by Generation X…..A little Joni Mitchell with Big Yellow Taxi gave a little 60s seasoning.

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(Gratuitous Ceiling Shot!)

Good beer, beautiful pub. An architectural gem. (A gorgeous back room too). I like this place. A lot.

Jaz now wanted to put his feet up and relax in his front room. His front room being….

The Port Street Beer House

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(Last nights cask offerings)

By now, you should all know what you get here! Craft beers in both cask and keg, reliably tasty and served by staff who drink them themselves and know what they are talking about. Simple eh? They do this stuff well. Which is why they’re always busy.

It isn’t an architectural gem like The C&K, but it does it’s job. Tonight, in the absence of a mild, I went local for American Amber Ale by Quantum Brewing from Stockport.

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(Mr Krause. Amber my arse!)

Jay Krause does some great things with hops. But if that’s an amber beer, I need to go to Specsavers! What it is, is a nose full of beautiful hoppy aromas. Dark ruby coloured (as you can see!), a mouth full of lovely malt with some licorice hop overtones. Only thing to add was it was probably my pint of the night!

A nightcap Mr Jazwinski? Oh, I shouldn’t really! But if you insist, a 1/2 pint of Ageless by Redwillow please!

I’ve only had this in bottle previously and it knocked me off my feet. A double IPA full of grapefruit citrus joy. Pineapple as well. Joy! The same in the mouth with resinous notes. So good, I had to have another 1/2!

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(Coming soon to an architectural marvel near you!)

Now Jaz is lucky. He only has to stumble 100 yards to his door, whereas I need the assistance of First Transport! So, off to Piccadilly with me for that old favourite. The last bus!

On that note…..’til next time…..

Slainte!

Manchester NQ – 16/01/2013

Midweek Beer in the Northern Quarter

Sub zero in Manchester. What kind of fool would want to travel to Manchester for a pint in such cold? You guessed it!

Stepping into The Marble Arch on Rochdale Road, you stand for a moment to drink in all of the original features of this unique pub. The glazed tile walls, Victorian fireplace, lovely ornate bar, the ‘ski slope’ descent to the bar! (It takes some believing!)

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(A grand entrance!)

My intention was to drink just Manchester area beers, but that died on my breath as there was a beer waiting for me from Hand Drawn Monkey in Huddersfield! So, that was that!

Pale Ale Experiment #2, (the said beer) is a 4% abv pale refreshing and lightly bitter ale. Moving onto the ‘Dark Side’, I had to try the Marble Brewery Stouter Stout and revel in its satanic blackness! Dry, creamy and earthy, with some gentle charred coffee bitterness.  Mmmmm…..

I do like a little stroll, so, wandering down Rochdale Road, past the site of the former Pot of Beer (an old friend!) we approached The Angel.

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Somewhat overlooked by the huge new Co-Op HQ, The pub has a restaurant upstairs with a good reputation and the pub itself has had a few rebirths over the years, but is now settled as a free-house

Always guaranteed an eclectic selection in here. Open plan in an L shape with the bar on the left, the room has a peculiar (and unique, for Manchester) feature. A baby grand piano!

20130116_202440[1] (Fancy a tinkle?)

Quite quiet in here with some nice background music, I settled down to a nice pint of Culloden Stout from BrewHouse Brewery at 5.6% abv. Dry, slightly bitter with a hint of vanilla. The pub has around 7 beers on at any one time and frequently has some hard to find gems.

Moving on, we crossed over Rochdale Rd and popped into The Smithfield on Swan St, another pub with an unusual feature for the city centre, a pool table!

20130116_205637[1](A City Centre rarity!)

Another open plan pub, this has a small square mezzanine with some ‘shabby chic’ comfy chairs (VERY comfy!) and has an arrangement of comfy chairs located at the end around the large screen TV (for Sports). This has the feel (and clientele) of a true ‘local’ pub and is very friendly.

The usual good selection of beers on show, I opted for a beer from Bury, namely Deeply Vale ‘Still Walking’ bitter. 3.8% abv, a nicely balanced beer with lots of flavour and a clean dry finish.

Bar Fringe up next, as eclectic as you want it to be! There is always a decorative surprise in here (as well as a decent beer or two!) The Mezzanine Motorbike being a personal favourite!

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(Eclectic Decoration – Fringe Style!)

A nice pale and hoppy Frost Giant from Sadlers Brewery in the West Midlands at 3.8%abv was the choice in here. I do like friendly bar staff, and the gravelly voice bloke behind the pumps certainly was that! Normally 2 or 3 ales on in here, with a large array of draught Belgian and German beers.

On this bitterly cold night, the next walk was short, across Oldham Road to The Crown & Kettle.

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A beautiful building inside & out. High ceilings and ornate details. 3 distinct rooms in here, a main room, small off room and a snug to the rear. Some nice classical prints on the walls. My preference is for the small room just off the bar area with a nice coal-effect fire.

Now warming up, I enjoyed a Peerless Brewery Hop Nob at 3.8% abv a pale, quite malty beer with some subtly flavoursome hops in there. Some soft soul music in the background, nice!

Finally, The Castle on Oldham Street. The only pub I’ve ever been refused service – a LONG time ago – by an old misery landlord! Times have changed! This pub is an old friend and has undergone a transformation in the last two years. The large rear room is now a performance space and the upstairs has been opened up into another public room.

The pub has a large selection of Robinson’s beers and some interesting guests. Tonight, I had a Lurcher Stout at 4.8% by Green Jack Brewery from Lowestoft. Smooth, creamy and lush! Chocolate flavours from the dark roasted malt and subtly smoky. And more friendly bar staff! A nice end to the evening.

Now then, where did I park that bus?

‘Til next time.

Slainte!