First Chop Brewing Arm – MTB @ The Salford Arms 18/09/2013

First Chop

“The dark brown shades of my skin only add colour to my tears.

Oh, that splash against my hollow bones, that rocks my soul.

Looking back over my false dreams that I once knew,

Wondering why my dreams never came true.”

(Syl Johnson – “Is It Because I’m Black”)

A few weeks ago now, I noticed as tweet from one of my favourite pubs of the last 12 months – T he Salford Arms – that mentioned a series of up and coming ‘Meet The Brewer’ events with local Manchester area breweries. The first was with the excellent Privateer with its equally excellent ringmaster / owner, Matt Jervis. I was gutted that circumstances precluded me from attending, I do love the beers that Peter Curran and Matt bang out. Balanced, tasty and resolutely non-ludicrous with that strength!

Black Jack was next with Rob Hamilton. Another top bloke punting out excellent beer. Again, even though I’d been to one at Port Street, I wanted to go, but couldn’t!

However, a visit to my nice bank resolved some of my (ahem) difficulties, so I wasn’t going to miss the next one. First Chop.

I’d had a few of their beers around Manchester. Uniformly excellent they were too. I also popped in recently to their restaurant / bar in Ramsbottom (where it all started). You can read about that hereAn assured recommendation for a bar that would not be out of place in the Northern Quarter of Manchester.

Got to say, with an advised 6pm start time, it was a damn struggle getting there on time! But with a hoppy ale at the end, my smiling face (!) presented itself at the bar with an open wallet and lolling tongue. A swift greeting to Tom who runs the bar (and keeps a damn fine pint!) and I had a pint of First Chop ‘Hop’ in my greasy mitt.

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(We also got this later – but what the hell!) – This is a golden pale beer with lots of citrus hop on the nose, lemon up there as well as a hint of grapefruit. Lovely and fruity/bitter in the mouth with a really good body base for a 4.1% abv beer and lots of citrus. This comes from (what I later learned to be) the FIVE hops used (Bobek, Cascade, Chinook, Citra & Simcoe), nice grapefruit in the finish with a touch of piney resin from the Simcoe. Lovely beer that you could drink all night!

At this point, I sensed that Tom was colluding with someone at the side of the bar….so being a nosey (and somewhat cheeky) sod, I introduced myself to Rik Garner, Mr First Chop Brewing Arm himself. And proceeded to cure his insomnia with my incessant waffling and questions!

For quite a young bloke, he’s been a busy boy these last few years! He started out as a chef and founded the bar / restaurant in the mid to late noughties. Having a love of good beer, he developed the yen to make his own beer. So, in 2012, he decide to try his hand at brewing his own beers. He approached Outstanding Brewery in Bury who agreed to let him use some of their spare capacity. The first beer was the Hop I tasted first. The range soon began to expand (as did demand) and the original plan for occasional brewing went out of the window!

So the search for new premises began and to invest in his own kit! Since this summer, Rik has occupied an arch  under the railway off Trinity Way in Salford and commenced brewing with a new 8 Bbl (Beer Barrel) plant.

He’s busy indeed. From that ‘occasional’ brewing idea, he is currently brewing 3 times a week and spends the rest of his time selling and distributing as well as the admin work (which he is still involved with at the bar in Rammy!). The beers are growing in popularity and have won several awards. They are also popping up all over the country from the North East to the South West (and all areas in between!). He has been so busy and successful, that he is having to look to bring someone in – now THERE’S an opportunity! (I offered myself up. I guess that the chuckle fro Rik, allied with the utter lack of technical ability, may mean that I need not apply. Another dream shattered!!!)

Good beer, great company (Rik, not me!) and a cracking pub. Now, where were we…ah yes, the beer!

The ticket for entry cost a whopping £5. For which you receive 4 beer samples. 4 1/2 pints….or so I thought! We settled into the lovely curved front room of the Salford, Rik parked himself, took out his samples and began. He handed out samples of 4 of the 5 hops that were used in ‘Hop’ and encouraged us to give ’em a good rub and sniff. From the Bobek, which was quite subtle and earthy, they got progressively more resinous through to the Simcoe….mmmmmm….Simcoe! Her also brought some of the pale malt that he used in the hop which was lovely Rich Tea biscuit with a dash of Horlicks.

We were furnished each with a half pint of Hop as previously described.

Next up was a bottle of ‘TEA’. Rik seems to name all his beers with 3 letters – AVA is named after his daughter! MIA after her bessie mate…….TEA was simply a damn good Brew! No arguing with that eh? TEA was golden, and at 5% abv, perhaps a shade darker than HOP and was fuller bodied with lovely darker tasting hoppy fruity flavours with a lovely dry bitterness in with the citrus. A distinctive grassy bitter finish. Getting the bottle was a surprise, but I think that Rik wanted us to sample 4 beers. there were only 2 of his on draught.

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Linda and Pete from Bolton (Good CAMRA members both) arrived and the chat flowed! First time I’d met Pete. It was obvious from our conversations (and his questions for Rik) that – like Linda – he is passionate about his beer! Not sure about his love of bottled stuff, but he, like me, enjoyed the two that Tom produced from behind the bar! The next one being SIP.

A 5.4% abv Pale Ale made with pale malt and loads of NZ hops, this had some delicious and more subtle tropical fruit going on with light grapefruit and lemon in nose and mouth leading to another dry and fruity bitter finish.

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Finally came the darker dangerous delights of SYL. This is a Black Jaggery IPA. Jaggery being an unrefined dark sugar made from Date palm sap. I love the fact that it is named after Syl Johnson, the soul singer who recorded Riks’ favourite album (I’m now gonna buy it today!) “Is It Because I’m Black” a cracking soul tune you can catch here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KxvquwCqC2w The beer it helps to make is indeed dark and dangerous. A spicy nose with more than a hint of licorice, there is the flavour of dark vine fruits in the mouth with more licorice in a dry, pleasant, slightly herbal finish. Beautiful beer, but hardly advisable on a school night!

This was unfortunately sparsely attended for such a good brewer (and engaging personality), but the lack of attendees led to a far more intimate feel that the events at Port Street. This meant more time to chat with Richard, Pete & Linda (which was a pleasure) and some of the other attendees. A cracking finish to a great (if slightly tipsy) evening! That’s be the SYL then!

For a fiver, this was an absolute steal. Let’s hope more come for Hornbeam Brewery, next Wednesday!

Even though the bulk weren’t at the MTB, it was nice to see The Salford busy midweek. Tom and the gang are obviously doing things right. I can say for sure, that he knows how to keep a pint! Just make sure there’s food next week….I was damned hungry by the time the 37 deposited me outside Beers Mansions!!!

On that note….’til next time…

Slainte!

Full Steam Ahead! – A trip on the East Lancashire Railway to Ramsbottom – 29/06/2013

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The genesis of this trip was when I popped to see Matt Holmes of Ramsbottom Craft Brewery. On the way home, I drove past First Chop and promised myself that I would be back soon. How very right I was! The second pull was the chance to arrive on a steam-driven locomotive. I’m no anorak, but there is something inherently romantic about steam trains, don’t you think? Anyway, when I mooted the possibility, a couple of willing victims (Oops! I meant volunteers!) identified themselves, so I set a course for the weekend after payday.

Arranging to meet Jaz & Jeff (my own craft beer Fresh Princes!) at 12:45 at Trackside (the bar at the Bury end of the ELR), I somehow found myself in Bury a full hour early! Now then, what’s a boy to do? A brief perusal of the Good Beer Guide (hereinafter GBG!) told me that there was a bar called Automatic in the building that was the old Derby Hall….Hmmmm……

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I’ve been to the former Derby Hall (now Bury Met) 3 times. First, 07/04/1980. I was 14 and got myself to Bury to see Joy Division at a now legendary gig which was abandoned after 3 songs, one of which was fronted by Alan Hempsall (vocalist with Crispy Ambulance, one of the great unsung Manchester bands!). History tells us that Ian Curtis had a seizure that evening, meaning that the band tried to struggle on once he’d left the stage. Next thing I saw was a pint pot (dimpled!) hurtling towards Tony Wilson who was trying to calm a near riot. I never did get to see a full set by my favourite band. My major musical regret. It was my second gig.

Anyhow, I digress. Walking into Automatic, I had the feeling of walking into a posher small Wetherspoons. Looking every bit the eaterie, two distinctly separate areas here, with the Malt Bar being closed. The main room was all classy colours and wooden tables, clean lines (always handy in a pub, I find!), a bit “restauranty”, but nice enough.

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Noticing the rather scrummy looking Pork Pies, I ordered the “pie & pint” offer (value at £5) with the pint being the house beer, Silver Fox by Outstanding Brewery. The staff pulled a fair bit off (1st pint of the day, I presumed) and served me mine. Hmm…a bit hazy. Not smelling “off”, I gave it a go. Nope. Not as good as Outstanding beers are usually, I took it back and they swapped without quibble – earning some ‘Brownie points’. Next was a beer from a local brewery I had never tried, Steam Plate Bitter from Irwell Works Brewery, described as a Best Bitter at 4.3% abv. Pale gold, with a slightly buttery hop aroma. More like a blonde this for me, more butteriness in the mouth with a clean dry and gently bitter finish.

Nice bar. Local ales (Pennine and Little Valley completing the four handpumps) and a good-looking menu. Nice place.

By this point, Jeff had joined me and fancied some fodder, so we upped and headed off to our next watering hole…..

Trackside

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Located just behind the entrance of the ELR Station on Bolton Road (and accessed via the side road), another new bar to me. Housed alongside Platform 2, this single roomed pub, is long and narrow, with the bar to the rear and had the feel of an ancient English longhouse (read Beowulf) but with 10 handpumped ales.

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(One happy boy!)

So many beers, so little time! We were scheduled for the 13:30 to Ramsbottom, so chose swiftly, but wisely in my case! Allgates Gin Pit at 4.3% abv. A lovely clear golden beer, nice smooth and bitter with more than a hint of what I can only think was the juniper berries that are steeped in the brew. A lovely refreshing pint. Typically Allgates, typically excellent.

Next up, another brewery I hadn’t tasted previously. Hopstar from Darwen with their Lancashire Gold at 4% abv. Golden coloured beer (what else!) that was clean gently hoppy and really refreshing too. I’ll be back for more Hopstar.

20130629_132522(“The train now standing at Platform 4…..”)

The next leg of our journey now beckoned. With Jaz having now joined us (and wolfing his first beer down), we jumped platforms for the train to Ramsbottom. As did a seeming Stag Do dressed in a naval theme! Oh dear, won’t be the last time we see these jolly Jack Tars!

Not the longest of journeys this, but beautiful and scenic. Swiftly passing through Summerseat, where even the air smelled expensive, we were soon in Ramsbottom. Here, I will freely admit, I lost my bearings, being swiftly corrected by Jeff as where I thought was First Chop, was actually an Estate Agents!

First Chop

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(pic moblog.net)

With Jeff the Sherpa leading the way, we finally got there! Two room, with the other being below ground level, this looked like a smart contemporary bar which wouldn’t have been out of place in the Northern Quarter.

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With a slightly smaller selection than Trackside, 4 ales on handpull, with a real cider and a smattering of craft keg. More than enough for me to be getting by! First up for me was one of their own, FCB (First Chop Bitter ?) at 3.6% abv. A bronze colour, this had quite a floral hop aroma and was clean, bitter with a nice dry finish. Brewed at Outstanding in Bury, now that the First Chop Brewing arm have their own brewery (finally!) in Salford, will this now be brewed there?

Next up was another First Chop – well, ‘When in Rome’! AVA at 3.5% abv was pale gold with a lovely tropical fruit hop aroma. Flavour came through with lovely earthy hops and sweet pineapple notes. Superbly refreshing.

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(Would sir like the cask menu?)

Food time! A juicy and spicy Harissa Burger at around a fiver. Excellent.

More beer please! Allgates Pretoria at 3.9% abv. Golden, citrus hop aroma, refreshingly bitter with a clean dry and fruity bitter finish. A really good session beer this, and first time for me I think. (There’s me banging on about not finding Allgates in Freehouses, then 2 on the same day!)

My notes show another AVA….but moving swiftly on…..

I just wish I lived in Ramsbottom. A cracking bar this, small yet perfectly formed. Excellent looking food offering, 4 ales, and a substantial number of real ciders too. Yep, a belter!

A short walk away……

Irwell Works Brewery

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Some of my family have been raving about this place for a while. It was therefore an essential visit. A small side room as you enter (to the left) and up the stairs into the main open room.

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Busy as a chippy in here! As bustling as possible. 8 pumps, 1 of them a cider, 6 Irwell Works own beers and a guest from Bank Top. Once I saw a Stout, there was no looking elsewhere, was there? Let’s be sensible about this! Irwell Works Iron Works Stout at 4.4% abv. Sweet coffee aroma, lots of roasted flavour with a touch of residual sweetness in the mouth. In excellent nick and a cracking pint (or 2!)

20130629_163554(Juliet Balcony anyone?)

A nice busy bar, well worth the visit. Modern, lots of white walls, child friendly. Anything else you want to know?

The train was calling. The last service was at 17:10 and was disappointingly pulled by a diesel! Never mind eh?

Back into Manchester and an ill-advised (by me!) walk to…..

 Joshua Brooks.

You know my thoughts on this bar by now. Reliably excellent beer at an excellent price, with excellent tunes as well. My choice to take my firkin of Allgates Quaker House Oatmeak (or even Oatmeal!) Stout. Next Friday night people!

Hawkshead Lakeland Lager at 5%abv. Cask conditioned lager. Seem to be drinking this a bit recently. Pale gold, butter popcorn aroma. Slightly toffeeish flavour, bit of butterscotch with a clean dry finish.

Pictish Summer Solstice was next at 4.7% abv. A really nicely balanced pale bitter hoppy beer. My favourite of the two. Tune of the day in here, a cover of The Antlers’ “Parentheses” by Tricky, bit of a surprise!

We then nipped into The Font to round off the evening/day.

Rock The Kazbek at 4.0% abv by Redemption from Tottenham. Nice enough pale ale, quite bitter, good condition, but not exceptional for me. Next (and finally) came Cresta Black Stout by Tempest Brewing from Kelso. This was MORE like what the doctor ordered! Black, roasted and lovely stout. A nice finish to the day!

Yes, it was indeed a long day. Not been drinking in Rammy or Bury for years. Was hoping to meet Tyson The Beerhound and Darren from GM Ale News, but, sadly, neither were possible. Never mind eh? We’ll catch up another time (especially with the Quaker House “in the wild” this week!)

An excellent day. Good friends, great beers and great bars in which to drink them. “Back of the net” ass they say!

On that note….’til next time! (Friday night at Joshua Brooks!)

Slainte!

Ramsbottom Craft Brewery – June 2013

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The Bury area, totally under my radar, has become a mini brewery mecca. The area is home to Brightside (recently relocated to Radcliffe), Deeply ValeFirst Chop (soon to commence brewing in their own premises in Salford), Irwell Works, Leyden (at The Lord Raglan in Nangreaves), Outstanding and (since December 2011) Ramsbottom Craft Brewery.

As is becoming a bit of a theme now, I stumbled upon a Twitter ‘exchange’ between Tyson The Beerhound and Matt Holmes, the owner and brewer at Ramsbottom Craft. At the end of this exchange, tentative arrangements were made to pop round at an indeterminate date when Matt may be brewing. One evening I saw a tweet addressed to myself and Tyson, along the lines of  “brewing tomorrow, fancy popping round…..? Well. You know me and temptation!

Unfortunately that fine Beerhound couldn’t make it due to work commitments. However, I was on holiday so, one sunny afternoon, I find myself lost in Ramsbottom!

Having driven onto the street listed on the website, it was all residential! Confused. I was utterly convinced I was looking for an industrial unit! A quick exchange with Tyson corrected that impression, so I headed back and knocked at the front door of a house I had recently passed. The door was opened and I was met by a genial young man (Matt) and the delicious unmistakable smells of an operating brewery!

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(The Mash Tun)

Not long after finishing our initial introductions (we had never previously met!), it was obvious that something was slightly wrong! At that point Matt was ‘sparging’ (a bit like rinsing the malt to get all available sugars from the grains) and the transfer of the ‘wort’ (the extracted sugars that form the basis of the finished beer) wasn’t going smoothly! There appeared to be a blockage, so, stirring implement in hand, Matt dived in (not literally!) to the Tun and got it sorted, freed the blockage and the process went smoothly! This issue was not unconnected with the large amount of grain in the Tun, the aim being for a wort to produce a finished beer of around 6% abv. These are indeed ‘Hand Crafted’ ales! (I – sort of – mucked in with a bit of  ‘re-circulation’ of the wort, good fun!)

Having never gone the ‘tinned wort’ route as a home brewer, Matt dived straight in with full grain brewing, using only whole leaf hops. Sourcing his stainless steel ware from Germany, he built his own brewery doing all the plumbing, cladding and wiring himself. He registered with HMRC (boo!) in December 2011 and commenced brewing pretty much from that date.

The Hot Liquor Tank (HLT), Mash Tun, Copper and his various fermenting vessels (6) and his bottles and casks are all stored and housed within his converted garage, and he produces quite a variety of beer in this 2 1/4 Bbl kit! Beers flavoured with Chilli and Lemongrass, Ginger, Cocoa nibs……

A native Midlander transported “oop north”, Matt is truly a one-man outfit doing the brewing, sales & distribution all himself, though, by his own admission, brewing is to the fore at the moment. Brew it, phone calls, then move it appears to be the way. Impressively, he fits this all around his day job as an Estate Agent too!

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(A bit of sparging)

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Matt’s beers are either cask or bottle conditioned and I noted a number of filled 9 gallon firkins, 2 of which had his Chilligrass Wheat Beer ready for a local Ramsbottom Bar/Restaurant The Hearth of The Ram and a number of bottles ready for packaging / orders. The bottles can be purchased either direct from Matt or from Summerseat Garden Centre

Matt’s Cask Conditioned offerings can be occasionally located at the (aforementioned) Hearth of The Ram and The Major pub in Ramsbottom, The Coach & Horses in Edenfield (nr Ramsbottom), The Masons Arms in Rawtenstall, The Magnet in Stockport, The Angel in Manchester, Trackside in Bury and others in the Blackburn area.

I sensed that Matt was a busy chap this afternoon, but he graciously let me have a taste of one of his mainstays (and I think he needed a refresher after his travails!), Rammy Ale,  a nice copper coloured bitter with a good balance and dry lightly hoppy finish. With driving, I couldn’t sample any more beer, so having not had any of his beers before today, I picked up a few bottles for later tasting and said my farewells to let Matt get on with the brew.

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It really is amazing quite what you can fit into a small space, and there is a little room for expansion, but, as things take off further, Matt may need to consider larger premises. Check the website at http://ramsbottombrewery.com/. Matt runs a “Beer Club” where – within a certain radius – for £30 a quarter, he’ll deliver a mixed case of RCB beers.

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Later that week, I tried a bottle of the Chilligrass Wheat Beer. Extremely pale (well, it is an all wheat beer!) at 4.4% abv there was some lemony citrus and spice on the nose. In the mouth, I got the refreshing characteristics of the wheat with a sharp peppery chilli kick! It certainly lives up to its name and definitely woke up my sleepy taste buds!

A nice bloke Matt. Cares passionately about what he brews, is obviously a dab had with the DIY and plumbing and indulges in some experimentation with his beers (Can’t wait to try the Thai Wit!), both beers I tried were full of flavour  with my personal preference being the lip licking  fiery Chilligrass. I’ll certainly be looking out for his beers on draught at The Angel.

On that note….’til next time!

Slainte!