EastWestFest – 15-16/05/2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Because it’s red. And a shed.

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

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

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

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

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(OH, if only people had….)

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

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(Because remembering this stuff matters)

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

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

I learned the following.

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

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

My beery highlights?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then we get to my personal favourite.

Five Towns BreweryMay Day DIPA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a fantastic day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beer may feature.

So, for now…

Slainte!

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

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

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

Allgates Fist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Just hop on the bus, Gus”

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

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

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

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

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(Archive shot – too busy drinking for pics!)

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

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

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

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

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

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The White Lion (Leigh Road, Leigh)

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

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

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

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

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

Ding! Ding!

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The Union Arms (Castle Street, Tyldesley)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

XOYO” – The Passage

The Stockport Beer Festival 01/06/2013 (or, Sir Galahad finds his Holy Gr(ale))

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(pic – gmcr.alenewsnet.com)

This was truly a last-minute decision. OK, it was made the evening before, but you get the point!

I knew this was my lucky day when I turned up late for the train at Farnworth, to find the train was even later! So it was that I found my self at the rear entrance to Stockport Train Station and waited for Jaz (well, who else would drink with me!) A quick nip into Sivoris caff for a spot of brekky and we’re entering that cathedral of footballing excellence, Edgeley Park. Home of the newly relegated Stockport County FC!

I had heard from John Clarke (CAMRA South Manchester), that Jarl by Fyne Ales would be making an appearance. Let me be quite honest, much though I love a beer fest, it was Jarl that dragged me out of my pit that morning and plonked me on that train! Jaz had been winding me up about how gorgeous it was the previous day (Cheers Buddy!), so my hopes were low of locating my beery Grail. Now, where were those beers beginning with the letter F? Then, the metaphorical clouds parted and the sunbeam shone on one particular 18 gallon (kilderkin) cask. JARL! At £2 a bloody pint as well!!!

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(Beer Porn Alert! The Holy Grale!)

I truly felt like Sir Galahad as he laid eyes on the hallowed chalice! Jarl. Beloved in bottle, now on draught. And I had a pint!

Believe me when I say this. I have chased this beer from bar to bar. From the Allgates Brewery “Road To Wigan Beer” (Pt 2 in October!), to haring across Manchester on a rumour (it had sold out!). But now, I finally had it in my trembling mitt! Was it worth it? Bloody stupid question! 3.8% abv and pale as a spring morning, It was sharp, lemon zesty both in nose and palate. It was a citrus festival in my mouth. I love this beer almost as much as my darling Atilla! Yeah. It was a decent pint! So good was it, that I broke a rule. I had two. I had to!

Descending some stairs into the bowels of this footballing Mecca, we ambled to watch an Oompah band. Just behind the bottle bar, I asked a genial gent if he was John Clarke, one of the organisers  of this fest and Editor of Opening Times the S Manchester CAMRA branch mag. I introduced my self and had a really pleasant (but all too brief) chinwag. A damn nice bloke indeed. Interesting bottle selection too, with a De Molen Citra for £3. (I didn’t)20130601_124431

(The Oompah band is there – look harder!)

The Oompah troupe were superb and fun, playing snatches of requests. Good, but my focus was back upstairs, where business needed doing!

That business matter led me to Dark Matter, a 3.8% Mild by Saltaire. I don’t think I’ve ever had a Mild by the Shipley alechemists before. This was quite subtle. Some nice gentle roast with more than a tinge of blueberry or blackberry. A nice smoky hint in the aftertaste too. Lovely. I would have had it first, but when Jarl (my Juliet – apologies to David Mayhall for this most blatant of thefts!) calls, this Romeo had to climb to the balcony!

Next up was Coal Porter (See what they did there!) by Elixir Brewing from Livingston. Now THIS is my idea of dark heaven! 5% abv, black (or near as dammit!) with a hint of smoke on the nose. This delivered bitter chocolate in this roasted mouthful, smooth texture with a lingering smokiness. A beautiful porter. Enjoyed whilst sitting in the stands (see below!)

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(A tinge of grassyness!)

Following my second pint of Jarl, I had a small taste of Oat Stout from Nook Brewhouse of Holmfirth. At 5.2% this was creamy textured with more than a hint of the hedgerow. A gentle smokiness in the finish was a twist. First from Nook and really nice.

Next up was the Single Hop IPA from Stockport’s own Quantum Brewing. The hop variety in the case being Triskel (French I believe). Golden, fruity aroma (tropical, pineapple?) with that carrying through in the mouth. Nice and juicy with a nice dry finish. Quite subtle this hop. Didn’t taste its strength.

We’d gabbed for a bit and time had passed. It was time for a final beer and I opted for another Fyne Ales. This time (reverting to type!) their Sublime Stout at 6.8% abv. Probably not the wisest of choices at that strength. However, just like the Quantum, it didn’t taste its strength. A lovely smooth roasted mouthful with some mocha on the nose. Creamy wee beastie this with a delicious smokiness that hung about a bit. It was 4 o’clock now and we were being ushered out. One of the perils of separate sessions I suppose.

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(One of the ‘quieter’ moments!)

In summary : All the beers I had were uniformly in superb condition. They were also ludicrously inexpensive! £2 a pint for Jarl? The idea of sitting in the stands was great. However, this is where my one quibble surfaces. The area where the beers were served had the feel of a narrow corridor, in no way helped by the punters tendency to hang around once they’d made their purchases. This made it somewhat difficult to move about in there. I know, I know that you can’t actually FORCE the imbibing throng to relocate once they’d made their choices, but at times, I felt uncomfortable. There!

That said, after a 20 odd year gap between fests (I served at a charity bar at the old Town Hall fest), I’ll be back! (Now where have I heard that before?)

Departing felt like I was actually leaving a footy match! At this juncture, Jaz revealed a plan to visit a nearby boozer Ye Olde Vic.

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Located on Chatham Street, walking in felt like a time warp! Dark, warm and friendly, I settled in instantly to a pint of Oracle by Salopian Brewery, a first by this brewer for me! A pale beer that was lovely, sharp, crisp  and hoppy.

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This isn’t a multiroom, but has that multiroom feel. I think there were 7 hand pumps, with beers from Thornbridge, Oakham, Magic Rock featuring. However, I went for Jade by Liverpool Organic. This was a nice clean pint with flowery notes. Probably a bit too delicate at this stage. I think after my efforts, I needed something more assertive. This beer would be one to start with. Refreshing though.

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(Now. Where DID I put those pumpclips? Ah yes, the ceiling!)

Time for the train back to Manchester. Now, a sensible boy would’ve IMMEDIATELY caught a connection to Bolton. But I said “sensible”!

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So, Jaz guided us into Pie & Ale by Bakerie. Located on Lever Street, this is a decidedly modern affair and looks designed to catch a fairly trendy crowd. So, what am I doing here? To the rear bar we go and Lo! Handpumps! And what’s more, local beers from Wilson Potter and Brightside! Alongside a couple of Wells & Young’s offerings and a Liverpool Chocolate Porter.

Here I chose Natural Progression by Wilson Potter. You will (if you’ve read this blog before) know what I think of the beers brewed by these ladies. Smooth, tasty and clean. This was no exception. A nice fruity smooth mouthful. 4.8%. It’s great to see more of their beers around Manchester. Seems like their beers are on in this place quite frequently. Good to know!

Next up, Odin by Brightside Brewing (now of Radcliffe!). A really refreshing beer this. Bright, pale, zippy and nicely hopped. Initially thought it was a ‘real’ lager it was THAT pale (as you can see!). A blonde beer to look out for from another excellent local brewery.

20130601_191043(A zesty blonde indeed!)

Pie & Ale is an excellent addition to the Northern Quarter. If the food is anywhere near as good as the beer……..friendly knowledgeable staff, siiting booths and bench seating. I like this place!

Quickly skipping my greedily ordered Ardbeg Uigeadail single malt (I had to!) We finished off the evening in Port Street Beer House (where else) with an Oakham Green Devil IPA. More hops than a Watership Down audition. Stunningly fruity and hoppy. Enough said. A classic.

Not the most sensible day out, but bloody enjoyable!

Back in Manchester on Friday and Wigan on Saturday with some brewing luminaries at Allgates (I’ll be making the tea!)

On that note….’til next time….

Slainte!

Wetherspoons International Beer Festival – Bulls Head, Walkden 14/04/2013

Wetherspoons. take ’em or leave ’em, eh? Travelling the country frequently in the early noughties, I went in dozens of the blighters. Converted cinemas, converted banks, converted offices. Conversion after conversion. To be frank, the majority served one purpose. Cheap food. That’s because (other than a few isolated instances) the beer was mediocre. I learned which ones to trust and which to leave alone.

I can count the ones I trust on one hand. However, sometimes, you overlook what’s closest to you. So, using the Wetherspoons International Beer Festival as an excuse, I found myself entering The Bulls Head on Manchester Road in Walkden. A mile from my front door. And, to me at least, a rarity. A restored pub by JD Wetherspoon!

The Bulls Head

the-bull-s-head(Courtesy of  TripAdvisor)

In my mid to late teens, I had quite a few friends in Little Hulton, but, being a Salford lad, the Bulls Head was something I passed on the bus. I can only recall actually entering the pub once. It was a fairly grim place. A Whitbread plaything (from memory), it followed ‘fashion’ and was even named – at one point – “The Amsterdam Bar (with Sound and Light – I kid you not!) Some years later, after a stabbing in 2011, the pub was shut. It wasn’t the greatest of boozers, but Walkden could ill afford losing another pub.

Wetherspoons were rumoured to be having a presence in the newly developed Ellesmere Shopping Centre. To my surprise, they took on The Bull, spending a reputed £1.3 million on a total refurb.

They did a superb job.

It’s a large single floor space. Whilst – technically – a single room, it has the feel of multiple areas. Lots of area given up to eating, but a number of different areas within gives a bit of choice of where to settle. Lots of local history pieces on the walls. A map on the floor depicting the ‘hidden canals’ that were used to transport coal underground to the Bridgewater Canal for distribution on the canal network.

Being the International Beer Festival though, gave us a chance to sample some imported cask conditioned beers. So, what did I start with?

Marstons Single Hop – Pacific Gem!

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(That surprised ME as well!) A pale beer at 4% abv. This had a gentle lemony citrus aroma and maybe a hint of candied grapefruit. The flavour was light and subtle with more than a hint if citrus hop. Not had a Marstons beer for ages due to previous disappointments, but this was such a refreshing pint.

Devils Backbone Brewery – American Amber 4.8% abv

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The first of 3 ‘International’ beers this evening, from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia (but brewed for the fest at Adnams)! This red beer (or ‘deep copper’ if you prefer!) had a lovely American hop citrus aroma. This was a beltingly (new adjective?) lovely balanced beer with a big malt body offset by distinctively citrussy American hops. Lovely.

Good George Brewing – Pacific Pearl 5.5% abv

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Described in the tasting notes as ‘The Brewers take on a Black IPA’ – From Hamilton in New Zealand (but brewed in the UK for the festival by ex-Thornbridge brewer Kelly Ryan), this was a deep ruby to black coloured beer. A gentle fruity hop aroma to this one, but in the body there lurked a licorice like hop torpedo! Really nice this. So good that I had to have two!

Vasileostrovsky Brewery – Siberian Red 6% abv

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(forgot to snap!)

From St Petersburg (but brewed at Banks Brewery in Wolverhampton, this is a deep red coloured beer. Some blackberry on the nose. A full-flavoured fruity malt beer with some hoppy dryness in the finish. Red beers aren’t usually my thing, but I gave this a go for my sleeping draught and found that I really enjoyed it!

To sum up. The Bulls Head may not be everyone’s idea of a great pub. For my money though, ‘Spoons did a really good job with this and brought a much-needed variety of ales into this area. The inside of the pub is really well done with some unusual high-backed chairs.

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They have, in the process of renovating this lovely building, created a fabulous space to the rear. Col had been in The Bull on many occasions and the back was never this spacious! Nice tables, comfy seats, nicely lit. It was needed tonight as the pub heating was set to sub-tropical!

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(Just a small section of the outside space!)

I wouldn’t ordinarily have written this single pub visit up, but the festival is on until next Sunday. Whilst I know that ‘Spoons aren’t everyone’s cup of lapsang, some of the beers on offer look superb (Ionian Coffee Porter anyone?) and it would be a shame to let prejudice get in the way of some really good beers that we may never see again!

Having been in three or four times now, The Bulls Head may be entering into that rare club. Wetherspoons that I trust!

On that note…..

Slainte!

A Surprise or Two in Wigan! 13/03/2013

Having ventured out into Bolton on Sunday, I was in the midddle of my week off. I had done a few chores and was feeling content with my efforts. I’d even had a couple of (small) winners at my beloved Cheltenham Festival. So, it was with no guilt whatsoever that I stepped on the train to Wigan with my old friend Col.

I have been promising myself some Allgates beers for some time now. You don’t get them all that often in Manchester (I was to find part of the reason for that later on), so, after a chat on Sunday evening with Col, we decided – with us both having the week off work – to pop to Wigan on Wednesday. £3.80 and a 20 odd minute train journey later, we were walking up Wallgate in Wigan.

Now then, I have only been in Wigan town centre once. I hadn’t a clue where any place was. Col pointed to the left. Up a side alley was my first surprise of the day, Allgates Brewery. My but that place is tucked away! The second surprise was how close we were to the first recommendation I’d had from a number of people via Twitter (thanks Roy & Hannah!), this was……

The Raven

The Raven(pic courtesy – wigan.gov.uk)

Walking in, what a lovely pub! Staff were friendly, 8 ales on the bar (all from local micros), what a good start! I ordered myself a pint of Old School Brewery Detention and Col a Burscough Priory Gold. The OSB Detention was a nice fruity bitter with a gentle hedgerow fruit aroma and nice hoppy dryness in the finish. At 4.1% abv, a sensible and nice start. Especially at £1.95 a pint (Wednesday was a special offer on ales, all £1.95 a pint – yet another nice surprise!)

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(Nice selection – Three others inc two darks!)

Had a little look around the pub. Nice big dining room to the rear. Lots of period (ooh, get me!) features, loads of wood, a couple of nooks to sit in (which we did).

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(Dining Room)

Some nice food on offer in here. Feeling peckish, we both had a stew and dumplings at £8 for two. Really tasty, filling and nice tender meat with nary a saddle in sight! Col popped to the bar and furnished me with a pint of Burscough Mere Blonde. 4% abv, golden colour, sherbet lemon like aroma. Gently hoppy with some herbal notes. Nice refreshing beer.

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(Nice period fireplace)

From what I heard later, The Raven has recently re-opened after being closed for some years. It has had a bit of a refurb and from what I can see, they’ve done a grand job.

Well. Here comes Surprise #4!

Whilst in The Raven, I received a tweet from David Mayhall, partner/owner of Allgates Brewery – who was nearby – inviting me in for a look around the brewery! As previously stated, I share ONE trait with Oscar Wilde, being able to resist anything except temptation. In that spirit, Col and I headed off to The Anvil to meet him.

Located in The Old Brewery in Brewery Yard off Wallgate, this is a surprising building, with a VERY small footprint!

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(As Father Ted said to Dougal – “This is small…that’s far away!’)

If you want to read the interesting back story of the brewery, they can tell it better than I can, so visit http://www.allgatesbrewery.com/brewery/about_us/

Anyhow, the brewery is approached through a narrow alleyway directly off Wigan’s Wallgate and is about 2 minutes from the platforms of Wallgate train station.

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(As you can see, a bit narrow!)

As said above, this building isn’t huge, so every available square foot that they are allowed to use IS used, from sub floor level barrel storage to the higher floor level grist case and everywhere in between!

David introduced us to Jonathan (the Head Brewer) and they both explained that this is a Tower brewery with a 5 BBL (beer barrel – 36 Gallons) brew length and can brew several times a day. With 6 fermenting vessels and seven conditioning vessels, they are running at full capacity. Any further expansion of capacity would probably necessitate a move to a new location, which would be a shame, because this is an atmospheric old building!

Using predominantly Maris Otter malted barley for their pale beers and a variety of malts for the darker stuff they chiefly hop with US and (to a lesser extent) New Zealand hops, the New World stuff (as you will know) imparting sharper more tropical aromas and flavours. David explained that they are placing a greater focus on native hops and this year are brewing a series of monthly specials of single hop beers using UK varieties. 

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(Mash Tun)

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(The sugary/malty stuff then goes here. Where Mr Hop gets a look in!)

The nature and age of the Grade 2 building makes the entire brewing process reliant on this being a manual operation almost from start to finish, including hoisting the weekly ton deliveries of malt from ground floor up three floors via trap doors at each level.

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(2 of the 6 FVs)

Allgates brew a number of different beers a week (including some periodic seasonal and specials). Whilst we were there, the ongoing brew was All Black (a mild with NZ hops). In the Fermenting Vessels (FVs) were a variety of brews including Florida (brewed with Lubelski hops – a nice orange/tangerine hint, v refreshing), Pretoria and Double Espresso, with their own sourced Brazilian Coffee (lovely and smooth with a gloriously rich coffee flavour).

We tried a number of other beers at various stages of maturity and I was surprised when none of them were harsh. All were smooth and some had a lot of the hop character you would expect in a completely ‘tap ready’ beer!

20130313_145841(Conditioning Vessels/Tanks)

A quick look into where the ‘formal’ brewery tours end up, complete with bar. During the day this doubles up as the office, Cheryl , another one of the staff, was very friendly. She is the lady who puts the pump clips on their own ‘wall of fame’ (my term!), but she’s hardly Amazonian and can only reach so high! (There were still some to be put up, but she couldn’t reach!)

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(Now THAT’s a Pumpclip Parade! – With apologies to Jeff Pickthall!)

Finally, down to ground level. This is where there is a further FV and some conditioning tanks (they really prefer to condition in the brewery prior to casking and release to the pubs). In the back were returned casks ready for cleaning and- in a separate room, the casks of guest beers that they have ordered for their very own festival!

This festival starts in a couple of weeks and is to be held held across the Allgates estate of 7 pubs. I saw some of the barrels and there are some crackers lined up. I was really surprised to see a cask of Redwillow Faithless XXI in there. I didn’t know that they’d got past XIX! The line up (as you can see) is pretty much a ‘Who’s Who’ of the UK craft brewing scene.

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I also now know why I don’t see much Allgates in Manchester. Dave told me that they virtually sell everything they brew through their own 7 pubs! As I said earlier, brewing 6 days a week, they are virtually working full belt. This is – as they emphasise on their website – essentially keeping the product local. This works two ways. Firstly, it keeps the carbon footprint of the whole operation low, less transportation. It also keeps costs down (a point I will example later) which filters down to you, the customer.

Saying that, this is still run as business (unlike some of the 1k + breweries knocking about) and makes money, which is good to see. Some of this may go into a small amount of estate expansion in the future. (Can I have one in Bolton, please?)

Finishing up at the brewery, we got out of Jonathan’s hair and headed off to The Anvil (again, 2 minutes walk) where our gracious host bought us a beer. Allgates All Black for me and a Mosaic for Col. David is a really nice bloke with a hell of a handshake grip (be warned!), I really enjoyed our chat and thanked him for this most unexpected brewery tour and for the patience required in answering mine and Cols questions!

The Anvil

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(pic – qype.co.uk)

Located on Dorning Street just 2 minutes from the brewery. Substantial looking pub close to both bus and rail stations. Interior more recent, with an open plan layout, but 3 distinct areas (+ unvisited beer garden). Clean and modern with lots of notices and pictures on the walls, including their multitude of CAMRA awards (and others!)

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(bar area)

Now then. Whereas The Raven was reasonably quiet, this place was as busy as a chippy! Virtually all the seating was occupied.Luckily, thanks to one of the chatty regulars, a more senior gent named Harry, we got a seat near the telly (and the all important day 2 of the Cheltenham Festival!)

20130313_165404(The CAMRA and Cask Marque Awards – and there were more out of shot!)

There were 6 ales on the bar I think. 1 from Black Jack (nice to see), Hydes Original (popular it seems) 2 from Allgates, Phoenix Arizona and a beer from Abbeydale of Sheffield. I stuck with the Allgates. Initially, I had the All Black that David bought me. A superbly smooth mild at 3.6% abv. Nice tan coloured creamy head on a black body, nice latte aroma from the head leading to a smooth dark roast flavour with but a hint of bitterness from the NZ hop varieties used (hence the ALL Black!). A really nice beer, up there with Bank Top Dark Mild for me!

Next up was the Mosaic. A really pale brew this. Instant tropical citrus aromas from the glass, grapefruit and mango. Lovely and bitter with a nice smooth grapefruit tinge again, much more subtle and smooth than the nose hinted at. A really refreshing pint. Having a great chat with Harry (who was a dab hand with magic tricks!) Col showed him a couple of card tricks. Damned if I could figure out how he did it! Of course, with all this going on, I simply HAD to have another pint of Mosaic, didn’t I? Col had a Black Jack which he enjoyed.

Pricing? This is where keeping the beer local kicks in. The Mosaic  was about £2.30 a pint, the All Black slightly cheaper. Superb value arrived at by keeping your costs down (transportation) and passing the saving on. All that, whilst using premium ingredients!

We tried the John Bull Chophouse, on a couple of recommendations. It was empty. Just the smell of paint and a smiling barman. Just finished a refurb, the ale (2 from Thwaites – inc Wainwrights – and an Elgoods) weren’t quite ready. Pub looks nice though.

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(Maybe next time eh?)

Saying our goodbyes to Harry, we moved on back toward the train station, stopping in the Moon Under Water on the way. I had a 3Bs Honey Bee whilst Col had a Coach House Blueberry. The rest of the selecction was uninspiring, with no darks. The 3Bs was a nice (slightly sweet – from the honey) beer which was probably the best shout. With hindsight, should have stayed in The Anvil for another!

Whilst we only went in 3 pubs in Wigan, the day was full of surprises and highly enjoyable. A town to which I will return. My next mission? To visit all 7 Allgates pubs!

On that note….’til next time…

Slainte!

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!