A quiet (!) night in Bolton – 10/03/2013

Having a weeks holiday booked has its advantages. One of which, is the chance to do something unusual. That is, to pop out for a pint in the town I now call home, Bolton, Lancashire.

The Lancashire bit is important. Bolton, historically being a mill town, has always felt like part of Lancashire. It is, despite what those bureaucrats did with their Greater Manchester construct, a Lancashire town.

That’s the good bit over. Bolton can also be a dodgy place to socialise of an evening. I know of some horror stories which have kept me out of Bolton for over a year. But hey, give every dog a chance!

Tonight, my buddy Colin and I decided to just do a couple of pubs and try a place we’ve not been in for over 20 years, The Dog & Partridge – about which I had been heaaring good things on the beer front.

Keeping it simple, we started off in Bolton’s lone Wetherspoons – The Spinning Jenny.

A typical Wetherspoon, but with a couple of separate spaces/(almost) rooms. My darling Atilla is none too fond of this place, thinking it a bit shabby and tired. I see what she says, but beer quality can overcome a lot for me. I can count on the fingers of one hand the ‘Spoons in which I’ve never had a bad pint. This is one of them.

Approaching the bar, I spotted two dark beers, including a Beartown, but my eyes were drawn to the other side of the bar, where lurked the mighty NZPA from Hawkshead Brewery. Not the smartest of moves at 6% abv, but it just had to be done. Especially with my CAMRA discount vouchers bringing the price down to £1.79! Outrageous!!!

Potent and massively citrus in aroma (owing to those 4 New Zealand Hops). Flavours of apricot and grapefruit coat the tongue and party in the mouth. A truly superb beer. Another belter from Hawkshead.

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(A Fireplace? In a ‘Spoons?)

The chance for another presented itself, so I hit the Beartown Black Bear at 5%abv. A strong mild (no kidding!). Some fruit on the nose with nice dark roasted flavours in the mouth. Quite thin in texture for a 5%, but nice roast tapering off into a touch of sweet/sour. Probably a bad idea straight after the NZPA!!! Will look to try this again elsewhere.

Moving on now. I had been in contact with Graham from the local CAMRA branch and arranged to have a pint in the Dog & Partridge – a pub we used to frequent as a Thwaites pub over 20 years ago.

Dog & Partridge

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(pic – Google)

Located on Bank Street, just down the slope from the famous Prestons of Bolton. Never the most glamourous of locations, but (a plus for me) a defined multi-roomed pub. A large space off to the right – used tonight for live acoustic music. A small snug type room with a larger room at the back, which is where we sat.

Looking across the bar, my eyes lighted on Hop from Blackedge Brewery of Horwich.

A 3.8 %abv pale brew. Some citrus on the nose. Didn’t get (what I would call) much citrus in the mouth, but what I did get was a wonderful dry hoppyness, really clean and refreshing. I had this a couple of months back in the New Oxford and didn’t quite get it. I now know different. Superb session beer.

Then had a Moorhouses Black Cat. OK, but not at its best. When it is, it’s a superb beer. Possibly coming toward the barrel end methinks. Some roasted character in there, but a slight sourness. As I said, not bad, just not perfect either.

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(The REAL ‘King’ of Rock n’ Roll!)

Quite enjoyed the folky/rock strains coming through from the other room. This particular Dog is looking a bit shaggy now, but some interesting ‘Muriels’ (I love a good Hilda Ogden malapropism!) reflecting the pubs musical slant. That said, I’ll be back. 2 or 3 good beer venues close by.

Nice friendly barman as well. Asked for tasters, instantly provided. Nice.

Other beers on included Thwaites Wainwights and Bank Top Flat Cap. Good selection for a small venue.

Moving on, Colin fancied nipping into Barristers for a pint. Who am I to deny him!

Barristers

Attached to the much larger Swan Hotel at the end of Bradshawgate, this has been a bit of a real ale haven for a number years now. It’s previous name of ‘The Malt & Hops Bar’ giving the game away.

Barristers

(pic – courtesy of beerintheevening.com)

A one room bar, with an internal courtyard which leads to the facilities (contained within the aforementioned Swan). The bar has a bit of a Victorian look to it with a lot of wood in evidence. The room curves around the bar with more than adequate seating available, including a couple of nooks with some comfy chairs.

Looking for something dark, my eyes hit upon Double Stout by Hook Norton. At 4.8% abv, I’ve had this in bottle and thought it OK. Time for draught. Mmmmmm! Black, creamy head, some coffee notes on the nose. Lovely dark malty flavours, reminiscent of overdone buttery toast. Gorgeous and vying for ‘pint of the night’ with the Hawkshead!

£6.70 for three pints was none too shabby either!

At this point we bade farewell to Graham who had a bus to catch. Only 5 minutes later did I realise why, 11:10! Good grief, where did the hours go? An excellent and interesting beery related chat, was nice to meet him. Who knows, I might start to pop out to some Branch Meetings soon!

At this point (and against all my better judgement!) Colin dragged me (kicking and screaming) back into The Spinning Mule. Another NZPA? Who am I to say no!

A pleasant evening – even when accosted by an over refreshed guy in the Spoons earlier!

On that note….

Slainte!

A Few Bottle Tastings

Just a couple of nice ones so far this month.

1. Rudgate Chocolate Stout 5% abv – Booths – £1.99

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A surprise purchase from Booths at Media City this one! Hadn’t seen Rudgate there before. Deep ruby to black beer. A Malteser and caramac aroma. Dry chocolate in the mouthy, dark but not overly bitter. Nicely flavoured with chocolate not dominating the drink, a bit more subtle than some. Nice dry cocoa flavour lingered for a short while. A really nice choc stout.

2 Saltaire Triple Chocoholic – 4.8% abv – Booths – £1.99

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Yes, I have a sweet tooth! Black beer with noticeable chocolate syrup (ice cream topping) aroma. Smooth in the mouth with sweet chocolate flavour up front, lovely dark chocolatey malty base. Made with 3 sources of chocolate flavour, hence the Triple. Made to out chocolate the Youngs Dbl Choc Stout, which it does, in spades! Still one of my favourite beers, but the Rudgate pushes it close.

3. Two Roses Brewery – Black Beauty Stout – 5% abv – A gift form Jaz via Ashton Farmers Market.

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Black beer with a creamy head. Aroma had some lactic type Milk Stoutiness with an added whiff of licorice. This Vegan friendly beer was lovely and dark with a nice roast dark malt, a hint of coffee and a slight dry smokiness in the finish. A lovely beer and my first from this brewery. I’ll make up for that next time I pop into Yorkshire Ales!

4. Wilson Potter – Gingery Does It – 3.5% abv – Direct from the brewers.

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A very pale golden beer. Pale head. Slight citrus aroma with hint of spicing to come. A nicely gentle hoppiness with ginger nibbling on your tongue. A really refreshing nicely warming beer in the mouth. Really refreshing. Gingery in the way of Marble Ginger – but more refreshing. Must buy some more.

Manchester – A Festival of Festivals – 25/01/2013

The last National Winter Ale Festival in Manchester*. I had to go, didn’t I? Rumour started to get back about a number of pubs in Town having their own mini-fests…….working on the basis that you can NEVER have too much. of a good thing, my Yoda, Jaz, tried to do the lot! Including The New Oxford (Technically in Salford)

So, accounting for that little technicality, I started my effort to visit all those in Manchester in the Micro Bar in the Manchester Arndale Centre.

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I HATE the Arndale. Always have. From the days when i roamed its walkways as a school kid, checking bargains in Bostocks Records. The Arndale is a soulless testament to the worst that mammon can throw down.

However, tucked away in the corner, butting onto the multi-story car park carousel is the Market Hall. This place is almost the antithesis of its host. Local traders and providers on little market stalls. Fresh food, take-aways and…..The Micro Bar!

Run by the guys behind Boggart Brewery, an aley oasis. 5 handpumps. 3 Craft/keg fonts and, this week, a mini beer festival (30 ales)! It would have been SO rude not to!

A friendly bunch of people at Micro. A brief chat with the nice young lady who (i think) does the tweeting and I got the chance to speak with Mark Dade (aka The Boss!). Top bloke. A chat about the way ‘the business’ of beer works provided me with some insights.

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The beer? Arbor Ales Triple Hop Series at 4% and their own Boggart Extra Rum Porter at 6.5% (aged for 6 months!). The Arbor is a pale beer from the barrel, nice and hoppy, one for a repeat. But not today eh?

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Now, the Extra Rum Porter!

Smells of Rum & Coke – dangerously so. Lots of roasted malt, quite bitter, like a dry stout more than a porter, i thought. Sweetness from the Rum and some molasses and burnt sugar/caramel comes through. Lovely, but a good job I’m only having the one!

A little note about a food vendor adjacent to Micro Bar called Panchos Burritos. Had a superb Chicken Burrito which I ate at the bar in Micro. £5. Excellent, tasty and great value. Also a superb match for the Extra Rum Porter!

The Micro Bar fest has ALL the beers priced at 3 quid a pint! Get in tomorrow and take advantage. Excellent beer at excellent value.

Now on to The Smithfield and Leg No 2. Caveman Brewery Citra at 4.1% and Oates Brewery – OMT at 3.8.

The Smithfield is one of those Manchester pubs that just FEELS like a proper local. Quiet today though, which is a shame because they do seem to procure beers that no-one else does. For instance, I’ve never seen/had Caveman beers before. Having said that, I can’t complain. At least I have a seat!

The OMT is pale at 3.8% and tastes like a light mild, not much bitterness but some nice gentle malty stuff going on here. That said, some bitterness and dryness in the aftertaste. Hey, I CAN be wrong you know! The beer was slightly warm and may have been first from the pump. Still a nice refreshing beer.

The Caveman Citra at 4.1% has all the usual citra hop characteristics, tropical hop aroma, some citrus pineapple and grapefruit flavours, pale beer with sharp dry finish. Can someone please explain to me why this bar is so quiet? The value at 2.60 for two halves is extraordinary!

Next up, The Crown & Kettle on the junction of Great Ancoats St and Oldham Road (A62).

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(As a photographer, I make a damn fine drinker!)

This is (architecturally) one of Manchesters’ gems. A gorgeous (presumably) listed building, dating from the 1840s with loads of original details (described on house hunt programmes as ‘period features’!).

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(The room behind the bar)

5 ales on handpump out front, with more in the covered courtyard out the back (will check later)

First taste, Bear Ass from Beartown Brewery. Brown beer at 4%. Berries on the nose. So far….. Then BANG! Loads of fruit flavour where bitterness was expected. Tremendously surprising. Initially, I thought red berries, but now definitely some blackcurrant (no doubt Beartown will correct me on that!)

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Next beer is Onyx from Sandstone Brewery at 4%. Black with a tan coloured head. a fairly light Stout . Full bodied and a creamy texture, with some bitter chocolate in the aftertaste. First time brewery for me, again.

Having checked the ‘Outside’ bar (not set up until 15:00, I decided that now was the time for some serious girding of the loins. Off to The Winter Ales Festival!

This used to be held, more centrally, at the New Century Hall near Victoria Train Station. However, it has now been at The Sheridan Suite (approx 1 1/2 miles up the Oldham Rd for a few years. *For reasons best known to CAMRA bigwigs, it’s off to Derby next year (BOO!)

I had been on Wednesday evening with Jaz. Wednesday / Thursday being probably the best days to go, as they are a little less packed and you can walk around without knocking into people all the time.

The beer on Wednesday was little ‘hit & miss’ for me. Some of it was actually quite warm, which is disappointing. Let’s be honest, it isn’t as if this was the first time this festival had been held!

In my (humble!) opinion, the three best beers that I had on Wednesday were (in no particular order)

Allgates – Double Espresso (4.4% abv) – A black stout with a strong coffee aroma, more subtly coffee in the mouth with a nice dry bitter finish.

Bridestones – Vanilla Porter (4.8% abv) – Black with lots of sweet vanilla aroma. Full bodied with some vanilla sweetness balanced by a dry finish.

Cheshire Brewhouse – Engine Vein (4.2% abv) – A really nicely balanced hoppy bitter with a gentle smokiness in the aftertaste.

Not to forget my nightcap of choice at Port Street later – Hawkshead NZPA – 6% of massive hops. Mmmmm…..

Back to Friday!

The Sheridan Suite is, quite simply, a cubic lump of concrete. Uninspiring and utilitarian. To be frank, it wouldn’t have looked out of place as a 70s Sports Halle in East Berlin!!! (Enough Prince Charles critique……!). However, my daughter does occasionally work there and tells me that the owners are excellent friendly people. So there! (Her words)

I got there at about 3:15 and the place wasn’t TOO full. Up the escalator and into the main hall, the majority of the ales were arranged around the perimeter, in roughly alphabetical order. The major exception to this was “The Champions Bar” where the beers in the Champion Winter Ale competition were hosted, set apart from the rest. Maybe I’m just a touch, err, thick, but this layout / format confuses me. There’s simply TOO MUCH going on. It takes a while to spot the beer that you want to try and by the time you find it, it’s gone!

I don’t know what the answer is. Or even if I’m alone in this. I find the format tired. The Leeds International and The IndyManBeerCon were just SO much more logical and housed in gorgeous surroundings….I’m getting opinionated and boring (I know) so…moving swiftly on….

The beers were priced generally aligned to the alcoholic strength, from £1.30 a half to over £2 for some of the more stupidly intoxicating offerings…..Baz’s Bonce Blower….Oh please no……Can’t we get rid of the most stupid names?

The staff are mostly CAMRA volunteers and to be fair, were a really friendly helpful bunch.

The beer….

Firstly I had Liverpool Stout by Liverpool Organic – (4.3% abv) – This was a black stout which (I thought) was slightly sweet, like a less lactic Milk Stout. I expected something more dry and assertive, but pleasant enough.

2. 13 Guns by Daniel Thwaites – (5.5% abv) – I may need to reassess Thwaites. This was a cracking IPA. A bit of a hop monster aroma, but more gently hoppy in the mouth, certainly more smooth and rounded than the aroma indicated, a surprising beer and one of the weeks best for me.

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3. Dry Stone Stout by Hawkshead – (4.5% abv) – Not as assertively roasted as I hoped. A smooth gentle roasted flavour, slight chocolate with a subtly smoked aftertaste.

4. Siberia by Ilkley / Melissa Cole (Collaboration) – (5.9% abv) – If you’ve read this blog before – and my eulogising of this great beer – I had this simply because I could, OK! Hazy, wheaty, slight sourness with some lovely rhubarb taste. A stunning beer. Anybody who says different……I’ll see you in the car park! OK!

5. Venus Ella by Prospect Brewery – (3.8% abv) – This is one of a series of collaborations by a trans-atlantic alliance of Brewsters (lady brewers – to the uninitiated, like me!). A nice pale bitter beer with a substantially hoppy aroma with more body than a 3.8% should have. A really nice beer. A contender for beer of the week (A pale beer? Am i going soft?)

6. (And finally) – Fireside Porter by Ilkley – (4.2% abv) – Another beer with plenty of body / texture for the light strength. Lovely roasted flavours and another with a gentle smokiness lasting into the dry finish.

Moment of the week? The threats of biblical retribution posited toward the (believed) women who were thieving the soap from the ladies toilets. (Along with the implied threat of body searches! Classic!!!)

Beer of the week. A close one. For the Darks – Allgates Espresso probably just shades it. For the Pales – Prospect Venus Ella, which surprised me.

Jaz and I (of course he was there!) left (into a blizzard!) and popped into a few pubs on the return journey. Checked out the bar at the back of the Crown and Kettle and had a (cold) Detention by Old School Brewery (OSB) – a nice amber coloured bitter, just too cold!

Then, The Castle. We went upstairs to drink our Roosters Humble Pie – a pale slightly hoppy beer -What a great job they’ve done in opening up the upstairs. A really nicely decorated room which more than makes up for the space lost to the “performance” room.

Finally, onto Soup Kitchen. Only one beer on, but Privateer Brewery – Dark Revenge. This was as good as I remembered it. A strong mild at 4.5%, the lovely chocolaty dark malt flavours revived my (by now) jaded palate! Nicely busy, with Some excellent tunage being spun (on vinyl) by the DJ!

At this point, I waved the white flag and set off home. However, I grabbed the opportunity for a swift half of Salford Arms Ale by Black Jack in the……..(where was I again?)….ah, yes, The Salford Arms. Nice and hoppy. There was a band setting up at the far end. However, it was a swift half, unfortunately. Raising the White Flag again, I jumped the 37 bus to home.

Do you ever have those semi-drunken conversations on a bus? (So it’s not just me then!) Tonight, I was talking to a bloke. Nice beer related conversation. The bloke was formerly from Swinton, but more latterly had migrated to Saffron Walden in Essex.It turned out that he was the Brewery Liaison Officer for North West Essex CAMRA! I’ll be e-mailing Richard the blog address – of course!

‘Snowmageddon’ was now blanketing North Manchesters’ suburbs in a thick white quilt. The 37 bus struggled along the route, eventually depositing me opposite my igloo. Donning my snowshoes, I crossed the glacier and opened the front  door with the immortal words “Hi Honey (hic), I’m home!”

On that note (and reaching for the tub of Andrews’)….Til next time!

Slainte!

Blather About Bottles – 09/01/2013

It’s that time of the year isn’t it. Christmas has been and gone, as has the bank balance in an orgy of spending! The reins get applied to the strolling. Bugger me I’m fed up! However, the consolation is that it forces me to dig into those boxes stored just off the kitchen. You know, the ones filled with all manner of bottled beer! Malty manna from that place up there, you know…..The Beer Shop!

Anyway, I was under frim (or even firm) orders from Atilla to deplete the stash before I even batted an eyelid at The Beer Shop, Beers of Europe, or even Booths! So, it was with a heavy heart 🙂 that I FORCED myself to locate the bottle opener……

Redwillow Ageless

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This was one of four bottles purchased at the SIBA Festival in Manchester (4 for £9! ) and was the only one of the four to be bottle conditioned. Being about as sensitive as a bull in the proverbial, this one got shaken up. Badly. So, I had to let it lie for a while….

When I finally plucked up the courage to flip the lid, oh boy! I was reaquainted with the knowledge that Redwillow are one of my favourite breweries. This beer (a Double IPA) poured golden with a light head, slightly hazy but the spicy citrus hop aroma hit from the off. At 7.2% abv, this is obviously not a beer to trifle with (insert own sherry reference!). A nice balance between intense hoppyness and firm malt base. Lovely and bitter and really smooth in the mouth for a bottled beer. A fine lasting bitterness in the aftertaste. I like this!

Tatton Brewery – Obscure

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I first clapped eyes on this beer on draught in The Mark Addy in Salford (NOT Manchester – got it?), Jaz had this one whilst I had an Acorn Old Moor Porter. He enjoyed it, but couldn’t quite figure it out. Anyway, a fine colleague of mine (Take a bow Mr D!) managed to pick up a bottle of this for me (and a Beartown Wojtek – see below), for which I was suitably grateful! When I opened it, I was puzzled as hell!!!

5.7% abv. It poured black. To my eyes, a porter or a stout. A cream coloured head…so far so good….then the aroma….sugared grapefruit? Banana Split ice cream? Fudge? WTF is going on? Spicy hops? I needed a lie down. The flavour only befuddled me more! Yes, there was roasted malt in there, and a tinge of dark chocolate. But rhubarb??? The label says “Not Your Obvious Beer” – They’re not kidding either. I love hop monsters and the like, but sometimes…you just need something that makes you think. This made me think in spades. A candidate for my bottled beer of the year! (Going to try to get to the brewery late spring-early summer!)

Beartown Wojtek 5.5% abv

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I had tried for ages to get my hands on a bottle of this! Finally, at the SIBA Fest (see previous blog) I managed it. In with the Redwillow at £2.25. Bargain! Then, when I get into work the next week, that lovely Mr D got me another one! Ta muchly!

A pale gold when poured, with a nice white head. Some nice, fresh yet subtle citrussy hops on the nose. A lovely biscuity malt that reminded me of the base of a good banoffee cheesecake! Balanced up with some nice citrus hop flavour. A nice dry hoppy aftertaste too. Like I said above, sometimes a hop monster isn’t what’s required and a nice well made beer is just what you want. Beartown are proud of the awards they have won for this beer. Rightly so as well. I see quite a bit of their beers in some supermarkets, I just wish this was one of them!

Fyne Ales – Jarl 3.8% abv

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When I first encountered this beer, was the first time I came across Fyne Ales. I’m lucky enough to have a couple of E H Booths supermarkets within a short drive. They stock 4 or 5 of Fyne’s beers. Jarl was the first I tried. There aren’t many beers that shock me, but this most certainly did.

This pours paler than most lagers. The aroma hits you first, some assertive hopping here with grapefuit or apricot prominent. Then the flavour…BANG! Assertive didn’t do it justice….grapefuit again..maybe even a touch of lemon…wow, this is a really hoppy beer. On draught, it would make a fabulous session beer. But herein lies the rub….I’ve never had it on draught….what I would give…….!

Suffice to say, that if anybody hears of it on draught within a 30 minute train journey of Bolton (and told me in time, of course!), I’d be forever in their debt. In the meantime, do yourselves a favour, get to Booths!

Buxton Brewery – Smokey and the Band-Aid 7% abv

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Firstly. Let me get this out of the way. My boss bought me a bottle of this for Xmas. How fecking cool is that eh? (Last year it was Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout!) Needless to say, we get on famously (nice one Mick!) Totally independently, I picked one up at the formidable Beer Shop in Heaton Moor (see previous blog – Best Little Beerhouse…..), so I have a spare. Lucky me!

This is one of Buxtons “Special Reserve Series” (number 2) and is a Smoked Rye Porter. It’s also bloody gorgeous!

Pouring a deep deep brown, almost black. The aroma? Bonfire debris. Intense smoky bacon, Lagavulin (my favourite single malt!), peat smoke.

The flavour? Initially smooth, slightly sweet with some smokiness. Then the peatyness fills the sides of your mouth like an Islay single malt. For the strength, this is surprisingly warming. A lovely smooth almost cask-like texture, the smokiness isn’t overpowering, it’s just mmmmmm……..

A fabulous beer! Another bottle of the year candidate. Buxton just keep making bloody good beer. I just need to get hold of a Series 3 – and if anyone has a Series 1 knocking about……..!

Just one more thing. 2012 was a year of rediscovering beer again. Thanks to my good buddy Jaz for that! Now seeing as everybody seems to give laurels out….who am I to buck the trend. Nice and simple though. Just best bottle and best draught for me!

Draught

Tricky this. All through this blog, I’ve rattled on consistently about how my favourite beer is Magic Rock Dark Arts. And how I love the Dark Side. But, Magic Rock beat themselves! All because of a night that started in BrewDog on Peter Street in Manchester…..

1. Magic Rock – Human Cannonball (9.2%) – Simply wrecked my mouth that night –  an absolute hop assault – unforgettable.

2. Magic Rock – Dark Arts 6% (need I say more?)

3. Ilkley Siberia 5.9% – Thank you Ilkley and Melissa Cole for this rhubarb gem – a classic!

Bottle

This was the year I started to truly appreciate bottle conditioned beer. And strong beer. Oh sod it!

1. Tatton Obscure – see above – Truly astonishing!

2. BrewDog Abstrakt 7 (12.5%) – Thank you to Will at IndyManBeerCon for this. Loved working and drinking at that festival. And buying this! (Port, Whisky,Xmas Cake…..ooohhhh)

3. Buxton – Smokey and the Band-Aid – see above. Subtly smoky, just a great advertisement of the brewing arts.

Right, enough. Another stroll soon as the bank is replenished!

Until next time.

Slainte!