Truly, Madly, Deeply Vale – Deeply Vale Brewery MTB – Salford Arms 02/10/2013

20100320-215227-860359(What a CRACKING Saturday Line-Up! courtesy http://www.Songkick.com)

“You don’t have to weird, to be wired”

(“Totally Wired” – The Fall)

Deeply Vale is a valley located to the east of Nangreaves, Bury (due east of Jct 1 of the M66 northbound).  Between 1976 and 1979 it was the site, of one of the legendary Free Festivals and at its peak (1978/1979), 20,000 people were attracted to listen to the likes of Steve Hillage, Nik Turner (ex Hawkwind) and local “New Wave” bands like The Fall and The Durutti Column. It was one of (if not THE) first festivals where the hippy counter-culture intersected with Punk.

For those of you at a tender age, I was JUST too young to attend the 1979 Festival (my first “gig” – The Damned – being on 10th December 1979) and it was a source of deep regret. However, given it’s relatively remote location, I probably would never have made it back to Salford!

The Deeply Vale Brewery therefore, has quite a romantic name in local terms (although Greater Manchester Police CID in 1979 may not have agreed. They were – legend has it – kept from the site!). The name is derived from the fact that James’ (Brewer/Owner) family originate from that area.

Fall Deeply Vale Fest(pic – http://www.elirecords.co.uk A VERY young Mark E Smith @ Deeply Vale in 1978)

Founded in 2012 near the centre of Bury by James Stewart and his parents, the brewery has quickly gained a reputation from drinkers and licensees alike for the excellence and consistency of his beers including the multi-award winning Breakfast Stout DV8.

James started to think about commercially brewing (being a full mash home brewer from a young age) whilst working at the noted Bury alehouse Trackside and started to look for premises eventually finding one on the Peel Industrial Estate. Brewing commenced in 2012 and they now make a core range of beers including Still Walking (sampled later) a 3.8% “bitter”, Golden Vale at 4.2% and DV8, the strongest at 4.8% abv.

Turning up at The Salford Arms I said a quick “Hello” to somebody I recognised from Twitter. This was Helen, partner of James Stewart the brewer. Jaz turned up along with a few others (including a fine turnout from the Bolton CAMRA Branch!) and I began to think that this might just be better attended than the last events. By the time we all settled in the front room, there were 15 or more people, which was gratifying to see and at least stopped James & Helen from feeling lonely! Then someone leaned over toward me and I realised it was Darren, who created the Gtr Manchester Ale News website / internet magazine. We’d been trying to meet for a pint for ages! We had a cracking chat,certainly a man who knows his beer.

James then gave us a brief chat about the genesis of the brewery, the recipes of the beers and the range of distribution. Distribution outside the immediate North West is handled by Mark Dade’s Boggart organisation and James handles a lot of the local distribution himself taking the beer into Lancashire and Cheshire with further outlets in Liverpool. James regularly has his beers featured in several Manchester pubs like The Angel, Marble Arch,  Soup Kitchen, Corbieres. I first sampled Deeply in The Smithfield on Swan St with Still Walking which I described as “a nicely balanced beer with lots of flavour and a clean dry finish” (read more here!)

still walking clip

The brewery operates on a 2.5 barrel plant (1 barrel = 36 gallons or 4 firkins) and he brews 2 or 3 times a week spending the rest of the time doing the admin or distributing the beer around the area. What was really good to hear was the little “co-operative” that appears to exist between 3 Micros, Deeply Vale, Privateer & Ringway. They help each other out, distribute each others beers and even help to break new markets (The Ringway brewer – being  a Geordie – will be looking to break the Co-Op beers into the vibrant Newcastle beer scene.

Rather than 4 halves of different beers, given that James doesn’t bottle yet, we had but two beers on draught on the bar. First up was Still Walking, the “hoppy session ale”, a Pale Ale to my eyes. A lovely clear golden beer with a gentle fruity grapefruit nose (Cascade hops). A fruity easy drinking beer, medium bodied and really smooth with just the right amount of bitterness in the finish. A lovely refreshing easy drinking session beer.

By this point, this had become like a bit of a round table chat between like-minded people. This was really fun and quite intimate. Lots of people asking questions and voicing opinions, all in the spirit of the evening, which was really convivial.

brwry 7(1)

(One “almost built” brewery!)

Next beer up was the one of which James said he was most proud of. Being a fellow lover of dark beers and Stouts in particular, I’m with him on that one! DV8 is the beer in question, describer by James as a Breakfast Stout as it is, effectively, an Oatmeal Stout. A fabulous smoky aroma to this. Wonderfully full-bodied and creamy, lots of chocolate in here with the undertone of smokiness. A tremendous Stout, one that we should see more of around Manchester. As the nights draw in and the wind starts to blow, this is the time when a beer like this, in front of a real fire would go down a treat. Just need to find such a place in Manchester. Ideas anyone?

DV8 clip

One of the questions that came up was regarding bottling. james intends to put together a small bottling plant himself, rather than sending the beer elsewhere for packaging. A smart move really. Keeping quality control of his beers from start tp finish. Tying into this is the possibility of using his skills – possibly moving the small plant in his Dads’ garage into the brewery – is the idea (floated from the room) of doing seasonal beers. James was already considering an Imperial Stout and one that caught MY imagination was the thought of a Chocolate & Cinnamon Stout or a Xmas pud Stout? I offered to do some serious mashing, always willing to help, me! For a bottle or two of course!

Tysons Deeply pic(pic – TysonsBeerBlog.Blogspot.Com)

A further gloriously creamy pint of DV8 followed whilst Darren, Jaz & I had a further chat. I seriously like Darren’s internet ‘paper, always informative and definitely worth a read if you drink around the Manchester area, check it out here. Darren had to make a move, so Jaz and I also said our farewells to James & Helen and Ken & Tom from the pub and moved on to the Mark Addy where my pint of the beautiful Dark Revenge by Privateer had something missing, a little lacking in condition. Not as good as that beer usually is for sure. Jaz was more than happy with his Gin Pit by Allgates.

We then popped in for a final beer (& a bit) to a bar I haven’t been in for ages. The Gaslamp

Located in the former kitchens of the Manchester & Salford Childrens Mission (you can still see the name in the brickwork above the entrance!) this is just one seriously cool bar! Quite quiet but with some cracking eclectic tuneage. A great beer on draught too. Kitty Hawk by Privateer. This was MORE like it! The only thing was, I couldn’t quite bottom the flavour! Certainly made me think this one, good body to it for a 4%, I presume it was the hops, but there was a real savoury element to this, almost a touch salty? Whatever it was, both Jaz & I LOVED it. They do make some cracking beers on that there Temperance Street! (AND – Rumour has it that they may be on the move! Stay tuned!

Having missed my bus, it was time for a quick half of Harbour Breakfast Stout on keg. Quite oily and heavy, this (at 8.5% abv) was more like an Imperial with lots of strong bitter coffee/chocolate and a high degree of bitterness in the finish. A proper sleeping draught!!!

Anyway, all good things must come to an end, as did this particular evening. One of the best MTBs I had been to. A lovely friendly chatty couple (James & Helen), excellent company from the Bolton contingent (Pete, Linda & Graham) and meeting Darren. Yes. A good evening all round!

On that note…’til next time!

Slainte!

Wilson Potter Brewery – A visit in two parts!

Wilson Potter Logo

Towards the end of 2012, around about the time I started getting interested in beer again (and started to write nonsense about it!), my arch-nemesis Jaz introduced me to the beers of Wilson Potter. My first exposure to their ales was In The Black, in bottle. A lovely Stout.

Gradually I tried one or two more (always in bottle) and grew more impressed with these well-balanced and subtle beers. Eventually, I met Amanda & Kathryn (Owners & Brewers) at Stalybridge Farmers Market – they attend each month – and bought some more bottles, each of them impressive. However, I was growing frustrated at not having their beers on draught in the pubs that I visit. Eventually, I DID get a taste of one of their beers on draught at the last NWAF in Manchester.

In mid-February, Jaz told me that he was popping up to the brewery soon. I (of course) managed to hide under his coat and sneak in and enjoyed a perishingly cold afternoon in the brewery where HOORAH! I managed to drink some of their beers on draught, as nature intended.

A month or so later, I went back (again with Jaz) on a much warmer sunny day, to try some more and have a chat. (See below)

Located in Middleton, to the north of Manchester, the brewery is located in an industrial unit on the edge of town where Amanda & Kathryn use a 6 barrel plant (installed by PBC from Bury) to make beers that manage to be full of flavour without the need to commit assault on your palate.

The ladies met whilst working as primary school teachers in St Helens. A shared love of real ale led them to eventually try home brewing with full mash ingredients in Kathryn’s kitchen, initially using recipes found on home brewing websites.

Gradually they experimented with self-created recipes – again, full mash. Eventually, having visited other lady brewers at Prospect and Mallinsons and with Amanda attending a brewing course at PBC, the jump was made to full-scale commercial brewing, with trading commencing in October 2011.

20130406_141205(L to R: Copper, Mash Tun & Hot Liquor Tank)

Wilson Potter brew a number of ales utilising a variety of hops both UK & US and package them currently in both cask and bottles (bottle conditioned).

20130406_141219(Casks ready for filling)

20130406_152409(Yummy – bottles for sale)

Whilst currently brewing within capacity, they brew / have brewed 21 different beers to date (including seasonals) and – in common with Privateer in Manchester – all of the beers are below 5% abv, thus bucking the trend for huge uber-hopped beers made by lots of other micros. Their current biggest sellers are Cascale, Tandle Hill and Bon Don Doon.

Plans currently are to stay as they are (vis-a-vis expanding the brewplant) other than possibly adding a couple of FVs to allow them to brew more frequently.

20130406_170935(One of the two FVs)

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(The Cask Washers / Games stands! Get the micro Connect 4!)

This is a personal opinion (shared, I know, by Jaz) but Manchester pubs are missing a trick by not stocking these beers. They are brewed locally (within 5 miles or so of the Northern Quarter) by obviously skilled brewers and are full of flavour and (mostly) of session strength. I get a bit fed up with pubs sourcing beers from all over the country, when they have excellent stuff brewed on their doorstep. Along with the likes of Black Jack and Privateer, Wilson Potter beers deserve to take their place on bars in the City Centre. Come on you licensees! (Polemic over!)

Being a shy type (!), I didn’t chat to many people first time I visited, there were three of us on that occasion and I didn’t know that many people. However, on the second visit yesterday I had brief chats with Jock (who I’ve ‘chatted’ with on t’interweb) and the local CAMRA branch chair – and noted beer commenter – known as Tandleman (The names have been changed to protect the innocent!). Good informative conversations that I hope to pursue in the near future. Thanks fellas!

Anyway, the beer! On both occasions, we chose to start low abv and head upwards……

cascale


1. Cascale 3.7% abv – Dark gold coloured beer that proved the ideal start yesterday after a long warm walk. Nice and refreshing hoppy bitter beer with a hint of sweet caramel from the malt. (A & B)

tandle-hill

2. Tandle Hill 3.9% abv – Another really nice bitter type beer. Light and hoppy, the hops aren’t overpowering but provide a nice lip-licking bitterness. An excellent session type beer. (A)

in-the-black

3. In The Black 4.2% – Now THIS is into my territory! Black as night with a light creamy head. A gentle mocha aroma leading to a lovely creamy roasted malt mouthful. A lovely hint of coffee in the aftertaste. Simply a superb stout. (A & B)

bon-don-doon

4. Bon Don Doon 4.2% abv – Lovely pale golden colour on this ‘blonde’ beer. A citrus aroma a bit like a hint of sherbet lemons. Lovely refreshingly citrus bitterness with more than a hint of candied lemon. Nice dry bitterness in the aftertaste. (B)

ruby-red

5. Ruby Red 4.4% abv – A darker red/brown beer. Nutty, fruity and even a chocolate hint! Satisfyingly full flavoured beer. (A)

natural-progression

6. Natural Progression 4.8% abv – Copper coloured beer. Fruity again with some vine fruit in there. A hint of malty toffee as well. (A & B)

is-this-the-way

7. Is This The Way (Amarillo hopped – geddit!) 4.8% abv – Copper coloured beer. Interesting herbal / floral hop aroma. Ooh…Forest fruity in the mouth as well as having a fresh grassy taste in there with more than a hint of licorice twig (anybody remember them?). Tastes more of its strength this one. Nice and dangerously drinkable with a nice fruity hop hit.

(A = Visit #1, B = Visit #2)

Now then. I’m biased. I love darker beers. So my vote would go for In The Black as my personal favourite. This is a beer that could replace almost any stout on the bar – especially that drab irish stuff.

Amanda and Kathryn brew beers at a drinkable strength, with bags of flavour. Beers that display more subtlety than most and are really well-balanced. I thank them both for giving me the chance to drink them in the condition they are meant to be served. Good beer in good company. Two of my holy trinity. Now for the third. Let’s be seeing this in some of those lovely Manchester pubs!

And…no. I haven’t been paid to write this. I’m just a fan!

One more thing. I couldn’t agree more with Tandleman. Their bottled beers are excellent. If you can’t buy from the brewery, they have a list of stockists on their website. Failing that, pop to Ashton or Stalybridge Farmers Markets and buy some direct from the brewers! Drink local people!

On that revelatory note….until next time (Hopefully pubs and jukeboxes!)

Slainte!

(N.B. If  you want to visit the brewery website, just click on any logo /pump clip)

Captured! – A Visit To Privateer Beers 26/03/2013

A few month ago, I was introduced to the beer made by Privateer Beers by Tom at The Salford Arms (A great place for good beer!). The beer was dark, seductive and damned tasty. That beer was called Dark Revenge. I had been abducted by The Privateer. Subsequently, I had the Roebuck, a paler beer at another excellent drinkerie, Joshua Brooks. Another excellent beer, brewed in the centre of Manchester, no less! I had to learn more.

After a brief, but fun and informative chat in Sand Bar (where Privateer supply the ‘house beer’ Tarantula) last week with the owner, Matt , I find a tweet inviting myself and (arch-nemesis) Jaz to pop along to the brewery! This was almost Vito Corleone territory…..as if I could refuse…….

20130326_185644(Insert own pirate related pun ….here)

Good grief…it was weather for ‘brass monkeys’. This was amplified by both the walk from Piccadilly and the fact that the streets off Fairfield Street are like wind tunnels. Eventually, we crossed the Mancunian Way onto the other side of the aptly named Temperance Street, where young Matt has his brewing playground!

As well as ironically locating a brewery on Temperance Street (in an arch under the railway line at No 80), one of the great things here, is that Matt built the brewery. Once the building was sourced in early 2012, he spent 6 months or so building the kit, testing etc. Brewed by himself and Peter Curran (ex brewer at Moorhouses of Burnley), the beers were released into the wild in about October 2012 and are served in a number of pubs in the area. They have also travelled as far as Kent, Berkshire, Suffolk, London and the North East. Impressive from a standing start less than 6 months ago! I personally have had the beers in 4 bars in the area and they have been uniformly superb. This makes my ‘Drink Local’ philosophy a joy!

All of the engineering, plumbing etc is his handiwork. And mightily impressive it is too! Five main vessels in here, the hot liquor tank and mash tun (where the malted barley is steeped in hot liquor to make the sugary stuff – wort), which then goes to the ‘copper’ (brewing vessel – where the hops impart their distinct aromas and flavours) and two fermenting vessels (where the yeast gets to play and make the beer!)

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(Hot Liquor – water – Tank & Mash Tun)

The copper is 6 1/2 Bbl (beer barrels – 1 = 36 Gallons), which means that each ‘brew’ can be as much as nearly 1900 pints. Breaking this down, this means that they can produce 26 x 9 gallon firkins (the cask that goes to the pubs) for each brew. Each brew is transferred from the copper to the Fermenting Vessels (FVs) where the yeast does its job – sometimes TOO vigorously!

20130326_190057(The Copper and 2 FVs – Those glasses didn’t stay empty for long!)

Once you include the empty casks and those that are filled and ready to move, you soon learn that they make the most out of this small space. The space above the office is used to store hops and empty casks. There is a small room to the right of the cooling unit which is used as the malt store. This place is compact and, for the time being, does the job.

Matt (Jervis, the owner) is a very entertaining and convivial host and gave a chat about the beers, a brief history of the brewery and answered some questions whilst showing off his baby – the  brewery itself. His brewing ‘mission’ is to brew tasty beer at a strength no greater than 5% abv. This is admirable at a time when many brewers seem to equate flavour with high strength and massively hopped beers. On occasions, I like those beers too, but mostly I want a beer that is balanced, that I can taste without falling over every second pint. In my experience, this is what Privateer do. And do well.

The beers are also, currently, all cask conditioned. Huzzah!

The current core range consists of Roebuck (an amber brew, nicely hopped with Centennial hops) at 3.8% abv; Dainty Blonde (a pale, blonde beer) at 4.2% abv and Dark Revenge (a strong Mild) at 4.5%. This is augmented by the house beer made for Sand Bar on Grosvenor Street, a 3.5% Mild called Tarantula, which is delicious.

Now. For the beer……..

Matt had tapped two 9s. One of Dainty Blonde and one of a new brew (which will be added to the core range) called Red Duke, a red beer at 4.8% abv. Being there first, myself and Jaz had the pleasure of having the Dainty Blonde to ourselves! A lovely, smooth blonde beer. Well balanced, nicely hopped with Amarillo hops for a nice slightly citrus aroma with a gentle bitterness.

As we finished our Blonde, a number of other guests arrived including Graham and Lin from Bolton CAMRA Branch and a group of local amateur brewers. The conversations started to flow (as did the beer). Then we were introduced to the Red Duke. Matt acknowledged that this wasn’t the reddest of reds, but it was red enough in comparison with the Dainty Blonde.

20130326_204259

(Blonde meets the Red)

The Red Duke is a red/brown beer which has a maltier base that the Blonde. A slightly more complex beer with flavours of toffee and caramel in there nicely offset with the American (Centennial & Amarillo) hops. Jaz enjoyed it and told me that I would too. He wasn’t wrong either (he knows me FAR too well!)

One of the ambitions that Matt has is ‘Vertical Integration’ (my words). Matt has run a pub or two and there is total sense in the quality control afforded by controlling everything from grain to glass. I hope they get themselves a bar soon as I like his philosophy around drinking  and I’d like to see the results.

Other than Graham and Matt (obviously Jaz!), I hadn’t met any of the other people there before. I personally had some excellent and fun chats with a few of the brewers group who knew their beers (and far more than me about how they are made!!!). Good people, who I’m sure I’ll meet again. I would like to try real home brewing at some point, but I think I’d need to extend my house first! (And hide the kit from my darling Atilla!)

Before I realised it, it was 22:50 and I had to get to my chariot (at latest) by 23:40! So a hasty but heartfelt thanks to Matt, a quick cheerio to everyone else and myself, Jaz and Simon (met tonight for first time!) hot footed to Port Street for a quick sleeping draught. I wanted a Stout, but the thought of having to quickly drink a Thornbridge St Petersburg simply terrified me, so ….

Quantum – Keyworths Early. An excellent and slightly complex beer from Mr Krause! Don’t know what the hops are in this but a nice fruity dryness to the finish. Another brewery without a mis-step for me!

Was nice to put some faces to twitter names last night, including seeing David from Sweden late on in Port Street. Unfortunbaately far too late to have a chat due to rushing for the chariot home!

Once again, an excellent evening. Some good beer lubricating some really good chatting. Isn’t this what beer is all about?

Now, when was that lovely T-Shirt being made in XXL, Matt?

Slainte!

Recent Bottle Tastings

Just 3 to point out from recent sampling.

  • Tandle Hill by Wilson Potter 3.9% abv (Direct from the Brewers – £7 for 3 500 ml bottles)

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A golden coloured, bottle conditioned beer with lively carbonation. A floral hoppy aroma. A dry and refreshingly bitter beer with a lingering grassy fresh dry aftertaste. Looking forward to getting some more soon. Superb local brewer. Would LOVE to see their beer on draught in Manchester.

  • Green Devil IPA by Oakham Brewery 6%abv (£3.50 for 660ml from Brewery Tap P.H. in Peterborough)

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I have some friends in Peterborough. My buddy Rob was popping down to see them, so, it felt like an opportunity to source this beer. As it happens, he got the last two from the pub shelves. They themselves were unsure as to next time they’ll get it in. Oakham aren’t even sure about the next time they’ll bottle it!

Anyway, this golden coloured bottle conditioned beer gave out an abundant tropical citrus smell with pineapple and some pink grapefruit. Lovely! Nice, sharp and bitter with some more tropical stuff in the taste, pineapple and grapefruit again upfront. Really smooth with a lingering dry fruitiness. This was like a souped up Citra with extra warming properties. Some complexity in the aftertaste, grassyness and I thought a touch of something darker like a herby licorice. Some peachy too. Bugger it, maybe my senses are shot! A damn fine beer.

  • Dry Stout by Stringers Brewery 4.5% abv (£2.19 for 500ml from Booths at Media City, Salford)

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I can’t believe I’ve never rated this superb stout before! I always grab a couple of bottles of this when I go to Booths, as well as their equally superb IPA.

A carbon black beer with a tan head. A gorgeous earthy dark roasty aroma. Loads of roasted malt flavours with a touch of smokiness and a dry bitter finish. This is one of my favourite bottled stouts. Unfortunately, I’m still yet to have it on draught. I live in hope. If anybody notices this on draught within 20 miles of Bolton, TWEET ME!!!

Manchester – A Festival of Festivals – 25/01/2013

The last National Winter Ale Festival in Manchester*. I had to go, didn’t I? Rumour started to get back about a number of pubs in Town having their own mini-fests…….working on the basis that you can NEVER have too much. of a good thing, my Yoda, Jaz, tried to do the lot! Including The New Oxford (Technically in Salford)

So, accounting for that little technicality, I started my effort to visit all those in Manchester in the Micro Bar in the Manchester Arndale Centre.

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I HATE the Arndale. Always have. From the days when i roamed its walkways as a school kid, checking bargains in Bostocks Records. The Arndale is a soulless testament to the worst that mammon can throw down.

However, tucked away in the corner, butting onto the multi-story car park carousel is the Market Hall. This place is almost the antithesis of its host. Local traders and providers on little market stalls. Fresh food, take-aways and…..The Micro Bar!

Run by the guys behind Boggart Brewery, an aley oasis. 5 handpumps. 3 Craft/keg fonts and, this week, a mini beer festival (30 ales)! It would have been SO rude not to!

A friendly bunch of people at Micro. A brief chat with the nice young lady who (i think) does the tweeting and I got the chance to speak with Mark Dade (aka The Boss!). Top bloke. A chat about the way ‘the business’ of beer works provided me with some insights.

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The beer? Arbor Ales Triple Hop Series at 4% and their own Boggart Extra Rum Porter at 6.5% (aged for 6 months!). The Arbor is a pale beer from the barrel, nice and hoppy, one for a repeat. But not today eh?

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Now, the Extra Rum Porter!

Smells of Rum & Coke – dangerously so. Lots of roasted malt, quite bitter, like a dry stout more than a porter, i thought. Sweetness from the Rum and some molasses and burnt sugar/caramel comes through. Lovely, but a good job I’m only having the one!

A little note about a food vendor adjacent to Micro Bar called Panchos Burritos. Had a superb Chicken Burrito which I ate at the bar in Micro. £5. Excellent, tasty and great value. Also a superb match for the Extra Rum Porter!

The Micro Bar fest has ALL the beers priced at 3 quid a pint! Get in tomorrow and take advantage. Excellent beer at excellent value.

Now on to The Smithfield and Leg No 2. Caveman Brewery Citra at 4.1% and Oates Brewery – OMT at 3.8.

The Smithfield is one of those Manchester pubs that just FEELS like a proper local. Quiet today though, which is a shame because they do seem to procure beers that no-one else does. For instance, I’ve never seen/had Caveman beers before. Having said that, I can’t complain. At least I have a seat!

The OMT is pale at 3.8% and tastes like a light mild, not much bitterness but some nice gentle malty stuff going on here. That said, some bitterness and dryness in the aftertaste. Hey, I CAN be wrong you know! The beer was slightly warm and may have been first from the pump. Still a nice refreshing beer.

The Caveman Citra at 4.1% has all the usual citra hop characteristics, tropical hop aroma, some citrus pineapple and grapefruit flavours, pale beer with sharp dry finish. Can someone please explain to me why this bar is so quiet? The value at 2.60 for two halves is extraordinary!

Next up, The Crown & Kettle on the junction of Great Ancoats St and Oldham Road (A62).

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(As a photographer, I make a damn fine drinker!)

This is (architecturally) one of Manchesters’ gems. A gorgeous (presumably) listed building, dating from the 1840s with loads of original details (described on house hunt programmes as ‘period features’!).

20130125_142020[1](Digging that chandelier!)

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(The room behind the bar)

5 ales on handpump out front, with more in the covered courtyard out the back (will check later)

First taste, Bear Ass from Beartown Brewery. Brown beer at 4%. Berries on the nose. So far….. Then BANG! Loads of fruit flavour where bitterness was expected. Tremendously surprising. Initially, I thought red berries, but now definitely some blackcurrant (no doubt Beartown will correct me on that!)

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Next beer is Onyx from Sandstone Brewery at 4%. Black with a tan coloured head. a fairly light Stout . Full bodied and a creamy texture, with some bitter chocolate in the aftertaste. First time brewery for me, again.

Having checked the ‘Outside’ bar (not set up until 15:00, I decided that now was the time for some serious girding of the loins. Off to The Winter Ales Festival!

This used to be held, more centrally, at the New Century Hall near Victoria Train Station. However, it has now been at The Sheridan Suite (approx 1 1/2 miles up the Oldham Rd for a few years. *For reasons best known to CAMRA bigwigs, it’s off to Derby next year (BOO!)

I had been on Wednesday evening with Jaz. Wednesday / Thursday being probably the best days to go, as they are a little less packed and you can walk around without knocking into people all the time.

The beer on Wednesday was little ‘hit & miss’ for me. Some of it was actually quite warm, which is disappointing. Let’s be honest, it isn’t as if this was the first time this festival had been held!

In my (humble!) opinion, the three best beers that I had on Wednesday were (in no particular order)

Allgates – Double Espresso (4.4% abv) – A black stout with a strong coffee aroma, more subtly coffee in the mouth with a nice dry bitter finish.

Bridestones – Vanilla Porter (4.8% abv) – Black with lots of sweet vanilla aroma. Full bodied with some vanilla sweetness balanced by a dry finish.

Cheshire Brewhouse – Engine Vein (4.2% abv) – A really nicely balanced hoppy bitter with a gentle smokiness in the aftertaste.

Not to forget my nightcap of choice at Port Street later – Hawkshead NZPA – 6% of massive hops. Mmmmm…..

Back to Friday!

The Sheridan Suite is, quite simply, a cubic lump of concrete. Uninspiring and utilitarian. To be frank, it wouldn’t have looked out of place as a 70s Sports Halle in East Berlin!!! (Enough Prince Charles critique……!). However, my daughter does occasionally work there and tells me that the owners are excellent friendly people. So there! (Her words)

I got there at about 3:15 and the place wasn’t TOO full. Up the escalator and into the main hall, the majority of the ales were arranged around the perimeter, in roughly alphabetical order. The major exception to this was “The Champions Bar” where the beers in the Champion Winter Ale competition were hosted, set apart from the rest. Maybe I’m just a touch, err, thick, but this layout / format confuses me. There’s simply TOO MUCH going on. It takes a while to spot the beer that you want to try and by the time you find it, it’s gone!

I don’t know what the answer is. Or even if I’m alone in this. I find the format tired. The Leeds International and The IndyManBeerCon were just SO much more logical and housed in gorgeous surroundings….I’m getting opinionated and boring (I know) so…moving swiftly on….

The beers were priced generally aligned to the alcoholic strength, from £1.30 a half to over £2 for some of the more stupidly intoxicating offerings…..Baz’s Bonce Blower….Oh please no……Can’t we get rid of the most stupid names?

The staff are mostly CAMRA volunteers and to be fair, were a really friendly helpful bunch.

The beer….

Firstly I had Liverpool Stout by Liverpool Organic – (4.3% abv) – This was a black stout which (I thought) was slightly sweet, like a less lactic Milk Stout. I expected something more dry and assertive, but pleasant enough.

2. 13 Guns by Daniel Thwaites – (5.5% abv) – I may need to reassess Thwaites. This was a cracking IPA. A bit of a hop monster aroma, but more gently hoppy in the mouth, certainly more smooth and rounded than the aroma indicated, a surprising beer and one of the weeks best for me.

20130125_173046[1](Starting to get busy now!)

3. Dry Stone Stout by Hawkshead – (4.5% abv) – Not as assertively roasted as I hoped. A smooth gentle roasted flavour, slight chocolate with a subtly smoked aftertaste.

4. Siberia by Ilkley / Melissa Cole (Collaboration) – (5.9% abv) – If you’ve read this blog before – and my eulogising of this great beer – I had this simply because I could, OK! Hazy, wheaty, slight sourness with some lovely rhubarb taste. A stunning beer. Anybody who says different……I’ll see you in the car park! OK!

5. Venus Ella by Prospect Brewery – (3.8% abv) – This is one of a series of collaborations by a trans-atlantic alliance of Brewsters (lady brewers – to the uninitiated, like me!). A nice pale bitter beer with a substantially hoppy aroma with more body than a 3.8% should have. A really nice beer. A contender for beer of the week (A pale beer? Am i going soft?)

6. (And finally) – Fireside Porter by Ilkley – (4.2% abv) – Another beer with plenty of body / texture for the light strength. Lovely roasted flavours and another with a gentle smokiness lasting into the dry finish.

Moment of the week? The threats of biblical retribution posited toward the (believed) women who were thieving the soap from the ladies toilets. (Along with the implied threat of body searches! Classic!!!)

Beer of the week. A close one. For the Darks – Allgates Espresso probably just shades it. For the Pales – Prospect Venus Ella, which surprised me.

Jaz and I (of course he was there!) left (into a blizzard!) and popped into a few pubs on the return journey. Checked out the bar at the back of the Crown and Kettle and had a (cold) Detention by Old School Brewery (OSB) – a nice amber coloured bitter, just too cold!

Then, The Castle. We went upstairs to drink our Roosters Humble Pie – a pale slightly hoppy beer -What a great job they’ve done in opening up the upstairs. A really nicely decorated room which more than makes up for the space lost to the “performance” room.

Finally, onto Soup Kitchen. Only one beer on, but Privateer Brewery – Dark Revenge. This was as good as I remembered it. A strong mild at 4.5%, the lovely chocolaty dark malt flavours revived my (by now) jaded palate! Nicely busy, with Some excellent tunage being spun (on vinyl) by the DJ!

At this point, I waved the white flag and set off home. However, I grabbed the opportunity for a swift half of Salford Arms Ale by Black Jack in the……..(where was I again?)….ah, yes, The Salford Arms. Nice and hoppy. There was a band setting up at the far end. However, it was a swift half, unfortunately. Raising the White Flag again, I jumped the 37 bus to home.

Do you ever have those semi-drunken conversations on a bus? (So it’s not just me then!) Tonight, I was talking to a bloke. Nice beer related conversation. The bloke was formerly from Swinton, but more latterly had migrated to Saffron Walden in Essex.It turned out that he was the Brewery Liaison Officer for North West Essex CAMRA! I’ll be e-mailing Richard the blog address – of course!

‘Snowmageddon’ was now blanketing North Manchesters’ suburbs in a thick white quilt. The 37 bus struggled along the route, eventually depositing me opposite my igloo. Donning my snowshoes, I crossed the glacier and opened the front  door with the immortal words “Hi Honey (hic), I’m home!”

On that note (and reaching for the tub of Andrews’)….Til next time!

Slainte!

Stroll from Portland Street to St Peter’s Square – 12/01/2013

Yes. Yet more of my blathering on!

The previous weekend, I entered into a pact with my diminutive darling, Atilla.

No drinking during the week. No bottles, no nothing. Other than thirst!

I entered into this pact willingly (if somewhat stupidly), but, on the first available evening to break my fast, I wound up being an after midnight taxi service for Atilla!  However, the opportunity to earn brownie points couldn’t be passed up. So, rather than sip a bottle or two, I cash in my chitty and plonked myself on the 37 bus to good old Manchester, my liquid home.

I left the organising of this stroll to Jaz, who took the opportunity to factor in a pub I hadn’t been into since 22/04/2005 (it was a MEMORABLE end to the day, trust me!) and one I hadn’t previously visited. So, at 7 o’clock, I find myself walking along Portland Street and entering the pub I hadn’t been in since my 40th birthday drink……

The Grey Horse

(image – marthamusing.blogspot.com)

2 days after my 40th birthday, was the last time we did the “Rail Ale” crawl from Leeds. This pub was where the ‘do’ disintegrated following a contretemps with a BNP St Georges Day outing. The event stays embedded in my subconscious (unsurprisingly!), but I drifted away from regular drinking in Manchester sometime around then. The Grey Horse was a pub I frequented regularly up to that point, a vibrant, often boisterous but always friendly boozer with more of the feel of ‘a local’ than any other pub in Town.

On approach, it was nice to see that one thing had certainly not changed…..lace curtains at the windows! Up the steps into the instantly familiar small space. It’s a single room pub with the small bar to the left and tables snaking around the back wall facing the bar area. The place was packed. That much hasn’t changed either. The Horse is a Manchester drinking institution and has been for as long as I’ve been drinking. The pub is a throwback to the 80s and beyond. I felt like I was stepping back in time.

Jaz was already at the bar and furnished me with a pint of “Winter Cheer”, the Xmas seasonal offering from Hydes. Also on the bar on handpull were ‘Original’ and ‘1863’, both bitters. The Winter Cheer was 4.4% abv and had a distinctive red colour. Being a winter seasonal beer I was expecting some clove or cinnamon spicing with maybe some citrus peel. If I’m honest, I didn’t get much of anything really, a bit of forest fruit perhaps, it just reminded me any number of malty ‘bitters’ from the 80s. Disappointing first beer of the evening. On the upside, there was a bit of a birthday do going on and the raucous singalong rendition of The Drifters’ “Under The Boardwalk” was a thing of joyous beauty!!! The staff were really friendly as well.

The Horse is a truly great place to drink. Just a shame that the beer didn’ t drink great!

Beating the retreat, we headed across Portland Street into the Village towards Richmond Street and……

The Molly House

(Image – Spottedbylocals.com)

This pub was recommended to me by Dave, the monocled quizmaster at The Salford Arms. It occupies two floors, but we only went in at ground level. By no means as rammed as The Grey Horse, the bar had a really relaxed feel, a few tables, a couple of comfy chairs and some bench tables at the back. The bar has a reputation for food and the kitchen is on this level. Five handpumps with 2 beers from both Beartown and Redwillow and one from Dunham Massey – all 5 beers from Cheshire micros!

Given my love of ‘The Dark Side’ (and the fact I’d never tasted their beers on draught), I opted for Dunham Massey ‘Dark’

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(What IS this vogue for dimpled glasses???)

This is a nice mild, with some hints of chocolate both on the nose and in the mouth. A fabulous brown to almost black beer (as you can see!), reasonably thin in texture as you might expect at 3.8% abv, but a nice smooth drink, more than making up for the earlier diappointment – the stroll was back on track!

The Molly House also has an exceptional range of spirits lined up behind the bar……

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and as much as I fancied a shot of Wild Turkey 101 bourbon, duty called, one I was looking forward to as we returned to…….

Joshua Brooks

(Image – joshuabrooks.co.uk)

Having cut through the Village and headed up Princess Street, it was quite a surprise to find the bar sparsely populated. This bemuses me. This bar serves a variety of well kept ales, local micros mostly, has lots of comfy seating and a relaxed air. (Though I’m sure the venue downstairs gets more lively!) I can only think that this is to do with it’s location, just outside the centre and 150 yards from Oxford Road. If only people knew……

First up for me was ‘Redcurrant Stout’ by Clarence & Fredericks (South London brewer). This beer at 5.4% abv is an inviting black ale. A malteser aroma. So far so good….then you taste. Tart! No, I mean the flavour – not me! That’ll be the redcurrants then! Blackcurrants too. Quite astringent from the fruits, but paradoxically, quite smooth feel in the mouth. The flavour (if not the appearance, reminded me almost of a Lambic. A challenging but rewarding beer. Books and covers eh?

Being now my round, I thought I’d play my Joker card! I introduced myself to James at the bar and collected a membership card – there are benefits to this. trust me, I’m a beer doctor! I had a chat with James, bloody nice bloke. We had a bit of a beery and social media chat. I had never been in the venue downstairs so he kindly offered to show me around the club in the basement. A proper small venue that reminded me of 80s live music venues like The Boardwalk. Thanks James!

Anyway, to the strains of great background tunage like Phoenix, Little Dragon and Sleigh Bells, I settled down to a pint of Redwillow Heartless. Comfortingly smooth and chocolatey Stout at 4.9% abv. I’ve written about this previously (see Best Little Beerhouse…), so suffice to say, I will order this whenever I see it. It’s THAT good!

Enjoying oursleves hugely, we decided to have one more. For me, this was another beer from Privateer (previously a first time brewer for me – at The Salford Arms last month). This time ‘Roebuck’ a palish (is that REALLY a word???) brew at 3.8%. As soon as I ordered it, I worried it was a mistake to drop down the abv range. However, this beer improved all the way down the glass. Full of flavour with a really nice malt/hop balance. This would make an excellent ‘session’ beer (for those who do such things – me? Never!). Thanking James and the other bar staff, we headed off into the night toward……

The Font

(Image – manchesterbynight.com)

If it was ever going to get messy, this was the place it would start! The cause? Hawkshead XBP, an extra special ‘Imperial’ version of Brodies Prime. 8.5%  abv of danger!

Jaz was up for a pint! The angel on my shoulder told me this was a bad idea, so we settled on a compromise. A 1/2 of Hawkshead each with a pint of something else, Jaz went for the Quantum, I went for the Rapture by Magic Rock. Clutching our two glasses each, we descended to locate a space – blood and sand it was HEAVING!

Described as a ‘Red Hop Ale’ and 4.6 % abv, Rapture has a deep amber/red colour and loads of hoppy flavour. I had this at Port Street a few months back (at a similar stage of consciousness!) and the sharp flavour was superb. Same here. Another superb beer from Magic Rock.

Now the Hawkshead XBP? A lovely slightly sweet, quite nutty and coffeeish beer. Cafe au lait colour to the head, coffee aroma with some hazelnut, a REALLY creamy texture. This is a beer to adore and fear in equal measure! A fabulously dangerous mouthful of dark flavours. Not to be taken lightly, but certainly one to return to…repeatedly!

As usual, Font was virtually full to bursting…4 deep at the bar…lots of cocktail shaking going on. The CAMRA Card discount makes this place ludicrously good value for Manchester. 3 pints for £8? And one of those at 8.5% abv? How do they do it? Must be MAGIC! The usual great tunage (some classic old school hip-hop !) and a queue to get in. Reminded me of The Hacienda back in 1982! (But without the good beer!)

Next….

Paramount

If you’ve read this blog before, you can guess what happens here! Paramount Porter (aka Elland 1872). Creamy, dark, roasted, dangerously moreish and (at 6.5% abv) probably ill-advised! But sod it, I don’t get out THAT much really, do I? The evening was descending into madness by now, but, with 1/2 hour to spare, we nipped into the other local ‘Spoons,

The Waterhouse, but….memory fails me! Ah yes, Saltaire New World Red. Red ale, nicely sharp and bitter (owing to mix of hops from Oz, US and New Zealand). 5.2% abv and my nightcap of choice this evening! Just as I started to settle, that angel on the shoulder reminded me that the last bus was imminent………quick step, then the 37 home! I hope my drunken tweeting made sense!

Oh, for a change, all my worldly goods got home this time! (Wallet, Phone etc….long story!)

On that note ….. Until next time (probably near The National Winter Ales Festival)

Slainte!

A Two City Stroll 2 – 29/12/2012

Christmas 2012.

Family meal.

In a pub with 5 handpumps.

The beer was dire.

I drank tea! I stuck to my guns and steadfastly refused to drink the likes of Greene King IPA.

Does that make me a beer snob? Do I care? (You know the answers!)

So. On the final Saturday of 2012, I felt justified in seeking the welcoming warmth of hostelries with handpumps. And good beer. Having met Jeff for the first time in many a year a couple of months back, (and discovering a mutual love of quality beer)  there was an outing planned for Manchester. A quick check of my diary revealed a family do that afternoon. Having negotiated my exit strategy with my beloved Atilla, it was game on. So on this particular Saturday evening, I find myself on a bus, Manchester bound reading a text calling off the meet.

What’s a thirsty boy to do? A quick call to my good friend (and frequent drinking companion) Mr Jaz and I find myself exiting the bus a couple of stops early and entering…..

The Salford Arms

(Image courtesy of http://www.fancyapint.com)

Walking up to the bar, there was only one pump occupied with a clip. However, a quick smile from Tom and he declaimed that he was busy putting two more ales on! So, joining the 4Ts Brewery Magnc pale ale was, firstly, Salford Arms Ale by Black Jack Brewery. One of those for myself and a 4Ts for Mr Jaz secured, I settled down in a comfy leather chair and awaited my partner in crime.

As per our last visit, Tom had said that the nice fellow at Black Jack was reformulating the beer to make it vegan. This had now been accomplished. I hadn’t had the ‘house ale’ previously and was really looking forward to it, so much so, that I didn’t wait to see what the second new ale going on was!

As I started to sip the Salford Arms ale, Jaz walked in. (I had had a sneaky sip of the the 4Ts Magnc whilst waiting and it was a lovely pale beer with some complex hopping, spicy with some citrus but with a smooth malt base. A very nice beer which I will try again). The Salford Arms ale was superb. Pale as Kate Moss but with more body, it was lovely hoppy brew at 4.3% abv, nice juicy malt in there but the right side of hoppy and bitter. If I am going to drink pale beers, this is how I like them! Another excellent beer by Black Jack!

Now. The plan was to have one and then move on. But, as you know, plans do indeed have a habit of changing. This one changed when Tom brought over a sample of the other beer that went on at the same time as the ‘house ale’. The beer was brewed by a recent addition to the Manchester brewing brotherhood Privateer. A quick sip showed that this was a beer that demanded  further exploration. The beer was called Dark Revenge, was 4.5% abv and was appetisingly black! A lovely aroma combining chocolate and some coffee notes, the flavour was of a nice smooth dark roasted stout with a flavour that I got as subtly chocolate. Jaz detected more coffee than I did, but hey! I wasn’t complaining. This was my first beer from Privateer and with flavour as good as this, it won’t be my last! An excellent pint. The pub was reasonably busy in this Xmas / New Year interlude and deservedly so. Tom has got the beer turning over really well and seems to feature local micros in the main (all 3 last night were local). An excellent pub.

I could have drunk the Privateer all night, but, as you know, a stroll is a stroll. So, we headed off toward……

The New Oxford

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Slightly damp stroll from The Salford, the front of the New Oxford was quite busy so we opted for the back room and a little rugby union (Munster v Ulster, as you’re asking!). Not before choosing a pint of Axholme Chocolate Stout at 4.9% abv. Another new brewery for me. This one from North Lincolnshire. Settling down in the back room, this beer was intially thin in texture but the mouthfeel improved as I drained the glass. A lovely smooth chocolate flavour followed with the lovely roasted malt. A nice first pint from this brewery (an interesting website too – http://www.axholmebrewing.co.uk)

The night was enlivened at this point by a group of West Brom fans sat next to us. Beer lovers too. Passionately bemoaning the biased coverage on TV which only showed Man U and swearing that they were camped in opposition territory all second half. We had a chuckle indeed. We chatted about The Post Office Vaults (near New St Station in Birmingham centre) and they extolled the virtues of The Black Eagle in Hockley (now stored in the memory bank!) Nice blokes. We move on….(a substantial stroll) to….

Cask

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Really busy in here. It was that busy and loud with conversation, that I could barely hear Manchesters’ greatest pub jukebox! Jaz had an Abbeydale whilst I latched onto the North Star Porter from Facers. I’ve drunk more Facers recently than I ever drank when they were located in Salford! The North Star has a nice roasted nose and a nice texture (not too thin at 4% abv) dark roasted coffee flavours and a touch of sweet chocolate. Excellent friendly bar staff again. Now at this point I got a phone call from Rob (see Castlefield Area Stroll) who was also looking for a pint having been at the same function as me earlier. The Facers Porter was a nice pint, but the were other pastures to graze upon. Next stop…….

The Knott

Pleasantly not quite as rammed as Cask, but busy enough, there were a couple of beers that caught my eye here, both at the higher end of the price range, but worth it. I left the Redwillow Shameless to have as a second pint in here and plumped for Thornbridge McConnells. 5% abv and £3.80 a pint, this was a lovely looking dark brown to black beer with a nice caramac (new colour!) coloured head. A little sweetness in the aroma led to a nice creamy stout. A lot of subtlety in here with no particularly dominant flavour. A touch of vanilla, some lovely smooth almost caramel chocolate roasted flavour from the malt. Just an excellent understated pint. I’m beginning to appreciate again that flavour doesn’t have to be an assault to be good. During this pint, Rob joined in the fun and after a quick update on the function fun, he too settled down to enjoying a pint of McConnells – I’m starting to think he’s gradually shifting to the Dark Side!

The only slight disappointment came next. I was REALLY looking forward to a pint of Redwillow Shameless, the 5.9% abv Double Pale Ale. Unfortunately, as I’m draining the last of the Thornbridge, it ran out! Damn! Ah well, another pint of McConnells all round could barely be described as a hardship now, could it? Anyhow, after this dark interlude, I was in the mood for a final pint of dark pleasure (and we needed to head toward the bus station of course…) so, in the steady drizzle (and Rob without a jacket….!) we mosied on down to….

Paramount

Anybody who knows me, knows what happens when we get here! There was a large selection of Xmassy type beers with typically Xmassy type ‘humourous’ names like Rogered Rudolf and the like. Maybe I’m a bit of an Eberneezer about such things. Just give me a beer name that gives me a hint as to the flavour and I’m content!

Anywho, I’m a simple soul, with simple tastes. So, having the merest sniff of the JW Lees Plum Porter (which Rob pronounced as full of plum flavour), the cry went up “Paramount Porter Please“. 6.5% and (at this stage of the evening) with a texture that felt like black Angel Delight, this was my sleeping draught of choice! Glorious with some roasted cocoa bean action going on, there was a lop-sided smile on my face! As usual, quite busy in here and deservedly so.

Finishing the pint, we headed in the drizzle for Piccadilly and my personal homing pigeon, the 37 bus – this time with Rob for company (with the Kebab lust in his heart!)

Until Next Time. And a Happy New Year to one and all!

Slainte!

(Next Stroll – Historic Manc Boozers – suggestions please!)