Manchester Northern Quarter Bar Crawl – 19/07/2014

“I’ve been up to Villiers Terrace to see what’s a-happening.
There’s people rolling ’round on the carpet, mixing up the medicine

Been up to Villiers Terrace, I saw what’s a-happening
People rolling ’round on the carpet, biting wool and pulling string
You said people rolled on carpet, but I never thought they’d do those things”

(“Villiers Terrace” – Echo & The Bunnymen)

(Video clip courtesy of ShoutFactoryMusic on YouTube)

In 1979 /1980, when I was 14, my favourite bands were Joy Division and Echo & The Bunnymen. Joy Division were a slight hand-me-down from my elder brother, but “The Bunnymen” (as we all called them at the time) were all mine. “The Puppet”, “Pictures On My Wall” & “Rescue” (12″ – naturally) were three of the earliest records that I bought for myself. Where Joy Division seemed to embody the somewhat dour, industrial chic of Manchester, “The Bunnymen” & Ian McCullough in particular, were effortlessly cool, a certain cockiness too, maybe. But just so cool.

I even remember buying my first combat jacket (but not “Camo”) to wear to go and see them, from Afflecks Palace (Yes Manchester hipsters, it really HAS been open THAT long!) There were rumours of a “Mystery Gig” swirling around in late 1980 and I desperately tried to get a ticket. To no avail. I think that I missed the last ticket held by Discount Records (Manchester old ‘Indoor Market’ with its entrance off Pall Mall) by a couple of hours. I was gutted. That concert ended up being recorded and saw release as an EP called “Shine So Hard” (An Atlas Adventure)

Rather controversially (some may think), I disowned the band upon the release of the single that was their commercial breakthrough “The Back of Love”, I remember hearing the track on a John Peel Session and thinking it was a sack of shite (Salford colloquialism!), so when I heard a shinier version as a single…..

I drifted back after that album “Porcupine” when they released the classic “Ocean Rain”, but the album (and period) from which “Villiers Terrace” is taken “Crocodiles”, is still their highlight for me.

The Bunnymen kindled a love of the City of Liverpool – though it was at least another 7 years before I was to visit. Strange to find – a couple of years ago – when I was desperately researching my family tree (prior to Dad passing away), that an entire branch of my family could be traced back to the area of Toxteth St Mary! Never leaves you I suppose!

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I really didn’t MEAN to end up in Manchester, honest! It was just meant to be a little nip in to Great Ale Year Round, to sample the bear I helped to shovel out (that most glam of jobs!). That beer is Station to Station IPA. Brewed by Allgates in collaboration with Five Towns of Wakefield, it was a 5.6% mango fuelled delight. Lightly hazed, it was fruitier than a Carmen Miranda headdress! Utterly lush. Glad that I drank it in a great bar, which is undoubtedly what Dan & Gina Buck have. It was nice to see them back in harness after a well-earned holiday!

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I’m off to the mighty County / Republic of Kernow soon (Perranporth, to be exact), so, given that a) I hadn’t been in The Lowers Turks Head for nigh on 30 years and b) there was a Cornish Beer Festival ongoing, we (well, the Arch-Nemesis is ALWAYS nearby!) opted to start here.

The Lower Turks Head (Shudehill – Opp the Bus Station)

Behind that beautiful historic tiled facade (the pub itself, perhaps dates back to as early as 1745), a lot of money has been spent to make this pub shine!

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Busy as hell in here and almost as warm on this humid July afternoon! 2 floors, classy decor shading, fairly dark with lots of wood. We grabbed pints from Padstow Brewery and headed off for some air!

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(Never smile at…..)

Unfortunately, this pleasant outdoor 1st floor terrace also doubled up as a smoking space, but I NEEDED to feel a breeze! The beer was fine, Padstow Brewery “Pilot” 4% abv. A deep ruby red beer, with a chocolate aroma, a bit like a Snickers, a touch nutty. Light bodied, bit like a mild, quite refreshing, lightly hopped.

Given that I love a local beer or two, I’ll have to pop back in on a more “normal evening to judge the offering, but to be fair, the pub looks great and was BLOODY BUSY!


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The Blue Pig (High Street/Back Turner St)

First time for me in this bar. Opening in 2012, this passed me by a bit – being a bit of a “pub” bloke. I’ve obviously denied myself some rare pleasures, because I love this place! Big open room with a bit of a bohemian feel. Nice flourishes all over the place and it was as busy as a chippy with great tunes (The Walkmen, The Smiths) all but drowned out by the sound of conversation – just the way it should be!

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Quite a bit of cocktail action going down as we entered, but my eyes were immediately drawn to the small (2), yet perfectly locally formed cask offering! Shindigger Pale and Black Jack’s Oddingtons. I hit the Shindigger which was in good nick. A fine fruity refreshing pint. This bar probably has the beer selection spot on. 3 pumps, but 2 on, both local. I like it and I like this bar. Not too cool, just a good feel to it. My note uses the word “decadent”. Probably sums it up! I’ll be back.

Odd Bar

(Photo “nicked” from Odd Bar itself!)

Odd Bar (30/32 Thomas Street)

Just around the corner….Odd Bar. One of a 4 bar chain (Is The Blue Pig part of the group?) First time for me again. Top indie tuneage. Offbeat & Tickety Brew beers on the bar. Good start. A fine pint of Tickety Brew Stout. All the roasted malt you could want and that Belgian Yeast spiciness, luxurious and smooth.
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A Lively bar, dark tones, red and browns lots of photos adorning the walls with some seriously decadent wallpaper. Loved the purple fabric  hanging from the ceiling, made me think of a bedouin tent! Beautiful.

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Nice airy room upstairs too. Like Arnie… I’ll be back! A jukebox too? Maybe another juke crawl soon! Just the one in here as the table we occupied was reserved! On to….

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Common Bar (Edge Street)
From the first moment I walked in to Common to the strains of “The Light Pours Out Of Me” by Magazine, I fell in love with this place. The original bar that spawned the monster that became Port Street, The Beagle, IndyManBeerCon…… Now Manchester institutions all!
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2 main rooms, plenty of seating, lots of exposed brickwork and loads of artworks and posters adorning the walls. It really is just cool as fuck, but without trying too hard at it. Great food too! Two cask beers and a whole bunch of “craft keg” offerings. I went for the Moor Brewery and their Confidence at 4.6% abv. A hazy, ruby red beer with a citrus fruit nose allied to some forest fruit. In mouth, medium-bodied with lemon, grapefruit on top. Sharp and fruity. A damn fine beer. A damn fine bar.
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Terrace Bar (Edge Street/Thomas Street – dual entrance)
Bloody hell but this was rammed! Described elsewhere as “the prettiest ginnel in Manchester”, this 2013 bar has lots more exposed brickwork. The fact that it was really busy says a lot.
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Lots of decent breweries on offer from 6 handpumps. I went for Ringmaster from Magic Rock. I tried, but…no. Not for me. Lacked the sheer zing of Magic Rock for me. Had a swift half of Kernel IPA (Citra, Simcoe, Cascade) on keg, which was a bitter citrus delight. I like the bar, again, some great funky tunes and a fine beer selection shows that they are trying hard. Worth a visit.
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57 Thomas Street (Thomas Street – unsurprisingly!)
This is a small yet perfectly formed bar space which has carved itself its own niche in the Northern Quarter. Single room with a long table (apparently constructed from old floorboards), where alternately, you can see people chatting, drinking and eating or alternately playing various board games. It just is that easy-going and …cool (that “other” C word again!)
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(Beer Porn – Lagonda in all her golden glory!)
A few keg fonts as you enter, but the bar top cask dispense is a distinguishing feature. A physically cool (perfectly so) pint of Lagonda IPA was a delight. A Manchester classic. Fruity and lush. Really refreshing for a 5% beer. Spot.On.
The great thing about the above bars…they’re within 100 yards or less of each other, often opposite!
And then…the longest walk of the evening. All of 200 yards or so!
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Soup Kitchen (Spear Street, off Stevenson Square)
A bar that should NOT be overlooked in the search for good beer. And I mean DAMN good beer! The feel of a Cantina in this big open room, which really should be fuller than it was! Loads of bench seating with some high window seats to watch the NQ go by. Good food apparently too. Live music venue downstairs has some cracking acts on too!
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Tonight, the beers were Shindigger, Squawk, Titanic & Arbor. Now, you know me! Ordinarily, I go local where I can. And I would have done, were it not for the fact that, leering at me, then winking seductively, was Arbor’s Breakfast Stout. Was it REALLY 7.4%? Did I REALLY have a pint? Oh but it was utterly sublime! More coffee than Starbucks could shake a stirring stick at. Creamy and unctuous. Ohhhhh…..Would have had another, but the chariot was waiting!
A fine afternoon in the company of the Arch-Nemesis as always. Great beers in some fabulous Mancunian bars.
On that note…’til next time…
Slainte!

A Bristol Stroll (or two!) 08-09/07/2013

I’m not overly fond of working away. Bit of a “home bird” really. But when the boss asked me to spend a few days in Bristol, I remembered how long it had been since I’d last been. 11 years. The drinking was THAT bad back then, that I spent a whole night in a Walkabout drinking Steinlager on a 2 for 1 special. Grim doesn’t do it justice.

Obviously, things would have improved. After all, I’ve enjoyed the delights of breweries like Arbor, Bristol Beer Factory, RCH etc up here. So the pubs must be better than the sham Aussie theme bar, right?

Well, I’d picked up a few tips from beery folks like Glenn Johnson (fellow blogger) and Karen from The Evening Star in Brighton, via Twitter, so on with the walking shoes!

Now then. I was staying nearly 10 miles north of the city, near the M5, so public transport was essential. Luckily, there were 2 buses into the city stopping right outside my hotel, so, rather hot and bothered in near 30c temperatures, I embarked on the single most uncomfortable bus journey I’ve ever been on. Bloody hell, I needed a pint when I got to town!

Now, Glenn writes a good blog. I’ve never met the chap (something I would love to rectify!), but I trust his judgement. So when he recommended me The Barley Mow http://beer-writings.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/a-mini-bristol-pub-crawl.html I paid attention. And made it my first port of call. And got lost. TWICE!

Having disembarked the No 1 bus near Temple Meads Station, I asked a few people waiting for another bus for directions. Nobody had a clue! Out with the google maps. A good 10 minute walk behind Temple Meads (and across a rickety-feeling metal clad bridge) located on Barton Road is…..

The Barley Mow

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Oh but I was thirsty when I got here! Lovely cool feeling pub. Lots of blue painted panelling inside this single roomed venue, with tables both out front and in a rear beer garden (fairly busy in the sun). On the bar were 8 handpumps with offerings from Bristol Beer Factory (It’s one of their pubs), Arbor, Moor and some from further afield including Marble and Alechemy. I was hot (very) and thirsty (VERY!).  I wanted something pale and refreshing, Being a BBF pub, I chose Independence. A 4.6% abv US style Pale Ale. Copper coloured and refreshingly hoppy. A damn tasty beer to cool me down.

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(A fine selection)

Now. One of the other reasons I came here. Glenn told me about the juicy burger that he had. As well as being thirsty, I was also more than a tad peckish, being a bit past my tea-time. Cheeseburger, a side of patatas bravas and a pint of Moor Rypa (a collaboration with Beavertown of London.)

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(Yum!)

The burger was lovely and juicy, with a lovely dollop of melted cheese and a generous scoop of sautéed red onions. Really juicy and tasty. Cheers Glenn! The Moor went well with the burger, quite a spicy and hoppy rye ale at 4% abv. Actually, as far as I can remember, this may have been my first Moor on cask! Damn tasty.

The bar staff were really friendly too, so, being mellowed by the beers and the indie musical backdrop (low volume), I allowed myself to be talked into a half of BBF Southville Hop on keg at 6.5% abv (there were about 8 craft kegged offerings too!). Coming in a BBF chalice 1/2  pint glass. This was pale and gorgeously, assertively hoppy but smooth with it. Lovely beer.

(I won’t mention the 3 bottles of BBF Bourbon barrel aged Imperial Stout eh? No, I’ll keep that to myself!)

One of the bar staff had a boyfriend from Chorley and we had a bit of a chat. I took the opportunity to ask directions back to Debenhams (to locate my bus stop). Armed with the knowledge, I set off to locates my bus stop, fully intending another bar. I then found myself catastrophically lost! I must have walked for about an hour before I figured out where I was (yes, yes, I KNOW I was in Bristol!). All hopes of another bar evaporated . Always tomorrow, eh?

The next day, I took precautions. I got an early lift into the city, located my bus stop and left a trail of breadcrumbs! Walking past the Bristol outpost of the Aberdonian hype merchants (incidentally, REALLY well located by the river!), I crossed the Avon in search of some casked pleasures. Taking the first right after the river, then a left, I was soon on (the rather narrow) Thomas Lane, where I found….

The Seven Stars

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By this time, I was again hot, bothered and thirsty. I liked the look of this place before I walked in. Tucked away on a narrow connecting street with tables nestling on the lane in the shade of St Thomas Church. The pub was single roomed in an L shape with the unusual sight of a pool table to the rear. I plonked myself down at a table before I checked the beers. Traditional freehouse this, nary a sniff of craft keg, but a superb 12 ales to be chosen from.

My choice was from a brewery I had never previously tried, Cavendish Stout by Shardlow Brewery from Derbyshire. Nice dark brown, malty body with a slightly sweet finish I thought, given the flavour and the transparency, I’d have it as more of a sweetish poster than a stout. Did the job though! A mini beer fest was on at the pub with beers from Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, nice idea.

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Being in the mood for something more…pale and hoppy now, I spied two from Oakham – Green Devil and Tranquility. On the basis that I’d had the Green Devil, I opted for the Tranquility at 6.5% abv. But hold on! Is that an Imperial Russian Stout? Trotsky from Potbelly Brewery at 7.5% abv. A half of each seemed in order!

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First, the Oakham. Really hoppy this, pale gold, lots of grapefruit citrus hops. Nice bitter finish too with a good bit of juicy malt for balance. The Trotsky was black, spicy and winey. Lots of roasted malt with more than a hint of licorice in the spice. Bittersweet finish. Nice, but ill-advised at this stage! Again, nice bar staff and friendly chatty regulars who seemed to know their beer. Given the lack of food, I asked for directions to another pub, Cornubia, which were freely given. Nice friendly pub.

Cornubia

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A hidden gem tucked away behind offices on Temple Street. A few tables on decking outside this single roomed pub – again, L shaped. Some quirky items dotted about, including what looked like an empty parrot cage! Friendly staff again. I was faced with a fine choice of beers, including 3 from Fyne in Scotland. I chose a Fyne Maverick, a dark bitter at 4.2% abv. Nice and bitter without being as assertively hopped as the Jarls and Avalanches. Slightly maltier than I expected, but quite refreshing for a dark beer! Good eclectic tunage in here, from Lynyrd Skynyrd, through Sly Stone to The Carpenters!

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(They may have sold an ale or two in Cornubia!)

This is obviously a pub that serves a wide variety of ales. The walls were simply covered in pump clips! Nice hand made pork pie in here too with some “interesting” chutneys. Including one called “Devon inferno”. Well, I had to! (And it was as hot as the pie was meaty!)

Just the one in here, didn’t want to be caught out with the buses again. One more bar to try too! Walking straight back over the river, past the aforementioned Brewdog, a straight line took me back to Rupert Street. Hmmm….where is this pub……what’s with those damned steps……?

I started to remember something from all those years ago. These “Christmas Steps” looked very steep and awfully familiar! I hauled myself up. Facing me was Zero Degrees, a relatively recent Bristol feature, but I turned right along (and up) Colston Street to….

Colston Yard

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Ever had that Deja Vu feeling? I’ve been here before. But it never looked like this! Last time I came here was over 10 years ago. It was then the Smiles’ Brewery Tap and a much smaller pub. Now, it’s owned by the equally local Butcombe Brewery. On approach, I noted the shaded tables outside, I needed to cool down again!

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Quite contemporary inside with olives and reds. Some leather pouffe style seats alongside the regular tables. Without being a multi-roomed affair, there were a few distinctly separated areas within this bar. 5 ales. 3 from Butcombe and two from Everards. With the “when in Rome” maxim to the fore, I went for a Matthew Pale Ale at 3.8% abv. I was glad that I did! Fresh, fruity (Amarillo) and refreshingly hoppy, what a nice light pint!

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Nice food as well. Notwithstanding that my first choices weren’t available, a Vegetarian tapas platter more than did the trick! Some seriously interesting bottles in here with local Wild Beer Co well represented (I picked up an 11% Wildebeest!). On another evening I would have been tempted by a bottle of Alaskan Smoked porter, but, on this occasion, I went for a half of something lighter.

That was the Beach House Pilsner from Old Dominion Brewery of Dover, Delaware in the US of A. Like a cross between Urquell and our very own Black Jack Lager, fruity/floral, golden crisp and refreshing.

Really nice bar this. For which I thank Karen Wickham profusely!

I fancied a relatively early night, so I (sh)ambled toward those “Christmas Steps”…remember, all downhill from here….!

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Back next week. Maybe the Meat tapas platter next time!

On that note….’til next time!

Slainte!