Hawkshead Brewery – Something in the Water

As I said last week. As a blogger, unlike (so it seems) many, I don’t get sent much in the way of free beer. I don’t go out of my way to get any either. I have a seemingly huge beer stash that has been bought and paid for and that’s quite enough for this simple man. No complications.

In the blogging world, there appears to be an etiquette around these things that I am completely in ignorance of. I like it that way.

I have a really simple rule. If I like it, I’ll review it. That applies to freebies as well as the 99.9% of beers in my stash that are bought. I have to be impressed by a beer in order to review it, that way, if you see a review and buy it on the strength of that review and buy it in good condition, you *should* enjoy it. I like to maintain what little “integrity” (just for you MJ!) these last 4 years have bestowed upon me.

Like I said above, I don’t get sent much. But when I received an e-mail from Hawkshead about 3 special beer that they had brewed, offering me some, I snatched their hands off.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Hawkshead. Almost a byword for reliability. On cask, Windermere Pale is an uber reliable beer to fall back on. Brodies Prime unmissable. NZPA likewise. Cumbrian 5 Hop, Dry Stone Stout, IPA….the list goes on. Pale & hoppy or dark and roasty rich, consistently excellent.

So. When they offered to send me an Imperial Stout, an Imperial Porter and (not my usual) a Sour, I eagerly awaited delivery. Luckily, one of my brood was home when the knock arrived….

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Chuckleberry Sour – 3.5% abv – Berliner Weisse – 330ml

Atilla saw me pouring it and thought that I was having a cranberry juice!

It certainly had the colour! Watermelon pink, this has an aroma with a gentle acidic sourness as you would expect from a Berliner but with a fruitiness that was a cross between watermelon and Raspberry with a shot of cranberry and got the saliva glands motoring!

Yup. This is one palate cleanser and more! It has a light soft fleshy fruitiness, combined with being simultaneously Sour and slightly salty too. An incredibly refreshing and tart mouthful.

I had to check what a chuckleberry was, then I got the redcurrant and understood.

This is ordinarily not my style of beer, but having enjoyed a few sours from Chorlton, this does float my boat. Fruity, slightly salty and tart. An excellent palate livener. Superb

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Tonka – 8.5% abv – Imperial Porter – 330ml

Now then. Those who saw my last bottle post, May recall the ludicrous Black and Tan postscript. Which featured this beer in its keg format. See here…. Time to go solo!

Another deeply dark and alluring beer possessed of a creamy coloured head. The aroma is delicate but full of chocolate with a slight vanilla sweetness and something a little boozy, like rum.

WOW. Holy Mother of WOW.

Good full body on this, masses of nutty chocolate, good bitter chocolate, with a nuttiness that made me think of toasted Brazil nuts. Then there is a distinct blackcurrant fruitiness to the flavour, cola too, which is followed by an earthy, nutty, coffee grind bitterness.

Simply put, this is astonishingly good.

It’s Roasted, fruity, nutty, bitter, just so complex but so god damn repeatable. (Which can only go one way….)

Just. Just. Just………

One of the top three beers of this year. It’s THAT good.

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Northern Imperial Stout – 9.5% abv – Imperial Stout – 330ml

Black as a tar pit. Bitumen black. Dark, dangerous, desirable. All the things I want in a beer materialise when I take a sniff.

Deep coffee roast. Licorice. Bitter chocolate. And what smells like a light dusting of cocoa on top just OOZING from this tan coloured head. Daring me to try it. Like a “Come and have a go if you think…..”  A beery hooligan.

Imperial Stouts are my true beery weakness. I just can’t help myself and to hell with the consequences.

This is rich, unctuous and almost oily the way it slides around the mouth. Bitter chocolate and a spicy almost rocket pepperiness are the first impressions as the first mouthful slicks down the throat, coating the mouth and leaving a more than pleasant bitterness.

Back for seconds. More bitter chocolate with added oomph from some espresso action and a building licorice root flavour adding to the impact. This beer is right up my proverbial street.

The further I go and the onion reveals more layers, with some dark and juicy berry fruit too. This is lush. But then again, I’m a sucker for big dark beers.

There is a moderate bitter finish, but the abiding flavours linger well into the aftertaste. That bitter coffee and chocolate.

All. Kinds. Of. Yum.

Hopefully, I’ve managed to elucidate quite how much I enjoyed these three beers. The Sour surprised me, the Imperial Stout impressed me and that Tonka is – to put it simply – one of the 3 best bottled beers that I’ve had this year. Astonishingly good.

And, next weekend, having heard so many good things about their beer events at their Beer Hall in Staveley, I’m finally going. Who knows, if I can grab Matt Clarke, I might try to persuade him to keg something special and ludicrous for #ISBF2016!

You can only try eh?

Hebden Rising – 30/04/2016

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Hebden Bridge. For a place that I’ve visited infrequently, it holds a special place in my heart.

You see, about 5 years ago, friends persuaded me to go on a walk to Heptonstall and then down to Hebden. And down is the key word here. Because I’m simply terrified of heights, and – in particular – drops.

On the final approach toward (what I think is named) Heptonstall Abbey, I sensed an ABYSS to my right. I daren’t look, I was frozen in terror. I leaned into the verge, grabbed handfuls of grass and pulled myself the final few yards until I reached safety. Face white as a sheet, I recuperated with a pint of Timothy Taylors in – to date – the only one of their pubs I’d ever been in.

Roll forward to last year. Following the death of my dear friend Phil, his son-in-law thought that it would be a great commemoration if we were to re-enact that walk. So we did, with prejudice on MY part!

We got to the point where we had to turn toward “The Abyss” and I balked. I froze. I couldn’t face it. Ashamed, I sought a flatter route. My friend (The aforementioned Son-in-Law) and his Dad joined me. Which was – it turned out – for the best as, when we got to the pub, my friend’s Dad (also a dear friend) had a heart attack. He survived, thankfully and remains one of the most decent people I know.

He survived. Like Hebden Bridge survived this..And it’s still heartbreaking to see the pictures and video.

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My understanding is – that following from the grievous floods of 2012 – many of the affected properties were uninsurable due to the risk. So the businesses of this beautiful town (founded during the reign of Henry VIII) are having to drag themselves up by their bootstraps. To raise themselves up from the horror of those floods. Hebden Rising, if you will from the waters that swamped the town on Boxing Day 2015.

And Hebden Bridge IS rising.

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Manchester was wet. the “Rainy City” living up to its name on this Saturday morning. But there was a train to catch, with a smile on my face, a song in my heart and tickets in my pocket.

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The walk into town was brisk, thirst inducingly so. It was also pretty. Hebden is an unarguably pretty place to be. Especially when the sun has got its hat on. And this morning, that hat was broad of rim. A beautiful day for a beer.

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What always struck me about this town was the sense of community. This might come from having a population of less than 5000 of course – the feeling that everybody knows everybody else. And gets on. This was exemplified in a Facebook conversation I had with one of our destinations which – when I discovered that we were going to be too early for opening time – happily suggested one of the others as a breakfast option!

I like that. Good people.

Kind of one of the reasons why I chose Hebden for the second leg of the “Northern Tour” (first “leg” viewable here – Liverpool). It’s like a literal ‘breath of fresh air’. Away from the usual Manchester haunts where you can get too comfortable, stuck in that Manchester bubble. Yes, I still believe that it is England’s premier beer city. But, every so often, you need to check yourself a bit. Try something different.

And Hebden Bridge is certainly that. Different.

There’s also this.

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(Market Street, Hebden Bridge. 26/12/2015 – Image courtesy of Amanda Ogley)

Boxing Day. 2015. Don’t mind saying that I wept, from the comfort of the in-laws Lincolnshire sofa. The scenes of torrents raging through the town is etched. The messages from businesses and people in the town adopted a hashtag. #HebdenRising

It stuck with me.

So I put it to some beery friends that we should have an away day. In this pretty little West Yorkshire town at the first opportunity.

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Old Gate (1-5, Old Gate)

Built of sandstone (typical of the town’s buildings) this is one handsome place from the outside. And – at 11:30 on Saturday morning – had the virtue of being open. So we entered, fully desirous of a cup of tea (on my part).

Then, crossing the stone-flagged floors, I saw the 8 handpulls. And Chop & Change (Cascade) by Vocation. And weakened. Sod the teapot. Give me a pint glass please. Yes, it was early. But I am but flesh and blood you know! (Despite what some may think)

The beer was lovely. Citrussy, dry and bitter. Vocation don’t let you down. The pub was more beautiful though.

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Stone-flagged floors, sandstone bar, this is a 3 properties simply opened up – but with 3 distinct areas. One end seemed to be coffee drinkers, the other end breakfasting. And then there was us. In the large middle section. Drinking beer. At 11:30am. Which, as I realised 12 hours later, is not big. Nor is it particularly clever. Oh but that Vocation was lovely though!

A quick chat with Ollie (Bar manager) told me that they were kind of expecting us. Having just nipped across the street to Drink to grab a pump clip from Martin the owner. That sense of co-operation again. It feels like a co-operative town. Like everyone has equal shares and looks after everyone else. It feels like my kind of town.

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Having had the Vocation – and most of the others (having arrived) being midway through their chosen refreshment, I kept it Yarkshire by opting for a swift Kirkstall Pale Ale. Another lovely refreshing beer, brewed by an under-regarded Leeds brewery in my humble. Never had a bad one from Kirkstall yet. A #ISBF2016 approach may be required I think.

I was ready to leave this lovely place. But Steve – the Karkli Sherpa of #ISBF2015 fame – needed to finish breakfast. A half of Un-Human Cannonball. I bowed down. Awestruck.

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(“What do you mean ‘It’s MY round?’ “)

The Fox & Goose (7, Heptonstall Road, Hebden Bridge)

It was about 3 years ago when this pub first entered my consciousness. Locals were battling to secure it as a Co-operative pub and raising awareness and looking for help. I re=tweeted a few messages at the time and – from the moment that they were successful in early 2014, I wanted to go and see West Yorkshire’s first co-operatively owned pub for myself.

It was worth the trip.

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Honestly! I really had NO idea that there was a beer festival on!

A rambling old pub. With 3 rooms (that I could see), a roof terrace with simply STUNNING views across the Calder valley. And barrel loads of that most indefinable of qualities. Soul. This pub certainly has that.

And, like I said, there was a beer festival going on in the pub. Timing is – as they say – everything.

The beers were all excellent. As were the Pork pies (more of that later). Mallinsons, Rat (the Ratsputin Imperial Stout HAD to be done!) and Wishbone. All superb. Which just left where to sit…..

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That view though.

Into the beer garden that felt like a roof terrace.

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Apart from good company and beer, what else could you want? And I had both.

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We also had a four-legged stalker.

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Meet Charlie. The pub dog with laser guided sight. On that Pork Pie. He got some – of course. How could you possibly refuse?

As I said. Soul. Tons of it in this pub. History, back story, original features to die for, loads of wood. It feels ancient. And loved. My kind of place. It’s a feeling thing.

Just don’t try walking up the Heptonstall Road. Have done it in a van. It feels VERTICAL.

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(Pic courtesy Martin Ogley)

Drink (15, Market Street, Hebden Bridge)

The first place I bought beer from in Hebden, early last year. Back then it was “just” a bottle shop – but with plans to become a bar. The plans came to fruition. Then came Storm Eva.

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(pic – Martin Ogley)

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And that’s how high the water got. Heartbreaking for a new business venture.

But, 4 months later…..

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Here we are. 2 local beers on cask, 3 on keg (+ Brooklyn Lager) and a bar that’s nice and busy. Just how it should be.

Although is IS open-plan downstairs, it feels like two rooms. Both being busy with conversation. Upstairs was busy too, with Martin (the owner) giving a private tutored beer tasting.

Martin has taken the “opportunity” afforded by the damage wreaked by Eva to move the bar from the front room to the rear, leaving the front to seating and the sale of bottles and cans. I *may* have bought one or two. Well…….

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(Essential reading material for some the next day….)

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(Maida Vale tube station – how very appropriate)

I like Drink. A cosy little new bar. Almost the polar opposite of The Fox & Goose and – with the keg offering – catering to a different crowd. But just as busy

The struggle through Eva has been worth the effort. And more than worth the walk.

Next – via an excellent Fish & Chips from the Crown Fisheries on Crown Street…..

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Calans Too (Machpelah Mill, Burnley Road, Hebden Bridge – Nr Train Station)

Normally located off Bridge Gate, Calans Micro Pub is still rising from the floods. Having just received clearance confirming that it is officially “dried out” work is due to start to put it back where it belongs. In the heart of town. The bar is tiny and charming. Worth the visit.

I really thought that we wouldn’t see Calans serving beer this weekend. But, true to the spirit in Hebden Bridge, they found a spot to set up a kind of “pop up” bar. In Machpelah Mill, just down some steps off the main road – just around from the Train Stn. On a lovely canal side spot!

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Another wee Beer Festival too. HONESTLY, I didn’t know!

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I was loving the mirrorball! It was nice to see Calans selling beer – wherever it was located. More Mallinsons in here. Excellent too. Friendly as well, like all the places we went in. This felt like family and friends pulling together to help the business through.

It felt right. Hopefully, the MicroPub itself should be up and running by June. It is well worth the visit – just opposite the St Pol car park on Bridge Gate.

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Next….and the final stop in Hebden for the day, this pretty little place…..

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Parcel Bar (Hebden Bridge Train Station)

And the end of this little Odyssey. Small. Perfectly formed. A refreshment room that steps into a telephone kiosk at 4pm, does a twirl and come out wearing a cape.

One hand pump (Wishbone – Rascal Pale Ale), loads of interesting bottles and cans. And chocolate. What else do you want?

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Another Sandstone building , a single room and cosy as a teapot cover. Initially sat outside – with the sun still shining, we only came inside to get out of the cold!

The Wishbone confirmed that I need to call them too for #ISBF2016. Lovely hoppy pale ale. The initial 10 companions were now down to a hardcore of 4 once CW (aka Jeff) and the lovely Maxine had run for their train – only just catching it! We were a mere single photobomb from being off ourselves…..

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(That bloody sun – never thought I’d whine about sunshine!)

A fine day. Everyone enjoyed themselves, the sun was out and Hebden Bridge looked lovely. As it always does.

Hebden has a bohemian feel to it. Lots of independent shops. Very few (if any) chains. Great bars and pubs and a vibrant arts scene.

It has survived yet another natural disaster. You get the feeling it always will. It feels like a community just came together, held hands, and willed themselves through it,

It will take more than Storm Eva to keep it down.

Hebden Bridge is – indeed – rising.

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Then – for the hardcore – Black Jack Brewtap. That’s for another day. But I love this view….

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Angel Meadow, Manchester, at night.

See you soon.

MTB with Weird Beard @ Heaton Hops – 14/03/2016

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I kind of gave up on Meet The Brewer (MTB) events a few years back. They got to feel a bit like doing a “Brewery Tour”. I’ve been around a few Micro Breweries and to be honest, they start to blur into one. Once you’ve seen four or five, it gets to be ‘variations on a theme’. A bit samey.

It’s the personalities that make both worth doing. And Gregg Irwin – chief Spreadsheet Ninja, brewer, co-owner of Weird Beard Brew Co – is definitely one of those.

And (let’s get this out of the way NOW shall we?) I rather like the beers that these fellas brew down in West London. I always have. For all of my Northern Beer Fascism, I’ve had a soft spot for these beers since I was introduced to them by The Ale Man, YAY years ago.

Yes. Damian O’Shea. The same. Now thriving in his “Award Winning” bar. Heaton Hops. A bar that has wormed its way into my cold cold heart. By being astonishingly good. It’s simple really!

And I had an agenda….(maybe) more later….

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We had six beers to get through. 4 of them – given my curmudgeonly Northern tendencies – that I had never tried before.

Like I said, Gregg is certainly no wallflower. And there were a few choice epithets sprinkled throughout the evening, to be sure – given his visceral feelings about Mild, we’re unlikely to meet halfway on some. These made the evening all the more entertaining. I certainly shed a laughter tear or five!

Rather amazingly (or not – to some – given the “craft beer” boom) Weird Beard export their tasty wares to 21 countries, 10 of them on a regular basis. They’re even making inroad in that most vin sozzled of countries. France. Apparently, a real growing market for good beer.

So. Where were we? Ah….

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So Damian had persuaded Mr Beard himself to come and chinwag with us. And this was very much a two-way street. There was at least one vegan in the cosy audience, so we had a bit of to and fro on the usage of isinglass as an aid to clarity. We had Gregg’s story as to how Saison 14 (one of the beers tonight) acquired its name – a reference to a score it obtained in a Home Brewing contest – cue withering glare at YT (recent Home Brewing judge….)

The beers started to flow….and Gregg chatted briefly about the birth of each and how the hop bill and other parts of the recipes have changed – sometimes by design, sometimes due to availability of ingredients – over time. Things like how the body that they get into beers like “Little Things That Kill”. How the beers get named – mostly from songs “LTTK” (A track by Bush), “Fade To Black” (Metallica).

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Personally, I can’t wait to taste “Relight My Fire”…..

It is – to me – sad that WB only cask approximately 15% of their output. The joy I used to find in my occasional pint of Decadence Stout – one of the best I’ve ever had – was a rare thing. A truly lovely beer. I think that it is safe to say, that cask wouldn’t be Gregg’s preferred method of dispense. Putting it mildly…..(I just had to get “Mild” in one more time….)

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To my utter delight, Jimmy from Nasi Lemak had set up a mini “street kitchen” outside the bar, so we had some truly excellent grub appearing – at intervals – on the tables (Sweet Potato fries with spicy sauce went superbly with the Choc Mint Stout – “A World Without Dave”)

It would be easy to waffle on about the beer. Safe to say that it was uniformly superb. But, briefly, from “Little Things That Kill” (Light refreshing and hoppy), “A World Without Dave” (Choc, Mint, Lush and creamy), “Fade To Black” (Smooth, Citrussy, a little Coconut – the sole cask), Saison 14 (my personal favourite – surpisingly – Cream Soda smooth, Apricot & Tangerine)

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The final two beers were hastily consumed – as myself and my mentor “Pal” had to scarper sharpish for a train. They were “Sorachi Faceplant” a BIG (8.1%) IPA that was so juicy and dangerously drinkable and “Sadako” Imperial Stout, luscious, creamy, smooth and done absolutely no justice to by being wolfed down. Unlike the spicy chicken that Jimmy wheeled out….

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(Pic : Courtesy of @Deeekos)

This was an excellent evening. There are very few things that would encourage me to travel from Bolton over 20 miles on a school night. But Damian O’Shea, Heaton Hops & Gregg Irwin managed it.

Even if I WAS the butt of a few Irwin jokes…….

And no. With nights like this, Meet The Brewer events DON’T need “Reinventing”.

They just need good beer, good people (brewers, bloggers, beer & food lovers) and intelligent conversation. Oh. And a liberal sprinkling of beery expletives…

A joy of an evening.

 

Home Beers – Feb 2016 – Pt 1

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

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

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

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

Ever.

A BIG statement. And it may surprise you….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The finish is dry and herbal hoppy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A simply magnificent achievement!

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

It’s THAT good.

On that note…..

Slainte!

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!

Manchester – Northern Quarter Bar Crawl Pt 2 – 27/03/2015

There are two things that bring old comrades together. Those things are “Leaving Dos” & Funerals. This saddens me and is something that I need to address this year. Over 30 odd years in the same job (give or take a few “re-brandings”), you make a lot of friends. I need some “catch up” evenings. And soon.

This evening started off with an e-mail regarding a (premature – in my view) “Retirement”. Of a lovely fella who has had his fill of cuts and their associated nonsense and has decided to break out on his own.

Brave or foolhardy? Not even he knows for sure.

I find myself invited to a pub in the Northern Quarter on a Friday afternoon in Spring……via a swift Rice ‘n’ Three, I find myself in….

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The Abel Heywood (Turner Street)

Named after a two-time Mayor of Manchester of the Victorian era, this place is a bit of an anomaly. Let’s face it. What brewery spends gazillions opening a pub when so many others are closing? The answer is Hydes. Manchester born & bred (but now nestling nicely in Salford near Media City!)

Its USP is (I suppose) the “Boutique Hotel” which takes up 15 rooms in this conversion. A colleague picked up a bargain double for £60 inc breakfast – and said the room was lovely. A recommendation then!

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The pub itself is open plan and bends around the bar, I didn’t get to see the separate room upstairs, but downstairs is all designer aged, with dark booths, lots of wood and even a faux-nicotine stained look ceiling. Not many Victorian pubs would have had air-con though! Hydes have obvious spent a lot of money on this and – in the short-term – it appears to be paying off as – before I left at about 5:30, the place was absolutely rammed.

The beer was OK. Perle Essence from Hydes’ own “Beer Studio” imprint was quite fruity, yet understated in its hoppiness. A nice pint, but eclipsed somewhat by the 1/2 of Flying Dog Pale Ale that I had before I left  (Not bad at £4.50 a pint)

So far, the place seems to have grabbed a slice of the NQ drinking pie. And that is a competitive meerkat! Or market even.

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57, Thomas Street (Thomas Street)

Just two streets away, almost on a line with the Abel Heywood is this Marble offshoot. And whilst I know that it featured on the last N4 crawl that I did, I just fancied something Marble(ish) and it was an agreeable spot at which to hook up with my beery Yoda – the Arch-Nemesis.

After the sardine tin feel of the previous pub, it was a joy to walk into somewhere that was so cool (in all meanings) and where I could actually get a seat (for a change in here!)

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For the uninitiated, this is a small yet perfectly formed bar with a long bench table opposite the bar. The venue is glass fronted and if you can nab a window seat, it is a great spot to watch the bustle of the NQ pass you by on a Spring afternoon.
But I couldn’t. I did manage to grab a seat on the bench however, prior to approaching the bar with its 4 casks on gravity dispense (straight from the cask – the USP of the bar) With 3 out of the 4 casks on, I went for a zesty pint of er….. Pint, which was as good as usual, lemon sharp and refreshing.
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With a moment to read an excellent piece about Sufjan Stevens in The Grauniad, I had time to admire the place. Really fond of this bar, it has a charm that I can’t quite put into words. From the semi industrial metal ceiling, mock medieval wallpaper (complete with self-advertising stencil!), warm red paint tones. Friendly staff….. Need I go on?

I wonder where the board games all went? (another former USP)

Anyhow, with the AN reaching the end of his excellent pint of Ginger, it was time to move on – after all, this was a crawl! But not too far….
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Terrace Bar (Thomas Street)
If this was a pub, you could describe it as a “Cut”, as it has entrances on both Thomas Street and Edge Street. This place has more of a club feel to it with quite loud dance music pumping through powerful speakers. Exposed brickwork, post-industrial style – is the order of the day here. The bar occupies the side of the venue that you enter via Thomas Street and there is more of a foody vibe at the side that abuts Edge Street.
A distinctly younger crowd in here, with myself and Yoda upping the average age by approximately 2 years! The great thing about Terrace is though, that it never ceases to amaze me that a bar such as this can stock a great beer selection with Thornbridge Jaipur, Liverpool Organic Shipwreck IPA, Harbour Light and Millstone Tiger Rut all on the pumps.
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(I really need to get a new camera/phone!)
With the need to keep a (relatively) clear head, I opted to avoid Live Organic & Thornbridge (big beers both) and had a Harbour Light, which, whilst perfectly acceptable, was probably slightly short of premium nick. Yoda enjoyed his Millstone hugely too. Nice keg selection here too if the cask doesn’t grab you.
terrace may not be to the taste of all in my age group, but there is a certain something that I really enjoy here that I can;t quite put my finger on. Maybe it’s the tunes. I had forgotten quite how much of a guilty pleasure that “I Wanna Sex You Up” by Color Me Badd was! A classic early 90s #1!
Moving on….and a bit more of a stroll to Dale Street – a bit counter intuitive, considering where we intended to end up!…To
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Allotment Bar (Dale Street)
Having only been in once before (with Atilla), I think I fell in love with this 2014 opening bar when I saw one of the staff watering the indoor window boxes that adore one of the walls! Allotment by name……
Another (kind of) open space, with a centrally located bar dividing the place up a bit. Quite a few tables scattered around near the bar, but many “reserved”, presumably for “diners”. No matter, we only here for one anyway. There is also – to note – a further bar to the rear to serve when it gets really busy. No cask beer at that bar though.
With some local beers on the bar, I opted for the Pale Ale from Tweed of Hyde. A nice fruity beer, with hints of peach and orange.
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(The Hanging Gardens of Babylon….Ok, Dale Street!)
We acquired the completing member of our planned trinity when Jeff (aka Bode Miller – for all you “Ski Sunday” addicts) joined us, grumbling at the distance he had to travel to meet us….all 1/2 mile from his lair!
Nice place Allotment. Another rare pub opening. Quite busy before we left too with more of a mixed crowd that at Terrace.
With a hike across the NQ planned to our ultimate destination, Time for one more…..
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Pie & Ale by Bakerie (The Hive, Lever Street)
Set slightly off Lever Street adj to Stevenson Square, this place is worth seeking out, if not for the pie based menu (they are excellent), then for the beer selection (as well as a great selection of Whiskies)
Another 2014 opening bar. The interior is classy and minimal with exposed brickwork, muted neutral toned paintwork, two distinct ground floor areas and a quite concealed mezzanine dining area. Humming with conversation when we got there, the main topic of OUR conversation when we got there was the beer choice!
Disregarding the house beer “Yippee Pie Ale”, there were beers from the likes of Sonnet 43, Mad Hatter, IndyManBrewHouse (collab with Celt), Ilkley & Weird Beard. The Dynamic Duo both went for the Ilkley whilst I opted for the Hope Street Hop which, whilst as hazy as a spring fog, was actually a damned tasty pint full of peach, mango and tangerine fruitiness.
The only thing that I would say in balance on this bar is that the prices seem a little high. I would have had the Weird Beard Decadence Stout – a formidable beer at 5.5% abv, but not at £5 a pint. Even with it being Jeff’s round, I’m not THAT much of a git!
With a little tweaking down of the prices of some of the beers, this would be a Go To bar for me. Certainly the selection of beers whenever I’ve been in is impressive.
The ultimate destination was the Black Jack Tap, which was open on the Friday night. With the Dynamic Duo setting the pace, this was a thirsty walk.
The beers were all excellent, but particular mention for a stunning spicy and dry Rye IPA by Runaway Brewery (I thanked Mark personally!) and a stunningly smooth, unctuous, vinous and warming one year old Imperial Stout by Dark Star. The great thing about this ending was the beery chatter with some lovely people.
It was like a coming together of brewers with Black Jack, Runaway, Six O’ Clock, Cloudwater. Like a beery Mancunian Illuminati!!!
If I can give a tip? Next time the Tap is open, get your arses down there for some great beer and excellent food (the Pizza was a thing of beauty!) courtesy of those lovely GRUB people, Jason & Jules.
All good things must pass however and the last #8 bus was beckoning. I managed to stay awake (bonus) and must confess a sneaky – and rather nice – Lamb & Chicken Kebab from a local takeaway prior to retiring for the evening at a FAR too late an hour – considering that I had volunteered to work at Prestwich Beer Fest until 01:00 (02:00 with the clocks going forward!) – A great event put on by the folk behind Beer Junkets. But I am currently…knackered!
Stay Tuned for an upcoming review of Heaton Hops – the new venture from Damian (Ale Man Manchester) O’Shea!
With that……
Slainte!
Tune
“It’s real early morning, no-one is awake. I’m back at my cliff, still throwing things off.
I listen to the sounds they make on their way down, I follow with my eyes ’til they crash.
I imagine what my body would sound like slamming against those rocks.
And when it lands, will my eyes be closed or open.
I go through all this, before you wake up. So I can feel happier,
to be safe up here with you.”
(“Hyperballad” – Bjork. Clip courtesy Maskuk on YouTube)
I freely accept that Bjork isn’t to everyone’s tastes, but to me, she is a rare example of a musical artist who does something the is original and bears an utterly individual stamp.
My first encounter was when I first heard “Birthday” by The Sugar Cubes. I was blown away by this strange voice and off-kilter slowed down grungy funk. I therefore bought the album from which it was taken “Life’s Too Good”, a fine album which stands with all the other vinyl that I own in #2 sons loft bedroom – much to his futile annoyance!
Her solo work has, for me, been in many instance, ground breaking. You hear a Bjork record and it sounds like…..Bjork. Most modern music owes a debt to someone, be it via sampling or obvious influences. It’s a rare thing to hear something that makes me go “bloody hell”! But Bjork does it. Consistently. From tracks like Human Behaviour, Pagan Poetry, Hidden Place, Big Time Sensuality……All stunning. All Bjork. Nobody else sounds like this.
This track is – to me – a thing of raw and disturbed beauty. That line about throwing herself off the mountain is sung in such a beautiful child like voice. So haunting. This is a track I go back to time and again. And it’s 20 years old. And it sounds timeless.
I’m off to buy Vulnicura (her latest album) See you later.

The Manchester Beer & Cider Festival 2015 Pt 1

“Kiss me goodnight and say my prayers, leave the light on at the top of the stairs
Tell me the names of the stars up in the sky.
A tree taps on the window pane, that feeling smothers me again
Daddy is it true that we all have to die?

At the top of the stairs
Is darkness”

(Tank Park Salute – Billy Bragg) *

Billy Bragg writes great songs. Like religion & politics, don’t argue with me over a pint on that one fact.

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(Just in case I forgot where I was drinking!)

Manchester is a great city. Whilst I have never been able to call it my actual home (hailing from Salford and now living in Bolton), it has been both my spiritual and cultural home from birth. I have experienced highs and lows, loved and lost in this great city. Many of my formative life experiences took place here, from shopping in Lewis’ as a kid (always forced to dress in “Sunday Best” – even though it was always Saturday!), to my “Stag” do in 1990 and beyond. This city is in my heart and soul and always will be.

It now also has a Beer Festival that can stand proud – shoulder to shoulder – with the best that CAMRA can offer.

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My day started with an early meet for some grub in a new “street food” style start up on Church Street, Northern Soul. The name harks to a musical genre that is one of my foundation stones and I was pleased to hear the exclusively “Northern” tuneage as I entered. Let me be quite clear. I am 50 this year, so, having not as many years left as some, I decided that I needed to try something new. After all, it IS #Tryanuary! That something, was Mac & Cheese. And these fellas made my heart sing whilst simultaneously hardening my arteries with a huge dose of dairy delight!

Mac & Cheese. With pulled pork. On a toastie. It’s up there. Oh yes. Good effort fellas!

This was Wednesday. That meant Trade Day. With the Arch-Nemesis having the week off, we had to go. After all, I have beery arm-twisting to do, what with #ISBF2015 in the planning stages!

But first, in true #Tryanuary spirit, a new pub to try. This was the Abel Heywood on Turner Street. Hydes 3rd City Centre outlet. It looks lovely, with lots of dark wood, comfy chairs, it has a nice pubby feel. The beer was Hydes (there IS a handpull for a Guest Beer I think) and was OK without being spectacular. IN good nick, but I wanted more punchy flavour than I got from either pint that I tried. Shame. But a lovely pub nonetheless. Boutique Hotel upstairs too!

Having tagged along with some reprobates, Darren, Damian & Des, we sauntered off for the tram and a mere 20 minutes later was outside the Velodrome.

The best and simplest way to sum up my initial feelings was that the Regional CAMRA people had listened to the gripes from last year. OK, you can’t move the toilets, but at least a sizeable percentage of good beers were on the concourse, NEAR the loos!

On the Wednesday, I spent almost all of my time at ground level and Bars 3 & 4. Because I was yakking. And talking. And chatting. And not drinking very much at all! I set myself a list of 12 beers to try (read here) and managed to get through 6 of them that afternoon. They were all glorious in their different ways.

The first beer that I was going for was one that breaks my Beer Fest Rule #1. Tactical drinking means going from light in alcohol and progressing through the range of abvs to something considerably….heavier. In late November, The Arch-Nemesis & I did a bit of stirring & shovelling at Quantum to help brew an Imperial Buckwheat Stout (read here). So, to guarantee a taste, it had to be first. However, then I saw Experimental Citranell from Mallinsons and plans changed. Sharp, fruity and bitter, it was a perfect livener from a brewery that just can’t go wrong.

I simply HAD to sample the Imperial Buckwheat Stout next. Didn’t I? Sweet baby Jesus and the orphans! That beer was SO smooth and SO bloody drinkable, it should carry a health warning! It most certainly didn’t taste anything LIKE 8.5%! So Smooth, it just slid down effortlessly. Creamy textured and so roastily good. Jay just makes damn good beer.

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Having finally met the majesterial Shane Swindells, and being in need of something light after the head spinning IBS, I opted for Cheshire Set from Cheshire Brewhouse, pale, light and spritzy, nice and sharp tasting with the Keyworth Early hops, this was a beauty. A beer that – if it was the only beer on a bar – I could drink all night and have no complaints. Had a long chat with Shane, a thoroughly entertaining bloke who just happens to make some of the best beers in the North. IMO of course! I wandered for a few minutes and when I returned, it was to the comment “He knows his stuff, he does” from the Arch-Nemesis. Jaz is a good judge of people as well as beer.

Another on my list was  Jester from North Riding, another punchy, fruity Pale Ale from Mr Neilson with big tropical citrus flavours and crackling bitter dry finish. Was a nice surprise to see one of Stuarts’ beers over here, only made me even more gutted not to see his old mucker Five Towns beers missing. One of these days eh…..?

Next up was the  smooth & nutty Coconut, Macadamia & Lime Porter from the ever reliable Allgates. Beautiful nutty aroma promising and delivering all the way down the glass. Silky smooth and loaded with toasty coconut and creamy Macadamia, my favourite nut.

The final beer I had was another Imperial Stout, similar in strength to the Quantum,  but this actually tasted all of its 8.2% (and was none the worse for it) Annexation by Brass Castle. Roasted. Potent. Port Wine. Worked for me and contributed to my rather hollow feeling at work the next morning! Was glad to (just) catch Ian from the brewery and prep him for another beer for my little October bash – remember, the Hazelnut Mild went down a storm!

First impressions? Lots of tables on ground level. Result. Friendly service. Loads of great company and lots of arms twisted for next October. A great afternoon/evening with good beer and good people. To be fair (and I think most posts I have seen DO reflect this) the organisers listened. And, in my opinion (for what it’s worth) got it spot on.

I really enjoyed talking to some great local brewers. Shane, Richard from Thirst Class Ale, Steve (Beer Nouveau), Matt & Dom from Rammy Craft and many more. So many, that it got in the way of my drinking! I think that it’s called “networking”! More beer in Part 2.

Slainte!

*On a sad note, this piece is dedicated to a dear close friend who passed away recently after a long, incredibly brave and dignified battle with Cancer. A man who brightened the days of many and helped me – in particular – through some seriously shit times. He loved a bit of Billy Bragg and this song just seemed to fit. A class act and an inspirational friend.

Sleep well Phil.

Manchester Beer and Cider Festival 2015 – My “Dance Card” Dozen

Next week is the Manchester Beer & Cider Festival 2015 – Are you going? If it’s anything like last year, it’s going to be special!

The Velodrome is a simply iconic venue, allied to great beers. LOTS OF GREAT BEERS! An almost overwhelming choice with beers from all over the UK and a huge selection of quality beers just from the North for little old me to amuse myself with!

From nearly 450 casks alone (Not to mention Ciders and the “foreign” beer bar), picking my personal “Dance Card” is going to be really difficult, but I’m going to give it a shot. Here goes…..

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Imperial Buckwheat StoutQuantum (Stockport) – 8.5% abvImperial Stout. At 8.5% abv, this is going to be a gentle waltz rather than a furious Can Can, but I just have to try it. A dark as sin Imperial Stout with all of the creamyness of Buckwheat. Fermented using Boddingtons yeast and inoculated with Brettanomyces, this is a beer I have looked forward to since we finished stirring the mash. A mash that was even THICKER than Katie Hopkins! This will be the first time that it is served in public. I can’t wait!

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Coconut, Macadamia & Lime PorterAllgates (Wigan) 4.6% abvPorter – One of Allgates “Limited Edition” beers that I’m yet to try on cask and inspired by a cake enjoyed in a Kirkby Lonsdale tea shop! I had a mini-cask of this at Xmas and it was beautiful , smooth & nutty from the toasted coconut and creamy macadamia. The lime element is very subtle and provides a tint of lightness in the dark.

Mallinsons

Experimental CitranellMallinsons (Huddersfield) – 4.2% abvPale Ale – For me, Mallinsons just nail low to mid strength Pale Ales. In this regard they have few equals. With Exp 366, Citra & Centennial hops, this already has my mouth watering!

 

PsychedelicHebden Bridge (Er…Hebden Bridge!) – 5% abvPale Ale – An American style Pale ale just LOADED with 5 Citrus fruits. AND, because it was the first firkin to sell out at ISBF and I didn’t get NEARLY enough of it! It got rave reviews at St Sebastians, so I’m hugely looking forward to this!

Five Oh

Sorachi WickedFive Oh Brew Co (Prestwich) – 6% abv – Stout – The first beer to sell out at ISBF and another one that garnered rave reviews. I tried a 1/3rd. It was bloody LUSH!!!! Then, just when I wanted another? It had gone. I was just TOO damned kind to you drinkers! Only the second time that Jamie has casked. You NEED this in your life!

North Riding

JesterNorth Riding Brewpub (Scarborough) – 4.2% abvPale Ale – Stuart Neilson just makes superb Pale Ales. Fresh and bursting with hops. This is with a new hop variety (Jester) and – if I know Stuart – he won’t have held back on the quantities! A rare appearance over here.

Bridestones

Sprocket Wort OrangeBridestones (Hebden Bridge) / Offbeat (Crewe) – 4.6% abvSpecial Dark Ale – This one is one of the collaboration brews especially for the festival. Chocolate, Orange, Juniper & Sorachi Ace hops? Oh my! I feel another Beergasm coming on!

Cheshire Brewhouse

Cheshire SetCheshire Brewhouse (Congleton) – 4% abvPale Ale – A crisp blonde ale from Shane Swindells with loads of late-added Keyworth Early hops? Sounds like an early doors beer that is too good to miss, from a brewery whose beers I drink whenever I find them. Because they are THAT good.

Brass Castle

AnnexationBrass Castle (Malton, North Yorks) – 8.4% abvImperial Stout – Inspired by the renewed expansionism of Putin, this looks one NOT to miss! “Smooth like the Volga and as bonkers as Putin”….Works for me! Brass Castle made one of the Beers of the Festival at ISBF and this is another I’ll be reaching for.

Black Flag

FangBlack Flag Brewery (Goonhavern, Cornwall) – 4.5% abvPale Ale – Had this in bottle whilst in Cornwall in August and it is an absolute fruity belter. Smooth with a piney kick in the finish. Have never seen them up here. If it’s on, I’ll be damned if I miss this!

Offbeat

Disfunctional Functional IPAOffbeat (Crewe) – 4.8%IPA – This San Diego inspired IPA is one I’m yet to have from one of my favourite breweries. And from what I’ve heard from some trusted drinkers, is not to be missed. And it won’t be. By me at least!!!

Rat

Workhouse RatRat (Huddersfield) – 4.8% – Smoked Porter – Whenever I see a Rat, I just have to. Because they are just SUCH good beers.

Well, I make that a round Dirty Dozen. Should be enough to keep me entertained next week! If there are any that you particularly fancy, bang it in the comments. Who knows, I might try one or two!

Bottled Ales – June 2014 – Pt 1

“I’ll only ask you once more. You only want to believe
This man is looking for someone to hold his hand, he doesn’t quite ever understand the meaning

Never heard about, Oscar Wilde and never talk about Brendan Behan,
Don’t have to think about Sean O’Casey and don’t care about George Bernard Shaw.
You never hear about Samuel Beckett, you won’t talk about Eugene O’Neill, or Edna O’Brien and Lawrence Stern.

Shut it! You don’t understand it. Shut it! That’s not the way I planned it.

Shut it! Shut you mouth ’til you know the truth!”

(“Burn It Down”  – AKA “Dance Stance” – Dexys Midnight Runners)

(Tune clip courtesy of  Anette Roller on YouTube)

Now THIS could cause an argument. Walk into a Manchester pub and assert that Dexys were the best band in Britain in the late 70s. Then run! By this – being a lover of Soul music – I mean the first incarnation of Dexys. The band that Kevin Rowland drilled relentlessly until they were ready to be unleashed. Until they were a band whose performances, laden with passion and sweat, became things of legend.

OK the “Mean Streets” garb looked a bit contrived, but this was a band that wanted you to know that they MEANT what they were doing. That it mattered to them and they wanted it to matter to you. For an album and a half – they never did get to release that second album they were working up to (“The Projected Passion Revue” eventually seeing a form of release in 2007) – they were simply a force. They were utterly brilliant, dirty, gritty, soulful and real. Before the abomination that was Too-Ry-Ay and performing “Jackie Wilson Said” on TOTP to a backdrop of Jocky Wilson!

They reformed for an album “One Day I’ll Soar” in 2012 and released what was  – for me – the single of that year “She Got A Wiggle” a lyrical portrait of unrequited love. I love it.

There. I’ve said it. I’m a Manc who saw Joy Division & The Fall in their late 70s early & 1980 pomp. And I love Dexys. And Rowland loves Northern Soul too (The origin of the bands name…..oh, go check Wikipedia)

One more reason as to why the latter clip in particular is important to me. One night in Brewdog in Manchester, I met two buddies of mine and a couple of old friends. Of the two buddies, Jeff was en route to see Dexys at The Bridgewater Hall (as were my old friends Phil & Sue). Myself, the Arch-Nemesis and Jeff started to chat….which turned into the chat which pushed me into doing this nonsense. A beer blog was born…over a glass of Human Cannonball!

On that note – On to the beer eh?

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

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

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1. The Porter – Anspach & Hobday (Bermondsey , S. London) – 6.7% abv – Porter – £3.49 (330ml) – 10% off for 12 btls – The Liquor Shop (Whitefield, Gtr Manchester)

“Conceived in the 19th Century, refined for the 21st” it says on the bottle. Really? I’ve seen at least one negative comment about their beers recently, but, to be honest, I enjoyed The IPA and was more than happy to give this a try….

This is one lively puppy! A booming mocha coloured head and an aroma that brought back memories of “Old Jamaica” chocolate bars from Cadbury’s – chocolate and slightly rum soaked raisins. A beautiful earthy perfume! Full-bodied and with a slight sweetness, the bittersweet chocolate is what first hits you followed by a bitterness offsetting the sweetness and an earthy hoppiness. Then there is something more….floral….? Then a dry cocoa quality….. The flavours delayering with each mouthful. Refined for the 21st Century? Not sure about that, but this IS bloody good!

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2. White QueenTatton Brewery (Knutsford, Cheshire) – 4.2% abv – Wheat Beer – £2.75 (500ml) – 10% 12 or more btls – Great Ale Year Round (Bolton Market)

If memory serves, I picked this up from Dan & Gina’s increasingly popular bar, after the recent excellent Gourmet Burger & Beer Match hosted by Shaun (aka @FoodGeekUK) They’re getting busier & busier, deservedly so too. Great beers, kept well. Anyway…the bottle….

The label drew me in. Then it caught me. I absolutely love the series of historical novels by Philippa Gregory based around the life of Elizabeth Woodville (“The White Queen!) Simply excellent. The label is classy, minimal, but with a bit of regality in that font.

An intentionally hazy yellow gold brew with a thin white head and an aroma sweet with orange zest, a floral note and a little spice on the nose. Light bodied with a gentle carbonation leading to a smooth mouthfeel. There is an orangey flavour to the fore in the initial mouthful leading on to some clove and maybe a hint of cardamom. Really light and refreshing, fruity with the orange and a beautifully dry finish with a herbal hint in the aftertaste and with very low bitterness. This is so easy drinking. Really nice stab at a wheat beer. Any on cask?

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3. 13 GunsCrafty Dan (Thwaites) (Blackburn, Lancashire) – 5.5% abv – IPA – £1.99 (330ml) – 10% 12 btls or more – The Tottering Temple (Horwich, Bolton)

This deep ruby coloured beer has a lively off white head and an aroma reminding me of toast & marmalade. Orangey marmalade flavours continue in the mouth riding on the back of big biscuity sticky malt. A luxurious really smooth full-bodied mouthful, Smooth as silk, but more fruity, this is lovely. Plenty of resinous hops to make the tongue curl and the gums tingle. Yum.
The bitterness on this was dialled down. Not sure if this was due to the fact that I forgot I had this and it lay stored for a couple of months. A damned enjoyable fruity beast nonetheless. I’ll get a fresher one and see if it’s any better!
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4. Düsseldorf Altbeer – Hornbeam Brewery (Denton, Gtr Manchester) – 4.8% abv – German-Style Altbeer – £2.80 (500ml) – 10% 12 or more btls – Great Ale Year Round (Bolton Market)
The Arch Nemesis persuaded me to buy this one I think. Darker German style beers usually being too sweet for my tastes. Needless to say, I’ve learned to trust the A-N on beer over the years!
A really deep amber beer with a white head and a spicy chocolatey aroma, bit nutty too…like a Nutella on toast. Ooh… but this is a surprise….
There is a buttered toast maltyness to this, beautifully smooth medium-bodied beer. Then comes the chocolate note, like a light dusting of cocoa powder on a latte. Then a little sweetness kicks in, immediately countered by a hoppy herbal bitterness. That bitterness fades slightly into a herbal grassy aftertaste with a lingering chocolate note. Great balance to this, like all Hornbeam beers that I’ve had. Damned moreish….
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5. Imperial Russian StoutLiverpool Organic Brewery (Er…Liverpool) – 8.1% abv – Imperial Stout – £3.99 (500ml) – 10% off for 12 btls – The Liquor Shop (Whitefield, Gtr Manchester)
This was another one that’s been stashed for a while….Needed to de-stress the other evening with a lot of stuff re the beer festival rattling round my vacated skull. This did the trick!
Black. Oh so black. Like a liquid black hole, no light comes out of this devil. Other than the lightly scattered cream coloured head. The aroma just oozes out….bitter, VERY bitter chocolate, dark red wine, slightly tannic, and the smell of a newly flexed fresh leather belt, so fresh that you can almost hear the cow “moo”! Spicy too.
Hugely bodied, the first taste that assaults you is that bitter chocolate, then a spicy bitterness followed by a quite powerful licorice bite, sweet yet dry. Second mouthful has the tongue tingling, sweetness, yes, but that bitter licorice is followed by an almost tobacco like tone. The finish has a big boozy feel to it, quite vinous. Sweet, but with a woody edge to it. Warming. I’ll sleep well. (I did BTW!)
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6. Something Something Barrel Aged – Weird Beard Brew Co (Hanwell, W. London) – 9% abv – BA Imperial BIPA – £3.50 (330ml) – The Ale Man Manchester (Levenshulme & Heaton Moor Markets)
Not seen Damian in a while. Then, last time I was at Raj’s, he popped in doing a delivery and plopped this in my ravenous maw. Surprised & pleased in equal measure, I clutched it to my chest and muttered something like ….”my…precious….
Like a Black Panther, a simply stunning creature to look at. All sleek black sinuous muscle, gorgeous yet malevolent. This beer wants to eat you and your children. That creamy colour head is to lull you into a false sense of security. Approaching it warily, aroma is sweet citrus, but with a darker intent, lurking beneath the sweetness.

Oh boy, the moment the darkness slipped past my lips, the claws came out! Beautifully full-bodied and smooth… Oh so smooth…. There’s burnt toast, bitter chocolate, an earthiness… yet after all that going on… a big sticky almost marmalade citrus jumps to the rescue like Tarzan. This is stunningly good. There is a subtle and building smokiness which is none too intrusive, just there as each mouthful sinks safely down. Yes there is sweetness, but this is just so well balanced with a fruity hop dryness and resins finishing it off. Like the Panther, I’m purring! And sated.

Didn’t realise it had been so long since the last bottle piece! More soon (+ maybe an update on progress for the Beer Fest – follow @salfordbeerfest on Twitter for up to date…..zzzzzzz)
On that note…..’til next time….
Slainte!