Liverpool – Heart & Soul – 27/02/2016

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“Walking up to me expecting, walking up to me expecting words
It happens all the time

Present company excepted, present company accept the worst
It happens every night

Present company excluded every time.
Present company, the best that you can find…….

Present company excluded in every way. Present company, makes me want to stay.”

(“Dance Yourself Clean” – LCD Soundsystem)

(For Les & Lee)

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Ever had that moment when you realise that you’ve actually scheduled two fabulous events in consecutive days? Well. That.

The evening before, Atilla & her lesser half were invited to Michelle Kelsall’s 40th birthday bash at Offbeat Brewery. which, unbeknown to most (until 6 hours before) turned into a wedding do as Michelle and her partner David Shipman got married that morning….It was a proper party. And there was a specially brewed DIPA by David (Otherton Ales).

And it got messy. Very messy…. I should have listened to Atilla when she said “slow down”……I REALLY needed that coffee when she dropped me at Oxford Rd. I felt hideous. But I wasn’t going to miss what we did yesterday for the world.

You see, I’d had a standing invitation from two lovely beer people (Julie & Les O’Grady) to have a stroll with them around their beloved city.

Now, being a Salford lad, I need to let you into a little secret.

I adore Liverpool.

Always have. And, as I discovered 4 years ago, it’s in my blood. Back in the early 1800s, my Dad’s maternal ancestors lived in Toxteth as immigrants from Northern Ireland. When I learned that, everything about my feelings for Liverpool clicked into place. They made sense.

So. I’m on a train. With a hangover. Listening to LCD Soundsystem. Loudly. Counter intuitive, I know, but it felt right.

“We’ll meet you by the Ken Dodd statue”

Fortunately for me (bat blind) I met Lee (good people) off the platform. And HIS eyesight was working!

I met Les & Julie through Twitter and a mutual love of beer and music. They also hold the “distinction” of buying the first two tickets that we sold in 2014 for The Independent Salford Beer Festival. They are good people. And they know their Liverpool pubs and bars. Our spirit guides for the day ahead.

Our? That’s because we had those beery princes @BeerFinderGeneral, @Deeekos & @Leggywolf with us. Companions of the highest order.

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The Dispensary (87 Renshaw St, Liverpool, L1 2SP)

The first port in my storm. Ruff would do justice to how I felt at this stage. Until I got here. It lifted my spirits

Open planned, with a long wooden bar and an almost separate space at the back. \this is one lovely pub. Boosted even further by having 3 George Wright beers on. Not seen any for a while from this St Helens firm. Mild too! I needed something gentle to ease myself into that swing of things. Smooth, creamy and roasted malty. The oracle was worked..

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Isn’t that one lovely bar? Great friendly service in here too (as I was to find in all the places we visited. It obviously helps to have guides who have “form” locally!

Dizzy rear

We just got chatting. About everything and nothing. It didn’t matter. Great beer, fabulous pub and good people. What else do you need?

It was here that @Deeekos joined our happy band. And by that point, the revitalising effects of that first pint were livening me up. I was ready for the day ahead.

The “Dizzy” was a great start.

Next, a walk down Renshaw St, onto Leece St and a left onto Roscoe St….

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The Roscoe Head (24 Roscoe St, Liverpool L1 2SX)

I’m always very wary of places that get lauded to hell. The expectations get raised to heights that can’t possibly be matched by the reality. But here, they were surpassed. It deserves every single plaudit it receives.

A multi-roomed pub in the truest sense, with 4 distinct drinking areas and one of the dinkiest rooms it has ever been my pleasure to drink in. Beautiful tiled floors. Masses of dark wood. This place has a soul. The kind that you simply don’t find everyday.

And it WAS a pleasure to drink here. Especially as the barmaid lost no time in latching onto my Manc tones and proceeded to take the piss out of me. My kind of pub this!

An Offbeat beer on? I broke my “when in Rome” rule to celebrate Michelle & David’s honeymoon. Hinkey Herkulean Hopper was that beer, lovely and fruity. We simply don’t see Michelle’s beers in Manchester. Some pubs need to seriously step up and right that egregious wrong! This pub did.

I get why this pub is so loved. It looks untampered with. Like, just because it’s just off the main Renshaw Street, it has been forgotten about. It’s certainly a gem of a place.

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To lose this pub for a supermarket plot would be bordering on criminal. I’m glad that (at least for the time being) the pub looks like it will continue. As the only pub in the North West to be in each edition of the Good Beer Guide and as an utter gem, you need to visit to appreciate it truly.

Roscoe Bar

Do it.

Next, turn right out of the pub, cross Leece St and straight along Roscoe St past the “Bombed Out Church”…..

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(Anything wrong with this picture?)

The Grapes (60 Roscoe Street, Liverpool, L1 9DW)

A short walk. To what – to me at least – felt like a “local” in the middle of the city. The place is open plan with an L-shaped bar and the room shaping around it with an area to the rear of the bar which had the feel of a different room.

Nice outdoor space to this pub which no doubt gets rammed in the warmer months, but, even as upholstered as I am, we stayed indoors and chatted. And chatted. And….

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The first of the pubs with beers from Liverpool micros here. With some trying the Liverpool Organic Pilsner, nice light, refreshing and lightly fruity in the way of a good Czech, but my eye was on a beer I had only had in bottle a couple of evenings earlier. And, as I was stood with mine host, the brewer, I thought “you know”…

The beer was “Abyss” Oatmeal Stout by Neptune Brewery and it was one of my two three beers of the day. Smooth and creamy as you would expect an Oatmeal Stout, it started with chocolate and coffee notes, but the further down the glass I got, a spicy licorice note became increasingly prominent. A delight. As was this warm and friendly boozer – a bit of a theme on the day that……

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(You’ve simply GOT TO have a “Super Lamb Banana”!)

So…Next we went down Knight St to Berry St and then onto Seel St to…

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Kazimier Garden (32, Seel St, Liverpool, L1 4BH)

It is quite safe to say that there is certainly nothing quite like this in Manchester! This is a performance and art space that is (mostly) open to the elements. It feels bohemian and home-made in construction and all the better for its uniqueness!

Sweet baby Jesus…..They’ve even had the legend that is Lee “Scratch” Perry play here….Jeff, you missed out buddy!

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A big griddle was in play for BBQ stuff, but beer was still in play here. The bar had 3 on cask from Liverpool Craft (and some decent craft keg), I plumped for a Rye Pale which ticked all of the required boxes.

I also started to fall in love with Julie’s impersonation of Larry Grayson by this point…….

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(View from upstairs)

I was advance warned that I’d like this place. It’s quirky as hell and has an individual charm with almost a “community” feel to it. It works. If you like something different, it’s an essential visit.

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(Obligatory historic beer brand shot!)

From here, we walked down David Lewis St and Campbell St then across Duke St. To the next (to say the least) damn quirky pub!

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Liverpool One Bridewell (1 Campbell Square, Argyle Street, Liverpool, L1 5FB)

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Fancy like drinking in a real 1850s (as Shane McGowan put it so sweetly) “drunk tank”? Yup. If you haven’t been before, this pub is in a converted gaol! To think, that I’m drinking in a place where some of the greatest music of the 80s may have been conceived? Frankie, Iain McNabb and The Icicle Works, The Pale Fountains (please say that “Thank You” was written here?), The La’s all hung out in this very building when it was a performance space/recording studios.

The main bar area is “relatively” conventional. Then you go down the corridor and realise that the former cells have been retained and converted into small drinking booths!

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Again, there’s nowt like this in Mancunia. A decent selection from local Micros in here too. Nice pint of “Make Scouse Not War“, again by Neptune, in here. I’d kind of sworn that I’d be drinking halves, but got carried away in conversation punctuated by some very humourous “door shutting” (you had to be there I suppose!). Heidi Fleiss was getting a bit parky to say the least…..

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The pubs/bars were getting progressively busier as we went along. Chatted with one or two of the friendly locals too, again, a bit of a running theme. Friendly pubs….

Shamefully, we had a schedule to keep to….So, down Forrest St, left onto the main St James’ St then right onto Cornhill for our next meeting with a classic…

Baltic

The Baltic Fleet (33a Wapping, Liverpool, L1 8DQ)

A pub that I’d driven past on hundreds of occasions, had heard so much about, but never been in. Now rectified.

Baltic Bar

The home of the Wapping Brewery (downstairs in the cellar), this mid 19th century boozer – our furthest spot on the journey – was more than worth the walk. Bright, lovely bar, fabulous vaulted ceilings, toilets upstairs accessed by a sweeping “cruise liner” style stairway….

Again, a goodly few local beers here. I went for a Melwood Brewery Derby Stout, not as rich as I would like, but smooth and roasty flavours with chocolate Toffo (remember them?) being in there.

Baltic Backroom

Busy as a chippy, again, rightly so. I should have asked to see the “secret tunnels” to the Docks that run under the pub…. But not the 4 ghosts that live there…….

Right then. We still had a timetable to keep to, so, with the O’Grady whips a-cracking, back up Cornhill, right along Hurst St, then left up Sparling St to St James’ St, Right onto Jamaica ST then 2nd right on to Kitchen St….

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Black Lodge Brewing Taphouse (4 Kitchen St, Baltic Triangle, Liverpool, L1 0AN)

More familiar territory here with a warehouse conversion into a bar/micro brewery. For this particular Manc, this had a feeling that would slot right into the NQ and absolutely thrive.

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Decor wise, minimalist earth tones. Great tunes and (as we were to find – due to Les & Julie ordering ahead!) superb food.

The brew kit is almost Pico in size and – on occasion – they brew whilst open. But not today. Today was for selling it. Bar was (and I could stand corrected) all keg and mostly brewed on the premises with a smattering of guests. I had their own Black Lodge BrewingBlack Rye. Right up there with the best three along with the Neptune Abyss (there’s one more to come….!), sharply hoppy, resinous with a bit of peppery Rye. A truly excellent beer – I wonder if I could persuade them for Salford…….?

Black Lodge Meats

(Thank you Julie & Les – Next time, a Marble Cheeseboard on me – & a Manchester Egg or two…)

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(I told you it was tiny….)

It’s an easy thing to say that there were no low points on this day. But this place impressed all 4 of the Mancs. Oh that platter was good! I won’t mention my utter shame in having an entire portion of Black Pudding Sausage Roll shall I? Best not eh? Nor the gooey Scotch Egg……

Now came the furthest walk. And you’ll have to figure your own route, because I’m damned if I remember…..

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The 23 Club (Basement of The Clove Hitch – 23 Hope St, Liverpool L1 9BQ)

The final stop. One hell of a walk. But SO worth it.

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This place is so tiny! But I can totally get why Les & Julie would come here so much. It’s like the set of Cheers, but with a Scouse accent instead of Boston! People just knew each other. Really friendly barmaid and some great beer. Now, there IS apparently some cask beer upstairs in the restaurant, downstairs being keg only. But was that REALLY 16 taps?

Just away from the bar area is a seating section and just past the stairs back up, there is another small room, but I can see this place getting seriously rammed. It’s THAT good and THAT tiny!

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AND they manage to cram in a little bottle store too! It was late in the day. I needed something different. Something to clear the fog on my tastebuds. I followed Les like a sheep follows a collie. Tsatsiki Sour by Mad Hatter. One of my 5 a day in a glass. And it just got better and better as it went down. I’ve had some good stuff from MH, but this is the best.

And I could see how people fall in love with this place. It reminded me of Atilla – small, but perfectly formed.

My Manc accomplices were all for staying, but I was on a fixed train at 20:16 and had to dash.

I can’t thank Les & Julie enough. For the chat, the beer, the laughter and their unerring taste in where to go – my feet were cut to shreds (new boots….), but that was a small price to pay to walk around one of my favourite cities. There’s just something about it that grabs me. It’s a place full of soul.

With pubs and bars to match.

I tip my hat.

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/

 

 

 

Bottled Beers – July 2015 – Pt 2

Drink Hebden Bridge

Last week, craving some Yorkshire beers, I dusted down my passport and checked that my inoculations were up to date.

Yes. I was going over the hill. I was crossing the border. I was going to Yorkshire!

I love Hebden Bridge. There is something about the place that just lifts the spirits, there is some beautiful walking to be had too, including one – to and through the village of Heptonstall – that, between my close friends and family, will be forever know as the “Heart Attack Walk”. I kid not.

My primary purpose last sunday though, was to pick up some beer from Five Towns that Malcolm had sorted for me and a couple that Bridestones Brewery (Owners of the aforementioned shop) wanted me to try. My secondary purpose was that, with me hosting the excellent Tuesday event “Craft Beer Hour” on Twitter in the guise of my Alter Ego – SalfordBeerFest – I needed more Yorkshire beer (The theme of the evening being – Breweries to be featured at the festival)

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(Hebden Bridge Arts Festival was in full swing)

The shop is larger than it looks from the frontage and goes back into two quite large rooms. Quite a few beers that are hard to get over here, including Five Towns, Vocation, Bridestones themselves and others, nicely displayed, both on the shelves and dotted around the shop. There are plans to develop the space to incorporate a Craft keg bar in the near future too, This will help to further the burgeoning impression that I have – which is that Hebden is turning into a place worthy of getting off the slow train to Leeds!

With Drink?, The Fox & Goose, Parcel Bar (at the Train Station) and Calan’s Bar (Opp St Pol’s Car Park), there are a number of spots worthy of a wander. I popped in Calan’s Bar (having bumped into Martin from Bridestones in a nearby Coffee Shop!) and had a superb pint of Mallinsons’ Nelson Sauvin in this smart Micro Pub which appears to be doing some great business (5 casks on the bar – all from Yorkshire Micros).

Calans Bar

In short – visit Hebden!

Bottles

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1. Wild Blackberry MildOffbeat Brewery (Crewe) – 3.8% abv – Mild – 500ml – Heaton Hops

It’s a MILD! Get over it!!! And it’s from one of my favourite brewers too!

Another beer from a recent trip to Damian O’Sheas excellent micro bar.

A barely detectable twinkle of ruby comes through this dark beer with a tan coloured head oozing with hedgerow fruit. Slightly tart.

Yes. As a  mild, this is light bodied. There is a gentle almost chocolaty roast malt character to this refreshing dark beer. This is gradually supplanted by a dark and juicy berry fruit. Really juicy too.

This is a beer I could drink all day. Really light, refreshing and just….. moreish! Milds are, by nature, lightly hopped, but there is a gentle leafy quality in the aftertaste which sits just right with the character of this beer.

Milds appear to be somewhat…. maligned in some quarters as devoid of flavour. As such, some appear to have dropped the word and saw sales soar. People need to get over their prejudices in that case and enjoy these “dark session ales” for what they are.

And this is a fine example.

I love Mild, that most underrated of refreshing drinks. The apparent prejudice around Mild by drinkers nowadays surprises and saddens me. I heard tale recently of one brewery who – upon renaming their Mild, by removing the very word itself from the branding – were experiencing n upswing in sales and demand for their “dark session ale”. It strikes me as sad that, to get drinkers to appreciate this fine beer, you need to lose the word Mild. But the branding change is right in a way, Mild IS a tasty “dark session ale”!

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2. May Day DIPAFive Towns Brewery (Wakefield) – 8.4% abv – Double IPA – 750ml – Direct from the brewers

The “Arch-Nemesis Killer” from the EastWestFest in Wakefield!

Oh. My. God. This is the bottled version of my draught beer of the Year (so far). And. It. Does. Not. Disappoint.

Decanting a honey gold shade and with a smooth and fluffy white head with a citrus tropical cavalcade booming from the glass! Oh. My.

This is a big beer. It’s a DIPA for crying out loud! And this is a style which is sometimes hit & miss for me, but this is an utter bullseye. Big chewy and slightly sweet malt, a bit like a flapjack base on top of which these BIG hops dance like there’s no tomorrow!

That fruitiness. Big mango. Passion fruit. Nectarine. It’s all going on. With a big bracing bitterness punch in the finish. But, big as it is, you finish the mouthful and can’t wait for the next. It really is THAT good.

And guess who’s opening the hop store for a spacial beer for ISBF 2015?

This man makes superb beer. This is one of his best and makes choosing the best bottle this year rather difficult!

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3. On’t RivetBridestones Brewing (Hebden Bridge) – 5% abv – Pale Ale – 500ml – Direct from the brewers.

The above statement serves as a disclaimer! Picked this up from Martin from the brewery at their excellent little shop – soon to be tap-room “Drink” in Hebden Bridge.

A lustrous golden hue with good carbonation giving a good thick white head and a beautiful citrus aroma with orange fruits uppermost – and a light floral note too.

Yup. Yum. Ooh….. Really smooth medium bodied beer with lovely orange and mandarin up front and centre. Really fruity.  And then… Bam! A really bracing bitterness his you all over the mouth. Quite a  pleasant surprise!

But that bitterness! Oof! This is another fruity belter which also happens to slide down all too nicely, leading to quite a herbal resinous sticky finish.

The first “9” to sell out at ISBF was by this lot. Good to have them back!

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4. Graveyard EyesHopcraft Brewing (Pontyclun, S Wales) – 5.2 % abv – Sorachi Porter – 330ml – £2.90 – Drink (Hebden Bridge)

I KNOW it’s NOT from the North…But read on….

With a faint ruby glow at the edges, this almost black beer comes with a creamy textured, tan coloured head and an aroma that’s hard to describe. Sharp and tart citrus, but earthy too, maybe coffee grinds.  Hugely inviting though!

If it wasn’t for the huge bitter coffee flavour, I’d say this was 9/10ths of the way to a Black IPA!

Initial coffee hit and bitterness is followed closely by a beautiful and sharp, tart citrussy note that makes my tongue tingle, curl and dance all at the same time. Another beer with excellent carbonation, nice and smooth, almost creamy.

But that tingling citrus just doesn’t let go! Really big hoppy finish assisted by a decent bitterness. My first Hopcraft in bottle (I think) and it certainly won’t be the last! Stunningly fresh and tasty

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5. MadagascarGreat Heck Brewing (Great Heck, E Yorkshire) – 5.4% abv – Vanilla Stout – 330ml – £2.50 – Drink (Hebden Bridge)

Black, with a ruby tinge at the edges, this beer had a creamy coloured foamy head emitting an aroma reminiscent of a Chomp bar. Chocolate and toffee with something slightly sweeter in there.

Mmmmmm….. Rich and creamy. Yes, there’s some smooth sweet chocolate, a slight hint of rum too. Beautifully smooth beer, then a little subtle vanilla creeps in, sneakily insinuating itself into the flavours.

This is a beer to be tried on cask and no mistake!

The finish had an unsurprising slight vanilla chocolate sweetness to it, but with a gentle herbal hop undertone.

Really nice beer this!

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6. Black MariaBlack Jack Beers (Manchester) – 5.7% abv – Black IPA – 500ml – £4 – Drink (Hebden Bridge)

Another dark beer in a week of outstanding dark beers. A very dark ruby and almost black, this has a pale creamy coloured head with loads of citrus and what smells like a touch of licorice….

Oh MUMMY this is glorious! Definitely on the IPA side of Black, there are orchards of fruitiness in this. Grapefruit, apricot and then work! The bitterness strikes. Oof yes! A bitter little cracker this.

Medium to full-bodied, the slightly spiky carbonation helps the hop flavours stay to the fore in this. There is a distinct background note of bitter roast coffee which remains throughout, daring you to have Another mouthful. But the fruitiness draws you back in….

Probably the best dark beer I’ve had from Black Jack. And I’ve had some bloody good ones.

That bitterness stays to the end leading to a substantial tangy hoppy finish and aftertaste. Superb.

Well – The morals of this story are…

1) Get to Hebden Bridge

2) Get these beers – You’ll thank me!

3) Er….That’s all for now!

Bottled Beers – May 2015

Red Shed sign

(Where I am later!)

After May 7th and the shocks contained therein, I struggled a bit. I won’t wibble on about politics, I’ve got too much to do to wallow in self-pity, what with planning for The Independent Salford Beer Fest 2015 and all, but now is a time that I cling to what’s important. People. Hence why we’re having our little bash again in October. Announcements soon.

But, on to bottles…..

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1. Rye IPARunaway Brewery (Manchester) – 5.9%abv – Rye IPA – 330ml – Andy Heggs

Thank you Mr Heggs! I finagled this from him at the excellent Shebeen 2015 whilst we were sat in Black Jack and I was getting sozzled. And very cheeky.

Copper coloured and with a firm white head, this beer gives of an aroma that reminds me of a spicy fresh-baked wholemeal loaf. But one with a distinct citrus note. Really appetising.

Smooth with very gentle carbonation, the fruity front is mugged by spicy rye dryness. The fruitiness is huge, with orange up top with more than a hint of mango. But that fruitiness can’t escape this thuggish spicy dryness. It’s brutal.

And Oh so bloody moreish.

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2. Out of Step IPAOffbeat Brewery (Crewe) – 5.8%abv – IPA – 500ml – Direct

(Bought direct from the brewer)

I don’t get it. Why don’t we see more of Offbeat’s beers in Manchester? Michelle makes some simply fabulous beers and I can’t se them in Manchester? Ludicrous!

A mid golden beer with a fluffy white lacy head, (slightly hazy due to a misjudged pour), really fruity aroma on this with apricot and grapefruit in the nasal vanguard.

Oh this is nice indeed. This is a full-bodied beer with just right carbonation. The fruitiness in the mouth being more apricot but this time with something a little more tropical, like mango and passion fruit. There is a bracing bitterness in this, which (to me) should be in all IPAs.

There is a cracking resinous finish to this with that fruitiness in there too. This is a belting beer from a criminally overlooked brewery. We need some of her beer in Manchester. And sharp!

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3. Fat Lady StoutRammy Craft Ales (Ramsbottom) – 4.5%abv – Stout – 500ml – Great Ale Year Round (Bolton) – £3

A black beer with a creamy coloured head giving off an aroma of bitter chocolate with a hint of licorice.

Medium bodied with an initial sweetness, that soon slides into something more dark roasted and lush. Quite creamy textured, with bitter chocolate front and centre. That bitterness wanders more towards coffee on the swallow and a substantial bitterness takes over.

This is a sessionable dark beer after my own heart, with the dry bitter finish I enjoy in a mid strength Stout. Who needs Guinness when you have beers like this?

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4. PortentousPeter Sidwell – 5%abv – Porter

Peter is (I think) one of the Manchester Home Brewers group. He certainly isn’t commercial at this stage. If I remember rightly, i saw this bottle in his hand at the MBCF and nearly ripped his hand off!

A deep ruby brown beer that is almost black with a light cream head and a  big chocolaty aroma.

A medium bodied beer, the first thing to tickle the tongue is chocolate. This is slightly sweet and really chocolaty. The next is a little winey note, like a smooth red. Then a tongue tickling spice, slightly peppery, like rocket. And all the while, that chocolate….

The aftertaste retains the chocolate, but there is a spicy woody feel to it that completes this nicely. A damn fine Porter. And brewed by a home brewer too!

The best praise that I can give, is that I’d happily pay for this at a bar. It’s that good.

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5. TuringBeer Nouveau (Prestwich) – 4.4%abv – Pale Ale – 330ml – Browtons (Ashton-under-Lyne) – £2.45

I was intrigued by the idea of using sage to flavour a beer. I had to give it a go……

A golden, almost amber beer with a light thin white head, lightly carbonated, with a light tropical fruit aroma (passion fruit is noted on the label – that works!)

In the mouth, there is a nice fruitiness to this initially, which meets a bitter herbal counterpart in the sage that is added to this brew, that bitterness almost catches me unawares. That bitterness fades and an almost tea like tannic aftertaste kicks in, really dry.

I  wasn’t sure about sage in a beer, but this light, Pale and refreshing beer works a treat for me. Slainte!

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6. Espresso StoutSquawk Brewing Co (Manchester) – 6.5%abv – Stout – 330ml – Epicurean (W Didsbury)

Like a chalice full of liquid pitch, this is black. A proper Stout. Dark, delightful and dangerous to look at. Almost daring you. “Go on! You know that you want me!”

Made with fresh roasted coffee from Bean Brothers, unsurprisingly, this positively reeks of coffee. As bitter as Nigel Farage as the result was called. There’s a herbal licorice note too in the background.

For a 6.5% beer, this feels quite light and sprightly, at first, a little sweetness then BAM! Eyelid pinning coffee hit…… Yup. That’s definitely a big coffee flavour!  With that underlying big Stout sweetness.

There’s quite a spicy thing at the back of the tongue as the beer slides you towards sleeplessness going down the throat. The roof of the mouth tingling after the swallow.

A fine beer indeed. If a little ill-advised before bedtime!

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7. Scarborough Fair IPAWold Top (Driffield, N Yorkshire) – – 500ml – Birthday Pressie!

Thank you Sue! This bright ultra Pale golden beer has a light white head and a really fruity aroma, tropical fruits with passion fruit and kiwi flying out of the foam.

Full bodied is this beastie,  whilst perversely feeling light. Really fruity with that kiwi well up there, but a big refreshing and tart lemon hit was a more than pleasant surprise! For  a beer at this strength, this is WAY too refreshing and just damned drinkable.

There’s a nice light malty biscuit and a big balancing act going on because these hops are just beautifully tart and give a big dry finish that leaves you wanting more.

An absolute belter and a really nice beery pressie amongst the cognacs & single malts!

That’s it for bottles this month. With EastWestFest tomorrow, Brighton next week and London a week later, the focus will be on pubs (and one very special beer festival!)

On that note….’til next time

Slainte!

Shebeen 2015 – 02/05/2015

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At the end of a tiring week, what I needed was……..a little “pick me up”. That, or a Saturday morning lie-in. Finding myself walking down Dantzic Street in Manchester’s “Green Quarter” at 11am meant that the latter was a no no, but the former was guaranteed!

The event was put together by Jason Bailey (of GRUB fame), Black Jack Beers and events/music specialists Shebeen UK and was a multi-venue celebration of beer, food, music, comedy and art with all venues (Black Jack, Glassworks & Runaway Brewery) within seconds of each other. All that was needed was the sun to put his hat on……..

But this is Manchester……..

So the rain came……

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(Look! A pop up food village! Next to a Brewery! Result!!!)

I simply detest being late for anything. So having been asked to turn up for 11:30, I got there at 11 and mucked in with Jules (Morris, Jason’s partner) setting up tables, chairs and banners and stuff whilst Jason (known to his friends by his surname) sweated the small stuff that always needs doing in the final minutes before the metaphorical gates open. He wanted everything to be “just so”. I think he got his wish.

Seeing Mark Welsby (Chief Alchemist at Runaway Brewery) is always a pleasure. No matter how busy or stressed he might be, there’s never a smile or a cheery word far from his lips, just one of life’s good guys, so I was chuffed that I was placed at the Runaway site and even more pleased when I had a half of his Marzen placed in my hand! Rich, fruity, with a residual sweetness, this “pick me up” was just what Dr BM ordered!

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With the “starters gun” sounding at 12, people started to drift in. All “checking in” being performed at Runaway, enabling people to then wander around the three sites at their leisure. Initially a fairly young crowd, it was great to see a wide age range, with lots of young families turning up. Just gave the event a bit of a relaxed party feel. I really enjoyed the checking in

a) Because I am a bit of a (using the Bolton vernacular) Gobbin                                                               b) It gave me the chance to reacquaint myself with Eventbrite Manager, which we’ll be using at #ISBF2015 in October.

It was great fun. And all the more so as I tucked into a rather superb lunch of a cracklingly spicy Atomica pizza from the lovely fellas at Honest Crust, acompanied by a Runaway Rye IPA! Just as I got my pizza, the punters started flooding in. The pizza still tasted great when I finally got back to it. Cold. But absolutely delicious.

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(Lunch. Yum!)

With some fabulous laid back tuneage being pumped out by So Flute, the vibe was starting to get (what those younger than I might call) “buzzy”. And I think that – more than ticket sales (and it WAS sold out) – it’s the feeling that people give off that demonstrates if an event is a success or not. And this really felt quite special.

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The finishing of the pizza signalled my re-allocation over to one of the other venues – Black Jack. Again, on “the door” (Bailey must think that I look like a “bouncer”!) Watching Rosie and the girls dancing behind the bar, it was immediately apparent that the party vibe was in full effect here as well!

Grabbing a pint of Black Jack Beers‘ own Manderelma (I think that’s what it was called?) and follwing some mouthfuls of Rob’s Orangey elixir, I was off again gabbling more nonsense at arriving punters. And then, just before I went into “concierge overdrive” mode, Bailey must have remembered that he needed some “pros” on the doors, because the security guys arrived, which meant…..I headed to the bar double quick!

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(Black Jack)

It was a fairly cool Manchester day with the rain never far away, so my choice of attire (thin shirt and shorts) attracted a few concerned comments. Batted away by my various assertions of being a rather numb fella with pleanty of internal insulation!

This was chat time! Andy Heggs (Mr HopOnTheBike to you & I) introduced me to a nice fella Tom from #CraftBeerHour who must have been petrified by two Mancs assailing him with the words “You NEED to come to Salford in October!” He seemed a nice fella and I may take him up on his rash offer of a little light being cast by his weekly Twitter event on our humble bash!

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(Not JUST about beer & food you know!)

I have this theory that good people tend to gravitate toward one another. This being exampled by a number of people I spouted nonsense with. Andy (Heggs again), the mighty Deeekos, Mark (Runaway), Rob Hamilton (Mr Black Jack), Jay Krause (Quantum), Gregg & Alison Irwin (Weird Beard),Tom (Craft Beer Hour) all showed admirable restraint (and failed to yawn!) whilst I spouted my ususal gibberish about nothing in particular.

It’s always good to talk about beer.

It was nice to wander between all three venues. Each time I poped (or even “popped”) in to a venue, there was a nice surprise. In Runaway, it was a further chat with Mark (and a spot of “plotting” I recall!) and an outrageously good pint of his Smoked Porter. Just SO GODDAMN SMOOTH and creamy with just the right amount of rauch to it. A glorious beer and probably Beer of the Day for me.

Wandering (for the first time) into the Glassworks venue, I was chuffed (and no little surprised) to see the lovely Michelle (from the hugely underrated Offbeat Brewery – need more of her beers in Mancunia folks!) and David, from Otherton Ales (the “boyfriend thing” – HER phrase, not mine!). We managed to chat a bit (with a good sounding band in the….background) and maybe do some “plotting” for #ISBF2015 – my memory is starting to get hazy at this point in proceedings! (Did I REALLY ask David if he’d cask a beer for #ISBF2015?)

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I think that it’s safe to say that this event was a resounding success. All the elements came together just so. Great food, great beer and good people. Life in a nutshell. Manchester people turned out in their hundreds and – from what I could see – had a great time in doing so. All the more remarkable given that Manchester cloaked itself in the usual drizzle for most of the day!

All bodes well for the Keystone project. I wish them every success. Well done Bailey & Jules and to everyone else involved. It was a blast!

And after all that beer, what to do? Go for more! And that, for me, means the Crown & Kettle. It says something that after all that I had drunk, that the C&K served me an absolutely superb pint of Bad Kitty porter from Brass Castle. It was creamy, utterly luscious and silky with a little vanilla sweetness. I was moved to an expletive laced tweet. It was THAT good! (Nice to bump into Jay & Dom again too!)

Now….About the weather……(see what I did there?)

“The weather’s variable so are you (changes, changes)
But I can’t do a thing about the weather.

Do you have your ticket?
Can you foresee (changes, changes)
Another time when we might be together?

You have a broken window, through which the rain pours in my ear
This week’s been all ears and edges, it’s getting like a career”

(“About The Weather” – Magazine

Clip Courtesy – Makecelebshistory on YouTube)

Magazine are Manchester musical legends. I vividly recall the moment when Howard Devoto strode imperiously onto the stage at Manchester Academy to the whipcrack drum beat and rumbling bass intro to “The Light Pours Out Of Me” (clip from “Later”). It was akin to being at an evangelical event. Nothing short of adoration.

That track alone is a permanent fixture in my personal All Time Top 10. And it came from an album that was arguable the first truly great album of “New Wave”, the mighty “Real Life” – and given the preference for buzz saw guitars and sonic brevity that prevailed at that time, it was a bloody brave musical statement. It was lyrical, at a time when all was attitude. It was melodic at a time when melody was frowned upon. It was bloody strange in parts too. And it still stands the test of time.

The album that spawned “About The Weather” though, for me, is tainted by the dread hand of Martin Hannett, the “legendary” Manchester producer who mixed it. His belief that the snare drum was the basis of all great music. It just led to this album being a tinny mess. Which is a shame. Because Magazine’s final album deseved so much better. Such a great song though.

Bottled Ales – April 2015

Bottles don’t appear to have been a priority in the last few weeks. Which isn’t of itself a bad thing. It’s always nice to get out to some excellent hostelries, as I have done for the last month or so.

However, I have also been lucky enough to come across some absolutely belting beers (including the best bottle I’ve had this year so far!) So, with neither further blather nor ado….Let’s begin!

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Body SnatcherBeer Nouveau (Prestwich) – 4.2 %abv – BitterBrowtons (Ashton-under-Lyne)

A golden beer with a light fluffy white head and an aroma slightly sweet and fruity with peach and a hint of apple.

Medium bodied, this beer has that slightly sweet fruity initial flavour with again peach  and some stewed plum and forest fruit and a flowery fragrant flavour that I can’t quite pick, backed up with a bracing bitterness.

That sweetness gives way to quite a grassy and resinous aftertaste and finish. This takes me back to beers from my youth, maybe just a wee bit more bitter. And that’s no bad thing!

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Small SaisonBlack Jack Beers (Manchester) – 4.5%abv – Saison – 330ml – Barbeerian (Prestwich)

Ultra Pale straw yellow beer with a light persistent fluffy head giving a spicy yeasty nose with notes of banana and a little gooseberry.

Oh yes. This’ll do Monkey! Tart, dry and spicy. Banana again upfront, but soon retreats in the face of some sharp and tart lemon notes which in turn yield ground to that yeasty Saison spiciness. Yum.

Second mouthful and there’s a little Sauvignon Blanc winey sharpness and tartness, that tartness leading to a short and very dry spicy finish. An incredibly refreshing beer.

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Triptych No 3Wiper and True (Bristol) – 6.7%abv – IPABarbeerian (Prestwich)

Copper golden in colour, lively carbonation giving a big white head and an aroma reminding me of orange toffee.

Big bodied beer this. Smooth textured and really fruity with peach, orange marmalade and a hint of blackcurrant lurking at the back, also an almost yeasty dryness to finish on the swallow. Mmmm….

This beer doesn’t hide its strength as it’s quite warming as it slides down. More fruit in the second mouthful, with plum and more hedgerow blackberry sitting on top of the marmalade, jammy and spicy. The finish is fruity and dry leading to a sticky herbal and slightly resinous aftertaste. A proper English IPA. Big and fruity and beautiful.

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JOEFirst Chop Brewing Arm (Salford) – 4.7%abv – Coffee IPAEpicurean (W Didsbury)

Dark brown beer with a light and fluffy white head and an aroma of woah….. Cold coffee. Mmmmmm…….

And oh yes…. That coffee comes through loud and clear! Lovely smooth and bitter coffee flavour in full effect but with quite a spicy hop kick at the end.

Smooth and medium bodied in the mouth, this is as good as it was on cask. The coffee is potent enough, the bitterness of the brew being added to by the grassy hops that come through in the finish.

When I first heard of this, it sounded ludicrous. But it works. Really well. Black coffee and hops. What’s not to love?

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Mint Choc StoutTickety Brew (Stalyvegas) – 5.2% abv – StoutEpicurean (W Didsbury)

Dark brown almost black beer with a cream coloured lacey head with a light aroma of chocolate powder and spearmint.

Another of their limited bottle “Tickety Few” range, this is medium bodied and really smooth. The flavours are really subtle and take a while to reveal their charms. First up is the chocolate, which manages the trick of not being too sweet.

Second mouthful gives a little of the mint which is very subtle and takes some finding. This may be down to using mint leaves as opposed to any extracts, which is to be applauded.

Further mouthfuls build on the minty hint and the beer takes on a pleasing kind of light mint Aero quality. The signature Belgian yeast lends its hand to a rapidly drying finish and also imparts a spicy note to proceedings.

Another really nice beer from this increasingly impressive brewery. I’d love to try this on cask.

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Calibration SourChorlton Brewing Co (Manchester) – 5.3% abv – SourBarbeerian (Prestwich)

Ultra Pale golden and lightly hazy with a decent white head and a lightly sour and Orangey citrus aroma from the addition of Amarillo hops.

Hmmm…. A palate cleanser and no mistake. The first sip had me salivating like a rabid dog! This is surprisingly enjoyable (and I say that because Sour beers aren’t exactly my “go to” style)

Yes it is sharp and has a saliva inducing acidity, but this beer isn’t as enamel stripping as some sours that I’ve had. This has a distinct citrus fruitiness working in harmony with the sourness making it a very thirst quenching and (I go back to that phrase) surprisingly enjoyable!

The lingering aftertaste is quite marmaladey and dry.

An excellent beer. Looking forward to Dark Matter now!

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Imperial IPASaltaire Brewery (Shipley, W Yorkshire) 9.5% abv – Imperial IPA – Epicurean(W Didsbury)

Deep golden, almost copper coloured beer with an abundant yet quickly dissipating white head with a booming peach and Mango aroma with a hint of mandarin.

Drinks a lot easier than such a beer should! First sip reveals fruity sweetness, deep and quite savoury, heavy with mango. Almost a medicinal note – my mind off cure!

Warming and soothing add it slides down the throat too. I swear this could be just the thing to cure my little chest problem!

Big chewy malt base that these hops dance on that fruitiness is ever-present and fades only slightly into a big sticky resinous aftertaste. Impressive.

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Disfunctional Functional IPAOffbeat Brewery (Crewe) – 4.8%abv – IPA – 500ml – Heaton Hops (Heaton Chapel)

A bright golden beer with thick white head and a hugely fruity nose with gooseberry and a little orange in there.

Oh bloody hell this is good! That gooseberry upfront is bloody tart in this medium bodied belter. The fruitiness dries out almost immediately making me pocket my lips and suck in my cheeks like a Les Dawson housewife sketch! Wow that is dry!

That arid fruitiness is backed up by a bracing bitterness too and the whole is tied up with a resinous bow of an aftertaste and finish.

I had this as one of my beers at MBCF this year. That was good, but this is so much better! Woof!

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Smokehouse PorterCheshire Brewhouse (Congleton) – 6.2%abv – Porter – 660ml – Heaton Hops (Heaton Chapel)
I had to hunt this beast down, having been told by a colleague who saw it in the Cheshire Smokehouse in Altrincham. It was worth it!

A big dark brown almost black beer with a creamy beige head and an aroma full of chocolate and dark fruits with just a hint of wood smoke.

Oh my. This is a proper beer.

Full bodied beer this. An initial chocolate sweetness slides into a chewy fruitiness full of dark fruit. This, in turn, yields palate space to a little salty tang before that smokiness pushes to the front. At this point, my gums are tingling.

A second mouthful and the dates make their chewy fruitiness more felt, merging and blending with the chocolate to make more than the sum of their parts. In the aftertaste, I don’t know if it’s from the dates, but this starts to have a dessert wine note to it, slightly – but not overly – sweet and gently warming.

This is one hell of a beer. And one which feels as if it would just love to be drunk along with a slab of rich fruit cake. And I have another bottle. Which I’m saving for Xmas. To go with……

Bloody gorgeous stuff.

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OAPNorth Riding Brewpub (Scarborough) / Five Towns Brewery (Wakefield) – 9.6%abv – Double IPA – Direct from the brewers.
I spoke to Malcolm Bastow shortly before his retirement from his career as a mental health nurse. He was going to focus on brewing full-time. Obviously, this required commemorating with a beer, so he arranged a collab with the fellow hop fiend Stuart Neilson of the North Riding Brew Pub in Scarborough. I saw Stuarts’ tweet mentioning OAP DIPA. And given that they collaborated on my favourite DIPA so far, the mighty 300, I had to have it.

Quote the bottle label “May Cause Confusion” – Hmmm…. This Amber coloured beer has a light white fluffy head with a full aroma of mango and peach tropical fruitiness.

Oh me oh my!!! This is a bar room bully!!! Full bodied is an understatement, this is certainly a big beer. And knowing how much Stuart Neilson & Malcolm Bastow like their hops, I should have expected no less!

Christ on a bike, there is a bit of everything in here!  There is tropical peach & mango, there is a bit of grapefruit, there is a while bloody forest of resinous pine, this is just so damn juicy and….. Well…. BIG!

Chewy malt, with a little toffee biscuit sweetness, meets a hop store used without restraint. This is bloody gorgeous. And maybe the best DIPA I’ve had yet (and they brewed the previous best with their 300 collab!)

Just a big juddering, knee-trembling beergasm! The best bottle so far this year. (And I’ve had a few!)

Now, for breakfast and some serious loin girding, prior to this lunchtime’s Road To Wigan Beer bus. COME ON!!!!
Tune
“Beneath the stars there are the bars that serve the bitter drink
The barman smiles at me, his wife she gives a secret wink

They listen patiently to me, my story I unfold
I see their faces change, the lights grow dim I’m losing hold”

(“Life In The Air Age” – Be Bop Deluxe – Clip courtesy of #BeBopDeluxe via YouTube)
In about March 1979, whilst listening to John Peel on a feeble transistor radio under my blankets in a cold Salford bedroom, he played a track which rocked my 13 year old world. It was called “Art Empire Industry” and was from the album “Sound On Sound” by a band called Red Noise. Thus began my love affair with the music of Bill Nelson.
Eventually, over a number of retrospective purchases, I acquired his entire oeuvre to that point. The man can play guitar. He made a guitar sound like seagulls, trains, space ships. His playing entranced me. Be Bop Deluxe, were a rock band that Nelson formed in Yorkshire in about 1972. They only had one real hit single “Ships In The Night” which was taken from the Sunburst Finish album, as was the track above (although this is the live version from the Live In The Air Age live album (which was to promote the Sunburst Finish & Modern Music albums)
Bill Nelson was one of the first 5 live artists I saw & when he toured “Quit Dreaming” at Manchester Poly (Cavendish Hall) in May 1981. I last saw him perform tracks from his entire back catalogue at the Manchester Academy in 2004. To finally hear Be Bop Tracks performed live, by the man himself, brought me to tears.
The reason I’ve included this track, other than the fact that I adore it? Bill is originally from Wakefield. Five Towns territory.

Heaton Hops – 30/03/2015 – A Classy Micro Pub

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(I thought that it never rained in South Manchester?)

I am a lucky man sometimes. It certainly felt that way, when I received an invite to a “soft opening” of a brand new bar being opened by Damian O’Shea (of “The Ale Man Manchester” fame). My plans were made to meet Andy (of “Hop On The Bike” infamy) on the concourse at Piccadilly Station – complete with rose in lapel.

Then…..Public Transport shall we say….intervened.

It was hardly an auspicious start for this opening to take place in such foul weather. Let me honest here…..If it wasn’t a bar being opened by Damian and his partner Charlotte, I wouldn’t have stepped on the bus. But I did. And I could have nearly walked quicker! As it was, I got off on Bridge Street in Manchester and marched to Piccadilly…well in advance of the bus that I’d left.

Then….

I caught the wrong train. And ended up at Manchester Airport. Yes. I know. I AM an utter idiot. Right time, wrong platform it would appear. Should have gone to Specsavers eh? Right. Back on the same train and return to Piccadilly and start with a clean slate. And more caution!

So I now find myself on Heaton Moor Road, crossing the A6 from Heaton Chapel train station onto School Lane. In the pouring rain. (I’m SUCH a poet!)

I tell you. Odysseus had less of a journey to get a beer! Homer (No. Not the yellow one!) would be proud of me. And be readying his stylus and wax tablet for a sequel!

The windows were steamy. A good sign that it was busy.

Opening the door. First impressions? Classy. Neutral paintwork on the walls, REAL wood cladding on the ceiling and upper portions of the walls, pendant lighting. It looked great. To be honest, anything less would have been disappointing. I’ve known Damian as a customer for nearly 3 years and this was what I expected from him. It looked really good and serves as a lesson in how to do this – no names mentioned.

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(Busy)

It is (by its very nature as a converted shop) small. Including a downstairs area, the capacity is 60, but it doesn’t feel uncomfortable, a situation that is arrived at by the provision of a number of distressed wood tables giving plenty of seating, which was all occupied as I entered and strode to the bar.

Beers. 2 on cask and 8 on keg. But I needed a pint. And, for an opening night, to have cask beers from two local breweries, Brewsmith & Thirst Class Ale, was like music to my eyes and tastebuds. So, for me, as local as it gets with a pint of Green Bullet by Thirst Class Ale of Stockport – Nicely bitter with a fruity pine flavour and a resinous finish. I enjoyed it. I had a few.

On either side wall, there are shelves and shelving full of some of the best of British Craft brewing. The first thing that I saw was a few bottles of Smokehouse Porter by Cheshire Brewhouse. Now those who know me, will know that some of those were simply BOUND to end up in my bag!

Heaton Hops Thirst Class

(Photo courtesy of Richard Conway – aka Thirst Class Ale)

Next to the Smokehouse Porter were some bottles of my Best Bottle of 2014 – (Barrel Aged) Govinda, again by Cheshire Brewhouse. Next to that, Smoked Treacle Imperial Stout by Quantum. All 3 beers should be in any serious local beer drinkers stashes – they’re in mine. But I concede that I’m rarely serious!

The beer was going down well, assisted by my pal Des shoving up and letting me sit down and drip dry. The conversation flowed as much as the beer. As I’ve said on many occasions. “Beer People Are Good People” and these are the kinds of people that Damian has been serving from his stall these last few years. They like what he does (and sells) and many, like Des and Steve (Beer Nouveau) and myself, came from 15 miles or more to enjoy this new venue. And oh how we did.

I had a look downstairs where Damian & Charlotte have created a room from what would have been cellar space, again, a nice cool look to it. just calm and clean. Spot lighting – the only way given the low ceiling – gives it a warm feel. A nice cosy space.IMAG2766

(Downstairs)

Somebody had said that this was where “the cool kids” were tonight. If so, I don’t know where I fitted in! But there were a number of faces that I knew from Des & Steve, Andy, Richard (Thirst Class) and a number of the Manchester Home Brewer group, my old buddy Jeff, Paul & George (aka Shindigger). It was just a lovely relaxed gathering

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The Craft Keg selection was a pleasure to see too, with the local likes of Runaway, Shindigger, Cloudwater & Marble in among the likes of Weird Beard. Again, certain other new bars could take note of the number of local beers on offer. I found myself amazed that I had never had the Smoked Porter by Runaway on keg previously, so that was duly remedied. Repeatedly. A gentle smoky nose and a lovely creamy texture giving up a big roasty and lightly smoked character. Beautiful beer that.

I also had my first taste of a Cloudwater beer, their Table Beer. Refreshing and with a spicy almost Belgian yeasty note it felt like a wheat/pale ale hybrid and wasn’t what I was expecting at all. Being the talk of the town at the moment, I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been asked what I think of Cloudwater. I shall reserve until I try a few more of their beers, but this wasn’t a bad start.

I also picked up a few bottles. Because, it would a) Be rude not to, and b) This is also an excellent bottle shop! So expect to hear more about some Cheshire Brewhouse, Offbeat, First Chop & Shindigger sometime soon!

In baseball terminology, I think that Damian & Charlotte have hit the ball out of the park here in many ways. The bar looks great. The beer choice is excellent. The background music was superb too – I abruptly broke off a conversation to exclaim “”Canopy” – The Cave Singers. Bloody hell this is a TUNE”! Most of all, by choosing this location. A bar of this type is bound to do well in The Heatons. And, for Northern oiks like me, it’s only a 3 minute walk from Heaton Chapel train station.

All in all – a result.

Postscript : It seems fitting that – given my disastrous journey TO Heaton Hops, that the return journey should also be a bit of a “mare”. A delayed train meant that I would have missed my last bus. Thanks therefore to Paul from Shindigger and his Uber account for getting me home!

Tune

“I have learnt there’s a magical spot at the hop
Come with me to the church on the corner the hop
There’s nuts and there’s crisps and there’s c-c-c-cola on tap
A good time had by those boys and those girls at the hop

Tell me what do you say (tell me what do you say)
Tell me what do you say….I tell you
Life begins at the hop, boys and girls”

(“Live Begins At The Hop” – XTC  – Clip courtesy thecatkeaton on You Tube)

In my library, there could only be one tune to finish this piece with! The mighty XTC on TOTP, things like this used to make my Thursday evenings worth staying in for when I was 14!

One of the greatest bands. Period.

Well. I better get off and gird my loins for Saturday and the Easter 2015 Road To Wigan Beer bus marathon. Come along and have beers you’ll have never tried before and the most fun you could have with your clothes on!

Slainte!

4 Beer Festivals In One Day (inc Manchester Beer & Cider Festival Pt 2) – 22/01/2015

“Too many Florence Nightingales, not enough Robin Hoods
Too many halos not enough heroes, coming up with the goods.

So you though you’d like to change the world, decided to stage a jumble sale,
For the poor, for the poor.

It’s a waste of time if you know what they mean, try shaking a box in front of the Queen
‘Cause her purse is fat and bursting at the seams……..”

(“Flag Day” – The Housemartins)

 I think that it would have been in 1986. I was sat in the office in the arse end of Trafford Park, when word reached me that if you called the right number (I think it was the magazine City Life) you could get free tickets for a special performance by The Housemartins at a place called City Lites in Farnworth. There were 10 pairs available. I rang on the dot of 9am and snaffled 2, so me and my mate Nige ended up in a town I’d never yet visited. And a town I’d end up living in for the last 25 years!

The performance was for a TV programme which I have recently found out was called “Hold Tight” on Granada TV. The band were superb. It was a short performance, but managed to cram in a No 1 & No 2 single in “Caravan of Love” and “Happy Hour”. My memories are hazy other than 2 things. Firstly, the band finished by breaking up Hugh Whittaker’s drum kit. Secondly, Paul Heaton declaiming that “We fucking hate Tories!” Some things resonate!

Whilst preparing for this blog piece, I was looking for a vid for “Flag Day”, yet stumbled upon the Granada TV programme that the concert was recorded for! The link is here. A reminder of what a great band The Housemartins were and still sound like. “The 4th best band in Hull” indeed! (The other 3 were Red Guitars, Everything But The Girl & The Gargoyles – apparently!)

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Four Beer Festivals in One Day. Some things just have to be done, don’t you think? Obviously I do. But then again, I’m both stupid and easily led. Or so I thought when travelling to work at a preposterously early hour, in order to finish in time to start this malt & hop marathon! So, I yawned my way onto First Buses finest chariot….

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The New Oxford, Bexley Square, Salford

Tim (mein host) doesn’t really need to host beer festivals. The selection of 16 (or is it more?) handpulls is like the Elysian Fields for local cask ale devotees and Tim has a positive talent for pulling rare and unseen beers like rabbits out of the proverbial titfer. But hold a Beer Festival he does. And does it well. My advice if you fancy an evening beer here, get in early. It can get rightfully busy!

As I entered before midday, I could hear the voices of tickers picking off the beers that they were going to try. Me? Am I a ticker? I suppose so, but only in so far as it stretches to trying new beers from Northern breweries. You should know what I’m like by now!

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The first beer of the day was South Island Pale from the mighty Allgates of Wigan. Ultra pale and bursting with tropical fruit sharpness. Allgates just make excellent drinkable beers. Drinkability is vastly underrated as a characteristic.

Next up was Gold Top Milk Stout from Rebel Brewery of Penryn in Cornwall. Roasted coffee with a lactose and vanilla sweetness. Lots of cocoa/chocolate too. Sweet tooth, consider yourself sated!

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With the Arch-Nemesis and Jeff now in attendance and with thirsts slaked, time for walkies!

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I have absolutely NO idea as to how I let them persuade me to walk! But by the time we got there, a thirst had indeed been generated. I let the A-N sort out the beer choice whilst I sorted out my hunger pangs at Panchos with a large Burrito! ALL long days should start with a Panchos!

The Micro Bar, Manchester Arndale Market

In here I had a Pikes Peak by Elland from West Yorkshire. Yes, they of the mighty 1872 Porter. The Pikes was a beautifully pale golden beer bursting with zesty citrus and possessed of a bracing bitter finish.

Micro Bar is one of Manchester’s unregarded gems in my opinion. There’s always an interesting guest or two courtesy of Boggart’s own distribution setup, the staff are friendly and there is a cracking bottle selection for takeaways. All that and you can eat your burrito there too. Bonus!

We move on….

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The Crown & Kettle, Oldham Road, Manchester To what I now consider my favourite pub in Manchester. For me, it has it all. Beauty, increasingly great beer selection and (at £2.95 a pint for cask), great value.

To be fair, when I see a Rat on the bar, I’m gonna bite. Always. This Huddersfield emporium knows how to knock out a damned good beer on their kit. The collaboration with the Pied Bull brewpub in Chester was absolutely no exception. Pied Rat was a big bruiser of an IPA. Amber with a creamy textured white head and barrow loads of citrus leaping from the glass. Chewy malt and massive hoppage. Even at 5.5% I had to have a second pint. Wise? Possibly not, but it tasted fantastic!

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Now, as you may have gathered over the last year or so, I’m a bit of a music nerd. So to hear an entire album and a bit from one of my favourite bands – the immense Beirut – I was beyond joy. Transcendent. Rounded off an excellent start to the day. The C&K is a belting pub, more than worth your cash.

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(Another Beer Festival? If you insist!)

This was where I finished off my “Dance Card Dozen” as listed here. On the previous day I had pretty much been rooted to the ground floor whilst my jaw ached from the talking to some seriously good beer people. But this day was for the beer! First up was a visit to the Concourse for a treble from Offbeat & Bridestones/Hebden Bridge Brewing.

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Disfunctional Functional IPA from Offbeat came first. Refreshing, with punchy fruity hops. An excellent beer, as I have come to expect from this Crewe brewery. Great beer brewed by a chick indeed!

Psychedelic – Hebden Bridge Brewing – I only had a taste of this at ISBF and before I knew it, it ran out! I couldn’t miss it, could I? Being conditioned over a market stall full of citrus fruit, it was every bit as fruity as I remembered and had a damn nice dry hoppy finish too. A cracking beer (hope to have them back with something ace for ISBF2015!)

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Then the collab between the two (in Hebden Bridge’s Bridestones guise). The wackily named “Sprocket Wort Orange”. An unusual mouthful to say the least, but a damned enjoyable one to be fair. Chocolate and orange with a little hoppy nip. No surprise to me, I like both Offbeat AND Bridestones.

Next up was a beer high on my list. Being a smoked porter, from Rat Brewery. Workhouse Rat was everything it was meant to be. Dark and smoky, a little starting sweetness and lovely coffee/chocolate flavbours. Nice hop finish. Accomplished, from a brewery that I see too few darks from. (Try the Ratsputin IRS if you see it – it’s a belter of an Impy)

Then. A walk. For a foreign beer. Well, it WAS from a bit South of Crewe! Fang Pale Ale from Black Flag. I holidayed in Perranporth in Cornwall this year in the tail end of a hurricane. This beer in bottle made that seem a small price to pay. In cask it was even better. Really zingy with more than a hint of lime with the mango. A fruity cracker from a small craft operator that if I knew how close they were to Perranporth, I’d have knocked on the door!

I was gutted to miss just one of the beers on my list. Being from Jamie Hancock and his Five Oh Brew Co, it shouldn’t have been a surprise, as it was only the second casking he’d done (no prizes for guessing where the first one was served!). This was a slight tweak on the Sorachi Ace Stout he did for us (doh!). As I said, gutted.

However, that left a gap. Which was filled with one of those beers that rocked my head back. A #Beergasm indeed. This was the Stocky Stout from Richard Conway’s Thirst Class Ale. The first mouthful prompted a “BLOODY HELL IS THIS GOOD!” Creamy, bitter and beautifully roasty, a proper winter beer without the need for you to fall over. 5.2% abv of roasted perfection. It’s that good, that I’m going to Ashton to pick up a couple of bottles tomorrow from Browtons!

I really enjoyed this festival. I could have spent 4 days there and STILL not had all the beers that I wanted. The only thing I would say (and it’s assuredly NOT a criticism) is that I was (as Atilla would say) “over faced”. There was so much good beer that I struggled to decide on occasion. Hey ho! If only ALL beer festivals had that problem eh?

Over the two days, Beer of the Festival for me was the Stocky Stout – with the Imperial Buckwheat Stout by Quantum a close second. Bring on the bottles of both!

On that note….’til next time.

Slainte!

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 – Part 2

“Music in the ice-box, laughter in the dark,
Echoes in the silence, waiting for the spark,
Hold me while I’m naked, catch me if you can,
Suicide statements are the measure of the man …”

(“Do You Dream In Colour” – Bill Nelson)

(Clip courtesy Robert Jukes on YouTube)

I am a Bill Nelson fan. A true fan in that his is the only “Fan Club” that I ever joined. For a couple of years, you got a magazine (REALLY well produced) every quarter and an exclusive 7″ single with every second magazine. The output of the man was massive!

Simply one of the greatest, yet unsung, British guitarists. Starting solo and quite folky, then hitting a peak with one of the tightest rock bands of the 70s, the awesome Be Bop Deluxe. Tracks like Maid In Heaven, Between The Worlds, Love With The Madman, Ships In The Night……Oh my…..so tight…so melodic…and that guitar could make such sounds

Then, just when they looked to be getting huge in the States, he got …… bored. He went to form a more “modern” and aggressive band Red Noise. Again, utterly superb. But only one album. Check out “Sound on Sound”. Of its time, but still sharp as lemon juice!

“Do You Dream In Colour” was the “hit” single that never was. It was hamstrung in that its release coincided with a strike at the BBC in 1981, so that Top of the Pops wasn’t broadcast. It should have been huge. Bill should have had more success…..

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1. Govinda India Pale Ale (Barrel Aged Head Brewers Reserve) – Cheshire Brewhouse (Congleton, Cheshire) – 6.8%abv – IPA – £No Idea (500ml) – The Ale Man (Levenshulme & Heaton Moor Markets)

A deep copper coloured beer with a tight soft white head with an aroma full of banana toffee laced with a boozy caramel note (aged in Brandy barrel), so inviting.

Second sniff reminds me more of a rich Christmassy fruit cake. Oh Yum!

Oh bloody hell this is SUCH A GREAT BEER. PROPER BEERGASM MATERIAL!!! A full-bodied rich and smooth mouthful. Spicy boozy raisins, banana, marmalade dancing all over a deep toffee malt base. This is a proper IPA. The fruity and toffee flavours just give way to a spicy hop and a very gentle (But present) bitterness. That said, this is such a smooth beer.

In the second mouthful and further, the earthy character of the hops takes more of a front seat with a building spiciness and peppery note. The aftertaste is peppery hop and a slightly smoky spirit warmth. Beautiful. There is apparently another barrel aged version of this beast. You NEED this in your glass!

#Beergasm Number 1 This week!
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2. Bohemian Antipodean PaleOffbeat Brewery (Crewe) – 4.3% abv – Pale Ale – £2.65 (500ml) – Tottering Temple (Horwich)
Pale gold with a light white head and gentle carbonation giving really big tropical fruit aromas of mango & kiwi.

Oh my! Nice medium bodied beer this with a fabulously fruity party going on! Peach, mango, kiwi, passion fruit followed by a HUGE bracing piney sticky bitterness. Wow!

This is absolutely PACKED with flavour and feels much bigger than its strength. Further mouthfuls just confirm initial impressions. This bitterness builds to a dry finish with a really assertive piney aftertaste. Superb.

You need THIS as well!
#Beergasm Number 2!
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3. Stout PorterSeven Bro7hers Brewery (Salford) – 5.2%abv – StoutGreat Ale Year Round – £3 (330ml)
My first in bottle from this Salford brewery who – after their initial (feather ruffling) launch publicity – have settled to make some rather nice well judged beers on cask. But in bottle….
A black beer with a ruby tinge around the edges, a creamy tan coloured head and…. A subtle yet distinct aroma of… licorice & Anise. Very intriguing!

Initially tasting a little sweetness, this mouthful developed into something with a more dry and Roasted malt character, slightly bitter, but not overly, leaving the room free for some spicy licorice and herbal sweetness of the anise. A very nice mouthful indeed.

A second mouthful held more of the same, but I found a nutty note coming through in the aftertaste that was surprising and most pleasant and which gradually gave best to that gentle aniseed finish. This could work really well on draught and I need to try it soon. Salford has another brewery worth the candle it would seem!

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4. PilsShindigger Brewing Co (Here, there & everywhere!) – 5.1% abv – Pilsner -£? (330ml) – Direct from the brewer
No disclaimer needed, I did actually pay for this, I just haven’t noted a price up top as I don’t know what the retail price would be!
As Pale a gold add you could possibly wish for work a light white head and aroma of…. Mango! A Lager with a tropical fruit aroma? Hmmm.

This is now one of the few beers that I’ve had in cask, keg and bottle. Cask at ISBF, keg at MTB and now…. And it’s a bloody lovely beer too (as were the cask & keg)

First impressions in the mouth? Light, massively refreshing, clean and crisp as all good pilsner should be. With the addition of fruity hops which are more dialled down, but plenty enough! Smooth too, with a nice cereal / bready  malt backbone coming through later.

I told the fellas at the time of ISBF that this struck me as an ultra Pale Ale as much as a Lager in its cask incarnation. The bottle version reminds me (kind of) of Caesar Augustus by Williams Brothers which is a Lager / IPA hybrid (and bloody good too!)

I’m waiting for George & Paul to take a misstep. No danger yet of that. Another belter.

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5. OktoberfestRunaway Brewery (Manchester) – 5.4% abv – Dark Lager – £3 (330ml) – Great Ale Year Round
A deep copper colour to this with a foamy off white head and an intriguing fruity aroma, some plum, a bit of barley sugar and something more… Boozy… Maybe a hint of golden rum or molasses.

Not being a big fan of darker German beers, I approached this with trepidation, I dislike Bock beers for example. Just don’t “get” them at all. However…..

Initial sweetness with some barley sugar (crystal malt?) and quite fruity, again plum but with something else too, maybe the merest hint of banana caramel. That sweetness quickly fades as a drying quality asserts itself with a feeling of rye curling the tongue.

Really smooth andfull bodied this. Those molasses come more to the fore in the second gob full. Big wholemeal bready malty base in this supporting that sweet fruitiness. And a big hint of marzipan cakiness too, giving this a seasonal feel.

A departure for Mark this. And he’s carried it off too. This could barrel age well methinks!

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6. Sorachi Ace StoutFive Oh Brew Co (Prestwich) – 6.5% abv (I think!) – Strong Stout – Direct.
I originally picked this up at the same time that I personally collected the pin of cask conditioned version for ISBF. No labels either. I was strictly instructed NOT to drink it for a couple of weeks as it had JUST been bottled and wouldn’t yet be ready. Oh I am SO glad I waited. This was one of the stars of the show at ISBF. I was drooling as I picked up the bottle opener!
Pitch black. Reassuringly so. A nice tight tan coloured and creamy looking head on this as well with an aroma that just oozes…. Bitter chocolate and (of all things) rum like an Old Jamaica chocolate bar from the 70s. Do they still make them?

Oh shit this is just SO creamy and unctuous! Coffee. Strong coffee. That bitter chocolate too. Smooth and silky, seductive, I’m hearing Ike’s Rap II by Isaac Hayes (as sampled by Portishead for Glory Box), deep melodic bass notes. Slinky. Like this beer.

But there is a lightness of hopping that lifts this beer too. A fabulous grassy dryness and a little light fruitiness. Just a little. Because this beer wallows and luxuriates in its delightful dark depths. Got a lot of love at ISBF did this. I can sure see why.

A beautiful thing.

#Beergasm Number 3!