Heaton Hops – 30/03/2015 – A Classy Micro Pub

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(I thought that it never rained in South Manchester?)

I am a lucky man sometimes. It certainly felt that way, when I received an invite to a “soft opening” of a brand new bar being opened by Damian O’Shea (of “The Ale Man Manchester” fame). My plans were made to meet Andy (of “Hop On The Bike” infamy) on the concourse at Piccadilly Station – complete with rose in lapel.

Then…..Public Transport shall we say….intervened.

It was hardly an auspicious start for this opening to take place in such foul weather. Let me honest here…..If it wasn’t a bar being opened by Damian and his partner Charlotte, I wouldn’t have stepped on the bus. But I did. And I could have nearly walked quicker! As it was, I got off on Bridge Street in Manchester and marched to Piccadilly…well in advance of the bus that I’d left.

Then….

I caught the wrong train. And ended up at Manchester Airport. Yes. I know. I AM an utter idiot. Right time, wrong platform it would appear. Should have gone to Specsavers eh? Right. Back on the same train and return to Piccadilly and start with a clean slate. And more caution!

So I now find myself on Heaton Moor Road, crossing the A6 from Heaton Chapel train station onto School Lane. In the pouring rain. (I’m SUCH a poet!)

I tell you. Odysseus had less of a journey to get a beer! Homer (No. Not the yellow one!) would be proud of me. And be readying his stylus and wax tablet for a sequel!

The windows were steamy. A good sign that it was busy.

Opening the door. First impressions? Classy. Neutral paintwork on the walls, REAL wood cladding on the ceiling and upper portions of the walls, pendant lighting. It looked great. To be honest, anything less would have been disappointing. I’ve known Damian as a customer for nearly 3 years and this was what I expected from him. It looked really good and serves as a lesson in how to do this – no names mentioned.

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(Busy)

It is (by its very nature as a converted shop) small. Including a downstairs area, the capacity is 60, but it doesn’t feel uncomfortable, a situation that is arrived at by the provision of a number of distressed wood tables giving plenty of seating, which was all occupied as I entered and strode to the bar.

Beers. 2 on cask and 8 on keg. But I needed a pint. And, for an opening night, to have cask beers from two local breweries, Brewsmith & Thirst Class Ale, was like music to my eyes and tastebuds. So, for me, as local as it gets with a pint of Green Bullet by Thirst Class Ale of Stockport – Nicely bitter with a fruity pine flavour and a resinous finish. I enjoyed it. I had a few.

On either side wall, there are shelves and shelving full of some of the best of British Craft brewing. The first thing that I saw was a few bottles of Smokehouse Porter by Cheshire Brewhouse. Now those who know me, will know that some of those were simply BOUND to end up in my bag!

Heaton Hops Thirst Class

(Photo courtesy of Richard Conway – aka Thirst Class Ale)

Next to the Smokehouse Porter were some bottles of my Best Bottle of 2014 – (Barrel Aged) Govinda, again by Cheshire Brewhouse. Next to that, Smoked Treacle Imperial Stout by Quantum. All 3 beers should be in any serious local beer drinkers stashes – they’re in mine. But I concede that I’m rarely serious!

The beer was going down well, assisted by my pal Des shoving up and letting me sit down and drip dry. The conversation flowed as much as the beer. As I’ve said on many occasions. “Beer People Are Good People” and these are the kinds of people that Damian has been serving from his stall these last few years. They like what he does (and sells) and many, like Des and Steve (Beer Nouveau) and myself, came from 15 miles or more to enjoy this new venue. And oh how we did.

I had a look downstairs where Damian & Charlotte have created a room from what would have been cellar space, again, a nice cool look to it. just calm and clean. Spot lighting – the only way given the low ceiling – gives it a warm feel. A nice cosy space.IMAG2766

(Downstairs)

Somebody had said that this was where “the cool kids” were tonight. If so, I don’t know where I fitted in! But there were a number of faces that I knew from Des & Steve, Andy, Richard (Thirst Class) and a number of the Manchester Home Brewer group, my old buddy Jeff, Paul & George (aka Shindigger). It was just a lovely relaxed gathering

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The Craft Keg selection was a pleasure to see too, with the local likes of Runaway, Shindigger, Cloudwater & Marble in among the likes of Weird Beard. Again, certain other new bars could take note of the number of local beers on offer. I found myself amazed that I had never had the Smoked Porter by Runaway on keg previously, so that was duly remedied. Repeatedly. A gentle smoky nose and a lovely creamy texture giving up a big roasty and lightly smoked character. Beautiful beer that.

I also had my first taste of a Cloudwater beer, their Table Beer. Refreshing and with a spicy almost Belgian yeasty note it felt like a wheat/pale ale hybrid and wasn’t what I was expecting at all. Being the talk of the town at the moment, I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been asked what I think of Cloudwater. I shall reserve until I try a few more of their beers, but this wasn’t a bad start.

I also picked up a few bottles. Because, it would a) Be rude not to, and b) This is also an excellent bottle shop! So expect to hear more about some Cheshire Brewhouse, Offbeat, First Chop & Shindigger sometime soon!

In baseball terminology, I think that Damian & Charlotte have hit the ball out of the park here in many ways. The bar looks great. The beer choice is excellent. The background music was superb too – I abruptly broke off a conversation to exclaim “”Canopy” – The Cave Singers. Bloody hell this is a TUNE”! Most of all, by choosing this location. A bar of this type is bound to do well in The Heatons. And, for Northern oiks like me, it’s only a 3 minute walk from Heaton Chapel train station.

All in all – a result.

Postscript : It seems fitting that – given my disastrous journey TO Heaton Hops, that the return journey should also be a bit of a “mare”. A delayed train meant that I would have missed my last bus. Thanks therefore to Paul from Shindigger and his Uber account for getting me home!

Tune

“I have learnt there’s a magical spot at the hop
Come with me to the church on the corner the hop
There’s nuts and there’s crisps and there’s c-c-c-cola on tap
A good time had by those boys and those girls at the hop

Tell me what do you say (tell me what do you say)
Tell me what do you say….I tell you
Life begins at the hop, boys and girls”

(“Live Begins At The Hop” – XTC  – Clip courtesy thecatkeaton on You Tube)

In my library, there could only be one tune to finish this piece with! The mighty XTC on TOTP, things like this used to make my Thursday evenings worth staying in for when I was 14!

One of the greatest bands. Period.

Well. I better get off and gird my loins for Saturday and the Easter 2015 Road To Wigan Beer bus marathon. Come along and have beers you’ll have never tried before and the most fun you could have with your clothes on!

Slainte!

My #GoldenPints 2014

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Oh Shit! It’s that time of year when I’m forced to be decisive and tell you (and you probably couldn’t give a flying…..) about what I REALLY liked this year, by pre-defined category.

So, 2014 was a year when I discovered the following :

How much I love blogging about beer.

How much I really couldn’t be arsed blogging about beer.

How close you can come to a nervous breakdown (and I HAVE been there) and come through nearly unscathed (See The Independent Salford Beer Festival)

How much generally that “Beer People Are Good People”

And a huge thanks to “BeerReviewsAndy” (someone I have never met) for getting this snowball rolling…..

And….the following……

  1. Best UK Cask BeerGrounds For DivorceFive Towns Brewery (Wakefield, W Yorks) – For me, the best beer at #ISBF2014. A 7.8% Belgian style Tripel fermented using yeast from the legendary Brasserie Orval, brewed at the bottom of a garden in Outwood, Wakefield, by one of the most unassuming people that I have ever met. As fruity as Carmen Miranda’s headgear and as light and tasty as a Heston Blumenthal foam. It. Rocked. My. World. (And I’m yet to really get into Belgian beer!)
  2. Best UK Keg Beer – I haven’t really had all that much, but of those that I HAVE had, I’d fall on the side of American Brown Ale – Runaway Brewery – . From the first sip at Black Jack Tap (Hmmm….) to the last sip (WOW!). This beer adheres to Principle 1 of the 3 Jazwinski Beer Principles. It was a beer that improved with each and every sip. By that last sip, I could *almost* have been a convert to keg. And it was fecking astonishingly good at #ISBF2014 on cask too!
  3. Best UK Bottle or Can – I’m not gonna cop out here by choosing one each (I’ll do THAT elsewhere!). This was a close run thing. My vote – by a well groomed whisker – goes to Govinda (Brandy Barrel Aged) IPACheshire Brewhouse (Congleton, Cheshire). A massively English hopped IPA at 6.8% abv, the original version was already a stunning thing, a grand riposte to those who think English hopped beers are merely brown and twiggy murk. Get Thee Behind Me Beery Satans! “Spicy boozy raisins, banana, marmalade dancing all over a deep toffee malt base. This is a proper IPA. The fruity and toffee flavours …. give way to a spicy hop…” Being fairly dedicated to UK – and Northern beers in particular, this proved the most intense #Beergasm that I had this year.
  4. Best Overseas Draught – Not. Really. My. Bag. Next……!
  5. Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer – Can? Founders All Day IPA. Does exactly what it says on the tin. Fresh, zingy and oh so refreshing. Bottle? Not had many…But, from Brouwerij The Musketeers (Ursel, Belgium) – Troubadour WestKust Black Imperial IPA – A 750 ml bottle that – in the midst of a tastebud numbing cold, I could actually taste. A full-bodied fruity hop assault. With licorice. What’s NOT to like?
  6. Best Collaboration Brew – Another tricky one. Came down to a choice of two, BOTH involving the mighty Stuart Neilson of the North Riding Brewpub in Scarborough. The first was 300 from Five Towns / North Riding – a big, punchy Double IPA which in no way tasted it’s strength but had more hops than Watership Down and was a damn sight tastier! However, edging this by simple force of Bitterness, is Protz’s PleasureSteel City Brewing (Sheffield) / North Riding Brewpub (Scarborough) – Conceived (possibly) as a riposte to a rant from Roger Protz about the beer type “Black IPA”. All of the oxymoronic characteristics of a BIPA with a simply MASSIVE bitterness. Astonishing.
  7. Best Overall Beer – See 3 above!IMAG2241
  8. Best Branding, Pumpclip or LabelBad Seed Brewery. For that hanging tag pump label. Irritating for the staff, but classy as feck. (I’ve kept the one from #ISBF2014 – don’t change fellas!)IMAG2118
  9. Best UK Brewery – On balance, this HAS to go to the brewery from which I drink the most consistently excellent and drinkable beers – Drinkability, for me, means a tasty, well hopped (or dark and roasted) beer that I can drink repeatedly without falling off my chair. For me, this means AllGates. From Sloe Stout at Manchester Beer and Cider Fest to Half Devil at #ISBF2014 and all points in between, just consistently excellent beer.
  10. Best Overseas Brewery – Moving swiftly on…..Next!
  11. Best New Brewery Opening 2014 – Controversy time! I’m going to go with Shindigger Brewing. I KNOW that they don’t have their own premises (yet!), but as a consumer, this is about the beer, right? From my first taste of Pacific Pale to the Saison/PIP at an MTB in Chorlton, they have progressed with each. and. every. beer. Cask, keg and bottle. Cuckoo? Gypsy? It’s about the beer for me, like I said. A HUGE honourable mention to Runaway Brewery and Squawk Brewing too. Manchester really IS rocking at the moment!
  12. Pub/Bar of the Year – (I’ve twisted the category – slightly!) Pub? Easy. As last year, The Hare & Hounds in Hindley (Wigan). A proper local that I need to visit WAY more often. 5 Great cask beers, friendly service, friendly locals, a real fire and a great landlord/landlady combo in Nigel and Adele. Sorted. Bar? Hmmm….Trickier. But I can’t split. So – a) Great Ale Year Round at Bolton Market for continuing to bring good beer to Bolton (and giving me a reason to visit the town!), a rare thing in the last few years for me. Great local cask/keg beers, friendly regulars, friendly hosts. Anne & Steve continue to do a sterling job. I just hope that the council could open up 6 days a week instead of 4! And – b) Wigan Central – 7 cask lines. 4 Craft keg. In Wigan? A brave move by Prospect Brewery, but one that appears to be paying off judging by the feedback that I’ve been privy to! They made a wise move in bringing Dan & Gina Buck in to run it (formerly of Great Ale Year Round – see the link there?). Great location, fabulously fitted out. Excellent beers too. (As far as the original category goes – both of the latter 2 opened this year!)
  13. Best beer and food pairing – I’m not QUITE reconstructed to that stage yet….Next!
  14. Beer Festival of the Year – 3 candidates. 1 I cannot choose. Because I organised it. The self interest element prevents me from choosing The Independent Salford Beer Festival. So, I’m left with 2. IndyManBeerCon is indeed a beery Tour De Force and remains a fixture for most sensible beer calendars (mine is set for 09:00 on 01/04/2015 – for the probable ticket release!). I DO think that cask appeared to be marginalised this year and I hear many gripes from elsewhere, but really? Just “grow a pair” and appreciate it for what it is! My winner though is AllGates‘ “The Road To Wigan Beer” in April. A fantastic selection of some of the newest and best UK breweries on cask. Spread across 6 pubs within Wigan borough. In one day. On a bus. Simply the most fun I’ve had in 2014. And fun matters.
  15. Supermarket of the YearBooths. Simple. If you have been to a branch, bought beer, then chose a different supermarket, you’re having a laugh. At your own expense. Obviously, If you live more than 20 miles south of Knutsford, you may not understand. It’s a Northern thing!
  16. Independent Retailer of the YearThe Liquor Shop (Whitefield) Now closed and reborn as specialist beer shop BarBeerian, this has been the place from which I have bought the most beer. Period. The stock is large and wide ranging (Scotland to US/Italy) and great value too. All that from a small convenience store! Now Raj has moved a couple of doors down and opened up as a specialist beer shop, he’s looking to open a small bar upstairs with craft keg & a local cask line. I wish him well with this.
  17. Online Retailer of the Year – I haven’t. I try and shop locally. Aren’t I virtuous? Next!
  18. Best Beer Book or MagazineOpening Times (Stockport & South Manchester CAMRA) – Essential semi-drunken bus home reading material. Well written & edited (Mr Clarke, take a bow!).
  19. Best Beer Blog or Website – Hmmm….Time for another split. Still up there (and one of my two) is Glenn Johnson and his “My World of Beer“. Informative, straight and tells me what I want to know. Is the pub/bar/beer good. And does it well. But locally? The Boozy Procrastinator by Deeekos, a blog that came into its own with some assertive posts on a variety of issues from IndyManBeerCon through to Myleene Klaas & Paddington Bear (in the same post!). Funny, informative, passionate. A winning combination.
  20. Best Beer AppTwitter. I think I would meltdown if I used Untappd. And not in a good way. Some people talk such utter bollocks about beer & breweries when they can be cloaked in anonymity. So no. Next!
  21. Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer@BroadfordBrewer. For #TwattyBeerDoodles and so much more.
  22. Best Brewery Website/Social mediaCheshire Brewhouse. Just functional & classy.

 

Bottled Ales – March 2014 – Pt 3

“I want to live, I want to give, I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold.

It’s these expressions that I never give, that keep me searching for a heart of gold.

And I’m getting old.

Keeps me searching for a heart of gold. And I’m getting old.”

(“Heart of Gold” – Neil Young)

(Video courtesy of “clydeman” on You Tube)

Being 48, closing rapidly on 70, the older I get, the more I appreciate great classics of popular music, be they Rock, Soul, Rhythm & Blues or even Doo-Wop. Don’t get me wrong, I can bang the ear-buds in on the bus and nod to the joyous noise of Fuck Buttons as much as anyone else, but sometimes you know, I just yearn for the simpler musical pleasures. Like Springsteen, Neil Young flicks all of my musical switches.

I could have easily chosen the equally classic “After The Goldrush”. Guitar, harmonica and voice. What else do you need. Click on the hyperlink above and wallow (if you’re of a nervous disposition, or have a loathing of laptop music, you may want to avoid the Fuck Buttons link!)

Moving swiftly on this Friday evening to the subject at hand. Beer. In bottles no less!

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

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

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1. SoundWave Aussie IPASiren Craft Brew – 5.6% abv – IPA – £3.08 (inc discount) (330ml) – Great Ale Year Round (Bolton, Lancashire)

The “straight” version of this on cask at Manchester Beer & Cider Festival made a HUGE impression on me. I had to give this antipodean variant a go, didn’t I?

A deep gold, almost amber beer this, with a thin white head and quite an orangey aroma promising much delight within. Full bodied and quite bitter initially (in a really good way!) with masses of tart fruit and pine overlaying a big malty bread base. The fruit subtly changes further down the glass to more of a mandarin orange without yielding an inch on the resinous front! Really grassy. Definitely a beer for now, a cool spring evening in front of a warm glowing…laptop! Excellent.

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2. Shark Biscuit – Weird Beard Brew Co (Hanwell, W London) – 7.2% abv – Australian IPA – £3.23 (330ml) – The Liquor Shop (Whitefield, N Manchester)

(Bear in mind that Raj offers a 10% discount for 12 or more bottles)

I yield to no one in my love of these beers out of West London. I haven’t had the joy of meeting Bryan, but Gregg is a top bloke and they brew some simply astonishingly good beers (stops typing to avoid a Decadence Stout inspired #Beergasm!), This is another!

Amber beer with a nice foamy white head and a lovely fruity orangey aroma booming out. Oohhhh…This is bloody smooth! Full-bodied with big digestive biscuit maltiness, but not sweet. The orange mellows into a nice marmalade richness which fills the mouth, coating it completely with bittersweet orange. A hell of a beer this, with a nice bitter finish and a lingering grassy note. A stunningly smooth, well balanced IPA.

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3. Old Ford Export StoutRedchurch Brewery (Bethnal Green, East London) – 7.5% abv – Stout ? – £3.59 (330ml) – The Liquor Shop (Whitefield, N Manchester)

Writing about beer is fairly easy. However, sometimes your opinions can make you seem a proper numpty. So, I shall combine a question with my opinion shall I?

When is a Stout, not a Stout? The answer? When it is Old Ford Export Stout!

Black as the pits of hell with the fires out! Big latte coloured head with an aroma that is fruitily reminiscent of a Black IPA. If this is a Stout then it is bloody well hopped! There is indeed LOADS of roasted malt flavour with bitter coffee in the mix, but this is as hoppy as a wallaby! A fabulous beer, but as a stout, it is verging on Black IPA territory – and none the worse for it! In short, a bloody excellent BIPA. Those expecting the comforting roasty notes of a well made Stout, be prepared for a surprise!

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4. Kooky GoldOffbeat Brewery (Crewe, Cheshire) – 4.2% abv – Golden Ale – £2.60 (500ml) – Great Ale Year Round (Bolton, Lancashire)

(Note current offer of 15% off online & in shop – not sure how long that offer will last!)

Since meeting the lovely Michelle (Basically, she didn’t yawn when I waffled at her for a couple of minutes on the Manchester #Twissup), I was determined to get my maws on a couple of bottles. The problem was, that I would normally source them from Damian, but Manchester Markets are out of season! I was delighted to note therefore,  that my pals Dan & Gina were stocking a few of Crewe’s finest. Problem solved!

Pale gold and lively with a white head emitting a lovely gentle toasty marmalade aroma. Medium bodied, smooth and easy drinking with more orange marmalade coating a light biscuit base and caressing the mouth with its juicy malt before a gentle fruity bitterness sways into view, followed eventually by a nice dry piney finish. A brilliant light, juicy and sessionable refreshing beer. Result. Just need to see more on draught now. Er…Dan?

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5. Session Pale Ale – Blackedge Brewery (Horwich, N of Bolton) – 3.5% abv – Pale Ale– £2.13 (500ml) – Great Ale Year Round (Bolton, Lancashire)

With that 15% off offer, this was a BARGAIN!!!

Deep gold verging on amber with a white head and a nose of gentle grapefruit, peach and mandarin. Medium bodied for such a light abv beer, really fruity with all of the above playing their part supported by a nice light spongey cake base, bit like a Jaffa cake (but without the chocolate!). A beer has rarely been so aptly named!

This is really well-balanced, refreshing and fruity with the gentlest of bitter finishes followed at the rear of the mouth with a waft of fresh spring grass in the aftertaste. Another superb refreshing beer. Nary a bottle by Blackedge for ages, then (like buses in the countryside), two in two weeks!

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6. GovindaCheshire Brewhouse – (Congleton, Cheshire) – 6.8% abv – IPA – £4.50 – inc discount – BARGAIN (500ml) – The Liquor Shop (Whitefield, N Manchester)

With the under note on the bottle saying “Centenary Gyle Head Brewers Reserve”, this held out the promise of being something special. I like Shane Swindells’ beers. A lot. But heavy hopping with British hops?

Beergasm Alert! A deep amber coloured beer supporting a persistent clinging white head and yielding quite a honeyed fruity aroma. Really smooth and full-bodied this. The initial flavour impression is quite forest fruity with a little hint of hiney (or honey, if you like!), quickly followed by a tidal wave of grassy hop, but without the resinous nature of New World hops.

I think that the aim with this was to make a classic, heavily hopped, British IPA. Now, I have never hit the high seas to India, nor – to be fair – am I ever likely to, but this would be more than worth a sup as it hit the sub-continent quaysides! A triumph of a beer. Would have been easy for Shane to bang a load of C hops in, but this is SUPERB! Definite Bottle of The Year contender!

If Shane is right and this improves with age, I’m DAMN glad I’ve got another to lay down. Could be a classic!

Well, that’s it for another week. Still recovering, in truth, from a week working in London. Not to mention the visit to a pub or two! (write up to follow)

However

On that note….’til next time….

Slainte!