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

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

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

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

The Raven

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

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

20130313_123035

(Nice selection – Three others inc two darks!)

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

20130313_123257

(Dining Room)

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

20130313_123505

(Nice period fireplace)

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

Well. Here comes Surprise #4!

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

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

20130313_175649

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

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

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

20130313_175626

(As you can see, a bit narrow!)

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

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

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

20130313_145044

(Mash Tun)

20130313_145004

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

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

20130313_143233

(2 of the 6 FVs)

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

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

20130313_145841(Conditioning Vessels/Tanks)

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

20130313_143601

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

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

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

EPSON MFP image

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

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

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

The Anvil

ANVIL_xlarge

(pic – qype.co.uk)

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

20130313_165341

(bar area)

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

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

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

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

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

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

20130313_171051

(Maybe next time eh?)

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

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

On that note….’til next time…

Slainte!

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

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

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

20130125_114828[1]

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.

20130125_120351[1]

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?

20130125_115827[1]

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).

20130125_133354[1]

(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!)

20130125_134405[1]

(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!)

20130125_140545[1]

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!