Manchester Crawl Series 1 : Swan Street – How Much Longer?

Whilst excellence never gets boring, I crave something different from the “same old, same old”. It’s so easy to settle, create habits that become almost unbreakable.

Yes, there will always be favourites you can rely on to consistently deliver, but – just sometimes – something “different” is called for. But something undemanding in terms of physical effort. Then it struck me.

Swan Street. A street burned in my soul.

And whilst we didn’t start on Swan Street itself (we started just around the corner), we kept faith with part of the original N/4 pub crawl.

Just don’t call it “Northern Quarter”. I’m in retro mode.

The Angel – Angel St (Jct w/Rochdale Road)

Get off the Metro / bus at Shudehill and walk halfway towards The Marble Arch and on the left – at the junction with the inner ring road you’ll find this unheralded gem.

Briefly known as a place where chef Robert Owen Brown forged his reputation, The Angel has been through many guises. It has been knocked about and reshaped over the years since I’ve been drinking there, but still maintains a quaint Mancunian trait, a sense of “otherness”. A quirkiness.

There’s nothing quite like it in Manchester.

I had my first beer here in December 1984. On my first “works Xmas do”. The pub was then called “The Weavers”. It had – in those days – a second room, roughly bounded by the far end of the bar to the back of the pub.

It was…. narrow. It had a pool table. A colleague fell asleep under that pool table that night. An unforgettable evening.

The pub changed hands. Became one of the early Manchester free houses. It had that room knocked through. It transformed into “The Beerhouse” and developed a reputation for an eclectic beer range. You’d find beers there that you wouldn’t elsewhere.

Now being The Angel – named after nearby Angel Meadows (look it up on Wikipedia), it maintained that reputation. It continues to do so, being the only place I know to get Kissingate beers (Horsham, Sussex), notable for their catnip like ability to attract the Arch Nemesis. I put a call in. He couldn’t resist.

Yes. That’s a Baby Grand. In a pub in Manchester. And it does get played…..

To the point, The Angel is a large single room in a kind of wide L shape. At about 170 years old, it retains a Mancunian sensibility, that “Soul” I need to actually love a place.

And those who “know” The Angel do love it.

Last night, the Hawkshead Windermere Pale was as good as I’ve had it, razor sharp and tasty. The KissingateSmelters Stout” was rich, smoky and delicious. A lovely Stout.

The Angel rarely gets talked about in the pantheon of great Mancunian pubs. But it really should.

It may not be pristine and shiny, may be a little “rough around the edges”, but it’s a Manc classic.

Go. Just go.

From The Angel, cross Rochdale Road and turn right. Head towards Shudehill and then left on Swan Street.

Jack In The Box at Mackie Mayor – Swan Street

Apparently a transplant of a successful outlet/operation in Altrincham, there was a lot of excitement when word got out that this beautiful old building was being taken on.

I’ve seen messages from far and wide that testified to its impact since opening. Tonight, I thought I’d have a butchers.

The classical frontage doesn’t prepare you the the visual impact of the interior. The “WOW” factor. I couldn’t stop taking pictures.

I was surprised at the small size of the bar, but it’s Black Jack. And – for me – they’ve hit a sweet spot. The “You Bet” that I had was pin sharp. Jaz had am excellent beer from Siren, Jock had an Uber sharp Oakham Citra (a criminally overlooked beer).

This place is all about the food though.

That lovely Margherita from Honest Crust didn’t last long. Delicious. Having had them before, I expected no less. Tasty.

Stomach sated.

This place is stunning. It gets busy. It’s a big space with all the traders on the perimeter. With a mass of seating.

The beer is excellent, but I can’t get over the fact of Big Brother next door. But this is a destination venue. An Atkinson’s coffee, an Honest Crust pizza, a wine from Reserve Wines? I’d rather give these guys my money than any chain.

So. Walk out of the Swan Street door. Turn right. Walk 10 yards

The Smithfield – Swan Street

I’ve been a fan since Black Jack first took the plunge and got out the paintbrushes. They took an old run down beer tickers pub and brought it into the 21st century.

A bit of TLC. A hug and a kiss. They worked wonders.

It’s rarely quiet these days. It’s found a place for itself, gained a reputation for great beer. It has A BAR BILLIARDS TABLE!

And a dartboard. And that board gets use.

I didn’t take loads of pics in here. I just enjoyed a gorgeous pint of Jarsa by Brew York and chatted.

The Smithfield does all of those simple things incredibly well. And – when my lot are out – is one of the places we meet. Or end up.

Or both. A Manc essential.

Leave The Smithfield, cross the road, turn right. Walk 30 yards along Swan Street.

Bar Fringe – Swan Street

You will NOT find a quirkier, more charming pub / bar in Manchester.

Just wander in. Keep your eyes open. And drink it all in.

This place is simply a diamond. Cherish it. It won’t be here much longer.

A long room. With something for – almost – everyone. 4 cask beers. Draught Belgian. Excellent bottles. Brilliant eclectic jukebox.

And just, again, an old soul. A feeling.

It doesn’t matter how many times I come in, there’s always some detail I miss. Like that painted rat…..

Beer. Panda Frog from the North East. Pale. Unfined. Amarillo. I’m easy to please. I could bury my head in a bag of Amarillo and die happy.

And herein lies the core of this post. This side of Swan Street is slated to be demolished. “Developed”. Have the Mancunian element and history flattened.

To be replaced by glass and concrete. More flats.

Always more flats.

Eviscerating the history and soul from a city. Bastards.

Fuck your “progress”. Same to Manchester City Council for destroying the soul of this beautiful city. Block by block.

But I digress. Enjoy the Fringe. This little diamond. While you still can.

Leave the Fringe, turn left. Cross (the rather busy) Oldham Road.

Crown & Kettle – Oldham Road

Another Manchester classic.

A place that seemed to have lost its way in a beer sense. But – in recent months – with a new female custodian (I hate the term “landlady”), the beer has started to sing the sweetest of songs.

Yes. The C&K is another Mancunian jewel. But the beer range and quality had started to wilt.

But, with that new custodian, it’s now a “go to” again.

3 separate rooms. The small room behind the bar was closed last night, but when it’s open, just look up. And gawp.

That beautiful ceiling…..

The current pub is about 130 years old, but there has been a pub on this site for almost 300 years. You can see images/drawings of the area from that time if you scour the net.

The place is beautiful and now – again – has the beer to match. A Northern Alchemy Tawny Port Stout was the beer of the evening. Just lush.

The Brass CastleLittle Imp” was stunning too at 2.8%! Almost a session Stout, really full bodied the that abv.

Again, the C&K needs to be visited. Great beer (again) and a beautiful pub.

But all good things come to an end.

Distance wise, a short crawl. But it forms a snapshot of Manchester. A Manchester we’ll lose a part of in the next few years.

Enjoy it while you’ve got it. I will.

(I never get bored of this!)

Back soon. Jx

Piccadilly : Let’s Go For A Walk – A #Tryanuary Impulse 

Whims. Funny old things. The older I get, the more likely I am to concede.

There is a tendency – call it laziness – to stick to the tried and tested. The familiar. The places where you know you will get fabulous beer and a warm welcome. A comfort blanket. Something that has been (for want of a better word) a godsend these last 16 months.

But sometimes….. You just want something else.

Thursday evening, on the way home from work, I just had a yen. That impulse. To go for a walk. A beer or two. Follow the Tryanuary spirit, do something I’d not done for a while. 

So, with a co-conspirator (Jock) secured, I donned the cans (Bluetooth – not Carling) and caught the 37 into Piccadilly – an area I’d not consciously crawled before…

The Jolly Angler : Ducie Street 

From Piccadilly station, walk down the Approach and turn right onto Ducie Street and keep walking – heading right at the eventual fork. There you will find a previously heralded (by me at least) Mancunian gem.

A single room. A single cask conditioned beer. But a whole lot of Mancunian Soul. Something that I find increasingly important as tempus fugit. 

I entered in this chilly and slightly windy Manchester evening to the warmth of a blazing real fire. A pint of Hydes Original in hand, I settled down to enjoy the start of an evening of entertaining conversation with Jock (being a boring old toss pot myself, Jock provided the wit).

Hydes Original. I love this beer. A paler shade of Amber reflecting the glow of the fire, an orangey flavour washed around my mouth and all felt right on this “school night”. A sign of a leprechaun above the bar indicating that offensive language wouldn’t be tolerated was a nice touch….

A cluster of obvious regulars at the bar indulging in jovial chat, I could focus on the charm of this place. It isn’t gentrified. It is almost anachronistic – considering the pace of development just yards away. An old fashioned street corner style Mancunian boozer – warm, welcoming, friendly. Just doing the right things. 

And doing them so well. 

Not enough people wax lyrical about places like this. I now consider that MY job. 

Even with the photographs memorialising United legends (with Blue tinges) lining the walls, I still adore this place. Almost the embodiment of the phrase “Use it, don’t lose it”.

Just give the Piccadilly Tap the slopy shoulder. And enjoy something real. And Mancunian. 

I took our glasses back. Thanked the barman/landlord. And headed off – although I could happily spend an entire evening in “The Angler”… 

Back down Ducie Street, across “Piccadilly” (as the road is actually called) across Aytoun Street and past the magnificent Minshull Street Crown Court onto Richmond Street. At the end of which (Just before the junction with Sackville Street) you’ll find…

The Molly House : Richmond Street

I’ve had some lovely evenings here, but realised that it had been a long while since I’d last been. Way too long in fact.

There is a stripped back charm to this place. Set up over two floors (“The Company Bar” underneath – I’m told – being a separate club venue), upstairs also has a full bar and is where the unisex toilets are located.

Being fond of the odd euphemism myself, the venue is named from an old slang phrase for a brothel, but don’t let that dissuade you from experiencing this lovely place.

I’ve always had good beer in here, tonight was no exception with a new brewer (to me) having two beers on the bar (Rossendale Brewery), two from Howard Town and one from Beartown (a regular outlet). 

The Rossendale “Halo Pale” was superb, hoppy and refreshing. And sessionable. 

Lots of wood, stripped back floors, a few tables, some window seating, friendly bar staff, a simply MAGNIFICENT selection of spirits and a good reputation for the food (there’s an “open” kitchen in the downstairs room). This is a relaxing place for a beer or three with a very mixed custom reflecting the feel of the place. 

 And you can’t leave Richmond Street without a shot of the fabulous “Muriel” (sorry Hilda!) that graces the outside wall….

It won’t be so long before my next visit…. 

Back onto Sackville Street turning right onto Portland Street and across Piccadilly Gardens onto Lever Street. Across Stevenson Square and turn right onto Faraday Street, you will find a little known new place that Tryanuary should draw you to….

The Peer Hat : Faraday Street

The Arch Nemesis brought us here a few weeks ago following a visit to Fairfield Social Club. Tucked away between Lever Street and Newton Street, it was a complete surprise!

A bar cum live music venue (in the basement, something I’m yet to explore), this is a spacious two roomed pub. Friendly, with plenty of seating for old bones like mine! 

If you enter from the Little Lever Street entrance, you walk past the mini music shop. If only I had a turntable….

Yes. Nice local music theme here, but it’s the beer… Skirting the Verdant on keg – YOU shouldn’t if you go – Curse Of Mexico by Black Jack hit the R Spot, nice and punchy sharp for a session beer. Just what Dr ordered.

Like this place. It’s Tryanuary, give it a try. Well worth the effort. It just has a Mancunian feel, my kind of place. 

To finish off the evening – it WAS a “school night” after all and I was back out at 5:45 – yes, there IS a morning one…..

Back left onto Faraday Street and cross Lever Street (it’s a long walk this….) back onto Faraday Street and look right….

Pie & Ale : The Hive, Lever Street 

Technically, Faraday Street – if you’re looking on Lever Street you’ll miss this. And that would be a a shame.

4 separate areas cleverly divided to give different feels, the name is kind of a mission statement. Pie. And ale. And – from personal experience, very good pies indeed. 

Other than the fire alarm, a relatively quiet night. It was 10pm when we got here I suppose. Despite its “tucked away” location, this modern bar can get deceptively busy. 

With a mix of high tables, diner style setting and bar seats, the bar has a rotating beer range with one reserved for an eminently missable house beer. With beers from the likes of Turning Point, Brightside, Tickety & First Chop (a very – and welcome – Northern line up), that’s easy.  

The “Seven Waves” by Brightside maintained the perfect strike rate tonight. Full flavoured, punchy, with a moderate bitterness, it finished off the night (for me at least) perfectly. A lovely beer.

For the more price conscious, Tuesdays look good…. 

The “points” of tonight were various. To avoid the simple, the easy. Drinking in Manchester can become a magnificent Groundhog Day. Clichéd. If you let it. 

I’m as prone to that as anyone. I have my favourites too. And they are very obvious. But there is so much more to Manchester than the classics. And the trendy. 

Sometimes, it’s just time for something different. 

And it’s Tryanuary

So do just that. Try something different. Go give a hug and a kiss to somewhere you’ve never been before. Go with a friend (Cheers Jock), treat them, Share the love. 

You won’t regret it. 

Back soon. J x

Bottled Ales – November 2013 Pt 1 – Greater Manchester Bottled Ales

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(“Oh Manchester, so much to answer for”)

“It seems, to me, to be self-contradictory

It seems, to me, you count your blessings while they’re there”

(“In Shreds” – The Chameleons)

With all of this drinking malarkey, one can often just “Go With The Flow” and just drink great beer from wherever it may emanate, but it has struck me recently how little Manchester brewed bottled ale I have been drinking recently. This was brought sharply into my focus when I saw a post from Brightside (now) of Radcliffe – and now my closest micro! – that they had commenced bottling their ale. I was, to put it mildly, rather excited.

Most of the beers that I have been prattling on about have, I realised, been from either Yorkshire or that there London. High time for something more…local. I don’t often take home beer from my frequent Manchester jaunts, so it was a joy to locate a shop – not too far from me – which was starting to sell not only great bottled ale, but, increasingly, great bottled ale from the Manchester area. That place is The Liquor Shop on Bury Old Rd, Whitefield (150 yds from Besses O’Th Barn Metro stop). Stocking beers from as diverse brewers as The Kernel, Mad Hatter and Wilson Potter, Raj has started to build a really good range. Very competitively priced too! A friendly guy who likes his beers, he offers a 10% discount on 12 or more bottles (15% on 24!) too.

Over half of the beers below were sourced from his wee shop (the others being sourced directly from the brewers themselves). If you live in Central or North Manchester, pay him a visit, you’ll thank me!

If you have ever read one of these before, you will know what is comes next!……The format remains….

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

IMAG0267_BURST002(“Small” in name only!)

1. Small BeerQuantum Brewing Company (Stockport) – 2.7% abv – Pale Ale – £2.39 (500ml) – The Liquor Shop (Whitefield, N Manchester)

Wow. Then, more wow! My good friend Colin & I had this on cask at Port Street last month and it rocked our worlds! I don’t know how brewers can make a beer this light in Alcohol, so bloody tasty! (OK, yeah, I know it’s the hops – Magnum, Columbus, Cluster, Citra & Chinook, in this case – but you know what I mean!) And without making it insipid? It’s MAGIC! Well…back to one of favourite Alechemists…Mr Krause!

First, the label. Classy and minimal. Tells you what it is and lists the dry goods (hops & malts) on the side. An example to many.A golden beer with an abundant white head which quickly settled. Abundant aromas of mango and pineapple flying from the glass , a fruity delight. In the mouth? This is light bodied (as you would expect at the strength), there is a little underpinning light biscuit sweet note to support those wonderful hops! Mango, grapefruit and orange fruit danced on my tongue leading to a fabulous bitter fruity finish with lots of pine staying on in the aftertaste. A cracking beer from Jay. Can’t wait to crack the Smoked Imperial Treacle Stout!

IMAG0236(Neighbours….Everybody needs good……!)

2. Amarillo – Brightside Brewing Company (Radcliffe, Gtr Manchester) – 5% abv – Pale Ale – £2.89 (500ml) – The Liquor Shop (Whitefield, N Manchester)

Starting off behind a baker’s shop in Bury, these fine people are now my closest micro brewer, having relocated brewing operations to Radcliffe. In all honesty, it was their announcement that they had commenced bottling their ales, that made me think of a Manchester beer post!

This beer was a recent award winner at the SIBA NW Festival held at Staveley recently on cask …. having not had it at all, I was keen to taste this bottle.

Golden to bronze coloured with a fluffy white head giving up some serious citrus aromas. Bitter orange and tangerine contributing to an almost marmalade like nose. Biscuit sweetness supports the marmalade orange citrus in the mouth. This slides into a crackling bitterness and dry finish with an aftertaste with some more fruit yet distinctive piney tones. A cracking first bottle for me. More please!

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3. In ShredsWilson Potter Brewery (Middleton, Gtr Manchester) – 5% abv – Pale Ale – £2.33 (3 for £7) (500ml) – Direct from the brewery.

I’ve written of my love for the beers that Amanda & Kathryn make on a number of occasions, but hadn’t had much recently. Weekend before last, I had the briefest of opportunities to pop up to the brewery and have the quickest of chats over a couple of halves, of which, this was one. A bitter hoppy delight it was too. So I snapped up one of their 3 for £7 boxes, including this beer.

Hopped with NZ hops (Green Bullet & Motueka), this was mid-gold coloured with a full white head and the bitter citrus aromas of lemon & lime just leaping out of the glass. A gorgeous zesty bitter mouthful with more lemon & lime followed by a bracing bitterness and a resinous, dry grassy finish. At the strength, a really refreshing bitter hoppy brew this. I like WPs beers, but this could be their best so far. A cracker! (And, to my joy, a music reference too. In Shreds was one of my favourite tracks from the excellent Chameleons, a band formed in the 80s from Middleton. Many a night dancing on beer sodden floors……..zzzzzz……check out Up The Down Escalator, my personal favourite track!)

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(And…lurking in the stash…was this!)

4. Triaurum IPARamsbottom Craft Brewery (Ramsbottom, Nr Bury) – 4.7% abv – IPA – £2.50 (4 for £10) (500ml) – Direct from the brewery

I (somewhat cheekily) invited myself up to see Matt Holmes in June this year (read here) and observed his grafting (and crafting!) at first hand, sampling a bottle or two and taking some home. This was from that batch and was found lurking, buried in my – growing – stash. Rescuing it from the box……

A hazy and pale golden beer this with a white head and a subtle sweet grapefruit aroma minglred (or even “mingled”!) in with some fresh mown grass (not bad for November!) Medium bodied, this had some tart lemon notes in with the still present grapefruit leading balanced on a nice bready malt base. A really refreshing beer this with a dry, grassy bitter finish. Makes some damn nice beers does Matt – try get hold of his Thai Witbeer if you can!

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5. Lemon BlossomHornbeam Brewery (Denton, Gtr Manchester) – 4.1% abv – Pale Ale – £2 (500ml) – Direct from the brewer at a MTB

Picked this up at a recent (unfortunately sparsely attended) MTB at The Salford Arms. Kevin the brewer was a most genial host and this was among the many bottles we sampled that evening. Not a brewer I had had much from at that point, but with lovely balanced tasty beers like this, I certainly won’t be overlooking them on any bar now.

Such a pale gold as to be almost colourless! White head giving up subtle yet distinct lemony aromas (from the Sorachi Ace hops) allied with some grassy notes. Light to medium bodied with some zesty lemon in the mouth swiftly drying the mush with a lovely dry bitterness. Delicate and refreshing this. No hop monster, but all the better for it. A belting light refreshing beer that I could happily drink all night.

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6. BlondeTickety Brew (Stalybridge) – 5.8% abv – Blonde Ale – £1.99 (330ml) – The Liquor Shop (Whitefield, N Manchester)

You’ve just got to LOVE that label design haven’t you. Never seen anything like it on a bottle. So distinctive, beautiful.

The beer? Another one I picked up from Raj on my first visit to his Whitefield emporium, golden yet verging on copper coloured, this was lively with a white head and that Belgian yeasty funk that comes from their house yeast with a bit of cream soda in there too. The cream soda-ish notes came through in the mouth along with some banana (that yeast again!) and some more fruity notes. A nice dry finish with a little grassyness staying on. Another nice beer from this Stalybridge brewer. Now just need to try some on draught!

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7. DobberMarble Beers (Manchester) – 5.9% abv – India Pale Ale – £3.89 (500ml) – The Liquor Shop (Whitefield, N Manchester)

As a kid – playing marbles or “alleys” in the street – Dobbers were the big beast of the marble jungle, highly prized. However, I rarely had a big one (story of my life, really!) and had to make do with “glassies” and “cat’s eyes”. This beer, in keeping with my understanding of the word, is described as “the biggest Marble in the pack”. Whatever, it most certainly is a big beer for this strength (&, to my shame, a Marble I was yet to sample!)

Deepest gold beer with a lasting white head giving up HUGE aromas of mango and peach! Big malty bready body supporting loads of fruity hop muscle. More mango and bitter grapefruit in the mouth, partying away and abusing my tongue, beating it into passive submission to the hops! I gave myself up to the big bitter resinous finish and collapsed, whimpering. I have absolutely NO idea why I hadn’t had this beer yet, but I want more!

As I pick up more local bottles, I will post more Manchester only items, just need more beer shops to stock local beers really. Raj appears to be doing OK, others just need to take the hint really!

Anyway, enough of my blatherings. Time for bed!

On that note….’til next time….

Slainte!

Beer & Music (Pubs with Jukeboxes Pt1) 09/05/2013

Aside from family, my two great passions. Beer and music. To me, they just go together so well. Beans/Toast, Cheese/Onion, Beer/Music. Don’t get me wrong, with social drinking, conversation is the thing. But, a top tune in the background…….The number of times I’ve been in a pub in the last 30 years and said “tune” are innumerable.

Jaz & I were thinking a while back, that whilst the vast majority of the venues we drink in have great tunes, the pub jukebox is dying out in favour of the tastes of the bar staff. Now, when the staff have eclectic tastes that match your own, that’s dandy. But what if they don’t…… It got us to thinking…How many pubs in the City Centre still have Jukes? Let’s call this series of articles a (less than scientific!) ‘survey’!

Before all that, I got a message from my arch-nemesis yesterday morning, telling me that Micro Bar had Dunham Massey’s Chocolate Cherry Mild on. A beer I’d only tasted in bottle once. I promise you faithfully, I REALLY wasn’t intending to sally forth last night, but that was a temptation too much. Oscar Wilde had it right….

Micro Bar

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Micro Bar by name…….No jukebox here. This was a ME moment!  Chocolate Cherry Mild by Dunham Massey Brewery. Given that the brewery is probably 15 miles from my front door, I have had very little of their stuff on draught. This is probably their most famous beer and I had only tried the bottled version (and that was only last week!). Time to fill that gap.

This dark ruby beer instantly filled my hooter with Black Forest Gateau aromas. This carried on in the mouth. Lovely fruity cherry with a dry almost cocoa powder chocolatey flavour. This is a Ronseal of a beer (‘Does Exactly What It Says On The Tin’!), a nice hoppy grassy touch in the aftertaste as well. As good as cherries in beer gets short of being a Kriek.

This was an early start for me, as this bar shuts at 18:30. As its name implies, this bar is indeed small and is the nearest I’m likely to get to a Micro Pub any time soon. That said, they still manage to fit in 5 hand pumps (one being for cider) and a number of craft/keg fonts.

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Within its limited footprint, Micro Bar also manages to fit in a role as a substantial ‘off-licence’! Bottles from around the world with a large proportion being UK sourced. I was seriously tempted to buy the Dark Star Imperial Stout, but….next time, maybe!

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Who’d have thought that such an oasis could exist within the walls of the hideous Manchester Arndale! Food tip. If you’re feeling peckish, there are a lot of take-away vendors of quality on adjoining stalls. Pancho’s Burritos being two stalls away. You can even sit in the bar area AND eat your grub. What more could you ask for?

With shutters dropping around us, the decision was made by others for us to move on…

The Smithfield Bar & Hotel

Smithfield

(pic – courtesy of Google)

The Smithfield has the feel of a local on the edge of the city. It sits four square within the Northern Quarter without actually feeling part of it. When compared with other nearby bars, it certainly is a character apart.

6 or 7 ales on hand pump here. This is as traditional a drinking hole as you’ll find hereabouts with nary a sign of a craft font! Local ales mostly with (I’m advised) a tendency to source beers from breweries rare to the area. Looking across the pumps, I remembered that May is the month during which CAMRA seeks to promote Milds. With that in mind, I opted for Smithfield Mild, brewed for the pub by Facers from Flint, North Wales (formerly of Salford)

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(Facers Mild)

A good choice. Toasty on the nose with a lovely creamy texture and full of roasted malt flavours. 3.3% abv and lots of flavour. The Jukebox leaned heavily on 80s/90s Manchester staples, Joy Division, New Order, happy Monday, Stone Roses etc with an Irish slant via some compilations and a bit of Van Morrison. A good selection, but not the most eclectic you’ll find. Certainly no match for the zany, surreal wallpaper!

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(Not from B&Q I take it!)

For me, one of the standout things in this pub is the presence of a pool table, something you don’t see much of in Town.

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(A rarity)

Given that the pub was fairly quiet, I gave the Juke a miss. The regulars at the bar were friendly enough and I saw no reason to disturb their chatter. After just the one, we moved on, across the road and about 50 yards to…

Bar Fringe

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Now. If you’ve never been here, you need to. Frequently. This is possibly the most eclectically decorated/furnished pub in Manchester. There is no overt attempt to be cool. It just is.

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(Rear toward the ‘beer garden’)

5 handpumps with one for cider.Lots of craft/foreign keg fonts. One rally interesting thing by its absence. Guinness. Replaced by Marstons Oyster Stout. An interesting and welcome touch.

Beer? Continuing with Milds, Midnight Rose by Pennine Brewery at 3.7%. Dark ruby, buttered toast nose. A fruity mouth with more than a hint of damsons/plums. A belting pint. (Not had much by Pennine before). I was hoping to meet the legendary landlady, but more later!

The jukebox? A cracker! Just to have Curtis Mayfield (one of my musical heroes) was a winner for me. Put a few tunes on in here, Freddie’s Dead and You Gotta Have Peace by Curtis and Misty Mountain Hop by Led Zep. Classics all.

The landlady made her presence felt via Twitter by recommending the Ducktor Who by Green Duck Brewery. Who was I to argue?

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(You can glimpse the famous Motor Bike top right!)

A good recommendation. A golden beer with an apricot/grapefruit hoppy nose. Juicy sweet malt with oodles of citrussy American hoppy flavours. At this point, a female cyclone blew through the room, chatting to the regulars. The famous landlady, known to Twitter as Banana Charlie! To say the least, she left an impression! Top lady, top bar.

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This is another bar where you can source some hitherto unseen beers. Tonight, Great Yarmouth Brewing CompanyDNA‘. A 3.8% pale hoppy brew from Norfolk. Am informed by the mighty Nate Dawg that this is a new set up in the seaside town. I had a sneaky sip and it was nice indeed. I’d have had another one, but another juke was calling!

The Castle

Castle

(pic – Beerintheevening.com)

Walking down Oldham Street from Great Ancoats St, it was difficult to miss the space where a recent fire burned down a huge premises a few doors up from this pub.

There was daylight as we approached to pub entrance. Walking in was like being back in the womb. Dark reds, warm, comforting. It was that dark you could imagine this being a vampires lair. Anyway, there was a band on and it was busy. Notwithstanding that, we got served quickly and Jaz grabbed a seat whilst I scoped the Juke.

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(Where the magic happens!)

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(Spooky!)

Another cracker this. For my £1, Prince ‘Sign O’ The Times’, Talking Heads ‘Take Me To The River’ and Ray Charles’ ‘What’d I Say Pts 1 & 2’. Aural class! First beer, Another mild, this time a 4.8% fruity number from Titanic called Nautical Mild. This was almost as plummy as their Plum Porter! Dark, fruity with a nice dryness to the finish.

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(The selection)

My tunes finished. Then some genius located Bloodbuzz Ohio by The National! The High Violet album on a Juke? I had to leave to calm down! Great album!

I’ve loved The Castle for over 30 years. Good to see it thriving and new generations of drinkers enjoying its charms. 9 handpumps on the bar too!

I was up for more Jukes, but that would’ve taken us to the other side of town (and Jaz was feeling lazy!) so, the lesser of evils, we popped for some good tunes, just no Juke, to…

The Crown & Kettle

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Assured of a good pint & good tunage in here. Beer? Another mild for me with Stokers Slake from Three Bs Brewery of Blackburn. A smooth Dark Mild with lots of roasted malt flavours and a slight smoky touch. Mmmm….. Walking in to the strains of Janis Joplin “Another Piece of My Heart” was a bonus. Misleading though as most of the following tracks had a distinct 80s bias. Modern Love by Bowie (a favourite – great circular chorus), Dancing With Myself by Generation X…..A little Joni Mitchell with Big Yellow Taxi gave a little 60s seasoning.

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(Gratuitous Ceiling Shot!)

Good beer, beautiful pub. An architectural gem. (A gorgeous back room too). I like this place. A lot.

Jaz now wanted to put his feet up and relax in his front room. His front room being….

The Port Street Beer House

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(Last nights cask offerings)

By now, you should all know what you get here! Craft beers in both cask and keg, reliably tasty and served by staff who drink them themselves and know what they are talking about. Simple eh? They do this stuff well. Which is why they’re always busy.

It isn’t an architectural gem like The C&K, but it does it’s job. Tonight, in the absence of a mild, I went local for American Amber Ale by Quantum Brewing from Stockport.

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(Mr Krause. Amber my arse!)

Jay Krause does some great things with hops. But if that’s an amber beer, I need to go to Specsavers! What it is, is a nose full of beautiful hoppy aromas. Dark ruby coloured (as you can see!), a mouth full of lovely malt with some licorice hop overtones. Only thing to add was it was probably my pint of the night!

A nightcap Mr Jazwinski? Oh, I shouldn’t really! But if you insist, a 1/2 pint of Ageless by Redwillow please!

I’ve only had this in bottle previously and it knocked me off my feet. A double IPA full of grapefruit citrus joy. Pineapple as well. Joy! The same in the mouth with resinous notes. So good, I had to have another 1/2!

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(Coming soon to an architectural marvel near you!)

Now Jaz is lucky. He only has to stumble 100 yards to his door, whereas I need the assistance of First Transport! So, off to Piccadilly with me for that old favourite. The last bus!

On that note…..’til next time…..

Slainte!

‘Manchester. A Beer Is Born!’ JW Lees Manchester Pale Ale Launch / Joshua Brooks 17/04/2013

So. A random e-mail leads me to the VERY windy streets of Manchester and a clearing of my schedules to taste a new beer by Middleton based JW Lees. This being held in Rain Bar (Rainy City – geddit!), bizarrely, Lees’ sole outlet in the centre of Manchester.

Rain Bar(pic – fancyapint.com)

The entrance to the bar was cordoned, this being a private function, so wristbands on, er, wrists, myself and my arch-nemesis Jaz set off to the bar where conversation was already flowing (Well, Tandleman was at the bar too, so it would be!). We settled ourselves down to watch the slide show of iconic Manchester photographs that had been pulled together by Kevin Cummins.

Opened by Lees in 1999, I must have walked past this warehouse on numerous occasions in the 80s without paying it any mind. The name, the industrial link, the minimalism of all that exposed brickwork. It’s Manchester to its core this place. I like it.

The evening was beginning to take shape with the appearance at the bar of Kevin Cummins, Mark Radcliffe and Bez, the latter pair putting in a publicity shoot appearance behind it on the pumps.

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(I’m sure young Radcliffe’s in there somewhere!)

The Manchester themed canapes (the Black Pudding parcels were tremendous!) were doing the rounds as William Lees-Jones gave us a presentation on the beer and what inspired it. A pale beer with initial fresh hoppy aroma, easy drinking at 3.7% abv and quite refreshing, it evolved from a couple of the seasonals that the brewery released in 2011/2012. The intention – according to W L-J – is to push this nationally. It has been a while since a Manchester beer had such a presence nationally and I wish them well. (BTW – I preferred the draught markedly over the bottled version, which is slightly different and is 4.1%)

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(Manchester Pale Ale – Take a Bow!)

Williams’ speech over, Mark Radcliffe took over and was hugely entertaining (isn’t he always?) and hosted a 10 question quiz, with the prize being a years’ supply of the beer (and a years’ supply of curry too!). I lasted 5 questions!

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(The WRONG answer!)

Quiz over, the genial Bez took over custodianship of the decks and the Manchester tunes got funkier “Shack Up” by A Certain Ratio? Oh yes, back to my youth!

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(And The Bottled Version)

Quite a distinctive branding and label for this beer, which stands out from other Lees products. Simple and explanatory, which may help in the supermarket off-trade.

An enjoyable evening made better by chatting to a couple of Lees’ publicans from different generations. One from the Ring O’Bells in Middleton and a young couple from The Victoria in Holmes Chapel. Good company both.

The whole presentation was slick and firmly rooted in Manchester. The photographs were stunning (all from local amateurs), the quiz (even as A or B) was fiendishly difficult and the music was superb (even if it drifted away from Manc artists toward the end!)

A good launch. Wish them well. (Now then, where IS that bottle of Manchester Star?) And thank you to Niamh from Tangerine PR for the invites!

Collecting our ‘goodie bags’ (I’m a sucker for these things!), myself and Jaz sloped off for t’watch us some footie. This led us to ……

Joshua Brooks.

Last night was possibly unique for me. A ‘Freehouse’ with 5 outstandingly good ales on the bar. AND 4 OF THEM WERE DARKS!!!! As Van Morrison once sang “I’m in HEAVEN’!

20130417_200443(The Dark Side indeed!)

Being a glutton for punishment, I sampled them all.

First up was the ‘Liquid Mint Aero’ that is Thornbridge Baize. 5.5% abv, black with a minty and vanilla aroma. A gloriously well balance stout with more than a hint of mint (poetry comes as standard!) and chocolate without being cloyingly sweet. A hell of an achievement this beer!

Next, one of the two darks on from Titanic Brewery. Firstly the Cappuccino Stout at 4.5%. I raved about this when I first had this last year. Lovely stout with some nice coffee bitterness.

Next was Darkness by the relentlessly excellent Dark Star brewery. A black IPA at the low abv of 3.5%, a superb achievement to get so much flavour into such a low alcohol beer, coffeeish, citrussy, confounding. But a reaaaaally nice beer.

Finally, Titanic Chocolate & Vanilla Stout. Again, as with the Cappuccino, this uses Titanic’s dry Stout as the basis and runs off in another direction. Smooth an dreamily creamy. Choccy, Ice Creamy, I just adore this beer. It’s up there with Triple Chocoholic by Saltaire and Dark Arts by Magic Rock for me. It completes my ‘Holy Trinity’ of stouts!

Nice to chat with James again and even better when United drop points (WHAT a goal by Diame!) and The Blues slutch a win against Wigan.

With the beer selection that JBs has, allied to the superb condition in which it is always served, this bar should be packed night after night. I don’t know when drinkers are going to catch up, but, until they do, I’ll pick my favourite leather chair, enjoy the excellent tunes and sink a pint or three!

An excellent evening, as ever, with Mr Jaz with some excellent beers all told!

On that note…..Until next time….

Slainte!

Manchester NQ – 16/01/2013

Midweek Beer in the Northern Quarter

Sub zero in Manchester. What kind of fool would want to travel to Manchester for a pint in such cold? You guessed it!

Stepping into The Marble Arch on Rochdale Road, you stand for a moment to drink in all of the original features of this unique pub. The glazed tile walls, Victorian fireplace, lovely ornate bar, the ‘ski slope’ descent to the bar! (It takes some believing!)

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(A grand entrance!)

My intention was to drink just Manchester area beers, but that died on my breath as there was a beer waiting for me from Hand Drawn Monkey in Huddersfield! So, that was that!

Pale Ale Experiment #2, (the said beer) is a 4% abv pale refreshing and lightly bitter ale. Moving onto the ‘Dark Side’, I had to try the Marble Brewery Stouter Stout and revel in its satanic blackness! Dry, creamy and earthy, with some gentle charred coffee bitterness.  Mmmmm…..

I do like a little stroll, so, wandering down Rochdale Road, past the site of the former Pot of Beer (an old friend!) we approached The Angel.

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Somewhat overlooked by the huge new Co-Op HQ, The pub has a restaurant upstairs with a good reputation and the pub itself has had a few rebirths over the years, but is now settled as a free-house

Always guaranteed an eclectic selection in here. Open plan in an L shape with the bar on the left, the room has a peculiar (and unique, for Manchester) feature. A baby grand piano!

20130116_202440[1] (Fancy a tinkle?)

Quite quiet in here with some nice background music, I settled down to a nice pint of Culloden Stout from BrewHouse Brewery at 5.6% abv. Dry, slightly bitter with a hint of vanilla. The pub has around 7 beers on at any one time and frequently has some hard to find gems.

Moving on, we crossed over Rochdale Rd and popped into The Smithfield on Swan St, another pub with an unusual feature for the city centre, a pool table!

20130116_205637[1](A City Centre rarity!)

Another open plan pub, this has a small square mezzanine with some ‘shabby chic’ comfy chairs (VERY comfy!) and has an arrangement of comfy chairs located at the end around the large screen TV (for Sports). This has the feel (and clientele) of a true ‘local’ pub and is very friendly.

The usual good selection of beers on show, I opted for a beer from Bury, namely Deeply Vale ‘Still Walking’ bitter. 3.8% abv, a nicely balanced beer with lots of flavour and a clean dry finish.

Bar Fringe up next, as eclectic as you want it to be! There is always a decorative surprise in here (as well as a decent beer or two!) The Mezzanine Motorbike being a personal favourite!

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(Eclectic Decoration – Fringe Style!)

A nice pale and hoppy Frost Giant from Sadlers Brewery in the West Midlands at 3.8%abv was the choice in here. I do like friendly bar staff, and the gravelly voice bloke behind the pumps certainly was that! Normally 2 or 3 ales on in here, with a large array of draught Belgian and German beers.

On this bitterly cold night, the next walk was short, across Oldham Road to The Crown & Kettle.

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A beautiful building inside & out. High ceilings and ornate details. 3 distinct rooms in here, a main room, small off room and a snug to the rear. Some nice classical prints on the walls. My preference is for the small room just off the bar area with a nice coal-effect fire.

Now warming up, I enjoyed a Peerless Brewery Hop Nob at 3.8% abv a pale, quite malty beer with some subtly flavoursome hops in there. Some soft soul music in the background, nice!

Finally, The Castle on Oldham Street. The only pub I’ve ever been refused service – a LONG time ago – by an old misery landlord! Times have changed! This pub is an old friend and has undergone a transformation in the last two years. The large rear room is now a performance space and the upstairs has been opened up into another public room.

The pub has a large selection of Robinson’s beers and some interesting guests. Tonight, I had a Lurcher Stout at 4.8% by Green Jack Brewery from Lowestoft. Smooth, creamy and lush! Chocolate flavours from the dark roasted malt and subtly smoky. And more friendly bar staff! A nice end to the evening.

Now then, where did I park that bus?

‘Til next time.

Slainte!

An Impromptu Northern Quarter Stroll – 02/11/2012 (or…”The best-laid schemes o’mice an men gang aft agley”)

This week, chez Heels, the dust has been flying. For a change, it was the stairway walls that were getting plastered, by my good friend Mr Wood. Now I had made a rather rash statement last Sunday (after two days committed blog research!), that I was pulling up the drawbridge and retreating from strolling for a couple of weeks.

However, Rabbie Burns knows far more about plans going wrong than I do, so, with my bank balance diminishing with the plaster dust, and the said dust drying my throat….sod plans! A quick call to my mentor and arch-nemesis Mr Jaz (at that time, at The Bury Beer Festival – excellent reports!) and I find myself on the (late) 18:44 from Farnworth to The Rainy City, which certainly lived up to its name!
So, at 19:15 I found myself shaking the raindrops off the new coat at the bar of……
Angel

Now I’ve known this pub in a number of incarnations. When I first drank there was my first Xmas works stroll back in 1984. Back then it was a Tetley house called The Weavers, a 2 room pub with an upstairs function room (with the legendary Victor Brox performing that particular night!). A fine pint of Tetley it was too.

Then it subsequently became a freehouse under The Beerhouse moniker. A fine pub it was too, with a variety of well kept beers. Now it is known as The Angel and styles itself as a Dining Pub. The main restaurant room being in the upstairs area (formerly frequented by Mr Brox et al) the downstairs area occupied by the “pub” bit is an open plan in an L shape with the bar on the left as you enter. There are a number of hand pumps on display, with a good selection from the likes of Liverpool Organic, Pictish, Norfolk Brewery and Hawkshead. Dining Pub or not, this is one excellent drinking venue!
Seeking the comfort that familiarity brings, I opted for one of my favourite pale ales, Hawkshead Windermere Pale a 3.5% abv brew. As clear as you would want it, lovely and golden with a nice tight head. Like myself, it seemed a bit subdued, not its usual assertive self, perhaps the Jalfrezi I had recently eaten had dulled my tastebuds? Who knows! It was a nice pint in any case served by a very friendly and helpful young barman who tried to tempt me with a Pictish Beata!
Some minutes after the arrival of Jaz, he felt compelled to furnish me with a pint of Norfolk Brewery Moon Gazer Ruby Ale. A dark Ruby Mild at 4% abv, this had a lovely nutty aroma. Flavours were a biscuity roasted malt, a really nice pint. There was another Norfolk Brewery beer on the bar which came with the Jaz seal of approval, but, you don’t have a stroll while sitting on your bum! So, 5 minutes later and a 300 yard walk and we were back at one of my favourite venues….

Common Bar

Common

(Common Artwork 1)
(Common Artwork 2)
As busy as a chippy! We beat a path to the bar. Both pumps were occupied, one with a beer from Brightside Brewery from Bury. Ordinarily, I would have had one and ‘gone local’, but the other pump sported an Ilkley Brewery pump clip! The beer was The Green Goddess, another collaboration with the beer writer Melissa Cole. Two weeks ago, I eulogised about their other collaboration Siberia. Well, this is right up there also!
(pic – Courtesy of Joshua Brooks – ‘sorry’ – ed)
Green Goddess is desrcibed as a green hop IPA. I must confess, by the flavour, I’d have had as a wheat beer! Slightly hazy, and golden with cream soda in the aroma, the flavour, fresh cut grass, resinous hops. The  best recommendation I can give is…I stayed for another! (£3.15 – using my Common Card.- Bargain!) We move on…..to……
Terrace Bar (opposite Common) on Edge Street.
Again, busy as a chippy! Recently opened bar on Edge Street with 2 entrances – the other being on Thomas Street. The Edge Street side has a large open area with a DJ booth (I think!), the room then narrows into a corridor through which you access the bar. Lots of exposed brickwork, excellent powerful sound system, lots of cocktails being served to a predominantly young crowd.
The usual suspect lagers in evidence alongside 6 handpumps. 3 of these seemed to be occupied by Marston beers, but I opted for a beer by Happy Valley. The beer was hazy, not very well kept and VERY disappointing at £3.80 a pint. No issue with Happy Valley, as I know they brew excellent beer. This fault falls on the venue. Needless to say, we beat a hasty (and somewhat disappointed) retreat. (I won’t be back in a hurry!) to……
 
So much has been written about this pub. What I will say for my part, is that it’s the best pub in Manchester. Period.
Last night, I walked in to be greeted by JP behind the bar who recognised me from my stint behind the cask bar at IndyManBeerCon. The man has a formidable memory! Top bloke!
The beer.
First up was Resistance by the mighty Summer Wine Brewery from Holmfirth. A dark mild at 3.9% abv. Lovely dark brown beer with a nice roasted aroma. Nutty dark roasted malt flavour. Went down a treat after the previous pint!
Next – Fireside Porter by Ilkley Brewery. Having not had much on draught by Ilkley, I’m now on a bit of a run! Dark beer, roasted malt and smoky aroma. For the strength (4.2%) this was a surprisingly flavourful beer. Some vine fruit, smoky roasted flavour. Yum! Another excellent brew from Ilkley.
A touch of stupidity next! Generous George from Kirkstall. 6.6% abv was a stretch too far. Loads of flavour but by ‘eck it tasted it’s strength! One to try slightly earlier in the evening I think!
Finally, again on Kirkstall. This time their Framboise on keg. Lovely tart raspberries! Really refreshing.
Again, the bar staff speak for a pub. The staff last night at Port Street were friendly and ever so knowledgeable about the products they serve. Stood at the bar, I watched them help a number of customers with their choice of beer with an unfailing polite manner. This stuff works and makes for return visits. It works for me!
With that, It was off for the last 37 bus back to Farnworth! See you soon.
Slainte!