“The Bar Now Arriving……” – Wigan Central – A Great Bar Is Born

“I was following the pack, all swallowed in their coats
With scarves of red tied ’round their throats
To keep their little heads from falling in the snow, and I turned ’round and there you go
And Michael, you would fall and turn the white snow red as strawberries in the summertime”

(“White Winter Hymnal” – Fleet Foxes)

(Clip via “Sub Pop” Records on YouTube)

Simply, the most beautiful tune. Few will better it as a winter themed song – or as just a beautiful song full stop. End of message.

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I like Wigan. My love of Allgates’ beers and pubs has almost entered legend. But, therein lies the rub….the only pub I really enjoy in the town centre is The Anvil. However, that all changed on a dark and chilly December evening when I was invited to a “soft opening” of a new bar created by Prospect Brewery and run by Dan & Gina Buck.

I was saddened when Dan & Gina sold on Great Ale Year Round. Felt a bit like losing an arm. Luckily, they sold it on to people (Anne & Steve) who run it in the same vein and keep Bolton supplied with great beer. However, Dan & Gina needed something else…A break & a new challenge. However, I don’t think they had any idea how quickly an opportunity would come around!



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(Hello Patsy!)

Patsy Slevin (Brewer/Owner) and her other half John, the owners of Prospect Brewery of Standish had had their mind set on a bar in Wigan for a while, when the opportunity of a railway arch on Queen Street (1 min walk from Wigan North Western) came up. On Wednesday evening, a select few of us got the chance to see how these plans had born fruit.

And HOW they have……

Let’s get this out of the way (and it WILL re-occur!) …there is a distinct railway theme to this bar!

This being my first sight of the venue, the first thing that struck me was how big it was! Don’t get me wrong, this is not a huge space, but I WAS expecting something a bit more….well….mini! Maybe it’s the height of the arch that gives a greater illusion of space, but this felt quite capacious. Then you look around….everything about the place has been themed around railways. From the seating booths to the right of the entrance, that reminded me of the old First Class compartments on 60s-70s trains (Dad spoiled us!), to the mock old-fashoined railway station style roof that adorns the place above the bar. It’s the little things…..

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(And they are….)

A lot of thought has gone into the design of this interior. The bar as a “First Class” refreshment booth, the olf fashioned insignia/logo that adorns the polo shirts for the staff which carries on into the bottle display. The hammock-like cargo nets above the booths to take customers’ coats (some of us speculated when the first wag will try to climb up for a kip!)

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(Just what a travelling drinker needs! The train home!)

The inclusion of screens integrated into the wall for both Arrivals and (more importantly) Departures was inspired! John’s idea so I was told. I doff my proverbial to him, a superb touch that was remarked upon in approving fashion by all who checked for the next train to Manchester. Who needs Trainline eh?

Of course, all of this thought and design isn’t worth the sweat, if you haven’t got a heart & soul. That’s where Dan & Gina come in. They know what they’re doing. They know how to source and (more importantly) serve great beer and they have they certain something that all good “landlords” have. That little something that makes you feel welcome and that makes you know that you’re in the right place for a decent beer too.

Speaking of which….

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6 handpulls. 6 Keg fonts including 3 “Craft Keg” (Opening night were Runaway Smoked Porter, Marble Boheme Pilsner & Magic Rock Ringmaster). The handpulls featured 2 from Prospect and four guests. Opening night beers were from Anarchy (of Morpeth) with Quiet Riot, Winter Tweed from Tweed of Hyde (new brewery), Jarl from Fyne Ales & Goodhews Dry Stout from Barngates.

A fine selection.

I might have tried one or two….

Being a Winter evening, the Dark Side was a-calling like a wolf howling. I heeded the call and tried all 3 darks. Big John & Goodhews from Barngates were both excellent cask Stouts. Roasty and smooth. The Smoked Porter from Runaway was arguably even better on keg than in bottle (and it’s a belter in that format too!), smooth with a little of that Rauchy edge to it.

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(Big John & Boheme – I’m a greedy git!)

Pales? Jarl has as much grapefruit sharpness as a Supermarket fruit aisle. Predictable brilliance. The Quiet Riot from Anarchy was a fruity weapon of mass destruction ( I was a little…slow the next day!) at 6.6% abv, all chewy malt and tropical fruit. Deliciously dangerous. The Boheme Pilsner from Marble was a really pleasant surprise that reminded me of Pilsner Urquell and had a lightness of touch. Refreshing. I hope they keep it permanent.

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I came back for the formal public opening the next evening (Thursday). That was the queue – albeit swollen with some that were in from 5 for a private Thank You reception. I didn’t think we’d get in!

But we did.

It. Was. Rammed.

I chatted with the guys behind Tweed Brewery and thoroughly enjoyed a pint of their Winter Tweed, a tawny coloured beer with chocolate a caramel undertones like a Chomp Bar. But liquid. And with alcohol! A good first beer.

Nice to finally meet Patsy and John. And I told them that they’d done well getting Dan & Gina. But I think they knew that already!

Dan & Gina had stated that they wouldn’t be behind the bar. The crowds dictated otherwise! I chatted with a few people and the feedback was universal. This place has made a big initial impression. It certainly did on me.

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The biggest compliment that I can make? The Anvil has company at Wigan’s top table. It’s called Wigan Central. Make a note and pay it a visit. You won’t be disappointed.

The Tottering Temple – Blackedge Brewery – 29/03/2014

Tottering Temple

No tunes today (cue collective sigh of relief!) – just a swift post.

In case you haven’t noticed, I like bottled beer. Increasingly, I find myself drawn to beers of a more local persuasion. With a small number of North West breweries stocked at the excellent Liquor Shop in Whitefield and slightly larger number stocked at Bolton’s excellent bar Great Ale Year Round, I still craved breweries from the North West that I hadn’t yet tried. Breweries like the excellent George Wright from Rainford, Prospect of Standish and others too numerous…..

On Saturday, BlackEdge Brewery of Horwich opened a bottle shop of their own, The Tottering Temple. I had been in contact via Twitter on a number of occasions with the brewers and they had a bottle kept by of their hard to find Dark Rum for me to buy. Having had a fairly light evening on the Friday, I spied an opportunity that was simply too good to pass up! So, with my 14 year old chaperone in tow…..no chance for beery mischief…..

Located on Hampson Street off Lee Lane in Horwich, it was easy enough to locate….the sign pointing to The Tottering Temple didn’t hurt either!

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Entering a door which seemed to indicate a small unit, a couple of steps down and the place opened up nicely. Shelves of bottles to the left and right and a bar dead ahead. Typical me, we seemed to be first in!

Ignoring the bar for a moment, which was difficult with 3 beers priced at £2.30 a pint (!), I set to my bottle shelf investigations! Loads of breweries that I hadn’t had before. The shelves were really well laid out and labelled clearly so, if you were searching for something in particular (and they stocked it) you would find it in moments.

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From Bank Top to Thornbridge, most bases covered including some of the newer micros like Squawk. I started to drool when I saw that they had their Stout, which I had heard about but seemed merely a legend, but now glassy fact! That was the first beer to hand and placed on the bar, as Richard, Mr “Adlington Beer Circle” tapped me on the shoulder. We had “conversed” on many occasions on Twitter and – if truth be told – he was one of the major reasons that I post (or try to) at 08:00 on a Saturday morning. He does like a bit of light reading!

We chatted for what seemed like ages, to the extent that I forgot to get both a half of something light and refreshing (and a drink for the “chaperone”!) A quick half of Hop was the choice to slake my conversationally derived thirst! Top bloke Richard. Got to chat with his nephew Tom and passed some tips on Manchester drinking (Tom being at Uni in Mcr and all) Richard is the creator (with techy assistance from Tom!) of an excellent website (link above) which seeks to increase footfall (quite literally!) into a number of local pubs by the creation of a number of walks that link the pubs – a simply brilliant idea in these challenging times! (Don’t think I’ll be setting one up for Farnworth QUITE yet!)

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Had a number of necessarily brief, yet frequent, chats with Wayne & Shaun (the boys behind the brewery) who, through their brewing, are part of the reason why Horwich is gaining a bit of an excellent beery rep. They have a couple of pumps dedicated to their beers at the pub that serves as their “tap”, the award-winning Victoria & Albert on Lee Lane, Bolton CAMRA Branch “Pub of the Year” (popped in recently and I can see why!). BlackEdge brew a number of excellent beers with my personal favourites being the Darks, Black & Black Port (you KNOW what I’m like!).

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Wayne & Shaun have got this place well laid out with the 6 Bbl plant (216 gallon) at one end, with some seating and tables for the punters and even a comfy looking leather sofa (I was just TOO slow to grab that!), this was a nice place to come for a lunchtime beer and quite similar to others that I’ve been to. They have made the most of what is a fairly small venue.

Following swift halves of the excellent IPA and even better (well, it’s a dark!) Black Port grabbed whilst further yakking with Richard, I had to gather a stash to take away. Pricing is more than competitive (as I found when I got the bill!) and I was chuffed to pick up beers from George Wright, Prospect, Boggart, Marble, Westerham, Squawk as well as their own Dark Rum and Citra, an excellent and reasonably priced haul. I hadn’t even noticed the sign that mentioned 10% discount for 12 or more bottles, which I MAY have triggered!

This is a cracking shop with a really nice local based selection and “outsiders” like Thornbridge all at decent prices (I’ve got my eye on some Cheshire Brewhouse Govinda – a recent #Beergasm of mine – at £4.20!) and is well worth a look, especially if you shop at the behemoth like Tesco or Asda at Middlebrook (Bolton Reebok Stadium for non-locals). You’ll get FAR better beer here than you will at either of those!

With my 15+ bottle haul, I was being prodded by my “chaperone” who needed to get into Bolton to get a Mothers Day pressie – he’s a sweetie!

On that note….’til next time…

Slainte!

 

 

 

Brightside Brewery MTB at Great Ale Year Round – Official Opening of Bolton Indoor Market

IMAG0564(See the difference below!)

Previously being from Salford, I now live in Bolton and have done these last 24 years. I think that it is fait to say that the town centre (once you take away the simply magnificent Town Hall / Albert Halls complex) could be just about any other large town centre in the North of England, the shopping in most of which resembles nothing more than chain stores and take-away food outlets – Alice’s Chiipy on Deansgate being a rare example of a quality independent.

It was with this perennial disappointment in mind that my heart leapt when I heard that somebody was opening a Micro Bar in the refurbished Bolton Market. Even for beer loving Boltonians, the centre of Bolton is hardly a Mecca for good beer. Until now. The news that the recent award-winning Brightside Brewing were doing a Meet The Brewer type event at said Micro Bar “Great Ale Year Round” in the weekend when the fully refurbished Market Hall was being officially opened, gave me all the excuse I needed to pop along for a view and a pint or two. As if I needed one!

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(Busy, Busy, Busy)

The Market being conveniently located right next door to Bolton’s bus station (and 5 mins walk from the railway station), I entered and walked pat the enticing aromas of Carrs’ pasty shop into a reassuring sight. Dan & Gina Buck’s bar has been open since the 21st of January (see review here) but the majority of the stalls were waiting for the official opening day which left the likes of Great Ale Year Round and Nigel Lyons’ “The Coffee Grind” looking like a retailing vanguard. Well, no longer. The sight of all of the stalls being open was a joy, even more so as there seemed to be plenty of people shopping at 11am.

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Pleased  though I was to see the market stalls apparently thriving, I was “here for the beer”!

Brightside commenced brewing in 2009 at the back of the then family bakery, putting similar culinary skills to the task of brewing good beer using a self assembled 2.5 Bbl (Beer Barrel – each barrel = 36 Gallons or 288 pints!) plant. The addition of fermenters gave them more capacity. They brew an excellent core range of beers with some irregulars and seasonals and quickly started making inroads into the local beer market. They can now be found on may freehouse bars in the Greater Manchester area.

Having become quite successful at making (and more importantly, selling) excellent beer, the plunge was taken in 2013 to focus totally on brewing. So, selling the bakery, they relocated to an industrial unit in Radcliffe, in the process, becoming my nearest brewery!

I met Carley from the brewery for the first time at the recent Manchester Beer & Cider Festival (reviews here & here) and she struck me as somebody who would be ideally suited to an MTB kind of presentation being engaging and open, but I puzzled as to how an MTB would work in such an open premises. I needn’t have fretted!

Approaching the bar, I noticed (following a quick “hello” to Dan & Gina) that the bar was indeed fairly busy. A quick hello to the nice bloke (and excellent blogger) Paddy McGrath and his buddy Kev and I was chomping at the beery bit to get my hooves on the pint of orangey nectar that is Brightside Amarillo,  burnished gold with a light marmalade aroma giving way to a mandarin orange fruitiness with a crackling piney hop finish. As I discussed with the beery Magus that is Tandleman at the festival, I think we both agreed that Amarillo is our favourite hop!

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(Ever heard the one about the 20ft tall Butcher and the chopping knife?)

It’s great to meet people for the first time, especially when you have similar interests and I really enjoyed my chats with Paddy, Kev (who, for his sins, manages to write an interesting blog about Bolton Wanderers) and their friend Shaun (I DO Hope I got the correct spelling!) who is also an excellent blogger on the foody side of things and made a most excellent cake with Meantime Porter! Nice to see Graham from the local CAMRA Branch and have an all too brief chat.

A pint of Brightside Underworld followed, a lovely reassuringly dark brown beer with lots of chocloate and coffee notes. A comforting beer on a cold day!

This wasn’t an MTB a la Port Street where those who worship at the temple of the hop come to anoint their chosen, this was more of an informal wander aroiund by Carley who came and chatted with all and sundry and came along and chatted with us. One of the things that she mentioned was that the brewery is undergoing a transformation at the moment as preparations are being made to install a new 15Bbl brew kit, neede to cope with demand, both current and furture for their core beers – Odin & Amarillo selling particularly well. Carley seemed to cope really well with the considerable press attention – as did Dan & Gina, with loads of photos and video interviews. I, having a face for radio, tried to keep well out of the way!

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The beer was turning over really quickly and, whilst I was there, both the Amarillo and Underworld both sold out! These were replaced by Deep Purple by Prospect Brewery (Standish, near Wigan) (check out their bus tour around 7 Wigan pubs during the Wigan Beer Fest at Month end!)  and DV8 by another cracking Bury Brewery, Deeply Vale. It would have been rude indeed not to try both! Nice to see lots of local breweries being supported, bith by Dan & Gina and by the drinkers. They were loving them!

The Deep Purple was a golden brown beer, refreshing with a building gentle smoky quality as the glass was emptied, a nice drop. The DV8 I have had several times and was again a roasted, dark, oaty joyous mouthful. Both beer I hope to return to time and again. By the time I left, even the Deep Purple was struggling and had indeed run out!

The bar was justly very busy, with both bottles and draught flying out. Gratifying to see. It was also nice to see full use being made of the central courtyard tables with beer being served in plastic “glasses” to accommodate this. A sensible measure. Keeping this facility open for both bar, coffee and food vendors can only benefit the facility as a whole and increase trade for all. Would be nice to see this continue.

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Time was moving on all too quickly, so gathering myself up (and gathering some cracking bottles from their excellent and growing selection – gonna need more shelves soon!), it was time to say my farewells. Fortunately, on this breezy and chilly day, the lovely Carley generously offered me a lift. Of course, it would have been rude to refuse!

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On that note….’til next time… (Connor’s CAMRGB Twissup next week. Yay!)

Slainte!

Wilson Potter Brewery – A visit in two parts!

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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……

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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

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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)

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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)

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’!).

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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!