Shebeen 2015 – 02/05/2015

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At the end of a tiring week, what I needed was……..a little “pick me up”. That, or a Saturday morning lie-in. Finding myself walking down Dantzic Street in Manchester’s “Green Quarter” at 11am meant that the latter was a no no, but the former was guaranteed!

The event was put together by Jason Bailey (of GRUB fame), Black Jack Beers and events/music specialists Shebeen UK and was a multi-venue celebration of beer, food, music, comedy and art with all venues (Black Jack, Glassworks & Runaway Brewery) within seconds of each other. All that was needed was the sun to put his hat on……..

But this is Manchester……..

So the rain came……

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(Look! A pop up food village! Next to a Brewery! Result!!!)

I simply detest being late for anything. So having been asked to turn up for 11:30, I got there at 11 and mucked in with Jules (Morris, Jason’s partner) setting up tables, chairs and banners and stuff whilst Jason (known to his friends by his surname) sweated the small stuff that always needs doing in the final minutes before the metaphorical gates open. He wanted everything to be “just so”. I think he got his wish.

Seeing Mark Welsby (Chief Alchemist at Runaway Brewery) is always a pleasure. No matter how busy or stressed he might be, there’s never a smile or a cheery word far from his lips, just one of life’s good guys, so I was chuffed that I was placed at the Runaway site and even more pleased when I had a half of his Marzen placed in my hand! Rich, fruity, with a residual sweetness, this “pick me up” was just what Dr BM ordered!

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With the “starters gun” sounding at 12, people started to drift in. All “checking in” being performed at Runaway, enabling people to then wander around the three sites at their leisure. Initially a fairly young crowd, it was great to see a wide age range, with lots of young families turning up. Just gave the event a bit of a relaxed party feel. I really enjoyed the checking in

a) Because I am a bit of a (using the Bolton vernacular) Gobbin                                                               b) It gave me the chance to reacquaint myself with Eventbrite Manager, which we’ll be using at #ISBF2015 in October.

It was great fun. And all the more so as I tucked into a rather superb lunch of a cracklingly spicy Atomica pizza from the lovely fellas at Honest Crust, acompanied by a Runaway Rye IPA! Just as I got my pizza, the punters started flooding in. The pizza still tasted great when I finally got back to it. Cold. But absolutely delicious.

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(Lunch. Yum!)

With some fabulous laid back tuneage being pumped out by So Flute, the vibe was starting to get (what those younger than I might call) “buzzy”. And I think that – more than ticket sales (and it WAS sold out) – it’s the feeling that people give off that demonstrates if an event is a success or not. And this really felt quite special.

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The finishing of the pizza signalled my re-allocation over to one of the other venues – Black Jack. Again, on “the door” (Bailey must think that I look like a “bouncer”!) Watching Rosie and the girls dancing behind the bar, it was immediately apparent that the party vibe was in full effect here as well!

Grabbing a pint of Black Jack Beers‘ own Manderelma (I think that’s what it was called?) and follwing some mouthfuls of Rob’s Orangey elixir, I was off again gabbling more nonsense at arriving punters. And then, just before I went into “concierge overdrive” mode, Bailey must have remembered that he needed some “pros” on the doors, because the security guys arrived, which meant…..I headed to the bar double quick!

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(Black Jack)

It was a fairly cool Manchester day with the rain never far away, so my choice of attire (thin shirt and shorts) attracted a few concerned comments. Batted away by my various assertions of being a rather numb fella with pleanty of internal insulation!

This was chat time! Andy Heggs (Mr HopOnTheBike to you & I) introduced me to a nice fella Tom from #CraftBeerHour who must have been petrified by two Mancs assailing him with the words “You NEED to come to Salford in October!” He seemed a nice fella and I may take him up on his rash offer of a little light being cast by his weekly Twitter event on our humble bash!

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(Not JUST about beer & food you know!)

I have this theory that good people tend to gravitate toward one another. This being exampled by a number of people I spouted nonsense with. Andy (Heggs again), the mighty Deeekos, Mark (Runaway), Rob Hamilton (Mr Black Jack), Jay Krause (Quantum), Gregg & Alison Irwin (Weird Beard),Tom (Craft Beer Hour) all showed admirable restraint (and failed to yawn!) whilst I spouted my ususal gibberish about nothing in particular.

It’s always good to talk about beer.

It was nice to wander between all three venues. Each time I poped (or even “popped”) in to a venue, there was a nice surprise. In Runaway, it was a further chat with Mark (and a spot of “plotting” I recall!) and an outrageously good pint of his Smoked Porter. Just SO GODDAMN SMOOTH and creamy with just the right amount of rauch to it. A glorious beer and probably Beer of the Day for me.

Wandering (for the first time) into the Glassworks venue, I was chuffed (and no little surprised) to see the lovely Michelle (from the hugely underrated Offbeat Brewery – need more of her beers in Mancunia folks!) and David, from Otherton Ales (the “boyfriend thing” – HER phrase, not mine!). We managed to chat a bit (with a good sounding band in the….background) and maybe do some “plotting” for #ISBF2015 – my memory is starting to get hazy at this point in proceedings! (Did I REALLY ask David if he’d cask a beer for #ISBF2015?)

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I think that it’s safe to say that this event was a resounding success. All the elements came together just so. Great food, great beer and good people. Life in a nutshell. Manchester people turned out in their hundreds and – from what I could see – had a great time in doing so. All the more remarkable given that Manchester cloaked itself in the usual drizzle for most of the day!

All bodes well for the Keystone project. I wish them every success. Well done Bailey & Jules and to everyone else involved. It was a blast!

And after all that beer, what to do? Go for more! And that, for me, means the Crown & Kettle. It says something that after all that I had drunk, that the C&K served me an absolutely superb pint of Bad Kitty porter from Brass Castle. It was creamy, utterly luscious and silky with a little vanilla sweetness. I was moved to an expletive laced tweet. It was THAT good! (Nice to bump into Jay & Dom again too!)

Now….About the weather……(see what I did there?)

“The weather’s variable so are you (changes, changes)
But I can’t do a thing about the weather.

Do you have your ticket?
Can you foresee (changes, changes)
Another time when we might be together?

You have a broken window, through which the rain pours in my ear
This week’s been all ears and edges, it’s getting like a career”

(“About The Weather” – Magazine

Clip Courtesy – Makecelebshistory on YouTube)

Magazine are Manchester musical legends. I vividly recall the moment when Howard Devoto strode imperiously onto the stage at Manchester Academy to the whipcrack drum beat and rumbling bass intro to “The Light Pours Out Of Me” (clip from “Later”). It was akin to being at an evangelical event. Nothing short of adoration.

That track alone is a permanent fixture in my personal All Time Top 10. And it came from an album that was arguable the first truly great album of “New Wave”, the mighty “Real Life” – and given the preference for buzz saw guitars and sonic brevity that prevailed at that time, it was a bloody brave musical statement. It was lyrical, at a time when all was attitude. It was melodic at a time when melody was frowned upon. It was bloody strange in parts too. And it still stands the test of time.

The album that spawned “About The Weather” though, for me, is tainted by the dread hand of Martin Hannett, the “legendary” Manchester producer who mixed it. His belief that the snare drum was the basis of all great music. It just led to this album being a tinny mess. Which is a shame. Because Magazine’s final album deseved so much better. Such a great song though.

Historic Manchester Pubs – Pt 4 – 14/03/2015

Blame Coneygree. Yes, blame a horse. It was the horse’s fault that I was out last Saturday. For those NOT in the know, Coneygree won the 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup. And I backed it, along with 4 other winners. So I fancied a pint. And a trip down memory lane.

It’s all too easy to go in the same pubs all the time. I’m as guilty as anybody else. But on this night, I wanted something different to the usual comfortable “same old”. So in a week of new beery launches (think Cloudwater and Piccadilly Tap), it felt right to check, take a step back in time and…you know…appreciate what we’ve already got.

So, when I met the Arch Nemesis, within striking distance of Port Street Beer House, we turned right – onto Dale Street – and kept walking. To somewhere far less vaunted. But a Manchester jewel.

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The Jolly Angler – Ducie Street

It seems to me that my visits to this pub are separated by decades, which saddens me. This is one of the smallest pubs in Manchester and – given it’s location adjacent to the rapidly redeveloping Piccadilly Basin – is precisely the kind of pub that we could lose.

Walking in, the first thing that I noticed was the absence of the old pool table. A shame, but it really opens up the place, allowing a few more tables. The next thing was, just how bloody friendly the place was, both mine host and the punters around the bar were just so warm and welcoming! Which was quite a surprise, given that this is a “Blue” pub and we walked in just one minute from the end of the Burnley v City match and City were 1-0 down! The sound of a title challenge flowing down the drain…… Banter was exchanged whilst beers were ordered.

Located at the junction of Ducie Street and Pigeon Street, properly tucked away in the shadows of Piccadilly Basin’s flats and warehouses, there has been a pub on this site for over 125 years and (according to the excellent resource ManchesterHistory.Net) it is positioned on the site of a former school. I’ve seen it described as an “Irish pub”. It isn’t. It has had (and may still have) Irish folk running it – it certainly has the kind of friendly welcome I associate with true Irish pubs from over the water.

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A single room is almost split in two by the entry door and – as a result – curves around the entrance with table either side. The bar is small and the sole cask beer is Hydes Original. The Arch-Nemesis ordered two pints and we sat down to admire its charms and it IS charming. Did I say it was tiny? This is just a bright uncluttered pub with the accent on conversation. And a decent pint. The Hydes Original just did the trick. Nice bitterness with a bit of spicy orange fruit in there. And at £2.70 a pint, is this the cheapest standard pint in Manchester (outside of a Wetherspoons)?.

This is a classic old school pub, the likes of which seem to be disappearing. More people need to experience pubs like this. It’s a thing of beauty and overlooked by those who prefer the hipster chic of nearby Northern Quarter bars. This is real Manchester. My City. And I adore it all the more.

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The Bulls Head – Jct of London Road / Fairfield Street

A 5 or 6 minute walk back along Ducie Street, turning left along London Road and past the – still stunning – historic London Road Fire Station, lies a grander proposition.

Located on an unusual triangular plot, extremely handy for Piccadilly Station being just 60 seconds walk from the Fairfield St entrance, this is another open plan, single roomed effort. Lots of wood, really decorative and ornate, Victorian style lighting. Just to the left of the entrance is a strange, attractive small raised seating area. Quirky.

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According to the pubs’ own website, there has been a pub on this site since 1787, whilst according to the goldmine that is “Pubs Of Manchester“, 1786 is quoted both of which would make it one of Manchester’s oldest boozers. It is safe to say that it has seen the city reshaped around it, Fairfield Street itself didn’t exist and appears to have crashed through adjoining buildings, leaving the Bulls Head in splendid isolation.

The beer….is (tonight) entirely comprised of beers from the Marstons stable of breweries. I plumped for a beer that I’ve sampled on my frequent trips to Hampton Loade, Sumbeam by Banks’. And it was lovely. Refreshing, Marmaladey and just the right amount of bitterness.

Not as intimate as The Jolly Angler perhaps, but an impressive pub nonetheless. Some accommodation coming soon apparently, will make a pleasant change to all the faceless hotels that Manchester seems to have.

Crossing back over Fairfield Street and returning along London Road to Gore Street….

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The Waldorf – Gore Street

Turning left onto Gore Street feels almost like stepping back in time. That said, I’d forgotten how close this pub was to London Road.

Big and open – again, single roomed – pub. Lots of wood. 3 sided bar with the usual macro suspects. 4 handpumps, 3 in use. Landlord, Doom Bleurgh….and…..Phoenix White Monk! Oh the joy!

Formerly the Woseley Hotel (source Pubs of Manchester & others), ManchesterHistory.Net doesn’t give it an age, but this MUST be over 100 years old and it was (in 1929 – source Pubs of Manchester) called The Woseley Hotel having been so named in 1883 changing to its current name in 1929.

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Lots of wood in evidence. Looks like the Waldorf has escaped being knocked about unlike some nearby pubs, it retains a certain Mancunian charm.

Sparsely populated this particular evening, there was a particularly refreshed individual hovering close to the jukebox who seemed to have a love of 90s indie music. Am I the only person who thinks that great music by-passed the 90s?

The beer was in good nick though. Nice to see Phoenix on the pumps, a brewery I see all too rarely in Manchester these days.

Cutting across toward Chorlton Street – since WHEN did Stagecoach enclose the entrance to the bus station with barriers ??? – we headed toward two of the smallest pubs in town, almost side by side on Portland Street….

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The Circus Tavern – Portland Street

Back in the 80s & 90s, the only way that you could get in The Circus after 7pm at the weekend was (so legend has it) via a little known entrance via the rear. It is, indeed, tiny. The size of the bar is legendary and for many years, all you could get was Tetley Bitter – no lager or cider to be had.

It was THAT busy, that I couldn’t take pictures. This pub is….narrow…..and tight!

The corridor is incredibly narrow. It is always full though as both of the rooms that are on the right hand side rarely seem to have a spare seat. This is a pub that, when people get a seat, they keep it. Again, lots of wood and plenty of original features. The pub is rated as having an interior of National importance by CAMRA and is indeed Grade II listed.

I see no reason to doubt the excellent “Pubs of Manchester” blog, which dates the pub at 1790. The pub has attained legendary status with its diminutive nature perversely attracting more customers and is rated by many as one of Manchester’s “must visit” attractions.

The pub is dominated by pictures of Celebrities (real Manchester “A” listers) that have visited over the years, although – being a blue – there was something quite disturbing about a semi-naked George Best seemingly watching me while I drank my pint! I had the Robinsons “Dizzy Blonde” which was, according to Jaz was the lesser of the two, with Tetley’s winning out.

Just a door away….

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The Grey Horse – Portland Street

Almost as narrow as The Circus, The Grey Horse has a single roomed layout, and – as such – feels considerably more spacious.

The Horse has the feel of a local in the big city. Single roomed, as stated, this has what I think may be a unique feature in Manchester, toilets that are semi – outdoor. Quirky, but the entrance area is covered unlike in the 80s.

Two Hydes pubs tonight. Both feel really welcoming and friendly. The Grey Horse being considerably the more busy, no doubt being on Portland Street helps in that regard.

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Again, mainly Hydes’ beers with a rare sighting of Butcombe Bitter as a guest in Manchester, I had Hydes’ Beer Studio offering “Styrian Aurora”. Vast improvement on the Robbies from next door, if not exactly the highest of praise, it was a good fruity beer with a bitter edge. Justly busy and with all the noise down just to conversation. A joy.

This was an early finish, so we scooted across town for a couple in The Crown & Kettle, my favourite Manchester pub. I won’t wax lyrical about the pub, but the Squawk IPA (Cluster Galena Chinook) at £2.95 and 6.3% was absolutely stunning. I had to have 2!

Whilst Manchester has several justly lauded hostelries, it’s always the unheralded pubs like The Jolly Angler that appeal most to me. In the words of “Two Cousins” by Slow Club “Hold on to where you’re from, it’s where your heart goes when you’re done”. Thanks, as before, to two great repositories of pub information, Pubs Of Manchester (go follow on Twitter!) & Manchester History. Net – without whom…..

Tune

“They took all the trees, put ’em in a tree museum.

And they charged all the people a dollar and a half just to see ’em”

(“Big Yellow Taxi” – Joni Mitchell)

(Clip courtesy “musicben2” on You Tube)

Why the tune?

a) Recently included it on a mix tape, and

b) Sums up my feelings about the need to appreciate things while you still have them. Like the pubs above.

I’m not anti-progress, just think that forwards is the not the only direction! We have some truly great pubs in this great city, like the Jolly Angler.

In the week that Piccadilly Tap opens a few hundred yards away, I know where MY heart lies.

See you soon.

Slainte!

4 Beer Festivals In One Day (inc Manchester Beer & Cider Festival Pt 2) – 22/01/2015

“Too many Florence Nightingales, not enough Robin Hoods
Too many halos not enough heroes, coming up with the goods.

So you though you’d like to change the world, decided to stage a jumble sale,
For the poor, for the poor.

It’s a waste of time if you know what they mean, try shaking a box in front of the Queen
‘Cause her purse is fat and bursting at the seams……..”

(“Flag Day” – The Housemartins)

 I think that it would have been in 1986. I was sat in the office in the arse end of Trafford Park, when word reached me that if you called the right number (I think it was the magazine City Life) you could get free tickets for a special performance by The Housemartins at a place called City Lites in Farnworth. There were 10 pairs available. I rang on the dot of 9am and snaffled 2, so me and my mate Nige ended up in a town I’d never yet visited. And a town I’d end up living in for the last 25 years!

The performance was for a TV programme which I have recently found out was called “Hold Tight” on Granada TV. The band were superb. It was a short performance, but managed to cram in a No 1 & No 2 single in “Caravan of Love” and “Happy Hour”. My memories are hazy other than 2 things. Firstly, the band finished by breaking up Hugh Whittaker’s drum kit. Secondly, Paul Heaton declaiming that “We fucking hate Tories!” Some things resonate!

Whilst preparing for this blog piece, I was looking for a vid for “Flag Day”, yet stumbled upon the Granada TV programme that the concert was recorded for! The link is here. A reminder of what a great band The Housemartins were and still sound like. “The 4th best band in Hull” indeed! (The other 3 were Red Guitars, Everything But The Girl & The Gargoyles – apparently!)

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Four Beer Festivals in One Day. Some things just have to be done, don’t you think? Obviously I do. But then again, I’m both stupid and easily led. Or so I thought when travelling to work at a preposterously early hour, in order to finish in time to start this malt & hop marathon! So, I yawned my way onto First Buses finest chariot….

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The New Oxford, Bexley Square, Salford

Tim (mein host) doesn’t really need to host beer festivals. The selection of 16 (or is it more?) handpulls is like the Elysian Fields for local cask ale devotees and Tim has a positive talent for pulling rare and unseen beers like rabbits out of the proverbial titfer. But hold a Beer Festival he does. And does it well. My advice if you fancy an evening beer here, get in early. It can get rightfully busy!

As I entered before midday, I could hear the voices of tickers picking off the beers that they were going to try. Me? Am I a ticker? I suppose so, but only in so far as it stretches to trying new beers from Northern breweries. You should know what I’m like by now!

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The first beer of the day was South Island Pale from the mighty Allgates of Wigan. Ultra pale and bursting with tropical fruit sharpness. Allgates just make excellent drinkable beers. Drinkability is vastly underrated as a characteristic.

Next up was Gold Top Milk Stout from Rebel Brewery of Penryn in Cornwall. Roasted coffee with a lactose and vanilla sweetness. Lots of cocoa/chocolate too. Sweet tooth, consider yourself sated!

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With the Arch-Nemesis and Jeff now in attendance and with thirsts slaked, time for walkies!

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I have absolutely NO idea as to how I let them persuade me to walk! But by the time we got there, a thirst had indeed been generated. I let the A-N sort out the beer choice whilst I sorted out my hunger pangs at Panchos with a large Burrito! ALL long days should start with a Panchos!

The Micro Bar, Manchester Arndale Market

In here I had a Pikes Peak by Elland from West Yorkshire. Yes, they of the mighty 1872 Porter. The Pikes was a beautifully pale golden beer bursting with zesty citrus and possessed of a bracing bitter finish.

Micro Bar is one of Manchester’s unregarded gems in my opinion. There’s always an interesting guest or two courtesy of Boggart’s own distribution setup, the staff are friendly and there is a cracking bottle selection for takeaways. All that and you can eat your burrito there too. Bonus!

We move on….

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The Crown & Kettle, Oldham Road, Manchester To what I now consider my favourite pub in Manchester. For me, it has it all. Beauty, increasingly great beer selection and (at £2.95 a pint for cask), great value.

To be fair, when I see a Rat on the bar, I’m gonna bite. Always. This Huddersfield emporium knows how to knock out a damned good beer on their kit. The collaboration with the Pied Bull brewpub in Chester was absolutely no exception. Pied Rat was a big bruiser of an IPA. Amber with a creamy textured white head and barrow loads of citrus leaping from the glass. Chewy malt and massive hoppage. Even at 5.5% I had to have a second pint. Wise? Possibly not, but it tasted fantastic!

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Now, as you may have gathered over the last year or so, I’m a bit of a music nerd. So to hear an entire album and a bit from one of my favourite bands – the immense Beirut – I was beyond joy. Transcendent. Rounded off an excellent start to the day. The C&K is a belting pub, more than worth your cash.

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(Another Beer Festival? If you insist!)

This was where I finished off my “Dance Card Dozen” as listed here. On the previous day I had pretty much been rooted to the ground floor whilst my jaw ached from the talking to some seriously good beer people. But this day was for the beer! First up was a visit to the Concourse for a treble from Offbeat & Bridestones/Hebden Bridge Brewing.

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Disfunctional Functional IPA from Offbeat came first. Refreshing, with punchy fruity hops. An excellent beer, as I have come to expect from this Crewe brewery. Great beer brewed by a chick indeed!

Psychedelic – Hebden Bridge Brewing – I only had a taste of this at ISBF and before I knew it, it ran out! I couldn’t miss it, could I? Being conditioned over a market stall full of citrus fruit, it was every bit as fruity as I remembered and had a damn nice dry hoppy finish too. A cracking beer (hope to have them back with something ace for ISBF2015!)

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Then the collab between the two (in Hebden Bridge’s Bridestones guise). The wackily named “Sprocket Wort Orange”. An unusual mouthful to say the least, but a damned enjoyable one to be fair. Chocolate and orange with a little hoppy nip. No surprise to me, I like both Offbeat AND Bridestones.

Next up was a beer high on my list. Being a smoked porter, from Rat Brewery. Workhouse Rat was everything it was meant to be. Dark and smoky, a little starting sweetness and lovely coffee/chocolate flavbours. Nice hop finish. Accomplished, from a brewery that I see too few darks from. (Try the Ratsputin IRS if you see it – it’s a belter of an Impy)

Then. A walk. For a foreign beer. Well, it WAS from a bit South of Crewe! Fang Pale Ale from Black Flag. I holidayed in Perranporth in Cornwall this year in the tail end of a hurricane. This beer in bottle made that seem a small price to pay. In cask it was even better. Really zingy with more than a hint of lime with the mango. A fruity cracker from a small craft operator that if I knew how close they were to Perranporth, I’d have knocked on the door!

I was gutted to miss just one of the beers on my list. Being from Jamie Hancock and his Five Oh Brew Co, it shouldn’t have been a surprise, as it was only the second casking he’d done (no prizes for guessing where the first one was served!). This was a slight tweak on the Sorachi Ace Stout he did for us (doh!). As I said, gutted.

However, that left a gap. Which was filled with one of those beers that rocked my head back. A #Beergasm indeed. This was the Stocky Stout from Richard Conway’s Thirst Class Ale. The first mouthful prompted a “BLOODY HELL IS THIS GOOD!” Creamy, bitter and beautifully roasty, a proper winter beer without the need for you to fall over. 5.2% abv of roasted perfection. It’s that good, that I’m going to Ashton to pick up a couple of bottles tomorrow from Browtons!

I really enjoyed this festival. I could have spent 4 days there and STILL not had all the beers that I wanted. The only thing I would say (and it’s assuredly NOT a criticism) is that I was (as Atilla would say) “over faced”. There was so much good beer that I struggled to decide on occasion. Hey ho! If only ALL beer festivals had that problem eh?

Over the two days, Beer of the Festival for me was the Stocky Stout – with the Imperial Buckwheat Stout by Quantum a close second. Bring on the bottles of both!

On that note….’til next time.

Slainte!

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Tune courtesy of NutsLiteVenueRoma on YouTube)

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

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

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

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

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(Damn that lamppost!!!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adshead Map 1851

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

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

Wellington Vaults(image courtesy Manchester Libraries)

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

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

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

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(Just a hint of that beautiful vaulted ceiling)

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

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

Weavers 1851

(Probable Adshead Map 1851 – courtesy Manchesterhistory.net)

 

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

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

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

IMAG1416(I must have looked SUCH a nerd when I took this!)

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

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

Old White Bear

(image courtesy Pubs of Manchester)

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

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

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

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

Crown Ceiling

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

Crown Back Room

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

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

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

Castle

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

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

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

Castle corridor

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

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

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(Lovely old mosaic floor at the front)

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

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

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

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

On that note….’til next time….

Slainte!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harbour Brewing Company – Meet The Brewer – Port Street Beer House – 28/10/2013

Harbour wall(Courtesy – http://www.harbourbrewing.com/)

Let’s start this post with my usual disarming honesty. Until recently, I hadn’t had much by Harbour. I may have had a Pale at The Euston Tap, but little else. Most of what I had heard about Harbour was good. Amongst my closer victims (er…sorry…friends!), they had a seriously good reputation. I was, therefore, rather happy when I saw two of their beers featuring in the Sainsbury Great British Beer Hunt!

Those two beers were the IPA and Porter #6. They were truly superb and two of my favourites of the 12 or so that I bought (https://beersmanchester.wordpress.com/2013/09/24/sainsbury-great-british-beer-hunt-2013/) so when I saw that they were doing an MTB at Port Street, I had to go, didn’t I?

Brewing started in 2012. Rhys Powell (Brewer – formerly of Sharps in rock, Cornwall) and Eddie Lofthouse (business side – formerly running the family hotel in Polzeath) came together over shared love of beer and surfing…(cue gratuious surfboard pic!)…

Harbour Surfboard(Courtesy – http://www.harbourbrewing.com/)

….they use a 10Bbl brew kit with a number of fermenting vessels (4 if I remember rightly). They supply their beer all over the country. Sounds like we get so much of it because, with St Austell controlling many of the pubs in the county, the locals drink lots of brown (relatively) boring stuff!

Getting a ticket for this however, proved somewhat easier than getting there! After catching 4 (FOUR) buses – something to do with leaving my ticket at home! – I finally got to PSBH with just a minute or so to spare. Fortunately, the ever considerate Arch-Nemesis had already lined up the first beer of the evening….

Light Ale #2 (cask) – 3.5% abv – A copper coloured beer with a subtle grapefruit aroma. Light bodied but with some malt toffee notes and lovely marmalade orangey citrus hoppy freshness. Full of hoppy goodness, this was a really light refreshing start and – to be honest – my idea of a session beer. I could happily drink this all night! But then….along comes the next beer……

Aji Limon Pale Ale (cask) – 6% abv – Rhys (Brewer) introduced this as a variation on one of their standard beers (Pale Ale). The variation being that it was barrel aged for 6 or 7 weeks over Aji Limon chillies, not the hottest of capsicums, the aim being to bring a lemony lime citrus note to the beer with a building warmth the further down the glass you go. 6  weeks or so being optimal, before the heat builds too much. Hopped with Citra, Centennial & Chinook with a touch of Crystal malt for a sweet note.

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Pale gold with a lemon and more gentle mandarin citrus aroma, this beer had more bready backbone to it. Some lovely lemon citrus in this with a bit of paler fruit, maybe melon? Rhys was right too. The further down the glass you got, the warmth increased but was never overwhelming. A lovely pale beer and certainly the best beer that I’ve had that has used chillies.

Next up…

Double IPA (keg) – 7.2% abv – Introduced by Rhys as the big brother of the Pale Ale upon which the Aji Limon was based. Pale lager malt, Citra, Centennial & Chinook (accent on Centennial). The aim with this being to showcase the hops. Like several brewers, Rhys prefers this kind of beer on keg, his thinking being that without the carbonation, the beer could be cloying. Not sure I agree with that, I’d love to try this on cask!

Had to let this warm a bit (being kegged). Hazy gold beer, big hoppy nose once it warmed a touch, a slight malty sweetness pushed out of the way by some seriously big grassy hops. Nicely big and bitter, really hoppy with a huge resinous grassy finish.

Then….my higlight (or even “highlight”!) of the evening….

Porter #1 – 5.5% abv – Rhys’ interpretation of what an 18th Century London Porter may have tasted like. More upping of the malt bass and a tuning down of the hoppy treble on this number. A lot of brown malt. Describer as Rhys as having more sweetness with lots of coffee notes. Eddie (having arrived by now) made an excelloent point about the use of a sparkler on the pump (something that may not be prevalent down there in Kernow!) with Rhys noting the “Guinness” like appearance (underselling it – in my opinion!). Although they had Porter #6 in the GBBH, they have only done 5 with #5 not actually having been brewed yet. The #6 being like a big brother to #1, although (contrary to a Rhys quip!) I’m sure they didn’t up it to 6.8% with the addition of vodka!!!

IMAG0200_BURST002_COVER(Mmmmmmm……..Porter #1)

My beer of the evening, this. A deepest ruby coloured beer with a fabulous creamy head in both colour and texture. A gentle creamy coffee aroma gave way to a fabulously smooth roasted experience with cafe au lait, some dark toffee notes and a gentle building bitterness. I can’t say if it’s a great example of an 18th century Porter, but it sure as hell works for me in the 21st! The best Porter I’ve had in a long while – and I LIKE Porters!

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(Eddie shoots the breeze with the punters)

Then we came to the final beer of the evening. Generally, the beers at these events sign off with a relatively big beer. This was no exception.

Imperial Chocolate Stout – 8.5% abv (keg) – This beer was as black as sin with the cream coloured head dissipating quite quickly with an aroma of bozzy bitter chocolate. Lots of bitter chocolate in the mouth and a vanilla note with a boozy port wine feel. I detected some blackcurrant and cranberry in their too before a really nice dry grassy finish. Another belter.

There was a bit of a discussion about the availability of their beers on draught in their own area. The shame being, with the predominance of the likes of St Austell, Sharps & Skinners, the tastes appear to be for boring brown and amber beers, to the extent that Rhys has made their own amber for the local market. Price is also a big issue with outlets seeking the lowest possible. This may account for why so much of their beer makes its way across “the border”! I, for one, am not complaining!!!

Their was also a surprising yet pleasant afternote to the Sainsbury competition. Harbour will be having their Porter and India Pale Ale in over 250 Sainsbury outlets. Despite not being one of the winners! Just goes to show, quality (sometimes) does shine through!

Another excellent evening at Port Street with good friends and superb beer. They do do this thing quite well on Port Street. Met a nice couple from Ashton – Malcolm & Hazel – Hazel kept passing us her beer, bit too strong I think. Not that WE were complaining, Oh No!

After a brief (possibly sozzled on my part!) chat with Eddie from Harbour and Claudia from the Port Street empire, it was time for walkies with a couple of pleasant pints in The Castle (that REALLY is a nice job they’ve done reclaiming the upstairs room!) and the gorgeous Crown & Kettle. All over too soon.

Just wish we had got those damn tickets for the Kernel MTB when we could!

On that note…’til next time…

Slainte!

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

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

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

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

Micro Bar

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Smithfield Bar & Hotel

Smithfield

(pic – courtesy of Google)

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

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

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(Facers Mild)

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

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(Not from B&Q I take it!)

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

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(A rarity)

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

Bar Fringe

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

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(Rear toward the ‘beer garden’)

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

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

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

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

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

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

20130509_203015(Gratuitous decor shot!)

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

The Castle

Castle

(pic – Beerintheevening.com)

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

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

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(Where the magic happens!)

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(Spooky!)

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

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(The selection)

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

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

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

The Crown & Kettle

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

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(Gratuitous Ceiling Shot!)

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

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

The Port Street Beer House

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(Last nights cask offerings)

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

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

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(Mr Krause. Amber my arse!)

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

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

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

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(Coming soon to an architectural marvel near you!)

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

On that note…..’til next time…..

Slainte!

A Toast To An Old Friend 24/04/2013

I went to 6th form college over 30 years ago.Whilst there, I met some great people who went on to become good close friends. Some of us drifted apart through work and geography. Two such people were Martin ‘Doigy’ & Jan Doig. Good people, caring, loving and friendly. And utterly devoted to each other. About two years ago, social media placed us back in contact and we’d shoot the breeze on Facebook (with Doigy) and Twitter (with Jan).

Eventually, an opportunity was engineered to meet up and we did this in The Knott. To my delight, they hadn’t changed. Then living in Cambridgeshire, geographically we were separated, but culturally, we were of a piece. For his sins, Doigy had become an avid beer ‘ticker’ who maintained a meticulous list of the beers he tasted. To my joy, he was also a devotee of “The Dark Side”. Milds, Stouts and Porters were his thing, as they are mine. Doigy also had a love of Northern Soul music, another of my passions. Doigy, Jan & I spent a pleasant couple of hours in The Knott and I made a loose approach to Doigy to come and join Me & Jaz at an upcoming beer festival.

Sadly, we buried Martin on 25/10/2011. He was 47. A good, extremely fit man taken in his prime.

Yesterday would have been his 49th birthday, so along with two of his good friends, Col & Jaz (who knew him far better than I) we met up on his birthday to toast his life and memory with 3 particular bottled beers and to visit two Manchester pubs that he would’ve adored.

doigy spud jan jc(Doigy wasn’t ALWAYS that small! Pic – courtesy of Bob The Chiropodist)

Colin & I started our deliberations a touch earlier, with a beer Doigy would’ve enjoyed. In The Black from Wilson Potter at The Salford Arms. This is the first time that I’ve had this 4.2% stout in ‘the wild’. It didn’t disappoint. Smooth creamy and lovely mocha ish flavours.

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(In The Black indeed!)

He keeps a good pint does Tom. Great to see their beer in Manchester now. A swift pint of another beer from another of my favourite brewers, Dainty Blonde by Privateer. Pale, delicately floral with a hint of elderflower. Really refreshing. Now we had to move on. We said a hasty farewell to Tom and headed to Jaz’s bachelor pad!

The most abiding legend about Doigy was The Toast Mountain. He simply loved his toast. This love was used as a jump off point for some home brewing friends to create a beer in his honour. The obvious name for this beer (a stout, of course!) was ‘Doigys Toast‘. It was therefore most appropriate that this should be the first beer of the evening.

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(‘Doigys Toast‘. A Toast to the Toastmeister!)

Made by a home brewer noted as “Bradys Brews”,rather scarily there is no %abv noted, but a very dark brown to black beer came out of the bottle with abundant cream coloured, but quickly dissipating head. This one scared me, because I was worried, that having had it for so long in storage, it would be like Sarsons. Pleased to say that it was anything but! A deep dark aroma of licorice and spice, a thin texture, but more licorice in the mouth and a chocolate tinge. Just a little. Tasted a touch ‘yeasty’ toward the end, but all-in-all a decent beer with which to toast a decent man.

We moved on to a beer that Doigy stated was his favourite. Mrs Simpsons Thriller in Vanilla by Brown Cow Brewery 5.1% abv

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(His all-time favourite)

A very dark brown beer. Again, the head quickly vanished. A hint of vanilla in the aroma and (possibly?) treacle. Slightly thin in the mouth, but lovely roasted malt flavours, slight bitterness with a vanilla twist. Not as ‘full-on’ as some vanilla beers, but nice for all that.

Next (and last of the bottles) is Bad Kitty Vanilla Porter by Brass Castle Brewery 5.5% abv

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Doigy would have loved this beer! Black with more than a hint of vanilla, a touch of Bournville chocolate, not TOO bitter but plenty of nice dry vanilla, not too sweet though. The head again dissipated quite quickly, so probably wrong temperature or glassware issues, because, having had this before, lack of head wasn’t previously  problem. Despite that, this is still a damn fine beer. Both of the above were sourced from that excellent shop Yorkshire Ales in Snaith, East Yorkshire.

At this juncture, we went for a short walk to a bar that Doigy would’ve loved. The Port Street Beer House

A Mini Jaunt in Manchester - 21/09/2012

(recycled pic alert!)

Pretty much guaranteed a good pint in here. I was delighted to note that there was still some Citra from Oakham Ales  on, so at 4.2% I dived in. My first time for this beer on draught that I have loved from a distance in bottled version. Loads of citrus from the eponymous hop on a biscuity malt base. Yum! However, Col fancied a swap, so I then got the bonus of a Dark Star Brewing Carafa Jade. A red ale made with German Carafa barley and NZ Pacific Jade hops, this was a spicy zingy beer with lots of citrus hop aroma. Bloody lovely! They know their stuff in here. Good knowledgable bar staff serving excellent beer.

Just the one here, as The Crown & Kettle was calling!

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For my last of this evening, my eyes alighted on Off Kilter Porter by Offbeat Brewery of Crewe. Lovely and creamy black beer with lush choc and coffee in the mouth, maybe a spicy hop touch too. Really smooth and quite quite gorgeous.

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(Off Kilter going down well!)

Colin, having ordered the Rat In The Hat from the Rat Brewery, started to eye my Off Kilter Porter covetously. Being the kind of guy that I am (and in the spirit of the evening!) I swapped. The Cat was a nice fruity hoppy beer, golden in colour with a slight haze, refreshing.

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(Nice selection with 3 from Ossett)

That was that for another evening. Another excellent evening with good beer, good friends and good conversation. And doffing our collective caps to a top bloke.

On that note…’til next time…

Slainte Doigy!

Historic Manchester Pubs – Part 1 – 15/03/2013

The final day of my week off. An old pal of mine – now resident in Perth, Western Oz – was in town. This gave me more than an excuse to sally forth to Manchester. Also an excuse to do some of the older pubs from my youth the “Historic Pubs”, I’ve been threatening for so long!

Passing up the chance to watch The Cheltenham Gold Cup (I backed the winner, seeing as you’re asking!), I acceded to my old pals request to meet in……

The Kings Arms

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(Sure there was daylight when I entered!)

Located on Bloom Street, just off Chapel Street (A6), this particular building dates from the 1870s and is a gorgeous old structure – standing proud whilst almost surrounded by newer residential flat developments – and is opposite the lovely old Salford Corporations Gas Offices. (The pub – apparently – was originally sited opposite!)

I’ve loved this pub since it was an old Higsons House (A Liverpool brewer pub in Salford!). A brief perusal of t’interweb has some images with some Higsons detail.

The Kings has an odd layout with a main room which curves (slightly) around the bar. There is a separate serving hatch to the right as you enter with a nice sized room opposite (last time we came in, this was where the ‘Knitting Club’ were pearling for England!). The main room feels (but isn’t) cavernous. Excellent jukebox (Music being a big feature of this pub) and a number of great 7″ single picture sleeves adorn the walls. Each time I come to the pub, I notice some I hadn’t seen before! (Dad? What’s a 7″ single?)

20130315_153646(The Bar)

Walking into the bar, I spy my old (ex-pat) buddy. “Ah! Bunty!!!” (The names have been changed, to protect the innocent). Before we could chat properly, there was an issue to address….Blackedge Brewery IPA. 6 beers on the bar, but “drink local”! Slightly hazy and golden in colour with gentle citrus on the nose. Spritzy and refreshing with lemon and gentle grapefruit on the tongue. A nice start at 4.2% from this Horwich brewer.

20130315_153658(Main Room)

Joined by Jaz at this point, conversation was flowing (3 years or so to catch up on!) as was the beer. Next up was Bhuoys With The Black Stuff (sic) from Glossop’s own Howard Town Brewery. A dark porter with a creamy head. Nice roasted flavours, really smooth texture, light coffee flavours with a slight bitter twist in the tail. So nice that I had another!

My old mucker had places to go, as did I, so we split up at this point. He headed for them there hills, whilst – keeping with the “historic” theme, myself and Jaz headed towards……..

The Wellington

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Situated on Shambles Square in Manchester city centre (facing Selfridges / Harvey Nichols), this is an old building still umbilically linked to another pub, Sinclairs Oyster Bar. These pubs have been painstakingly physically relocated twice. The latter move necessitated (!!!) by the need to increase the footprint of the new (post IRA bombing) Marks & Spencer development.

Both pubs butt onto a further pub The Olde Mitre and all three sit in the shadow not only of the facing retail behemoths, but also Manchester Cathedral. They all share an open drinking area (plastic glasses only), which tonight was thronged with drinkers.

Both buildings apparently date from the 17th Century, making them some of the oldest buildings in the city. Now my family have a connection to this pub. Whilst researching my family tree, before my Dad passed away a couple of years ago, a family memory passed down about my granddad Chambers having a fishing tackle shop in the old Shambles. A trawl through the internet revealed that the shop was situated above The Old Wellington.

Will Chambers Fishing Tackle (2)(Here it is. Family History!)

(pic – courtesy of Manchester Records Office)

The Wellington has a tudor look frontage and has lots of wood and low beams in the single room bar area. There is an upstairs room, which is very popular, and also has low beams and loads of wood.

20130315_184930(Busy)

4 ales on the bar I think. I opted for a brewery I’ve never had before Andwell from Hampshire and their Spring Magic at 4.4%. A nice pale beer, lemon sherbet aroma with a light lemon citrus flavour. A nice beer. Prices go up a notch here to £3.60 a pint. Nice beer, but at that price……the next logical port of call is attached….

Sinclairs Oyster Bar

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Walked in. No ale. All kegs & bottles. I had a bottle of Oatmeal Stout which I instantly regretted as it was too sweet. Whilst I love this ramshackle old building, I won’t be back in a hurry. 3 distinct drinking areas downstairs. A narrow stairway takes you upstairs. Being told that it was rammed up there, I didn’t venture a peep. From memory though, there is another bar up there and a nice long open room offering a nice view across the square. Again, lots of dark wood. Low ceilings. Main bar area is vertical drinking and incredibly busy.

20130315_190540(side room)

There is a small room just off the rear of the bar which fills very quickly as it has the only low seats downstairs.

Don’t get me wrong. I love this pub. Many a weekend night out started in Sinclairs, even if Old Brewery Bitter was never to my taste. It’s a gorgeous old building which appears to have survived its moves without massive compromises. It’s also really busy. It attracts lots of people and trades on its history. It has its market. This just no longer includes me, I’m afraid.

http://manchesterhistory.net/manchester/tours/tour4/area4page11.html is an interesting site with lots of images of Shambles past and present.

The Hare & Hounds

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Grade II listed, this is another beautiful old boozer. My “stag” do finished up in here where we stared in horror when Salvatore Schillaci ended Irish World Cup hopes in 1990. Moving swiftly on…..


20130315_193803(lobby and bar)

Large tiled lobby area, lots of wood again. A gorgeous entrance. 3 downstairs room (inc the lobby) served from a central bar. The Multi-roomed pub feels like a diminishing breed. Walls tiled with a dark brown tile, possibly not to everyone’s tastes, but works for me. Another pub that feels like a real local in the heart of the city, it’s great that such things still exist. Really friendly customers.

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(rear room)

Holts Bitter was mothers milk for juveniles of my vintage. (That and Tim Taylors Landlord) It was a lovely (if occasionally variable in quality) and uncompromisingly bitter brew. I’m unsure as to what has happened, but I haven’t had a great pint of Holts Bitter for years – and I’ve drunk it in a few pubs.

Recipe change? Whatever has happened, the beer (to me) wasn’t bad, it is now bland and anonymous. Shame. This bitter used to MEAN Manchester beer to me. Not anymore. There is far better to be drunk nearby. Scenic, friendly? Yes indeed. A classic pub, with underwhelming beer. I needed a palate cleanser…….

Port Street Beer House

A Mini Jaunt in Manchester - 21/09/2012(Recycled pic alert!)

(Not so) Old Faithful. A reliably good pint served by young bar staff who know their trade. Tonight, I was lured with some false intel. That Jarl by Fyne Ales was on the bar. BUM! Never mind, the same brewery’s Hurricane Jack was on. Pale as a supermodel, zingy as a zingy thing. 4.4% abv, fresh grapefruit hoppy aroma, grapefruit and sherbet lemon in the mouth. Startlingly refreshing and simply superb after some of the dross I had just drunk. Restoring my faith in the brewing arts.

Next beer was from Great Heck in East Yorkshire. Blonde at 4.3% abv. Another refreshing pale ale, nice citrus flavours and very drinkable. Two Great Hecks on last night. Jaz had Powermouse by them and that was lush as well. First time I’ve seen their beers in a pub and hopefully not the last. Just time for a couple more historic pubs (gasp!)….

The Crown & Kettle

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Another stunning building dating from the early 19th century, with a wealth of outstanding details and features within. Multi-roomed as well!  Another Grade II listed pub. That this pub was shut for 16 years until 2005 is heinous! It is simply gorgeous…get the picture? Speaking of pictures….

20130315_212822(The bar)

As reported previously, 3 distinct rooms each with their own feel. It seems somehow wrong to comment on the beer served within, but….Red Rat from Rat Brewery at 4.2% abv. Unsurprisingly a red beer, made with Simcoe hops. Lovely and bitter, sharp with aromas you would expect from Simcoe, powerful grapefruit, apricot, grassy as well. A fabulous beer in a fabulous pub, where, shamefully, it was easy to get a seat! Some superb Northern Soul again in here….fancy starting an All-Nighter guys? Exiting through the door below (gratuitous picture link!)…….

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The Castle

Castle

(pic – beerintheevening.com)

Another late 18th century pub. The tiled frontage leads you into the mosaic floor tiled bar area. Simply lovely. Another pub that’s a favourite from my youth, the new owners have done a tremendous job restoring this building and improving it massively. Now (with the opening of the room upstairs) a 4 roomed pub – including the performance area – it is justly busy and has a great jukebox (even if some of the 80s selections last night weren’t to my taste!).

20130315_222809(busy bar area)

This is tied into Robinsons Brewery but always has 2 or 3 has some interesting guests. The choice tonight was Titanic Brewery’s Longitude. I will hopefully try this beer again, because, whilst a nice pint with hop flavour, I could get a touch of sweetness and at this stage of the evening, I needed something more assertive. Nice pint, wrong time.

To sum up. ALL the pubs I went in had something to recommend them. ALL were busy and – therefore – catering to their given audience. There are some stunning historical pubs in Manchester that serve beer that I DO like. As one of my conversations yesterday went…this is all about personal taste and opinions. Mine are not necessarily better than yours. If you disagree, comment. In the words of the Manic Street Preachers album – This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours!

More historic walks for the future and I will listen to suggestions. On that note……’til next time.

Slainte!

Manchester NQ – 16/01/2013

Midweek Beer in the Northern Quarter

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

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

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(A grand entrance!)

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

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

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

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

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

20130116_202440[1] (Fancy a tinkle?)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(Eclectic Decoration – Fringe Style!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now then, where did I park that bus?

‘Til next time.

Slainte!

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’!).

20130125_142020[1](Digging that chandelier!)

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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.

20130125_173046[1](Starting to get busy now!)

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!