My Golden Pints 2013

Golden Pints Logo(Bloody Conformist!)

15 1/2 months ago, I decided that there weren’t enough people talking bollocks about beer, so I decided to join them by talking even MORE bollocks about it! What have I learned in that time?

1. That people LOVE talking bollocks about beer in even greater numbers than 15 1/2 months ago, and

2. That there are some lovely people in that number.

Last year, I just listed my favourite draught (NOT DRAFT!!!!) and bottled beers, because I didn’t know what I was doing. This year, I still don’t know what I’m doing, but I thought I would expend more words by following the acknowledged format! So, at 06:00 on Monday 23/12/2013, here goes….

  • Best UK Cask beerAllgates Brewery  – Quaker House Oatmeal Stout – Yes Tyson, you guessed correctly! Simply the best Stout I think I have ever tasted. Can I be accused of bias because (along with Tandleman & Tyson The Beerhound) I helped to brew it (well, stir the mash and shovel out the Mash Tun!), yes I can. Am I? No. I double checked on numerous occasions with my Jiminy Cricket (Jaz, the “Arch-Nemesis’) and he agreed and he’s NOT biased. A gloriously roasted, bitter, hoppy and luxuriously smooth alchemical concoction nursed to glorious fruition by Jonathan Provost, David Mayhall and the guys at Allgates. My proudest moment of the last 14 years. Thank you. (Honourable Mentions – Buxton Brewery – Imperial Black. Simply astonishingly good one night at Port Street, and Weird Beard – Black Perle. At 3.5%, simply WOW. A gorgeous Coffee Milk Stout at the strength)
  • Best UK Keg Beer – Ilkley BreweryDinner Ale – Unlike the vast majority of the beery blogosphere, I am not particularly well-travelled. My drinking has been pretty much limited to the North and – in particular – to cask conditioned and bottled beers. However, thanks to the miracles of Beer Festivals and the mighty Port Street Beer House, I have managed to sample a number of UK kegged beers, some absolute crackers among them. However, the one that stood out was Dinner Ale at the Leeds International Beer Festival. The most zingy and refreshing keg beer I’ve had all year. Refreshing is a quality that is seriously underrated.
  • Best UK Bottled or Canned BeerRevolutions BrewingManifesto – Creamy, luxurious, bitter chocolate, espresso, smoky, warming. Simply a classy strong Stout brewed without fanfare and just damn great. I love it and I love Revolutions Music & Beer ethos. Short and sweet (for a change!) (Honourable mention to Weird Beard – Decadence Stout. Bloody gorgeous bitter and hoppy Stout)
  • Best Overseas Draught Beer – Brouwerij Emelisse – Imperial Stout (Sorachi Ace) – Bought by the arch-nemesis at The Marble Arch at the end of a refreshing evening. Vinous yet delicate. Brutal yet gentle. I was astonished at the delicate flavours of this beer. Light and floral yet with all the heft of an Impy Stout. Do I have a clue what I’m talking about? Probably not, but I enjoyed it hugely.
  • Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer – Not really my bag….Next!
  • Best Collaboration Brew – Allgates Brewery  – Quaker House Oatmeal Stout – For the reasons above stated. It was a Collaboration and the best beer I have had this year, therefore….
  • Best Overall Beer – Allgates Brewery  – Quaker House Oatmeal Stout  – By definition….
  • Best Branding, Pumpclip or LabelWeird Beard – Just superb design which would fail utterly if it wasn’t backed up by a consistently superb product. “Follow The Beard” indeed…..(Honourable mention to Bad Seed Brewery – Just minimal and classy)
  • Best UK BreweryAllgates Brewery – From my first sip of All Black Mild, I fell in love. Simply great drinkable beer. Consistently tasty, consistently excellent and immensely good value . Beer brewed without compromise but with that sometimes elusive quality. Sheer drinkability. Another underrated quality. (HUGE Honourable mentions to Five Towns, Mallinsons, Revolutions (all Yorkshire), Quantum & Wilson Potter from whom I’ve always drunk exceptional beer)
  • Best Overseas Brewery – I envy others better travelled than I. No Opinion.
  • Best New Brewery Opening 2013 – Bad Seed Brewery – Given that many of the beers I have drunk this year are from breweries new to me, I COULD have cheated. However, Bad Seed launched this year and whilst I have had nothing on draught by them, their bottles have been nothing short of first-rate. Chuffed to bits that they seem to be getting wide distribution. Let’s have something from them on cask in 2014! (HM to Five Points – All 3 beers being superb)
  • Pub/Bar of the Year – I’m going to cheat. I’m going for a bar AND a pub. BarJoshua Brooks (Manchester) – I could easily give this to Port Street Beer House. Many would and justifiably so. But I am contrary. I LOVE Joshua Brooks. Yes its a big old space. But it ticks loads of my boxes. Comfy seating, great tunes, friendly staff and a simply fabulous beer selection (recently upped to 8 handpulls I believe). And also the best damn value in Manchester on a Friday night. £2.70 a pint! For cracking cask conditioned ales from the greatest and the best breweries in the UK.  Pub Hare & Hounds (Hindley, Wigan) – The local I never had. Just a humble local boozer (Allgates) with a real fire, a dartboard, friendly locals and a landlady and landlord (Nigel & Adele) who keep an excellent pint and a friendly welcome. I just feel at home here and that’s what a good pub should be about. (Wigan CAMRA branch. Sort yourselves out and get this pub into the GBG. A travesty!)
  • Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2013Pie & Ale by Bakerie (Manchester) – A tad expensive on occasion perhaps, but great beer (mostly local) selection kept well. A great bar, deservedly popular (great pies too!)
  • Beer Festival of The Year – I was going to go for the Allgates Road To Wigan Beer which was, quite simply, the most fun I’ve had with my clothes on this year and introduced me to breweries I’ve seen nowhere else (Bexar County Brew anyone?) and the bus journey was something to behold. If it runs again (the bus) you simply must try and get on it! However, I’m going to go all soft and go for IndyManBeerCon. Fabulous location, great beer, excellent entertainment. Met some lovely people and enjoyed the festival hugely. Yes, I had some issues, which I hope have been taken on board, but they shouldn’t (and don’t) detract from what was a great feat. More breweries for 2014 please!
  • Supermarket of the YearBooths. Knocks everyone else in the North into a cocked hat. Including Waitrose,
  • Independent Retailer of the Year – Yorkshire Ales – Probably the most difficult category to call for me. I genuinely agonised over this. There are some truly excellent retailers over this side of the hill, Damian O’Shea (Ale Man Manchester), Beermoth, The Liquor Shop as well as the Bierhuis in Ossett. Honourable mentions to all. BUT. Adrian & Vicky Pettit have a lovely little shop in Snaith with an emphasis on local produce. It’s this local ethos that swings it for me, They’re damn nice people too.
  • Online Retailer of the Year – I’m lucky. I shop local and in person. No Opinion.
  • Best Beer Book or Magazine Opening Times (South Manchester CAMRA)- From Pub Curmudgeon to Stagger, just a great read.
  • Best Beer Blog or WebsiteGlenn Johnson’s blog. – Neither flash nor fancy. Just descriptions good beer (mostly!) in pubs that I’d love to go in, in places I’m unlikely to visit. Whilst I’m spoilt in Greater Manchester, I’m still jealous. (HMs to David Mayhall (his evisceration of Brew Dog “Equity For Punks” being the single most retweeted RT I’ve put out!) Nathaniel Southwood who manages the feat of being informative whilst making me chuckle repeatedly, Tandleman & Tyson I doff my cap to both! I wish I wrote as well as all of these fellas)
  • Best Beer AppPerfect Pint. Tells me what beer is currently on in my favourite pubs. Works for me!
  • Simon Johnson Award For Best Beer Twitterer – The mighty Nathaniel Southwood. Smart, opinionated, witty, frequently ranting. Always spot on. (HM to JazzyJollyJaunt without whose inspiration (and tolerance!) I wouldn’t be doing this. Thank you.)
  • Best Brewery Website/Social Media Weird Beard
  • Food and Beer Pairing of the Year – Black Country Pork Scratchings and Hobsons Twisted Spire at the River & Rail in Hampton Loade on the banks of the Severn. Time and place. I am a rather simple soul!

Well. That’s it from me. There’s a lot of good beer out there. Let’s hope for even more in 2014. Have a great festive season.

Slainte!

The Marble Arch, Manchester. 125 Years Beer Festival

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I’ve been drinking in The Marble Arch since the mid 1980s on and off, pretty much from when it became a “Free House”. From when the “stripping back” was in progress and had only just started to reveal the gem you can see now. Before the brewery. Before the back room was used. It was a decent boozer with one of the better selections of beers in the city. This and the City Arms on Kennedy St were the two best freehouses (if you can call the City that) in Manchester.

I didn’t realise that the pub itself was so old until the celebrations started to be planned. A little research via http://manchesterhistory.net reveals a pub on the site even earlier than 1888!

Adshead Map 1851(Adshead Map c1851 – http://manchesterhistory.net/manchester/tours/tour12/marblearch.html)

This map shows a pub called the Wellington Inn on the corner of Gould Street and Rochdale Road a full 37 years prior to the current building being erected. It is safe to assume that the current building may have replaced this earlier pub.

As you can see from the plaque at the top of the side elevation of the pub, the current building dates from 1888 (hence the 125 Years celebration!). The “stripping back” (the word “strip” may feature later!) revealed such an architectural gem, that it attained Grade II listed status in 1998.

Yes, I know. You all KNOW it’s a beautiful pub! You know ALL about the legendary sloping mosaic tiled floor. All about the tiled ceilings with exposed original metal work. You probably already know about how the brewery started making their own beers in 1997…….zzzzzzz. Ok, Ok…….

The Event

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The Beer Festival forms but a part of the celebrations throughout 2013. Albeit a 4 day part! Tickets were released earlier in the year and it was really a case of getting in quick. You knew it was going to be busy. And because the pub is fairly narrow, you just KNEW it was going to be rammed….didn’t you!

Tickets were a reasonable £5 for which you received a commemorative 1/2 or pint glass. Payment was via tokens (£1 or 25p in value) purchased upon entry. Basic principle being the more that you bought, the more “free” tokens you received (£20 buying £22.50 etc…)

Jeff had bought the tickets and we arranged to meet in Manchester, myself and Jaz arriving first. Needless to say, it was BLOODY HEAVING! However, the organisation was really efficient, so you had your glass, tokens and “venue map” in hand in no time and could fight your way through the throng to get to the business end.

“The bar” was effectively spread out over 5 areas. The main pub itself with its large array of handpumps and keg fonts. Today, in the main room, this was supplemented by pop-up bars from Magic Rock and “The Portable Street Beer House” courtesy of your friends and mine at Port St, the latter dispensing kegged beers from The Marble Brewery in Albuquerque in New Mexico! The there were two further “bar” areas in the old back room (in bygone….former site of the brewery) AND……..Black Jack Brewery, where Rob Hamilton had opened his gate and doors for a further bit of fresh air drinking (more later)

20130803_154541(I LOVE it when brewers can chat with the punters!)

Thinking strategically, I decided on something light and refreshing to start with. Chalkboards above the bar displayed what appeared to be the beers that would be available over the course of the 4 days (slightly confusing/frustrating), but a scan of the bar revealed some relatively low strength delights. Including my first pint….

Jacobs Ladder (Cask Conditioned) by Buxton Brewery at 2.7% abv! Pale gold, with a sharp citrus aroma. Some lovely sharp tropical hop flavours in here. A really refreshing beer and another 3 points in the bag for Buxton (C’mon, the footy season has just started!)

Zenith (Cask Conditioned) by SummerWine from Holmfirth was next for me at 4% abv. Another juicy sharp pale ale. Fragrant with peppery hops, a lovely, slightly resinous, hoppy refreshing mouthful with a lovely dry bitter finish. This day was getting good! Then…….

Cannonball (Dry hopped with Simcoe – Cask Conditioned) by Magic Rock. At 7.4% abv, was a bit early in the day, but REALLY wanted to have a pop at this before it went. It just didn’t work for me. Slightly warm, musty smelling in the glass, there were definitely hops in there, but no zing like I expect from Simcoe (a powerful hop that I adore), the only flavour I could get was that of red delicious apples. If I wanted that, I’d go for a cider……..Not for me. Didn’t finish it. (Not done THAT in a while!)

Draft by Marble got me back on track at 3.9%. Cool, pale light and hoppy. Just what was needed after that mis-step.

It was getting uncomfortable busy, and, consequentially warm. So, with one more arrival possible (having been joined by both Jeff and Terry by this stage, Jaz & I sloped off to see what was happening at Black Jack.

20130803_192223(“Underneath the Arches….”…aww c’mon, SING!)

Damn! That is one devil of a slope on Gould Street! Scene of many a legendary uphill trek from what used to be a cracking pub, The Queens Arms on Red Bank, up to The Marble. Now, we were looking for another brewery. Luckily, young Mr H had provided some useful signage and we were soon in an open airy courtyard with some lovely smelling food on the go.

About 6 or 7 handpumps in here, mostly dispensing Robs fine beers, I was on a cool keg tip here….I spied a beer from a London brewer that I’d heard loads about, but was yet to sample. Redchurch Brewery with Hackney Gold at 5.5% abv. Gold obviously not being a colour description for this amber to tawny coloured brew. Nice malty spine with generous hopping (Cascade and Nelson Sauvin). Took me a while to get into this, but it really grew on me.

This truly came into its own when I ordered a Salt Beef, Piccalilli and Mustard sandwich from The Moocher pop up truck! Lovely tender pulled salty beef, nice crunch from the veg and a bit of mustard heat on beautiful artisan bread. The spiciness of the Hackney Gold earned its spurs here and was a cracking foil to the sarnie.

Having obtained a freely available seat just along from a gaggle of current and former Port Street people including Will, now well into his career change, (brewing at SummerWine – nice chat earlier!), we settled in for a few more

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Being a warm day, I stayed with the keg offerings at Black Jack. Next up was Black Jacks’ own Mosaic, a single hopped pale ale at 5.2% abv. Golden and slightly sweeter than I expected, it didn’t take long for the piney hops to come through. Nice and refreshing again. Whilst mostly hop-forward (to quote a phrase!) Rob makes some lovely balanced beers here!

Sticking with Mr Hamilton’s fine beers, I had a Schafkopf next, Robs’ take on a German Wheat beer (I think!) which was a bloody good stab, if I may be so bold! Refreshing, quite sharp with a yeasty and herbal tinge to it. A really good UK take on a German wheat beer.

At this point, the Table football became free and provided Terry and I an energetic diversion (modesty forbids from mentioning the winners name! Close game though) and we worked up a slight thirst.

Now. Those who regularly read these waffling verbal wanderings of mine, may have noted an omission from the days efforts. No dark beer! I just HAD to put that right, didn’t I? I did it with one of my favourite beers from 2013 (previously had on cask), but this time on keg. Black Perle by Weird Beard Brewing from that there London. Being a “Coffee Milk Stout”, it was as black as you would expect. 4.5% abv, it had a gentle coffee aroma and in the mouth the coffee came though like a strong latte, shot through with a little lactic sweetness. Lovely. (As has happened before, another beer I prefer on Cask – a texture thing – but a really nice beer)

The siren call of an Imperial Stout was almost physically lifting me from the bench seating, so, bidding farewell to Mr Hamilton, we set up back up Everest (oops) Gould Street, back to the press of humanity at HQ, The Marble Arch.

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(Dancing? In an ale house? oh yes!)

Here, the entertainment mooted in the advertising was in full swing, with a 4-piece band playing their takes on Irish classics. The percussion was provided by courtesy of an enormous bass drum slung over the shoulder and hanging low, bringing to mind (for those of a certain vintage) the Viz character Buster Gonad (with his unfeasibly large testicles)! They were making a joyous racket (the band not Buster…..), but we had to head indoors for “refreshment”. Now, the idea was to snaffle a final beer. That being the Emelisse Imperial Russian Stout (at 11% abv, my sleeping draft of choice!) however, something I had wanted to try (from the complete opposite end of the abv range) was spied on cask.

Cool as a Cucumber a collaboration between Fyne Ales and The Wild Beer Co. I love Fyne. I hadn’t had anything from Wild Beer yet (though a bottle of Wildebeest is lurking in my stash) A beer with cucumber was sufficiently intriguing to sample with a pint. Oh that cucumber is there alright. The beer tasted as if it was liquified and the green colour removed. It was an absolutely refreshing, fresh cleansing beer. With the cucumber, I’m not sure I would want more than 2, but it was a stunning effort which worked. A real palate cleanser.

Now. The entertainment again. The landlady informed us that the bar was closed for a while and asked the drinkers to step back for a while. Then we saw why!

20130803_205226(This WAS a surprise!)

To the joyous strains of “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair”, on come 3 dancers, clad in towels. The men in the audience strained for a view! This near burlesque was a fabulous piece of theatre to say the least! A fun diversion.

Back outside to that big drum and some jolly Irish tunage. Finally, my sleeping draft de nuit. The Emelisse. The fact that it is an Imperial Russian Stout, tells you that is as black as sin. It had a gorgeous deep smoky aroma which carried through in the mouth. Sweet yet dry. Smoky, oily, vinous and warming. A gorgeous end to a superb day.

From the moment I had a paella in Piccadilly Gardens from a street food stall, to the moment I walked from The Marble with a smile on my face, this was a truly lovely day. A well-organised fest (albeit VERY busy), with superb beer, great food and excellent entertainment. To top it off, time spent chatting and laughing with old friends. Isn’t that what this beer lark is all about, eh?

Thanks to the organisers, Marble, Rob at Black Jack, The Moocher for that superb Salt Beef sarnie. Above all, Terry, Jeff and Jaz. Without whom…….

This fest is still on today. Get down there and treat yourself!

On that note….’til next time…

Slainte!

Weird Beard – Great Beer From West London

Weird Beard

The first time I heard about Weird Beard was on Twitter earlier this year, I think from Burnley Dave, from The Rake at Borough Market, London (a cracking bar BTW!). A new brewery making their name in the ultra competitive London beer scene. The first time I tasted one of their beers was in Port Street, late in the evening. It was OK, but I was over refreshed and pledged to give them another try.

Last month, I got the opportunity at Font. Black Perle,a coffee milk stout. What a belter! Ticked so many of my taste boxes! A lovely creamy beer with more than a hint of latte.

Shortly after that, I found myself in contact with Damian O’Shea (known on Twitter as @TheAleManMcr). Damian kindly offered to send me a couple of bottles to try. In the year I have been wittering on about beer, nobody has done that before. A strange feeling! However, for various reasons, we never quite “hooked up”. Damian has a stall at Castlefield Market some weeks and it was there that Jaz met him (and bought me a bottle, lovely fella!). Then one Sunday, I got a text to say he’d picked up a couple from Damian for me. Needless to say, I got in the old jalopy and high tailed to Manchester to pick up my loot!

Damian is the “Northern Distributor” for this brewer from Hanwell, West London. They only started brewing commercially earlier this year but have already started to find their way consistently onto some of the city’s better bars, making a name for themselves, with hoppy pales a speciality. I’d been smitten by the Black Perle (one of my top 3 of 2013), but how would I like the pales…….

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Five O’Clock Shadow

A 7.3% abv American style IPA (7% on draught). This 330ml bottle conditioned beer was deep copper coloured with a fine white head and abundant tropical hop on the nose. Made with 3 malts and 4 hops (Summit, Apollo, Citra and Columbus), this had an initial biscuit malt sweetness more than offset by some assertive hopping with the grapefruity Citra well up there, taste of apricot too with a dry grassy/herbal aftertaste. A cracking start!

20130702_213006(“A Boring Brown Beer”?)

Chinook

What to expect from this beer, labelled “A Boring Brown Beer”. Well. It certainly wasn’t an aroma with licorice and spice! A deep ruby brown colour, those aromas hit me straight away. Confused me, because I wouldn’t expect licorice in a beer like this. 2 malts (pale and crystal) and single hopped, more licorice in the mouth with a little barley sugar sweetness from that crystal. 7.2% abv this and some of the alcohol warmth comes through. Nice bitterness in this beer which, to me,  I can only say (boringly) tastes dark! Which works for me! And, it’s certainly NOT boring.

Mariana Trench

(Damn! Can’t find my pic!)

At 5.1% abv, this (for their pale beers) is probably about as close as you get to a “sessionable” beer! Gold coloured with lots of citrus on the nose, mostly grapefruit (Hops being Citra and Pacific gem). Nicely balanced and surprisingly easy drinking beer this, a nice marriage of citrus hops with rich tea biscuit malt. Really refreshing beer with a nice bitter dry finish.

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Nelson Saison

Well, this was a lively little puppy! It virtually exploded into the glass! Golden to copper coloured with abundant foamy white head. Aromas of Belgian yeast funk with some floral notes and as the beer went down, more than a hint of marmalade. A surprisingly warming beer this with some elderflower in the mouth and a spicy grassy tinge. The warmth reminded of the same feeling I get with the afterglow of a nice cognac. A nice slightly spicy finish. I’m not that big on Belgian styled beers, but it surprised me how much I enjoyed this.

To sum up. If pushed, my favourite would be the Five O’Clock Shadow. A 4.5 rating for me. The others merit a 4. Considering that they’ve been commercially brewing for less than 6 months, they’re making some cracking stuff in Hanwell!

As far as getting the beers up here, Damian has a stall at Castlefield Market some Sundays. He’s a nice bloke to talk to who is evidently passionate about what he sells. His beers are from a variety of areas, I popped down last weekend and picked up my first bottle from Cheshire Brewhouse as well as stuff from the likes of Magic Rock, DeMolen of Holland, Rocky Head from London etc…nicely priced too. I picked up a DeMolen Imperial Stout for £6.Pop down and see him. He’s a decent bloke (and that has nothing to do with the samples he offers!)

Final point, some of the best labelling I’ve seen since Magic Rock. Attractive, with detailed ingredients! Not bad at all.

Right. Time to settle to see Germany beat Iceland in the Womens Euros!

On that note….til next time!

Slainte!