A Change of Scenery – Deansgate 06/07/2016

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

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

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

Knott Bar – 374, Deansgate, M3 4LY

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

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

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

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

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

Tonight was no exception.

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

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

A cracker of a bar.

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

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Cask – 29, Liverpool Street, M3 4NQ

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onward….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gaslamp – 50a, Bridge Street, M3 3BW

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

Not many, I bet.

But, if you don’t, you miss this…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Brink – 65, Bridge Street, M3 3BQ

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

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

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

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

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

Baton Rouge by Mallinsons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Home Beers – June 2016 – Pt 1

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RampartBrass Castle Brewery (Malton) / Ossett Brewery (er…. Ossett) – 7% abv – IPA – 330ml can – Bottle (Heaton Moor)

This beer was the standout at Manchester Beer and Cider Festival this year for me, big and juicy. I was surprised to see it in cans though on a recent visit to Bottle. I had to have it.

Deep copper coloured, the light white head  emitting a deep fruity aroma full of caramelised pineapple and bitter orange. Juices duly flowing, it was time for a mouthful……

Oh yes. No change. Just as magnificent in canned format as it was in cask.

Really full bodied with plenty of cakey chewy malt, this is soaked in sticky fruit! Orange marmalade, juicy pineapple, even a little hint of drunken raisins. Really juicy and packing a big fruity hoppy punch as an IPA this strength should.

Nice full bitterness in the finish of this leading to a full on piney resinous hit in the aftertaste.

It would have been easy for this beer to fall down compared to the superb cask at Manchester Central. But not a bit of it. This is just as superb in can. Lush.

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CannonballMagic Rock Brewing (Huddersfield) – 7.4% abv – IPA – 330ml (can) – Bottle (Heaton Moor)

A beer that I’ve had issues with. One where I’ve never understood some of the fluffing that has gone online about it, having tried it in both keg & bottle form.
The can – having seen it in the corner of my eye – was an impulse buy. A last chance if you will. It has been decent, but decent wasn’t what I was led to expect

Hazy gold from the get go. This light white head just sings an aria to hops. Fruity as hell on the nose like a mashed up cocktail. Kiwi, passion fruit, mango and a little grapefruit – for next a bit more citrus!

 Big and juicy. With all of the above jostling and tumbling for room on the taste buds. Slight sweetness to the chewy cheesecakey malt, but more than offset by the hopload. Juicy with a really lovely balancing bitterness – lacking in some so called IPAs.

That juiciness lasts from gun to tape and gives way at the last to a sticky resinous pine which piggybacks that bitter finish.

A joy. Right up there.

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Single Hop Pale Ale (Centennial)North Riding Brewery (East Ayton, Scarborough) – 4.5% abv – Pale Ale – 500ml – Bottle (Heaton Moor)

Beautiful golden beer with a light white head and a hooter full of lemony citrus.

Yet again, Stuart Neilson nails it. First impressions are medium of body, with a nice biscuity malt base. Then the hops. Lots of hops.

Lemony sharp, with juicy mango and lots of it. Really fruity and juicy. That lemon is quite bracing but in no way detracts from the fact that this is one refreshing beer!

This is one lovely beer. Fruity, dry of finish and with moderate bitterness and a nice hoppy aftertaste. Levels of yum!

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Dane’IshCheshire Brewhouse (Congleton) – 5.0% abv – Lager – 330ml – Heaton Hops (Heaton Chapel)
Lightly Hazy and golden, this unfined and unfiltered beer has a light foamy white head on it, giving off a slightly fruity aroma with a little peppery spice making my nose wrinkle.
This is a small batch lager to convert the macro boys away from their bland fizzy shite.
Smoothly carbonated, the initial flavours are of forest fruits on a light crusty bread malt base with a light sweetness for those fruity hops to play with. This is a superbly balanced beer, light, spicy and refreshing but with a little spicy kick in the finish.
Finally. Someone has nailed a really good English lager. Nice slightly hoppy and peppery aftertaste too. Shane Swindells should take a bow. This is just as good in bottle as it is in Keg (regularly) at The Brink.
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US IPA (Citra, Summit, Equinox) – North Riding BreweryIPA – 5.5% abv – 500ml – Bottle (Heaton Moor)
Over the last 12 months – leaving aside The Independent Salford Beer Festival (shameless plug for fresh looking website!) – there are two things that I am really proud of. Thjose are finally nagging people enough to get beers from North Riding Brewery of Scarborough and Five Towns of Wakefield into Manchester area bars
Finally, you lot over THIS side of the hill have the chance to see if I’ve been talking utter bollocks about them. And I haven’t, have I?
I’ve had some grief from over in Yorkshire, but it has been worth it. I finally get to try two of my personal heroes beers in my own back yard – on cask, And I’m thrilled.
But what about THIS particular beer?

Oh yes. A proper beast is this. Big, deep golden beer with a lasting soft white head and an immensely fruity aroma full of orange, mango and a little peach.

Juicy, juicy, juicy. In Chris Hall’s parlance, a banger and no mistake. This is full of mango, with orange and peach and not a little gooseberry too in this wee devil. So, so, so juicy.

Big and bold and fruity this. The swallow is nicely bitter as any decent IPA should be. That bitterness being just short of bracing. Perfectly judged.

The finish is juicy and bitter with a big grassy resinous aftertaste. And it’s a joy to drink.

That boy Neilson can brew you know.

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Your BetrayalMarble Brewery (Manchester) – 5% abv – American Pilsner – 330ml – Epicurean (West Didsbury)
At the end of the brewday for Manchester Fold (with Lees & Cloudwater), myself and Connor found ourselves having a couple of beers when we saw a tweet from Marble. “New beer! Free half in 57 Thomas Street!”….
Well…….of course we did!
That was this beer, but in keg. Delicious on draught, now for the bottle….
This recent release from Marble pours a glittering gold with a light white head with an amazing tropical hop aroma. Kiwi, passion fruit, mango. All kinds of yum!
Having had this fresh in release day on Keg, I kind of knew what to expect. BOOM! ALL KINDS OF TROPICAL!
Fruit. So much fruit. Dancing a hula around my mouth. Mango, lychee, passion fruit and a touch of kiwi swaying their grass skirts around my mouth before being lassoed back in line by a bracing and abrupt resinous hop dryness.
If James Kemp and his team day this is a Pilsner, who am I to gainsay? It works. Brilliantly. I, personally, would call this an ultra Pale Ale. And it works on that turf too. You will get few Session IPAs that rock like this!
Dry and sticky resinous aftertaste, don’t ever leave me!
There you have them. 6 utter crackers. If you see them – or their hop variants (in the case of North Riding), do yourself a flavour. Buy them. And say it was my fault!
See you soon at MANCHESTER BEER WEEK!!!!
As I said above, about my pride at finally seeing North Riding & Five Towns in Manchester. When I heard a big Five Towns pale (7%) was on draught at The Smithfield, I was scared that I’d miss it. So an unscheduled trip was in order – even though Atilla’s family were over…….
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Oh I had to have two pints – minimum! Then, I noted there was a smooth operator by Hawkshead on keg. Tonka Imperial Porter. Now then, since the #CraftBeerHour that I hosted for ISBF last year, I have a rep for ludicrous Black & Tans.
So. BIG 7% Five Towns (“One At T’End”) meet BIG Tonka Imperial Porter.
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It was ******* STUNNING! I had a few. And it was neither big, nor clever.
But it was DAMN tasty!
Slainte!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(Supervising Rats)

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

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

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

A Huddersfield Legend.

So Robin, Malcolm & I went for a walk.

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

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

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

“Could I have a pint of Alcazar please?”

“A pint?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love Huddersfield.

MTB with Weird Beard @ Heaton Hops – 14/03/2016

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I kind of gave up on Meet The Brewer (MTB) events a few years back. They got to feel a bit like doing a “Brewery Tour”. I’ve been around a few Micro Breweries and to be honest, they start to blur into one. Once you’ve seen four or five, it gets to be ‘variations on a theme’. A bit samey.

It’s the personalities that make both worth doing. And Gregg Irwin – chief Spreadsheet Ninja, brewer, co-owner of Weird Beard Brew Co – is definitely one of those.

And (let’s get this out of the way NOW shall we?) I rather like the beers that these fellas brew down in West London. I always have. For all of my Northern Beer Fascism, I’ve had a soft spot for these beers since I was introduced to them by The Ale Man, YAY years ago.

Yes. Damian O’Shea. The same. Now thriving in his “Award Winning” bar. Heaton Hops. A bar that has wormed its way into my cold cold heart. By being astonishingly good. It’s simple really!

And I had an agenda….(maybe) more later….

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We had six beers to get through. 4 of them – given my curmudgeonly Northern tendencies – that I had never tried before.

Like I said, Gregg is certainly no wallflower. And there were a few choice epithets sprinkled throughout the evening, to be sure – given his visceral feelings about Mild, we’re unlikely to meet halfway on some. These made the evening all the more entertaining. I certainly shed a laughter tear or five!

Rather amazingly (or not – to some – given the “craft beer” boom) Weird Beard export their tasty wares to 21 countries, 10 of them on a regular basis. They’re even making inroad in that most vin sozzled of countries. France. Apparently, a real growing market for good beer.

So. Where were we? Ah….

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So Damian had persuaded Mr Beard himself to come and chinwag with us. And this was very much a two-way street. There was at least one vegan in the cosy audience, so we had a bit of to and fro on the usage of isinglass as an aid to clarity. We had Gregg’s story as to how Saison 14 (one of the beers tonight) acquired its name – a reference to a score it obtained in a Home Brewing contest – cue withering glare at YT (recent Home Brewing judge….)

The beers started to flow….and Gregg chatted briefly about the birth of each and how the hop bill and other parts of the recipes have changed – sometimes by design, sometimes due to availability of ingredients – over time. Things like how the body that they get into beers like “Little Things That Kill”. How the beers get named – mostly from songs “LTTK” (A track by Bush), “Fade To Black” (Metallica).

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Personally, I can’t wait to taste “Relight My Fire”…..

It is – to me – sad that WB only cask approximately 15% of their output. The joy I used to find in my occasional pint of Decadence Stout – one of the best I’ve ever had – was a rare thing. A truly lovely beer. I think that it is safe to say, that cask wouldn’t be Gregg’s preferred method of dispense. Putting it mildly…..(I just had to get “Mild” in one more time….)

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To my utter delight, Jimmy from Nasi Lemak had set up a mini “street kitchen” outside the bar, so we had some truly excellent grub appearing – at intervals – on the tables (Sweet Potato fries with spicy sauce went superbly with the Choc Mint Stout – “A World Without Dave”)

It would be easy to waffle on about the beer. Safe to say that it was uniformly superb. But, briefly, from “Little Things That Kill” (Light refreshing and hoppy), “A World Without Dave” (Choc, Mint, Lush and creamy), “Fade To Black” (Smooth, Citrussy, a little Coconut – the sole cask), Saison 14 (my personal favourite – surpisingly – Cream Soda smooth, Apricot & Tangerine)

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The final two beers were hastily consumed – as myself and my mentor “Pal” had to scarper sharpish for a train. They were “Sorachi Faceplant” a BIG (8.1%) IPA that was so juicy and dangerously drinkable and “Sadako” Imperial Stout, luscious, creamy, smooth and done absolutely no justice to by being wolfed down. Unlike the spicy chicken that Jimmy wheeled out….

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(Pic : Courtesy of @Deeekos)

This was an excellent evening. There are very few things that would encourage me to travel from Bolton over 20 miles on a school night. But Damian O’Shea, Heaton Hops & Gregg Irwin managed it.

Even if I WAS the butt of a few Irwin jokes…….

And no. With nights like this, Meet The Brewer events DON’T need “Reinventing”.

They just need good beer, good people (brewers, bloggers, beer & food lovers) and intelligent conversation. Oh. And a liberal sprinkling of beery expletives…

A joy of an evening.

 

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.

Home Beers – Jan 2016 – Pt 2

The aim with these “Home Beers” posts was to keep them to roughly 1 per month. But I couldn’t wait to share this stunning batch. Forgive my eagerness?

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IPA (Mt Hood/Ahtenum)Squawk Brewing Co (Manchester) – 5% abv – IPA – 330ml – Heaton Hops (Heaton Chapel)

Crisp clean deep and golden. Lasting light foamy white head with lashings of tropical stuff on the nose, mango, peach and lychee? Really juicy….

Oh this is a juicy belter of a beer! Good deep body, nicely balanced malty backbone with this fruitiness say on top. Mango, apricot? A bit of peach and a lovely bite of bitterness in the swallow, lovely and spicy.

An earthiness to this hopping too, really dry with a lovely spicy hop aftertaste following the fruity, peppery finish.

Typically Squawk. All kinds of yum!

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AmberjackNeptune Brewery (Maghull) – 4.5% abv – Amber Ale – 330ml – Direct from the brewer

This Beer pours a lovely copper colour with a white light head giving off a big citrus aroma, orange juice and zest – like driving along the Costa del Azahar through the citrus groves. Really juicy and fragrant.

Light to medium bodied, this slides down all too easily. Wholemeal bready malt with a touch of spicy dryness (Rye?) overlaid with that orange/peachy fruitiness makes this a beautiful sessionable beer. Really refreshing.

Low on bitterness, this is a really easy drinking beer that belies its strength and feels really light and juicy. The finish is fruity and leads to a dry slightly resinous hoppy aftertaste.

A lovely beer from this new Liverpool brewery…

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Fire DamageTorrside Brewing (New Mills) – 4.9% abv – Stout – 500ml – Harvey Leonards (Glossop)

Black. Generally a good start with a Stout in my book. Nice light tan head too. And a big roasty aroma with a peaty smokiness reminiscent of my favourite peaty single malt – Lagavulin. Win. Win.

Medium bodied. That peaty smoke is quite upfront, but gradually recedes leaving behind a really nice deep malty chocolate flavour. A bit like dark chocolate Hob Nobs.

My. Kind. Of. Beer. That deep dark malty chocolate thing just rolls on and on coating my mouth in a lightly peated choccy biccy flavour.

At that strength, this is something that (on cask) I could repeat. A few times…..

Nice shop / bar too. Report soon.

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IPA (Winter Range) – Cloudwater Brew Co (Manchester) – 8% abv – er… IPA – 330ml – Heaton Hops (Heaton Chapel)

Now. I don’t normally embrace the murky. But when it smells like THIS I don’t give a toss. It’s a mango bomb! Oh my, just pureed mango. Give me the pulp. Yum.

Hazy gold, lasting white head. You get the rest?

Yes. Yes. YES! Bring unto me all of your mango and peachy hops! This is a beergasm and no mistake! Um Bongo with beautifully soft carbonation. Full bodied and just such a fruity b*****d! (And I’m sober BTW!)

Big beer. Paradoxically, tastes bigger than the DIPA did when I had it on launch day at the brewery. But that matters not a jot. From the first to last mouthful, it’s just fruity and nicely spicy/bitter with the hop load. And yum. Big yum!

Warming too. That huge fruitiness never lets up and leads to a big resinous hop finish.

Just yes. And an early candidate for bottled beer of the year.

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Summat ElseFive Towns Brewery (Wakefield) – 7.2% abv – Pale Ale – 750ml – Direct from the brewer.

The moment that the lever bottle top was flipped, I was assaulted with sharp and tangy tart aromas of lemon and grapefruit. Like a citrus tsunami crashing against my nostrils from this pale golden beer.

Woah! This is a big beast. There is a big sweet biscuit malty base to this, a bit like a flapjack drizzled with maple syrup. This is then overlaid with a huge fruitiness full of mango and grapefruit tartness. Lightly carbonated, this adds to the impression of a really smooth beer.

It’s described as a Strong Pale Ale. And you don’t forget that with each chewy fruity mouthful with a little apricot in there too at the finish leading to a moderate bitterness. Find of his strong Pale Ales is Mr Bastow. I can see why. This is a brute.

The fruity bitter finish leads to a substantial resinous hop aftertaste that rounds this beer off superbly. This is up there with the best English IPAs for me.

This, really is “Summat Else”. And another early candidate for bottle of the year.

Five Towns are a bit of a Yorkshire secret that Yorkshire folk like to keep to themselves (I was reprimanded by one Yorkshire drinker for recommending their beers last week) With beers like this, the secret should be well and truly OUT.

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Govinda (Chevallier Edition) – Cheshire Brewhouse (Congleton) – 6.8% abv – IPA – 500ml – Heaton Hops

A beer that I adore. In all its previous incarnations. Original, Brandy cask aged, White Wine barrel aged and now this. With an old and rare strain of malt, regrown and snaffled by Shane Swindells.

How I wanted this beer SO badly.

So. Deep amber coloured with a good soft white head and a huge fruity aroma full of…. caramelised banana…. I was warned that this malt was…. different.

Oh dear. This feels like it should help me sleep…. A full-bodied beer to say the least, this IPA is a different kind of fruity. Agreed in 3 different wooden casks, then blended back to produce this. And this is one special beer.

There’s banana, vines full of raisins, hints of pear and apple all on top of a deep chewy fruit cake malt. Yes, there’s sweetness in here, this is a potent malt. But there is also a tingling smooth bitterness in every mouthful, balancing that malt.

There is a warming feeling too that this beer brings from the barrel ageing. Definite brandy and that fruit cake feels like it has been soaking in rich deep winey flavours.

The finish is long and warming, with plenty of deep grassy hopping in here, smooching in with the warmth.

This is only beer made with Chevallier malt in 2015. And Shane is proud of his baby.

He should be. This is a very special beer. Bottle of the year candidate.

And I have a spare or two that I’m going to age for a year.

I feel lucky.

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A truly superb batch of beers. I couldn’t hold on in case they all went and you couldn’t buy any. I owed you that much!

Back soon.

Slainte!

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

MBCF

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/

 

 

 

Home Beers – Jan 2016 : Pt 1

Happy New Year everyone! And Happy #Tryanuary!

I, for one, have absolutely NO intention of giving in to the detox mania that is hauling thousands in to a month of misery.

Be Happy. Happiness is seriously underrated.

Anyway, in the spirit of Tryanuary, I’ve been a bit busy. You’ll start seeing (and in some instances, tasting) the results shortly. Furthermore, in the same spirit, here are six recommendations for (hopefully) something new for you to try this month. Some will be limited, so better be quick!

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It’s Rather Hoppy DarlingCheshire Brewhouse (Congleton) – 4.2% abv – Session IPA – 330ml – Direct from the brewer. 

As Pale as a spring morning, golden and bright with a light white head pushing out a huge citrus and tropical aroma like a fruit salad chewy sweet, pineapple, kiwi, mango. Just so juicy on the nose!

Oh dear, oh dear is this GOOD! This thing is wearing a grass skirt and dancing a hula! Mango, passion fruit, kiwi dancing all around the mouth with a light digestive biscuit base. Just. So. Fruity.

The swallow is followed by a bracing bitterness and leaving a big hoppy resinous aftertaste. This is the first Beergasm of 2016 and no mistake!

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Citra PaleTickety Brew (Stalyvegas) – 4.2% abv – Pale Ale – 330ml – Heaton Hops

Very pale golden colour, lively from the bottle shop was decanted, but nice white lacy head nonetheless with a big aroma booming out full of apricot, grapefruit and a squeeze of lemon.

Got my saliva glands going…..

Oh baby…. This is one pithy little beast.

Medium bodied, this beer hits you with tart astringent fruit, grapefruit and lemon to the fore here. The carbonation having softened after the decant, this is really smooth, fruity, but ultra dry.

Really dry. A tongue curler!

That Belgian yeast aids that dryness with a little peppery spice and helps to accentuate the dry slightly resinous hoppy finish.

Another special beer from Stalyvegas.

And only 60. I’m lucky. Grab one if you can.

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APABrewsmith Beers (Ramsbottom) – 5.0% abv – Pale Ale – 500ml – Direct from the brewer.

Brewsmith are in the early days of their bottled beers being in the wild. But, so far, so excellent. Everything top notch so far. But how will this stack against the Bitter, Oatmeal Stout & Gyle 50?

Mid golden in colour, a light thin white head emitting a lovely fragrance of tropical fruits, with peach, passion fruit and a hint of mango hitting the nose.

In the mouth? Light carbonation and a medium body. Really smooth on the tongue with lashings of mango and peach assailing the tongue, swiftly followed by a resinous hit of hop bitterness.

The second mouthful confirms the impressions of the first, but the hopping tastes and feels even more resinous and grassy following that tropical dance.

This is another superb beer from a brewery that have produced a range of bottles that just get more impressive as they go on.

Moderate strength Pale Ales and Stout? I wouldn’t look an awful lot further.

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  MadagascarGreat Heck Brewing (Great Heck – N Yorkshire) – 5.4% abv – Vanilla Wheat Stout – 330ml – Drink (Hebden Bridge)

A deep and dark brown, almost black, beer, with a warm ruby glow, a light mocha coloured head giving an aroma reminiscent of vanilla toffee ice cream, with a little molasses or rum note. Appetising.

Oh yes. Really smooth, medium to full bodied beer this is. Really beautifully chocolaty in the mouth with a sweet cocoa malt allied to a slightly more bitter chocolate. A little sweet vanilla intrudes as you run it around the mouth. Such an easy drinking beer this.

The second and subsequent mouthfuls reveal a little rum hint following the sweet chocolate taking you towards a dry chocolate and herbal hop finish.

Another lovely beer bought from an excellent shop/bar, Drink in Hebden Bridge which fell victim to the recent devastating floods that hit that beautiful old town.

Hope they’re cleaned up and sorted soon. Am sure to visit Hebden Bridge for a few beers shortly. This’ll be my first stop.

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NowtFive Towns Brewery (Wakefield) – 6.7% abv – Stout – 750ml – Direct from the brewer.

This beer pours as black as Hades cellar, had a lacy coffee coloured head and gave off am aroma full of dark bitter chocolate, licorice and the merest hint of smokiness. In short, seductive.

Yes. Yes. YES! I feel like Meg Ryan in the cafe table scene! Oh shit but this is bloody stunning!!!

Full bodied and unctuous, this is creamy smooth. Hitting the bullseye with an initial bitter chocolate hit, this is quickly embraced by some seriously spicy licorice, just oozing out.

That licorice is augmented by that light smoky touch. What shocks slightly (although it REALLY shouldn’t!) is such a hoppy bitterness that follows it. And stays. Then the smokiness returns lingering through to a slightly sweet, yet dry smoky and bitter hoppy finish.

I yield to none in my love of Malcolm Bastow’s Pale Ales, but this is right up there with his best pales.

And THAT is (as The Velvelettes sang) really saying something.

Beergasm.

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XS Imperial StoutSaltaire Brewery (Shipley, W Yorkshire) – 8.9% abv –Imperial Stout – 330ml – Bought from the brewery shop

I’ve held onto this for over 9 months since I bought this Hell black beer, with the slightest of fiery red tinge at the edges with a thin beige head and an aroma oozing out with vine fruits, old leather and a little sweet licorice.  Mmmmmm…..

Now then. It’s no surprise that I’m find of Imperial Stouts, but this is sooooo good! Rich, smooth, loaded with vine fruit that tastes like it’s soused with dark rum. Bitter espresso in here, with chocolate and a languorous smoky trace. This is just love…..ly!

Ooohhhhh, but this is so good. Those dark fruit flavours laden with sweet raisin just tingle, or maybe that’s the late hopping with Bramling Cross, but I’m just sinking in this here chair and luxuriating….

Yeah. Nice beer……  #Understatement

Bottled Beers – July 2015 – Pt 3

With things just starting to get serious with regard to The Independent Salford Beer Festival, this blog will be entering a substantially quieter period soon, whilst I get on with arrangements for St. Sebastians in October (Tickets out in 5 days exactly!)

So, with one or two other posts in the pipeline, it might be time to give you a break from Beers Manchester…… But for now, while there are great bottles to drink, I’ll tell you about them in my waffling “prose”.

“Darkness, you are my priestess…..”

(A pint at ISBF from me for the first to give me that song & artist in the comments section below! No later than Midnight 27/07/2015)

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1. TobaTrack Brewing Co (Manchester) – 5.6% abv – Oatmeal Stout – 330ml – Heaton Hops (Heaton Chapel)

Properly black beer. Cream head. Chocolate aroma with background coffee note. My kind of beer.

Nice and full creamy texture to this, my first bottle from this new Manchester brewer. Silky smooth and quite creamy, the first flavour to mind is a bitter chocolate, biting and dry. Then an earthiness that I can’t quite nail, but which, allied to a lovely dry bitterness works really well and makes this an excellent Stout. As I said, my kind of beer.

That earthy dryness remains in the finish where a coffee note comes through, again slightly bitter. Beautifully dry creamy lush Stout this.

And another brewer coming to a beer festival near you…..

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2. Sharks Against SurfersHopcraft Brewing (Pontyclun, St Wales) – 4.8% abv – Pale Ale – 330ml – Drink (Hebden Bridge)

Another ultra Pale Ale, all light golden hue and sharp lemony and grapefruit aromas leaping from its lacy white foamy collar.

This is really a surprise. I was expecting a brutal hop mouth battering. Yes it’s fruity, with apricot and orange jelly sweets on a light biscuity base. Really juicy, with that juicy fun chased off by a decent wallop of bitterness – full, but not brutal.

Nice piney finish mingled in with some lingering fruit in the aftertaste.

I would say that this medium to light bodied beer drinks quite lighter than its abv. This is a bloody good mid abv beer. And, for me, hugely sessionable.

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3. Imperial Buckwheat StoutQuantum Brewing Co (Stockport) – 8.5% abv – Imperial Stout – 330ml – Direct from the brewer.

Disclaimer time! – All words below are in no way influenced by the fact that I helped to brew this. OK, well….did some shovelling and stirring and shit. OK?

Black. Always a good start with an Impy. Totally black. Like tar. Dark brown collar of creamy foam and a spicy nose tingling aroma with licorice and red wine in the vanguard.

Oh yes indeed! This full-bodied beauty is lovely and unctuously creamy and rich. Vinous, with a rich nuttiness is the first sensation to hit the tongue, the next is as the beer first slips down, quite a bitter coffee taste. Such a mouthful of lovely darkness!

The finish is spicy, lingering hints of red wine, a touch of sour with more bitter espresso, luscious.

And even though I helped to brew it, there is no bias here. This is lush!

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4. Hare of DarknessMad Hatter Brewing (Liverpool) – 7% abv – Black IPA – 330ml – Epicurean (W Didsbury)

Can’t make up my mind about this! Initial dark chocolate aroma on this black beer made me think of a Stout. But there is something more fruity and spicy on the aroma coming out of the thick cream coloured head which tells me it’s a Black IPA. Intriguing.

Full bodied and really creamy smooth. Oh this is SOOOOO good! Bitter chocolate allied to masses of tingling citrus and big hoppage. Oh yes. Bitter coffee too in the swallow and second mouthful. Really earthy. And again, just so smooth.

A little licorice note too. So good. Really dry and hoppy finish to this oxymoron, with a big resinous aftertaste. Great beer this.

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5. Pride & JoyVocation Brewery (Hebden Bridge) – 5.3% abv – American Pale Ale – 500ml – Drink (Hebden Bridge)

Deep golden / Amber coloured beer with a light white lacey foam head and a huge aroma flying out full of mango, peach and orange zest. Full of promise!

Medium bodied, with decent carbonation, this is fruity Sod! The Mango is the heavyweight here, full and really juicy & tangy. Nectarine and peach too, a tropical fruit bowl of a beer this, delivering in spades on the promise of that aroma.

Really smooth texture to this making it feel quite sessionable. Dangerously so. The finish is really dry with big piney resins in the aftertaste providing a big finish.

Superb.

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6. Crafty RamRammy Craft Ales (Ramsbottom)- 4.6% abv – American Pale Ale – 500ml – Great Ale Year (Bolton)

An American Pale Ale with fennel eh? Golden beer with a lasting soft white head and…  Oh yes…. There it is…. Fennel. That unmistakable light aniseed fragrance in the aroma.

Oh wow. This is really unusual, but REALLY good! The fennel – with its light anise note – is there, but merges with fruity hoppage and creates a new flavour, something akin to an orangey boiled sweet. Incredibly moreish and very tasty.

Medium bodied and really smooth, the second mouthful brings a touch of apricot to the party and leads to a fruity, mouth-watering finish with a spicy hoppy aftertaste. Lovely stuff. (And another coming to ISBF 2015 with a VERY special beer!)

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7. Three Hop HareFive Towns Brewery (Wakefield) – 4.5% abv – Pale Ale – 500ml – Drink (Hebden Bridge)

Straw gold coloured Pale Ale with a light white head and a big citrus aroma full of grapefruit and lemon pith.

What. A. Tart. And. Sharp. Beer. This is full of tart citrus with the aforementioned grapefruit slightly trumped by the lemon. Really juicy and sharp. Gooseberry too. Nelson Sauvin perhaps? Really refreshing beer this, light and VERY sessionable…

This light to medium bodied cracker is dry in the finish, resinous and still sharp in the aftertaste.. Simply a superb Pale Ale. Another from the “Northern Magician”! Rapidly becoming my favourite brewery.

7 belters there! Next post may be about a shop I found in Newark this weekend and the local beers therein.

But, until then….

Slainte!

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!