Manchester – Where It’s At?

Cotopaxi

“There’s a destination a little up the road
From the habitations and the towns we know
A place we saw the lights turn low
The jig-saw jazz and the get-fresh flow

Pulling out jives and jamboree handouts
Two turntables and a microphone
Bottles and cans just clap your hands
Just clap your hands

Where it’s at!
I got two turntables and a microphone…. “

(“Where It’s At” – Beck : YouTube Clip – GrandMa Bird)

On Friday evening, I returned home from a day at New Mills Beer Festival (bijou – as in small – to say the least) via Manchester. No plan to have a beer in “Town” at the start of the day, but plans, as you well know, have a habit of being…… shall we say…. dynamic?

Anyway. Having deposited a bottle of the most excellent “American Barleywine” by Torrside with the Arch Nemesis, I hobbled towards the Crown & Kettle.

The objective? Cotopaxi DIPA by Track. On cask.

A rare thing to see a DIPA on cask. I was lucky to try the first DIPA brewed by Cloudwater on cask on its launch day last year and (at the time) enjoyed it marginally more than the keg and bottle. A marvelous beer in the truest sense in that I wondered at the flavour and texture being far lighter (and almost “sessionable”) than a 9% beer had any right to be.

The Track was big and juicy. Chewy malt and huge hopping giving a real balance. In an age where balance is deemed unfashionable. It amazes me how brewers make such beers so eminently drinkable.

Then we went to The Smithfield. Where it was on keg.

WOW. What a difference! The carbonation and – dare I say it – the temperature, made a HUGE  difference. The beer was lifted and lightened. The hops soared over the malty landscape and simply stunned me.

From a vaguely remembered conversation with Sam (Mr Track), I seem to recall that he preferred it on cask in some ways . I have to disagree (Memory, O fickle thing!). He prefers it on keg.  And I never thought I would agree with those who say that certain styles suit Keg. This beer danced. And got me thinking….

Is this city where it’s at, beer wise?

Cask Beer – Is there a better session pale ale than Sonoma by Track? I haven’t had a better pale ale in cask in the last 12 months. Juicy, punchy and smooth. Just an absolute go to. For someone who doesn’t normally have such beers.

Manchester is choc full of great breweries banging out superb cask conditioned beers. Nowhere better. Let’s be hearing those arguments, down below.

“Craft” Keg – Unless you’ve been in hibernation for the last 7 days, you won’t have missed the reams of web inches splaffed on Cloudwater’s DIPA v3, if it’s a patch on v1 it will be a classic. They’ve been slipping out some simply stunning lagers too, vastly underrated when compared to the DIPA and IPA.

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Marble seem to be under the radar of late. But with James Kemp keen to put a stamp on the brewery, they’ve put out two crackers with Damage Plan & Built to Fall. For me, still THE brewery in Manchester all round.

However, the beer that has made my taste buds sing more than any other on keg is from Runaway. Their Pale. I’ve had it a few times in the last fortnight and it is absolutely WAILING! So fresh, light and just zipping out of that glass. Simply stunning. (The American Brown is a bit special too)

And if somebody wants to put London up? Other than Weird Beard, I’m not convinced by the hype around many London breweries. I’m just not. That isn’t parochialism. Just my taste buds talking to me.

Manchester also has an absolutely BANGING set of brewtaps that are coming into their own at this time of year too. Black Jack / Runaway (On tomorrow!) / SquawkTrack all pack out their arches with stunning beers and great food (none too shabby tunes either….) and with people like Beer Nouveau regularly opening their doors too, there’s something for everyone!

The drinking area where I struggle to justify the primacy of my beloved city is……. Pubs. It has so MANY cracking bars that you’d struggle to keep up, but….

Manchester has a thriving beer scene – Christ KNOWS I’ve been waffling on about it for long enough. This scene will be placed front and centre in June when Connor Murphy rolls out the fullness of Manchester Beer Week. Something to which I’m looking forward to hugely – I may even be…….. Ah. That’s for another time

Where this city falls – slightly – short, is in a concentration of classic freehouses. It has great pubs. But many of these are hobbled by pubco ownership which restricts the beer supply to – for me – the larger regional breweries and the huge firms like Marstons (eg Bulls Head) & Greene King (Lass O’Gowrie).

Go to places like Sheffield, Huddersfield & Liverpool though and they appear to be over endowed with classic pubs that also dispense great local beers. I was awe-struck and incredibly jealous when I strolled around both H Town & Sheff last year and wandered around in an impressed daze when we went to Liverpool recently.

Yes. We have The Marble Arch, The Crown & Kettle, but little else in the way of truly great beautiful pubs, with truly great beer. Too many pubs hobbled by pubco control – that’s a whole other argument though.

Manchester is a city where bars shine. Port Street, Pie & Ale, (Marble’s own) 57 Thomas Street, Soup Kitchen, Font, Sandbar…..the list goes on.

On balance – in the North, for sure – Manchester has “it”. For me in any case.

That’s enough inflation of that “Manchester Bubble” from me – for now. Next stop, Hebden Bridge!

Back soon.

Home Beers – Feb 2016 – Pt 1

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Am I lucky? Or am I just incredibly selective in what I drink? It really is rare that I open a poor bottle of beer. And THAT is generally because I’ve left it too long before I drink it.

Don’t get me wrong, there IS duff stuff out there, dull and uninspiring. But the purpose of these posts – and this blog in general – is to highlight the good stuff (IMO) for you to try, be that bottles, pubs, bars or breweries/brewtaps. That won’t change. I’m not lucky or indeed overly selective in what I buy. Nor am I a coward in that I say little that is negative about stuff.

I believe, simply, in being constructive. If I have issues, I let the people know who are in the best place to deal with them. Those are the landlord/brewer/owner etc. That works for me. Works with my personal sense of morality and ethics. It’s really easy to go on the likes of Untappd and slaughter a beer. That is not (and never will be) my “way”.

I don’t know why I felt the need to say that. The words fell out of my head on to the keyboard. That now said, I move on, to some REALLY good beers. From the North. As usual. And, just to prepare you, this includes, perhaps the bottled beer that has made the biggest impact on me.

Ever.

A BIG statement. And it may surprise you….

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Dark StoutBarearts Brewery (Todmorden) – 4.8% abv – Stout – 500ml – Barearts Shop (Todmorden)

This REALLY is a special and quirky little shop. An unremarked upon jewel, in a town recovering from recent flooding. Go help. Buy beer.

On pouring this dark beauty, I was assailed with roasted malt aromas, earthy, bitter chocolate and little coffee. A damn fine start from this creamy headed black beer. Smells pulling at my hearts strings….

Smooth in the mouth with a light carbonation, the roasted bitterness hits you from the get go. Bitter chocolate, coffee grinds and a little note of licorice in there in this earthy mouthful. Delicious.

A gentle smoky note creeps in in further mouthfuls, cosying up to that roasted barley in this silky smooth beer. Nice bitterness on the swallow. Lovely dry Stout this.

Finish is dry and roasty with a hoppy aftertaste showing through the bitterness. A lovely beer from this tiny Todmorden brewery. Just hope they weren’t hugely affected by the recent flooding.

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The Black CrossroadsCheshire Brewhouse (Congleton) / Elusive Brewing (London) – 6.5% abv – StoutHeaton Hops (Heaton Chapel)

Black. Just how I like my Stouts. I have dark desires. And I desired this from the moment I saw it on the shelf. Beautiful head. The colour of a milky coffee. And that aroma! Roasty, touch of citrus and coconut. Mmmmmm…. Sorachi in a Stout just rocks my world.

Oh lordy. Oh lordy, lordy, lordy. Now. I bow to few in my admiration of the beers made by Shane Swindells. Anyone who has been within squealing distance of me recently (or so reads THIS tosh that I peddle), knows my feelings about Govinda.

I think he (in collaboration with Andy Parker) had made a dark beer to rival that beauty. There’s a playful fruitiness to this on the first sip. I hesitate to call it citrus. It’s not. But what follows is pure darkness. Like a dark chocolate Bounty bar dipped in ground coffee…. I’m swooning here!

Then, the bitter roast hits the sides of the tongue. Oh my. This works for me! Dirty, roasted, earthy thing that this is. I love it.

The bitter roast is just such a joy and is no doubt aided and abetted in this smash and grab on my tastebuds by some judicious hopping. Neither Shane note Andy are known for stinting in that department…

That bitterness goes through with that dark roast to a hoppy roasty finish and aftertaste.

An established star from the North (to me) collaborating with a rising start from that there South. And they’ve made a dark delight.

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TripelTickety Brew (Stalyvegas) – 8.2% abv – Belgian Style Tripel – 330ml – Heaton Hops (Heaton Chapel)

Sparkling mid gold beer, pouring slightly lively with an abundant white lacy head giving an aroma full of peach, banana and spice, with a little clove upfront.

Mmmmmm… My initial reaction to the first mouthful was to take a metaphorical step back. Woof! This is a big and full bodied thing. With plenty of that indefinable thing…. Oomph.

Fruity. Orange peel, banana, peach all in there, slightly tart, then, once swallowed, a tongue curling and herbal dryness. Really pronounced. Then, a curious warmth started to spread.

The finish is dry and herbal hoppy.

I’m not someone who drinks much in the way of Belgian beer and wouldn’t necessarily know what to compare this with. I’ll have to grab another and Share with Des (ask Deeekos). He’d know.

What I DO know, is that I like this. A lot.

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Ace of SpadesBlack Jack Beers (Manchester) – 10% abv – Imperial Stout – 330ml – Browtons (Ashton under Lyne)

Black as the….. You know where I’m going. It’s seriously dark is this beer. The head looks like the cream you pour on top of an Irish Coffee and the smell… Oh the smell… Like the bitterest of chocolate with a little smoke and that new leather sofa smell. Winning….

Indeed…. It’s an Imperial Stout… So you just KNOW that I’m winning at life right about now? This big old body has traces of chocolate dunked in port wine, nice and bitter cocoa, a deep Espresso swills around my mouth too, making my gums tingle.

Yes there is a sweetness that is unavoidable in a beer like this, but that is more than offset by such a hoppy bitterness. Magnificent.

The finish is winey and boozy, but with a big bitter hop aftertaste.

I’m listening to Walk On By by Isaac Hayes. Drink the beer, listen to the tune. You’ll get it. Trust me. This beer just loves those bass notes!

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DIPACloudwater Brew Co (Manchester) – 9% abv – Double IPA – 330ml – Harvey Leonards (Glossop)

I was made up when Steven from Harvey Leonard’s held one of these back for me, becoming quite hard to get. And having had it on cask and keg, it would have been a shame NOT to have had a bottle….

Oh. My. Flip the lid, smell the fruit. This is fruitier on the nose than a Church Street barrow! WOW! Ultra Pale, light white head and that tropical fruit basket aroma… Grapefruit, mango, lemon….

Whilst being full of body (a bit like myself) the trick with this beer is like I said to James Campbell at the brewery on launch day. It tastes way lower on the abv. And is therefore extremely dangerous in its deliciousness.

Nicely lightly carbonated, this smooth operator lets the hops sing. And they DO sing. Again, mango, grapefruit tartness, smooth juicy orange and so much more tropical stuff that’s hard to describe. It’s just bloody gorgeous stuff. Worthy of many of the accolades it attracted in 2015.

Huge hoppy finish, nice rounded bitterness leading to a BIG hoppy aftertaste. Not a mouth wrecker unlike some. Just beautiful.

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American Barleywine 2015Torrside Brewing Co (New Mills) – 10% abv – Barley Wine – 330ml – Browtons (Ashton under Lyme)

For your own sakes, I hope that you have read this far down….

Like a 330ml jewel, this is one deep ruby beer. I swear it is glowing from within…. The aroma is a surprise. Really fruity, surprisingly so, almost like a hoppy Pale Ale, full of rich and sticky orange and something slightly more tropical that I can’t quite define. Yum.

Oh sweet baby Jesus and the orphans!!! WTF is THIS?

Rich. So so rich. Yes, there is a sweetness to this. A rich and chewy toffee malt. But before it can insinuate itself in, it’s overwhelmed by spicy fruit. And by the GODS is this spicy! Bags of juicy raisins, macerated in who knows what, juicy, vinous, but so bloody peppery!

Being honest, this was one HELL of a shock to the system. This is HAMMERED with hops! But the thing is, insanely, it works SO WELL!

The finish is very dry. Almost tongue curlingly so. And the aftertaste is just, so hoppy. Almost herbally so.

A simply magnificent achievement!

To put in simply, without undue hyperbole, this is quite possibly the bottle of beer that has made the biggest impact on my tastebuds in the 3 1/2 years I’ve been sharing with you. The last beer that made as near an impact as this, was a 2/3rd of Human Cannonball by Magic Rock. The beer that effectively started me blogging.

It’s THAT good.

On that note…..

Slainte!

Bottled Ales – April 2014 – Part 2

” If you’re lonely, I will call. If you’re poorly, I will send poetry.

I love you. I am the milkman of human kindness. I will leave an extra pint”

(“The Milkman of Human Kindness” – Billy Bragg)

Isn’t it strange how some things just grab you? Strangely, I found myself in tears with this song. It gets me every time!

Many people look at Billy Bragg  and just think of  “that left-wing loony”, the rent-a-mouth who is rolled out every time that the press want a socialist to pass comment on events that they can sneer at. Let’s face it, few in today’s “Labour” Party fit that particular bill! But that view of Billy misses a huge fact. He is one of the greatest songwriters of my generation, in a kind of spartan way, up there with Costello for me.

What it also misses, is some of the great love songs he has written – just listen to “Must I Paint You A Picture” and see what I mean! Delicacy and poise, where all people expect is thrashing guitars and a snarl. It also misses the warmth of a live Bragg performance. Having seen him live on more than a few occasions now, my faith in human nature never fails to be partially restored on exiting the venue. The man gives a shit. And I love him for it. Rant over!

Moving swiftly on this Friday evening to the subject at hand. Beer. In bottles too!

If you have ever read one of these before, you will know what comes next! If you haven’t….this is the format…

1. The Beer, 2. The Brewer, 3. The Strength, 4. The beer style, 5. The Price & Size, 6. The discount (and why, eg: for CAMRA membership or shop deal, where applicable) 7. Where from,  and, If a website for the vendor exists, the hyperlink to the shop / brewer website, just in case you are inspired enough by my ramblings to make a purchase! Here goes….

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1. Stout – Squawk Brewing Company (Ardwick, Manchester) – 5.4% abv – Stout – £4.20 (500ml) – 10% for 12 or more – The Tottering Temple (Hampson Street, Horwich)

It wasn’t so long ago that I hadn’t heard of Squawk or Oliver Turton, grateful to John Clarke the Sage of South Manchester CAMRA for bringing them to my attention. The first couple, (India Pale Ale & Porter) have been a superb start, so I leapt on this when I saw it on the opening day at BlackEdge Brewery’s excellent new bottle shop! (Read more here)

Black. (No shit!)

Not a massive head, but what there is is tan coloured. Bit worried about this, but needn’t have! The aroma is of a chocolate neither sweet nor overly bitter with an earthiness to it. Full-bodied, the beer has a slight sweetness with chocolate and a slightly bitter coffee note, really smooth and creamy texture with a finishing bitterness which is rather nice! The aftertaste has more of that roasted bitterness with a grassy hop note.  A great beer on a cool spring evening. Another cracking beer from this Manchester brewery!

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2. High TeaRoosters Brewery (Collab with Melissa Cole) (Knaresborough, N Yorkshire) – 6.2% – Jasmine Green Tea IPA – £4.59 (500ml) – 10% for 12 or more – The Liquor Shop (Whitefield, N  Manchester)

I read a lot about this Yorkshire brewery and, to be honest, I haven’t had much of their beer and when I have, it has been at the tail end of the evening, when – if I’m honest – the taste buds have been a wee bit over worked (ONE way of putting it!). Following a twitter conversation with David BishopI decided that I needed to give Roosters a try when I’m…err….sober. So…I alighted on High Tea..Jasmine…Melissa Cole…so far so good!

A pale golden beer with a lasting and clinging white head and a fruity aroma that I’m struggling to identify. Oooh this is nice! Full-bodied and smooth, a bready malt base supports this fruitiness that carries through with the green tea following in line.

The flavour reveals in onion like layers. First the fruitiness, then the tea and then a more floral delicate flavour reveals itself and after every mouthful there’s a drying bitter almost tannic finish with the fruitiness and the tea holding on throughout. If only green tea tasted this good on its own, I’d drink it!

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3. DBA – Cheshire Brewhouse – (Congleton, Cheshire) – 4.6& abv – Strong English Ale – £3.59 (500ml) – 10% for 12 or more – The Liquor Shop (Whitefield, N  Manchester)

Let’s hear it for a good old English ale! Personally, I would call this a strong bitter, a maligned drink in these “C-Word” obsessed times. I love New World hoppage as much as the next drinker, but I am starting to feel like traditional beer styles are being written off – a dangerous thing in my opinion. I love a good creamy Mild and a well executed bitter can be every bit as rewarding as a big IPA. Sod it, it’s all opinion eh? Shane Swindells is adept at many styles, so this was more than worth a dabble…

Mid brown beer with a white head and quite a fruity aroma, hedgerow fruit like damson and plum. Medium bodied, this is really fruity with lots of plum and a hint of blackberry and vine fruits – actually, with hints that are rather reminiscent of Vimto! – leaving a rather curious warming feeling given its relatively light strength. A proper strong English bitter, not something I drink much of these days, but I’d certainly drink THIS again!

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4. Dark Rum – Blackedge Brewery (Horwich, N of Bolton) – 4.6% abv – Porter – £2.20 (500ml) – 10% off 12 or more bottles – The Tottering Temple (Hampson Street, Horwich)

Another gleaned from my recent visit to the new BlackEdge Brewery outlet. A cracking place if you’re near Horwich (or even browsing around at Middlebrook!).

Unsurprisingly black with a light tan head and a chocolate and slightly smoky aroma. Oh yes! First flavour impression was of a treacle toffee, then that the treacle was coated in chocolate, then was soaked in some rum….layered like an onion!

Full-bodied and smooth, the light chocolate carries on through each mouthful but with each, the sweetness of the rum comes through more and more. The finish is quite dry and there is a distinct grassy hoppy aftertaste. Glad I waited for this. Superb. Need another bottle!

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5. Cuckoo Number 6 – Five Oh Brew Co (Prestwich, N Manchester) – 7% abv – US IPA – Swap (330ml) – 0 – Direct from the brewer himself!

I’m immensely proud that (I think) I was the first blogger to review one of the fine beers brewed by Jamie Hancock, ex of Port Street Beer House – now of Beermoth on Tib Street. He has now, commercially, brewed a number of beers in different styles that have met with almost universal acclaim – certainly within my earshot anyway! With a little investment in larger brew kit, he’ll be going far.And soon! You heard it here 41st!

I was gutted that I couldn’t make his Keg launch on Wednesday of a variant of his excellent Smoked Stout, I don’t say that lightly either. I was therefore forced into the welcoming embrace of this beer….. which was…

Deep gold with a lasting white head and an aroma with Lemon and maybe Apricot. OOH! Big dirty hoppage in here!

Big body with some jaffa cake marmalade sweetness immediately pounced on and wrestled to the ground by resinous hops! Fruity with orange and apricot in the bitterness, this is a full on flavoured beer, but again, really smooth and easy drinking.

Each beer Jamie makes just gets better and better. The finish is fruity and dry with that resinous afterteaste lurking in the shadows. A superb beer!

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6. 300Five Towns Brewery /North Riding Brewpub (Wakefield/Scarborough) – 7.3% abv – DIPA – £0 – 0% – Direct from the brewery

I’ve liked the beers made by Malcolm Bastow from the first sip. This man can brew on that 2.5 barrel kit in his “shed”. Beers from 2.9% to an Imperial Stout, all fabulous. Why pubs and shops over this side of the hill aren’t knocking down his door still phases me, only Allgates seem to have got the message about his beers. Wigan drinkers are lucky sods and there’s another 4 casks over here for The Road To Wigan Beer next week! If I had a shop or pub….. And don’t get me started about the tremendous beers made by Stuart Neilson  at his Scarborough brewpub!

Bright and pale gold with a nice white head and a huge mango aroma, really fruity, making my mouth water!

Really full-bodied. There’s plenty of bready malt lending a slight sweetness supporting a massively fruity hop charge, oh but this is HOPPY!  With bucket loads of mango dancing around my mouth, it was coated with a tropical fruity goodness. Mouthful after fruity mouthful!

This merits a #Beergasm and no mistake! A gentle, barely perceptible bitterness among the fruity hop assault leads to a  pine and big grassy finish. An absolute belter up there with any DIPA I’ve had.

“Let’s Give Them Something To Drink” Indeed!

A really strong batch of beers this week, but this is probably the best bottle I’ve had so far this year – and THAT is saying something!

Right then…I’m off for a cold shower!

On that note…’til next time…(The Road To Wigan Beer next week – on the bus!!!)

Slainte!

P.S. Given the recent excellent blogging efforts of  Glenn Johnson on Weight Loss whilst still drinking and the continuing excellence of Paddy McGrath, I have been shamed into following in their rather large footsteps and will henceforth be trying to lose weight whilst drinking excellent beer. At the end of each week’s bottle post I shall not how I’m doing and am doing this by merely curtailing my snacking habits.

Last Monday 07/04/2014, I weighed a ludicrous 17st 12lbs. This morning, I am down to 17st 3lbs. A good start I suppose!