“The Bar Now Arriving……” – Wigan Central – A Great Bar Is Born

“I was following the pack, all swallowed in their coats
With scarves of red tied ’round their throats
To keep their little heads from falling in the snow, and I turned ’round and there you go
And Michael, you would fall and turn the white snow red as strawberries in the summertime”

(“White Winter Hymnal” – Fleet Foxes)

(Clip via “Sub Pop” Records on YouTube)

Simply, the most beautiful tune. Few will better it as a winter themed song – or as just a beautiful song full stop. End of message.

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I like Wigan. My love of Allgates’ beers and pubs has almost entered legend. But, therein lies the rub….the only pub I really enjoy in the town centre is The Anvil. However, that all changed on a dark and chilly December evening when I was invited to a “soft opening” of a new bar created by Prospect Brewery and run by Dan & Gina Buck.

I was saddened when Dan & Gina sold on Great Ale Year Round. Felt a bit like losing an arm. Luckily, they sold it on to people (Anne & Steve) who run it in the same vein and keep Bolton supplied with great beer. However, Dan & Gina needed something else…A break & a new challenge. However, I don’t think they had any idea how quickly an opportunity would come around!



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(Hello Patsy!)

Patsy Slevin (Brewer/Owner) and her other half John, the owners of Prospect Brewery of Standish had had their mind set on a bar in Wigan for a while, when the opportunity of a railway arch on Queen Street (1 min walk from Wigan North Western) came up. On Wednesday evening, a select few of us got the chance to see how these plans had born fruit.

And HOW they have……

Let’s get this out of the way (and it WILL re-occur!) …there is a distinct railway theme to this bar!

This being my first sight of the venue, the first thing that struck me was how big it was! Don’t get me wrong, this is not a huge space, but I WAS expecting something a bit more….well….mini! Maybe it’s the height of the arch that gives a greater illusion of space, but this felt quite capacious. Then you look around….everything about the place has been themed around railways. From the seating booths to the right of the entrance, that reminded me of the old First Class compartments on 60s-70s trains (Dad spoiled us!), to the mock old-fashoined railway station style roof that adorns the place above the bar. It’s the little things…..

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(And they are….)

A lot of thought has gone into the design of this interior. The bar as a “First Class” refreshment booth, the olf fashioned insignia/logo that adorns the polo shirts for the staff which carries on into the bottle display. The hammock-like cargo nets above the booths to take customers’ coats (some of us speculated when the first wag will try to climb up for a kip!)

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(Just what a travelling drinker needs! The train home!)

The inclusion of screens integrated into the wall for both Arrivals and (more importantly) Departures was inspired! John’s idea so I was told. I doff my proverbial to him, a superb touch that was remarked upon in approving fashion by all who checked for the next train to Manchester. Who needs Trainline eh?

Of course, all of this thought and design isn’t worth the sweat, if you haven’t got a heart & soul. That’s where Dan & Gina come in. They know what they’re doing. They know how to source and (more importantly) serve great beer and they have they certain something that all good “landlords” have. That little something that makes you feel welcome and that makes you know that you’re in the right place for a decent beer too.

Speaking of which….

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6 handpulls. 6 Keg fonts including 3 “Craft Keg” (Opening night were Runaway Smoked Porter, Marble Boheme Pilsner & Magic Rock Ringmaster). The handpulls featured 2 from Prospect and four guests. Opening night beers were from Anarchy (of Morpeth) with Quiet Riot, Winter Tweed from Tweed of Hyde (new brewery), Jarl from Fyne Ales & Goodhews Dry Stout from Barngates.

A fine selection.

I might have tried one or two….

Being a Winter evening, the Dark Side was a-calling like a wolf howling. I heeded the call and tried all 3 darks. Big John & Goodhews from Barngates were both excellent cask Stouts. Roasty and smooth. The Smoked Porter from Runaway was arguably even better on keg than in bottle (and it’s a belter in that format too!), smooth with a little of that Rauchy edge to it.

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(Big John & Boheme – I’m a greedy git!)

Pales? Jarl has as much grapefruit sharpness as a Supermarket fruit aisle. Predictable brilliance. The Quiet Riot from Anarchy was a fruity weapon of mass destruction ( I was a little…slow the next day!) at 6.6% abv, all chewy malt and tropical fruit. Deliciously dangerous. The Boheme Pilsner from Marble was a really pleasant surprise that reminded me of Pilsner Urquell and had a lightness of touch. Refreshing. I hope they keep it permanent.

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I came back for the formal public opening the next evening (Thursday). That was the queue – albeit swollen with some that were in from 5 for a private Thank You reception. I didn’t think we’d get in!

But we did.

It. Was. Rammed.

I chatted with the guys behind Tweed Brewery and thoroughly enjoyed a pint of their Winter Tweed, a tawny coloured beer with chocolate a caramel undertones like a Chomp Bar. But liquid. And with alcohol! A good first beer.

Nice to finally meet Patsy and John. And I told them that they’d done well getting Dan & Gina. But I think they knew that already!

Dan & Gina had stated that they wouldn’t be behind the bar. The crowds dictated otherwise! I chatted with a few people and the feedback was universal. This place has made a big initial impression. It certainly did on me.

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The biggest compliment that I can make? The Anvil has company at Wigan’s top table. It’s called Wigan Central. Make a note and pay it a visit. You won’t be disappointed.

The Stockport Beer Festival 01/06/2013 (or, Sir Galahad finds his Holy Gr(ale))

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(pic – gmcr.alenewsnet.com)

This was truly a last-minute decision. OK, it was made the evening before, but you get the point!

I knew this was my lucky day when I turned up late for the train at Farnworth, to find the train was even later! So it was that I found my self at the rear entrance to Stockport Train Station and waited for Jaz (well, who else would drink with me!) A quick nip into Sivoris caff for a spot of brekky and we’re entering that cathedral of footballing excellence, Edgeley Park. Home of the newly relegated Stockport County FC!

I had heard from John Clarke (CAMRA South Manchester), that Jarl by Fyne Ales would be making an appearance. Let me be quite honest, much though I love a beer fest, it was Jarl that dragged me out of my pit that morning and plonked me on that train! Jaz had been winding me up about how gorgeous it was the previous day (Cheers Buddy!), so my hopes were low of locating my beery Grail. Now, where were those beers beginning with the letter F? Then, the metaphorical clouds parted and the sunbeam shone on one particular 18 gallon (kilderkin) cask. JARL! At £2 a bloody pint as well!!!

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(Beer Porn Alert! The Holy Grale!)

I truly felt like Sir Galahad as he laid eyes on the hallowed chalice! Jarl. Beloved in bottle, now on draught. And I had a pint!

Believe me when I say this. I have chased this beer from bar to bar. From the Allgates Brewery “Road To Wigan Beer” (Pt 2 in October!), to haring across Manchester on a rumour (it had sold out!). But now, I finally had it in my trembling mitt! Was it worth it? Bloody stupid question! 3.8% abv and pale as a spring morning, It was sharp, lemon zesty both in nose and palate. It was a citrus festival in my mouth. I love this beer almost as much as my darling Atilla! Yeah. It was a decent pint! So good was it, that I broke a rule. I had two. I had to!

Descending some stairs into the bowels of this footballing Mecca, we ambled to watch an Oompah band. Just behind the bottle bar, I asked a genial gent if he was John Clarke, one of the organisers  of this fest and Editor of Opening Times the S Manchester CAMRA branch mag. I introduced my self and had a really pleasant (but all too brief) chinwag. A damn nice bloke indeed. Interesting bottle selection too, with a De Molen Citra for £3. (I didn’t)20130601_124431

(The Oompah band is there – look harder!)

The Oompah troupe were superb and fun, playing snatches of requests. Good, but my focus was back upstairs, where business needed doing!

That business matter led me to Dark Matter, a 3.8% Mild by Saltaire. I don’t think I’ve ever had a Mild by the Shipley alechemists before. This was quite subtle. Some nice gentle roast with more than a tinge of blueberry or blackberry. A nice smoky hint in the aftertaste too. Lovely. I would have had it first, but when Jarl (my Juliet – apologies to David Mayhall for this most blatant of thefts!) calls, this Romeo had to climb to the balcony!

Next up was Coal Porter (See what they did there!) by Elixir Brewing from Livingston. Now THIS is my idea of dark heaven! 5% abv, black (or near as dammit!) with a hint of smoke on the nose. This delivered bitter chocolate in this roasted mouthful, smooth texture with a lingering smokiness. A beautiful porter. Enjoyed whilst sitting in the stands (see below!)

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(A tinge of grassyness!)

Following my second pint of Jarl, I had a small taste of Oat Stout from Nook Brewhouse of Holmfirth. At 5.2% this was creamy textured with more than a hint of the hedgerow. A gentle smokiness in the finish was a twist. First from Nook and really nice.

Next up was the Single Hop IPA from Stockport’s own Quantum Brewing. The hop variety in the case being Triskel (French I believe). Golden, fruity aroma (tropical, pineapple?) with that carrying through in the mouth. Nice and juicy with a nice dry finish. Quite subtle this hop. Didn’t taste its strength.

We’d gabbed for a bit and time had passed. It was time for a final beer and I opted for another Fyne Ales. This time (reverting to type!) their Sublime Stout at 6.8% abv. Probably not the wisest of choices at that strength. However, just like the Quantum, it didn’t taste its strength. A lovely smooth roasted mouthful with some mocha on the nose. Creamy wee beastie this with a delicious smokiness that hung about a bit. It was 4 o’clock now and we were being ushered out. One of the perils of separate sessions I suppose.

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(One of the ‘quieter’ moments!)

In summary : All the beers I had were uniformly in superb condition. They were also ludicrously inexpensive! £2 a pint for Jarl? The idea of sitting in the stands was great. However, this is where my one quibble surfaces. The area where the beers were served had the feel of a narrow corridor, in no way helped by the punters tendency to hang around once they’d made their purchases. This made it somewhat difficult to move about in there. I know, I know that you can’t actually FORCE the imbibing throng to relocate once they’d made their choices, but at times, I felt uncomfortable. There!

That said, after a 20 odd year gap between fests (I served at a charity bar at the old Town Hall fest), I’ll be back! (Now where have I heard that before?)

Departing felt like I was actually leaving a footy match! At this juncture, Jaz revealed a plan to visit a nearby boozer Ye Olde Vic.

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Located on Chatham Street, walking in felt like a time warp! Dark, warm and friendly, I settled in instantly to a pint of Oracle by Salopian Brewery, a first by this brewer for me! A pale beer that was lovely, sharp, crisp  and hoppy.

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This isn’t a multiroom, but has that multiroom feel. I think there were 7 hand pumps, with beers from Thornbridge, Oakham, Magic Rock featuring. However, I went for Jade by Liverpool Organic. This was a nice clean pint with flowery notes. Probably a bit too delicate at this stage. I think after my efforts, I needed something more assertive. This beer would be one to start with. Refreshing though.

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(Now. Where DID I put those pumpclips? Ah yes, the ceiling!)

Time for the train back to Manchester. Now, a sensible boy would’ve IMMEDIATELY caught a connection to Bolton. But I said “sensible”!

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So, Jaz guided us into Pie & Ale by Bakerie. Located on Lever Street, this is a decidedly modern affair and looks designed to catch a fairly trendy crowd. So, what am I doing here? To the rear bar we go and Lo! Handpumps! And what’s more, local beers from Wilson Potter and Brightside! Alongside a couple of Wells & Young’s offerings and a Liverpool Chocolate Porter.

Here I chose Natural Progression by Wilson Potter. You will (if you’ve read this blog before) know what I think of the beers brewed by these ladies. Smooth, tasty and clean. This was no exception. A nice fruity smooth mouthful. 4.8%. It’s great to see more of their beers around Manchester. Seems like their beers are on in this place quite frequently. Good to know!

Next up, Odin by Brightside Brewing (now of Radcliffe!). A really refreshing beer this. Bright, pale, zippy and nicely hopped. Initially thought it was a ‘real’ lager it was THAT pale (as you can see!). A blonde beer to look out for from another excellent local brewery.

20130601_191043(A zesty blonde indeed!)

Pie & Ale is an excellent addition to the Northern Quarter. If the food is anywhere near as good as the beer……..friendly knowledgeable staff, siiting booths and bench seating. I like this place!

Quickly skipping my greedily ordered Ardbeg Uigeadail single malt (I had to!) We finished off the evening in Port Street Beer House (where else) with an Oakham Green Devil IPA. More hops than a Watership Down audition. Stunningly fruity and hoppy. Enough said. A classic.

Not the most sensible day out, but bloody enjoyable!

Back in Manchester on Friday and Wigan on Saturday with some brewing luminaries at Allgates (I’ll be making the tea!)

On that note….’til next time….

Slainte!

Blather About Bottles – 09/01/2013

It’s that time of the year isn’t it. Christmas has been and gone, as has the bank balance in an orgy of spending! The reins get applied to the strolling. Bugger me I’m fed up! However, the consolation is that it forces me to dig into those boxes stored just off the kitchen. You know, the ones filled with all manner of bottled beer! Malty manna from that place up there, you know…..The Beer Shop!

Anyway, I was under frim (or even firm) orders from Atilla to deplete the stash before I even batted an eyelid at The Beer Shop, Beers of Europe, or even Booths! So, it was with a heavy heart 🙂 that I FORCED myself to locate the bottle opener……

Redwillow Ageless

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This was one of four bottles purchased at the SIBA Festival in Manchester (4 for £9! ) and was the only one of the four to be bottle conditioned. Being about as sensitive as a bull in the proverbial, this one got shaken up. Badly. So, I had to let it lie for a while….

When I finally plucked up the courage to flip the lid, oh boy! I was reaquainted with the knowledge that Redwillow are one of my favourite breweries. This beer (a Double IPA) poured golden with a light head, slightly hazy but the spicy citrus hop aroma hit from the off. At 7.2% abv, this is obviously not a beer to trifle with (insert own sherry reference!). A nice balance between intense hoppyness and firm malt base. Lovely and bitter and really smooth in the mouth for a bottled beer. A fine lasting bitterness in the aftertaste. I like this!

Tatton Brewery – Obscure

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I first clapped eyes on this beer on draught in The Mark Addy in Salford (NOT Manchester – got it?), Jaz had this one whilst I had an Acorn Old Moor Porter. He enjoyed it, but couldn’t quite figure it out. Anyway, a fine colleague of mine (Take a bow Mr D!) managed to pick up a bottle of this for me (and a Beartown Wojtek – see below), for which I was suitably grateful! When I opened it, I was puzzled as hell!!!

5.7% abv. It poured black. To my eyes, a porter or a stout. A cream coloured head…so far so good….then the aroma….sugared grapefruit? Banana Split ice cream? Fudge? WTF is going on? Spicy hops? I needed a lie down. The flavour only befuddled me more! Yes, there was roasted malt in there, and a tinge of dark chocolate. But rhubarb??? The label says “Not Your Obvious Beer” – They’re not kidding either. I love hop monsters and the like, but sometimes…you just need something that makes you think. This made me think in spades. A candidate for my bottled beer of the year! (Going to try to get to the brewery late spring-early summer!)

Beartown Wojtek 5.5% abv

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I had tried for ages to get my hands on a bottle of this! Finally, at the SIBA Fest (see previous blog) I managed it. In with the Redwillow at £2.25. Bargain! Then, when I get into work the next week, that lovely Mr D got me another one! Ta muchly!

A pale gold when poured, with a nice white head. Some nice, fresh yet subtle citrussy hops on the nose. A lovely biscuity malt that reminded me of the base of a good banoffee cheesecake! Balanced up with some nice citrus hop flavour. A nice dry hoppy aftertaste too. Like I said above, sometimes a hop monster isn’t what’s required and a nice well made beer is just what you want. Beartown are proud of the awards they have won for this beer. Rightly so as well. I see quite a bit of their beers in some supermarkets, I just wish this was one of them!

Fyne Ales – Jarl 3.8% abv

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When I first encountered this beer, was the first time I came across Fyne Ales. I’m lucky enough to have a couple of E H Booths supermarkets within a short drive. They stock 4 or 5 of Fyne’s beers. Jarl was the first I tried. There aren’t many beers that shock me, but this most certainly did.

This pours paler than most lagers. The aroma hits you first, some assertive hopping here with grapefuit or apricot prominent. Then the flavour…BANG! Assertive didn’t do it justice….grapefuit again..maybe even a touch of lemon…wow, this is a really hoppy beer. On draught, it would make a fabulous session beer. But herein lies the rub….I’ve never had it on draught….what I would give…….!

Suffice to say, that if anybody hears of it on draught within a 30 minute train journey of Bolton (and told me in time, of course!), I’d be forever in their debt. In the meantime, do yourselves a favour, get to Booths!

Buxton Brewery – Smokey and the Band-Aid 7% abv

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Firstly. Let me get this out of the way. My boss bought me a bottle of this for Xmas. How fecking cool is that eh? (Last year it was Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout!) Needless to say, we get on famously (nice one Mick!) Totally independently, I picked one up at the formidable Beer Shop in Heaton Moor (see previous blog – Best Little Beerhouse…..), so I have a spare. Lucky me!

This is one of Buxtons “Special Reserve Series” (number 2) and is a Smoked Rye Porter. It’s also bloody gorgeous!

Pouring a deep deep brown, almost black. The aroma? Bonfire debris. Intense smoky bacon, Lagavulin (my favourite single malt!), peat smoke.

The flavour? Initially smooth, slightly sweet with some smokiness. Then the peatyness fills the sides of your mouth like an Islay single malt. For the strength, this is surprisingly warming. A lovely smooth almost cask-like texture, the smokiness isn’t overpowering, it’s just mmmmmm……..

A fabulous beer! Another bottle of the year candidate. Buxton just keep making bloody good beer. I just need to get hold of a Series 3 – and if anyone has a Series 1 knocking about……..!

Just one more thing. 2012 was a year of rediscovering beer again. Thanks to my good buddy Jaz for that! Now seeing as everybody seems to give laurels out….who am I to buck the trend. Nice and simple though. Just best bottle and best draught for me!

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Tricky this. All through this blog, I’ve rattled on consistently about how my favourite beer is Magic Rock Dark Arts. And how I love the Dark Side. But, Magic Rock beat themselves! All because of a night that started in BrewDog on Peter Street in Manchester…..

1. Magic Rock – Human Cannonball (9.2%) – Simply wrecked my mouth that night –  an absolute hop assault – unforgettable.

2. Magic Rock – Dark Arts 6% (need I say more?)

3. Ilkley Siberia 5.9% – Thank you Ilkley and Melissa Cole for this rhubarb gem – a classic!

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This was the year I started to truly appreciate bottle conditioned beer. And strong beer. Oh sod it!

1. Tatton Obscure – see above – Truly astonishing!

2. BrewDog Abstrakt 7 (12.5%) – Thank you to Will at IndyManBeerCon for this. Loved working and drinking at that festival. And buying this! (Port, Whisky,Xmas Cake…..ooohhhh)

3. Buxton – Smokey and the Band-Aid – see above. Subtly smoky, just a great advertisement of the brewing arts.

Right, enough. Another stroll soon as the bank is replenished!

Until next time.

Slainte!