A Change of Scenery – Deansgate 06/07/2016

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I love Manchester. The bright and shiny, the gritty and grimy, the heart and soul. I love it all. But – like many – I’ve gotten a bit lazy and comfortable in my drinking habits and it recently dawned on me that I had been frequenting the same (admittedly excellent) bars and pubs. All in the “Northern Quarter”. I needed a change.

I’m not “bored” of the NQ. Excellence never gets boring. But I’ve had plans to do a whole host of other crawls on a number of themes (Basement Bars; Live Music pubs; the list grows….) and other areas that don’t get the hectolitres of splaff that the NQ gets. This piece is – therefore – the first of many.

Deansgate area gets a bit overlooked when it comes to great beer and pubs/bars. But, if you drop the shoulder and give some of the Macro selling outlets the swerve, great beer can be had in belting venues within about 400 yards. Here’s the proof.

Knott Bar – 374, Deansgate, M3 4LY

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Originally part of the Marble empire, opening (I think) in 2002 – then named The Knott Fringe, located on the edge of an area of Manchester originally named Knott Mill, this place has been a staple of Manchester beer pretty much since it opened. Now part of a group that includes “The Bar” in Chorlton & “The Macc” in….(you guessed it!), it hasn’t missed a beat in all those years

This place holds a special place in my family’s heart, being the makers of one of the best Sunday Dinners around. So much so, that if you haven’t booked – or turn up after 2:30 – you may miss out. As we have done on occasion!

Excluding the upstairs balcony (very busy this evening), this is a single room layout which, due to the way it uses its railway arch space, gives the appearance of three separate areas. Slightly bohemian in appearance (with old posters almost performing the role of “feature wallpaper”), the Knott is utterly reliable in both the quality of its beers AND the excellence of its Jukebox (a personal passion).

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(LOOK! A Manchester railway arch that isn’t a brewery! Yet…)

And it regularly stocks Pictish beers. So a place in my heart is assured.

Tonight was no exception.

It takes a lot to tempt me away from a hand-pump featuring Dark Arts by Magic Rock. But I chose well when I went for the Nugget single hop Pale. But this is where Pictish simply rule. Single-Hopped pale ales. And this was no exception. Even out of a plastic “glass”. Disappointing to say the least. And I have no idea why they were using them.

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And whilst the aesthetics of plastic drinking vessels may be arguable, the excellence of the beer isn’t. A simply superb spicy bitterness with a deep citrus. Simply gorgeous. As ever.

A cracker of a bar.

With Jamie T (No. Not that one….) – the cheeky scamp even snuck into a picture! – joining us, a short walk around the corner was in order, whilst I puzzled as to how Castlefield was so busy on a Wednesday evening (James Bay – who? – apparently…)

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Cask – 29, Liverpool Street, M3 4NQ

I simply don’t get why more people don’t rave about this pub. I just don’t. To me, this is one of Manchester’s unsung gems.

It has it all. Great atmosphere, superb selection of genuine continental beers, great bottle/can selection, a simply MONUMENTALLY good Jukebox (the best in Manchester) and four superb handpulls normally populated with local(ish) beers (tonight from Heywood, Harrogate, Huddersfield and er….(h)Ardwick). Anyone who reads my verbage knows what comes next. Mallinsons.

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The pub/bar is again single roomed, but gives the illusion of being two separate spaces, with standing space and wooden tables/chairs near the bar with more alcovey comfy seating to the rear. There’s even a rare bit of outdoor space from this rear area…

The Emley Moor Mild was a Mallinsons that I never had previously. Smooth and chocolately, light bodied and soooo easy drinking. A delight of a beer.

Settling down to chatting, I noticed that Cask had a TV. So another beer was in order whilst catching the first half of Wales v Ronaldo. And WHAT a beer it was. Squawk IPA (ElDorado/Chinook), beautifully citrussy & bitter. Just as a US hopped IPA should be. Quite stunning, yet unsurprising, as Oli Turton has been utterly and consistently excellent with his IPAs. An essential when available.

Cask is one of those places that – once sat – I could safely go through the bar selection. A singularly superb place. And – if you’re hungry – you can even bring in your food from the (superb) chippy next door! (Just don’t forget to dispose of your wrappers….)

Onward….

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The Rising Sun – 22, Queen Street, M2 5HX

Into another postal district we go, bypassing the likes of BrewDog & the Ralph Abercrombie, approximately 200 yards from Cask we find this little Mancunian jewel. And one of Manchester’s oldest pubs.

One of those rarities known as a “cut” pub (because it has two entrances on different streets – a cut through), this single roomed and quite narrow pub can get really busy when there is a footy match on and also after office hours. With a long bar and nice bright decor it belies its 240 year age.

Think about this. This pub was here the year after the American Declaration of Independence!

Generally stocking Northern beers, with 8 hand-pumps (5 in use tonight – a wise move midweek IMO), this may not be CW central, but there’s always something that tickles my proverbial. Tonight, this was Oregon Pale by Weetwood Brewery. A truly delicious fruity hop beer, dry and grapefruity. Nice and refreshing.

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Despite there being two TVs, they aren’t particularly intrusive tonight. We just settled to chat and to the fact that Wales (by this point) had been beaten by two former OT players, just to sour the pill….. 😉

What I really like about the “Sun”, is – despite its location and apart from its age – it has a “local” feel. Like a local pub in the heart of this great city. Something that should be cherished. It isn’t “trendy”, it is what it is, A smart and attractive boozer that serves good and well looked-after beer.

I couldn’t bear any more Ronaldo, so Offski….

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Gaslamp – 50a, Bridge Street, M3 3BW

How many people who go into this fine Manc bar actually look up? Moreover, how many people walking around Manchester look up at ALL and admire the beautiful architecture?

Not many, I bet.

But, if you don’t, you miss this…

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Because what you see in the basement, was formerly the kitchens of the Manchester & Salford Street Childrens’ Mission. Which may explain the tilework downstairs that helps this place – in Summer (not that Manchester HAS a Summer) to be probably the physically coolest place in Town.

Sometimes, when I’m sat in this most excellent bar, you see people walk in for the first time. The look on their faces being “What a GREAT place!” And this never ceases to amaze me. This place cuts across generations. I brought Atilla Jnr (aka The Lovely Daughter) in here one night after she finished work and bought her her first “proper” beer. She loved both the bar AND the beer (“The Mayan” by Ilkley – seeing as you’re asking)

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What was nice to see this evening was – like the Rising Sun – that all of the hand-pumps weren’t in use midweek*.

The two that were on were from BlackJack & Six O’Clock. So both local. There were the usual excellent choices on keg too – Shindigger, Quantum, Brew By Numbers, Mad Hatter etc so all bases covered.

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Not many people seem to know that this is actually a two roomed bar, the one to the rear being a decent size and somewhere for a chat. It’s a room that never seems that busy. Go find it.

The beer Bolt from Six O’Clock being a Nut Brown IPA was lovely. Smooth, a little nutty sweetness and nicely bitter. Quite unctuous and almost creamy. Seriously nice beer.

I love Gaslamp. Quirky, great beers, sweet tunes. It just has it.

And so, to the inevitable end to this adventure. And my favourite bar.

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The Brink – 65, Bridge Street, M3 3BQ

Given that it is my favourite Manchester bar (and that the bus stop is close by for that all important last bus!) this was always going to be the terminus for this evening.

This feels like….home. Warm, welcoming, friendly. Simply a class act.

It also pulls at my hearts’ strings due to the beer purchasing policy of nothing outside of 25 miles from St Ann’s Church. Local, in other words….. More should follow Gareth’s lead.

It’s small. Probably could fit no more than 60 if packed out. With the attractive clean lines and select Mancunian imagery decor, comfy seating and excellent bar policy, it should be rammed. But, tonight, it’s quiet. Which, wanting a beer and a chat, suits.

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5 local beers. Hmmmm……And one of them is one I’ve wanted to try since I saw the clip.

Baton Rouge by Mallinsons.

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Pristine. Red. Hoppy as a rabbits’ tea party. Yum.

The bar has only been open for three months or so and it has quickly become a favourite of many. It’s a place where you chat with people that you’ve never met, that comes with the size. One of it’s many charms.

I was in here recently with a Liverpudlian pal, Les O’Grady who remarked on something that I’ve noted but never really remarked upon – Loos with hot water! A rarity. This bar does all of the things that seem – to me at least – to be very simple. And it does them bloody well.

And, seeing how Linda left some for me, I had to have a Santiam by Track. Holy mother of WOW is it GOOD! So full of fruity citrus and with all of that bitterness you should get in an IPA. Just SO good…..

Friendly knowledgeable staff, great beer, seriously good tunage and excellent local snackage courtesy of Beehive Food all in a small package.

Like I said. My favourite Manc bar. With good reason.

So. There you have it. A 500 yard or so walk with 5 excellent pubs. Each different. All sharing one great virtue. Excellent beer.

You see. There IS life outside that there Northern Quarter. Go explore.

*(A commonsense approach to me. I know that some will whinge about lack of choice, but it seems obvious to me that when you walk in a great bar on a Friday night and drink a seriously “tired” beer, that too many bars have too many beers on when they simply aren’t busy enough.)

 

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.

Rats, Rye & A Huddersfield Legend – A Brewday To Remember – 18/03/2016

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Just to recap, I am a cheeky git. That kind of explains how – when I heard that two of my favourite Yorkshire breweries were collaboRATing on a new beer – I wind up inviting myself along to what is (quite possibly) my favourite pub. Anywhere.

That pub is The Rat & Ratchet in Huddersfield. And underneath that pub, lies one of THE most hop forward breweries in the UK. Rat Brewery. And just to ensure that hops would be to the fore, the other brewer was my good friend Malcolm Bastow of Five Towns Brewery in Wakefield.

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I took a day off from work. I also had to curb my enthusiasm for the beers at The Smithfield the previous evening, because getting to Huddersfield by train isn’t conducive to a lie in. Trust me.

The beer was to be a Rye IPA. I like Rye beers, but have never brewed with it, so had no idea what to expect of the mash. Or how much digging would be required. But, being by Rat & Five Towns, it was going to be hoppy.

I’d never met Robin before. Robin is the brewer at Rat and brews beers that I instinctively reach for when I see them on a bar. One of my biggest regrets at the first #ISBF was that we didn’t have any Rat beer. Remedied at #ISBF2015. When pale, the beers are hoppy, when dark they are gorgeously roasty. Good beer.

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I made one solitary note on this brewday. It was “Shagging a bag of rye malt”. I had to use it. Didn’t I Robin?

So. 200kg of malt. Including 50kg of rye malt. A LOT of aromatic hops (my hands never smelled so good!). Time to play….

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The mash looked like a Tarka Dhal. Just like a normal Dhal, but a little ‘otter…..

This took a lot of stirring. This was where I became acquainted with the absorbent properties of rye malt.

Near 200kg in a 5bbl plant is a lot of malt. And this beer should certainly have a good backbone to support all of these hops…

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All 14kg (Inc dry hopping) of them! Breaking them up was an aromatic joy!

800g of Admiral went in for Bittering with Cascade, Sorachi & Nelson Sauvin in later additions for flavour and aroma and Citra / Mosaic at flameout. (With a huge amount of Cascade & Citra being dry hopped)

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Transfer to the copper being complete, time for a dig. And WHAT a dig.

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The rye retained an awful lot of liquor, so this felt more like 300kg. It took a lot of digging. But this is where know nothing numpties like me step in. I enjoy digging out, perversely.

It also means that I got the pleasure of adding the hops and steam cleaning my face…. But the smell was worth the scalding….

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At each addition, the smells were beautiful, culminating in the final – flameout – addition of Citra and Mosaic. Holy. Mother. Of…… Stunning. Simply glorious aromas. More than worth the dig.

Welcome to “Rat Out”. A 5.8% Rye IPA. I can’t wait to try it at the East West Beer Festival in May!

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(Supervising Rats)

With that final hop addition, Robin let myself and Malcolm flee the nest and let us had upstairs into the pub. Refreshment was required, this was hot work.

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It would have been rude NOT to sample all 3! And, given that I started with a pint of King Rat (IPA at 5.6%) and a Rat Against The Machine (7% big hoppy IPA), that 4% White Rat more than held its own. A superb tasty session beer.

This was an excellent fun brew day. With stories swapped and chuckling a plenty. I’m very grateful that I was allowed into the Rat lair by Robin. But, after all that, there was  a further, ulterior motive for coming by train.

A Huddersfield Legend.

So Robin, Malcolm & I went for a walk.

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The Star Inn is a tremendous pub in its own right. Featuring, on any given day, a plethora of excellent ales. But, twice a year, it hosts a beer festival.

People I respect, like the Arch Nemesis and Des, have regaled me with tales of this beer festival. Some of my Yorkshire pals have tried to get me over for a couple of years now. So it felt like a privilege to walk in. And I was excited.

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Another of the reasons that I had to come was THIS beer. From the moment that Malcolm told me he was going to brew an IPA with Seville oranges, I knew I had to have it on draught.

“Could I have a pint of Alcazar please?”

“A pint?”

OK. It WAS 7.8%. But I’d earned this pleasure. And a pleasure it was. Big and deeply juicy oranges complemented by massive hopping. Yum. Just yum.

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It’s a lovely old pub is The Star. And it attracts drinkers from all over the North and beyond for these legendary festivals.

It was an utter pleasure (as always) to chat with Charlie (aka The Ale Ambler – a member of Yorkshire’s mighty “A Swift One” blogging collective) a man who has probably forgotten more about beer than I’ll ever know.

It was also a delight (as usual) to chat with those lovely ladies from Mallinsons (Elaine & Tara) and indulge in a bit of plotting. Of which all shall be revealed at the appropriate time….

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As well as the chatting, there were some stunning beers, from Mallinsons (Maverick), Wild Weather (a cracking Single hopped Sorachi Pale) and Neptune (the luscious Abyss Oatmeal Stout), there was also some gorgeous grub too….

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The Thai Green Curry Chicken was superb. But after that, it time for some sad goodbyes. I hated leaving. I really wanted to stay.

This beer festival is the best pub Festival I’ve been to. By a distance. It helps that it is hosted in a simply gorgeous pub, the likes of which Manchester lacks.

Next time, I’m booking a hotel for the night.

Thank you to Robin, Paul Spencer (Ossett head brewer – for extending the invite), to Malcolm – of course (the beer will feature at the cracking East West Festival) and everyone at The Star.

A great brewday. An iconic pub. And a legendary beer festival. A day I won’t forget.

I love Huddersfield.

Up The Junction (and other stories….)

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

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

But I wasn’t arriving.

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

Here’s why….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Another real fire….

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

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

It’s called Soul.

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

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

Meet Jack.

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

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

And no hashtag.

 

 

Manchester Beer & Cider Festival 2016 : My “Dance Card”

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Welcome to the beer festival that shows that CAMRA “do” UK Keg! Yes, I KNOW that the Campaign has had numerous kegged beers over the years! BUT…..These are beers brewed in the UK, mostly not designed to be dispensed from a cask. That is BIG news. To be celebrated.

And it has moved from the (“a little bit awkward to get to”) Velodrome – an iconic modern venue – to somewhere infinitely more “Central”. And more historically iconic. A Mancunian architectural masterpiece. And THAT should also be celebrated.

That out of the way, I’m a lucky sod. I get to see the beer list. And it is a big list. And – instantly removing anything from Marstons – there is something for everyone. Even me.

So. Being a “tactical drinker” at beer festivals, I compile a plan of attack – a “dance card” if you will, that panders to my Northern sensitivities. Others may list beers from that there London. Not I. With one exception (noted and explained below) mine are from no further South than Crewe and no further North than Malton.

A narrow focus.

But I care precisely how much?

Here we go, in strength order. Like I said, “tactical drinking”….. And, just in case you’re interested in trying any of these yourself, I’ve included the bar on which to find them. Because I’m nice like that!

No 2 Stout – Stringers Beer – Stout – 4% abv – Bar 3

A beer that I absolutely adored in bottle from the very first sip about 3 years ago. And I have NEVER had in on cask. I have often gazed at the pump clip on the wall at Port Street and whimpered. Envious.

Bitter and roasted. As black as Donald Trump’s evil heart. I will be distraught if I don’t get to try this. My #1 priority.

Admiral Porter – Brewsmith Beer – Porter – 4% abv – Bar 1

Why? Because it’s Brewsmith. And James Smith (see what he did there?) has yet to put out anything less than excellence.

And the Admiral hop gives the lie to those who whinge that UK hops are crap. It’s an aromatic beauty of a thing.

Sorachi Ace – Mallinsons Brewery – (Single Hopped) Pale Ale – 4.2% abv – Bar 2

Why? Stupid question. It’s Mallinsons. And it’s a single-hopped Pale Ale.

And – in the words of Carly Simon – “Nobody does it better”. I’ll be having a pint.

At least one….

Talisman IPA – Pictish Brewing – Pale Ale – 4.2% abv – Pictish Brewery Bar

A brewery that is in need of better PR. They should be HUGE. Possibly the most underrated brewery in Greater Manchester. Brewers of simply outstanding single-hopped Pale Ales.

Unmissable.

Mr Scruff Pale – Squawk Brewing – Session IPA – 4.6% abv – Bar 3

Oliver Turton has been quietly brewing some of the best beers in Manchester for the last two years. That’s enough reason to do this.

And I love the Centennial hop.

Lupy Lager – Offbeat Brewery – Lager – 4.7% abv – Bar 2

A cask conditioned lager from one of my very favourite breweries? And it’s a one-off? Damn those CAMRA oiks! I’ll be having words with Miss Kelsall about that…..

Again, unmissable….

Orange and Rosemary Belgian Pale – Bad Seed Brewery – Belgian Pale – 5% abv – Bar 1

Rosemary in beer can be herbal Marmite to some. But I love it. And Bad Seed would be just the brewery to pull this off.

Looking forward to trying this HUGELY.

Bitter Chocolate Stout – Runaway Brewery – Stout – 5% abv – Runaway Bar

A new beer to me from the best and most consistent new brewery in Manchester. Mark Welsby makes good beer. For those with no love of keg, prepare to be converted.

Mancunian Evil Keg Filth of the highest order. And you can quote me on that!

Marmite Stout – Ticketybrew / Quantum BrewingStout – ? abv – Bar 3

Two breweries unafraid to try something different. Or unusual. This beer can be safely said to tick BOTH of those boxes.

This sounds inspired. It’s certainly interesting!

Pale Rye (Name TBC) – Track / Matt Dutton – Pale Ale – ? abv – Bar 3

OK. Track are banging out some tremendous beers with arguably the strongest core range of any Manchester brewery. I’ve been saying for AGES that Sonoma is a Manchester classic.

Factor in a collab with the best home brewer in the UK, Matt Dutton, this is going to be special! I have sampled several of Matt’s beers and he – should he choose to go commercial – is a star in the making. This beer rates as priority #2. Unmissable.

AllDay Coffee IPA – Allgates/Manchester Beer Week – Coffee IPA – 5.1% abv – Bar 1

A Coffee IPA brewed especially for the festival by the most drinkable of breweries and Connor Murphy wearing his MBW head. Read the blog piece and it sounds AMAZING!

Centennial – Torrside Brewing – Porter – 5.4% abv – Bar 3

I have been lucky enough to try beers brewed at home by each of the Torrside triumvirate. It was therefore no surprise at all when they hit the ground running when they launched late last year.

My heart lies in darkness. Torrside make great beers. A marriage made in….

Nouvelle Saison: Beetroot and Horseradish –Alphabet Brew Co – Saison – 6% abv – KeyKeg Bar

I wouldn’t miss this flavour mix for all the tea in….. Intriguing to say the least!

Sorachi Grey – Five Oh Brew Co – IPA – 6.5% abv – Bar 1

If Jamie Hancock puts his beer in cask, it is both a rare event (wonder where he did it first?) and unmissable.

This man brews good beer.

Victoria Export Stout – Bexar County Brewery – Stout – 6.7% abv – Bar 1

My sole selection from south of Crewe. Why? Because I think that I have had 3 beers that this man has brewed. All excellent and two of those (a collab with HDM and his Pecan Coffee Mild) were among the best beers I’ve had in years!

And it’s pronounce BEAR. “The X is silent. The Beer speaks for itself” Indeed….

And finally……

Rampart – Ossett/Brass Castle Collab – IPA – 7% abv – Bar 2

“Heavily hopped West Coast style IPA. Tangy bitterness & intense grapefruit, floral & tropical fruit flavours.” – Case rested!

Well. That’s that. As Rabbie Burns allegedly said “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley”, so (like last year) I’m bound to miss one of these. But it won’t be for the want of trying!

It’s Tryanuary. Get ticking!

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And for those who want to plan ahead, here is the link to the full UK beer list! http://mancbeerfest.uk/beers-ciders/uk-beers/

 

 

 

Huddersfield – A Love Affair is Born – 08/08/2015

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After a really heavy two weeks at work, an early (and I MEAN early) start was probably ill-advised. But I had an offer, which – a bit like the horse’s head in Jack Woltz’s bed – was hard to refuse.

That said, that early start afforded me a rare opportunity to see Manchester, but without the usual throngs…

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(Thomas Street)

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(Edge Street)

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(Tib Street)

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(Window Shutter – Stevenson Square)

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(Graffiti – Stevenson Square 1)

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(Graffiti – Stevenson Square 2)

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(Newton Street)

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(Port Street)

Manchester. 06:30 on a Saturday morning. Eerie. Quiet. And strangely beautiful.

Manchester, I love you.

Public transport in my area can be slightly……odd. Some services running, others not. That was how I found myself out of my house at 05:15 in the morning, walking half a mile to the relevant bus stop to catch the ONLY bus that could reliably get me to Manchester in time for the 07:26 train to Huddersfield. (And I fell aslep on that bus) Well, at least the Arch-Nemesis and I could say that the train was on time! (I also fell asleep on that train!)

Did I mention that I only got home at 4 hours before leaving again?

Then, we arrive in Huddersfield, step outside the rather grand station, to this….

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Little did I know quite how thronged this was to become less than 4 hours later!

But the reason that I was up at an unspeakable hour on a Saturday? A visit to Mallinsons.

Huddersfield may be blessed with a number of stellar breweries, with Magic Rock, Hand Drawn Monkey and others, but NONE have the ability to consistently turn out single-hopped sessionable Pale Ales at the level of sustained excellence that Mallinsons can. None.

A brief visit demonstrated to both myself and the Arch-Nemesis just HOW they are able to achieve such consistent levels of excellence. With no little skill, combined with the judicious application of tech and process control. Both Tara & Elaine were very generous with their time and showed both of us around and explained how they do just what they do. The simple things. So well.

There is an argument for Huddersfield as a beer town uber alles. There is, for me, an even greater argument that for session pale ales, there is nobody better than this brewery. Mallinsons. Which is why I made the effort.

I’m also utterly delighted to have righted the most heinous wrong of ISBF2014. The absence of a Mallinsons beer. They’ll be brewing something special for us. And I’m excited.

There were no photos taken. I was too awestruck.

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We got back to Huddersfield centre, via a cracking breakfast at Munchies on Albert Street (almost opposite the Star Inn – more later), thanks to Elaine for the recommendation!

So, 2 hours after we walked out of the train station, we have the scene above. In beating down sunshine. Following a walk around the area to assess the various food stalls (and they ARE many and varied!), we settled to a pint of Topaz by Mallinsons from one of the bars erected in the square. A fine sharp refreshing pint.

I myself, didn’t partake of as much of the food as others, but the offering ranged from superb curries, authentic paellas and Italian through to the more – shall we say – exotic. Anybody fancy a reptile burger? Made from 2 1/4lb patties of Crocodile and Python? I mean, of course I WOULD have, if it wasn’t for the rather filling breakfast….

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It was hot. Far too hot for this old man to bare. I needed shade. And beer. And the Hand Drawn Monkey Beer Shop on Wood Street (one street behind the Railway Square) ticked all the right boxes.

Effectively two roomed, this slightly ramshackle feeling bar is just, just, (how can I put it without sounding like a 15 year old?) cool. It just is. And it is utterly effortless. It doubles as a bottle shop, but we were there for the cask beer and both that we had were excellent.

We sat in the room to the left of the entrance on the (HDM logoed) cushioned bench seating and – with the assistance of the open door and industrial fan – relaxed in the cool. The sole bar staff put some tunes on, “Rubber Factory” by The Black Keys and “Bjork Greatest Hits”. And I was happy. Two fine albums.

Back to the square and we met the other train borne reprobates – David, Des & Jeff – and following another wee beer in the square, we were off …..

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The Sportsman (St John’s Road, Huddersfield)

This pub was the shape of things to come. A beautiful stone built corner pub, opening out into a big pace full of wood. And just lovely too. A large corner bar sporting a plethiora of hand pumps and decent keg fonts. There was at least one other room off the main room which looked nice and cosy too.

More Mallinsons in here. Well, when in Rome…..Cha Cha Cha was a fine pale beer too. As I would expect.

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A beautiful boozer, with great beer. But an all too brief visit. Will stay longer next time.

The reprobates wanted to go to the HDM Beer Shop again. I’m easily led. And glad I did, otherwise I’d have missed the superb Cherry Pale Ale! Was that 1.5kg of cherries per cask? It tasted like a marriage of a good Pale Ale and a Kriek. Recommended.

Then, separation. Captain “c***t” (Jeff) wanted to The Grove to sate his basest keg urges. Des fancied it too. Too soon for me. There were two other pubs I wanted to visit. Both (as I was to find) classics.

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The Star Inn (Albert Street, Folly Hall)

If this was in Manchester, the location would probably mean that it would have shut. I’m glad that it is in Huddersfield. It’s another beauty of a boozer.

Again, stone built. This is set in an industrial area just to the south of the town centre, not far from Mallinsons actually. Walking in, the colour scheme is warm, lots of wood and very comfy seating. It would be open plan if it wasn’t for a stone dividing wall that ends just before the bar and holds a real fire (I think – I WISH I took notes!)

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The long wooden bar was festooned with hand pulls again. And, around the corner from the brewery, it had to be another Mallinsons. Zahercoe. I won’t tell you how good it was!

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The pub, whilst being surprisingly large, maintains the feeling of a local. And is my kind of pub. Warm and friendly. And with good beer. What more could you ask for?

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This. Is the answer to that question.

The Rat & Ratchet (Chapel Hill, Huddersfield)

The stone frontage is impressive enough. But doesn’t prepare you for what lies within.

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I’m no architectural critic. But this is just so opulent and Victorian. A maze of many rooms. Loads of wood. Just SO bloody gorgeous. I may have just found my favourite pub. But it’s 30 miles away!

And serves Rat beers. Brewed on the premises. Beers that for me can do no wrong.

Nor can this pub. It. Is. A, Jewel.

We found a table and seats to the rear of the pub. And I just marvelled.

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It seemed to go on and on. And that made me happy. I left with a lopsided grin. Reluctantly. Because this couldn’t possibly be topped.

The Grove (Spring Grove Street – just off the A62 ring road)

For drinkers entranced by the “c” word, I can see the attraction of this pub. It has absolutely loads of beer on raught, both cask and keg. From many of the luminaries of the c***t world. And the keg was getting battered. No surprise in the heat of this particular day. Now, just for the record, I am no hater of keg beer. I simply prefer cask. And I had a really nice beer from Durham, a Pale Ale (Jaded Muse), my first from this brewery.

The pub itself was mutiroom in feel with a room that felt like an old tap room to the right and a larger room to the left with some rather interesting artwork.

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The thing that impressed me most, was the outdoor space.

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It adds so much to this pub. And goes back quite a way. It was a nice surprise to see Scott the GingerBeerKing and some of the Wakefield CAMRA crew here. Top fella is Scott and always nice to have the piss taken out of me by a Yorkshireman!

The Grove would grace many a town or city. But – with a slight “after the Lord Mayor’s Show” kind of feel – it came after The Rat & Ratchet.

Which shows you just how MUCH Huddersfield beer drinkers are spoiled!

And, with a little walk around the square for some food ( a cracking paella), that was that. We tried to get into The Kings Head. It was rammed. As was the other pub in the train station. So to the train.

I may love Manchester. Deeply. But I could oh so easily have an affair with Huddersfield.

And feel no guilt.

And so, my beery friends, endeth my 200th blog post. The last for some time while I take a break.

Slainte!

Bottled Beers – April 2015 – Pt 2

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

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

And now….to business…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Beers – November 2014 – Pt 1

“All I can see is black and white and white and pink with blades of blue
that lay between the words I think, on a page I was meaning to send you.
You I couldn’t tell if it bring my heart, the way I wanted when I started
writing this letter to you.

But if I could, you know I would just hold your hand and you’d understand
that I’m the man who loves you.”

(“I’m The Man Who Loves You” – Wilco)

(Video clip courtesy of “The Tonight Show” (US) on YouTube)

It’s been a while! *Yawns like a bear coming out of hibernation*

I came to Wilco rather late. Via their collaboration album with Billy Bragg, recording songs from the archives of the great socialist American songwriter Woody Guthrie that became “Mermaid Avenue”. Ahhh….”California Stars”…….

The above tune is the most accessible track on arguably their least accessible album, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”. The album that, perversely, brought them to mainstream attention. The album that transformed them from Alt- Country and Americana players to avant-garde. So much so that their label rejected it. Totally. So the band, via whatever channel, leaked it on the web. And became famous because of it, all over the world. There is a documentary about the gestation of the album, which, rather sadly, resulted in one of the band being (effectively) thrown out – Jay Bennett. Sadly, no longer with us. The documentary is called ” I Am Trying To Break Your Heart”. I thoroughly recommend it as a document of the recording process and of the stresses and strains that that can create.

I saw the band for the first time when they were promoting their next album “A Ghost Is Born” at Manchester Academy. Jeff Tweedy, lead vocalist/guitarist, looked (and sounded) incredibly fragile. So much so, that I remember saying to my pal Chris, that I thought that he wouldn’t last the year. Songs with titles (and lyrics) like “Handshake Drugs” led to the belief that he may have been addicted. He was, it transpired, but to prescription painkillers, not the opiates that we feared. We resolved to going to see the band at Rock City in Nottingham a few months later. I now see them every time that they are in the UK.

Tweedy plays The Ritz – solo, in January. Chris picked up tickets last week. I’m excited. (Sad, for a near 50 yr old eh?)

Beer time….

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 (where I have it) 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. Dreaming Dreams – Wilson Potter (Middleton, Gtr Manchester) – 4% abv – Pale Ale – £2.40 (500ml) – 3 for £7 – Direct from the brewery

Dreaming Dreams (of Amarillo – Geddit?). Amarillo. My favourite hop. Picked up on a recent (flying) visit to the brewery on one of their “soiree” afternoons following a drop off of casks remaining from The Independent Salford Beer Festival (zzzzzzzzzzz………). I didn’t know that WP had an Amarillo hopped beer other than “Is This The Way”! Intrigued and salivating, I had to pick one up.

A gorgeous Pale golden beer bought on a brewery soiree last weekend, this has a clinging lasting white head with a fine carbonation giving an aroma of a light marmalade with a hint of apricot. Oh wow! For a fairly light strength beer, this has quite a punch!
The first sip brings that marmalade to the party, juicy and sticky, so full of marmalade flavour that Paddington Bear would love this! A stonking dry and bitter finish too, quite bracing. With a substantial resinous pine hit in the aftertaste. An admittedly brief description, but it was that good that I was a little lost for words!
Each new Pale that Kathryn & Amanda release gets more assertive. And more impressive. This is up there with Don’t Fall. And that is a huge complement! A cracker, up there with the best of the Mallinsons single-hopped Pales for me. Speaking of which…..
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2. SPA (Session Pale Ale) – Mallinsons (Huddersfield, W Yorks) – 4.1% abv  – Pale Ale – £2.79 (500ml) – 0 – Beermoth (Tib St, Manchester)
If I had a brewery that I regret not being included at the aforementioned bijou beer fest, it is Mallinsons. And hell did I try….They’d grace any bar. But moving swiftly on (and there’s always next year!)
Lively wee devil this one, took a while to decant. Really Pale golden colour (almost a trademark) with an abundant white foamy head giving off a really fruity aroma full of peach and tangerine juices.
First taste, oh yes! Medium bodied and a now more subdued carbonation. Some peach, some passion fruit and what a whack of bitterness backed up by sticky pine resins. Woof! This is another Huddersfield cracker. A little grapefruit says hello in the next mouthful, backed up by that assertive bitterness and mouth gumming piney resins. As Omar Little might say in The Wire “Oh indeed”!
This is a beauty of a pale ale. Fruity, bitter, a little sharpness and a snap sticky pine aftertaste. Oh yes.
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3. Protz’s Pleasure – Steel City Brewing / North Riding Brewpub – 5.3%abv – Black IPA – ? (500ml) – 0 – The Ale Man Manchester (Various locations)
This beer was inspired – if that is the right word – by a phrase used by beer writer (and CAMRA Good Beer Guide editor) Roger Protz, who said “Black IPA is absurd and an insult to history.” A brief perusal of the internet may reveal that a number of aspiring brewers were “encouraged” to try making a BIPA on the strength of THAT statement!
If Steel City have a mission statement, it has one word. That word is “HOPS”. Pair this cuckoo brewer with Stuart Neilson (North Riding Brewpub) and his evident love of that green flower, then there was only one way this was going to go…..
Appearance : Black with a thick creamy head and a noise full of chocolate, licorice and some citrus hints.
Medium bodied and quite smooth in the mouth, WOW is this bitter! Flavours of bitter chocolate, burnt toast topped off with a distinct grapefruit citrus tang. Finished with an almost incredible, astonishing bitterness!
The smoothness is almost creamy textured as I take a second mouthful and those flavours intensify. That massive bitterness is rounded off with a sticky pine resin dry finish. I’m Gobsmacked! (I think that this MIGHT have been the desired effect!)
N.B. I’m REALLY looking forward to Damian (The Ale Man) opening his own bar in Heaton Moor! (Coming soon)
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4. Light – Briggs Signature Ales (Huddersfield) – 2.8% abv – Pale Ale – £2.80 (500ml) – 0- Beermoth (Tib St, Manchester)
The fact that a new brewer gets to use the kit at Mallinsons, must – in my eyes at least – mean that he has high standards. You have to be damn good for your pales to measure up to the beers of Tara Mallinson & Elaine Yendall! This is how Nick Briggs (former brewer at Elland) has set himself up for a potential fall. But has he…
Has he bloody hell! A lively golden beer with abundant white foamy head and a noise full of peach and Mango. Really fruity and with a floral hint that I can’t quite pick.
Quite a medium bodied beer – surprising at this strength! Initial thoughts are of a rather fruity ice cream full of peach and – strangely – strawberry. A really fruity creamy textured mouthful.
The second mouthful brings a little pineapple to this fruity party but also a strong dry bitterness followed by a dry resinous aftertaste. All in all, a surprising beer indeed. A cracking fruity, bitter Pale Ale.
This is a “Small Beer” in abv only!
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5. Old Norrell – Five Towns Brewery (Outwood, Wakefield, W. Yorks) – 5.5% abv – Pale Ale – £0 (500ml) – Direct from the brewery
Picked up whilst delivering back empty cask from our recent “bijou beer bash”, this was a nice surprise! Got to see Malcolm in action too, with a spot of cask filling. A proper small micro in operation. If I’m right, he has now retired from his “day job”, which – with the addition of a fermenting vessel – will mean both an increase in brewing AND (hopefully) more of his beers over in Manchester – you heard it here first!
Pale golden with a persistent lacy white head giving a big lemon and grapefruit aroma. Lovely fresh & zesty.
In the mouth this is beautiful and sharp. And as bitter and twisted as a Nigel Farage speech! Courtesy of the Sorachi Ace hop methinks. Medium bodied, the first flavour to hit is a bitter lemon mingled with tart grapefruit. A gooseberry note too. Lovely and fresh this in no way tastes its strength.
The fruity tart and beautifully bitter mouthful has a little malty, bready sweetness which gives best to that tart bitterness, a dry sharp finish and resinous grassy hop aftertaste. A pleasure of a beer that I’d love to try on draught.
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6. Marmalade Porter – Wold Top Brewery (Driffield, N. Yorks)  – 5% abv – Porter – £? (330ml) – ? – Wold Top Stall (Cottingham Food & Drink Festival)
A gift from a very dear friend (Phil), this was a huge surprise at the end of a hectic day visiting beery people all over the North. I’ve had some very nice beers indeed from Wold Top (in particular their TdF beer Hello Velo). So to get a Porter flavoured with marmalade, was a bit of a boost!
This is a beautifully black beer with a coffee coloured head giving off milk chocolate and a hint of rum soaked raisins and sweet orange in the aroma.
Ooh Matron! This is a lovely creamy smooth full-bodied mouthful just oozing chocolaty luxury in the first sip! The sweetness from the chocolate is augmented but an Orangey tinge, prior to submitting to a finishing bitterness with a coffeeish edge.
A second mouthful brings some more of the Orange forward, slightly sticky before fading in the face of that bitter coffee and a herbal grassy hop dryness with more than a hint of rum in the aftertaste. A lovely beer. Just wish I knew where he got it from! (Update – See above!)
(Locally, you can get some of their “core” beers in Booths)
Now that #ISBF2014 is washed up, dried and put away like good crockery, normal service can be resumed!
On that note….’til next time….
Slainte!