Up The Junction (and other stories….)

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Isn’t it magnificent? Victoria Station on a cold late January morning, or anytime really. A classic monument of a kind no longer built, but refurbished and repurposed these days – witness the former Central Station, now hosting beer festivals as a Conference Centre. At least this place still sees trains within its confines.

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You could almost think it was summer eh? They’ve done an impressive job with the cantilevered glass and steel roof over this old transport interchange. There’s even a Station Bar, but as my good friend Deeekos (very effectively indeed) says here, don’t bother yourself. Work up a thirst and walk to The Smithfield or The Angel if you arrive wanting a beer.

But I wasn’t arriving.

I was leaving…..for Castleford. “Where?” I hear you ask? And “Why?”

Here’s why….

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A pub. In a small West Yorkshire town. The significance of which, I shall try to explain in my faltering prose.

The origins of this trip lay at the end of a brew day nearly 4 weeks earlier, at Cheshire Brewhouse. We, the assembled, agreed something that day, well, Shane did. We brewed a 6.6% abv English-hopped IPA that day. And Shane wanted to sample it from a wooden cask. Which, in the North of England (possibly the whole country) means one pub.

Yup. That one above. The Junction, on Carlton Street.

Where they only serve beers that have been conditioned in wooden casks. Bit of a USP is that….

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And, before I go much further, I owe a debt to Mr David Litten. And the book above, a labour of love if ever there was one.

What the book tells us is that Neil Midgley and Maureen Shaw reopened a run-down pub that had been shut for over two years. And, over time, worked bloody hard – with the help of friends – and brought it back to life. As you will see from pictures below.

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Yes. A roaring real fire. Just one of many lovely touches.

So. Why did myself and Jaz catch that train again? Well, to drink beer, naturally and, having never knowingly drunk beer from wooden casks, my traditionalist core was childishly excited.

There was another reason though. To tie the bow on The Independent Salford Beer Festival and present the certificate and award for the winning beer. To Malcolm Bastow, of Five Towns Brewery.

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Having presented the award to Malcolm, I found myself spoiled. With 2 Cheshire Beerhouse beers and 2 from Five Towns. So I sampled one or …..

With CBs Engine Vein, a best bitter in style, I thought that the beer had an additional richness and depth (and I like Engine Vein in all forms). With the Outside Edge from Five Towns, it dialled down the sharp hopping, softening it somewhat.

It was with the bigger beers that I thought that the wood made the biggest impact, the hoppier ones like the 6.6% abv TRYPA (the Cheshire Brewhouse/Howard Town/Tryanuary collab) and the Niamhs Nemesis from Five Towns at 5.7%.

Again, the wood took the sharper and angular hop edges from Niamhs – a beer that I adore – and gave it more depth, imparted a slight – maybe vanilla – sweet note, just a note mind. It seemed to enhance the fruitier aspects of this beer. If anything, it really improved it and helped to make it feel, well, sessionable. Which is dangerous in a 5.7% beer. Very dangerous indeed.

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A lot of materials for this pub were sourced over a lond period of time. Piecemeal. I’m ashamed, actually, no I’m not actually ashamed as such, to say that I didn’t (nerdily) get a picture of the most unusual “swan necks” I’ve ever seen. The beer engines were sourced from a long gone brewery estate (Melbourne Brewery) and are lovely things indeed, nearly 80 years old!

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(Roger Protz does like his wooden casks! Pic courtesy http://thejunctionpubcastleford.com/)

This pub feels warm. It feels loved. It feels, yes, special.

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3 real fires. Lots of reclaimed wooden furniture and knick knacks. Old brewery paraphernalia, it all goes to the feel of this place. Feeling welcome. There were locals and people who had travelled many miles to be here. This is, simultaneously, both a local and a national destination pub.

I got to have a pint of the TRYPA. A big fruity beer, hoppy yet with a rounded richness, the softening effect of the wood lending a complexity to the beer with added spice and a little vanilla again. A beautiful beer, brewed at a brewery that many think is really going places. Garnering National newspaper attention recently with Govinda too. A really underrated brewery. But not by me.

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Another real fire….

This turned into a gathering of friends. People like Steve (from Sheffield), Bob, Scott, Malcolm himself, Andy (Captain Tryanuary himself!), Deeekos, Jaz. None of us living anywhere near around the corner. Some had travelled 60 miles or so to be there. ALL of them loved this place.

Neil & Maureen (and I don’t know them personally) haven’t done anything overly complicated here. They’ve worked bloody hard. For an extended period of time. To breathe life into a moribund hostelry. To turn it into a cherished local. To give it that intangible thing that I so cherish (missing in almost all newer bars).

It’s called Soul.

And this place has it by the (wooden) barrel load.

It was, sadly, an all too brief visit. 5 hours (or so) does this pub no justice. But nonetheless, we said our farewells. As we headed to the train. With a little character from a previous blog post.

Meet Jack.

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Remember him? He’s quite soft when fed….

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Then it was into Tapped Leeds – nice to bump into Martin from Bridestones/Hebden Brew Co – then (stupidly) Cafe Beermoth back in Mancunia. And those Sirens of Beer – Tara Mallinson & Elaine Yendall (among many other good beer people of the parish – I’m sure Mr Clarke remembers my request?) – unsurprisingly, I was late home. That’s what being around good people does to you.

And no hashtag.

 

 

Home Beers – Jan 2016 – Pt 2

The aim with these “Home Beers” posts was to keep them to roughly 1 per month. But I couldn’t wait to share this stunning batch. Forgive my eagerness?

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IPA (Mt Hood/Ahtenum)Squawk Brewing Co (Manchester) – 5% abv – IPA – 330ml – Heaton Hops (Heaton Chapel)

Crisp clean deep and golden. Lasting light foamy white head with lashings of tropical stuff on the nose, mango, peach and lychee? Really juicy….

Oh this is a juicy belter of a beer! Good deep body, nicely balanced malty backbone with this fruitiness say on top. Mango, apricot? A bit of peach and a lovely bite of bitterness in the swallow, lovely and spicy.

An earthiness to this hopping too, really dry with a lovely spicy hop aftertaste following the fruity, peppery finish.

Typically Squawk. All kinds of yum!

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AmberjackNeptune Brewery (Maghull) – 4.5% abv – Amber Ale – 330ml – Direct from the brewer

This Beer pours a lovely copper colour with a white light head giving off a big citrus aroma, orange juice and zest – like driving along the Costa del Azahar through the citrus groves. Really juicy and fragrant.

Light to medium bodied, this slides down all too easily. Wholemeal bready malt with a touch of spicy dryness (Rye?) overlaid with that orange/peachy fruitiness makes this a beautiful sessionable beer. Really refreshing.

Low on bitterness, this is a really easy drinking beer that belies its strength and feels really light and juicy. The finish is fruity and leads to a dry slightly resinous hoppy aftertaste.

A lovely beer from this new Liverpool brewery…

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Fire DamageTorrside Brewing (New Mills) – 4.9% abv – Stout – 500ml – Harvey Leonards (Glossop)

Black. Generally a good start with a Stout in my book. Nice light tan head too. And a big roasty aroma with a peaty smokiness reminiscent of my favourite peaty single malt – Lagavulin. Win. Win.

Medium bodied. That peaty smoke is quite upfront, but gradually recedes leaving behind a really nice deep malty chocolate flavour. A bit like dark chocolate Hob Nobs.

My. Kind. Of. Beer. That deep dark malty chocolate thing just rolls on and on coating my mouth in a lightly peated choccy biccy flavour.

At that strength, this is something that (on cask) I could repeat. A few times…..

Nice shop / bar too. Report soon.

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IPA (Winter Range) – Cloudwater Brew Co (Manchester) – 8% abv – er… IPA – 330ml – Heaton Hops (Heaton Chapel)

Now. I don’t normally embrace the murky. But when it smells like THIS I don’t give a toss. It’s a mango bomb! Oh my, just pureed mango. Give me the pulp. Yum.

Hazy gold, lasting white head. You get the rest?

Yes. Yes. YES! Bring unto me all of your mango and peachy hops! This is a beergasm and no mistake! Um Bongo with beautifully soft carbonation. Full bodied and just such a fruity b*****d! (And I’m sober BTW!)

Big beer. Paradoxically, tastes bigger than the DIPA did when I had it on launch day at the brewery. But that matters not a jot. From the first to last mouthful, it’s just fruity and nicely spicy/bitter with the hop load. And yum. Big yum!

Warming too. That huge fruitiness never lets up and leads to a big resinous hop finish.

Just yes. And an early candidate for bottled beer of the year.

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Summat ElseFive Towns Brewery (Wakefield) – 7.2% abv – Pale Ale – 750ml – Direct from the brewer.

The moment that the lever bottle top was flipped, I was assaulted with sharp and tangy tart aromas of lemon and grapefruit. Like a citrus tsunami crashing against my nostrils from this pale golden beer.

Woah! This is a big beast. There is a big sweet biscuit malty base to this, a bit like a flapjack drizzled with maple syrup. This is then overlaid with a huge fruitiness full of mango and grapefruit tartness. Lightly carbonated, this adds to the impression of a really smooth beer.

It’s described as a Strong Pale Ale. And you don’t forget that with each chewy fruity mouthful with a little apricot in there too at the finish leading to a moderate bitterness. Find of his strong Pale Ales is Mr Bastow. I can see why. This is a brute.

The fruity bitter finish leads to a substantial resinous hop aftertaste that rounds this beer off superbly. This is up there with the best English IPAs for me.

This, really is “Summat Else”. And another early candidate for bottle of the year.

Five Towns are a bit of a Yorkshire secret that Yorkshire folk like to keep to themselves (I was reprimanded by one Yorkshire drinker for recommending their beers last week) With beers like this, the secret should be well and truly OUT.

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Govinda (Chevallier Edition) – Cheshire Brewhouse (Congleton) – 6.8% abv – IPA – 500ml – Heaton Hops

A beer that I adore. In all its previous incarnations. Original, Brandy cask aged, White Wine barrel aged and now this. With an old and rare strain of malt, regrown and snaffled by Shane Swindells.

How I wanted this beer SO badly.

So. Deep amber coloured with a good soft white head and a huge fruity aroma full of…. caramelised banana…. I was warned that this malt was…. different.

Oh dear. This feels like it should help me sleep…. A full-bodied beer to say the least, this IPA is a different kind of fruity. Agreed in 3 different wooden casks, then blended back to produce this. And this is one special beer.

There’s banana, vines full of raisins, hints of pear and apple all on top of a deep chewy fruit cake malt. Yes, there’s sweetness in here, this is a potent malt. But there is also a tingling smooth bitterness in every mouthful, balancing that malt.

There is a warming feeling too that this beer brings from the barrel ageing. Definite brandy and that fruit cake feels like it has been soaking in rich deep winey flavours.

The finish is long and warming, with plenty of deep grassy hopping in here, smooching in with the warmth.

This is only beer made with Chevallier malt in 2015. And Shane is proud of his baby.

He should be. This is a very special beer. Bottle of the year candidate.

And I have a spare or two that I’m going to age for a year.

I feel lucky.

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A truly superb batch of beers. I couldn’t hold on in case they all went and you couldn’t buy any. I owed you that much!

Back soon.

Slainte!

Home Beers – Jan 2016 : Pt 1

Happy New Year everyone! And Happy #Tryanuary!

I, for one, have absolutely NO intention of giving in to the detox mania that is hauling thousands in to a month of misery.

Be Happy. Happiness is seriously underrated.

Anyway, in the spirit of Tryanuary, I’ve been a bit busy. You’ll start seeing (and in some instances, tasting) the results shortly. Furthermore, in the same spirit, here are six recommendations for (hopefully) something new for you to try this month. Some will be limited, so better be quick!

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It’s Rather Hoppy DarlingCheshire Brewhouse (Congleton) – 4.2% abv – Session IPA – 330ml – Direct from the brewer. 

As Pale as a spring morning, golden and bright with a light white head pushing out a huge citrus and tropical aroma like a fruit salad chewy sweet, pineapple, kiwi, mango. Just so juicy on the nose!

Oh dear, oh dear is this GOOD! This thing is wearing a grass skirt and dancing a hula! Mango, passion fruit, kiwi dancing all around the mouth with a light digestive biscuit base. Just. So. Fruity.

The swallow is followed by a bracing bitterness and leaving a big hoppy resinous aftertaste. This is the first Beergasm of 2016 and no mistake!

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Citra PaleTickety Brew (Stalyvegas) – 4.2% abv – Pale Ale – 330ml – Heaton Hops

Very pale golden colour, lively from the bottle shop was decanted, but nice white lacy head nonetheless with a big aroma booming out full of apricot, grapefruit and a squeeze of lemon.

Got my saliva glands going…..

Oh baby…. This is one pithy little beast.

Medium bodied, this beer hits you with tart astringent fruit, grapefruit and lemon to the fore here. The carbonation having softened after the decant, this is really smooth, fruity, but ultra dry.

Really dry. A tongue curler!

That Belgian yeast aids that dryness with a little peppery spice and helps to accentuate the dry slightly resinous hoppy finish.

Another special beer from Stalyvegas.

And only 60. I’m lucky. Grab one if you can.

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APABrewsmith Beers (Ramsbottom) – 5.0% abv – Pale Ale – 500ml – Direct from the brewer.

Brewsmith are in the early days of their bottled beers being in the wild. But, so far, so excellent. Everything top notch so far. But how will this stack against the Bitter, Oatmeal Stout & Gyle 50?

Mid golden in colour, a light thin white head emitting a lovely fragrance of tropical fruits, with peach, passion fruit and a hint of mango hitting the nose.

In the mouth? Light carbonation and a medium body. Really smooth on the tongue with lashings of mango and peach assailing the tongue, swiftly followed by a resinous hit of hop bitterness.

The second mouthful confirms the impressions of the first, but the hopping tastes and feels even more resinous and grassy following that tropical dance.

This is another superb beer from a brewery that have produced a range of bottles that just get more impressive as they go on.

Moderate strength Pale Ales and Stout? I wouldn’t look an awful lot further.

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  MadagascarGreat Heck Brewing (Great Heck – N Yorkshire) – 5.4% abv – Vanilla Wheat Stout – 330ml – Drink (Hebden Bridge)

A deep and dark brown, almost black, beer, with a warm ruby glow, a light mocha coloured head giving an aroma reminiscent of vanilla toffee ice cream, with a little molasses or rum note. Appetising.

Oh yes. Really smooth, medium to full bodied beer this is. Really beautifully chocolaty in the mouth with a sweet cocoa malt allied to a slightly more bitter chocolate. A little sweet vanilla intrudes as you run it around the mouth. Such an easy drinking beer this.

The second and subsequent mouthfuls reveal a little rum hint following the sweet chocolate taking you towards a dry chocolate and herbal hop finish.

Another lovely beer bought from an excellent shop/bar, Drink in Hebden Bridge which fell victim to the recent devastating floods that hit that beautiful old town.

Hope they’re cleaned up and sorted soon. Am sure to visit Hebden Bridge for a few beers shortly. This’ll be my first stop.

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NowtFive Towns Brewery (Wakefield) – 6.7% abv – Stout – 750ml – Direct from the brewer.

This beer pours as black as Hades cellar, had a lacy coffee coloured head and gave off am aroma full of dark bitter chocolate, licorice and the merest hint of smokiness. In short, seductive.

Yes. Yes. YES! I feel like Meg Ryan in the cafe table scene! Oh shit but this is bloody stunning!!!

Full bodied and unctuous, this is creamy smooth. Hitting the bullseye with an initial bitter chocolate hit, this is quickly embraced by some seriously spicy licorice, just oozing out.

That licorice is augmented by that light smoky touch. What shocks slightly (although it REALLY shouldn’t!) is such a hoppy bitterness that follows it. And stays. Then the smokiness returns lingering through to a slightly sweet, yet dry smoky and bitter hoppy finish.

I yield to none in my love of Malcolm Bastow’s Pale Ales, but this is right up there with his best pales.

And THAT is (as The Velvelettes sang) really saying something.

Beergasm.

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XS Imperial StoutSaltaire Brewery (Shipley, W Yorkshire) – 8.9% abv –Imperial Stout – 330ml – Bought from the brewery shop

I’ve held onto this for over 9 months since I bought this Hell black beer, with the slightest of fiery red tinge at the edges with a thin beige head and an aroma oozing out with vine fruits, old leather and a little sweet licorice.  Mmmmmm…..

Now then. It’s no surprise that I’m find of Imperial Stouts, but this is sooooo good! Rich, smooth, loaded with vine fruit that tastes like it’s soused with dark rum. Bitter espresso in here, with chocolate and a languorous smoky trace. This is just love…..ly!

Ooohhhhh, but this is so good. Those dark fruit flavours laden with sweet raisin just tingle, or maybe that’s the late hopping with Bramling Cross, but I’m just sinking in this here chair and luxuriating….

Yeah. Nice beer……  #Understatement

Bottled Beers – July 2015 – Pt 3

With things just starting to get serious with regard to The Independent Salford Beer Festival, this blog will be entering a substantially quieter period soon, whilst I get on with arrangements for St. Sebastians in October (Tickets out in 5 days exactly!)

So, with one or two other posts in the pipeline, it might be time to give you a break from Beers Manchester…… But for now, while there are great bottles to drink, I’ll tell you about them in my waffling “prose”.

“Darkness, you are my priestess…..”

(A pint at ISBF from me for the first to give me that song & artist in the comments section below! No later than Midnight 27/07/2015)

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1. TobaTrack Brewing Co (Manchester) – 5.6% abv – Oatmeal Stout – 330ml – Heaton Hops (Heaton Chapel)

Properly black beer. Cream head. Chocolate aroma with background coffee note. My kind of beer.

Nice and full creamy texture to this, my first bottle from this new Manchester brewer. Silky smooth and quite creamy, the first flavour to mind is a bitter chocolate, biting and dry. Then an earthiness that I can’t quite nail, but which, allied to a lovely dry bitterness works really well and makes this an excellent Stout. As I said, my kind of beer.

That earthy dryness remains in the finish where a coffee note comes through, again slightly bitter. Beautifully dry creamy lush Stout this.

And another brewer coming to a beer festival near you…..

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2. Sharks Against SurfersHopcraft Brewing (Pontyclun, St Wales) – 4.8% abv – Pale Ale – 330ml – Drink (Hebden Bridge)

Another ultra Pale Ale, all light golden hue and sharp lemony and grapefruit aromas leaping from its lacy white foamy collar.

This is really a surprise. I was expecting a brutal hop mouth battering. Yes it’s fruity, with apricot and orange jelly sweets on a light biscuity base. Really juicy, with that juicy fun chased off by a decent wallop of bitterness – full, but not brutal.

Nice piney finish mingled in with some lingering fruit in the aftertaste.

I would say that this medium to light bodied beer drinks quite lighter than its abv. This is a bloody good mid abv beer. And, for me, hugely sessionable.

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3. Imperial Buckwheat StoutQuantum Brewing Co (Stockport) – 8.5% abv – Imperial Stout – 330ml – Direct from the brewer.

Disclaimer time! – All words below are in no way influenced by the fact that I helped to brew this. OK, well….did some shovelling and stirring and shit. OK?

Black. Always a good start with an Impy. Totally black. Like tar. Dark brown collar of creamy foam and a spicy nose tingling aroma with licorice and red wine in the vanguard.

Oh yes indeed! This full-bodied beauty is lovely and unctuously creamy and rich. Vinous, with a rich nuttiness is the first sensation to hit the tongue, the next is as the beer first slips down, quite a bitter coffee taste. Such a mouthful of lovely darkness!

The finish is spicy, lingering hints of red wine, a touch of sour with more bitter espresso, luscious.

And even though I helped to brew it, there is no bias here. This is lush!

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4. Hare of DarknessMad Hatter Brewing (Liverpool) – 7% abv – Black IPA – 330ml – Epicurean (W Didsbury)

Can’t make up my mind about this! Initial dark chocolate aroma on this black beer made me think of a Stout. But there is something more fruity and spicy on the aroma coming out of the thick cream coloured head which tells me it’s a Black IPA. Intriguing.

Full bodied and really creamy smooth. Oh this is SOOOOO good! Bitter chocolate allied to masses of tingling citrus and big hoppage. Oh yes. Bitter coffee too in the swallow and second mouthful. Really earthy. And again, just so smooth.

A little licorice note too. So good. Really dry and hoppy finish to this oxymoron, with a big resinous aftertaste. Great beer this.

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5. Pride & JoyVocation Brewery (Hebden Bridge) – 5.3% abv – American Pale Ale – 500ml – Drink (Hebden Bridge)

Deep golden / Amber coloured beer with a light white lacey foam head and a huge aroma flying out full of mango, peach and orange zest. Full of promise!

Medium bodied, with decent carbonation, this is fruity Sod! The Mango is the heavyweight here, full and really juicy & tangy. Nectarine and peach too, a tropical fruit bowl of a beer this, delivering in spades on the promise of that aroma.

Really smooth texture to this making it feel quite sessionable. Dangerously so. The finish is really dry with big piney resins in the aftertaste providing a big finish.

Superb.

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6. Crafty RamRammy Craft Ales (Ramsbottom)- 4.6% abv – American Pale Ale – 500ml – Great Ale Year (Bolton)

An American Pale Ale with fennel eh? Golden beer with a lasting soft white head and…  Oh yes…. There it is…. Fennel. That unmistakable light aniseed fragrance in the aroma.

Oh wow. This is really unusual, but REALLY good! The fennel – with its light anise note – is there, but merges with fruity hoppage and creates a new flavour, something akin to an orangey boiled sweet. Incredibly moreish and very tasty.

Medium bodied and really smooth, the second mouthful brings a touch of apricot to the party and leads to a fruity, mouth-watering finish with a spicy hoppy aftertaste. Lovely stuff. (And another coming to ISBF 2015 with a VERY special beer!)

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7. Three Hop HareFive Towns Brewery (Wakefield) – 4.5% abv – Pale Ale – 500ml – Drink (Hebden Bridge)

Straw gold coloured Pale Ale with a light white head and a big citrus aroma full of grapefruit and lemon pith.

What. A. Tart. And. Sharp. Beer. This is full of tart citrus with the aforementioned grapefruit slightly trumped by the lemon. Really juicy and sharp. Gooseberry too. Nelson Sauvin perhaps? Really refreshing beer this, light and VERY sessionable…

This light to medium bodied cracker is dry in the finish, resinous and still sharp in the aftertaste.. Simply a superb Pale Ale. Another from the “Northern Magician”! Rapidly becoming my favourite brewery.

7 belters there! Next post may be about a shop I found in Newark this weekend and the local beers therein.

But, until then….

Slainte!

Bottled Beers – July 2015 – Pt 2

Drink Hebden Bridge

Last week, craving some Yorkshire beers, I dusted down my passport and checked that my inoculations were up to date.

Yes. I was going over the hill. I was crossing the border. I was going to Yorkshire!

I love Hebden Bridge. There is something about the place that just lifts the spirits, there is some beautiful walking to be had too, including one – to and through the village of Heptonstall – that, between my close friends and family, will be forever know as the “Heart Attack Walk”. I kid not.

My primary purpose last sunday though, was to pick up some beer from Five Towns that Malcolm had sorted for me and a couple that Bridestones Brewery (Owners of the aforementioned shop) wanted me to try. My secondary purpose was that, with me hosting the excellent Tuesday event “Craft Beer Hour” on Twitter in the guise of my Alter Ego – SalfordBeerFest – I needed more Yorkshire beer (The theme of the evening being – Breweries to be featured at the festival)

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(Hebden Bridge Arts Festival was in full swing)

The shop is larger than it looks from the frontage and goes back into two quite large rooms. Quite a few beers that are hard to get over here, including Five Towns, Vocation, Bridestones themselves and others, nicely displayed, both on the shelves and dotted around the shop. There are plans to develop the space to incorporate a Craft keg bar in the near future too, This will help to further the burgeoning impression that I have – which is that Hebden is turning into a place worthy of getting off the slow train to Leeds!

With Drink?, The Fox & Goose, Parcel Bar (at the Train Station) and Calan’s Bar (Opp St Pol’s Car Park), there are a number of spots worthy of a wander. I popped in Calan’s Bar (having bumped into Martin from Bridestones in a nearby Coffee Shop!) and had a superb pint of Mallinsons’ Nelson Sauvin in this smart Micro Pub which appears to be doing some great business (5 casks on the bar – all from Yorkshire Micros).

Calans Bar

In short – visit Hebden!

Bottles

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1. Wild Blackberry MildOffbeat Brewery (Crewe) – 3.8% abv – Mild – 500ml – Heaton Hops

It’s a MILD! Get over it!!! And it’s from one of my favourite brewers too!

Another beer from a recent trip to Damian O’Sheas excellent micro bar.

A barely detectable twinkle of ruby comes through this dark beer with a tan coloured head oozing with hedgerow fruit. Slightly tart.

Yes. As a  mild, this is light bodied. There is a gentle almost chocolaty roast malt character to this refreshing dark beer. This is gradually supplanted by a dark and juicy berry fruit. Really juicy too.

This is a beer I could drink all day. Really light, refreshing and just….. moreish! Milds are, by nature, lightly hopped, but there is a gentle leafy quality in the aftertaste which sits just right with the character of this beer.

Milds appear to be somewhat…. maligned in some quarters as devoid of flavour. As such, some appear to have dropped the word and saw sales soar. People need to get over their prejudices in that case and enjoy these “dark session ales” for what they are.

And this is a fine example.

I love Mild, that most underrated of refreshing drinks. The apparent prejudice around Mild by drinkers nowadays surprises and saddens me. I heard tale recently of one brewery who – upon renaming their Mild, by removing the very word itself from the branding – were experiencing n upswing in sales and demand for their “dark session ale”. It strikes me as sad that, to get drinkers to appreciate this fine beer, you need to lose the word Mild. But the branding change is right in a way, Mild IS a tasty “dark session ale”!

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2. May Day DIPAFive Towns Brewery (Wakefield) – 8.4% abv – Double IPA – 750ml – Direct from the brewers

The “Arch-Nemesis Killer” from the EastWestFest in Wakefield!

Oh. My. God. This is the bottled version of my draught beer of the Year (so far). And. It. Does. Not. Disappoint.

Decanting a honey gold shade and with a smooth and fluffy white head with a citrus tropical cavalcade booming from the glass! Oh. My.

This is a big beer. It’s a DIPA for crying out loud! And this is a style which is sometimes hit & miss for me, but this is an utter bullseye. Big chewy and slightly sweet malt, a bit like a flapjack base on top of which these BIG hops dance like there’s no tomorrow!

That fruitiness. Big mango. Passion fruit. Nectarine. It’s all going on. With a big bracing bitterness punch in the finish. But, big as it is, you finish the mouthful and can’t wait for the next. It really is THAT good.

And guess who’s opening the hop store for a spacial beer for ISBF 2015?

This man makes superb beer. This is one of his best and makes choosing the best bottle this year rather difficult!

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3. On’t RivetBridestones Brewing (Hebden Bridge) – 5% abv – Pale Ale – 500ml – Direct from the brewers.

The above statement serves as a disclaimer! Picked this up from Martin from the brewery at their excellent little shop – soon to be tap-room “Drink” in Hebden Bridge.

A lustrous golden hue with good carbonation giving a good thick white head and a beautiful citrus aroma with orange fruits uppermost – and a light floral note too.

Yup. Yum. Ooh….. Really smooth medium bodied beer with lovely orange and mandarin up front and centre. Really fruity.  And then… Bam! A really bracing bitterness his you all over the mouth. Quite a  pleasant surprise!

But that bitterness! Oof! This is another fruity belter which also happens to slide down all too nicely, leading to quite a herbal resinous sticky finish.

The first “9” to sell out at ISBF was by this lot. Good to have them back!

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4. Graveyard EyesHopcraft Brewing (Pontyclun, S Wales) – 5.2 % abv – Sorachi Porter – 330ml – £2.90 – Drink (Hebden Bridge)

I KNOW it’s NOT from the North…But read on….

With a faint ruby glow at the edges, this almost black beer comes with a creamy textured, tan coloured head and an aroma that’s hard to describe. Sharp and tart citrus, but earthy too, maybe coffee grinds.  Hugely inviting though!

If it wasn’t for the huge bitter coffee flavour, I’d say this was 9/10ths of the way to a Black IPA!

Initial coffee hit and bitterness is followed closely by a beautiful and sharp, tart citrussy note that makes my tongue tingle, curl and dance all at the same time. Another beer with excellent carbonation, nice and smooth, almost creamy.

But that tingling citrus just doesn’t let go! Really big hoppy finish assisted by a decent bitterness. My first Hopcraft in bottle (I think) and it certainly won’t be the last! Stunningly fresh and tasty

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5. MadagascarGreat Heck Brewing (Great Heck, E Yorkshire) – 5.4% abv – Vanilla Stout – 330ml – £2.50 – Drink (Hebden Bridge)

Black, with a ruby tinge at the edges, this beer had a creamy coloured foamy head emitting an aroma reminiscent of a Chomp bar. Chocolate and toffee with something slightly sweeter in there.

Mmmmmm….. Rich and creamy. Yes, there’s some smooth sweet chocolate, a slight hint of rum too. Beautifully smooth beer, then a little subtle vanilla creeps in, sneakily insinuating itself into the flavours.

This is a beer to be tried on cask and no mistake!

The finish had an unsurprising slight vanilla chocolate sweetness to it, but with a gentle herbal hop undertone.

Really nice beer this!

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6. Black MariaBlack Jack Beers (Manchester) – 5.7% abv – Black IPA – 500ml – £4 – Drink (Hebden Bridge)

Another dark beer in a week of outstanding dark beers. A very dark ruby and almost black, this has a pale creamy coloured head with loads of citrus and what smells like a touch of licorice….

Oh MUMMY this is glorious! Definitely on the IPA side of Black, there are orchards of fruitiness in this. Grapefruit, apricot and then work! The bitterness strikes. Oof yes! A bitter little cracker this.

Medium to full-bodied, the slightly spiky carbonation helps the hop flavours stay to the fore in this. There is a distinct background note of bitter roast coffee which remains throughout, daring you to have Another mouthful. But the fruitiness draws you back in….

Probably the best dark beer I’ve had from Black Jack. And I’ve had some bloody good ones.

That bitterness stays to the end leading to a substantial tangy hoppy finish and aftertaste. Superb.

Well – The morals of this story are…

1) Get to Hebden Bridge

2) Get these beers – You’ll thank me!

3) Er….That’s all for now!

Bottled Beers – July 2015 Pt 1

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Can I bore you for a few minutes? About a facile phrase.

Back end of last week, my attention was brought to a piece by the blogging powerhouse that is Boak & Bailey. A particular paragraph was highlighted

“Of course beer is a business like any other – Richard Burhouse says it is ‘naive that people think breweries wouldn’t want to protect their brands’ – but for consumers who have bought into the admittedly facile mantra that ‘beer people are good people’, and an ideal of community co-operation between ‘little guys’, it is rather saddening.” (Click for the whole article)

Now then. I’m fairly certain (On the basis that I say little that is actually original) that I didn’t coin that phrase. But I have, however, been guilty of using it rather a lot. Let me explain why….

I started this “blog” in September 2012. With a rather innocuous and fumbling review of “Twisted Spire” by Hobsons Brewery (a beer that I still love). Its commencement – the blog – was inspired by a chat with Jaz & Jeff over a few beers in Brew Dog in Manchester. It has therefore now (does the maths) been nearly 3 years that I’ve been peddling this twaddle called an opinion.

Over those 3 years, I have met a phenomenal number of lovely people. People who wouldn’t have entered my affections if it wasn’t for writing about beer. These people are brewers, drinkers, great street food cooks, landlords etc. Good people.

These relationships – allied to the “beer writing”, all helped when I was asked to organise a beer festival for a dear friend last year. That festival became The Independant Salford Beer Festival. Within an hour of my initial panicky tweet about agreeing to do this, I was inundated with offers of help from brewers, drinkers and good Mancunians. I was overwhelmed by kindness. Good people.

In the lead up to the festival, I was stunned by how generous that brewers could be. Both with advice, help and their products. The vast majority of local beer people helped out either physically, or with publicity. Sometimes both. Food and drink bloggers waded in with offers of help. And tweeted their hearts out. All of these people helped the festival to sell out 3 of its 4 sessions. Good people.

I was swamped with offers to volunteer. From beer drinkers from not only Manchester, but also further afield. These people came together and put on a festival that people effused over. And helped to raise over £5k for the Community Centre in which it was held. Good people.

A close friend (Jeff – mentioned above) made a comment recently to me, along the lines that we seem to have found a band of brothers and sisters since that festival that now can call each other “friends” – and in a non-Facebook way. Real friends that seem to share common viewpoints on a variety of subjects. Good people

I love Manchester. I love it’s people. I love the beers brewed here, to the extent that I firmly believe that the brewing scene of Manchester needs bend the knee to no city. And that includes London.

I’m a fairly nice kind of bloke online – where beer is concerned. However, I have – on occasion – come across those from outside this fine city, who opine on this city’s shortcomings and spout nonsense about its beer scene and pubs/bars. Thinking that they know better. They don’t. At the risk of sounding pompous, I will defend this city and it’s beer scene like a lioness defends her cubs. As some have found.

Where am I going with this? I’m not really sure. I rarely am. But what I am sure of, (though the word “facile” may indeed apply to the simplistic phrase that I use, certainly in the context of the B&B piece) is that – in my experience – the people that I have come across over the last 3 years in Manchester, be they brewers, drinkers, and all those in between, people I have met as a direct result of this tosh that I spout, ARE good people.

So. If I may be so bold, Manchester Beer People Are Good People.

If Cornwall wasn’t so bloody far away, I’d invite B&B to come and have a beer in October!

Done. We move on to the important stuff. Northern beers. In bottles. I am a Northern beer fascist!

The Beer

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1. Sorachi AceCheshire Brewhouse (Congleton) – 5.8%abv – Pale Ale – 660ml – Heaton Hops (Heaton Chapel)

The smell of candied lemons assailed me as I opened this big bottle. I thought of decanting, but I chose the decadence of two glasses. Almost copper coloured in its golden depth. I couldn’t wait…..

Fruity. Really deep and fruity. Deep orange, sticky, resinous. Then something more drying and tart. Big malt spine to this and it is a very balanced beer with the fruit, the resinous hop dry sticky thing and  a decent whack of bitterness too. Then, comes a lemony bite in the aftertaste. Just to finish things off with a flourish.

Classy beer. I’d expect nothing less from Mr Swindells. An underrated brewer if ever there was one.

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2. Oberon (Session IPA) – Wharfe Bank Brewery (Pool in Wharfedale) – 4.2 % abv – 330ml – Beer Central (Sheffield)

Pouring an ultra Pale straw gold, this beer has a light white head and an aroma full of peach with a light fresh bready background.

Light to medium bodied, immediately by with peach and orange fruitiness on a freshly baked bread malty base. Right up my street. This fruitiness is then mugged by a bitter hit, courtesy of the Centennial hops. Perfectly judged on that bitterness too, not too much.

The finish is light and clean, with a nice hoppy aftertaste and a nice resinous hint. Not too intrusive.

This is (as you would expect), a really refreshing beer, Smooth, easy drinking and perfect for a warm summers day.

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3. Hoptical IllusionBrass Castle Brewery (Malton, N. Yorkshire) – 4.8% abv – Sorghum Pale Ale – 330ml – Beer Central (Sheffield)

This amber coloured beer is officially “Gluten Free” given its use of the Sorghum grain, the head is light and white and there is a big piney nose on this. Making my mouth water!

Ooh…. This is different! There is a deeper grainy flavour to this, really dry, almost (But not quite) rye like, very earthy. Very moreish. The hops are the next thing that you notice, there are plenty of them too, with some lovely tropical fruit flavours dancing around that grain.

The finish is, as you might guess, really dry and slightly spicy with quite a hop hit lingering on. This is a very interesting beer indeed from a brewery whose beers get better with each one that I try.

IMAG03044. EquinoxNorth Riding Brewpub (Scarborough) 4.8% abv – Pale Ale – 500ml – Beer Central (Sheffield) – £3.20

Oh wow! This ultra Pale golden beauty is singing in full voice “smell my fruit”! There is bloody loads going on under this light and soft white head. Carmen Mirandas headwear wasn’t as vivid as this. There’s a bit of gooseberry, plenty of tropical stuff too. Oh my.

In the mouth, this medium bodied belter explodes with flavour. There’s some mango, gooseberry tartness, piney nonsense too. All wrapped up in an envelope of all encompassing bitterness. This, my friends, is an absolute corker! My gums are tingling!

This has just got me smiling from ear to ear. That big old bitterness eventually subsides into a sticky piney aftertaste, waiting patiently, for that bitterness to give it permission to step forward.

What. A. Beer. (And we’ll have a collab special from NRB/Five Towns/Me for you at Salford. You ARE lucky. Oh yes you are!)

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5. Sorachi PaleTickety Brew (Stalybridge) – % abv? — Pale Ale – 330ml – Direct from the brewer.

Disclaimer : I got this from the brewery direct. Unlabelled. No idea of abv. No intention to review it. Until I tasted it.

Pale golden in hue with tart lemon and grapefruit aromas simply leaping from the lively white head, this is full of promise from the off!

Medium bodied with a light biscuity malt flavour that just about manages to balance some lovely sharp hoppage. This is one refreshing beer! The tart citric lemon with a dash of lime is making my saliva glands do overtime and almost making me miss that light signature Belgian yeasty spice. Yum.

Lovely juicy beer this, light, sharp and perfect summer drinking – even THIS late in the evening (it was near midnight – on a school night too!) That spiciness returns in the finish, which is very dry but with a nice hoppy remnant to keep it company.

Tickety Brew just keep getting better!

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(Clip – Because I forgot to take a pic – Oops, sorry!)

6. OzarkTrack Brewing Co (Manchester) – 4.4% abv – Pale Ale – 330ml – Heaton Hops (Heaton Chapel)

Pale as a spring morning, golden and light with an abundance of white foamy head giving off masses of citrus aroma. Mango, orange and a little hint of lemon sharpness. Tantalising.

Oh this is such a smooth beer in the mouth! Bigging up the mango initially, this is really fruity. As the medium bodied mouthful descends down the throat, I suddenly noticed that the bitterness is really dialed down aiding the impression of smoothness.

Following the swallow is a slide into a nice hoppy slightly resinous finish. Not too abrupt. This is just a really well made Pale Ale from one of the newer “kids on the block” in Manchester.

Glad to have them around!

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7. India Pale Ale (Simcoe) – Squawk Brewing Co (Manchester) – 6.8% abv – IPA – 330ml – Direct from the brewers

Another disclosure…..Another freebie with no intent to review etc,,,,

Mid golden in colour and with a light and dissipating white head with an aroma full of passion fruit allied with a hint of tangy apricot. A Big fruity aroma.

Full bodied with wholemeal bready malt with the fruity aromas translated well into a juicy fruity mouthful, a veritable grocers box with apricot uppermost. This is supported by tropical fruits and a gentle note of melon.

Finishing off this satisfyingly bitter beer is a big sticky piney aftertaste.

Another excellent IPA from this Ardwick brewery. Seek it out.

IMAG03248. One At T’EndFive Towns Brewery (Wakefield) – 6.7% abv – Pale Ale – 750ml – Direct

This man lines his hops. This deep golden, almost amber coloured beer, poured lively, leading to a large white head with whole groves of mango and tropical fruits leaping from the glass. This, is one hoppy aroma!

At 6.7%, this is a big, big beer. Full bodied, there is a real depth of fruity flavour in this. Peach, mango, blood orange all fight for prominence in this totally juicy beer.. The low bitterness aids this beer in slipping down all to easily taking you to a real resinous, sticky finish with marmalade tones adding to that stickiness.

The fruitiness fades in the aftertaste and reminds me of melon and rounds off this beer so well.  A Beergasm. It’s that good!(Last time I checked, there was some of this at Bierhuis in Ossett and Drink at Hebden Bridge)

IMAG03279. MarxBeer Nouveau (Prestwich) – 3.7% abv – (Oak Smoked) Wheat Beer – 330ml – Heaton Hops (Heaton Chapel)

Hazy and golden, with a light fluffy white head. The aroma reflects the oak Smoked wheat and is reminiscent of Smokey Bacon crisps – An unfairly neglected crisp flavour in my eyes!

Yup. That light smokiness carries through into the mouth. Nice carbonation leads to quite a full bodied feel, quite creamy mousse textured. A bit like Angel Delight mashed up with a pack of Frazzles actually!

For all that the thought of bacon may put some off, this is really refreshing and an excellent beer in this current “heatwave”. The smokiness is augmented by a little clove spice and maybe a hint of coriander leaf. Nice beer this – and I love the Salford linkage with some of the Communist Manifesto being inspired by the then conditions of Salford workers. Nice!

And. I’ve only just realised that each of these breweries WILL have a beer at ISBF2015

Well. That shallot for the moment. Maybe one more bottle post before I shut down the blog……for the summer, so I can focus on ISBF2015! Subliminal blogging at it’s worst! (I honestly didn’t know until I’d finished!)

Slainte.

EastWestFest – 15-16/05/2015

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I’ve been saying for over a year now that “Beer People Are Good People”. I’ve said it THAT often, that the predictive text on my phone even predicts that as a hashtag on occasion! My conversations with beery folk of all stripes have led me to that conclusion. And, for me, there are few – if any – better than a gentleman by the name of Malcolm Bastow. The brewer/owner of Five Towns Brewery of Outwood in Wakefield,

Back at the start of 2014 when I first tweeted that I had been coerced into curating a beer festival and shouted “HELP” on Twitter, Malcolm was one of the first to respond. He offered me a great deal on beer. As he has made some of the best beers that I have drunk in the last two years, I tore his proverbial hand off. He came over to The Independent Salford Beer Festival (as it became) with his lovely wife Beverley and I was chuffed to bits when one of the two beers he brought (Raven King) was voted Beer of the Festival, attracting rave reviews from people such as Deeekos (Twitter handle) and Rowan Molyneux. People who really know their stuff.

When he asked me to give him a small hand in a beer festival he was planning in Wakefield, I was both honoured and humbled. I still feel (and I’m not prone to false modesty) that I know little about beer. But he trusted my judgement. Coming from Malcolm, that meant a lot to me.

So I pledged to go to Wakefield. I consulted the Oracle (aka The Arch Nemesis) and booked hotels and trains. The day came. And I was stupidly (for a 50 yr old) excited.

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Getting off the train at Leeds (to change for Wakefield Westgate) we had half an hour to kill. Irrespective of the question, beer was the answer. So we walked the 60 seconds to the Leeds Brewery Tap. On entering this rather modern looking pub, there was a bonus. Sunbeam Brewery had had a Tap Takeover and some of their beers were still on the bar. At the risk of stirring up the recent debate about Craft Beer being the death of Mild, I had to tweet Tony Naylor (the excellent Guardian journo) with an image of Sunbeam Chocolate Mild. Assuredly a Mild that lacks nothing in smooth chocolaty flavour. A “delight”……Hold that happy thought for later!

Unfortunately we didn’t have time to explore the delights of this two floored pub (with an ACE roof terrace!) as we had to hurtle back into the station – being on restrictive “Advanced” tickets!

Back on the train we go. I made a mental note to contact Virgin Rail about the fact that there is free WiFi on their East Coast Service. Ahem….West Coast Mainline please!

1/2 an hour later. There we were. Wakefield Labour Club. Affectionately referred to locally as “The Red Shed”.

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Because it’s red. And a shed.

From outside I heard someone say “The Mancs are here”! Feeling suitably charmed, we sauntered in, to be greeted by Beverley doing the honours with glasses and tokens. That glass….

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Nice innit? And, in a bold move (that I may yet replicate at #ISBF2015), the only choice of glassware. Nobody grumbled. And very few gave them back. No surprise there then!

I could prattle on about the beer (which WAS excellent) for pages and pages (as you well know), but what marked this day, for me, was the sheer friendliness. Chatting with people I have never met. And laughter. And stories. The banter (mostly at my expense!). It felt like I belonged. And it felt good. I felt at home.

It’s hard to single people out, but I hugely enjoyed my chat with Andrew Helm from Revolutions Brewing of Castleford. We share similar tastes in politics……and the more important things in life, like beer and music. Another of life’s good guys, we eventually got around to talking beer. And a planned collab for our little Salford bash. No secrets to be spilled, but it will be both big and dark. And have a solid music theme. I’m excited. (Great news to hear that he’s delivered a load of beer to the Piccadilly Tap!)

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(OH, if only people had….)

Malcolm seems to pull good people into his orbit of friendship. It was great (not to mention instructive) to talk with the likes of Charlie & David (two of the guys from the excellent “A Swift One” blogging collective), Alex (a lady involved with the superb Leeds International fest), Bob – a gent, Scott (GBK) Nightingale there were just too many to remember. Especially when you have a Swiss cheese for a brain, like me.

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(Because remembering this stuff matters)

As far as the beer is concerned, I focussed on Yorkshire beers. For 3 reasons.

  1. Because I love it.
  2. Because I can’t get much of it over here.
  3. As research for ISBF2015.

I learned the following.

  1. There are some really promising new breweries springing up under the shadow of the White Rose (Whippet & Learn To Brew)
  2. I definitely want Rat, Blue Bee & Sunbeam breweries represented at St. Sebastians’ this year.
  3. Judging by the comments, we brew some damn good beer over here too!

There was a raffle in each session. Both the Arch Nemesis and Deeekos won prizes. The Arch Nemesis wished that he hadn’t – it was a Tetley Bitter T-Shirt that he spent the rest of the day trying to give away! I, of course, won sod all. Other than the chance to drink some simply great beer.

My beery highlights?

Sunbeam AlesShepherds Delight. A tawny coloured beer with more than a hint of Turkish Delight to it. Intriguing and delicious.

Revolutions BrewingThe Golden Age Of Wireless. A golden mild. With vanilla. It just worked. Beautifully smooth.

Allgates (or Turks Head Brewing Co!) – Shogi Porter. Listed as a Porter, but the huge quantities of Sorachi Ace hops turned it into a Black IPA. A fine beer indeed.

Blue BeeReal. Pale, sharp and lemony. My #2 of the day.

Whippet Brewing CoTest Brew No. 1 – A smooth smoky Stout. Yum.

Atom BeersSchroedinger’s Cat. Pale, light and super hoppy. A delight.

Brewsmith Nelson Sauvin Pale. Just as it should be. Tart and refreshing.

Thirst Class AlePale & Interesting. A pale ale that started good and finished even better. More refreshment, just when my taste buds had started to jade a little.

And then we get to my personal favourite.

Five Towns BreweryMay Day DIPA

I am living proof this evening, that drinking copious amounts of Double IPA is neither big nor clever. But it was, quite simply, ASTONISHINGLY GOOD.

In the main (non-festival) bar, they had one of Malcolm’s beers on. Strange Brew, a strong pale ale at 7%. I wanted one. But the final pint was sold to the guy in front of me. Cursing with a smile on my face, I retreated. It was 9pm.

At 9pm – being the final session – Malcolm made the strategic decision to lower the price of the beer. From £3 a pint, to £1. And, even at 8.4% abv, that included the May Day. Well. If I couldn’t have Strange Brew….

So I hit it. Hard. Repeatedly. My head said that it was that thing known as A Bad Idea. But it smelt divine. Big, bold and citrussy. It tasted like heaven should taste. Nectar. And it was 50 BLOODY PENCE A HALF!

I didn’t stop hitting it till chucking out time. This morning.

To describe it….Big, bold and citrussy. Tropical. Bitter and resinous of finish. It felt light enough to almost session. It was Ruinous. A complete and utter Beergasm. If a beer can leave Charlie (The Ale Ambler) with a smile on his face, it is good enough for me. To sum it up, it knocked me down sideways and lifted me up again. It was astonishingly good indeed.

We, the Greater Manchester tendency wobbled off to our respective hotel rooms. With lopsided grins.

It was a fantastic day.

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And the Arch Nemesis got rid of that T-Shirt. As you can see!

Now. Being the consummate host, Malcolm had arranged to come to a couple of local beer landmarks with us. I was MORE than up for it. I felt great this morning. But the May Day had wreaked havoc with the Arch Nemesis! But, being the sympathetic soul that I am, I dragged him out on a route march! To….

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The Fernandes Brewery Tap (5, Avison Yard, Wakefield WF1 1UA)

We were there before opening. I was thirsty. Unlike my weary accomplice…..

What. A. Gorgeous. Pub. The pictures simply do not do this place justice. All the wood that you could shake a….er….stick at. a stunning place to drink beer on a Sunday (what felt like) Morning. Both the Rat Brewery – Rye Rat of The Caribbean and the Fernandes’ own Malt Shovel Mild were superb. Friendly service. The whole package. Malcolm met us hot from taking down his festival. I’m glad he suggested this place.

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Harry’s Bar (107B Westgate, Wakefield WF1 1EL)

A gem of a place. A small bar with extremely friendly staff. And great beer. Well worth the stiff walk from Fernandes. And close to Westgate train station – crucial, given that our train was going in 40 minutes!

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8 hand-pulled beers. A cider. And TWO of Malcolm’s own beers (one is the “house beer”). I tried the Five Towns “Mi Usual” which, given Mr Bastow’s penchant for the stronger brews, is hardly his “usual” being only 3.7% abv. It was a sharp, lemony treat. Light and refreshing after that hike!

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Also on the bar, was a beer from a brewery that my Arch Nemesis has spoken of in reverential tones on many an occasion. But one that I was yet to try. So I did.

Tigertops Brewery (Wakefield) – Outland IPA. A big, fruity and chewy IPA. Boldly hopped and simply superb.

If you are in Wakefield, you need to try to make time for BOTH of these bars. They are special.

We had to dash. We got to Westgate station only to discover that we actually had an extra 20 minutes. I’d cocked up on the times. My ailing associate scowled. Ailingly.

Again, I thank Malcolm & Beverley for making us just so welcome. And at home. All their friends too, those mentioned above and those that the May Day is to blame for any omission.

This really was a special little festival. That was for some local good causes. People coming together to make a difference. And that shit matters. More so now than ever. Being in a Labour Club made it feel even more right.

It was special both for the beer, but even more for the people that were there. It was small, in an age of increasingly mega festivals. It was intimate. It was fun.

It’s now a fixture on my beer calendar. It should be on yours too.

Better wrap this up ‘cos I’m off to Brighton tomorrow at the crack of a Sparrows’ doo-dah.

Beer may feature.

So, for now…

Slainte!

The East v West Beer Festival (aka EastWestFest) 15 -16 May 2015

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I, my friends (if I may call my sole reader that!), am becoming a bit of a Professional Northerner. Especially when it comes to beer. To my mind, there’s nothing worse than going in a Northern pub (in my case, Manchester) and not seeing a drop of Northern beer. Don’t get me wrong now, there is some simply superb beer being made all over this lovely island, but London seems to get all the press (and blogging) inches.

Nearly a year ago now, I decided to focus (almost) exclusively on beers from the North. Because, for me, the brewers up here have nothing to learn from elsewhere. There is, quite simply, some astonishing beer brewed up in these parts that gets not a lumen of the light that’s shone on the likes of Bermondsey & Hackney.

If I’m honest, as much as I adore the history of The Cousins War (aka The Wars of the Roses) and the banter that flies from each side of the Pennines, but this focus on Northern beer was the genesis of The Independent Salford Beer Festival (#ISBF2014). The beers came from Crewe to Scarborough and were mightily well received if the feedback is to be believed. So much so that we’ll be doing it again. (More on that elsewhere)

I was made up when Malcolm & Beverley Bastow from Five Towns Brewery in Wakefield took the time out and came over to Salford in October. I was even more made up when (via an independent Twitter vote) one of his beers won Beer of the Festival – AND that another Yorkshire beer came second (Hazelnut Mild by Brass Castle). Mostly North West drinkers voting for two Yorkshire beers kind of felt like a validation.

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I’d heard a rumbling about a potential Northern Beer themed festival and when Malcolm confirmed that he was organising, I knew it would be something else. You see, for the uninitiated, he makes some bloody good beer in that there shed of his! But I was both humbled and astonished when he approached me to see if I would help in sourcing the beers from this side of The Hill. Even more so when I read that #ISBF2014 was one of the inspirations behind his festival!

I couldn’t say no, could I?

Red Shed from above

The little place you see above is the venue. Wakefield Labour Club. Known locally (and affectionately) as “The Red Shed”. I’m told that it has a capacity of 70. Yes, you read it right! Seventy. Or, me plus 60 others. The festival (as you can see) takes place in just under 2 weeks. As far as I’m aware, it’s pay on the door. Having had sight of the beer list, I’m just hoping that I can get in when I arrive. To say that I’m salivating is an understatement!

So, without further ado…..

From the West :

Brewsmith Beer – Nelson Sauvin (Pale Ale)

Wilson Potter – Don’t Fall (Pale Ale)

First Chop – SYL (Black IPA)

Tickety Brew – Rose Wheat Beer

Squawk Brewing Co – Pale Ale

Shindigger Brewing Co – IPA

Black Jack Beers – New Deck (Golden Bitter)

Allgates Brewery – Shogi Porter

Marble Brewery – Spring (Pale Ale)

Quantum – UK Light (UK hopped Pale Ale)

Thirst Class Ale – Pale & Interesting (Pale Ale)

From the East :

Clark’s – Billy Ruffian (Stout)

Sunbeam – Shepherds Delight (Rose Water infused)

The Rat Brewery – Rye Rat of the Caribbean (Red Rye Ale)

Atom Beers – Schroedinger’s Cat (Pale Ale – Columbus, Chinook, Citra & Mosaic!)

North Riding Brewpub – Hunters Dream (Strong Mild)

Blue Bee Brewery – Real (A Sorachi Pale Ale)

Brown Cow – Yorkshire Sovereign (Pale Ale)

Revolutions Brewing – The Golden Age of Wireless (Mild) I DO love a musical reference!

Steel City Brewing – Troika Red IPA

Whippet Brew Co – Brew Number One!

Learn To Brew – Young, Gifted and Pale (Pale Ale) (+ a mystery beer!) – I DO love a musical reference!

and last….but not least, your hosts….

Five Towns Brewery – May Day. Fully loaded brew, with Citra, Mosaic, Nelson Sauvin, Chinook and Equinox hops, Double IPA.

It’s a rare Beer Festival when there is THIS much Northern beer and I haven’t so much as sniffed 75% of it!

I’m going (Train & Hotel booked!) along with Yoda (aka the Arch-Nemesis) and I can honestly say that I haven’t looked forward to a beer festival this much in years!

It’s all in a good cause too, so come along and have a beer or seven and help support some good causes by er…..drinking great beer!!!!

Tune

“Pushing thru the market square, so many mothers sighing
News had just come over, we had five years left to cry in.

News guy wept and told us earth was really dying
Cried so much his face was wet, then I knew he was not lying.

I heard telephones, opera house, favourite melodies.
I saw boys, toys electric irons and T.V.’s.
My brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare,
I had to cram so many things to store everything in there.
And all the fat-skinny people. And all the tall-short people
And all the nobody people. And all the somebody people
I never thought I’d need so many people”

(“Five Years” – Bowie)

(Clip courtesy Sante3d via YouTube)

For Malcolm & Beverley (As fans)

For everybody else – Do I REALLY need to explain this?

That’s all for now people. See you next week?

Slainte!

Bottled Beers – April 2015 – Pt 2

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I’m going to bookend this piece with 2 “thoughts” – for those who like my music related wafflings, they’ll be back soon enough.

Firstly, the CAMRA Bolton Beer Festival. I went last weekend and was chuffed to bits to see it substantially busier than the same time last year. I now appreciate far more the effort that goes into curating a beer festival. You need a team (as I also learned!) and this team selected some excellent beers. So much so, that this is the best small CAMRA festival I’ve been to. Well worth the visit next year. Congratulations to Graham, Pete, Linda, Jez and everyone else involved.

And now….to business…..

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Cheshire SetCheshire Brewhouse (Congleton) – 4.0%abv – Blonde Ale – 500ml – From the Brewery.

Luckily for me, a family outing took me close to Congleton last weekend. My reward, picking up some of Mr Swindells’ excellent beers – and nearly becoming a light lunch for a one year old terrier / guard dog of doom!

A slightly hazy light golden beer with a decent white tight foamy head and an aroma with lemon, orange and a hint of gooseberry.
Light initial sweetness yielding ground to a little tart lemon & lime and quite a sticky dry resinous touch in the aftertaste. Quite abrupt that! Bit of a surprise.

Further down the glass, a rather lovely marmalade flavour comes through which is right up my street!

This medium bodied beer works the trick. Nice and fruity, gently tart and hugely refreshing. A superb beer for a summer’s day relaxing outside in a nice beer garden.

If all 4% beers tasted something like this, I’d have no complaints. Yum.

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(I REALLY need a new camera!)
Tractor Beer IITickety Brew (Tickety Few – Stalyvegas) – 3.4%abv – Pale Ale – 330ml – Epicurean (W Didsbury)
Oh my is this a lively beastie! Ultra Pale golden beer, abundant head and a huge aroma kicking or loads of lime citrus and gooseberry. Mouth wateringly aromatic.

Light bodied as you would expect from such a low abv beer. The carbonation lends it a fuller texture than I was expecting. The flavours are sharp citrus with some lime and lemon in there, making this really refreshing and it cut through my dulled taste buds.

The finish is short and dry with a little of that fruit and a spicy dryness imparted by that Belgian yeast that TB use

As it says on the label “super light” and very easy drinking. A Ronseal beer (which is a GOOD thing!)

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EllaMallinsons (Huddersfield) – 4%abv – Pale Ale – 500ml – Heaton Hops
Ahhhh….It feels like AGES since I’ve had a bottle of Mallinsons!
Pale gold, almost straw coloured, with a good lacy white head and an aroma that is like a lung full of tangerine and apricot vapours.

And those flavours are totally present in this light to medium bodied beer. WOW! This is a sharp and tart little number and no mustangs! (Or mistake. Depending on your predictive text!) Initial fruity sweetness and then BANG. A crackling bitterness mugs the fruitiness and stomps on it!

This is a massively refreshing and snappy beer. That fruitiness dries off swiftly leaving a residue of sticky pine coating the tongue. Just a brilliant Pale Ale. From the Queens of Huddersfield.

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Play Your Cards Rye’tBlack Jack Beers (Manchester) – 4.9% abv – Copper Rye Ale – 500ml – Bottle (Heaton Moor)
Not too sure about that copper bit. This is almost a red Ale with a nice white collar pushing out a dark fruity nose with more than a note of peppery spice in there.

Yup. Fruity. Burnt orange, lending a bitterness along with (strangely) a hint of strawberry? This is medium bodied and Oh. So. Dry. Rye & Dry. Seem to go together don’t they?

This gets the saliva glands going and almost immediately throws up a huge STOP sign. Nicely spicy from the Rye too. A big drying finish with a lingering splash of orange.

A superb beer. These Black Jack bottles just get better. (But if they can beat their own Deerhunter…… THAT would be an achievement!)
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IPAShindigger Brewing Co (Manchester) – 5.6%abv – IPA – 330ml – Heaton Hops
A new beer from Shindigger. A pleasingly gradual expansion of their range, this is a deep golden almost copper coloured beer with a decent white head and a deep and spicy orange marmalade aroma. Yum.

Medium bodied, the oranges almost ooze out of this into the mouth. So juicy. Good malt backbone with a light toffee flavour allowing the fruitiness to rise above. There is also a slightly fragrant quality that I can’t quite identify. This marmalade character lingers for some time, fading only slightly, allowing a medium bitterness in to play.

The whole package is wrapped up with a resinous bow, slightly sticky and a little peppery. This is another excellent beer. They are yet to miss a beat for me.

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Satanic MillsBeer Nouveau (Prestwich) – 6% abv – Stout – 330ml – Browtons (Ashton U Lyne)
A deep deep dark ruby, almost black beer, with a cream coloured tight creamy head and a nose full of chocolate, a little sweet coffee and a nose wrinkling spicy touch.

Smooth and creamy in the mouth, quite full bodied this. The first flavour to register is a bittersweet chocolate, then a note of rum and maybe raisins (anybody remember “Old Jamaica” chocolate? No? I REALLY am an old git!) with a deep fruity tone.
A second sip gives more of the same, but introduces a little peppery spice to the tongue. This is really smooth. The chocolate and fruit lead to a dry chocolatey finish. A satisfying beer for a cool spring evening.
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Grounds for DivorceFive Towns Brewery (Wakefield) – 7.8%abv – Belgian Tripel – 500ml – Direct from the Brewery
My Beer of the Festival at ISBF. I only managed a sneaky half. And I organised it. Bad planning! I was horrified that it ran out before I could snaffle more. So Malcolm sorted me out a 750ml bottle. The Atilla drank that! Some things just aren’t meant to be…..Or are they?
Fermented with the yeast used by Brasserie Orval in their eponymous classic, this poured a hazy straw gold with an abundant but swiftly diminished white head and the aromas of…. peach, banana, a little clove…. Just… Mmmmmm….

This. Is. A. Big. Beer. Yum! Initial sweetness, sticky with bitter orange and peach then more fruitiness with banana bringing up the rear with a proper spicy hit riding it with a whip over the first fence! (I drank this on Grand National evening, forgive me!)

That fruitiness is almost overwhelming!  I don’t really know Belgian beers all that well, but I absolutely adore this. Fruity, spicy and warming as it slides into my belly. On a cool spring evening, with a good book, what could be better!

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Carl Northern Alchemy
Now. That bookend.
Some of you may know Andy Heggs, he of the excellent video blog series Hop On The Bike. Well, on one of his trips, he and his fellow Hoppers collaborated on a beer at a brewery called Northern Alchemy in Newcastle. The beer that they created – a Marmalade & Assam Tea IPA no less – is being launched at Font Bar on Sunday. All proceeds to go to the admirable charity Forever Manchester.
As a regular proponent of the maxim “Beer People Are Good People”, it didn’t surprise me at all, when several beery linked people donated a number of items to be used as raffle prizes. Take it from me that there are some astonishingly good prizes in there!
This event is easy to attend. And let’s face it, it’s in FONT!!! If you needed any more reason to go for Christ’s Sake????
You can read my review of a sneaky advanced bottle of the Marmalade & Assam Tea IPA below. Tickets for this event are free. Click on the link hereThis event deserves to be a HUGE success. For the following reasons…
  • It’s for a brilliant and worthwhile charity.
  • There are loads of great prizes that you could win
  • It’s in FONT for crying out LOUD!!!
  • You can even MEET THE BREWER
  • Read on….

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Marmalade & Assam Tea IPANorthern Alchemy & Hop On The Bike – 7.3%abv – IPA – 330ml

The moment I popped the crown cap off, I was assaulted by orange zest aromas. From the bottle! Drool.

This is a murky dark amber in the glass, the white head in clinging and persistent and the smell is just….. Deep orange with a toffee undernote for it to ride.

Oh my giddy f***ING aunt but this is astonishingly good! Chewy and full-bodied, the first sip is like the best use of marmalade since Paddington last licked his paw. So good. Then the tannins from the tea give your drooling tongue a rub down and dry it off. Oh dear…

This is SO dry it’s almost rye like. The fruitiness floods your tongue from front to back and it is a real orange marmalade bass note. This is like a Peter Hook bass line, made beer.

The finish is sticky fruity and oh so resinous. It’s an absolute belter.

Go to Font on Sunday. Drink excellent beer. Spend money. Win Prizes. And do amazing things for this excellent charity.
Win. Win and thrice WIN!
On that note….I’m off to Peterborough to gorge myself on Oakham beers at a family 40th.
Hopefully see you on Sunday!
Slainte!

Bottled Ales – April 2015

Bottles don’t appear to have been a priority in the last few weeks. Which isn’t of itself a bad thing. It’s always nice to get out to some excellent hostelries, as I have done for the last month or so.

However, I have also been lucky enough to come across some absolutely belting beers (including the best bottle I’ve had this year so far!) So, with neither further blather nor ado….Let’s begin!

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Body SnatcherBeer Nouveau (Prestwich) – 4.2 %abv – BitterBrowtons (Ashton-under-Lyne)

A golden beer with a light fluffy white head and an aroma slightly sweet and fruity with peach and a hint of apple.

Medium bodied, this beer has that slightly sweet fruity initial flavour with again peach  and some stewed plum and forest fruit and a flowery fragrant flavour that I can’t quite pick, backed up with a bracing bitterness.

That sweetness gives way to quite a grassy and resinous aftertaste and finish. This takes me back to beers from my youth, maybe just a wee bit more bitter. And that’s no bad thing!

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Small SaisonBlack Jack Beers (Manchester) – 4.5%abv – Saison – 330ml – Barbeerian (Prestwich)

Ultra Pale straw yellow beer with a light persistent fluffy head giving a spicy yeasty nose with notes of banana and a little gooseberry.

Oh yes. This’ll do Monkey! Tart, dry and spicy. Banana again upfront, but soon retreats in the face of some sharp and tart lemon notes which in turn yield ground to that yeasty Saison spiciness. Yum.

Second mouthful and there’s a little Sauvignon Blanc winey sharpness and tartness, that tartness leading to a short and very dry spicy finish. An incredibly refreshing beer.

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Triptych No 3Wiper and True (Bristol) – 6.7%abv – IPABarbeerian (Prestwich)

Copper golden in colour, lively carbonation giving a big white head and an aroma reminding me of orange toffee.

Big bodied beer this. Smooth textured and really fruity with peach, orange marmalade and a hint of blackcurrant lurking at the back, also an almost yeasty dryness to finish on the swallow. Mmmm….

This beer doesn’t hide its strength as it’s quite warming as it slides down. More fruit in the second mouthful, with plum and more hedgerow blackberry sitting on top of the marmalade, jammy and spicy. The finish is fruity and dry leading to a sticky herbal and slightly resinous aftertaste. A proper English IPA. Big and fruity and beautiful.

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JOEFirst Chop Brewing Arm (Salford) – 4.7%abv – Coffee IPAEpicurean (W Didsbury)

Dark brown beer with a light and fluffy white head and an aroma of woah….. Cold coffee. Mmmmmm…….

And oh yes…. That coffee comes through loud and clear! Lovely smooth and bitter coffee flavour in full effect but with quite a spicy hop kick at the end.

Smooth and medium bodied in the mouth, this is as good as it was on cask. The coffee is potent enough, the bitterness of the brew being added to by the grassy hops that come through in the finish.

When I first heard of this, it sounded ludicrous. But it works. Really well. Black coffee and hops. What’s not to love?

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Mint Choc StoutTickety Brew (Stalyvegas) – 5.2% abv – StoutEpicurean (W Didsbury)

Dark brown almost black beer with a cream coloured lacey head with a light aroma of chocolate powder and spearmint.

Another of their limited bottle “Tickety Few” range, this is medium bodied and really smooth. The flavours are really subtle and take a while to reveal their charms. First up is the chocolate, which manages the trick of not being too sweet.

Second mouthful gives a little of the mint which is very subtle and takes some finding. This may be down to using mint leaves as opposed to any extracts, which is to be applauded.

Further mouthfuls build on the minty hint and the beer takes on a pleasing kind of light mint Aero quality. The signature Belgian yeast lends its hand to a rapidly drying finish and also imparts a spicy note to proceedings.

Another really nice beer from this increasingly impressive brewery. I’d love to try this on cask.

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Calibration SourChorlton Brewing Co (Manchester) – 5.3% abv – SourBarbeerian (Prestwich)

Ultra Pale golden and lightly hazy with a decent white head and a lightly sour and Orangey citrus aroma from the addition of Amarillo hops.

Hmmm…. A palate cleanser and no mistake. The first sip had me salivating like a rabid dog! This is surprisingly enjoyable (and I say that because Sour beers aren’t exactly my “go to” style)

Yes it is sharp and has a saliva inducing acidity, but this beer isn’t as enamel stripping as some sours that I’ve had. This has a distinct citrus fruitiness working in harmony with the sourness making it a very thirst quenching and (I go back to that phrase) surprisingly enjoyable!

The lingering aftertaste is quite marmaladey and dry.

An excellent beer. Looking forward to Dark Matter now!

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Imperial IPASaltaire Brewery (Shipley, W Yorkshire) 9.5% abv – Imperial IPA – Epicurean(W Didsbury)

Deep golden, almost copper coloured beer with an abundant yet quickly dissipating white head with a booming peach and Mango aroma with a hint of mandarin.

Drinks a lot easier than such a beer should! First sip reveals fruity sweetness, deep and quite savoury, heavy with mango. Almost a medicinal note – my mind off cure!

Warming and soothing add it slides down the throat too. I swear this could be just the thing to cure my little chest problem!

Big chewy malt base that these hops dance on that fruitiness is ever-present and fades only slightly into a big sticky resinous aftertaste. Impressive.

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Disfunctional Functional IPAOffbeat Brewery (Crewe) – 4.8%abv – IPA – 500ml – Heaton Hops (Heaton Chapel)

A bright golden beer with thick white head and a hugely fruity nose with gooseberry and a little orange in there.

Oh bloody hell this is good! That gooseberry upfront is bloody tart in this medium bodied belter. The fruitiness dries out almost immediately making me pocket my lips and suck in my cheeks like a Les Dawson housewife sketch! Wow that is dry!

That arid fruitiness is backed up by a bracing bitterness too and the whole is tied up with a resinous bow of an aftertaste and finish.

I had this as one of my beers at MBCF this year. That was good, but this is so much better! Woof!

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Smokehouse PorterCheshire Brewhouse (Congleton) – 6.2%abv – Porter – 660ml – Heaton Hops (Heaton Chapel)
I had to hunt this beast down, having been told by a colleague who saw it in the Cheshire Smokehouse in Altrincham. It was worth it!

A big dark brown almost black beer with a creamy beige head and an aroma full of chocolate and dark fruits with just a hint of wood smoke.

Oh my. This is a proper beer.

Full bodied beer this. An initial chocolate sweetness slides into a chewy fruitiness full of dark fruit. This, in turn, yields palate space to a little salty tang before that smokiness pushes to the front. At this point, my gums are tingling.

A second mouthful and the dates make their chewy fruitiness more felt, merging and blending with the chocolate to make more than the sum of their parts. In the aftertaste, I don’t know if it’s from the dates, but this starts to have a dessert wine note to it, slightly – but not overly – sweet and gently warming.

This is one hell of a beer. And one which feels as if it would just love to be drunk along with a slab of rich fruit cake. And I have another bottle. Which I’m saving for Xmas. To go with……

Bloody gorgeous stuff.

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OAPNorth Riding Brewpub (Scarborough) / Five Towns Brewery (Wakefield) – 9.6%abv – Double IPA – Direct from the brewers.
I spoke to Malcolm Bastow shortly before his retirement from his career as a mental health nurse. He was going to focus on brewing full-time. Obviously, this required commemorating with a beer, so he arranged a collab with the fellow hop fiend Stuart Neilson of the North Riding Brew Pub in Scarborough. I saw Stuarts’ tweet mentioning OAP DIPA. And given that they collaborated on my favourite DIPA so far, the mighty 300, I had to have it.

Quote the bottle label “May Cause Confusion” – Hmmm…. This Amber coloured beer has a light white fluffy head with a full aroma of mango and peach tropical fruitiness.

Oh me oh my!!! This is a bar room bully!!! Full bodied is an understatement, this is certainly a big beer. And knowing how much Stuart Neilson & Malcolm Bastow like their hops, I should have expected no less!

Christ on a bike, there is a bit of everything in here!  There is tropical peach & mango, there is a bit of grapefruit, there is a while bloody forest of resinous pine, this is just so damn juicy and….. Well…. BIG!

Chewy malt, with a little toffee biscuit sweetness, meets a hop store used without restraint. This is bloody gorgeous. And maybe the best DIPA I’ve had yet (and they brewed the previous best with their 300 collab!)

Just a big juddering, knee-trembling beergasm! The best bottle so far this year. (And I’ve had a few!)

Now, for breakfast and some serious loin girding, prior to this lunchtime’s Road To Wigan Beer bus. COME ON!!!!
Tune
“Beneath the stars there are the bars that serve the bitter drink
The barman smiles at me, his wife she gives a secret wink

They listen patiently to me, my story I unfold
I see their faces change, the lights grow dim I’m losing hold”

(“Life In The Air Age” – Be Bop Deluxe – Clip courtesy of #BeBopDeluxe via YouTube)
In about March 1979, whilst listening to John Peel on a feeble transistor radio under my blankets in a cold Salford bedroom, he played a track which rocked my 13 year old world. It was called “Art Empire Industry” and was from the album “Sound On Sound” by a band called Red Noise. Thus began my love affair with the music of Bill Nelson.
Eventually, over a number of retrospective purchases, I acquired his entire oeuvre to that point. The man can play guitar. He made a guitar sound like seagulls, trains, space ships. His playing entranced me. Be Bop Deluxe, were a rock band that Nelson formed in Yorkshire in about 1972. They only had one real hit single “Ships In The Night” which was taken from the Sunburst Finish album, as was the track above (although this is the live version from the Live In The Air Age live album (which was to promote the Sunburst Finish & Modern Music albums)
Bill Nelson was one of the first 5 live artists I saw & when he toured “Quit Dreaming” at Manchester Poly (Cavendish Hall) in May 1981. I last saw him perform tracks from his entire back catalogue at the Manchester Academy in 2004. To finally hear Be Bop Tracks performed live, by the man himself, brought me to tears.
The reason I’ve included this track, other than the fact that I adore it? Bill is originally from Wakefield. Five Towns territory.